Saturday, March 10, 2012

Herb Class March 4th, 2012

Recap of March “Becoming An Herbalist” class at Wise Acres Farm

We were all here this time and what a lovely and diverse group of folks.

We continued looking at  roots and barks. It started with a discussion of astringent plants and tannins in general.

Highlights form the morning discussion on tannins.

We noted that astringent herbs bind with protein and cause contraction of tissues. When we taste them, they contract our mucous membranes and dry out the mouth. This astringing action is due to tannins. We talked about the two groups of tannin containing plants of interest to us called hydrolyzable and condensed (proanthocyanidins). Astringent plants with tannins are used for diarrhea. Tannins precipitate proteins on the gut wall and numb the sensory nerves and decrease stimuli that causes peristaltic activity. They also decrease secretions and inflammatory proteins as well as inhibiting microorganisms that may be causing the diarrhea. Astringent plants with tannins are used for passive bleeding. They act as a hemostatic or stypic by causing local vasoconstriction as well as creating artificial blood clots which are probably due to tannins precipitating proteins. These astringent herbs are used for internal and external beleeding, diarrhea, incontinence or other excessive secretions. They are also used for hemochromotosis (a condition causing excess iron in body) as tannins will bind with minerals. They bind with and decrease iron. It has been shown that one cup of strong coffee taken within two hours of consuming a meal will impair 60% of iron absorption (Coffee contains tannins). 

Old Gall on Small Oak Tree in Winter
We talked about tannins being soluble in water and alcohol so we could make a tea or tincture. They will precipitate alkaloids (proteins) so if both are in a tincture they will precipitate and settle out. 5% glycerin added to the tincture can help stop this from happening.

Young Gall Collected in Summer
We looked at galls on oak trees and discussed they are very high in tannins. They can contain 50-70% tannin known as gallotannic acid.

We noted the effect tannins have on animals that eat them and how those with proline rich proteins  (PRP) are able to eat more tannic plants than those with low levels of this protein in their saliva as the tannins bind to this protein. Humans have about 40% PRP in their saliva. Research shows that the more tannins a ruminant animal eats, the more PRP their body makes.

Lastly we talked about the concern of using too much tannic plants or using them over time and how they might cause problems. I pointed out they are used to tan hides and can cause problems precipitating out proteins in our gastrointestinal tract if use in high amounts or for a long time. They can cause an anti-nutritional effect as they will bind with minerals, carbohydrates and of course proteins in our meals and decrease their absorption. Although, there is controversy about how much tannins are actually absorbed in the GI tract, we know they are absorbed to some lesser or greater degree and can be problematic in large quantities. Toxic doses of them can be fatal. This is why they are generally no longer used in emergency rooms to bind alkaloids after alkaloid poisonings although this use to be a standard protocol.

Poplar Bud Collection & Tincture Making
Group Collecting Poplar Buds in March
Poplar Bud
Poplar Bud Tincture
After our morning discussion it was warming up outside. It was our first really warm day of 2012 and I sure enjoyed it. We were lucky enough to have a perfect day to collect Poplar buds at our altitude of 500 feet. We made a folk tincture of the fresh buds using 95 percent organic alcohol. We reviewed these wonderful resinous poplar leaf buds. They are used as an antimicrobial in the gastrointestinal tract, respiratory tract and urinary tract. They are a wonderful stimulating (irritating) expectorant and taste good in cough elixirs. They also have a numbing quality so it helps to decrease pain if used in a cough elixir or throat spray. Their anti-inflammatory property is also helpful in a throat spray. (Special notes: Resins do not dissolve in water and it is best to make a tincture out of them with 95% alcohol to preserve them. The resin can clog spray bottles if you put too much in a formula.) I meant to get out and collect some more buds and dry them for a second addition to our tincture but I did not get them in time. If anyone finds some at the bud stage to add, bring us a dried cup of them please. I plan for us to make a cough elixir later with this.

Digging Up Comfrey Root
Comfrey Root Digging and Making Slurry
We also had fun digging up comfrey root and making a slurry out of it. Everyone got to put their hands into the gooey concoction and see how soothing and healing comfrey root is. I have used the slurry for healing chapped hands of gardeners and contractors as well as for beat up feet. It is also wonderful for soaking wounds on the hands and feet as long as the wound is completely free of debris. Comfrey heals so fast, that a wound with debris can get healed over with the debris still there and cause an infection. The constituent in comfrey that lends it to being a vulnerary (wound healing) is called allantoin. This same constituent is in Aloe and is also produced by maggots used to clean and heal wounds. We discussed the problems with identifying comfrey and disagreements among some folks.

