Ryan Drum

Island Herbs

P O Box 25, Waldron, WA 98297-0025

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Three Herbs: Yarrow, Indian Consumption Plant, Coral Root


The three herbs discussed here are selected for three primary reasons:

1. They all grow within a mile or much less from my cabin and are available 12 months of the year;
2. I use them regularly in my life and herbal practice; and,
3. They all can be very effective medicines in the treatment of influenza, a major contemporary public and private health concern, real or imagined.

I strongly recommend them to practitioners and individuals who gather their own herbs and make their own medicines. I do not encourage the commercial development of botanical medicines from Corallorhiza spp., especially not its use as an over-the-counter medicine. These plants are very poorly studied and their different fungal symbionts and feedstocks produce highly variable and unpredictable medicine. I recommend that the sequential order of therapeutic usage for the treatment of influenza and rhinoviruses (Colds) in a single case starts with Yarrow at the first sign/symptom of probable infection followed by Lomatium during the middle course of colds, flus, and associated pneumonias, and, Coral root sparingly during recuperation.

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 Drum 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 sudorific, just right for hot sweaty days. It induces euphoria, diuresis and an expansive mood in addition to the usual sweating and mild alcohol sensations.

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.
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 Cyclopaedia of Botanical Drugs and Preparations.P.290

Other common names include: Cous (Salish) , Gathmin (Coastal), Naked Desert Parsley, Indian Celery, Pestle Parsnip, Wild Celery, and Beach Dill

Indian Consumption Plant is one of several long-lived, large-rooted Lomatium species which grow primarily in deep, well-drained barren arid soils of the Pacific West (Moore). These plants have been used for food and medicine for thousands of years. Individual plants may live for thousands of years in stable arid environments. Lomatium is exclusively a North American genus, species occurring westward from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific coast; Lomatiums are in the Carrot Family, the Umbeliferae.

Currently, the best-known and most widely–used Lomatium is L. dissectum (see: Moore, 1979: Thie, 2000). Here we discuss a near relative, L. nudicaule, which had perhaps more actual medicinal uses amongst Native Peoples (Turner, 1979, 1990, 1992).

I believe that L. nudicaule has great potential for increased therapeutic use by Herbalists and Naturopathic physicians as well as the self-healing public.

L. nudicaule seems to have first appeared west of the Cascades and on the near shore islands of Washington and British Columbia about 4500 years ago, concurrent with the first appearances of Western Red Cedar (Thuja plicata) and the fishing Salish Peoples. It is believed that the Salish brought L. nudicaule with them as well as other culturally significant plants such as the sterile diminutive prickly pear cactus, Opuntia fragilis from the high desert interior.

On my island, L. nudicaule grows only on extensive beach sand flats with few other plant competitors. The barren soils on those sand flats have desert-like conditions which do not favour the local rain forest flora. In addition to only occurring on desert-like sites, our L. nudicaule plants grow only in association with known Salish settlement sites: no-bank sandy berms next to sandy marine tidal flats which allowed beaching of their heavy cedar canoes and cargos. L. nudicaule does not spread from these sites, but does drop copious seeds which have a high germination rate (see below). The fierce growth of the non-desert plants surrounding these former Salish settlements seems to impede the spread of L. nudicaule. The plants grow to the edge of the highest tides’ drift line of logs. The L. nudicaule plants do not seem saltwater tolerant, and are never seen emerging from the highest tide isocline.

The plants are 12-24’’ high, with basal rosette, long-stemmed round-lobed pinnately compound leaves growing out of a usually buried (6-8’’) root crown. In late Spring one or more flowering stalks grow out of the buried root crown and produce charming yellow blossoms, arranged in small umbelettes on long pedicels radiating out from a unique structural origin. The ½ inch long seeds resemble dill seeds (hence the Anglo name, Beach Dill) and often remain attached to their respective umbelettes well into winter. In January 2006 sprouting L. nudicaule seeds with both radicles and green growing tips were observed on many umbelettes’ stalks from the previous summer (2005).

