Monday, June 11, 2007

Local Healing Plants in Victoria, BC, Canada

Looking around the fields and streets of Victoria these last few weeks, one cannot miss the abundance of new plant life. There are flowers, bushes, herbs and trees all preparing for a new season and putting on a dazzling display of colours and textures. But can there be more to these local plants than just stimulation for the eyes and nose?

Many of these plants around us contain an ability to heal. Within both their physical chemistry and their energetic presence lies the ability of our plant allies to help with varying health issues. I would like to introduce you to four local plants that have unique healing qualities.

Aesculus hippocastanum (Horsechestnut Tree)
The Horsechestnut tree grows along many streets in Victoria, although it is not native to this area. The first recorded medicinal use of this plant was in 1565 in a translation of Dioscorides’ Materia Medica. As a medicine the Horsechestnut fruit itself, and sometimes the bark, is used. It is primarily used for conditions of the Circulatory system including leg ulcers, varicose veins, inflammation of the veins and haemorrhoids. It can be taken internally under the supervision of a herbalist for these conditions, and can also be made into an ointment or cream for external use as well. Horsechestnut can also help reduce fluid retention by allowing reabsorption through the capillaries.

Achillea millefolium (Yarrow)
Yarrow is a small perennial (growing to 3 feet) with small white flowers. It has had many common names in the past, most of them relating to its history of use on the battlefields to help heal wounds. Even the Latin name Achillea has its root in the folklore of Achilles, the famed warrior, and it is said that Achilles used this herb for himself and his men on the battlefield. Yarrow today has a multitude of actions within the body including combating colds and flu by promoting fevers, having a bitter action on the digestive system to ease weak digestion and colic, helps to regulate the menstrual cycle and reduces heavy menstrual bleeding and pain. Yarrow has styptic properties meaning that it helps to stop bleeding from wounds as well.

Cytisus/Sarothamnus scoparius (Broom)
I have recently had quite a few patients come in complaining of allergic symptoms that are caused by this yellow flowered shrub which is a member of the pea family. Broom was brought to North America from Europe where it has a long history of use right back to the medieval texts of the 12th century. Broom is mainly used as a remedy for an irregular, fast heartbeat. The plant works on the electrical conductivity of the heart, slowing and regulating the transmission of impulses. It is also a strong diuretic, stimulating urination, which helps to reduce any oedema associated with heart failure. This plant should not be taken internally unless under the supervision of a Herbalist, and should never be taken by a pregnant woman as it can cause the uterus to contract.

Taraxacum officinalis (Dandelion)
I hope none of the readers out there ever thought that this plant was simply an irritating weed that needed to be removed from their garden as quickly as possible! Dandelion has amazing healing qualities and we should feel lucky to have it grow in such abundance around us. It is not unusual that it arrives early in the spring as this plant could be used for our own internal “Spring Cleaning”. It has strong actions of cleansing and detoxifying on the liver, gallbladder, digestive system and kidneys. Due to its cleansing action, Dandelion is able to help conditions such as acne, eczema, psoriasis, arthritic conditions, gout, osteoarthritis and gall stones. As a medicine we use both the root and the leaves. One great way to enjoy the benefits of this plant is to use its leaves on your fresh garden salad. Just be sure to choose Dandelions that have not been sprayed with herbicides or pesticides. As Hippocrates said “Let medicine be thy food and food be thy medicine.”

If you have any specific questions about using Herbs to restore health, please send them to

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Stress and Western Herbal Medicine

Stress and Western Herbal Medicine
June 4th, 2007

Although modern day living provides many new conveniences, there is still a large portion of the population that suffer from various degrees of stress. But what is stress and how does it affect people’s health? Basically stress can be described as any outside force that disrupts the internal balance or harmony within the body. These can include relationships (both personal and professional), work conditions and bodily health among others. Living in the city requires the ability to withstand some stress, but when it becomes overwhelming and begins causing physical complaints such as high blood pressure, insomnia, digestive upset and the inability to concentrate and focus, it is indicative that balance needs to be restored within the body.

By nature, stress is not a condition that can be “treated” itself, but rather the body can be given support through the use of healing plants, supplements, relaxation techniques and lifestyle adjustments to work through the stress in a healthy way.

Herbs to Use:
Herbal Medicine provides us with herbs with various actions that are beneficial in the treatment of stress. Herbalists use plants with adaptogenic, relaxant, adrenal tonic and nervous system restorative actions. Adaptogenic herbs include Eleutherococcus senticosus (Siberian Ginseng) and Withania somnifera (Ashwaghanda) which both effectively help the body adapt and cope with stress. Relaxing herbs are important as they can help calm the mind. Some great herbs for relaxation include Valeriana officinalis (Valerian) and Scutalleria lateriflora (Skullcap). As stress can sometimes lead to an over-use of adrenalin from the body to cope with stress, your adrenal glands (located on top of your kidneys) become exhausted and begin to cause other health problems. Borago officinalis (Borage) is a herb that works well to restore healthy adrenal function. Nervous system tonic herbs are used to help bring balance back to your nervous system and help you function and cope with stress by providing nutrition to nerve cells and restoring healthy cell activity. Herbs that have this action include Avena sativa (Oats) and Stachys officinalis (Wood Betony)

Lifestyle and Supplements:
One of the most important things to help with lifestyle stress is to examine the circumstances that trigger the stress and see how you can change your lifestyle patterns to minimize them. It is very beneficial to try to incorporate relaxation techniques into your life routine including yoga and meditation. If you feel that you are unable to cope with the stress in your life on your own, you should consult a Counselor or Psychologist to help work through the issues professionally. Good supplements to use during stressful periods of life include Vitamin A, B-complex, B6 and B12, C, D, E, Magnesium, Zinc and Oils of Evening Primrose or Borage.

Every individual is different and different herbs may be required. For a more customized approach to your stress, consult your local Medical Herbalist