Ryan Drum

Island Herbs

P O Box 25, Waldron, WA 98297-0025

Articles | 2014 Workshops | Island Herbs Order Form (pdf) | Contact Ryan


Yarrow, Queen Anne's Lace and Indian Pipe

YARROW (Achillia millefolium)

Yarrow is a very sturdy worldwide long-lived perennial temperate zone herb. The name Yarrow is allegedly of Anglo-Saxon (Dutch) origin (Mrs. Grieve) or an old Scottish name after the parish of Yarrow on the little river of the same name (L.Clark).

The oldest alleged use of Yarrow is as a funerary herb in a Neanderthal Stone Age burial in Shanidar Cave in Iraq. A swatch of Yarrow lay beside a human skeleton dated to over 100,000 BP. The plant material (including three other herbs) was stored in the Archeaology Museum in Baghdad and apparently destroyed during American bombing during the first Gulf War in early 1991. This is most unfortunate since there seems to be professional controversy, with some archaeologists claiming the Yarrow remains were rodent winter food storage (pers. Com. To RD from Prof. K. Sobolik, U. Maine)

When young and tender, the fresh early spring leaves of Yarrow can be finely chopped and added to salads, soups, meat dishes, stir-fry and cooked beans. The Haida of the Queen Charlotte Islands dried Butter Clams on Yarrow stalks and then ate the clams directly off the stalks. The stems imparted a pleasant taste to the food.YUM!

I have not observed any eating of Yarrow by either wild or domestic mammals. Some insects do eat a few leaves and floral parts, especially the abundant bright yellow pollen.

All of the parts of Yarrow are used therapeutically, separately or together, fresh, dried, as teas, poultices, spit poultices, steamed vapours, tinctures, oils, and vinegars.

Historic Medicinal Yarrow Use
Yarrow has a glorious recorded history conjoined with the advances in metallurgy since about 5000BP. Before bronze weapons, severe impact trauma from clubs and spear puncture wounds were apparently the most common combat wounds. After the production of hard bronze swords and knives that would hold a sharp edge and not rust, great deep tissue gashes were a frequent and often fatal wound from first bleeding to death and if not that, septic bacterial infections. Unlike the hairy mammals, whose thick hair will easily deflect even a sharp blade (animals are skinned by inserting the cutting edge beneath their hairy pelts so that the skin alone is cut), our bare skin is especially susceptible to cutting. Our immune systems have evolved to deal with superficial cuts, gashes and sometimes puncture wounds, but not deep tissue cuts, since there is not much in the natural environment which can equal a sharp metal knife edge for cutting hairless flesh (the sharpest non-industrial edge is freshly flaked obsidian, used in ancient times for shaving and surgery). Unless very carefully closed, a large open wound is often fatal.

Yarrow was known as the Soldier’s Woundwort and Herbe Militaris for thousands of years (Grieve), used to pack wounds as a functional antiseptic and, hemostatic material this latter attribute is especially important in combat where bleeding to death is a constant risk. This made Yarrow the superior wound dressing, since it stopped bleeding. It was much preferred to the other materials used to pack deep open wounds resulting from idiotic serious combat, clay, moss (sphagnum moss was still used to make antiseptic dressings for WWI, harvested in large quantities, traincar loads, from the bogs around Southbend, WA), spider webs, and horse manure (a favorite of the Napoleonic wars during winter and in Russia during the Russian evolution).

Yarrow is also an analgesic and antiseptic, so that it stops bleeding, lessens pain, prevents infections, and is often abundant in the open meadows favored particularly by the ancient armies in the Mediterranean wars. It is also available 12 months of the year in milder temperate zones, particularly in the areas where the surgeon-general Achilles was fighting during the also idiotic Trojan Wars. The Latin name for Yarrow, Achillia millefolium, is supposedly named after Achilles.

