Eyelid Issue

I’m losing my eyelashes in a little portion of my right eye. What is strange is the skin is wider where the lashes are falling out. Do I have some kind of a vitamin or mineral deficiency?
As herbalists, the very first thing we tell people when they have a medical issue is: “when in doubt, check it out”. In your case, having your eye lids checked out by an ophthalmologist and/or dermatologist is the best place to start. However there are some things that I can recommend doing in the meantime:
Check your eye makeup. If your eye makeup is old or if it is not of good quality (I prefer Dr. Hauschka, Origins and other natural brands), I would recommend starting fresh with a brand that is more natural.
Check you eye makeup remover. Some removers are oily and can leave a residue, while others can be quite harsh to the delicate skin around the eyes. Again, make sure that the remover isn’t old and is of good quality.
Getting good sleep, eating healthy and using supplements wisely is also recommended. For instance, I take a daily probiotic, multi-vitamin and cod liver oil.
Finally, when my eyes feel tired, I make my “soothing eye relief ” compress. First, I make a batch of tea (see recipe below), strain it and let it chill in the refrigerator. I then soak a clean wash cloth in the tea, wring it out and put over my closed eyes. Here is the recipe:
Soothing Eye Relief: equal parts of:
Elder flower
Greater celandine
Steep for 15 minutes, strain and chill in the refrigerator. Always use a clean cloth as your poultice. The tea will last about 5 days.
All of these herbs can be found at Mountain Rose Herbs. Good luck!
healing benefits of herbal teas

Natural support for those managing shingles

We have had a number of questions on shingles and how to help support the body in a natural way.
The following two paragraphs are excerpted from WebMd (www.webmd.com)
What is shingles?
Shingles is a painful skin rash . It is caused by the varicella zoster virus. Shingles usually appears in a band, a strip, or a small area on one side of the face or body. It is also called herpes zoster. Shingles is most common in older adults and people who have weak immune systems because of stress, injury, certain medicines, or other reasons. Most people who get shingles will get better and will not get it again. But it is possible to get shingles more than once.
What causes shingles?
Shingles occurs when the virus that causes chickenpox starts up again in your body. After you get better from chickenpox, the virus “sleeps” (is dormant) in your nerve roots. In some people, it stays dormant forever. In others, the virus “wakes up” when disease, stress, or aging weakens the immune system. Some medicines may trigger the virus to wake up and cause a shingles rash. It is not clear why this happens. But after the virus becomes active again, it can only cause shingles, not chickenpox.
What we also know is that shingles can be triggered by stress, so strengthening the nervous system with adaptogenic herbs is very helpful. So is taking teas that can help calm the nervous system and trying to relax.
Adaptogens such as holy basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum, sanctum); licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra) and ashwaganda (Withania somnifera) root are all excellent at helping the body deal with stress, while oat straw (Avena sativa) has shown to be effective in strengthening the nervous system. Echinacea angustifolia is an excellent herb to take daily to help balance the immune system, as are good medicinal mushrooms, such as reishi. St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) also helps the nervous system and has shown anti-viral activity. You can use it topically as an oil with a heating pad or it can be taken internally as a tincture or tea. Just consult with your physician first as St. John’s wort is not recommended with SSRIs (anti-depressant drugs) or HIV drugs. Homeopathically, St. John’s wort is known as Hypericum and that can be taken without worry if taking the aforementioned drugs. Lemon balm has been effective for some people (both topically and internally) for nerve pain. Other herbs that have shown anti-viral activity are: Andrographis, Cat’s Claw and Chaparral.
In addition, many health professionals recommend taking lysine 300-500mg 3x per day, again, ask your doctor first. You can put the lysine ointment on the external
outbreaks. Take as much vitamin C as you can tolerate, but make sure it’s a whole food’s source, not just ascorbic acid. A ‘B’ vitamin complex is also helpful as these vitamins are depleted under stress.
Lastly, many people who suffer from shingles have found relief in acupuncture.

