Viva Violets!

By Lise Wolff

Everywhere I walk, violets are blooming. Although I can say they are of the Viola genus, I can’t get much more specific as there are about eighty cultivated and/or wild violet species, with innumerable hybrids. Mostly violets spread by runners, although inconspicuous brown flowers growing at ground level produce tiny black seeds which self-pollinate (the flower doesn’t open until the seeds are mature). Amusingly, violets’ little bursts of purple, yellow and white flowers are not for reproduction but simply an energetic expression of happiness.

Although the botanical stuff is interesting and the plant is beautiful, I’d rather talk about the powerhouse of strength it provides. The RDA of Vitamin A is 5,000 IU. In 100 grams violet leaves provide 20,000. Sort of impressive, huh? Vitamin C’s RDA is 75mg. Violet leaves provide 264mg in 100 grams. Lots of nutrition. And I bet you thought it was just pretty. My happiest moments are sitting in a patch of violets and slowly picking the leaves. Very meditative. Like most wild greens, they are particularly sweet and tender in the spring, providing abundant quantities for soup and salad greens year after year.

But as an herbalist my interest in violets really veers toward their medicinal properties. For medicine I pick the leaves later in the summer, when the leaves are larger and have more medicine built into them. By this time they are quite a bit tougher and not particularly edible. Herbals list many uses for violet. Hemorrhoids, varicose veins, tension headaches, nightmares, insomnia, distressed sleep, disinfectant, fungicide, tissue solvent (softens hard skin such as corns and warts), mouth inflammation and lung congestion. Sounds like a cure-all. When I first started learning about herbs I hated reading the herbals because they made lists like that.

What does it really mean? Violets are good for you. They nourish and gently improve the functions of many systems in your body, including the nerves, lungs, reproductive system, liver, gallbladder, digestive and urinary tracts. Many people envision the immune system as a barrier that keeps things out. Yet we are part of the world and both physically and spiritually we must let the world in and work within the world. There has been talk in the scientific community lately about ‘host mediated response’ to illness. The concept is that if we help the body be well the body can keep disease under control. And it appears that it is the mildest of substances, the greens, that help keep the body functioning well. I have a preference for wild greens because they tend to be much more concentrated with things that strengthen the body than greens you can buy. But at least eating green vegetables is a start.

Having addressed the generalities about how violet is good for you, as a practicing herbalist I have to understand what each herb specifically treats very well, most of the time. Usually this happens by stumbling. Years ago I went to dinner with a doctor friend. She mentioned that she had found a lump in her breast, not because she was probing, but because it was so large it stuck out. She had set herself up to have a mammogram the next week. Remembering that, according to Susun Weed, violet leaf “has an affinity for the breasts,” dissolving fibrous tissue, hardened calcium deposits, mastitis and “undiagnosed’ breast lumps, I sent her home with a violet leaf tincture to apply topically and take internally, three drops three times a day.

We met the day before her mammogram. The lump had shrunk so much she had to probe to find it. We both agree it must have been a cyst. The next day she called me from the hospital. They had biopsied and diagnosed it as the fastest growing cell cancer possible and they wanted to operate and remove the breast as well as the lymph nodes. The size of the lump indicated that it must have spread already. She refused treatment seeing the success of violet leaf. A month and a half later she had all sorts of tests done to diagnose the progress of the disease. Nothing anywhere. From there the story goes on but it usually takes an hour to tell verbally. Suffice it to say that strength is often hidden in the mildest of packages.

The Undervalued Earth Crown

By Lise Wolff

Glechoma hederacea (ground ivy or creeping charlie) grows everywhere. Waste places, parks, along walks and in many people’s gardens and lawns. Most everyone ignores it if they’re not outright trying to kill it. As an herbalist, I know that what people need most often grows right under their feet. No need for exotic imported herbs when we have been gifted with powerful medicine growing everywhere we walk, often in our own backyard.

So naturally I became interested in a plant as prolific and tenacious as ground ivy. Ground ivy has the habits of an ivy in growth, staying green underneath the snow. Yet it is actually a mint, beautifully fragrant when crushed. All mints are diaphoretic, opening the pores to release heat, and can be used to help move a fever through.

As with so many plants, the list of uses for ground ivy is extensive. Dull, congestive headaches, toothache, earache, sore throats, bronchitis, chest colds. Last but not least, it was popular for beer making, providing a good taste, clarifying the beer and preventing souring. Dr. William Coles, a 17th century doctor and herbalist from England noted, “Country people formerly used it much in their ale and beer and so they would now, if they were wise. But this age forsakes all things old, though never so good, and embraces all sorts of novelties whatsoever. But the time will come when all the fopperies of the present time shall be slighted, and the true and honest prescriptions of the Ancients come into request again.” Amazing how history repeats itself.

Ground ivy surrounds many homes. It was used for centuries to prevent and treat a type of lead poisoning called “painter’s colic.” Plants grow where they are needed. Does it pull the lead out of the soil as well as people? Studies suggest it does, but there is still uncertainty concerning such a strong claim. I have used it with beneficial results (oftentimes along with plantain) for people who believe themselves poisoned with heavy metals. Matthew Wood and David Winston have both used ground ivy for mercury poisoning, a concern for anyone who has ever had a cavity filled and even those who have had those fillings removed, as sometimes that removal releases mercury back into the system.

