Hawaiian Herbal Medicine: Rooted in Family and Tradition

By Kaila Blevins

Hawaiian Healer Po‘okela Papa Henry AuwaeMy grandmother grew up in Hawai’i, so my childhood was filled with trying traditional dishes like poi, and my vocabulary is peppered with Hawaiian words. But, I did not know much about traditional Hawaiian herbalism and began researching.

La’au lapa’au is one of several traditional healing methods practiced by Native Hawaiians, and it is rooted in the use of plants. A traditional healer’s job goes beyond just prescribing plants. They use a holistic approach to ensure that the body, mind, and spirit are in harmony to promote good health. The lack of harmony between the three elements results in illness. Beyond assessing the harmony between the body, mind, and spirit, healers follow traditional practices to ensure harmony with the environment as well.

Traditionally, the plants were harvested in the lush forests or were planted near heiaus, or sacred temples, if a healer resided there. Today, foraging at the temples is forbidden due to the sacredness and cultural significance of them. heiausHowever, healers from then and now continue to follow the same principles when approaching plants. They revere the plants for the gifts that they offer through their medicinal properties and act as stewards by tending to their needs and promoting sustainable foraging practices. This process acknowledges the innate intelligence of plants. As the healer approaches the required plant needed for healing, they think of the person who enlisted their help before kneeling and praying, sharing their gratitude for the plant, and asking permission to harvest. If permission is granted, the harvest begins. Once the necessary amount is gathered, the healer never turns their back to the plant–a societal norm that is also practiced when near elders–backing away, giving thanks for the gift. In some cases, the healer may not be the one to gather the medicine. Instead, this may be prescribed as part of the healing journey, and the client will forage and perform the ceremony of giving thanks to the required plants. 

Furthermore, since the plants are Earth’s gifts for humans to use, traditional healers will not charge for their services. The lack of payment ensures a lifelong commitment to the practice and prevents greed from tainting the practice. 

Between each island, the plant palette changes, so the island on which the healer resides dictates the plants used in their practice. However, some plants are indigenous to the majority of the islands, or they’ve been naturalized. Below is a brief list of plants and some of their herbal uses:

Aleurites moluccanus (kukui, candlenut)

Declared the state tree in 1959, kukui leaves are crushed into poultices, and the roasted nuts are pounded into salves to treat sores and external ulcers. Historically, mothers chewed the flowers and gave them to their children to heal sores. After recovering from an illness, the nut meat is often combined with fish and ‘uala (sweet potato) for a nutrient-rich meal. Culturally, the nuts were used in candles, and the ash collected from burned nuts was used for tattoos and canoe paint. 

Morinda citrifolia flowers and fruitMorinda citrifolia (noni, Indian mulberry)

Introduced in 1941 from Fiji, noni has naturalized across the islands and is also cultivated due to its numerous herbal benefits. The leaves are used to treat a variety of skin problems, including cuts, boils, growths, and even lice. Traditional healers use all parts of the tree as a laxative.  

Saccharum officinarum (kō, sugarcane)

Saccharum officinarum sugar caneChewing on the sugary stalk can strengthen the teeth and gums, while the juice is used to sweeten other medicines, or is combined with Ipomoea alba (tropical white morning glory) and salt to treat deep cuts and wounds. In folklore, the juice of kō is used to create a love potion. However, the correct species must be utilized since others are used to block love potions.

After I completed the draft of this blog post, I called my grandmother and discussed the topic with her. While she was not familiar with the uses of the plants, it did remind her of the landscape of her youth. Furthermore, I enjoyed learning about the Native experience and interactions they had with the environment, since their practices are rooted in respect for their environment and plants.

Photo credits: 1) Hawaiian Healer Po‘okela Papa Henry Auwae (Jeanella and Kehaulani Keopuhiwa, National Library of Medicine); 2) Heiaus (National Park Service); 3) Aleurites molucanna flowers and fruit (Hawaiian Plants and Tropical Flowers); 4) Morinda citrifolia (Plants of Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park); 5) Saccharum officinarum (National Tropical Botanical Garden).

Medicinal Disclaimer: It is the policy of The Herb Society of America, Inc. not to advise or recommend herbs for medicinal or health use. This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation or an endorsement of any particular medical or health treatment. Please consult a health care provider before pursuing any herbal treatments.

References

Aleurites moluccanus (kukui). (n.d.). Accessed 7/2020. https://www.kapiolani.hawaii.edu/aleurites-moluccana

Kalama, H. (n.d.).: Healing With Spirituality And Herbs. Accessed 7/2021.  http://heyokamedicine.com/laau-lapaau

Lincoln, N. K. (2017). Description of Hawaiian Sugarcane Varieties. Accessed 7/2021. http://cms.ctahr.hawaii.edu/cane

National Park Service. Wailua Complex of Heiaus. Accessed 8/13/2021. https://www.nps.gov/places/wailua-complex-of-heiaus.htm

Timboy, M. (n.d.). La‘au Lapa‘au: Medicinal Plants and Their Healing Properties. Accessed 7/2021. https://keolamagazine.com/agriculture/medicinal-plants/

U.S. National Library of Medicine. (n.d.). Medicine Ways: Traditional Healers and Healing. Accessed 7/2021. https://www.nlm.nih.gov/nativevoices/exhibition/healing-ways/medicine-ways/healing-plants.html


57348119_2256114837761256_4232634512942563328_nKaila Blevins is the 2020-2021 National Herb Garden intern. She graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park, with a B.S. in Environmental Science and Technology and a minor in sustainability. She is pursuing a Master’s in Landscape Architecture at Morgan State University while also interning in the National Herb Garden. In her spare time, she likes to read, paint, brew kombucha, and experiment with its flavors, as well as spend time with her family and pets.

Baklava Bias

By Keith Howerton

Lebanese BaklawiMaking baklava, or baklawi/baklawa/ba’lawa, as it’s generally called in Arabic-speaking cultures, is a real pain in the…well, everywhere. Pain in the neck, pain in the wrist, pain in the bank account. My mom used to make it with my aunt once a year, usually around Christmas, and I have managed to dodge helping every single time. Sorry mom. Since her side of the family is Lebanese, we’ve always called it baklawi, so I’ll refer to it as such here, though I usually call it baklava around other people, because otherwise, they won’t know what I’m talking about. Even my laptop doesn’t; it has already auto-corrected baklawi to baklava three times since I started writing.

Greek baklava is essentially a few dozen layers of incredibly thin phyllo dough brushed with melted butter between each layer, and then sliced, baked, and drenched in a honey-based, or sugar-based, syrup to soak into all those buttery, flaky layers of phyllo dough. Usually a light layer of nuts is added halfway through the layering, and again on the top. Sometimes the nuts are tossed with cinnamon before layering them in, and many people also add vanilla extract.

There are probably more versions of baklava/baklawi/baklawa/ba’lawa than there are layers of phyllo dough, which is why I won’t bother writing a detailed recipe here. Okay, if you insist. It’s at the bottom.

Baklava and baklawi, while nearly the same dessert, have one key difference. There will always be other subtle differences between families, bakeries, restaurants, regions, or what have you, but in my experience, there’s one ingredient swap that makes the Lebanese version (and that of the surrounding area) pretty different.

Love.

No, no…wait that’s not right.

The “secret” ingredient is rose water. Or orange blossom water, but my family uses rose water. 