Favorite Herbs for Digestion, Part II

If I have to choose only two, I’ll go with artichoke and chamomile.
Artichoke (Cynara scolymus) – this wonderful herb is both food and medicine! The bracts from the flower buds are a culinary delight and the leaves are commonly used in herbal medicine as a gentle bitter to support digestion and liver health. A colleague once suggested drinking the artichoke water after steaming the artichokes and now I can’t believe I ever discarded that green artichokey water! Artichoke is a kidney cleanser and both liver protective and regenerative.
Artichoke stimulates the liver and the gallbladder, thus supporting healthy bile flow, which assists with digestion (of fats in particular) and shuttling toxins out of the body. If you experience abdominal pain, cramping, bloating, belching, nausea and difficulty digesting fats, then try adding artichoke to your daily repertoire as a tea or tincture. Urban Moonshine has some great bitter blends that contain artichoke – If you prefer capsules, consider Nature’s Way. If you’re interested in learning more, read the monograph on artichoke in the book “principles and practice of phytotherapy” by Simon Mills and Kerry Bone.
Chamomile flowers (Matricaria recutita) – I love this plant for it’s multitude of actions. It’s the perfect mild bitter for those who struggle with nervous digestive disorders. It’s also excellent for insomnia, anxiety and muscular tension. The World Health Organization (WHO) monograph on chamomile recommends the tea for “digestive ailments such as dyspepsia, epigastric bloating, impaired digestion and flatulence.” Numerous studies have indicated effective use of chamomile for inflammatory conditions of the gastrointestinal tract.
Fun fact: chamomile flowers are used in classical homeopathy for people who complain too much — a sign that the liver could use some support! Chamomile is relaxing without being highly sedating so enjoy it with any meal. It’s a safe herb for children and the tea is an excellent choice as the water is a great solvent for minerals, vitamins and many of the medicinal constituents. Traditional Medicinals makes a high quality chamomile tea. Don’t forget to cover the tea while it steeps — those essential oils are part of the medicine so you want to prevent them from evaporating off. If you’re new to bitters, try Urban Moonshine’s gentle chamomile bitters before or after meals.
It’s best to avoid bitters if you have gallstones or a blocked bile duct.

Alfalfa (Medicago sativa)

I. Botanical Nomenclature:
Name: Medicago sativa
Family: Fabaceae
Common name: alfalfa
II. Definition of drug: leaf (not sprout)
IV. Taste/Odor/Energetics: neutral
V. Summary of physiological actions:
Gentle alterative; rich in vitamin K (so potential co with cumadin); vitamin K helps with clottingSome cholesterol elimination although need a high quantity (5-10 grams TID)as a digestive tonifying agent that strengthens and invigorates and appetite stimulantin the treatment of dyspepsia and/or indigestion or upset stomach and for the relief of pain from arthritisto promote the appetite and weight gain
VI. Key constituents: enzymes, phytoestrogens, flavonoids, saponins
VII. Pharmacology:
Some hypoglycemic benefit (so good for blood lipids)
IX. Specific indications:
nourishes the liver and the bloodhelps tone the digestive “qi’ and promotes absorption of foodpromotes detoxification of kidneyshelps to relive depression and reduce pain
XI. Preparation and Dosage:
dried herb: 5 g to 10 g, 3 times per day fluid extract: 5 g to 10 g dried equivalent, 3 times per day (1:1, 25% ethanol)
XII. Safety:
potentially estrogenic; can bring on a period if taken in concentrated form

Natural Anti-inflammatories

“I am on high doses of ibuprofen for my arthritis. Is there anything more natural that I can take?”
I won’t comment on your arthritis specifically but there are things you can take that are more natural anti-inflammatories. The first is curcumin (Curcuma longa) also known as turmeric. This is a yellow spice often used to make natural yellow food coloring, but here, the natural yellow color means it has anti-oxidant activity. The key with curcumin is to cook with it to heighten it’s anti-inflammatory properties. I have a salt shaker of it on my counter and cook with it daily. When heated and mixed with a fat, turmeric is much more bio-available which means you get much more bang for your buck. (Speaking of which, but it in bulk, not in capsules). Another great herb is boswellia (Boswellia serrata), the part used is the gum which is why I prefer to make a tincture of it. Celery seed also has wonderful anti-inflammatory properties and can be sprinkled on all your vegetables or proteins. Finally, ginger root (Zingiber officiale) makes a great tea and is terrific when making a stir fry. It is both warming and drying adding to healthy circulation and is often taken for nausea. Thanks for the question!
This post is sponsored by nvibeHerbal. Where good health is just a click away!

