Getting the most therapeutic doses out of the least amount of plant make sense, right?
For endangered herbs using the harvested material wisely to make the most amount of medicine is a worthy aim. Here is a major way to achieve that with two of these herbs.
Make medicine from the fresh plant
Tincturing some fresh endangered herbs can give you similar strengths and more doses than the dried herb according to Michael Moore author of Medicinal plants of the Pacific West (1993).
Using Black Cohosh (Cimicifuga spp.). as an example, Michael explains this well in the following quote from his book.
‘The herb deteriorates fast (Black Cohosh) and needs to be tinctured fresh…’
‘… the same single root will create more therapeutic bounce for the ounce if tinctured fresh. As with so many herbs, the bioactivity of a square inch of the fresh root is rather greater than the same inch if it were dehydrated.‘
‘…Ten ounces of fresh Black Cohosh root may supply 60 full doses as fresh root tincture. Ten ounces will dry down by mass to slightly over one ounce which produces only 20 full doses. …in bioactivity the fresh and dried tinctures are nearly the same strength.’
Michael also mentions Golden seal – once again fresh gives more doses and the same bioactivity as dried.
A caution however. This does not hold for all plants – do your research and reading. American ginseng for example gives little advantage dried vs fresh.
We can see that for two specific endangered herbs Black Cohosh and Golden Seal fresh tincturing has advantages for the plant communities and for the medicine.
We live in a current era of uncertainty and deep concerns in many areas. Be it drought, Bushfire, Flood, Coronavirus, Economic uncertainty or Government actions there is a lot going on.
Looking for knowledge that is tried true and trusted is important if you want to learn more about Herbal Medicine. It doesn’t matter whether you are starting as a complete newbie or are a qualified professional; having trusted sources of information and advice is vital.
We all go looking on Google to surf the internet and see what comes up. Mostly its rubbish as searches are ranked on factors other than quality or truthfulness of information. You really need to remember that, just because someone says it on the internet- it ain’t necessarily so as George & Ira Gershwin sang.
I was visiting a friend’s garden in Ainslie ACT where cleavers were growing abundantly. My friend commented on the beauty of the plant, its abundance and vitality. He said to me what about we tincture that?
It was a shining example of how simple herbal medicine at home can be.
The simplicity of the plant growing healthily in the garden.
Cleavers was there – it did not need to be manufactured or transported around the world or need a research grant. It’s just there, waiting to be harvested. You can look upon it as a common weed completely overlooking its unique properties. A lot of what we look on or call ‘weeds’ or common plants have a long history of usage in Herbal medicine.
And apart from visiting friends much of my time at the moment is spent working on collaborative project with my friend Wendy Dumaresq. We are working on a herbal medicine course that is a deep dive into a number of herbs showing people how they can do herbal medicine for themselves in a safe and effective way.
You can hear a FB interview with Wendy with Animal Dreaming publishing. The interview covers a number of topics and also covers this new Herbal medicine course.
It called ‘Masting’ and means that that a range of indigenous conifers have decided it’s time to bear seed. last time was five years ago in 2015.
How do they all decide that it’s the right time? An ENT Moot perhaps? (Tolkien readers will understand this reference). Likely it’s a range of subtle environmental triggers that the plants monitor so they can time their fruiting & seeding efforts for the best possible result.
Who said plants are not intelligent, just because they sit there?
In a recent post we covered seed banks and how they are really a Devils bargain in taking plant seeds out of context into a technological fantasy world.
This blog we look at seed collection going on this year on in Tasmania.
Tasmania – have you been there? I remember travelling over on the boat in the 90‘s and seeing the Mountainous cloud shrouded profile of Tasmania appear as we headed to Launceston. It’s certainly a special place.
Busy collecting this seed in a hurry is James Wood – Why?
The hurry comes from the coordinated timing of all of the plants to produce seed and that It happens irregularly. They are also scattered over the alpine landscape in Tasmania so that means a lot of walking!
James Wood a botanist from Kew Gardens in London, works in the seed bank at the Royal Tasmanian Botanic Gardens in Hobart. Wood is on a mission to collect seed from these rare Tasmanian conifers.
Yes! Australia has its own conifers and in Tasmanina they are very special – Pencil Pines, King Billy Pines, Huon Pines. Tasmanian is Australia’s Conifer hot spot.
As I said the sense of urgency is from the irregular timing of seed production plus the real threat from global warming that is changing the climate in the alpine areas these plants grow in.
You may remember the fires within the last couple of years where alpine areas normally too wet to burn, dried out enough for this to happen.
Also, when you collect the seed it needs to be from a variety of different plants form different parts of the landscape to capture the genetic diversity. Pencil pines it turns out grow often in clonal groups. This means they are all of one genetic strain likely all grown from only a few parent trees.
“It’s not a bad-sized haul as an insurance policy for the future,” says Wood.
The collection will be stored in the Tasmanian Seed Conservation Centre and the UK’s Millennium Seed Bank. One day, the seeds may be reintroduced back into the landscape to flourish again which, for Wood, is a comforting thought.
