Went looking for mushrooms today. Found nothing but a few Corts : ( But I did find a lovely patch of Monkshood (Aconitum columbianum), one of my favorite wildflowers (for just looking at!) around here.

Monkshood contains alkaloids such as aconitine, mesaconitine, and related molecules the toxicity of which manifests in the nervous system and heart, with some GI stuff as well…vomiting, nausea, diarrhea. Aconitum species do have a history of use in Traditional Chinese Medicine and elsewhere after very careful processing and with very careful dosing. (Even handling the plant can result in some neurotoxic effects.) It is deadly in high enough dosage and is not a plant to experiment with.

In other words, don’t stick it in your mouth. Just look at it and marvel at its beauty

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Breathe easier! Tried and true herbs for respiratory support

An article I’ve got in the Telegraph, on supporting your airways during fire season (and pandemics).

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Spearmint – An under-appreciated medicinal plant


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Chill the **** Out – Herbs for a stressful time

An article of mine in the DGO Telegraph on herbs for stress support that also promote respiratory tract health…

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Damiana for the respiratory tract
Damiana for the respiratory tract! Hint: It’s not just an aphrodisiac…..

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Long Distance Consultations Now Available

Available by Phone, Skype or Zoom.

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All things Pine Needle!

Join Dr. Marija, resident herbalist and microbiologist at My Custom Herbs as she geeks out on all things Pine Needle, one of her favorite botanicals for the respiratory system

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Some meanderings on staying sane and managing stress while stuck at home…


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A Primer on SARS-CoV-2 & things to do while stuck at home


SARS-CoV-2. Micrograph from NIAID

First, where I’m coming from… There is the “Germ Theory” in which pathogenic microbes cause infectious disease.  Then there’s the “Terrain Theory” in which the “terrain” a person provides is the determining factor in disease, with the microbes being a symptom of diseased tissues as well as a provacateur of further disease. As a former virologist/infectious disease researcher and a current herbalist, I feel that both pathogens and terrain are important, with one or the other being more dominant, depending on the situation.

On one hand, folks lucky enough to be in a healthy environment and who practice healthy eating and living habits are generally less susceptible to infectious diseases;  while someone who is unhealthy for various reasons may wind up with issues due to a microbe that would otherwise be harmless (eg. Candida). On the other hand, there are multiple pathogenic microbes that will infect and cause disease in healthy people. Hantavirus, certain influenza strains, and ebola virus, are some (extreme) examples of this.  So,  I take the middle road…



  • A family of viruses that infect birds and mammals (including us, obviously!)
  • Coronaviruses are called such because the bits that stick out from the spherical viral particle resemble the Sun’s corona, or outer layer.
  • Several coronaviruses cause upper respiratory tract infections in people and are one of the causes of the common cold
  • “Betacoronaviruses” are part of the coronavirus family and include the currently  circulating SARS-CoV-2 virus, the SARS-CoV virus that caused the SARS epidemic in 2003 and MERS-CoV that caused a small but severe outbreaks from 2012-2014.


  • SARS-CoV-2 is the name of the virus causing the current    pandemic
    • “SARS” is for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome        SARS-CoV-2.  Image from NIAID
    • “CoV” is for coronavirus                                                                                                                                                                           
    • “2” is because this is highly related to SARS-CoV that caused the SARS epidemic (their genetic code is ~ 80% identical).
  • COVID-19 is the name of the disease that SARS-CoV-2 causes:
    • “COVI”for coronoavirus
    • “D” for disease
    • “19” for 2019, when it emerged (the first case was identified on Dec 1st

Spread of SARS-CoV-2

  • The increased case numbers being reported here in the US are due both to viral    spread but also to increased testing identifying previously unknown cases.
  • The 1st case was reported on Dec 1st, 2019. As of March 29th, there were 715,076 identified cases of COVID-19 worldwide. The number is likely higher simply because not everyone is being tested. Mildly symptomatic or asymptomatic infections are likely being missed. 
  • Estimates are that an infected person on average infects 2-2.5 other people. Based on this, you can see how this can greatly increase the number of cases over time. If those 2 people then spread it to 2 more people each, etc… This is one of the reasons that social distancing has been evoked. If folks aren’t out mixing with a bunch of other people, it reduces the odds of transmission.
  • SARS-CoV-2 is spreading much more than SARS-CoV did in the 2003 SARS epidemic. Recent research suggests that this may be due to a surface protein that differs slightly between the 2 viruses. This difference may allow SARS-CoV-2 to replicate not only in the lungs as did SARS-CoV, but possibly also in the upper respiratory tract and maybe even in GI tract as well This report is a preprint, meaning that the research hasn’t yet been peer reviewed.
  • There is evidence from the above small study that viral shedding can be as earlier as the 1st week of symptoms, and others note it may also be happening in the presymptomatic phase  So, even if you feel fine, you should still be practicing hygienic techniques like social distancing, frequent hand-washing, disinfecting surfaces, covering your mouth/nose (not with your hand!) when coughing or sneezing.
  • The same study cited above found that aerosolized virus (the form in viruses spread from coughing or sneezing) can last in the air an average of ~ an hour, with the upper end of range being ~2.5 hours. This and the surface survival data exemplify why it’s important to cover one’s mouth when coughing or sneezing, preferably with a tissue or the crook of your elbow (and not your hand). Don’t forget to regularly disinfect handheld devices….phones, tablets, etc.

More on COVID-19

  • A recent research review puts the worldwide average case fatality rate at 2.2% Tho the WHO has it at 3% as of March 3.   This means that approximately 2-3 out of every 100 people infected die.  But estimates  this vary from country to country. In Italy, it has been estimated as high as 10%, while in the US it’s less than 1.5%, and in Germany it’s 0.5%. What these numbers actually represent is complicated, as they’re influenced by who is being tested, by availability of health care, and other factors. As more are tested, these rates may turn out to be lower than current reports.
  • Symptoms emerge on average ~5 days post-infection but may show up sooner or even out to 2 weeks post-infection. The most common symptoms:  Fever (often low), cough (often dry at first) and fatigue. Others include headache, diarrhea, low white blood cell count; and at the more serious end of the spectrum, difficulty breathing, lung damage/pneumonia-like effects, haemoptysis (coughing up blood), and cardiac injury. Loss of taste and smell is coming out in anecdotal reports.
  • Elderly folks or those with chronic health issues (eg. lung, heart) are those most at risk for severe disease


  • As of 27 March, COVID-19 has killed over 33,300 people globally, with the rate here in the US surpassing 1,200.  As mentioned, the average global case fatality rate is somewhere on average around 2-3% at this point (higher in the elderly). 
  • For comparison, the case fatality rate of the average seasonal flu is about 0.1%. That for SARS was about 10% and MERS was a whopping 34% (though both infected far fewer people than the current pandemic virus).
  • Though it has a lower case fatality rate, this season’s flu has infected over 34,000,000 people in the US, with over 16,000 deaths
  • 2000 children die daily, worldwide, from diarrhea
  • This all is not to belittle the current serious pandemic but to put it into context. We don’t panic about seasonal flu and we shouldn’t panic about this. Instead, we should treat it with respect and take the appropriate precautions being put out by organizations such as the WHO.
  • Because this is a new virus in humans, there are a lot of significant unknowns, and this along with the case fatality rate can generate a lot of fear. Coupled with stretched hospital resources, and emergency departments being in triage mode, this means that this is a serious situation. But freaking out and hoarding aren’t helpful.


  • There are a variety of approaches being used to test for infection with SARS-CoV-2 with pros and cons for each.


  • At this point, it’s supportive.
  • There are existing drugs that are currently under investigation for repurposing, but none are recommended for use as yet, pending results on efficacy and safety.  This is despite what you may hear on the news.
  • There is no vaccine. Efforts are underway. But development of a vaccine for the similar SARS-CoV ran into some hurdles (there still isn’t one commercially available to my knowledge). For one, there is a quirk of the immune response to some viruses that can make vaccine development challenging. Also, given the relatively limited extent of the SARS epidemic, there ultimately wasn’t a lot of interest in funding clinical trials. So, in terms of a vaccine for SARS-CoV-2, it’s not going to be here tomorrow or next month or…  Though many labs are working on it. More details:



  • Use stress-relieving techniques. Whatever works for you:  Sitting and focusing on your breath. Music. A good book. Start turning your soil for a garden if lucky enough to have a yard. Go for a walk in nature (outdoor exercise is still allowed in CO as long as you are maintaining a safe distance from others).  This is for quality of life and also because chronic stress may disrupt healthy immune system function. Keep in mind that if you have any symptoms as all, it is critical that you stay in to prevent spread.
  • Get some fresh air (not in a crowd) – Research during the 1918 flu pandemic found that folks who had access to fresh air fared better than those who were cooped up.  Get out on your porch, balcony, etc, at least for a few minutes daily.
  • Connect – Especially if you live alone. Call loved ones. Even use the dreaded internet to connect.  Even if you aren’t hugging anyone at the moment, simply hearing a voice can be enormously supportive.  If you need supplies but can’t get out, ask someone.
  • Disinfect – When you need to go out for anything, going to the store or other necessary trips, use disinfectant on your hands while out, wash your hands thoroughly with soap (regular ol’ soap is fine) and don’t touch your face. Mind you, hand washing and not touching your face is most important of all. 
      • For example, as soon as I get back to my car, I use a spray of 70% ethanol and some essential oils. (This level of alcohol is sufficient, but I like adding some essential oils for scent, about 8 drops per ounce). You can use this on your steering wheel, door knobs or any other surface not damaged by alcohol.   
      • You can also use chlorine bleach (sodium hypochlorite) diluted with water as a surface-cleaning solution as long it’s not on a surface it will damage – 4 teaspoons bleach per quart of water as per the CDC. Make sure the bleach hasn’t passed its expiration date.
  • Herbs – here’s a blurb I posted on FB recently on stuff you may have around the house or yard. Keep in mind, this is simple support for your respiratory and immune systems to help you stay healthy, and is not a substitute for social distancing, hand-washing and using disinfectants to keep your space clean.

~ ~ ~

Given that a lot of folks are stuck at home, now’s a good time for tea making. Here are a few ways to make an aromatic tea to help keep you healthy using stuff you may have in your kitchen, yard or other nearby outdoor space….  A few ideas:

– Pine/Fir Needles and Citrus Peel – finely chopped      

– Thyme and Citrus Peel


– Marjoram and Citrus Peel

– Rosemary, Sage and Citrus Peel

– Ginger, pinch of Cinnamon, a couple Cloves – skip this one if you’re feeling dry

Add Mint (Spearmint, Peppermint, Lemon Balm, Catnip, etc), a pinch of Black Pepper and/or several finely chopped, ripe Juniper berries to any of the above if you’ve got them available. For flavor, add a small amount of local, raw honey after steeping.  A couple/few cups a day. Switch your blend up to keep it interesting.

Note: A medicinal tea is strong. If any of the botanicals here result in a wimpy, mildly-flavored brew, then steep it longer or add more herbs. Or, it could be that your Thyme or what-have-you herbs have been in the spice cabinet for too long.  Dry herbs (other than roots, seeds and dried berries) maintain their properties for only about a year if stored properly…

Here is a link to tea-making instructions. Use the “hot infusion” method described:…/witchin-kitchen-3-methods-making-medi…

~ ~ ~

  Steams with aromatic plants are a great way to provide a pleasant atmosphere  when stuck at home.  Use what you have on hand. Mint, Rosemary, Marjoram, Thyme, Cloves, Cinnamon, Allspice, Ginger, Citrus peels, etc. I love Pine or Fir Needles as well as Juniper Leaves/Berries. Simmer a couple of handfuls in water on the lowest setting. (Don’t leave them unattended or you may wind up with a bunch of firefighters at your door. Ask me how I know).  Yes, you can do the same with essential oils or using them in a diffuser, just don’t diffuse all day…you can overdo it.  But I find the scent to be richer and more complex using the plant bits themselves. 

© 2020, Anna Marija Helt, PhD, Osadha Natural Health, LLC  

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Stuck at home? Here are some teas to make…

Given that a lot of folks are stuck at home, now’s a good time for tea making. Here are a few ways to make an aromatic tea to help keep you healthy using stuff you may have in your kitchen, yard or other nearby outdoor space….
(use the ‘hot infusion” method from the article for the following)
A few ideas:
Pine or Fir Needles and Citrus Peel – finely chopped
Thyme and Citrus Peel – can add in several finely chopped Juniper berries
Marjoram and Citrus Peel
Rosemary and Citrus Peel
Can add Mint (Spearmint, Peppermint, Lemon Balm, Catnip, etc) to any of the above. And any of the above ingredients can be used in combination or alone. For flavor, add a small amount of local, raw honey after steeping.
Note: A medicinal tea is strong. If any of the botanicals here result in a wimpy, mildly-flavored brew, then steep it longer or add more herbs. Or, it could be that the Thyme/etc have been hanging out in your spice cabinet for too long. Dry herbs other than roots and seeds maintain their properties only for about a year if stored properly…

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Advanced Topics in Botanical Medicine: SARS-CoV-2 – Knowns & unknowns

Advanced Topics in Botanical Medicine with Dr. Marija, resident herbalist and microbiologist at My Custom Herbs. This week and next, she’ll be sharing thoughts on SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 from the perspective of a virologist and herbalist. The goal is simply to share what’s known about the virus, the immune response to it, what’s being done in the medical field and what some of the knowns and unknowns are there on the herbal side of things.
Coronaviruses. Image by:  Dr. Fred Murphy/CDC

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Advanced Topics in Herbal Medicine – Phytoestrogens – Flaxseed, Resveratrol

Advanced topics in botanical medicine – Phytoestrogens Join Dr. Marija, resident herbalist and microbiologist at My Custom Herbs as she talks about flaxseeds and resveratrol

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Advanced topics in botanical medicine: Phytoestrogens in Hops & Licorice

Advanced topics in botanical medicine with Dr. Marija, herbalist and microbiologist, of My Custom Herbs. This week’s topic: Plant phytoestrogens, focusing on Hops and Licorice

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Advanced Topics in Botanical Medicine: Phytoestrogens – Soy & Red Clover

Advanced topics in botanical medicine with Dr. Marija of My Custom Herbs.
This week’s topic: The phytoestrogen-containing plants Soy and Red Clover

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Advanced topics in botanical medicine: Xenoestrogens

Dr. Marija, resident herbalist and microbiologist at My Custom Herbs gets into environmental xenoestrogens, significant endocrine disruptors

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Advanced Topics in Botanical Medicine: Phytoestrogens – Part 2

Tune in with Dr. Marija, resident herbalist and microbiologist at My Custom Herbs, as she talks about plant phytoestrogens, an interesting and, for many, confusing, class of potentially helpful plant metabolites.

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Advanced Topics in Botanical Medicine: Phytoestrogens

Tune in with My Custom Herb’s resident herbalist and microbiologist, Dr. Marija as she discusses a valuable but much misunderstood category of plant secondary metabolites, the phytoestrogens!

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Get outside and play!

Another reason to get outside and play!

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Some basics on using botanicals for dogs

Some basics on using botanicals for pooches!

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Advanced Topics in Botanical Medicine: Herb dosing

This week’s LIVE is not live, due to technical difficulties. But here it is…Advanced Topics in Botanical Medicine. This week Marija gets into herb dosing.

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Different modes of taking herbs – Advantages and disadvantages

This week’s Advanced Topics in Botanical Medicine. Join Dr. Marija of My Custom Herbs as she discusses the advantages and disadvantages of different modes of taking herbs.

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The DO’s and DONT’s of Using Herbs

My Custom Herb’s “Advanced Topics in Botanical Medicine”
This week the topic is The Do’s and Don’ts of using herbs…

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Herbs your patients are taking: Chamomile

Join Dr. Marija of as she dives into the uses, clinical data and safety of this beloved herb!  Part of  My Custom Herb’s weekly Advanced Topics in Botanical Medicine series…

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Herbs your patients are taking: Panax Ginseng

Another in My Custom Herbs’ Advanced Topics in Botanical Medicine Series – Herbs your patients are taking: Panax Ginseng.

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All about Chickweed

Chickweed, an overlooked plant with a lot of uses:

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The information on this website, including “Articles”, is for educational purposes only & has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or to substitute for advice from a licensed healthcare provider.

The copyrights of all articles in “Articles” belong to Anna-Marija Helt. Permission to republish any of the articles in full or in part online or in print must be granted by the author in writing.

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Herbal Concoctions for Cold & Flu – TOMORROW (Oct 24)!!


Hands-On Workshop ~ Thursday 24th October, 630-830 pm in Durango, CO

Reduce your chance of getting sick this season and learn how to deal with it if the sniffles and cough do kick in. 

•Learn immune-boosting and anti-viral herbs and foods

•Make your own 4 Thieves Vinegar

•Make immune-boosting pastilles

•Create a bug-busting tea blend

Registration is $45. Pre-registration required. To RSVP, hit “Contact” or email me at or call/text 970-779-3111.

Space is limited to 10 people. Directions given upon RSVP, but you’ll be parking in same lot as Star Liquors and Yoga Durango.

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All about Cleavers (Galium aparine)!

Healing benefits of Galium/Cleavers! sits down with Dr. Anna-marija Helt with Osadha Natural Health to talk about the amazing healing benefits of Galium/Cleavers!

Posted by Basmati on Tuesday, October 22, 2019

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Herbs your patients are taking: Kava Kava.

Herbs your patients are taking: Kava Kava. Traditional uses, clinical data, safety & interactions with Dr. Marija of
anxiety, depression, liver, insomnia

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Herbs your patients are taking: Peppermint

Advanced topics in botanical medicine – Herbs your patients are taking: Peppermint
Join Dr. Marija at My Custom Herbs as she geeks out on traditional uses, clinical data, safety and interactions of the top 10 selling herbs in the US…

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Easy to make herbal gifts for the holidays

Some simple, sweet herbal gifts to make for your loved ones…

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Litsea cubeba – all about it!

Litsea cubeba. Unless you’re an aromatherapist or Chinese medicine practitioner, this may be a new one for you…

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All about Allspice!

Allspice. Remember seeing an ancient red and white tin of this in the spice cabinet growing up but don’t know what the heck it is? Well, tune in here…
digestion, cold, flu, blood sugar

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Pumpkin Spice…love it or hate it, it goes beyond your coffee drink and air freshener!

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Herbs your patients are taking: Echinacea

Advanced topics in botanical medicine –
Herbs your patients are taking: Echinacea
uses, clinical data, safety, interactions
Plus, did you know that Echinacea’s polysaccharides aren’t the primary immune stimulating component of the plant?

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Herbs your patients are taking: Turmeric

My Custom Herb’s weekly live video on advanced topics in botanical medicine.
This week, we’re continuing the series “Herbs your patients are taking” with a deep look at turmeric. Including Marija’s rant on Turmeric versus curcumins.
curcumin-free turmeric, arthritis, liver, digestion, NSAIDs, cancer

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The food and medicine of Prickly Pear cactus

Prickly Pear Cactus. Awesome food and medicine. Just don’t forget to remove the spines and glochids or you’ll regret it…

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Herbs your patients are taking: Saw Palmetto

Advanced topics in herbalism.
BPH, benign prostate hypertrophy, PCOS, hormonal imbalances, fertility, reproductive health, hirsutism

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Meet the weeds: Chickweed. Gentle but effective!

UTI, fluid retention, eczema, dermatitis, psoriasis, detox, lymph, swollen glands, itchy skin

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3 hearty & grounding mushroom recipes for fall

Mushroom season is wrapping up here in the San Juans but just getting going elsewhere. Here are a few ideas on what to do with your bounty (or what you’ve foraged from teh market).
wild mushrooms, immune system, cold, flu, liver, heart, cholesterol, blood sugar, fiber

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Enokitake (Enoki) Mushrooms!

Enoki mushrooms – those skinny little white mushrooms that are delicious in stir fries – are also good medicine.

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Bilberry. Been great for my eyes and those of several clients :) And it’s tasty!
capillaries, varicose veins, cognition, brain, vision, eyes, glaucoma, kidneys

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Sacred Trees: Hawthorn folklore, medicine and food

heart, cardiovascular, asthma, depression, anxiety, love


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Advanced Topics in Botanical Medicine – Ginkgo

My Custom Herbs – Advanced topics in botanical medicine:
Herbs your patients are taking: Ginkgo
Uses, clinical data on efficacy, interactions, safety and adverse effects.

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Essential Oil Essentials: Blend our own seasonal scent for autumn

Making a personal autumn perfume blend…
autumn, fall, seasons, perfumery, essential oils, aromatherapy

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Time for harvesting Acorns!

nutritious, protein, fat, vitamins, minerals, baking, survival food

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How to use Hollyhocks

Hollyhocks…they’re all over Durango at the moment!

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The herbs your patients are taking

This week’s FB Live…What herbs your patients are taking. Traditional use, clinical trials, interactions, safety. St. John’s Wort is the featured herb.

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Great medicinals to plant this fall!
gardening, autumn, calendula, tulsi, skullcap, wild yam, black cohosh, mullein, geranium, oregano, chives, horehound, marjoram, mint, thyme, sweet woodruff, angelica, bee balm, blue vervain, california poppy, echinacea, chamomile, lavender, sage, violet

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Can traditional herbalism and Western medicine get along?

My Custom Herbs

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All about Burdock!

It’s about to be Burdock-harvesting time…
liver, hepatic, digestion, bitter, prebiotic, gut, hormones,detox

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Four great medicinal roots to harvest this fall

liver, digestion, back pain, autumn, fall harvesting, root digging, herbal medicine

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Evaluating herbal research studies

Herbal research studies…common pitfalls

Join Dr. Marija, resident herbalist and microbiologist with My Custom Herbs as she talks about advanced topics in herbalism. Today she discusses common pitfalls in herbal research studies.

Posted by My Custom Herbs on Wednesday, August 21, 2019

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How to choose probiotics

How to choose probiotics for yourself…
(My Custom Herbs Weekly Q & A)

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wild mushrooms, foraging, porcini, boletus, cancer, immune

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Oregon Grape – Uses & Sustainability

bacterial infection, staph, MRSA, digestive, bitters

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Adverse effects & fatalities due to meds versus botanicals in US

Weekly FB Live on advanced topics in botanical medicine…
Analysis of 5 years worth of National Poison Control Center data comparing adverse effect case numbers and case fatalities due to medications versus botanicals (and food), adjusted for population usage and rate of reporting.

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Medicinal uses of Pine

All about Pine medicine!
cold, flu, congestion, incense, vitamin C

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Sacred Trees: Oak folklore, medicine & food

astringent, diarrhea, bleeding, rashes, burns, Druid

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Herbal Adverse Effects Reports

Info on herbal adverse effects reporting… How/where to look for info on herbal adverse effects and the importance of critical evaluation of the data.

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My Custom Herbs Weekly Q&A on all things herbs & gut related

This week I address questions on Senna and on, well, what it means if you’re seeing chunks of food in your poo……

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All about Hops! They’re for more than just beer and ale…

sedative, insomnia, anxiety, digestion, menopause, hot flashes, beer, ale

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Essential Oil Essentials: 5 sacred & sustainable scents

Some of my favorite aromatic plants have a rich history of use in ritual, ceremony, spiritual practice, hygiene, and simply for enjoyment that dates back likely for as long as we’ve had noses. Though I’ve stopped using two of my very favorites due to increasing commercial pressure on them. Here are some lovely aromas that are just as ancient and steeped in history, but that can (at least thus far) keep up with the demand…

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Herbal Safety – 5 of the top reasons for herbal adverse effects

Today’s FB Live topic: Herbal Safety – 5 of the most common reasons for herbal adverse effects… Tune in each week as I discuss advanced topics in herbal medicine.

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Feel better during allergy season – 6 steps!

Online class now available!

Now is the time to get ready for spring allergy season! Use the following link to start kicking your seasonal allergies to the curb….

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6 herbs for healthy teeth and gums

healthy teeth, gums, cavities, periodontal, gingivitis

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Advanced topics in herbalism – Herb Safety Part 2

Herb Safety – Part 2 – More data-based perspectives on the relative safety of herbs versus pharmaceuticals.

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All about Shepherd’s Purse

Growing near you…Shepherd’s Purse!

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All about Figwort (Schrophularia californica, S. nodosa, others)

Figwort! Learn what it is here : )
arthritis, lymph system
Apologies for the crappy photo…it’s all I had in my photo library : )

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Herbal safety – Part 1 – Perspectives (Advanced topics in herbalism)

If you are a healthcare practitioner of any sort and your patients are using herbs, you might tune in to this weekly series for some guidance on what herbs are, how they act, their efficacy, herb-drug interactions, safety and other topics. Led by herbalist and former biomedical researcher, Dr. Anna Marija Helt of My Custom Herbs and Osadha Natural Health.
herb safety, adverse effects, herbal efficacy, herb drug interactions

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Start your puppy out right with these tips

Tips for your new puppy!

dogs   canine    health    puppy    nutrition    calming herbs

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Weekly Digestive Health & Herbalism Q&A

My Custom Herbs weekly Q & A on digestive system health and herbs. Send us your questions! We’re expanding into support for perimenopause and menopause…send us your questions!

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Garden Sage! All about it!

Garden Sage. The botanical name, Salvia, says it all. It’s good for damned near everything…. (Well, almost)
digestive health, indigestion, hot flashes, weaning, cold, flu, infection, brain

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Herb-Drug Interactions, Part 3

Part 3 of Herb-Drug Interactions! Herbs, medications and Phase 1 metabolism (p450 enzymes)….what can happen and specific examples.

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Reishi…you need to meet this mushroom

Reishi, Ling Zhi, Ganoderma lucidum, Mushroom of Immortality…by whatever name, it’s a pretty amazing mushroom.

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Herb-Drug Interactions, Part 2

Stuff you should know if you’re practicing….

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3 bitter mints for better digestion (& more!)

Not all mints taste like mint!
indigestion, bloating, spasm, cramps, gas, anxiety, depression

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Natural, personal support for menopause, fertility, repro health, libido…

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Chanterelles as medicine

Chanterelles….the season’s almost here! Hear are some medicinal benefits to think about while you’re feasting on them…
Medicinal and edible mushrooms, mushroom foraging

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My Custom Herbs Herbal Q & A #1 – Questions on digestive system!

Along with the weekly Wednesday Live Q&A geared towards healthcare practitioners and others wanting advanced herbal info, we’ve initiated a Thursday Q & A for the broader public to provide some clarity on what can be the confusing world of botanical medicine. Send us your questions!
reflux   belching   digestive health  apple cider vinegar mallow aloe

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An introduction to herb-drug interactions…

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Bats are pollinators, too! Who doesn’t love bats?!
bats, pollinators, night blooming flowers, gardening

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Wonderful Willow

Willow for joint pain, headaches and magic wands : )

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Honeysuckle as a sweet addition to your garden :)
colds, flu, hot flashes, inflammation, heat clearing

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All about Oregano! It’s not just for pizza. And I’ll offer an opinion on oregano essential oil….

cold, flu, digestion, fungal infection



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Garden Nasturtium as Food & Medicine

Garden Nasturtium… Easy to grow. Tasty in the kitchen. Great for infections.
wild food, stubborn infections, cold, flu, digestive, uti

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Nettle Root…a premier prostate tonic, but good for women as well…

 BPH, prostatitis, PCOS, aromatase inhibitor, dihydrotestosterone, 5 alpha reductase inhibitor

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All about Wild Lettuce!

Wild Lettuce…weed your garden and get good medicine at the same time! Just wear gloves…it’s prickly….

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Meet your Microbiome: A Party in your Gut – Part 2

Meet your Microbiome – A party in your gut! Part 2…. (What’s happening at the party)

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Meet your gut microbiome! – Part 1

Meet your microbiome! Part 1 of a 4 part series on microbial geekery as it pertains to gut and overall health!

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Herbal allies for blood sugar balance

Poor blood sugar regulation is an epidemic in the West. Here are a handful of spices that may help (along with eating a healthy, whole foods diet, of course…).

Cinnamon sticks, reflective background

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Herbal Infused Oils for Kitchen & Medicine Cabinet – Workshop

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Mints…easy to grow, good for so many health issues and delicious!

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Essential oils for when you’re sad

Feeling sad? Here are some great smelling oils for a little aromatic hug….

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All about Honeysuckle!

That Honeysuckle in your garden is useful for way more than just it’s beauty and scent (and tasty nectar…)


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All about Stinging Nettle Leaf

Stinging Nettles. They’re good for you.

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Sunny, natural perfume blends for spring

Get out your essential oils!

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Keep Moving: 3 herbal tonics for connective tissue

Achy knees from hiking, biking or just because? Hands in pain when opening a jar? Shoulders bothering you from too much downhill? Read on…..

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Tinctures 3 Ways!

There are 6 or 7 spots left :) Learn how to make your own plant medicine in Tucson!

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I recently drove home from Tucson and encountered canyon walls of California Poppy. I absolutely love this plant. One of the more intense orange colors you’ll encounter in nature. Here are some tried and true traditional medicinal uses of this lovely and persistent plant.

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Did you know that your dog can catch your cold?

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Your new soup ingredient: Astragalus

Astragalus – A valued root from Traditional Chinese Medicine. A go-to herb for folks with weak immunity, weak digestion, weakness in general. As a powder, it’s a fantastic soup/stew/gravy thickener that’s a healthy alternative to wheat flour and corn starch!

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How to reduce your chance for injury while out playing!


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Meet your Digestive System, Part 4: Life in the Large Intestine

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Meet your Digestive System, Part 3: Adventures in the Small Intestine

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Nutmeg – medicinal uses…Just don’t get too carried away!


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Heart healthy herbs for your hound!


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Meet your digestive system – part 2: What actually happens in the stomach…


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Support for coldsore flare-ups…

Natural support for coldsore flare-ups. Get on it at the first sign and it will make your life easier…

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Herb-Drug Interactions

An important topic to be aware of…

Join with herbalist Dr. Anna Marija Helt as we share with you some special tips herb-drug interactions!

Posted by Basmati on Wednesday, March 27, 2019

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Natural support for OCD

OCD…can range from mild to annoying as hell and life-disrupting.
I check my stove every time I go out. Even when I haven’t used it. Though, in my own defense, this is partly due to leaving something on the stove one day and coming home to 4 fire engines outside my building……

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Medicinal uses of Rose Hips!

With spring allergy season kicking in, now is a good time to incorporate them into your routine….

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7 botanicals for day-to-day anxiety

Some great herbs for being relaxed without being drowsy, so you can get yer stuff done…

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Some Rocky Mountain Medicinal Mushrooms

All photos (c) 2017 Anna Marija Helt

Did you know that mushrooms are more closely related to animals than to plants?   And that what we generally refer to as a “mushroom” are really just the sex parts, called fruiting bodies? We don’t usually see the whole organism, which lives buried in the soil, wood, or manure that is it’s host. In fact, lying largely unseen under the soil in Oregon is what is though to be the largest living organism in the world, a clonal colony of Honey Mushroom (Armillaria solidipes) that’s nearly 4 square miles in size. It does send up very visible fruiting bodies, and the mycelial mass can be found growing up the inside of the bark of the trees with which it has a parasitic relationship.

Fruiting bodies that consist of a stalk and cap used to be referred to as “toadstools”, a name that comes from Middle English. In some usages, “toadstool” specifically referred to poisonous species, possibly because toads themselves used to be regarded as highly poisonous. 

All of the species discussed here, both toadstool and not, are fairly easy to identify if you know what to look for.  However, it’s a good idea to have a collection of identification books as well as some time spent with someone who knows the local mushrooms before heading out and gathering. Wherever you mushroom hunt, know with absolute certainty the identification of the fungus you are seeking and know the deadly and other seriously toxic species.