Achoo! Herbal Tips for Cold Season

What’s the first thing you recommend doing if I feel a cold coming on, or suspect my kid is getting one?
With fall weather, many people will soon be getting their first cold of the season. It is hard to avoid, so it is best to be prepared. Here are a few items to have on hand to support the body’s natural defenses and to ease the discomfort and inconvenience of fall’s first cold.
But first….REST! If you are feeling run down, you probably are! According to a 2015 study, sleeping less than six hours a night greatly increases your chance of catching a cold. So do your immune system a huge favor and go to bed, take nap, and/or a relaxing bath. Now for the herbs…
Elderberry Syrup – The moment you feel that first tickle in your throat, notice you are suddenly sneezing a lot, or are simply experiencing that drained feeling that signals you may be coming down with something, reach for the elderberry syrup. Several small clinical trials and thousands of years of use, have demonstrated that elderberry syrup can reduce the bothersome symptoms of a cold. The dark purple elderberry fruit (Sambucus nigra) is loaded with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory flavanoids. One of the ways it seems to work is by preventing the virus you’ve been infected with from replicating, thus shortening the duration and annoying symptoms of your illness.
In our home, we make a batch of of elderberry syrup each fall (scroll down for the recipe!), but you can also buy excellent products in most natural food stores or online. Here’s an elderberry syrup formula we keep on hand, or take with us when traveling. This syrup is also widely available online and is wonderful.
While there isn’t any modern research yet on effectiveness of taking elderberry syrup as a preventative, many herbalists highly recommend it. Its delicious, safe and nutritious and you may just find that a teaspoon or two a day, especially when colds are going around school or the office, will keep you healthier. My kids have grown up with it and love the taste, so there are no complaints when I add this in to the breakfast routine in autumn.
Echinacea Tincture or Capsules – Chances are good that even if you are new to natural health, you’ve heard of echinacea for colds. Its very popular, and a mainstay in western herbal medicine, despite modern research and news questioning it’s effectiveness. Much of the research conducted hasn’t used proper dosing or preparation —be sure to take a good quality product (here’s a nice echinacea tincture) and take it throughout the day (every two hours!) if you are feeling ill!
Ginger Root Tea – If you have that chilly feeling that accompanies the beginning stage of a viral infection, try making a strong ginger root tea. Simply slice/chop two inches of ginger root, cover with 16 oz water and boil on the stove for 15 minutes or so, until the water has reduced by half. Add honey and sip. Too strong? Add more hot water. This will stimulate circulation, warm you up and may be just the nudge your body needs to fend off a virus. Plus it doesn’t hurt to breathe in steamy tea and warm up and moisten your nose…the rhinovirus, which causes the common cold, thrives at 91 degrees and in dry noses.
Throat Spray – The second you feel a sore, scratchy feeling, spray this terrific remedy on your throat. It has a strong taste but it is instantly soothing and contains anti-microbial herbs to help fight off any viral or bacterial invaders. This is such a simple and helpful remedy and one I wish more people knew about and had on hand! With a little persistence and patience you can get kids to give it a go (my kids squirm at the unusual flavor, but sigh with relief at the soothing).
Here’s hoping these plants (and extra rest!!) help you and your family have a less bothersome cold season!
RECIPE: Elderberry Immune Syrup
1 cup dried elderberries
2 cinnamon sticks
10 cloves
2 Tbs. fresh sliced ginger
1 quart water
2 cups honey (raw and unfiltered)
Place all herbs and spices in a pan. Add cool water. Cover pan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until reduced by 1/2. Strain. Allow to cool. Stir in honey and place in jars. Store in refrigerator. Adults 2 tsp. (children 1 tsp), four times daily when ill, or as a preventative: Adults 2 tsp/day and children 1 tsp/day.

Herbs to support our muscles

My muscles twitch at night and sometimes spasm, can you offer any herbal (or other relief)?
If your muscles twitch at night or you get spasms at any time, this generally is an indication that your body may need more water, calcium, magnesium, or all three. Also, it’s important to stretch your muscles, especially after a workout–and drink plenty of filtered
water, especially with electrolytes. If you don’t take a supplement, try taking a calcium/magnesium supplement in a 1:2 formulation. Make sure the calcium is not calcium carbonate as that is not very bioavailable. Jarrow makes a nice product in this ratio. You can also create your own tea with stinging nettles (dried), horsetail, licorice root, and oat straw. All are high in minerals. You can find these herbs at your local health food store or go online to Mountain Rose Herbs. Always try to use organic or wild-harvested herbs.
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Autumn and immune support

As halloween approaches, I find that kids get sick the day after! I am a teacher and I was wondering if you could recommend some herbal or other support to keep us healthy.
I said before, we all know that starting the school season = increased stress and exposure to pathogens. It’s also the time of year when the days shorten and the weather cools down, thus reducing our sun exposure and body’s ability to make vitamin D, an important immune system vitamin. Add in Halloween with all the sugar and staying up late and we create the perfect terrain in our body for a cold or flu to take hold!
Make sure and maintain the basics including regular hand washing, going to bed by about 10pm, eating well (lots of fruits and veggies!), getting adequate exercise to keep the lymph flowing and staying hydrated. Avoid sugar as much as possible since it certainly does not support immune health! Some kitchen herbal approaches that are particularly helpful include making and consuming bone broth regularly (check out the Weston Price recipe) and adding astragalus and medicinal mushrooms such as shiitake to your broth. Mushrooms are immune supporting superstars! High quality bulk herbs and mushrooms can be ordered from Mountain Rose Herbs or Pacific Botanicals. Some other wonderful herbal supports include Elderberry as a tea or syrup – Gaia Herbs or Honey Garden Elderberry syrups can be found in many local natural stores. If you do succumb to a cold or flu, check out Traditional Medicinals’ line of cold care teas.

