by CoreyPine Shane on April 1st, 2015

I don’t know what it’s like where you are, but here in WNC early spring has arrived! This warm, wet weather means the spring ephemerals like Toothwort, Dutchman’s Breeches, and Spring Beauty are coming soon, and the beautiful Bloodroot flowers are beginning to cover hillsides (picture on the right). The daffodils are tapering off as fruit trees, like the peach and cherry trees in my garden, come into bloom.
 
Even if you still have snow on the ground, it’s time to start thinking about harvesting from the wild! Fresh new greens are popping up – chickweed, nettles, the unrelated dead nettles, and young cleavers. If you live further south they’ve been up a while, and even in the cooler northern regions, you might see some of these beginning to unfurl their leaves. I have seen chickweed, green and lush, encircled by snow.
 
To me, Chickweed (Stellaria media) is the sign of spring, and the taste of spring, too. Abundant in cool wet places, this “weed” often takes over areas of a garden or a shady, grassy hillside. In the south, depending where you are, it flowers and then goes to seed by late April or May. As the stems grow long and stringy, it becomes much less tasty. Up north, you can find it in the middle of summer.
 

Chickweed has small opposite leaves that come to a slight point at the tip. It is smooth, unlike Speedwell (Veronica) that is slightly hairy and becomes more toothed as it grows. Speedwell is not toxic, but it is also not chickweed. Both crawl along the ground before arching up 6-10 inches.
 
I harvest chickweed by taking a knife and slicing it just above ground level. If you yank it up, you’ll still get plenty of good plant but you may also get more roots and dirt that need to get picked out. Either way, you do need to go through and garble out any unwanted parts before using it for food – it’s too easy to get other plants mixed in.
 
You can use chickweed in a salad, but my favorite way to eat it is as a pesto, often mixed with fresh nettles. See the recipe below.
My other favorite way to prepare it is as a juice. Buy a wheatgrass juicer (hand cranks start at $30) and bundle the plant as you slowly feed it in. Be careful not to feed it in too fast; I have seen chickweed explosions before!
 
I love to drink an ounce or two at a time – it is much tastier than wheatgrass and possibly even more energizing. When I drink it, I just feel bright and perky and ready for springtime. Next time I’ll talk about more spring greens including Stinging Nettles, one of my favorites for both food and medicine.

Nettles-Chickweed Pesto
  • Handful (about 1 cup) of packed Nettle leaves
  • Handful (about 1 cup) of Chickweed above ground parts, well garbled
  • Extra-virgin olive oil, as much as needed
  • Garlic, 1-2 cloves. Or tender field garlic tops
  • Nuts (optional) – I prefer pecans but whatever nuts you want. They are more digestible and less astringent if you soak them a few hours, then discard the water. 
Combine all the ingredients in a food processor (preferred) or a blender, and process until smooth. Add more olive oil as needed until you get the consistency you desire. Store in a glass jar in the refrigerator or freezer and pour a little oil on top to prevent oxidation. Use within a week for best flavor. Can be used on pasta, to top bread, to flavor grains, on top of cooked meats or on sandwiches. Really, the possibilities are endless - Enjoy!!
 

by CoreyPine Shane on February 13th, 2015

We have turned the corner of winter. We have passed February 1st and call it Groundhog Day, Candlemas, or Imbolc, the cold months are half over. But how is your patience with the darkness? Things are beginning to pick up in anticipation of spring-time, crocus and daffodils are blooming (at least here in the South), but there are still frosts and freezes, snow and cold dark nights to journey through. February might be the shortest month of the year, but it is the month that tries our patience the most.
 
And in the middle of this dark month we have this celebration of love, Valentine’s Day. Whether this is a time of romantic spark in the cold or a guilt-inducing Hallmark holiday, you’ve got to wonder about the timing. Is it too much to bring in all those red hearts in this gray month? Whatever your answer, it is a good time to look into our hearts and remember our core.
 
