29. August 2013 · Comments Off on Yarrow’s Garden Blog~GRINDELIA squarrosa~History Reveals · Categories: Ethnobotanical, Health and Healing, Plant Medicines, Wellness, Yarrow's Garden Blog

Curly-cup Gumweed ~A Scruffy Plant worth Finding

My passion for medicinal plants has taken an interesting twist this month. Quite by coincidence, I have been harvesting a local high prairie native, Grindelia squarrosa, for its exceptional ability to address the mucous congestion of coughs and bronchitis. At the same time, a tangential interest in the botanical findings of the Lewis and Clark Expedition (1804-1806), is providing a rich historical perspective into this valuable plant as medicine.

Augustpics 179On August 17, 1804, according to their notes, in the prairie habitat outside an Omaha Indian village in Dakota County, Nebraska, specimens of Grindelia squarrosa, also known as Curly-Cup Gumweed were collected as part of the expedition’s botanical findings during their three-year exploration of the American West. History is not one of my better suits, but looking through a botanical lens, my passion for plants finds this compelling. For all the times the question “What makes a plant native?” has been asked, we touch upon a perspective that gives us an answer. This plant was in common use by North America’s native Peoples prior to Anglo exploration.

Merriweather Lewis, an extraordinary naturalist, was chosen by then president Thomas Jefferson, to lead the expedition west across the northern tier of the Great Plains and beyond, with cartographer William Clark. They encountered village after village of Crow, Blackfeet, Cree, Cheyenne, Dakota, Flathead, Gros Ventres and Shoshone all using boiled decoctions of Grindelia as tea internally for coughs, pneumonia, digestive colic and urinary tract maladies. Topically the plant was commonly made into poultices for skin sores, swellings and poison-ivy-like blistering rashes.

Today, the genus Grindelia ranges widely in the US, Canada and south into the Chihuahuan region of Mexico, mostly west of the Mississippi River and into the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains. It presents as kind of a weedy, unkept plant, offering good medicine, but not particularly adding beauty to the landscape or a “proper” garden. Most mature plants are 2-3 feet in height, appear shrub-like, and grow in sandy, rocky and poor soils, along roadsides, building sites and open grasslands. July, 2013 083Most sources agree that Gumweed is a biennial or short-lived perennial, surviving on nothing more than the mercy of seasonal moisture. Grindelia squarrosa is host to the Blister Beetle (Zonitis sayi, Family: Meloidae), shown here.

Curly-cup Gumweed is a member of the Sunflower or Asteraceae family. Its oval, linear leaves clasp alternately to its sturdy erect stems. Leaf margins are broadly toothed; with leaf surfaces relatively smooth except for numerous resinous glands found throughout. Grindelia flowers are a bright golden yellow with flat disc surfaces up to 2cm in diameter. Flowering begins by mid-July, their discs initially covered by a sticky, milky sap. Some species of Grindelia are rayless (without petals), while others have short ray florets appearing after the milky stage. Each flower head is held in a cup-like structure called an involucre, covered with sticky curled bracts. It is at the milky stage that the flowers and leaves are gathered for medicine.

Augustpics 182Many types of remedies can be prepared from Grindelia. Fresh, the flowers can be made into a tincture, the resinous sap being extracted only by a high percentage grain alcohol. The leaves and flowers can be dried and later used as a tea. Both tea and tincture are useful for a dry, spasmotic cough, bronchitis, or for asthmatic breathing. Its medicine helps to break up sticky, dry phlegm so that a cough becomes productive. Grindelia has an affinity for the lungs, helps open the chest, promotes expectoration, and relaxes breathing.

Grindelia flowers can also be infused into a high quality olive oil for topical use at a later time. As a medicinal oil, soothing salve, a poultice, or in tincture form, Gumweed has a wide range of topical applications for poison ivy/oak reactions, insect bites, burns, eczema, bed sores, herpes lesions and stubborn wounds that resist healing. It promotes tissue repair, reduces inflammation, stops itching, and moistens and benefits the skin. NOTE: From personal experience, the alcohol tincture works best on poison ivy rashes because of the drying effect of the alcohol.

TSA_products 011This harvest season, I’ll be making an alcohol (organic) tincture and an oil infusion of this healing plant. Its pleasant, balsamic aroma is unmistakable and its medicine powerful. The kitchen will be a sticky mess before I’m finished, but the end result will be a great medicine for coughs, combined with with thyme, osha root, and hyssop. For an all-purpose healing salve (pictured right), I will combine grindelia, calendula, comfrey, and plantain. It is quite satisfying to create relationship with a plant prized so long ago, knowing that it is still appreciated and used for its healing gifts.

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PLEASE NOTE: Posts on Yarrow’s Garden Blog and Three Sisters Medicine are for educational and inspirational purposes only and not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment. Herbs are Medicine! Proceed with care. Self-diagnosis and self-treatment of serious medical conditions is inappropriate and unwise. If you have or suspect a medical condition, it is your responsibility to consult a medical practitioner for appropriate treatment.

THREE SISTERS APOTHECARY offers a variety of dry tea blends and tinctured formulations.Formulas are custom blended for your specific health and healing needs. Contact me at skyedarter@gmail.com or phone: 719.783.0465 to schedule an appointment.

