Can a plant give us a clue by its structure, its form? Can the color of a flower or root be an indication of some of its properties or the organ system it helps?
Apparently, that’s not new information. In herb classes, the Doctrine of Signatures is a well-known reference to these correlations. Stemming from the ancients and passed down through the ages, often referred to as folklore, gave herbalists, the village healers, doctors, a reference point for which ones to use in healing various conditions, disorders, organ systems.
“The doctrine of signatures, dating from the time of Dioscorides and Galen, states that herbs resembling various parts of the body can be used by herbalists to treat ailments of those body parts.” (Wikipedia)
“Paracelsus was a physician and alchemist (early 1500’s) who believed that medicine should be simple and straightforward. He was greatly inspired by the Doctrine of Signatures, which maintained that the outward appearance of a plant gave an indication of the problems it would cure. This theory is sometimes surprisingly accurate.” (USDA forest service)
Today we have advanced equipment, labs to test the validity of some of these claims and guess what? Science is proving what the oral traditions, the folklore traditions knew: clues from the plant, their structure, their form, colors that seem to help heal, can, in fact, help heal specific organ systems. Nature reflects back to us what we are and offers help. Many successful healers looked at the plant world in this way. They were connected to the sun and moon cycles, very aware of the weather, knew their landscapes well.
Centuries ago and not that long ago, we did not have the knowledge of bacteria, viruses that we can see with super microscopes. Evil spirits were the names of the stuff that gets you, brings in illness etc. That was the lingo of the times. There was a deeper more colloquial connection to the Creator, to God, by whatever religion you followed. There was a recognition that the Divine in nature provided clues, assistance. My Native elders said that we have all that we need for healing if we pay attention to what’s beneath our feet, what’s near us. Observe.
My guests this week, Andrea and Matthias Reisen, have over 25 years experience as growers deeply connected to the plants and their land. They are caretakers in the true sense of the word, offering prayers of thanks, gratitude, and acknowledgment for the gifts the land provides. In our discussion, we touched upon invasives, Japanese knotweed in particular. My curiosity piqued. I decided to look into this plant more carefully because the Reisen’s harvest it, for use in the medical community for Lyme’s disease.
Name: Japanese Knotweed: Polygonum cuspidatum var. Japonica or Japanese bamboo; bamboo-like stems with somewhat heart-shaped leaves, herbaceous perennial shrub-like.
Where Found: Originated in Eastern Asia, member of the buckwheat family. It was introduced in the US in late 1800’s. Thrives in disturbed areas, forms dense thickets; little grows with it so it crowds out vegetation. Unfortunately, the soil remains bare between the stems which can be susceptible to erosion. This plant decreases species diversity, alters ecosystems. Can grow to 3-15′ tall. Its stems are easy to identify, notched like bamboo and have purple-red speckles.
Properties: very high in resveratrol, an antioxidant found in grapes, peanuts, mulberries, red wine
Uses: Leaves, young shoots: spring vegetable in Asian cultures, Used extensively in Traditional Chinese Medicine with other herbs for gastrointestinal issues, cardiovascular issues as well as cognitive function. Resveratrol continues to be studied for its effect on decreasing cancer and helping combat Lyme’s Disease. In the plant, resveratrol acts to stop microbial infections. It’s this observation that links the way Japanese knotweed may work in Lyme’s disease.
I came across this article, from the forager chef, on how to cook and use it. I am not familiar with foraging this plant but the recipe I link you too looks delicious. It’s too early here but I know of a patch and will keep an eye on it. Young stems 12″ or less need to be cut in the early spring. Otherwise, as the season and growth progresses, the stems become too fibrous and not very palatable. You can make a refreshing tea from its roots.
Let’s look at the root, known as ‘tiger root’ in the orient..
Healing Spirits Herb Farm has been selling the root for many years. It’s been difficult for me to find a picture of its roots due to royalty rights. However, from the ones I found, I can see Matthias’ description very well. There’s a knot, then root, then knot, then root and the root can go down 10′! No wonder once you got it, it won’t go away. It’s the root that he harvests and because he does so, he contributes to managing the land space where this plant is located by his ‘neck of the woods’ in western NY. Will it go away? No. but by harvesting in large quantities he helps control its spread.
Now, tying in the Doctrine of Signatures, the root system seems to have notches, like steps, Maybe this pattern gives a clue as to how the plant works. Studies are showing that the root in tincture or capsule form helps kill the bacteria found in Lyme’s Disease. The resveratrol may work on the bacteria in steps. Can we prove this? Not yet. But observations from nature have validity and patient healing offers hope for healing Lyme’s disease.
