Our Herbs Blog
“Alternative” Healthcare: March 2, 2015
In my teaching at Maryland University of Integrative Health (MUIH), I interact with many nutrition students. Every term, there is a different fad diet that the new students are all excited about. Right now, “alternative” healthcare is a popular “fad” with consumers. The whole concept astounds me. Herbs are the original healthcare. They are not new or alternative. Until recent history, there was no “alternative.” Many allopathic drugs are derived from herbs, such as digitalis and birth control pills and tamoxifen. A (truly) new trend in ethnomedicine is for drug companies to go into various tribal cultures to study the plant medicines they use and what the plants are used for in an effort to make new allopathic medicines. I think it is very important that we remember that herbal medicine is not new or alternative. It is the wisdom of the ages, handed down through generations, shared among cultures, and universally available. The irony to me is that as “western” cultures are starting to embrace it, many long-standing indigenous cultures around the world are moving away from it. I have seen this firsthand in Peru, I have studied it in Mexico and India, and I have seen news stories about it in Africa. We need to make sure this knowledge is not lost.
The prevalent argument against using herbal medicine is that there is no “scientific proof” that the herbs works. This is an untrue statement. The proof is in the results. The clinical trials are the centuries of successful use of a specific plant for a specific condition. (This is exactly what the FDA does in Stage 3 clinical trials, except for a much shorter period of time and with many fewer subjects.)
What science has often been unable to show is HOW the herb effects the result (treatment). Our western society wants to understand every step along the pathway to healing. This is not always feasible. For instance, as Stephanie said, we (at least she and I) don’t understand how cell phone signals travel or how the cloud works, but it does! We don’t always need to understand things to have proof that they work. The proof is in the result: I can talk to people far away on my cell phone, and this blog is stored in the cloud.
Here’s an example: erectile dysfunction can be treated with Viagra (sildenafil citrate) or Ginkgo (Gingko biloba). From the label, here are the WORST side effects of Viagra (there are more):
“Do not take VIAGRA (sildenafil citrate) tablets if you:
- take any other medicines called nitrates, often prescribed for chest pain, as this may cause a sudden, unsafe drop in blood pressure.
- are allergic to sildenafil, as contained in VIAGRA and REVATIO, or any of the ingredients in VIAGRA….
VIAGRA can cause serious side effects. Rarely reported side effects include:
- an erection that will not go away (priapism)...
- sudden vision loss in one or both eyes...
- sudden hearing decrease or hearing loss." (Pfizer Inc., 2014)
From 20 or more books, the side effects of ginkgo are: leaf can cause GI disturbance, headache or skin allergy; caution on blood thinners or prior to surgery (3 days) – may inhibit clotting; do not use with clotting disorders. Which would you rather take?
Pfizer Inc. (2014, September). Viagra. Retrieved from ED Treatment/Viagra: http://www.viagra.com/
Immunity: January 17, 2015
In this season of colds and flu, I think about immunity. Our immune system is what keeps us strong and healthy against not only colds and flu, but it also heals us from any wounds or injuries we incur. This is true for all animals. There are two parts of the immune system: the part that responds to any threat, and the part that remembers previous threats and is able to respond to them when they recur. This is where vaccines come in: they prep the second part, so when we encounter the true disease, we are quickly able to fight it off. In my opinion, there are definitely pros and cons to vaccines. They are great for preventing death from fatal diseases. I just read in the news yesterday that Pandas in China got exposed to the canine distemper virus and two are dead, one is critical, and others are being moved (MacLeod, 2015). There is a vaccine for dogs to protect them from this fatal virus. However, we hear on the news every day that the flu vaccine is down to 23% effective, and only the IMMUNE-COMPROMISED die of the flu (Medical News Today, 2015).
For the non-fatal or crippling (polio) diseases, I do not see the benefit in vaccination. Our immune system becomes stronger when exposed to and successfully fighting common diseases. This is the reason children who go outside and play in the dirt tend to be healthier than children who are constantly sanitized. Our bodies are constantly building immunity to small amounts of toxins in our environment.
This all brings me to my main point: while I am not a fan of hand sanitizer or most vaccines, I do believe in using herbs to help support our immune system overall, so it is better able to fight any threats. We ask so much of our immune system, and put so many stressors on it, and it rarely fails us. Things that tax our immune system include: poor nutrition, lack of sleep, emotional stress, and then the environmental things already discussed.