When the L. nudicaule seeds, sprouting or, reach the ground, they usually begin to grow immediately not they grow immediately without sprouting?, establishing a long thin tap root, 5-12 inches deep in the first 1-3 years from 1/8 to ¼ inch diameter. At this stage the roots are very sweet, tender and without the bitter brown resins seen in older roots and are wonderful to eat, especially dried to crispy sticks. Salish youth called them “Indian candy” or licorice roots, ‘’VERY GOOD’’ (Clark). Some years we dug hundreds of these up to pencil-sized roots and dried them for home use as treats for our children, similar to Salish practice.

As the plants age, 4-8 years, the roots deepen, become thicker (to 1 inch), and the sweetness of primary sugars is replaced by a starchy white interior, still very edible. Just prior to the emergence of the first flowering stalk (s) on a particular L. nudicaule plant, the root becomes a bit woody in anticipation of inflorescence mechanical support, and the first resin deposits form and expand throughout the length of the vertical root, filling with a very pungent, bitter aromatic brown resin which makes the root very resistant to being eaten or decayed.

The Coast Salish gathered all parts of the young plants for immediate eating and for drying for winter eating (the leaves quickly wither and dry up while the flowering stalks form). They put fresh or dried greens in cooked salmon, and usually sprinkled seeds on fish and meat and into stews. The young blue-green leaves, flowering stalks, and seeds are eminently edible and pleasantly strong-flavoured. Some prefer them lightly steamed. In modern times some Salish have canned the fresh young plants. The young plants are reputedly extremely high in vitamin C (Turner).

Over 30 years ago an island Elder showed me a patch of L. nudicaule plants near the beach, and inquired if I knew what it was. I replied that I did not know exactly, but that it was an Umbeliferae of some sort and might be poisonous. I was told that it was Beach Dill, and, let’s eat a bunch and handed me some of the young seeds. We both ate some. I hoped it was not another island joke, like the licorice root fern laxative effects. The flavour was definitely a bit much for the uneducated palate. I was told that the early white invaders were taught by the Salish how to use the seed as a spice and flavouring and young leaves as a salad green. I was encouraged to try some the following Spring which I did.

There was no mention of the other very important and varied uses of Beach Dill.

The Salish used the seeds as house fumigant and deodorant, especially in the absence of Devil’s Club bark or Yerba Buena leaves; seeds were burned in the salmon-drying huts to prevent supernatural contamination (Turner). Perhaps what was at that time perceived as supernatural contamination is what we now call salmonella or other potentially harmful microbes? Other groups burned the seeds in an open fire both as a fumigant and mosquito repellant. In the large Cedar communal family longhouses, long-term occupation resulted in accumulation of fish and human protein dusts, cedar bark and wood dust, some moulds, and rancid fats from the daily use of oulachon fish oil. Regular house fumigation with a strong antimicrobial smoke may not only have made the place smell better, there may also have been a serious health-positive effect for all of the human inhabitants from regular group exposure to the L. nudicaule fumes, the tonic smoke both preventing and treating respiratory infections.

For some headaches and colds, the seeds were steamed and the resulting vapours inhaled; the same treatment was used for (assumed) sinus infections. Raw dried seeds and strong seed teas were used to treat colds, influenza, and, sadly, tuberculosis (Turner). While very effective against respiratory viruses, I have read no definitive reports that Indian Consumption Plants actually cured or even mitigated the progression of tuberculosis for the Salish, in spite of the hopeful name. Anthropologists tell me no Native medicines seem to have worked successfully against tuberculosis.

Otherwise, unspecified pneumonias were favourably resolved with L. nudicaule seed treatments.

The seed tea was used both internally and externally for many conditions including sore tissues, aching feet and ankles, and swollen knees. In addition to strong teas, spit poultices of the chewed seeds were applied directly on tissues in pain. The steeped seed tea was given at childbirth to ease delivery. In the case of an epidemic or death in the house from illness rather than trauma, L. nudicaule seeds were burned in the fire or later placed on a hot stove top to fill the house with pungent smoke to ward off bad spirits and protect the inhabitants from harm. (Turner 1979)

Special Salish Uses:

Hunters always kept L. nudicaule seeds in their canoe boxes for protection.

