An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. https://play.google.com/store/books/details?id=ZkEoAwAAQBAJ
The Herbalist The pages of this blog are designed to give an insight into alternative sources of medicine from the perspective of the Native Americans. It must be important to note that about the Native American practices that are enumerated in this dossier of herbal plants and practices employed by the Native Americans in their preparation, we aim to respect the traditions that are carried over from each tribe of Native Americans whose practices have contributed to the overall lore that we now know of, in the use of herbal medications to augment our body’s ability to heal and counter the symptoms experienced from a myriad of various health conditions. For the first part of this book, we talk about the proper practices that are to be observed when one seeks to engage in the art of herbalism. It must be remembered that this book relates to the use of healing herbs in a Native American approach, and in deference to the various tribal customs that pertain to how these herbs are to be gathered and stored for use, their practices are to be maintained as one goes throughout the various steps outlined in this book. Chapter 2 is a compendium of the common herbs and plants that the Native Americans have deemed essential to the healing process, and which plants tribal lore has deemed as efficacious in the treatment of various afflictions in the body, and thus are commonly used by various Native American tribes in the treatment of diseases. An important tradition that must be mentioned is the importance of prayer before one begins to harvest the plant. In a metaphysical sense, you must be attuned to the plant before you pick it, in keeping with the cherished traditions of the people who have walked the land before us. A traditional rule observed is that one must not harvest from the plant that you have chosen to pray to. Native Americans believe that the plant that is the subject to your supplications as an herbalist is the means by which you maintain attunement with the rest of the native flora. Offerings must be made to nature: First to the earth, then to the sky, then to each of the four cardinal directions—whose importance we will tackle later on in this book, but general consensus provides that offerings should start from the east, then south, west, and north. The central part of the cardinal directions must also share the same honor and have offerings given to it. Cornmeal is an important part of the ritual, as this creates a transcendent connection between you and the spirits. Cornmeal is placed on the heads of the gatherers. Tradition must be observed, and thus, you never take more than what you need from the plant. It is taboo if you gather from the herbal grounds of another person, or another tribe, as these grounds have been passed on from generations before. Native American beliefs state that there are specific items of clothing that are to be worn as a symbol of respect towards the spirits of the plants. 1.1 Herb Gathering in the Wild One of the more prevalent practices used by herbalists is gathering herbs in the wild. However, due consideration must be given in how you select the site where the herbs you need are to be gathered. Because we utilize the approach of the Native Americans, it is also important that their traditions in how they gather specific herbs are observed. One of the established practices in herbalism is the use of Wildcrafting. Wildcrafting is defined as a tradition engaged in by herbalists throughout the world that centers on the harvest and promotion of the use of natural healing through the use of various plants. The practice of Wildcrafting is symbolic of the renaissance of the use of herbal remedies for the treatment of illnesses, and its vogue is reliant on the ability of these herbal remedies to heal the illnesses that tradition and lore have stated these plants to be effective for. The practice of wildcrafting, however, is easier said than done. For the uninitiated, numerous herbs can be obtained through this practice. Herbs gathered in this manner remain subject to overharvesting, where one takes too much of an herb in the wild that the plant may not be able to sufficiently recover from the amount harvested and subsequently withers and dies. If you can cultivate the herbs you need, then that would be a more economical and ecologically-friendly alternative that ensures that we do not affect any particular ecosystems where these herbs are found and that there is a sufficient quantity of herbs for others to gather as well. As animals are considered endangered, as well as other flowers and trees, it is reasonable enough for us to understand that there are some herbs that cannot be gathered at all as zealous herbalists have overharvested these herbs or the biome in which these herbs naturally flourish have been severely affected by a human intervention which has resulted in the destruction of their usual growing conditions. Contrary to the earlier promotion of herb cultivation, some plants cannot be cultivated at all, even in the most controlled environments, as these plants can flourish in the wild. Goldenseal and several varieties of Cohosh are among these herbs that remain popularly used by many and are best grown in the verdant woodlands where they best grow. Like how a chef would substitute ingredients for another, it is possible to use alternative herbs with the same curative properties in place of these wild herbs. The United Plant Savers website http://www.unitedplantsavers.org contains resources that would help you and other herbalists to help conserve these endangered herbs. Another danger that some of these herbs face results not from the excessive harvests made from the plant or the