Ground ivy. Such an interesting and useful plant. Historically it was used for ‘kidney disease.’ Way too general for me to use in my practice. So I watched and I waited. My first experience with ground ivy was a case of general poor health. As an herbalist, I follow the body’s outward symptoms to clue into the balance of the various organ systems. The client complained of fatigue and lower back pain. Oftentimes, lower back pain is not muscular-skeletal but kidney related. She had circles under her eyes. In Chinese medicine, this is the kidney area on the face. I pulse-tested (my method for discovering the herbs that will help the body) various kidney remedies. Ground ivy was the winner.

Not having much of an explanation, we both went on faith that she try the remedy. Two weeks later she called feeling much better. She said that she felt “motivated.” Soon after, I had a case with a woman who no longer cared to do all the things she normally loved. Dark circles under her eyes. Fatigue. Ground ivy was the remedy. A week later she felt “fine.” She was preoccupied with a head cold that began with a fever, slightly plugged ears and swollen lymph glands. Ground ivy resembles the lymph system, sometimes developing swollen nodes along the runners. Her symptoms began immediately after taking the remedy. When asked about her motivation she said, “Oh, I forgot about that. I’m fine now.”

If symptoms come quickly on the tail of taking a remedy, it is facilitating the body to move something through. This is called a healing crisis. If symptoms come after a few weeks or more, the remedy is probably causing what it would cure. This is a homeopathic principle which is true in herbalism as well.

So why should a kidney remedy help motivation? In Chinese Medicine, the Jing is stored in the kidneys. This ‘essence’ is the stuff creation is made of. Almost like DNA. In Chinese medicine, if there is a problem with fertility, treat the kidneys. For thousands of years the way humans created themselves in the world was to procreate and produce children. But this is the 90’s and the way we put out our creations has changed. Many times we wait to have children later in life, if at all. Thus we find other ways to passionately create. This is what we contribute to the world. When we no longer have that umph, ground ivy clears that particular imbalance in the kidneys.

Ground ivy was also used by 17th century English herbalist Nicolas Culpeper to cure “the noise and singing” of the ears and restores “hearing which is decayed.” The Chinese believe that if there is a chronic imbalance in the kidneys it manifests through the kidney meridian (energy line) and comes out the ears. Although I have not found ground ivy to clear ringing in the ears, I have found it to be quite useful for congested head colds with plugged ears and even plugged ears having persisted for several years. Ear congestion sometimes gets mistaken for hearing loss.

What a gift to have ground ivy growing all around us. Perhaps we should restore it to its original Latin name, Corona terrae; ‘Earth Crown,’ as it is truly like a garland over the ground.

Healing Properties of Burdock

By Lise Wolff

The chill of winter leaves me craving burdock root tea. Perhaps it is the desire to retreat and burrow inward for the season. Or possibly we northern-types are programmed to eat hearty root vegetables to instill strength to get through another long, cold winter.

Arcticum lappa is burdock’s botanical name. Arcto is the Greek root word referring to the bear. It’s associated with some Native American traditions. Once again, hibernation comes to mind. Lappa means ‘to hold fast’ as anyone who is familiar with the burrs of this plant’s clever seed spreading method will attest. Burdock’s seed heads were in fact so brilliantly designed that Velcro was modeled after it. I have heard of utilizing its clinging qualities to enhance the memory. Makes things stick in your mind.

Burdock root has been popular with the macrobiotic community for many years, sold as ‘wild gobo’ in co-ops. Burdock is biennial, having a two-year life cycle. As an edible, it is much easier to harvest the stalk of the second year plant as it shoots up in hopes of sending offspring into the world. The stalk, cut off before it flowers and peeled, is similar to celery in texture while carrying many of the roots nutritional virtues.

A relative of the artichoke, burdock is its mineral packed grandfather. Its list of nutrients reads like a who’s who of the supplement world. Chromium, iron, silicon, thiamine, inulin (a precursor to insulin, also providing a sweet quality to the tea), cobalt, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, tin, aluminum, calcium, zinc, carotene (vitamin A), manganese, selenium, as well as a bit of protein, fiber and mucilage.

Burdock is considered an adaptogen which helps the body to function well under the stresses of everyday life. Burdock is also listed as an alterative, meaning it alters longstanding, chronic conditions. The roots itself burrows straight down, sometimes three feet deep, heading toward the core of the earth as it aims to heal the core of chronic conditions so seemingly deep rooted in the body.

The Herbal community used to classify burdock roots and seed (although I almost exclusively use the root both for ease in harvesting and taste) as a blood purifier. This is a bit antiquated conceptually as blood is purified thought the two main organ systems which filter and consequently clean the blood: the liver and kidneys. The liver alone has over 300 functions. Burdock tones and strengthens these hard working organs.