There is also a long history of yarrow use on this continent. The Flathead Indians of Montana rubbed the flower heads in their armpits as a deodorant. The Okanagon people placed the leaves on hot coals to make a smudge for repelling mosquitoes (Turner, 1979). The Thompson Natives boiled roots and leaves and used the roots for bathing arthritic limbs. The roots were pounded and used as a poultice on the skin for sciatica. Root infusions were used to treat colds and venereal diseases. The mashed root was placed over a tooth for toothache. The whole plant including roots is boiled and the decoction drunk as a tonic or remedy for slight indisposition or general out-of-sorts feeling. This decoction was used as eyewash for sore eyes, and used on chapped or cracked hands, pimples, skin rashes, and insect and snake bites (Turner 1990). Annie York, a Thompson Native (B. 1904) noted that, although a very important medicine, for the Thompson, ‘’ it is quite strong’’ AND THE MEDICINE HAS TO BE TAKEN WITH CAUTION. They used Yarrow infusions in small quantities for colds and bladder troubles.

Fresh Yarrow Leaves:
On several occasions, whilst using sharp anvil pruners to harvest yarrow flowering tops for the commercial botanical medicine trade, both myself and several of my apprentices have cut deeply into our respective fingers. Each time we were amazed at the lack of pain or any strong sensation as blood poured from gaping wounds. The apparent cause of self-wounding was a combination of not paying attention and a total lack of topical sensation when the pruner blade first contacted the finger cut. Enough analgesic substances had passed transdermally into our Yarrow-grasping fingers during the preceding several hours of harvesting to prevent touch sensation. We could not feel the blades. After my first self-cutting experience I alerted my apprentices at the start of each year’s Yarrow harvest to watch their fingers and cut only yarrow stalks.

The first aid treatment for their sliced fingers is, of course, Yarrow!; fresh young basal rosette leaves or young flower tops are crushed or chewed into a poultice or spit poultice respectively and applied directly into and/or around the wound and wrapped if possible. The hand pruner can be used to cut clothing into strips for a wrapping bandage. Yarrow is broadly antimicrobial and works well as an antiseptic painkilling wound dressing. All of the Yarrow harvesting wounds treated with yarrow poultices healed quickly without any secondary infections and usually no scarring. Yarrow pieces left in a wound usually do not cause bacterial infection. I usually recommend against using spit poultices on deep open wounds to avoid the possibility of introducing anaerobic oral disease bacteria into the bloodstream. These days maybe use only your own spit poultice. (Human saliva contains epidermal growth factor which may aid in wound healing) This would be to avoid chronic blood-borne diseases such as HIV and various hepatitis diseases. If you have blood-borne diseases, please do not use your own-saliva-source spit poultices on the open wounds of others.

Yarrow Leaf Styptic:
To make an extremely useful topical styptic, which can be applied directly onto shallow wounds, especially those such as scrapes, popped blisters, or burns, where the skin was not broken and only clear serum is oozing out, use fresh or dried Yarrow leaves: first remove the finely branched portions of the leaves from the central petiole/midrib. Discard the petiole and crush or grind the fresh or dried remainder and apply directly to wounds. Good strong solid scabs usually form as the serum and Yarrow bits mix as cement and rebar, and dry to close the wound. Healing seems accelerated by topical Yarrow dressings and poultices. Serum loss can be quite significant from seemingly minor scrapes or popped blisters.

For home and office use, I recommend a jar of dried and powdered Yarrow leaves be kept well-labeled and ready for first aid treatment of open wounds and popped blisters, mat/floor burns, and shallow shaving wounds. This medicine keeps well in airtight, dark containers for at least five years with no apparent loss of healing efficacy.

Yarrow roots
I have not used Yarrow roots therapeutically. Herbalist Matthew Wood recounts a dramatic hemostatic result from Yarrow roots used to quell deep laceration arterial bleeding (Wood 1997). Michael Moore (1993) states that the roots previously steeped in whiskey are good to chew on for toothache and gum problems.