Mushroom Medicine Making

First, let’s get into how to use mushrooms for health. My preferred way is to eat those that are tasty. But, not all mushrooms that are useful as medicine necessarily taste pleasant. A traditional way to make mushroom medicine is to decoct them for several to many hours.  This is a great way to extract the multi-functional beta-glucans and other helpful mushroom polysaccharides.  The problem, however, is that mushrooms have other beneficial components that don’t dissolve so well in water, including terpenoids, polyphenols, nucleic acids, sterols and other compounds.  So my favorite way to handle mushrooms, aside from eating them, is to make a combined tincture and decoction to capture as many constituents as possible in an easy to take form. This is called a “double extract”.

You don’t need fancy equipment to make a good double extract.  The way I learned is from the California School of Herbal Studies (located in a mushroom mecca). First, the mushrooms are tinctured. I generally use about 60-70% ethanol for this, depending on the mushroom.  After pressing out the tincture, the marc or a new batch of mushrooms if you have enough, is decocted. Usually I decoct for 2 or more hours, adding back more water as needed to keep it from burning or drying out, but the goal is to essentially make a reduction. The tincture and water extracts are then combined.  If the concentration of ethanol is much over 25%, mushroom polysaccharides will start to precipitate out of solution. I don’t worry about this and just shake the double extract before dispensing. 

Others prefer the reverse process…to first decoct the mushroom then tincture second. This requires storing the decoction for at least two weeks while the tincture is macerating. I’ve tried both ways and prefer the way I initially learned (tincture first, decoct second).  I haven’t seen much of a difference in the final product. Though if I have a lot of mushrooms, I will use a new batch, perhaps together with the marc, for the decoction.

And now for a selection of mushrooms I’ll be talking about at the conference, and including in a book on the medicinal and food uses of our local mushrooms (not that there’s a need for yet another book…). The bit of information on identification I provide in this article is not sufficient to go on. Get a few good identification books; at least one with a detailed key, one with good photos and one that is local (as opposed to relying solely on a North American field guide).

Agaricus spp – Meadow Mushroom and Horse Mushroom

If you think you don’t know this mushroom, think again!  Agaricus bisporus is the ubiquitous white Button Mushroom common on pizzas and in grocery stores across the country.  Incidentally, Button Mushrooms are the same species as both Crimini and Portabello mushrooms. Portabellos are simply the grown up version and Crimini, a color variant.  We have several Agaricus species in Colorado (for a handy local guidebook with good photos, see Vera Stucky Evenson’s “Mushrooms of Colorado and the Southern Rocky Mountains” (1). I like this book together with “Mushrooms Demystified” by David Arora (2) for identification purposes.      

Of our local Agaricus species, Meadow Mushroom (A. campestris) and Horse Mushroom (A. arvensis) are delicious and have known medicinal uses. These species are eaten in many parts of the globe, from Mesoamerica to the Himalayas to East Africa (3-6), and can be used similarly as Button Mushrooms in terms of recipes….pizza topping, pasta dishes, gravy, as topping for steak. Though, when served salads that have raw mushrooms, pick them out. Mushrooms are best eaten cooked. One, raw mushrooms are hard to digest. Two, the Agaricus genus contains agaritine and other phenylhydrazine derivatives that may pose health problems. The research is confusing as to what extent they are problematic.  Nevertheless, agaritine content is reduced somewhat by cooking, and perhaps more so by storing your shrooms in the fridge for 4 or more days before using. Robert Rogers provides a good summary on the agaritine controversy in his excellent book “The Fungal Pharmacy” (7).  A good way to store mushrooms in the fridge is to put them in a bowl and cover with a wet paper towels.

Meadow and Horse Mushrooms show up on lawns, golf courses, pastures and meadows.  Both have a mild odor with the latter having a faint, almond-like scent, and fruit from spring through fall.  There are similar looking Agaricus species referred to as the “lose your lunch bunch” and at least one of these grows here. A way to distinguish it is to smell it…if the Agaricus mushroom has an stringent, unpleasant scent and stains bright yellow upon cutting, don’t collect it.  It’s not deadly if you eat it, but you’ll feel like s—t for a while.

Agaricus mushrooms in general are distinguished by a white stalk and cap with an annular ring around the stalk.  For mushroom folks, this general description is setting off warning bells right now, because it also fits for the deadly Destroying Angel Mushrooms (Amanita virosa, A. bisporigera, A. verna and A. ocreata) which also have white fruiting bodies with a ring around the stalk (if it hasn’t worn off).  How to avoid making a deadly mistake?  The Amanitas have white gills, a white spore print and a distinctive cup-like structure (the “vulva”) at the base. The vulva may be underground, so it’s important when harvesting Agaricus to dig down and make sure there is no volva. Agaricus have purplish to brown gills and a brown spore print. Destroying Angels have not been noted in Colorado to my knowledge, but the poisonous Amanita pantherina is and it can also be confused with Agaricus by someone not being careful.

Medicinally speaking, both Meadow and Horse Mushrooms have activity against antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria like E. coli, Klebsiella and Pseudomonas, at least in petri dishes (8-10) which may or may not be relevant to a real infection in a person. Nevertheless, this is hopeful in this age of failing antibiotic efficacy and such bacterial species are often the bane of immunocompromised folks and those in long term health care situations.  Also, Meadow Mushroom extracts reduced biofilm formation of the troublesome bacteria, Pseudomonas (11).  Biofilms are structures secreted by bacteria that make them hard to kill and are often a problem in hospital settings.

Both Agaricus species also possess a collection of antioxidant constituents including tocopherols, glutathione and polyphenols (5, 11-14).  Oxidative stress is involved in the aging process and also is a contributing factor to the major chronic diseases: Cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, autoimmunity, arthritis.  Moreover, both species kill tumor cell lines in cell culture models (15, 16).  While killing cells in a dish doesn’t necessarily translate to efficacy against cancer in a person, it is an indicator of possibility!  Speaking as someone who’s killed many a cancer cell in a dish…

I’ve seen a number of writings naming Meadow Mushroom as a traditional treatment for diabetes, but so far can’t find the specific ethnobotanical information that actually describes where this was done.  Here in North America?  Europe?  South America?  Asia?  All over?  I will keep searching unless one of you knows and is kind enough to share the info!  In any event, extracts of Meadow Mushroom did reduce blood sugar levels by inducing secretion of insulin and possibly by possessing some insulin-like activity or potentiating insulin activity in a rodent model of diabetes (17).  (I know…I’m not a fan of animal studies either.)

In terms of interesting chemistry, Horse Mushroom is particularly rich in glutamic acid (18). Glutamic acid converts into glutamate, a neurotransmitter involved in learning and memory.  On a side note, glutamic acid tastes good and the flavor description “umani” was originated based on the taste of glutamic acid crystals isolated from seaweed.  Horse Mushroom also contains a respectable amount of linoleic acid (18), an essential omega 6 fatty acid that is a component of cell membranes.       

Amanita muscaria (Fly Agaric)

Fly Agaric is one of the best recognized and most beautiful mushrooms encountered in the woods, with it’s distinctive white-spotted red cap. It has traditionally been used as an entheogen for shamanic rituals In northern Europe and parts of Asia. 

Fly Agaric are sometimes mistakenly put into the same category as Death Caps and Destroying Angels when it comes to toxicity.  These Amanitas destroy the liver due to their content of alpha-amanitin and other amatoxins. Fly Agaric does not contain these toxins and doesn’t destroy the liver. However, Fly Agaric does contain neurotoxins; specifically ibotenic acid and muscimol, the aforementioned water-soluble components responsible for the toxic and entheogenic effects. The more potent muscarine is often cited as the poisonous component of Fly Agaric, but it is present only in minute quantities. 

In Lithuania, where my mother’s family is from, Amanita muscaria are called “musmire grybai” for “the fly died mushroom” because the mushrooms were set out in milk to trap and kill flies. The flies were thought to be stupified by the mushroom then drown in the milk.  Note that in researching for their review paper, Rubel and Arora found no solid reports of human deaths in North America from ingestion of Fly Agaric despite the fact that folks do harvest it for it’s potential psychoactive properties.  (I don’t know how the North American Fly Agaric compares for entheogenic purposes with those growing in Siberia and other regions where they’ve traditionally been used.)  They and others note one murky report where a fellow (a count, actually!) in 1897 ingested about two dozen mushrooms that he bought at a market.  Were they actually Fly Agaric?  Don’t know.  Apparently what he actually died from remains unclear. For further geeking out on this, check out the Rubel and Arora paper (19).

While not the most commonly used botanical in herbal practice nowadays, some herbalists in the US and Europe do use Fly Agaric. For example, in his book “The Fungal Pharmacy” Robert Rogers mentions a the traditional Finnish practice of steeping the red cap skins in vodka as a topical treatment for painful bruises (7). I’ve made such a tincture — it’s a beautiful ruby red — and have been using it on my painful overused joints, starting with just a few drops and working my way up dosage-wise. At this point, I use about 10 drops topically and it works. So far, no neurological reactions that I’ve noticed have cropped up though I’ve seen comments here and there that some folks may have reactivity even to topical use.  I’ve also used it topically for sciatic pain and post-viral neuralgia in clients and it’s helped.   Fly Agaric is also mentioned by Felter in his Eclectic Materia Medica, with respect to using minute doses of weak tincture internally for excess sweating, profuse urination, twitching, tremors and restlessness (20).  Though he refers to muscarine as the main toxic principle, we know now that this is not the case.

Boletus edulis – King Bolete

King Boletes rock!  They’re a valued wild food in many parts of the northern hemisphere and were relied on (along with Horse Mushrooms and Chanterelles) as survival food during the food shortages of the Bosnian War in the 90’s (21). The Pomo culture who lived along and around the north central California coast prepared their Boletes on hot stones (22). In Italy they are known as “porcini”, meaning “little pigs”, due to their substantial plumpness. Incidentally, in Italy porcini were thought to fruit best during the new moon. I owe my current hunting spot for King Boletes to the owner of our local Italian bistro, Guido’s, who graciously shared with me the general area she and her family like to go. King Boletes are one of my (and many other folks’) favorite edible mushrooms, and they can be huge!  There is, however, a bit of competition with the wriggly maggots you may find in some of the big shrooms…if that doesn’t bother you, you can just cut around them.

The “edulis” part of Boletus edulis means “edible”, and, wow is it ever.  A good way to bring out the flavor of Boletes is to dry sautee them before use. But first, use a brush or paper towel to wipe them off.  Try to avoid using water to clean them; Boletes are like sponges. If the spore releasing surface under the cap is whitish and firm, it can be retained. If spongy and yellow or greenish, peel it off. Some folks also peel the surface skin from the cap but this isn’t necessary. Cut cap and stalk into uniform, thin slices and place in single layer on a pan preheated on medium heat on the stove.  Sprinkle with salt.  The purpose of dry sauteing the mushrooms like this is to remove water while preventing the mushrooms from steaming each other and turning rubbery if cooked in pile. Dry sauteeing improves flavor as well.  As the mushrooms just start to brown, either scrape them to the side of the pan or scoop them onto a plate and set aside. Repeat the process with another layer of mushrooms. Once all have been through the process, you can now pile the mushrooms up and add butter or your preferred cooking oil. I also add finely diced shallots and garlic along with black pepper, and use vodka, vermouth, white wine or sherry to deglaze the pan.

King Boletes are widespread in colorado and many folks that I know in Durango head out annually to gather them. They (the Boletes and their hunters!) are easy to spot once you know what to look for. King Boletes have a mycorrhizal relationship with Spruce, Pines and other trees around here and the fruiting bodies pop up from the ground from the upper foothills to just below tree line,  mid-July to September. Some years they pop up earlier, some later.  I have the best luck finding them at around 10,000 feet elevation. The fruiting bodies are most often found among the trees at the edges of clearings, along trails, etc.  The caps can be up to 20 cm across and are a rusty reddish-brown, sometimes fading to yellow/orangish in the sun. The stalk is thick, bulbous and white to pale yellow. The surface has a light colored vein-like network, especially right under the cap. This is a polypore mushroom, meaning that the spores are produced and shed through tiny holes on the underside of the cap rather than from gills.  The pore surface is white in young fruiting bodies, turning spongy and yellowish to olive green as they age.

Fly Agaric is used as an indicator species for finding King Boletes, since they grown in the same terrain. I usually see one or the other in a given season at a given spot. Meaning that one year I may find a lot of Fly Agarics in a particular spot but not many Boletes. The next year in the same spot, the Boletes have seemingly taken over with nary a Fly Agaric to be seen. Is this due to rainfall? Temperature? Planetary Position?  Who knows.

A look-alike, the Aspen Bolete, also grows here in the Southern Rockies and is edible. I don’t think it tastes so great and it may cause gastrointestinal distress in some folks.  As the name implies, Aspen Boletes grow in Aspen groves. They are of similar size, maybe a bit smaller than King Boletes in terms of the cap, and the stalk is not quite so chubby.  The delicate web-like network on the stalk surface is dark rather than the white-to pinkish color found on King Boletes.

The antioxidant activity of Boletes has been studied more than perhaps anything else medicinally-related and is due to multiple mushroom constituents, including polysaccharides along with polyphenols such as gallic acid, caffeic acid, quercetin and beta-carotene (23-26 and many others). I mentioned the significance of oxidative stress earlier. Of those studied, King Boletes seem to be one of the strongest anti-oxidant mushrooms.

Boletes show some activity against Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV1) as well as Candida and both gram positive and gram negative strains of bacteria, at least in a dish (25, 27, 28).  That these experiments were done in a dish implies direct inhibitory activity by the mushroom extracts, as opposed to immune system activation.  Though Bolete polysaccharides and lectins do stimulate white blood cell production (29, 30), suggesting that Boletes have multiple ways of inhibiting microbial infections.

As with a number of other mushrooms, King Boletes inhibit tumor cell proliferation, both in cell culture as well as in rodent models  (31-35). In fact, a terpene dubbed “boledulin A” was isolated from mycelial culture and found to have higher tumor cell toxicity in cell culture than the commonly used chemotherapeutic drug, Cisplatin (35). In the other studies, polysaccharide and glycoprotein water extracts were active against tumor cells, as well as a fraction that consisted of over 50% mushroom RNA (31-34).

Boletes may also provide respiratory and cardiovascular system support via anti-inflammatory effects (36, 37) and may additionally support the heart and blood vessels by influencing blood lipid balance (38).

Because this is one of my favorite edibles, it was a bit sad setting some Boletes aside for extract making. Though the double extract turned out to be one of the slimiest I’ve ever made.  Lots of polysaccharides!

Calvatia, Lycoperdon & other spp – Puffballs

Puffballs look like their name implies. I guess means that they are not, in fact, toadstools since they lack a stalk. Plus, their roundness may make them more difficult for perching upon.  We have at least seven Puffball species in the Southern Rockies: Giant Western Puffball (Calvatia booniana), Smokey Puffball (Calvatia fumosa), Tumbling Puffball  (Bovista plumbea), Sculptured Puffball (Calbovista subsculpta), Gem-Studded Puffball (Lycoperdon perlatum), Pear-Shaped Puffball (Lycoperdon pyriforme) and Purple-Spored Puffball (Calvatia cyathiformis, aka C. fragilis, C. lilicina or Bovista lilicina and a whole host of other names…Geez!) (1, 2).  A fun assortment of names, to be sure, but my favorite by far is “Old Man’s Fart”, reflecting the dark cloud of spores that explodes out when you step on a ripe puffball (39). In any event, fruiting body size ranges wildly from marble to gobstopper to grapefruit to soccer ball depending on the species and fruiting body age.

Puffballs have traditional medicinal (and food) uses across North America. Many of the uses were topical treatments for mastitis, sores, abscesses, injuries, bleeding and for healing the belly button in newborns. For nosebleeds specifically, a chunk of fruiting body was stuffed into the offending nostril(s) while for bleeding wounds the spores were often used (39-42). The use of Puffballs as food, styptic and wound treatment is found across the globe:  Mezoamerica, South America, China, Japan, Nepal, Europe, India (40, 43-47). Ceramics from Peruvian cultures that date back to 800 BCE show what may be representations of Puffballs, and some species are still eaten today in parts of Peru (44).   

Multiple Puffball species have been researched scientifically at least to some extent, and exhibit a whole slew of “anti-“ effects: Anti-tumor (in cell culture and rodent studies), anti-parasitic, anti-fungal, anti-bacterial and anti-oxidant (48).

Of our local crew, Purple-Spored Puffball has been fairly well studied. It is a cosmopolitan Puffball, and you have to wonder just how much of an effect where it grows has on it’s medicinal properties. (The same can be said of other mushrooms and herbs).  Protein extracts from the fruiting bodies inhibit the proliferation of cancer cells but not “normal” cells in culture lines in cell culture experiments (49-51). This differential activity will be interesting if it works in actual people. “Normal” is in quotes because once you stick a cell in a plastic dish, the cell is no longer “normal”.  Fractions active against bacteria and fungi have been isolated from Purple-Spored Puffball and this and other Puffballs contain calvatic acid, which is active against Staph, E. coli, Salmonella, Klebsiella, Pseudomonas and other problematic species of bacteria  (40, 48, 52).  Traditionally speaking, Purple-Spored Puffball is also a cough and sore throat remedy in Taiwan, China and Japan and a treatment for leucorrhea and infertility in Nigeria (3, 46). 

Of the other Rocky Mountain Puffballs, chemical isolates from Pear-Shaped Puffballs inhibit a parasitic roundworm that causes widespread crop loss throughout the world (53), while Tumbling Puffball water extracts possess both strong anti-oxidant effects as well as anti-bacterial activity (54, 55).

Mushrooms can be heavy metal accumulators, and Puffballs are especially adept at it. As with any wildcrafting, it’s important to do your best to gather Puffballs from a clean environment. Plucking them downstream from mines, which are common in the Rockies, probably isn’t the best approach. 

Many Puffballs are edible but I think the best in our region is the Giant Western Puffball, which conveniently grow on my generous neighbor’s lawn. For a size reference see the photo comparison of Milo the Chiweenie versus Giant Puffball. Milo approached the Puffball with a trepidatious mix of “What the hell is that?” and “Can I eat it?”. Here is a tasty recipe for using this and other edible Puffballs…


Puffball-Stuffed Ravioli

First, make sure the puffball is pure white all through it upon slicing. The inside will start turning yellow/green as spores are produced. Also, for smaller puffballs, slice in half from top to bottom to make sure it’s not a baby Amanita, which can look very similar. The difference is that the Amanita will have an embryonic mushroom growing inside, the outline of which will be visible, though sometimes only faintly, while a not-yet-sporulating puffball will be solid white.


Peel or slice the outer skin off of the fruiting body. Cut into slices ~ a cm thick or less. Layer in single layer in pan preheated on medium heat, sprinkle with a bit of sea salt and dry sautee as described for Boletes. Add butter, a couple of chopped sage leaves and diced shallots and stir around until shallots become translucent. Grind in a food processor with a bit of fresh parsley, a teaspoon of grated Parmesan and/or Peccorino Romano per cup of cooked mushroom, salt, pepper and garlic powder to taste.  Mix at desired ratio with ricotta cheese (I like about 2/3 mushroom blend + 1/3 ricotta). 


2 cups semolina flour

1 cup duram flour

3 large eggs

3 TBLSP water

1 tsp olive oil

1/2 tsp salt

Mix the 2 flours and make a “volcano” with the mix. Mix eggs, water and salt in measuring cup.  Add this liquid mix slowly to center of volcano and mix with a finger until the liquid is incorporated. You won’t need all of the flour, so save or discard the dry portion. Make a dough ball and knead on a floured surface for 8-10 minutes. Roll into blob and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Let it rest at room temperature for 30 minutes. Roll out and cut either for ravioli or tortellini, then stuff, then they’re ready to boil. As a sauce, I prefer something not too overpowering so as to not take focus away from the mushroom flavor; either drizzled with browned butter or a mellow white sauce with the addition of a small amount of the aforementioned vodka, vermouth, white wine or sherry.  Though red sauces would also be great if that’s more to your taste!  Another dressing I like is olive oil with sliced fresh, sweet heirloom tomatoes. This is making me hungry. 

Sarcodon imbricatus (aka. S. aspratus) – Hawks Wing

Mushroom foragers in the Rockies are familiar with this distinctive-looking mushroom, with its large, scaly cap that can reach 10 inches in diameter. Instead of gills or a polypore surface, Hawks Wings have small tooth-like projections from which they release their spores. In Greek, Sarco means “flesh” while odon means “tooth”. 

These are edible fungi — rich in trace elements like magnesium, zinc, manganese and iron — and eaten in many parts of the world. But, Hawks Wings that I’ve tried in Colorado taste like old shoes, or at least what I imagine old shoes would taste like. The smaller, younger fruiting bodies are supposed to taste better, and have less of a chance for causing digestive upset, but they just taste like smaller old shoes. The double extract doesn’t taste much better. It starts hopefully with a hint of sweetness followed abruptly by a strong, sharp, burned rubbery taste.

Despite the not-so-appealing flavor, Hawks Wings shine as medicine. 

Both water- and alcohol-soluble Hawks Wing extracts possess anti-microbial activity against a wide variety of gram positive and gram negative bacteria, including some antibiotic resistant strains, in lab studies (10, 56, 57). Hopefully this will extend to efficacy in people, given that antibiotic resistance and difficult-to-treat infections are a growing problem. On a related note, alcohol-based extracts prevented bacterial biofilm formation (56).

On the viral side of things, a polysaccharide fraction derived from fruiting bodies was active against Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV1) in cell culture (57), but the concentration of extract used was pretty high, so I’m not sure how effective it would be in real life.

As with many mushrooms, Hawks Wings demonstrate anti-tumor activity in cell culture models, due at least in part to ergosterol derivatives (58-60). Ergosterol is a well known component of fungal cell membranes.  Also in the tumor cell-inhibiting department, a water extract of the mushroom reduced the activity of telomerase in a tumor cell line (61). Telomerase is an enzyme that is important for the integrity of our chromosomes but is overactive in many forms of cancer. A water extract strongly inhibited tumor growth in a rodent model, and the polysaccharide component was thought to be the active principle (62).

Hawks Wing also acts as an immunomodulator, stimulating immune system activation by inducing white blood cell proliferation while reducing inflammation and influencing TH1 versus TH2 responses (58, 63-67).  Moreover, the anti-inflammatory activity may be useful for inflammatory bowel conditions (66), which seems to be a relatively frequent health issue in my small herbal practice.

Hawks Wing’s benefits extend to the cardiovascular system, with water extracts having ACE inhibitor activity, which lowers blood pressure (68, 69). In China, the mushroom has been used for lowering cholesterol and for circulatory support (70). Keep in mind that a main trigger for elevated cholesterol is inflammation, so the anti-inflammatory properties of Hawks Wing may be relevant here as well.

Also in China, Hawks Wing mushroom is used as a muscle relaxant (70). I’ve added it to my muscle and joint formula to give it a go….


Trametes versicolor (aka. Coriolus versicolor, Polyporus versicolor) – Turkey Tails

Turkey Tails have been used medicinally for centuries in North America, Europe and Asia for a variety of indications; everything from strengthening the body and spirit to improving the person’s defenses, removing wastes, dispelling heat, treating a distressed liver, and so on. For a great review on Turkey Tail history, folklore, and traditional and modern uses, visit Robert Roger’s chapter on Turkey Tails in “The Fungal Pharmacy” (7). 

Turkey Tails grow in many places in North America, including here in Southwest Colorado. They were much easier to find in the Bay Area, where I was first introduced to them and where it is much wetter than here.  In fact, Turkey Tails could be found devouring the wooden porch belonging to my first medicinal mushroom teachers.

Turkey Tails are a beautifully striped and colorful polypore mushroom that grow on dead wood…logs, stumps, etc. I’ve seen the fruiting body every color from brown to red, orange, blue and even green, though the green could possibly be from colonization by algae or other organisms.  The polypore surface on the underside, where spores are released, is white when the fruiting bodies are young and yellowish as they age.

Turkey Tails can be used in a variety of ways…as a decoction, tincture, double extract or as commercially available encapsulated extracts.  They make a good broth to use as a soup base, but the fruiting bodies are tough and chewy, so you might remove them before serving the soup. I like to use the fruiting bodies when I can find them, but when I can’t, I use organically cultured mycelia that are commercially available. There is evidence that many of the activities are similar between the fruiting body and the mycelia. This isn’t always the case for mushrooms.

This is one of the most frequently used mushrooms in my practice. Much has been written about Turkey Tails, given that this species is one of the best researched among the mushrooms. Most of the research is done on two specific fractions, polysaccharoprotein Kureha (PSK) and polysaccharopeptide (PSP) isolated from cultured mycelia.  PSK in particular has been in use as adjunct therapy in cancer treatment for decades in Asia and both PSK and PSP improve quality of life and disease free survival time in clinical trials of a variety of cancers. 

However, there are other components of the mushroom that are also “active principles”, and both fruiting bodies and cultured mycelia have shown similar anti-tumor properties. For instance, a constituent other than PSK and PSP that shows anti-tumor activity is“SPCV” (small polypeptide from Coriolus versicolor), a polypeptide that was more potent than either PSK or PSP in inhibiting the proliferation of leukemia cell lines in cell culture (71).  Also, a protein dubbed “TVC” had been isolated and found to  stimulate white blood cell production in the absence of PSK and PSP (72). 

Because of this, and being an herbalist, I’m most interested in the use of (and what’s known about) crude extracts. I prefer Turkey Tails as a double extract to try to get a wide variety of it’s components in my preparations. I combine the double extract with an herb or two to support clients undergoing radiation treatment or certain forms of chemotherapy.  And, some clients with a personal or familial history of cancer have been using Turkey Tails as a tonic. 

There are some studies out there on more crude preparations of Turkey Tails.  In terms of cell culture experiments, ethanolic extracts of either mycelia or fruiting body reduced DNA damage in cells and showed anti-oxidant activity (73). Cultured mycelia were active against Influenza Virus (H1N1) and Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV2) in cell culture (74).  Both crude water and alcohol extracts have been found to kill tumor cells in a dish while remaining nontoxic to “normal” cells, as well reducing tumor burden in animal models (75-78).  Other rodent studies have demonstrated hepatoprotective, neuroprotecitve, immune boosting and beneficial blood lipid effects with crude preparations of the mushroom (79-83). 

More relevant and appropriate are experiences in people. A study in HIV positive patients where they ingested 1.5-3 grams of mushroom daily resulted in increased white blood cell count and overall better energy (84). Granted it was a very tiny open label study, but who cares if the patients benefitted?  A case cited by Standish, et al (85) involved a woman with stage II B cell lymphoma that had gone into remission following chemo, with subsequent recurrence in multiple locations based on scan results.  The drug Rituxin combined with a commercial product called “Coriolus-MRL” consisting of both fruiting body and mycelial powder resulted in a resolution of the “hot spots”.  However, it’s not possible to attribute the resolution to Rituxin, Turkey Tails or both in this case. Finally, a phase I clinical trial in female breast cancer patients who had recently completed radiation treatment was carried out with mycelium powder, and various immune system parameters improved in these immunocompromised women (86).

