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Local Heroes

It’s almost time for the first class in my upcoming herbal series here in beautiful Rupert( can’t quite say ‘downtown’) and I am so excited! As indicated in the last entry, I have a lot of ground to cover and many ideas and recipes to share in just two hours. I’ve made, or are making, a number of treats to sample, and a few special blends to take home – hope to see a bunch of locals there! And speaking of locals, although it’s past the season where we can go out looking for plants, many of the herbs we’ll be covering in class do grow closeby – and a number of medicinally important trees, too. (January’s class is Tree Medicine, wherein we explore the medicine and magic of many local species). For the first class, on Cold and Flu prevention and care, let’s have a sneak peek at some of the Local Heroes who will be finding their way into our teas, syrups, chest rubs and more. Have you seen any of these plants growing nearby?

 

1) Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum)

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This marvelous plant is everywhere in my area! I consider it one of THE best remedies to start with, that very first day of cold/flu, when you’re just starting to feel the achiness and fatigue. Often found growing in damp spots, ear water, the leaf pattern is distinctive – see above – we’ll be looking at them in the wild next summer, for sure. I use in tincture, mainly, for it’s many actions; Boneset helps relieve aches and pains, has some immunostimulant action, can stimulate a fever if need be ( in hot tea, but it’s difficult to drink so I tend to use elderberry and yarrow instead). Boneset is underused, in the general populace, but it’s an extremely helpful and safe herb, in moderate doses. Well worth getting acquainted with.

 

2) Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

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Everyone knows Yarrow,  but I suspect most people think first of it’s ability to stop bleeding (internally as well as on the skin)… yarrow is a time- honoured  and effective cold and flu treatment as well. Served hot in tea with (or without) elderflower, yarrow helps support the body through fever, stimulating diaphoresis (allowing the body to sweat through dilation of peripheral blood vessels) and fighting inflammation. Abundant locally, yarrow offers a range of other actions you’ll learn about from the classnotes. For now, is this a familiar local face? I’m pretty sure  the answer is yes.

 

3) Elderberry and flower(Sambucus canadensis)

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Oregon Herbalist Rosalee de la Foret states that if she only had one herb to use with a cold or flu, it would be Elder; I heartily agree. Elder has been called  a “medicine chest” all in one plant. Both the flower and berry are incredibly helpful throughout these types of illness, offering diaphoretic support, anti-viral actions and gentle immune support. We’ll look at multiple ways to prepare and take elder – in tea, syrups, tinctures and more exotic methods, too (oxymel, elixir). You’ll fall in love – if you’re not already aware of Elder’s amazing medicinal properties.

 

3) Pine species (Pimus resinosa, strobus, banksiana, nigra and sylvestris) plus a number of other conifers.

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I spend a chunk of every winter seeking and collecting resin, as well as making yummy and nourishing things like Pine cake and various teas with fresh needles. In the class, you’ll learn how to make a warming, healing chest rub with our local pine species – needle and resin – and yes, I am baking the cake as well. Real forest medicine. <3

 

4 ) Mullein (Verbascum thapsus)

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Another very familiar plant, many people know about infusing mullein flowers into olive oil for ear infections. But there’s so much more to this herb than ears!  A classic respiratory herb, Mullein is expectorant, anti-inflammatory, demulcent (soothing!) and vulnerary (helps heal tissue, such as the raw bronchial passages we all get when we’re sick). Especially with a  dry, hacking cough,  mullein is an incredibly useful herb with colds and flu (and other conditions – wait for the class handouts). :)

 

5) Elecampane (Inula helenium)

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Another of my very favorite herbs, I have looked in vain for this one growing locally – I know there has to be some! Elecampane goes into every cold and flu preparation I make, specifically when there is a productive cough, catarrh in the lungs. Expectorant, antimicrobial, anti-tussive, all round amazing. Until I find some, La Foret always has some in stock. :)

 

6) Mallow species (Athea officinalis, Malva neglecta and sylvestris)

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This gentle little plant and her showier cousin Althea officinalis are wonderfully soothing for rough, raw, painful throat and lungs. I make cold infusion of the dried roots, and love to simmer the roots in honey, too, for the kind of supportive, healing help that herbs can bring. Mallows are also anti-inflammatory – they don’t just coat the surface, they cool down the heat.
Indispensable.

7) Wild cherry (Prunus serotina)

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Another one that many will recognize as a standard ingredient in cough syrups;  Black or wild black cherry is a fantastic remedy for easing the misery of irritating cough, the kind that just won’t let you sleep. The dried bark is used in  syrup or tincture to help give relief, in combination with other relaxing or sedating nervines that allow badly needed rest throughout illness. Both serotina and her cousin Chokecherry, Prunus virginia, are easily located locally.

 

8) Usnea (Usnea barbata)

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Usnea, (or more correctly Usneas, because there are literally hundreds of species)  is everywhere, a beautiful lichen found growing on many of our local trees. Usnea is a powerful antimicrobial herb, with actions that fight both some types of bacteria and many viral infections as well. Another staple to use with chest colds and flu, and not as wellknown as it should be. We’ll be talking much more deeply about all these herbs, this is just a mini- taste of what’s to come.