Yarrow oil
Yarrow oil is easy to prepare. Fresh or dried Yarrow leaves and flowering tops are placed in olive oil (3 ounces of Yarrow per pint volume). The herb is placed in a pint canning jar (wide-mouth preferred) and the jar is filled with oil and stirred every four hours for the first day and daily thereafter for up to a month, whilst kept at 105-110 degrees Fahrenheit. Be sure and compensate for water content if fresh herb is used. I usually leave the herb in the oil until all of the oil is used. In my herbal tradition through Ella Birzneck, Yarrow oil is often combined with an equal amount of Dalmation Toadflax oil or Agrimony oil. The mixture is then used topically to manage varicose veins, and hemorrhoids, bleeding or not.

Yarrow oil case story
A 40-yr old woman came to see me with a complaint of hemorrhoids. On examination, she did not present with typical distended rectal veins. She had a solitary chickpea-sized solid yellowish perianal lump. It seemed securely attaches, was not a tick, scar, or scab, and seemed contained. It had been there at least two years, was not painful, inflamed, was barely sensate, had not bled, throbbed, o itched. Her concern was hygienic and she hoped herbs could be used instead of surgery. I did not think that traditional astringent herbs were indicated due to the solid nature of the lump. I asked her about splinters or glass or any small object which might have generated a subdermal keloidal sequestrum. She could not recall any such thing. I told her we could shrink and remove it herbally even though I suspected a sebaceous cyst. I mixed equal amounts of Yarrow and Toadflax oils with enough beeswax for a soft salve and gave her 12 ounces, to be applied continuously to the lump until either the lump or the salve was gone. The intent was to keep the lump oiled at all times. About 4-5 months later she returned and the lump was completely gone: no scar, no indent, only a pale discoloration remained. Yearly inquiries for ten years subsequent indicated no return or complication from lump or treatment.

Yarrow tinctures
The therapeutic uses of Yarrow Tincture (and teas) are well-described by the renowned herbalist, Matthew Wood (Wood, 1997), and the herbal author and teacher, Michael Moore (Moore 1979). Although Moore describes in detail how to prepare Yarrow tinctures, his many medicinal uses are mostly strong teas, poultices, and soaks. I have observed no particular therapeutic results from Yarrow tinctures which are not possible from strong teas, poultices, steams, oils

Yarrow for Influenza
In my repeated experience, drinking 1-2 quarts of very strong Yarrow -steeped infusion at the onset of flu symptoms will usually halt all further symptom progression. The emphasis here is AT ONSET. Strong Yarrow infusion consumed after Influenza or a cold has progressed for several days will help reduce fever and induce sweating, but only modestly reduce other symptom severity. I have not observed similar positive results from using Yarrow tinctures.

I strongly recommend all practitioners and households keep at least 8 oz. of dried Yarrow herb on hand at all times to be ready not only after the first flu symptoms, but perhaps also as a caution after encountering a flu sufferer. I do not recommend regular Yarrow tea use as a daily tea or protection against possible influenza exposure. This is important. Yarrow is a very strong herb.

Dried Yarrow Leaf and Blossom Tea: A case story
A young adult male came to my cabin one evening. He seemed distressed. It was harvest season and we were all working long days. A few hours before arriving at my place he had begun to have a sore throat and an achy feeling. His sweetie was sick with a dreadful sore throat, copious runny nose, achy body and some headache. She had been ill for several days. It sounded like Influenza to me. He wished to know if I had any herbs which would prevent him from becoming as sick as his sweetie. He could ill afford to be really sick just now, maybe later. I bravely told him,’’ Yes, of course!’’. I briefly examined him for fever, looked deeply into his poor inflamed throat, and asked a few pertinent questions (maybe some impertinent ones also). He was drug and medication free.

I told him that strong Yarrow tea, 12 ounces four times a day for two days would stop symptom progression. I gave him a bag of wild, island-harvested Yarrow leaves and flower tops for the tea. He was to prepare the tea by pouring boiling water over about one ounce of dried herb in a quart jar, cover loosely, and let steep for at least an hour before drinking, and that two hours steeping would be even better. I told him to leave about half the Yarrow tea in the jar with the Yarrow herb overnight in a warm place, and drink first thing in the morning. I encouraged him to sleep late, drink 2-3 quarts of water each day in addition to the Yarrow tea, consume no alcohol or caffeine, and please come see me in two days. He made a big pot of Yarrow tea in addition to the jar of steeped tea, drank a lot, and much more the second day. In two days he stopped by to say that he had developed no further symptoms, had no symptoms now; everything had resolved about 24 hours after first drinking the Yarrow. He not only felt well, but Great! Many thanks and two fat ducks

