Monday, September 14, 2009

An Interesting Experience with Lobelia

A few weeks ago one of my dachshunds injured his neck. Rusty has a history of cervical spine problems and he’ll do something, play too hard, get swatted by a large Akita paw, or something else that will trigger severe muscle spasms and pain. Historically this pain/spasm ordeal has lasted weeks, and I’ve had to resort to using a prescription muscle relaxer, Methocarbamol, and a strong anti-inflammatory, Deramaxx (COX-II), along with chiropractic adjustments to resolve the discomfort. When Rusty was badly injured by one of my Akitas several years ago and developed gangrene he lost much of the muscle in one shoulder, and on the opposite side of his neck. This makes his musculature unbalanced at best, and when his neck problem flares up it’s even worse.
I immediately put him on the usual drugs and called my vet for an appointment for chiropractic adjustments. Then I started thinking; Rusty hates Dr Iain now. When he had gangrene it was Iain who saved his life, several times. Dr Iain did multiple surgeries and had to go in daily to debride dead tissue. Rusty was in a great deal of pain despite drugs for pain management and as a result Dr Iain became “the bad guy”. I was pretty sure Rusty would not relax for chiropractic adjustments, so that Dr Iain wouldn’t be able to help him. I called and cancelled the appointment.
What to do? Rusty was on the highest dose of Methocarbamol and Deramaxx and it wasn’t enough. My little buddy was still having severe spasms in his neck and shoulder that radiated down one leg. I could see his muscles spasm from across the room. He would awaken in the middle of the night and scream sometimes. I had to do something.
I posted a query on Facebook to my network of herbal friends and got a reply from Karen Vaughn suggesting Lobelia.  I had plenty of the tincture, having made a batch last year. Also, I’d noticed on walks through my yard and along trails that Lobelia was everywhere this year, far more than in years before. My instincts tell me that when an herb starts to grow profusely around me it’s telling me to “look at me, study me, use me!”
I was hesitant. I’d only used this powerful herb in tiny doses before, for migraines a friend suffers. Michael Moore had recommended it to me last summer as an ally for the terrible pain of passing kidney stones, but I didn’t use it as I managed to pass my stones remarkably easy without having to use pain meds or strong herbs at all. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to calculate a dose for a fifteen pound dog without causing him harm or at least some vomiting, which would only make his problem worse.
But I had to do something. My little friend was suffering, and the drugs weren’t helping. We had nowhere else to go. So I dosed him with one drop of tincture in a bit of water and watched. I thought I saw a small improvement. I dosed him again, this time three drops, and sure enough, could see it was working. I made a formula for him using one part Lobelia, two parts Solomon’s Seal (for helping to realign muscles and connective tissues), and four parts Skullcap (nervine) tinctures and gave it to him every three hours. By nightfall I had him completely off the Methocarbamol and the next day I discontinued the Deramaxx.
Rusty’s spasms stopped. He’d come to me and ask for his herbs if I was late. He typically does this, has always been very aware and involved with his treatments, and so is one of my best teachers. I kept him on the formula for a week, gradually decreasing the frequency, always making sure he got it first thing in the morning and at bedtime, with other doses when he asked for it.
Within a week he was completely back to normal. I was amazed, and thankful. Once again Rusty forced me to take a chance and learn something. He now has a new ally, and won’t have to have drugs for his chronic problem.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A Fall Poem

Alban Elfed
the air is different today
the wind sings with a new tone
sighing of changes
the harvest gathered
a flower, a nut
some mead, and bread
a candle and a prayer
returning the fruits
in thanksgiving
to the grove
and receiving
it's blessing

