Friday, January 31, 2014

Chickweed is Everywhere

Common chickweed is a spring green that grows in many parts of the world. It is abundant here in the Willamette Valley. It makes a nice protective blanket for bare soil in my garden each spring. This herbaceous mat protects the soil from being damaged by the continuous spring rain in our region. Although it can be found growing all through-out the year, spring is when it really shines and as one of the first flowering plants is much  appreciated by myself and the bees. This is when you get lush mats of it covering the bare soil.

Flowers: The latin name Stellaria media is in honor of its tiny, white, star-shaped flowers.

Leaves & Stems: The opposite leaves are oval shaped with pointed tips. The delicate stems have a single thin line of white hairs. This single line of hairs is an indication that you have the species Stellaria media rather than one of its relatives.

Habitat: Likes lush soil and is most commonly found in your garden. However it will grow in other areas, although there are other species that often grow in these other areas that look very similar. You will see Stellaria growing in gardens, pastures, lawns, cultivated fields, deciduous forests and barren areas.

Growth habits: Low growing, often makes an intertwined mat or clump of greens.

Edibility: The leafy parts are fairly good used fresh or they can be added to a soup, put in a smoothie, or a casserole. I find Chickweed is pleasant to eat and makes a nice addition to a salad. It is delicate and best eaten fresh. There is a hairy chickweed, that has fuzzy leaves and is not so pleasant on the tongue. It looks similar to Stellaria media. If you accidentally collect it, most people find the texture unpleasant on the tongue. It is actually a different Genus. It is Cerastium viscosum. It is however in the same family, called the Pink family or Caryophyllaceae family. It is eaten also but always cooked to decrease the hair irritation. I just don't bother eating it myself.

Herbal Medicine: This plant is soothing and cooling. The aerial parts are used internally as a demulcent to soothe the gastrointestinal system and as a diuretic. Externally it is crushed or chewed to make a spit poultice for wounds, burns, insect bites, hemorrhoids, and other various skin irritations. Some herbalists have found chickweed will decrease the size of cysts.

Electrical Frequencies & Holland's Work

Anthony Holland has been studying electrical frequencies to cure cancer and his Ted Talk is inspiring. You can see it here.

Electrical frequencies have been used for some time to destroy cancer cells. If you know about Rife Machines this is not new information for you. However, it is still exciting to see a Ted Talk lecture that thousands of people are viewing on this alternative treatment for cancer. Many people have been using electrical frequencies to kill viruses, bacteria and parasites. However, ever since Dr. Rife was put out of business by the government, this practice went underground in the United States. Anthony Holland's research and publicity of his research is bringing it out in the open. If you want to know more about Rife, go to this link.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Peppergrass - Cardamine spp.

This is a Cardamine spp. It is in the mustard family, or in latin called the brassicaceae family. I have not keyed it out so I am unsure of the species. It is called by many common names around here. Peppergrass, Pepper cress, Pepper weed etc.  It is abundant and edible. It tastes similar to watercress and can be used as such. In the Willamette Valley it is most abundant in the early spring. The leaves, flowers and seeds can all be eaten. They are spicy and add a nice bite to your salad, scrambled eggs or other dishes where you want a peppery addition. When the new leaves first appear (now), it is mildly spicy. As the season proceeds it gets more spicy. Now is when the leaves are the most tender and I enjoy them as I would arugula in my salad, sandwich or thrown on top of a pasta dish etc. 

Herbs and Edibles Poking Their Heads Out on 1/26/14

Many of my students want to know how to identify the early spring plants that first appear. It is hard when you are new to identifying plants to decide what is before you. However, in the spring when they are first appearing it can be even harder. I thought I would show you some of the earliest ones poking their heads up on 1/26/14 in Pleasant Hill, Oregon. Below are their photos with their names and brief data regarding if they are used as food or medicine. I will tell you more details about some of them later this week. I will also add more of the wild edibles/herb photos through-out the rest of the spring.

Chickweed - Stellaria media
A spring edible and used as a medicine.

Greater Celandine -
Chelidonium majus
Used as a medicinal herb.

Evening Primrose - Oenothera biennis
Used as food and herbal medicine.

Artichoke - Cynara scolymus
Chokes used as food and leaves
 used as medicine.

Dandelion - Taraxacum officinalis
Leaves and root used as food and medicine.

