If you are interested in contributing to our journal, please email Mel at: email@example.com for more information.
Meet our Editor, Mel Kasting, RH (AHG).
Inside this Issue
Since this is the first volume of The Journal of Functional Herbalism, there are no letters to the editor to publish. Instead, I wanted to take the time to introduce myself. My name is Mel. I am honored to be named Editor, and extremely excited to be a part of creating a peer-reviewed journal.
I am a Clinical Herbalist, Freelance Writer, and Assistant Clinic Director for the Eclectic School of Herbal Medicine’s student-led free clinic. I also hold a BA in Creative writing, and have a background in copy editing.
I have never been an editor before, and know that the opportunity to learn on the job is a great one. I am up to the challenge, but I want to invite our readers to send letters when you have something to say about our publication, anything from grammatical errors, disagreement over a treatment protocol, to a problem with layout. We are committed to excellence, and value feedback as a tool towards that aim.
4.......................................................................Organoleptics: The Process of Evaluating a Substance Using Our Senses by Guido Masé , RH (AHG)
12.....................................................................The Botanical and Lifestyle Management
of Hyperandrogensim by Lindsey Feldspausch, RH (AHG)
18.....................................................................A Taste of Tea, by Keith Robertson, MSc, F, NIMH
22..............................................................................Hawthorn: By it's Own Pricking, by
36........................................................................................Rosemary, by Camille Charlier
The Journal of Functional Herbalism
What is Functional Herbalism?
Functional Herbalism is a form of Herbal Medicine that integrates Traditional Western Herbalism with Clinical Nutrition and Functional Medicine. It’s a systems-based model that honors the worldwide tradition of plant-based care, while recognizing the importance of lifestyle modifications and herbal supplements, alongside functional laboratory testing, to address the whole person rather than an isolated set of symptoms or disease.
Functional herbalists spend time with their clients, listening to their histories and learning their stories. This involves the client in the healing process, and enables the herbalist to tailor individual programs for each client and their needs.
Functional Herbalism understands that health is not just the absence of disease, but a state of vitality that is different for every person. In health, the human body regulates itself through a dynamic balance of the body systems, and our model supports these natural healing mechanisms rather than attacking disease directly.
Functional Herbalism focuses on identifying and addressing the root causes of disease. As Functional Herbalists we examine the many internal and external factors that influence health and disease, including genetics, environment, spiritual and mental health, and lifestyle choices. We ask what function has been lost in the body, and what can be done to restore that function.
The Journal of Functional Herbalism is our way of sharing case histories and therapeutic concepts utilizing the Functional Herbalism model. So, why would a clinically focused journal tackling complex issues like autoimmunity and Lyme disease in upcoming editions, include directions for tea tastings in their first volume?
I was originally trained as a folk herbalist, with no training in the sciences. Over years of practice I learned nutrition, physiology, pathophysiology, pharmacognosy and clinical skills. This first edition of the journal is a nod to folk herbalism roots, and a reminder that no matter how well we understand plant constituents and their interactions with complicated processes of the body, there is still magic in plants, and wisdom to be found in a cup of tea.
Thomas M. Easley
Founder, Functional Herbalism
By Guido Masé
The step we haven't got to is how that raw chemical information can be crunched together and converted into something that reflects someone's emotional response. That might be something we can never achieve. (Derbyshire 2013)”
Dr. James Hutchinson, wine expert at the Royal Society of Chemistry
Wine-tasting experts often have questionable judgement. In a series of blind taste-testing experiments, Robert Hodgson (a particularly inquisitive winemaker) upended common myths about the reliability of these experts; assessments were inconsistent, and high-end wines often ranked lower than cheaper commercial alternatives (Hodgson 2009). But the reason I love his work is that, when faced with the alternative – machine-based analysis of wine – Hodgson is clear that the human palate wins every time. Yes, we may have difficulty ranking twenty different samples presented in rapid succession, but we still can discriminate between them much more effectively than any chromatograph could. This assessment is echoed by Dr. Hutchinson. “In terms of replicating what a human can do we are a long way off (Derbyshire 2013).”
The historical basis for organolepsis (the process of evaluating a substance using our senses) is extensive. For most of our history, it was the only way to evaluate anything. Traditional herbal texts devote ample space to the description of the flavor, smell, mouthfeel and texture of both raw and prepared medicinal plants; consider Dioscorides’ description of iris root:
“The best is from Illyria and Macedonia and the best of these has a thick stumpy root, hard to break, of a faint yellow colour with an especially good scent and very bitter to the taste. It has a sound smell and does not incline to nastiness or cause sneezing when pounded. (Obaldeston 2000, Book 1 – Aromatics, p.1)”
Notice how we are told about “the best” – a quest for quality, not just identity. Other traditional systems of medicine, from Chinese medicine to Ayurveda and beyond, go further and link the flavors and aromas of plants to well-defined medicinal activity. Ayurvedic researchers in particular have explored this link, and found consistent patterns linkingrasa, or taste, to medicinal activity (Rastogi 2010).
These days, the World Health Organization publishes organoleptic criteria referencing the sensory characteristics of hundreds of herbs as part of its comprehensive monograph collection (World Health Organization, 1999). Organoleptic reference criteria, along with criteria for rejection, appear in the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia (Upton et al. 1999). This information, often very detailed in its visual descriptions of whole and processed herbal material, always includes notes on taste, smell, and texture – and in some cases, sound. The sum of these experiences – organolepsis – is a persistent art, and its practice has an impact that can be discernible, generalized, and consistent. This impact, once you get to know it, is reliable and can in some cases be superior to chemical analysis for assessing the identity and quality of herbal medicines.
Organolepsis and Energetics: Evaluating Complexity
A single herbal medicine, whether whole raw material or extract, contains thousands of distinct phytochemicals, some of which we know well enough to have investigated their mechanisms of action (Duke 1992). Techniques that map these phytochemicals onto the biological processes they affect can define a web of connections – an approach known as network pharmacology. Breaking down formulas from Chinese medicine, network pharmacology can predict which ingredients have the most prominent effect, which act as modifiers of metabolism and distribution, and which act as synergists (Tao 2013). The potential for this web of interactions is huge even in single botanicals. There is renewed interest in how the complex polypharmacy we see in herbal remedies might have multiple, simultaneous effects at different sites across cells and tissue, and how these synergies are an important part of how the remedy works (Golub 2003). In an excellent review of the progress in applying network pharmacology to herbal medicine,Jürg Gertsch from the University of Bern in Switzerland hints at the idea that these network synergies are part of adaptive patterns – in plants as well as those who share the same environment – that allow for co-evolutionary benefits (Gertch 2011). The complexity of plant chemistry exists because it works – it has an impact – across ecology. As a tangible example, think of a berry, its color changing as it ripens, and what uses those pigments (so important to our health) might have.
How can we begin to understand this complexity in a meaningful way? Even the models of network pharmacology are simplifications, and we aren’t even considering powerful newly-discovered classes of molecules (take microRNA as an example). Taming this wild riot of chemistry may be impossible using current mechanical technology, both because of the sheer volume of calculations required as multiple layers of interaction are explored, and also because there is so much we still don’t know. So while technology may not have a straightforward answer, herbalists turn to a very ancient practice; that of assessing complex patterns in terms of simple top-level descriptors, ones that meaningfully encompass the whole (though they may sacrifice detail to do so). Traditionally, this is known as assessing the “energetics” of plants (though it can apply to people and disease patterns, too); heat, moisture, affinity to organ systems and or processes. Energetic models often include details on the interaction between plant and person: including speed of onset and intensity of effects; opening or closing, moving or settling; stimulating function or suppressing it; cleansing tissue or building it up. Finally, many herbalists associate distinct personalities with plants. The spirit or essence of a botanical remedy is described as one would describe a friend, a visceral understanding born of familiarity. These descriptors are interesting for two main reasons: first, they encompass many ways of knowing and describing the world, from fairytales to biochemistry. Second, they draw on the sum of our human experience as their foundation. It not just our senses, but our patterns of association, our memories, our emotions, our stories that are brought to bear. In this way we turn over the task of dissecting complexity to an equally complex organism – us, along with our cultural context, in order to generate an assessment that can understand the complexity in a very real, meaningful way. We get to this place not by breaking the plant down, but by watching it as it moves through a living system (either its own ecological niche or the physiology of the human who consumes it). This is crucial. Energetic assessments require observation of the herbs in action.The complexity of plant chemistry is evaluated by its impact.
Organolepsis: Technique, Language, Tools
One of the most well-described entry points to energetics is the description of a plant’s flavor. In some cases, flavor is also the language of the energetic system itself (take, for example, the five flavors in Chinese medicine and the corresponding phases). Through this lens, describing something as “bitter” carries a lot of meaning in terms of physiological effects. We can expect increased digestive secretions, slowed gastric motility, and maybe some hepatic action. While something that is “sour” might share some of the above, it also has a cooling and sometimes astringent quality that “bitter” lacks. You can see how flavor, linked to energetics, can give clues about effects. Flavor profile, especially when blended from multiple unique tastes, can also be a reliable indicator of identity, potency and purity. Think of the unique differences between elderberry, blueberry, and chokeberry, for example. Consider the differences between spring-harvested dandelion and the roots and leaves gathered in the fall. Compare skullcap wild-harvested in the woods to what grows, bushy, in a fertile farm field. There are differences in flavor here, as well as differences in energetics and physiological activity. Flavor is a great example of an energetic evaluation parameter, because it relies on the sum of a plant’s chemical complexity as it interacts with the taste receptors found on our tongue and in our digestive systems. It is an assessment conducted by measuring impact.
Flavor can hardly exist alone, as anyone with a head cold can confirm. The smell of a plant tells us just as much, if not more, and is a critical component to getting a clear picture of flavor. Furthermore, olfaction (the process of smelling) is incredibly discerning, with the ability to differentiate among a trillion different variations (Bushdid 2014). What is interesting about smell is that, as with taste, it goes beyond simply identifying a substance; because of its connection to the limbic system (Kay 1998), smells are able to trigger powerful emotions, memories, and behaviors (Herz 2004). Though it may vary from individual to individual, the smell of garlic, or tobacco, or roses can all trigger vivid patterns of association, and arouse emotions associated with those patterns. In short, when we smell a plant, it has an impact on our feelings. At first, it is the sense of smell that mediates this effect.
But there is more than just taste and smell to our senses. Organolepsis relies on visual assessment, particularly of whole and minimally-processed samples, as well as impressions of the texture when we hold, or break, or chew the raw material. Remember Dioscorides’ description of iris? “Hard to break” is a key feature of good-quality rhizome. Qualities such as hardness (blue cohosh compared to burdock), fracture (clean, like ginseng, or fibrous, like ashwagandha), and the way an herb looks when cut into small pieces (cubes, like gentian, or quills, like eleuthero) can give valuable information, especially when there is little flavor or odor to the material. In some cases the sense of hearing can come to bear, as well. A clean “snap” is important for licorice sticks, but I wouldn’t expect it from astragalus. Dry leaves that don’t have at least a little crinkle when rubbed might have high moisture content; often an undesirable feature that can be linked to spoilage and microbiological contamination.
For texture, there are rough and smooth leaves, and roots have different degrees of cracking and furrowing. Once we start tasting a sample, there are different mouthfeels we can experience: demulcency and astringency; quick dispersal or lingering fiber; juicy moisture or relative dryness. All these textural elements can help with identification, but also give us information about how the herb was dried, stored, and handled. Just looking at the plant material can tell us a lot, too, especially if the sample is whole. There are excellent resources available for the macroscopic identification of herbs, from classic texts such as the US Dispensatory (Wood 1918) to modern reference databases, such as the one provided by AHPA – the American Herbal Products Association (http://www.botanicalauthentication.org/
The language around organolepsis is incredibly rich, and it can seem difficult to even know what terms to use when trying to describe the flavor, aroma, mouthfeel, texture, fracture, sounds and appearance of a botanical sample. To gain facility in this language, the most important thing you can do is practice. Taste and smell as many things as you can, from food to the sleeve of your leather jacket, and try to translate those impressions into language. Practice noticing the texture of herbs at different states of drying, or from different growing conditions. Try to record your observations if you are able. If you need a starting point, consider AHPA again. Their comprehensive guide to organolepic analysis includes pages of descriptive language for all senses (Dentali 2013).
Once you have some practice with the language, a few techniques can help. First off, consider the state of your palate before you begin, and try having a little plain bread, or some parsley, and some water before starting an organoleptic testing session. Avoid coffee or tobacco, or strong herbs like the aromaticLamiaceae. Thoroughly chew the material and, to better liberate the smells in a sample, rub it briskly between your palms for a second or two before smelling. Try different pieces, sizes, and colors from your sample to see if there is intra-sample variation. Ideally, you will have a “reference” sample, the quality of which you fully trust, with which to compare. And, as always, record your work!
One final consideration applies; person to person variability. A drawback to relying on a living system to conduct an impact assessment is that every living system is unique, and organolepsis is no exception. While we can generalize (few people would argue that gentian isn’t bitter), different herbalists describe the same plant differently. An excellent way to get around this, and also improve the quality of your assessments, is to team up with two or three others. Each person records their own impressions, and then you compare. This provides a great opportunity for learning and exploring your sensate ability, but it also allows for an “averaging” of the assessments to provide a more reliable analysis. And, it’s fun to work with friends.
Predicting Physiologic Potential: Taste and the E-tongue
There is an interesting corollary to the concept of using a living system to evaluate the identity, strength, purity and lack of contaminants of a medicinal substance; you can get insight into how that substance might affect the physiology, in ways that are very different from what chemical analysis can provide. Of course this makes sense to any herbalist. We are coming full circle to the energetic model for evaluating complexity. But this idea might not be as intuitive to chemists researching novel medicines, though it should be. Take, for example, two compounds with relatively different chemical structures: oleocanthal and ibuprofen. The first is found in fresh olive oil, the second in many a medicine cabinet. While the structures are different, the taste and mouthfeel are remarkably similar: bitter, and slightly acrid, both leave a distinct burning impression at the back of the throat. Pharmacologically, they have similar anti-inflammatory effects, although their chemical fingerprints do not reflect this (Beauchamp 2005).
Researchers are coming around to this fact: the sensory abilities we possess are better at predicting physiologic potential, better at assessing what the impact of a substance will be, than any analytical machinery, no matter how sophisticated. This makes sense. If we are using receptor proteins that are part of a living system to evaluate how substances that bind to those receptors might affect that system, we’re going to get a lot closer to predicting the effects on other receptors and tissues in that same living system. If we’re simply stratifying the chemistry based on molecular weight, or affinity to a solvent, or the absorption or reflection of light, we are not observing that chemistry in the context of a living system. You would think that researchers might, therefore, begin to employ humans in the quest for drug discovery. But no! Inexplicably, the thrust seems to be in the direction of replicating the human tongue and nose using machines (Baldwin 2011). This seems to be working, at least in part. Characterization and prediction of therapeutic potential is improved using an electronic, or “e-tongue,” system compared to simple chromatography (Jayasundar 2016).
