Tag Archive | herbal medicine

Cleavers: A Moistening Spring Lymph Remedy that Transforms Stuckness into Flow

Meet Cleavers on a Spring Day


It’s early May and I am relishing the sunshine on my face and back after such a long, long winter. The fields and  meadows are still largely dormant.  The skeletons of last year’s  sun-loving plants like Monarda and Hoary Vervain and Yarrow persist and we walk among them. The new growth is yet to shoot up.  The children are with me and a couple of dogs. We cross the creek and walk up the slope and begin to move across the hillside. We are headed towards the little woods. Pasture is below us and above us is a stand of Quaking Aspen marking the transition between between forest and pasture.  Behind the Quaking Aspen is the real forest, with the aged and majestic hardwood trees, ferns and moss, mushrooms and snails. That’s where the the native deep woods spring wildflowers grow, the Blue Cohosh indigo stem unfurling, the colonies of Wild Ginger, the Hepatica and Dutchmen’s Breeches and Anemone’s and all the other little white flowers  of various species strewn about.  This hillside we are headed to feels a bit less wild. There are cow paths instead of deer paths and the plants here do not mind humans or livestock tromping around. They are hardy and not fussy at all. The plants here are not rare or exotic, but they have a magic of their own. The perfume of Wild Plums and Apple trees fills the air. In a few weeks the petals will fall from the trees like snowflakes. The cow paths crisscross the hillside. The narrow paths cut through the Prickly Ash thickets making little tunnels that I have to duck beneath.  We are looking for Morels, although it is a bit early yet. We don’t want to head back, it’s too perfect here.  The Wild Strawberries are in bloom and I make a promise to myself to come back in a few weeks. Little purple Violets are everywhere.  We stop to gather Cleavers. I use it often as medicine and now is nearly the perfect time to harvest.  It will grow for a few more weeks, sprawling out over the earth where ever there is dappled or deep shade on the margins of deep woods.  It will bloom inconspicuously, fruit and then wither away.  By midsummer there will be little evidence that Cleavers grew here at all.

I show it to the children. We touch it. It’s so sticky. One of the most important identifying characteristic of Cleavers is that it is sticky. It’s sticky without being poky or picker-y and without leaving any sticky sap behind on your hands. That’s what Cleavers means–to cleave—an old-fashioned word that means to cling to.  Cleavers is a member of the Gallium genus, of which there are ten species in Minnesota. This stickiness will help to differentiate Cleavers from most of it’s other relatives.

Not Cleavers. This more compact Gallium grows in the same locales as Cleavers. Touch it.  It's not sticky.

Not Cleavers. This more compact Gallium grows in the same locales as Cleavers. Touch it. It’s not sticky.

Cleavers has another name: Lady’s Bedstraw.  When you see the word lady in a common name it usually refers to THE Lady, you know, The Virgin Mary,The Mother Mary.  Plants have traditionally  been woven into the fabric of  both the mundane and the divine in cultures around the world.  Plants play roles in origin and creation, stories, religious and spiritual stories and ritual and ceremony.  Christians of Europe would gave plants roles in the stories from the Bible. stories. You may have heard that Judas the Betrayer was hung from an Elder tree, or that Hawthorn branches were used for the crown of thorns worn by Christ when he was crucified. As the story goes, Cleavers, or Lady’s Bedstraw was used to line the manger into which baby Jesus was placed when he was born.

Some say that the deer like to bed down and have their fawns in the Cleavers.  I have heard that some Native people noticed this and use Cleavers as a tonic to promote a healthy pregnancy.

cleavers 2

Other ID Characteristics and Harvesting  and Medicine Making Considerations

Cleavers  is one of the early plants to emerge out from under winter in the Upper Midwest.  You will find it when the Violets are out and the Bloodroot and Marsh Marigold are blooming.  The Motherwort and Catnip, of course, will be lush and green and midshin high already when the Cleavers comes out.  Cleavers likes the shade.  It doesn’t persist through the season but dies back when it gets hot and dry.  So plan your forest forays to harvest Cleavers early or you may miss your opportunity.