There is a whole class of herbs who simply help our bodies adapt to stressors. These herbs are called “adaptogens.” Part of the definition of adaptogen includes: “The action of an adaptogen should be nonspecific, i.e., it should increase resistance to adverse influences of a wide range of factors of physical, chemical, and biological nature” (Brekhman & Dardymov, 1969, p. 421). In the winter, I feed my family, animals and friends lots of adaptogens and warming herbs. The warming herbs increase circulation, which keeps organs perfused with blood and flushes out toxins we encounter quicker.
So I know the question is: “what are some adaptogens and warming herbs?” Warming herbs are easy: most people have them in their kitchens: cinnamon, ginger, and garlic are my favorites. Despite what the internet says, you can feed garlic to your animals in moderation (as all things should be). Onions cause small animals to get anemic, but it would take tons of garlic to cause this. Garlic is nice for all animals, because not only is it warming in the winter and good for the heart, but it also prevents ectoparasites, such as fleas, ticks, mosquitos and flies.
Adaptogens are not likely to be in your kitchen, but they are worth having if you are any kind of herbalist (home or professional). Some common adaptogens that are safe and effective include: Ginseng (Panax ginseng or Panax quinquefolius), Eleutherococcus (Elutherococcus senticosus), Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus) (great for young), Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea) and Ashwaganda (Withania somnifera) (great for old). My personal favorite for winter is Elutherococcus. It has been proven to increase resistance to disease, so both decreases our risk of catching colds and flus, as well as helps us to recover from them faster.
So my “prescription” for winter includes plenty of rest, good nutrition (mushrooms are wonderful for the immune system), plenty of fluids (soups and water), warming herbs and adaptogens. I wish you and your two and four legged families good health!
Brekhman, I., & Dardymov, I. (1969). New substances of plant origin which increase nonspecific resistance. Annual review of pharmacology, 9(1), 419-430.
MacLeod, C. (2015, January 16). China fights to save giant pandas from deadly virus. Retrieved from USA Today: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2015/01/16/china-pandas-deadly-virus/21863317/
Medical News Today. (2015, January 16). CDC: this season's flu vaccine only 23% effective. Retrieved from Medical News Today: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/288153.php
Peru: October 16, 2014
I recently returned from a 10-day ecotour into the Amazonian jungle in Peru. Sounds fabulous, doesn’t it? When I returned, people kept asking if it was “fun.” It was fabulous, but it was not “fun.” It was hard work! I’m not trying to sound unappreciative – it was the opportunity of a lifetime, and the stars aligned perfectly timing-wise for me to go, but it was intense! We spoiled Americans are used to roofs, electricity and running water. Where we went, we were lucky to be in shacks, not out in the open, but we realized how much the roofs leaked when the rain on our faces woke us one night during a thunderstorm. There was no electricity to many of the towns. Some were only accessible by boat. Some roads are only passible in the dry season. It took 8 hours to travel approximately 50 kilometers from the city of Cuzco to the jungle. The point is: this is how Peruvians live, day in, day out. This is their “normal.” Our American guide, Dr. Jill Stansbury of the National College of Natural Medicine, lives part-time in Cuzco, and has no running water to her house. Her block shares a hose. This in and of itself was a big lesson.
The scenery and landscape were breathtaking everywhere.
I don’t know if the lack of Westernization is due to the fact that the Peruvians want to keep their land pristine, or if it is simply that the terrain is so inhospitable that Westerners have not yet invaded. The Peruvians were certainly friendly and helpful to us tourists!
Part of the lack of Westernization is a lack of allopathic medicine. Herbal medicine is definitely the mainstay of the cultures we visited. It was easy to study ethnobotany, since it was all around us. We looked at plants for common things, such as viruses and arthritis. We also learned herbal remedies for local ailments, such as snake and insect bites. I think we learned that there are over 20,000 species of ants alone in the Peruvian rainforest. There is one species of fire ant that lives only on the sacred Palo Santo tree, and it is a form of punishment there to tie people to the tree to get bitten.
It has been known to be fatal. Therefore, it is very important to have many handy remedies for bites. In fact, there is one plant for first aid for snake bites, just to get back to the village, and other plants to actually treat and cure the snake bite.