Conclusion: The Case for Human Sensate Ability
Organolepsis, as practiced since the beginning of human existence, is more than just another method of analysis. Its ability to provide comprehensive identity, and quality data that, especially when conducted in a group, is reliably reproducible makes it a scientifically-valid method of assessment. By relying on a living system, this technique can also provide valuable information on the therapeutic activity, bioavailability, and overall effectiveness of herbs. Protein to protein, receptor to receptor, we learn how a plant works in context, how it moves through us, how it changes us, and how we change it in return. In short, organolepsis gives us a rich picture of both quality and impact, because it relies on an experiential approach, not a simple chemical catalog. An impact analysis is, therefore, much more valuable, especially when dealing with the highly complex phytochemical cocktail found in all medicinal herbs. And, as Dr. Hutchinson rightly points out, no manner of chemical analysis will be able to achieve what organolepsis immediately delivers. An emotional response. A visceral understanding. An intimate connection. It is the difference between knowledge and wisdom.
Baldwin, Elizabeth A., et al. “Electronic noses and tongues: Applications for the food and pharmaceutical industries.”Sensors11.5 (2011): 4744-4766
Beauchamp, Gary K., et al. “Phytochemistry: ibuprofen-like activity in extra-virgin olive oil.”Nature437.7055 (2005): 45-46.
Bushdid, Caroline, et al. "Humans can discriminate more than 1 trillion olfactory stimuli."Science343.6177 (2014): 1370-1372.
Dentali, S. "Organoleptic Analysis of Herbal Ingredients."AHPA, Silver Spring, MD(2013).
Derbyshire, David. "Wine-tasting: it's junk science."The Guardian(2013).
Duke, James A.Handbook of phytochemical constituent grass, herbs and other economic plants. CRC press, 1992.
Gertsch, Jürg. (2011). Botanical drugs, synergy, and network pharmacology: forth and back to intelligent mixtures.Planta medica,77(11), 1086-1098.
Golub, Todd R. "Mining the genome for combination therapies."Nature medicine9.5 (2003): 510-511.
Herz, Rachel S., et al. "Neuroimaging evidence for the emotional potency of odor-evoked memory."Neuropsychologia42.3 (2004): 371-378.
Hodgson, Robert T. "How expert are “expert” wine judges?."Journal of Wine Economics4.2 (2009): 233-241.
Jayasundar, Rama, and Somenath Ghatak. "Spectroscopic and E-tongue evaluation of medicinal plants: A taste of how rasa can be studied."Journal of Ayurveda and integrative medicine7.4 (2016): 191-197.
Kay, Leslie M., and Walter J. Freeman. "Bidirectional processing in the olfactory-limbic axis during olfactory behavior."Behavioral neuroscience112.3 (1998): 541.
Osbaldeston, T. A. "The herbal of dioscorides the Greek." IBIDIS Press, Jonannesburg (2000)
Rastogi, Sanjeev. "Building bridges between Ayurveda and modern science."International journal of Ayurveda research1.1 (2010): 41.
Tao, Weiyang, et al. "Network pharmacology-based prediction of the active ingredients and potential targets of Chinese herbal Radix Curcumae formula for application to cardiovascular disease."Journal of ethnopharmacology145.1 (2013): 1-10.
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Wood, Horatio C.The dispensatory of the United States of America. Lippincott, 1918.World Health Organization.WHO monographs on selected medicinal plants. Vol. 1. World Health Organization, 1999.
The process of Evaluating a substance using our senses
Case Study: The Botanical and lifestyle management of hyperandrogen Symptomology
Excess androgen symptomology presenting in premenopausal woman, with subsequent dietary interventions and apposite botanical therapy
Author: Lindsey Feldpausch, RH (AHG)
Heralded as one of the most common endocrine disorders in premenopausal women is polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). It is estimated that 4% to upwards of 8% of women live with this disorder (1). Diagnostic criteria defines PCOS as clinical hyperandrogenemism and oligoovulation (2), with sonographic evidence of polycystic condition of the ovaries being characteristic but not conclusive.
Women with PCOS have a high prevelance of concurring insulin resistance and research is showing that insulin dysregulation plays a considerable role in the pathophysiology of this disorder(3).
Idiopathic hyperandrogenism occurs indendepent of a PCOS diagnosis in an estimated 3.9% prevelance in women(4). Symptoms of androgen excess in premenopausal women including hirisutism, cystic acne, and irregular menses.
A harmless nature of these conditions should not be assumed and the common occurrence in women raises the importance of therapeutic and lifestyle interventions to address these disorders. Dietary changes and botanical therapies are essential to developing integrative protocols for PCOS and hyperandrogenism.
Female, Caucasian, 22 years old, 5’2”, 140lbs.
Chief complaints: Facial hair growth, acne, menstrual cramping and irregularity, vaginal itching and stiffness in right ankle.
Diet: Big appetite, high carbohydrate diet, high soy intake, 1-2 servings of vegetables daily and consumes sweets often. Drinks 2-8 cups of water daily.
Exercise: Client is a dance instructor/health food store retail employee. Exercises regularly in dance class.
Sleep: 6-9 hours per evening
Rx: Is currently on no medication
Dx: No medical diagnosis or major illnesses.
Surgery: Removal of synovial cyst in lower back, spinal gap.
Allergies: Reports allergies to Benadryl, menthol smell and caffeine.
Supplementation: Multi-vitamin QD, Evening Primrose oil (mg?, daily) , Reishi (1 gram, daily), Dandelion (500 mgs, daily), magnesium citrate (200mg, daily), B-complex daily), 50-million probiotic (daily), homeopathic arnica (30c, daily) and Senecio aureus (Tincture, 20 drops, 2 x day)
Stated health goal: To improve overall health and knowledge of body.
Assessment: Client appears fit, with defined muscle tone. Severe cystic acne presenting on jawline, chin, neck and cheek bones. Skin is alternating between oily in majority of face, and dry around mouth and hands. Excessive facial hair growth on chin, jaw, temple and upper lip which reportedly began at age 15, client shaves with a razor on a regular basis (3-4 time a week). History of fibroids in breasts. Menstruation is irregular, cycles between 20-40 days, heavy bleeding for 5-7 days with severe cramping in the first three days of flow. Client has alternating ovarian pain at time of ovulation. Reoccurring vaginal itching with discharge. Two normal stools, daily. Reports foggy thinking, feeling overwhelmed and high stress levels. Client experiences light headedness and dizziness when she doesn’t eat every few hours. Gets fatigued after meals and feels like napping. Complains of excess mucous in throat. Regular occurrence of mild frontal lobe headaches, if hungry or thirsty.When client eats dark chocolate or drinks caffeine she is “a wreak,” and experiences severe anxiety and stimulation for hours with an inability to fall asleep in evening.
The occurrence of ovary pain at ovulation is commonly indicative of the presence of cysts.In the presences of ovarian cysts, excess androgen production occurs. The symptom pattern of excess androgens in this client includes facial hair growth, cystic acne, and irregular and heavy menstrual cycles. Due to a high carb diet and blood sugar dysregulation it is likely she is experiencing low blood sugar when food consumption decreases. The vaginal itching and discharge is likely connected to excess sugar intake. Insulin resistance and PCOS are causally linked.
Physical Assessment: Pulse is 54 beats per minute, slow and full, of middling level, reminiscent of the rare or athletic pulse. Tongue: Normal coloring, moist, scalloped edges with a heavy yellow coating in back half of tongue with raised papillae. The coating is indicative of heat? And stagnation.
Energetic assessment: Client is experiencing stagnation of the liver, metabolic pathways and female reproductive system, alongside tension. The liver congestion is presenting with an impairment in phase one detoxification due to inability to process caffeine, headaches, brain fog and fatigue after eating.
Slow caffeine metabolism, headaches, brain fog and fatigue after eating are potentially indicative of impairments in phase 1 detoxification, and correlate with an energetic assessment of liver stagnation.
The presentation of severe cystic acne displays stagnation of the catabolic pathways (including liver), and the inability to properly remove waste build-up from the body. The addition of facial hair growth and dysmenorrhea lends to the probability of hormonal dysregulation, likely with an overproduction and impaired breakdown of androgens.
Management and Outcome
Diet: Increase vegetable intake, 6-9 cups daily. Remove grains, soy and dairy. Limit processed foods and sugar. Increase protein and healthy fat intake, especially for breakfast. Increase water intake to 70 ounces QD.
Supplements: Magnesium glycinate 600 mg, in divided doses with meals, QD. (Discontinue citrate)
Vitamin D3, 5,000 ius QD
Lifestyle: Mindful meditation or nature bathing, 3 x a week. Allow air flow to vagina, immediately remove dance clothing upon completion of class to reduce vagina itching.
Herbs: An herbalist at the health food store she is employed at recommended the Senecio for her dysmennorhea, she had started the tincture four months before our consultation. Informed client of the potential hepatotoxic effects of pyrrolizidine alkaloid containing herbs and long-term usage. I suggested she consider stopping Senecio aureus immediately.
Alterative Tincture Blend: 4p Burdock (Arctium lappa), 3p Barberry (Berberis vulgaris), 1p Blue Vervain (Verbena hastata). 4ml, taken 15 minutes before every meal daily.
*To reduce stagnation this alterative formula utilized Barberry and Burdock to relieve liver/biliary congestion, improve metabolic function and support insulin regulation. The anxiolytic addition of Blue Vervain will help to reduce physical tension, and as a bitter to move lymphatic fluid.
Balancing Tincture Formula: 4p Sarsaparilla (Smilax spp.), 3p Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra), 3p Devil’s Club (Oplopanax horridum), 2p White Peony (Paeonia lactiflora), 1p Cinnamon (Cinnamomum spp.). 5ml, TID.
*This formula was created to regulate both hormones and blood sugar. Sarsaparilla, balancing herb, for stagnation, aids body in removing metabolic waste. Licorice, cooling/sweet demulcent, reduces conversion of androgens and dispels inflammation. Devil’s Club, slightly warming bitter herb, assists in regulating blood sugar. Peony, cooling catalyst, relaxes tension, utilized for irregular menses, jawline acne and live stagnation. Cinnamon, stimulating astringent, blood moving, insulin regulator.
Reishi Tea powder concentrate (Ganoderma lucidum): 1 tsp, BID. Can be mixed in a bit of water.
*Reishi has shown strong anti-androgen effects in research studies by reducing testosterone conversion into DHT(5). The bitter flavor in the powder leads me to believe the anxiolytic terpene action will be present as well. (This replaced Reishi capsules that were of poor quality, and an appropriate herb).
Solomon Seal (Polygonatum biflorum): Applied topically to ankle, morning and night.
*Relax stiff joint/connective tissue in ankle, and lubricate synovial capsule.
Follow-up (Three-weeks from initial visit): Prior to three-week appointment we exchanged multiple emails with follow-up questions and dietary support.Client has followed herbal protocol and returned empty bottles for refills. She chose to discontinue Senecio. She is doing her best with diet, avoiding processed food and dairy. Having trouble drinking enough water. Client reports improvement in cystic acne, she says the jawline boils have been reduced but has experienced a slight increase in T-line (non-cystic) acne. She is noticing the oily and dryness in her face balancing out. She is experiencing itchy skin on her legs that she hasn’t had before. She says her fatigue and bloating after meals has decreased, and she is noticing a reduction in appetite. No change in hirsutism. Client has experienced a significant improvement in stiffness and pain in right ankle due to application of Solomon Seal salve, improving her quality of living as dance is a major part of her life.
Physical assessment: Pulse 60 beats per minute, full and soft, and appears relatively similar, frequency slightly increased. While it still feels full, upon compression it gives way more readily. Tongue, pink coloring, scalloped, yellow coating on back third of tongue. Tongue coating is reduced in size and thickness.
I recommended she up her water intake as suggested, and counseled her at the importance of water for all bodily processes including metabolism. Encouraged her to continue with her dietary and lifestyle changes. I provided client an oil for her itching legs.
Anti-itch oil: 1p Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra), 1p Calendula (Calendula officinalis), 1p Burdock (Articum lappa), 1p Chickweed (Stellaria media). Apply topically, PRN
Follow-up 2 (Six weeks from initial visit): Client compliance improved in diet. She had dairy and sugar after our last meeting, and promptly had an outbreak in jawline cysts, convincing her to take her dietary choices seriously. She has since seen increasing improvement in acne and tone. Menstrual pain throughout her last cycle was decreased significantly, only a few twinges on the first day of cycle. Decrease in flow was noted and 5 days in duration. Client has not seen a change in facial hair growth, and would really like to focus on reducing growth at this time.
Physical assessment: 60 beats per minute, full pulse, mid-level. Tongue, pink coloring, scalloped, yellow coating on back third of tongue. Minor improvement in coating again.
I encouraged her to continue program as is, and added an infusion of Spearmint for its research-based usage in reducing incidence of hirsutism (6).
Spearmint (Mentha spicata) infusion: Take 2 tbsp. to 12-16 ounces of water, infuse for 15-20 minutes. Drink one cup TID, after meals.
Follow-up 3 (Ten weeks from initial visit): Client reports continued improvement in cystic acne. Her face appears clearer, only the presence of a few cysts, and the oily and dryness of face has a balanced tone. Her periods are evened out, last two cycles were 25 days and 28 days, respectively. She reported all cramping to have ceased but minor spasming during onset of flow. There was an occurrence of spotting at last ovulation. Skin itching on legs has resolved. Vaginal itching is improved but still occurring periodical. She still has facial hair growth but believes it is slightly decreased as she has had to shave less. She no longer feels the “blood sugar crashes.”
Physical assessment: Pulse, 54 beats per minute, slow and full. Tongue, pink, moist, scallop yellow coating almost absent, very scant coating on back third of tongue.
Informed client to continue diet and lifestyle recommendations. I recommended the cessation of reishi tea concentrate powder, Solomon Seal salve used PRN and provided refills to continue with tincture blends for another four weeks. Recommended she try apple cider vinegar wipes for vaginal itching.
Continued follow-up care: I have followed up with client multiple times since, she continues to see progress and also continues to experience cystic acne relapses when eats dairy. The hirisutism is still present, but she noted a greater reduction in growth overtime and reports having to do hair removal protocol less often.
While the client had no blood work or diagnosis, a working hypothesis of androgen imbalance was developed. With appropriate dietary changes and apposite botanical therapies, improvement was seen in acne, hirisutism and blood sugar dysregulation. It is my belief that more case studies involving dietary and botanical therapies for these categorical disorders should be documented to create a profile of pertinent herbal remedies and interventions.
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By Keith Robertson, MSc (Herbal Medicine) F, NIMH
a taste of tea
Initially inspired by Christopher Hedley, AHG FNIMH, and then fine-tuned over the past 25 years, we at the Scottish School of Herbal Medicine have developed a method of “Blind Tea Tasting.” This means that instead of intellectually learning a list of herbs, you meet and make a personal
connection with a group of intelligent beings. This experimental method involves presenting a plant extract to a range of sensitive monitoring and measuring instruments. Plant extracts are kept unadulterated and unprocessed. Often a simple water infusion of the plant in boiling water will suffice. These monitoring devices are connected to a biological neurocomputer of immense capacity. The experimental method is enhanced by having multiple such units involved.
This may look like a circle of people sitting drinking tea but I can assure you as a tool to advance the use of Herbal Medicine, that ring of cups may yet prove to be as powerful as the Great Hardon Collider at CERN in Switzerland.
An important part of this method is that the herb is tasted ‘blind’ and only one person in the room, the tutor, will know definitively what the plant is. They should act as, or nominate a scribe who should record the proceedings accurately.The tutor should also hold back on their own impressions till after the plant is revealed, and should aim to help clarify rather than guide the impressions. Herbal infusions or mild decoctions are ideal. If you only have tincture, it should be well diluted. The heat of the tea or the warming nature of the alcohol should be taken into account in your overall impressions. At SSHM the announcement “Herb in the Room” signals a period of absolute silence. No mmm’s or ah’s or eughs are welcome as everyone has a chance to connect intimately and personally with the plant.