It is a recumbent plant.  It has weak stems and a little wisp of a root system and it reclines across the ground and other nearby plants. The stem of Cleavers is square, but it is not a mint.  While all mints have a square stem, there are some non-mints with square stems as well. The leaves of Cleavers are arranged in a whorl.  A whorl looks just likes it sounds…around and around.  The leaves are arranged around the whole stem. They are not opposite from another, they are not alternate from one another, they are not basal (at the ground only) they are around the stem.

The flowers are white and they are so inconspicuous; blink and you’ll miss them.  The fruit is a dry, papery round thing that always sort of surprises me by being bigger than I would expect from such tiny little flowers.

The aerial parts of Cleavers are harvested for medicine and you can harvest it during any stage of growth including flowering, gone to seed, as long as it is green and vibrant looking. This is such a common plant in Minnesota,many consider it a weed, although it is a native plant.  One doesn’t have to be particularly concerned about the impact of your harvest on local plant populations.

You can make tincture out of Cleavers infused fresh in vodka or brandy.  You can also dry Cleavers for use as a tea.  Cleavers tastes exactly what you think an herb would taste like. It’s mild and “green” flavored, not particularly delicious like Linden Blossoms or Hawthorn, but not intense or strong flavored and is generally well tolerated by those who can’t abide strong, bitter or acrid flavors.

cleavers harvest

Cleavers is Superb Moistening  Medicine for the Lymph

Energetically, Cleavers is moistening and is used to treat people who are dry. In Traditional Western Herbalism and other holistic systems of medicine around the world, people are described according to the patterns they manifest. Sometimes this kind of thinking and categorizing is called energetics or it may be called constitutional medicine.  Dry people have trouble with their liquid economy, including, water, fats and oils. They may have trouble digesting or absorbing fats and oils and water may seem to flow through them instead of reaching and being retained in the places it needs to be in the body.  Dryness will show up as a dry tongue with a lack of saliva or in extreme cases a withered look to the tongue. Dry people may know they are dry and may feel dry. The skin may be dry and prone to skin problems like eczema, some types of acne or other rashes and conditions.  Nails and hair may be weak and brittle.  Aches and pains in the joints may be common and arthritis as people age.  Soft tissues needs to supple and flexible and joints needs to be bathed in the appropriate amount of fluid.  Nervousness and anxiety is sometimes present. This is the the thin, dry, nervous type that I sometimes talk about in my classes.  Not all nervines are alike and Cleavers is not likely the plant for ADHD in children, rage and anger, depression, confusion, spaciness or extreme panic attacks.  Dry nervousness and anxiety is like a mild, simmering type of worry, that’s just always there vibrating in the background. Vaginal dryness may be present and sometimes other hormonal issues, like trouble getting pregnant.  Dryness may manifest in the digestive tract causing dry constipation and many (although not all) dry folks are thin, because there is likely some malabsorption in the g.i. tract.  There may be a tendency for lymph nodes to become swollen and hard and tender more often than others experience.  Secondarily, there is often heat and inflammation present.  Fluids are cooling or soothing and without these, heat goes unchecked.

There are many moistening remedies that can be used to help dry people. Common moistening plants you can grow or wildcraft in the upper midwest include Cleavers, Burdock, Red Clover, Black Walnut, Borage, Chickweed, Violet, Solomon’s Seal, False Solomon’s Seal, Sarsaparilla, Spikenard, Mullein and many others.  Each one has a unique profile, with affinities to certain organs and certain conditions and has a set of indications that make it especially suited to an individual. Cleavers is a moistening  remedy with a specific affinities to the skin, urinary tract and genitals and the lymphatic system.