 

We’ll also be looking at

Echinacea

Cinnamon

Ginger

Hyssop

Thyme

Horehound

Garlic

Osha

Monarda

Licorice

Elm spp.

Horehound

Astragalus

Reishi and other mushrooms

Honeysuckle

Sage

Alder spp.

Cedar

 

How to select, prepare and dose for optimal support, and faster recovery time. I’m not sure how we will cover it all in two hours, but I aim to try.

For  any more information on the class, please give me a call, 819-459-1049, or drop an email at catlane@thepossiblecanine.com. I’ll be delighted to help.

Introducing – Herbal Classes in Rupert

After some procrastination, I have booked the hall, made the poster and we are set to go. Sunday, November 23 kicks off the series of monthly classes at the Rupert Community Centre – Sunday afternoons, 2 – 4 pm. And what more appropriate topic to start with, than Herbs for Colds and Flu? As the season approaches, many people are thinking about prevention, which is always the best place to start. We’ll look at both herbs and nutrients to help the body adapt to stress, build a strong immune system and help prevent the development of illness. But even with everything in place, flu and colds cannot always be avoided – and many of us would rather treat symptoms gently than resort to medications that mask symptoms but  do nothing to accelerate healing. In this class, we will cover various strategies for managing cold and flu symptoms, and how to tailor what you choose to use according to symptoms. (Example; that dry, non-productive scratchy cough needs a different set of herbs than does the cold damp variety.)

 

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Beautiful Marshmallow roots, Althea officinalis –  dried and used for soothing mucilage, part of a formula for sore throats and hot, scratchy cough.

We’ll talk about the specific actions of individual herbs, how to prepare them (tea, infusion/decoction, tincture, elixir, pastilles, honeys and oxymels,syrups,  steams to relieve sinus congestion, and salve for aching muscles and sore inflamed lungs.)

We’ll look at the difference between immune stimulation – the ever popular echinacea is not the only herb that can do this! and when to use a more balancing, modulating approach – hint: at the onset of a fever, during a fever and in recovery all can be considered stages that require specific strategies. Some herbs should not be given at all during fevers – and some folks should not have immune stimulants at all.

 

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Boneset, Eupatorium perfoliatum, grows all around this region, is easily identified, and one of our most important herbs for addressing the aches and pains that accompany the flu

We’ve all heard of echinacea, ginger and garlic, lemon and zinc, for colds and flu – but what about elderberry? Osha and Usnea, Mullein, Wild cherry, Hyssop,Licorice, Horehound, Monarda,  Boneset, Elecampane?  The amazing and abundant Alder tree, whose inner bark has long been a go-to for folk herbalists, for it’s incredible antimicrobial and lymphatic action?  Perhaps you have seen these herbs but aren’t sure how to use them.  Did you know that the resin from our beautiful local conifers can form the basis for the most amazing chest rub?  After this class,you will come away with a greatly  expanded repertoire of options.

 

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Several species of Alder grow locally; we will delve into Tree Medicine in a future class – how and when to harvest, prepare and use local trees from Alder and Birch to all the glorious Conifers.

We’ll sample several of my own recipes, many made from wildcrafted herbs of this region; all time-honoured and prepared with care by yours truly. :)

You’ll go home with recipe cards, classnotes and several samples of tea blends, steam blends,three kinds of Fire Cider, and my favorite concoctions for all kinds of winter blues (reishi/maple syrup truffles, anyone?)

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Elderberries, rosehips, elecampane root, monarda blossoms,  mallow root, cinnamon, licorice, fennel seed, and a little echinacea in one of my favorite coldweather blends.
All in all, a beautiful and nourishing way to spend a Sunday, learning the magic of regional herbs, and  preparing for the season ahead. Cost is sliding scale, 10 – 25$, no supplies needed, but you will want a notebook and pen.

Hope to see you there!

Choosing the Beauty is not repression

So, anyone following my FB timeline knows I am obsessed with deer, and learning somewhat more about them as I feed the locals  a little, hoping to both fatten them up for the coming winter, and also luring them close so they stand a better chance of not being shot. Most of the deer I have here are does, and all but one have fawns, one doe has twins. I love these animals with a depth that words fail to describe; I’m not enough of a poet to avoid sentimentality when I write, but fortunately many others are. Lately I’m reading Richard Nelson’s moving and also challenging classic “Heart and Blood: Living with Deer in America”…and he is able to capture so much of what I feel. I hope to read much more on deer and learn by direct experience, but right now, I am just chewing on this book, reading a passage or two,a few pages at a time, and using those words as guidance, insight, even lectio divina; for a nature  spirit such as myself, it’s often holy writ to me, poetry like Mary Oliver and Gary Snyder, writers like Annie Dillard and Linda Hogan, speak to my heart so powerfully. But last night, just before I slept, I happened on a few pages describing the severe suffering of deer in winter – some of it caused by humans, as in the doe who became entangled in barbed wire fence and hung there, literally helpless, till she died; much more however was nature at work, and the suffering is extreme. It was horrible for Nelson to come upon carcass after carcass, fawns frozen into the lake, barely alive young ones curled desperately against the frozen bodies of adults. It broke his heart to see, and it broke mine to read.  We err whenever we see nature as all benevolent and perfect; tempting as it is to do so, if we truly wish to know Her, we need to know both faces, the light and the dark, the beauty and the anguish.
I slept uneasily, thinking of what lies ahead for my small herd of sweetness.