Yarrow for Insect Stings
The fresh Yarrow spit poultice is extremely effective to relief from the pain and swelling which usually follows bee, wasp, and hornet stings. The spit-Yarrow mass is applied directly to the stung area. I do not know if internal consumption of Yarrow at the same time will help any more than just topical application. This same use of Yarrow for insect stings is used wherever people, wasps, and Yarrow occur together: Coast Salish, NE Indians, and Latvians to mention a few such combinations

Yarrow for sweating
Copious sweating can usually be induced by either a generous handful of fresh Yarrow leaves or a strong infusion, about a pint, taken orally. This effect can be used to reduce fevers and promote sweating for those who sweat poorly in saunas or sweat lodges, or just to increase sweating from clogged pores. We usually drink about a pint each of Yarrow tea before each therapeutic sauna or hot soak.

I try to harvest premium yarrow blossoms in early morning before the hot summer sun cooks out their lighter volatiles. My favorite places are steep north and northwest-facing seaside slopes where onshore breezes provide plenty of soil trace elements for abundant secondary metabolite production in Yarrow.

One particularly fine day whilst harvesting Yarrow on a steep talus slope above the sea, I felt suddenly quite giddy. The feeling resembled benign sunstroke; however, I had been harvesting in complete cliff shade for 3 hours. Involuntarily I sat down and happily laid back into several ancient Yarrow clumps with 3-foot stalks and huge flat umbels 8-10 inches across. Their delicious odors smothered me. As I looked up and all around, all I could see was Yarrow and blue sky. Paradise.

After about 20 minutes I was startled and alarmed to hear my aluminum skiff banging on the rocks far below from the rising tide; harvester’s consciousness cancelled my wonderful Yarrow euphoria. I wondered what had happened. Was it TIA , dehydration, sunstroke (no sun), Alzheimer’s? Lightheaded, I carefully assembled my harvest bags and slowly descended to my skiff and rowed back to the distal road end.

I mentioned this experience to Brian Wiessbuch, acupuncturist and herbalist. He told me:
“Ryan, mark those plants well and harvest them for me next year. The huge flower size indicates that these Yarrow plants are probably polyploids, probably 4X or even 8X. Such plants tend to produce much larger amounts of unusual and psychotropic substances than the usual diploid (2X) plants.”

Apparently, several hours of harvesting had resulted in significant percutaneous molecular movement of Yarrow-sourced mood and mind-altering substances into my hands and arms. Similar percutaneous molecular oassage probably occurs during the prolonged handling of Yarrow flower stalks (harvested whilst green with half-ripe flowers on top) during the ritual Yarrow stalk sorting associated with the consultation of the I Ching, a Chinese book of divination. Accumulation is always followed by dispersal. Yarrow has cleistogamous flowers which are self pollinating and this may encourage polyploidy.

Yarrow beer
Yarrow dried flower tops can be used to flavour beer, replacing hops as a bittering agent or in combination with hops. I place at least 1 ounce of dried Yarrow flower tops per gallon of beer into the boiling wort immediately prior to taking the wort off the heat; leave the lid on the wort as soon as the Yarrow has been placed in the wort so that the wonderful aromatics remain in the wort. The Yarrow is left in the wort for the entire primary fermentation, so that it is fermented along with the malt and sugar. Stephen Buhner, recommends fresh Yarrow (pers.com.) but I use the dried for convenience. The Yarrow is boiled to kill any microbes which might infect the beer. This beer is marvelously refreshing and sudorificsatio, just right for hot sweaty days. It induces euphoria, diuresis and an expansive mood in addition to the usual sweating and mild alcohol senns.