______________________________________________________________Some good mushroom websites:,,, and



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  39. Bannister, K (2006) Profit River Ethnobotany: A report on traditional plant knowledge and contemporary concerns of the Prophet River First Nation.
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  41. Smith, HH (1932) Ethnobotany of the Ojibwe Indians. Bulletin of the public museum of the city of Milwaukee. 4(3):327-525. 
  42. Craig, N. Native American use of edible mushrooms in the Southwest. The Arizona Mushroom Forum.
  43. Negi, K, et al (2014) Most prominent ethno-medicinal plants used by tribals of Chhitkul, Sangla Valley. Ann Plant Sci. 4(1):943-6. 
  44. P.Trutmann (2012) The Forgotten Mushrooms of Ancient Peru. Global Mountain Action, Fungi and Mountains Publication Series: No 1. 2012, pp 33. 
  45. Martinez, GJ & Lujan MC (2011)  Medicinal plants used for traditional veterinary in the Sierras de Córdoba (Argentina): An ethnobotanical comparison with human medicinal uses. J Ethnoliol Ethnomed. 7:23. 
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  47. Shrestha, S & BR Kropp (2009) Use of Calvatia gigantea to treat pack animals in Nepal. Fungi – Special Issue – Ethnomycology. 2(2).
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  49. Yeh, C-H, et al (2011)  Calvatia lilacina protein extract induces apoptosis through endoplasmic reticulum stress in human colon carcinoma cells. Process Biochem. 46(8):1599-1606. 
  50. Wu, J-Y, et al (2011) Anti-cancer effects of protein extrcts from Cavatia lilacina, Pleurotos ostreatus and Volvariella volvacea. Evid Based Comp & Alt Med. Article ID 982368.
  51. Tsay, J-G, et al (2009) abstr Calvatia lilacina Protein-Extract Induces Apoptosis through Glutathione Depletion in Human Colorectal Carcinoma Cells. J Agric Food Chem. 57(4):1579-88.
  52. Calvino, R, et al (1986) Chemical and biological studies on calvatic acid and its  analogs. J antibiotics. 39(6): 864-868.
  53. Kopcke, B, et al (1998) Bioactive azo- and azoxyformamides from Lycoperdon pyriforme (Schaeff. Ex Pers.) Natural Product Letters. 13(1):41-6.
  54. Sadi, G (2016) Wild Edible Mushrooms from Turkey as Possible Anticancer Agents on HepG2 Cells Together with Their Antioxidant and Antimicrobial Properties. Int J Med Mush. 18(1):83-95.
  55. Wani, AH, et al (2010) Potential antioxidant activity of some mushrooms growing in Kashmir Valley. Mycopath. 8(2):71-75
  56. Alves, MJ, et al (2014)  Wild mushroom extracts as inhibitors of bacterial biofilm formation. Pathogens. 3:667-79.    
  57. Sulkowska-Ziaja, K, et al (2011) Isolation and biological activities of polysaccharide fractions from mycelium of Sarcodon imbracatus L.P. Karst (Basidiomycota) cultured in vitro. (2011) Acta Poloniae Pharmaceutics – Drug Research. 68(1):143-4.
  58. Kobori, M, et al (2007)   Ergosterol peroxide from an edible mushroom suppresses inflammatory responses in RAW264.7macroph ages and growth of HT29 colonadenocarcinoma cells.  British J Pharmacol. 150:209-19.
  59. Takei, T, et al (2005) Ergosterol peroxide, an apoptosis-inducing component isolated from Sarcodon aspratus (Berk.) S. Ito. Biosci Biotechnol Biochem. 69(1):212-15.   
  60. Han, J, et al (2014) Upregulation of death receptor 5 and activation of caspase 8/3 play a critical role in ergosterol peroxide induced apoptosis in DU145 cancer cells. Cancer Cell International. 14:117.
  61. Xu, B, et al (2014) Telomerase inhibitory effects of medicinal mushrooms and lichens, and their anticancer activity. Int J Med Mushrooms. 16(1):17-28.
  62. Maruyama, H, et al (1989) Antitumor activity of Sarcodon aspratus (Berk.) S. Ito and Ganoderma lucidum (Fr.) Karst. J. Pharmacobiodyn. 12(2):118-23.
  63. Han, XQ, et al (2010)  Structural elucidation and immunological activity of a novel polysaccharide from the fruit bodies of an edible mushroom, Sarcodon aspratus (Berk.) S. Ito. Int. J. Biol Macromol. 47(3):420-4.
  64. Mizuno, M, et al (2000) Fucogalactan isolated from Sarcodon aspratus elicits release of tumor necrosis factor-alpha and nitric oxide from murine macrophages. Immunopharmacology. 46(2):113-21.    
  65. Chung, M-Y, et al (2015) Ethanol Extract of Sarcodon asparatus Mitigates Inflammatory Responses in Lipopolysaccharide-Challenged Mice and Murine Macrophages. J Med Food. 18(11):1198-1206.
  66. Chung, M-Y, et al (2016) Sarcodon aspratus extract ameliorates dextran sulfate sodium-induced colotis in mouse colon and mesenteric lymph nodes. J Food Sci. 81(5):H1301-8.
  67. Kim, J-B & JI Jeong (2013) Immunomodulating activities of Sarcodon aspratus. J Mushroom Science and Production. 11(2):92-98.
  68. Kiyoto, M, et al (2008) Inhibitory effects of l-pipecolic acid from the edible mushroom, Sarcodon aspratus, on angiotensin I-converting enzyme. J Wood Science. 54(2):179-81. 
  69. Kang, M-G, et al (2011) Antihypertensive activity and anti-gout activity of mushroom Sarcodon aspratus. The Korean J Mycol. 39(1):53-56.
  70. Marcotullio, MC (2011) Sarcodon Mushrooms: Biologically Active Metabolites.  Phytochemicals – Bioactivities and Impact on Health. InTech. 
  71. Yang, MMP, et al (1992) The Anti-tumor Effect of a Small Polypeptide from Coriolus versicolor (SPCV). Am J Chinese Med. 20(3,4):221-32. 
  72. Feng, LI, et al (2010) Purification and characterization of a novel immunomodulatory protein from the medicinal mushroom Trametes versicolor. Science China, Life Sci. 54(4):379-85.   
  73. Kneževi?, A, et al (2015) Antigenotoxic effect of Trametes spp extracts against DNA damage on human peripheral white blood cells.  The Scientific World Journal. Article ID:146378. 
  74. Krupodorova, T, et al (2014)  Antiviral activity of Basidiomycete mycelia against influenza type A (serotype H1N1) and herpes simplex virus type 2 in cell culture. Virol Sin. 29 (5):284–290. 
  75. Harhaji, LJ, et al (2008) Anti-tumor effect of Coriolus versicolor methanol extract against mouse B16 melanoma cells: In vitro and in vivo study. Food Chem Toxicol. 46(5):1825-33.   
  76. Lou, K-W, et al (2014)  In vivo and in vitro anti-tumor and anti-metastasis effects of Coriolus versicolor aqueous extract on mouse mammary 4T1 carcinoma. Phytomedicine. 21(8-9):1078-87. 
  77. Ho, C-Y, et al (2005)  Differential anti-tumor activity of coriolus versicolor (Yunzhi) extract through p53- and/or Bcl-2-dependent apoptotic pathway in human breast cancer cells. Cancer Bio & Ther. 4:6, 638-644. 
  78. Kim, BK, et al (2000) Effects of a Hot-Water Extract of Trametes versicolor (L.: Fr.) Lloyd (Aphyllophoromycetideae) on the Recovery of Rat Liver Function. Int J Med Mush. 2(1):7   
  79. Koh, J-B, et al (2005)  Effects of Liquid Culture of Coriolus versicolor on Lipid Metabolism and Enzyme Activities in Rats fed Cholesterol Diet. J Life Sci. 15(5):790-5. 
  80. Chen, J, et al (2013) A study on the antioxidant effect of Coriolus versicolor polysaccharide in rat brain tissues. Afr J Tradit Complement Altern Med. (2013) 10(6):481-484.
  81. Hor, SY, et al (2011) Lipid-lowering effects of Coriolus versicolor extract in poloxamer 407-induced hypercholesterolaemic rats and high cholesterol-fed rats. J Med Plants Res. 5(11):2261-2266.
  82. Sjokrzade, M, et al (2015) Protective Effect of Methanol and Hot-water Extraction from Trametes versicolor on Ethanol-induced Liver Toxicity in Mice. J Mazandaran Univ Med Sci. 25(121):141-151.
  83. Trovato, A, et al (2016) Redox modulation of cellular stress response and lipoxin A4 expression by Coriolus versicolor in rat brain: Relevance to Alzheimer’s disease pathogenesis. Neuro Toxicol. 53:350-8.
  84. Rotolo, G (1999) The Effectiveness of Coriolus Versicolor in the Treatment of Secondary Phenomena Associated with HIV. 10th International Congress of Mucosal Immunology. San Theodoro, 27100, Pavia, Italy.   
  85. Standish, LJ, et al (2008)  Trametes versicolor (Yun Zhi) in cancer treatment: Progress Report. NIH NCCAM-funded Developmental Center for Research on Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 
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How to make taking your herbs easier!!


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One of my favorite herbs!

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Damiana…yes it’s a great aphrodisiac but it does so much more!


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Digestive support that’s right for you…

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Using essential oils safely…


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Herbal support for your stressed out pup…

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Herbal side effects

Want to learn about herbal side effects? Here you go:

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All About Herbal Expiration Dates

When should you compost those herbs hanging out in the cabinet?

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All about Spearmint!

Spearmint – more than just a delicious tea. Plus, if you watch the video, you’ll get to see Milo bury himself under a blanket.

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I really, really need these.

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The Good Medicine Confluence is coming in May!

Herbs, mushrooms, chemistry, magic, social justice, cocktail making, dancing…you don’t want to miss it!

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Meadowsweet…a miracle for the gut!

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http://Moths munching on your clothes? Here are some natural and good-smelling (to us,

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Some handy tools for insight meditation and introspection…


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Cinnamon! Use it!

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How to make tinctures

How to make tinctures, with!
Two simple tincture-making methods. Apparently I looked at the wrong camera for most of it : )

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Save your citrus peels!

Save your citrus peels…Lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit, whatever. They’re great for using in recipes (citrus peel honey, anyone?) but also are fantastic medicine!

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Got a quite a mix of folks coming over? Promote a harmonious gathering with these essential oils.

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Feel better during allergy season!

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Botanical Medicine – Materia Medica

Wanting to support your health botanically but don’t know where to start? Look no further!

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Help your digestive system deal during the holidays

It’s the season of face-stuffing. Here are some great herbs to help your digestive system deal…

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All about Fenugreek

Fenugreek! In my daily formula. Superbly useful medicine for cold/flu, blood sugar imbalances, hot flashes and more…

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Some great wintertime scents for your home!

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Herbs for the Blues

If you feel sad this time of year, or in general, know that you’re not alone. Though full-on depressive states require a broad range of support, there are some good herbal allies that can lend some comfort. If on medications for mood support, talk to your doc or pharmacist and herbalist before including an herb.

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Cordyceps – What it’s good for!

Cordyceps! A really great medicinal fungus unless you’re an ant or caterpillar. (Seriously, search for “cordyceps” on youtube, just not while you’re eating…)
                                                                    Wikimedia Commons

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Violets! A few uses besides looking at ’em…

Violets! They’re not just one of my favorite flowers, they’re great for the skin and digestive system…

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Natural Care for Aging Skin

Stay tuned…Registration opens next week!
Learn what tradition and science has to say, as well as what works for me and my clients. A 5-part webinar you can watch when and where you want.

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Sweet Dreams! 5 herbs for preventing nightmares

Bad dreams messing up your sleep? Read on….

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Goldenrod flowers – Best infused oil ever!

Goldenrod flowers…they kick ass for injuries!

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3 herbs to keep your hands and feet warm in winter


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Helping your lungs cope with wildfire smoke

Supporting lung health during wildfires

Help protect the lungs from wildfire smoke with some simple steps.

Posted by Osadha Natural Health & Durango School of Herbal Studies on Monday, November 12, 2018

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Making Solid Perfumes, Naturally!

Solids (unguents) are an ancient form of perfumery. Plus they’re easy & fun to make. They don’t leak like liquid perfumes, and they’re great as gifts.  Come learn perfume blending techniques with natural essences & take home your own creation! $45 fee, due Nov. 29th.  Call 970-779-3111 or click on “contact” to RSVP & for more info.

To learn more about the instructor, herbalist Anna Marija Helt of Osadha Natural Health, visit here.

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Hitting the panic button – Botanical support for anxiety and panic attacks

I used to have panic attacks. The kind where I felt like I was maybe having a stroke or some other life-threatening issue. Once it happened as I was crossing the Bay Bridge on my motorcycle….not a very convenient time to have an attack.
Many people experience these. Working with panic attacks requires broad support. As some examples, having competent and understanding therapist, doing body-centered therapies, and, in some cases meds, at least for breaking the cycle. In the context of additional support, botanicals can be super helpful (for me, especially when flying!). Here are some of my favorites….

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All about Artist’s Conk – Reishi’s woody cousin

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All about Oats! They’re good for your mood. They’re good for your nerves. Use them.

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5 things you didn’t know about Oyster Mushrooms

Oyster Mushrooms – Find them wild or at the market. They taste great and are medicine, too!

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Ginkgo for the brain and so much more…

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The Lymph System Part 2 – handy essential oils for this under-respected part of the circulatory & immune systems

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Heal your gut to boost your mood

Gut and brain…they’re connected. And what you eat may impact your mood. It certainly does for me. If this speaks to you, read on!

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Usnea…aka. Old Man’s Beard. A solid antimicrobial and immune stimulating “herb” on a tree near you….


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Thyme…so much more than just a cooking herb!


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4 herbs to get your lymph system going

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St. John’s Wort, FTW!

The Healing Benefits of St. John's Wort! sits down with Dr. Marija Helt to talk about the amazing healing benefits of St. John's Wort!

Posted by Basmati on Wednesday, September 26, 2018


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Et tu Brute? The Caesar’s Amanita Complex

…beautiful, some are edible, but don’t screw up the ID!  As has been said, every mushroom is edible once.

I’ve been fascinated with Amanitas since not long after becoming a
fungiphile. Amanitas run the gamut from deadly poisonous to mind-altering to delicious. They remind me a bit of the Apiaceae plant family that includes two of the deadliest plants in North America — Poison Hemlock and Water Hemlock — while also boasting super helpful plants like Parsley and Angelica. In either case, your life depends on correct identification in the wild.

Edible Amanitas?? Yes. But, unless you are a very experienced mushroom hunter willing to be thorough in your identification, or are with someone who is and to whom you trust your life, don’t eat Amanitas. There are plenty of other delicious edibles out there. As has been often stated, your first mistake could be your last!

This time around, Amanitas in the Caesar’s Mushroom species complex are in the spotlight. Don’t worry, not all 90 of them (1). Just the most famous one, the true Caesar’s Mushroom, along with some North American members. Several North American species have been called “Caesar’s Mushroom” and are, indeed, relatives, but they are distinct species (2). Mushrooms in the Caesar’s complex get around; they’re on every continent but Antarctica (1)! Their taxonomy is far from complete. New species are being identified and previously identified species are being renamed. But that’s the trend now that genomics is replacing appearance for classification.

But the point is that before going out there and shoving anything that looks like a Caesar’s Mushroom in your mouth, realize that it’s not known whether all shrooms in the Caesar’s group are edible (2). And, there are poisonous lookalikes. For example, Amanita parcivolvata, found in the Appalachians and somewhat resembling a cross between Caesar’s Mushroom and Fly Agaric (3, 4). More on look- alikes later….

Though I include some information on mushroom appearance, because this is a strikingly beautiful group of mushrooms, the information I provide it is in no way sufficient to ID them in the field. The purpose here is to hopefully pique your interest into learning more. Introduce yourself to local mushroom foragers. Take some classes. Get some good ID books and wear them out! If you feel compelled to gather any of the Caesar’s group, find someone who has been collecting them and eating them for years (and is still alive!) and tag along with them.

Amanita caesarea – Ceasar’s Mushroom

I just paid a ridiculous amount of money for dried Caesar’s Mushroom and am trying to decide how I want to prepare it. It’s such a small amount that i don’t want to blow it. How to use it? A traditional Hungarian soup? A sauce? By itself and unadulterated except for with butter? Oh the torture…. As it’s name implies, Caesar’s Mushroom was a prized edible in ancient Rome. It’s still popular in Italy where one of it’s names is Ovulo Buono (Good Egg), reflecting its appearance as a young mushroom, its color and its flavor (5). The mushroom is most popular in the button stage (5) and is a choice edible also in Spain, Turkey, Hungary and elsewhere in Europe(6). In Rome it was said that “Gold and silver and dresses may be trusted to a messenger, but not a boletus, because it will be eaten on the way” (7), with “boletus” being Caeasar’s Mushroom rather than Porcini (Boletus edulis) (6, 7).

The Roman emperor Claudius was one famous eater of the mushroom. He came up in the Deadly Amanitas article in the last Plant Healer Magazine. His wife Agrippina and her accomplices tried to off him — to make way for her son Nero to ascend to the throne — by adding a poisonous mushroom extract to his favored Caesar’s Mushroom dish (7). Whether they succeeded the first time or had to try an additional poison is debated in the historical accounts….

In any event, Caesar’s Mushroom is gorgeous, with a bright orange to orange-red cap, yellow stalk and yellow gills. The cap often lacks remnants of the universal veil that encloses the embryonic fruiting body (8). (The white spots on top of Fly Agaric are veil remnants). The edge of the cap has vertical stripes referred to as “striations”. The stalk has a yellow, skirt like ring that is also a veil remnant. At the base of the stalk, usually partially (sometimes completely) buried in the ground, is a large, cup-like vulva that’s bright white on the outside (8). This is yet another remainder of the thick veil that the growing mushroom bursts out of. The inside of the stalk is “stuffed” with a cotton-like material. It, like Amanitas in general, grows in an ectomycorrhizal relationship with trees (8). This is a mutually beneficial relationship where the mushroom mycelia are linked to the tree roots. In the case of Caesar’s Amanita, this association is usually with Oaks.

The bright red and yellow pigments that Caesar’s Mushroom sports are alkaloids called betalains. Betalains are busy little molecules with a wide variety of activities, at least in the lab. For example, betalains from Caesar’s Mushroom protect lipids from oxidation (rancidity) and may have nerve-protective effects (9). Betalains are also anti-microbial (10) and consistent with this, Caesar’s Mushroom extracts inhibit clinically relevant bacteria including E. coli, Pseudomonas and Staph (11). Betalains also inhibit the growth of cancer cells (in a dish) and lower blood lipid levels (10).

Aside from betalains, Caesar’s Mushroom also contains beneficial polyphenols including p- coumaric acid, ferulic acid, catechins and cinnamic acid (11). p-coumaric acid has a whole slew of “anti-“ properties: Anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor, anti-microbial, and anti-anxiety, for example (12). It eases pain, reduces clotting and fever reduces inflammation, may improve metabolism (12). Ferulic acid is a strong anti- oxidant that may be useful for the nervous system, for heart health and for blood sugar regulation (13). Catechins are famous for being in Green Tea and influence cellular gene expression, metabolism, cardiovascular health and a whole slew of other things (14). Last but not least, cinnamic acid shows anti-oxidant, anti- microbial and anti-tumor activity (15).

Caesar’s Mushroom is decent source of protein, about 15% by dry weigh (16). Though it contains beneficial fats like oleic and linoleic acids (11), the levels in mushrooms are too low to be a significant dietary source.

Amanita jacksonii – American Slender Caesar

Amanita jacksonii is ridiculously beautiful as well as popular edible that hangs out with hardwoods in Eastern North America. The botanical name honors a Canadian artist and amateur mycologist who produced lovely mushroom paintings (17). This cousin of the European Caesar’s Mushroom is also known as Eastern Caesar’s Amanita, American Caesar’s Mushroom and a bajillion other combinations thereof. It’s range is thought to extend from Mexico to Canada (18) but recent data suggests that there may be at least 9 cryptic species in this range (1). These are mushrooms that look a lot like A. jacksonii but are actually separate species.

A. jacksonii and other shrooms in the Caesar’s complex are favored edibles in Oaxaca and are all referred to as “Beshia bella” (19, 20). They’re prized for their flavor, ease of preparation and size and for these reasons are one of the most culturally significant mushroom groups in Oaxaca based on ethnobotanical surveys (21).

A. jacksonii resembles true Caesar’s Mushroom in it’s flamboyant coloration, though it’s not as stout (hence the “American Slender Caesar” name). Like Caesar’s Amanita, A. jacksonii contains betalains (1), the same family of pigments found in beets and with all those great medicinal properties (22)! The cap ranges from a vibrant ruby red to bright orange to yellow- orange. Like Caesar’s Mushroom, the cap often lacks veil remnants on top. The gills are yellow to orangish, as is the stalk (23). The stalk is yellow but has an orange tint due to a layer of orange fibers. The ring around the stalk is skirt- like and ranges from yellowish to salmon to orange. The large vulva at the base is white on the outside (23).

Amanita arkansana – Arkansas Slender Caesar

A. arkansana was named as a species in 1926. It’s another edible member of the Caesar’s complex, this one ranging around the southeast US in association with Pines and Oaks (19). A beautiful mushroom to be sure, though not as brightly hued as the shrooms discussed thus far. Some may even prefer the looks of A. arkansana. A bit less of the “look at me” and, perhaps, less reminiscent of the latest outfit worn by one’s crazy uncle.

The cap is yellow to yellow-orange to orangish-brown, with striations around the edge. The color may fade to a creamy yellow with sun exposure and usually lacks veil remnants. (24). The gills start out light yellow to cream colored and fade to white over time. This is one of our taller Amanitas, with the stalk reaching over 17 cm tall (over 6 inches). The stalk is a pale creamy to white color with yellow bits along it. The the skirt-like ring is a pale yellow and the sack-like vulva, white (24).

Amanita cochiseana – Sun Caesar, Cochise’s American Caesar

This provisionally named species found in the mountainous regions of Arizona, New Mexico, Northern Mexico and southwestern California growing under Pinon Pines and Oaks (25, 26). “Provisionally” means that the name isn’t official yet, for whatever reason. While it’s commonly called “Caesar’s Amanita” locally it, like the other mushrooms in this article, are separate species from true Caesar’s Mushroom. The name cochiseana refers to the region in which it was initially found (Coconino and Cochise counties in Arizona)(25).

As with A. arkansana, there isn’t a whole lot of information available on A. cochiseana, other than that it’s edible, tasty and part of the Caesar’s section of Amanitas. Be aware that a lot of it’s range is on tribal lands. Please respect the applicable laws relevant to tromping around gathering mushrooms. For example, mushroom collecting by non-members of the White Mountain Apache is not allowed on their land (27).

Yet another pretty Amanita here. The cap is pale orange to buff colored possibly with bright yellow or yellow-orange around the margin, along with a bit of striation. Often bald, but sometimes with a single white and off center patch of veil (25). The gills are cream-yellow to orange-yellow, with the gill edges a brighter yellow. A great way to appreciate the color nuances is to get up close and personal with a magnifying glass. The stalk is white to cream to pale yellow towards the bottom and becomes brighter yellow to orange-yellow higher up. It has pale yellow-to-orangish scales. The ring is large and is yellow to orange (25). There may be a lower ring of similar color or ranging to grayish yellow but smaller. The volva is large and white (25).

For folks in the Flagstaff area there is a restaurant, Coppa Cafe, that features local wild mushrooms. I have seen (online) A. cochiseana listed on the menu once, though that was for the local mycological society’s dinner so I don’t know if it makes a regular appearance.

Coccora (Amanita calyptroderma & Amanita vernicoccora)

These edible Amanitas are found in Western North America and Central America and are closely related to Caesar’s Mushroom (28). They’re popular with Italian Americans in California who call them “Coccora”, in reference to the thick, cocoon-like universal veil surrounding the young fruiting body. Coccora are often served with pasta. Really, I can’t think of many edible mushrooms that wouldn’t go well with pasta….

Of the mushrooms discussed here, Coccora are the easiest to confuse with deadly Amanita species. In fact, conditions in 1980 were ripe for profuse Death Cap (Amanita phalloides) fruiting in California. This resulted in multiple Death Cap poisonings among Italian Americans who inadvertently gathered Death Caps instead of their beloved Coccora (7). Though I’ve been foraging for edible mushrooms for 20 years and for medicinal mushroom for nearly 10, the only way I’d harvest Coccora would be with someone having many years of experience collecting and eating these mushrooms.

A. calyptroderma – Fall Coccora

The Fall Coccora is sometimes referred to as Ballen’s American Caesar. It’s common in California, where it fruits in the autumn beneath Live Oaks and Madrone (29). It’s range extends from British Colombia down into Guatemala, where it can be found for sale in road side stands (16). In the southern ranges it’s usually associated with hardwoods while up north, it’s more often found growing with conifers (30). The stalk, which is often hollow, is white to pale yellow with the characteristic Amanita ring and vulva (31).

A. vernicoccora – Spring Coccora

Spring Coccora fruits in California in (surprise!) spring. Until recently it was thought to be a lighter colored version of the autumn-fruiting A. calpytroderma. More careful analysis has shown them to be distinct species (28). The yellow-to- pale yellow cap of Spring Coccora is 6-18 cm across with striations at the margin. It’s topped with a blob of white veil remnant like icing on top of a cupcake (again with the food references!). Gills are white to pale cream (28). The white stalk is often hollow and is up to 14 cm tall, bearing a large white vulva at the base and a whitish-yellow ring.

Spring Coccora grows in association with Live Oak, Blue Oak, Madrone and Manzanita along the California Coast in in the Sierra Nevada and Shasta Cascade foothills (28). Note that the lighter coloration of Spring Coccora compared to Fall Coccora makes it even easier to confuse with the deadly western Destroying Angel Mushroom, Amanita ocreata.

Other Coccora look-alikes that are toxic include Amanita gemmata and Amanita aprica, both native to the Sierra foothills (28). They fruit at the same time though there are some differences in appearance. For instance, A. gemmata has spots of veil bits on the cap, like Fly Agaric, rather than the central blob sported by Coccora. A. aprica does has a broad layer of veil membrane on the cap, but the layer is very thin, described as “frost-like”, unlike the thick layer on Coccoras. Though I wouldn’t trust myself to tell the difference. Especially since weather can wear the veil off the cap. A man confused A. gemmata for Coccora and ate several (he reported them to taste good) resulting in both a bad trip and some fun with gastrointestinal distress (32). A. gemmata contains muscimol and ibotenic acid, the same toxins found in Fly Agaric (33).

Coccoras are popular enough to make occasional appearances in the news, either regarding recipe uses and flavor ( “…somewhere between an egg and a fish…”)(34) or rightly warning about how easy it is to confuse them with Death Caps and Destroying Angels (35).

Coccora were and continue to be popular foods for indigenous populations of California. They’re called “Helli” by the Tuolumne Band of Miwok (spelled also as Miwuk, Mi-wuk and Me-wuk) (36). The Southern Miwok call them “Hahiya”, meaning “pine mushroom”(36). The Mono call them “ToopO”(36). These are all thought to be A. calyptroderma (Fall Coccora). Accordingly, some of the folks interviewed for this ethnobotanical survey of California mushrooms mention harvesting them in the fall. But, one of the interviewees said that she learned to look for ToopO when “the Black Oaks start leafing out” (36), so in the spring and suggestive of A. vernicoccora (Spring Coccora). No distinction is made by the authors of the report, and this isn’t surprising as the separation into A. calyptroderma and A. vernicoccora is recent. (Please forgive me for geeking out on this!)

Many interviewed in this report noted a noticeable lessening in mushroom number at traditional harvesting spots (36). This was attributed to land use issues (eg. increased housing developments), climate change as well as the cessation of traditional controlled burns. Such burns used to be carried out under host trees like Black Oak and Pine and resulted in increased mushroom numbers and size (36).

Anyway, the report is an interesting read if you’re into mushrooms….

Well that wraps up this segment of the Amanita series! I’m deciding on delving into more Amanitas next time versus taking a break and dorking out on a different fungiferific topic…



  1. Sánchez-Ramírez, Santiago (2015) Scaling macro- and microevolutionary dynamics in the Caesar’s mushrooms (Amanita sect. Caesaraea). PhD Thesis. Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. University of Toronto.
  2. Volks, T (2002) Fungus of the month – Caesar’s Mushroom. 
  3. Kuo, M. Amanita parcivolvata.
  4. Roody, WC (2003) Mushrooms of West Virginia and the Central Appalachians. University Press of Kentucky.
  5. Amanita caesarea (Scop)-pers. – Caesar’s Mushroom. First Nature.
  6. Gyozo Zsigmond  (2010) The meanings and functions of mushrooms as food in Hungarian folk tradition. Acta Ethnographica Hungarica Published Online: June 09, 2010.
  7. fBenjamin, DR (1995) Mushrooms: Poisons and Panaceas. WH Freeman and CO, NY.
  8. Amanita caesarea. 
  9. Li, Z et al (2017) Stress Activity Is Essential for Amanita caesarea Mediated Neuroprotection on Glutamate-Induced Apoptotic HT22 Cells and an Alzheimer’s Disease Mouse Model. Int  J Mol Sci. 18(8) 1623.   
  10. Gengatharan, A (2015). Betalains: Natural plant pigments with potential application in functional foods. LWT – Food Science and Technology. 64: 645-9. 
  11. Dog?an, HH et al (2013) Biological activity and fatty acid composition of Caesar’s mushroom, Pharmaceutical Biology, 51:7, 863-871.   
  12. Pei, K, et al (2016) p-Coumaric acid and its conjugates: dietary sources, pharmacokinetic properties and biological activities. J Sci Food Agric. 96(9):2952-62.   
  13. Mancuso C & R Santangelo (2014) Ferulic acid: pharmacological and toxicological aspects. Food Chem Toxicol. 65:185-95.
  14. Khurana S, et al (2013) Polyphenols: benefits to the cardiovascular system in health and in aging. Nutrients. 5(10):3779-827. 
  15. Sova M (2015) Antioxidant and antimicrobial activities of cinnamic acid derivatives. Mini Rev Med Chem. 12(8):749-67. 
  16. Boa E (2004) Wild edible fungi: a global overview of their use and importance to people. FAO Technical Papers, 17 – Non-wood forest products. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome.    
  17. Tulloss, R (1986) What is the mushrooms North Americans have been calling “Amanita caesarea”? Boston mycological club bulletin.  41(3):10-13.
  18. McHugh, A. Amanita jacksonii, The eastern Caesar’s Amanita. Crazy about mushrooms.
  19. Amanita caesarea: The Adventures of Caesar’s Mushroom. Mushroom appreciation
  20. Garibay-Orijel, R, et al  (2006). People using macro-fungal diversity in Oaxaca, Mexico. Fungal Diversity 21: 41-67. 
  21. Garibay-Orijel, R, et al (2007) Understanding cultural significance, the edible mushrooms case. J Ethnobiol Ethnomed. 2007; 3: 4. 
  22. Kanner J, et al (2001) Betalains–a new class of dietary cationized antioxidants. J Agric Food Chem. 2001 Nov;49(11):5178-85.
  23. Amanita jacksonii.
  24. Amanita arkansana.
  25. Amanita cochiseana.
  26. Cripps, C, et al (2016) The essential guide to Rocky Mountain mushrooms by habitat. University of Illinois Press.
  27. May, C. Caesar’s amanitas are popping up on the White Mountain Apache Reservation. Arizona Mushroom Forum.   
  28. Bojantchev, D, et al (2011) Amanita vernicoccora sp. nov. —the vernal fruiting ‘coccora’ from California. Mycotaxon.  117:485-497. 
  29. Veiss, D. Amanita calyptroderma/calyptrata/lanei.
  30. Kuo, M. Amanita calyptroderma.
  31. Wood, M & F Stevens. California fungi – Amanita calyptroderma. 
  32. Bueg, MW (2010) NAMA Toxicology Committee Report for 2010 North American Mushroom Poisonings. North American Mycological Association. 
  33. Karimi, G & BM Razavi (2014) Poisonous Mushrooms. Clinical Toxinology. 24 June 2014. 1-18   
  34. Horgos, B (2013)    Delight among the duff: Mushrooms offer texture, unique flavor to any dish. Santa Cruz Sentinel.
  35. McHugh, P (2006) If you consume, know your ‘shroom / The thrill of the hunt is risky, but has rewards. SF Gate.
  36. Anderson, K & FK Lake (2013) California Indian Ethnomycology and Associated Forest Management. J Ethnobiol. 33(1):33-85. 2013.



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Free 3 part virtual herb walk in the San Juan Mountains!

Free 3 video series! This virtual herb walk near Andrews Lake will introduce you to great medicinals, beautiful wildflowers and deadly poisonous plants in the Rockies.  Just follow the link:

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This month’s Herbaria is available!

Check out the most recent version of Herbaria….herbs, mushrooms, social and environmental rabblerousery!  From the publishers of Plant Healer Magazine and organizers of the annual Good Medicine Confluence:

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Witchin’ in the Kitchen: Making Hydrosols

Home distillation on the stove top – It’s easier than you think to make your own hydrosols (scented waters)…

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Mushroom Medicine: Making powdered extracts

Making a powdered mushroom extract …. strong mushroom medicine that’s easy to make.

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Oyster mushrooms! They’re great :)

Oyster mushrooms…delicious, medicinal and easy to grow (or buy at the market…).

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Discover how foods affect your mood with an elimination diet

They’re kind of a pain to do, but very useful….

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5 great reasons to eat button mushrooms

At a grocery store near you…

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Frankincense…it doesn’t just smell good, it’s good for your gut!

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Lavender! Great smell. Great medicine. Grow it. Use it in your recipes. Include it in your formulas.

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Is Calendula in your garden?

Calendula…beautiful, immensely useful, easy to grow!

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Mushroom Medicine: Making double extracts

Double extracts (combined tincture and tea) are a great way to take mushroom medicine but are expensive to buy. Why not learn to make your own?

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Myrrh! Get to know this great aromatic and medicine.

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Get to know Frank(incense…)!

Frankincense resin has been used since ancient times for its scent, but did you know it’s also helpful medicinally?

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Pine, Cypress, Juniper, Fir, Cedarwood…amazing scents!

The best way to experience conifer essential oils here in Colorado is to simply hit the mountains for a walk in the forest. But having little brown bottles of oil around comes in handy…

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Comfrey to the rescue!

One of my favorite plants for pain and tissue healing…Comfrey!

Healing Benefits of Comfrey! sits down with Dr. Marija Helt to talk about all the wonderful healing benefits of comfrey!

Posted by Basmati on Wednesday, July 4, 2018

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Mushroom cooking 101

Learned this trick on a rainy camping trip during herb school. Now, every time I cook mushrooms, it takes me back to the woods in Marin….

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There’s great medicine in your spice cabinet: Turmeric!

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Witchin’ in the Kitchen: Making infused oils

Plant and resin-infused oils….fun to make, great in the kitchen, medicine cabinet, cosmetics case and bedroom (OK, I don’t talk about the last one in the article, but take my word for it…).

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Plantain…get to know this useful weed!

Plantain…a weed likely somewhere near you! One of the best first aid plants. Not to be confused with plantains (bananas).

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All about Passionflower – or what I could squeeze in in fewer than 10 min

Passionflower is ridiculously beautiful and is helpful for various nervous system-related issues. I grew it on the ugly chain link fence between my place and neighbors’ in San Fran and it transformed the divide into beauty. On another note, WTH do the video stills from these always get me when I’m making the dorkiest face of the whole damned video? I mean, really….