The version my family makes is the same structure as what is described above, except the syrup is infused with rose water. This one ingredient substantially changes the flavor, though it may look the same as baklava. It is very easy to overdo it on the rose water, so if you decide to try out making the Levantine version, go light on the rose water the first time!

Rose water, from my understanding and some quick online searching and YouTubing, is fairly simple to make at home. It’s basically an infusion made from rose petals. I have not done it personally; we always just bought some at a local Middle-Eastern market. And I think the commercially produced stuff is a bit more interesting anyway.

Rosa damascena, or damask rose, an extremely fragrant rose resulting from a natural hybrid of a few different roses, is the preferred species for making rose water. The petals are picked by hand and then distilled. The result is two different Lebanese Rose Water Ingredient Listproducts: a waxy, oily substance called attar used in perfumery and the rose water itself. A number of different countries cultivate Rosa damascena, both for the fragrance industry and for food uses, and it’s easy to get lost in the weeds trying to figure out who is producing how much and who they are exporting it to–at least for me. And I find stories more interesting than statistics, anyway. So, I went to a local Mediterranean market and took a look at the different rose water brands they offered. Well, I went to my local big-box store first and then to the Mediterranean market. Let’s start with the big-box store.

I picked up the first bottle of rose water and checked the ingredients. Yikes. I picked up the second. Yikes. Needless to say, I was shocked at the lack of quality in the rose water brands they carried! Jokes aside, I find it a bit surprising you can call something rose water when there is no rose water in it whatsoever.

The Mediterranean market was much better. Both brands I checked contained simply rose water. I purchased a bottle sourced from Lebanon. The Bekaa (or Beqaa) Valley, a sort of agricultural heartland in Lebanon and well-known for its wines and other products, boasts pretty substantial damask rose production, and it’s likely that’s where this manufacturer sourced its rose petals, although it’s Map of Lebanon and the Bekaa Valleydifficult to say for sure. 

I did not go out of my way to purchase Lebanese rose water rather than rose water produced somewhere else, but I do like the thought of us using a little piece of Lebanon to make a traditional recipe passed through my family for generations, all the way over here in the United States. 

Once the baklawi is finished, we keep it at room temperature out on the counter and someone, who will remain nameless, will sneak a piece and blame it on Dad.

It’s a painstaking, expensive dessert to make, but it is one of my favorites and one that will always hold a special place in my heart. Just not special enough to actually help. Oh, what’s that you say? We’re making baklawi? Shoot…I’m…I’m busy. Have to walk the cat.

Lebanese Baklawi Recipe

Pastry and filling

2 pounds (7 or 8 cups) chopped walnuts, pistachios, or pecans (my family usually uses pecans)

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 teaspoon cloves

1 ½ pounds butter

2 pounds (or 2 boxes) phyllo dough

Combine nuts, cinnamon, and cloves. Brush the baking pan with melted butter. Place a layer of phyllo dough sheet on the bottom of the pan and brush with butter. Repeat until you have piled up half of your phyllo dough, each one brushed with butter. Distribute the nut mixture (½ inch thick) over the top of the bed of phyllo dough.. Then add the other half of the phyllo dough on top of the nut mixture, brushing each layer with butter. With a sharp knife, cut in diamonds. Bake at 250 degrees for 2 hours until the top turns a light golden brown and the pastry pulls away from the sides of the pan. Makes 2 dozen. While it is baking, prepare the syrup.

Syrup

3 cups sugar

1 ½ cups water

½-1 tsp rose water

Juice of 1 lemon

Mix sugar, water, and rose water. Boil until tacky and then add lemon juice. When syrup is cool, pour very slowly over baklawi. Do not refrigerate.

 

Photo Credits: 1) Lebanese baklawi (Oasis Baklawa, http://www.oasisbaklawa.com); 2) Rosa ‘Autumn Damask’ and Rosa ‘Kazanlik’ (Chrissy Moore); 3) Lebanese rose water ingredient list (Keith Howerton); 4) Map of Lebanon and Bekaa Valley (www.news.bbc.co.uk).

References

Cherri, Rima. 2019. Syrian rose farmer uses skills to graft new life in Lebanon. The UN Refugee Agency/US. Accessed 6/2021. https://www.unhcr.org/en-us/news/stories/2019/12/5e01c9164/syrian-rose-farmer-uses-skills-graft-new-life-lebanon.html

Financial Tribune. 2019. Iran meets 90% of global rosewater demand. Accessed 7/15/2021. https://financialtribune.com/articles/domestic-economy/98443/iran-meets-90-of-global-rosewater-demand

The Herb Society of America. 2011. The Herb Society of America Essential Guide: Roses 2012 Herb of the Year. Accessed 7/31/21. https://www.herbsociety.org/file_download/inline/83784ac3-dac2-4586-8d62-6bbf56a98b74

Gourmet Food World. Accessed 7/31/21. https://www.gourmetfoodworld.com/cortas-rose-water-11762#recipes

Mahboubi, Mohaddese. 2015. Rosa damascena as holy ancient herb with novel applications. Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine. Elsevier. Accessed on 6/2021. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2225411015000954

 


After getting a horticulture degree from Texas A&M University, Keith was the 2017 National Herb Garden intern, and then spent a year and a half in the Gardens Unit at the US National  Arboretum. He has worked with restaurants and hydroponics and now works in urban forestry at Casey Trees in Washington, DC. He is obsessed with all things growing food, foreign languages, and cooking (and eating).

Cayenne Pepper – Herb of the Month

By Maryann Readal

Hot! Hot! HOT! – but not the hottest! Cayenne pepper, Capsicum annuum, is hot, but it reaches only 30,000 – 50,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU) on the Scoville Heat Scale. For comparison, the ‘Carolina Reaper’ pepper reaches 1.4M – 2.2M SHU, and the jalapeño pepper just a meager 2,500-8,000 SHU. The Scoville Scale was developed by pharmacist Wilbur Scoville in 1912 to determine heat levels based on subjective sensitivity to capsaicinoids in peppers. Although modern lab methods are used today to determine the heat level of peppers, the Scoville Scale is still the common way to classify pepper heat intensity (Mountain Rose Herbs, 2021).

Cayenne pepper, a member of the Solanaceae, or nightshade, family, is native to tropical North and South America. The term “cayenne pepper” can generically refer to any of a number of peppers within the Capsicum annuum Cayenne Group, which is characterized by being long (about two to five inches long, and about a half-inch in diameter), tapered, and with a curved tip. The fruits are usually red, and grow hanging from the plant instead of upright. It is easy to grow as a perennial in USDA zones 9-11, and as an annual in other parts of the country. It prefers full sun and soil that is moist, fertile, and well-draining. Because of its colorful fruit, some varieties of cayenne pepper can make interesting container plants. It is usually dried and sold as a powder. Cayenne pepper is named after a city and river in French Guiana, where it grows abundantly. New Mexico leads in the commercial production of the cayenne peppers used in hot sauces (Bosland, 2010). 

Some say that Capsicum annuum is the oldest domesticated plant. Archaeological research suggests that Capsicum annuum was first domesticated in Mexico and northern Central America. Remains of chile peppers have been found in archaeological sites dating 8,000 years before our present time. Archaeologists speculate that the early use of Capsicum annuum was to spice up the bland diets of roots, tubers, maize, and beans of Indigenous peoples. However, artwork and early written works of Indigenous peoples indicate that Capsicum annuum had medicinal and ritualistic uses as well. The Mayans used peppers to treat asthma, coughs, and sore throats, while the Aztecs used chiles to relieve toothaches. The ethnobotanist Dr. Richard Schultes documented many interesting, current uses of Capsicum among modern Amazonian peoples during his 50 years of study of Indigenous peoples of South America. (See HSA blog article “Who Was That Guy?” for a general overview of Dr. Shultes).