destruction of their native ecosystem, but because the continued use of these herbs creates a strain on a particular population, in that these herbs, which are usually utilized by a specific tribe, are exploited to such a degree that they are gathered in large quantities and sold to the highest bidder. This drives up the prices of the herbs, and, therefore, because the said tribe is unable to use the herb due to its exorbitant prices, they cease to use the herb or plant in their tribal practices. Some of these herbs and plants subjected to these treatments are of such high nutritive and curative value that modern marketing has labeled these foods as superfoods, and thus, a word of caution must be taken when you choose to purchase these types of food, as the people who have subsisted on them before, may no longer be able to use them, as they have become a prized, and overexploited commodity. Reasonable substitutions can be found for these foods, and though they are not as unusual as their foreign counterparts, they are of equal nutritive and curative value. If you are in for the discovery of wild herbs, there are certain practices that must be observed as you engage in wildcrafting; as it must be recalled, one wrong move can cause a cascade of effects that can affect the environment where these herbs grow. The Rocky Mountain Herbalists’ Coalition outlines certain ethical practices. 1.An endangered or threatened species should never be gathered. Consult your local botanical garden or herbarium for a list of these plants. The American Herbalist Guild may be contacted by mail for a more comprehensive list at AHG, Box 1683, Soquel, CA, 95073. 2.Positively identify the plant before you harvest. Identification keys and voucher specimens are to be used. 3.Ask permission and give thanks, acknowledge the connection to life and show your gratitude. 4.Grandparent plants- those that produce seeds and those that are sufficiently matured should be left where they are or at the top of an elevated area, where they would be able to seed the slopes of the elevated area. Work upwards. 5.If doubtful, you should not harvest more than 10% of the plant and its root if it is a native species, or 30% of a plant if it is a naturalized species or has native leaves and flowers. Gather the quantity you need from ample plants. Be conservative when you harvest to ensure that the plants are maintained, and the well-being of the plant ecosystem is assured. 1.2 Site Selection Certain steps must be undertaken before you harvest the herbs from a specific site. These steps are taken from the Rocky Mountain Herbalist’s Coalition. Get permission: On land that belongs to the US Bureau of Land Management, a permit for free use can be obtained with a minimal fee. Regulatory practices from the United States Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management provide that you cannot pick herbs in and around campsites and picnic areas. You cannot gather from areas that are within 200 ft of the trails, and you cannot gather from the sides of the road. Avoid areas that are situated downwind from pollution sites, stay 50 ft away from roadsides, areas with high tension electric wires (as these areas cause mutations in the plants around them), lawns and public parks that are fertilized, areas that are located downstream from mining and agricultural businesses, locations near parking lots, and areas you believed that might have been recently sprayed. There are areas maintained by the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Services through routine spraying. The same criteria are applicable to private land, where you will have to inquire about the use of herbicides and pesticides. Use discretion when you are in a fragile environment, as you can alter the ecosystem with one irresponsibly performed action. 1.3 Gardening and Propagation Techniques The techniques outlined by the Rocky Mountain Herbalists’ Coalition are designed to ensure that the wildcrafter exerts a minimal impact upon the ecosystem where these herbs are gathered. The use of proper wildcraft techniques ensures that the environmental impact of the wildcrafter is kept to a minimum; that the plants are able to optimize their yield and continue to serve as fodder for the local fauna. It is advisable that you do not harvest from the same plant all the time, but care for it when possible. Thinning, the practice of root division and top pinching ensures that there is an adequate supply of grandparent plants that would propagate the landscape and guard more immature plants. Awareness of erosion factors is essential as you dig up the roots of the plant. If you replant, and if you propagate the seeds. Care for the plants that grow on the hillsides, and cover up the leaves and replace the dirt from the plants already harvested. It may be necessary to gather nearby foliage and spread it around nearby plants. Avoid the use of shoes with hard soles, as these can inflict damage upon fragile ecosystems. If your main goal in harvesting is just the leaf, do not pull on the roots. Utilize flower pruning as a means to improve the quality of the root yield as well as increase the amount of leaves. Wildcrafted areas are subject to seasonal observations, and you should mind the plants from which you regularly harvest and consult with their expected growth cycles. This is the best means to know how much your actions have impacted the biome in which these plants grow. Observations from an experienced wildcrafter have shown that a healthy plant would see a 30% increase in its yield initially until such time that it remains in a static state. A lower yield rate would indicate that the plant is in a decline. 