One day I received a vague note that one of the Tribes wondered if I could supply them with a special plant. I told the bearer I would be honored to assist them if I could. Later I was asked to obtain some Lomatium nudiacule seeds for the Tribe. I did. Eventually, I asked about the seeds’ intended use. After another year or more, I was told that the tribe needed the seeds for some very special ceremonies. Of course I had been thinking that maybe some special therapeutic use was intended and was eager to learn that use.

In due time, nearly a decade later, I was taught by a tribal representative that L. nudicaule seeds were usually used as a burnt offering and thanks when prayers really needed to be answered, thrown into an open fire to help the prayer reach the right places. The Tribe requesting the seeds had been landless due to US treachery. They had no access to traditional lands and no one remembered where to harvest the seeds. I was humbled and a bit ashamed of my own colonial mindset. In my private mind, I wondered, was it important for one of the colonists to gather the seeds for use of the colonized in seeking redress for the actions of the colonizers? Medicine.

When I asked Ellen White, a Nootka Elder, about the plant and its uses, she just looked sternly at me (again) and said ‘’everything’’. Salmon and Red Cedar are the main supports of the Northwest Native Culture. There was usually a 3-4 month empty period each Spring-early Summer when no salmon were running and because of the serious food shortages resulting from the rare El Nino years, there was great anxiety and no real certainty that the salmon would actually return. In the El Nino years, people ate large quantities of barnacles, snails, bitter roots, such as Pacific Silverweed, and seaweeds, as seen in prehistoric kitchen middens from the salmonless years.

To insure the return of the salmon, each of the various salmon-dependent Tribes developed very sincere survival rituals. One of these (severely abbreviated here) was the First Salmon Ceremony. The first salmon caught was prayerfully cut, Lomatium nudicaule seeds were placed inside and the salmon was cooked; then it was eaten by an Elder Woman and a young man. All of the bones were very carefully saved and placed on a small floating vessel made from Typha (Cattail) reeds along with some L. nudicaule seeds and sent back to sea. The seeds of L. nudicaule very much resemble filleted salmon halves drying. The doctrine of signatures perhaps suggested that the seeds were the seeds of the Salmon People; and, the Salmon returned just about the same time the seeds on Lomatium nudicaule were ripening.(Turner 1992) I encourage you to track down some PNW Native lore and read about the First Salmon Ceremonies.

Daily Uses of Lomatium Nudicaule Seeds:
The Shuswap people placed the seeds under baby basket mattresses as a masking scent and similarly placed the seeds under the pillows and mattresses of older persons to deodorize and disinfect their beds. Seeds were also placed in or under a baby’s pillow to hasten sleep. (Turner, 1979, 1992). The seeds were traded and used widely even by Tribes where L. nudicaule did not grow.

Other than Native Salish Healers, myself and a few of my herbal students, few present day American herbalists seem to use Lomatium nudicaule as a medicinal herb in their respective practices. I would like to see more use of L. nudicaule, particularly the dried seeds, rather than the roots. As noted above, nearly all of the traditional Salish medicinal applications used just the seeds. After a few uses of L. nudicaule roots as teas or tinctures, I now use just the seeds therapeutically.

Lomatium N. tincture:
Tincture of Lomatium nudicaule seeds: place 4 ounces whole or ground seeds in 12 oz. 50% ETOH. (1:3). Keep in a warm (80-100 degrees F) place and shake several times daily for two weeks. Sometimes I have just left the seeds and alcohol together until all of the extract was used and then made a tea from the extracted mark. It was very bitter.

I use this tincture on topical wounds and abscessed teeth with very positive results.

I also use this tincture in the treatment of persistent respiratory infections, particularly various pneumonias.

A particularly powerful antimicrobial and analgesic medicine for severely abscessing teeth is to combine equal parts of strong tinctures of: Lomatium nudiicaule seeds, Chapparal leaf and stems, Osha root, and Elecampagne root. This mixture is applied directly over and around the tooth (teeth) affected 5-10 x daily until all swelling, inflammation, and tooth mobility resolves. L. nudicaule tincture does not seem to have much potential as a recreational drink or beverage flavouring. Why not?

