Thursday, August 8, 2013

Pyrrolizidine Alkaloids in Healing Herbs

Borage ~ Borago officinalis
Folks continue to ask about the safety of PA alkaloids (pyrrolizidine alkaloids) that are found in many healing herbs such as boneset, borage, coltsfoot and comfrey. Point-by-point, here are things to consider:

1) No viable animal testing was done with any PA containing herbs on primates therefore there is no cause for fear in using these herbs on humans.

2) No viable testing was done at all. The studies done have had serious flaws, such as using amounts of the herbs that would far exceed even accidental over-use, and using the PA's only extracted from the plant material in a lab, which few herb users would have access to or be likely to do. Herbs wisely contain many buffering agents to their more potent constituents. This is why we always use herbs in their natural, intact state, not standardized to concentrate some constituents and not others, and not just one constituent from a whole plant.

3) PA's are metabolized through the liver, and have been implicated in liver trouble *in people whose liver health was unknown before ingestion*. So logic prevailing: don't use herbs containing PA's if you already have liver problems, or if you take anything else that might compromise liver health, such as taking NSAIDs (Nonsteroidal Antiinflammatory Drugs, like aspirin or Ibuprofen ) or most pharmaceutical medications, just to be safe. PA alkaloid containing herbs, chemotherapy and stem-cell transplant have all been implicated in Veno-occlusive disease. If you have Veno-occlusive disease already, are using a form of chemotherapy or have had a stem cell transplant, don't use herbs that contain PA alkaloids.  

Comfrey ~ Symphytum

4) Make sure the herb is correctly identified. Foxglove leaves look allot like small comfrey leaves. This mistake can be deadly and has nothing to do with PA's.

Also, As trained herbalists we learn how to harvest and prepare herbs for best effects. Herbs with PA alkaloids traditionally are harvested and extracted in ways that would avoid the peak of concentration and extraction of PA's. They are more plentiful in annual herbs than perennial, more plentiful in the roots than in the leaves. This is why we don't see borage root used in herbal tradition and it is usually the perennial leaves that are used instead. PA's are used in the process of blooming and so this is why we harvest these herbs for use while they are blooming, while flowers are on the plant or any time after. Another way to obtain lower PA's is that we know that PA's are not very water soluble, and so drying these herbs and making herbal infusions is traditionally how they are used. Tinctures of these herbs are made from fresh plant material, using low alcohol content, such as 40%  alcohol, which is 80 proof .The resultant tincture tends to be 30-35% alcohol in its finished state, depending on juiciness of the herb. If you follow both science and tradition it is evident that they often confirm and validate each other, especially when it comes to using herbs that contain PA alkaloids.
Coltsfoot~ Tussilago farfara

5) Use time tested applications for herbs high in PA's. Many of these herbs have been used for hundreds of thousands of years with good results. These are herbs that are seldom used as tonics, except in specific circumstances and only with people who actually need them. They are not to be harvested, extracted or used casually or carelessly. Learn how they were and are used, how much to use, and with what health concerns to use them. This takes plenty of study and is well worth the time.

To quote Paracelsus "Poison is in everything, and no thing is without poison. The dosage makes it either a poison or a remedy."

6) If you are not confident in using these herbs yourself but feel they may be helpful to you, consult an herbalist who is more experienced in their use, as your guide.

7) Education is the solution to fear, not restriction and regulation.

Here is a link for detailed study: Gerneral Information about Pyrrolizidine Alkaloids

Friday, May 10, 2013

Making Beneficial Bonemeal For Your Garden

In a healthy home most, if not all things consumed, can be turned back into the life cycle of our homes and gardens. This is also true of making your own soil amendments for the garden. Making bonemeal for your garden in particular helps control the quality of the bone meal, since you would be making it from the anti-biotic and hormone free bones from your dinner. This can be done with any type of bones, even from the dinner bones collected for you from your neighbors if you don't eat meat.