Cleavers is at the top of my list for childhood eczema.  Eczema is widespread among today’s children in a way that it certainly wasn’t when I was growing up.  Inflammatory conditions and atuo-immune conditions are on the rise and many people turn to plant medicine and other holistic choices to find  some relief and healing.  Eczema frequently occurs with other symptoms including allergies and asthma, comprising a trio of illnesses characterized by hypersensitivity and allergies called atopic disease.  In my practice, I find that many children with eczema also frequently have swollen lymph nodes and the tongue shows signs of lymphatic stagnation. Cleavers is one of the first herbs I reach for with these little people.   I frequently combine Cleavers with other moistening herbs that help the lymph, skin and liver function well especially Oregon Grape Root, Burdock, G0ldenrod and Red Clover.(See my Children’s Materia Medica for a few choice indications for this list of remedies).

The lymph system is important to our overall health and well-being.  It is removes waste from the waters of our body and is intimately bound up with our immune system.  The lymph nodes are particularly vulnerable to dryness. When the lymph is not functioning optimally people may have chronically swollen and tender glands, they may be prone to infection and illness and slow recovery and slow wound healing.  I consider Cleavers whenever a person tells me that they frequently have swollen glands, sore throat or tonsil or are frequently ill. A sluggish lymphatic system can contribute to a person feeling sluggish, slow, unmotivated or “stuck” in his or her life.  Skin issues, particularly eczema, but also some acne can be relieved by helping the lymph to function well and relieve stagnation in the nodes.

The breasts are full of lymphatic tissue and in Traditional Western Herbalism almost all breast conditions and symptoms are treated with lymphagogues. There are many lymph remedies used for the breasts including Poke, Calendula, Violet, Chickweed, Red Clover and, of course, Cleavers. The three most common breast issues that the herbalist encounters are mastitis while breastfeeding, Fibrocystic Breast Disease/premenstrual breast tenderness and breast cancer.   Cleavers can very safely be taken by the nursing mother who is prone to plugged ducts and mastitis.  By itself it is unlikely to be enough to relieve an acute case of mastitis, but it is a safe and gentle adjunct and can easily be added to a healing tea blend for prevention.

Fibrocystic Breast Disease is condition characterized by benign lumps, pain and tenderness. Some women experience mild cyclical breast changes like tenderness and bloating during the second half of the cycle. Other women can find sizable, palpable lumps periodically in their breasts.  Swelling may be present.  I had one client with a very severe case of cyclical breasts changes whose breast were so swollen premenstrually that she had to have bras in different cup sizes for different times of the month.  Treat the lymph with appropriate lymhagogues and in cases with lots of water retention consider adding some Queen Anne’s Lace.  My mentor Lise Wolff teaches that  Cleavers is specifically indicated for women with firm and fibrous breasts.  Most of us women know that breasts come in different textures, so to speak, regardless of size.  It’s actually pretty easy to observe at a glance. Some women have thin skin and soft, doughy type breasts and other women have firm, fibrous dense breasts.  Lise suggests that Cleavers works the best for the firm and dense breasted women and recommends Violet for the soft, smooshy type.  Vitamin E and Selenium rich foods or supplements may also be useful in FBD.  Although I am not one of those  who subscribes to the belief that caffeine is evil, in fact, I love my daily coffee, there does some to be a consensus that among those with cyclical breast lumps or tenderness that caffeine exacerbates this condition.

Many lymhagogue and alterative herbs have been traditionally used in the treatment of cancer and Cleavers is among these herbs. Other herbs that have been used in the treatment of breast cancer include Violet, Poke and Red Clover.  I do not recommend treating breast cancer solely with Cleavers and it’s lymphagogue companions, but it is certainly a well-indicated, safe and gentle, traditional herb that could be added into one’s diet and healing routine when dealing with a breast cancer diagnosis.

Cleavers for the Mind and Spirit

Although Cleavers is not famous as a nervine, I have found that it does have that effect on the right person.  I discovered this when I gave Cleavers to a woman with a dry tongue and signs of lymphatic stagnation who was also suffering from some worry and anxiety.  She came back and told me that Cleavers was her Rescue Remedy and that she used it whenever she felt anxious.  I now anticipate this reaction and have come to understand that you can treat worry and anxiety with moistening lymphagogues if that is at the root of the problem. We all intuitively understand that water is soothing.  Imagine for a moment a warm bath, a relaxing dip in the hot tub, sitting by a waterfall, think about how that makes you feel.  We also understand how other fluids like dietary fats and oils have a soothing effect. Think of comfort food and it’s soothing effect on your body and spirit, buttery toast or oatmeal, creamy, cool ice cream, tomatoes dressed in olive oil.  In the dry person the soothing and comforting effect of fluids is reduced.  In the dry person everything is raw, itchy, vulnerable, exposed, nothing is protected or coated. We can help bring a little soothing to the whole system by helping the person better use water, fats and oils.