 

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And I woke up thinking, it’s not a good thing to dwell on the sorrow, either. Choosing the Beauty is not repressive if it is informed by a knowledge of the fuller picture.

So today I will focus on what I love about deer, starting with their beauty.

“Slowly . . . slowly, I lift my binoculars, and she fills up the field of view. Her coat is light reddish tan. I can pick out every long, coarse summer hair on her flank and the remnants of winter fur that haven’t shaken free. I can see the rise and fall of her ribs, the thin white fur and ripe bulge of her belly, the graceful arch of her neck, the angular shape of her hindquarters, the sculpted muscle and sinew of her legs. I can see the shaggy, white fringe of her tail, and the sooty fur on its tip for which the black-tailed deer is named. I can see the pale white markings beneath her chin, the gray fur and translucent skin of her enormous funnel-ears. And when she turns I can see her slender, elongated face, the conspicuous dark patch on her forehead, the twitching of her muzzle, the brightness of her great, shining eyes.

She leans down to graze, nuzzling back and forth amid the starbursts of yellow daisies, the violet blush of laurel, the snowy clusters of bog orchids, the leathery green of Labrador tea, the delicate dancing blades of grass. So exquisite is she–like a rose petal on a sheet of jade–that it takes a supreme act of self-control to keep myself from jumping up and shouting aloud.”
Richard Nelson, Heart and Blood

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And this is true for me as well. No matter how many times I look out the back windows and see one there, often staring hopefully toward the carport door from which I emerge bearing fruit and pellets – no matter how often, I am thrilled in my soul, with a sense of joy and privilege, humility and happiness. It is this love that sustains me when I face the difficult task of learning more and going deeper into the reality of life in the natural world. It is not repression to focus on the Beauty, it’s a tool for rescuing oneself from an abyss of pain. It’s an act of hope, perhaps even radical hope. And so I trundle out in the frosty dawn to toss apples and scatter a little feed, humming to them, reaching to them but not holding on at all. It’s this hope that carries me along and makes me better, whether it is crazy or not. The grace and beauty of the wild is ours to witness and cherish, ours to immerse in as we can, in tiny bites or full commitment, but not ours to own or exploit.  And it’s the harshness of the wild that reinforces gratitude for the technology we have that keeps us warm and offers relief from suffering, reminds us that all is in fact not terrible with “civilized” life. As always, it’s about the balance.

Touch them lightly, for their wildness is who they are. And once tamed, they cannot be untamed. Leave them with their pure nature intact. That is what I tell myself every day. Be grateful for how they have touched your heart, and be respectful of who they truly are.
They are Wildness incarnate.

They are Beauty…and this world needs as much of that as it can get.

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Samhain Eve – and the Morning After

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Today is November 1, the feast of All Hallow’s,  or Samhain in the Irish Gaelic tongue –  the version most popular in modern culture,  via Wicca and neo-Paganism. There are several linguistic variants — Scottish, Welsh, Manx, Breton — but they all mean roughly the same thing — “Summer’s end”. And boy, this bone-chilling morning, there can be little doubt of that. After the balmy, alternately damp and sunny weather of most of October, November is here with a venegeance. The Crone spreads her dusky shawl across the skies…the last of the leaves scatter and fall, leaving a landscape both haunted and forbidding. I went to bed last evening after some annual traditions (leaving food out for the ancestors, meditation on what needs to be cleared away in my life, a bit of chocolate) and woke up to a much more serious energy all around. The Crone has arrived, there is deep chill in the air, and in case we weren’t getting the message – there is snow.

Light and wet snow, albeit, but still. This morning was different, on several levels it was. As Mara Freeman puts it “At the end of October, the doorway to the dark half of the Celtic year swings open”. I went to bed after a day spent walking in the forest,  sipping hot chocolate outside watching birds, and leaving the windows open –  and awoke to the beginning of Winter.

The ancestors were clearly pleased with my offering; I was a bit horrified to realize, come suppertime, that I had no baked goods, had no energy to start on a cornbread, and my offering plate would be just what I had to hand, and a little eccentric at that. But it seemed to have, for the most part, been well -received; everything but the sliced orange was gone in the morning! That’s Balderson’s extra old cheddar, some candied ginger, a bar of excellent dark chocolate, some raw organic almonds, and my very favorite strawberry yogurt. I photographed before and after, but the Vista gods won’t let me share today. C’est la vie, as long as the food was a hit. I spent some time before sleeping, in deep evaluation of things I need to clear from my life, aspects of my patterns that no longer serve me well, and  of course, in communion with my loved ones who have passed from this world, most especially my brother and my aunt.