Some Comfrey Species Information
The creamy yellow-flowered form is stated by Hooker to be Symphytum officinale proper, and the dark purple flowered he considered a variety and named it S. officinale, var patens. The botanist Sibthorpe makes a definite species of it under the name patens.
"Symphytum grandiflorum "Hidcote Blue" Large Flowered Comfrey" – pink/red buds and blue flowers.
Symphytym uplandicum or Bocking is the one most folks have – light purple color and sterile. Many people call this officinale species even though it is uplandicum.

There has been controversy about which comfrey species contain pyrrolizidine alkaloids, which alkaloids are harmful and if they are really mutagenic (cancer causing) and cause veno-occlusive disease in people or not. So we discussed this until I almost put people to sleep. Most herbalists do not use comfrey internally any more and just use it externally to be safe. We discussed when to use it and when not to use it.  The recent research I have seen shows that they all contain a wide variety of pyrrolizidine alkaloids in differing amounts. Although some herbalists still use comfrey internally, the research shows that they all contain some amount of pyrrolizidine alkaloids that are harmful. This amount changes depending the part of the plant studied,  the time of year collected and how they are grown.
The Scoop on Pyrrolizidine Alkaloids…
Everyone has heard about Comfrey and the concern about the pyrrolizidine alkaloids in Comfrey causing hepato veno-occlusive disease (HVOD). The liver changes the pyrrolizidines into potent alkylating agents that react rapidly with cell constituents resulting in cellular destruction or abnormal cell growth patterns. This is a rare form of liver disease that results in blockage of the small veins of the liver and causes necrosis of liver tissue. It is diagnosed by liver biopsy. Clinically it appears to be hepatitis or cirrhosis without liver biopsy. They herbs that usually protect against liver damage would be no help here. Liver function tests may not pick this problem up until the veins are occluded and the necrosis is taking place which is too late. Even giving harmful pyrrolizidine alkaloid plants to people with healthy livers can be problematic.

Reseaerch needs to be completed with comfrey and the prevelence of HVOD. The cases that exist are sketchy and few but are reason for us to act cautiously. What most people don’t seem to realize is there are other medicinal herbs that also contain toxic pyrrolizidine alkaloids. The FDA has made it illegal to sell any of them for internal consumption. These herbs are Alkanna tinctoria (Alkanet), Anchusa officinalis (bugloss), Borago officinalis (borage), Crotalaria spp., Cynoglossum spp., Erechtites heiraciifolia, Eupatorium cannabium (hemp agrimony), Eupatorium purpureum (gravel root), Heliotropium spp., Lithospermum officinale (European gromwell), Packera candidissima, Petasites spp., (e.g., butterbur), Pulmonaria spp., (e.g. lungwort), Senecio jacobea (European ragwort), Senecio vulgaris (groundsel herb), Symphytum spp., (comfrey), and Tussilago farfara (coltsfoot).

AHPA requires the following labeling for products with pyrrolizidine alkaloids: For external use only. Do not apply to broken or abraded skin. Do not use when nursing.

Some manufacturers  remove pyrrolizidines from Comfrey to use it internally. The best route will be for growers to select for and provide a comfrey plant free from the harmful pyrrolizidines. Some species of comfrey are known to contain more harmful pyrrolizidine alkaloids than others. Symphytum officinalis has been thought to contain less than Symphytum uplandicum. However, Symphytum uplandicum has been sold as Symphytum officinalis in the past and the purchasers have not been aware they were buying the incorrect species. Most people think they are growing officinalis when it is really uplandicum. The  Comfrey leaves contain less alkaloid than the root generally and plants that do not go through the full winter season are thought to contain more of the alkaloid than comfrey that that lives in regions with a winter.

Comfrey is said to have been used to feed anmals in the past. It is said that animals have been fed comfrey to improve their health and to increase their productivity. I have read that chickens fed comfrey have been known to lay more eggs while comfrey fed cows gave more milk. However, this is not common practice. I would love to hear peoples stories of consumption of comfrey. Susan Weed says she eats it all the time.