Once the bones are largely free of meat, place the bones into a cooking pot and cover them with water. Add a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar per quart of water. Bring this to a boil until  cooked down to the last bits of water, then simmer that off too. This all breaks down the constituents of bone and makes them soft enough to break. Now, place the bones into a baking dish and bake in the oven on low heat until they are dry and brittle. Cool, and put them into a plastic bag. Wrap that in a dish towel, put that into another plastic bag. Now, either hit this bag against some cement or a rock, or just take a hammer to the bag. This not only gives us a good cardio-workout breaking the bones, but also relieves plenty of pent-up frustration in the process, a handy therapy for these trying days! Bone meal can be made as the bones are available and then stored in a metal can for use when needed. And please do store it in a metal can, as animals and bugs really like to get into it.

When you are ready to use your home-made bone meal, mix it into the soil around your herbs or into the soil before you plant.   It's a good source of phosphorus, which helps with root system growth, for better flower, fruit and seed development, and vitamin content.

Bone meal is also a source of nitrogen, which is a general herb growth promoter and helps the herbs ability to make proteins. If you see that your herbs are sickly or spindly looking, the  nitrogen source in the bone also tends to give them strength and vigor.

If you've enjoyed this wee tutorial, listen to my whole audio series: Village Herbalist Planting The Cure on HerbMentor

Blessings on your healing garden pursuits!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Stomach Flu

Recent outbreaks of Norovirus and other stomach and intestinal viruses have prompted me to write.

Norovirus, stomach and intestinal viruses are not flu. Influenza, which we commonly refer to as the flu, is an extremely infectious *respiratory virus*. Still viral in nature, this distinction matters in the type of tissues being affected and how. It helps us to know how to care for ourselves, what to do to resolve the virus and prevent contagion. Characterized by the symptoms of nausea, forceful vomiting, abdominal pain and watery diarrhea, there can be weakness and fatigue, muscle aches, headache a cough, and sometimes a low-grade fever as well. They are highly contagious, but unlike the flu do not spread by respiratory droplets, but directly from person to person in contaminated water and food. With the ability to be aerosolized into the air in which a person who is infected vomits, by a toilet flush of vomit or diarrhea, or on surfaces that saliva, vomit or feces have come in contact with, the virus can still be spread as well after all symptoms have subsided

Elder Flowers (sambucus nigra)
Unlike the flu, for the first 24 to 48 hours of a stomach or intestinal virus, it will probably be difficult to keep any herbal infusions, water or food down. This is when a tincture of equal parts elderflower, thyme and yarrow can be blended. 

Yarrow Flowers (Achillea millefolium)


Place 1 dropperful of this formula in a tablespoon of hot water. Take small frequent sips. Repeat this every hour until the symptoms subside.
Then, use 1 dropperful 3 times per day in hot water, until the person is well. This formula in my experience has proved to resolve the acute stage within 48 hours.

Lemon Balm (Melissa Officinalis)
After it's possible to keep fluids down, stay hydrated with water and an anti-viral infusion of lemon balm herb. Once resuming foods, begin slowly with warm broth for a couple of days, then progress to warmed juice and then thin, warm oatmeal with a little butter, salt and pepper.


Dried Marshmallow Root
 Also enjoy infusions of marshmallow root; 1/2 cup per quart of   cold  water, infuse 2 hours. Strain and drink throughout the day. This can improve immune response and help to restore fluids in the tissues depleted by vomiting and diarrhea. Go slow with resuming fluids and food or it may trigger an acute episode of vomiting.

Rosemary Herb
To reduce the possibility of spreading or contracting these viruses, wash hands frequently with a liquid soap to which several drops of essential oil have been added. To prevent contagion when people are known to have been ill, wash off toilet seats, sinks and other surfaces with a strong solution of 1 quart white vinegar with 1 tablespoon anti-viral herb essential oil, such as rosemary.