Sunday, February 28, 2010

Convenient First Aid

According to herbalist, teacher, and author Cathy McNease, garden plants and various foods in your kitchen can become first aid remedies as well as long-term support for health. Having a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioner on your healing team is a good idea, for they can guide you in the use of everyday items to bring immediate comfort, can give aid while en route to their office, and can offer information on how to prepare and ingest certain foods on a daily basis for continued health. Self-education is great, but when facing a situation, it is recommended that you communicate with your TCM practitioner to verify that the remedy truly fits your constitution and ailment. The western herb, goldenseal, for example, is a fantastic anti-biotic, but its nature is cold and therefore not recommended for at least half the population, unless taken in a way that acknowledges the cold person or the person with the cold condition.

The mulberry leaf, Sang Ye, is widely known as food for silk worms, but it has benefits for humans, too. Mulberry trees do not flower, they give fruit. The plant can grow in a wide space in your sunny yard, and you may start with a cutting as well as seeds. To get a cutting of a plant, cut a piece of the stem, removing the bottom leaves and top bud of leaves off a friend’s plant, for example. Energy will travel down within the cutting, and roots, instead of buds, will grow. McNease says, “Plants that have a woody stem, like a mulberry tree cutting, or more difficult to root plants, are easiest done in soil.” Take the mulberry stem, dip it in Rooting Hormone, which is a powder you can purchase from any gardening supply store, and simply plant the cutting into moist soil. McNease warns, “Rooting Hormone is not used in water rooting, only when done in soil.” Eight to ten feet are required between the fence and this tree when planted. Whether planted initially into a pot or into the ground, remember to use good, soft, moist soil. A Pakistani variety of mulberry is McNease’s favorite because of its size and taste: they are two to three inches long and have a very sweet, delicious flavor. After years with various varieties, perhaps you will have a favorite, too. Books are available on the subject of gardening in general and growing plants from cuttings. Books, like McNease’s Tao of Nutrition, are also available, providing helpful information about the properties of plants as foods and other potential uses.

So, your child comes home from school with a cough, headache, fever, or even a sore throat. The child’s eyes are watery, possibly a little red. Perhaps the youngster has only one of these symptoms. Mild tasting Sang Ye is ready and waiting in the backyard. First, pick enough of the huge leaves for a serving of tea now and for later. McNease suggests, “When dry herbs are used to make tea, a handful of crushed dry leaves are used for a cup.” A child’s handful or an adult’s handful is used depending on for whom the tea is intended. Sang Ye is mild and non-toxic, so large doses are no problem, but remember the handful measurement to guide you with other herbs. When fresh leaves are used, just rinse off any dust. McNease recommends scissors for the task of cutting up the leaves, stating, “It really doesn’t matter if you use the leaf whole or not, but you can get a little stronger tea if the leaf is cut or crushed. When the leaves are fresh, use two to three times more of the amount used than when dry.” Pour hot water over the dry or fresh leaves in a pot, let the tea simmer for fifteen to twenty minutes, and then strain it and sip it. Be certain not to catch a chill. If you should start perspiring, be mindful of changing your clothes and avoiding a draft.

For nausea and/or a dry cough (perhaps with yellow phlegm), the huge, oval, dark green leaf from the loquat tree, Pi Pai Ye (Eriobotrya japonica), may be prepared as a single herbal remedy. It has the function of descending the rising force behind rebellious stomach qi (chi) and lung qi, which is responsible for the maladies. This leaf can clear heat from the stomach and heat and phlegm from the lung. Consulting with your TCM practitioner before preparing Pi Pai Ye tea is a good idea to rule out conditions caused by cold. Prior to breaking or cutting the leaf, or leaves, into a cup, check the back of each leaf for a scaly insect. If found, remove it. It is a parasite, not part of the leaf. The leaves are fuzzy, so when a tea is ready, it will need to be strained through a coffee filter or else the fuzz may irritate your throat.

Patchouli or Huo Xiang (Agastache rugosa) is terrific at stopping stomach flu and food poisoning symptoms. Although it is best to seek treatment for mild cases or situations when you are unable to seek immediate help - late at night or during a disaster, for example, picking some Huo Xiang leaves, pouring hot water over them, and then slowly sipping the remedy may bring some relief. McNease recommends also placing a hot water bottle on your midsection. This sometimes calms the rebellious qi, stopping the qi from moving downward too strongly and other qi from moving up too strongly during, for instance, diarrhea and vomiting. Through allowing the qi to communicate and harmonize, and by “transforming turbidity,” stomach flu and food poisoning symptoms may be relieved. A few twenty degree Southern California nights prompted McNease to shelter her Huo Xiang in a protected porch. This is a benefit to having this particular plant in a pot where it thrives.