Another big category of herbal medicine in Peru is psychotropic herbs. The famous Ayahuasca comes from Peru. It is actually a combination of two herbs. “The vine (Banisteriopsis caapi) with a monoamine oxidase inhibiting (MAOI) action and the leaf (Psychotria viridis or Diplopterys cabrerana), which requires that MAOI action to make their dimethyltryptamine (DMT) orally active” (Highpine, 2013). Don’t you wonder what caused some ancient shaman to combine these herbs, and what that spirit journey was like?!
There are many other psychotropic herbs in Peru, like Datura. It is used to treat depression, confusion and apathy. There is a period of delirium, then sleep. The idea is that when the person wakes, they will be “reborn” without the mental affliction.
One last plant I want to share is Cat’s Claw or “una de gato” in Spanish. In the US, it is a little bushy herb. In Peru, the stalk looks like this:
This picture also shows you why it is such an important plant to know in the jungle: you cut a hunk of stalk, tip it up into your mouth and drink clean, purified mineral water! There were 20 or more of us, and we all got a drink from one stalk. It would save you in a pinch.
This is why it is named Cat’s Claw:
All in all, it was an amazing, exhilarating, eye-opening trip, but it was nice to come home and shower in my hot and cold running water and then sleep in my bed with air conditioning and a solid roof!
Highpine, G. (2013, February 13). Unraveling the Mystery of the Origin of Ayahuasca. Retrieved from Ayahuasca.com: http://www.ayahuasca.com/ayahuasca-overviews/unraveling-the-mystery-of-the-origin-of-ayahuasca/
May 1, 2014
Well, it has been a very long time since I posted a blog, but we have been so busy getting Purple Moon going! I am in my last trimester at Maryland University of Integrative Health for my Master’s in Therapeutic Herbalism (the clinical stuff is old hat, but being forced to learn the chemical constituents and Latin names has been great). I also have been hired onto their faculty! As you can see from my schedule, I am starting to lecture more and more all over – please drop me an email if you want us to come to your area.
Last blog, I promised to define an herbal monograph, and I always like to keep my promises. A good herbal monograph is a paper that tells an herbalist everything she/he needs to know about the herb. It includes Latin and common names. It tells the herbalist where and how to grow the herb (there are different growing zones and conditions, so in each area, only certain herbs can be grown). It lists the primary active chemical constituents. What are “active chemical constituents?” On a molecular level, everything is made up of chemicals. One of the differences between allopathic drugs and herbs is that allopathic drugs are usually only ONE chemical. Herbs, being living organisms, are made up of many. The “active” ones are the chemicals that cause the therapeutic effect. There are often multiple active constituents, which is why herbs can affect more than one system. This leads to the next part of the monograph: the therapeutic actions. There a medical/herbal list of terms that define what the herb does, they are called “actions.” Most herbs have multiple actions, because they have multiple chemical constituents, and also some constituents cause more than one action. Next, there are the indications. Indications are different from actions. Actions are about what the herb does, but indications are about the symptoms in the animal (or human) that the herb treats. It is a subtle but important distinction.
Next comes the more varied and semi-optional part of the monograph. All monographs have some of these sections, but only some have all of them. These sections all expound upon the actions and indications. Herbalism has been around since the beginning of civilization. Some monographs separate historical (or traditional) uses from modern uses. Many monographs have a separate section for clinical research that has been done on the herb. Another variable section of a monograph is called taste and energetics. This is primarily used in non-western medicinal modalities, such as Ayurveda or Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), but most western herbalists are versed in multiple modalities. In TCM, taste involves five flavors: sweet, salty, sour, bitter and pungent. Energetics tells an herbalist about the plant’s energy in the patient, for example if it is warming or cooling, or dampening or drying.
The last section deals with safety. It lists side effects, drug interactions, toxicities and contra-indications. This is all the stuff the TV ads for drugs run through at the end. Herbs have far fewer issues than allopathic drugs, but there are also fewer studies proving this, so the FDA lumps many into a category called “GRAS,” which stands for “generally recognized as safe.” That’s it!
Now you know what and how to read an herbal monograph. Have fun!
September 1, 2013
August has been a busy month for us! We closed Companion Animal Practice (a bittersweet moment). We are transitioning from practicing veterinary herbal medicine to teaching veterinary herbal medicine. I finished my Graduate Certificate in Medical Herbalism, and will move on to the more intensive Masters work at Maryland University of Integrative Health (MUIH), graduating with my Masters of Science in Therapeutic Herbalism in August 2014. After practicing herbalism for all these years, it is so nice that I can go through a program that legaly recognizes all my training.