Oftentimes skin conditions are best addressed with liver remedies. The leaf of burdock has a large surface area, covered with little hairs, like human skin. Thus, according to the doctrine of signatures, burdock would be used to treat skin conditions. For many years, burdock has been used to treat hot, red, inflamed conditions of the skin. Leaf poultices were used to heal bedsores, herpetic eruptions, fever blisters, poison ivy, boils, burns, heat rashes and measles, although the tincture of burdock root would probably work just as well. Burdock has also been used to treat acne when the pimples manifest as “large, red and nasty,” without coming to a head, according to 7 Song, an herbalist in Ithaca, New York. I have also used it in a few cases of weeping eczema and psoriasis, although I prefer flower essences which work on the emotions as oftentimes these conditions are stress-activated.

Years ago, I worked with a client who had developed an unusual form of lupus, manifesting as open, concave depressions, filled with yellow pus on the skin. This developed within months of a car accident two years before, which bruised her liver area. In Chinese medicine, if there is an imbalance or stagnation in the liver, the emotion that is ‘ruled’ by that organ also goes out of balance. Irritability and anger are associated with liver imbalance. The client had come to see me because of extreme anger, impatience and depression which also developed after the car accident.

I expected to work with flower essences to help stabilize her emotionally, but threw in burdock root to address the skin. Her husband had counted fifty pustules the day of her first visit to see me. On her follow-up one month later, the client told me she now had only seven open pustules. I was surprised, but that was the beginning of my lessons that what conventional western medicine considers a forever condition is not forever. Once again, it is merely an imbalance in the body which plants can reteach the body to balance if the individual’s particular pattern is addressed.

Nettles: Minnesota’s Own Super Blue Green Algae

By Lise Wolff

With the deep freeze of winter descending upon us, I thought it might be appropriate to encourage you to infuse your life with the deep green of stinging nettles (Urtica dioica). Although its tender young leaves are often eaten as a spring tonic, it would make just as much sense as a winter tonic.

When I first started making medicinal tinctures, I tried to label my stock jars with the uses of every plant. My nettles were labeled “for everything!” As a young herbalist I was not yet able to distinguish where to use nettles, but I realized that whenever I wasn’t sure what to use, nettles usually helped the situation.

My first introduction to nettles was within the “wise woman” tradition of Susun Weed. Oriented toward preventative, gentle nourishing herbs, nettles were high on the list. High in calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, phosphorus, manganese, silica, iodine, silicon, sodium (the good kind), sulphur, chlorophyll, vitamin C, beta carotene and B-complex vitamins, nettles also have high levels of easily absorbable amino acids and are ten percent protein; higher than any other vegetable. A fellow herbalist in New York State sells his nettles as “Ithaca’s own super blue green algae.” Perhaps it is time to value the common weeds around us instead of reaching for endangered plants such as goldenseal, Echinacea, or ginseng.

Stinging nettles also has a high vitamin K content which is believed to help with preventing and/or controlling excess bleeding, probably for everyone, but it was emphasized in the wise woman tradition for pregnancy and delivery (although I favor shepherd’s purse if there is partum or postpartum hemorrhaging). Nettles are also used to stimulate lactation.

As I developed as an herbalist I tried to focus in on the more specific uses of each plant. I was not a book-oriented herbalist for the first several years. Instead I utilized the Doctrine of Signatures. This is the concept that plants look like, or act like, or grow within, a situation they would treat. I know it sounds a bit primitive, but that concept has allowed me to be very creative with the plants and discover uses that do not show up in books.

The first time I used stinging nettles by the Doctrine of Signatures my housemate had a rash on her hand, seemingly from nothing. It was red, puffy and irritated looking. She was tall, thin and pale. She believed she was suffering from hypothyroidism. Low energy. Cold extremeties. Not an uncommon thing these days. I tried all my typical anti-inflammatory, skin rashy, herb standards: burdock, calendula, Saint John’s wort, to no avail. Finally I thought to myself, “What would cause something like this?” Stinging nettles. Collecting them I develop a similar type of irritation. I applied a few drops of the tincture to her hand and gave her five drops under the tongue. Five minutes later she showed me that the rash and inflammation were gone. She then added that she had been trying to get warm all day, sticking her hands and feet directing in front of the heater, but five minutes later she was freezing again. Her hands and feet were now quite warm! I had never found that in the books. I good lesson for keeping warm in our Minnesota winters.

Stinging nettles seem to gently get the body’s motor purring again. Susun Weed tells the story of a woman who brought her irradiated thyroid back to normal function by drinking nettle tea over a period of several months. In South America stinging nettles are used to flagellate arthritis sufferers, dispersing the various deposits that are thought to cause arthritis. I have used this plant with success for edemic conditions as well. Taking nettles internally serves as an internal whip to stimulate your whole body’s cleansing process. Keep this in mind when your body needs to move mucous out of the lungs. It also treats swollen sore throats very well (the very condition you would provoke by eating some nettles raw).

I have been told of nettles clearing gingivitis (swollen and inflamed gums) as well as turning people’s hair black (a real trick if you are a blond), both as a rinse and taken internally. I have seen nettle tincture stop excessive hair loss and restore some degree of thickness. I have also used nettles successfully to heal burns and poison ivy. Although it is the wrong season, and it is only one of the many possibilities, freeze-dried nettles seems to be quite helpful for some allergy sufferers, hay fever as well as animal dander.