Cleavers for the Kidneys, Urinary Tract and the Prostate

Cleavers also goes to work in the lower regions of the body.  Cleavers has soothing and diuretic effect in the urinary tract system.  It is a great herb to consider in formula for acute urinary tract infection. It’s overall safety makes it an excellent choice for use in pregnancy or with children.  There are so many fine local plants for use with UTI:  consider cornsilk and marshmallow for soothing and plants like Yarrow, Monarda, Juniper or Echinacea for getting rid of the microbes and plants like Nettle, Cleaver, Horsetail to help flush the tract and improve function overall.

Cleavers has also been used in cases of kidney stones. I do not have much experience in this area, but it makes sense to me.  Kidney stones are little dried up bits of minerals and salts stuck together and we know that Cleavers and plants like it help moisten and soften. Most people report that  passing kidney stones is quite painful and a relaxing plant with an affinity to the kidneys and urinary tract is certainly a good idea.

Cleavers is also known as a plant for the prostate and the urinary common symptoms that arise from prostate enlargement as men age, such as difficulty completely voiding, frequent and urgent urination, slow or dribbling stream of urine, frequent night waking.  There aren’t a lot of plants that are used for the prostate, so add this to your mental list.

Cleavers is a harbinger or spring in Minnesota.   Next spring you’ll want to make sure you will want to be sure to find a patch in your favorite wild or weedy shady area.  It is delicate and gentle, yet very powerful and has many practical applications.  It softens and moistens, mildly cools and  and transforms stuckness into flow, much like the spring itself.






2013 Holistic Health and Herbal Education Festival

8th Annual Holistic Health and Herbal Education Festival

Join us at a beautiful, plant filled farm in Minnesota’s Cannon Valley, just 45 minutes from the Twin Cities for a day of herbal and holistic health classes.

Sixteen  classes will be offered by a variety of accomplished practitioners from diverse traditions including  Western Herbalism, shamanic and energy healing, bodywork, TCM and more. There will be something for everyone from beginning to advanced students, including opportunities for hands-on medicine making and plant id.  Relax on the farm between classes and join us for herbal teas a delicious dessert buffet .Experienced medicine makers are welcome to wildcraft independently.

When:  Saturday, September 7th

Where: Cannon Falls Minnesota

Click for the complete printer-ready packet with schedule, course descriptions, instructor bios, directions and printable registration form.  herb day packet 2013

How to Register


M Cathcart

Macey Flood

Katherine Krumwiede

Erin Piorier

Laura Shaw

Cynthia Thomas

Melanie Timpano

Lise Wolff

Matthew Wood


Introduction to the Energetics of the Six Tissue States with Matthew Wood

In traditional, holistic, and natural medicine we do not treat diseases defined by molecular lesion, but patterns based on the simple stresses of nature (hot, cold, damp,dry, tense, relaxed), that through the organism out of homeostasis.  These are “Nature’s patterns of disease.”

Shamanism and Herbalism with Matthew Wood

“Native is alive” in body, life force, soul, and spirit, and we are citizens of Nature on all of these levels.  Herbalismpracticed from this perspective is curative, beautiful, safe,and effective.  It earns us the “medical license from the hand of Mother Nature.”

Thinking Clearly with Lise Wolff

This class covers common and obscure plant remedies that help focus thinking.  If you or someone you know has had short- or long-term issues with foggy headedness- organizing the details of life, procrastination, dull thinking, fatigue, an old head injury or plain old distractability–this class is for you.  Feel free to come full of questions and ideas.  This fun class will bring brightness and forward motion to your circle of solutions.