Also, Stephanie and I just returned from our annual American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association (AHVMA) convention. It is our biggest annual veterinary meeting, and the AHVMA is the umbrella organization for all the different holistic modalities. The different modalities hold talks and events during the conference. We had our annual Veterinary Botanical Medical Association (VBMA) meeting, and I became President. It is a huge honor and I am very excited about the position. The woman I am succeeding, Cindy Lankenau, is the most tireless woman I have ever met. I believe she can do it all! Fortunately, she stays on the board as Past President for another 2 years.
Busy month! It was all excellent and uplifting – both Stephanie and I are excited about the future and the opportunities it presents. It seems like everywhere we go, we get to both learn and teach – the perfect combination. We started the month at an herbal retreat at False Cape State Park near Virginia Beach. We learned all about the local plants, and when people found out I was a veterinarian, they had lots of questions.
September is starting now, and Stephanie and I plan to settle in and start the real work of Purple Moon Herbs and Studies; we will be writing herbal monographs, and more intensive classes. We have so much to share, and we are trying to get it all out and organized into lectures and written into blogs and other materials. We have talks planned for both veterinarians and pet-lovers. If you want us to lecture in your area, give us a call! If you have questions, send us an email! What do you want to learn about in my blogs?
And if you don’t know what an herbal monograph is…tune in next time.
Until then, Dr. Laurie
Introduction: August 3, 2013
My husband says God put everything on this earth that humans need before creating humans. This includes plants that can treat all our illnesses and ailments, as well as prevent most of them. In other words, herbal medicine. Even before I became a wholistic veterinarian, I knew that citrus fruit prevents scurvy and ginger is good for nausea. Again, herbal medicine. So when I did my herbal medicine course and apprenticeship, it resonated and felt intuitive. Since I started using herbal medicine in my veterinary practice, I have seen it work so many times. I recently had a client tell me he became a believer when I put Yarrow topically on his dog’s cut and it instantly stopped bleeding. He told me it was “magical.” Maybe not magic, but definitely good herbal medicine. I was working with a friend of mine at her practice in Florida, a few years ago. She is trained in Chinese Medicine, and I recommended Valerian tincture for a dog with anxiety to help it through July 4th and all the fireworks. My friend didn’t believe it would be strong enough for this dog, but sure enough on July 5th, the owner called raving about how well the tincture worked.
For people who are still non-believers, let me remind you that most of our chemical/allopathic drugs were originally derived from plants: birth control pills are the reason wild yam is endangered, digitalis is a compound found on foxglove. In fact, there are many food medicine plants that people are told not to eat when they are taking certain drugs – this is due to their medicinal qualities that interfere with the medicines being prescribed. I like the synergy of prescribing the whole plant, as opposed to just one chemical constituent. Plants are so much smarter than the people who pull them apart. In fact, sassafras was found to have the potential carcinogen safrol in it, so it was banned from root beer. However, further studies proved that the plant sassafras used as a whole has other chemical constituents that inhibit the carcinogenic action of safrol. In other words, the plant itself won’t hurt us unless we destroy it. Chemical drugs have so many more side effects than herbal medicines.
I do think it is very important to keep in mind that these herbs are drugs: herbal MEDICINE. There are food medicine herbs, which mean they are generally safe to use daily and in indeterminate quantities, and then there are toxic herbs, like poke root, that can be used as medicine but only under supervision of a qualified professional and in very small short-term dosages. In between are most of our medicinal herbs, which are safe for use when used in the recommended dosages. Some herbs are good for short-term acute use, such as Yarrow, which stops bleeding both topically and internally. Other herbs are good for intermittent use, such as Valerian for stress and anxiety, especially when it leads to insomnia. Still other herbs are good for long-term use, such as Hawthorn for heart disease. (Of course there are other indications for these herbs; I am just citing one for each.) Since these are herbal medicines, I always urge people to seek knowledgeable professional advice before using them.
All in all, herbal medicine is wonderful when it is used correctly and safely. We need to keep in mind it is medicine, and use the appropriate herb in the appropriate dosage for the appropriate condition.