Today, its too early to gather the young shoots and leaves but I want to try. I also want to make a tea this summer from its root. How about you? We have plants in our backyards we have forgotten how to use. How about looking into an invasive such as Japanese knotweed and use it. Get your neighbors involved. Make a recipe and bring to a block party, a family picnic. Remember it’s a cherished food in Asian cultures.
Send me your recipe, a short story on how you use Japanese knotweed. I look forward to hearing from you.
There’s nothing prettier than a glass jug filled with cool refreshing water where some of our garden beauties have center stage.
Sun tea is just that, a pitcher of water filled with summer flowers that are known to be edible.
Get a gallon glass jug, fill with pure water and place any of the following for their subtle and not so subtle flavors and colors: Experiment for the flavors you like best. Let sit in the sun 2-4 hours and serve over ice.
Remember to use only flowers you know are not treated, preferably ones you have grown without chemicals which makes flower shop flowers unacceptable. Please research any flower not on the list to make sure it is safe to eat. For ex. Daffodils are not safe to eat.
bouquet of bright wildflowers
Red clover blossoms
Ground ivy blossoms
Scented geranium leaves
Rose purple coneflower (Echinacea)
Flowers: make a beautiful garnish to many dishes. Also, flowers can be placed in ice cube trays and then placed in ice tea, lemonades, even cool refreshing water for a hot summer day treat. Violas, woodland violets which make their debut in spring, can be gathered in the spring time and frozen for summer’s use.
Salads: use as a garnish; remember that culinary herb blossoms can be added such as marjoram, or sage, even basil. I suggest that for salads that use wild greens and flowers start in small amounts in order to get used to and savor the different textures and flavors. Greens when cut up fine and mixed with traditional greens such as arugula, bib lettuces etc. blend in nicely. Place the flowers and/or the petals on top.
Recipe: Quiche: I often place flower petals on the top of quiches before cooking. Flower petals can be stripped and placed in a decorative pattern. My guests positively remark when served these wild food treats.
Book: Kitty Morse has a delightful book of flower recipes titled: “Edible Flowers, a Kitchen Companion With Kitchen Recipes”.
Many herb books also contain recipes e.g. Colonial and monastery type cookbooks, that demonstrate many ways to use edible parts of wild and cultivated plants.
Summer is well under way. As we ramble down highways and quieter roads we can see many plants in bloom. What are your favorites? Do you have any favorite edible flower recipes? I would love to hear from you.
Grapes have a rich and fascinating history. Experimentation on finding hardy varieties that produce good quality wines has been ongoing for centuries. Today 7.2 trillion gallons of wine are made per year. Parts of the plant today continue to be researched for nutritional and health benefits
Leaves: smaller leaves are tastier than large leaves. Foragers typically pick them at about 3-4” long usually in the spring. Grapes leaves have a rich culinary history and many sites give great recipes. They also contain antioxidants and omega 3 fats. Stuffed with pasture raised meat and rice boosts healthy omega 3’s which supports cardiovascular health and helps decrease inflammation. The Cherokee used grape leaves in tea form for liver disorders and diarrhea.
Fruit: who can resist crisp cold grapes on a hot summer’s day? I know I can’t and while I like both green and red varieties I usually pick the red fruit for resveratrol. Some controversy continues today that in supplement form resveratrol, an antioxidant, could be detrimental or at least negate the benefits of exercise in men. However eating normal amounts of a daily serving of fruit doesn’t appear to pose any health risk. When out in the wild, fruits typically ripen late summer, early fall. They also contain Vitamin K, fiber and potassium. (Note: the photo at the right is a picture of muscadine grapes, Vitus rotundifolia which many birds love. It is also the host to local species of the sphinx moth.)
What about pesticide residues on commercial grapes? Good question. It seems commercially grown grapes are loaded with pesticide residues. In fact, 56 have been identified. It’s my understanding that grapes are one of our most heavily pesticide use food crops. I place my grapes in cool water and add 1/4 cup vinegar to water and let sit for 10-15 minutes. Then I rinse thoroughly and dry. Vinegar can be helpful in washing residues off fruits and vegetables.
Seeds: Grapeseed Extract made from grapeseeds is intensively studied. Does it have health promoting effects on cardio vascular tissue? Does it mitigate inflammation? It does have specific antioxidants. Antioxidants protects cells from free radical damage. Today grapeseed extract is being used to help in cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and even cancers.