Insulin Resistance/Metabolic Syndrome: Addressing the Health Crisis of Our Time  with Cynthia Thomas

What do heart disease, cancer, PCOS, Alzhiemer’s, infertility and diabetes all have in common? The answer is “Insulin Resistance”. It is thought that up to 75% of the US population will develop insulin resistance. Understanding this disease pattern, along with a simple three pronged approach, can make a huge difference in our ability to help the people in our lives. Learn what to avoid and what to do with diet, lifestyle, supplements and herbs that can reset the course of people’s lives in a few short weeks.

The “P” in Pelvic Floor:  Bladder Basics and Pelvic Floor Rehab with M Cathcart

In this class you will learn to understand the relationship between the pelvic floor and the bladder (and other organs), assess urination, differentiate between types of incontinence and know what treatments they are likely to respond to, and discover what neurology has to do with it all. Typically your patients will respond to incontinence with a set ofbehaviors that are exactly the opposite of what they should be doing and typically they don’t seek other help, so you need to be able to advise them. Your pelvic pain patients are more likely to seek out help and are likely to be told that “it is all in their head.” Find out how to interpret
this comment. The information in this class provides a framework for keeping your bladders, and the bladders of your children, healthy. This isa myth-busting, ab-crunching, mucilagenous-lusting class! (Slippery elm will be discussed.)

Herbal Aphrodesiacs with Laura Shaw

Whether it’s due to age, illness, stress or distractions, many people feel their spark isn’t sparking like it should. Working with an expanded definition of libido, participants will experience a body-centered meditation, and learn how to use herbs and flower essences to enhance or to decrease libido.

Herbal Safety with Erin Piorier

Put on your rubber boots and wade into the murky waters of herbal safety, side effects, contraindications and herb drug interactions. You don’t need to be a chemistry major to become informed on this topic, just bring  a spirit of intellectual curiosity.  We will familiarize ourselves with the vocabulary and concepts surrounding the topic of herbal safety, explore the issues and limitations of clinical research and reporting of adverse events.  We’ll talk about some of the herbs that have been the focus of  safety controversies in recent years including St. John’s Wort, Comfrey, Licorice, Blue Cohosh and others.

Preparing for Winter the TCM Way with Katherine Krumwiede

Minnesota’s many lakes freeze over when the winter’s wind blows cold. How can one stay healthy and happy with the frigid weather, frenzied holiday season, and frequent stressors of everyday life? The TCM way! This class focuses on the unique perspective of Chinese medicine on preventive medicine.

Edible and Medicinal Plant Walk with Lise Wolff

Get the best herbal education ever!  Meet the plants themselves.  Come stroll and explore the history, healing powers, and abundance of local plants that surround you, often mistaken for simple weeds.

Blending Teas for Winter Health with Macey Flood

Nothing warms the soul like a pot of tea on a winter evening.  With a few common herbs you can create your own healthful and delicious winter teas.  You’ll be amazed what you already have in your own backyard.

Herbal Basics: Salves and Plant Identification Instructor with Melanie Timpano

Herbal Medicine is accessible to everyone!  Join us for a walk around the farm and learn to identify some of the many edible and medicinal plants that grow around us.  Then learn the simple techniques to turn fresh herbs into oils and ointments. Participants will make their own infused herbal oil.

$5 supply fee payable to instructor. 

Kitchen Cupboard Herbalism with Erin Piorier

There are an abundance of healing herbs available to everyone from fresh and dried herbs, spices and ingredients available at local co-ops and supermarkets.  In this fun and informative workshop we will explore the healing powers of many common and affordable herbs including Garlic, Ginger, Fennel, Anise, Sage, Thyme,  Rosemary, Cayenne and more. We will learn how to apply these herbs during acute health conditions like respiratory infections, ear aches, fevers, sinus infections and other conditions through a variety of preparations including infusions, oils, syrups, compresses and chest rubs. We will touch on the chronic health conditions that these kitchen herbs can also help alleviate and the rich folklore surrounding these useful herbs.