False Dandelion - Shown here so you can
compare it with the real Dandelion above.
This plant has hairy leaves. 

(Dandelion does not.)
This plant has multiple flowers on solid stalk.
(Dandelion has one flower on a hollow stalk.)

Peppergrass - Cardamine spp.
Spicy food similar to watercress.

Valerian - Valeriana officinalis
Root used as medicine and flowers used as perfume,
and in biodynamic prep.

Mullein - Verbascum thapsus
Leaves and flowers used as medicine.

A passion for organics
Chamomile - Matricaria recutita
Flowers used as herbal medicine.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Willow Medicine Continued

I was asked about the safety of using Salix spp, (Willow) if  a person is on anticoagulants or has a bleeding disorder. Perhaps you would all like to know the answer.

Willow does decrease platelet aggregation and therefore anyone on anticoagulants or with a bleeding disorder should not use Willow unless under the guidance of a professional. The anti-thrombotic effect is considered mild and less than that of aspirin.

Here are a couple of research abstracts that help to answer this question.

 1999 Mar;22(3):131-3.

[Isolation of resisting thrombus and arteriosclerosis compounds in leaves of Salix matsudana].

[Article in Chinese]


In this paper, three compounds were isolated and identified from the leaves of Salix matsudana. They are apigenin-7-0-beta-D-glucopyranside(I), luteolin-7-0-beta-D-glucopyranside(II), compound III. Compound I and II are isolated firstly from Salix spp., compound III is found firstly in the world. Furthermore, study on effect of arachidonic acid metabolisin in rat platelets by them with radio-chromatography found that they can significantly inhibit the production of 12-HETE(12-hydroxy-5,8, 10,14-eicosatetraenoic acid), which can induce allergy and arteriosclerosis. The production of apigenin-7-0-beta-D-glucopyranside being hydrolyzed was apigenin, it can inhibit TXB2(thromoxane B2) which can induce platelet aggregation.
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

 2001 Apr;67(3):209-12.

Effect of salicis cortex extract on human platelet aggregation.


The bark of Salix species contains several prodrugs of salicylate, mainly salicin. The aim of this study was to investigate if during pain treatment with Salicis cortex extract platelet aggregation was affected. A total of 51 patients were enrolled in the study. Thirty-five patients suffering from acute exacerbations of chronic low back pain received randomly and double-blind either Salicis cortex extract with 240 mg salicin/day (n = 19) or placebo (n = 16). Further sixteen patients with stable chronic ischemic heart disease were given 100 mg acetylsalicylate per day. Platelet aggregation was studied using an aggregometer. As aggregating agents, arachidonic acid (500 micrograms/ml), adenosine di-phosphate (2 x 10(-5) M) and collagen (0.18 microgram/ml) were used. The mean maximal arachidonic acid induced platelet aggregation was 61%, 78% and 13% in the Salicis cortex extract, placebo and acetylsalicylate groups. Acetylsalicylate had a significant inhibitory effect on platelet aggregation compared to Salicis cortex extract (p = 0.001) and placebo (p = 0.001). There was also a significant difference between the placebo and the willow bark-treated groups in the maximal plateletaggregation induced by arachidonic acid (p = 0.04) and ADP (p = 0.01). No statistical difference was found between the groups when collagen was applied to the human platelets. Daily consumption of Salicis cortex extract with 240 mg salicin per day affects plateletaggregation to a far lesser extent than acetylsalicylate. Further investigation needs to clarify if this finding is of clinical relevance in patients with impaired thrombocyte function.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Willow Tree Medicine

Salix spp: The pussy willows started poking their heads out today and the birds were eating them with relish. They were darting around the tree in an elated frenzy. Not a lot of fresh food available to the birds this time of year, so this was truly a celebration.  Goats also like to eat willow trees. They will eat every part of them.  

The main thing herbalists use willow for is as an analgesic to relieve pain and an anti-inflammatory. It is sometimes used to lower fevers but generally herbalists are inclined to use relaxing diaphoretics and do not use willow for fever. The part used is the bark. Traditionally the bark is collected in the spring or fall. The medicinal part is the inner bark. Usually, herbalists will use the small to medium sized limbs with thin bark and simply use both the outer and inner bark since it is hard to remove them from each other. The bark is extracted as a tea or tincture and used for a variety of musculoskeletal aches and pains such as arthritis. It is also used for headaches. Just as aspirin (originally based on willow and other plants with salicylic precursors.) gets used for a variety of aches and pains so has willow been used in this way.  Willow is also very astringent and as such has been used as a general astringent for diarrhea and bleeding. 

