Materia medica study for herbalists, including options for beginners and experienced herbalists, with a focus on local plants. Native American and Chinese uses for local plants, invasive plants, and locally cultivated plants will be covered.
Ginkgo Ginkgo biloba
Gin Kyo / Yin Guo / Bia Guo / Yin Xing / (Gingko)
This year we will be holding once-a-month weekends in Big Indian, NY that will cover the medicinal uses of herbs in the traditions of Chinese medicine and Native American medicine. Alongside botany walks and medicine making opportunities, classes will focus on local herbs as they were used by Lenape and other tribes and how local herbs are used in Chinese herbal medicine. 65 to 81 herbs will be studied. That number is based on the calculations below, but watch for changes as I still need to iron out the details. In the outline below you will also find the basic course schedule and preliminary study hour calculations. Once these details are finalized they will be released along with class descriptions. If you are not already on my e-mail list and want to be notified of Catskill Apprenticeship developments and other events, let me know by e-mail:
Nathaniel Whitmore firstname.lastname@example.org
While modern approaches to medicine, including herbology, claim to be rooted in scientific studies and an objective mechanical worldview, traditional herbal medicine is still at the root of all forms of medications. This apprenticeship focuses on traditional uses and views of materia medica through classes on Native American ethnobotany and traditional Chinese medicine. Additionally, familiarity with the materia medica will be developed during identification and harvesting walks, as well as through opportunities to make herbal preparations with a variety of fresh local herbs.
(Clinical assessment is an additional subject of focus, which includes hara, tongue, and pulse diagnosis.)
Materia medica classes include Doctrine of Signatures, Lenni Lenape / Delaware Ethnobotany, Iroquois Ethnobotany, Cherokee Ethnobotany, Dine / Navajo Ethnobotany, Moxa & Meridians, Toxic Medicinals, Classic Chinese Formulae, Local Chinese Herbs, Native Medicinal Herbs, Invasive Medicinal Herbs, Common Local Herbs, Antimicrobial Herbs, and Tonic Herbs.
The Catskill Apprenticeship weekends will take place May 25th - 27th, June 22nd - 24th, July 20th - 22nd, August 24th - 26th, September 14th - 16th, and October 19th - 21st.
Elecampane is a premier herb for lung infections, digestive troubles, and a world of complaints stemming from spleen (TCM) and lung deficiency.
Tsuriganetake / Hoof Mushroom / Ice Man Polypore / Amadou
Both the scientific name and "Ice Man Polypore" refer to its use for fire-starting. The felty interior of the mushroom can be pounded into an ideal tinder for starting fire. Plus, the dried mushroom can be lit and burned like punk, which can be used for repelling insects and as a form of moxibustion. It was hollowed out by fire-keepers in ancient times in order to transport coals to the next campsite.
I don't recall how I first learned of Tinder Polypore as a medicinal for the lungs. But, the idea easily stuck with me as the shape (which is also reminiscent of a bell or hoof) is similar to that of a lung. (The Doctrine of Signatures states that medicinals are marked by "signatures" that are indicative of their uses. The notion has been a part of virtually all systems of traditional medicine world-wide.) I have since been making tincture and decoctions from Tinder Polypore for use in lung formulas as well as with other medicinal mushrooms.
I assume that Tinder Polypore shares similar medicinal benefits as other polypores like Reishi, Turkey Tail, and Maitake, and for this reason can be included in mushroom blends for general purpose, for boosting the immune system, and for treating cancer. Additionally, it has specific acknowledged properties as an antiviral and antibacterial medicinal and as a tonic for the lungs.