Cayenne pepper by Wikimedia CommonsPortuguese explorers brought the hot peppers to Europe in the late 15th century, reducing the demand for black pepper, Piper nigrum (Russo, 2013). Once in Europe, Capsicum annuum spread across the continents, where it was readily integrated into local cuisines to the point that people considered it a native of their own country. A survey of a grocery store’s hot sauce section demonstrates the popularity and variety of hot sauces of many different cuisines. To some, especially in the South, hot sauce is a “must-have” accompaniment for all meals, lending humor and insight to the quote “Spicy food lovers are pyro-gourmaniacs” (author unknown).

Capsaicin is the compound responsible for the fiery heat sensation of cayenne peppers and is found in the membrane surrounding the seeds. Because of the heat sensation it produces, capsaicin has been effectively used for topical relief of arthritis and nerve pain. When applied to the skin, capsaicin affects the amount of substance P released, which is a neuropeptide involved in the perception of pain (Bosland, 1996), although some say that the burning sensation from capsaicin merely helps one to forget the source of the pain. Cayenne’s medicinal benefits are still being investigated today. USDA Agricultural Research Service scientists have found that a component in the cayenne pepper kills fungi and yeast in crops and humans (Suszkiw, 2001).

An interesting study done in 2017 showed that eating foods containing cayenne pepper “resulted in significantly higher satiation at the end of the meal and one hour post intake. Further, adding cayenne pepper was associated with subjects feeling significantly more energetic and overall satisfied one hour post intake. During intake of [a] soup with added cayenne pepper, desire for salty and spicy foods were significantly decreased and desire for sweet and fatty foods were significantly increased.” The study concluded that cayenne pepper could be used to influence eating habits (Anderson, 2017). This conclusion echoes some of the traditional reported medicinal benefits of cayenne: that it is good for cardiovascular health, increasing weight loss, and stimulating the appetite.

For more information about cayenne pepper, please see The Herb Society of America’s Herb of the Month webpage, https://www.herbsociety.org/hsa-learn/herb-of-the-month.html

Photo credits: 1) Variety of peppers in Cap. Central Market, TX (public domain); 2) Cayenne pepper (Wikimedia Commons); 3) Cayenne hot pepper display (Maryann Readal)

References:

Anderson, B.V. 2017. Cayenne pepper in a meal: Effect on oral heat on feelings of appetite, sensory specific desires and well-being. Food Quality and Preference. Vol. 18. Accessed 7/17/21 via EBSCOhost.

Bosland, Paul. 2010. Nu-Mex Las Cruces Cayenne pepper. HortScience, 45 (11). Accessed 7/19/21. https://eprints.nwisrl.ars.usda.gov/id/eprint/1421/1/1391.pdf

Bosland, Paul. 1996. Capsicums: Innovative uses of an ancient crop. Accessed 9/14/21. https://hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/proceedings1996/V3-479.html

DeWitt, Dave. 1999. The chili pepper encyclopedia.  New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc. 

Missouri Botanical Garden Plant Finder. Capsicum annuum. http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?taxonid=287148&isprofile=1&basic=capsicum%20annuum  Accessed 7/18/21.

Mountain Rose Herbs. 2021. Cayenne. Accessed  7/19/21. https://mountainroseherbs.com/cayenne-powder

Russo, Vincent, ed. 2012. Peppers, botany, production and uses. CAB International, Cambridge, MA.

Suszkiw, Jan. 2001. Peppers put the “heat” on pests. USDA Agricultural Research Service. Accessed 7/19/21. https://www.ars.usda.gov/news-events/news/research-news/2001/peppers-put-the-147heat148-on-pests/

Medicinal Disclaimer: It is the policy of The Herb Society of America, Inc. not to advise or recommend herbs for medicinal or health use. This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation or an endorsement of any particular medical or health treatment. Please consult a health care provider before pursuing any herbal treatments.

 


Maryann is the Secretary of The Herb Society of America and a Master Gardener. She is a member of The Society’s Texas Thyme Unit in Huntsville, TX. She gardens among the pines in the Piney Woods of East Texas.

Subterranean Treasures: the Beneficial Roots of Native Vines

By Angela Magnan

As I pulled into the parking lot next to the native plant collection at work one day, I noticed our intern up in a tree cutting down a native honeysuckle vine. Uh-oh, I thought. Not again! Working at a public garden, our attempts to grow vines can often be frustrated by well-meaning visitors and volunteers, and yes, overly enthusiastic interns, who automatically think that all vines are weeds and cut or pull out the vines we have planted there. 

Apios in August by Angela MagnanOne strategy to avoid such tragedies is to plant vines that are less obtrusive and that produce underground structures from which they will resprout. One such vine is Apios americana, or groundnut. This leguminous, sprawling perennial vine grows up to 10 feet long and produces clusters of maroon pea-type flowers. Used by native peoples east of the Mississippi as a food source, it has both edible seeds and edible tubers.  The seeds are in long pods that can be harvested in the fall when dry and contain as much protein and fiber as pinto beans. Although not commonly grown in the US, it has been commercially farmed in Japan for more than a hundred years. 

The tubers, which grow every 10-12 inches along the rhizomes, need to be cooked and can be eaten in similar ways to potatoes. Research has also shown that dried and powdered tubers have some promise as an additive to gluten free bread products, increasing the protein content and improving the texture. If you harvest the tubers, the plant won’t come back, but it does seed around; you can maintain its presence in your garden by harvesting sparingly. The tubers are a good source of proline, an amino acid that helps build collagen. Groundnuts have been made into a poultice and used by New England tribes to treat proud flesh, a skin condition caused by inadequate healing of wounds that is particularly common in horses. 

Another native vine with a subterranean edible is hog peanut or ground bean. Also a legume, this is a great plant for botany geeks. Its scientific name, Amphicarpaea bracteata, refers to its production of more than one type of flower, a characteristic known as amphicarpy. It has two types of aboveground flowers and a third type underground. One of the aboveground flowers and the underground flower are cleistogamous, meaning they are permanently closed and self-fertile. The second aboveground flower is a delicate white or light purple pea-like flower that is pollinated by bumblebees. This annual or short-lived perennial produces edible underground seeds, but the aboveground seeds are not edible.

In the wild, this plant typically grows along streams and given enough moisture in the garden, it can run rampant and smother nearby plants. If grown strictly for ornamental purposes, this could be undesirable, but if you want to eat the seeds, you can harvest it aggressively and it will still come back. Because it gets a late start during the growing season, it is a great companion for early spring plants that go dormant by mid-summer. If it has something to twine around, it will, but it will also sprawl along the ground as a groundcover. 

In the US, Cherokee and Iroquois people used the plant for intestinal distress. The Cherokee also used it as a snake bite remedy and the Iroquois used it to treat tuberculosis. In Mexico, indigenous peoples grow it amidst maize and beans, allowing it to twine up the maize stems and intermingle with the climbing beans. Referred to as talet beans, they harvest the underground seeds in early spring before planting that year’s maize crop and then roast the beans as a snack. The aboveground seeds are plowed into the soil for next year’s crop. 