Sunday, August 23, 2009

A Student's Tribute to Frank Cook

The passing of Frank Cook has been on my mind very much these last few days. When you meet someone like Frank, so vital, strong, and wise, it is difficult to accept that they too are mortal and can succumb to disease or accident.
I remember meeting him for the first time in May of 2007, up at Soulflower, Ceara Foley’s magic home and Herb Sanctuary, where we, as students of Appalachia School of Holistic Herbalism would meet for long Saturdays filled with herbal lessons and fun.
Such a presence! He was there that weekend to talk to us about fermentation, and the values of fermented foods as both food and medicine. Highly educated, well spoken, and earthy at the same time, Frank was unique among men. I remember sitting in a circle in the back yard, talking about dreds and plant spirits and the Five Tibetans. To me he was the Green Man personified.
I remember taking copious notes, trying to get onto the pages of my notebook the very important things he had to share that could change my life, make me healthier, and in turn enrich the lives of my future students and clients. So very many things I wrote down in quotes, feeling they would be important to me as I looked through and organized my notes later. As I went through these notes the past few days I clearly heard that wonderful deep voice as if hearing him that day two years ago.
Together with Joshua Reeves he taught me how to make my first batches of Kombucha and Mead. Together we, students, Ceara, Frank, and Joshua sampled and tasted many different Kombuchas. That was my first introduction to fermentation and the magic of it. Of course I went right out and purchased Sandor Katz’ “Wild Fermentation” and Sally Fallon’s “Nourishing Traditions” and explored what was a whole new world for me. I learned new habits I use today and I wonder how I managed without those skills.
Later that month Frank taught us on his Materia Medica for the Urinary System, something I paid close attention to, as I, being a typical Libra, have some kidney issues. I remember Frank saying “”Kidneys have consciousness, are sensitive beings prone to fears, stress, worry, doubt, loneliness, and fear of rejection.” If that didn’t hit the nail on the head I’ll hush.
One thing about Frank, he didn’t limit himself to teaching us about plants; he focused on the Spiritual as well. He taught us that every organ, every system of the body, was part of the whole and had individual personalities that blended and became the whole of us. One way to heal kidney issues he recommended was to “Have conversations with people who make you angry, even if they are dead or unapproachable. Talk to their higher self.” I’ve had several rather meaningful conversations with my own grandmother since then, and I have to say they have been profound. “We must honor our kidneys, become better at expression, as our kidneys hold all this if we don’t”. And “Do not burden them”, “Become creative with the stress in your life”.
When I had a frightening experience with kidney stones last year Frank was one of the teachers I turned to for wisdom. He was generous with his help, emailing me with advice and helping to calm my fears. As a result I managed to pass on my own a very large and “unpassable” (ha!) stone with a minimum of discomfort, largely due to remaining calm and somewhat fearless. Between the advice of Frank and Michael Moore (another great loss to the world) I accomplished the almost impossible, and am healthy today because of their teachings.
Frank encouraged us most of all to “Know your plant families”. I admit this is a weakness for me.  For so many years I’d turn to my guidebooks and look in the section with the yellow flowers in order to identify some plant with yellow flowers, bypassing altogether the family.  Still today I realize that I don’t focus on the family, but am still stuck on individual identification. If I can do one thing, take one action to honor Frank as my teacher I believe learning my families to be that thing. After all, here was a man who resolved to learn all the plant families of the WORLD. Surely I can focus on my beloved Appalachian plants and learn those! So, that is my resolution, to honor Frank and to improve my own knowledge and understanding of the plant world.
Yesterday on a walk with neighbors on their land hunting for Elderberries and Boneset my friend Deborah pointed out a plant and asked me what it was. Unknown to me, but I touched it, found opposite leaves and square stem and knew it to belong to the mint family.  Frank’s face appeared before me, smiling. I smiled back inside and thanked him for his wisdom.
And finally, as I turn through the pages of my notebook, I find these last quotes from Frank;
“Our greatest healer is the wise and ancient being inside our core. Gain confidence to face the fears that come with illness.”
“Remember....everybody dies.”

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Mullein; a Versatile Healer

Blog Party!! This month's party is hosted by Darcey Blue over at Check out her blog for links to all participating blogs. Enjoy!

I was driving up my road the other day and spotted the largest stand of Mullein I’ve ever seen, along the previously Roundup’d banks of a neighbor’s home. “This guy has some problems” I thought to myself, as I am a believer that what we need most grows profusely around us. This home was literally surrounded by Mullein, most of it second year and made even more spectacular by the multitude of yellow-flowered stalks rising from the poisoned ground. The vision of that bank stayed with me and prompted me to research and write this.

Not native to North America, the seed of the plant were likely brought over on early settlers’ footwear or ships’ ballast, much as Plantain was. Mullein, or Verbascum thapsus, is a biennial herb, with a rosette of leaves the first year, and shooting up a tall stalk with flowers the second. It is easily recognized by the large fuzzy leaves and the tall stalk with yellow flowers. Growing almost everywhere, Mullein prefers the sun and poor soils where the land has been abused, so it is frequently seen along roadsides and semi-bare construction areas. Other names for it are Wooly Mullein, Flannel Plant, Candle Wick, and Quaker Rouge.

Mullein has been used to treat a multitude of ailments, and the history is well documented; One well known use is for lung issues, namely colds, coughs, asthma, bronchitis, tuberculosis and Flu. Some evidence exists that the seeds were once used as a fish poison; crushing them and scattering them in water created a layer of saponins on the surface, which caused the fish to rise to the surface to be easily caught. Quaker women liked to rub the fuzzy leaves on their cheeks to impart a nice glow when being courted. The stalk, dried, can be dipped in tallow or wax and used as a torch. The leaves can even be used as emergency toilet paper, but use caution, as some folks itch terribly when the leaf comes into direct contact with skin. Hikers and folks caught out in cold weather can use the leaves to line socks and shoes for added insulation against cold.