A peaceful Samhain eve here at the Ark. And I have the weekend cleared for more.Delint2

 

 

But of course, there is more, not the more I wished for, either. November 1 marks the beginning of firearm season for deer hunters in this area. And this for me is a deep and complex time, of attachment to the deer I have come to know, fear for their safety, and a struggle to understand that while many hunters are looking for trophies or just enjoy killing, others honour their prey and hunt ethically and with respect, making sure not to maim deer and also using the whole animal. I fear that these latter types are the minority.. but I can respect their ideology, if not comprehend how they can look at these visions of loveliness and pull the trigger. Life feeds on life, I repeat; a good hunter takes a life much more quickly than a pack of wolves will. I get that. However… I fear for the twin fawns who come here all the time, they will not survive winter if their mother is killed. I fear, horribly, for any of these sweet beings to be injured but not killed, to escape in suffering and die a protracted death, as often happens.
This morning, for the first time yet, no deer in the back, on the hill, across the road – no deer(.Just checked again -it is after lunch and guess what – no deer). It is most certainly, today, “as if they know”. And why would we ever doub that they do?

Today; an oversized  truck parked by the entrance to one pathway that goes deep into the forest. Ontario plates. We know what that’s about. They are in peril, all of them – Clarissa and the twins; Saoirse and Sassy, Aine by herself, alone and brave, the new girl I call Stripey, with the feistiest (male) fawn, who stomps and snorts and cavorts at the sight of me. All my sweetlings. No matter how sentimental it sounds, they are.

And the back field lies empty and strange, despite the flurry of blue jays and nuthatches and black caps and the endless carry-on of raven and crow.
I walk to the feeders, to the herb garden, to the Faerie corner,making unnecessary compost visits,  pacing, fretting, trying  to let go, praying not to hear the guns.

The vigil begins….as the summer ends.

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And so today; divination for the year ahead…baking…and incense making, so I can consecrate it on this sacred day. Rest. Animal time. Reading. Today has been a Holy day for me for close to 30 years, and I need the magic.
But the countdown is on, and I will be praying every morning and night, for my lovely, lovely deer to make to through this fortnight ahead; alive, together, and unharmed.
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Herbs from the Dreamtime – trusting the process

So – the day begins with magic.. Here I have ID’d the strange little plant who popped up in my garden beside the other pink and purply ones I put there on purpose (lavender, prunella, lemon thyme).

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This is Stachys officinalis, or Wood Betony. Just like Motherwort, which evaded me for years, I just woke up one day and there she was.

After years of trying to start Betony, or FIND Betony, as opposed to reading about and ordering betony online – this morning I made the ID. Well, I didn’t but some combination of my unconscious, Paul Bergner’s classes and the Spirit who wants the best for us,  did.
A few weeks ago I noticed a straggly little unrecognized plant grow in my raised bed,and- curious creature that I am – I had to let her be. I’ve kept an eye on this plant but aside from IDing that she’s a mint family member, I wasn’t sure which species, nor all that bothered, really. Just keeping an eye.

And then – I had a dream last night. In it, the little plant was larger, brighter and spoke directly to me.

“You need me” she said. There was no mistaking this message.
And then this morning as I tidied the kitchen, I played, quite spontaneously, a tape I have in which herbalist extraordinaire Paul Bergner was talking about messages from dreamtime, from the unconscious, and that we should listen to them(I did know that, but it’s always interesting when something like this arrives as a kind of prompt or reinforcer) . Uh-oh! There is synchronicity in action. Better go look at the little pink plant nestled beside the Self Heal…
and to my amazement, upon some scrutiny – there she is – Wood betony.

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Internet pic

 

Now, I am more – MUCH more academically acquainted with this plant than I know her intimately, as in growing/wildcrafting/medicine making. I may have the species wrong (although I don’t think so, this is a Stachys of some sort and I’m 95% sure officinalis) whatever the case, this plant wants to be heard. I am a very tired, anxious, worn out individual who has yet to find *the* nervine, and has always wanted to know Betony more intimately. I think when things line up like this – garden appearance, – dream – synchronicity – one is a fool not to listen.
Will keep you posted! For now, here’s the little plant beside my selfheal and lavender. There’s coriander, purslane and who knows what else in there too.

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Spending some time out there today. I always suffer when I don’t listen to my garden.
And my dreams.

Wakefield Meetups 2014

I have been away a  long time, working on the dog-site, with clients and on my Intro to Animal herbalism course. It’s been a strange and lengthy winter too, with spring only now starting to show her face, more in the arrival of all our beloved birds, than in plants quite yet. I did see some coltsfoot on our hike today, and the ever-eager trout lilies are poking their leaves up defiantly, but it’s still very chilly, and perhaps will be a while yet.

All I know is, I need to get this herb group going, and so I’m just posting a schedule and putting the word out. If it turns out I am sitting alone in le Hibou, May 4th, that’s fine too. I’ll have a book and order brunch and Will you all to join me the next time.
But I do hope some will turn out.

This year I am going to hold a couple of weedwalks, and a few classes, either at the Wakefield or the more quaint (and closer) Rupert Community centre. The dates are TBA, but the topics for classes will include Intro to Animal Herbalism, basic medicine making, tree medicine and whatever else people ask for. This all remains to be seen, after I hear back and we actually get started.  See you on the 4th?