Yet another native vine with useful underground structures is Dioscorea villosa, a wild yam whose tubers contain diosgenin. In the 1940’s, scientists figured out how to synthesize human steroid compounds from diosgenin, a process that was then used to manufacture oral contraceptives and cortisone. Today scientists can synthesize diosgenin in the laboratory, but prior to 1970, wild yam was the sole source of diosgenin and most steroid hormones used in modern medicine were developed from this plant. Although diosgenin can be converted into such steroids in a lab, this process does not occur naturally and consuming wild yam would not have the same effect. 

The flowers of Dioscorea villosa are inconspicuous, but it has attractive heart shaped leaves. Even though its long runners can lead it to pop up in unexpected places, it is not aggressive like some of its non-native relatives. The tubers have an unpleasant, bitter taste, and you wouldn’t want to eat them, but they have been used medicinally for various ailments. Native Americans used a root-based tea to treat menstrual cramps, labor pains, inflammation, asthma, and rheumatism. European settlers used it to treat colic, which led to one of its other common names of colic root. It continues to be used in modern herbal medicine as an anti-inflammatory, either dried in capsule form or as a liquid extract to be made into an herbal tea.

The best thing about all three of these vines is that if a well-meaning individual cuts one down, you might still be able to use the underground treasures or leave them be and let the vine grow back. And what about the native honeysuckle cut down by our intern? It was not so lucky; it never came back. 

Photo credits: 1) Apios americana in August (courtesy of author); 2) Amphicarpaea bracteata flowers (Fritzflohrreynolds via Wikimedia Commons); 3) Amphicarpaea bracteata foliage (R. A. Nonenmacher via Wikimedia Commons); 4) Dioscorea villosa twining up hemlock (courtesy of author)

References:

Foster, S. & Johnson, R. (2006). Desk reference to nature’s medicine. National Geographic.

Frey, D. & Czolba, M. (2017). The food forest handbook. New Society Publishers.

Ichige, M., Fukuda, E., Miida, S., Hattan, J., Misawa, N., Saito, S., Fujimaki, T., Imoto, M., & Shindo, K. (2013). Novel isoflavone glucosides in groundnut (Apios americana Medik) and their antiandrogenic activities. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 61 (9), 2183-2187. https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/jf305233t

Ito, S. & Arai, E. (2021). Improvement of gluten-free steamed bread quality by partial substitution of rice flour with powder of Apios americana tuber. Food Chemistry, 337, 127977. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodchem.2020.127977

Pena, F.B., Villalobos, G. Martinez, M.A., Sotelo, A., Gil, L., & Delgado-Salinas, A. (1999). Use and nutritive value of talet beans, Amphicarpaea bracteata (Fabaceae: Phaseoleae) as human food in Puebla, Mexico. Economic Botany, 53 (4), 427-434. https://www.jstor.org/stable/4256226

Salmon, E. (2020). Iwigara: The kinship of plants and people. Timber Press.

Schnee, B.K. & Waller, D. M. (1986). Reproductive behavior of Amphicarpaea bracteata (Leguminosae), an amphicarpic annual. American Journal of Botany, 73 (3), 376-386. https://bsapubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/j.1537-2197.1986.tb12051.x

Medicinal Disclaimer: It is the policy of The Herb Society of America, Inc. not to advise or recommend herbs for medicinal or health use. This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation or an endorsement of any particular medical or health treatment. Please consult a health care provider before pursuing any herbal treatments.


Angela grew up on a dairy farm in Vermont and has degrees in biochemistry, horticulture, and science writing. She now lives in Maryland and has worked in the Gardens Unit at the US National Arboretum since 2012.

Habitat: Nature’s Masterpiece

Philadelphia Flower Show 2021

By Janice Cox

1625145541867blobHello and happy summer to all of you! This year, I was super lucky and got to attend The Philadelphia Flower Show, one of the premier horticultural events in the country. It is the nation’s largest and the world’s longest running horticultural event, and features stunning displays by some very talented and amazing floral and landscape designers. It is also the major fundraiser for The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, which was founded in 1827. Their efforts include building community gardens, creating public gardens, and offering educational opportunities. This year, the show made history by going outdoors for the first time. Rendering of The Philadelphia Flower Show 2021This made it possible for more displays and also offered major improvements to FDR park in South Philadelphia where the show was located. Being outdoors had some challenges as the weather was less than cooperative. It was also a new time of year for the show, being in June rather than the traditional February, which is a slower time for gardeners, landscapers, and growers. There was a heat wave and major thunderstorm activity that blew the roof off a few displays and wiped out a few gardens. Yet despite the challenges of a new location, it was one of the best years ever, and coming out of the challenges of 2020, attendees were thrilled to be outdoors enjoying nature, plants, and each other.  I heard several times how happy everyone was to just be there, and one designer even commented, “It was plants that got us through last year and the COVID pandemic and the reason we are here today.”

The 2021 show theme was “Habitat: Nature’s Masterpiece,” and the displays were amazing, creating habitats for people, plants, and wildlife. The ideas were creative and inspiring, and many of them could be incorporated into your own home gardens. Creating areas for pollinators, dining and living outdoors, and building up community experiences with herbs and plants in your neighborhoods were showcased.   

I hope you will join me on Tuesday, July 20 at 1pm Eastern when I will share some projects you can create yourself with herbs at home inspired by the show. I will also share some of the award-winning gardens and designers. This year’s “Best of Show” went to Wambui Ippolito whose design won because of the wonderful way she combined color, horticulture, and unique design elements. It was influenced by her upbringing in the Great Rift Valley in Africa, as well as her lifelong travels. Ippolito’s garden was named “Etherea” and was very contemporary in style. It evoked a feeling of peace in nature. 

Here are a few more themes and ideas from The Philadelphia Flower Show:  

Recycling symbolRecycle:  Reusing, recycling and upcycling is not a new idea, but it is one that is here to stay. Many of the displays used materials that often end up in landfills.  One team even built a bench and filled it with discarded plastic, pots, hoses, tools, and old garden ornaments. Another display had a flock of birds all fashioned out of used aluminum soda cans. 

Community:  Using your plants and love of plants to share with others was also a theme. Creating a free seed library, where people could share seeds or “check them out” and return more in the fall, was one idea I loved. There was also a competition between landscapers to transform “Hell Strips” into “Heaven Strips–hell strips being the area in most major cities between the curb and the sidewalk that is often bare or not maintained.  

Sunflower with beesPollinators:  Planting for pollinators is something we herb lovers just know how to do. There were so many displays focused not just on bees, but on other pollinators as well, such as birds, butterflies, dragonflies, and even cicadas. I got to attend the butterfly experience, which was magical, and also learned that you really have to do some research to attract butterflies to your yard. Each species has different things they need from their potential host plants.   

Grow Bags:  Everyone loves growing herbs and flowers in containers, but grow bags seem to be gaining popularity. They are affordable, easy to store, and promote healthier root systems than standard plastic nursery pots. I attended a “Potting Party,” where we planted grow bags with “thrillers, fillers, and spillers:”  zinnias, basil, and thyme, respectively 

Thymus x citriodorus 'Aureus' CU 5-26-07 bHerbs:  The use of herbs was everywhere and in almost every display. The focus was on local plants and also ones that were useful. I noticed a lot of yarrow, lavender, rosemary, and thyme. I think this is due to the fact that they are so popular and easily recognized, loved by pollinators, and also can withstand drought conditions and bad weather (which this outdoor show certainly had!).  