In my book stinging nettles is clearly an herb “for everything!”

Herbal First Aid

By Lise Wolff

Using plants for life’s common mishaps is easy. Not only are the plants fairly common, but within a small cluster of plants anyone can cover a tremendous range of real life situations. A naturopath, trying to point out that everything could not be covered with such a small kit, once said, “What would you use for drowning?” I would dial 911 and hope you would too. These remedies are for life’s bothersome, even painful incidents, but if the issue is life threatening, use good sense and get professional help.

So back to the herbal world. A basic remedy to have in the house (and car) is “rescue remedy.” It comes in a liquid dropper; a dose is two drops under the tongue 2-3 times a day. It is for shock and trauma. It calms people down and allows their body to relax so it can then heal itself. This is useful for any type of traumatic accident, bee stings, nightmares, and crying babies (or anyone else feeling emotionally traumatized). But use your imagination on this one. Anytime there is a sense of a crisis this remedy should be used.

Plantain (Plantago major) is a common weed that grows in every lawn and sidewalk. The root of this plant name, plan, refers to the sole of the food because it grows everywhere we walk and pound down the soil. Learn to identify this plant. Anyone who knows a bit about plants can show you. Even in Minnesota this plant is available fresh and free eight months of the year. Take a fresh leaf, wipe off the dirt and chew the leaf lightly and apply to the skin like a band-aide. Maybe even tape it on. Plantain seems to be the strongest available drawing agent in the plant world. Use it to suck out dirt, shards of glass, splinters, pus, or anything embedded in your skin that doesn’t belong there, including insect poisons from mosquitoes or bees. With splinters and glass the plantain pulls the substance far enough out that you can then remove it with tweezers. Plantain is also analgesic (it takes away pain), antibacterial, and stops itching, bleeding, and swelling. Consequently, plantain is best used for abrasions. This plant contains allantoin, which promotes new skin growth instantly, so if the wound involves stitches you may want to have the stitches removed more quickly, as the plantain will encourage the skin to cover the stitches.

Sometimes the wound is much deeper. Yarrow applied topically (leaf or tincture) stops gushing blood. Its scientific name Achillea millefolium refers to its use by Achilles during the Trojan War to staunch the bleeding of his solder’s wounds). Yarrow works extremely fast and thus should only be used on clean wounds. Otherwise, the dirt will be sealed inside and cause an infection. A nickname for yarrow was “nosebleed” because a leaf of yarrow stuck up the nose would cause a nosebleed. Hundreds of years ago it was believed that headaches were caused by too much blood congestion in the head and so herbalists too did a form of bloodletting. Herbs cause what they cure and cure what they cause. I have seen yarrow (tincture on a bit of tissue) stop very severe nosebleeds within ten seconds. Yarrow was also called “carpenter weed.” Once again the name speaks of who would need it. Not only do carpenters commonly cut themselves, they also bruise themselves frequently. Herbs have the ability to go either way and regulate the body. That is why yarrow is able to help blood both coagulate blood or break up the congealed blood of a bruise. It immediately kills the pain of an old bruise as it disperses the blood, but if yarrow is applied immediately to a fresh bruise it will immediately take away the pain as well and reverse the bruising process. Yarrow can also be used to stop internal hemorrhaging, including excessive menstrual fluid and blood in the urine or bowels (although once again, getting a medical opinion would not be a bad idea).

Furthermore, yarrow is also an excellent sunscreen (seems to be the highest SPF some of my very pale friends can find) and a very effective bug repellant (particularly mosquitoes). The U.S. military supposedly did studies and found yarrow to be more effective than deet. For these purposes I use yarrow in ointment form.

Saint John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) ointment is a basic healing agent all of my friends and family keep at home or on trips. It is antibacterial and anti-inflammatory, thus great for wounds of all sorts. The Anglo-Saxons brought yarrow and barrels of Saint John’s wort oil into war with them. It is also antiviral, thus useful for cold sores, genital herpes, and shingles. It is a great salve for unexplained rashes. It is also a decent sunscreen, as well as a very good burn remedy (stove, sun, etc.). Frostbite responds to this salve as well. It soothes and restores damaged and irritated nerve endings. Thus it is useful for sciatica, slipped disks, pinched nerves, teething pains, gum problems and earaches, as well as the opposite; numbness. Saint John’s wort is also a muscle relaxant, thus useful for still muscles as well as menstrual cramps. As an added bonus I have seen it fade “liver spots” and made skin tags fall off. Clearly an ointment to try on whatever ails you.

Arnica ointment is well known as a good basic remedy for musculo-skeletal problems such as muscle soreness as well as basic injuries such as strains and sprains. My basic philosophy as an herbalist is to use local plants and arnica comes from mountains. Consequently I am partial to False Solomon’s Seal (Smilacina racemosa), Horsetail (Equisetum spp) or Boneset (Eupatorium perforatum). All of these grow locally and are fabulous troubleshooters for crushed bone, muscle tears and much more. Not only did these herbs take away the pain, the injuries healed so quickly I have been told the attending doctors then reneged on their previous diagnoses despite x-rays that showed fractures and bone chips.