 

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Understanding Herbal Actions, Part One: Astringents

In response to queries from my students, as well as members of various groups I frequent, today I am starting a series on that all-important foundation of the herbalist’s toolkit; understanding herbal actions.  A few entries back I discussed the difference between using herbs in a home-remedy kind of fashion – perfectly good and wonderful – and going deeper, exploring plant medicine with regard to treating people and animals, and therefore learning about basic plant chemistry (constituents) energetics and actions, preparations and dosage, and more. This is, truly, a lifetime of study – but to start, anyone studying herbs will want to be very well acquainted with at least a  core group of actions. Simply put, the term “actions” refers to  the effect of the herb on the body; what it does,  how herbs affect us. Herbal actions can be classified more precisely – as biochemical, empirical, vitalist – for the purposes of this series, actions are simply descriptors of the  ways in which herbs act in and affect the body. Many terms are self-explanatory, or popularly used enough as to give the newcomer a general idea as to  what they do; others are vague, quaint or obscure. I’m terribly fond of the quaint and obscure, but that’s not especially helpful to those trying to learn. So, in this series I will talk a bit about actions we might be working with a lot, initially-  and explore several of the most important, basic terms.

I hope it will be a helpful augment to my students, and of interest to my general readers too of course.

So, let’s start with the term astringent. I chose this one to begin with for two reasons; first, pretty much everyone has some idea what it means. Most people can bring to mind the sensation left on the tongue after a dry red wine, or cup of plain tea; others might think of the  effect of witch hazel on the skin. Both tea (Camellia sinensis) and witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana  ) are astringent herbs, rich in tannins, and  used in most households – well, perhaps not witch hazel as much as tea! but pretty wellknown all the same.  Both of these plants offer straight-up, unmistakable ASTRINGENCY: You drink black tea, your tongue feels dry and puckered; you wipe a cotton ball with witch hazel over your face, and the skin will typically feel dry, even tightened past the point of comfort. That’s astringency! It’s an action many associate, and understandably so, with a drying, tightening effect. Speaking from the point of immediate observation, that’s correct; as we look a little deeper, we’ll see that “drying” is not so accurate – or perhaps more precisely, it’s only part of the story.

The other reason I wanted to start the series with astringency, is practical; so many conditions in dogs and cats, that we might think about treating at home with herbs, call for an astringent herb. These include UTI (urinary tract infection) diarrhea ( with all the many causes for that one) various skin problems (and our animals are so prone to those)  swelling and inflammation in the mouth (gingivitis) and respiratory infection, viral or bacterial. These  groups do not represent the only uses for astringent herbs, but they are the most common and easy to get started with; after we define the action a bit more, we’ll look at which specific herbs to work with, and how to apply/administer them.

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Witch hazel in bloom

 

So to start with,  what do astringents do? Essentially, they tighten and strengthen tissue, contracting and toning to help restore normal function, keep pathogens out, keep fluids in, and reduce inflammation.. This is incredibly useful wherever there is boggy, overly porous tissue, as in damp and cold lung infections or intestinal hyperpermeability; a stronger barrier is always an aid to healing – in part, because a stronger barrier holds fluid in more effectively. And here is the apparent contradiction I alluded to earlier – when you tonify and strengthen tissue,you are doing the opposite of drying. The sensation or appearance of drying is superficial; internally, the whole body is brought back into balance as fluid is retained more effectively. It’s certainly true that overuse of astringents without a balancing demulcent herb may have a drying and undesirable effect on surface tissue, over time. But for starters, let’s think of astringents as using a tightening action to help surfaces  to function optimally. Surface contraction  is the means to an end,  the result should be tissue brought back to balance, not tightened and dried excessively.

This quote from Michigan herbalist Jim MacDonald says it beautifully:

Astringents are considered drying. This is both a correct and misleading way to understand what they do. Astringent herbs don’t really cause the loss of fluids from the body… in fact, they often are used to help retain fluid from being lost (for example, blackberry root being used to stop diarrhea, shepherd’s purse to staunch uterine bleeding, or staghorn sumach to help resolve excessive urination). ……. What astringents do is restore tone to tissues by causing them to constrict. It is this constriction – generally of the outer surface of the tissues – causes dryness…… In most cases, short term use of astringents causes a localized dryness, while helping to preserve fluids constitutionally. Prolonged use, however, or the use of very strong astringents can constrict tissues too much (and not just on the surface), and in doing so impairs their proper function by both robbing them of fluids and impairing their ability to absorb or secrete fluids ”                                              

http://www.herbcraft.org/properties.html

It follows that the stronger the astringency, the longer the duration of use, the greater risk of creating a different kind of problem – eg, the hyperpermeable gut is now constricted to the point that nutrients we actually want to pass through, are impaired-  affecting overall nutritional status(for example). As with all herbal actions, the application of astringents can be quite straightforward – a tea bag on a hot spot, a gargle with sage tea – or much more nuanced. When working with new ideas and plants – start safe and slow.

 

Which conditions, then, call for herbs with an astringent action?