Yarrow hazard
The pleasant aroma, invigorating bitterness, and mild mood-altering effects of strong Yarrow tea can become habituating. My teacher Ella Birzneck, founder of Dominion Herbal College I Burnaby, British Columbia, warned us against drinking Yarrow tea daily for more than two weeks. She did not explain. During a cold wet month of outdoor camping whilst clearing brush, I drank strong Yarrow tea daily, often steeped for up to two days. After three weeks I had a crisp line of pain along my right lowest rib. I assumed it was from a muscle tear during hard work. In the week following I continued to drink strong Yarrow infusion and the crisp line seemed to become a hard ridge almost like another rib. OOPS!! I suspected an inflamed liver from too much Yarrow tea and stopped drinking it. The painful ridge took 2-3 Yarrow-free months to subside and resolve. When I mentioned this to Ella, she said,”that’s what I said would happen”.

I must have dozed off.

My conclusion is: not only can Yarrow infusion become habituating, it may become painfully liver toxic when consumed to excess. I do not know which amongst the many active secondary Yarrow metabolites the hazardous molecules are. My experience has made me cautious not only about infusion overconsumption, but cautious about recommending Yarrow tincture, especially if fresh or dried Yarrow is available.

For a detailed summary of Yarrow constituents, with references, see Wren 1988. Unfortunately, Wren as a primary source is suspect, as Yarrow’s strong bitter taste is described as insipid, and the sharp scent as faintly aromatic. Perhaps a weak cultivated specimen was used?

Home uses for Northern daily life included, facials, food, beverages, cautions, steam vapours, and Native uses are nicely described by Alaskan Janice Schofield (1989).

After all of the above, Osol et al (1947) Declare with emphasis in the Dispensatory of the United States of America,’’ there is no scientific evidence of its value’’, referring to medicinal uses of Yarrow.

Similarly, the PDR FOR HERBAL MEDICINES, 1st ED, states that ‘’ Yarrow acts… in a similar fashion to camomile flowers, as their components are partially identical’’. Those effects include:’’Externally it is used as a partial bath for painful, cramp-like conditions of psychomatic origin in the lower part of the female pelvis, liver disorders, and the healing of wounds.’’ We can only hope for better coverage in subsequent editions.

Clark,L. 1973. Wildflowers of British Columbia. P. 50l
Grieve, M. 1931. A Modern Herbal. PP. 863-865
Moore, M. 1993. Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West. Pp. 272-275
Osol, A. Et Al. 1947. The Dispensatory of the United Sates of America.p.1306
PDR for Herbal Medicines. 1998. PP 604-605
Schofield,J. 1989. Discovering Wild Plants:Alaska, Western Canada, The Northwest. pp.318-321.
Turner,J. 1979. Plants in British Columbia Indian Technology. P.272
Turner, J. 1990. Thompson Ethnobotany. PP 166-167.
Wood, M. 1997. The Book of Herbal Wisdom: Using Plants as Medicine. Pp.64-83.
Wren, B. 1988 Ed. Potter’s New Cyclocpaedia of Herbal preparations

Back to top

QUEEN ANNE'S LACE (Daucus carota)

Queen Anne's Lace (QAL in the following text) also called wild carrot, is now a widely distributed temperate zone biennial and the ancestor of domestic carrots.

The leaves, flowers and seeds of QAL are used for food and medicine. The roots are eaten as small first year taproots. Chopped finely, the young first year leaves are a very pleasant carroty salad green. The ground mature seeds are a major component of Madras curry powder (up to 25%). We raised rabbits for meat and fur. We tried to feed them an all-wild green diet. One early March we had over 100 bunnies and cool weather had retarded spring green growth; my daughter, head chef for the bunny brigade, could not find enough greens (dandelion, plantain, wild mustard, chicory). I saw an ad in the 5-Center for cull field carrots, about 2 ton truckloads delivered for $20.00. I ordered a truckload at once which was dumped in the driveway whilst I was off teaching at the university. That evening Hillary placed several large misshapen carrots in each bunny cage. About 10 PM the bunnies started to mutiny and have fits. They raced around their cages, thumped repeatedly for hours on their sitting boards and made weird snorty noises unlike any heard previously. Eventually we slept but not the bunnies. In the morning the big lumpy carrots were shoved into cage corners and had been barely nibbled. They don't eat carrots unless totally starving. In reality, they eat the greens, leaving the carrots for QAL reproduction the following year. Gophers and muskrats eat carrots. Bugs Bunny is really an imposter gopher.