1.4 The Best Times to Gather Certain Herbs For the purposes of this discussion, it is important to note that in reference to the gathering of herbs; it is noted that this would include the other parts of a plant commonly used by the Native Americans, and is not limited to the leaves, but also to the roots as well as the bark. For the parts exposed to the air and above ground: The best time to gather these is in the morning from 6 am to 10 am, before the ambient temperature rises enough to wilt these parts. If you harvest the leaves of a plant, the leaves are at their best the period before a plant effloresces. If you gather the flowers, they are at their prime, just as their petals begin to fully bloom—this is identifiable if you are able to perceive the color of the bud. If the harvest is dependent on the moon cycle of Native American Tribes, these plant parts above ground are at their most potent during the period near or on the full moon. Roots are best harvested after the plant has dispersed its seeds and before the sun has touched the plant—early morning. For the roots of biennial plants, they are best harvested in the fall of their first year or spring of their second year of existence. Moon cycles dictate that these are at their prime in the new moon phase. The barks of trees are best harvested in the springtime or fall. Do NOT strip the bark from the tree. Take the whole tree. Tree thinning is considered a permissible practice when the tree is part of a large population. Be sure to leave trees that are the healthiest in the group. If only the bark from the smaller branches is required, take measures to ensure that the remainder of the tree is not susceptible to fungal rot. A practice with most bark usage is that the inner portion of the bark, called the cambium, is the part that is alive. Short trunks for the tree are left to be pollarded, and low stems are meant to be coppiced to ensure that others can harvest from the tree later on. In accordance with the moon cycle, barks are to be harvested on the three-quarter waning moon phase. Saps and pitches are liquid substances that are best harvested in the later parts of the winter season or in the early months of springtime. Seeds and fruit are best harvested when they have reached maturity, except for citrus fruits and certain plants. 1.5 The Preservation and Proper Storage of Herbs Central to the preparations that are listed in this book are herbs in their fresh, dried, and extracted states, as various environmental factors are able to affect the ability of the herb or plant to cure the illness it was harvested to treat. Subsequently, the herbalist must be familiar with the steps to properly store the herbs you have taken great care to harvest to ensure that you cure, not exacerbate, the illness you mean to treat. The drying process is best done in the period immediately once you have harvested the part of the plant that you need. As with ancient civilizations’ ancient food preservation techniques, the drying process ensures the prevention of spoilage and inhibition of bacterial growth upon the herb itself. Contrary to the ancient methods, the drying process takes place without direct exposure to sunlight in a place that is free from moisture and has sufficient air circulation. Additionally, the drying process that the herbs are subjected to ensures that the herbs’ potency as a curable substance remains intact. Several steps must be followed to ensure that your herbs are properly dried. Separate the leaves from the stems and spread them in a single layer. The leaves must NOT come into contact with each other. Heavier plants may be suspended from a line in a dry area, such as in a cellar or attic. Because the herbs at this point may retain some of their fragrance, they would need to be protected from insects that may infest the herbs as they dry. This is best done with the use of a cheesecloth covering over the drying herbs. There is no specific time outlined for how long each herb is to dry. The rule of thumb is that the shorter the drying period the herbs are subjected to, the better they are for medicinal uses. Most herbs take a week to dry out properly. The best way to adjudge if an herb is properly dried is if it still retains its scent yet is easily broken from its stem. If the dried herb crumbles with your touch, you have subjected the herb to an excessive drying period. If it is the roots of the herb that you wish to preserve with drying, the roots must be completely cleansed of any dirt attached to them. The general assumption is that roots take longer to dry than flowers and leaves and have an estimated drying period of 21 days. Roots may be cleansed with the use of a pressurized hose, and in some instances, the roots must be brushed by hand, especially if the plant has grown in soil with the consistency of clay. Heavy Roots that have no scent may be cut lengthwise for proper storage. Do not wash the leaves or the flowers of the herb that are to be dried. Simply shake them to loosen and remove any dirt that is attached to them or any bugs that may have remained upon them. If the amount of herbs and flowers are of a sufficient quantity, they may be gathered into a bundle, with a diameter of 1 and a half inches (3.81 cm). An alternate way to dry these leaves involves spreading them in a single layer on screens. If the bark of the plant is to be dried out, simply scrape off the outer portion of the bark, as the cambium, the inner layer is more important. This is a process referred to by herbalists as tossing. The safest means by which herbs can be stored, regardless of their form, is the use of the Mason jar. The Mason jar is an indispensable tool for the herbalist who wishes to store herbs in their fresh, dried, or extracted state. The Mason jar is a receptacle that is readily made and inexpensive to use for the storage of herbs. However, it does have one drawback: it lacks a tint to the