Alfalfa (Medicago sativa)

Monograph: alfalfa
I. Botanical Nomenclature:
Name: Medicago sativa
Family: Fabaceae
Common: alfalfa
II. Definition of drug: leaf (not sprout)
IV. Taste/Odor/Energetics: neutral
V. Summary of physiological actions:
Gentle alterative; rich in vitamin K (so potential co with cumadin); vitamin K helps with clottingSome cholesterol elimination although need a high quantity (5-10 grams TID)as a digestive tonifying agent that strengthens and invigorates and appetite stimulantin the treatment of dyspepsia and/or indigestion or upset stomach and for the relief of pain from arthritisto promote the appetite and weight gain
VI. Key constituents: enzymes, phytoestrogens, flavonoids, saponins
VII. Pharmacology:
Some hypoglycemic benefit (so good for blood lipids)
IX. Specific indications:
nourishes the liver and the bloodhelps tone the digestive “qi’ and promotes absorption of foodpromotes detoxification of kidneyshelps to relive depression and reduce pain
XI. Preparation and Dosage:
dried herb: 5 g to 10 g, 3 times per day fluid extract: 5 g to 10 g dried equivalent, 3 times per day (1:1, 25% ethanol)
XII. Safety:
potentially estrogenic; can bring on a period if taken in concentrated form

Devil’s Club instead of Panax ginseng?