Oh, OOH there those seed banks again – Why does reintroduction into the landscape again be only comforting thought? How about an urgent practicality?
Perhaps they could take a leaf (bad pun) from the book of the Sydney Botanic Garden and how they took action with discovery of the Wollemi Pine. Seed and plants were collected then there was an intense effort to propagate the trees so they could be grown by everyone.
This takes the pressure off the wild species from poachers and includes everyone into the conservation effort.
Wood says “As Tasmania’s habitat changes, many alpine species may become extinct — some have already been lost and may not be able to re-establish themselves naturally……. the increasing aridity and likelihood of fire in these areas is very worrying,” he says.
So, seed collection, propagation and storage plus growing on in the Botanical garden can here serve as a useful buffer. It just does not stop at the seed collection and storage part though.
“It will be nice if we can leave those who come after us with more than just a glimpse of what the world was in the beginning,” Wood says.
We would all agree with that
Based on an article from the ABC news site you can access here.
Touted and promoted as the doomsday vaults that will save us if there is a catastrophic accident, wide spread climate alteration or meteorite strike etc. Created to preserve the worlds plant diversity against extinction.
They house seeds collected wither locally or from around the world as a genetic resource for future times and to prevent plant extinction.
One such storage site is the doomsday vault in Svalbard Norway that recently had to be upgraded due to warmer summers in the artic circle where it is located. Here is its website
The seed is gathered from around the world then deposited in this high technology vault in a remote safe location. Carefully stored recorded and checked for a future time of need. For once we seem to be having proper foresight in our society.
once you ponder a little bit longer, there are serious flaws
At first glance this seems wonderful that this precious material is being preserved however once you ponder a little bit longer there are serious flaws – It has taken me awhile to see beneath the surface attraction to understand it is only part of the solution.
Let’s look a bit deeper
The seed bank for the future sounds great – but if you look harder it another grandiose complicated technological solution to an ecological problem. As if we didn’t have enough ‘technology’ saving us already.
Where are the ecosystems that this plant lives in?
We have saved the seed but what about the actual living mature plant?
What about the ecological and cultural context of the plant?
As if we didn’t have enough ‘technology’ saving us already.
The seed lives on in its high-tech vault – largely devoid of its social & ecological & environmental history and context.
Separated from the soil where it germinates, the animals it feeds or who fertilise it, the fungi that colonise its roots and allow it to connect into the ecosystem, the people who cultivate it if it’s a food crop. The cultural stories it features in.
Yes, every seed has a file with photos, text describing where it came from but you can’t pretend that this is anywhere near the reality of its existence.
‘you can’t pretend that this is anywhere near the reality of its existence’
It shows an application of technology that separates us from reality, when what is needed is re connection with the plant world, the ecosystems that support us now and have done so for millennia. There is no relatedness.
‘An abstraction from the ecological world we live in – a high technology fantasy’
It’s a Devils bargain – we believe we are getting something marvellous when out of sight a sacred feminine part of our self and our culture has been betrayed and sacrificed. The plant lives on as a dormant embryo dependent on high technology life support.
A Devils bargain or Faustian bargain is where a person or society trades something of supreme moral or spiritual importance, such as personal values or the soul, for a worldly or material benefit, such as knowledge, power, or riches.
For the seed its life as a living entity is now an abstract reality. It’s been reduced to a data entry in a computer and lives in a container at sub zero temperatures.
Thankfully there are organisation that have taken a different route – at lower cost, more relatedness and of benefit to all.
Here is contrasting example with vegetable seeds.
The Diggers Club Australia have taken on the mantle in Australia of gathering, preserving and distributing a wide range of heritage vegetable seeds.
Diggers source seeds, growing them at their support facility then send out to members. The seeds are connected with people and put into the ground to live and provide food.
Having a heritage lettuce variety that sits in a container at minus whatever degrees Celsius in a cavern in northern Norway is not much use to anyone.
Zoos are in a similar position if they are not captive breeding and providing a buffer to the wild populations. Plants and animals need to function in their original environments and for this to have value and be respected.
It’s a Devils bargain – we believe we are getting something marvellous when out of sight a sacred feminine part of ourselves and our culture has been betrayed and sacrificed.
Don’t buy it!
To read deeper into the psychology of a Devils bargain try reading Robert Johnson – The Fisher King and the Handless Maiden: Understanding the Wounded Feeling Function in Masculine and Feminine Psychology. It’s a short but profound book and helps explain our times.
Tinderry Mountain Herbs places a tithe on all income earned of 10%. This money is spent on various enterprises that help plants and the earths ecosystem.
TMH supports Bush Heritage Australia an organisation that manages large areas of key Australian habitat. They remove all feral species and reintroduce the original animal species. They consistently find that once foxes and cats are removed the native animals establish themselves, breed and get right on with their business. The Native plants get right on with their business as well. Everything in context and environment.
Lomatium or desert parsley or Indian balsam is an official ‘at risk’ medicinal herb.
