Thursday, March 3, 2011

Herbal Remedies In A Coastal Garden

An inventory of plant remedies in our coastal gardens at Beaver Creek shows over 90 species.  It is clear that we have a variety of plants with a wide range of medicinal properties.  When we began making gardens on our land, we decided to save indigenous and naturalized plant remedies, as well as cultivate other species that we have used for medicine when living in other places.  We set out to make gardens in which we could learn and show others about these special plants.  Plant remedies in the Niemi-Davis gardens include red Alder, Angelica, Bee-balm, Cleavers, paper Birch, wild Blackberry, evergreen Blackberry, himalayan Blackberry, Black-eyed susan, Bleeding-heart, Borage, Calendula, German Camomile, Cascara, broad-leafed Cattail, western red Cedar, Chive, red Clover, Comfrey, English Daisy, Ox-eye Daisy, Dandelion, Dill, red Elderberry, Elecampane, Evening primrose, False lily-of-the-valley, False solomon’s seal, bracken Fern, deer Fern, licorice Fern, maidenhair Fern, sword Fern, Feverfew, douglas Fir, Fireweed, Foxglove, Hawthorn, Hedge nettle, western Hemlock, Hops, Horehound, Horseradish, blue Huckleberry, evergreen Huckleberry, red Huckleberry, Juniper, Kinnikinnick, Lavender, Lemon balm, Miner’s lettuce, Peppermint, Spearmint, Monkshood, Mullein, stinging Nettle, Nasturtium, Ninebark, Oceanspray, Oregano, Oregon grape, Pacific wax myrtle, Johnny-jump-up, Pearly everlasting, shore Pine, broad leaf Plantain, narrow leaf Plantain, Queen Anne’s lace, Quince, red Raspberry, Rhubarb, wild Rose, Rosemary, Sage, Salal, Salmonberry, Self-heal, Sheep sorrel, Skunk cabbage, sitka Spruce, St. John’s wort, coast Strawberry, Thimbleberry, Thyme, Twinberry, Usnea, Valerian, Wintergreen, Witch hazel, Willow, Yarrow.
Why so many herbal plants?  To treat patients effectively, an herbalist really only needs a dozen species or so, with a range of properties for the diseases encountered.  Our interests go beyond remedies, as we enjoy the presence and company of medicinal herbs in their natural habitats, prior to harvesting, and have great respect for their contributions to health throughout human history.  We are concerned that species diversity of plant remedies is conserved and this is our small effort toward that conservation.  We carefully note what plant remedies will grow in coastal gardens and what conditions they prefer.  Studying these herbal remedies in the wild brings us knowledge of their properties and interactions with humans and other animals and plants.  
Sometimes there is confusion in the marketplace of ideas about when to use plant remedies for health.  The herbalist Michael Moore writes a summary to this question, in Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West.  Consult his books and website for additional information about plant remedies and their history and uses. 
“The proper use of herbs in most cases is for the subclinical stage of a disease, for a person in normal health, and they are not going to be of value if the imbalance progresses to a full overt disease response.  Conversely, most existing drugs, with toxicity at therapeutic levels, work poorly for subclinical problems that have not “ripened” yet; the side effects are greater than the benefits.  If you figure on getting better, use herbs to help; if you think you are really getting sick, it doesn’t help to take a lot more of the same herbs until they make you sick as well.  The therapeutic window for herbs will always be below their adverse effects.  Excessive quantities of an herb sufficient to cause a toxic reaction simply compromise basic health without supplying the synthetic defenses offered by proper drug therapies.
Put it this way: most herbs are used to strengthen the innate defenses, and attempt to stimulate natural healing; if they make you sick, this weakens you, and it is harder to get well on your own.  If you get really sick, and can no longer be expected to recover unaided, or without organ damage, drugs can intervene and turn the decline around.  They may sicken you, but you are not relying on your defenses at that point; your sickness is draining you, and the drug shield is far more positive than its side effects are negative.  When you turn the corner, then you will heal by yourself.”
Using herbal remedies is not simply a matter of going into the store and buying a bottle of pills off the shelf.  To use herbal remedies, you must know the plants, their properties, their preparations, how they work in your body, and what the purities of commercial sources are.  You can study these topics to gain confidence or go to a competent herbalist for information.  Stop to consider that herbal remedies sold in stores are often not what they claim to be.  Wholesale harvesting of plant remedies, either from wild or cultivated sources, should document the ability to conserve these plant species and their habitats.  Loss of species diversity in the future will probably impair our ability to discover new medicines and their actions on human health.  We have depended on plants for medicine since the beginning of human history.  Gardens can contribute towards conservation and help to demonstrate relationships between plant remedies and humans.  Given the increased interest in plant remedies, it is important to understand their role in subclinical medicine and their interface with clinical medical practices.  
Posted by michael   


Emma Springfield said...

I am a great believer in herbal remedies. I do wish there were a few more sites that devote themselves to this topic. Given the costs of medical care, it certainly would help people's pocketbooks.

Danielle said...

My mom is very interested in your property and when I went with her to see the place for the first time one of the many things that struck me was all the wonderful medicinal plants. I have been looking for a number of the species I spied on your land in mature form for use at my birth this summer. I hope the stars align and she can buy that beautiful place and in turn I can harvest my own herbs instead of buying from an unknown source.