Our webinars are free to The Herb Society of America members and $5.00 for guests. Become a member today, and enjoy all of our webinars for free along with access to the webinar library with over fifty program titles. To register, visit  www.HerbSociety.org/hsa-learn/hsa-webinars/

Happy Growing!

Photo Credits: 1) The Philadelphia Flower Show 2021 rendering (Pennsylvania Horticultural Society); 2) Recycling symbol (public domain); 3) Bees on sunflower (Chrissy Moore); 4) Rosemary and Thymus ‘Aureus’ (Chrissy Moore).


Janice CoxJanice Cox is an expert on the topic of natural beauty and making your own cosmetic products with simple kitchen and garden ingredients. She is the author of three best-selling books on the topic: Natural Beauty at Home, Natural Beauty for All Seasons, and Natural Beauty from the Garden. She is currently the beauty editor for Herb Quarterly Magazine, is a member of the editorial advisory board for Mother Earth Living Magazine, and is a member of The Herb Society of America, International Herb Association, United States Lavender Growers Association, Oregon Lavender Association, and Garden Communicators International. 

Who Was That Guy?

By Chrissy Moore

wp-LostAmazon_backcoverWe’ve likely all had the experience of never having heard of something your whole life, and then suddenly you hear about that thing everywhere. A while back, I was putting together a presentation on cacao research but couldn’t find a photo of the botanist I would be discussing. So, I had to use a placeholder image of some random fellow who happened to be looking at plants with a couple of Indigenous tribesmen in the Amazon. “That’ll have to do for now!” I thought, as I had no idea who the stand-in fellow was and didn’t have time to research him prior to delivering the presentation. But, I acknowledged my photographic hack to the audience and moved on, not giving it another thought.

A week later, one of the audience members emailed me the exact picture I had used, which she stumbled upon in an old copy of The Herbarist (No. 53., 1987), the annual publication of The Herb Society of America. What a coincidence! Come to find out, that “random fellow in the Amazon” was Dr. Richard Evans Schultes. But, still…who was that guy? Clearly, he was someone of importance, but for what? I tabled the inquiry for the time being. Shortly thereafter, one of my volunteers happened to forward me a link to a blog post about the Oakes Ames Herbarium at Harvard University. And whose name appeared in the post? Yep. Richard Evans Schultes. Him again? I decided it was time to go on my own hunt, and lo’ and behold, I found his name practically everywhere in the botanical world. Little did I know that Schultes was a famous 20th century taxonomic botanist and ethnobotanist; Harvard University professor of economic botany; curator, then executive director, of the Botanical Museum of Harvard University; and the one who is considered the father of modern ethnobotany. In other words, plantsman extraordinaire! How had I not come across his name after all these years in the herb world? Boy, did I feel silly. But, you don’t know what you don’t know until you know it! 

rivea_corymbosaSchultes was born in 1915 in Boston, Massachusetts, but spent many years of his life studying plants used by Indigenous peoples, primarily in the Americas. He is known for his work on medicinal and toxic plants, particularly those with hallucinogenic and entheogenic properties. (Hallucinogenic “refers specifically to plants or drugs which induce true hallucinations through the action of deleriant anticholinergic substances such as naturally occurring tropane alkaloids,” while entheogenic refers to “plants and substances which can induce transcendent mystical or spiritual experiences nearly always involving visions….It is associated with a range of psychoactive plants, specifically when used in religious or spiritual…contexts, be they hallucinogens, psychedelics, dissociatives, or others” (Hay et al., 2012).) His deep dive into Amazonian plants began while seeking out wild, disease-resistant Hevea (natural rubber) species in the Western Hemisphere for the United States government during World War II. (During the war, the Southeast Asian rubber sources were cut off, and new sources were needed.) Though he worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture for twelve years, Dr. Schultes’ research branched out to include many other plants with varying economic or ethnobotanical uses. All the while, he maintained a focus on hallucinogens of plant origin. During his career, Schultes collected over 24,000 herbarium specimens and is credited with introducing 300 plants not previously known to science. 

In one of his papers, Schultes notes, “In view of the number of plant species, variously estimated at from 400,000 – 800,000 species, those that have been used as hallucinogens are few; probably no more than 60 species of cryptogams [spore-producing] and phanerogams [seed-producing]….Only 20 may be considered important” (Schultes, 1969).

Lophophora williamsiiSome of his most well-known research subjects were peyote cactus (Lophophora williamsii), used for ritual by the Kiowa tribe in Oklahoma; ayahuasca, an entheogenic botanical brew used by Indigenous tribes of South America; and the numerous plants used to make curare, “a mixture of naturally occurring alkaloids found in various South American plants and used as arrow poisons” (ScienceDirect, 2021). After decades of research into its mode of action by many scientists around the world, curare was applied to surgical procedures in the 20th century, along with anesthesia, as a muscle relaxant during operations until safer synthetic analogues were discovered (Burr and Leung, 2014).

“I have tried several of the Indian hallucinogens, in part because the Indians consider them sacred plants and it would have been an unpardonable rudeness to refuse them when the Indians were kind enough to offer them to me during a ceremony” (Schultes, 1994).

By all accounts, Schultes was a die-hard ethnobotanist, who defined it thusly:

 “[It is] the complete registration of the uses of and concepts about plant life in primitive societies… comprising aspects of botany, anthropology, archeology, plant chemistry, pharmacology, history, geography, and sundry other tangential fields of the sciences and arts” (Schultes, 1988).

Schultes5-572x768His knowledge of the field went beyond just the cultural or botanical, but also landed squarely in the geographical as he sought to document the locations of plants and people. His journal notes and maps were indispensable for recording hard-to-get-at information, including language documentation of the tribes with whom he worked.

After living with and learning from the Indigenous populations in Amazonia for more than ten years (he concentrated on the northwest Amazon region of Colombia), Dr. Schultes returned to the United States and taught economic botany classes at Harvard University for decades, inspiring hundreds of students with his understanding of people and the plants they use. He also contributed hundreds of papers to various scientific publications, as well as authored eight books.

During his career, Schultes noted the rapid destruction of the Amazon rainforest and strongly advocated for its conservation, not just for the plants themselves, but for the knowledge that the Indigenous peoples held of those plants, both of which were disappearing at an alarming rate.

“It is therefore our responsibility – nay, our duty – to put ourselves in the forefront of ethnobotanical conservation. We cannot allow such precious funds of knowledge to become extinct” (Schultes, 1988).

He also understood the potential loss of knowledge yet to be discovered and encouraged continued botanical, pharmacological, and ethnobotanical research throughout the Amazonian basin.

Schultes_amazon_1940s-593x768Schultes was a lover of people, whether they were the tribespeople with whom he forged friendships or the students he mentored at university. His knowledge was profound, and scores of plants share his name. His conservation efforts were acknowledged through numerous awards during his lifetime, including the World Wildlife Fund’s Annual Gold Medal in recognition of ethnobotanical conservation, as well as a 2.2-million-hectare tract of land in Colombia. Dr. Schultes was also an honorary member of the New England Unit of The Herb Society of America! Not surprisingly, his impact has been felt the world over. I may have only recently heard of this tremendous ethnobotanist, but he’s definitely taken me on a botanical journey I’ll not soon forget.