Lunch Hour Plant Walk with Macey Flood

If you’re hungry to meet the plants but don’t know where to start – start here!  Join herbalist Macey Flood on a plant identification walk.  Meet some of the wild all-stars of Minnesota and learn a few of their most important uses.  Though we will stop often for identification, we’ll try to cover some ground.

Plant Identification and Tincture Making Instructor with Melanie Timpano

This class will cover the gathering and preparation of herbal medicinals.  Ethical wildcrafting techniques will be emphasized as students prepare a tincture to take home for use in their own herbal repertoire.

$5.00 supply fee payable to the instructor.

Lactofermentation Primer: Kimchi with Melanie Timpano (kitchen)

You don’t need to be an expert in food science to make delicious and healthful fermented food products. In this class we’ll discuss the basic microbiology of fermentation, why and how your body benefits from fermented foods, and demonstrate how you can easily make your own at home.

Body Language with Laura Shaw

Our bodies have a language and are “talking” to us all the time. Symptoms are the body’s way of getting our attention, or reminding us that we forgot something. Using the a “four bodies” model you will learn how disease is created, and, more importantly, how to heal.

Improving Diagnostic Inquiry with M Cathcart

If a patient complains of shoulder pain, do you ask about gallbladder symptoms? If a woman comes to you with a uterine prolapse are you taking care of her knees as well? There are a number of lesser-known associations that can be important in offering holistic services. Join Melissa for an olio of discussions on diagnosis–unusual diagnostic connections, observations from my practice, basic chemistry & physiology–that will guide you toward asking the questions that are often missed. This session will weave together many topics with the thread of honing diagnostic inquiry.

Schedule of Events—Subject to Change

8:30-9 Welcome

9-10:30 Session One

1. Edible and Medicinal Plant Walk with Lise Wolff (outdoors)

2. Lactofermentation Primer: Kimchi with Melanie Timpano (kitchen)

3.  The “P” in Pelvic Floor:  Bladder Basics and Pelvic Floor Rehab with M. Cathcart

4. Herbal Safety with Erin Piorier

10:30-11  break

11-12:30 session two

1. Introduction to the Energetics of the Six Tissue States with Matthew Wood

2. Preparing for Winter the TCM Way with Katherine Krumwiede (Kitchen)

3. Body Language with Laura Shaw

4. Improving Diagnostic Inquiry with M Cathcart


12:30-2 Break


Lunch Hour Plant Walk with Macey Flood (outdoors)

Free wildcrafting time

Honey/Beeswax for sale

2-3:30  Session Three

1. Shamanism and Herbalism with Matthew Wood

2.Thinking Clearly with Lise Wolff

3. Kitchen Cupboard Herbalism with Erin Piorier (Kitchen)

4. Herbal Basics: Tinctures and Plant Identification with Melanie Timpano (outdoors)

3:30-4 Break

4-5:30 Session Four

1. Insulin Resistance/Metabolic Syndrome: Addressing the Health Crisis of Our Time with Cynthia Thomas

2. Blending Teas for Winter Health with Macey Flood (Kitchen)

3. Herbal Aphrodisiacs with Laura Shaw

4. Make it Topical: The Medicinal Ointment with Melanie Timpano (outdoors)

Registration Online or via the Mail

Click for the complete printer-ready packet with schedule, course descriptions, instructor bios, directions and printable registration form.  herb day packet 2013

Your Herbal Library: Favorites on Herbal Medicine for Women’s Health

I’m an herbal book junkie. Maybe you are too.  I love to buy the latest herbals published by my fellow practicing herbalists. I  equally love discovering old books that are real gems.

As part of my ongoing series on herbal medicine and the various organ systems of the body I’ve recently taught a series of three classes on herbs for women’s health.  I’ve revisited material that I compiled years ago and in the process have gotten reacquainted with my the section of my library dedicated to women’s health.  While there are many books on the topic of herbs and natural healing for women’s health, I wanted to share you with you some of the stand-outs, books that really shine for whatever reason. Perhaps they are exceptionally illustrated, richly detailed, full of the most current research or lovingly share traditional folk wisdom and accessible home remedies. Whatever each author below has tried to do, she’s done it well.  Happy reading!