Modern day scientists have proven its effectiveness against colds and Flu, Staph a, Staph e, and E coli, and have identified components that act directly against the viruses Herpes simplex and Influenza.

All parts of the plant have uses in medicine, except the seed, which should not be used. The root can be dug from either a first year or second year plant before it shoots up a stalk. One can make tea or tincture. It is effective for back pain and bone breaks, causing the muscles and tendons to realign the spine or breaks. It also tightens the trigone muscle at the base of the bladder to help remedy incontinence. Try it along with Kegel exercises for stress incontinence. Some Herbalists have reported it effective against Bell’s Palsy when combined with St John’s Wort.

The fuzzy leaves can be harvested at any time and used. The plant is even green over the winter here in the Appalachians. Use the leaves to poultice broken bones, make tea, tincture, or syrup (Always strain Mullein products through a coffee filter before use, as the tiny hairs can be quite irritating to the throat!) and take for colds, Flu, bronchitis, and asthma. To make a tea select about one cup of leaves with no mold spots, either dried or fresh, and simmer in a quart of water for thirty minutes, strain carefully through a coffee filter, sweeten with honey, and serve warm. A syrup can be prepared by simmering for thirty minutes and decocting until reduced by two thirds volume, then add two parts honey, glycerin, or even molasses. For a tincture I use fresh leaves, 1:1 in 100 proof alcohol. A salve can be prepared from Mullein oil, either from leaves or flowers, and used for skin infections and minor wounds, burns, herpes lesions, and bruises.

Mullein is expectorant, demulcent, and antispasmodic, so really helps with chronic cough. Some Herbalists use the leaves for back issues as well. The leaves have been smoked to relieve lung ailments, ease asthma, and quiet coughs, and it has some sedative properties that can promote sleep, making it valuable in treatment of endless coughing fits that drain the energy and keep one from rest. Use care in drying the leaves, as the thick center vein dries slowly and many a batch of dried herb has been ruined due to the still moist veins molding. I like to separate the center vein before drying, making it easier to rub the leaves to a fluffy consistency for smoking.

The flowers make the very best ear oil ever. Pick flowers from several stalks as they open, preferably in the morning after dew has dried. Drop them into a small jar and fill with olive oil. Let sit in a cool dark place for two to six weeks, strain and use. Children who are prone to earaches due to wax buildup especially benefit. Place a few drops in a child’s ear and watch as the pain goes away almost instantly. Leave the ears unplugged and allow the oil and wax to drain naturally overnight. Adding a second pillowcase or soft towel to the pillow is useful here. For infections and swimmer’s ear, try crushing a clove of garlic and adding that to your oil. It is my treatment of choice for ear mites and ear infections in my dogs too.

Watchouts and contraindications;
NEVER use the oil in ears that may have a perforated ear drum or in childrens’ ears with tubes!!!

Do not use Mullein flower oil and garlic combo on cats. Use the flower oil only and sparingly.

Avoid using Mullein if taking the drug Lithium, as it can intensify the effects.

Avoid using Mullein with muscle relaxing drugs for the same reason.
Some evidence exists that mullein is diuretic (although I have not found it to be so) and use should be avoided if taking prescription diuretics.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

First Egg!!

I got my first egg today! Wooo hooo! OK, stop laughing, this is a milestone for me, so let me revel.

The chickens are settling in well. Both mini-chicken houses were used last night, all the food was gone, and the whole flock met me at the gate this morning clamoring for food. Rocky had competition eating from the bowl I held.

Rocky looks different, acts different. He's standing much taller, almost completely erect, and strolls around like a lord among his ladies. I've noticed he stands around a lot watching them scratch and eat, like he's protecting them, as he gives a soft alarm call they all heed when one of the dogs gets nosey.

I kept hearing a chicken squawking earlier and ran out to see what was wrong. One hen (they don't have names yet) was standing outside the newest chicken house just squalling at the top of her lungs. She ran to me when I came in and I swear it was just like a kid coming to complain to mama. I understood immediately. (Yeah, that's weird, but apparently I speak chicken as well as I speak dog) Another hen was in that house, all settled down in one of the nesting boxes, and THIS hen was upset because SHE wanted that box! Too funny. I picked her up and talked to her and the other hen came back out. I set hen number one down and she immediately ran into the house and took over the box.

Those two hens are both claiming the house, although hen number two doesn't make a clatter when hen number one is in there. I just checked and number two was in there, with an egg. So I took it and she refused to leave the house, so she may be going broody, and the other one may be too, or they're just establishing territories and ranking order.