Marshmallow Root in Bowl
We made marshmallow lozenges with the marshmallow that had been collected in February and dried. We also made some slippery elm lozenges. We will have to take a look at the slippery elm tree here next time we have class. We discussed how they could both be made into slurries and drank or added straight to hot cereals. The important thing to remember when using water soluble fibers such as these is to be sure to drink a glass of water after taking them as a slurry, in a capsule etc. They will soak up fluid in your gut other wise and can make you constipated or even worse case scenario cause a bowel obstruction (Unlikely but to be sure, drink plenty of water when you consume water soluble fibers.) We also noted that while poplar buds are a stimulating (irritating) expectorant that marshmallow is a soothing expectorant.

Fresh Cut Bark
Oregon Grape and Berberine
Mahonia aquifolium - Oregon Grape Flowering
 We collected bark from Oregon grape and tasted it. We all noticed it was very bitter due to the isoquinoline alkaloid called berberine. Berberine can also be found in other Mahonia spp plants as well as goldenseal (Hydrastis Canadensis), gold thread aka yellow root (Coptis chinensis), and cork tree (Phellodendron amurense). We talked about how these plants with the berberine alkaloid have all been used similarly historically. They are all bitter (the alkaloid berberine is bitter) so they are used to support normal digestive processes, as well as choleretics and cholagogues; meaning they stimulate production of bile in the liver and flow of bile from the gallbladder. This also gives them a slight laxative effect. This herb and the others have commonly been used as antimicrobials and antiparasitics. They are helpful lowering fevers and decreasing inflammation when used in infectious conditions. Externally they are also used to decrease inflammation and infection in wounds. One of the practitioners in our group said she has used the tincture of Oregon grape mixed with sodium bentonite clay to apply topically for MRSA. I mentioned some research I had collected on the use of berberine for MRSA and yes, I will be getting a pdf of that and all the other research emailed to you all very soon. I don’t think we mentioned it is an anti-oxidant. We also discussed the use of the alkaloid berberine in research and in clinical practice for metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. The amount being used by most practitioners is 500 mg three times per day of berberine. Research has shown it to be as effective as the common antidiabetic drug metformin. I would point out this is not an herb being used. Berberine is a plant constituent and a “neutraceutical”. Some western herbalists have noted the hypoglycemic action of plants with berberine in them in the past but have not used the plant for diabetes as it is a strong plant. There was concern by some of us that it would be irritating used long term. There are of course other herbs used for diabetes as well as dietary/lifestyle measures that work well. The side effects noted in research with berberine has been digestive in nature. Here is some data regarding side effects. This is from one example of research  giving berberine 500 mg tid (These adverse events included diarrhea in 10 percent, constipation in 7 percent, flatulence in 19 percent, and abdominal pain in 3.4 percent. The side effects were observed only in the first four weeks in most patients. In 24 percent, berberine dosage was decreased from 500 to 300 milligrams thrice daily because of gastrointestinal adverse events, and all of these side effects disappeared within one week. Dewick, P. (2009). Medicinal Natural Products: A Biosynthetic Approach (3rd ed.). West Sussex, England: Wiley. p. 358. ISBN 0471496413.) The most notable side effect I have found with giving high doses of berberine containing herbs is a headache.

Processing Tinctures
We also pressed the Echinacea tincture, dug up more Echinacea and added it to the tincture. We will press it next time for the final time.

We additionally pressed out the elecampane and it is settling for filtering.

Chickweed-Stellaria media
English Daisy - Bellis perennis

We looked at hellebore, English daisy and chickweed. Hellebore is not used usually anymore. It was used by the eclectic physicians, but it is a strong purgative and although it has been used in the past for congestive heart failure we discussed other herbs used that are not so harsh and that do not have the drastic reaction of hellebore root. Hellebore is a low dose botanical and toxic, so I suggested not to use it. We also munched on some chickweed which is used in salads and noted it is also a diuretic and used as a vulnerary (wound healing). English daisy is used similarly to Arnica but is specific for internal bruising.

Indian Plum Blooming

I forgot to show you the Indian Plum flowering. Here is a couple photos of it at least. Remind me to show you the bush next time.
Close Up of Indian Plum Flowers