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Mystical Mugwort: For digestion, dreams & more

For those who watched the mugwort video, here’s an article that delves a bit further into this great and easy to grow plant…

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Chamomile…an astoundingly useful herb that doesn’t get the respect it deserves!

One use I don’t mention in the video…Chamomile tea bag poultice for an irritated eye. This came in handy once on a road trip… Soak the bag and place it over the eye for 10-15 minutes.

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Essential Oil Essentials: A quick guide to citrus oils
Some of the best smelling, most uplifting oils, IMHO….

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Superfoods 101: Goji berries overflow with antioxidants

Wolfberries! Aka. Goji……

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3 Liver-loving mushrooms: Reishi, Turkey Tails & Oyster Mushroom

Mushrooms for your liver!

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Enhance dream time with Mugwort

A really fun herb to play with…Mugwort! A dream world plant in the Artemesia genus, named for the goddess Artemis (Diana), who, in turn, is associated with the moon and with nature. And also a bad ass huntress.

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Lemon Balm. Grow it!

Lemon Balm. Grow it. Even if you don’t have a yard, it’s perfectly happy in a pot. Anxiety, the blues, heartbreak, digestive stuff…Lemon Balm’s got it covered.

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Good Medicine Confluence

A shameless plug! The Good Medicine Confluence is nearly here and I’m really excited about the unique and inspiring classes being offered! Deciding which to attend is difficult.
Come see me…here is the schedule of what I’m teaching:
Wed 16th – 110pm – Native Plant Identification Walk
Thurs 17th – 430pm – Upstream Against The Flow: Unconventional Women, Science, & Botanical Art
Fri 18th – 245pm – Botanical Support For Athletes
Sat 19th – 945am – Hands-On Demonstration Lab:
Mushroom Medicine Making
Sun 20th – 950 – All About Amanitas – From Deadly Poison to Divine Food

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Be Lionhearted with Motherwort – 5 heart healthy benefits

Strong heart, calm heart.

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Rose, by any other name…

Rose, great for more than just stopping and smelling, but that’s probably my favorite use….

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Don’t overdo it with iodine…

What you may not know about supplementing with iodine or large amounts of seaweed…

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Yellow Dock – So much more than a weed

One of my favorite blood building herbs for women. Great for men, too.

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Juniper…Great smelling, great medicine, sacred tree

There are many Juniper trees here in the Four Corners area that are hundreds of years old and one in California that is 8000 years old!

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Trees are medicine, too!

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Essential Oil Essentials: Cypress for Life Changes (+ great room spray recipe)


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Motherwort! Heart, thyroid, stress, mood, digestion……

Motherwort…a fantastic plant that keeps my heart beating regularly instead of the funky beats it likes to do!

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Get the scoop on phytoestrogens!

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The ubiquitous and useful button mushroom!

Those ubiquitous little grocery store button mushrooms are more useful than you think! Just get them organically grown…

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Slow aging with 6 botanicals for mature skin

Some good tips for those of us above a certain age. I never thought I’d deliberately put oil on my face until moving to a mountain town with a dry climate…….

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Good Medicine Confluence coming soon!!!

A world class botanical medicine conference coming here to Durango in Mid May!  It’s not too late to get your tickets.

Get more info at the following links:

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Milky Oat Tops…great medicine!

Fresh Oat Tops! I’m still using the ones I harvested and tinctured in California last year : )

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Making a mushroom spore print

This is an important step in mushroom identification and a fun way to make mushroom art :)

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Natural Eye Care – 3 easy steps for eye health

Some love for your peepers!

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All about Chokecherry!

Chokecherry….tasty food, great medicine. We have tons of it in and around Durango.

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4 nerve supporting botanicals

Some of my favorite botanicals for nerve pain and brain health…

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Water Hemlock

Local Poisonous Plants class was tonight. I’ve always had a fascination with these plants…beautiful to look at but devastating effects if accidentally ingested. One of the plants you missed if you weren’t here is Water Hemlock (Cicuta douglasii). Photos are from the water ditch behind my friend’s house near Durango.

Water Hemlock is lovely to look at. It’s also the deadliest plant in North America; though in the same family as carrots, parsley and Osha. All parts of the plant are toxic, but especially the root and seeds. Cicutoxin, an alcohol and the main toxin, screws up nervous system function. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, sweating, frothing at the mouth, dilated pupils, rapid heart rate, violent convulsions, and respiratory failure. Case fatality rate is 30%.

People have mistakenly ingested this plant thinking it was something else. 2 brothers in Maine though it was American Ginseng. One ate 3 bites of the root and died three hours later at the ER. The other brother took one bite and survived. The root is reportedly sweetish in taste…not everything that’s toxic tastes nasty. Note that cicutoxin can be absorbed through the skin, so if clearing this from, say, your irrigation ditch, wear gloves.

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Lion’s Mane – Great food, great medicine!

Here’s my video on Lion’s Mane mushroom….tasty and great medicine for the brain and digestive tract both.
Lions mane

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All about Mallow!
Mallow is a great plant to have in your health and wellness toolbox. And it grows like a weed in many places…so no need to feel guilty harvesting it :)  Check it out in this short video! 

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5 easy plants for your first aid garden

Don’t have a yard? No worries…you can grow these must-have 1st aid plants on a balcony!

When I first started studying botanical medicine, I was at work and got a call from my then-boyfriend asking which plant in the yard was yarrow. He had cut his hand and wanted to do some first aid to stop the bleeding and prevent infection. This…

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What’s your tongue telling you? A map to the organs

And to wrap up the basics of tongue diagnosis series….part 4!

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All about Hawthorn. A gentle yet effective herb I use daily and a powerful plant ally….

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Growing a magical moon garden

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Good Medicine Confluence – Coming in May!

Come see me at this great botanical medicine and societal renegade conference! So many wonderful teachers…I’m not sure how I’m going to balance teaching with getting to all the classes I want to attend : )
The title below is but one of the many themes coming to the conference in Durango this May.

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All about Hawkswing mushrooms!

More on wild mushroom medicine in my video on Sarcodon, a mushroom common here in the San Juan Mountains and lots of other places….

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Learn how to use Fennel for your health!

Dr. Marija Helt – Fennel

Dr. Marija Helt with shares the amazing health benefits of Fennel!

Posted by Basmati on Wednesday, January 17, 2018

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Adios, achoo! A holistic approach to reducing allergies

The time to start preparing for spring allergy season is right now…

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Mallow Mania: 5 Mallow Uses

A super useful plant that is probably a “volunteer” in your garden…

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Shiitake Mushrooms – More than just tasty :)

Want to know what Shiitake mushroom can do for you besides tasting good?   Check out my latest video to find out…


Take a moment to sit down and learn all about shiitake with Dr. Marija Helt

Posted by Basmati on Friday, January 5, 2018

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Red Belted Conk – video

My latest video on It’s about the mushroom Red Belted Conk, which is common in the mountains around Durango and elsewhere.

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What’s your tongue telling you: Tongue coat

The next article in my series on tongue diagnosis! Happy new year, and go check out your tongue : )

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4 tips for chronic sinus stuffiness

Head full of boogs? This article is for you…

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What’s your tongue telling you? Tongue shape

Next up in the tongue diagnosis series!


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My Favorite Osha Substitutes

Originally presented at the Good Medicine Confluence, Durango 2017 & published in the accompanying class essay book:

Osha (Ligusticum porteri, L. grayii, and L. filicinum) is a beautiful, sacred, and highly useful plant in the Mountain West. Before getting into potential substitutes, I want to touch on issues around Osha sustainability. The utility of Osha is reflected in it’s popularity not only among herbalists but also among folks who might not otherwise use plants as medicine. Many folks here in Southwest Colorado take to the mountains to dig the root for themselves and their families.

A 3 year moratorium on Osha collection was enacted in 1999 due to growing demand and possible over-collection in the Western US (1). This covered parts of Washington, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, Nevada and Wyoming. There are large populations here in the San Juan Range and in some other areas, but there isn’t much information on how robust Osha populations are throughout its range, or on the impact of human activities: Harvesting, logging, off road vehicle use, grazing, and land development.

There are stands in isolated and difficult-to-reach mountain terrain that offer protection for the species in the wild, and because of this not all herbalists are concerned about Osha populations. However, a worry is that heightened commercial interest may have an impact on easier accessed populations, as has happened with other valued North American plants. What happens when Dr. Oz decides that Osha is his favorite herb of the moment? These sorts of issues, along with the difficulty in cultivating Osha in large quantities, has led United Plant Savers has listed Osha as “At Risk” with respect to the potential for human impact on wild populations.

Research is being done in association with the the University of Kansas and the American Herbal Products Association Foundation for Education and Research on Botanicals (APHA-ERB, damn, that’s a mouthful) to assess Osha’s range and the ability of populations to recover after harvesting (2). It will take years for a solid understanding to emerge. What’s been learned so far is that Osha seems to propagate better in meadows compared to in the woods, at least in the sites studied. The meadow plants were larger and with bigger roots than those growing in the dapple shade of wooded plots (2). This has obvious applicability to both wild crafting as well as attempts to grow Osha. Also, there is some evidence that Osha may be capable of repopulating an area after harvest when given enough time (3, 4). In one example, areas that were harvested to varying levels (1/3, 2/3 or all of the plants in small plots) had filled back in after a few years, possibly regrowing from portions of the roots left in the soil after harvesting (3). In the other, replanting of Osha root crowns while wildcrafting appears to result in majority of these crowns “taking” after several years. Years being the key word in both examples. This is encouraging, but it also depends on whoever is harvesting Osha to do it in an ethical manner, leaving previously harvested areas alone for a long time.

In terms of harvesting Osha, leaving part of the root (well, technically, the rhizome) behind to regrow seems like a good option (3,5), or replanting the root crowns (4), as mentioned. Allowing the plants to go to seed before collecting the root is another. Taking it a step farther, ethnobotanist and biology professor Shawn Sigstedt encourages planting of the seeds while harvesting the root. Seeds are gathered once they are dry and brown and are planted upside down on a flattened “shelf” dug into a hillside. The seeds are closely spaced and covered by about an inch of loose soil and decaying leaves (Aspen would be good), then surrounded by twigs, branches or even small logs to prevent anyone, biped or quadruped, from stepping on the newly planted patches (6).

In terms of growing Osha, it can be cultivated at least to some extent. Along these lines, Elk Mountain Herbs partnered with the University of Wyoming for studies on growing Osha (7), and they now offer organically grown roots on their website, though it was out of stock when I looked to pick some up. Not the quickest growing crop… Another herb company, Shining Mountain Herbs, also report cultivating Osha, in a wooded area at 8500 feet. I couldn’t find any more details on their site, but look forward to hopefully being able to read more about their endeavor at some point. For the EMH/WU study, Osha was propagated from root crowns as well as from cold/damp-stratified seed (7). The best results came from planting at 8000 feet or higher either in Aspen groves or with the use of Aspen leaf mulch (something that’s not hard to come by here in Colorado). As with the U. Kansas/APHA-ERB preliminary results, more sun exposure was associated with bigger roots, at least in young plants, though the it was postulated that dapple shade may be better at lower altitudes (7). Roots were harvested after 4 years (7), so as with plants such as American Ginseng, Osha is a crop that takes a lot of time and patience to cultivate. The fact that it’s not as easily grown as, say, Oats, means that Osha may never become an herb with a vast supply chain of organically grown sources. But we can hope.

One last thought on Osha before moving on. Though the root is used for the medicine, a number of articles reference a book “Healing Herbs of the Rio Grande” (Curtin, L, 1947) with respect to using the stem for many of the same issues that the root is used for. I’ve not been able to access the book to check it out, but am guessing that if this pertained to the broad and powerful medicinal properties possessed by the root, we’d all be using the stems by now???

Another option, and the point of this whole thing, is to try substitutes, perhaps reserving Osha for those instances where you feel that nothing else will do. Osha is, of course, an excellent warming, anti-microbial, anti-spasmodic and immune stimulating herb that kicks pathogenic respiratory bugs in their proverbial asses while making the environment of our bodies less hospitable to their encroachment. This is only the tip of the Osha iceberg. But, for the purposes of this article, I’m focusing on respiratory support.

There are pretty solid alternatives that one can easily grow, buy or wildcraft to take some of the pressure off of the Osha stands lining our mountain trails. None of the plants are necessarily a perfect Osha substitute, but with some forethought and a little bit of mindful combining, you can do really well with conditions at which you’d normally throw Osha. I’ve summarized some of the more basic functions/uses in a table. The information comes from a variety of sources: My own training and small clinical practice, writings and talks by the herbalists who have been my go-to sources for continued learning, and the science literature. I don’t claim that the info here is complete, nor can I promise that you’ll agree with me! But, it’s a start.

Gumweed/Yerba del Buey (Grindelia squarrosa & other Grindelia spp)

I like calling it just plain old Grindelia. It’s a member of the Asteraceae that has a decent amount of overlap with Osha, functionally speaking. The common name is based on the sticky resiny substance that covers the flowers and buds, which can be chewed like gum (hence the name “Gumweed”). The taste might be off-putting to those used to mass quantities of sweetener in their chewing gum.

Grindelia is a warming, bitter, acrid and aromatic expectorant that, like Osha, has stimulating and relaxing properties. I was taught at one point to use Grindelia for wet coughs and Osha for dry. But the fact is that both plants will work for getting sticky, hardened phlegm, stimulating mucus secretion and liquifying the phlegm and both will also help clear boggy/wet, mucus-laden lungs. I remember one night especially, being awake at inappropriate hours with a nasty flu infection. I was drowning in sputum and wanted something to deal with the load o’ mucus while also chilling me out and helping me sleep. Grindelia came to the rescue, one by helping me to get the damned lungers out and, two, by making me really sleepy.

A side but related note. I may just be daft and missing the point, a very real possibility, but I’ve gotten myself wrapped up into a pretzel on more than one occasion on the whole stimulating versus relaxing expectorant thing. They are obviously valid and time tested categories. The thing is that the same herb may be called stimulating by one person and relaxing by another. But it seems like there are quite a few plants that are both. For instance, stimulating the liquification of mucus — thinning it and getting it out — while relaxing the airways at the same time. And perhaps even providing some moisture either in the form of a bit of mucilage, by irritating mucus membranes slightly to stimulate mucus secretion (stimulating mucus secretion and clearing mucus at the same time???…brain explodes).

Both Grindelia and Osha help with upper respiratory catarrh and will soothe a sore throat. For those nights when you wake up with a persistent, annoyingly sharp itch in the throat that no amount of coughing will ease, Grindelia is a great option. Both plants will also ease spasmodic coughs — bronchitis, emphysema, Whooping Cough, asthma (use in between attacks to reduce frequency and severity). At the same time, both will slow an elevated heart rate associated with “respiratory stress”. I find both to be pretty strongly sedating, although others may find Osha stimulating.

While the idea is to make the environment of our bodies not an inviting place for unwanted microbial residence, many of us will succumb to infection either due to burning the candle at too many ends, teaching a room full of kids with runny noses, boarding those flying petri dishes known as planes or having a bit too much wine. Accordingly, Grindelia has been used for respiratory issues, like Whooping Cough and Tuburculosis, that are bacterial in origin. Folks who are immunocompromised are susceptible to bacterial respiratory infections (and may contract some very weird bacteria), and bacteria may be the culprit in long-lasting respiratory infections that seem to not want to let go. Grindelia can be an antibacterial ally.

That said, the majority of respiratory infections are viral, at least initially. And while Grindelia is not usually cited specifically as an “antiviral” herb, it is helpful during colds and flu. I have used Grindelia by itself during the flu simply to experiment with it…it’s useful getting sick as an herbalist, educationally-speaking. Grindelia is commonly used in the Southwest right at the beginnings of a lung infection (8). Moreover, multiple components of Grindelia essential oil, including germacrene D, linomene, beta-caryophyllene, camphene, and alpha- and beta-pinene (9), have antiviral activity (10,11) and a few (limonene and the pinenes) are also immune stimulating (12). Whether these components are in high enough quantities in extracts to have anti-viral activity in the body, I don’t know, but I’ve had good luck with the plant. Regardless, if wanting an anti-viral boost, simply add in some Thyme, Garlic, Pine or, for something cooling if you don’t want the person to shrivel up and blow away, Elder.

Spring allergy season is in full swing here in Durango. Allergies are another issue for which both Grindelia and Osha provide support with their anti-histamine and snot-busting activities. Another way they help is through their bitter and aromatic principles that support digestive function. Good digestion means less mucus accumulation and reduced inflammation in general…both very helpful when allergy season arrives, and during the rest of the year as well.

Grindelia is native to the Americas, being found from Argentina to Canada and in most of the states here in the US. So, much more widely distributed than Osha. In fact, Grindelia squarrosa is listed as weedy and invasive by the USDA. Grindelia squarrosa var Nuda (aka. Grindelia nuda) is pretty common here in La Plata county, growing in disturbed sites and right smack in the middle of Durango. The latest batch I’ve tinctured was a “volunteer” patch growing along my friend’s walkway.

For a full list of our Western Grindelia species, see Michael Moore’s Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West (13) or visit His take on growing Grindelia: “…about the only reason for purposely growing this tacky weed would be for medicinal use. If you do so, throw the seeds out into the worst soil you can find and then disavow them when they sprout” (13). I really wish I got it together to meet and train with him before he passed, but am glad that there are so many of his herbal “children” and “grandchildren” around to learn from. Anyway, if you want to grow Grindelia, it seems to particularly like crappy alkaline soil.

Grindelia is fine used as a tea of leaf and flower, though I like to use it as a fairly high percentage alcohol tincture of the buds and flowers…the stickier, the better.

Damiana (Turnera diffusa, T. aphrodisiaca)

Next on the list of pungeant, warming respiratory- supporting plants is Damiana, a member of the Passifloraceae family. It’s astringent, bitter and drying. Many folks immediately think “aphrodisiac” when they hear “Damiana”. Others know it as a great mood enhancing and tension reducing herb. But it also has a long history of use as a respiratory herb in Central and South America where it and other Turnera species are used for influenza, bronchitis, expectoration, headache associated with too much coughing and for aches and

pains (14). Ellingsworth mentions it in his Materia Medica…”…soothing irritation of mucus membranes. This later property renders it valuable in treatment of respiratory disorders, especially those accompanied with profuse expectoration”. From King’s American Dispensary: “In respiratory disorders, it may be employed to relieve irritation and cough, and, by its tonic properties, to cheek hypersecretion from the broncho-pulmonic membranes. T It resembles more nearly the Grindelias, both in odor and taste.” It’s bitter components will support digestion, as yet another way to deal with mucus overload.

Damiana is aromatic, and a number of the compounds responsible for the distinctive aroma — 1,8- cineole, pinocarvone, limonene, alpha- and beta-pinene, thymol, p-cymene; caryophyllene and caryophyllene oxide (15) — are antiviral. Some of these are also immune stimulants, including pinene, limonene (12) and thymol (16). Damiana also contains the flavone, apigenin, which is active against a wide variety of viruses.

While Damiana’s antiviral and immune activating components may play a role in quashing initial respiratory infection, its antibacterial properties come to play in preventing or dealing with secondary lung infection with bacteria. Several of the the aromatic components mentioned above are antibacterial, as is arbutin, which is perhaps more famous as a component of Manzanita. In fact, Damiana’s essential oil is also active against drug-resistant Mycobacterium tuberculosis (at least in a dish)(17)

It’s been coming in handy for me as a kids jiu jitsu instructor….Hands-on time with 20 or so 4-6 year olds, some of whom are regular nose-pickers, means that I feel the beginnings of a respiratory infection on a somewhat regular basis. (Yes, I know my immune system needs more work). In fact, as recently as last week, I grabbed the Damiana when I felt exceptionally fatigued, was starting to cough and had the chills with a bit of clamminess.

Damiana has been one of the herbs I’ll reach for during allergy season when I sometimes wake up in the morning with an irritating, mucusy cough and stuffy sinuses. A squirt or two has been sufficient to quell it. Stopping regular red wine intake might help me be better prepared for allergy season, but…..

Damiana is also used for asthma. It’s Mayan name is “mis kok” meaning “asthma broom”, and was used as such as a tea or by inhaling the smoke of the burned herb (18). In fact, smoking Damiana is my favorite way to use the herb for mood. A former student started me on this when a group of us were at TWHC in Mormon Lake. After passing around the pipe a couple of times, we were all laughing hysterically for about a half hour. Though this probably isn’t the best way to use it for lung support. For respiratory stuff, I use it in tincture form. Hmmmm…Chocolate Damiana Elixir for something other than getting it on?

Damiana as native to parts of the Southern US, Central and South America and the Caribbean. In warmer climates (USDA hardiness zones 9-11), it can be grown in fast-draining soil in the garden where they will get 4-6 hours of sunlight daily. For those living in colder climates, grow it in pots and bring it inside in the fall.

Elecampane (Inula helenium)

Elecampane, a Eurasian native and member of the Asteraceae, grows well in many parts of the US. It’s naturalized in the Eastern US and along the West Coast. In fact, it’s considered invasive in some states, so no guilt in harvesting it. It grows well at elevation here in SW Colorado and can reach towering heights. Well-drained, moist soil is best but Elecampane will tolerate a range of soil types. It will take full sun to part shade, though some shade is better in hot areas.

Elecampane continues the theme of warming, aromatic, acrid and bitter plants for respiratory support. It is a good stimulating expectorant for lungs full of phlegm, especially of the yellow/green variety. Though perhaps not the best for hot, dry conditions due to it’s warming energetics, Elecampane can stimulate mucus production and help liquify mucus to get it out in cases of coughs with hard, sticky mucus. It does contain a bit of mucilage to help sooth respiratory linings, though, it still may be good

to pair it with something cooling and moistening like Wild Mallow in these dry conditions. As with all of the plants discussed here, Elecampane both helps get the mucus out while at the same time relaxing persistent, annoying coughs.

Elecampane has noticeable calming effects as do Damiana, Grinedlia, and (at least for me!), Osha. This makes it useful for anxiety around the ability to breath when someone is in the throes of coughing fits (aside from the fact that it will help ease the coughing).

The antibacterial and immune activating activities of Elecampane may help with secondary respiratory infection. And while I usually think about it mainly as an expectorant and antibacterial herb, Elecampane does have antiviral constituents. These include phenolic acids like caffeic acid, dicaffeoylquinic acid and chlorogenic acid as well as terpenoids like camphor, thymol derivatives and farnesol (19, 20). As with Grindelia, I don’t know whether the levels of these are significant enough to have direct antiviral effects in the body.

This is yet another herb that will also help with allergies by relieving cough and congestion while supporting good digestive function. Moreover, Elecampane is, with regular low doses, a good lung tonic, strengthening lung function and aiding in chronic conditions like asthma, emphysema, COPD and long-standing bronchitis. Lung tonics are also handy here at 6500 feet where there isn’t quite as much oxygen as many of us are used to.

Angelica (Angelica archangelica, A. hendersonii, A. grayi, A. pinnata, others)

We have many Angelica species in the West, with some being more common than others. A. grayi and A. pinnata are here in the San Juan Mountains around Durango. Before harvesting Angelica, know your populations. Which species are near you? How plentiful are they?

It has often been said that the Apiaceae family contains some of the most nutritious and medicinal plants along with the deadliest. When wildcrafting Angelica, a good way not to die is to know what its poisonous cousins look like. Those would be Water Hemlock (Cicuta douglasii) and Poison Hemlock (Conium maculatum), in particular. The leaves are a good place to start in learning the differences. Poison Hemlock has fern-like leaves that more closely resemble those of Osha (!). Water Hemlock leaves more closely resemble Angelica. Check the leaves closely. Angelica’s leaflet veins go to the tips of the teeth along the margins, while Water Hemlock’s leaflet veins terminate in the cleft between the teeth. There are plenty of other ways to distinguish these plants as well, including seeds, leaf structure, etc.

A great option could simply be growing Angelica in a garden. Reminiscent of the conditions it treats, Angelica likes damp places. Strictly Medicinal Seeds carries

European Angelica (A. archangelica), Coast Angelica (A. hendersonii), Sharptooth Angelica (A. arguta) and other species. You could simply pick the one that works best in your area in terms of growing conditions.

So what does it do? You can probably guess by now. Angelica is great for respiratory issues with cold signs. It’s a blood-moving herb that will help dry up mucus later in infection, while also soothing the lungs with it’s essential oil. While Angelica is frequently used for cool conditions, Michael Moore also used it for irritability associated with hot illnesses (13). It’s antiviral and antibacterial properties make it appropriate for initial respiratory infection as well as for secondary infection. Though, to be honest, I’ve actually been having better luck lately using Grindelia or Damiana to stave off those early signs of infection. Don’t know if this is related to differences in herbal activities, or infecting agents, or due to the Angelica being a purchased tincture and the others being my own made with love!

Angelica can also stimulate mucus secretion and thin phlegm, so if using these properties to deal with the reluctant-to-come-up mucus that associated with dry, hot conditions, consider adding in a cooling and at least somewhat slimy plant like Mallow. Same, really, for any of the plants discussed in this article even if I neglected to mention this for each one.

The root, when fresh, may cause contact dermatitis or photosensitivity in some folks, so wear gloves when digging/processing fresh root. The seeds share some properties with the root, being acrid, aromatic and warming, bringing on a sweat and getting the immune system online, and they’re even easier to collect. I’ve not actually played with the seeds, though, other than picking one to chew when encountering Angelica in the mountains.

As with Osha, Damiana, and Grindelia, Angelica may also be supportive for arrhythmia associated with intense coughing spells, and for the anxiety that goes along with it. Angelica is also helpful for allergies, relieving some of the symptoms while also helping at a more foundational level by supporting good digestion and liver function like the other herbs here.

One of my favorite teachers grows Angelica archangelica in her garden. She had walked out into her garden around sunset and encountered her giant, stately Angelica backlit, and for a second thought it was an angel. How appropriate!

Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)

Yes, boring old garden Thyme. I probably use this more than any other plant when dealing with infections of the respiratory tract. Like many Mints, the essential oil of Thyme is strongly antiviral and antibacterial, as well as immune-stimulating. Like Osha and Angelica, the oil of Thyme is expelled from the body via the lungs, bringing the medicine right where it needs to be during a lung infection.

As is true for aromatic plants in general, the stronger smelling the Thyme, the more useful it will be. The Creeping Thyme I used to grow was pretty to look at but wimpy in the aroma department, while another, upright, variety along my south wall was supercharged. Not sure if the difference was in cultivar or due to the fact that the plant along the wall had a more stressful life getting baked in the sun all afternoon. Both, probably. I do know that having a lushly beautiful, very well-watered Thyme (or Sage, which is next on the list) will provide eye candy in the garden but won’t get you very good medicine.

I most frequently use Thyme tincture. Thyme is also great with lemon zest and juice together with a bit of honey, especially for laryngitis. And, the antiviral oil provided by lemon certainly can’t hurt. Thyme essential oil is good in a steam for sinus and lung issues. Many folks with chronic sinus issues may actually have a low grade fungal infection, which is why they continue to have issues even after throwing handfuls of antibiotics at the problem. Thyme has this covered. But the oil is strong and has the potential to irritate mucus membranes if used too frequently as a steam, so blend it or switch it up with other oils (eg. Bergamot, Peppermint, Lavender and the ubiquitous, and overused in my opinion, Tea Tree oil would be good).

As with the other plants here, Thyme will soothe spasmodic coughs of various etiology. And, with longer term use, may lessen the frequency and severity of asthma attacks.

Sage (Salvia officinalis)

Another Mint with its kick butt antiviral, antibacterial and immune boosting essential oil! If you don’t like the taste of Thyme, make Sage tea with lemon zest and juice and honey instead. Like the rest of the gang here, it will soothe spasmodic, annoying coughs and relieve lung and sinus congestion. Like Osha, Angelica, Grindelia and Elecampane, it is a weird combination of mostly drying but with some moistening as well. The moistening comes in part from it’s oiliness and the stimulation of mucus secretion, both of which can be used for a dry, unproductive cough, though perhaps combined with something cooling and soothing…Mallow, Mullein, Elder, etc.

Sage is also soothing to frazzled nerves, though it’s calming effects aren’t as strong to me as Grindelia or Osha. But it helps when one is cranky at catching a bug at an inconvenient time…like when deadlines are piling up.

Sage can be easily grown in many climate. It did fine in the garden I used to have while living at 8000 feet. It was unfazed by the cold winter and the intense summer sun. it even did fine in my garden when I lived at 8000’ feet….cold winters and intense sun in the summer. Either plugged into a garden bed or a pot is fine as long as the soil is well-drained. That said, it did fine in my heavy, amended clay soil.

And, finally, The Old Farmer’s Almanac says that having Sage planted in your garden means that you’ll do well in business….another reason to have this handy plant around.

So there you have it. There are other herbs that should probably be on this list. But this is it for now; my best stab at plants that can be used instead of always reaching for the Osha. Though they do have a lot of overlap, each plant here really does shine in it’s own particular ways. None are perfect substitutes for Osha but they do cover a lot of situations and can take some pressure off of our Osha populations.


1) Wilson, M. F. May 2007. Medicinal Plant Fact Sheet: Ligusticum porteri / Osha. collaboration of the IUCN Medicinal Plant Specialist Group, PCA-Medicinal Plant Working Group, and North American Pollinator Protection Campaign. Arlington, Virginia.

2) & Kelly Kindscher, et al. (2013) Kansas Natural Heritage Inventory – Kansas Biological Survey.


4) Hogan, P & J Fisher

5) Cech, R (2002) Growing at risk medicinal herbs, cultivation, conservation and ecology. Horizon Herbs LLC & United Plant Savers.

6) Phillips, N & M Phillips (2005) The Herbalist’s Way: The art & practice of healing with plant medicines. Chelsea Green Publishing Co, VT.

7) Panter, KL, et al (2004) Preliminary and Regional Reports – Preliminary studies on propagation of Osha. HortTechnology. 14(1):141-3. &

8) Moore, M (1990) Los Remedios: Traditional herbal remedies of the Southwest. Museum of New Mexico Press, Santa Fe.

9) Kaltenbach, J, et al (1991) Volitile constituents of the herbs of Grindelia robusta and Grindelia squarrosa. Planta Med. 57, Supplement Issue 2.

10) Erdogan Orhan, I, et al (2012) Antimicrobial and antiviral effects of essential oils from selected Umbelliferae and Labiatae plants and individual essential oil components. Turk J Biol. 36(2012):239-46.

11) Astani, A, et al (2010) Comparative study on the antiviral activity of selected monoterpenes derived from essential oils. Phytother Res. 24(5):673-9.

12) Li, Q, et al (2006) Phytoncides (wood essential oils) induce human natural killer cell activity. Immunopharmacol Immunotoxicol. 28(2):319-33.

13) Moore, M (2003) Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West. Museum of New Mexico Press, Santa Fe.

14) Szewczyk, K & C Zidorn (2014) Ethnobotany, phytochemistry and bioactivity of genus Turnera (Passifloraceae) with a focus on Damiana – Turnera diffusa. J. Ethnopharm. 152(3).

15) Alcaraz-Melendez, L, et al (2004) Analysis of essential oils from wild and micropropagated plants of damiana (Turnera diffusa). Fitoterapia. 75:696–701.

16) Potentiation of macrophage activity by thymol through augmenting phagocytosis. Int Immunopharmacol. 18(2):340-6.

17) Bueno, J, et al (2011) Composition of three essential oils, and their mammalian cell toxicity and antimycobacterial activity against drug resistant-tuberculosis and nontuberculous mycobacteria strains. Nat Prod Commun. 6(11):1743-8.