All of these herbs deserve a more thorough explanation of their healing properties, availability, preparation and application but space is limited. Please feel free to call with questions.

Lise wolf is a practicing herbalist with two offices in Minneapolis. She sees people for private consultations, sells herbs and teaches many classes. Call for more info at 612.819.9946 or emailing for more details.

Dandelions Spring Sunshine

By Lise Wolff

A few years ago, I read a question & answer column in a health magazine of sorts where a reader asked if the dandelions growing in her backyard were the dandelions sold in commerce. The famous author and M.D., Andrew Weil, seeker of health secrets throughout the world, told her to buy seeds from Europe for her garden, as they were “better.” Why is it that which is foreign and must be purchased is better?

Many times, our ancestors have sought to import medicinal plants from Europe at a high price, then finding it in their own country. They stopped using that plant as if it were no longer valuable. Very often, I feel this lover affair with the exotic pervades our society as apparent in the popularity of acupuncture and Chinese medicine, when many times the very remedy that someone needs often volunteers in their backyard. For that matter, many times people are not content with that which they have been gifted in their life either, but often look for and crave all they do not have naturally. A societal issue for sure.

But back to dandelions. Pioneers form Europe thought dandelions so valuable that they brought the seeds with them to North America and carefully tended them in their garden plots with the little water that the family had. Dandelion’s scientific name is Taraxacum officinalis, “the official remedy for disorders.” Quite a big title and deservedly so. The bitter quality of fresh dandelion, both leaf and root stimulates the proper functioning of the liver. Susan Weed says dandelion “affects the liver most profoundly, encouraging its juices, strengthening and nourishing . . . it tones the hepatic structure and removes stagnation.”

Many moons ago, our ancestors suffered from Spring fever. Today, we consider it a feverish impatience for spring, but it was actually a serious illness to our fore bearers. Winters were long and during that time, they survived on calorie-dense food such as jerky, fat, dried fruit pemmican (a glunk glob that combined these ingredients during the days of the voyageurs; think of that the next time you see those “health food” bars) and root vegetables. This thick, fatty diet was hard on the liver, which has over 500 functions. Consequently, the liver’s sluggish functioning after this winter diet would go haywire in many different ways including fevers. Dandelion became “the official remedy for all disorders” due to its reputation for clearing a myriad of imbalances.

The leaves were just as much the cure-all and are readily available in the spring so we will discuss them this time. The bountiful nutrients in dandelion leaves include carotene (vitamin A), ascorbic acid (vitamin C), potassium, calcium, iron, phosphorus and practically a B-complex pill (riboflavin, thiamine, niacin and choline). I find it amazing that plants often combine the mechanisms for our body to absorb nutrients properly. Ascorbic acid is necessary to make calcium in the green leafys available to us. Not only does the dandelion provide both but the bitter quality increases hydrochloric acid in the stomach which aids digestion and also helps us pull the calcium out of our food for our body’s use.

To prepare fresh dandelion leaves to eat, soak them in cold water overnight to leach out the bitter, milky latex. The leaves can then be eaten as a fresh salad green. In the 10th Century, it was classified as a type of wild endive. I prefer to mix it with other, more familiar and wild greens. It can be cooked like spinach. In the south, they are called cressy greens and cooked with bacon fat and vinegar. That milky sap, available in the leaves as well as the root, was used topically for all sorts of skin problems such as warts, corns, calluses, hard pimples, bee stings, old sores and blisters.

As a tea, the leaves were considered to act so powerfully on the kidneys as a diuretic that the French called it “Piss en lit;” piss in bed. On one occasion, I saw a teenager who was still bedwetting helped very much by using dandelion leaf, although it was not a complete cure. This would be an example of how herbs can cure what they cause.

Soon we will be blessed by dandelion’s yellow flowers. When it goes to seed, each dandelion produces multitudes of seeds and has 90% germination rate, which seems to be the bane of many people. Luckily, there is a wonderful use for this lovely flower. Dandelion flower oil is an excellent muscle relaxant. According to the Flower Essence Society in California, who actually markets “Dandelion Dynamo” oil, dandelion promotes deep relaxation and facilitates the release of emotions locked in the muscles.” This would be wonderful oil for people with fibromyalgia as they often do not express their hidden feelings and are always “fine” on the surface but pain is locked in their muscles.

Dandelion oil can be prepared first by picking the dandelion flower heads in full, lovely bloom after the dew has burned off. Let them wilt in a single layer for 24 hours. Pack them into a clean, dry, wide mouth jar, preferably up to the brim (air space will promote mold). Next, fill the jar to the brim with cold-pressed olive oil. Sweet almond, grapeseed, etc. could also be used; however, olive oil is more stable and less likely to go rancid. Press out all air bubbles. Cap the jar and let it sit in full sunlight for six weeks. Strain with cheesecloth and a funnel into a narrow mouth jar (for easy pouring), squeezing the dandelion flowers to extract the good stuff. This oil will last at least a year.

Since in spring the dandelion volunteers leaves and flowers for our benefit, I focused on uses for these parts of the plant. In the fall, we gather roots. I will discuss the many benefits of dandelion root in the next newsletter. Until then, may you feel the blessings of the dandelion.

