Sunday, August 24, 2008

Weed to You... Medicine to Me

I want to take a moment to feature two of my most favorite "weeds," plantain and dandelion. They grow in abundance where I live, and I am grateful because they both carry extremely useful medicinal properties that have helped heal myself and my family.


Plantain grows almost all year long. It is considered to be one of the most useful herbs and is used for many types of complaints/health issues.

Plantain as an Astringent

Plantain leaves contain tannins and is considered an astringent that is able to draw tissues together (both internally and externally). As such, they can help to stop bleeding (including bleeding from mucous membranes) and control excess menstrual flow. It has also been used to relieve colitis, hemorrhoids, diarrhea, dysentery, vomiting and bed wetting in children and incontinence in the aged.

Plantain as a Diuretic

As a diuretic, Plantain increases urine flow, and its potent antiseptic properties make it effective in easing uterine infections, urinary tract infections, syphili and bladder infections. It is beneficial for female disorders with fluent discharges and internal problems symptomatic of the urinary tract, including cystitis and leucorrhoea. Plantain may also slow the growth of tuberculosis bacteria and staphylococcus infection. The increased urine flow also helps to rid the body of excess mucus and fluids, which is useful in cases of edema (the accumulation of fluid in tissues that cause swelling) and excess water weight.

Plaintain's diuretic properties are also believed to help kidney, liver, spleen and bladder function by flushing impurities with the increased urine flow. By removing obstructions from the liver, it is beneficial in cases of jaundice.

Plantain to Help Control Cholesterol

Plantain may be able to control cholesterol. The seeds contain soluble fibers that swell in gut when wet and fill the intestinal tract, preventing cholesterol and lipid absorption, and the increased bulk also has a mild laxative (not purging) action that helps to rid the intestines of excess cholesterol. Added to the diet before meals, Plantain may cause a decrease in triglycerides and beta cholesterol (bad), and reduction of cholesterol, of course, may contribute to a reduction in heart disease.

Plantain for Respiratory Complaints

As an expectorant, Plantain is thought to loosen and expel phlegm from the lungs and respiratory system. Because of its high mucilaginous qualities (that are really not equalled by other mucilaginous herbs), it is also soothing to the lungs and protects damaged and sore tissue as it expels mucus. It relieves dry coughs, chronic bronchitis, coughing, wheezing and irritation.

Plantain to Help with Weight Loss

An Italian study found that Plantain served effectively in contributing to weight loss in conjunction with a prescribed dietary regimen. When Plantain, with its high mucilage and fiber content, was added to the diet, it has been conjectured that it works by filling and coating the stomach, which limits caloric intake by reducing the absorption of fats, as well as providing a feeling of fullness and reducing the appetite.

Plantain as a Pain Reliever

Plantain contains salicylic acid, the natural forerunner of synthetic aspirin, and as such, has been effective in relieving pain, including neuralgic pain.

Plantain to Help with Digestive Complaints

Plantain's mucilage is said to soothe the stomach and ease indigestion and heartburn, as well as soothe the inflamed tissues of the lower intestinal tract. The increased bulk in the intestines acts as a mild laxative that promotes normal bowel function, and the fiber is thought to absorb toxins from the bowel and rid the body of poisons.

Plantain for External Usage

Used externally, Plantain has a long and venerable history. The tannins tighten tissues, but the mucilage acts as a demulcent and helps to balance the astringent actions and heals and soothes bee stings, bites, and poison ivy. The astringency also has a styptic effect when used topically and acts to stanch hemorrhage and ease wounds and bleeding cuts by contracting blood vessels. It makes a fine eyewash for pink eye; and it is also believed to help those who wish to "quit the habit" to stop smoking by including Plantain in a gargle.


Personal Experience with Plantain

My family has gathered plantain and made our own herbal tinctures and oil from it. We have used it mainly for respiratory complaints and for healing external wounds. We have found it to be excellent for these uses. It has been a better decongestant than any over the counter conventional decongestants we have used in the past. And since it has antibacterial properties, it has been excellent when used for wounds. My husband had a terrible infection from a cut he had received from a piece of stainless steel. He put some plantain oil on it and it was almost magical how quickly the infection left and his wound healed.


Ask anyone how common this plant is. You can find it virtually anywhere and it grows pretty much all year long. It has long been considered a bane by those who wish to keep an immaculate lawn, but it's unfortunate that they don't realize what a true treasure this wonderful "weed" really is.

Dandelion comes from the French name, dents de lion, which translated means "teeth of the lion." The name was given due to the shape of the dandelion's leaves. And although this "weed" is far from anything resembling a lion, the Dandelion contains much that is beneficial to our bodies: bitter compounds, choline, inulin, large quantities of minerals such as calcium, sodium, silicic acid, sulfur and, in the fresh leaves, a high content of potassium.