We will deal with each of our senses in turn. No comments are made aloud until after a decent reflection period for participants to see, smell, and taste the infusion.
For this section we hold back on the visual appearance of the plant. This would often reveal the plant’s identity. Given this it can also be wise to cover the visual appearance of the herb in the infuser. However, when the infusion is poured into clear glass or white cups participants should notice the colour. As the experience progresses you can look for an ‘inner’ colour which the plant evokes in you.
Volatile chemicals are taken up, and transported to our brain directly via the olfactory bulb. These Biogenic Volatile Organic Compounds, or BVOCs, end up close to the limbic system, which is the area where raw emotion is experienced. This makes smell one of our most emotive senses. For example, the smell of a pencil case can take us hurtling back through the years to primary school.
Take the time to smell deeply…what emotions arise along with the sense perceptions. The language of Aromatherapy and perfumery can be useful here with top, middle and base ‘notes’ as an example.
The olfactory sense is one of our oldest senses. It is also a complex vibrational sense and this author would also like to propose that we'll find in the future that these volatile compounds are one of the main ways in which the plant world communicates, not only within the plant but as another route of communication via the airwaves to their surroundings, including humans.
The sense of taste introduces an important concept, that of synaesthesia, the blending of two senses. We know from personal experience that the senses of taste and smell are intimately linked. If our smell receptors are blocked this can drastically affect our sense of taste.
Taste, similar to smell, contains a vast amount of therapeutic information. Humoral, Ayurvedic, and Traditional Chinese Medicine are all hugely based on the concept of tastes. Different systems have different tastes, but the basic ones recognised across the world are: sweet, salty, bitter, sour, astringent, acrid, pungent, and umami.
Experience the taste. Just a sip to begin. First impressions are important. Then take a larger drink. Roll the infusion around in your mouth. Terms from wine tasting are useful here. What tastes predominate? What does it remind you of?Does the taste change when you swallow? Revisit the smell at this point. Store these impressions and start to feel what else it is doing in your body.
What is the sensation within your mouth. Is it smooth or harsh? Cooling or warming? Our mouths are great organs for assessing such qualities. The presence of mucilage, for example, is easily detectable. As is the presence of tannins as they astringe our mouth’s mucus membranes.Astringents dry and tone tissues, precipitating proteins, with the classic example of leather being tanned by the tannins inQuercus spp.or oak galls. So the presence of tannins in a plant extract, or as in the case ofCalendula officinalisplant resins, are very quickly detected by the sensitive mucus membranes of the mouth,as the tannins act to constrict and dry those membranes. The thought experiment here would be to imagine the effect in your mouth of drinking a cup of well stewed black tea.
Our Other Senses.
Listening to plants requires a separate article (see under recommended reading) but we can ‘listen’ to what the plant is doing inside us. Christopher Hedley popularised the term ‘Appropriations’for this. Is it warming or cooling overall? Do we feel any sensations that may arise directly from ingesting the plant? Is it calming or stimulating? Focusing or relaxing? Where does it go in your body? To what effect?
The tutor will watch for all participants to open their eyes, signifying the readiness of the group to begin sharing their experiences.
Return to the colour, smell, taste and feel. Write it all down. Feel free to use expressive language, and accept that not everyone has to agree, although the fundamentals are worth getting consensus on.
Questions such as “if it was a person, or a spirit or an animal what would it be?” can be helpful to make you free your imagination. Or, “what is the inner impression of colour you experience?” Having established broad parameters the next question is “what sort of person could benefit from this herb and why?” The scribe should also draw or have a template of a human outline and mark in the impressions the group report.
Now to put it all together and from all the previous data see if the group can agree to place the herb in an energetic framework. Is it overall:
After revealing the plant name, the tutor can share their own impressions and therapeutic experiences. When you meet an herb like this it can be so different from reading about them in books. In the tea tasting is where lasting bonds between humans and plants can be formed. It is a skill well worth cultivating.Try forming a group to meet regularly to practice this exercise. Take turns being the tutor.
Maybe all our herbal meetings, educational and political, should start with this simple but hugely powerful piece of ceremony?
Addendum Since being asked to contribute this piece both my main mentors, Dr Margaret Colquhoun (1947 – 2017) and Christopher Hedley (1946 – 2017) have left their bodies and merged back into that Sea of Possibilities
~ this article is dedicated to their memory and inspiration. Perhaps it would be appropriate to close with an excerpt from A Herbal Book of Making and Taking By Non Shaw and Christopher Hedley:
"The virtues of a herb are its strengths and qualities: It's inner potency, expressions of its vital spirit and of the way it is in the world. The way a herb is in the world will inform it of the way to be in your body. We prefer this term to the more modern (term) 'uses'. Herbs do not have uses. They have themselves and their own purposes."
Merriam-Webster (accessed 2017) available at www.merriam -webster.com/ dictionary/organoleptic
O’Rawe, D. Bitters are better American Herbalists Guild Symposium Presentation 2016
Margaret Colquhoun and Axel Ewald, 1996 “New Eyes for Plants: Workbook for Plant Observation and Drawing” Hawthorn Press, UK.
von Goethe, J.W., 1971. Goethe’s colour theory. New York: Van Nostrand-Reinhold.
von Goethe, J.W., 1994. Scientific Studies. Princeton, NJ: Princetown University Press.
Robertson, K., 2003. The evaluation of Goethean Sciece as a methodology for the investigation of medicinal plant properties with specific reference to hawthorn (Crataegus sps.). Dissertation (MSc). Scottish School of Herbal Medicine. [online] Available from: http//www.veganherbal.com [Accessed Sept 2017].
Keith has an article entitled “Listening to Plants” in Herbal Exchanges: In Celebration of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists 1864 – 2014, 2014 Hananja Brice-Yisma (Editor), Frances Watkins (Editor)
Organoleptics, the word is derived from the Greek meaning: “To take from the senses”.
The Merriam - Webster dictionary gives the medical definition of organoleptic. 1: being, affecting, or relating to qualities (as taste, colour, odour, and feel) of a substance (as a food or drug) that stimulate the sense organs. 2: involving use of the sense organs. (Merriam-Webster 2017)
By it's own pricking
Written by: Ruthie Hayes
Latin: Crataegus spp. (C. oxyacantha, C. oxyacanthoides, C. monogyna, C. pinnatifida, C. laevigata)
Family: Rosaceae (belonging to the apple group of the almond subfamily)
Folk names: May tree, May bush, Mayblossom, hazels, haw, whitethorn, hawberry, thornapple (not to be confused with datura), tree of chastity, cockspur, cockspur thorn, washington thorn, English hawthorn, one-seed hawthorn (C. monogyna), Ladies’ meat, sgitheach (modern Scots Gaelic), huath (old Gaelic), sceach gheal (Irish Gaelic), fairy thorn, hagthorn (Old Norse), hedgethorn, haegthorn (Anglo-Saxon), quickthorn, quickset, arzy-garzies, bread and cheese tree, weifdorn (Germany), hagedorn (ancient Germanic), l’epine noble (French), svefnthorn (Icelandic).
Energetics: Cool, neutral
Properties: Cardiotonic, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, mild vasodilator, regulates blood pressure, nervine, anti-anxiety, astringent, diuretic
Taste: Sweet, sour, astringent (berries)
Parts used: Most often berries; sometimes leaves & flowers
Gathering time: Berries-in the fall, after first frost. Leaves, flowers, twigs (fresh)- May.
Degree: 2nd, 3rd
Tissue state: Heat, excitation, atrophy, relaxation
Key uses: Restorative of the physical and emotional heart (Shen in TCM), supports healthy cardiovascular function, heart palpitations, nervous irritability, insomnia
History, Herblore & Tradition:
Hawthorn has a history rich in medicine and magick. You will frequently come across the trees “oak, ash, and thorn” together in old literature because they are of such importance. The thorn referred to in this trinity is, of course, the hawthorn. I recently asked my friend, Michelle, from Ireland about what hawthorn means to her. She relayed the following story:
Hawthorn is beyond sacred, and to cut one was a death sentence. In my city, they spend 2 million extra for a road to go around a hawthorn bush rather than cut it. The county council were afraid there would be traffic accidents, as the fairy world would be upset.
According to Irish legend, anyone who dares fell a hawthorn is certainly inviting bad luck and loss into their lives. It is not uncommon to see a lone hawthorn (commonly called “trysting trees”) in a landscape because it was spared the axe for fear of the fae folk, and there are many tales of those who fell on hard times as a consequence of destroying one of these enchanted trees. In Celtic lore the hawthorn is a threshold to a place where time passes differently; a world in which you can easily lose yourself. The name “hedgethorn” comes not only from its presence and function in demarcating property lines amongst other hedge flora, but for its existence on the wild, mysterious border between physical and spirit worlds.
Its ancient Germanic name Hagedorn comes from the root hegen, which means to protect, care for, or nourish. Hawthorn’s protection comes in the form of its heart medicine, its presence as a physical hedge, and its magic. “Haw” is also an old word for hedge. Planting them near your home, placing a branch on your lintel (though seen as bad luck to bring inside), or carrying hawthorn in an amulet was to protect oneself from spiritual and psychic harm.
Hawthorns are often found near clootie wells around the British Isles, where the tree is tasked with guarding the sacred waters. At a clootie well, a person dips a piece of their clothing or strip of cloth (cloot) in the healing waters and ties it to the hawthorn’s branches. This is done in hopes that the fairies will take away their ailment as the cloth disintegrates. There is a saying in Scots that goes, “Ne’er cast a cloot till Mey’s oot,” meaning it was believed to be unlucky to wash yourself or put new clothes on until the hawthorn bloomed...or was it just too cold yet to put yer woolies away yet?
The hawthorn tree is so sacred to the tradition that it has its own symbol in the Ogham alphabet: “Huathe” (hoo-ah) and its own place on the Celtic astrological calendar as the sixth month (May 13-June 9). Before the Gregorian calendar was adopted in 1752, May Day would have occurred mid-May when the hawthorn bloomed. Huathe is associated with Mars + Venus, male/female unity, and offering mental clarity. The symbol for huathe (top left corner) resembles a thorn on a branch. Thorny things are often used as protective barriers, and Druidic ritual was often performed in the protective shade of a hawthorn grove to avoid religious persecution.
For the Celts, Beltane was the only time cutting a branch of hawthorn was acceptable, but it was forbidden to bring hawthorn into one’s home; that was inviting death into the family. This is partly because there is a chemical in the scent profile of hawthorn flowers that is also present in decaying flesh. Modern research has identified it as the chemical triethylamine. In the days before embalming, bodies were laid out at home for days, sometimes weeks before being laid to rest, and the smell of death would have been a familiar one. Since association by smell is one of our brain’s strongest connections to memory, it stands to reason that an ancient tradition would discourage bringing the smell of death into one’s home. My Irish friend, Michelle, also related a story from her mother’s childhood about hawthorn:
She was walking home from school one day and picked a bunch of hawthorn branches that were flowering. As she was about to enter the house, she was greeted by my grandmother screaming at her to not step foot in the house with the flowers. Whitethorn was never brought into a home, as it was said the mother of the home would die.
Strangely enough, the chemical triethylamine is also present in the smell of human sexual fluids, which may explain why hawthorn is synonymous with the outdoor lovemaking associated with the fire feast of Beltane. Beltane is a time when the creative forces of humans and nature are simultaneously at their peak. All of nature seems to be procreating, and the feeling is certainly contagious. During Beltane it was customary for flowering branches to adorn doorways and maypoles (which were themselves traditionally made of hawthorn wood). They were seen as a symbol of hope, renewed life, betrothal, protection, and fecundity at a time when the earth was bursting forth with new growth. The maypole itself and its crowning wreath of flowers were blatant symbols of male/female union. When one went out “a-maying” they were probably meeting someone they fancied for an alfresco tryst under the fragrant May blossoms, reveling in the fleeting and decadent beauty of spring’s earthy delights. In many traditions and cultures, it was a plant associated with the euphoria of being drunk on new love; that feeling when sap and blood begin their vernal ascent through xylem, phloem, vein, and artery, waking senses from their winter torpor and enamoring you of life all over again.
The pastoral spirit of hawthorn has inspired poets and playwrights for centuries. Here are some of my favorite references to the enchanted tree, most of them by Scottish poet Robert Burns, who had a fondness for it:
The hawthorn I will pu' wi' its lock o' siller gray,
Where, like an aged man, it stands at break o' day. (“Oh Luve Will Venture In”, Burns)
O happy love! where love like this is found:
O heart-felt raptures! bliss beyond compare!
I've paced much this weary, mortal round,
And sage experience bids me this declare, -
If heaven a draught of heavenly pleasure spare,
One cordial in this melancholy vale,
'Tis when a youthful, loving, modest pair,
In other's arms breathe out the tender tale,
Beneath the milk-white thorn that scents the evening gale.(“The Cottar’s Saturday Night”, Burns, 1786)
Tho' large the forest's monarch throws
His army shade,
Yet green the juicy hawthorn grows,
Adown the glade. (“The Vision”, Burns, 1786)
The hawthorn-bush, with seats beneath the shade
For talking age and whispering lovers made! (“The Deserted Village”, Oliver Goldsmith, 1770)
In hawthorn-time, the heart grows light,
The world is sweet in sound and sight...
(“Tale of Balen”, Algernon Charles Swinburne, 1896)
17th century poet Robert Herrick’s “Corinna’s Gone A-Maying” perfectly embodies this sentiment, and I’ve pulled a few lines from it here.
...a thousand virgins on this day
Spring, sooner than the lark, to fetch in May.
...There is not a budding boy or girl this day,
But is got up, and gone to bring in May.
A deal of youth, ere this, is come
Back, and with white-thorn laden home.
...Come, let us go while we are in our prime,
And take the harmless folly of the time…
So when you or I are made
A fable, song, or fleeting shade,
All love, all liking, all delight
Lies drowned with us in endless night.
Then while time serves, and we are but decaying,
Come, my Corinna, come, let’s go a-maying.
The speaker is essentially saying, “Hey, it’s springtime, and we are young, beautiful, and full of life- let’s get busy in the hedges. . . YOLO!”
In ancient Greece, hawthorn was linked with Cardea, goddess of the hinge. Cardea presided over doorways and thresholds, overseeing their comings and goings. She was a deity of marriage, mourning deaths, childbirth, and protector of newborns. Much like hawthorn, she occupied liminal spaces where things transition from endings to beginnings. Greek mythology dictates that Hera became pregnant with twins Ares and Eris (male and female) just by touching a hawthorn tree in flower. Wedding torches were lit of hawthorn branches, and newly married couples wore crowns of hawthorn blossoms to ensure a fruitful union.
All this cavorting and fornicating and frolicking widdershins around a festooned phallus did not sit well with the Christian church. During the spread of Christianity, many symbols, rites, and temples for Earth-based spiritual practices were either appropriated into the church and given different meaning or reviled as devil worship. The hawthorn can be found near historical sites of spiritual and archaeological significance and is perhaps the tree most illustrative of the Christian church’s attempts to repress pagan practices. At the site of Westminster Abbey (formerly called “Thorney Island”) stands a group of old hawthorns which was previously sacred ground for earth-based ritual. The church assumed the site for its own purposes so that the people could continue to worship in a familiar place while being indoctrinated with a new belief system. Likewise, Glastonbury has been a spiritual mecca for thousands of years for people of many faiths. Long before Christianity came to England, it was a place for pagan ceremony, and, of course, there is a sacred hawthorn that stands guard nearby (above with the Tor in the background, photo credit to Peter Herring). According to Christians, this biannual Thorn of Glastonbury is said to have rooted and sprung up from the staff of Joseph of Arimathea and is seen by some as the arrival of Christianity in Britain. At Christmastime it is tradition to send a flowering spray from this tree to the Queen as a symbol of Jesus’s birth. The French name for hawthorn, “l’epine noble,” means “the noble thorn” which comes from the belief that Christ’s crucifixion crown was one of hawthorn branches. Because of this association, Christians associate the hawthorn with purity and chastity instead of fertility and frivolity, as pagans do.