Living the herbal life. A Must-Have for Beginners:

Herbal Healing for Women: Simple Home Remedies for Women of all Ages by Rosemary Gladstar.

gladstar book image

Who doesn’t love Rosemary  Gladstar? Her books have been the entree into Western Herbalism for a generation or two of Americans interested in herbal medicine.  Herbal Healing for Women is a great book.  Like most herbals written about women’s health it’s divided into sections that move chronologically through the lifecycle including puberty and adolescence, menstrual problems, fertility, pregnancy, postpartum and menopause.  Her love for plants shines through in the text. Rather than viewing herbs as medicines one buys and ingests, Rosemary’s books encourage the integration of herbs into everyday life as  foods, medicine, spiritual aids and part of the beauty regimen. There’s a strong DIY thrust to this book, with solid comprehensive information on making medicinal teas, oils, salves, ointments, pills, capsules, syrups, tinctures and liniments. This is the perfect reference for the beginning medicine maker.  Some of my favorite recipes either come from this book or are inspired by it including vaginal suppositories for infections, a great syrup for anemia, lozenges for heartburn in pregnancy.  Suggestions for various problems are not all herbal. Some suggestions are dietary, lifestyle and simple home remedies utilizing common natural items like oats, garlic, honey and yogurt.   This book has especially detailed sections on infections like yeast, trichomonas, bacterial vaginosis, urinary tract infections, herpes etc.   I don’t use the formulae for teas, but that is true for about every herbal I encounter.   That’s not really my herbal style.  I tend toward a more constitutional and energetic style of Traditional Western Herbalism and rely heavily on local herbs over herbs of commerce and tongue and pulse assessment in my consultations.

Awesome Plant Profiles:

The Complete Woman’s Herbal by Anne McIntyre.  Anne McIntyre, a British medical herbalist is a favorite of mine. Her complete woman’s herbal includes an introduction to herbalism and sections on puberty, menstruation, fertility, pregnancy, postpartum, infant care, breastfeeding, menoapause and the elder years, as well as shorter sections at the end on first aid, herb for beauty and household herbs.  Suggestions are herbal dietary as well as flower essences and essential oils. What makes this book stand out are the plant profiles.  Several of Anne McIntyre’s many books include stellar one page plant profiles each illustrated with a color photo or a quality line drawing.  I just love these profiles; rather than simply a list of uses, McIntyre helps the reader make sense of the plant’s energetics and chemistry and promotes a more complete understanding of why one would turn to a certain plant for disparate symptoms and conditions. ( I also highly recommend McIntyre’s Folk Remedies for Common Ailments, Flower Power, The Herbal for Mother and Child and Herbal Treatment of Chldren: Western and Ayurvedic Perspectives).

complete woman's herbal

Dig deeper into female physiology, the chemistry of herbs and evidence based practice:

Women, Hormones and the Menstrual Cycle: Herbal and Medical Solutions from Adolescence to Menopause by Ruth Trickey.

trickey book image

When I discovered this book by Australian midwife, naturopath and TCM practitioner, Ruth Trickey, I felt like I hit the jackpot.  This is the perfect book for diving deeper into women’s health for those who are already relatively knowledgeable about herbal medicine, female anatomy and physiology and the common reproductive and sexual health problems encountered by women.  In this book Ruth Trickey takes you further into the minutiae of  the female endocrine system. She discusses a wide variety of problems including polycystic ovarian syndrome, endometriosis, fibroids, cysts, acne, PMS, menopausal symptoms. She discusses in great detail the currently understood mechanisms of these disorders, presents the orthodox medical treatments in detail and outlines herbal and dietary protocols for healing and symptom alleviation. There’s a fantastic Materia Medical in the back section of the books where herbs are organized by their women’s health actions like uterine tonics, spasmolytics and herbs that influence the hypothalmic pituitary unit, among other actions. Each entry includes traditional uses, information about the phytochemistry and relevant scientific research that has been done.  She brings her TCM knowledge into the accounts as well in  a way that enriches the text even for those who don’t have professional level TCM knowledge.