This is an excellent overview on Devil’s Club
Devil’s Club (Oplopanax horridus): An Ethnobotanical Review
HerbalGram. 2004; 62:33-48 American Botanical Council
by Trevor C. Lantz, Kristina Swerhun, and Nancy J. Turner
Devil’s club (Oplopanax horridus (Sm.) Torr. & A. Gray ex. Miq., Araliaceae) is probably the most important spiritual and medicinal plant to most indigenous peoples who live within its range. Different parts of this plant are used by over 38 linguistic groups for over 34 categories of physical ailment, as well as many spiritual applications.
Devil’s club [syn. Echinopanax horridus (Sm.) Decne. & Planch, Fatsia horrida (Sm.) Benth. & Hook, Panax horridum Sm.; Riconophyllum horridum Pall.] is a common deciduous understory shrub occurring in moist, but well drained, forested ecosystems from coastal Alaska southward to central Oregon and eastward to the southwestern Yukon, the Canadian Rockies, northwestern Alberta, Montana, and Idaho. There are also several disjunct populations near northern Lake Superior in Michigan and Ontario. The stems of this shrub are upright to decumbent and can reach heights exceeding 6 meters (~20 feet). The leaves are large (up to 35 cm across [~14 inches]) and maple-shaped.
The stems, petioles, and leaf veins of devil’s club are covered with a dense armor of yellowish needle-like spines up to 2 cm (~0.5 inches) long, which can cause severe skin irritation. The flowers are small and whitish, borne in terminal pyramidal clusters, and ripen to shiny flattened, bright red berries. Devil’s club forms large sprawling clones that expand laterally through the layering of decumbent stems.1
A member of the family Araliaceae (which also contains the ginsengs), devil’s club is related to a number of widely known medicinals including Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng C.A. Meyer), American ginseng (P. quinquefolius L.), eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus Maxim., formerly called Siberian ginseng), and small spikenard (Aralia nudicaulis L., or sarsaparilla).
Devil’s club is often cited as the most significant plant, both medicinally and spiritually, to the indigenous peoples within its range.2-5 The first ethnographic record of devil’s club use dates back to 1842, when Eduardo Blaschke, the chief physician for the Russian American Company, reported the use of devil’s club ash as a treatment for sores amongst the Tlingit.6 Subsequently, devil’s club has received widespread documentation for its medicinal, spiritual, and technological uses in ethnographies, ethnobotanies, medical journals, and historical records from within (as well as outside) its geographical range. In a 1982 review, Turner reported more than 30 categories of medicinal, spiritual, and technological uses by peoples of over 25 different indigenous linguistic groups of western North America.4 Phytochemical research has revealed that this plant has antifungal, antiviral, antibacterial, and antimycobacterial properties, and these are undoubtedly related to its widespread use in traditional medicine.7-11
Ethnobotanical Records of Traditional Use
A review of published and unpublished ethnographic sources reveals great diversity in the uses of devil’s club among many indigenous groups over a wide geographic area. These applications are summarized here in 34 broad categories of medicinal use (Table 1), and eight categories of spiritual use (Table 2). The indigenous peoples who use devil’s club include 38 linguistic groups from across northwestern North America (Tables 1-2), representing nine language families.14 The region delineated by this cultural usage almost directly parallels the geographic distribution of devil’s club (Figure 2) and underscores the cultural importance of this plant across its range. In some areas devil’s club is used well outside of its geographic range; the few areas where cultural use is not recorded from within the area of its distribution appear to represent gaps in the ethnobotanical documentation and not in actual usage.
Table 1: Summary of Medicinal Uses of Devil’s Club (Oplopanax horridus)
Medicinal Uses Cultural Linguistic Group (and References)
Appetite Stimulant Infusion of inner bark. Nlaka’pamux (64); Secwepemc (65); Squamish (66)
Arthritis / Rheumatism Infusion or decoction of inner bark, pounded leaves and sometimes roots, inner bark used in bath/steam bath, inner bark chewed, crushed root used as poultice, and whole stems used to beat rheumatic limbs as counter-irritant. Alutiiq (67, 68, 69, 70); Carrier (71); Ditidaht (72, 73); Gitxsan (17, 74, 75); Haida (2, 76, 77, 78, 79, 80, 81); Halkomelem (82); Hanaksiala (83); Makah (84); Oweekeno (85); Nuu-chah-nulth (72); Stl’atl’imx (85); Nuxalk (76, 77, 79); Sahaptin (86); Sechelt (72, 87, 88); Sekani (89); Squamish (66, 72); Stl’atl’imx (85, 90); Tlingit (2, 80); Tsimshian (80); Unspecified (91)Birth Control Decoction of roots. Métis (92)Blood Purifier Decoction of inner bark. Carrier (73); Nlaka’pamux (64, 93)Broken Bone Decoction of inner bark. Alutiiq (70); Gitxsan (95); Haida (2)Cancer Infusion of inner bark. Alutiiq (70); Gitxsan (17); Haida (2; 81); Tlingit (2); Tsimshian (80)Childbirth / Menstruation Inner bark mashed and swallowed, or decoction of inner bark taken as purgative to expel afterbirth, to start post-partum menstrual flow, regulate menstruation, and for cramps. Alutiiq (94); Carrier (77, 101); Hanaksiala (83); Lushootseed (86); Makah (86); Secwepemc (96); Tlingit (16)Diabetes Infusion or decoction of inner bark and sometimes roots, both alone and in mixtures. Cree (92); Haida (81); Halkomelem (97); Heiltsuk (27); Metis (92); Nlaka’pamux (64); Nuxalk (98); Sechelt (99); Secwepemc (65); Squamish (66); Stl’atl’imx (85); Straits Salish (97, 100); Tsimshian (23)Diphtheria Infusion of roots applied externally. Sekani (89)Emetic / Purgative Decoction or infusion of inner bark prepared in water or seal oil, both alone and in mixtures, roots chewed and the inner bark sometimes swallowed. Alutiiq (68, 70); Carrier (3, 101); Eyak (3, 102); Gitxsan (79, 95); Haisla (83); Haida (76); Makah (86); Nuxalk (77, 79, 98); Tlingit (3, 16, 103); Tsetsaut (3); Unspecified (104); Wet’suwet’en (95)Fertility Unspecified. Unspecified (104)Fever Decoction of inner bark. Tanaina (105); Unspecified (104)Flu Infusion of inner bark, alone and in mixtures, and the inner stem bark chewed. Alutiiq (68, 70); Gitxsan (17); Haida (80, 81); Nlaka’pamux (4, 64); Tanaina (106); Tsimshian (80); Tlingit (16, 80); Wet’suwet’en (107)Gall Stones Infusion of inner bark. Haida (2); Tlingit (2)Haemorrhaging and Blood Disorders Infusion of inner bark, alone and in mixture, and berries pounded into paste taken internally. Comox (108); Hanaksiala (83)Heart Disease Berries pounded into paste taken internally. Alustiiq (70); Hanaksiala (83); Wet’suwet’en (107)Insanity Introduced into the system by beating with stems. Haida (80); Tsimshian (80); Tlingit (80)Internal Infections Infusion of inner bark. Haida (80); Tanaina (106); Tsimshian (80); Tlingit (80); Unspecified (91)Laxative Infusion or decoction of inner bark prepared both alone and in mixtures. Gitxsan (109); Haida (2, 80); Haisla (83); Hanaksiala (83) Heiltsuk (4); Kwakwaka’wakw (110); Nlaka’pamux (93; 64); Nuxalk (77); Tanaina (105); Tlingit (2, 80, 103); Tsimshian (80, 111); Unspecified (91)Lice and Dandruff Pounded berries rubbed on hair and scalp. Haida (78); Oweekeno (83)Lymph Trouble (Dropsy) Ash of inner bark. Alutiiq (94)Measles Decoction of inner bark. Halkomelem (72); Tlingit (106)Pain Relief, Analgesic Decoction of inner bark, inner stem bark mixed with oil and eaten, dried inner bark laid into tooth cavity, steam bath with inner bark. Alutiiq (67, 69); Gitxsan (75); Haida (2); Kwakwaka’wakw (110, 112, 113, 114); Nuxalk (98); Oweekeno (83); Tlingit (2); Tsimshian (2)Perfume, Baby Talc Unspecified. Makah (86)Pneumonia Decoction or infusion of inner bark, and inner bark used in steam baths with a variety of additional plants. Alutiiq (68); Squamish (66); Tlingit (16)Respiratory Ailments, Coughs, Colds Decoctions and infusions prepared from inner stem bark, whole stems and sometimes roots, inner bark also chewed, used in sweat baths, and burned and dampened and worn around the neck. Alutiiq (67, 70); Eyak (102); Gitxsan (17, 74); Haida (2, 80, 81); Halkomelem (72); Hanaksiala (83); Okanagan (116); Oweekeno (83); Nlaka’pamux (4);Okanagan (115); Sahaptin (86); Secwepemc (65); Squamish (66); Tagish (117); Tanaina (105); Tlingit (2, 80); Tsimshian (80); Unspecified (5, 91, 104); Wet’suwet’en (107)Skin Wash Infusion or decoction of roots used as a general wash for acne, skin disease, dandruff, etc. Alutiiq (70); Comox (108); Gitxsan (109); Sechelt (72); Sekani (89); Tlingit (16)Sores (Swellings, Cuts, Boils, Burns, and External Infections) Inner bark, or infusion of, used externally as a poultice or wound dressing or rubbed over sore, dried inner bark pulverized with pitch or burnt to ash and mixed with oil or grease (sometimes salmonberries and dog feces) and applied externally, berries pounded into a paste and applied externally, decoction of root applied externally, and sliver of bark placed in wound to prevent infection. Alutiiq (67, 70, 94, 102); Carrier (71); Eyak (68); Gitxsan (17, 74, 109); Haida (2, 3); Hanaksiala (83); Kwakwaka’wakw(113); Makah (84); Nlaka’pamux (93); Nuxalk (98); Sechelt (99); Tanaina (105);Tlingit (2, 3, 6, 16, 103, 118); Tsimshian (80); Unspecified (26, 91); Wet’suwet’en (74)Stomach Trouble / Pains, Ulcers Infusion or decoction of inner bark or paste made from berries taken internally. Gitxsan (17); Haida (2, 75, 76, 77); Hanaksiala (83); Kwakwaka’wakw (110, 113, 114); Nlaka’pamux (64, 93); Nuxalk (76, 77, 79); Squamish (66); Tanaina (105); Tlingit (2); Unspecified (26, 91)Tonic Infusion or decoction of inner bark or sometimes roots, inner bark chewed, and bark ash infused. Ditidaht (73); Gitxsan (17, 74); Haida (2, 77); Halkomelem (72); Nlaka’pamux (64, 93); Nisga’a (75); Nuu-chah-nulth (119, 120); Oweekeno (83); Tlingit (2, 16); Sechelt (99); Unspecified (91, 104); Wet’suwet’en (107)Unspecified Use, General Sickness Unspecified. Alutiiq (67); Carrier (121); Ktunaxa (122); Gitxsan (75); Nlaka’pamux (4); Nuxalk (88); Oweekeno (83); Quileute (123); Sechelt (99); Tlingit (124); Tsimshian (3)Venereal Disease Decoction prepared from inner bark and whole stems both alone and in mixtures with a variety of other plants. Gitxsan (95); Haida (80); Tlingit (16, 80, 103); Tsimshian (80); Unspecified (91)Vision / Blindness Infusion of inner bark taken internally, inner bark applied externally with pitch, and decoction used as an eyewash to reverse the effects of cataracts. Haida (80); Hanaksiala (83); Tsimshian (80); Tlingit (80)Weight Loss Infusion of de-spined stems. Nlaka’pamux (4, 64)
Among all of the traditional medicinal uses of devil’s club (Table 1), its most widespread is for the treatment of external and internal infections, including tuberculosis. The efficacy of many of the treatments is undoubtedly related to devil’s club’s significant antibacterial,7,11 antimycobacterial (active against bacteria in the genus Mycobacterium),10,11 antifungal,8,11 and antiviral properties.9,15 Devil’s club is also commonly used by many cultural groups to treat arthritis, rheumatism, respiratory ailments, and as an emetic and purgative. It is also used as an aid in childbirth (post-partum), for internal hemorrhaging, as an analgesic, to treat stomach and digestive tract ailments, broken bones, fever, dandruff, lice, headaches, and as a treatment for cancer. Several parts of the shrub, including inner bark, inner bark ash, whole stems, roots, berries, and leaves, are used in a variety of ways to effect these treatments. However, the most common type of preparation is as an infusion or decoction of the stem inner bark.