19) Kamkar, J (2001) Iranian J Med Aromatic Plants. 8:135-48. 20) Bourell, C, et al (1993) Chemical Analysis, Bacteriostatic and Fungistatic Properties of the Essential Oil of Elecampane (Inula helenium L.). J Essential Oil Res. 4:411-7.

Additional Resources included writings from a number of inspiring herbalists, especially Kiva Rose, Jim McDonald, 7-Song, David Hoffman and Paul Bergner and many others.

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4 great essential oils for fungal skin infections

Usually the fungi I focus on are mushrooms. This article talks instead about how to deal with some not-so-fun fungi…

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An interview wtih

An interview with

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What’s your tongue telling you? Tongue color

1st in a series on the basics of tongue diagnosis I’m doing for Basmati. Say ahhhhh…….’s-your-tongue-telling-you-tongue-color

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Witchin’ in the kitchen – 3 methods for making medicinal teas

This isn’t your mother’s cup of tea :)

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Herb Roundup: Multifaceted Mullein

Another article up on Basmati. This one is on one of my most used plant medicines : )

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Essential Oil Essentials: Making natural perfumes simply

An article I just published on Basmati on one of my favorite topics in aromatherapy:

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Making sleep pillows for good ZZZZZZZZs and dreams

An article I did that is a good introduction to the “Botanicals for Dreaming” class I’m teaching Nov 15th.

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Mullein…It’s not just a weed.

Mullein (Verbascum thapsus)! Disrespected as a lowly week but a beautiful and immensely useful plant.

A Mullein flower-infused oil for earaches in people and mutts is one of the best known uses of the plant.

Probably the second-best known use is the leaf as a slow acting but valuable lung tonic. It’s helpful for folks with chronic issues like emphysema, COPD and asthma. I like it for folks here in Durango where we live at elevation in a dry climate. I do use it in cold and flu blends but it’s not strong enough as a stand-alone herb for respiratory infection.

Mullein is one of the better known smoking herbs, and while bringing particulates into the lungs may not be ideal, I do enjoy herbal smoking blends :) For folks interested, my friend (also an herbalist) Karen and I will be selling non-cannabis blends for mood and simply because they taste good! I’ve been smoking a different plant (Pedicularis) for anxiety and heartbreak lately and it acts so much more quickly to soothe than when I use my tincture. More on Pedicularis as a spirit heart herb in a future post.

Back to Mullein…the root is what I use most frequently. In Traditional Chinese Medicine it’s used for respiratory support much like the leaf. However, I and a number of other herbalists use it for spinal issues, from neck to the base of the spine. It’s in my daily formula for chronic low back issues that result in sciatic or femerol nerve pinching. On it, I have few problems. Without it, my low back “goes out” frequently, even with physical therapies. No one knows exactly how it works (which, by the way, is true for many of the top-selling pharm drugs). Some herbalist use the leaf for spinal related issues/pain, but in my experience the leaf hasn’t done it.

Ok, back to processing the big pile o’ Mullein I harvested this morning……

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5 Blood Sugar Busting Mushrooms

A short article I did on mushrooms and blood sugar regulation that just came out on

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Super immune-boosting chai recipe

A great chai-inspired recipe for immune (and mood) support that I use for myself and clients:

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Witchin’ in the kitchen – Cordial crafting

An article I put together on cordial making. These are tasty ways to take your medicine and make great gifts.

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Preparing for the dark months: Essential oils

A little aromatic support for the seasonal blues…

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Deadly Amanitas or “I wouldn’t eat that if I were you”

This is an excerpt from an article I wrote on deadly Amanitas for the upcoming winter edition of Plant Healer Magazine. For the full article, and an incredible collection of botanical, wellness, environmental and social justice writing, subscribe here:

The Roman emperor Claudius had bad luck with women. After three disastrous marriages, along came wife number four. Rumor has it that she and her accomplices killed him with Amanita phalloides, the Death Cap mushroom, so that her son Nero could take the throne. But, many of the described symptoms — low blood pressure, difficulty breathing and death within 12 hours of ingestion — don’t quite jive with Death Cap poisoning. Instead, they are more in line with muscarine poisoning; muscarine being a toxin present at high levels in Inocybe and Clitocybe mushroom species.

Someone whose dirt nap may actually have been via Death Caps was another emperor, Charles VI. The timing of his death was consistent with his stewed mushrooms being a deadly Amanita, and his mushroom-assisted demise resulted in all hell breaking loose in Europe, politically speaking.

In the first installment of this Amanita series, we explored Fly Agaric, the famous red capped, white spotted mushroom depicted on fridge magnets everywhere. Many folks here in North America are afraid of Fly Agaric, equating it with the more scary Amanitas. The chemistry is actually quite different. And, as discussed in the first installment, Fly Agaric is a great edible when prepared properly. Now the focus shifts to it’s scary cousins: Death Cap, along with Destroying Angel mushrooms (A. ocreata, A. bisporigera here in North America).

Welcome! Plant Healer Magazine Enlivening the practice, culture, & art of folk herbalism! . Featuring experience-based & adventurous writings by teachers, practitioners & plant lovers Combining inquiry, inspiration & skills in artful…

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Mushroom magic for heart health

Easily obtainable mushrooms that are good for your cardiovascular system…

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Preparing for the dark months: Herbal support

Another article I have up on This one’s for those of us who deal with the seasonal blues…

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Road Rash Remedy article

Article I did on road rash for I still have a scar from dumping my bike many years ago while trying to bounce sideways up a curb in Philly. I didn’t know about herbs then….

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This is happening this month at the Powerhouse Science Center on Friday the 22nd & at the Durango Rec Center on Saturday the 23rd. A link to more information:

I’ll be doing a talk on the health promoting actions of edible/medicinal mushrooms.

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Medicinal Mushroom Foraging at the Grocery Store

Another of my articles published on Here’s the link:

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Osha sustainability

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Kitchen witchin’ part 2 –

More on medicinal herbs and food….

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Kitchen witchery part 1 on

Some really effective herbal medicines are in the kitchen, and here in Part 1 are my favorite uses for myself and my clients. In Part 2 next week, we’ll flip things…

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Safe essential oil usage

And another article! This is on how to use oils without creating new problems for yourself…/essential-oil-essentials-what-safe-oil…

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Toxic essential oils

A very basic article I did on some oils that you might want to skip despite their commercial availability….

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Elderberry (Sambucus) – One of my favorites!

Heading up into the San Juans to collect Elder flower is a cherished June ritual for welcoming the summer as well as a practical expedition for stocking the apothecary for the year. Elder is a beauty, topped with creamy white blooms in June, followed by clusters of shiny red berries here in the San Juans, or blue or dark purple berries in other locales with other species. One can easily spot blooming Elders a football field away while zooming by on the highway.  I don’t use the red berries in clinical practice, though many folks do eat them after cooking them and removing the seeds.

This is one of the plants that actually gets used up in my small clinical practice, finding it’s way, not surprisingly, into cold and flu formulas as well as formulas for seasonal allergies. I like to combine tinctures of berry and flower for both respiratory infection and allergies. And while Elder is phenomenal medicine, my favorite use is in cocktails. Elderberry is a great addition to gin and tonics and other “traditional”  gin and vodka-based cocktails. Not too much, just a bit for flavor. The berry tincture is a better option than the syrup if you don’t want it overly sweet.  I like Elderflower tincture (too cheap to buy St. Germain) in sparkling water with a bit of Camapri, lime juice, Cointreau and the tiniest bit of Lavender (tincture for those who aren’t sweet tooths or simple syrup for those who are).

This is a magical plant even for us left-brained Spock types. One of the best things about Elder — even more than it’s respiratory, immune, cardiovascular and metabolic support and amenability to cocktail-making — is the folklore and magic surrounding it. That if you mindlessly harvest the wood, the Elder Mother residing in the tree is reputed to open up a can of whoop-*ss on you. Or that if you sit beneath an Elder at midnight on Midsummer’s Eve, you’ll see fairies, or the Elder Queen, or the Elder King, or all of the above depending on which book you read. I had a Black Elder in my garden, so I gave this latter one a try.  I couldn’t quite fit under the small shrub but did my best to sidle up next to it. As midnight arrived, I didn’t see any fairies or royalty, but the International Space Station did go by overhead.  Later, I realized I had the date wrong…the Solstice (June 21) instead of Midsummer’s Eve (June 23). Doh!

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Pedicularis for pain relief

An excerpt from an article I wrote for Plant Healer Magazine & Herbaria Monthly & for the Upcoming Good Medicine Confluence, an awesome botanical, re-wilding and grass roots gathering this June here in Durango (Check them all out here: and here: )

Fern Leaf Lousewort, Towering Lousewort, Elephant’s Head (Pedicularis species)

(photo from

Pedicularis is doubly named for lice. It’s botanical name derives from the genus to which lice belongs, Pediculus; then there’s the “Lousewort” part. The names come from an old belief that livestock develop lice after eating the plant. Though I’ve been using Pedicularis off and on for about 7 years, my scalp has remained blessedly free of creepy crawlers!

Another common name for Pedicularis is “Wood Betony”, a name that, confusingly enough, also belongs to Stachys officinalis.
Hundreds of Pedicularis species grow throughout the world. We have about 6 in Southwest Colorado, the smallest around 4 inches and the tallest, the aptly named Towering Lousewort, reaching 4 feet or more (1). One of the bigger species of Pedicularis, Fern Leaf Lousewort, grows along the Elbert Creek Trail (~9000 feet elevation). Higher up in the mountains is the much more delicate Elephant’s Head, Pedicularis groenlandica, with it’s pinkish/purple flowers that look like, well, Elephant’s heads. Fern Leaf Lousewort is big enough that just plucking a few leaves from each plant quickly takes care of my needs for the year. For Elephant’s Head, the species I’ve used the longest, the whole aerial portion of the plant in flower is collected. I use them interchangeably, though it seems like Fern Leaf may be a little stronger, medicinally speaking. That, together with the fact that one need not collect the whole aerial portion of Fern Leaf for medicine making, has led me to stop harvesting Elephant’s Head.

Pedicularis is helpful for muscle pain, and perhaps in part by acting as a skeletal muscle relaxant (2) it may ease the tension placed on injured joints by the surrounding musculature. The first time I used it was the day after a minor motorcycle accident, when my teacher Pam had me take a squirt of Elephant’s Head tincture from the student clinic. The pain was gone within about 10 or so minutes and the tincture also quelled the residual nervous system static from my close encounter with a car the previous day.

Pedicularis has since become a good friend, easing the sore muscles that result when someone over 40 decides that learning jiu jitsu would be a good idea. I sometimes use it prophylactically before a training session, one, to reduce the muscle soreness the following day and, two, to reduce the anxiety around setting myself up for yet another potential butt kicking.

Pedicularis can be quite sedating for some folks, while doing nothing at all in others. A couple/few squirts of either Elephant’s Head or Fern Leaf Lousewort tincture is mildly calming for me, while a 6’ tall, 200+ pound friend was looped out after a similar dose. Incidentally, this was after his own calamity of the motorcycle kind. Another friend, on an herb walk, described a mildly pleasant sensory trip after eating a small bit of Pedicularis leaf. She is one of those folks who has a sensitivity to plants that some of us more energetically-dense types lack. Not jealous, not jealous……

So, in essence, Pedicularis is a relaxing (for some) and pain relieving (for some) herb that is handy post-motorcycle crash or for those times you know you will be sore the next day after doing things that you should or shouldn’t be doing. It’s also good support also for those whose shoulders live perpetually around their ears due to chronic stress.

A note on harvesting: Pedicularis is semi-parasitic (technically, it’s a hemiparasite, but we’ll save that for the botanists). It will pick up constituents from any neighboring plants it has tapped into, whether Willow (super useful addition) or Senecio (not so much) (2).

For those who will be here for the Good Medicine Confluence in June, if you sneak away for a jaunt up Pass Creek Trail on Engineer Mountain, you will reach a beautiful marshy meadow after a mile or two that may be full of Elephant’s Head. (Warning: My judgement of distance is terrible). I usually go to see it in early July, but will scout before the meeting and let folks know if it’s up yet. According to some books it may be but, as the saying goes, plants don’t read books.

2) Michael Moore (2003) Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West. Museum of New Mexico
Press, Santa Fe.

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Artist’s Conk

This is an excerpt from an article I published in Plant Healer Magazine and will presenting on at this June’s Good Medicine Confluence in Durango….
Artist’s Conk (Ganoderma applanatum)

This mushroom gets around, living in all 50 states and in temperate climes around the globe. Also known as “Red Mother Fungus” or “Ancient Ling Zhi (Spirit Mushroom)”, Artist’s Conk is not as well known in the US as it’s cousin Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum), medicinally speaking. Indeed, Reishi has been much more heavily studied than it’s various Ganoderma cousins. I don’t think this is necessarily due to it being “better” medicine than the others. In fact, mushrooms of various Ganoderma ilk have been used for thousands of years in China and other parts of Asia. Plus getting to know the local species doesn’t seem like a bad idea.
Conks are hard shelf-like mushrooms found on trees, stumps and logs. What are typically called “mushrooms” are really just the sex parts, or to be more scientific, the “fruiting body” that releases spores for reproduction. The organism itself lives inside the host, which in the case of Artist’s Conk, is a wide variety of dead or dying trees, particularly Aspen here in Colorado.
The top of Artist’s Conk is brown and furrowed, while the bottom surface from which spores are released is bright white, standing out along a shady stream side. A key identifier is that marks made on the white surface immediately turn brown. You can draw on it, hence the name! The top is often coated with a layer of cocoa-colored spores on top that get there from below via static attraction. Despite the name Ganoderma (“shiny skin”), the surface of Artist’s Conk is not shiny, though the conk does live up to the applanatum (“flattened”) part of the name (1).
Artist’s Conk is perennial, with new growth each year leading to new furrows on the surface. Large ones may be many years old. Folks on the Elbert Creek walk this June will meet a group of conks I visit every year that have been there since long before I moved to the area in 2010. I don’t collect large ones out of respect for the number of years that went into making them, though some foragers will collect the outer inch or two from around the edge of bigger conks.
I’ll mention just a few medicinal properties of Artist’s Conk here and save the rest for the Good Medicine Confluence.
Like it’s cousin, Reishi, Artist’s Conk is an immune system tonic and a good way to be ready for cold and flu season. Immune tonics, as opposed to immune stimulants, are not traditionally used during a cold or flu virus infection, but are instead used ahead of time for prevention. Though I recently had telltale signs of a budding respiratory infection: Slight fever, itchy throat and the beginnings of a cough. Artist’s Conk was all I had with me, and I know that if I don’t get on it immediately, I’m screwed. So I tried multiple doses over an hour or two and the symptoms subsided. Was it because the infection was still pretty early on? Would it have worsened the infection if I tried it later? Don’t know. Though Artist’s Conk is noted for use in respiratory infections by Christopher Hobbs, who, by the by, played a significant role in introducing the concept of medicinal mushrooms to the US through his aptly named book “Medicinal Mushrooms”.
Artist’s Conk can be used interchangeably with Reishi for allergies. Though best as a daily tonic to prepare for allergy season, it also works acutely for allergy symptoms. A squirt or two of double extract (tincture combined with decoction) is enough to quash my morning stuffiness as fall allergy season kicks in. It won’t work for everyone, but if it’s “your” remedy, it will be effective quickly. Reishi reduces allergy symptoms in part by preventing release of pro-inflammatory chemicals from mast cells (2) that are responsible for wheeziness, runny nose, itchy eyes and such. Given the similarity in chemistry between the two mushrooms, it wouldn’t be surprising if Artist’s Conk is doing something similar. But, then, who cares…as long as it works.
Reishi is used to improve oxygen exchange in the lungs and is used by climbing guides in the Himalayas to help them reach the highest points in the world. Something I’d like to find out about Artist’s Conk for use here in Durango (not quite as high as the Himilayas, but…).

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Dogs (and cats!) can have dental problems just like people do. Our domesticated companions may not have access to the many chewy things in nature that help maintain healthy choppers. Indeed, studies have shown that consistent dental care is important to prevent tooth decay and gum disease in our canine companions (a). The same is true for cats (good luck brushing their teeth, though…).

What to do to support the health of your pooch’s periodontal health?

1) Be sure that your four legged friend has crunchy things to eat.

Dogs and cats need tough things to bite through and chew to keep teeth and gums healthy. Both teeth and gums will deteriorate if your pet is limited to a diet of soft food, even if it is good quality, home made food. Be sure to add some crunch to your friend’s life:  Bones to gnaw on (no poultry bones!), carrots to nibble (they may support healthy tooth enamel (b)), good quality commercial dental chews or a crunchy, healthy low calorie treats. Dental chews have been shown in dogs to reduce plaque formation and, with regular use, may help prevent gum disease (c, d).

2) Brushing!

Yes, dogs may benefit from having their teeth brushed. Regular brushing of your dog’s grill may improve the healing of gum disease in part by stimulating gum regrowth (e).

A Google search for “dog toothpaste” turned up over 10 million hits, so I’d say that this is a pretty hot topic! There are a number of commercial doggy toothpastes on the market. If going this route, try to find one that is as natural as possible (avoid those with artificial colors, for instance). Remember that your dog doesn’t necessarily like the same toothpaste flavors that we people do. Think liver, not wintergreen. And, absolutely do not use people toothpaste. Toothpaste for people is not appropriate for a number of reasons, not the least of which are ingredients that are toxic to dogs. Stick with a dog-specific toothpaste or, if feeling adventurous, make your own.

Homemade pooch pastes often contain baking soda or food grade clay (eg. calcium montmorillonite clay), an oil such as coconut or olive, and water. These are mixed to form a relatively thick paste that can be applied with a dog-specific toothbrush, a cotton ball or piece of cloth. Even your finger will suffice. Optional pooch paste additions could include organic broth or bouillon for flavor, or supportive herbs (see next section).

Start slowly and get your dog used to the idea of brushing. Be gentle when brushing, but don’t dawdle and try your dog’s patience. Always reward her with a crunchy treat afterwards. Consistency is key, however. Brushing needs to occur frequently in order to be beneficial. One study found that either daily brushing or brushing every other day with daily dental chews was necessary to improve tooth and gum health (f).

3) Botanical support

There are a number of herbs traditionally used for periodontal health, including in mutts. Fennel is a top one for reducing doggy breath. It, along with herbs like Sage, Dill and Parsley, does this through anti-microbial effects in the mouth as well as by improving digestion. Other great supportive herbs include Cinnamon, Myrrh and Alfalfa. Some, like Cinnamon, also bring in fresh blood for nourishing the gums.  Any of these herbs can be used in home-baked crunchy biscuits, or added to meals in powder form.

For herb amounts that are safe for use in dogs, there are great resources such as “All you ever wanted to know about herbs for pets” (Tilford and Wulff-Tilford), “Dr. Kidd’s guide to herbal dog care” (Kidd), and “Dr. Pitc

airn’s complete guide to natural health for dogs and cats” (Pitcairn and Pitcairn).

A final note…..

Don’t forget that the inside-out approach is also important for oral health. This means supplementing with mineral and vitamin rich foods and/or herbs such as a pinch of seaweed, some alfalfa or powdered oatstraw. Vitamin C may be helpful for immune health to help prevent dental infections from starting in the first place.  Again, for more specific guidance on supplementing your dog’s diet, see one of the books I mentioned above, and happy brushing!


b) de Bairacli Levy, J (1992) The Complete Herbal Handbook for the Dog and Cat. Faber and Faber Limited, Bloomsbury House, London.

a) Buckley, C, et al (2011) The impact of home-prepared diets and home oral hygiene on oral health in cats and dogs. Br J Nutr. 106 Suppl 1:S124-7.

c) Hennet, P (2001) Effectiveness of an enzymatic rawhide dental chew to reduce plaque in beagle dogs. J Vet Dent. 18(2):61-4.

d) Hennet, P, et al (2006) Effectiveness of an oral hygiene chew to reduce dental deposits in small breed dogs. J Vet Dent. 23(1):6-12.

e) Tomufuji, T, et al (2007) Location of proliferating gingival cells following toothbrushing stimulation.  Oral Dis. 13(1):77-81.

f) Gorrel, C and JM Rawlings (1996) The role of tooth-brushing and diet in the maintenance of periodontal health in dogs.  J Vet Dent.13(4):139-43.

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Doggie Cold & Flu

Many of my 2 legged clients have been sick this spring. But they aren’t the only ones who can catch a cold…..

Dogs are susceptible to a whole slew of respiratory bugs. Some are viral, like the flu or common cold. Others are bacterial, like Bordatella, a common cause of kennel cough. Kennel cough is characterized by a dry cough and retching, along with flu-like symptoms. Viruses and bacteria are very different, but improving your pooch’s health increases resistance infection by either. There are many different cold viruses that infect dogs, and dogs even have their own flu virus, canine influenza virus, that has similar symptoms as the annual variety of “people” flu: Runny nose, wet cough, fever and lethargy. Recent research shows that your dog can even catch your flu (1), so don’t sneeze on your mutt!

With so many bugs wanting to set up shop in your pup, what’s an owner to do? A nutrient-dense diet, active lifestyle, and clean living environment are key part of the approach. The first two support a healthy immune system while the latter is important because respiratory bugs are shed in dog boogers that wind up all over your house if you have a sick dog wandering about. In fact, it’s best to isolate your puppy patient if you have more than one dog in the house.

Herbal support

In addition to the above approaches, many of the herbs I’d use for cold and flu are also appropriate for Milo, D, Zeke and the latest addition to the pack, Ratticus Finch. A good resource for proper dosing and contraindications of each herb in dogs is “All you ever wanted to know about herbs for pets.“ by Greg and Mary Wullf Tilford (2).

You may have used echinacea yourself, but did that you know that it works for dogs, too?  Echinacea may reduce the duration of an illness, or prevent it altogether, if your pooch has been playing at the dog park with a sick friend or when it’s given at the first sign of the sniffles. The funky taste of echinacea may go down better in the form of a glycerite, a sweet-tasting vegetable glycerin extract. Note that echinacea is not a replacement for a healthy immune system. In fact, it is best avoided in animals with known immune dysfunction (2).

Elderberry has traditionally been used for colds and flu to reduce symptoms and the duration of infection, and this usage has been backed up by research studies (3). One way elderberries might help is by preventing the virus from attaching to it’s receptor on the cell surface (4). This stops the virus from infecting the cells lining our respiratory tract. Your dog will probably like the taste, so it shouldn’t be difficult getting elderberry extract into him.

Another herb I commonly use for respiratory infection is thyme. Thyme eases excessive coughing and is strongly anti-viral and anti-bacterial. Thyme may even bump up the immune system to help with preventing or shortening the duration of illness. Because of it’s intense, pungeant flavor, thyme might be best used in glycerite form for your pooch. Be sure not to use thyme essential oil, which is much to irritating to use for your pet.

Yarrow is another useful herb for respiratory support. It is strongly anti-bacterial, so may be helpful for bordatella or bacterial respiratory infections. Also, yarrow may reduce some of the general bluckiness associated with the flu. Because the tea is bitter enough that your dog is unlikely to drink it, a tincture is a good way to go. Don’t use yarrow in pregnant or nursing animals.

Mullein is an herb that works well together with all of the herbs I’ve mentioned. The leaves of this common weed can be made into a tea, strained well and used for viral or bacterial infections of the respiratory tract. Mullein soothes the respiratory lining and eases overly intense coughing. In addition, mullein has mild anti-viral and anti-bacterial effects, though perhaps not quite strong enough to use alone. If your furry friend has frequent respiratory issues, mullein can be used regularly as a tonic to improve the health of her lungs.


1. Song, D, et al (2014) Canine Susceptibility to Human Influenza Viruses (A/pdm09 H1N1, A/H3N2, and B). J Gen Virol. Oct 13. [Epub ahead of print]


2. Wulff-Tilford, ML & GL Tilford (1999) All you ever wanted to know about herbs for pets. Bowtie Press, Irvine, CA.

3. Zakay-Rones, Z, et al (2004) Randomized study of the efficacy and safety of oral elderberry extract in the treatment of influenza A and B virus infections. J Int Med Res.32(2):132-40.  <LINK >

4. Roschek B, et al (2009) Elderberry flavonoids bind to and prevent H1N1 infection in vitro. Phytochemistry. 70:1255-61.


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Dog Breath: Parsley to the rescue!

Does your dog have bad breath?  It’s probably not shocking to you that bad breath is common among our canine friends, particularly in older dogs and small breeds. “Dog breath” is not generally used as a term of endearment.

Parsley is (Petroselinum crispum) an old fashioned bad breath remedy that helps in both dogs and their people. (Use the leaves for your dog, as the seeds may be too strong.) Parsley belongs to the Apiaceae family of plants. It’s family members include other super nutritious and medicinal vegetables and herbs such as celery, carrots, fennel, dill, cilantro and parsnips.  Interestingly enough, two among the deadliest plants in North America are also in this family (Poison Hemlock and Water Hemlock)…Go figure.

Back to doggie breath. Bad breath can come from poor digestion, gum disease and/or tooth decay, the latter two being common in small dogs. Parsley has a role in improving all of these parameters. Parsley supports oral health through it’s anti-bacterial properties and pleasant-smelling essential oils.

The leaves provide digestive support on a number of levels. By improving liver and gall bladder function, Parsley influences fat digestion and absorption along with encouraging easy bowel movements. Better fat digestion equals less gas!

Parsley’s essential oils support normal gut peristalsis, providing relief from intestinal bloating and cramping. gas accumulation. Parsley may even help expel parasites from the gastrointestinal tract (1). The 16th century herbalist John Gerard said about parsley “It is delightful to the taste and agreeable to the stomache”.  The 17th century herbalist Nicolas Culpeper said ‘It is very comfortable to the stomach…food for wind and to remove obstructions both of liver and spleen…” (2).

Another way Parsley may help with general doggie stinkiness is by facilitating waste elimination. Part of this is related to elimination via the bowels, but the other part is due to diuretic activity.

Parsley is originally a native of Europe and Asia, but now is grown worldwide.  You may even be growing it some in your garden, in which case you can chop up a small amount of leaf to include in your dog’s food. Parsley leaf is a safe, nutritious addition to your dog’s diet. Alternatively, fresh parsley leaves can be juiced and mixed with water to make a liquid liquify to be fed directly to your dog or added to their food or drinking water (about a teaspoon per 20 pounds of weight). Dogs usually like the flavor and a little goes a long way….more is not better. Parsley is not recommended for pregnant animals because of it’s essential oil content. And, remember to use the leaf rather than the seeds for your 4-legged friend.


1) Lans, C, et al (2007) Ethnoveterinary medicines used to treat endoparasites and stomach problems in pigs and pets in British Columbia, Canada. Vet Parasitol. 148: 325-40. <LINK>

2) Grieve, M. (1931) A Modern Herbal. Dorset Press, New York, NY. <LINK>

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Dealing with Doggie Allergies

Dealing with doggie allergies

It’s fall allergy season here in Southwest Colorado and many folks are getting prepared. Did you know that dogs can have allergies, too? Like people, they may be allergic to certain plants, pollen, foods, chemicals, dust mites, mold or other substances.

What are allergies?

An allergy is an immune system-based response to a particular substance. An allergic response occurs quickly after exposure to the offending substance and can be a prolonged response if the substance is frequently encountered. The symptoms of an allergic response may include weepy or inflamed eyes, runny nose, sneezing, inflamed sinuses, itchiness, etc. Extreme allergic reactions may be life-threatening and are beyond the scope of this article.

Food and allergies

Certain foods may worsen allergies even if they aren’t the actual allergen. For instance, foods that are pro-inflammatory due to intrinsically inflammatory ingredients or ingredients that are hard to digest may worsen allergy symptoms or predispose your dog to reactivities.

If feeding commercial food, you may need to experiment with different brands, or even making your own. This may be a slow process but potentially offers a big payoff. Avoid brands that use inflammatory ingredients such as wheat, soy, corn and purified forms of gluten. I don’t have a problem feeding small amounts of grains like rice, oats and barley to my dog, but if a grain is the first ingredient in a food blend, it may be a blend best avoided.

Be sure to include some caretenoid-rich foods — beets, squash, pumpkin, etc — in your pooches’ diet to support healthy immune system function. Blueberries and other flavonoid-rich foods help stabilize mast cells, the subset of immune cells responsible for releasing histamine and other chemicals that cause many of the inflammatory manifestations of an allergic response (sneezing, runny nose, weepy or inflamed eyes, inflamed sinuses).

Reducing environmental factors

Our 4-legged friends are low to the ground. This means higher levels of exposure to dust that’s settled on the floor. Keep your floor clean…sweeping isn’t enough on wood, linoleum or tile floors, use a mop regularly. Note that carpet off-gasses chemicals and is a great petri dish for molds and mites…not the greatest environment for your pooch.

Do not apply products containing synthetic scents (“fragrance”, “perfume oil”, etc) or other harsh chemicals to your dog’s skin and coat. These are detrimental to liver health, and the liver plays a key role in reducing allergic responses by “cleaning” the blood as well as by producing an enzyme that keeps histamine levels in check.

Try to make your house a stress-free environment for your dog. Stress impacts immune system function and may worsen allergies via different mechanisms.

Herbal support

Chamomile – Many folks recognize this as a calming herb, helpful for stressed-out dogs, but did you know that it counters allergies as well? It’s an antihistamine as well as anti-inflammatory herb. Chamomile may also provide allergy support by promoting good digestion. Better digestion means less mucus production and stuffiness during an allergy attack. Also, chamomile is a “liver herb”, further contributing to anti-allergy effects by supporting healthy liver function . The tea may be too bitter to appeal to your dog, so a glycerite extract of chamomile may be the way to go. The extract can be added to a  bit of food three times a day:  3-5 drops for a small dog, around 15 drops for a medium dog and 20-30 drops for a large dog.

Nettle Leaf – Stinging nettles are an exceptionally nutrient-rich edible green, and have potent an antihistamine and anti-inflammatory activities. Ironically enough, nettles contain a small amount of histamine! Nettle leaf is also a detoxifying herb, helping to support metabolism and waste elimination, which in turn may reduce reactivity. Externally, nettle tea can be used as a skin wash to help relieve itchy skin, perhaps not what you would expect if you’ve ever bumped into a nettle plant. A small amount of the tea or a couple pinches of the herb can be added to your dog’s food. Be sure to take breaks, say 2 days a week with no nettle supplementation, and avoid nettle in dogs with kidney disease, as long term use may further irritate the kidneys.

Rose Hips – This is another nutritious anti-histamine herb, and it tastes great. Not only that, rose hips are high in Vitamin C, a nutrient important for immune system health. You can add a few pinches to 1/2 teaspoon of ground rose hips to your dog’s food a couple times a day, depending on the size of your dog. If you have roses in your garden, you can use the hips (the fruit that forms if you don’t deadhead the roses). Just be sure not to use the hips if your rose bush is sprayed with pesticides.

A final note

If your dog seems highly reactive, start with just a minute amount of herb to test for a reaction. Give it a day before going for the full dose. As with people, you may have to experiment with different herbs for your pup to ultimately find the one that does the trick!

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Parsley, SAGE, Rosemary & Thyme

Well, just sage, actually…

Sage is more than just the second herb in the famous Simon and Garfunkle song, stuck between parsley and rosemary. It’s is an herb that’s been used for centuries as a food preservative, flavoring, health-supporting tonic and medicine. It’s name, Salvia officinalis, says it all. Salvia means “savior” and sage used to be considered a veritable “cure-all”. “Officinalis” means that this was the official species of sage used medicinally (out of hundreds of species of sage). In fact, sage was a medicine in the United States and London Pharmacoepoeias, though it has been displaced by modern drugs.