Marrying in the Christian church during the month of May was superstitiously discouraged based on hawthorn’s ancient pagan symbolism. There is even an old epithet that warned against hawthorn and its magical counterpart, elder: “Hawthorn bloom and elderflowers will fill a house with evil powers.” (This poor, deprived soul probably went to their grave having never tasted the magic of elderflower champagne or hawthorn cordial, and I feel sorry for them.)
Depending on where you are, the berries can be colloquially referred to as pixie pears, cuckoo’s beads, or chucky cheese (Grieve). In Scottish legend, the cuckoo bird is also a harbinger of spring, and thus has an association with hawthorn. The name “bread and cheese tree” is an Old English nickname and comes from a tradition of eating the young leaves and buds of the hawthorn in springtime. Seasoned hillwalkers and wanderers know that the leaves and berries can be eaten to curb hunger while on the move. The tart berries, or haws, are used in many cultures as a foodstuff and to make jellies, candies, meads, wines, and cordials. In wartimes when rations were short, hawthorn leaves were served as tea and tobacco, and the seeds were ground for coffee (Herbalpedia). Hawthorn jelly is a popular condiment in the UK, and the berries are so rich in pectin that the jelly requires no additional pectin.
The genus name Crataegus comes from two Greek words “kratos” and “akis” meaning strong and sharp; two adjectives very befitting of this plant. Its rugged root system, gnarled trunk, and windswept branches bear testament to the fortitude of this tree. Hawthorn is a prized hardwood for making tool handles, fence posts, turnery, engravings, basketry, cask hoops, divining rods (I’m assuming new, flexible, green growth), and spars for thatching. Harvesting the tree itself is purposely avoided by those who give credence to its legends. Irish folklore says that anyone who dares disturb a faery thorn will never have a good night’s sleep again. Perhaps it’s better to gather damaged or fallen branches just to be sure!
Contrary to the fairy’s curse of insomnia, the hawthorn is also associated with inducing deep, enchanted sleep. This idea of hawthorn whisking someone away into other dimensions while in a trance is present in many traditional narratives. Hawthorn’s Icelandic name, svefnthorn, means “sleep thorn.” In Norse mythology, the Viking god, Odin, used a sleeping thorn from a hawthorn tree to put shield-maiden Brunhilde into a deep sleep as punishment for choosing the wrong husband. In the classic fairytale, “Sleeping Beauty”, Briar Rose (a botanical cousin of hawthorn) pricks her finger on the enchanted spindle of a spinning wheel, which were traditionally made of hawthorn wood. Much like Brunhilde, she is then plunged into a deep, trance-like sleep, guarded away in a castle behind walls of thorns and fire, only to be awakened by true love’s kiss. In some versions of Arthurian legend, the wizard Merlin was trapped in a hawthorn tree by Viviane, the Lady of the Lake, for fear of his romantic advances. It is said that his voice can still be heard through the tree from his thorny purgatory, as young and lovesick as the day he was captured in the tree. The Scottish ballad of Thomas the Rhymer also tells of how he was lured to the hawthorn by the song of a cuckoo bird, and his spirit was whisked away in reverie by the White Fairy Queen on her snow-white steed, leaving his sleeping body behind. When he awakened back in his human form, he discovered that 7 years had passed. It’s interesting to note that the sleep that hawthorn brings to these people keeps them in suspended animation, and they do not age in their slumber. I equate this with hawthorn’s ability to protect, guard, and strengthen the heart, having the net effect of preserving and prolonging youthful vim and vigor.
Different species of hawthorn were in common use in Arabic medicine centuries before it became well known in western traditions. They used it for diarrhea, sore throats, and menopausal symptoms, as well as the heart problems we now associate with hawthorn’s medicine. Perhaps the oldest ode to this magical tree is this Hittite prayer, circa 1500 BCE.
You are the Hawthorn bush;
In spring you clothe yourself in white,
At harvest time you dress in blood red.
You rip the fleeces of sheep which pass beneath you.
In the same way you pluck any evil,
Impurity or wrath of the gods from this initiate,
Who walks through the gate [of your hedge].
The speaker seems to have a healthy respect for the tree, acknowledging that passing through or under a hawthorn can bring about physical and spiritual change, whether it be positive change (plucking away evil, wrath, and impurity), or negative change (ripping of the sheep’s fleece).
Historically, the use of hawthorn for treating ailments of the heart has been recorded as far back as the first century, CE by the Greek physician Dioscorides. It has long been included in cordial recipes, and here we start to see its connection to the heart. The word “cordial” even means “of the heart.” This use for hawthorn largely fell out of favor until the late 19th century when it was revealed that an Irish physician by the name of Green was using it in his practice with great success. From 1896 up until the 1930s, hawthorn was commonly used in American medicine for heart conditions.
In TCM, the berries (“shanza”) are used to aid digestion, a use which parallels its use during the Renaissance when it was common to eat hawthorn berries with meat for this reason. In European traditions, flowers, berries, and leaves were used medicinally. Hawthorn was used as a diuretic and for kidney and bladder gravel. Its use as a remedy for dropsy and kidney stones is not common today, but is referred to in Culpeper’s Herbal, “The seeds in the berries beaten to powder being drank in wine, are held singularly good against the stone, and are good for the dropsy.”
A much lesser known and employed medicine of Crataegus can be found in its thorns, which are nothing to trifle with. They can grow to be several inches long and mature trees can sprout these hypodermic protrusions all along their trunks. Native Americans have a particular understanding and respect for the thorns. They recognized that a wound incurred from a hawthorn tree was tough to heal, but a thorn plucked from the tree could safely empty a boil and the wound would heal (Wood). Culpeper also makes mention of this saying, “And thus you see the thorn gives a medicine for its own pricking.”
Botany & Ecology:
Hawthorns are a smallish tree native to most places in the northern hemisphere. They are very commonly found in the UK and across Europe, but are rare in northern Scotland. The oldest hawthorns on record are aged over 700 years. Hawthorn’s progeny are spread by seed and sucker, and its nickname “quickset” comes from the tree’s ability to quickly form a hedge just from cuttings being placed in the ground.
It is a popular plant used in the skillful art of hedge laying for this reason. Its roots are so hardy that it is often used as rootstock for fruit tree propagation. It can put down deep roots and thrive in rich, nutrient dense soil or rocky clay, provided that there is good drainage; hawthorn does not like wet feet. Mature plants average a height of up to 25 feet, displaying a dense canopy of branches, most of them possessing the characteristic thorns. If left unpruned, hawthorn can reach a height of 40 feet. It can grow as a single-stemmed tree, but often is multi-stemmed and shrubby in its growth habit.
The smooth, shiny leaves look like a cross between a maple and an oak, but much smaller. Leaves are flat and deeply lobed, some species having serrated margins. The small, 5-petaled, bisexual flowers have pink-tipped stamens, bloom in May and June, and range between dark pink and snowy white depending on the species.
Sometimes, hawthorn can flower twice in a year. The spring flowers give way to green haws that ripen to red in late summer and early fall. Botanically speaking, the fruits are pomes, with the flesh forming around the seed. The haws have a 5 pointed star at the blossom end, indicative of rose family plants (and some heaths).
Fruits of the common hawthorn (C. monogyna) contain one seed, while the midland hawthorn (C. vigata) contains two. The list is long for species of Crataegus. The general consensus is that they can all be used interchangeably for their medicine, but the wild non-hybridized hawthorns are more desirable. Two of the more commonly used are C. oxyacantha and C. monogyna.
All species have haws that are edible, and are a favorite winter forage for woodpigeons, fieldfares, finches, thrushes, blackbirds, and waxwings. In fact, hawthorn is a harbor for many species of nesting birds because its dense, thorny crown provides protected nesting sites and ample food in the form of its fruits and many insect pollinators that are attracted by the sweet smelling flowers. Voles, squirrels, and mice are also drawn to the tree for food and shelter.
Current Clinical Use:
In modern herbalism, hawthorn is synonymous with the heart as a remedy for physical ailments as well as emotional afflictions of the spiritual heart. The flavonoid proanthocyanodin contained in the berries has a profound effect on the cardiovascular system. Christopher Hobbs notes that hawthorn is currently in the Pharmacopoeias of Brazil, Czechoslovakia, Germany, France, China, Hungary, Russia, and Switzerland and is an ingredient in over 200 European formulas mostly supporting cardiovascular health.
In terms of safety, he categorizes it with garlic in that it can be eaten daily and recommends it as such as a preventative to heart disease. The European Community published an official monograph on hawthorn stating that it will not interfere with medications and can be taken on a long-term basis without cumulative negative side-effects. It has an overall strengthening and tonic effect on the myocardium by increasing coronary circulation and dilating arteries (berries), but has an affinity to the entire cardiovascular system, even in the periphery (leaves & flowers).
The way I remember this differential is by the simple signature of the plant. The red berry is unmistakably heart medicine and serves the more dense structures of the cardiovascular system, while the leaves and flowers are the lighter, more airy and delicate parts, much like the tiny capillaries in the periphery.
Atherosclerosis, hyper/hypotension, the praecordial pain of angina, and nervous heart palpitations have all been successfully treated with hawthorn in some form.
Hawthorn has an intelligence when it comes to dyslipidemia. It has been used to lower the “bad” cholesterol and prevent plaque inside the arteries. It increases the efficiency of the heart’s systole, increasing the volume of blood pumped out with each beat.
Hawthorn also improves the nutrition, tone and pliability of the vessels, allowing blood cells to flow through with less damaging friction, thereby regulating blood pressure. Decreased peripheral vascular resistance paired with its overall strengthening of cardiac output means less stress on the heart and increased cardiac endurance (German Commission E).
In a time when the most common cause of death in industrialized countries is some form of heart disease, hawthorn can and should be one of our closest plant allies.
As a gentle nervine, it is particularly useful in calming the nervous element associated with heart arrhythmias. It’s through this mechanism that hawthorn can also be used to calm children and adults that can’t focus and are restless. David Winston and Matthew Wood both have used hawthorn in their practice to soothe attention deficit disorders by calming the nerves and heart/pulse.
In TCM, this would be classified as a heart yin (the inward energy) deficiency with disturbed shen (heart spirit). Symptoms of heat can manifest as hyperactivity, anxiety, and insomnia, or profound sadness from a broken heart, especially when there is such deep grief that the person can physically feel it in their heart.
Matthew Wood has three specific indications for hawthorn that can be seen on the hands and body:
If the meaty part of the palm has a slow capillary refill time (stays white for a moment after being pressed)
If the back of the hands and wrists are dry from lack of lipids
If there is redness in the cheeky areas of the body (thighs, cheeks, butt)
Matthew’s observation of the dry skin from lack of oils here ties in with the TCM use of hawthorn for helping the body to assimilate lipids. Note that this is different than having dry skin from lack of water. The skin needs oils to hold in its waters and act as a barrier.
The Renaissance use of the berry for aiding in the digestion of heavy, fatty foods is also in line with the concept of assimilating lipids. As an herbalist, when you think of aiding in fat digestion, you think of bitters and bile. I don’t think the mechanism here is like that of bitters on the gallbladder and liver. Hawthorn is not a bitter medicine in the slightest. Instead I would agree with Matthew that hawthorn’s action here is probably by nourishing the cells in the walls of the gut and optimizing their assimilation of lipids, thereby increasing the gut’s overall function. The gut is where we take in and assimilate the outside world, and if the walls of the gut are dried out from lack of oils, dysfunction and dysbiosis can occur. I would even postulate that hawthorn could be part of an autoimmunity protocol because of this mechanism, given what we now know about the link between autoimmunity and gut permeability. In fact, it has recently been used by naturopath Deborah Francis to palliatively cool the heated tissue state of autoimmunities while underlying issues are addressed (Wood).
Matthew also indicates it for waking in the night and lack of concentration, which is caused by “low blood” in Southern folk herbalism- not enough blood making it to the brain for proper function. Compare this to one of the concepts hawthorn represents in the Celtic Ogham alphabet as the consonant “huathe,” offering mental clarity.
On an energetic level, hawthorn flower essence works to remove creative and spiritual blockages and helps one to learn to trust the process (Tree Frog Farm). It can also help to clear old emotional attachments to past traumas, allowing old wounds to heal and move forward strengthened. The old saying “a clean wound heals faster” applies to this use of hawthorn flower essence (Pure Therapies).
Homeopathy uses the plant in much the same way traditional western herbalism does, finding it to be a valued and trusted heart tonic in cases of hypertrophy, palpitations, and weakness upon exertion.
The two trees that are perhaps most associated with the fairies are the hawthorn and the elder, both being inhabited by the hidden folk and seen as portals to their realm. Matthew Wood uses these two trees as a remedy for someone who has been “taken by the fairies,” or who seems stuck in their imagination and needs to learn to strike a balance between the two worlds. Here we again see the tissue state that hawthorn acts upon. Hawthorn is cooling and normalizes states of heat and excitation.
It’s debated as to whether the tree is a blessing or a curse, but I believe we partake of the spirit of this tree when we use its medicine, internalizing its strength, endurance, and fierce, wild beauty. There’s also a lesson to be had from hawthorn about carefully navigating boundaries. A mis-handling of the tree can cause serious injury- physically and spiritually- but it also has profound medicine and magic when approached with respect. Like its cousin, rose, we can be easily distracted by the beauty of its flowers and fruits, only to discover we’ve been entangled by its thorns. Some believed witches’ brooms were made of hawthorn wood, and others fearfully hung its boughs as a form of protection against witches. Sailors believed that having hawthorn on board their ship kept the seas calm, while others dared not to invite its calamity into their living space. While being a plant of protection and boundaries, it represents joy for some and sorrow for others. It can be the boundary or help to break yours down. It can transport you to the faery realm or bring you back down to Earth.
Does it wound or heal? Is it a sacred tree, or is it blasphemous? Is it ecstasy or torment? Is it for excitation or atrophy? Is it seductive or prickly? Yin or yang? Venus or Mars? Male or female? Ah, but the energy of the tree corresponds with and contains both counterparts, as does its flowers, and therein lies the magic and power of its generative force: the functional balance of duality in all its forms.
A total of 140 volunteers with class 2 heart failure completed a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial using a standardized extract of hawthorn berries called Crataegisan. Using bicycle exercise to determine cardiac endurance, the study concluded that the test group acquired a higher tolerance for exercise than the control. They received 30 drops of the extract 3 times a day.
A recent study involving 116 volunteers was done to observe the effects of hawthorn on cardiac surgery patients. The results concluded that patients who recently consumed hawthorn extract had a higher incidence of postoperative bleeding, some requiring secondary operations. Based on these results, hawthorn’s circulatory benefits are evident, and it would be advisable to stop taking hawthorn in the weeks leading up to a surgery to avoid postoperative complications.