Photo credits: 1) R.E. Schultes in South America (Wade Davis/Earth Aware Editions); 2) Turbinia corymbosa (syn. Rivea corymbosa) botanical illustration (R.E. Shultes); 3) Lophophora williamsii (peyote cactus) (Wikimedia Commons); 4) Schultes’ hand drawn map in his field notebook (Harvard University Botany Libraries); 5) Schultes with Salvador Chindoy (left), a renowned Kamëntsá healer from Sibundoy Valley of Colombia (Archives of the Economic Botany Library of Oakes Ames, Harvard University).

References

Burr, S.A. and Y.L. Leung. 2014. Curare (d-Tubocurarine). Encyclopedia of Toxicology (Third Edition). Academic Press.

Curare – An Overview. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/veterinary-science-and-veterinary-medicine/curare. Accessed 14 June, 2021.

Davis, Wade. The Lost Amazon: The Photographic Journey of Richard Evans Schultes. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2004. 160 pp. ISBN# 0-8118-4571-0

Hay, A., Gottschalk, M., & Holguín, A. 2012. Huanduj: Brugmansia. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew: Richmond, United Kingdom

Kahn, E. J. “Jungle Botanist [Richard Evans Schultes]”. The New Yorker. v. 68: pp. 35-58. 1992.

Schultes, Richard Evans. “Burning the Library of Amazonia.” Sciences 34, no. 2, pp. 24. 1994.

Schultes, Richard Evans. “Hallucinogens or Plant Origin.” Science, New Series, Vol. 163, No. 3864 (Jan. 17, 1969), pp. 245-254. www.jstor.org/stable/1725088, accessed 08 Jan 2020.

Schultes, Richard Evans. “The Medicine Man: Herbalist Superb.” The Herbarist, No. 53. 1987.

Schultes, Richard Evans. “Primitive Plant Lore & Modern Conservation”. Orion Nature Quarterly; v. 7, No. 3, Summer 1988. New York, NY: Myrin Institute, 1988b.

https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2003/09/richard-evans-schultes/. Accessed 3/31/2021.

https://blog.biodiversitylibrary.org/2020/08/richard-evans-schultes.html. Accessed 3/31/2021.

Medicinal Disclaimer: It is the policy of The Herb Society of America, Inc. not to advise or recommend herbs for medicinal or health use. This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation or an endorsement of any particular medical or health treatment. Please consult a health care provider before pursuing any herbal treatments.


Chrissy Moore is the curator of the National Herb Garden at the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington, DC. She is a member of the Potomac Unit of The Herb Society of America and is an International Society of Arboriculture certified arborist.

Summer Savory – Herb of the Month

By Maryann Readal

Satureja_hortensis_Prague_2011_3 by Karelj via wikimedia commonsIt is summer and a perfect time to learn about summer savory, Satureja hortensis. If you have this spicy herb growing in your garden, plan to start using it this summer. It is an easy-to-grow, low-growing annual with white to pale pink flowers and narrow leaves. When in full bloom, the plant looks to be “covered with snow” (Clarkson, 1990). Summer savory requires full sun and good drainage, and can easily be started from seed. It may reseed if given enough sun and water. The leaves are very fragrant and have a warm, peppery taste, which is stronger before the plant flowers. Trim summer savory throughout the summer to encourage new growth. The leaves dry easily and can be stored for later use. Winter savory, Satureja montana, is its stronger, perennial cousin.

Like mint, sage, rosemary, thyme, and oregano, summer savory is in the Lamiaceae family. Dioscorides, a first century Greek physician, called summer savory thymbra because it resembled thyme in its growth habit and taste.

savory satyrSavory is native to southern Europe and northern Africa. It was a very popular herb for the Romans until black pepper was introduced. The Roman writer Pliny (23 CE) is credited with giving the plant its Latin name, Satureja, a word that comes from the word for “satyr,” the mythological half man, half beast that loved wine, women, and song. Savory was a symbol of love and romance for the Romans. The Romans and Egyptians considered summer savory to be an aphrodisiac. Apparently, the ancients made a connection between the use of summer savory and the mythology surrounding it.

Savory is a good addition to a pollinator garden, as bees, flies, bats, butterflies, and moths love its flowers. The Roman poet Virgil (70 BCE) recommended growing savory near bee hives because it produced a pleasant tasting honey. It is considered a companion plant for onions because it encourages their growth. It also deters beetles that feast on beans.

Summer savory has mostly been used as a culinary herb to give a robust flavor to foods. The Romans are credited with bringing savory to England, where it was called savory because its pungent taste created soups and stews that were called “savories.” It still is a great addition to soups and stews. In Germany, it is called the bean herb, bohnenkraut, because it flavors bean recipes. It also reduces flatulence in those who eat the beans. Summer savory is milder than winter savory, yet tasty enough to add flavor to salads, green beans, and peas. It gives flavor when added to vinegars and salad dressings, and is a great addition to herbed cheese spreads. Summer savory is also an essential ingredient in herbes de Provence. Below is an easy recipe for this classic French seasoning from the Complete Illustrated Book of Herbs (2013).

savory Herbes_de_ProvenceHerbes de Provence

4 tbsp. dried rosemary

3 tbsp. dried sweet marjoram

2 tbsp. dried thyme

3 tbsp. dried savory

2 tbsp. dried lavender

1 tsp. dried sage

Combine the herbs and place in an airtight container. Store in a cool, dry place up to four months. Use to season vegetables, chicken, and red meat.

In addition to using it as flavoring, summer savory can be added to water to reduce odors while cooking strong-smelling vegetables like broccoli and cabbage. Some people on low-salt diets find that it is satisfying as a salt substitute. In Europe, diabetic patients use it to reduce thirst (Kowalchik & Hylton, 1998). Some suggest adding it to bath water for a fragrant, spicy soak.

Nicholas Culpepper, a 17th century apothecary, wrote that, “The tops when in flower, gathered and dried, are good in disorders of the head and nerves, and against stop-pages [sic] in the viscera, being of a warm aromatic nature.” Early settlers brought summer savory to the New World and used it to treat indigestion. Many early American cookbooks included summer savory in recipes.

summer savoryHistorically, savory has been used as a “tonic, vermifuge, appetite stimulant, and a treatment for diarrhea. A tea has been used as an expectorant and as a cough remedy” (Kowalchik & Hylton, 1998). Ancient gardeners and today’s gardeners alike have used the crushed leaves to relieve the sting of insect bites. Recent research indicates that because of the antioxidant, antibacterial, and antifungal activity of S. hortensis, it has great potential for use in the food processing industry (Hassanzadeh et al., 2016).

Summer savory is another one of those herbs that can add a lot of flavor to everyday cooking. If you have it growing in your garden, remember to use it. Summer savory is The Herb Society of America’s Herb of the Month for July. For more information about all of the savory species, please explore The Herb Society’s Essential Guide to Savory

Photo Credits: 1) Flowers of Satureja hortensis (Karelj via Wikipedia Commons); 2) Savory satyr (Wikipedia Commons); 3) Herbes de Provence (Wikipedia Commons); 4) Satureja hortensis (Wikipedia Commons)

References

Clarkson, Rosetta. 1990. Herbs, their culture and uses. England: Collier Books. Internet Archive. Accessed 6/6/21. https://archive.org/details/herbstheircultur00clar/page/10/mode/2up?q=summer+savory

The complete illustrated book of herbs. 2013. New York: Reader’s Digest Assoc. 