Lise Wolff is a practicing herbalist with an office in Minneapolis. She teaches classes on medical preparation and many other herbal classes. Refer to the class section or call her office at 612.819.9946 or emailing for more details.

Catching Your Flow with Herbs

By Lise Wolff

Have you ever considered what a miracle your body is? Everyday it works with what it has been given, breaking down, building up, transporting, transforming, synthesizing, momentarily holding onto, expelling and otherwise utilizing what is moving through it at the moment. Of course, during all this cell activity there is waste material. People who are concerned with cleansing like to call these ‘toxins,’ but generally they are really not problematic as long as the body moves the waste along smoothly and synthesizes or disposes of it properly and efficiently before it has had time to become ‘toxic.’ As Susun Weed, one of my teachers years ago, pointed out, if you didn’t have toxins (waste) running through your body, you’d be dead. Point taken.

So what is the key to good health? Flow. There are many channels that flow through your body. Lymph fluid, urine, feces and blood are the most obvious. Meridians are the more subtle energetic channels. Even emotions need to flow. Any psychologist will tell you that depression is about being stuck and not moving through feelings.

The kidneys, liver and spleen filter and clean the various fluids. The skin, lungs, bowels, kidneys are your organs of elimination. All of these must be in balance to appropriately eliminate the byproducts of all of your body’s activity. Accumulation of debris results in gallstones, kidney stones, gout, plaque, blood clots, headaches, calcium deposits, tumors, fibroids, cysts, swollen glands, hardened stools, mucous and even water build-up (edema). Obvious symptoms of hidden and not so hidden chronic stagnations are pain and/or fatigue. Most people have some form of accumulation, but it is only when it impairs our quality of life that we notice.

As an herbalist, my job is to help choose the substance that will gently facilitate the body’s flow. As a practitioner, I respect and follow the body’s innate ability and desire to heal and bring itself back into balance. I usually get called to consult when the body has gotten stuck somewhere, causing some sort of chronic symptom. Symptoms are powerful clues as to where in the body there may be stagnation. Once I have found the appropriate remedy and the body’s flow has resumed, the symptoms usually disappear, the person feels better, and I then wean them off the remedy so that the body will maintain its own flow. Only when and if it gets stuck again do I intervene.

Let’s use the example of a common cold. A woman came to my office several years ago with very little indication of illness. Just a small, dry cough. Did I use Echinacea to suppress or goldenseal to kill whatever was trying to manifest? Absolutely not. I believe that although inconvenient, getting a cold once a year is beneficial to the immune system. The immune system is like a muscle. If you don’t exercise it occasionally, it atrophies. Only if it gets stuck in its process and becomes chronic do I intervene.

The client explained that normally her version of sickness involves getting bronchitis for two weeks. She was training for a triathlon and really wanted to avoid being flattened and set back. I explained to her that I would not stop her body’s process. The rule of thumb is that if something is suppressed, it usually comes back bigger and badder than if you had just allowed it to move though, and I would help it to move through its process faster.

That night, she went home and took three drops of the remedy. She fell into a deep sleep (a good sign that the body is ready to focus and work on healing itself), waking up three hours later with a sweaty fever of 101. Fevers are a natural way for the body to cook something it would like to get rid of. A few hours later she remembered that we were trying to push something through. She took three more drops and boom! Asleep. She woke up the next morning without a cough or fever or anything, and no bronchitis that winter.

I now recognize that three drops of a tincture is usually a pretty hard shove to the body. I try to keep the dosage down to one or two drops two times a day to be more gentle in stimulating flow without dramatics.

So how to encourage flow? Spring seems to encourage the desire to wake up and move. But of course flow should be encouraged year round for all the things we recognize as part of being healthy, such as steady energy, good digestion, sound sleep and a positive and focused mind. Eating a diet which is plentiful in organic fruit and vegetables, getting regular exercise and letting go, either in attitude or situation, of anything that stresses you out for too long a period of time, are fine ideas that I try to follow in my own life to maintain good health.

But of course, I am expected to make herbal suggestions. Dandelion is a traditional spring tonic said to ‘clean the blood’, as that was of concern in times past when winter diets were heavy in dried and fatty energy food, before produce was readily available in the winter, as it is now. Burdock root and yellow dock were also classified as blood cleansers. In truth, these herbs strengthen and tone the kidneys and liver, which filter and clean the blood. Red clover, also known as a blood cleanser, encourages the flow of lymph fluid. Some nice, all-around good-for-you teas that I drink occasionally are plantain, violet, nettles, oatstraw and alfalfa. All of these herbs are also very high in nutrients. The key to using herbs as beverages for good health is switching around the various herbs you drink. Herbs cause what they cure and cure what they cause. You do not want to bring on the symptoms of a particular medicinal by taking it everyday. Remember, if you feel drawn to drinking herb teas for general health or the pure joy of it, rotate, rotate, rotate!