Foraging and Survival Fact: Out on a trail overnight? Grape vine stems have a bark that peels. Small amounts of this remove easily and can be effective fire tinder. And, cut grape vines, in most cases, provide potable water; cut vine and you will see liquid water substance which can be safely drunk and quench thirst.
Grape Juice: I discovered homemade grape juice by accident. I was making jelly from wild grapes. Once I cooked and mashed the grapes to remove skins and seeds I was left with a bright wine red juice. I let it cool and tried it a bit later. I had not added any sugar at this point and found I didn’t need to. It was delicious.
The specific colors in fruits and vegetables contain specific antioxidants that scientists are studying for health benefits. Fresh grape juice is loaded and may even protect one against Type 2 Diabetes.
Grapes by the handful are a refreshing snack. Some folks eat the seeds too. Depending on where they come from and how farmed, I would be cautious. Harvesting from your own woodlands is a different story.
Judith Dreyer, MS, BSN, Writer, Speaker, Holistic Health Consultant and Workshop Presenter, Master Gardener. © all rights reserved.
Today I would like to begin a discussion on the health benefits of using herb teas in everyday life. If we can grow them ourselves or know how to forage mindfully and with respect to the environment all the better. In general, I find my garden choices or foraged choices more potent.
Homeostasis: this is the quality or state of being where our body constantly strives for a steady internal environment. Our body’s internal regulating mechanisms are complex and ever functioning in its minute adjustments to our blood pressure, blood sugar, temperature regulation all for the purpose of our efficient functioning in daily life. Herbs, plants wild or cultivated that are edible from our external world help us maintain the internal world of our biology. Our society seems intent on instant this or that including healing. The use of herbs in a tea form can provide us with nourishing brews that contain some of the plants key components. Chamomile, for example, can sooth us after a hectic day. Chamomile not only soothes the spirit but soothes the digestion. However, in general, the key components in herbs provide nourishment to key systems in our bodies that in turn keeps us going in a good way. Subtle, yet healing non the less, herbs help to keep all systems go, contributes to the homeostatic function of our bodies, psyches and our spirit. If chamomile soothes our digestion we relax. If chamomile soothes our spirit we relax more easily. We know from breath work studies and meditation studies that turning down the hecticness of a day turns down the chemical contributors to stress which hastens the aging process and causes wear and tear in the long run.
Chamomile contains an oil, blue in color thought to contain ingredients that reduce swelling and may limit the growth of bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Many of these microscopic species live in our body. When foreign or populations naturally found within our body get out of balance, this herb in particular may be helpful in restoring balance. The oil is found in the crushed flowers and is used in aromatherapy often to help with skin issues and as an anti-inflammatory.
Chamomile is an annual and a favorite in cottage type gardens. Seeds of Change carries organic seed.
Subtle? Yes. contributor to homeostasis? Yes. Winter persists here in New England. Yet on warmer days spring clean up is under way. Do you have chamomile? Chamomile tea, soft and pleasant brew, is a wonderful addition to the kitchen supply of teas. Small white daisy like flowers can fill a pot or fill a spot with color and scent.
Harvest Time: The Three Sisters and Soup
Corn, Beans, Squash….. The three sisters are grown from the NE to the SE from the Plains to the SW and in the middle of the country.
“The term “Three Sisters” originated with the Haudenosaunee, “The People of the Longhouse”, also know as the Iroquois.” Native American Gardening: Stories, Projects and Recipes for families by Caduto and Bruchac, tells the history of the importance of these 3 Crops to the Native Americans of this land.
This book offers garden design ideas where the three seeds were placed in one hole each offering nutrients. Beans provided a climbing pole and all contributed to preservation of soil. Rich in nutrients these three were the staple items when winter descended. During November and December we gather and break bread, meet with our ‘tribe’, our families and enjoy our harvest. We gather squashes. We have probably put away corn and beans. Now the fun part begins enjoying these beautiful foods in so many ways, from toasting seeds, mashed squash and soups, bean dishes to corn bread hot from the oven topped with our fruit jams.
Recipe: Wonderful Stew warming and nourishing when winter peeks around the corner.