Dandelion as a Diuretic

Dandelion Root is considered a superior and potent diuretic (even to synthetic products) that increases urine flow, rids the body of excess water and helps to relieve bloated feelings. The high level of potassium in Dandelion is important, because large amounts of potassium are lost in the urine and too often flushed from the body when synthetic diuretics are used.

Dandelion to Help Promote Healthy Heart Function

Potassium-rich Dandelion is said to help promote healthy heart function. The potassium works with sodium to regulate the body's water balance and normalize heart rhythms. Dandelion may lower cholesterol and high blood pressure due to its diuretic action in ridding the body of excess fluid, thereby reducing the amount of fluid the heart must pump to circulate blood.

Dandelion to Promote the Health of the Digestive, Endocrine and Cardiovascular Systems

Dandelion Root is considered a fine liver tonic that is also said to promote healthy gallbladder, pancreas and spleen function. It affects all forms of secretion and excretion from the body and is

a gentle cleansing agent with almost a specific affinity for the liver and modifies and increases the secretions, removing excess water from the body in edemous conditions that could result from liver problems. Herbal healers use Dandelion to strengthen the liver and treat liver disorders. The herb is thought to promote the flow of bile and ease such conditions as hepatitis, inflammation of the liver, jaundice (caused by excess bile in the blood) and liver enlargement. By promoting the flow of bile from the liver, Dandelion is said to be helpful when used in the first stages of cirrhosis of the liver.

Dandelion Root and Leaves are known for keeping the internal organs clean and clear. Herbalists treat kidney ailments with Dandelion, and it is also thought to improve gallbladder function, possibly even preventing gallstones (in Germany, the over-the-counter “ Hepatichol” is said to be proven effective against gallstones).

As a blood purifier, Dandelion Leaf is considered an excellent tonic that cleanses poisons from the body. Through its action both on the liver and kidneys (as its French name, pis en lit, "wet the bed" indicates), it gently eliminates toxic wastes from the body. The natural nutritive salts work to purify the blood and also help to neutralize the acids in the blood.

Dandelion Leaf's powerful blood purifying and liver cleansing properties help to clear skin problems, especially acne. A liver that is not performing at its best can worsen acne, because it cannot break down and clear excess hormones from the body.

Dandelion as a Nutritive

Dandelion Root and Leaves are an excellent nutritive and a valuable source of sodium, minerals (especially potassium), large amounts of vitamins A, C and D, B-vitamins and trace elements. The roots are sometimes used as a healthy coffee substitute or as an addition to coffee. In fact, some claim that it acts as an antidote to any of coffee's possible detrimental effects on the body and may be especially helpful in cases of dyspepsia.

European herbalists regard Dandelion as one of the best herbs for building the blood and relieving anemic conditions. Anemia is caused by deficiency of proper nutrients in the blood, and iron-rich Dandelion is one of its oldest, best-known remedies.

Dandelion for Digestive Complaints

For constipation, Dandelion Leaf is considered a mild laxative that stimulates the bowel and is also said to ease the discomforts caused by inflammation of the bowel. Furthermore, its inlulin content (a prebiotic fiber) passes undigested to the large intestine and stimulates the growth of gut micro-flora known as Bifidobacteria or Lactobacilli. These bacteria may crowd out pathogenic bacteria and provide disease resistance in the bowel.

Dandelion Root promotes good digestion by invigorating the functions of the digestive organs and stimulating the circulation of blood to the entire body. This herb tonic is used for problems in the digestive organs and is said to relieve acute stomachaches.

Dandelion to Flush and Purify the Body of Toxins

For treating nagging, toxic conditions, including gout, joint inflammations, chronic arthritis, chronic rheumatism, swelling and stiff joints, Dandelion Root is said to be ideal, because it flushes toxins from the system, rids the body of excess water and salt and is believed to reduce uric acid. Dandelion may help reduce stiffness and increase mobility in situations of chronic degenerative joint disease. Moreover, this purifying and flushing action is also believed to help clear skin problems, including acne and psoriasis.

Dandelion to Improve the Immune System

The inulin content in Dandelion Root is thought to be an “immuno-stimulant,” boosting the function of the immune system and stimulating macrophage action to surround and digest invasive infection and serious malignant disease.

Dandelion to Improve Bone Health

Dandelion Root may be helpful in cases of osteoporosis. It is a rich source of boron, which is thought to raise estrogen levels in the blood, thus helping to preserve bone. The herb is also a rich source of calcium and silicon, both of which are also believed to strengthen bone.


