Susun Weed ~ Wise Woman Tradition ~ parts one and two of eight

Be Your Own Herbal Expert, part one

by Susun Weed (copyright 2002-2011)

Listen to the Plant Spirits

Herbal medicine is the medicine of the people. It is simple, safe, effective, and free...
Our ancestors knew how to use an enormous variety of plants for health and well being. Our neighbors around the world continue to use local plants for healing and health maintenance. You can too.

Learning About Herbs

Information on herbs and their uses has been passed down to us in many ways: through stories, in books, set to music, and incorporated into our everyday speech. Learning about herbs is fun, fascinating, and easy to do no matter where you live or what your circumstances. It is an adventure that makes use of all of your senses. Reading about herbal medicine is fascinating, and a great way to learn how others have used plants. But the real authorities are the plants themselves. They speak to us through their smells, tastes, forms, and colors.

Anyone who is willing to take the time to get to know the plants around them will discover a wealth of health-promoting green allies. What stops us? Fear. We fear that we will use the wrong plant. We fear poisoning ourselves. We fear the plants themselves.

These fears are wise. But they need not keep us from using the abundant remedies of nature. A few simple guidelines can protect you and help you make sense of herbal medicine. This series of short articles will offer you easy-to-remember rules for using herbs simply and safely. When you have completed all eight parts of this series, you will be using herbs confidently and successfully to keep yourself and your loved ones whole/healthy/holy.

Survival is a Matter of Taste

Virtually all plants contain poisons. After all, they don't want to be eaten! Because we have evolved eating plants, we have the capacity to neutralize or remove (through preparation or digestion) their poisons. Not all poisons kill, and even poisons that are deadly often need to be taken in quantities far larger than can easily be obtained from foods. (Apple seeds contain a lethal poison but it takes a quart of them to cause death.)

Our senses of taste and smell are registered in the part of the brain that maintains respiration and circulation, in other words, the survival center. Plants (but not mushrooms) advertise their poisons by tasting bad or smelling foul. Of the four primary kinds of poisons found in plants -- alkaloids, glycosides, resins, and essential oils -- the first two always taste bitter or cause a variety of noxious reactions on the oral tissues, and the last two usually do, especially when removed from the plant or concentrated.

Sometimes the taste of the poison in a plant is hidden by large amounts of sweet-tasting starch. Fortunately, human saliva contains an enzyme that breaks down these carbohydrates, exposing the nasty taste of the poison. Since even tiny amounts of some poisons can have large effects, for safety sake, take your time when tasting.

Safety First

Because our sense of taste protects us against poisonous plants, it is always best to take herbs in a form that allows one to taste them. Consuming just one plant at a time, with as little preparation as possible, gives us the greatest opportunity to taste poisons and is therefore the safest way to use herbs.

One herb at a time is a "simple." When we ingest a simple herb-- raw, cooked as a vegetable, brewed fresh or dried in water as a tea or infusion, steeped in vinegar or honey, dried and used as a condiment -- we bring into play several million years of plant wisdom collected in our genes. When we ingest many plants together, or concentrate their natural poisons by tincturing, distilling, or standardizing, we increase the possibility of harm. Powdering herbs and putting them in capsules is one of the most dangerous ways to use them, especially those containing poisons. For ultimate risk, play with essential oils; they are far removed from the plant, very concentrated, and as little as one-quarter ounce can kill.

Safety Second, too

In the next installments we will continue to learn how to use herbs simply and safely. We will explore nourishing and tonifying herbs, the difference between fixing disease and promoting health, how to apply the three traditions of healing, and how to take charge of your own health care with the six steps of healing.

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Experiment One

You will need the following plants, all of which contain poisons that you can taste: a head of lettuce (taste the leaves and the core separately), some black or green tea (unbrewed), a fresh dandelion leaf, strong chamomile tea (steep it overnight), a can of asparagus, some fresh mint, a spoonful of mustard seeds, and a bottle of vanilla extract.