Three Sisters’ Stew
Courses: Soup, Vegetarian
Serves: 6 people
1 Sugar pumpkin – (about 2 lbs) (small) = (or 1 large butternut or carnival squash)
1 tablespoon Olive oil
1 tablespoon Onion – chopped (medium)
2 Garlic cloves – minced
1/2 Green or red bell pepper – cut into short, (medium) narrow strips
1 Can diced tomatoes – (14 to 16 oz) – with liquid
2 cups 11 oz Cooked or canned pinto beans
2 cups 4.4 oz Corn kernels (from 2 large or 3 medium ears)
1 cup Homemade or canned vegetable stock (or water)
1 Fresh hot chile – (to 2) – seeded, minced (small)
1 teaspoon Ground cumin
1 teaspoon 5 ml Dried oregano
Salt – to taste
Freshly-ground black pepper – to taste
3 tablespoons Minced fresh cilantro – (to 4)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Cut the pumpkin in half lengthwise and remove the seeds and fibers. Cover with aluminum foil and place the halves, cut-side up, in a foil-lined shallow baking pan. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until easily pierced with a knife but still firm (if using squash, prepare the same way). When cool enough to handle, scoop out the pulp, and cut into large cube like slices. Set aside until needed.
Heat the oil in a soup pot. Add the onions and saute over medium-low heat until translucent. Add the garlic and continue to saute until the onion is golden.
Add the pumpkin and all the remaining ingredients except the last 2 and bring to a simmer. Simmer gently, covered, until all the vegetables are tender, about 20 to 25 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
If time allows, let the stew stand for 1 to 2 hours before serving, then heat through as needed. Just before serving, stir in the cilantro. The stew should be thick and very moist but not soupy; add additional stock or water if needed. Serve in shallow bowls.
“In Native American mythology, squash, corn, and beans are known as of the “three sisters.” These are the very crops, along with garden vegetables, that the harvest festival of Thanksgiving is meant to celebrate!”
We get to say thanks for our families and our blessings tomorrow. Enjoy the holiday. Judith
Blueberries are one of the most delicious and nutritious foods in our landscapes. Highbush and lowbush are found throughout New England by roadsides in Maine, around marsh lands here in my neck of the woods in Connecticut. Free for the taking, they are not as juicy as the cultivated varieties but just as tasty. They can easily be put into jams, pies, muffins etc. Euell Gibbons, in Stalking the Wild Asparagus, shares many recipes.
Blueberries are usually picked in mid to late summer. Once harvested by hand or eaten by wildlife, then, the leaves can be plucked, washed and dried. Blueberries are deciduous shrubs and will lose their leaves anyway. No harm comes to the plant by harvesting some leaves for tea making. I randomly pick leaves from several bushes looking for the greenest leaves.
In doing research for this article I learned that the leaves pack more antioxidants than the fruit! That’s a plus for so many reasons. Ongoing research is demonstrating blueberry leaves effect on lowering blood sugar levels, reducing inflammation, and various cancers. Gallic acid, one of the leaves chemical constituents, is an antioxidant which decreases pain, swelling associated with inflammation.
Usually 1 tsp of dried leaves is added to one cup of boiling water. With Blueberry leaves 2 tsp are okay. Let steep for 20 -30 minutes.
Caution: For more serious conditions it is best to check with a Naturopathic physician or practitioner who has experience in herbal medicine for proper dosage and management of diseases such as diabetes.
Vinegars packed with herbs are considered a tonic food, defined as one that strengthens and invigorates. Herbs soaked in vinegar are a great way to get some of the food benefits of plants. Some herbalists do not strain the vinegar as noted below. Instead they add the soaked herbs maybe a tablespoon or two onto salads or mixed in soups.
Due to its high antioxidant value, I added blueberry leaf into my tonic vinegar. (see recipe below) the other herbs in the formula are packed with nutrients, especially minerals. Trace amounts of various nutrients may work synergistically and research is ongoing.
Vinegar Tonic Recipe:
2 parts dulse
2 parts red raspberry leaves
2 parts blueberry leaves (wild preferred)
1 part dandelion leaves
1 part oatstraw
1 part alfalfa
1/2 part horsetail
1/2 part borage
Parts are determined by the size jar you choose. I recommend you use an 8 oz jar.
- Fill jar with herbs: 1 part = 1 tsp
- Fill jar with organic apple cider vinegar
- Cover and shake
- Place on sunny windowsill and shake every day or so
- Let sit for 4-6 weeks, strain, add honey if preferred to taste.
- Take 1 tbs per day
Vinegar’s sharpness can be cut with honey. A tablespoon a day can be added to apple juice, taken plain or added to salad dressing. I find this type of recipe nourishing and even energizing. But, don’t take my work for it. Make some of your own and share how you like it. I would enjoy hearing from you.