Catnip (Nepeta cataria) is from the mint family and may be grown from a cutting. McNease says, “Plants in the mint or geranium families can easily be rooted in water, but change the water every week.” This means you may take the cutting and simply keep it in water until the root-hairs have grown sufficiently for planting. I found that my scented geranium cutting did not like being in a really sunny hot spot, so I moved it to a counter not in the path of direct sunlight. Just be aware of your cuttings and their surroundings. During extremely cold weather, these delicate plants, as well ferns and lemon trees, need to be protected. That is easy enough if they are in pots, but the ones rooted in the ground may be protected by gently placing ordinary bed sheets over them, as McNease would do in this situation.

Catnip has a hairy, square-like stem and it usually grows three to five feet high. This wonderful herb may be used indirectly for a colicky baby, for the baby does not ingest the tea directly; the mother does. Through drinking the mother’s milk, the baby’s spasms, cramping, and nervousness calm down. It has been used for diarrhea and bronchitis. Catnip and its mint relatives, spearmint and peppermint, may also be made into a tea in order to relieve the beginnings of a sore throat, a cough, and/or a slight fever, referred to as wind-heat in TCM. The mints may make you sweat, so, again, protect yourself from getting a chill.

Mullein has a soft leaf, a two-year life cycle, and can grow nine to ten feet tall. McNease says, “The first year it produces a basal rosette of furry leaves. The second year it sends up the tall flower stalk. In our mild California climate, it may last a third year with more flowers.” A tea made with the mullein leaf can resolve phlegm and can therefore aid infected lungs presenting with a cough and congestion. Its temperature is cooling, so it is best in dry and hot conditions; however, if fresh ginger is added, it may be used for cool conditions as well. Mullein flowers may be prepared for an ear infection by soaking the flowers in olive oil for a few weeks, covering the flower with at least a half an inch of the oil. Being aware that the temperature in the house is not too hot to turn the oil rancid and not too cold to turn the oil solid is tricky. Strain off the oil from the flower and keep the mullein oil in the refrigerator. When someone has an ear infection, two to three drops may be dropped into the ear.

Plantago seeds or Che Qian Zi is also known as White-man’s Foot and as plantain. They have parallel veins that are raised on the leaves. The early settlers of the U.S. brought these seeds with them as they journeyed westward, some purposely to use medicinally, some inadvertently on their shoes. The flat, broad, ribbed leaves are growing as troublesome weeds, are grown as a crop intended for bird’s food, are raised for a leafy vegetable intended for human consumption, and are still grown for medicinal reasons. The good news is, Che Qian Zi can grow anywhere. Perhaps it was so important to the settlers because it functions to clear heat and toxins. Red eyes and cough may be relieved by this versatile plant. It is great for stopping the itching from bug bites. Steep the chopped up leaves in a cup or bowl of hot water, then place the leaves on the affected area. Larry W. Mitch, author of “Whiteman’s Foot: Broadleaf Plantain,” an article in Weed Technology July 1987, said that in the past, plantain poultices were used on scorpion and snake bites, Puritans used it for deep cuts and sore feet, and the young leaves may be used in any fashion, like spinach, or can be eaten in a salad. Do not ingest this herb if pregnant, and if feeling weak, consult with your practitioner first.

TCM uses the whole dandelion plant (Pu Gong Ying/Taraxicum officinalis) by cutting it into a salad. Cut it in spring, though, as it is too bitter in summer. Dandelions are loaded with minerals and work to clear heat and toxins from the body, so may be used for the situations mentioned above. Also, new mothers experiencing mastitis will be happy to know that the dandelion leaves may be steeped in boiling water, removed, and place on the affected breast. This method works well for insect bites as well.

It is nice to know that our gardens may help us with some acute (sudden) and chronic (long term) conditions. Once we begin with one or two plants and learn to know which one to prepare for which condition, we have the option to add other plants and remedies to our gardens. Later, if we find ourselves in our TCM practitioner’s office, no matter what treatment with which they have aided us, they can always add, “Hey, cook yourself up some such and such when you get home.” They may say that the root, twig, stem, fruit, flower, or leaf is indicated for the condition we are experiencing at that moment. Each plant and plant part may address different meridians (pathways) within the body and various conditions.

For more information on food temperatures and foods appropriate for certain constitutions and conditions, please read Tao of Nutrition by Cathy McNease and Mao Ni. For a plantain recipe, please read Wild Plums in Brandy by S. Boorman, 1962.

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