 

10. August 2013 · Comments Off on Yarrow’s Garden Blog~The Medicinal Magic of Mint · Categories: Ethnobotanical, Flower Essences, Health and Healing, Plant Medicines, Wellness, Yarrow's Garden Blog

Walking through the knee-high grasses alongside the riffling waters of Grape Creek, I become aware of a familiar sweet-spicy aroma wafting around me. My boots flush through the dew-laden vegetation, now soaked with wet grass stains. Peering between the blades, I notice spikes of sturdy green stems bearing clusters of delicate lavender flowers. Mid-summer 096I feel the wetness as it soaks through my socks and the knees of my jeans.

To confirm my suspicions, I look for other clues to its identity. Squeezing the small notched leaf between my fingers, I inhale again, and am immediately taken by the rich, menthol, delicious scent as I bring it to my nose. Instantly my brain feels clear and focused, my body feels alive, my consciousness alert. I twirl the slender stem in my fingers and note its ridges; the stems are square.

Taking a moment, I begin noticing more detail. The opposite leaves grow smaller as they progress up the delicate stem from ground level to tip. The flowers cluster in whorls at the leaf axils, creating  a distinct pattern of segments along the stems. At this point I feel comfortable in saying that I have found Poleo Mint (Mentha arvensis), Colorado’s native field mint. Chokecherry Day 018I draw its strong pungent aroma into my lungs and once again feel my cells come alive with its cool, clarifying vapors.

Scanning the grasses, I notice several patches of the plant, enough to consider harvesting some, since flowering is the perfect time. As I cut, I am reminded that Poleo mint is the strongest of the true mints; stronger in both flavor and action than its European cousins, peppermint and spearmint. All members of the Lamiaceae (mint) family, the mints are best known for their ability to act kindly upon the digestive system, relieving indigestion, gas pains and bloating, intestinal cramping and nausea. Most commonly found in the kitchen, herbs such as oregano, lemon balm, thyme, rosemary and sage are all in this family and useful in cooking for flavoring and for digestive enhancement. The flavor of Poleo is pungent, slightly biting and sweet, with a camphorous taste due to the presence of its volitile, aromatic oils. Both warming and cooling, stimulating and relaxing, it potently promotes bile flow, reduces liver congestion, and settles the stomach.

Mentha arvensis can be found growing throughout the northern latitudes of the United States from the Great Lakes and Central Plains to west of the Rocky Mountains. Early tribes of the Upper Missouri River valued Poleo tea for its carminative, gas-relieving digestive properties. The Cheyenne and Blackfeet believed it strengthed the heart and vital organs. The Lakota and other tribes used the mint beverage to treat headaches, colds, coughs and fevers.

Popularized in the mid-18th century, European peppermint (Mentha piperita) was cultivated on plantations in England, France, Italy, Greece and Germany mainly for distilling its valuable oil. Spearmint (Mentha spicata) is pungent and sweet, energetically neutral–not as warming or cooling– and has a more gentle digestive effect.

Chokecherry Day 012In contemporary herbal pharmacology, the value of Poleo and its related mints goes beyond its known digestive properties. Used interchangeably for colds and flu (Poleo being the strongest), they can promote sweating, reduce a fever, promote productive expectorating and open the sinuses. A sinus steam using peppermint essential oil will clear the nasal passages and promote fuller, deeper breathing in conditions such as asthma, bronchitis and laryngitis. As a warming stimulant, Mentha increases internal warmth through circulatory stimulation and can encourage the onset of a sluggish or delayed menstrual flow. Massaging peppermint oil infused into a carrier (such as sweet almond or olive oil) on the abdominal area has proved effective for that condition. Other topical uses of peppermint oil include treatment of inflammation from burns, scalds, acne, hives and poison ivy, primarily through its drying effect. In a spray with other essential oils such as lavender, rosemary or sage, peppermint is a very effective natural insect repellant.

In flower essence form, peppermint promotes mental clarity, quickens thinking, and heightens and uplifts the spirits. It enhances mindfulness and conscious alertness, fostering a deepened sense of aliveness and well being.

The cultivated varieties of peppermint and spearmint are easy to propagate……perhaps too easy. In moderately amended organic soil with a fair amount of watering, the perennial mints are notorious for spreading vigorously by creeping root stock, and difficult to control in most garden settings. If peppermint is something you would like to grow in your own garden, my suggestion is to plant it in a container. It will grow happily there without invading other areas of your garden where you will eventually lose your liking for the plant. Harvesting of the aerial parts of the herb is best when it is in bloom.

As I move through the grasses, I find several more patches of this good medicine. Feeling blessed with plenty, I cut what I need, offer my gratitude and return home, to prepare, dry and store my bountiful harvest for winter- long enjoyment. I most appreciate the clarity and mindfulness that Poleo tea brings, especially at times when I am in need of creative inspiration.

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PLEASE NOTE: Posts on Yarrow’s Garden Blog and Three Sisters Medicine are for educational and inspirational purposes only and not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment. Herbs are Medicine! Proceed with care. Self-diagnosis and self-treatment of serious medical conditions is inappropriate and unwise. If you have or suspect a medical condition, it is your responsibility to consult a medical practitioner for appropriate treatment.

THREE SISTERS APOTHECARY offers a variety of dry tea blends and tinctured formulations.Formulas are custom blended for your specific health and healing needs. Contact me at skyedarter@gmail.com or phone: 719.783.0465 to schedule an appointment.