Approach tasting a plant as you would tasting a wine. Begin by inhaling the aroma. Release the bouquet by squeezing the plant until your fingers are moist (or chew briefly and spit into your hand). Do you feel enticed, repelled, or neutral? Does your mouth water? Does your throat clench? Observe how you react to the smell. Does it sting your eyes? Irritate your nasal tissues? Do you want to taste it?

We do not gulp our wine, nor do we merely wet our tongues; for best effect, taste and smell a reasonably large piece, but don't stuff your mouth. As you chew, move the plant material around in your mouth. Roll it around with your tongue. Make contact with it for a full minute but DO NOT SWALLOW. No, no, spit it upon the ground, or into your hand, or the sink, or wherever you can, but do not swallow. SPIT IT OUT.

What do you feel now? In your stomach? your throat? your head and nose?What is your gut feeling? What sensations accompany the taste of this plant?

It is best to wait until the previous taste is completely gone before going on to the next plant. If you are doing advanced work with wild plants, wait at least a day before you use or consume the plant in case you have a delayed reaction to some component.

Experiment Two

Taste as in experiment one, but use these inedible (poisonous) parts of common foods: Lemon inner rind, apple seeds, rhubarb leaves, lettuce root, the inner soft pit of a peach.

Experiment Three

Taste as in experiment one, these poisonous plants (fresh or dried): wormwood leaf, goldenseal root, yellow dock root, echinacea root, eucalyptus leaf, motherwort leaf.

Experiment Four

Aromatic plants are rich in essential oils. We often use them to season and preserve food. In small quantity, these oils are not harmful, but concentrated, they threaten the liver, kidneys, and life itself. Smell and taste, as in experiment one, as many aromatic plants as you can: thyme, rosemary, oregano, lavender, sage, orange peel, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg. Brew strong teas (steep overnight) of these plants and taste. Can you see, smell, or taste more essential oils? Smell or taste one drop of the extracted essential oil of any of these plants.

Further study

1. What is an alkaloid (hint here)? Medicinal plants often contain groups of alkaloids. Name seven plants rich in alkaloids (specify the part); then name at least three of the alkaloids in each plant. 2. What are glycosides? Name at least four glycosides and describe the effect each has. Name seven plants rich in glycosides; specify the part of the plant and the kind of glycoside.
3. What are resins? Name four or more plants (specify part) rich in resins.
4. What are essential oils? Name a dozen or more plants rich in essential oils (specify part).
5. What is the difference between a poison and a medicine? Are all drugs poisons?
NOTE: If you can't find the answer to a q above use Google.com to search, you will find helpful hints.
Advanced work

* Give the botanical name (genus and species) for each plant you named in the further study section.
* Taste a variety of plants that grow around you. Warning: It is possible to experience uncomfortable or harmful effects from this experiment. A book on poisonous plants can reassure you that the plants you are tasting will not kill you. It is best not to put plants such as poison ivy or poison oak in your mouth. DO NOT TASTE HOUSEPLANTS.

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Be Your Own Herbal Expert, part two

by Susun S Weed (copyright 2002-2011)

Herbal Infusions

Herbal Infusions - Herbal medicine is the medicine of the people. It is simple, safe, effective, and free. Our ancestors knew how to use an enormous variety of plants for health and well being. Our neighbors around the world continue to use local plants for healing and health maintenance and you can, too.

In your first lesson, you learned how to "listen" to the messages of plant's tastes. And you discovered that using plants in water bases (teas, infusions, vinegars, soups) -- and as simples -- allows you to experiment with and explore herbal medicine safely.

In this lesson, we will learn how to make effective water-based herbal remedies and talk more about using simples.