Culpepper, Nicholas. 1880. Culpepper’s complete herbal. London: Foulsham. Internet Archive. Accessed 6/6/21. https://archive.org/details/culpeperscomplet00culpuoft/page/228/mode/2up?q=summer+savory

Hassanzadeh, Mohammed K, et al. 2016. Essential oils in food preservation. Elsevier. Accessed 6/1/21. 

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780124166417000869Her

Kowalchik, C. and Hylton, W.H. (eds.). 1998. Rodale’s illustrated encyclopedia of herbs. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Press.

Summer savory in the herb garden. Mother Earth News. Accessed 6/1/21. https://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/summer-savory-zmaz84jazloeck

The Herb Society of America’s Essential Guide to Savory. 2015. Accessed 6.11/21. https://www.herbsociety.org/file_download/inline/01ceb540-a740-4aa5-98e7-0c40b1f36c21

 

Medicinal Disclaimer: It is the policy of The Herb Society of America, Inc. not to advise or recommend herbs for medicinal or health use. This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation or an endorsement of any particular medical or health treatment. Please consult a health care provider before pursuing any herbal treatments.


Maryann is the Secretary of The Herb Society of America and a Master Gardener. She is a member of The Society’sTexas Thyme Unit in Huntsville, TX. She gardens among the pines in the Piney Woods of East Texas.

Herbal Trees and Shrubs of the Plains and Prairies

By Katherine Schlosser

From place to place, season to season, and year to year,

the colorful mixtures and combinations of flowering herbs 

are influenced by permutations of weather, grazing,

competition with grasses, and seed abundance.

                                                    ~David S. Costello                        

Since childhood the words “For amber waves of grain, For purple mountain majesties, Above the fruited plain” colored my impression of the landscape of the western part of our country. Visits to grandparents, aunts and uncles, and masses of cousins didn’t disappoint my vision. It wasn’t until adulthood that I fully understood that those words were essentially a drone fly-over.  

For some of us, it takes paying attention not only to the larger landscape, but to the details as well to appreciate the enormous botanical diversity of our country. From the tallest coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) to the tiny littleleaf pyxie moss (Pyxidanthera brevifolia) and its 1/4-inch flowers peering out from 1/5-inch leaves, there is a lifetime of plants to observe and learn. Narrowing the focus to herbal plants, those with uses for flavoring and medicinal purposes, makes the task a little easier, but there is still a world of plants to learn.

Following are just a sample, and for further inspiration I recommend the sources listed in References:

Red false yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora)—though not a Yucca species—is a perfect summer blooming perennial plant that approaches shrub size at 3 – 5 feet tall and 4 – 6 feet wide. Arching evergreen leaves, with the appearance of a narrow Yucca leaf but softer, grow from a basal clump and have fine white curling filament hairs on the margins. In colder climates, the leaves will turn a purplish-red in winter.

Native to Texas and northern Mexico, red false yucca needs six hours of direct sunlight and good drainage. The plant is drought tolerant and can survive in urban settings but does not do well in damp soils. In temperate climates, it blooms only in the summer, and in warmer areas it can bloom year-round.

The leaves and fruits/seeds are toxic, but the flowers can be eaten: cut the flowers off the stem, leaving the base, stamen, and stigma in place to produce seed. Use only the flower petals in stir fry recipes (sautéing with onions, celery, carrots, squash, or other vegetables), in omelets, in salads or as a garnish. Add the petals toward the end of cooking.

This sweet bison calf, with her mother not far away, is enjoying the early fruits of the western serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia). It makes me wonder if that is how humans learned to eat the fruits—by watching wildlife. One taste would have told us YES, eat the fruits. They are luscious if you can get to them before the birds devour them. 

The western serviceberry is smaller than A. arborea (downy serviceberry) and others that grow in eastern states. Generally less than 20 feet tall, western serviceberry makes full, well-rounded shrubs with fruits easily within reach of bears, bison, deer, and other animals, as well as the expected birds. Pure white, star-like flowers appear in May, with dark purple fruits ripening by July. Habitat varies, but a certain amount of water is needed for good fruit set. They adapt to stream banks, moist hillsides, or open areas (as above), and grow from near sea level to sub-alpine areas.

The fruits were very important to Northwest tribes and were in such abundance that they could be dried and stored for winter use. Combined with leaves of wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) and field mint (Mentha arvensis), they were a major ingredient of pemmican. Dried fruits also flavored meat stews and sweet puddings. Now, we make jam, pies, and wine with them and add them to muffins and pancakes. Daniel Moerman (1996) devotes two full pages to the herbal and other uses of western serviceberry.

Western serviceberry grows in most states west of the Mississippi River, including Alaska.

Mountainspray, Holodiscus dumosos, is a stunning shrub that first caught my eye during a 1996 trip to the northwestern states. This reliable plant grows well across ID, WY, NV, UT, CO, AZ, and NM. It also blooms from June to August, making chances of finding them highly likely. 

This is a slender, deciduous shrub with oval, coarsely toothed, aromatic leaves and reddish stems. The flowers are slightly smaller (½” – ¾”) than its cousin, H. discolor (1 3/8” – 2 3/4”), which grows a bit further north. The shrub itself, though slender, can reach seven feet tall.

Mountainspray roots are brewed to make a pleasant tea, and the leaves are boiled to make a tea for treating flu. A beverage tea is also made from the bark. There are many other medicinal uses, enough for Moerman to fill a full page, along with toolmaking and hunting and fishing uses.

Mountainspray is enough of a beauty to put it on my “find one of these” list.

We don’t often think about our western states without thinking about “sagebrush.” Artemisia tridentata (named for the three lobes at the tip of the leaves) is the iconic big sagebrush of the West. It grows across most of the states we describe as “western.” Big sagebush is easy to identify with its aromatic, wedge- to fan-shaped leaves that are three-lobed at the tips and remain on the shrub through winter. Average height is 3 – 4 feet, but can range from as much as 15 feet in certain habitats – generally dryish, well-drained, neutral to slightly alkaline soils. They bloom with small yellow flowers in mid-fall.

Artemisia tridentata can develop a thick woody base, which was used for firewood in the absence of trees. Smoke from burning branches cleansed the air of impurities in ceremonies, and branches were tied together to make brooms.

Uses of the plant are many and mostly medicinal. However, the seeds were used to add a touch of bitter flavor to soups and stews and also made their way into liqueurs as a bittering agent.

Big sagebrush provides food and shelter for a broad range of animals and birds.

Wild tarragonI couldn’t end this post without mentioning another of the many Artemisia species: wild tarragon, a favorite of herb gardeners. This plant is recognized by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service as native to all states from the Rocky Mountains west to the Pacific coast. A few scattered populations also appear in Wisconsin and Illinois, and in one county each in New York and Massachusetts. There are some who suggest that our A. dracunculus can be traced to the garden variety, stating that it may have naturalized many years ago. Given its range and history of use by Native American tribes, I suspect it was here before colonists arrived.

Wild tarragon has been used to treat a great many health problems due to its anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, digestive, and antimicrobial properties; it was added to tobacco for flavor; branches were burned to sedate bees around their nests and to discourage mosquitos; as an insecticide; and to add a pleasant fragrance to baths and hair dressings.  