For that is what is going to see us through the darkness – coming back into our core, remembering ourselves deeper and so having the patience to endure. Which brings us to today’s subject, embracing the contradiction of February. Let’s talk about aphrodisiacs and about loss and grief. Take what you need from this discussion, because without going through the darkness we won’t be able to recognize the light. And interestingly enough, it is the same group of herbs that can do both because both are times we need to open our hearts.
 
Think romance and you might think of roses. As an herbal remedy, Rose (Rosa spp.) also helps heal our hearts. I like to make a rose elixir with half brandy and half glycerin and pour that over dried (fresh if in season!) rose flowers. This is a delicious remedy that helps open our hearts to our lovers, our friends, and also to feel our feelings. Rose is a big part of my Sweet Love Potion, but I also use it in formulas to help heal a broken heart or to move stuck grief.
 
Rose is under-rated because it is too obvious, but for the same reason that smelling roses makes us feel good, tasting rose does the same thing.
 
Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.) is a tree in the rose family that also has a great reputation for the heart. Some call it the “chief heart nourishing herb” in western herbal medicine. Traditionally, the berries are primarily used but recent herbalists have started using the flowers as well, and I have found them to be exceptional, perhaps even better than the berries for the emotional heart and also for lowering blood pressure. The berries still have lots of flavonoids, the chemical that turns the fruit red, which is a great anti-oxidant and a nourishing tonic for the blood vessels, so I usually combine flowers and berries.
 
But I do find Hawthorn flower to be especially amazing for opening our hearts to feel more and to move through our process more. It combines well with roses, as in Herbalist & Alchemist’s formula “Grief Relief” which also has Mimosa bark (Albizzia julibrissin). Mimosa is another great herb for love or for healing loss and grief; either way the experience opens us up to feel more. In my own Pine’s Herbals “Happy Heart”  formula, we use Hawthorn flowers and berries, Rose glycerite, Linden, and Motherwort for both the physical and emotional heart.
 
It’s very interesting that most of these plants have a thorniness (Rose, Hawthorn and Motherwort). It reminds me of the “Heart Protector” organ in Chinese medicine, the part of ourselves that stands guard at the door of our innermost self and makes sure we only admit what will truly serve us. When our Heart Protector is out of balance we forget our appropriate boundaries and let in people and experiences that aren’t in our best interest. An important part of love, any love, is about balancing our inner and outer worlds, in other words about balancing opening and protecting.
Ah, but then there is Mimosa tree (Albizzia julibrissin), called the “Collective Happiness” tree but it grows like a weed across the Southeast and into the Midwest. The bark and flowers are both used in Chinese medicine and both are uplifting and joyous. The flowers are the color of a sunset or as my wife Karen Savage Shane likes to say, “little faerie paint brushes”! Beautiful, deliciously fragrant and abundant, they make a great extract that is uplifting, invigorating and just plain happy. Karen and I made a Mimosa mead a couple years ago that is still one of my favorite meads I’ve made.
 
The bark is also uplifting but penetrates deeper into our body. By circulating the Qi and Blood, it helps us move through places where we are stuck and nourishes the heart in the process. I use Mimosa bark to much success in formulas when people are stuck in a funk or a rut of melancholy that they can’t seem to find their way out of.
 
Let’s wrap up by talking about those all-purpose remedies, the adaptogens. Both Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) and Ginseng (Panax ginseng) are great tonics for the whole body, especially when people are feeling tired, overwrought and/or overwhelmed. But they are also great sexual tonics as well. Ginseng is more warming and Ashwagandha more relaxing and nourishing, so depending on what you need, either can help you rekindle your pilot light for a sweet night of togetherness, or they can help you have the energy and stamina to see you through the process of grief and release.
 
One last note – emotions are healthy when they are moving. Whether you are working through infatuation or grief, or just engaged in the ever-shifting dance of romance as we get to know someone more deeply, remember to move. Whether it’s yoga, qi gong, or just going for a walk, moving our body helps us move through stuck emotions. And breathe, always remember to breathe.
 