Oil infusion of Lomatium N.:
To prepare an oil infusion, dried or fresh mature seeds , whole or preferably ground, are infused in oil at 120 degrees F for 48-96 hours(2-4 days), stirred or shaken several times daily. This oil is used in salad dressing oils or applied directly over sore tissues.

I can be combined with Usnea oil, similarly prepared and taken internally as an antibacterial medicine.

Lomatium N. seed infusion in water:
Whole or ground seeds are infused by pouring a quart of boiling water over 1 ounce of seeds and steeped for 1-4 hours prior to drinking. This tea is especially effective when consumed hot for the treatment of Influenza or Colds. Adding an ounce each of Nettle leaves and/or Dandelion roots to the L. nudicaule seeds can improve the tea’s therapeutic efficacy.

Whole Lomatium N. seeds:
Sometimes there is little or no time or facilities for infusion or tincture preparations and a cold or Influenza is developing or progressing. In these cases, chewing and swallowing a few dried L. nudicaule seeds continually for several hour, along with generous amounts of clean water can effectively reduce symptom severity and progression.

Lomatium N. for influenza:
When multiple cases of Influenza are developing, a large batch a special “Plague Formula” tea can be pre-mixed for immediate patient use and for any additional cases. It is much more effective for the practitioner to prepare the decoction mixture than to ask the poor suffering patients to do so.

The variation used very effective during Influenza outbreaks in Albuqurque by the herbalist Robin Seydel is:

EQUAL PARTS of: (in descending order of importance)

These herbs are ground if possible, mixed thoroughly, and used about 1 ounce in a quart of hot water, boiled briefly (2-4 minutes), and allowed to steep for an hour or more, then combined with a trifle of lemon juice and honey , and consumed HOT and a LOT. She has had very positive results for nearly all clients with symptoms completely quelled or reduced in a day or two. We do not know if the tea can be used as a preventive.

Lomatium Seed Vapours:
For suspected bacterial or viral upper respiratory congestion inhaling the vapours produced by pouring boiling water over a handful of dried or fresh L. nudicaule seeds can bring symptom relief. I use a deep stainless steel stew pot or milking pail rather than a plastic bucket to generate the vapour.

Lomatium spp. Hazards:
The use of tinctures, capsules, or strong teas of some Lomatium species by susceptible individuals can result in extensive epidermal eruptions of little non-inflamed hives, which usually are self-limiting once /or if, the herb use is immediately discontinued (see: Moore, 1979; and Thie, 2000 for excellent discussions of Lomatium sensitivity). When treating Lomatium hives, cold water and topical plasters of rolled oats will usually reduce symptom severity. Steroid medications taken orally, injected, or applied topically seem to bring little or no relief from incidental cases of Lomatium spp.-sourced hives. Lomatium nudicaule has not been implicated in cases of Lomatium hives. The usual species causing hives as been Lomatium dissectum.

Based on the therapeutic results of using Lomatium nudicaule to treat influenza, I believe that the seeds of this plant may prove to be effective medicine in treating cases of the predicted imminent flu epidemics . This belief is further strengthened by the the what? of Percy Train and his colleagues on the greatly improved survival rates of both whites and Natives in Nevada, during the influenza epidemics of 1920-1922, amongst those who used medicines made from Lomatium. Presumably these medicines were made from primarily from the roots of Lomatium dissectum and closely related species.There is no mention of using L. dissectum seeds (Moore,1979; Thie, 2000).

I have observed that the seeds of L.nudicaule seem just as therapeutically effective as medicines made from L.dissectum roots. Thie (2000) agrees.

Furthermore, L.nudicaule seeds are easily collected and processed and can be harvested for decades from the same plants without digging up and killing the plant. I encourage all practicing herbalists to cultivate a big patch of Lomatium nucicaule to get ready for our common Influenza future. Arthur Lee Jacobson discusses cultivation at his website.

The seeds store well for several years if kept cool and dry in a closed container.

An esteemed colleague once told me that the seeds were only good for planting for a year. Later I discarded some 5-yr old seeds onto my compost pile and most of them seemed to sprout about a week later after some brisk spring rains. Good news.