Tea for You?
Teas are a favorite way to consume herbs. Made by brewing a small amount of herbs (typically a teaspoonful to a cup of water) for a short time (generally 1-2 minutes), teas are flavorful, colorful drinks.
Herbs rich in coloring compounds -- such as hibiscus, rose hips, calendula, and black tea -- make enticing and tasty teas. They may also contain polyphenols, phytochemicals known to help prevent cancer. Since coloring compounds and polyphenols are fairly stable, dried herbs are considered best for teas rich in these.
Herbs rich in volatile oils -- such as ginger, chamomile, cinnamon, catnip, mint, lemon balm, lemon grass, lavender, bergamot, and fennel, anise, and cumin seeds -- make lovely teas which are effective in easing spasms, stimulating digestion, eliminating pain, and inducing sleep. Since much of the volatile oils are lost when herbs are dried, fresh herbs are considered best for teas rich in these, but dried herbs can be used with good results.
I enjoy a cup of hot tea with honey. But teas fail to deliver the mineral richness locked into many common herbs. A cup of nettle tea, for instance, contains only 5-10 mg of calcium, while a cup of nettle infusion contains up to 500 mg of calcium. For optimum nutrition, I drink nourishing herbal infusions every day.

Infusion for Me!

An infusion is a large amount of herb brewed for a long time. Typically, one ounce by weight (about a cup by volume) of dried herb is placed in a quart jar which is then filled to the top with boiling water, tightly lidded and allowed to steep for 4-10 hours. After straining, a cup or more is consumed, and the remainder chilled to slow spoilage. Drinking 2-4 cups a day is usual. Since the minerals and other phytochemicals in nourishing herbs are made more accessible by drying, dried herbs are considered best for infusions. (See experiment 2.)
I make my infusions at night before I go to bed and they are ready in the morning. I put my herb in my jar and my water in the pot, and the pot on the fire, then brush my teeth (or sweep the floor) until the kettle whistles. I pour the boiling water up to the rim of the jar, screw on a tight lid, turn off the stove and the light and go to bed. In the morning, I strain the plant material out, squeezing it well, and drink the liquid. I prefer it iced, unless the morning is frosty. I drink the quart of infusion within 36 hours or until it spoils. Then I use it to water my house plants, or pour it over my hair after washing as a final rinse which can be left on.

My favorite herbs for infusion are nettle, oatstraw, red clover, and comfrey leaf, but only one at a time. The tannins in red clover and comfrey make me pucker my lips, so I add a little mint, or bergamot, when I infuse them, just enough to flavor the brew slightly. A little salt in your infusion may make it taste better than honey will.

Having trouble finding herbs in bulk at your local health food store? Try ordering online:

 http://www.mountainroseherbs.com/ Mountain Rose Herbs

    http://www.pacificbotanicals.com/ Pacific Botanicals

    http://www.frontierherb.com/ Frontier Herbs

    http://www.gardenmedicinals.com/ Garden Medicinals
 

Simple Messages
When we use simples (one plant at a time), we allow ourselves an intimacy that deepens and strengthens our connections to plants and their green magic. There are lots of interesting plants, and lots of herbalists who maintain that herbal medicine means formulae and combinations of herbs. But I consider herbs as lovers, preferring to have only one in bed with me at a time.
When I use one plant at a time it is much easier for me to discern to effect of that plant. When I use one plant at a time and someone has a bad reaction to the remedy, it is obvious what the source of the distress is, and usually easy to remedy. When I use one plant at a time, I make it easy for my body to communicate with me and tell me what plants it needs for optimum health.
I even go so far as to ally with one plant at a time, usually for at least a year. By narrowing my focus, I actually find that I learn more.

Experiment One
Make and drink a quart of nourishing herbal infusion made with stinging nettle, oatstraw, red clover, raspberry leaf, or comfrey leaf. If you wish, flavor it with mint. On the same day, make a tea from the same herb, using dried herb. Compare and contrast the colors, flavors, and sensations.