Whichever process you are going through, be brave, feel your feelings and listen to your deep heart – it never lies. As we move through the rest of the dark and the cold, remember to nourish and tend your inner fire deep within your heart, and use these herbs to help carry you through to spring-time and the return of the green.

by CoreyPine Shane on January 13th, 2015

Choosing the Right Herb – An Easy Equation, part 1

It's a common enough situation for those just learning herbal medicine. Look up a disease or a symptom in a book and there's a laundry list of herbs. How do you know which herb is going to be best? It can be confusing for a beginner, but there are some basic guidelines that almost all herbalists use and are relatively easy to learn. In fact, you could think of it as an equation.
 
The beauty of plant medicine (and the challenge, I might add) is that herbs are complex, often with more than one use. And yet they are also subtle, meaning they are both gentler on the body than pharmaceuticals yet also deeper-acting. A good herbalist must know their herbs well, just as any craftsman must know their tools.
 
But it's not about learning more and more herbs – it is much better to learn a few plants very well than have a large but shallow materia medica. Each plant can be used to treat many things, and the more we are able to match the complexity of the herb to the complexity of the person, the better chance it will actually work because it will be more specific for their imbalance. Don't look for the “new best herb” - find the herb you already know that is best. The perfect herb for a person is often the herb that you have on-hand and best matches what you're looking for.
 
However, no matter how complex a problem is, once you answer three basic questions, you can come up with a short list of useful herbs. This creates an easy equation to narrow down your choices and create better results. And although it works best when you know your herbs well, to use this equation all you really need is a good reference book.
 
The basic equation is simple:
Action + Body System + Strength = Herb Choice. 
 
 
FIVE FACTORS IN HERB CHOICE
 
Now you're ready to think about herb choices.
 
The simplest approach is to figure out which action is needed and the location in the body you want to affect. Look up an herb in any quality herbal book and you will see a list of the aformentioned herbal action terms (e.g. diuretic, anti-inflammatory, astringent, etc.) Many books will also have a complete list of these actions and their definitions. Then you need to figure out where in the body the herb has its greatest affect, what is its “system affinity.” And finally, how strong an herb it is. You will generally need stronger herbs for problems that are short-term (acute) and gentler herbs for chronic issues.
 
This will get you a short list of very good herb choices, and it is fine to stop there. To get an even more accurate herb choice, you can fine-tune your choices with three more elements. Namely, thinking about the relative strength of the herb (tonic, acute, or low-dose), its energetics (hot or cold, building or clearing), and any specific indications of the plant (additional attributes not obvious from the previous qualities).
 
This is our basic equation. To illustrate its usefullness, let's look at each of these steps and learn more about how to choose the most appropriate herb for a specific problem AND the unique person.
 
ACTIONS
Most herb books will list the action of each herb and have a glossary to define these terms, so we won't cover every possible term here. Some terms are most likely familiar (anti-inflammatory, diuretic, expectorant, analgesic), and some are unique to herbal therapy (alterative, adaptogen, nervine).
 
Think about these as a short hand version of what the herb can do, its “resume” so to speak. You won't know everything about a plant by knowing its action terms, but it does give you a broad idea of the herbs actions, and these are the basic categories that most all herbalists use when beginning their herb choice.
 
So begin by thinking about what action is needed – do you need an anti-microbial herb or an anti-allergy herb? Someone with edema (water retention) might do well with a diuretic herb, someone with cramps could use an anti-spasmodic. We could go much deeper into treatment strategy and how that affects action choice, but that is beyond the scope of this introductory article.
 