Personal Experience with Dandelion

I have mainly used Dandelion as a Diuretic during my current pregnancy. I have been mostly able to avoid having water retention, which I know would be more of a problem to me as it was in past pregnancies, were it not for my consistent use of Dandelion. And through consistent use, I feel that my overall health has increased as well.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Varicose Veins

My friend, who is still in her 20s, is going to have a large varicose vein in her leg removed, and has been told that she needs to work to improve her vein health through diet and exercise. Unfortunately, her doctor didn't give her very much information on what she could add or subtract from her diet or what type of exercises would help improve her vein health.

I was curious if I could find out any information for her, and so I consulted one of my favorite books, "Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine" by Michael Murray, N.D. and Joseph Pizzorno, N.D. I was delighted to learn a ton of great information on varicose veins, and thought that I should even start taking some preventative measures to avoid varicose veins in my own future.

Some of the interesting things I learned were:

1. A high-fiber diet is the most important componant in the treatment and prevention of varicose veins. "A low-fiber diet, high in refined foods, contributes to the development of varicose veins. Individuals who consume a low-fiber diet tend to strain more during bowel movements since their smaller and harder stools are more difficult to pass. This straining increases the pressure in the abdomen, which obstructs the flow of blood up the legs. The increased pressure may, over a period of time, significantly weaken the vein wall, leading to the formation of varicose veins or hemorrhoids, or it may weaken the wall of the large intestine and produce diverticuli (small outpouchings) in the large intestine."

2. The most notable nutrients that support the health of the vein are: Vitamin C and E, bioflavonoids and zinc.

3. Exercise and avoidance of standing for long periods of time will reduce the risk of developing varicose veins. The exercises that are especially beneficial are walking, riding a bike or jogging, because the contraction of leg muscles pushes pooled blood back into circulation.

4. There are several herbal medicines that have been shown to be useful in improving vein structure and function including Gotu Kola, Horse chestnut, Butcher's Broom, flavonoid-rich extracts, bromelain and other fibrinolytic compounds.

Some of these herbal/botanical medicines were of particular interest to me. I was intrigued to learn, for example, that horse-chestnut seed standardized for escin (a key compound) was shown to be as effective as compression stockings in a study that examined 240 patients with varicose veins.

I was also excited to learn that eating flavonoid-rich berries, such as hawthorn berries, cherries, blueberries and blackberries, help in the prevention and treatment of varicose veins. These berries are apparently very rich sources of proanthocyanidins and anthocyanidins, which improve the integrity of support structures of the veins and entire vasular system! (I'm looking forward to the ripening of the blackberries that grow in abundance around our house.)

Learning about bromelain and other fibrinolytic compounds was fascinating. Apparently, individuals with varicose veins have a decreased ability to break down fibrin, which is one of the compounds involved in clot and scar formation. And this is extremely important, since fibrin is deposited in the tissue near varicose veins. This then leads to the skin becoming hard and lumpy due to the presence of fibrin and fat. Also, having a decreased ability to break down fibrin increases the risk for other serious complications, such as thrombophlebitis, pulmonary embolism, stroke, etc.

Herbs that increase fibrin breakdown are: cayenne, garlic, onion and ginger. And bromelain, which is the proteolytic enzyme from pineapple, also aids in fibrin breakdown and may help to prevent the development of the hard and lumpy skin found around varicose veins.

So, now I have a good reason to purchase and eat a lot of pineapple, blueberries, blackberries and cherries (which, of course, I love)!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Garlic Oil and Botulism

I am a member of a wonderful herbal reference website, HerbMentor, that is catered specifically to helping people learn more about herbal healing. One of the great features of this website is their community forum, which also includes the added benefit of having access to knowledgeable and experienced herbalists who are willing to share their knowledge and expertise with those of us who are still learning.

Recently there was a question about whether you could be at risk of getting botulism if you used garlic oil to treat an ear infection, which I had also been curious about. It seemed that no one really had an answer, so I did some research, and found some good information.

Apparently there are three ways to get botulism:

"Food-borne botulism is the commonest type, with hundreds of outbreaks worldwide each year. The bacteria are dead or gone by the time you eat the food, but the poison remains. Most food-borne botulism is attributed to home-canned foods.

Infant botulism was only discovered 25 years ago... Children under one year old either eat bacterial spores, or inhale them. Spores of C. botulinum can be blown around when it's dusty and windy. If inhaled, they can end up in the lungs rather than the intestines. They settle there and begin producing toxin.

Spores in food can also cause infant botulism. This is different from food-borne botulism, where only the poison is in the food. Honey and corn syrup are especially associated with infant botulism and should not be given to children under one year old.