In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study, 72% of the volunteers who took a supplement containing beetroot and hawthorn berry saw a significant reduction in their triglycerides after only 30 days. The supplement also increased nitric oxide production, having a dilating effect on the blood vessels.
Eighty women between the ages of 50 & 80 volunteered to take an extract of hawthorn berries and camphor. The women in the test group showed a temporary increase in blood pressure and cognitive function as opposed to their control group counterparts. The study believed that the camphor increased oxygen supply as a bronchodilator, and hawthorn increased cardiovascular function.
In a study involving 36 people with mild hypertension, the test group took 500mg of hawthorn extract for 10 weeks and had a slight decrease in blood pressure and anxiety levels.
490 patients between the ages of 11 and 102 being treated for orthostatic hypotension were given preparation of hawthorn berries (97.3%) and camphor (2.5%). The preparation was shown to be safe and highly effective in treating orthostatic hypotension in the test group, regardless of the patient’s initial blood pressure.
In this study of 952 people, hawthorn was shown to have a significant benefit for patients being treated for heart failure, either as a stand-alone treatment or an add-on to their current medications.
A randomized trial involving 8 volunteers concluded that hawthorn (leaves and flowers) and digoxin could be co-administered safely in the dosages used in the study.
In mice, hawthorn berry and seed extracts were shown to depress central nervous system activity while having an analgesic effect on central and peripheral nerves. The extract was also shown to have extremely low toxicity. These findings support hawthorn’s traditional use in treating anxiety, insomnia, stress, and nervousness.
One study from France involving 264 volunteers with generalized anxiety tested the effects of hawthorn, california poppy, and magnesium. Results from the study concluded that the herbal preparation was safe and effective in reducing the symptoms of anxiety in the test group.
Flavonoids (rutin, quercetin), triterpenoids, saponins, oligomeric procyanidin, polyphenols, coumarins, tannins. Flowers: flavonoids, amines (acetylcholine, choline). Berries: caffeic acid, vitamins C, B1-6, B9, B12, choline, inositol, PABA, flavonoids, bioflavonoids, calcium, iron, phosphorus, fructose. All parts contain flavonoid pigments hyperoside and vitexin rhamnoside, leucanthocyanadins, and crataeguslactone.
Dosage & Application:
David Winston makes a solids extract of hawthorn for long term cardiovascular support and recommends a quarter to half tsp 2x/day.
Tincture: 2-4 droppers full of tincture daily (berries, leaves & flowers) or 1-2 tablets of standardized extract morning and evening, taken long term for cardiovascular support. (Christopher Hobbs)
Hawthorn is frequently paired with rose and/or Albizia in formulas for the emotional heart and to open one’s heart to relate to one another.
Warnings & Contraindications
Many wild species of hawthorn are considered official and used interchangeably in herbal medicine. They also readily cross with each other. Hybrid cultivars have not been closely studied for medicinal use and should generally be avoided to ensure a potent, quality preparation. An easy way to tell if you have a wild or hybrid species of Crataegus is to count the seeds inside the berry. If it has two or less seeds, it is probably a wild hawthorn. If it has more than two seeds, it is probably a cultivated hybrid (Cech). It may potentiate beta blockers. It is best taken long term to see full cardiovascular benefits, and can be safely given with digitalis under a physician’s supervision. It may even help a person to reduce their dose of digitalis (Hobbs).
**I feel I also owe a bit of credit to Culpeper for inspiring the title of this monograph. “By its own pricking” was in part borrowed from him and altered to mean “in its own right” or “by its own mettle.” It’s also a nod to hawthorn’s dichotomy in curing what it causes and causing what it cures. Its thorns are both wounding and curative depending on how they are used. Also, “pricking” as a noun is an old Scots word for a thorn hedge on an earthen rampart.
Common Names: Polar plant, compass weed
Parts used: Aerial parts
Actions: Stimulant to peripheral circulation, supports memory and cognition, diaphoretic, relaxant, antispasmodic, restorative to the nervous system, cardiac tonic, cholagogue
Taste: Spicy, warm, dry, oily, diffusive, stimulating, astringent
Tissue States: Atrophy, depression
Energetics: Warming, stimulating
Degree of Action: 2nd
A ubiquitous shrub with narrow, linear, revolute leaves and small lipped flowers that vary in color from silvery-white to dark blue. Felter and Lloyd write in King’s American Dispensatory, “Rosemary is an erect, perennial, evergreen shrub, 2 to 4 feet high, with numerous branches of an ash color, and densely leafy. The leaves are sessile, opposite, linear, over an inch in length, and about 2 lines broad, entire, obtuse at the summit, revolute at the margins, of a firm consistence, dark-green and shining above, and downy and sometimes whitish beneath” .
Indigenous to southern Europe; commonly cultivated everywhere. Rosemary can take root and thrive in scanty soil and is found in sandy and rocky places, on mountain slopes and cliff sides.
Volatile oils (1,8-cineol, camphor, α-pinene, β-pinene, linalool, limonene, borneol, bornyl acetate, eucalyptol, and camphene), terpenoid bitters, polyphenols (proanthocyanidins, flavonoids, rosmarinic acid, carnosic acid, carnosol, tannins).
Uplifting aromatic relaxant. Improves memory and concentration, eases headaches and relieves mild to moderate depression. Circulatory stimulant and heart tonic. Useful in cases of gastritis, dyspepsia, and torpid liver.
There’s rosemary, now that’s for remembrance.
Pray you, love, remember.
—Ophelia, Act IV of Hamlet
Juliette Bairacli de Levy writes in her book Common Herbs for Natural Health, “The sea has given rosemary its name: Ros marinus, dew of the sea.” She describes its historic use, explaining, “The Gypsies especially love rosemary and in former days they used to peddle the world over a preparation of flowering rosemary sprigs known as ‘The Queen of Hungary’s Water,’ much valued as a cure-all for the ills of mankind.” She continues:
The Arabs also greatly value rosemary. Herdsman encourage their flocks to pasture on rosemary because of the pleasant taste this plant imparts to the milk... In ancient times rosemary was used in French churches and cathedrals for perfume, by crushing underfoot. The Gypsies hang sprigs of rosemary in their vans as a protection against evil forces, and under the pillow to protect sleepers – especially infants and children – and to prevent nightmares .
Matthew Wood writes in his Earthwise Herbal Vol I., “Both the leaves and the oil of rosemary have long been used in Mediterranean medicine. The properties have been described by Dioscorides, Plinius, and Galen. The Arabic physicians considered it one of the most valuable items in the materia medica. Rosemary is mentioned in the herbals of northern Europe from the Renaissance down through the present” . He also notes that rosemary was used from ancient times till the Renaissance as an emblem for fidelity between lovers. Ann of Cleves is supposed to have worn a wreath of rosemary around her head at her wedding to Henry VIII. Wood quips, “Hopefully she was able to forget that marriage quickly.
Matthew Wood also references English “Professor of Physick” William Salmon, who he seems to hold in high regard . He tells us, “Salmon writes from experience and, furthermore, I count him as the ‘first Anglo-American’ herbalist on record, since he spent some time in his youth clearing timbered land in the ‘West Indies,’ i.e., South Carolina. This was before black chattel slavery, when they used indentured white labor. He returned to London and practiced as a physician, very adept, but was hated by the high born physicians due to classism. He is so American in that sense: ‘— you, you highbrows.’ When you look at the output and translation of Culpeper and Salmon, and the hatred and scorn they suffered... you see the vested interests of the time under threat.” Salmon writes of rosemary in his text Botanologia, The English Herbal: Or History of Plants, published in 1710:
It prevails against the head-ach and megrim, from a cold cause; the vertigo, lethargy, epilepsy, apoplexy, palsy, convulsions, catarrhs, drowsiness, dullness of the senses, loss of memory, coldness of the stomach, stinking breath, wind in the stomach and bowels, dimness of the sight, jaundice, obstructions of the terms, gout from a cold cause, all external pains and chases from a cold and moist cause, lameness, numbedness, weakness of the joints; and in contagious times, prevails even against the plague it self and all contagious and infectious diseases .
Culpeper expounds upon the usefulness of rosemary in treating ailments of the central nervous system in his 1818 publication The English Physician:
The decoction thereof in wine, helps the cold distillations of rheum in the eyes, and all other cold diseases of the head and brain, as the giddiness of swimmings therein, drowsiness or dullness of the mind and senses like a stupidness, the dumb palsy, or loss of speech, the lethargy and falling-sickness, to be drunk, and the temples bathed there with. It helps the pains in the gums and teeth... causing an evil smell from them, or a stinking breath. It helps a weak memory and quickens the senses .
Jonathan Pereira – apothecary, surgeon, and lecturer at London’s Aldersgate Street Medical School – addresses the historic applications of rosemary in his Elements of Materia Medica and Therapeutics, a pioneering pharmacological text published in 1854. He notes that the Arabian name for rosemary signifies “royal crown,” which suggests its history of use as a garland. Pliny, in his Natural History calls it “Rosmarinum.” The flowers are termed anthos (from the ancient Greek word άνθος meaning “flower”), which indicates that they are flowers par excellence; the epitome of what it means to be a flower. Pereira writes of its uses, “Carminative and mildly stimulant, analogous to the other labiate plants.”
Despite its illustrious history, rosemary seems -- ironically -- to have been forgotten in 19th century London. Pereira brusquely remarks, “Rarely employed medicinally. Infusion of Rosemary (rosemary tea) is sometimes used as a substitute for ordinary tea by hypochondriacal persons.” I can only hope such “hypochondriacal persons” found relief from the likes of Pereira. I would scorn him entirely, but he redeems our beloved plant (and himself) on apian grounds, writing, “The admired flavour of Narbonne honey depends on the bees collecting this substance from rosemary plants, which abound in the neighbourhood of Narbonne: hence sprigs of rosemary are sometimes added to the honey of other places, in order to imitate the flavour of Narbonne honey” .
Prominent physiomedicalist William Cook wrote in his 1869 Physiomedical Dispensatory of the usefulness of rosemary in treating women’s ailments. He observes:
The leaves are diffusively stimulating and relaxing in action; and when used as a warm infusion prove slightly diaphoretic and nervine, and somewhat emmenagogue. They are useful in recent colds, recent suppression of the menses from exposure, and as an antispasmodic in mild hysteria, painful menstruation, and other difficulties. Its tincture is sometimes added to other medicines as an adjuvant.
The oil is a good nervine stimulant for external uses, as in neuralgia and other acute pains; and enters into compounds named under camphor and spearmint. The leaves are an ingredient in the Compound Spirits of Lavender .
Eclectic practitioner Dr. John Milton Scudder, writes in his 1883 American Eclectic Materia Medica and Therapeutics that rosemary “Is described under the classes of Emmenagogues and Stimulants, and requires but a passing notice in this place. It is a stimulating diaphoretic, adapted to the fulfillment of this indication in colds, and mild febrile attacks. It is similar to the dittany, hyssop, sage and thyme, and used in the same cases.” Later he adds, “Rosemary is carminative, emmenagogue, and antispasmodic. It is employed as a gentle stimulant in pains in the stomach and bowels, and as a diaphoretic in colds and the incipient stages of fever. The infusion may be taken freely” .
Felter and Lloyd, fellow Eclectics, mention in their 1898 publication King’s American Dispensatory that rosemary is used as a stimulant, antispasmodic, and emmenagogue. They note -- in a passage marked by its brevity -- that rosemary is seldom used, “Except as a perfume for ointments, liniments, embrocations, etc. The oil is principally employed. Dose, internally, from 3 to 6 drops” . It seems that, like the English of the time, the Americans were unimpressed with this Mediterranean herb, and awarded it little more than passing notice.
In his 1917 Manual of Organic Materia Medica and Pharmacognosy Lucius Elmer Sayre (president-elect of the American Pharmaceutical Association) offers a handful of uses for rosemary. He writes, “In moderate amounts it acts as stimulant, aromatic and carminative. In local application, it is said to do good in the treatment of chronic rheumatism, sprains, etc” .
Remington and Wood echo their countrymen in The Dispensatory of the United States of America (1918), noting that rosemary is seldom used in the States. They do refer to its appeal abroad for both humans and bees:
Rosemary is gently stimulant, and has been considered emmenagogue. In the practice of this country it is scarcely used; but in Europe, especially on the continent, it enters into the composition of several syrups, tinctures, etc., to which it imparts its agreeable odor and excitant property. It is sometimes added to sternutatory powders, and is used externally in connection with other aromatics in the form of fomentation. In some countries it is employed as a condiment; and its flowers, which are much sought after by the bees, impart their peculiar flavor to the honey of the districts in which the plant abounds .
German medical doctor Gerhard Madaus is a vault of knowledge when it comes to the history of rosemary’s use. According to an article published by the Society for the Social History of Medicine he “turned folk medicine into science” with his three volume publication The Textbook of Biological Remedies . He writes, “Rosemary is greedily eaten by sheep, and the meat of the sheep grazing on the Rosemary (South France) is considered to be particularly tasty. The climate and soil structure seem to exert great influence on the quality of the oil of this plant, since the French oil is much better in comparison with the English and Spanish.” (Whether the charm of his writing is his own or due to the quirks of translation remains unclear.)
Aside from yarns about French sheep, Madaus has much to say on the topic of rosemary’s historical medicinal applications:
Since the rosemary is a Mediterranean plant, it would be obvious to believe that it was very well known to the ancient Greeks and Romans as a medicinal plant. But this does not appear to be the case, for Theophrastus does not mention it at all, and Dioskurides only knows of its healing power, that it has a warming power, and heals the sexual desire. On the other hand, rosemary has always played an important role in ancient culture. It was dedicated to Aphrodite and served to Horace and Ovid, humans and gods as ornaments. Columella has already praised it as a donor of honey, the honey of Mahon and Narbonne owes its goodness to the rosemary. It has crossed the Alps through the colonizing monks and is already mentioned in the Capitulare of Charlemagne. In the Middle Ages, it was a highly esteemed medicinal plant, already known in the Anglo-Saxon herbal books.
In my favorite anecdote, Madaus tells the story of the naming of ‘The Queen of Hungary’s Water.’ “The 16th century Aqua Reginae Hungariae was distilled from fresh rosemary flowers with alcohol,” he writes. “It was thus named because Queen Isabella of Hungary, who was ghastly and paralyzed, was so rejuvenated that a king of Poland wanted to marry the 72-year-old.”
He references a number of practitioners’ endorsements for rosemary’s application in female ailments (other than being ‘ghastly and paralyzed,’ naturally):
This water should also have proved good in fainting. Friedrich Hoffmann recommended rosemary in women’s infertility. Liebert is one of the most valuable resources for bleaching. In the people the rosemary is considered a means of fluor albus... As a symbol of love, as wedding jewelry and as a dead plant, it has always been very popular among the people. Thus the Enneberg girls, as H. Marzell reports, give their fellows artificial hair with rosemary on Dreikönigstag, and the English girls use “rosmary and thyme” on St. Agnes’s eve under the incantation:
“St. Agnes, that’s to lovers kind
Come, ease the troubles of my mind.”