Experiment Two
Make an infusion of stinging nettle, oatstraw, red clover, raspberry leaf, or comfrey leaf, using one ounce of dried herb as usual. At the same time, make a quart of "brew" using the same herb, but fresh, not dried. To make it fair, use 4 ounces of fresh herb. After one hour of steeping, look at both jars, taste and compare/contrast. Repeat three more times at hourly intervals. Minerals are released slowly into water. They darken the color of the water and give it a dense, rich taste. Oil-soluble vitamins float to the top and make a thin glaze of swirls.

Experiment Three
Buy, or grow a tasty, aromatic herb, like ginger, peppermint, or rosemary. For this experiment you will need one tablespoon of fresh herb, and one teaspoon of the same herb dried. Place the fresh herb in a cup or mug and the dried herb in a another. Fill both to the top with boiling water. After one minute, taste, smell, compare the teas. Wait another minute and compare again. Then wait five minutes and try each one again.

Experiment Four
Make a tea with aromatic seeds -- anise, caraway, coriander, cumin, fennel, or fenugreek. Use a teaspoon of seeds in a cup of water. At the same time, brew some using a tablespoon of seeds per cup. After a minute, taste, smell, contrast. Repeat in five minutes, then in thirty minutes, then after an hour, then after four hours. Teas and infusions of dried seeds are almost the same.

Further study
    1. Drink a 2-4 cups of nourishing herbal infusion for a month and see if your health changes in any way. Best if you don't drink coffee or tea during this month.
    2. Choose a green ally to focus on this year.
    3. Read Healing Power of Minerals by Paul Bergner.
    4. Read about stinging nettle and oatstraw in my book Healing Wise.
    5. Write out the botanical names of the herbs you used in making your teas and your infusions.

Advanced work
    * Learn more about essential oils in plants. Grow several plants rich in essential oils.
    * Learn more about tannins. Make an oakbark infusion.

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Susun Weed, http://www.susunweed.com and http://www.ashtreepublishing.com

permission to reprint this article MUST be obtained, contact Susun S Weed at: susunweed@herbshealing.com
PO Box 64
Woodstock, NY 12498
Fax: 1-845-246-8081

Calendar | Workshops | Intensives | Apprenticeships | Correspondence courses | Online courses | Teleseminars | Mentorship

ABOUT SUSUN S. WEED
Vibrant, passionate, and involved, Susun Weed has garnered an international reputation for her groundbreaking lectures, teachings, and writings on health and nutrition. She challenges conventional medical approaches with humor, insight, and her vast encyclopedic knowledge of herbal medicine. Unabashedly pro-woman, her animated and enthusiastic lectures are engaging and often profoundly provocative.

Susun Weed encourages women to work towards good health from the inside out. Her close-to-the-earth approach continues to break new ground in old ways, helping to make natural non-invasive solutions available to women from every walk of life.

Herbalist, wise woman, and teacher for over two decades, she is the founder of the Wise Woman Center in upstate New York and the author of four highly acclaimed books on alternative/complementary healthcare for women. Honored as a Peace Elder in 1996, Ms. Weed is respected worldwide as the voice of the Wise Woman tradition, the oldest tradition of healthcare on the planet.

The Wise Woman tradition maintains that health is flexibility and that deviations from normal (that is, problems) offer us an opportunity to reintegrate those parts of ourselves that we have cast out. This reintegration is accomplished through nourishment and the person emerges healed/wholed/holy. The Wise Woman tradition is compassionate and heart-centered. It honors the Earth and the special mysteries of women. It is simple, local, ecological, and invisible, choosing to use common plants, such as dooryard weeds, rather than exotic herbs from far away.

The Wise Woman Center, founded in 1984, is a safe place for women around the world to gather together to celebrate the wise woman within and to study herbal medicine and spirit healing with Susun and notable teachers such as Brooke Medicine Eagle, Z Buda pest, Vicki Noble, and Merlin Stone.