QAL and Gout: I regularly prescribe wild and/or domestic carrot greens for my gout patients (men are 20 times more likely to develop gout than women). This treatment is long-term (lifetime) to tolerance, especially for high-protein diet-induced gout. The best results are from finely chopped leaves in salads or soups, or leaves juiced in a wheatgrass juicer.

I have not used the flowers medicinally. Phyllis Light of Clayton College, AL uses mainly leaf and blossom infusions and syrups therapeutically to treat apparent endocrine disorders (pers. comm. From PL to RD).

QAL Seeds: For a decade (1973-83) I used QAL seed heads, gorgeous green and pink half-mature, harvested in Cancer, with mature seeds at the umbel margin and tiny immature seeds in the umbel center. This was exactly how I was taught by Ella Birzneck, as the way to get optimal patient results.

Her main use of QAL seeds was for cystitis (generically speaking, most uncomfortable bladder and lower urinary tract discomfort presentations). The dried umbels were used as a strong decoction (1 ounce herb to a pint of water), long-steeped after about 20m minutes of boiling, for 4-12 hours. This decoction was to be consumed as 4-ounce doses 4-6 times daily. She also prescribed at the same time at least 4 quarts of plain water daily and no other beverages (tough on cryptic substance abusers).

My first outside case of cystitis in 1973 was a very attractive mid-30s professional woman referred to me with a "bladder infection". She had just begun a very exciting sexual relationship after several chaste years. The presumed bladder infection was not only painful but socially disruptive. She continually had an urge to urinate but usually could squeeze out only a few dark yellowish brown drops of burning urine, no matter how hard she "squnched". Fortunately she had no blood, cloudiness, or cellular masses in the scanty urine. She had very carefully limited her water intake so she would not need to urinate while cuddling and copulating. This exacerbated a usual case of "honeymoon cystitis". I suspect now that a few days of abstinence (oh horrors) and forced fluids would have brought resolution. Instead, I gave her 1 pound of the dried green QAL umbels and instructions and urged abstinence from copulation until the symptoms resolved. And, abstinence from coffee and alcoholic beverages. She was not pleased and threatened noncompliance. Cruelly, I said "So, suffer for love." She was compliant and had complete resolution of symptoms after three days of treatment. She shared the unused Daucus seeds with women friends as their needs occurred in the following several years.

Since then I regularly prescribe QAL seed decoction for mild urinary discomfort in both men and women. I frequently add marshmallow leaf or root and Irish moss. A curious side effect in some men was positive symptom improvement in cases of both BPH and non-infectious prostatitis. Now, I regularly prescribe QAL seed decoction for early stages of BPH and persistent prostatitis. To speed up the decoction process, I recommend putting the seeds in an automatic steam percolator coffee maker and process the same water three times through the seeds. The resulting dark aromatic drink is very tasty.

Daucus carota for Birth Control: About ten years after my first cystitis case, herbal gossip declared that wild carrot seeds were not only an emmemagogue, but a reliable, functional morning after(after unprotected heterosexual vaginal intercourse during ovulation) herb to prevent pregnancy. Details, cases, and proposed mechanisms were sketchy at best. I quickly realized that Daucus carota is truly contraindicated during pregnancy. John Riddle in his books on abortion and contraception discusses wild carrot seeds as herbal birth control and early abortificent. He suggests that hormonal disruption is the mechanism. We would discuss this, my female apprentices and I, when we sat around on rainy days hand garbling mature wild carrot seeds by finger, scooping out the seeds from individual basket-bracketed umbels for the retail market, wondering if the seeds were reliable. In 4 of 8 known cases, they were not, and pregnancy occurred. This made us wonder about the form in which the seeds needed to be taken. Various suggestions were made by herbalists, notably Robin Bennett, to use a teaspoon of whole seeds and chew them up. A challenging task. Others suggested oil infusions or strong decoctions. No one suggested blending immature seed heads for a slurry. There were no experiments which could indicate if incipient infertility was the real reason pregnancy did not occur in some cases.

