Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Kill me or cure me: medieval herb craft

Modern medicine has saved many lives, no one will deny that statement, at the same time more and more people are turning to holistic treatments for their treatments. Herbal medicine has been around as long as mankind. Many of us have various images in our minds, be it the village wise woman or the stereotyped “witch” stirring potions in a cauldron. Asian peoples have depended on natural healing methods for centuries, believing in the mind/body/spirit approach to medicine. It is only in the recent decade that Western medicine has come to accept the Eastern style treatment, which does combine traditional care with holistic care.

Today, I’m going to touch on the herbal side of holistic medicine. First, the plants with CAUTION flags, it is best you only put these in the ground as flowers only (and in a place where your pets can’t get to them). As in a previous post, I mentioned Arnica. Arnica is used externally ONLY (internally it can be poisonous) as an ointment for inflammation. Foxglove is a pretty flower. It is poisonous, but with careful preparation, it can be made into the tonic Digitalis, as a cardiac stimulant. Hemlock was used as a sedative and painkiller and is a poisonous plant. Hellebore comes in two varieties: the green which is a cardiac depressant and black which is a cardiac stimulant. Mandrake was used as an anesthetic and a narcotic. The Church was against the plant, due to the root’s shape. Mandrake was also used as part of the ingredients for love and fertility potions. Oleander was used as a tranquilizer –and by Caltrans to decorate medium strips along freeways. Wormwood had many uses: arthritis, dewormer, rheumatism, relieving gout, antipyretic, and menstrual disorders. Wormwood is an ingredient in absinthe, a potent drug banned pretty much everywhere.

Non-poisonous herbs, although ANY plant can be toxic or cause problems if taken incorrectly, have many uses. Always consult with your primary care provider before taking any herbal supplement (drug interactions can result with prescription medications and herbal supplements). Here are a few examples...

Aloe Vera is used to soothe the pain of a burn or insect sting. Amaranth was used as an astringent, antidiarrheal, and for heavy menstrual bleeding. Ambergris was taken for restorative powers. Basil was given to ease childbirth and help expel the afterbirth. Celandine was recommended for itchy skin and for ringworm. Clary Sage was used in many conditions, including penile discharge, expelling the afterbirth, and nasal discharge. Dandelions cleansed the liver, spleen, kidneys and urinary tract, as well as helping with arthritis, gout, and hypochondria. Feverfew helped women toughen their uterus, ease fevers, and rid headaches. Garlic was touted as a miracle cure for a laundry list of ailments. Jasmine helped a female become receptive to a man in bed and facilitate childbirth (now you guys know what scent perfume to get your women for Christmas – JUST KIDDING ladies). Lavender is used for headaches, acne, nausea, and vomiting. Violet was given as a mild sedative and to lower fevers.

Today, you can purchase many herbal therapies pre-mixed in different forms. Homeopathic medicinals come in liquid, power (capsules) or tablets. If you have never used homeopathics, it is best to speak to a provider first. As with any new product, less is better. Read about the cures first and be informed. I had an advantage, being a certified Pharmacy Technician and working in an independent pharmacy some time ago, I was exposed to natural medicine. The store had a large section devoted to natural health, including books. One reference book I use is Ed Smith’s “Therapeutic Herb Manual”. Ed self-published this soft cover book in 1999. I also use, “Herbs and Things” by Jeanne Rose, published by Grossest & Dunlap in 1972. I don’t know if this is still in print or not.

Another way of using botanicals is make the cures yourself. This can be done in two ways. The first is to grow the plants yourself. Decide on the cure and make a list of plants you will need. Check with local, state, and federal regulation regulations: make sure you are allowed to grow the needed botanicals in your area (i.e. don’t grow Opium Poppies or marijuana in your back yard). You might need to order heirloom plants from catalogs (some plants can’t be shipped to some states). Check to make sure the plants in question will actually grow in your area (zone, dirt, weather, etc.). Your local nurseries or Dept of Agriculture are a good source of information on planting conditions.

Keep a journal of your garden. What plants do well and which ones fail to thrive? Which form do you prepare you potions? Track the amount of each botanical used in the recipe. Does it work? Do you need to increase or decrease any amounts? Take pictures to include in your journal. I’ve made arthritis oil, and adjusted amounts of the pure essential oils from batch to batch. If I hadn’t tracked my efforts, I’d not known which ingredients to modify. Same for the cheese and yogurts we made.

If you don’t have time to make lotions, creams, etc, you can still make potpourri. Harvest the herbs, flowers and hang the tied bundles until properly dried. Preserve flowers by drying and/or pressing them.

Enjoy the benefits of your garden!

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