This promises to be a fun and interesting project, with the added bonuses of food and compost for my gardens. Neighbors were already asking me at breakfast this morning what I'll be selling eggs for! Cool!

That's all for now, I'm going to go eat my egg.

Monday, March 30, 2009

New Chickens!!!

I finally found some good chickens to buy, hens already laying. I've been watching Craigslist daily, hoping someone would find they just have too many hens. Sure enough, I saw an add today for Golden Comets, being sold to downsize the flock. I made a quick call and off I went to a small farm south of me. I found a nice place, with chickens, a couple of donkeys, a mule, an assortment of sweet dogs and a gorgeous tabby cat.

Everyone seemed very happy there, and if I had to describe the place in a single word it would be "harmonious". The chickens were pretty tame, and I stayed for a few minutes getting pointers on introducing them to Rocky and what feed they used. I was happy to see the health of these birds and the love they were shown by their owners, just the kind of birds I wanted!
I stopped off at the store on the way home to grab oyster shell and a fresh bag of layer mix to tide me over till I can mix my own. I added a second chicken house to Rocky's pen and scattered fresh food and some greens from the garden, then brought the girls in and turned them loose. Rocky went into rooster mode immediately and chased a couple of them a little before seeming to realize they are all hens, then he settled down to scratch with them and occasionally act studly. All in all he's a pretty well mannered guy, so things calmed down nicely and when I left they were flocking together. Soon I hope to have fresh eggs, so I can finally give some to my brother who has been picking on me for the past year about my "success" as a chicken farmer!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Spring Awakenings

It's almost spring here on Grassy Mountain. This is a time of transition, with weather extremes; one week we celebrate almost record temperatures and can wander around in shirtsleeves, and the next we have ice and snow everywhere!

As I write this we are on day four of a cold rain, but it is most welcomed, as it will help my gardens get off to a good start and will jump start the greening of the mountain.

I've spent the last two weeks alternately hunkered down with the dogs by the wood stove and getting out to hike here and with friends.

I've managed to get all of my gardens ready, cardboarding the disaster of the culinary herb garden, trying to kill the Comfrey there that some fool (read Sam) transplanted last year to a new spot. Of course the Comfrey roots left in the culinary garden thrived after being cut, and I had plants everywhere. Cardboarding and heavily mulching will get rid of them, but unfortunately will also kill my Oregano.

Not to worry though, as I'll be attending the annual Asheville Herb Festival in early May and will replenish my gardens with new young plants. If you're local to this area you should check them out. It's a great source for locally grown herbs and garden plants and seeds, and features many other herbal and hand made products. It's always good to support local growers and businesses, and I enjoy the chance to keep my money local.

This year I will be trying something new for the vegetable garden, as I have such limited space and want to grow more yummy stuff. I'm going to train all my summer squash and zucchini plants up a trellis, and my tomatoes will be moved to upside down buckets hanging from the barn. That way I'll have more room for the other plants. My Jerusalem Artichokes should fare well, as I didn't do a complete harvest last fall. I left a lot of the tubers untouched, so the bed will spread. The 'chokes will become my potato substitute.

I'm also trying something new in my community, and will be holding a FREE "Ask the Herbalist Day" on Tuesdays at the local Switzerland Cafe. This is a great little cafe and General Store run by friends Ann and Lora. If you're in the area please check them out. They have the freshest salads and the best quiche anywhere.

Anyway, back to the subject at hand. Every Tuesday at 2 PM I'll be setting up at a table outside and holding court with anyone who comes along. I'll be available for all herb related questions. Folks can bring samples or photos of weeds in their yards for help with identification and a brief talk about the best uses for the plant. General questions about health will be entertained and discussed, and I'll have my herb books, press book, weed of the month handouts, and may even have a plant of the week present for discussion. It's a way I can provide service to my community, and hopefully make new contacts and friends who will then go on to attend a class or herb walk.

Chickens. Well, I have to admit, I stink as a chicken farmer! As I last reported, I ended up with what I thought was two roosters and one hen. But that hen just never would lay any eggs. I checked every day for my first "free range egg" to no avail. Then one day I noticed "her" comb was growing, and "she" was growing some suspicious looking tail feathers to boot. My hen I'd watched so closely was none other than a crossdressing rooster! Great. No eggs. After a time the three began to fight, and my favorite one, the white one I named Rocky was getting the worst of it. I finally butchered the two mean red ones and now have this one pretty white rooster that comes when I call and stands to be petted. But no eggs.

I'll remedy that in April with the addition of several hens purchased from a local hatchery who keeps pullets till they are about ready to begin to lay. No more biddies for me!

I've spent the last few days updating my website, so please do check it out when you get a chance.

And that's all for now folks!