In addition to ethnographic accounts of medicinal uses, there are also numerous sources that describe spiritual applications of devil’s club. These include purification and cleansing; protection against supernatural entities, epidemics and evil influences; acquisition of luck; to combat witchcraft; as ceremonial and protective face paint; and in rituals by shamans and others to attain supernatural powers (Table 2). Two of the most widespread spiritual uses are bathing with a devil’s club inner bark solution for personal protection and purification, and its use, particularly the spiny or de-spined aerial stems, as an amulet for protection against a variety of external influences (Table 2). External and internal cleansing involving the use of devil’s club “was, and is, of paramount importance” to many of the cultural groups throughout devil’s club’s range.4 The inner stem bark of devil’s club has also often been used in solution to wash down fishing boats, fishnets, and to purify a house after an illness or death, and, as charcoal, to prepare protective face paint for ceremonial dancers (Table 2). John Thomas explained that amongst the Ditidaht, and many other neighboring groups, devil’s club is considered sacred and “along with red ochre paint is considered to be a link between the ordinary, or profane world, and the supernatural, or spirit world.”4 Although it is useful for the purposes of this paper, an explicit division between medicinal and spiritual uses of devil’s club does not reflect traditional conceptions of health and healing4,16,17 and most “medicinal” applications of devil’s club are inextricably linked to “spiritual” applications of the plant, particularly its use for cleansing and purification. Devil’s club also figures significantly in the traditional narratives of many cultural groups throughout its range.14
Table 2: Summary of Spiritual Uses of Devil’s Club (Oplopanax horridus)
Spiritual Uses Cultural Linguistic Group (and References)
End Bad Weather Unspecified Eyak (102); Tlingit (16)
Luck Wood retained for luck, bark used in bath, and rubbed on body, and fresh bark chewed. Eyak (102); Gitxsan (17, 109); Haida (125, 126, 127); Haisla (83); Hanaksiala (83); Tlingit (16); Tsimshian (83, 128); Wet’suwet’en (74)
Contemporary Use in the Herb and Dietary Supplement Industry
Many of devil’s club’s uses in herbal medicine parallel its most commonly documented traditional uses (Table 1). Overall though, the modern commercial applications of devil’s club in the North American herbal market are for treating a smaller number of health problems and lack the spiritual practices associated with traditional use. Western herbalists report that the roots of devil’s club (and to a lesser extent the inner stem bark) are a strong respiratory stimulant and expectorant18,19 and recommend their use for rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune conditions,18,20 as well as to treat eczema, sores, and a number of internal and external infections.21 Devil’s club is also commonly recommended for the treatment of type II adult onset diabetes,18,22 a use of devil’s club that is also extensive in indigenous communities. However, since there is considerable risk and uncertainty associated with such therapy, such recommendations should be viewed with caution.21 In one notable case, devil’s club is recommended as a pancreatic tonic that is purported to help lower blood sugar levels by increasing the efficiency of insulin production in the pancreas.22 In this and other similar cases it is unclear if the reasoning given is based on the clinical evidence, which is equivocal and conflicting.21 Early clinical research on devil’s club, inspired by its widespread use by indigenous peoples for adult diabetes, reported that a white precipitate isolated from extracts of devil’s club “root bark” exhibited a hypoglycemic effect in lab hares.23 Subsequently, in experiments involving two human subjects, Justice2 presented some additional evidence to support the hypoglycemic activity of devil’s club’s root and stem bark. However, additional work by Piccoli et al.,24 Sturr et al.,25 and Thommasen et al.26 using extracts from “root bark,” and research by MacDermot27 using a decoction of stems, provide data that do not substantiate the hypoglycemic activity reported previously. Since devil’s club is still widely, and increasingly, used as a treatment for late onset type II diabetes and is listed in a recent review of antidiabetic plants,28 additional research and more rigorous clinical trials are required to validate and characterize or to disprove hypoglycemic properties in devil’s club.
Notable commercial applications of devil’s club that depart from traditional use include marketing strategies portraying devil’s club as “Pacific ginseng,” “Alaskan ginseng,” or “wild armored Alaskan ginseng.”12,13 In these cases, and on occasion when devil’s club is promoted under its standardized common name, products are marketed on the basis of purported adaptogenic and tonic properties. Suggestions of its use as an alternative to ginseng parallel those of eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus Maxim., Araliaceae), formerly called “Siberian ginseng.” Devil’s club is increasingly used as a ginseng substitute in marketed herbal formulas and is considered to have significant potential in U.S. and Asian markets in this role.12 Although devil’s club is used as a tonic in some traditional medicinal applications (Table 1), its properties as an adaptogen are by no means its most distinct. The belief of some herbalists that devil’s club can be readily substituted for ginseng, with similar effects and benefits, has not been demonstrated empirically. Indeed, devil’s club’s emetic and purgative properties are often what some first-time users highlight when describing their experience with the plant (possibly due to ingestion of relatively high doses). Furthermore, any pharmacological and therapeutic similarities devil’s club shares with ginseng are not well documented, and a number of authors stress that these plants should not be used as if they were the same.19,21 Additional applications that are unconnected to traditional indigenous use and appear to have no empirical basis include treatment for hyperthyroidism, for impotence, and as a phytoestrogen.21