glass. Suppose you have seen medications that have tinted bottles. In that case, you will know that this is important in medications, as exposure to light can potentially decrease the potency of the herbal medication. If there are no mason jars that have tints, it is more feasible to simply store the jar in a place where it cannot be exposed to sunlight. Dried herbs in a mason jar have a shelf-life of one to five years, while tinctures that are stored in such means can last up to a decade. The shelf-life of certain herbal preparations is dependent upon the type of preparation, as dried forms and tinctures, as earlier mentioned, can last for several years. Oils and salves, because of the nature of their composition, can easily become rancid, and thus, are best used within half a year to a year from their preparation. Lotions, should you have made these from the herbs, can only last for up to 3 months, but their longevity may be increased if you stick them in the refrigerator as these are products that are emulsified. Once the herbs are properly stored, it is important to remember to use them when possible. The best way to determine their usability is if the herbs still maintain their aroma and if they have not bleached away their color. Additional signs include the detection of their tastes. If you can still taste the herb, it is still potent enough. Additional rules include: 1. Avoid the exposure of herbs to light and excessive heat, as these can destroy the rather volatile aromatic compounds of the herbs, as well as other compounds that make the herb medicinal. Once the herbs are dried out, the use of food-grade plastic bags, fiber barrels, or other air-tight and water-tight receptacles helps preserve the potency of the herb for an extended period of time. 2. Always label the stored herbs with their dates and the location where they were harvested. 3. Remember that herbs that have been altered in the structure are less valuable compared to herbs whose structures are intact. 1.6 A Glossary of Herbal Preparations Herbs are a versatile form of medicine wherein they have numerous applications that can affect the body in various ways. The knowledge of herbal lore is an important aspect, even without the integration of Native American beliefs, as herbal preparations form part of the body of knowledge in Alternative Medicine. Though herbal remedies utilize the plant in its raw and unprocessed form, certain preparations must be performed by the herbalist, regardless of skill level, to extract the essences needed and make judicious use of the plant. These herbal preparations may take several forms, which include: 1.6.1 Infusions We commonly encounter this form of herbal preparation in the form of teas and tisanes. Often the simplest form of herbal preparation involves pouring water that was brought to a boil the herbs in either their fresh or dried forms. The usual parts of the plant that are made into teas are the leaves and the flowers (this may be seen in other forms of tea if you are a tea connoisseur). The usual ratios of infusion preparations are as follows: 1 teaspoon of the dried herb to a cup of water; 4 teaspoons of a fresh herb to a cup of water. 1.6.2 Decoctions They are a form of herbal preparation that involves immersing herbs in water brought to a gentle simmer or a full boil. This form of herbal preparation is designed to fully extract the pharmaceutical compounds that are present in the plant, specifically in its hardest parts: the bark, seeds, and roots. The rations for decoctions are 1 teaspoon of the dried herb to a cup of water; 4 teaspoons of a fresh herb to a cup of water. Simmer for five minutes, then strain the mixture before you use the preparation. 1.6.3 Percolations Similar to how one would operate a coffeemaker, the process of percolation involves the use of a medium, either water or a form of alcohol, that drips onto a mass of herbs—usually powdered in form. The ratios for a percolated solution are 100 ml of liquid that is dripped onto 10 grams of the powdered herb. Repeat this process if you would like to obtain a more concentrated product. 1.6.4 Tinctures The process of creating tinctures will be discussed at length later on as we delve into the basics in this chapter. Tinctures are alcohol-based preparations in which chopped herbs have been blended into. Alternatives are available to use in place of alcohol—cider vinegar and glycerin solutions are popular alternatives used by herbalists. Tinctures may be created in a blender. 1.6.5 Fomentation To create a fomentation, you must first create a decoction or infusion of the herbs you need to use. A piece of absorbent cloth is then dipped into the mixture, where you wrap the cloth around the injured area. Only use enough of the decoction or infusion to cover the area that was injured. Care must be taken as certain compounds, when used, may be skin irritants. 1.6.6 Poultices Fresh herbs are first pounded, then macerated. The herb mixture, which is now a sodden mass, is then placed over the injured body part. As with the fomentation, the quantity of the herbs made into a poultice is sufficient to cover the wound. 1.6.7 Powders They are herbal preparations that use the herb in its dried form, where the herb is subsequently pulverized. The herbs are transferred into capsules with a maximum weight of 1 gram in their powdered form. 1.6.8 Oils and Salves—Among the herbal preparations with the shortest shelf-life The oil is the medium where one prepares the herb, and its pharmaceutical compounds may be extracted into the oil. The oil is then thickened and made more viscous with the use of beeswax. Animal-based fats are more readily absorbable when compared to plant-based fats when you have to choose which medium you would like to use as a base for your herbal oils and salves.