Since the entire plant is edible, even if it is not needed to quell the predicted Influenza Pandemic; the young leaves and flowering stalks are great in salads.

1. On several occasions I have revisited an extensive L. nudicaule patch to observe several 5-10 feet long, 12-14 inches deep trenches in the sand next to a very thick growth of thousands of young,(1-5 years) L. nudicaule plants. The trenches are usually sharply defined on the freshly dug sides and just piled sand on the other side. Since I am usually the only local user of L. nudicaule, I was both a trifle alarmed and curious. Several obvious mounds of wild rabbit scat and an occasional half-eaten root told me the story: it was Autumn and the Summer had been very dry. There was not much greenery. As the plants age, their respective root crowns become deeper and deeper and virtually inaccessible to top-down digging herbivores for eating. Some rabbit had learned how to dig access trenches which open a virtual wall of sweet food readily available for eating. I used those trenches later also.

2. One fine autumn day I took a field trip with about a dozen local school children (6-14 years) to the beach to observe the rabbit-dug L. nudicaule eating trenches. Beside one of the trenches was a complete set of freshly-removed rabbit viscera, a few tufts of rabbit fur and several half-eaten slender roots. There was a moment of involuntary silence. An astute 11-yr old inquired if eating the young sweet roots had made the former rabbit less vigilant, by sugar intoxication perhaps. Perhaps indeed. We all dug bunches of very young roots and proceeded to eat them. Then, after I had talked about how huge the roots can become, 6 inches across and up to 3 feet long, I was challenged by one of the teens. So, I returned the challenge and encouraged he and a cohort to try and dig to the bottom of an apparently BIG plant. The first surprise was that the root crown was over a foot down into the sand. The youth dug furiously for about 30 minutes. I took the rest of the children to a group of plants 6-8’ apart near the water’s edge. We dug down about 24’’ and found the bottom of a 2’’ diameter root which ended in a flat arrangement of 5-6 root end branches growing horizontally just above the highest level of saltwater intrusion into the sand. So, the plants are not saltwater tolerant, but do appreciate the deep, well-drained beachside soil. Meanwhile, the big root diggers were nearly 30 inches into the sand, which was continually collapsing into their 3-4’ wide pit around a 3-4’’ diameter L. nudicaule root which seemed to be getting wider as they dug (the traditional ‘’Biscuit Root’’). They quit in frustration and conceded that they could have done it with shovels. Perhaps.

3. Lomatium dissectum.
Most of the therapeutic research on Lomatiums has been done on the roots of L.dissectum as discussed in Moore (1979) and Thie (2000). This plant has been heavily harvested for commercial medicines and may be threatened with extinction in some of its range. I have not used it therapeutically. I can find no mention in the ethnographic or modern herbal literature about using L. dissectum seeds therapeutically, only the roots, fresh or dried. I suspect the lack of seed use may be due to their paucity and difficulty in accumulating a large volume of them. Nancy Turner writes’’the tops and roots (of L. dissectum) are considered poisonous by the Okanagan Salish (although they did eat the unemergent young tips, and other Interior Salish ate the young roots. The Okanagan used the roots as a fish poison and insecticide. They pounded the roots and steeped them in water overnight to make a milky-coloured infusion. This was then poured into the creek, causing the fish to float to the surface where women and children gathered and cleaned them. The poison lost its effectiveness once it had flowed downstream about ½ mile. Fish killed this way were not harmful to eat as long as they were eaten soon afterward. The same steeped solution was poured over horses and cattle to rid them of lice and other insect pests. Rubbing the animals with the leaves and stems of L. dissectum achieved the same results. No mention was made of Salish using L.dissectum to remove their own lice or other ectoparasites. Also there is no mention of using L. dissectum leaves, stems, or seeds for food. Turner 1979.

