As July slid into August I took a deep breath. July was full of work, wildcrafting trips and getting the CSH advertised and out there. I thought August would be relaxing but I was clearly wrong..and now its September! I have been looking forward to writing about two of my favourite plants and sharing them with CSH members, but only now have I found the time!
Arnica spp: The Yellow Miracle Worker
Whenever I mention to people that I wildcraft Arnica, their eyes light up. It seems as though Arnica has touched just about everyone, whether that’s in its homeopathic form Arnica montana or topically in a gel, cream or spray that thousands of different companies produce. Arnica has a great reputation, you might even find it in a pharmacy. Arnica has many different species, and I found it quite challenging to identify the species that I was harvesting. When you see spp. after the name of the genus of a plant,(as above), this refers to all species of the plant. On the west coast the predominant species are cordifolia and latifolia, but there is also A. mollis, A. longifolia and A. diversifolia. Cordifolia and Latifolia and very similar, however Cordifolia (heart leaf arnica) has bigger basal leaves and fever leaves on the stem than Latifolia (Broad leaf arnica). Regardless of species, all arnica can be used interchangeably. Arnica loves high elevations, moist meadows and old growth forests. High in volatile oils and resins, these beautiful yellow flowers smell terrific but subtle. Most people know about the properties of the flower heads, but the whole plant is active with useful constituents, including the root. Arnica contains sesquiterpene lactones, bioflavonoids such as quercetin, phenol carbonic acids and courmarins. Lets talk about what that means in terms of healing that sprained ankle, bruised rib or arthritic joint you might have!
Arnica can be used topically for any kind of inflammation, as long as there are no open wounds as it can cause irritation. This plant is a very effective anti-inflammatory, which is believed to be due to its sesquiterpene lactone helenalin and its esters. These sesquiterpene lactones inhibit NF kB, a protein complex that controls the production of inflammatory cytokines. It’s a super complicated way of saying that these constituents reduce the chaos and mess of cells that occur when you injure yourself or when you are experiencing chronic inflammation. Helenalin also increases phagocytosis (white blood cell clean up crew) and helps to disperse healthy blood flow to the affected tissues. This makes Arnica a useful ally in so many painful conditions like bursitis, osteo and rheumatoid arthritis, sprains, bruises, and general muscular strain. Topically most people will use it as an oil or liniment (alcohol).
Most sources will caution against using arnica internally as the sesquiterpene lactones are toxic and in high enough doses can cause cardiac arrest. I personally wouldn’t recommend using it as a tincture orally, but it has been used internally in low doses after traumatic injuries to reduce day after aches and pains. The homeopathic Arnica montana is a way safer option for this instance and is easy to find at a health food store.
Avena sativa: Slow down and Chill out
Who would think that the mushy plain cereal grain we all know as oats makes amazing medicine! I know as I was growing oats in my plot at the local community garden I had many questions. UH..is that grass you are growing? When I told people it was oats, they always assumed it was for food. Not so! Avena is super easy to grow (but fairly laborious to harvest) and can be tinctured or dried for tea. It was my first time growing it from seed, and part of my own personal learning curve was figuring out when to harvest it. Avena needs to be harvested in its “milky” stage; the bud oozes what looks like milk when you squeeze it. This stage only lasts a few days, so the harvest window is small. If you are imaging me squeezing these tiny little oats every day in frustration and anticipation then you are correct, my lack of patience certainly shined during this process. At first I was sure I had missed the window and then was schooled by my teacher that when it is too late the oats will turn paper like and brown. It was in this moment of impatience that I gained a new appreciation and understanding of avena. She’s definitely teaching me to chill out and be less of the type A person who needs to do everything all the time and to do it perfectly. With this lesson, the oats (finally) went into their milky stage and with delight I did my harvest. This too required a great amount of patience as pulling these little buds off their stem was not as relieving as I thought it would be. Alas, I have my avena tincture ready to go out for the CSH and lots of extra dried oats for tea. Thank you avena!
Avena sativa is your best friend when it comes to being a high strung, overworked nervous wreck. Its for those who are exhausted;maybe from depression, maybe burnout from activism, from chronic illness or even trauma. Avena is there to gently and bring us back to health and stability. Avena as medicine works slowly though, whether or not your at your most “turbo” level, as my partner would put it. Avena nourishes our nervous system with important minerals and antioxidants, but the science is lacking in how it improves nervous debility. We just know it works! The eclectics, our herbal founders who were legitimate doctors before the western medical establishment took over, used Avena in treating various forms of addiction from morphine to tobacco use. Its certainly worth a try when there is a desire to wean oneself off substances such as benzodiazepines, opiates, alcohol or stimulants. For most however, dealing with addiction requires much more than Avena, but its certainly a good support buddy to help with the debility that comes with withdrawal. In any case, give Avena a good three weeks to work its magic, its worth the wait.