Wound botulism is the rarest type. Live bacteria infect an open cut, and poison is carried through the body by the blood..." (Botulism)

From reading this, I would suspect that the only way you'd be at risk for getting botulism using garlic oil in the ears, is if the ear drum had burst (you shouldn't put any type of drops into an ear if there is any chance that the ear drum has burst).

If you are making your own garlic oil infusion, and are trying to prevent botulism growth in your infusion, I found some information on a few websites:

"When raw garlic is stored in oil, Clostridium botulinum (botulism) bacteria can grow. These mixtures must be refrigerated to slow bacterial growth. After 2 weeks of refrigeration, the increased number of bacteria will become a food safety hazard. Therefore, these mixtures should not be refrigerated longer than 2 weeks.

When garlic is immediately removed after flavoring oil, the bacteria will not have a "food source" for growth. The flavored oil can be stored safely at room temperature."

When I made my infusion, I immediately removed the garlic, as mentioned above. But if you wanted to make sure, adding acid seems to prevent botulism growth. Also mentioned is adding either GSE or tea tree oil.

"Because garlic can harbor botulism bacteria, the FDA requires manufacturers of garlic and olive oil products to add acidifying ingredients such as vinegar or lemon juice. Oil blends containing garlic are safe for external use, and the addition of tea tree oil or grapefruit seed extract as a preservative destroys any botulism that might be present."

I was also very interested to learn about how they diagnose and treat botulism:

There is a test for botulin toxin, but it's only available in certain clinics. It involves injecting the suspected botulin toxin into a mouse that's received a toxoid, a sort of vaccine against poison. In the U.S., tissue and stool samples are often flown to Atlanta for inspection by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), who take botulism very seriously....

Luckily, the CDC has also developed an antitoxin that neutralizes botulin. However, the antitoxin needs to be administered as soon as possible after diagnosis. The medication can't repair nerve endings already damaged. This means that while you may survive, you will be left in the state you were in at the time the medication was administered. That may mean paralysis, sometimes to the point of being unable to talk or even swallow.

The good news is that you'll recover because new nerves grow to replace those killed. It may take up to a year before you're fully yourself again, but a few months is typical.

The antitoxin is made from horse serum and isn't used in infants for fear of a deadly reaction. This doesn't mean they die. Children who have ingested botulism bacteria are given medications that cause vomiting or treatments like enemas that are able to remove undigested food from the digestive system. So long as the lungs can be kept in working order, botulism won't kill you. With mechanical ventilators and intubation, 95% of North American victims now survive." (Botulism, pg. 2)

There was also some good information about preventing botulism, although preventing botulism is sometimes impossible.

The C. botulinum bacteria is anaerobic, meaning it likes airless environments. This is why you can get food-borne botulism out of a can. Very few cases of botulism arise from commercially canned food. Most occur when individuals can their own products...

Botulin toxin has been found in North America in these foods:

  • canned corn
  • baked potatoes
  • peppers
  • green beans
  • soups
  • beets
  • asparagus
  • mushrooms
  • ripe olives
  • spinach
  • tuna fish
  • chicken, chicken livers, and liver paté
  • luncheon meats
  • ham
  • sausage
  • stuffed eggplant
  • lobster
  • smoked and salted fish
  • garlic-in-oil dressing

Only highly acidic foods are safe from C. botulinum. Freezing will shut down poison production, but a fridge isn't cold enough. The following food-handling procedures can help you to prevent food-borne botulism:

  • Preserved food should be heated to a temperature above 100°C (212°F) for at least 10 minutes during the canning process.
  • Do not eat or store cooked foods that have been at room temperature for four hours or more.
  • Do not eat foil wrapped baked potatoes that have been left at room temperature and do not store chopped garlic or onions in oil at room temperature.
  • If eating home-canned fish or vegetables, boil the food first with frequent stirring for 10 minutes.
  • Do not feed honey or corn syrup to infants less than one year old." (Botulism, pg. 2)
Well, there you go. Now you know about the causes, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of botulism.

Friday, February 8, 2008

My Journey to Natural Health and Living

At the end of 2004, I started having a weird health problem that pushed me to probe more into my way of life, and change habits that I had been forming since my youth. This led to further "snowballing," and has brought me to a point in my life where I have been seeking to learn more about natural healing, health and daily living. I have made a lot of progress, and have brought my husband and children along with me for the journey.

I want to focus this blog around the things that I am learning. If you happen to know me, or just stumble into my blog by accident, you're willing to learn along with me. I do not claim to be a health professional, so please view this as my disclaimer. I do wish to one day be a master herbalist, and I'm sure that dream will come true some day. But for now, I am learning day by day, and experience by experience. If you chose to join me, I hope you learn something too!