Ms. Weed has been called a backwards pioneer. She agrees: "I've gone backwards into prehistory, into herstory, to rediscover and rename something as ancient as humanity, but something which is perfectly relevant, indeed critical to our survival, today." That "some thing" is the Wise Woman tradition; a unique viewpoint from the distant past that she be lieves will help us find answers for our collective future.

The Wise Woman viewpoint that we are all connected and that a health crisis is symbolic as well as physical -- characterized by some as shamanic, by others as superstitious -- still exists in our society today, both in lay healing and in professions such as midwifery and psycho-therapy, but it usually goes unnamed. "One of the characteristics of this tradition is its integration into everyday life. By healing through nourishment, whether it is a hug or a special dinner, the wise woman acts invisibly whenever possible."

This is in marked contrast to other traditions of healing, according to Weed, who differ entiates three major healing traditions: the Scientific, the Heroic, and the Wise Woman. In the Scientific tradition the doctor is highly visible and the patient is reduced to a body part or a disease designation. In the Heroic or Holistic tradition, the healer is the one who knows the right way to do things and the patient must follow the rules in order to get well. In the Wise Woman tradition, illness is understood as an integral part of life and self-growth, with healer, patient and nature as co-participants in the healing process.

Much of today's alternative medicine comes from Heroic traditions, which traditionally emphasize fasting, purification, colonic cleansing, rigid dietary rules, and the use of rare botanicals in complicated formulae. Even much of metaphysical healing is applied this way: It views illness as a failure rather than a natural and potentially constructive process.

Susun Weed sees herself as a teacher, not a healer. "A healer is someone who does for you, while a teacher shows you how to do for yourself. When I work with a correspon dence course student or an apprentice, for instance, I'm working with the intention of helping her to know herself better, to learn how to listen to and nourish all parts of her self, which will allow her to become more healthy/whole/holy."

Susun reminds us that wellness and illness are not polarities. They are part of the contin uum of life. "We are constantly renewing ourselves, cell by cell, second by second, every minute of our lives. Problems, by their very nature, can facilitate deep spiritual and symnolic renewal, leading us naturally into expanded, more complete ways of thinking about and experiencing ourselves."

Ms. Weed maintains an active teaching/lecture schedule, with bookings throughout the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Germany (where she also trains apprentices). She has taught at many prestigious schools including the National College of Naturopathic Medicine, Yale Nursing School, South Florida Midwifery School, Rocky Mountain Center for Botanical Studies, and the Waikato College of Herbal Studies. She currently sits on advisory boards for the California Institute of Integral Studies and the National Institute of Health's Rosenthal Center for Alternative/Complementary Medicines at Columbia University.

Ms.Weed is most well-known for her four best-selling books - recommended by expert herbalists and well-known physicians and used and cherished by millions of women around the world.

Susun Weed’s books include:

Healing Wise
Superb herbal in the feminine-intuitive mode. Complete instructions for using common plants for food, beauty, medicine, and longevity. Introduction by Jean Houston. 312 pages, index, illustrations.
Retails for $12.95
Order at: http://www.ashtreepublishing.com/bookshop/
   
NEW Menopausal Years the Wise Woman Way
The best book on menopause is now better. Completely revised with 100 new pages. All the remedies women know and trust plus hundreds of new ones. New sections on thyroid health, fibromyalgia, hairy problems, male menopause, and herbs for women taking hormones. Recommended by Susan Love MD and Christiane Northrup MD. Introduction by Juliette de Bairacli Levy. 304 pages, index, illustrations.
Retails for $12.95
Order at: http://www.ashtreepublishing.com/bookshop/
For excerpts visit: http://www.menopause-metamorphosis.com

Breast Cancer? Breast Health!
Foods, exercises, and attitudes to keep your breasts healthy. Supportive complimentary medicines to ease side-effects of surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, or tamoxifen. Foreword by Christiane Northrup, M.D. 380 pages, index, illustrations.
Retails for $14.95
Order at: http://www.ashtreepublishing.com/bookshop/

 

 

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