Healers & Stewards

North Country Herbalist Guild creates community, teaches art of herbalism

By Patricia Cumbie
Co-op Consumer News, May-June 1999, Vol. V, No. 6

The poetic murmur of herbal terms greets the newcomer at recent North Country Herbalist Guild meeting in Minneapolis. Words like “lobelia,” “scullcap,” and remedies like “cayenne salve, bee tincture…” lose their mystery as people study texts and discuss them. One group gathers in the kitchen to give each other honey, clay and seaweed facials. Conversation in the assorted small groups is punctuated by laughter and sips of herbal tea.

The atmosphere cultivated by the Guild is informal, relaxed and fun, although the Guild itself has a serious educational mission. Guild membership has been growing steadily due to an increasing interest in herbalism and the group’s educational programs. That night more than 40 People gathered to meet and hear the featured speaker of the evening, Zhouling Ren, a local practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Filling a local need

Like a lot of great ideas, the genesis for starting an organization dedicated to herbal education was pulled out of thin air. Literally. The North Country Herbalist Guild’s founders, Peggy Brown and Janda Grove, discussed forming the group while on an airplane heading home from a natural foods expo in California. They’d been talking about how all the educational herbal seminars were always on the two coasts and about how the opportunities for people to learn in the Midwest were limited. They believed it was time herbalists in the Twin Cities got together to learn form each other.

“We put up a few posters and thought maybe three or four people would show up,” says Brown, who now lives in Duluth. “But 25 people came. We brainstormed ideas. I was amazed at how much energy and excitement that first meeting generated. I remember having to look for a bigger room for the next meeting.”

That was four years ago.

Now the group is incorporated as a nonprofit and has an active membership of more than 80 individuals. Guild members span a cross-section of people interested in learning more about cooking, growing, crafting and healing themselves and others with herbs. You do not have to be a member of the group to attend monthly meetings and lectures. And thanks to the efforts of the North Country Herbalist Guild, based here in the Twin Cities, the opportunities to learn more about herbalism are expanding exponentially.

For novice and expert

On the first Wednesday of every month, the Guild meets and hears a guest speaker, then breaks up into smaller groups to discuss or demonstrate special topics. The group also has been able to attract nationally-known speakers, including David Hoffman, Ryan Drum, and David Winston, and has put the Midwest on the map as a vibrant place to present seminars.

Judith Sims, an independent television producer and president of the Guild’s board of directors, stresses the accessible nature of the North Country Herbalist Guild as a place for everyone, novice to expert, to get more information. She got involved three years ago when she quit smoking and drinking coffee and thus began an herbal inquiry. “So I mad a chicory-burdock drink. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was practicing herbalism. This group has been a big reward for having quit smoking.”

Herbalist Opens Mother Nature’s Medicine Chest

By Noemi Herrera
St. Cloud Times

There’s still time for people to attend this weekend’s herbal medicine workshop today and learn about some naturally occurring remedies of nature.

The workshop, which resumes at 10 a.m. today, is being conducted by six-year herbalist Lise Wolff. She is teaching people to identify and collect plants that have medicinal value, and she is showing how to turn the plants into medicine.

Sharon Bergsgaard of Kirkston traveled to St. Cloud to take part in the workshop. This is the first time she has participated in an herbal medicine workshop, and she said it won’t be her last.

“I find it fascinating,” Bergsgaard said, sitting in the dirt along with three others collecting weeds to make into medicine.

Part of the workshop Saturday was spent exploring an uncultivated, open field for plants or weeds to make tinctures, alcoholic or water-alcoholic solutions of a medicinal substance.

Different tinctures can be made with different plants or weeds to treat or even cure ailments such as arthritis, diabetes, athlete’s foot, rashes, bug bites, multiple sclerosis, morning sickness and menstrual cramps.

Brenda Lodermeier also took part in the day’s workshop. She collected jewelweed, a common plant that can be made into a tincture to treat poison ivy, mosquito bites, corns and calluses.

She urges people to be open-minded and try herbal medicine.

“It’s not going to hurt you,” she said.

Bonnie LaBuda, a certified acupressurist in St. Cloud, said she has been using integrative medicine for eight years. She also recommends natural medicine to others.

“I believe God put it out here for a purpose,” she said. “Whether it’s a weed, plant or tree, all of it has a use.”

Workshop facilitator and herbalist Lise Wolff practice herbal medicine in Minneapolis.

Wolff also owns Herb ‘N Renewal, where people may purchase tinctures, salves, ointments, oils and other homemade medicines.

Anyone interested in herbal medicine or anyone who wants a consultation with Wolff should call (612) 823-8246.

Natural remedies may also be purchased at the Good Earth Food Co-op in St. Cloud, 2010 Eighth St. N.

Talking Herbs

Interview with Lise Wolff

Sprout, Seward Co-op, August/September 2005

Toni: How did you become an herbalist?
Lise: I was in New York studying to be a physical therapist and volunteering at a holistic learning center. I came from a pretty “sciencey” family, and for various reasons was convinced natural medicine didn’t work. So I decided to take a class on herbs because I believe that if you’re going to have a bias you need have an educated reason for it.

I started walking around New York City streets and discovering plants. These plants had thousands of years of history in medicine and their nutritional content was really high compared to typical foods. It was so interesting, and this was New York City, not like Minneapolis with all our green spaces. It changed my whole world.