It is still a popular herb in the kitchen with an anise-like flavor that graces a multitude of dishes, salad dressings, and beverages. I have not tested the theory but am told that those growing on prairies and plains are not as strongly flavored as those available commercially.

It grows far better in the West than it does in my Mid-Atlantic garden, for in spite of droughts that seem to be happening more often, if my red clay holds moisture too long, the Artemisia dracunculus roots suffer. A friend up the road, however, has no difficulty keeping it as a perennial in her garden.

Regarding the information available to us about the Native American uses of various trees, shrubs, and plants, I am partial to the statement below:

Traditional Ecological Knowledge is the on-going accumulation of knowledge, practice and belief about relationships between living beings in a specific ecosystem that is acquired by indigenous people over hundreds or thousands of years through direct contact with the environment, handed down through generations, and used for life-sustaining ways (Newman, 2021).

I, too, have great respect for the knowledge and wisdom we have gained from the Indigenous Peoples of this land. That knowledge saved many from starvation and death and taught us much about this land.  

When you have the opportunity or need to add a tree or shrub, or replace one or more, consider some of our choices among native plants. Especially as we watch our climate change, there may be more choices for those of us in eastern states than we ever dreamed possible.

Photo Credits: 1 & 2) Hesperaloe parviflora (red false yucca), photos taken near Yuma, AZ; 3) Amelanchier alnifolia (Western serviceberry) enjoyed by as bison calf, photo taken in Idaho. 4) Amelanchier leaves and growing fruit (Sally & Andy Wasowski, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, www.wildflower.org); 5) Holodiscus dumosos (mountainspray); 6) Lochsa River along Lolo Pass, near Warm Springs Trailhead in Clearwater National Forest; 7) Artemisia tridentata (big sagebrush); 8) big sagebrush habitat in southern Idaho; 9) Artemisia dracunculus (wild tarragon). All photos courtesy of the author, except No. 4.

References

Brown, Lauren. (undated). The Audubon Society Nature Guides: Grasslands. Alfred A. Knopf, NY. 

Costello, David F. 1975. The Prairie World. Thomas Y. Crowell Company, New York.

Johnson, James R. PhD, and Gary E. Larson, PhD. 2007. Grassland Plants of South Dakota and the Northern Great Plains. South Dakota State University, Brookings, SD. 

Kershaw, Linda. 2000. Edible and Medicinal Plants of the Rockies. Lone Pine Publishing, Renton, WA.

Moul, Francis. 2006. The National Grasslands. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London. 

Moerman, Daniel E. 1996. Native American Ethnobotany. Timber Press, Oregon.

Newman, R. 2021. Human Dimensions: Traditional Ecological Knowledge—Finding a Home in the Ecological Society of America. Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America, pre-publication, article e01892. https://doi.org/10.1002/bes2.1892. Accessed 06-18-2021. 

Williams, Dave. 2010. The Tallgrass Prairie Center Guide to Seed and Seedling Identification in the Upper Midwest. University of Iowa Press, Iowa City, IA.

Medicinal Disclaimer: It is the policy of The Herb Society of America, Inc. not to advise or recommend herbs for medicinal or health use. This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation or an endorsement of any particular medical or health treatment. Please consult a health care provider before pursuing any herbal treatments.


Katherine Schlosser (Kathy) has been a member of the NC Unit of The Herb Society since 1991, serving in many capacities at the local and national level. She was awarded the Gertrude B. Foster Award for Excellence in Herbal Literature and the Helen de Conway Little Medal of Honor. She is an author, lecturer, and native herb conservation enthusiast eager to engage others in the study and protection of our native herbs.

Herbal Medicine vs. Homeopathy

By Erin Holden

Herbs in jarsThe world of natural and alternative medicine encompasses many modalities, and for the layperson, the different approaches and schools of thought can be confusing. When I tell people I’m an herbalist, they invariably think I practice homeopathy, acupuncture, Ayurveda, aromatherapy, you name it. And while many herbalists are also knowledgeable in these areas, they are very different subjects that each take additional study to practice safely and effectively. In my experience, most people think that herbal medicine and homeopathy are one and the same. Although there are similarities, they’re separate ways to approach natural healing, and I wanted to help people distinguish between the two. In the spirit of full disclosure, I must say that I don’t practice homeopathy and only have a little bit of knowledge on the topic – lectures touching on homeopathy are not uncommon in classes and at herbal conferences I’ve attended, so it’s easy to passively acquire tidbits of a more complex picture. 

According to the American Institute of Homeopathy, there are three principles of homeopathy. The first, “let likes cure likes,” means that “a substance taken in small amounts will cure the same symptoms it causes if taken in large amounts.” To illustrate that point, a preparation from the strychnine tree (Strychnos nux-vomica), nux vomica, is used for nausea. The second principle is “the minimum dose.” stockvault-homeopathy-medicines211519 FREE TO USETo maximize effectiveness while decreasing side effects, a full strength medicine (which can be herbal, mineral, or animal) is subjected to a series of dilutions and agitations (called succussions), until the original medicine is no longer detectable. The number of dilutions and succussions are noted on the remedy. For example, a 6X remedy is one part tincture to nine parts alcohol (the X here denoting 10), then succussed six times (National Center for Homeopathy). The third principle, “the single remedy,” dictates that practitioners suggest only one remedy at a time, although some homeopathic preparations contain a combination of remedies. Practitioners take a holistic approach, and match the specific remedy to the overall clinical picture of the client. Homeopathic remedies come in a variety of formulations, from sublingual pellets to liquids and topical ointments. Overall, homeopathy is considered safe for just about everyone, including babies, children, and those who are pregnant and breastfeeding.

Herbal medicine is also a holistic modality, where the practitioner looks at the client’s physical and emotional health, and herbalists also use herbs (obviously!), but that’s about where the similarities end. When selecting remedies, herbalists often choose those that oppose, and therefore balance, what’s going on with the client. For example, if a person runs cold or is feeling slow and sluggish, then warming herbs, like ginger, may be recommended. Many times herbalists make recommendations based on thousands of years of traditional uses, which are being increasingly validated by scientific study. Herb infused oilDosing and formulation are also very different between the two modalities. Herbalists use full strength preparations, often multiple grams of different herbs in formulas developed specifically for the client. I’ve formulated teas for clients that range anywhere from 4g to 15g of herbs per day; it all depends on what symptoms they’re presenting and how they respond to the herbs.  Formulas can be teas, powders, tinctures, glycerites, or topical preparations such as salves, poultices, and liniments. Sometimes the type of preparation depends on the active constituents in an herb – some are water soluble and call for a tea, while others are alcohol soluble and are only effective via tincture. Since herbs, as used by herbalists, are not used at the dilutions employed by homeopaths, there’s a potential for side effects and interference with medications, and some herbs are not recommended for babies, children, or pregnant/breastfeeding people. However, since herbalists do take the whole person into account, they can adjust dosing or herb choice to safely and effectively work with these populations and medications. 

In the end, the goal of both of these modalities is the same – overall wellness. They are just two different points on a continuum of natural healing.

Medicinal Disclaimer: It is the policy of The Herb Society of America, Inc. not to advise or recommend herbs for medicinal or health use. This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation or an endorsement of any particular medical or health treatment. Please consult a health care provider before pursuing any herbal treatments.


Erin is the gardener for the National Herb Garden at the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington, D.C. She is a member of the American Herbalists Guild, United Plant Savers, and a member at large of The Herb Society of America.