 
SYSTEM AFFINITY
Herbs tend to have an “affinity” for certain body systems (in old books this was called its “tropism”). So it's not enough to choose an anti-spasmodic for cramping – Black Cohosh is excellent for menstrual cramps, but Ginger would be a far better choice for cramping in the digestive system. Even within an action like “nervine” (a tonic for the nervous system), you could use Skullcap to relax tension from over-thinking, while Pedicularis would be better for muscular tension and over-use of the body.

This information is not always included in an herb book directly, so sometimes you need to read into the text and see what diseases the herbs treat, then think about what system that affects.

STRENGTH
When it comes to the strength of an herb, I like to think about there being three main categories: Tonics, Acute herbs, and Heroic herbs. Although not every herb fits neatly into one of these categories, understanding the strength will help you better match the herb to the severity of the imbalance.

Tonic herbs are the backbone of modern herbal medicine. These are herbs that can be taken for long periods of time and create balance in the body, or nourish and tone either the whole body or one particular organ system. These herbs really shine in both preventative medicine and also in long-term care and healing of chronic disease.

Acute herbs are used for situations that are going on right now. When someone has a cold or a headache, or is in acute pain, then we reach for one of these remedies. They are more about treating an illness or symptom than about creating balance in the body.

Heroic herbs are strong herbs that have a strong effect on the body. We try to avoid these in general, but there are times when a very strong remedy is called for. They have the possibility of throwing the body out of balance, but they can also save lives. This type of healing, by the way, is the focus of modern medicine; whereas herbal medicine prefers using building and balancing herbs.

Here's an example. If it is flu season and your friends are getting sick and you feel like you've been working hard, you may want to take Astragalus because it is an immune "Tonic" that helps restore the strength of the immune system and build more white blood cells. But if you are already feeling sick, then it is too late to build. You need to fight the infection! So you could take Echinacea as an "Acute" herb to stimulate your immune system. Echinacea is better at getting the body going than at preventing disease.

If the infection got really bad, you could go for some of the heavy hitters, but don't use "Heroic" herbs unless you really know what you're doing. There are herbs like Poke root, Lomatium, and Coptis that could be used for bad infections, and antibiotics would also fall in the Heroic category as a substance that can kill infection but often has side effects.

If your herb book doesn't mention the strength of the herb, look at the dosages to get a better idea of how strong it might be. Since different herbalists use different dosing strategies, the best bet is to compare dosages within the book.

These are the 3 basic characteristics to think about when choosing an herb to help someone. This article will be added to and edited again in the near future, so let me know your questions in the comments section below, and I will include my answers in the next version right here.


by CoreyPine Shane on September 28th, 2014

Healing from a Broken Bone
 
You would think that breaking my first bone at age 45, I would at least have an interesting story to tell. Having scrambled up trees after shelf mushrooms, hopped across slippery rocks in fast-moving streams, jumped from boulder to boulder, and hiked many miles of uneven trails through the woods, and what happens? I slip and fall coming out the front door of a friend's house and break my lower fibula just above the ankle.
 
It does prove that there IS preventative medicine for fractures – when you are really exhausted from a day of work, just go to bed. Don’t try to keep doing things after you are just plain done for the day. And of course, we can all benefit from nourishing our bones (and teeth by inference) before something like this happens. Don’t wait until you’re 70 to start building your bones – keep nourishing them your whole life.
 
The great thing about being an herbalist is that when something happens in my body, I get to figure out the best thing to do, and then I get to teach others. This protocol I’ve come up with for broken bones could also be used to treat osteoporosis, osteopenia, or just to strengthen your bones in general. This information has come from books, herbalist friends and colleagues, my wife Karen Savage Shane, and other healers. And after a number of requests for what I’m doing, I am writing a blog so that we all can learn.
 
Patience
The part that has been the biggest challenge is having the patience to let my body heal. It’s been two months now and I am walking fairly normally at last, which has been hard enough to take, especially as it has been my right foot, my driving foot. But I am still reminding myself to keep taking the remedies, even though I fell so much better. Bones take 18 months to fully heal.
 