This Mediterranean native is popular around the world for it’s distinctive flavor and it’s beauty in the garden. Plus, it’s easy to grow. Here at 7000 feet in Colorado, it’s not phased at all by the winter temperatures and snow. According to the folklore compiled by Maude Grieves in her book “A Modern Herbal” (published in 1931!), “It was held that this plant would thrive or wither, just as the owner’s business prospered or failed…” (1)  Note that this is not the same plant as sage brush, as you will quickly learn if you try cooking with sage brush, an Artemesia species.

The 16th century herbalist John Gerard said of sage: “Sage is singularly good for the head and brain, it quicketh the senses and memory, strengtheneth the sinews…”.  Thus, along with rosemary, sage has traditionally been used for centuries to improve memory, mood and overall cognitive function. These uses have supported by research. For example, one study showed that dried sage leaf improved mood, reduced anxiety and increase alertness in young adults (2). Another placebo controlled double blind study found that sage leaf extracts improved cognitive function and may have reduced agitation compared to placebo in people with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease (3). These and other studies suggest that sage may influence the neurotransmitter acetylcholine.

In the digestive system department, sage is used to ease bloating and gas. Due to it’s essential oil content, sage is a strong anti-microbial herb that has been used by herbalists for gastrointestinal tract infections in their animals (4). Note that the isolated essential oil of sage should not be used for yourself or your pet, but the levels in whole leaf preparations are much lower and safe. Sage is also used for mouth and throat ulcerations and gum disease in dogs and their humans as well (4). In Europe, sage was cooked with meats like pork, duck and goose to improve their digestibility (1). Aside from digestibility, I can attest that a sage butter sauce is mighty tasty on pork tenderloin!

Another potential application of sage that is being investigated by scientists is in diabetes. Sage has been used by herbalists to help support blood sugar regulation, an application that is being confirmed by research. In fact, a recent placebo controlled, double blind study found improved blood sugar control in type 2 diabetics who took sage leaf extract (5).  The patients also entered the study with high levels of blood lipids — triglycerides and cholesterol — and these decreased after several months of sage usage. Interestingly, no changes in blood sugar levels were noted in healthy volunteers in a small study examining the effect of sage on blood lipid levels (6), so the blood sugar effects may only manifest in those with high blood sugar. No adverse effects were noted in any of the studies that I’ve mentioned.

Sage has a number of traditional topical applications as well, ranging from treatment of sprains, skin infections like ringworm, and eye irritation (4, 7). In all, it’s a handy herb to have in your garden!


1. Grieve, M. (1931) A Modern Herbal. Dorset Press, New York, NY.

2. Kennedy, DO, et al (2006) Effects of cholinesterase inhibiting sage (Salvia officinalis) on mood, anxiety and performance on a psychological stressor battery.   Neuropsychopharmacology. 31(4):845-52.

3. Akhondzadeh, S, et al (2003) Salvia officinalis extract in the treatment of patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease: a double blind, randomized and placebo-controlled trial. J Clin Parm Ther. 28(1):53-9.

4. Wulff-Tilford, ML & GL Tilford (1999) All you ever wanted to know about herbs for pets. Bowtie Press, Irvine, CA.

5. Kianbakht, S and FH Dabaghian (2013) Improved glycemic control and lipid profile in hyperlipidemic type 2 diabetic patients consuming Salvia officinalis L. leaf extract: a randomized placebo. Controlled clinical trial. Complement Ther Med. 21(5):441-6.

6. Sa, CM, et al (2009) Sage tea drinking improves lipid profile and antioxidant defenses in humans. Int J Mol Sci. 10(9):3937-50.

7. de Bairacli Levy, J (1992)  The complete herbal handbook for the dog and cat. Faber and Faber Limited, Bloomsbury House, London.

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Doggie Cold & Flu

People aren’t the only ones in your household who can catch a cold!

Doggie respiratory infection

Dogs are susceptible to a whole slew of respiratory bugs. Some are viral, like the flu or common cold. Others are bacterial, like Bordatella, a common cause of kennel cough. Kennel cough is characterized by a dry cough and retching, along with flu-like symptoms. Viruses and bacteria are very different, but improving your pooch’s health increases resistance to infection by either. There are many different cold viruses that infect dogs, and dogs even have their own flu virus, canine influenza virus, that has similar symptoms as the annual variety of “people” flu: Runny nose, wet cough, fever and lethargy. Recent research shows that your dog can even catch your flu (1), so don’t sneeze on your mutt!

With so many bugs wanting to set up shop in your pup, what’s an owner to do? There are vaccines against a number of the common doggie respiratory bugs, something you can discuss with your friendly neighborhood veterinarian. But not all bugs have a vaccine against them and vaccines aren’t necessarily 100% effective.

So, in addition to a visit to the vet, it’s important to work naturally to improve your pup’s resistance. A nutrient-dense diet, active lifestyle, and clean living environment are key to this. The first two support a healthy immune system while the latter is important because respiratory bugs are shed in dog boogers that wind up all over your house if you have a sick dog wandering about. In fact, it’s best to isolate your puppy patient if you have more than one dog in the house.

Herbal support

In addition to the above approaches, many of the herbs I’d use for cold and flu are also appropriate for Milo, D, Zeke and the latest addition to the pack, Ratticus Finch. A good resource for proper dosing and contraindications of each herb in dogs is “All you ever wanted to know about herbs for pets.“ by Greg and Mary Wullf Tilford (2).

You may have used echinacea yourself, but did that you know that it works for dogs, too?  Echinacea may reduce the duration of an illness, or prevent it altogether, if your pooch has been playing at the dog park with a sick friend or when it’s given at the first sign of the sniffles. The funky taste of echinacea may go down better in the form of a glycerite, a sweet-tasting vegetable glycerin extract. Note that echinacea is not a replacement for a healthy immune system. In fact, it is best avoided in animals with known immune dysfunction (2).

Elderberry has traditionally been used for colds and flu to reduce symptoms and the duration of infection, and this usage has been backed up by research studies (3). One way elderberries might help is by preventing the virus from attaching to it’s receptor on the cell surface (4). This stops the virus from infecting the cells lining our respiratory tract. Your dog will probably like the taste, so it shouldn’t be difficult getting elderberry extract into him.

Another herb I commonly use for respiratory infection is thyme. Thyme eases excessive coughing and is strongly anti-viral and anti-bacterial. Thyme may even bump up the immune system to help with preventing or shortening the duration of illness. Because of it’s intense, pungeant flavor, thyme might be best used in glycerite form for your pooch. Be sure not to use thyme essential oil, which is much to irritating to use for your pet.

Yarrow is another useful herb for respiratory support. It is strongly anti-bacterial, so may be helpful for bordatella or bacterial respiratory infections. Also, yarrow may reduce some of the general bluckiness associated with the flu. Because the tea is bitter enough that your dog is unlikely to drink it, a tincture is a good way to go. Don’t use yarrow in pregnant or nursing animals.

Image result for mullein wiki

Mullein is an herb that works well together with all of the herbs I’ve mentioned. The leaves of this common weed can be made into a tea, strained well and used for viral or bacterial infections of the respiratory tract. Mullein soothes the respiratory lining and eases overly intense coughing. In addition, mullein has mild anti-viral and anti-bacterial effects, though perhaps not quite strong enough to use alone. If your furry friend has frequent respiratory issues, mullein can be used regularly as a tonic to improve the health of her lungs.

1. Song, D, et al (2014) Canine Susceptibility to Human Influenza Viruses (A/pdm09 H1N1, A/H3N2, and B). J Gen Virol. Oct 13. [Epub ahead of print]
2. Wulff-Tilford, ML & GL Tilford (1999) All you ever wanted to know about herbs for pets. Bowtie Press, Irvine, CA.
3. Zakay-Rones, Z, et al (2004) Randomized study of the efficacy and safety of oral elderberry extract in the treatment of influenza A and B virus infections. J Int Med Res.32(2):132-40. 
4. Roschek B, et al (2009) Elderberry flavonoids bind to and prevent H1N1 infection in vitro. Phytochemistry. 70:1255-61.

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Natural Health for your Dog – Put out that fire: Chronic inflammation

Science has recognized that chronic, low-level inflammation in humans is a contributing factor to essentially all of the major, chronic disorders, including cardiovascular disease, autoimmune disorders, allergies, cancer, diabetes, obesity, osteoporosis and arthritis. So, perhaps, it’s not so surprising that dogs also suffer from issues related to chronic inflammation. The nerds amongst you can check out the following canine-related examples in the science literature, including oral inflammation, inflammatory bowel diseases, and chronic allergies.

What exactly is inflammation?

It is a process mediated by the immune system in normal response to tissue damage from injury, infection, toxins, extreme heat or cold, or other influences. The acute inflammation triggered by such injuries is a protective response for the person (or dog) involved, and includes swelling, redness, heat, pain and possible loss of function. This normally is a self-limiting process that is initially signaled by chemicals released from the damaged tissues and/or by immune cells residing in the area.

Chronic inflammation

Inflammation becomes a problem when it becomes long-term. This may be in a particular part of the body or can become systemic, in part because those pesky inflammatory chemicals that are secreted don’t necessarily stay put.  A common trigger of chronic inflammation in people and pups is food (1). Yes, food can be injurious! No worries, though, because not all food is. The main culprits are highly processed foods. These are products made with refined oils; refined flour; refined sugars; processed, poor quality meats, processed dairy products, processed vegetable proteins and other dubious ingredients.

So, if there are pro-inflammatory foods, are there anti-inflammatory foods?

Yes!  Examples include vegetables, fruits (especially dark-colored berries), and cold water fish such as salmon, sardines, cod, halibut, trout and herring that contain anti-inflammatory omega 3 fatty acids.

How does this translate to my dog?

Look for dog foods and treats that contain real food as ingredients, such as berries , apples, carrots, sweet potatoes, peas, broccoli, and other flavonoid-rich foods, salmon, grass-fed beef, etc. Avoid dog foods and treats that contain wheat flour, artificial colors, artificial flavors, sugar, and corn syrup.  Small amounts of good quality herbs and spices are a good addition (2), for example turmeric, rosemary, parsley, sage and other of the “spaghetti spices” (not the purified essential oils!).

Finally, no pudgy pooches!  Obesity increases systemic inflammation, and is also a result of chronic inflammation, so it turns into a vicious cycle (1). Make sure that your dog gets exercise every day. And, do not overfeed your dog, as tempting as it may be when looking into those soulful eyes!


1) Muñoz, A and M Costa (2013) Nutritionally Mediated Oxidative Stress and Inflammation. Oxid Med Cell Longev. 610950.

2) Nilius, B and G Appendino (2013) Spices: the savory and beneficial science of pungency. Rev Phusiol Biochem Pharmacol. 164: 1-76.

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Medicine Making Workshop, Summer 2014!

Chopping roots and harvesting Yarrow….

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Some more mushroom press : )

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Hypothyroidism and pregnancy

Here’s a link to a comprehensive article I wrote on hypothyroidism and pregnancy. It’s at, a great resource on fertility-related topics.

Every Woman’s Guide to Hypothyroidism and Fertility

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Cleanse article in Durango Herald

Check it out!

Cleanse Article in Durango Herald

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Jones Creek Trail – Random Plants

May 2013

Oregon Grape (Mahonia repens)

Good digestive bitter. Some herbalists recommend against long-term use due to berberine alkaloids, which are strong anti-bacterial components of the root and twigs. Useful for external or internal infection – skin, respiratory, GI, urinary.  Smells very sweet when blooming…stick your nose up to it.

Choke Cherry (Prunus virginiana)

Just getting ready to bloom. Use the twig bark rather than peeling inner bark from the tree trunk.  Good for soothing coughs and also useful for anxiety. Even better if your coughs are causing you anxiety…   The berries are not the medicinal part, though they are edible as jam, jelly, wine, etc.  If you try eating them raw, you’ll quickly learn why this tree is called Choke Cherry.

Wood Violet (Viola adunca)

Emollient/demulcent – soothing inside the body and out. Also good as an infused oil for use on skin growths.

Canada Violet (Viola canadensis)

Same uses as Wood Violet

Hound’s Tongue (Cyanoglossum officinale)

Flower essence used for thinking on a more holistic level, to counter materialistic, mundane or overly analytical point of view (FES). Leaves used as poultice for burns, bug bites, and other (shallow) skin damage. Plant contains liver-toxic pyrrolizidine alkaloids, so avoid internal use.

Shooting Star Columbine (Aquilegia elegantula)

Flower essence I’m guessing similar to Western Columbine?  For confidence to do what needs to be done and for trusting your skills.  Leaves and flowers of various Columbines have been used medicinally, but they are toxic and I don’t recommend using them other than as a flower essence unless you’ve been trained.

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) & Wood Violet

All of Dandelion is medicinal or edible. Flowers can be cooked as fritters or used to make Dandelion wine.  Root and leaf are digestive aids. Root benefits the liver, while leaf is a strong, safe diuretic useful for folks with fluid retention.  Plus, the leaf is way more nutritious than any green you’d buy in the grocery store.

Lupine (Lupinus spp)

Toxic but beautiful.  There are many Lupine flower essences with a bajillion different attributes attributed to them…

Cinquefoil, aka. Potentilla (Potentilla gracilis)

Cinquefoil means “5 leaf” or “5 finger”. Though really this refers to the fact that the plant leaves consist of 5 (or more) leaflets. Cinquefoil was used to protect from witches’ spells…”What 5 fingers can bring, 5 fingers can remove”.  On a more day to day level, the plant is useful for inflammation in the throat, mouth elsewhere in the GI tract.  Useful for diarrhea. Try on skin rashes and sunburn. Something I want to try but haven’t yet is putting the leaves in my hiking shoes to  prevent blisters.

Aspen (Populinus tremulens) with False Tinder Conk (Phellinus tremulae)

Aspen is a source of aspirin precursors that work much the same way in the body.  Also,  rubbing your hand along the trunk will coat you hand in a whitish powder you can use as sunscrean.  False Tinder Conk, a shelf fungus, destroys Aspens over time. The part you see is actually just the fruiting body (reproductive parts), while the actual organism itself, as with all mushrooms, is inside the substrate (in this case, the wood).  Phellinus is medicinal and may be useful for boosting immune system function when taken as tea. Unlike the norm when mushroom gathering, Phellinus should be put in a plastic bag to prevent spread of spores as you walk through the woods.


Milo’s pretty useful for his entertainment value.

Clematis (Clematis columbiana or C. pseudoalpina?)

Clematis is a relatively low dose herb and should be treated with respect. When used properly at the first signs of a migraine, it can reduce severity and duration of symptoms. Clematis can also be useful for various other types of pain.  This is not a plant for those who tend to be warm-bodied (red tongue, skin warm to touch, red complexion, etc).

Fairy Slipper (Calypso bulbosa)

An orchid. Though generally rare, sometimes you’ll come upon patches of them if you’re in the right place at the right time.

Evening Primrose (Oenothera spp)

Herbalist Kiva Rose likes Evening Primrose for anxiety and for it’s uplifting properties.  I’m not sure if she uses this or other species.  Other species are used for muscle swelling/injury, as a diuretic, for sedative properties and other uses.  I’ll have to do more research &/or start experimenting with this one…

Some sort of Vetch/Pea plant (possibly Lathyrus lanszwertii)

Don’t know any uses and is likely to be toxic, but it’s pretty to look at.

Fairy Bells (Prosartes trachycarpa)

Don’t know any uses, but just look at it :)

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Sand Canyon Plants

May 2013

1) Penstemon & Prickly Pear
•Penstemon – Used as a flower essence for strength & perserverance during hardship.
•Prickly Pear (Opuntia) -Used for hyperglycemia (high blood sugar).  Edible, but slimy like okra :)

2) Red Dock (Rumex hymenosepalus) – Root is astringent and anti-inflammatory. Topical use – gum problems, burns, wounds, etc

3) Wormwood (Artemisia ludoviciana) – Strong topical anti-microbial. Short term use for internal parasites. Strong anti-malarial like it’s cousin Sweet Annie (another artemesia).  Strong anti fungal – try for athlete’s foot. Indigestion. Dysmenorrhea. Inhale steam or smoke for respiratory issues. Not for long term internal use.

4) Another Penstemon – Flower essence used for sense of adventure and risk-taking, determination and tenacity when facing physical challenges.

5) Globe Mallow (Sphaeralcea) – Hot, irritated respiratory tissues. Somewhat immune stimulating in lungs. Soothes uti, but you need to use it with a stronger anti-bacterial herb. Soothing topically. It’s relatives are useful for digestive issues – dry membranes, ulcers, acid reflux, so may be useful for this as well.

6) Mariposa Lily (Chalochortus flexulosus) – Flower essence used for self-mothering, ability to accept love

7) Agave (Yucca baccata) – Arthritis, joint inflammation. Strong laxative, don’t do high doses. Long term daily use can inhibit nutrient absorption

8) Claret Cup Cactus (Echinocereus triglochidiatus) – Flower essence used for clarity and focus. Manifestation, meditation or other times steady focus is necessary.

9) Cliff Rose (Purshia stansburiana) – Flower essence used for motivation to bring creative or other ideas to fruition. Michael Moore (the herbalist) used for early stages of cold, for certain types of backache. He also used a small amount of flowers/buds to scent tea.

10) Lavendar Leaf Primrose (Calylophus lavandulifolius) – Don’t know any uses other than simply enjoying it’s beauty. Not a very good picture, though :)

11) Lizard of some sort!

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Southside Community Garden

This past Saturday I had fun supplying and talking about medicinal plants for the Southside Community Garden on E 5th near 2nd. We planted Lavender, Roman Chamomile, Stinging Nettles, Chinese Skullcap, Hops, Yarrow, Tarragon, Comfrey, Cilantro, and Parsley.

The garden is organized by a very motivated Fort Lewis student, Ryan Lazo and maintained by him and a growing number of volunteers. If you want to get involved with the garden, check out their blog:

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Local Medicinal Plants Class – Reviews

This didn’t quite fit the format of the “Reviews” section, so here it is…

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Garden club of Durango

The Garden Club of Durango visited Osadha Herbal Wellness in April for a talk on medicinal and novel kitchen uses of common garden herbs. We squeezed over 20 people in!

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Some old press :)

STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald Friday, January 27, 2012

With varying facial expressions, from left, Donna Pittenger, Suzanne Bolton, Stephanie Ryan and Cindy Arnold Humiston react to the taste of turmeric. Tumeric has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, said herbalist Marija Helt. She taught a free class Thursday called “Kitchen Witchery,” which described numerous household herbs and spices that also have medicinal value. The class was held at Zuke’s, a Durango-based dog-treat company.  “Pretty much all of the herbs you have in the kitchen have one medicinal use or another,” Helt said.

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Some old press :)

Mushroom medicine

Durango herbalist says fungi have a role in health realm

By Dale Rodebaugh Herald staff writer

Photos by SARAH FRIEDMAN/Herald

May 08, 2011

There are 15,000 identifiable species of mushrooms, and only 2,000 of those are edible. The most dangerous toxins have delayed effects, taking hours or days to show. Microbiologist Anna-Marija Helt teaches workshops about mushrooms, their medicinal properties and how to identify poisonous ones. From left to right: reishi, artist conk, oyster, shiitake, portabello and phellinus.

Ancient Romans have said that mushrooms are the “food of the Gods,” and Anna-Marija Helt teaches a class about mushrooms and the medicines that can be made from them. John Velasquez, left, looks at a mushroom while Helt, center, explains mushrooms to Bridey Conway and the rest of the class.


Microbiologist Anna-Marija Helt says one way to identify mushrooms is to cut off the head of the mushroom, place it on a piece of paper and cover it with a bowl. When the mushroom releases its spores, a person can see them on the paper.


“Let food be your medicine, and medicine be your food,” according to a Hippocratic writing. Paul Ambrose and Karen Mee look at mushrooms passed around during Anna-Marija Helt’s lecture about mushrooms and their medicinal qualities.

As a microbiologist who worked in cancer research, Anna-Marija Helt knows complete remission of the scourge is often a long shot.

But as an herbalist who studies fungi, including mushrooms, she believes mushrooms play a complementary role in the treatment of cancer.

“In Asia, mushrooms are a standard part of cancer treatment,” Helt told a class covering the medicinal use of mushrooms last week in Durango.

“In Asian philosophy, it’s unethical to treat cancer with chemotherapy without using mushrooms to mitigate side effects,” Helt said.

Mushrooms have been used to boost the immune system and as an antioxidant in the Asian countries for centuries, Helt said.

Helt earned a doctorate in microbiology at the University of Washington. Her thesis on molecular mechanisms of the human papillomavirus was based on work done at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.

Helt did research in the fields of cancer and infectious diseases for 15 years.

She won a postdoctoral fellowship to study dengue virus replication at the School of Public Health, University of California, Berkeley.

She also was a research technician at the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia.

Burnout led her to get off the scientific fast-track to study herbal medicine, which satisfied a long-held interest in wild and garden-variety plants.

Helt didn’t take a direct route in pursuing her dream. She first took a side road and opened a cafe in the South of Market district in San Francisco.

A student at the California School of Herbal Studies in Forestville who frequented the cafe often chatted about her studies, sparking her own interest, Helt said. But the purchase of Greg Tilford’s Edible and Medicinal Plants of the West was the final push, she said.

“I was instantly captivated,” Helt said. “I never looked back.”

Helt enrolled in herbal medicine courses at several schools in California.

She came to Durango last November and now consults as an herbalist and gives workshops about the medicinal qualities of mushrooms.

There are 15,000 species of mushrooms but only 2,000 are edible, Helt said.

A number of mushrooms grow in the San Juan and La Plata mountains, Helt said. Herbal medicine enthusiasts who don’t want to hike the backcountry in search of mushrooms or who can’t identify species can find mushrooms available at local health-food stores.

It’s dangerous, fatal even, to misidentify mushrooms, Helt said. She said historians believe that Roman Emperor Claudius, who ruled from 41 to 54, was murdered by poison, possibly in mushrooms.

Mushrooms can be eaten fresh or ingested in tea, tinctures or powder, Helt said.

A website search reveals that studies in Japan, China, Brazil and England tentatively show mushrooms reduce the effects of radiology and chemotherapy in treatment of cancer patients.

An American Cancer Society website, referring to the shiitake, said studies of animals found the shiitake has properties that fight tumors, lower cholesterol and inhibit viruses.

“However, clinical studies are needed to determine whether these properties can help people with cancer and other diseases,” the post says. “It is reasonable to include shiitake mushrooms as part of a balanced diet.”


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It’s early spring and the herbs are coming back :)

They may not be impressive to some of you, but my garden’s over 7000 feet above sea level, so I’m pretty happy with the progress :)

Valeriana officinalis - it's 2nd year

Tiger Lily. Not so impressive yet. Coming from bulb planted 2 years ago

Thyme. OK, this didn't actually go away. It just hid under the snow for the winter.

Oregano. Like it's friend Thyme, it was just hanging out under a blanket of snow

Tiny little Spearmint poking out of the clay. Soon it will be time for mint-infused gin & tonics!

Roman Chamomile that self seeded last year

Baby Nettle patch

Motherwort. One of my favorite herbs. Keeps my ticker in rhythm.

Lemon Balm patch coming back for the 3rd year in a row (not bad for living at elevation in a dry climate)

Lady's Mantle. On the north side of the house, so it can get some shade

Wee Hollyhock. Beautiful and useful in our low-humidity climate

Dandelion. I deliberately plant weeds in my garden...I use them. This one's been around for a year. Letting the root get nice and big!

Bleeding Heart that I thought I killed

Chives. These guys didn't take long to come back

Buds on the Hawthorn planted last year

Everyone else is still laying low. Stay tuned…

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Herbal Medicine Making Workshop Part 2 2013

Bottom's up! Yes, those are elrenmeyer flasks they're using to drink their Dandelion tea...

Goodies at the end of the day!

Chopping Oregon Grape root

Fresh Oregon Grape root

Freshly pressed Calendula-infused olive oil

Calendula salve from our infused oil

Rose Hip glycerite in progress

Rose Hip glycerite, ready to go

Roasted Dandelion root & Cinnamon decoctionBottom's up!

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2013 Herbal Medicine Making Workshop – Day 1

Beautiful day for medicine making!

A day of wildcrafting, tincturing, infused oils, herb vinegars (and algebra....)

Weighing out dry herbs for tincture making

Grinding Burdock root

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Herbal Facial Care Workshop – December 2012

Green clay & herbal facial mask

More masks!

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Herbal Gift Making Workshop – November 2012

Making citrus flavonoid honey

Toasting with cordials

Making tea candles

Essential oil-scented tea candles, colored with alkanet root

Busy, busy...

Getting ready to make solid, essential oil-based perfumes

Now, what are they up to?

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What’s Blooming in the Garden – August

Burdock Yes, I planted a weed in my garden. In a town where spraying is the norm, it’s a way to guarantee that I have a clean source for the root: A “prebiotic” food, digestive bitter and balm for an over-worked liver. Best to get it before the plant turns gargantuan like this one.

Violets Peeking out from under the Valerian.  A small handful of flowers are lovely in salads – impress your friends at your next dinner party.  The flowers and leaves make a great infused olive oil to use on skin growths.

Chinese Skullcap Beautiful indigo flowers. I like the root extract internally for fungal infections and ever-so-fun urinary tract infections.  Many many other uses.

Sunflower A gift for the birds and chipmunks, and some essential fatty acids for me. The petals are pretty in tea blends.

A spicy addition to salads – both flowers and leaves.  Pickled seed pods are pretty yummy.  Good adjunct for stubborn respiratory- & reproductive tract infections.

Calendula Keeps on blooming …the Energizer Bunny of flowers.  Useful for topical and internal bacterial and fungal infections.  Soothing and healing for burns and bug bites.

Hollyhock A lovely member of the Mallow family.  Steep the leaves and flowers in room temperature water for several hours to overnight. The resultant slimy beverage is helpful for heartburn, constipation and makes a soothing wash for dry skin.

Creeping Thyme One of my favorite respiratory infection remedies – sip it as a tea, or gargle it for a sore throat, take as an alcoholic extract in small doses, toss a handful into a bowl of hot water for a great anti-microbial steam. Easy to grow, available much of the year.

Spearmint A helpful, gentle herb for the tummy…though, lately, I’ve been using it to jazz up gin & tonics.          

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Herbal Medicine Making – Spring 2012

Weighing beeswax for Calendula salve

Shaving beeswax for salve making

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Turkey Tails & Prostate Cancer

A new study published in the journal PLOSone provided evidence that the polysaccharopeptide (PSP) fraction of Turkey Tail mushrooms (Trametes versicolor) inhibits the development of prostate cancer (1). There is evidence that prostate cancer originates in a subset of cells in the prostate named prostate cancer stem cells (CSC)(2), which are resistant to standard treatment approaches (3). PSP appeared to change some characteristics of the stem cells, which may have prevented the cells from becoming tumorigenic (1).

The use of Turkey Tails for cancer is not new and originated in Japanese folk medicine. Turkey Tails and their various components have been studied and used as adjunct cancer therapy in Japan for decades, demonstrating multiple beneficial effects including:  Suppressed tumor growth, a slowing of advanced disease progression, Improved disease-free survival time, increased overall survival rates and improved quality of life (4-6).  While it remains to be seen how these new results in prostate cancer prevention translate to human cancer outside of the laboratory, this study is in accordance with the long practiced tradition of using mushrooms to prevent cancer.

1. Luk, S-U, et al. (2011) PLoS One.  6(5): e19804.
2. Collins, AT, et al (2005) Cancer Research. 65: 10946-51.
3. Scopelliti, A, et al (2009) Expert Opin Biol Ther. 9: 1005-16.
4. Kidd, PM (2000) Alternative Medicine Reviews. 5: 4-27.
5. Standish, LJ, et al (2008) J Soc Integr Oncol 6: 122-8.
6. Tsang, KW, et al (2003) Respiratory Medicine. 97: 681-24.

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Mushroom Medicine

Here’s a link to an article in the Durango Herald on a mushroom class I gave earlier in the year.

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I have to be honest: I cringe when I hear the word “cleanse”. What should be a rather straightforward, natural concept often refers to any one of a number of faddish, mis-directed and possibly damaging attempts to rid the body of toxins. Given that it’s April, I’d like to use the topic of spring cleansing as a lead-in to explore this. For the purposes of this article, “toxins” will include normal byproducts from digestion, cellular metabolism and other bodily processes whose accumulation negatively impacts the body (urea and gout for example), chemicals from our food and environment, and drugs/drug metabolites (prescription, over-the-counter and recreational).

Spring cleansing is an ancient tradition that spans multiple cultures from Asia and Europe to the Americas. For places in the world with a cold winter, access to fresh greens and vegetables throughout the year is a recent development, relatively speaking. Fresh spring greens, new buds and shoots provided a nourishing diet that promoted what was traditionally known as “blood cleansing” after the heavier winter diet of preserved vegetables, meats and fats, and stored root vegetables. To cleanse the blood essentially means to support the organs of elimination that filter toxins out of the blood and expel them from the body. Many different types of roots and barks were also consumed as blood cleansing spring tonics…burdock, sarsaparilla, and birch to name a few. This is where root beer came from before it became the sugary, carbonated drink that we know today.

The bitter greens available in the spring facilitate the expulsion of wastes by promoting liver and kidney function, by enhancing digestive function and by providing vitamins and minerals to boost overall body function. Every spring, my Lithuanian grandmother sent my mother and her sisters out to gather fresh, young dandelion greens. I also picked dandelion greens as a child, but it was more as a novelty than a serious addition to the family diet (we were big on iceberg lettuce). Other cleansing, nutritious greens that show up in the spring, possibly as “volunteers” in your garden, include bitter cress, dock, sorrel, amaranth, lamb’s quarters, purslane and nettles. There are many recipes online to help you figure out what to do with them.

The body normally cleanses as part of it’s day-to-day functioning; otherwise, we’d be dead. It is a serious issue when a part of the body’s detoxification system breaks down, as exemplified by folks on kidney dialysis or requiring a liver transplant. Though the body is constantly cleansing, toxic accumulation can occur, either seasonally as described above, from the standard Western diet low in nutritious foods and high in processed foods, from regular drug usage (prescribed or otherwise) and/or from exposure to environmental toxins. Indeed, we ingest many of the pesticides, herbicides and industrial chemicals now ubiquitous in the soil, water and air, and many wind up stored in our fat cells. By doing a formal cleanse, we support the body’s organs of elimination in removing some of this accumulation. Ideally, this would mean striving for a healthier diet and lifestyle to support these organs at all times rather than persisting in what are, perhaps, bad health habits, with intermittent cleanses to patch things up.  Moreover, rapid or harsh cleanses can release a flood of these fat-stored toxins that overwhelm the systems of detoxification and elimination and intoxicate the body. More on this next…

Cleansing isn’t accomplished simply by subsisting on juice or water for a period of time. In fact, if done for more than a couple of days, such approaches will have a toxifying effect on the body. When fasting folks feel euphoric, they are quite literally intoxicated. To understand why, we need to understand a little about how the body naturally cleanses itself. This brings us to the organs of elimination: The liver, kidneys, lungs, and skin. When one of these isn’t working efficiently, the others have to take up the slack. An example of this is when skin issues manifest because the liver is overloaded and/or under-functioning.