Arthurleej.com/Indian celery
Clark, L. ibid. pp333-334
Moore, M. Ibid. pp167-171
Pojar &Mackinnon 1994. Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast p.222
Thie,K.2000. Lomatium, in: Planting the Future, Gladstar &Hirsch, Eds.pp159-166
Turner,N. 1979.Plants in British Columbia
IndianTechnology pp165-167
Turner, N. etal 1990. Thompson Ethnobotany. Knowledge and Usage of Plants by the Thompson Indians of British Columbia
Turner, N. 1992. Plants for All easons: Culturally Important Plants of Aboriginal Peoples of Southern ancouver Island. Environmental Studies 400C Class. U. Victoria, BC Canada
Monograph by Anna Macrae. Pp 101-103

CORAL ROOT (Coralorrhiza maculata and related species)

Coral Root, also called: Crawley Root, Chicken Toe, or Devil’s Claw, is a totally parasitic, long-lived perennial orchid. As such, it has no chlorophyll and derives its food from saprophytic fungi which in turn feed on coniferous forest floor duff. Coral Root grows in nearly complete shade and has no true roots. The so-called ‘roots’ are actually complex rhizomes often arrayed in stacked regular grids upon which symbiotic fungi are pheromone-induced into growing and sharing nutrients. I could not find any references to possible/probable benefits derived by the worker fungi from the Coral Root. The genus Coralorrhiza is a western hemisphere genus, with 15 species growing in North and South America, and one species in Eurasia. The emergent plant consists entirely of unbranched erect flowering stalks 6-24 inches tall bearing laterally placed exquisite little orchid flowers. The flowering stalks can vary from light yellow to reddish purple; they stand out on the forest floor in the usual absence of any other plants, especially green plants. I have observed that the apparently younger, newer plants tend to have reddish stems, and the apparently older multi-stemmed plants tend to be more yellowish. This is from watching the same plants for over 30 years. Some of my neighbors, also from watching particular plants for decades, have suggested that we may be watching more than one species or subspecies of Coralorrhiza. This is also the suggestion of Lewis Clark (Clark, 1973). My thought is that the emergent flowering stalk size, color, and abundance may actually vary more according to the fungus/fungi communities living on or within the subterranean rhizome grids, than just Coralorrhiza gene expression.

The flowering stalks often persist as dead brown fragile sticks for two seasons after the flowers have matured into drooping oval pods. These persistent stalks make it easy for the harvester to locate dormant plants in any season.

Several authors have noted the fragility of the flowers (Moore, 1979). Several of the larger patches I have watched and harvested (partially) occur in the tracks and centers of old logging skid roads, unused for 40 years or more. Solitary stalks with modest underground parts often emerge from forest roads graded only 4-5 years previously. The emergent stalks may be fragile, dying back when stepped on, bent, or broken, but the rhizomes seem much tougher.

I try to harvest coral root plants only where there are several plants to leave. I believe new plants can arise from the disruption of rhizome clumps. I harvest the clumps with a strong spading fork, lifting rhizome masses up to a cubic foot of mass with a lot of dirt and usually small tree roots mixed in with the regularly arrayed rhizome grids. This has led me to speculate that the Coral Root orchids may actually be epiparasites, similar to Indian Pipe (Monotropa uniflora), parasitizing fungi parasitic on live trees’ roots. Usually I have been watching particular clumps for decades prior to harvesting. I have been able with effort to dig up only half a clump, carefully leaving the remainder well-buried, which usually results not only in survival, but an apparent increase in growth for several years thereafter. Other times, large clumps broke apart and lots of little bits of coral-like rhizome bits were left and buried in the extraction pit. In subsequent years, new little plants appeared at the margins of the pit, indicating probable growth from rhizome remnants rather than just growth from the main clump portion left in the pit.

Longevity of Coral Root:
I have no idea how long a single plant/clump of Coralorrhiza spp. can live. Some of my older neighbors tell me of plants they watched for 70 years with only very modest apparent increase in size and number of flowering stalks. I suspect that individual Coral Root plants (clumps) persist for centuries and even millennia as long as their host trees and fungi are present with shade.

In some of the 20# harvested rhizome clumps, up to 50% of the clump center is dead and decayed similar to what may be observed in the centers of very old Comfrey crowns. I have observed no obvious diseases on either rhizomes or stalks. Slugs occasionally eat the flower stalks but do not seem to especially favour it. There is no record of natives or colonists eating either young stalks or the plump and succulent pre-emergence stalk buds in spite of their thumb-sized tempting appearance. As noted in Wren (1988), there is a peculiar odor associated with freshly dug rhizomes, which is a trifle repugnant.

