Turmeric (Curcuma longa)

This spice has long been known for its amazing healing properties (just check Wikipedia for a quick review of some of the literature). Well, Turmeric has done it again: in a comprehensive trial that explored the histologic and genetic effects of curcuminoids in animal models, Janet Funk, M.D. (Univ. of Arizona) highlights some very interesting effects of Turmeric on tissue affected by rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Her findings focus on the role of NF-κB (nuclear transcription factor kappa-B), a pro-inflammatory molecule that the body uses to activate genes that cause the short- and long-term changes associated with RA. Turmeric seems to interfere with its expression and theraby reduce the subsequent cascade of inflammation that contributes to chronic pain and joint degradation:
"In vivo treatment prevented local activation of NF-κB and the subsequent expression of NF-κB-regulated genes mediating joint inflammation and destruction, including chemokines, cyclooxygenase 2, and RANKL [the receptor activator of NF-κB ligand]," the investigators wrote.
We herbalists know that Turmeric's anti-inflammatory effects are not limited to RA. We've been using this plant since it became available to the West - and Ayurvedic healers have been using it for over 4000 years. But now, thanks to modern science, we have this pearl of wisdom from Doctor Funk:
"Just as the willow bark provided relief for arthritis patients before the advent of aspirin, it would appear that the underground stem (rhizome) of a tropical plant may also hold promise for the treatment of joint inflammation and destruction."


Autism and "alternative" medicine

W. Ben Gibbard, M.D., revealed some interesting information to us all at the recent American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry meeting. It seems that over 93% of those with some form of autism received "alternative" treatment (not surprising, considering the lack of effective "conventional" medicine for the condition). At the top of the list of treatments were nutritional and herbal interventions. Apparently, they are making a huge difference! Although I would argue that these treatments are good medicine for anyone, it seems the evidence is clear that for sensitive autistic constitutions, good food, essential fatty acids, avoiding chemical additives, and taking herbs remarkably improves subjective criteria.
Here is a more detailed breakdown:

The researchers reported:

  • 17.1% tried some kind of omega fatty acid, with 64.3% rating it helpful,
  • 10.2% tried an omega-6 fatty acid, with 61.1% rating it helpful,
  • 10.2% used an omega-9 fatty acid, with 66.7% rating it helpful,
  • 12.5% tried dimethylglycine, with 54.5% rating it helpful, and
  • 6.3% tried Eflax oil, with 36.4% rating it helpful.

Dietary therapies were tried by 37.6% of the families. The findings were (percentage tried, percentage rated helpful):

  • Gluten-free diet (23.3%, 61.0%),
  • Casein-free diet (21.6%, 60.5%), and
  • Lactose-free diet (17.6%, 45.2%).

Vitamins and minerals were tried by 63.1% of respondents, making it the most popular category. Nearly 40% had tried a vitamin or mineral supplement besides a multivitamin. The mean number tried was 3.2 (range 1 to 20). The researchers reported:

  • 49.4% had tried a multivitamin with 35.6% reporting it helpful,
  • 16.5% used an oral calcium supplement with 51.7% reporting it helpful,
  • 14.8% tried oral vitamin C with 53.8% reporting it helpful,
  • 16.5% had tried any magnesium supplement, and
  • 14.2% used any vitamin B6 supplement.

Natural therapies had been used for 40.3% of the children (mean 2.0 different therapies). The most common were:

  • Herbal remedies (11.9%, 71.4% rated as helpful),
  • Evening primrose (9.1%, 31.3% rated as helpful), and
  • Naturopathy (7.4%, 69.2% rated as helpful).


Rethinking flu vaccines

An article in the British Medical Journal highlights questions around the push towards influenza vaccination that happens around this time every year. Some salient points:
- in general, the vaccine is at best 40% effective - and that's only for influenza infection, not for preventing hospitalizations or reducing mortality (there is no difference between vaccinated and unvaccinated folks in the latter cases).
- in children under 2 years old, and in portions of the elderly population, there is no evidence of any kind pertaining to the vaccine's effectiveness (i.e. we just don't know, no one has done the research).

In conclusion, the article suggests that the price of production, distribution, etc... may be a waste of resources and time. My opinion: it would be fantastic if some of that funding went into well-thought-out research on good herbal antiviral standbys - Echinacea, Hyssop, Catnip, Lemon Balm, Licorice for example - and their effects on influenza. All the more important if we consider how freaked out everyone got last year around a vaccine that doesn't seem to help much at all...


Lycopodium serrata

Chinese club moss, Lycopodium serrata (a.k.a. Huperzia serrata) has received a lot of attention in the last few years as a source of the compound Huperzine A. This phytonutrient, traditionally used for memory enhancement and as a tonic for "old age" in Chinese medicine, seems to work as a potent inhibitor of acetylcholinesterase, an enzyme that breaks down the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. This transmitter is essential in a variety of processes, participating in nerve signaling throughout the brain and also between the nerves and muscles. Huperzine seems to be more effective than many other, more toxic, pharmaceuticals used as Ach inhibitors (like tacrine, e.g. Cheng 1998).
Some of the most interesting research focuses on the club moss's benefits in treating myasthenia gravis ("severe muscle tiredness", literally), a disease in which the levels of acetylcholine in the neuromuscular junction drop. Another area of focus recently involves the treatment of Alzheimer's disease, a more common and well-known condition that also may involve decreased levels of acetylcholine in the brain (amongst other things). An impressively large clinical trial, started in April 2006 in hospitals all across the country, focuses on this plant's ability to treat Alzheimer's disease. The results are due in December. Stay tuned.