Tincture of medicinal mushrooms is often prepared as double-extraction, rather than the typical method used with herbs of simply soaking the herbs in the alcohol (after chopping them, of course). The double extract attempts to capture as many of the fresh constituents as possible by tincturing the mushroom in alcohol. But because of the woody consistency of the polypores and the nature of their medicinal constituents, standard tincturing-by-soaking doesn't work well. So, the mushroom is also decocted (simmered... even "reduced"). The decoction is then combined with the tincture for what is then essentially a tincture, or at least used like one. A major benefit to tinctures is the ease of combining them with other tinctures to quickly prepare custom formulae. Another benefit, especially compared to long decoctions, is the convenience of having a ready-to-use preparation. I especially love the aroma of the fresh Tinder Polypore. It has always intrigued me. I don't agree with those that insist the double-extract is the only way to use medicinal mushrooms (see online articles for discussions of the benefits of double-extract mushroom preparations, as well as details on how to do it at home). Consider, for instance, that these medicinal polypores have been used in decoction for ages, often by those who did not have distilled alcohol and the ability to make double-extracts. In the case of Tinder Polypore, I do want to note that I especially like the idea of capturing the pleasant, fruity aroma from the fresh mushrooms and think the double extract is a good idea.
A major benefit of the decoction is that is it more appropriate for larger doses than tincture. Decoction is prepared by covering the sliced mushroom with plenty of water in a pot, bringing it to a boil, reducing it to a simmer, and letting it simmer for some time. For herbs, we usually range from a short decoction of about 15 minutes to a standard of 30 minutes or so. With mushrooms, we usually decoct for over an hour. Often several hours of decocting time is used to produce a strong preparation. By simmering even longer the water content can be reduced to make a full-strength beverage or for the double-extract preparation described above.
The decoction can be used as a tonic for prevention of colds in the autumn. The general benefits and mild flavor make it agreeable to use in this way. It can also be used, perhaps combined with other herbs, for treatment of specific illness.
My favorite go-to on medicinal mushrooms is Robert Rogers The Fungal Pharmacy. I originally bought from him an earlier version (maybe Medicinal Mushrooms of the Mid-West) at an American Herbalists Guild conference, and I intend to buy the newer version soon). Although I have encountered few others using Tinder Polypore as much as I do (even among those who are quite fond of Reishi and some others), Rogers managed to find plenty of references on its medicinal uses. (I wonder if his new edition discusses even more.) He mentions that Oetzi may have been using it to treat parasites and that it was used in European folk medicine for the bladder and as a styptic. Regarding Asian uses he has:
"In Chinese medicine, this fungus warms the lungs, removes lumps from the abdomen, soothes vital energy, and reduces asthma and edema. It is mild in nature, slightly bitter to taste, and is used to resolve indigestion and reduce stasis.
In Japan it is known as Tsuriganetake.
It has been used traditionally in that country as a dressing to staunch blood from deep wounds and in the form of tea for colds, flu, bronchitis, and general debility. It is used in some food preparations associated with autumn and winter."
Rogers also reports on modern studies that found Tinder Polypore active against herpes, antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and E. coli. And that it is used to treat cancer.
Christopher Hobbs also discusses Tinder Polypore in his book Medicinal Mushrooms. He describes its moxibustion-like application by Northwest Natives. Also that "In TCM, F. fomentarius is considered slightly bitter and mild. ... In China, it is used for indigestion and to reduce stasis of digestive vitality, as well as for esophageal cancer and gastric and uterine carcinomas."
We have been planting medicinal herb seeds, such as a recent seed order from Mountain Gardens in North Carolina. This morning I decided to look up some details regarding cultivating Shiso ( http://justhungry.com/how-grow-shiso-perilla ). I hope to post information in this blog regarding details of cultivating many of the medicinal herbs that we are focused on producing to supply the Chinese herbal apothecary. Of course, I hope to learn more about the cultivation of Shiso from others sharing on the internet and will post links to good sites I find with details for seed-starting, cultivation, harvest, and use. By adding posts with such links this blog can be a good resource for information on the cultivation of Chinese medicinal herbs like Licorice, Astragalus, DangGui, Rehmannia, and so many others that we really need to start producing locally.
If you are interested in my current planting list, just let me know.
Nathaniel Whitmore, herbalist