So often I see clients, and even myself, excited by the quick symptomatic results of herbal remedies, but get impatient with how long the deeper healing takes. And it does take consistency – tonic herbs are like special food. No one would think that eating one fresh vegetable a month would help much, and it's the same with herbs - it takes bringing herbs into your life to create healing.
 
So I have this to say: Thank you, oh clients of mine – I have such empathy for you right now! It is hard to take all those teas and make those dietary changes, and then keep doing them week after week. And I have also seen how much things can change when you do those things.
 
Therapy
There are 3 main stages of fractures – Inflammation Stage, Reparative Stage, and Remodeling Stage. What’s most important is that we use one set of treatments for the initial Inflammation Stage, lasting about 2 weeks, and different remedies for the repairing and rebuilding stages that follow. For the initial stage, herbs can help reduce the initial pain and inflammation, and as the initial inflammtion goes down, there are many remedies and foods that can help rebuild and strengthen the damaged bone.
 
For the first couple weeks and especially the first couple of days, it is very much a first aid type situation. The first thing I did was take a homeopathic Arnica 200C (if you have Arnica 30C that works fine too, but 200C potency will be more effective). Karen is a trained homeopath, and she gave me Arnica 1M the first few days. The “M” remedies should only be used by an experienced homeopath, but can be incredibly effective. Arnica is a great remedy for all kinds of trauma – bruising, shock, sore muscles, dental surgery (I took it before and after my root canal), and yes, even broken bones. Please note that taking a lower potency like 30C after taking a higher potency like 200C or 1M will lower the healing effects.
 
I alternated the homeopathic with herbal tinctures of Turmeric (Curcuma longa) and Willow (Salix nigra) as anti-inflammatories, and occasional Chinese Corydalis (Corydalis yanhusuo) for the pain. I started taking Comfrey tincture (Symphytum officinale) internally as soon as the doctor said the bone didn’t need to be set. Comfrey is one of our best herbs for healing bone and tissue, both internally and externally, and is so good at healing bone that I wanted to be sure not to take it until the bone was set or I knew it didn’t need to be. Comfrey is safe for short-term use but caution should be used if taking it long-term because of possible liver implications. I also took a Chinese formula, San Qi 17, the first week.
 
Mostly I worked externally at first, using a combination of Chinese herbs, western herbs, and homeopathy. I did not, however, use ice after the first day. Chinese medicine says never to use ice on injuries because it causes the blood to form adhesions, slows down healing, and tightens the tendons and tissue. Though it can be useful in the first couple hours to stop the spread of inflammation, I never use ice after that because I want there to be a smooth flow of new nutrients into the damaged area, and that blood flow also allows removal of waste products.
 
That said, I rotated 3 different remedies externally: Traumeel (homeopathic blend of Arnica and other remedies), a Chinese liniment for trauma called Zheng Gu Shui (widely available at many health food stores and Asian markets), and a Comfrey salve. I also used DMSO with some of these remedies to allow the medicine to penetrate more deeply.
 
Within the first week, I started eating food and taking supplements to build bone and connective tissue health. After all, it's not just the bone that’s injured; there is always injury to the soft tissue, tendons and ligaments around a bone that’s been that badly injured.
 
To that end, I have been drinking a lot of bone broth (see recipe from previous blog on Winter Health), which provides some of the amino acids and proteins necessary for healing, as well as a wide variety of minerals that the bone needs specifically. It also contains glucosamine and chondroitin, found in the connective tissue of mammals, which you may know as supplements for joint health - but I always prefer food to supplements when available.
 
And there are also great supplements for bone health – I have been taking Vitamins D3 and K in capsules, and teaspoons of Calms’ powdered Magnesium in water. Vitamin C is also very important for bone health, but I have been getting that by eating a lot of fresh seasonal fruit. I’ve also been taking Gaia Herbs’ Hawthorn solid extract by the teaspoonful, which is helpful for its Vitamin C content as well as a very rich array of anti-oxidants to help quell the damage caused the by free radicals released in the inflammatory response.