Another notable divergence between traditional and contemporary commercial applications of devil’s club relates to the plant parts used. Most of the devil’s club products currently available commercially, including devil’s club teas, tinctures, capsules, and formulas that contain devil’s club, contain “root bark” as the main ingredient. “Root bark” is also one of the most common plant parts sold as a crude drug. Unlike the traditional use of devil’s club, which primarily involves inner bark of the aerial stems (Table 1),14 the commercial use of devil’s club “root bark” seems to be driven by perceived superior potency of roots. Like the marketing of devil’s club under alternate common names that equate it with ginseng, the sale of devil’s club “root bark” appears also to be an attempt to highlight devil’s club’s relationship to ginseng, since the root of the latter is used medicinally. Any therapeutic advantage of the roots over the stem bark, like the marketing of devil’s club as a ginseng substitute, appears largely unsubstantiated by research, much of which has been conducted using stem inner bark. Furthermore, the commercial harvesting of devil’s club roots in preference to stems has some important conservation implications. Devil’s club is a shallow rooting, long-lived, clonal shrub that expands vegetatively through the layering of horizontal, or decumbent stems, and rarely by seedling.1 Like many medicinal plants, devil’s club is not currently cultivated in any significant quantity and is almost exclusively wild-harvested. Although devil’s club can be wild-crafted sustainably,14,29 the large-scale harvest of its interconnected clonal fragments may have an adverse impact on the persistence of populations.
Phytochemistry and Biological Activity
Phytochemical information on the active constituents of devil’s club is somewhat confounded by varying taxonomic treatments of the genus Oplopanax. Most authorities treat Oplopanax as a genus made up of three species: O. elatus Nakai in Russia and Korea;30 O. japonicus (Nakai) Nakai in Japan;31 and O. horridus in North America.32 Throughout this paper we have adopted this treatment and refer to O. horridus in this strict sense when employing the common name devil’s club. However, there are other authorities that treat all three as subspecies of O. horridus.33,34 Since most research has been conducted on either the Russian or Japanese species (or subspecies) of Oplopanax, with little published descriptive phytochemical work on devil’s club, it is unclear if many of the active constituents commonly cited as components of devil’s club are actually present in North American devil’s club, or only in the Russian and Japanese species. For example, Moore18 lists nerolidol, torreyol, dodinene, busnesol, dodecenol, cadene, and cerdrol as constituents of devil’s club. However, since this research was conducted on Oplopanax elatus [O. horridus ssp. elatus]35 it is unclear if it is applicable to the North American populations of O. horridus [O. horridus ssp. horridus].
Another group of compounds also commonly cited as constituents of devil’s club (O. horridus) are saponins (triterpenoid glycosides).36 Although a number of triterpenoids have been described from O. elatus and O. japonicus,37-44 to date none have been described from North American devil’s club. Although it is likely that North American devil’s club does contain some of the same compounds as these close relatives, presently the only published report to support this describes glycosidal principles of a possible saponin-like nature.25 There is also no evidence that devil’s club contains a specific group of saponins known as the ginsenosides as is often claimed and used to assert its adaptogenic properties and therapeutic similarity to ginseng.18 Additionally, none of the saponins described in devil’s club relatives O. elatus and O. japonicus are ginsenosides (saponins with dammarane type triterpenoid aglycones45). According to Zhuravlev and Kokyada,46 O. elatus and a larger group of Russian Araliaceae species (including E. senticosus< do not contain ginsenosides, but rather saponins that have aromatic triterpenoid aglycones.
The earliest, and some of the only, published descriptive phytochemical work that has been conducted on the North American devil’s club is by Kariyone and Morotomi,47 who described a sesquiterpene (equinopanacene) and a sesquiterpene alcohol (equinopanacol) in O. horridus. In more recent phytochemical investigations on O. horridus, Bloxton et al.48 reported a number of sterols and four sesquiterpenes, one of which (spatulenol) is novel to the genus. Kobaisy et al.11 described two novel and three previously described polyenes, one of which (oplopandiol) has recently been synthesized.18 These acetylenes all display significant antimycobacterial and antifungal activity49 and most are active against common bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus, Bacillus subtilis, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Escherichia coli, and Candida albicans. These compounds are also active against Mycobacterium tuberculosis and Mycobacterium avium, both of which can cause significant clinical tuberculosis, particularly virulent in immuno-compromised hosts, AIDS patients being especially vulnerable. Notably, these pathogens are also responsible for the epidemic status of tuberculosis in Canada’s indigenous population.50 Since many strains of M. tuberculosis and M. avium are also resistant to the most commonly used antimycobacterial drugs, there is considerable interest in the potential of devil’s club in tuberculosis therapy. Extracts of devil’s club inner bark also partially inhibit a respiratory syncytial virus.9
In other research, immunologist George Luciuk has claimed that devil’s club has anti-microbial effects on upper and lower respiratory tract infections15. In related investigations on the Russian species, Me et al.35 reported that essential oils derived from O. elatus show antifungal activity against five pathogenic species: Microsporum gypseum, M. lanosun, Trichophyton gypseum, T. purpureatum, and Epidermophyton floccosum. Aihua et al.51 also report that O. elatus shows anti-mycotic action against a number of common pathogenic fungi. Additionally, a sesquiterpene, a sesquiterpene alcohol, and a sesquiterpene ketone have been isolated from >O. japonicus; a derivative of the latter is used in Japan in commercial preparations to treat coughs and colds.52
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