Madaus proceeds to enumerate the medicinal uses of rosemary as reported by various historical figures, Greek and German alike:
Rosmarin has already been found in Hippocrates and Paracelsus. Lonicerus describes it as liver cleansing, softening, diuretic, emmenagogue, digestive, blood-purifying, supports perspiration, against epilepsy, externally against cancer, podagra, uterine cleansing and for fertility. In Matthiolus it is chiefly a means of strengthening and stimulating, used in epilepsy, sleeping, paralysis, trembling, insensitivity, as well as for local use on ulcers, ulcer-cleaning, tooth and limb-strengthening. Also Wittich ordered it along with Ruta graveolens against epilepsy. According to Weinmann rosemary is said to possess a whole series of good properties. It is thus used as a nerve-strengthening agent in cramping, paralysis, trembling of the limbs, weak memory, etc., as well as affection of women, white flow, sterility, amenorrhea, pallor, stomach cramps, hepatic and spleen congestion, and wateriness. Also, visual weakness should be favorably influenced. Various indications, such as gout, rheumatism, epilepsy, infertility, impotence, fetal oris, etc., are given by Osiander to Rosmarinus, Hufeland uses it as a nervine. It is frequently used as a carminative and abortive in national medicine.
Once he completes his tour of Greek roots and German “national medicine,” Madaus makes a foray into Czech medicinal applications of rosemary. He writes:
On the use in Czech national medicine, the following summary, communicated to me by Dostàl: A rosemary bath heals to Veleslavin. According to the same author, rosemary will strengthen the stomach and the brain, eliminate the mouth odor, heal the injuries and the fractures. Inhaled, it removes cough, the root expels the pest, and with the ashes cleans teeth. In Hanna it is recommended to eat bread daily with pale salt and rosemary. Boiled in goat’s milk, rosemary forms a remedy for vertigo, macerated in corn syrup, it is to strengthen the body. The loss of appetite is remedied by rosemary. Evil mouth odor is eliminated when the flowers are chewed (Hanna). Rosemary also degasses the intestines and promotes digestion. Rosemary tea is used to heal stomach diseases. In Silesia, rosemary is used externally to strengthen the eyes. A spoon of rosemary should be taken early in the morning.
Madaus also references Latvian botanical medicine in his textbook. Madaus writes:
In Latvia rosemary oil is used with snuff to relieve headaches. Parturier and Rouselle had good results with rosemary flavors (sober before meals) in liver diseases. Schroth treated with Rosmarinus oligoplex several cases of amenorrhea, which had previously been treated in vain with hormones. He describes Rosmarinus oligoplex as the best means to influence the organism emmenagogue after a fasting. Leclerc had frequently had good results with rosemary in states of exhaustion as a result of severe febrile diseases, and in atonic dyspepsia, and also in exhaustion by mental exertion. Wizenmann calls rosemary the main nervine in the climacteric. The most effective component of the rosemary leaves is an essential oil, which is used locally as a skin irritant, but in larger doses treats epilepsy. Also, Lesieur denotes the essential oil as a convulsive remedy, which provokes convulsions with head shaking, contractures, and trembling. Animals treated with small doses of rosemary oil are scary, as are those treated with fennel oil, while the animals become aggressive when treated with the oil of Ysop, wormwood and sage.
It’s not entirely clear what Madaus means when he writes, “Animals… are scary,” but I’d venture to guess lack of intelligibility has something to do with the limitations of google translate. Not to be outdone, Madaus makes a point to present his own research on mice:
Decays of rosemary increase the secretion of the bile, while oil remains ineffective in this respect. The aqueous extract of the flowering plant kills bacterium coli (according to own investigations). In investigating the question of whether the abortions contained follicular hormones, rosemary was also tested by me. It was superior to the pulsatilla by lower toxicity, and succeeded, with a rosemary extract, to produce a true oestrus in infantile mice by subcutaneous injection. In the case of infantile rats, the presence of two out of three animals caused premature ejaculation. A remarkable increase in weight was observed, and the animals were given subcutan 0.7 ccm of rosemary extract daily for eight days. No estrus could be obtained by feeding. Even in adult rats, feeding of the rosemary oligoplex did not show an increase in the follicular (oestrus). The animals become shaggy when fed. Pregnant mice are not affected by feeding with rosemary in the discharge.
Up to more mischief than just mice, Madaus “engaged in personal communications outside the German Reich,” by virtue of which he discerned that rosemary was used internally in Denmark in cases of dysphagia, flatulence, white flow, impotence, as a blood purifier, and externally on cancer wounds and in steam/sweat baths. In Styria (a mountainous state in southern Austria) it was used as a heart-enhancing remedy.
On the basis of literature review and some form of survey, Madaus collected the following information:
Rosmarinus is primarily prescribed as an emmenagogue (also in amenorrhea and oligomenorrhea due to obesity). However, it is also indicated in other women’s disorders, especially dysmenorrhea and fluor albus. It can also be given for climacteric symptoms with severe nervous symptoms. Rosemary is important for the nervous system. It is given in paralysis and epileptic convulsions, as a tonic in exhaustion, memory weakness, dizziness, limb fatigue, heart neuroses.
On the gastrointestinal tract it exerts a tonic effect. It is given in liver stasis, stomach disease, meteorism. Rosemary is also mentioned in various diabetes mellitus. On the outside, rosemary is used in neuritis, baldness, salt scabs on the limbs, and colds in the form of envelopes or as bathing additives. Against the papery taste after fasting a tea boiling as throat water is recommended. Rosemary has also been given in homeopathic dilution, in amounts of 1 cc subcutaneously in hydrops. In some cases, strong diuresis has been observed. In colds, E. Stieber praises it as a bathing supplement 
Whew. That’s quite enough of Gerhard Madaus and his ‘throat water,’ let’s move on to modern medicinal uses of rosemary outside of the German Reich.
Rosemary is Juliette Bairacli de Levy’s favorite and most-used herb. Levy describes rosemary as one of the scarce ‘cure-all’ herbs of the herbalist, and claims, “It is also a proven supreme heart tonic, one of the few powerful heart tonics that is not a drastic drug. It is one of the most important of the aromatics, yielding a camphorated type of dark green oil, which has many medicinal uses.” She recommends rosemary taken internally for treatments of high blood pressure, headaches, and all nervous ailments, as well as for female ailments including threatened miscarriage, for ‘impure blood,’ gastritis, torpid liver, and obesity.
Externally, she describes its use by Spanish peasants as a wound cure when ground into salt and applied topically. She writes that the Arabs use it similarly, sprinkling powdered rosemary on the umbilical cord of newborn infants as an astringent and antiseptic treatment. Rosemary can also be used as an insecticide (when mixed with light beer) or powdered and mixed with wormwood. Similarly, she mentions that rosemary is planted in gardens to protect neighboring plants and orchard trees against insect pests. Levy suggests using rosemary as a wash to “strengthen and brighten the hair and to check the unnatural falling of hair” .
I would be remiss if I failed to include the insight of Rosemary Gladstar in this monograph. In Rosemary Gladstar’s Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide she writes wryly of her reputation as a “rosemary murderer” since moving to Vermont, where the herb doesn’t grow so breezily as it did in her previous stomping grounds of California. As far as medicinal usage is concerned, she writes:
Rosemary is a legendary brain tonic, improving concentration and memory. It enhances the cellular uptake of oxygen and is a mild and uplifting stimulant, and it has long been valued for its ability to ease headaches and migraines and relieve mild to moderate depression. It is also a well-known circulatory stimulant, useful for problems associated with the cardiovascular system, poor circulation, and low blood pressure.
Research shows that rosemary contains high levels of rosmaricine, which acts as a mild analgesic, and antioxidants, which together make it useful for treating inflammation, such as arthritis and joint damage. Whether fresh or dried, it is a good digestive aid, facilitating the digestion of fats and starches .
Kiva Rose – another rosemary enthusiast – writes on her blog The Allies, “We have Rosemary butter, Rosemary infused olive oil, Rosemary salve, Rosemary tea, Rosemary tincture, Rosemary lotion, Rosemary smudge, Rosemary rubbed meat and all manner of other Rosemary flavored dishes and body products.” She continues:
Rosemary has been a favorite ally of mine for quite some time, both for its beautiful and giving nature and because it’s just so damn useful. It’s a common ingredient in my digestive formulas, especially for those with a sluggish, overtired liver and a cold gut typified by lack of appetite, gas, constipation and bloating. I especially like it combined with Oregon Grape Root for the liver issues, and is additionally helpful in a pattern that often includes excessive, dilute urination from kidney deficiency and low blood pressure as well as inability to digest protein/fat efficiently. Other specific indications also include foggy thinking, general feeling of coldness, tiredness and intermittent depression with or without thyroid involvement usually with nervousness or anxiety underneath. There are also sometimes signs of heart weakness accompanying the poor circulation.
Rosemary is a very efficient and effective circulatory stimulant, and thus useful in a great many heart and circulatory formulas. Fresh whole rose hips, Rosemary, Ginger and Yarrow is the basic makeup of one of my favorite winter heart remedies for those who tend to get cold, quiet and lethargic in the winter. Also great for headaches of a vascular nature, along with Virgin’s Bower or Pulsatilla.
As a nervine, it has both relaxing and stimulating qualities, making it ideal for cold-bodied people with a tendency to both depression and nervousness. It promotes clarity of thinking, calm awareness, a sense of groundedness and can be very useful for flighty people constantly floating out or sinking down out of their bodies. Cold, sad people with digestive weakness and have a hard time being in the present and tend to drift into dreamy or spacey thinking will often benefit a great deal from the ongoing use of this herb.
‘Cold, sad people’ indeed. She also gives several recipes and ways of using rosemary beyond the standard tincture, to offset its intensity and potential energetic exasperations:
The tea of dried leaves tends to be milder and more easily handled by a variety of constitutional types. It works very well in many tea blends, or as a pinch added to a nourishing infusion to warm things up a bit. A foment, oil or vinegar of the leaves is very nice for old muscle or joint injuries with a tendency to flare up in cold or damp weather. The oil or fresh leaf infused lard makes an excellent salve for old wounds that don’t want to heal, chronic pain of various sorts and on cracked dry feet or hands (Comfrey or Plantain is a nice addition to this). The salve and tea are also highly antimicrobial and helpful for any wound or infection that could use a boost in circulation and warmth.
Partially due to its intense volatile oil content, Rosemary works very well as a warm infused foot bath. Great at the end of the day for sore, tired feet and it is quickly absorbed through the feet into the bloodstream allowing the body to take advantage of its many healing qualities. Headaches, coldness, exhaustion and sadness (among other things) can all be addressed quite well through this simple method. To make a foot bath, just throw a handful or two of dried leaves into a big pot (big enough for both your feet to comfortably fit in) half filled with water (depending on depth) and heat to just below simmering, turn heat off and let steep for ten minutes. You can then either let the water cool down to an enjoyable temperature or add some cold water before soaking your feet for as long as you like. You can also make a quart of strong infusion of the herb and pour the strained liquid into your regular bath. You can also create temptingly aromatic blends to revive your feet at the end of the day, something like 1 part Rosemary, 1 part Lavender flowers and 1 part Rose petals. This also makes a wonderful face or body wash, it’s stimulating, calming and very cheering .
In his Earthwise Herbal Vol. I Matt Wood describes the people who will benefit from rosemary as those with “Too strong an incarnation, so to speak, or who grasp the material world with such vigor that they get headaches with nervous tension.” He clarifies, “I do not mean that they are materialistic; it is for people who grasp life with such intensity, or not with enough intensity.” Wood notes that rosemary stimulates the metabolism, “Enhancing the burning and consumption of blood sugars and fats. It thus warms, cleans, and oxidizes throughout the body.” He observes that it increases muscle activity in the parasympathetic nervous system via nerve stimulation – which serves to strengthen the arteries, stomach, intestines, gall passages, and heart – while simultaneously relaxing the sympathetic nervous system and voluntary muscles. Wood writes that rosemary “Acts strongly on the ‘blood organs,’ especially the liver, also the heart, lungs, spleen, and kidneys.” He adds that the catabolic processes of liver and gallbladder are increased, and more ‘gall’ is produced and secreted.
According to Wood, rosemary is indicated in a cold, sluggish liver and gallbladder condition, where there is “a pale, yellowish complexion, slow digestion, bitter taste in the mouth, and lack of energy.” He writes that rosemary is ‘opening’ to the body, indeed, “Increased bile secretion and smooth muscle activity enhance digestion and assimilation to open the bowels,” while “Increased circulation warms, stimulates, and opens the body generally.” He writes of the volatile oils, “They make their impression upon the autonomic nervous system and hence upon the innervation and circulation of the abdominal viscera” — rosemary’s volatile oils act upon the stomach to increase secretion, remove gas, improve appetite, and renew function.
Wood also reports on the use of rosemary in heart conditions. He references Father Sebastian Kneipp, a 19th century Bavarian priest and forefather of the naturopathic medicine movement, who used rosemary as a specific for cardiac edema and congestive heart failure. Kneipp writes, “Rosemary-wine, taken in small doses, has also proved an excellent remedy against heart infirmities. It operates in a sedative manner, and in the cases of heart-dropsy it works strongly on removal through the urine. Such wine renders the same service in dropsy in general.” A century later Rudolf Weiss, German professor of herbal medicine and permanent member of the German Commission E, similarly recommended steeping rosemary in a resinous southern European wine – Wood wisecracks, “Californian would work as well” – for use as a heart tonic. In this vein, Wood reports using rosemary in brandy successfully in his practice to treat heart edema.
Weiss’s indications for rosemary are enumerated by Wood:
Where there is chronic circulatory weakness, including low blood pressure, and especially in young people who are ‘aesthenic’ (weak, thin, pale) and easily run down. Rosemary is also appropriate for older people with weak circulation, sometimes due to constitutional weakness but in many cases from overwork or following weakening diseases such as influenza or pneumonia. It stimulates the appetite and is especially indicated when atonic conditions of the stomach accompany poor circulation .
Wood also references Dr. Dietrich Gümbel, author of Principles Of Holistic Skin Therapy With Herbal Essences, who writes, “By increasing the oxygenation and burning processes throughout the body, excessive blood sugar is used up. This strengthens all the functions of the body, but especially those of the heart and brain, which subsist on huge quantities of blood sugar.” This may explain why rosemary oil so effectively keeps people awake and alert on long drives. Similarly, Wood mentions its benefits in those who can’t wake up in the morning and need to drink coffee. But caution is advised (and he references Julia Graves here); “Do not use too much because it can cause the heart to race” .
In addition to acting as a heart tonic, rosemary is also works on peripheral circulation. Wood writes, “Nerves are stimulated, congealed blood is removed, capillaries are opened, and sensation is improved. This remedy is used to remove cold conditions from the limbs, including the stiffness and soreness resulting from undue muscular activity as well as that from arthritic conditions and bruises and strains” .
From a psychospiritual standpoint, Wood comments on Rudolf Steiner (Austrian philosopher and esotericist) and his use of rosemary baths to stimulate awareness and increase a ‘sense of selfhood,’ which he attributes to the fire element or warmth of the body. In fact, Steiner considered diabetes mellitus to be “a disease of incomplete incarnation into the selfhood of the body.” In The Traditional Practice of Western Herbal Medicine Wood writes, “Rosemary was perhaps the archetypal fiery mint used by Steiner to increase circulation, nervous sensation, and consciousness. He would express this by saying that the ‘I-organization’ exerted its influence from the mind down through the bodily pole, though it would be simpler to say that the warmth or fire element is extended into bodily functions through innervation and circulation. By comparison, the cooling plants, of which the rose family is a prime example, tend to refine and articulate perception and experience” .