Preparation of Coral Root:
After harvesting, the rhizomes are placed on a ¼ or ½ inch mesh hardware cloth screen and very carefully washed with a fine high-pressure water stream to remove dirt and debris. Sometimes root bits must be picked out individually, a laborious task, and coral-like rhizome grids often break off the main clump during the cleaning. When first dug and washed, the rhizomes are white with rusty tints at junctions. After washing, the rhizomes are quickly chopped, or crushed and placed in 50% ethanol, 1 part rhizomes to two parts alcohol. I leave the rhizomes in the solvent until the extract has been completely used. I have not tried either vinegar or oil Coral Root extractions. I did dry the rhizomes once but the brown, pungent product was not appealing. The strong therapeutic effects noted historically may have in part resulted from constituent changes caused by drying the rhizomes prior to use.

Therapeutic Uses of Coral Root:
When observing and discussing Coral Root with local First Nations Elders, they emphasized its use as a sedative for over-tired children. None had actually eaten the plant. We thought it smelled a bit like Cacao when first dug and washed; we tasted it and agreed that it was strange and fishy, not good.

I have used it most often for its sedative effects, especially with children. Results have been very successful, repeatedly, in different children with no apparent buildup of tolerance that would require larger doses. This has been as a tincture. A few drops under the tongue just prior to going to bed . The only negative has been some resistance to the taste/odor. To alleviate this negative aspect I plan to try making a syrup by placing equal amounts of rhizomes and wild honey together for a few weeks. If fermentation occurs, I will use two parts of honey to one part of Coral Roots in a second try. Using sugar to overcome resistance.

Michael Moore (1979) in his excellent review of Coralorrhiza, notes that a teaspoon of the rhizomes (fresh or dried, not indicated) boiled for 10 minutes in water have a very strong diaphoretic, fever-reducing effect; and, a strong sedative effect especially in disturbed, nervous or angry states. I have not tried a strong decoction with patients, since the use of the tincture has been convenient.

In one case, a 31-yr old woman with a history of extremely painful premenstrual symptoms and menstrual pain did not respond to traditional herbs for PMS and cramping. She also was unable to sleep well during the symptom bouts. A dropperful of Coral Root tincture made from fresh rhizomes, self-administered sublingually as needed resolved all symptoms. For several succeeding years she used the tincture as needed, as symptom severity and frequency lessened, and continues to do so.

Ecletic Uses of Coral Root:
Felter (1922) claims that hot infusion of Coral Root promotes menstruation. In the Eclectic Materia Medica, he waxes enthusiastic about the great value of Coral Root for fevers, respiratory diseases, and the accompanying body deterioration. I quote him:

This is the most perfect diaphoretic we know of, duplicating the natural processes of perspiration when given in small doses and increasing the watery contents when administered in hot infusion…. It is pleasant to the taste and acts kindly upon the stomach….It was once used largely in fevers. Its principal use is in subacute inflammatory disorders of the respiratory tract, being especially valuable in the declining stages of bronchopneumonia, of a low but inactive type, with much depression, prostration after cough or effort, copious heavy expectoration, and general debility. For Convalescence from such states and after bronchitis, la grippe (Serious Influenza), and pneumonia, it is an ideal remedy. In those of a phthistical build (asthmatic)….much hacking cough, loss of weight, lack of appetite, pleuritic pains, and general prostration-yet not actually consumptive, it is one of the best tonics we have ever employed….For dry bronchial irritation, with wheezing, tightness of the chest, paroxysms of irritable cough, together with dry or inactive skin, Coral Root is extremely effective. In respiratory debility Coralorrhiza acts slowly but surely.

Clark,L. 1973. Wild lowers of British Columbia. Pp 59-60.
Felter,H. 1922. The Eclectic Materia Medica, Pharmacology, & Therapeutics. Pp322-323
Grieve, Mrs. 1931. A Modern Herbal. Vol.1 p233.
Moore, M. 1979. Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West. P.63

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