A few common animal ailments that call out for astringent herbs for include:

1) gum infection or any scenario where there is puffy, boggy gum tissue; gingivitis

2) kennel cough

3) feline respiratory disease

4) UTI, canine or feline

5) chronic intestinal issues, including food intolerance, IBD and SIBO, any form of “colitis”

6) hot spots,  general pruritis, minor infections and abscesses; wound healing

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All of the above call for a range of actions, including astringency. There are other applications; I use herbal astringents  in my work with cancer, specifically hemangiosarcoma, ; some I use regularly include Butcher’s broom  ( uscus aculeatus)  Horse Chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum)  Labrador tea (Ledum groenlandicum)  Self -Heal (Prunella vulgaris)  Shepherd’s purse (Capsella bursis)  specifically hemangiosarcoma, but this is advanced work and I will cover much more of it in my thesis, whenever it finally gets done and published. Just by way of mentioning that many herbs have powerful medicinal effects internally, and may help prolong survival time with some cancers. Astringents also possess styptic actions, some more abundantly than others, meaning they can help slow or stop bleeding, internally or externally. Yarrow and blackberry root powder are my own first-aid favorites, I am never without them around the house or in my help-bag.

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The humble and ubiquitous Shepherd’s Purse, combined with Yarrow and other herbs, can stop internal bleeding as powerfully, or moreso ,than the very popular vet-prescribed Yunnan Baiyao.

Which plants are useful astringents and how do we decide what to select and use?

I would recommend using a process based on three factors; strength of astringency (that’s the tough one, because  while some plants clearly have strong/mild action, in the middle there is a range, and can depend on other factors such as how prepared)  secondary actions, and organ/system affinity. Let’s look at these three factors and see how they help us make a selection.

1) Strength of action: astringent herbs may be mild, moderate or strong. Sometimes, as with  severe diarrhea we want to stop asap, strong action is required (I prefer blackberry to elm in this case)..other times, as with sensitive dry skin, we might prefer to treat a hot spot with milder astringency. One good way to know the strength of your herbs is just to work with them. Everything I have listed is pretty much readily available, you can purchase the whole herb and start experimenting. Make a quarter cup of infusion with plantain,  one with raspberry, another with sage, blackberry, goldenrod…steep them  all the same length of time, and taste. Or just taste the plant! I’ve listed a few of my favorites below. Of course, how one prepares an herb can increase or decrease potency, this category refers to the basic strength within the plant itself.

2) Secondary actions, or in other words, what else does the plant do?  Some have anti-microbial action, important for infection; others are also demulcent (slimy and soothing) good for balancing astringent’s superficial drying effect; others may be diuretic, expectorant, anti-spasmodic ..and so on. We always have to consider the whole spectrum of actions when deciding on any herb to use. This is where developing deep knowledge about a few herbs at a time is helpful – you won’t need to look everything up when considering which plant to reach for. Of course, a good herbal with a Materia Medica listing all properties (and contraindications) of each plant is essential. None of us remember everything all the time – when in doubt, check!

3) Organ/system affinity:  does the astringent you am considering have a particular affinity for the part of the body you seek to support?  Ideally, we find a herb that does it all –  say you are looking to clear up a mild urinary tract infection.   Uva ursi (arctostapholys uva-ursi), is astringent, antibacterial, diuretic and has affinity for the urinary tract, so it will be an obvious choice. I’ve listed a few affinities below;  one can also work with a formula and include other herbs that direct the action to the desired part of the body, and the more complex the problem the likelier it is you will want to formulate anyway, to include other  actions. I mention system-affinity here as another part of the picture you need to keep in mind when selecting which to use, but you  can always work with what you have, once you have more fluency with herbs. This is more about how to think like a herbalist than to encourage slavish adherence to a set of rules. :)

Of course, everyone needs a basic repertoire of herbs from each category of action – there is no substitute for practical use! Some of my own favorite astringents (for use with dogs, cats,and humans!) are as follows:

 

Mild

Plantain (Plantago major, lanceolata) Parts used: Leaves, preferably fresh; use in tincture, salve and fresh plant infusion**. I make extensive use of plantain, especially with skin issues/wounds/insect stings, and IBD, sometimes in the mouth. Radically underused in veterinary application. Learn this one thoroughly.
**Note wherever I say “water infusion” I mean , a strong tea, to use internally or to compress.

Sage (Salvia spp – officinalis, apiana ) Parts used: Leaf. Prepare as water infusion, using fresh or dried leaf, can use tincture or powder in capsules or honey. One of the popular go-to herbs for human use (sore throats!)  but the salvias have so much more to offer. Because of the thujone content I use it more topically than internally, but it does go in some formulas I use for CCD (canine cognitive disorder) and to help dry up milk. I once made a mixture of honey, mallow and powdered sage and used on a dog who had porcupine quills in his throat(removed by owner). I hope to never have to do that again! but it was marvelously effective.

Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) Parts used: Leaf and flower, in water infusion and tincture. Only slightly astringent, mullein is a remedy for dry, non-productive coughs, I like it with chronic cases as well as acute. Included here as an example of a demulcent herb with some astringency (like Slippery and other elms) mullein is also mildly diuretic, mildly sedating(bear that in mind) and expectorant.. Respiratory system affinity.