A curious phenomenon occurred with several of the women who spent long hours hand-cleaning the seeds. For 8-10 of them, their respective menstrual bleeding began a few days (1-3) after seed cleaning independent of where they were in their respective cycles. All were surprised. I noticed no personal endocrine effects. This seems more complicated than prevention of embryo implantation, one of the speculative mechanisms suggested for wild carrot seed birth control.

I believe that there are human endocrine hormone analogs in Daucus carota seeds. This is discussed in the notes for Herbal Human Hormones elsewhere in this text. Correspondingly, medical anthropologist Farid Alakbarov describes recorded ancient medical and modern folk medicinal usage of carrot seeds to treat impotence and loss of libido in men (Herbalgram 49:76-7.2000)

Back to top

INDIAN PIPE (Monotropa uniflora)

Indian pipe, ghost plant, is a remarkable botanical curiosity as well as a powerful nervine. It is a mysterious, underground except when flowering, perennial common boreal non-photosynthetic flowering epiparasite. It parasitizes parasitic tree fungi, and is not dependent on one particular fungus, forming associations with at least a dozen different fungi, many of which produce edible mushrooms. It grows in complete shade on stable forest floors, usually where green plants do not. It seems completely dependent on its host fungi for organic nutrients.

Its underground mass attracts fungal mycelial growth, from the fungi parasitizing live trees, both conifers and deciduous trees, providing myriad small knobbly papillar surfaces where nutrients pass from the fungal tissue to Monotropa. At least 14 species of trees can be used. I do not know if an individual Monotropa plant utilizes more than one fungal species or more than one tree species. I assume that the fungi derive some benefit from their associations with Monotropa, probably derivative secondary metabolites.

The above-ground portion of the plant consists entirely of delicate white translucent flowers and flower stems, one flower per stem. The flowers first appear as bent white tubes about 1/8-1/4 inch diameter, which slowly elongate, straighten, and display their respective terminal floral buds, at a height of 6-10 inches in clumps of 2-100. Each fragile stem and young. flower resemble a white clay pipe. The down-turned flowers are pollinated by bees upside down.

Harvest of Monotropa The timing of floral emergence is moisture and temperature dependent in addition to dependence on fungal growth. July is usually the peak floral emergence month, with Bastille Day (July 14) often the best time to harvest. I harvest the entire plant on rainy days or in the cool of the day to reduce heat and impact trauma bruising to the delicate emergent parts. Entire plants are carefully underdug with a strong spading fork and gently lifted into buckets. Then the plants are carefully laid out on screen tables (half-inch mesh hardware cloth) and washed with a strong fine stream of water to remove pebbles, soil, and organic debris from the underground masses. The plants can be immediately tinctured for best results; or the tops are gently removed from the knobbly underground masses and the two parts dried separately. This may take up to two weeks at 70-90 degrees F.

I have observed no herbivory of Monotropa: nothing seems to eat it. I ate an ounce or more of the young flowers and stalks and was slightly nauseous. I did not want to eat it again. Perhaps other browsers are similarly affected.

The Coast Salish allegedly associated the appearance of Monotropa with the probable deposition of wolf urine, presumably at territorial marking sites. I usually notice the odor of ammonia in the fresh plants. Perhaps this helped substantiate the wolf urine connection, which also may stimulate Monotropa host growth.

Monotropa Usage I believe Monotropa is an underutilized plant. Traditional North American use was apparently as a nervine to relieve symptoms of neurological chemistry disruption and pain. Used to stop seizures, convulsions, insomnia, mental disorders, and chronic muscle spasms.