In the realm of rosemary baths, Wood refers to an odd anecdote about Carlos Castaneda. According to Amy Wallace, lover and disciple of Castaneda, he recommended a decoction of rosemary applied to the genitals to remove the influence of past sexual experiences. In her memoir Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Wallace recounts:
The bag contained a fresh heap of rosemary cuttings. The witches explained that Carlos had cut it just for me from a gigantic plant outside his door, imbued with magic because it had grown from a cutting given to him by don Juan. I was told to boil it down to a strong decoction and let it cool to body temperature. Then I was to put it into a small plastic tub and bathe my genitals in it for five minutes, three times a week.
These five-minute baths were to remove from my womb the “energetic worms” that had been implanted in me by every lover I’d ever had. These “worms...” remained in a woman’s body indefinitely, allowing her ex-lovers to vampirically sap her energy, leaving her in a depleted fog. The witches assured me that seven years of celibacy, with rosemary, would restore my vitality .
Wood reports that the diluted oil may be used topically to increase circulation, and additionally “improves the water-retentive qualities of the skin, stimulates heat-discharge through a better metabolism of fats and sugars, and nourishes the skin glands. It is indicated for a pale, cool skin with weak peripheral circulation and low blood pressure.” Wood makes an important distinction about the energetic applications of rosemary when he writes, “Rosemary is traditionally classified as warming and drying, or stimulating and astringent. However, it is moistening to the gallbladder and bowels, increases digestion and nutrition, and is therefore also indicated in dryness and atrophy as a moistening and nourishing agent” .
Wood lists rosemary’s organ affinities as: respiratory, digestion, liver, gallbladder and pancreas, heart and circulation, and nervous system. His specific indications span several pages, so I’ve selected a handful that seem particularly relevant
Pale, thin, weak persons with poor circulation to the surface, cool skin; pale, sallow persons with weak digestions; older persons with cardiopulmonary edema
Lack of self-identity and strength of personality
Depression, nervousness, anxiety
Young children with head colds, ear and throat problems; due to weak liver
Weak cerebral circulation; vertigo, loss of memory, headache (oil externally)
Eyestrain, headache from overuse, after long driving (oil externally)
Leucorrhea; infection, foul-smelling discharge
Occipital tension (apply a saturated cotton pad to the occiput and the sacrum) 
In The Modern Herbal Dispensatory Thomas Easley and Steven Horne note that rosemary is a tonic for the elderly and may help to improve circulation to the brain. They add that it has antioxidant properties that protect the brain and blood vessels .
According to Simon Mills in The Dictionary of Modern Herbalism, rosemary is “A remedy for depression and debility linked to nervous tension, vasoconstrictory headaches and migraines (those improving with heat), palpitations and other signs of nervous tension affecting the circulation, dyspeptic conditions with flatulence and signs of liver inadequacy, any condition with poor circulation and liver function combined, locally as a wash for dandruff and scurf” .
Jim Mcdonald, in his publication Foundational Herbcraft, categorizes rosemary as an “aromatic relaxant.” He describes herbs that fall under this label as “Invaluable, and of great import when the mind seems clouded, cluttered and hazy, and the brow is furrowed.” He continues,
Conversely, they tend to induce ‘wide angle perception,’ which can be helpful when one is fixated on some vexing issue and just can’t let it go or see anything else. David Winston introduced the concept of stagnant depression to me, where a person gets stuck, fixated on a distressing event they can’t shake, and that impacts every moment of their life; almost all of the remedies he mentions here are aromatic relaxants (lavender, rosemary, damiana, rose petals, holy basil). They clearly help to ease the hardship of grief, an action evidenced by the tradition of bringing fragrant flowers to a funeral.
Mcdonald describes rosemary as a “calmative nervine,” under the same umbrella as chamomile, catnip, lemon balm, Pedicularis, sage, and various mints, and extolls their virtues as appropriate long-term stress-reducing remedies. He writes:
They’re far less likely to overshoot the mark in the way that sedative nervines may. I can tell my stressball friend, who’s sitting on my couch sighing and groaning and feeling put upon to drink, perhaps, chamomile tea on a regular basis. They can drink as much as they’re inclined to... for a while until they feel better, daily long term because life is unfair and it’s probably not going to change anytime soon, or indefinitely because they’re really just inclined towards stress by nature, and the chamomile balances out that inclination. And, because it’s a calmative nervine, they can use it episodically, and it works. If they drink it regularly for weeks it still works, and doesn’t seem to aggravate. If it becomes their daily beverage of choice that’s still fine, and it still works without aggravation. But... it doesn’t possess a building or tonic action like some other herbs might. Long term use doesn’t increase its efficacy.
When differentiating between stimulating and relaxing nervines, Mcdonald gives rosemary as an example of an herb that appears contradictory -- he claims, “It defies any firm boundaries between these qualities.” Mcdonald notes that stimulating nervines are often aromatics, and that plants rich in volatile oils commonly possess mixed stimulating/relaxing qualities and are generally nervine to some extent due to the powerful effect of scent on the mind and emotions. He writes, “Because these plants have both stimulating and relaxant effects, it’s easy for us to forget to notice the stimulation, which we’re less focused on when considering nervines. Stimulating nervine aromatics are numerous: rosemary, calamus, asafoetida... all of these have notable stimulant effects. It’s an energized calm they invoke.” He moves on to say that aromatics are indicated by congestion, and that their use as nervines should also be considered. “Mental and emotional congestion can manifest as a lack of clarity, ‘brainfog,’ or feeling stuck in a response or pattern... unable to see a way to get out or break a cycle,” he writes, “These states are key indications for the use of aromatic nervines, and I always use them here. In fact, whenever someone uses the word ‘stuck’ to describe how they’re feeling, I think ‘Aromatic?’” .
An English herbalist I studied with had a favorite saying: “The herb you need is growing right outside your front door.” I took this to heart when I wintered in Port Townsend, Washington a few years back. In the front yard of the house where I was staying a voluptuous rosemary bush grew. Even after snow and ice and frost, it threw forth great sprays of vivid violet blossoms. Each day I would bundle up against the cold and walk the hidden paths that snaked through town; they would draw you into a massive dark wood, guide you through pasture and farmland, and then spit you out unapologetically at a cliff overhanging the sea. As I left the house each day I would greet the rosemary bush and take a bite of the pungent, resinous leaves. I felt them work their magic instantly -- warming and spurring me on through the glassy-cold winter air, step by step till I circled back hours later returning to the rosemary bush, plucking another handful of leaves to cook into my dinner.
As someone who suffers from fibromyalgia and the frustrating symptoms of brain fog, memory loss, and intractable whole-body pain, I’ve found rosemary indispensable. On those overcast days when my brain is in a muddle, a swig of rosemary tincture will clear things right up – far more effectively than a cup, or even a pot of coffee – and without the accompanying jitters. I’ve used rosemary to hone my focus when working on projects, or just to get me through the day when I can’t think straight. Taking rosemary is the closest thing I can imagine to having my old “smart” brain back from before I got sick... the one that remembered the words for things and what day of the week it was. In fact, I was experiencing a fibro flare while writing this monograph (cognition ↓) and found myself much benefitted by quaffing rosemary tincture.
Rosemary has also been incredibly helpful for fibro aches and pains when applied topically. I made an infused oil with the chopped leaves -- the whole house smelled like Christmas -- and mixed it into a salve with beeswax and peppermint and lavender essential oils. The aroma was incredible; sweet and spicy all at once. I massaged it generously into aching muscles and joints and found relief for entrenched injuries and pig-headed pains. Last year I used the salve to remedy the pain and inflammation associated with a flare of carpal tunnel syndrome. During a particularly aggressive spell of accordion playing and laptop typing I had an aggravation of numbness, tingling, and pain that stabbed from wrist to elbow. A combination of wrist braces and rubbing rosemary salve into my forearms for a week resolved an issue that many people resort to surgery for.
I used rosemary topically on one unfortunate occasion when I spent a hot minute with a punk musician and ended up with lice. My immune system was seeing red, throwing a fit over the blood suckers’ saliva — I was tormented by a hot itchy anxiety for days, unable to sleep. After peeling the nasties and their nits off of me I thoroughly doused the region with rosemary tincture (macerated from the aforementioned rosemary bush out front and pressed during a lunar eclipse). I repeated this process three times a day for a week and, to my utter relief, never saw claw nor nit from them again.
I feel a deep love and appreciation for rosemary. It’s robust and prolific, thriving in shallow sandy soils and on clifftops. I’ve seen rosemary all across the world, in the hot, dry climates of Mexico and Texas, and the notoriously damp, stagnant soils and freezing winter temperatures of southeast England and Port Townsend. Everywhere I go, there’s rosemary kicking up an abundance of growth, utterly unabashed.
Rosemary makes an appearance in all my cooking. My favorite thing to do is harvest loads of it from the garden to throw into mashed potatoes with sage and a shocking amount of butter. Mostly I just eat it straight off the plant; some wise herbalist of yesteryear planted it all around the garden at the Eclectic School of Herbal Medicine to drive off pests, so there’s plenty to nibble on.
One study published in Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology found that simply being exposed to the “ambient aroma” of rosemary essential oil dispersed in a room enhanced cognitive performance and mood. In this experiment, twenty healthy volunteers performed serial subtraction and visual information processing tasks in a cubicle diffused with the aroma of rosemary. The researchers assessed mood before and after cognitive testing, and venous blood was sampled at the end of the session. 1,8-cineole was detected in the blood serum of the subjects exposed to the aroma of rosemary essential oil, and these concentrations correlated with cognitive performance measures (number of correct responses and reaction times) and favorable changes in mood score.
1,8-cineole, considered to be the major active component of rosemary essential oil (typically 35%-45% by volume), is a terpene with demonstrated anti-AChE activity. AChE refers to acetylcholinesterase, an enzyme that catalyzes the breakdown of acetylcholine and several other choline esters that act as neurotransmitters. Its activity serves to terminate synaptic transmission, primarily at neuromuscular junctions and in cholinergic chemical synapses. Rosemary oil therefore has the potential to impact cognitive performance in a positive manner by inhibiting the breakdown of acetylcholine. This could perpetuate cholinergic stimulation, rendering it a possible pharmacological intervention in people with dementia. The authors reference previous research where inhalation and oral administration of rosemary oil was found to stimulate locomotor activity, outcomes associated with serum 1,8-cineole concentration .
In addition to cognitive effects, researchers have found rosemary extracts to demonstrate anti-cancer properties. A study published this year in the Journal of Chromatography found that daily administration of a polyphenol-enriched rosemary extract reduced the progression of colorectal cancer in athymic nude mice grafted with human colon cancer cells (HT-29). One group of mice was treated with rosemary extract two weeks prior to performing the xenograft at a dose of 200 mg/kg body weight, administered through gavage three times/week. A second group was treated with vehicle (a therapeutically inert substance). Researchers found statistically significant differences in tumor size between the two groups on the 26th day post-xenograft, which persisted through the end of the experiment. By day 35 the mice treated with rosemary extract had a 34% reduction in tumor size relative to the control group.
This study’s authors used a comprehensive shotgun proteomic approach to gather broad spectrum information on how proteins were affected by the rosemary extract, with the goal of elucidating its mechanism of action in tumor size reduction. The team was able to identify and quantify several proteins affected by the treatment, and found that rosemary extract primarily altered RNA post-transcriptional modification, protein synthesis, and amino acid metabolism. The also found an inactivation of the oncogene MYC, a transcription factor that controls the expression of genes involved in protein synthesis and metabolism pathways. The authors claim that MYC’s inactivation can be accounted for by the downregulation of two inhibitors of PPA2, an enzyme that controls MYC activity.
Of the proteins altered by treatment with rosemary extract, 27% were found to be associated with nucleic acid binding capacity, 10% were enzyme modulator proteins, 9% oxidoreductases, 9% transferases, 8% hydrolases, and 8% cytoskeletal proteins. The authors found it of particular note that the majority of the proteins in the ‘nucleic acid binding capacity’ category were downregulated, which suggests an inactivation of the functions related to transcription, translation, or post-translational modifications of DNA and RNA.
Researchers also noted a decrease in the expression of nucleophosmin (NPM1). NPM1 is frequently overexpressed in solid tumors such as in colorectal carcinomas, and its exogenous expression has been shown to enhance cell migration and increase cell proliferation, and correlates with poor survival. Conversely, its downregulation can induce apoptosis and suppress cell proliferation, a phenomenon which has been demonstrated in cases of acute myeloid leukemia cells treated with the dietary polyphenol epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG). This decreased expression of NPM1 may be one mechanism by which rosemary extract exhibits tumor-inhibiting properties.
Another possible mechanism of action pertains to Apurinic-Apyrimidinic Endonuclease-1 (APEX1), a protein involved in single-strand DNA breaks and Ap site repair. It is also known to stimulate the DNA-binding activity of various transcription factors involved in cancer promotion and progression. Like NPM1, APEX1 is often overexpressed in solid tumors, and its expression level has been correlated to poor prognosis. Furthermore, the decrease of APEX1 protein has been shown to inhibit in vitro cell proliferation, and the growth of ovarian and prostate xenograft models. The authors reference a proteomic study carried out in colon cancer cells that demonstrated NPM1 is required for APEX1 nuclear localization, and for modulating the cleansing process of rRNA. Based on their findings, and those of previous researchers, the authors of this study hypothesize that the downregulation of APEX1 and NPM1 proteins interrupts cell cycle progression and thus arrests tumor growth in xenograft mice pre-treated with rosemary extract. Finally, they note that their findings corroborate those of a previous study which found that 100 mg/kg rosemary extracts (with 43%(m/m) carnosic acid) decreased the tumor growth of mice with human prostate cancer cell xenografts .
Anticancer Effects of Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis L.) Extract and Rosemary Extract Polyphenols, published in the Nov 2016 edition of Nutrients, reviewed all the available literature associated with the search terms “rosemary extract and cancer,” “carnosic acid and cancer,” and “rosmarinic acid and cancer,” that had been published since 2000. The researchers found the following in vivo studies of the anti-cancer effects of rosemary extract on mice and rats:
Administration of rosemary extract (RE) (1 mg/mL) in drinking water ad libitum for 32-35 days resulted in a significant decrease in tumor size in nude mice xenografted with SW620 colon cancer cells.
HCT116 colon cancer xenografted athymic nude mice fed 100 mg/kg/day RE dissolved in olive oil for 4 weeks had a significant decrease in tumor size in treated animals compared to control.
Biochemical analysis of serum samples collected from Sprague Dawley rats with N-methylnitrosourea- induced colon cancer showed significant anticancer effects by both high (3333.3 mg/kg/day) and low (1666.6 mg/kg/day) dose RE after 4 months of treatment, with significant alteration of gene and protein signaling and aggregation of lymphoid cells.
A significant reduction in tumor volume was observed in mice xenografted with 22RV1 prostate cancer cells by RE (100 mg/kg/day) which was administered, dissolved in olive oil, for 22 days.
In F344 rats with diethylnitrosamine (DEN)-induced liver cancer, RE at 100 mg/kg/day for 5 days was administered intragastrically with an intraperitoneal (i.p) injection of DEN on day 4. From this point, rats were fed a normal diet for 3 weeks until undergoing partial hepatectomy. Examination of liver tissue suggested RE may exert some protective antioxidant effects.
Swiss mice exposed one time to 6 Grays (Gy) ionizing radiation (IR) in their liver, followed by treatment with 1000 mg/kg RE fed orally daily for 5 days suggested protective, antioxidant activity by RE. A delayed onset of IR-induced mortality and attenuated increases in glycogen and protein levels were seen in livers of mice exposed to IR and fed RE, compared to IR-exposed mice not fed RE.