I also took a liquid trace mineral supplement made by Clark's that I feel is very effective. You can find more information on that particular supplement here.
 
But in the end it comes down to actually taking the medicines. The best knowledge in the world won’t help if you don’t actually use it! It takes a while to build bone, and it can take a while to heal from chronic disease as well. Treating the initial injury is easy, but we neeed to keep nourishing and building so that we remain strong  throughout our lives. And that is the ultimate lesson of herbal healing.

by CoreyPine Shane on July 2nd, 2014

Many people see spring as the ultimate time for wild food, with tender greens like chickweed and violets and cooked greens like fresh young nettles. But there are plenty of wild edibles this time of the year, too. You just need to know what to look for! My friend and colleague Frank Cook used to say, “Eat something wild every day” and eating wild food nourishes our spirit in a way that can’t be explained by nourishing our “wild self.”
 
My most recent exploration into wild foods is Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca). An abundant plant over most of the eastern half of the U.S., it grows in fields and meadows in prolific abundance. Best known as the preferred plant of the monarch butterflies, it is also a tasty edible – as long as you know you have the right species. This is a tall plant with wide hairy leaves growing abundantly in fields. Some of the species that are native may have toxic glycosides, but they will also taste bitter, whereas common milkweed tastes like a yummy vegetable.
I had always been taught that this plant needs to be cooked in two changes of water, but Samuel Thayer set me straight. His excellent books on wild foods, “Nature’s Garden,” (2010) and “The Forager’s Harvest” (2006) go so far beyond other wild foods books there’s not really any comparison. And from his books I learned that rather than blanching the hell out of them, you can cook either the unopened buds, the shoots or the young seedpods either by steaming, boiling or even throw it in a stir-fry.
 
So last night I ate the young flower buds two different ways, first by boiling for just about 5 minutes and eating with a bit of butter and salt. This gave a sweet vegetable taste that reminded me of peas, but I can’t find the exact word for describing the flavor except for “Yummy.”
 
I also tried clipping the flower buds off the cluster and frying it with onions and asparagus, but the flavor got lost in the mix. Still, a great texture. For most of you reading this, you can probably find a nearby meadow or pasture and harvest as many flowers as you want to eat! Just don’t get that milky latex that leaks out of the stem on your nice pants. And wash your pruners or knife afterwards, or they will be sticky for days.
 
Another great edible this time of year is Lambsquarters (Chenopodium album) which is a common weed of gardens throughout the U.S. This plant is in the same family as spinach, but it doesn’t have the same amount of iron as spinach. It has, in fact, about THREE TIMES as much!! In “Wild Edible Plants of New England” author Joan Richardson says it “even outclasses spinach as a storehouse of protein, calcium, phosphorous, vitamin C, and great amounts of vitamin A.”
 
As the season goes on, it gets eaten up, so when it gets to be about 2-3 feet tall, I cut it back and cook it up (it is also excellent but like spinach contains some oxalic acid which can contribute to kidney stones if eaten in excess). I cook it in soups or add it in after my kale has been cooking for 10 minutes because it cooks pretty quickly. Also great in stir-fries with other veggies.
 
Another great idea for getting wild greens into your diet is pesto. Most folks are stuck on the idea of pesto being about basil, but you can use whatever greens you like. One of my favorites is a spring-time nettles-chickweed pesto, which to me is the taste of spring (you could still enjoy it time of year up north perhaps, but it is too late here in NC). Lambsquarters makes a great pesto, mixed with some fresh olive oil, pecans and garlic. Don’t get hung up on the pine nuts either, by the way – though my favorite nut is pecans, you can save some bucks by using sunflower seeds or walnuts too.
 
So hopefully that gets you started on the wild foods train this summer. What are your favorite edible plants of summer? Leave a comment below and maybe I’ll cover it in the next blog!
 


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