July has been a busy month as I prepare for the fall Community Support Herbalism box on top of all the other beautiful madness that summer brings on Salt Spring. I can’t complain, I’ve been busy out in the sunshine on mountains and beaches harvesting and exploring the bio-diversity of British Columbia. Many people have been asking what I will have in the fall box (September 21st) and I thought I’d give an update on what can be expected and on my journey so far. Its been amazing to have the motivation to wildcraft and prepare medicine knowing that its going to be in medicine cabinets throughout Canada by the fall. Here is a little preview of what I’ve been preparing so far in case it finds its way to you this autumn equinox.
Beauty by the Sea: Grindelia spp.
If there ever was a plant that could completely lure you in with your eyes closed, gumweed or Grindelia would be it. For the fall CSH share I am excited to offer a gumweed honey extract, an extraordinary experience for the senses. It was also exciting to wildcraft this particular plant this year as I had found my special trove of Grindelia last year a little too late. This year I monitored a small plant stand near my house to gauge its flowering time before heading out to my location where it is abundant. I brought along my dear friend who was visiting from Ontario. When I introduced her to the taste and smell of gumweed she was smitten. As the name might illuminate, gumweed is a sweet smelling plant that wants to coat everything it touches in its delicious resin.
The species you will find in our coastal bio-region is integrifolia but there are many different species across North America and Mexico including G. squarrosa, G. robusta and G. camporum amoung many others. Grindelia loves to grow in open, gravel-like or disturbed areas with some species preferring saline coastal regions. There are some differences across species in terms of their constituent levels, but they can all be used interchangeably. Grindelia species contain varying levels of resins (Diterpenes: grindelic acids), essential oils (such as a-pinene), and flavonoids (such as quercetin and luteolin). These constituents contribute to Grindelia’s array of therapeutic indications.
Grindelia is most known for its usefulness in treating respiratory issues, typically those that are dry, paroxysmal and congested. I’ve used it successfully for those middle of the night coughing fits that leave your rib cage feeling bruised. It effectively relaxes the smooth muscles of the lungs and soothes the throat. This anti-spasmodic action could be due to the grindelic acid, one of many diterpene constituents found in Grindelia. As an expectorant, Grindelia helps to expel mucus from the lungs and hydrates the respiratory system. The combination of its anti-spasmodic and expectorating properties make it quite useful in treating smokers cough. The mixture of flavonoids present can also help control allergic reactions, from asthma or allergies such as hayfever by inhibiting the cox-2 inflammatory pathway and reducing the release of histamine (Frances Brinker 2006).Grindelia notably was part of the American Pharmacopeia until 1960 as a medication for ashthma!(Micheal Moore 2003) In addition, its anti-microbial resins help ward off not only lung infections but also urinary tract infections.
Aside from its respiratory properties, Grindelia has also been studied for its therapeutic topical indications. Due to its anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties, Grindelia works wonders for eczema and other dermatitis like skin irritations like poison oak. Apply a fresh hot infusion of the leaves and flowers or dilute the tincture and apply.
Summers Here: Hypericum perforatum
St Johns wort, or Hypericum perforatum, is by far the hottest celebrity of the herbal world. A household name, St Johns Wort has had some of the most coverage by clinical studies and is even a herb that your doctor might know about. You could write a whole textbook on this plant and cite thousands of resources that cover its therapeutic properties. However, despite its scientific back up this plant will not give away all of its mysteries, and that’s what gives it a touch of magic. St Johns Wort holds a special place in my heart as its one of few plants that has grown around me both in Ontario and British Columbia. Not only that, but I recently moved to an amazing house with a garden where it grows like a weed. This year I made both an oil and alcohol extract. I will be offering the alcohol extract for the September CSH. St Johns wort’s blooming period is right around solstice, so perfect as this plants flowers are bright yellow and vibrant. I’ve noticed through my workplace that people are extra interested in this plant during our darkest months of January and February. Instead of going for other natural anti-depressants, people tend to gravitate towards St Johns Wort. Me and my coworker feel strongly that people are craving that brightness that this plant captures during those long days of light. Just looking at it in its jar steeping, both in alcohol and oil, makes me feel content. Fun trick, hold up the leaves to the light and check out the tiny pinpricks of light that shine through, that’s where it gets its name perforatum. Or rub the petals between your fingers and watch them turn red.
Hypericum perforatum is best known for its anti-depressant action, and it deserves its fame as its been documented in medical writings since greco-roman times for its mental health benefits(Stargrove et al.). Much has been studied since, and St Johns wort climbed to fame in the 1990’s as a standardized extract*. It has been used to treat mild to moderate depression, anxiety, PMS, SADS, menopausal related mood disorders and insomnia with numerous clinical studies to support its efficacy. Some feel St Johns Wort can achieve similar effects to anti-depressants such as MAOI inhibitors or SSRI’s without the list of side effects. How St Johns Wort works on a chemical level still remains somewhat a mystery. Stargrove et al., state that it may function as a general neurotransmitter re-uptake inhibitor for all five neurotransmitters. In reducing the re-uptake of these neurotransmitters, such as dopamine or serotonin, we are allowing these feel good chemicals to be more available for the brain. The only downside of this amazing plant is how tricky it is to combine with other medications. St Johns Wort acts on a enzymatic pathway in the liver called CYP450, which is where many other drugs are metabolized. Without getting too into pharmacokinetics, this means SJW can either increase (inhibit metabolism) or decrease (induce metabolism) of the amount of the drug in your system which can create dangerous situations. Yes, plants can be just as dangerous as medications sometimes! Not to fear, just remember to do some research before combining it with other medications or supplements.
Hypericum perforatum has even more amazing benefits than just those that are psychological. This herb can work wonders for neuralgia, sciatica and rheumatic pain. It can be used internally and externally for its pain relieving qualities. Topically it can also speed up healing of bruises, wounds, varicose veins and burns.
These are two of the four plant extracts I will be offering in the fall CSH, Grindelia honey and St Johns Wort tincture. Stay tuned for the rest and contact me at email@example.com to become a member and receive a share.
* A standardized extract is an encapsulated plant extract that isolates one or more constituents and contains a certain percentage of this constituent per capsule. This form of herbal medicine tends to be more recognized by the scientific world and therefore more research is available.
Herb, Nutrient and Drug Interactions. 2008. Stargrove, Mitchell Bebel., Treasure, Jonathan., Mckee Dwight.
Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West. 2003. Micheal Moore
Brinker, Francis. Topical uses for Grindelia Species. Journal of American Herbalists Guild. Vol. 6 no. 2 2006.