The Native Americans used willow bark for its astringent effect as well as using it to make string and used willow in basketry. Sometimes leaves were put into food baskets while cooking to improve flavor of the food. There is also mention of some tribes using the bark as an antidote for poisoning. This action was most likely due to the tannin content.

Willow is easy to grow. Simply cut a branch, stick it in the ground and it will usually grow if water is supplied. This is due to the natural root growth hormones called auxins in willow. You can soak willow branches in water and use this water to assist in stimulating root growth in other plant cuttings which may be harder to root.

For those of you who enjoy learning about constituents in plants the most researched constituent has been salicin. Although contained in Salix spp, Salix alba has specifically been studied a lot and contains the salicylate- forming glycosides, largely salicin and salicortin. Salicin and salicortin are metabolized by intestinal flora to saligenin, which is absorbed into the bloodstream and is metabolized by the liver to salicylic acid. This is the active compound that is eventually excreted by the kidney. Since salacin and salicortin are changed into saligenin in the gut and eventually salicylic acid in the liver, this by-passes the gastrointestinal tract, thereby avoids gastrointestinal irritation. Due to the process of changing into salicylic acid in the liver, it takes time to achieve pain relief or decrease inflammation and has to be taken into account when a practitioner is advising a patient to use willow for pain or inflammation.

Research compared a standardized willow extract and aspirin (ASA). On a mg/kg basis, the extract was at least as effective as ASA in reducing inflammatory exudates and in inhibiting leukocytic infiltration as well as in preventing the rise in cytokines, and was more effective than ASA in suppressing leukotrienes, but equally effective in suppressing prostaglandins. On COX-2, the willow extract was more effective than ASA. The present findings show that the willow extract significantly raises GSH (reduced glutathione) levels, an effect which helps to limit lipid peroxidation. The extract was more potent than either ASA or celecoxib. Higher doses of the extract also reduced malondialdehyde levels and raised shows definite superiority to either ASA or celecoxib in protecting the body against oxidative stress. It is therefore evident that willow extract is at least as active as ASA on all the parameters of inflammatory mediators measured, when both are given on a similar mg/kg dose. Considering, however, that this extract contained only 24% salicin (molecular weight 286.2), while the ASA has a molecular weight of 180.3, it follows that on a molar basis of salicin vs salicylate, the extract contains less than a sixth of the amount of salicin as the amount of salicylate in ASA. Thus it appears that the willow extract with its lower "salicin" content than an equivalent dose of ASA, is at least as active as ASA on the measured parameters, a fact that leads one to speculate that other constituents of the extract contribute to its overall activity. The presence of polyphenols in the extract probably plays a significant role in enhancing its free radical scavenging properties. The fact that the willow extract was superior to ASA in this respect would suggest that the extract may have a better anti-inflammatory effect than ASA on a weight to weight basis, with possibly less side effects. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Consideration of Spring

Hazelnut catkins
Hazelnut flowers
Every year while still deep in winter, spring starts to stir deep inside of us. It is a yearning, a quiet prayer for that which is sleeping to awake. It is patiently waiting in the magnolia and daphne buds. Less patiently in the hazelnut catkins and flowers. All around and within, buds are yearning to spring forth. Winter birds are considering their young yet to come. Honeybee dreams are conjuring up flowers of the future. The imaginings of many future creations are stirring inside the present. We wait, we long for, and we celebrate when it arrives. At this moment on a cold, quiet, winter day, the consideration of spring is almost deafening.
Magnolia buds

I am out today tasting the hazelnut catkins. The pollen laden hazelnut catkins are eaten by some birds and are a protein source. The newer, not yet open catkins are slightly bitter and astringent tasting. As they open and get closer to releasing pollen the astringency decreases and they become better tasting. I leave the catkins for the birds.   Good to know they are available as a survival food and that the new catkins are an astringent source I can consider for medicine. I will wait for the fall to collect from this tree in the form of yummy hazelnuts. Not even spring yet and I am thinking of fall.