The reviewers caution that this high concentration (1000 mg/kg) is at least 10 times greater than what has been found to exert potent anticancer effects in other studies. They do acknowledge that these studies indicate a role for RE to inhibit chemical/IR-induced carcinogenesis by exerting a protective/antioxidant effect on healthy tissues. Furthermore, they believe that RE may exhibit radioprotective effects, which would benefit healthy tissue undergoing radiation treatment.
In WEHI-3BD myeloid leukemia xenografted mice fed 1% w/w RE in their food ad libitum for 29 days, researchers observed a significant decrease in both tumor volume and incidence. RE also showed an additive effect when combined with Vitamin D analogues (VDA). In WEHI-3BD xenografted mice administered RE 4% w/w in food for up to 15 weeks combined with VDAs, median survival time was significantly increased and white blood cell count decreased to levels comparable to those seen in the control group of healthy mice.
In nude mice with 7,12-dimethylbenz(a)anthracene (DMBA)-induced skin cancer, RE (500 or 1000 mg/kg/day; 15 weeks) administered orally in water resulted in a significant decrease in tumor number, diameter, weight, and decrease in tumor incidence and burden, and an increase in latency period compared to control mice treated with DMBA only. One group of mice administered RE for 7 days prior to the first application of DMBA displayed a 50% reduction in tumor growth compared to the DMBA-only treated mice, which indicates potent chemoprotective effects.
Based on their review of these studies, the researchers propose that concentrations in the range of 0.1-100 μg/mL RE are most effective. It also seems that RE is safe, even when taken in higher doses. In a study reviewed by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), rosemary was found to have no toxicity in rats, and the sole effect at high doses was a slight increase in relative liver weight, which has been shown to be reversible. Overall, 90 day RE administration (180-400 mg/kg/day, equivalent to 20-60 mg/kg/day of carnosol plus CA) in rats revealed no observed adverse effect levels .
Rosemary has also found to be protective against environmental toxins. A 2017 study in Environmental Science and Pollution Research International found that rats exposed to titanium dioxide nanoparticles (TiO2 NPs) significantly increased serum cholesterol, glucose, and triglyceride levels in rats. TiO2 NPs also induced significant oxidative stress and inflammation, and caused DNA damage in peripheral blood leukocytes. TiO2 NPs are widely used as drug additives, in paints, paper, inks, cosmetics, sunscreens, and as food additives. TiO2 is authorized for use in food industry as E171, principally for the whitening and brightening of foods. According to this study,, the digestive tract is an important entry route for nanoparticles into the body via ingestion of NP-containing food, water, and medicines. It has been reported that at least 17-35% of food-grade TiO2 is in nanosized form. Daily human intake of TiO2 NPs from food is ∼15-37.5 mg/day for a 75-kg adult, and children were identified as the highest consumers through foods, as the TiO2 NP content of sweets is higher than that of other food products. Toxicological studies have demonstrated a correlation between the toxicity evaluation of manufactured TiO2 NPs and the potential risk for atherogenesis via the induction of substantial systemic inflammation and modulation of blood glucose and lipid metabolism. TiO2 NPs are included among the risk factors for the development of systemic inflammation, oxidative stress, and genotoxicity.
Numerous substances contained in rosemary -- flavonoids, tannins, and polyphenols -- have antioxidant activity, and are therefore considered potential therapeutic drugs for free radical pathologies. In this study, rats were given rosemary extract via intragastric administration one hour before intragastric administration of 100 mg/kg/day TiO2 NPs (10 nm) for 60 days. Rosemary extract demonstrated a significant protective effect against TiO2 NPs toxicity by lowering glucose levels, restoring a normal lipid profile, and displaying antioxidative, anti-inflammatory, and antigenotoxic properties. The authors grimly conclude, “Meanwhile, this study gives an encouraging scientific basis for consumers of rosemary leaves to keep up with this culinary habit” .
A 2016 study published in the Chinese Journal of Natural Medicines investigated the effects of rosemary extracts on metabolic diseases and the underlying mechanisms of action. They found that in mice fed with a Western-type diet, petroleum ether subfraction of rosemary extract (PER) treatment decreased plasma triglyceride (TG), total cholesterol (TC), alanine aminotransferase (ALT), glucose, and insulin in blood, improved glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity, and decreased lipid contents in liver, brown adipose tissue, and white adipose tissue. These effects were achieved via inhibition of sterol regulatory element-binding proteins (SREBP), a family of transcription factors that bind to the sterol regulatory element DNA sequence to regulate lipid metabolism. As the “master regulators” of the biosynthesis of fatty acids, triglycerides, and cholesterol, SREBPs are potent therapeutic targets for lipid metabolism disorders such as hyperlipidemia, fatty liver, atherosclerosis, and diabetes. Rosemary has previously been used to treat diabetes, and has shown remarkable lipid lowering effects in rats. Furthermore, carnosic acid-rich rosemary extract has been shown to reduce fasting glycaemia and plasma cholesterol levels by downregulating hepatic lipogenic genes. Many of the drugs currently used to treat metabolic diseases, such as sulfonylureas, statins, and thiazolidinedione, have serious side effects. Rosemary, however, is shown in this study to modulate metabolism and is safe for long-term usage .
Another study published in 2016 in The Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry investigated the cardioprotective properties of rosmarinic acid (RA) on myocardial infarction (MI) induced-cardiac fibrosis. Myocardial infarction is the main pathogenic factor underlying heart failure. According to the authors, the heart undergoes extensive myocardial remodeling in response to ischemic injury, which leads to a thickening or stiffening of regions of the heart. This leads to progressive deterioration of cardiac function and may ultimately result in heart failure. Cardiac fibrosis plays a major role in cardiac remodeling post-MI, and is a predisposing factor for heart failure. The pathological features of cardiac fibrosis include phenotypic changes in cardiac fibroblasts, excessive proliferation, and deposition of extracellular matrix (ECM) proteins such as collagen types I and III.
Researchers found that RA treatment ameliorated the changes in left ventricular systolic pressure (LVSP), which was associated with attenuation of infarct size, collagen volume fraction (CVF), expression of collagen I, collagen III, alpha smooth muscle actin (α-SMA), and hydroxyproline (Hyp) concentrations. RA treatment was also associated with decreased angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) expression and increased ACE2 expression, as well as decreased expression of angiotensin type 1 receptor (AT1R) and phospho-p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase (p38 MAPK). Based on these findings, the researchers concluded that RA protects against cardiac dysfunction and fibrosis following MI, likely through the mechanism of decreased ACE expression and increased ACE2 expression via the AT1R/p38 MAPK pathway .
Dosage and Preparation:
In the Modern Herbal Dispensatory Easley and Horne make the following recommendations
Weak infusion: 1 cup to be drunk up to 3 times daily.
Tincture: Dried leaves (1:5, 65% alcohol, 10% glycerine); 10 drops to 3 ml (0.6 tsp.) up to 3 times daily.
Glycerite: Fresh leaves (1:6, 80% glycerine, sealed simmer method); or dried leaves (1:6); 1-5 ml (0.2-1 tsp.) 1-3 times daily.
Capsule: 500-1,500 mg may be taken up to 3 times daily.
Topical use: A salve may be prepared from oil (1:4) and applied as needed. The essential oil can be applied neat, or added to salves, oils, and ointments .
Juliette Bairacli de Levy writes, “A sprig or so can be eaten raw daily in the salad, also a few leaves added, chopped finely, to sandwiches, white cheese, soups, omlettes. Also make a standard brew and drink as a warm tea, sweetened with honey, frequently during the day and as a nightcap. Rosemary blends well with wormwood or vervain, sage and lavender, to make a powerful antiseptic drink, invaluable in treatment of fevers and blood disorders.” For topical treatments, Levy recommends the ‘Standard Brew’ as a hair lotion, or a few drops of the infused oil rubbed into the scalp. For wounds or sores she suggests using the lotion, the fresh herb pounded into salt and sprinkled on, or the fresh/dried herb pounded into powder and applied .
Kiva Rose gives the following recommendations for the use of rosemary:
Fresh plant tincture (1:2 95%) is strong and a great ingredient in many digestive, headache, and heart formulas, as well as in liniments. It’s strong enough it doesn’t usually need to be used in large dosages. Taken by itself I start with two drops at a time and move up from there. Makes a great infused vinegar, especially from the fresh plant, yummy for food or excellent as a medicine, especially for external issues. With its high volatile oil content, this is a prime herb for infusing into oil or lard for salves or food. Fresh plant is definitely superior for this purpose. Freshly dried plant makes a nice tea or as a pinch added to a nourishing infusion.
She acknowledges that rosemary can be an intense herb, and offers the following formula to mitigate its effects:
Rosemary tincture made from fresh plant in high proof alcohol is very powerful, so my proportions tend to be something like 5 parts Oregon Grape to 1 part Rosemary. If it still seems a bit too stimulating or heating for the individual but is otherwise a good match I’ll adjust it to 2 parts Oregon Grape, 3 parts Burdock root and 1/2 part Rosemary. The taste is lovely and really harmonizes with the other herbs very nicely. Some amount of Lavender can also be added if there are significant signs of anxiety or insomnia, especially when accompanied by headache or confusion .
To make an infusion, Matt Wood encourages one to pour boiling water over a tablespoon of the leaves and flowers, keeping the pot covered to prevent the escape of volatile oils. He also gives the recipe for Father Kneipp’s ‘simple, elegant’ tincture: “A handful of rosemary is cut up as small as possible, put into a bottle, and good, well-kept wine poured upon it; white wine is preferable. Even after half a day’s standing, it may be used” .
Rosemary Gladstar offers several mouthwatering recipes. One is for Rosemary-Lemon Thyme Tea, “A deliciously refreshing, mildly stimulating tea.” She suggests making an infusion of rosemary and lemon thyme, with a teaspoon of lemon juice and a touch of honey. Her second recipe is Brain Tonic Tincture, “Among the most famous of all my herbal tincture recipes,” she writes, “I’ve had many students report that they see improvement in their memory within 3 to 4 weeks of beginning this tincture regiment.” She lists the ingredients as:
• 1 part gingko leaf
• 1 part gotu kola leaf
• 1/2 part rosemary leaf
• 1/2 part peppermint leaf
Gladstar instructs, “Take 1/2 to 1 tsp three times a day for 3 to 4 weeks. Results may be subtle, but generally after 2 to 3 weeks people notice they have better name recall, they remember where they put a list, and even start recalling what was on the list” .
Cautions and Contraindications:
Rosemary Gladstar states that “Rosemary has a long recorded history of use and few reports of toxicity or side effects” . That being said, there are a few energetic cautions to be aware of. Kiva Rose warns:
While almost everyone loves Rosemary as a spice or condiment, some don’t do so well with it as a medicine, often those of excess type constitution who are hot natured, prone to high blood pressure and ruddy colored. Possible signs of incompatibility include roaring in the ears, feeling like your pulse is going to bust out your head when you stand up (high blood pressure), rapid heartbeat, sharp headaches and excessive and uncomfortable flushing. If these symptoms occur either greatly reduce the dosage or cease completely. If the symptoms are unclear, withdraw it and then retest if possible. Rosemary should NOT be used where there are indications of heat, whether from excess or deficiency .
Matt Wood corroborates Kiva Rose’s caution, and observes that rosemary is contraindicated in people with high blood pressure and headaches with “hot, bursting symptoms.” Conversely, Juliette de Bairacli Levy does in fact recommend rosemary for high blood pressure. Wood doesn’t consider this a contradiction; he advises, “The essential point is to get the constitutional type correct. Rosemary is contraindicated in full-blooded, hot, sanguine persons where a stimulant would be irritating. Also observe care in nervous persons.” One final word of wisdom and warning (I wonder if it’s derived from personal experience): Wood says to keep the infused oil of rosemary out of the eyes .
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Written by: Camille Charlier
Lindsey Feldpausch, RH (AHG)
Guido Mase, RH (AHG )
Guido Masé RH (AHG) is a clinician and educator in the Western herbal tradition. He spent his childhood in Italy and has been living in Vermont since 1996. His practice interweaves clinical experience, mythology, and science.
He is chief herbalist at Urban Moonshine, clinician at the Burlington Herb Clinic, faculty member and clinical supervisor at the Vermont Center for Integrative Herbalism, teacher in herbal medicine at the University of Vermont, and author of The Wild Medicine Solution and DIY Bitters. He is developing the integrative phytotherapy department at Wasso Hospital in Loliondo, Tanzania
Keith Robertson joined the UK National Institute of Medical Herbalists in 1990, co-founded SSHM in 1992 and has been teaching his particular energetic approach since then. He was awarded a Fellowship of the Institute for his services to Herbal education. The School established a world first with its MSc and the associated and highly recognised 4-year BSc Hons degree before stepping back out of academia in 2010 and moving to the Isle of Arran to offer experiential learning through an Apprenticeship in listening to plants each year in Scotland with an associated intensive course on Celtic Herbal Medicine and an international Correspondence Course at access level. Please firstname.lastname@example.org seewww.veganherbal.com
Lindsey Feldpausch is a clinical herbalist, avid medicine maker and a nature-based mamma. An instructor at the Eclectic School of Herbal Medicine, she teaches material medica and medicine making. Trained in the art of western herbalism, she believes in the healing powers of plants and our innate abilities to tap into this knowledge. Kindling this belief in others and showing people the way of the herbs, is one of her life’s objectives.
Keith Robertson, Msc, F NIMH
Ruthie Hayes studies and practices the art of herbal medicine from her wooded home in the hills of southeastern Pennsylvania. She tends her earthspace along with her husband and two sons on land that her family has farmed for 9 generations. Ruthie is passionate about reconnecting with and integrating traditional methods of healing into her practice. The proprietress of Mother Hylde's Herbal, Ruthie is also a licensed massage therapist and studied clinical herbalism at the Eclectic School of Herbal Medicine. You can follow Ruthie, read more of her writings, and browse her apothecary at MotherHylde.com.
Camille Charlier is an herbalist, artist, musician, and world traveler of the eclectic persuasion. They draw on their background in biology/cancer research to inform their practice of plant medicine, while enriching this academic approach with a healthy dose of deep intuition and plant magic.
Camille is keen to engage herbal medicine in healing complex trauma -- that of individuals, communities, and ecosystems -- on the physical, emotional, and psycho-spiritual levels. They believe in a system of true health and care, one in which resources and knowledge are available to anyone who seeks them.
Terrie Easley is a creative entrepreneur who loves the challenge of taking on a variety of jobs and positions. In the most recent years Terrie has assisted in the building of infrastructure for two businesses. Her attention to detail and the ability to teach herself new skills fairly quickly, has taken her on an adventure through web design, logo design, photography, video editing, marketing, product development and content building.
General Conference Registration
$200 before 10/31, $225 before 12/31, $250 thereafter
Price includes primitive camping and general classes & activities.
The 7th annual Florida Herbal Conference is a gathering to connect and empower our bioregiona herbalist community. In addition to 40 plus classes, the weekend also includes a marketplace of herbal vendors, musical activities each evening, fun herbal activities during free time, guided movement activities throughout the weekend, a powerful fire circle, and regional mixers.
Enjoy three days of classes and hands-on workshops taught by some of the most knowledgeable and inspiring teachers in Florida.
PREVIEW OF NEXT ISSUE:
5 Advanced Case Studies, including:
Presumptive Crohn's Disease Normalized in 8 Days
The addition of a book review section
A detailed list of current autoimmune research
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Our next issue comes out March 15th, 2018.
*Autoimmunity in Herbalism*
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