Used in the herbal trade for respiratory infections to control them before they turn in to complications. However few people know of this plant – probably just as well for reasons you will see later in this blog.
If you do use it – you do not need much – its a potent herb and taking excess will give you a rash just to teach you a lesson. Have it dispensed by your herbalist who knows how to offset this.
Its a plant that can live for more than a century in the wild. Rich Cech says of lomatium
“there is no such thing as sustainable harvest of wild Lomatium. The plant is not renewable within our lifetime”
That means it is scare to rare or endangered in its wild habitat and needs to be cultivated for future harvests. From earlier posts you would have read about my persistent and patient growing of this plant. Its certainly slow however I have found that more regular potting up and a larger pot have helped speed things up a lot.
Alas this season I was unable to gather any seeds. Hoping for flowers this coming late winter and I will be on the ball for those seeds to harvest.
Hopefully my humble efforts will show the way or provide encouragement so that we can cultivate this herb rather than harvest from the the wild.
This month an insight into different ways Herbalists prescribe dosages of herbs.
Official dosages of herbs are given in the British Herbal Pharmacopeia, which very precisely outlines the type of preparation, concentration and dosage in millilitres. It’s a reference text for many herbalists.
Another school of Herb dosing exists which is called simpling. It has deep roots in folk herbalism going back may centuries. This means that prescriptions are often a single herb and the dose is given in drops. XYZ number of drops so many times per day.
Cultivate your own green fingers – Endangered Herbs Part 2
Grow your own endangered herbs by your very own hand. Start with seed sowing.
Even if you start with simple ones it is empowering and a fundamental reconnection with our green friends.
First a story about seed sowing with Echinacea…
I had ordered about six different species of Echinacea from Strictly Medicinal Seeds in Oregon USA to see what I could grow. The seed was stratified in the fridge for about 3 months (Stratify means expose the seed to cold temperatures) to break the seed dormancy.
Sowed the seed as instructed in a seed tray with commercial seed mix. Then the morning came when the magic happened…
All the seed had started germinating, the amazing vitality of the young plants as they thrust their leaves up into the light – it was like a mass eruption of echinaceaness. It is still such a vivid memory. The previous post has a photograph showing the germination.
Action 1 – Support groups that protect herbs and the environment.
Why are some herbs endangered and what herbs are endangered?
The raw unpleasant truth is that there are a lot of herbs being harvested from wild populations and made into medicine that are scarce in their habitat.
This is not sustainable or ethical.
It also not much talked about.
Just because it’s a herb does not mean that everything is green, eco conscious and sustainable.
Quite frankly your cup of coffee could be more sustainable than some herbs in commerce.
Why they are endangered is due to over collection from the wild as well as habitat destruction. Add to that the lack of scale in cultivation of the herbs themselves as sustainable farm crops.
What herbs are endangered is a bit clearer. The best work done currently is in North America where the United Plant Savers (UPS) group works specifically with native herbs of North America under threat. However, in many other countries the situation is not clear.
Why should we care? – An important range of our herbal Materia Medica comes from North America. Plants like Golden Seal, Black Cohosh, Slippery Elm and Echinacea are herbs that have become very well-known and widely used. They have also been over harvested in the wild.
Who is doing the best work that I know of in this area now?
‘When I moved in It had one fig tree, rampant couch grass and a trampoline – that was it!’ Lisette said when she moved to her house in suburban Canberra.
Mostly I am talking to you about medicinal herbs but every once in a while, a garden I see or read about takes my fancy and reinvigorates my love of gardening and plants so I share it with you.
The transformation into sensorial paradise of this suburban garden didn’t cost thousands of dollars or arrived prepacked from the local nursery or was created by ‘professional landscapers. It’s one Woman and her family with their persistent efforts.
‘I just started with one small area then moved onto another area … ‘Lisette modestly says on how she achieved this.
A variety of evolving techniques over time has been used to change this landscape so profoundly. Here are some of them with my comments.
A few years ago I had a crack at growing Osha (Ligusticum porteri). Its a well known and also revered medicinal herb in North America among the Indian Nation people and the Native people of Mexico. It is used in their ceremonies and is well known as a Bear Medicine.
I was successful and managed to grow the plant for a couple of years before it went to sleep one Autumn and never woke up again in Spring.
Talked about in the book featured above ‘ Growing At risk medicinal Herbs’. Cultivation of the herb is tricky. It likes the Mountains where it grows, rich soil and plenty of water.
So time to try again, and I recently ordered a couple of packets of seed. They arrived yesterday (all 30 seeds) and I busily made them at home.
First is a two month stay in the fridge to simulate a cold winter, then treatment with Mycogold fungal preparation then into the soil for planting.
Stay tuned as I report my progress. Lots of prayers to the Bear Medicine spirit for a wonderful germination of these seeds.
P.S. When I opened the packet a wonderful aroma hit my nostrils. The smell of Osha! which is like a feral rank celery smell. If you have ever grown lovage, that is very close. I took this as a good sign that the seed is fresh and vital.