A neighbor came by and asked me to look at his leg. He had limped obviously up the very steep hill to my cabin. He showed a peripherally advancing 6-7 inch diam. bruise on his upper inner right thigh. It was yellowish at the center, indicating an old bruise, then a broad concentric ring of purplish swollen tissue, and at the outer edge, fresh broken capillaries and tender inflammation. Strange. He told me that a felling mistake jammed the butt of a 4 inch diam. sapling into his OUTER upper right thigh 10 days previously. He showed me the torn skin and slightly discolored impact site. The bruise area, still developing, on his inner thigh, started to develop about 2 days after the outer thigh impact trauma, and grew larger each day, with more freshly broken blood vessels and increasing pain and inflammation. He had not slept much for over a week. Usually a teetotaler, he had been drinking a lot of high alcohol content malt beverage throughout the day and more at night to ease the pain and hopefully bring sleep, to no avail. He also took a lot of aspirin for several days, with no pain resolution.

He wondered if I had any herbs that would stop the terrible pain, let him sleep, and possibly stop the bruise growth. And, could I please explain how he could get hit on the outside of his thigh and have a huge bruise on his inner thigh and why was it still enlarging?

I explained vascular pressure rebound trauma mechanics to him and then gave him a tincture mixture of equal parts Monotropa and hawthorn berry (Crataegus monogyna), to be taken 2-3 droppersful every 3-4 hours unless he was sleeping. I told him to stop drinking coffee and malt beverage, and start drinking at least 3 quarts of just water daily, elevate his legs at night 12-14 inches, and walk at least 2 miles each day to help vascular repair. I would come see him in 10 days; if any further complications developed, he was to send a runner.

In the first 36 hours his pain resolved and he slept; his rebound bruise ceased enlarging and the discoloration slowly cleared. Then his right femur began to ache and continued to ache for 2-3 months. The Monotropa/Crataegus did not ease the bruised bone pain, which he did not notice until the rebound bruise began to resolve.

Monotropa Tincture Traditionally, dried flowers and "root" masses were sometimes used separately as powders, infusions, or strong decoctions separately for specific neurodisruptions. I have used 60% alcohol tinctures 2:1, alcohol to herb, the herbal portion consisting of equal parts flowers and underground mass. The tincture macerates for at least 2 weeks with shaking several times daily. I usually leave the herb in the alcohol until all of the tincture is consumed. The tincture is a stunning deep purple and tastes and smells vaguely of chocolate.

Another Case: A very agitated distraught large young man came by at dawn one day. He was gesticulating wildly, speaking very loudly, rapidly, angrily, rather disjointedly and a bit menacing. ALIENS WERE IMPLICATED, threats, large weapons, revenge, cleaning up the place (of undesirable neighbors) plus grossly inflated assumptions of personal grandeur. Charming.

He claimed not to have slept for at least three days and nights and that his head was boiling with unsolicited thoughts and images. His history included perennial meanness and medicated behaviour. I diagnosed sleep deprivation, dehydration, too much recreational medication, and no real food for many days, extreme anger, social isolation, and a desperate attempt to stop his delirium. Finally, during the first break in his rapid rambling 3-hr monologue, I asked him what he wanted from me. Besides potential sanctuary, he wanted herbal help to sleep and start thinking clearly. At that time I did not know he had been menacing neighbors and family. I told him I would give him a potion to do both, the strongest medicine I had. If it did not work in 4 hours or less, it wouldn't work for him. I gave him 2 ounces of a mixed tincture of Monotropa and Sea Blush Roots (an abundant annual marine valerian, Plectritis congesta) which he drank at once. Shortly after he left me, he napped, made circumstantial peace with his family, and voluntarily boarded the law enforcement plane for his involuntary journey to a psychiatric hospital for evaluation.

I believe Monotropa has a great future as a psychiatric nervine in acute cases.

CAUTION: consumption of 15 ml or more of Monotropa tincture can bring deep sleep and ultra vivid dreams, often bizarre, frequently erotic. I do not know the hazards of long term regular usage. I am investigating.

Back to top

Articles | 2014 Workshops | Island Herbs Order Form (pdf) | Contact Ryan

©2005-2014 Ryan Drum
P O Box 25, Waldron, WA 98297-0025
Updated 03.04.2014

Website by

Contact Herbs 'n Honey