The lungs rid the body of carbon dioxide every time we breathe out. We also exhale some water. I addition, the lungs can clear some other substances. Do you ever wonder why garlic breath is so strong? It isn’t due solely to the residual garlic mung in your mouth after horking down a loaf of garlic bread. It’s because garlic contains a pungent essential oil that winds up in the bloodstream and is eliminated in part through the lungs. If you cut a fresh clove of garlic in half and rubbed it on your feet, garlic’s essential oil will penetrate your skin, enter your bloodstream and eventually make it to your lungs resulting in…garlic breath. This is one reason raw or pickled garlic is so useful when you have a respiratory infection. It’s essential oil is strongly antimicrobial and goes right to the lungs. (The oil is changed chemically when garlic is cooked…it loses it’s antimicrobial capacity, though it can still boost immune system function). Another example is the fruity-smelling breath people may develop during a prolonged fast. This is because a metabolic byproduct, acetone (think nail polish remover), is produced from the breakdown of fats during fasting, and is excreted in part via the lungs.

Though many people don’t think of the skin as an organ, it’s the largest organ of elimination and the largest organ overall. Our skin excretes excess water, salts and urea (a breakdown product of proteins) through the sweat glands. Other substances can also be expelled through the skin. One of my teachers has studied and worked with essential oils for decades. At some point earlier in her career, she started smelling like essential oils even when she hadn’t applied or worked with any that day. Tests revealed that her liver enzymes were elevated, indicating that her liver had become overloaded from metabolizing all the oils that she worked with so closely. The oils, normally excreted rather quickly, were accumulating in her body. Thus, her skin kicked in as an additional route for eliminating them from her body. Excessive garlic consumption can also result in excretion of garlic metabolites through the skin. Luckily, I wasn’t dating much around the time I first learned this. Though maybe my garlic intake was the reason I wasn’t dating much.

Urine production is frequently thought of as the kidneys’ main function, but their job is really much more complex than that. On average, the kidneys filter about 200 quarts of blood per day through millions of tiny filters called nephrons, sorting out metabolic byproducts, excess salts and various toxins while retaining needed salts and water for proper fluid balance in the body. Indeed, the kidneys have a large role in blood pressure regulation. The kidneys send things like urea, creatinine (a metabolite that comes from muscle tissue) and small amounts of bilirubin (from red blood cell breakdown) as urine to the bladder for expulsion. Urine is aqueous (water-based). For things to be passed out of the body in the urine, they need to be dissolvable by water. This point will be continued below in the discussion on liver detoxification. Many drugs and/or their metabolites also find their way out of the body via the kidneys. In some cases, this can damage the kidneys. For instance the drug lithium, used in the treatment of bipolar disorder, can cause nephropathy (kidney disease) over time.  Even over-the-counter drugs like analgesics can damage the kidneys with long term use, or in a faster manner from overdosing.

The liver is another organ that filters the blood. All of the organs of elimination are important, but the liver is the major detoxifying organ. Much of what we ingest passes through the liver in some form. The liver also deals with many drugs and environmental pollutants, and participates in the breakdown of endogenous substances like hormones, red blood cells, proteins, etc. To get rid of toxic substances, the liver modifies them so that they can be carried out of the body.

The problem with cleansing protocols like the juice fast is related in part to how liver detoxification works. Hepatocytes (liver cells), contain detoxifying enzymes that act on toxins carried to the liver by the bloodstream. These enzymes function in a 2-step process. “Phase 1” enzymes act on the toxins first, followed by “Phase 2” enzymes. Phase 1 detoxification (see 1st diagram) is carried out by a family of enzymes known as the cytochrome p450 family (cp450), and converts toxins into a form that more easily dissolves in aqueous (water-based) solution.  (Many of the things the body wants to get rid of are more dissolvable in fat than water, making it difficult to circulate them out of the body). After conversion by phase 1 liver enzymes, the toxins are now “reactive intermediates”; they are more reactive than the initial toxin. This means that reactive intermediates stick to things more easily, such to as the carrier molecules that will escort them out of the body. It also means that they can bind to cells and tissues and cause damage if not quickly dealt with by the next step in the detoxification process, carried out by phase 2 enzymes (see 2nd diagram). Phase 2 enzymes are what joins the carrier molecule to the reactive intermediate. The carrier molecule then escorts the toxin safely out of the body.

So what’s the problem with juice fasts? Multiple days without a protein source and adequate nutrition actually causes two problems. First, toxins are released from fat cells at a higher rate than usual as fat is burned for energy (see 3rd diagram). Second, the phase 2 detoxification system becomes severely diminished. This is because many of the phase 2 detoxification pathways require amino acids, which we get from eating protein. Juice has very little, if any, protein.  The result?  An accumulation of damaging reactive intermediates generated by phase I detoxification that do not get carried out of the body (see last 2 diagrams).

There are several take home messages here. The first is that we should support our body’s constant cleansing by eating a clean, whole foods diet as much as possible. There are many cleansing foods, for instance, bitter greens and root   vegetables, that support the liver and other organs of elimination. Plenty of herbs and spices do this as well, including burdock root, turmeric, dandelion, Oregon grape and nettles, to name a handful.  Add to this some sweat-inducing movement to move toxins out through the pores and reduce the burden on the liver and kidneys, to improve circulation and to promote deeper breathing. The second message is that living an unhealthy lifestyle with periodic cleanses thrown in to try to clean up is neither useful nor sustainable. Finally, a formal, gentle cleanse based on nutritious but easily digested foods — for example, steamed greens and root vegetables, berries and other alkalizing fruits, broths, and kitchari or other well-cooked legume/grain combinations — can be helpful in relieving the body of toxic accumulations that have overwhelmed our ever active cleansing mechanisms. If all else fails, don’t forget the protein.

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Rosmarinus officinalis

“Where rosemary flourished, the woman ruled.” (1)

In Europe, it used to be common for the woman of the house to have a rosemary plant in her garden. Useful in cooking and as medicine, rosemary cuttings were passed along the maternal lineage, from mother to daughter upon her marriage and the establishment of a new household (2). From this cutting, the daughter would grow her own plant, and would someday pass a cutting to her own daughter. It was said that the woman was the boss in households that had bountiful rosemary in the garden (1). I have a little rosemary plant on my desk. I’m not sure the significance of this.

Many know rosemary as a cooking spice; it has been a valued spice at least as far back as the ancient Greeks and Romans. Rosemary can be added directly to food, or used to infuse olive oil, which can then be used for all sorts of dishes. Spices such as rosemary and oregano were originally used to preserve food from spoilage, as much as for their flavor. Accordingly, both herbs are have strong antioxidant and antimicrobial activity. Rosemary is such a strong antioxidant that scent-free derivatives of it are used as a preservative for packaged food and cosmetics.

In addition to preserving food, rosemary is carminative, meaning it promotes good digestive function and helps the body rid itself of gas. As 17th century herbalist and physician Nicholas Culpepper put it: “It is a remedy for the windiness in the stomach, bowels and spleen, and expels it powerfully.” (3). Science is starting to catch up with the traditional uses of rosemary for the digestive system. Indeed, research has shown what herbalists already know, that rosemary has stomach-protecting effects (4) and soothes gastrointestinal upset (5). Regarding the very beginning of the digestive tract, the mouth, 16th century herbalist John Gerard wrote: “The distilled water of the floures of Rosemary being drunke at morning and evening first and last, taketh away the stench of the mouth and breath, making it very sweet…” (6).

Due to it’s strong antioxidant properties, rosemary is one of the top ten “anti-aging” botanicals used in cosmetics (7). Rosemary was a main ingredient of Queen of Hungary Water, a popular vinegar-based blend from the 13th century for which there are many recipes. I first learned of Queen of Hungary water as an herbal cosmetic for the face and hair. It is a toning astringent for facial skin, useful particularly for normal to oily skin (8). However, it apparently had a wider variety of uses, including the treatment of gout and limb paralysis (2, 8). Rosemary is said to increase hair growth, as well as to darken hair, possibly by stimulating the hair follicles and increasing circulation to the scalp (8, 9). It can be used as a rinse in the form of Queen of Hungary Water; the vinegar is useful for pH balancing. I’ve used rosemary as infused oil to do a hair treatment once or twice a week. After several months, my gray didn’t go away but my brown hair come in a bit darker and the texture improved. Rosemary’s popularity in cosmetics was continued into the 18th century as an important ingredient in the original Eau-de-Cologne developed by Giovanni Maria Farina (10).

Perhaps more significant than it’s use as a cosmetic, rosemary is a cardiovascular tonic, with effects on blood pressure, blood vessel integrity and overall heart function. The essential oil alone can ease heart palpitations (11). The herb’s astringency will help prevent spider veins, though it won’t get rid of existing ones. Rosemary, which counters inflammation, interferes with plaque formation in blood vessels (12). With long term use, rosemary prevents arterial thrombosis (blood clots) without causing the danger of hemorrhage (13) seen with blood thinning prescription drugs. Rosemary also acts as a circulatory stimulant, improving circulation to many parts of the body.

Topically, rosemary is rubefacient; when applied to the skin over sore muscles and joints, it will bring in healing blood. I use rosemary infused olive oil as a rub when I have either nerve or muscle pain. I used to develop a spasming pain that went from my hip down to my knee and would last from a couple days to over a week, making it difficult to exercise or to sleep. With more severe spasms, the oil didn’t completely ease the pain but brought it down to a tolerable level. Other times the pain would disappear long enough for me to fall asleep. Rosemary infused oil is also great as a rub on tight neck, shoulder and back muscles. While NSAIDs provide longer lasting pain relief, rosemary infused oil doesn’t damage the liver or kidneys or have detrimental cardiovascular side effects. Because of it’s strong antiviral activity and efficacy in easing nerve pain, rosemary is useful for shingles and HSV outbreaks, for inhibiting both the pain and the viral infection. For this purpose, I would blend it with lavender and St. John’s wort.

In addition to being a potent antiviral, rosemary has activity against bacteria, parasites and fungi such as candida. Indeed, Rosemary has a long tradition of warding off infection (and evil spirits). It can be used for infections ranging from cradle cap, dandruff and lice to colds and flu. The herb’s strong antiviral activity appears due at least in part to rosmarinic acid (14), also found in Lemon Balm. However the essential oil also has antiviral activity.  Accordingly, the aromatics of rosemary were used as a room disinfectant. For instance, rosemary used to be burned together with juniper in sickrooms and hospitals in Europe to clear the air (1). Rosemary was also used in courtrooms to stop the spread of Typhus (“Jail Fever”)(1), which was spread by fleas. In addition, rosemary was likely an ingredient in Four Thieves vinegar, a disinfectant that was used to protect against the plague during the Black Death in Europe. There are different stories regarding the origin of Four Thieves vinegar, and there are also many different recipes. One story was that four thieves used it to protect themselves while ransacking the houses of the dead and dying. They were caught and their sentence of burning at the stake was reduced to hanging in exchange for revealing the secret to their plague resistance. An alternative ending to this story was that the thieves were not caught and, because of their loot, became founding members of some of the wealthiest families in Europe. Another version I’ve come across is that the thieves were caught and, as punishment, were made to bury the dead, a punishment they survived by using their vinegar.

By flipping through some of the old European herbals, one can see that rosemary has been used for centuries to improve memory and focus. The connection between rosemary and memory is found in many cultural references. For instance, rosemary was tossed by the mourners onto the casket after it was lowered into the ground at funerals (1). In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Ophelia remarks “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance…”. In Europe, rosemary was commonly used as a symbol of fidelity at weddings and between lovers (1). At weddings, the bride often wore a wreath of rosemary and sprigs of the herb were given to the guests (1). A sprig of the herb or some essential oil is useful during study to improve retention and recall of the material. I have used rosemary essential oil in cases of ADHD as part of an inhalation blend to improve focus. However, one should use caution if on stimulant drugs such as Adderall or Ritalin, commonly used for ADHD. These drugs lower the threshold for seizures, and rosemary and other stimulating oils can theoretically exacerbate this. Although, aromatherapist Robert Tisserand noted the utility of Rosemary oil for seizure disorders (11).

In fact, research suggests that rosemary has multiple direct effects on the nervous system. The essential oil is a nerve stimulant (11), while another constituent, rosmarinic acid, is a strong antioxidant that protects nerve cells (15). In addition, carnosic acid and carnosol, significant components of rosemary extract, were found to stimulate nerve growth factor production in a cell culture model (16) and carnosol protected dopaminergic nerve cells from damage (17). Rosemary extract and rosmarinic acid each demonstrated preventative effects in an established model of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) (18). Together, these observations suggest that rosemary may be helpful for slowing the progress of neurodegenerative diseases.

In addition to benefits on memory and focus, rosemary, an uplifting herb, counters depression.  It is useful for those who suffer from chronic depression, especially if there are any associated digestive issues. Rosemary also eases postpartum depression (19). It can clear mental fog associated with depression as well. Rosemary has traditionally been used for grief and sorrow, as well as for courage. No wonder it was popular at funerals.

If all of this isn’t enough, rosemary may also be useful for cancer prevention and as an adjunct treatment. Extracts of rosemary and individual rosemary extract components have demonstrated anti-tumor effects in various lab models (20-24). These studies indicate that rosemary may act to block tumor initiation and may directly kill tumor cells. Another recent study suggests that rosemary extract may reverse chemotherapeutic drug resistance in cancer cells (25). It’s a stretch to extrapolate studies in cell culture and rodents to humans, nevertheless, these are hopeful findings.

One of the odder proposed uses of rosemary that I’ve come across is in cigarette filters. The idea would be to produce filters containing rosemary extract to reduce the number of damaging oxidative chemicals reaching the lungs from cigarette smoke (26), though this wouldn’t help those of us do anything for those breathing in the second hand smoke. Maybe if we all wore face masks containing rosemary, kind of like the nosegays used during plague times…

A lovely rosemary-infused oil can be made by stripping the needles off of several fresh sprigs, chopping them and putting them into a glass jar. Add just enough olive oil to cover them. Put the jar somewhere warm (~100°-120°F) for about a week. Keep the temperature constant to help prevent spoilage by fermentation. Mix it daily and make sure the herb is covered or it will mold. To be more scientific in making the oil, weigh the herb first. For every gram (or oz) of herb, add 3 ml (or oz) of olive oil for a 1:3 herb-to-oil ratio. This is so you can make it the same way the next time. For the quick and dirty method, put the fresh needles into a blender and add olive oil following the above instructions. Pulse several times until the oil is green. Strain out the plant bits with cheese cloth or muslin and let the oil sit in a jar overnight. Pour off the oil (through some more cloth preferably) and leave any residue/chunks in the bottom of the jar. The result should be a beautiful green oil. Store in a new, clean jar in a cool, dark place.  This method works because rosemary has a relatively low water content. Many other herbs would release too much water upon blending, causing the resulting oil to mold. Use only organic/chemical free rosemary and olive oil for this, because pesticides and herbicides  will be efficiently picked up by the oil.

Disclaimer: The information on this website is for educational purposes only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.


1. Grieve, M. (1931) A Modern Herbal. Reprint. Dorset Press, New York, NY.
2. Keville, K. (2009) Aromatherapy Seminar, Oak Valley Herb Farm
3. Culpepper, N   Culpepper’s Complete Herbal and English Physician. Reprint. (1826) J. Gleave & Son, Deansgate.
4. Theoduloz, C et al (2011) Planta Med. epub.
5. al-Sereiti, MR, et al (1999) Indian J Exp Biol. 37: 124-30.
6. Woodward, M. ed. (1967) Gerard’s Herbal: The Essence thereof. Spring Books, London.
7. Cronin, H & ZD Draelos (2010) Journal of Cosmet Dermatol. 9: 218-25.
8. Gladstar, R (2001) Family Herbal. Storey Books, North Adams, MA.
9.Hoffman, D (2003) Medical Herbalism. Healing Arts Press, Rochester, VT.
10. Farina 1709.
11. Tisserand, RB (1977) The Art of Aromatherapy. Healing Arts Press, Rochester, VT.
12. Lian, KC et al (2010) Toxicol Appl Pharmacol. 245: 21-35.
13. Naemura, A et al (2008) Thromb Res. 122: 517-22.
14. Petersen M, et al (2003) Phytochemistry. 62: 121-5.
15. Kelsey, NA, et al (2010) Molecules. 15: 7792-814.
16. Kosaka K and T Yokoi (2003) Biol Pharm Bull. 26: 1620-2.
17. Kim, SJ, et al. (2006) Neuroreport. 17: 1729-33.
18. Shimojo Y et al (2010) J Neurosci Res. 88: 896-904.
19. Ohlone Center for Herbal Studies, class notes.
20. Scheckel KA et al (2008) J Nutr. 138: 2098-105.
21. Huang, MT et al (1994) Cancer Research. 54: 701-8.
22. Offord EA et al (1995) Carcinogenesis. 16: 2057-62.
23. Peng CH et al (2007) Biosci, Biotechnol, biochem. 71: 2223-32
24. Sharabani H et al (2006) Int J Cancer. 118: 3012-21.
25. Nabekura T, et al (2010) Pharmacol Res. 61: 259-63.
26. Alexandrov K et al (2006) Cancer Research. 66: 11938-45.

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Talking Turkey about Turkey Tails

Most people in the US probably have never heard of Turkey Tails, a mushroom that is widespread here and throughout the world. Those who spend time in the woods have likely seen them, even if they didn’t know what the beautiful, striped mushrooms were.  The botanical name of the mushroom is Trametes versicolor, and it is also known as Coriolus versicolor. The Turkey Tail fruiting body — the visible part of the mushroom — looks like it’s name. It’s thin and fan-shaped with different colored stripes or striations. The colors are quite variable, including orange, brown, grey, white and even blue. The striped upper surface may be somewhat hairy. The underside has pores rather than gills and is white when the fruiting body is fresh. In California, where I first learned about Turkey Tails, there are two lookalikes. One has gills rather than pores and is easy to distinguish. The other, of the genus Stereum, is smooth underneath (no gills) but the underside is yellow and not as regularly pored as are Turkey Tails. Both this latter one and Turkey Tails grow here in Colorado (1). As Turkey Tails age, the underside becomes tan or yellowish, so it becomes a bit trickier to distinguish it from Sterenum species, but once you get to know Turkey Tails, it becomes obvious which is which. It’s also good to know that neither of lookalikes are poisonous.

Turkey Tails are saprophytic; they grow on dead and decaying hardwoods and, sometimes, coniferous trees. In the right conditions, dead trees and downed logs may be covered with them. The fruiting bodies are so plentiful and fast-growing that harvesting them is not a problem.  An herbalist and teacher of a medicinal mushroom class I attended said that her porch was slowly being devoured by Turkey Tails. It’s a convenient Turkey Tail source, but the porch may someday disappear. The fruiting bodies are edible, but chewy. Author and mushroom expert David Arora said in reference to their edibility: “Boil for 62 hours, squeeze thoroughly, and serve forth” (2). They have many beneficial constituents that are water-soluble, so they are a great addition to broths, soups and stews, though I would pull them out before serving.

Turkey Tails have been used as medicine and food for centuries in Asia. In China, they are known as Yun Zhi, or “Cloud Mushroom”, and it makes me wonder if the swirly mushroom clouds seen in Asian art aren’t in fact Turkey Tails (see my article on Reishi). In Traditional Chinese Medicine, they are used for enhanced immunity, to reduce phlegm, to dispel heat and to support the shen (again, see my article on Reishi) and to support digestion (3). Turkey Tails are popular for respiratory issues and for management of chronic illnesses (3). During the Ming Dynasty (16th century), the famous Chinese physician and pharmacologist Li Shizhen wrote about Turkey Tails in his Compendium of Materia Medica. Closer to home, Turkey Tails are part of the Mexican folk medicine tradition, and are used for skin infections (3).

The mushroom benefits many body systems, but have particular affinity for the lungs, liver and immune system. Turkey Tails are a lung tonic, and as discussed below, several different extracts of the mushroom are used as part of the treatment regimen for lung cancer. Turkey Tails are used in China for hepatitis and to support liver function (3).   Turkey Tails have multiple effects on the immune system. They strengthen immunity, but are also immunomodulating. That is, they promote a balanced immune response. For example, Turkey Tails will build up a weakened immune system, for instance, in someone undergoing chemotherapy or radiation treatment. However, the mushroom will also reduce hyperactive or inappropriate immune responses, such as in autoimmune disorders. Indeed, there is some evidence that a Turkey Tail extract known as PSK (see below) reduces reactivity in a number of autoimmune diseases (3).

The activities of Turkey Tails are not restricted to those noted above. Turkey Tails have effects on cardiovascular function and cholesterol levels. Moreover, they exhibit broad spectrum antimicrobial activity. Microbes they inhibit include E. coli, Listeria monocytogenes, and Candida (4). Turkey Tails have strong antiviral activity and useful for upper respiratory infections and may suppress Herpes outbreaks (5). The mushroom may have activity against Hepatitis C Virus (6) and appears to inhibit various stages of HIV infection and replication (7-9).

Turkey Tails are one of the more heavily researched mushrooms, especially in relation to cancer. In fact, a component of Turkey Tails called polysaccharide Kureha (PSK) has been a common part of cancer treatment in Japan for several decades. PSK, a biological response modifier, suppresses tumor growth, prolongs life span and improves quality of life (10-12). PSK has shown beneficial results in the treatment of gastric, colorectal, breast  and lung cancers (3, 4, 12). For instance, a clinical trial on breast cancer showed that postoperative treatment with PSK alone prolonged survival as long as postoperative treatment with a standard reagent, 5-fluorouracil. However, the side effects of long term PSK use are minimal, especially when compared to that of 5-fluorouracil. In various studies, PSK demonstrated tumoricidal effects, immunomodulatory effects, and suppression both initiation and metastasis of cancers (3, 4 10, 12).

Polysaccharopeptide (PSP) is another biological response modifier from Turkey Tails that has multiple effects on the immune system.  It is used as adjunct cancer treatment and multiple clinical trials have demonstrated that PSP improves disease-free and overall survival rates following conventional treatment for a variety of cancers (11,12). A cell culture study suggested that PSP may potentiate the killing effects of chemotherapeutic drugs on cancer cells (13), though it is difficult to extrapolate this type of data to situation in a person. PSP may have utility in advanced, terminal stages of cancer as well. For instance, a clinical study suggested that PSP can slow the progression of advanced non-small cell lung cancer (14).

Most of the studies on Turkey Tails are with PSK and PSP that have been purified from a couple of cultured lab strains of the mushroom mycelia (the part you usually don’t see because it’s inside the log in nature). However, both the fruiting body and the mycelia have comparable antitumor activity (9). Large doses of Turkey Tail extract or powder are taken daily as a cancer preventative and general tonic (3, 5). This may be useful for those with a familial history of cancer (5), though these folks should be regularly screened as well. Also, PSK and PSP are available for purchase. However,  you can easily make a Turkey Tail tonic yourself, by gathering them, freezing them to kill any bugs, then drying them. It’s important to note here that you should not try to use Turkey Tails to treat yourself if you have cancer. Supplementation on your own is fine, but seeking professional care is the way to go for dealing with such a serious disease.

In addition to a multitude of health-related uses, Turkey tails have been widely investigated for use in numerous industrial and environmental applications. For instance Turkey Tails have been researched for use in producing things such as brown paper bags, where the mushroom is used in wood pulp processing (15-16). At the other end of this equation, Turkey Tails have been investigated for use in cleaning up the effluent from pulp and paper mills (17, 18), and for bioremediation of PCBs, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, industrial dyes, xenoestrogens and other environmental toxins (19-23).

Aside from being pretty to look at, Turkey Tails are pretty darn useful.


1. Evenson, VS (1997) Mushrooms of Colorado & the Southern Rocky Mountains. Denver Botanical Gardens & Westcliffe Publishers.
2. Arora, D. (1986) Mushrooms Demystified. Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, CA.
3. Hobbs, C. (1986) Medicinal Mushrooms: An Exploration of Tradition, Healing &
Culture. Botanica Press, Summertown, TN.
4. Stamets, P (2002) MycoMedicinals: A Informational Treatise on Mushrooms. Fungi
Perfecti, Olympia, WA.
5. Jenson, T, and K Aguilar (2008) Medicinal Mushrooms Class, California School of Herbal Studies, Forestville, CA.
6. Stamets, P. (2000) Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms, 3rd Edition.  Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, CA.
7. Collins, RA and TB Ng (1997) Life Sciences. 60: PL383-7.
8. Wang, HX, and TB Ng (2001) Planta Med. 67: 669-72.
9. Sakagami H and M Takeda (1993) Proceedings of the 1st International Conference on Mushroom Biology and Mushroom Products. World Society for Mushroom Biology and Mushroom Products. pp 237-45.

10. MD Anderson Cancer Center. Detailed Scientific Review. Coriolus versicolor <>
11. Kidd, PM (2000) Alternative Medicine Reviews. 5: 4-27.
12. Standish, LJ, et al (2008) J Soc Integr Oncol. 6: 122-8.
13. Wan, J,  et al (2010) Chinese Medicine. 5.
14. Tsang, KW, et al (2003) Respiratory Medicine. 97: 681-24.
15. Paice, MG et al (1993) Applied Environmental Biology. 59: 260-5.
16. Archibald, FS (1992) Applied Environmental Biology. 58: 3101-9.
17. Ortega-Clemente A, et al (2007) Biotechnol Bioeng. 96: 640-50.
18. Freitas AD, et al (2009) Sci Total Environ. 407: 3282-9.
19. Hoff, T et al (1985) Applied and Environmental Microbiology. 49: 1040-5.
20. Sack, U, and T Gunther (1993) Journal of Basic Microbiology. 33: 269-77.
21. Field JA, et al (1992) Applied and Environmental Microbiology. 58: 2219-26.
22. Auriol M et al (2008) Chemosphere. 70: 445-52.

Disclaimer: The information on this website is for educational purposes only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

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Why scientists should consult with herbalists & aromatherapists

I was scanning the scientific literature for some interesting herb or essential oil research to include in an article. As I was browsing, I got sidetracked by some common problems with the science on herbs and essential oils and wound up writing this instead. The problems I frequently encounter are the following:

1) The researchers often lack sufficient knowledge of the herb’s traditional use and dosage, or at least don’t demonstrate such knowledge in their research.
2) Information regarding the quality, source and identification of the herb or oil is often inadequate or missing.
3) Funding is frequently by for-profit industries, either pharmaceutical or phytopharmaceutical, which introduces potential for conflict of interest.
4) The “one-size-fits-all” and reductionist approaches to Western medicine and research doesn’t work with herbs, oils, or drugs for that matter.

1) The researchers often lack sufficient knowledge of the herb’s traditional use and dosage, or at least don’t demonstrate such knowledge in the research.

Researchers studying the effects of an herb (or essential oil) often do not have first hand knowledge of working with that herb. This is not unusual and not surprising. The situation is often the same in drug pharmacology. The difference is that with drug studies, the researchers use some precedent in the literature for usage and dosage of the drug to guide them. In addition, there may be a medical doctor with relevant experience involved with the study in some way, perhaps even directing the work.  In contrast, researchers often fail to consider precedents in herb usage, or fail to consult with an experienced herbalist in designing their studies. Perhaps this is due to a reluctance to look to herbal tradition, which is written off as anecdotal by most Western scientists.   Many herbs have centuries of documented usage contained in numerous herbals. Such information would be a reasonable starting point when studying the activity of an herb. There certainly are many contemporary herbalists who could be tapped for their working knowledge of herbs undergoing scientific study.

One outcome of this oversight is that the researcher misses the nuanced ways in which a particular herb is used; thus, the herb is investigated in an application, or in a manner, for which it is not normally used. In turn, the such testing lead to the erroneous conclusion that the herb “does not work”.

Another result of not considering the traditional herb usage is that the doses employed for the research may be irrelevant. On one hand, if herb dosage is too low, the herb is found “not to work”.  On the other hand, if excessive doses are tested, particularly of essential oils, then the finding is that the herb or oil is dangerous. An example of this is a recent study on Rosemary officinalis essential oil that was carried out in mice and rats and published in the journal Genetics and Molecular Research (1). The authors wanted to address the potential for toxicity from use of topical preparations containing rosemary essential oil, and from foods and beverages containing whole herb extracts or essential oil of rosemary. The conclusion of the study is that rosemary essential oil is genotoxic and mutagenic, that is it damages and causes mutations in the genome.

A significant problem with the study were the huge and irrelevant doses of essential oil used to challenge the rodent subjects: 200-2000mg of oil per kilogram (kg) of body weight. The ~0.1kg rats were given an individual dose ranging from 20 to 200mg of rosemary oil. For comparison, in French aromatherapy, medical dosing of essential oil in adult humans may be as high as 100-300mg per day, given in several smaller doses (2, 3). Let’s do the math. Say an average human adult weighs 70 kg — a little over 150 pounds. The medical dose of essential oil stated above, 100-300mg, would come out to 1.4-4.3 mg of oil per kg of body weight. Therefore, the rats in the study were given an essential oil dose that ranged from ~40 to 1400 times greater than a medicinal dose in humans. Moreover, the medicinal dose of essential oil in humans is many fold greater than the amount of essential oil found in commercial topical preparations, foods and beverages, the very preparations about which the authors were concerned.

So, the doses of rosemary essential oil assayed in the study would be the equivalent of a person ingesting from over a half ounce to almost 7 ounces of straight essential oil, in one sitting. Imagine taking a dose of an over-the-counter NSAID like Ibuprofen that was 40-1400 times larger than the recommended dose. What do you think would happen? An ER visit would be in your near future. Heck, even ingesting 40-1400 times more cheese spread than recommended would cause problems.

A related issue is the isolation and concentration of individual plant constituents for testing, leading to the exposure of the test subjects — usually rodents — to concentrations of compounds not encountered in nature. Such isolation and purification of plant constituents also removes the buffering capacity of other components in the chemically-complex plant extract. Take salicylic acid (essentially, aspirin), which was discovered in and isolated from plants. When ingested by itself, salicylic acid, or the synthetic derivative, acetylsalicylic acid, causes stomach upset by damaging the mucus membranes.  However, when taken in the context of meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) extract, the salicylates are still analgesic, but the stomach lining is protected by other plant constituents.

2) Information regarding the quality, source and identification of the herb or oil is often missing.

The study discussed above illustrates this point as well. The oil tested was identified as Rosmarinus officinalis. However, there are three recognized chemotypes of Rosmarinus officinalis. Chemotypes are variants of the plant that have differing chemistry and activities from one another (3). Even if a reasonable dose of essential oil were used in the study, it would be difficult to make meaningful comparisons of the data with data from other studies without knowing which rosemary essential oil chemotype was tested.

3) Funding by for-profit industries, either pharmaceutical or phytopharmaceutical, which introduces potential conflict of interest.

Many herb and essential oil studies are funded at least in part by pharmaceutical companies whose interest does not lie in promoting inexpensive herbs that people can grow themselves. Some herb studies are funded by phytopharmaceutical companies, who do have an interest in positive findings. Either way, there are potential conflicts of interest.  While such financial links are now disclosed in research papers, this does not alleviate the conflict. This is not to say that all studies funded by industry are biased in some way. At a private research institute, I worked on a pilot study of a drug developed by a small pharmaceutical company. The drug was not effective and even though the results were negative, there was never any pressure to skew the outcome.

However, it remains that profits are a powerful influencing force.  As evidence, consider the case of Vioxx, a formerly FDA approved drug developed by Merck. Vioxx, which brought in billions of dollars, was put on the market in 1999 and then withdrawn in 2004. Merck was accused of withholding data from publication indicating that Vioxx increased the risk of heart attack* (4). Perhaps more significantly, Merck was accused of knowing the dangers of the drug while it was on the market (5). Merck has not admitted to any wrongdoing, but has paid tens of thousands of claims related to heart attacks and strokes (6).