Uva Ursi (Arctostaphyllos uva-ursi) Parts used: Leaf and flower. Prepare as water infusion, or use as tincture.One of the best herbs for the urinary tract, I use it in almost every case. Not for use with renal failure or acidic urine (urine is typically alkaline in the presence of bacterial infection). I generally use in tincture, often with other herbs. Can’t be without this one.

Raspberry  (Rubus ideaus) Parts used: leaf. Prepare in water infusion or tincture, preferably infusion. Raspberry has a strong affinity for the reproductive system (female)–   a wellknown and effective uterine tonic for dogs and cats. It can help with diarrhea, too; I’ve been known to grab a few leaves, brew up an infusion and pour over Danny’s dinner when he has had a bout of colitis – gentler than blackberry, but helpful and mild. Anyplace you need an astringent with no known side effects or drug interactions (see below) raspberry is helpful. I included some in a flush for anal gland infection I used last year on my partner’s dog (case study to follow) and I cleared the damn thing up in no time (to be fair, there was a lot of other stuff in there as well).

Slippery elm (Ulmus fulva) Parts used: Dried, powdered inner bark. Prepare as poultice, or infuse in water, or use directly(in food). Elm is one of the most popular herbs for the gastrointestinal tract, but it is useful in respiratory infection and skin eruptions as well, especially boils and abscesses. Elm has been over-harvested in the wild and should always be purchased from an ethical supplier, and used judiciously. This is one place where the popular “this for that” style herbalism has a dark side. Everyone uses elm, now, with dogs as well as  our own uses; and while it is fabulous, so are many other herbs and herbal formulas. Use with respect.
And consider planting a couple, too: http://www.unitedplantsavers.org/content.php/438-Slippery-Elm

Self Heal (Prunella vulgaris)Parts used: Aerial parts, leaf, flower. Prepare in water infusion, in salve, I rarely use tincture but of course, you can. I have a truly magical relationship with this plant and use her for just about everything. She is mildly astringent, and I often ask her help for abscesses in cats, but especially where the cat is depressed (as in a rescue). Prunella has applications in so many things, including cancer, I plan a full entry devoted to her – soon.

 

Self-heal-Lachlan-Cranswick

My beloved ally for 25 years now, Self Heal (Prunella vulgaris)

 

 

Moderate

Cranesbill (Geranium maculatum) Parts used: Rhizome. Prepare in decoction or use tincture (I prefer decoction) An indispensable astringent, used frequently for (human) hemorrhoid ointments, Cranesbill (Wild geranium) can also be used internally for upper and lower GI bleeding, for anal sac inflammation. An excellent, underused (in veterinary application) herb.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) Parts used: aerial tops, leaf and flower. Prepare in tincture, capsule, water infusions and salve. Yarrow is so bitter I prefer tincture for animals! Yarrow is one of the top ten or twelve herbs I believe we all need to know about and use.  The list of actions this plant offers is huge; David Hoffman says “Astringent, anti-microbial, diuretic, anti-spasmodic, anti-inflammatory, bitter” so you can see the range of applications. Always allergy-test yarrow! (That’s a good idea for all herbs). Use for urinary tract and skin first, but get to know yarrow deeply. Much like elder, this is a medicine cabinet in one plant.
Eyebright (Euphrasia officinalis) Parts used: dried aerial parts, leaf and flower. Prepare in or water infusion. Despite the name, Eyebright has all kinds of applications, wherever an astringent, anti-inflammatory herb is called for.I make extensive use of euphrasia in my practise; it is wonderful for all kinds of sinus issues, making it incredibly helpful with feline chronic respiratory disease. (I have a doozy of a case stud coming up on that one). Most people associate eyebright with it’s name – and it is superb for inflamed eyes, conjunctivitis, veitis – but don’t think of it as only for the eye. Like other astringents, eyebright can be used on skin inflammations and for gastric upset as well.
Ground Ivy (Glechoma hederaceae)Parts used: aerial. Prepare in water infusion or tincture. I love ground ivy, especially after it proved to be one of the most important herbs for my own cat’s chronic respiratory disease. Generally well tolerated, dosing and pairing is important here. Use with bronchitis, kennel cough, any respiratory congestion, but do allergy-test first.

Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla vulgaris) Parts used: leaf. Prepare in water infusion or tincture. Lady’s mantle has a wellknown affinity for the female reproductive system, acting as both astringent to alleviate excessive bleeding, and, potentially, an emmenagogue too ( meaning it can also stimulate flow.)  Many herbs possess what seems like contradictory actions, but that’s a topic for another entry. I include Lady’s mantle here for  her affinity with the uterus, possible application with pyometra and other reproductive issues.