I was listening to a book on tape that said “do what you breathe” (left to your own devices, what you do with your time) and it gave me goose bumps. As soon as I started working with plants I was constantly looking for them. Actually it was funny because in New York everyone looks straight ahead when they walk, and I was looking down at plants. I also found a lot of money! I thought that was a reasonably good omen.

Toni: How did you learn about herbalism?
Lise: Once I decided it might be right for me, I wasn’t sure how to get there. In Minnesota today, herbalists can practice legally without a license as long as they explain a client’s rights to them. At the time that didn’t exist so people were secretive about their practice and it was difficult to get educated to the point of practicing. I took a lot of classes and was able to apprentice with practicing herbalist Matthew Wood. I practiced with family and friends to find out what worked. Teaching came about because I was frustrated with not having peers and I wanted others to talk to about herbalism. I also just wanted people to know how useful plants are. Eventually my friends convinced my I needed to start charging for my services.

Toni: How would you describe your philosophy of herbalism?
Lise: Plants remind the body how to heal itself by promoting flow, releasing blockages…The type of herbalism I practice is from a tradition called Eclecticism. Eclectics integrated whatever worked based on empirical evidence. They were practical. I combine some concepts of traditional Chinese medicine, such as pulse testing and organ systems, with homeopathic principles and western anatomy and physiology. I also focus on local herbs. Plants grow where they are needed. I prescribed nettles for a woman with a rash. It turns out nettles were encroaching on her home just as her husband was approaching the need for kidney dialysis (nettles are a kidney tonic).

Toni: What trends do you see in the herbal world? Do you see the herbal community moving toward a kind of “pharmaceutical” herbalism (using plants like drugs)?
Lise: Yes. Our local herbal community may be an exception, but nationwide I think that herbs are being used in a way similar to pharmaceuticals. It’s like the germ theory. But why does a germ cause problems for one person and not another? A healthy body/immune system is the difference. I think about herbs as supporting the terrain of the body to facilitate flow and balance. I think it was Andrew Weil who said, “Plants are not drugs with green coats”.

Another difference from the “drug” approach is that when herbs are used correctly, they should clear the condition. You don’t need to keep taking them like you do medicines that mask symptoms. Learning from the plants themselves is another big difference. This supports a creative approach… a living herbalism. You get ideas and correspondences you can’t get from a book. It’s never static.

Toni: The public view of natural medicine has changed a lot recently – how has this affected the practice of herbalism?
Lise: In my practice, it’s more common now that clients come in for check-ups or for a cold, rather than just serious health conditions. At the same time, more people are going to M.D.s who practice botanical medicine (usually with very little training) due to trust or insurance concerns.

Toni: Speaking of trust, how do you recommend finding a good herbalist?
Lise: Referrals are great, and taking a class is a good way to get a feel out an herbalist. Also the American Herbalist Guild website lists practitioners.

Toni: Tell me about the guilds you belong to.
Lise: The North Country Herbalist Guild ( is the local one. It is open to anyone interested in herbs, not just herbalists. Their goal is to educate, create community and share information. The American Herbalists Guild sets strict standards nationally for practicing herbalists.

Toni: What do you think about individuals treating themselves?
Lise: It depends….herbs, like anything else, will cause side effects or imbalances when they’re not used appropriately. If you treat yourself, pay attention to how you feel when you take something- physically, mentally, emotionally. I tell my clients to check in with themselves regularly about this. After a week or two do you feel better, worse…or just different? If the herb creates a healing crisis, this may not be negative, but you may want to lower the dosage or the frequency, or you may need an herbalist to help interpret what’s happening. After an herb has worked through something, it will start to cause what it cures. If you’ve taken something for a month or two and you’re feeling pretty good, taper down and see if the effect holds. If it doesn’t, you can go back up. You should be able to stop it when your body has resumed normal function. If it’s a liquid extract, even thought the bottle says 30 drops or whatever, 1-3 drops under the tongue is sufficient.

Toni: Would you describe a typical consultation and a typical work day?

Lise: An initial consultation with a client is 2 hours. We talk about all aspects of their life and health – physical, emotional…and then I choose an herb based on that. I pulse test to make sure the choice is correct…by the way, because of this I have never in 10 years of practice had an interaction with pharmaceuticals. My job is like a detective- finding out what the imbalance is and then the right thing to help normalize it. When I’m not with clients I harvest and prepare herbs, teach classes, check homework, and return phone calls and emails. Multi-tasking!

Toni: Can you tell us one of your success stories?
Lise: I have had a lot of success with a plant called False Solomon’s Seal, which is a trouble shooter for the muscular-skeletal system. I met someone who found out I was an herbalist and started to tell me about his health problems. He had surgery on his knee three years before and still had to wear a brace. I brought him some False Solomon’s Seal. He called me back two weeks later and said “Well, I’ve wasted a lot more than $10 trying to fix this knee..”, and I’m thinking uh-oh, maybe he’s mad at me for wasting his money. He said “But this morning I walked 4 miles to my deer stand without my brace”. Since then he calls every few years to get bottles for friends and relatives. And this is not an unusual story with False Solomon’s Seal, which by the way is not sold commercially.