Achillea millefolium

Yarrow (Achillea millefoium) rules the blood. Look at the slight pinkish tinge on these flowers from our garden - sometimes you'll find one that is blood-red amongst its more typical white cousins.
The name Achillea comes from the legend that Achilles, hero of the Trojan war, used it to heal the wounds of his soldiers in battle. Indeed, it is probably the best vulnerary we know, serving to instantly stop bleeding and to disinfect even a horribly deep wound. It is always a good idea to carry Yarrow if you are out hiking or far from home.
It has a particular power to curb inflammation and pain in the urinary system, and is used for infections of the prostate or the urinary tract to this end (and also because of its antiseptic and diuretic actions).
As a remedy for fever, it combines especially well with Elder flowers in the form of a hot infusion, take often, until the fever subsides.
Traditionally, Yarrow has a famous history as a plant with the power to unlock the psychic mind. It was eaten or placed under the pillow, at first bloom, for prophetic dreams. The flower stalks are dried and used to cast the I-Ching, the Chinese oracle called The Book of Changes. Perhaps this power is related to its ability to loosen, or unblock, internal stagnations (it is especially good for stagnant blood from old wounds, often colored purple under the skin) in the whole body/mind: as we know, our psychic powers are merely forgotten or repressed.


Cannabinoids and Alzheimer's

A preliminary study seems to imply that the use of cannabinoids (one of the many biochemically active agents in marijuana) can protect the brain from inflammatory degeneration and its complications, such as Alzheimer's disease. The current study relies on an animal model and requires the consumption of cannabinoids during youth - but in that particular situation, the results are a dramatic reduction in the changes in brain tissue that lead to the formation of amyloid plaque, thought to be a chief culprit in Alzheimer's.
Gary Wenk, Ph.D, conducted the research at the University of Ohio:

... as the animals age, Dr. Wenk said, they develop inflammation in parts of the brain analogous to the parts damaged by inflammation in people with Alzheimer's.

Recent research in other fields suggested that cannabinoids -- the active ingredients in marijuana -- can cross the blood-brain barrier, even at low doses, and can reduce inflammation, Dr. Wenk said.

So, in young rats, Dr. Wenk and colleagues created brain inflammation by infusing nanogram quantities of lipopolysaccharide and then treated them with a synthetic cannabinoid called WIN-55212-2.

"We saw an 80% to 90% drop in the inflammation in the brain," he said, "and also the impairment in memory that inflammation produces could be reversed."



Disease outbreaks around the world

Coupling with Google Maps, the website healthmap.org tracks global alerts and disease outbreaks.


Black Cohosh in the Blue Ridge

It may not look like much, but this is a stand of Black Cohosh we discovered a few weeks ago on the Blue Ridge. It was an honor to step into this plant's genomic homeland - old, tall oaks kept the forest floor cool and moist. It was still and quiet. And all down the hillside spread the Cohosh, at all stages of growth, its seedheads full and ripe.
We grow this plant up here in Vermont, but I could tell how much more at home it felt down in the rich soil of North Carolina. Black Cohosh is traditionally used as an anti-inflammatory for autoimmune conditions (antirheumatic) and has recently gotten a lot of attention as a helpful aid in menopause: I find it seems to help most with the "hot flash" symptoms (again, perhaps, echoing its ability to control "heat" in the body).
It was so well established in this wild patch! I could feel the large, tangled roots just under the leaf litter. The sheer biomass of it was overwhelming. All I could do was hold some seeds in my hand for a few minutes, sit with the plants, scatter the seeds and get on my way. I promised to return for a longer stay in the wilds of the Blue Ridge.


History of Medicine 1800-2000 in the USA

A short history of herbal medicine in the United States
1800s and 1900s

Technological medicine is hardly "traditional". Here is a quick chart (zoom in as needed) that details the criminal vagaries of the AMA and the exclusionist, politicized ascendance of reductionist healing. Many of the problems we see today (lack of staff; over-specialization; impossible costs) are directly linked to the choices made over the last 100 years.


A radicle Convergence

From the Herbal Convergence (a historic occasion!):

"The genomic structure of woodland plants
holds the integrity of the forest
since the last ice age." K. Gilday

"We must spread free herbal clinics using a model of community education, work-exchange, and participatory medicine making." guido




Plant sterols, cholesterol and heart health

Phytosterols (found in a wide variety of different herbs, and particularly the Leguminosae such as licorice, red clover, and soy) have a marked effect on decreasing the risk of cardiovascular disease and balancing cholesterol:

One gram of plant sterols added into reduced-calorie orange juice reduced C-reactive protein by 12% and significantly improved cholesterol levels compared with plain low-calorie OJ, reported Sridevi Devaraj, Ph.D., of the University of California at Davis here, and colleagues, in the October issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Downing the supplemented juice twice daily significantly decreased total cholesterol by 5% and reduced LDL cholesterol by 9.4% compared with study participants' baseline levels and compared to placebo.

Likewise, HDL levels improved significantly compared with baseline (6% increase), though not with placebo, over the eight-week period.

From http://www.medpagetoday.com/Cardiology/Prevention/tb2/4282

My only question: why are we adding isolated phytosterols to orange juice? Ever heard of tea? What about black bean soup?


This weekend, the first Community Herbal Convergence. A low-cost gathering of plant people, where we can interact as peers and share what we've discovered along the way. This is an exciting chance to focus on accessibility of herbal education and herbal therapy, and discuss sustainable ways of spreading flower power for free!