It takes lots of money to do the research required to get FDA approval on a substance, money that industry has and universities and private research institutes do not.  There are multiple problems here, particularly when considering an inexpensive herb that has been taken by, perhaps, millions of people over centuries and has developed a reputation for efficacy and safety. These problems go beyond what I wish to cover here. The point is that when money and profits control the research on herbs, the following facts get obscured:  Herbs are generally cheap, safe (see my upcoming post entitled “Herbs are Safe”), and effective when the appropriate herb is used for the appropriate person…which leads to #4.
4) The “one-size-fits-all” and reductionist approaches to Western medicine and research doesn’t work with herbs, oils, or drugs for that matter.

Herbalists do not use herbs the way drugs are used in Western medicine. Western medicine and research usually takes a reductionist approach, dealing only with the disease a person has rather than dealing with the person the disease has (this is to paraphrase Hippocrates). Moreover, people have grown to expect the convenience of simply popping a pill without taking any other action towards bettering their health.  Herbalists take a holistic approach to working with a client. Palliative herbs are used together with herbs for rebalancing the system  and dealing with the source of the problem. These herbs, in turn, are part of a larger picture that includes nutritional and lifestyle alterations. A particular herb does not work for everyone; this is true for drugs also. One liver herb, say Oregon Grape, may be efficacious for one person, but exacerbate an imbalance in the next person, who requires a different liver herb. You can read an informative recollection by the late herbalist Michael Moore on this very point in the preface to his treatise on constitutional physiology (7).

A recent study (8) provides an example of trying to fit an herb into the western medical paradigm, and the results were, of course, picked up by the news media and used to broadcast that “Echinacea doesn’t work” (9). The main problem with the study is that they did not dispense echinacea in the form that an herbalist would use. An herbalist would use an easily assimilated tea, appropriately made extract or powder so that (i) more of the herb would be absorbed and (ii) the herb would enter the bloodstream more rapidly. In the study, echinacea was dispensed as a solid pill for convenience and for uniformity of the preparation.  In addition to dried echinacea root, the pill also contained calcium acid phosphate, cellulose, silica, sodium starch glycolate, hypromellose, and magnesium stearate. Such a pill may be effective when the active ingredient is a  purified or synthetic, concentrated chemical like ibuprofen.  Whether this is the case when the active ingredient is an unknown number of chemicals contained in plant material, who knows?  In the worst case taking echinacea in a solid pill with multiple inactive ingredients would likely reduce digestion and assimilation of the echinacea. It would at least slow assimilation compared to a traditional preparation. Regardless, from an herbalist’s perspective, there is no vitality left in such a preparation.

To be fair, it would be a logistical nightmare to research herbs the way that herbalists use them…tailoring a protocol for each person. Moreover, herbs are chemically complex, variable entities, while drugs are defined.  An herbalist can assess the quality and strength of an herbal preparation through experience and adjust accordingly when working with a client. In a research study, this is not so easy. However, it is not appropriate that herbs that have been used for centuries, if not millenia, should be discarded or disparaged because they do not function in the Western reductionist paradigm.

So, to wrap it up, I’m not implying that scientific research on herbs and essential oils is not useful. Nor am I implying that scientists should only study herbs if they’ve trained as herbalists. I believe that researchers lacking herbal knowledge should consult with someone who has this background; or,  at least read the traditional literature and use that as a starting point for designing their studies. This would prevent a lot of wasted time and resources, not to mention the knee-jerk headlines in the news media that such-and-such herb does not work or is dangerous, when evidence to the contrary has accumulated for, perhaps, millenia.


1) Maistro, EL, et al (2010) Genetics and Molecular Research. 9: 2113-22.
2) Cuba, R (2001)  International Journal of Aromatherapy. 11: 76-83.
3) Schnaubelt, K. (1998) Advanced Aromatherapy: The Science of Essential Oil Therapy. Healing Arts Press, Rochester, VT.
4) Curfman GD et al, 2005, NJAM, 353: 2813-4.
5) Stephenson, J (2004) Journal of the American Medical Association. 292: 2827.
6) Voreacos, D & A Johnson (2010) Bloomberg. July 27.
7) Moore, M. Principles and Practice of Constitutional Physiology for Herbalists. Southwest School of Botanical Medicine.
8) Barret, B et al (2010) Annals of Internal Medicine. 159: 763-77.
9) Nano, S. Associated Press, 21 Dec 2010.

*Along these lines, a report just came out in British Medical Journal that reviewed data from 31 clinical trials of over 116,000 people on the NSAIDs naproxen, Prexige (Novartis), Ibuprofin, diclofeac and Celebrex (Pfizer). The finding was that all of these drugs when taken long term increase the risk of heart attack and/or stroke, with 2 of the drugs causing a 4 fold increase in the risk of cardiovascular-related death (Trelle, S et al (2011) British Medical Journal).

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Disclaimer: The information on this website is for educational purposes only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

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Herbs are safer than drugs

Despite what you hear from the news media, herbs are safer than drugs.  You are more likely to die from a prescription (RX) or over the counter (OTC) drug than from an herb. According to the National Poison Data System Statistics from 2009 — collected by the American Association of Poison Control Centers — RX and OTC drugs were the leading cause of poisoning deaths, while no deaths were reported for botanicals (1). There were approximately 1.2 million calls to poison centers that were related to RX and OTC drugs, compared to around 7000 calls related to herbs (1). For comparison, there were just under 35,000 calls related to food poisoning or reactions to food (1).

Now, the percentage of people that take RX or OTC drugs (a majority of the population)(2), that use botanicals (at least 1/3 of the population)(3) and that eat food (100% of the population) needs to be considered when looking at these statistics.  Such consideration shows that the difference between the number of RX/OTC drug-related calls to poison centers and deaths compared to herb-related calls (and no deaths) can not be explained by the number of people taking drugs versus herbs. Moreover, if you imagine that 100% (rather than a third) of the population were taking herbs, that would result in, maybe, 21000 calls to poison centers (multiplying 7000 times 3). This would still be less than the number of food-related calls. The number of different foods people eat may perhaps be greater than the number of different herbs they take, and this will influence the statistics (greater variety equals greater risk of reacting to something).  Regardless, I think it’s safe to conclude that herbs are orders of magnitude closer to food in safety than to drugs in danger.

1) Bronstein, AC, et al (2010) Clinical Toxicology 48: 979-1178.
2) Sloan Survey (2005) Sloan Epidemiology Center, Boston University
3) University of Maryland Medical Center, www.unm.ecu/altmed/articles/herbal-medicine-000351.htm

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Yarrow – Achilles Versus the Devil

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium, A. lanulosa) is found throughout the Northern Hemisphere and is common in the West. Everywhere it is found — here, Europe, Asia — yarrow has a long history of medicinal use. It is classified as cold, dry, bitter and pungeant (1). Yarrow is great plant to have in the garden…or in a pot for those without a yard. Among it’s many uses, yarrow is a premier 1st Aid herb. It is a good plant to know along the trail, as it will make life much more pleasant if you’ve just gashed your leg open on a rock. Yarrow is an effective styptic, it quickly stops or slows bleeding as fresh, dried or tinctured herb. It also promotes healing and suppresses infection. About a year ago, my partner  cut his finger deeply while grabbing a knife out of the dishwasher. He called me at work to find out which plant in the garden was yarrow. After rinsing his finger, he slapped on the yarrow and wrapped the whole thing. The bleeding stopped quickly and his finger healed nicely without any infection. Literally, as I sat here writing about yarrow, said partner yelled down from the bathroom wanting to know where my jar of dried yarrow was — he cut himself shaving. (There were several feet of snow on the ground, so no fresh yarrow). Herbalist Matthew Wood points out that yarrow is indicated for those prone to accidents (1), so perhaps my partner should wear it around his neck.

I’ve had opportunities to do “yarrow 1st Aid” for other folks as well. A couple years ago, an elderly gentleman visiting from Spain face-planted on the sidewalk outside of my cafe in San Francisco. He had a gash on his nose that bled profusely (the face is highly vascularized). I gave him some dried yarrow in a napkin to hold on the wound while he and his daughter waited for a cab. The bleeding stopped, and he was off to get stitches at urgent care. Another time, my friend cut himself at a wedding reception we were attending (must have been cutting his food too enthusiastically). Yarrow happened to be growing in a planter on the deck outside, and so the story goes….

The genus name for yarrow, Achillea, is apparently in honor of the ancient Greek hero, Achilles, who was said to use yarrow on the wounds of his soldiers (2).  Indeed, yarrow’s other common names, “Soldier’s Woundwort”  and “Knight’s Milfoil” reflect it’s value in wound tending on the battlefield (2). The latter name also reflects yarrow’s appearance. Milfoil means “thousand leaves” and comes from the fact that the feathery leaves of yarrow actually appear to be made up of many tiny leaves. The species name, millefolium, is also derived from this. In the Southwest it is known as Plumajillo (little feather), also reflecting leaf appearance. Culpeper provided a good description of yarrow: “It has many leaves cut into a multitude of fine small parts, of a deep green colour, and tough substance; the stalk is upright, of a dull greyish green, and the flowers are usually white, but not all of a whiteness, and grow in knots…It is an upright, and not unhandsome plant…” (3).

Yarrow is plentiful along the coast of California, where I used to live. I transpanted some from the beach to my backyard in the city and it took off, providing a ready supply of medicine. Yarrow is common here in Colorado, too. It’s all over Durango and even grows in my yard in Wildcat Canyon, despite the seemingly inpenetrable clay soil.  The yarrow here in Durango has a softer appearance and slightly sweeter smell — though still sharp — than the sharp scented yarrow from the Bay Area. It’s an easy plant to grow because it doesn’t mind being neglected; it does just fine on it’s own. In fact, the medicine is stronger from plants that have had to rough it than from coddled plants.

Yarrow grows as a colony and it’s best to gather plants from the periphery of the patch, rather than the mother plant in the middle. Unless you need the root (for instance, for a toothache), just pinch off the top of the plant just above a leaf node, including the flowering top and some leaves. A new flowering top will grow back. In an emergency 1st Aid situation, don’t worry about whether the plant is blooming, just pinch off some of the upper leaves at a node. There many cultivated varieties, with flowers of various colors. Stick with the white-flowered varieties for medicinal use, as the others may or may not have the same properties. A yarrow essential oil is available but is quite expensive (if it’s real) and it lacks the digestive system benefits of the whole herb. The oil contains thujone, a toxic ketone, and should be used with respect, and not at all in children (4). I simply use the herb, rather than the oil.

As mentioned, yarrow has many uses besides 1st Aid. It is a digestive bitter.  Taking a small amount before meals will stimulate the production of digestive juices from the stomach, pancreas and liver, allowing you to digest and absorb your food more efficiently. By small amounts, I mean ~5 drops of extract on your tongue, or a little bit of tea, or, for the brave, a small nip of leaf. This can also prevent indigestion and acid reflux, two symptoms that can reflect poor digestion. Because yarrow suppresses smooth muscle spasms and is astringent,  yarrow is useful for IBS and for diarrhea in general. It worked pretty well for me when I ate way too much chard the day before I was going on a longish motorcycle ride…  Herbalists will use yarrow as part of a formula for Inflammatory Bowel Disease, particularly if there is ulceration and bleeding in ulcerative colitis (5, 6). At the other end of the digestive tract, yarrow is useful for teething pain, gum pain and toothaches (7).

Yarrow, like reishi (discussed in the previous post) can do seemingly contradictory things. Yarrow can stop bleeding externally and internally, but can induce bleeding as well. As an emmenagogue, yarrow will bring on delayed menses and helping with painful, sluggish periods (dysmenorrhia). Conversely, it can reduce excess menses and flooding. Because it is bitter, and therefore potentially stimulating to the uterus, yarrow isn’t the best herb to take during pregnancy unless working with a trained practitioner.

The cardiovascular system also benefits from yarrow. Yarrow reduces blood pressure while promoting circulation. Depending on how it’s used, it can act as either a vasodilator or a vasoconstrictor (8). It is a blood vessel tonic due to it’s flavonoid content and astringency. Flavonoids increase the surface integrity of veins and capillaries and tone vascular smooth muscles, while astringents “tighten” or tone tissues. Thus, yarrow is useful for preventing varicose veins and spider veins. It can be made into a salve or used in a sitz bath for hemorrhoids, which are similar to varicose veins in that there is a loss of venous wall integrity and the vein balloons out. Yarrow is a specific herb for dealing with clots (1), especially in the background of high blood pressure. The antiinflammatory properties of yarrow also benefit the cardiovascular system, where inflammation leads to the buildup of cholesterol.

Yarrow is useful for various types of infection. It can be used in a formula for genitourinary infections such as candida, gardenella, and chlamydia in men and women, as well as for nonspecific vaginitis (5). Yarrow is commonly used for urinary tract infections, particularly if there is any blood in the urine (hematuria).  It’s also handy for chronic cystitis. (Red flag: If you have a fever associated with the infection, go to urgent care, as it could be a kidney infection, which is dangerous if allowed to progress.)  Yarrow is helpful in respiratory infections, particularly of viral origin (which is most of them). It also reduces fever. It has antihistamine activity related to it’s flavonoid content, and will dry up excess sinus secretions (5). Also, there is some scientific evidence that yarrow may be useful for treating Leishmaniasis, a difficult-to-treat, parasite-borne disease that afflicts millions of people in the tropical world (9, 10).

Yarrow also relieves pain, such the achiness associated with the flu or an infected tooth. Herbalist Michael Moore , recommended adding strong yarrow tea to a warm bath for relieving the inflammation and pain of rheumatoid arthritis (11).

Paralleling it’s medicinal uses, yarrow has a long, multicultural history of energetic and magical uses. Energetically, yarrow is about boundaries and protection. It’s been used for centuries in this capacity. Some people hang it over the entryway to their home as protection, while others use the flower essence internally to block out negative energy from other people or situations.  This makes yarrow essence useful for those who do social work, counselling or any job entailing close work with other people. Conversely, in some parts of Europe, yarrow was associated with the Devil and was called “Devil’s Nettle” or “Devil’s Plaything” (2). Finally, yarrow was used for divination and magic in Europe as well as in China (2). One spell involved sewing yarrow up in flannel, putting it under the pillow before bedtime and citing an incantation, the purpose of which was to see who your future husband or wife was to be:
“Thou pretty herb of Venus’ tree,
Thy true name is Yarrow.
Now who my bosom friend must be,
Pray tell though me tomorrow.”

1)Wood, M (1997) The Book of Herbal Wisdom. North Atlantic Books, Berkeley,  CA.
2) Grieve, M. (1931) A Modern Herbal. Dorset Press, New York, NY.
3) Culpeper, N. Complete Herbal & English Physician. Reprint. (1826) J. Gleave & Son, Deansgate.
4) Schnaubelt, K (1998) Advanced Aromatherapy. Healing Arts Press, Rochester,
5) Herbal Medicine classes at Ohlone Center for Herbal Studies, Berkeley, CA.
6) Alfs, M. (2003) 300 Herbs: Their Indicaions & Contraindications. Old
Theology Book House, New Brighton, MN.
7) Moore, M (2003) Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West. Museum of New
Mexico Press, Santa Fe, NM.
8) Tilford, G (1998) From Earth to Herbalist. Mountain Press Publishing Co, Missoula, MT.
9) Santos, AO, et al (2010) Annals of Tropical Medicine & Parasitol. 104:
10) Nilforoushzadeh, MA, et al (2008) Journal of Vector Borne Diseases. 45:
11) Moore, M. (1993) Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West. Red Crane Books,
Inc., Santa Fe, NM.

Disclaimer: The information on this website is for educational purposes only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

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Reishi: The Mushroom of Immortality

Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) has many names reflecting it’s appearance — “Varnished Conk” — and it’s value as a tonic — “Mushroom of Immortality”, “10,000 Year Mushroom”, “Queen of Mushrooms” and “Sacred Fungus”. It has been used for 4,000 years in Asia as a tonic and medicine to fortify the mind and body, and to promote long life, wisdom and happiness (1,2). Known as Ling Zhi,or Ling Chih, in China, it symbolizes such concepts as success, well being, good health, divine power, longevity and immortality in Chinese culture (3). In Traditional Chinese Medicine, it is classified in the highest class of overall tonics, which explains some of the names mentioned above. It raises qi, and was so valued that it became a common motif in Asian art in representative and abstract forms (3). Sometimes reishi was depicted simply as itself, sometimes as a cloud. You may have seen these convoluted, scallop shaped clouds in Eastern art. This is my attempt at doing one on the computer:

The mushroom was sometimes shown as a sceptor (symbolizing power) or as part of a “rebus” (a plant bouquet symbolizing immortality)(3).

Reishi is a saprophyte, meaning it grows on dead and decaying matter. It is found on deciduous trees such as Oak, Maple and Plum (4). Being a saprhophyte, reishi can be cultivated instead of being harvested from the wild.   Before people learned how to grow it, reishi was prohibitively expensive for many people because it is very rare in nature (1).  More common are other lesser-studied Ganoderma species, such as Artist’s Conk (G. applanatum), one that I’ve gathered and made medicine from.

The fruiting body of reishi– what most folks think of as the mushroom — can take several forms, all of them beautiful. It may be shelf-like in shape with no stalk, or can take on the appearance of an antler, with a long, branching stalks topped by small caps. Sometimes the cap is kidney-shaped with a stalk. The cap may be a variety of colors, ranging from brownish-red, brownish-orange and ochre to dark red and mahogany (4). In fact, Traditional Chinese Medicine classifies 6 different types of G. lucidum according to color, with the red-colored being the most medicial and the strongest (1). The edge of the cap may be yellowish or white. This striation often reflected in Asian “cloud mushroom” paintings.  The top of the cap or shelf is shiny, with a varnished or polished appearance (hence, “Varnished Conk”).  Both the fruiting body and the mycelium (the part of the mushroom “buried” in whatever substrate it’s growing in) are medicinal and have both overlapping and differing properties.

Reishi is an adaptogen* that is appropriate for folks of many different metabolic types or constitutions. Of the known medicinal mushrooms, it has the widest array of uses. I’ve used reishi myself to help deal with the physical and emotional stress of running a business and going to school at the same time. I’ve used it for other folks who were in need of both energy and grounding. These were folks who’s tendency was to try to do too many things at once (something I am often guilty of doing). I’ve also used reishi to support the liver, immune system and energy levels in a family member who was undergoing chemotherapy for cancer.

Many of the traditional uses of reishi have been supported by science, and hundreds of bioactive compounds have been isolated from it. One class of compounds, the triterpenes, are alcohol-extracted and are responsible for liver protective effects, antihistamine activity and adaptogenic effects of reishi. Another class, the polysaccharides, are water-soluble components of Reishi largely responsible for the immunomodulating effects. To get the broadest spectrum of activity of reishi, a combination alcohol extract and decoction is best.  Some of reishi’s uses are summarized here:

Cardiovascular health: Reishi is a heart tonic; it promotes the health and functioning of heart tissues (1, 2, 6). It can reduce blood pressure and keeps arteries pliable and soft (2). Reishi also reduces cholesterol**, possibly by multiple mechanisms (5).

Immune system: Reishi’s activity as a biological response modifier is well represented here. It can bring up a lagging immune response or tone down autoimmune responses, depending on what the body needs. This reflects the fact that reishi extracts are immensely chemically complex.  The mushroom builds the immune system at the level of the bone marrow, increasing production of macrophages, T cells and NK (natural killer) cells. It influences activation of immune cells as well (2,5,6).  Reishi influences the production of cytokines, signalling molecules involved in various arms of the immune system (5).  Reishi additionally has antihistamine activity, making it a good addition to antiallergy regimens (5).

Liver: Reishi protects the liver against damage from chemicals, toxins, infection, etc.  Ironically, it’s the alcohol extract that exhibits this hepatoprotective action (2).

Respiratory: In Asia, Reishi is commonly used for chronic bronchitis and asthma (1).  It also facilitates oxygen absorption in the aveoli and is used in Himalayas by climbing guides for altitude sickness (5).  It increases hemoglobin levels (7), thereby increasing the capacity of blood to carry oxygen to all the cells of the body.

Antimicrobial: Reishi has antiviral activity and has long been used for respiratory infections. In the lab, it exhibited activity against hepatitis B virus, various herpes viruses and HIV (8-11). Ironically, it has antifungal activity as well….even mushrooms need to protect themselves from fungal infections.

Cancer: In China and Japan, Reishi has long been sought after by those with cancer. It is an important fu-zheng herb, used as an adjunct to chemotherapy and radiation in China. Some hospitals in the US are starting to do this as well, including UCSF and Ceders-Sinai.  Fu-zheng prolongs survival, increases quality of life and protects the immune system from the damaging effects of both radiation and chemotherapy (7). Reishi is particularly valuable for those undergoing a bone marrow transplant (2).  In the lab, it exhibits antitumor activity, most likely mediated by it’s effects on the immune system. Studies in cell culture demonstrated that Reishi may inhibit tumor cell proliferation rather than directly killing the cells (12).

Aging: As mentioned, Reishi has been used for milelenia for longevity.  Research confirms that has antioxidant/free radical scavenger and antiinflammatory effects (5).

Digestion & metabolism: Reishi promotes nutrient absorption (2), a useful property for those with wasting diseases. Moreover, it is good for those with faulty blood sugar regulation (2).

Mental/Emotional: Reishi is useful for those suffering from insomnia and anxiety (1). It is calming, though not overtly sedating (you can drive a car after taking it). In Traditional Chinese Medicine, Reishi nourishes the shen.  The shen is translated as “spirit” and is reflected in emotional, spiritual, mental and physical health (13, 14).  Reishi has a grounding energy. I first learned this in class, where we were given a couple drops of the extract to take after sitting quietly for a minute or so.  Rather quickly, I felt heavier, like I was sinking deeper into my seat and my feet were becoming more firmly fixed to the ground. We weren’t told what to expect before sampling Reishi and many of us had the same experience.  For comparison, we took a couple drops of Echinacea extract shortly after…totally different feeling. Try the 2 of them back-to-back, it’s interesting.

Environmental: Reishi may be useful for heavy metal cleanup. The fruiting bodies were found to be more effective than a commonly used heavy metal adsorbant in adsorbing copper (15), and to also adsorb Chromium (16).

*A thorough definition of “adaptogen” by herbalist David Winston (6): “Adaptogens are herbs that are nontoxic, produce a nonspecific defensive response to stress, and have a normalizing influence on the body. Adaptogens help the body adapt to stress, support it’s normal functions, and restore balance. They increase the body’s resistance to physical, biological, emotional and environmental stressors. They are unique from other substances in their ability to balance endocrine hormones and the immune system and allow the body to maintain optimal homeostasis.”

**The idea that cholesterol is “bad” is not accurate. Cholesterol is necessary for many bodily functions and can become elevated due to inflammation and injury somewhere in the body (the blood vessels, for instance).  It acts as a band-aid, coating the injured or inflammed site and is essentially the “smoke”, the indication that something is awry, rather than the “fire”. This will be discussed in more detail in a future post.

1) Hobbs, C. (1986) Medicinal Mushrooms: An Exploration of Tradition, Healing & Culture. Botanica Press, Summertown, TN.
Jenson, T, and K Aguilar (2008) Medicinal Mushrooms Class, California School of Herbal Studies, Forestville, CA.
3) McMeekin, D. (2004) Mycologist. 18:  165-9.
4) Arora, D. (1986) Mushrooms Demystified. Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, CA.
5) Stamets, P (2002) MycoMedicinals: A Informational Treatise on Mushrooms. Fungi Perfecti, Olympia, WA.
6) Winston, D. and S. Maimes (2007) Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief. Healing Arts Press, Rochester, VT.
7) Yance, D. (1999) Herbal Medicine, Healing & Cancer. Keats Publishing, Chicago, IL.
8) el-Mekkany, S, et al (1998) Phytochemistry. 49: 1651-7.
9) Eo,KS, et al (1999) Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 68: 129-36.
Iwatuski, K, et al (2003) Journal of Natural Products. 66: 1582-5.
11) Li, YA and SF Wang (2006) Biotechnology Letters. 28: 837-41.
12) Hsiao, WL, et al (2004) Carcinogenesis. 25: 1177-83.
13) Kaptchuk, T. (2000) The Web That Has No Weaver. Contemporary Books, New York, NY.
14) Tierra, L (2003) Healing with the Herbs of Life. Crossing Press, Berkeley, CA.
15) Muraleedharan, TR et al. (1995) Applied and Environmental Microbiology. 61: 3507-8.
16) Ahalya, N. et al (2003) Research Journal of Chemistry and Environment. 7: 71-79.

Disclaimer: The information on this website is for educational purposes only & has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

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“Being an inhabitant almost in every garden, it is so well known, that it needeth no description” – Nicholas Culpeper, 17th century herbalist, botanist & physician (1).

Lavender is ubiquitous, scenting a multitude of soaps, sachets, lotions and room sprays. Many who use these products may not be aware of lavender’s value beyond it’s popular, relaxing smell. Lavender exists as a several different species, with Lavandula angustifolia (aks. Lavandula vera or Lavandula officinalis) being the most popular for aromatherapy.  Incidentally, the term “aromatherapy” was coined by a French chemist and perfumer, Rene Gattefosse (1881-1950) who burned his hands severely in a lab accident and healed them using Lavender oil (2).

Lavender’s recorded use goes back millenia to the ancient Phoenecians and Egyptians. The herb, native to areas around the Mediterranean, was popular with the ancient Greeks and the Romans as well. Lavender had a multitude of uses from cooking, to perfumery and bathing, to repelling insects, use in smoking mixtures and embalming the dead. Later it was used as a disinfectant and to ward off illness, being tossed on floors and walked upon. Lavender is thought to be an ingredient in “Four Thieves Vinegar”,  a mix used to ward off the plague in the Middle Ages (3).  Hildegard von Bingen, a 12th century abbess, herbalist, scientist, artist and composer — essentially a ‘“renaissance woman” before the Renaissance — wrote this regarding lavender: “Whoever cooks this lavender in wine…and drinks it when it is warm, will lessen the pain in his liver and lungs,  and the stuffiness in his chest. It also makes his thinking and disposition pure.” (4).  Later, Nicholas Culpeper wrote “Lavender is of a special good use for all the griefs and pains of the head and brain that proceed of a cold cause… It strengthens the stomach, freeth the liver and spleen from obstructions…helpeth them that have lost their voice, as also the tremblings and passions of the heart, and faintings and swoonings…” (1).

Indeed, contemporary herbalists use lavender for calming the mind while maintaining clarity, and for relaxing an overly tense body. There is modern research to back this up — though I prefer tradition over PubMed for herbal uses. Lavender bath oil was found to relax and reduce cortisol levels in bathing mothers and infants compared to those who bathed without the oil (5).  Moreover, a small but controlled Japanese study demonstrated that lavender prolonged the attention span of subjects carrying out a long, mundane test compared with another essential oil or with no oil at all (6).  Lavender helps with insomnia, depression and irritability. It’s calming but clarifying properties are useful for medidation. Energetically, Lavender opens the crown chakra and balances the upper and lower chakras (7). If you want to feel this for yourself, ground yourself for a minute in a quiet place, sniff some quality lavender or lavender essential oil, then sit with it and feel where the energy goes. If you told me to do this back when I worked in research, I would have laughed. Now I stand — or, sit — humbled.

Lavender tea will help with indigestion, as will rubbing the belly with lavender-infused oil or with essential oil diluted in vegetable oil. The flavor of lavender tea is a bit much for me unless it’s a weak brew; I prefer it blended with other herbs like chamomile, jasmine and lemon balm. Lavender sooths spasmodic coughing (eg. asthma) and it’s calming qualities will help with any associated anxiety. As a rub or as inhaled steam, Lavender is a useful and pleasant-smelling antimicrobial for upper and lower respiratory infections. It also works well as a rub for sore muscles, either as an infused oil or as essential oil.  Lavender is often cited for headache relief, though I haven’t had any success using it for my own headaches. I probably wait too long before I try to do anything.

The antiseptic and pain-relieving qualities of lavender, known for centuries, has been demonstrated in modern research as well. Newly-published reseach shows that lavender essential oil was more effective than Povidone-iodine in treating episiotemy wounds after delivery (8). A small, randomized, placebo-controlled study showed that lavender essential oil may be useful for postoperative pain. The need for postoperative pain medication was reduced in patients who inhaled the essential oil compared with those who inhaled a placebo (9).  Studies such as these are simply more modern versions of research published a hundred years ago in France.

I most frequently use lavender for 1st aid — my partner and I tend to bump into things! Lavender essential oil has broad and potent antimicrobial activity.  It also relieves pain and stimulates skin regeneration at wound edges (7). This makes lavender a go-to remedy, and I keep a small vial of the essential oil on hand. When I had a cafe, I’d burn myself in the rush to get things done.  A drop of lavender essential oil applied to the burns would quickly stop the pain, and the burns healed rapidly without any discernible infection or scarring. As an aside, lavender essential oil is one of the few that can be used undiluted, though you shouldn’t get carried away. It’s considered a safe oil, but your liver still has to deal with it.

While moving last October, I cut my arm deeply on a large piece of broken glass. I didn’t want to go to urgent care — my self-paid health insurance sucks, we were in the middle of moving, and I didn’t want to spend hours in the waiting room — so I rinsed the wound and immediatly put a few drops of lavender essential oil directly into the cut. I topped this with a layer of gauze and yarrow to act as a poultice.  The lavender stung for a second or two, then it reduced the pain and helped me to relax, while the yarrow stopped the bleeding and added it’s own antibacterial properties.  The next morning, I removed the yarrow poultice and reapplied a drop of lavender oil, repeating the application once or twice a day until the wound closed. Though large and deep, the cut never developed any signs of infection. There is a scar several months later, but it is much smaller than the original gash and I’m continuing to work on it with frankincence and helichrysum diluted in olive oil.

I’ve used small amounts of diluted lavender oil for tick bites on my dog.  I’ve included it in topical preparations for my clients for issues ranging from ringworm to shingles. My only bad experience with lavender was when a vial of the essential oil leaked inside my backpack. Wow, was that strong!

In reference to the multitude of scented products I mentioned at the beginning: Pay attention to the ingredients in these products. If it’s real lavender, it will say so. If it has “fragrance” as an ingredient, you’re likely breathing in petrochemicals.  A side-by-side comparison and your nose will quickly learn to tell the difference.

1) Culpeper’s Complete Herbal and English Physician (1826) J. Gleave & Son, Deansgate.

2) Tisserand, RB.  (1977) The Art of Aromatherapy: The Healing and Beautifying Properties of the Essential Oils of Flowers and Herbs. Healing Arts Press, Rochester, VT.

3) Grieve, M. (1931) A Modern Herbal. Mackays of Chatham, PLC, Chatham, Kent.

Throop, P (1998) Hildegard von Bingen’s Physica: The Complete English Translation of Her Classic Work on Health and Healing. Healing Arts Press, Rochester, VT.

5) Field, T, et al (2008) Early Human Development. 84: 399-401.

6) Shimizu, K, et al (2008) Bioscience, Biotechnology and Biochemistry. 72: 1944-7.

7) Keville, K and M Green (2009) Aromatherapy: A Complete Guide to the Healing Art. Crossing Press, Berkeley, CA.

8) Vakilian, K,  et al (2011) Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice.  17: 50-3.

9) Kim, JT, et al (2007) Obesity Surgery. 17: 920-5.

Disclaimer: The information on this website is for educational purposes only & has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

Comments are closed.