 

Horsetail (Equisetum arvense) Parts used: stems. Prepare in tincture or infusion. This species of Equisetum is superb for urinary tract inflammation/inflection, I find it especially useful with spay-incontinence and in geriatric females in general. I like it more for acute conditions , and especially with elderly animals- silica uroliths are relatively rare in dogs, but horsetail is a very rich source. Use short term and never if the dog has had these bladder stones. (All that silicon does potentially support bone and cartilage formation, but I like to take a full history before using Horsetail for degenerative joint disease. It has a place there, but not generically).

http://www.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/usal/local-assets/pdfs/silica.pdf

 

Equisetum_arvense_nf

 

 

Strong

White Oak bark (Quercus alba)Parts used: dried inner bark. One of my very favorites for inflamed, spongey gum tissues. I see this a lot in older rescue dogs, and in cats fed a cereal based kibble. Dogs are definitely easier to compress, orally! I usually mix the  oak infusion with a few drops of echinacea tincture, and/or plantain.

Bayberry (Myrica cerifera) Parts used:bark. Prepare in decoction or tincture. Bayberry has  other actions that may mean it’s not applicable internally for all animals, but it can be immensely helpful for others.  I use most often, with periodontal disease,  in compress or I will flush the mouth with a mixed water infusion that contains sage, myrrh, bayberry and white oak, with echinacea.

Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) Parts used: The leaves and bark of this beautiful shrub are very high in tannin and thus, very astringent. Witch hazel is a true Go-to for any place an astringent is called for, though most people think of the skin, I use it with all bleeding tumours, hemangiosarcoma and heavy bleeding in bitches during estrus. Important to balance the high tannin content with demulcents if using internally for any length of time. I make such use of Witch hazel, in compress for inflamed eyes, or for vulvitis, balanitis in male dogs, for cleaning ears (I prefer it most of the time to the very popular apple cider vinegar) and myriad other conditions. Important to note here that I am referring to infusion of the dried plant matter, not the witch hazel WATER commercially available, which contains alcohol, and not intended for internal use.

Blackberry (Rubus fructicosus) Parts used: powdered root, leaves. Prepare in water infusion, or give in capsules, or in honey.- main uses for me include relief of watery, acute diarrhea (powdered root) and water infusion of the leaf, for pruritis relief. I also carry the powder with me, straight up or mixed with yarrow, to staunch bleeding, while out in the field (me or Danny!)

Agrimony (Agrimonia eupatorium )Parts used: aerial. Prepare in water infusion or tincture.  Agrimony is a lovely plant I think is a little underused,  and a wonderful ally for urinary tract infection.I use it for wounds, for mild gastric upset(David Hoffman is  big on agrimony for digestion, give it’s bitter action, but I use it less for digestion and more for urinary tract issues.)  but most importantly with UTI or bladder stones. I have it wild all around this area, and maybe you do too?

Rose (Rosa rugosa) – Parts used: flowers. Prepare in tincture, water infusion,  elixir, salve.The whole rose family have astringent properties; legendary herbalist Michael Moore coined the tern “YARFA” meaning Your Average Rose Family Astringent. Works for me! (Many of the plants listed here so far – blackberry, raspberry, hawthorn are Rose family). I love to work with wild local roses, which are highly astringent.I’ve found much variation in astringency, but they are all pretty potent! Rose goes into so many of my formulations, but one simple use is part of the infusion I use for feline abscess. Internally I use just a little with animals who are heartbroken from emotional suffering, and offset the astringency(try some tincture on your tongue!) I generally include mallow. Rose is very anti-inflammatory too; I’ve used in in compress and poultice for so many minor injuries and infections. I make rose petal vinegar and throw a cup into my coat rinses in summer(dogs). All my kennel cough remedies contain powdered rose hips….and so on. A must-have in my animal toolkit as well as my own use.

 

P1270114

Some of my own rose medicine – two kinds of vinegar, a salve, elixir (brandy and honey) tincture, and massage oil brewing.

 

Again this is by no means an exhaustive list! Hyssop, Sumac, Stillingia, Cherry, Aspen and Ash, Bistort and Loosestrife - so many to work with. That said, my belief is  (again) that it is preferable to become thoroughly acquainted with fewer herbs than possess a little knowledge about many, so I am sticking with these common, safe and easily obtained plants for now. Especially with animals, who may surprise us with their reactions, always test a herb in small quantity before giving it internally. This is good advice even with topical use; I once saw a Ridgeback (my own) break out in hives all over his stomach after a rinse of calendula infusion. Not what I predicted, but it taught me well.

Cautions specific to animal use: Susan Wynn writes that “all astringents may coagulate proteins and interfere with other drugs”. As with any herb you consider using, if the animal is on medications, consult a herbalist, or at the very least, look it up!

To recap (I know this was long): look to astringents when you have a condition that indicates a need for toning and contracting tissue. Look for the other actions in the herbs, for their affinities and how they have been traditionally used. And keep witch hazel, rose, uva ursi, yarrow, blackberry root, eyebright and oak bark always on hand! Those are my own staples – but don’t underestimate the others. Astringents have incredibly valuable medicinal actions, and you do well to pick a few and learn from them all.

We”ll look at demulcents in the next installment.

 

Resources

Veterinary Herbal Medicine, by Susan Wynn DVM and Barbara Fougeres DVM

 

Herbcraft, Jim MacDonald’s incredible site

http://www.herbcraft.org/index.htm

 

Medical Herbalism, David Hoffman