I have a copy of the the first edition, published in 1998 (pictured above).  There have been two subsequent editions. The latest published in 2012 is a pricey $199 on amazon and is marketed as a textbook.

The only pregnancy herbal you need:

 The Natural Pregnancy Book: Herbs , Nutrition and other Holistic Choices by Aviva Jill Romm.

This is really the only herbal you need on the topic of herbs for pregnancy.  It’s much more than an herbal really.  It’s a comprehensive healthy pregnancy guide.  The Natural Pregnancy Book  contains a truly excellent ailments section, organized alphabetically, which includes all the usual discomforts like heartburn and hemorrhoids and morning sickness, but is much more comprehensive than other pregnancy herbals. It includes much more like Group B strep, ketones or sugar in the urine,  breech birth, herpes, hyperemesis….The rest of the book is excellent as well, including sections on emotional and physical  changes through the trimesters, a great diet/nutrition section which includes analysis of client’s diet diaries from the author’s practice. It’s also the only book I’ve seen that devotes a whole chapter to the last month of pregnancy.  The last month of pregnancy is not simply the end of the third trimester. It really is a special and unusual time, hormones are flowing, a woman may be increasingly uncomfortable, she is preparing for birth and breastfeeding, she  may be dealing with many signs and symptoms of warm up labor.  I love that Aviva Jill Romm devotes a whole chapter to this special month and I like it when my pregnant clients read this as they prepare for the end of their pregnancies.

romm book image

I also recommend Romm’s Naturally Healthy Babies and Children, Natural Health After Birth and Botanical Medicine for Women’s Health.

And more Aviva Jill Romm… A textbook worth every penny

Botanical Medicine for Women by Aviva Jill Romm 

romm image two

This is the latest addition to my women’s health library. I ogled this one for awhile on amazon.  At $60 it’s an investment book,  and I wondered if there would be anything new in it for me.  I finally bought it and it exceeded my expectations.   Many sections of this text are written by midwife-herbalist-medical doctor, Aviva Jill Romm, but the list of other contributors is impressive. It’s a who’s who in herbal medicine:  Margi Flint, Roy Upton, David Hoffman, Christopher Hobbs, Ruth Trickey, Jill Stansbury, Amanda McQuade Crawford, David Winston, Susun Weed and more. It’s a big book and nearly 700 pages.  I haven’t read it all yet, but have tackled the sections on hypothyroidism (yay! someone finally put a section on hypothyroidism into a herbal book about women’s health!) and the sections on fibroids, PCOS amenorrhea and endometriosis.  I’m impressed so far.  Like Women, Hormones and the Menstrual Cycle, current information about a disorder is presented, followed by a discussion of orthodox treatment and botanical treatments.  Case studies are included in the text, which I really appreciate.   Current research is included.  The author and contributors don’t shy away from the tough questions and dive into some of the most exciting controversies in herbal medicine, discussing efficacy and safety among other issues. Historical information is also thoughtfully included and I feel that it enriches the discussion.  This is dense, detailed information.  If you are new to women’s health or to herbal medicine start with one of the general herbals listed above.  If you are looking to go a little further with your reading, it’s worth it.

The Herbal Menopause Book:  Herbs, Nutrition and Other Natural Therapies by Amanda McQuade Crawford

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Both Herbal Healing for Women by Rosemary Gladstar and The Complete Woman’s Herbal by Anne McIntyre have a section on menopause.  However, many herbal enthusiasts and practitioners may want a book devoted to this important phase of the female lifecycle.  Amanda McQuade Crawford’s book fills that niche fairly nicely. She discusses female aging during the years leading up to menopause through the years beyond and includes sections on not only flooding, erratic cycles, mood, hot flashes, vaginal thinning and dryness  but also heart discease, arthritis and changes in the immune system. There’s a very good discussion of hormone replacement therapy.  Formulae have evocative poetic names like “Smooth Sailing,”  “In Mint Condition,” and “Many Splendored Thing.”  As I mentioned above, I don’t use these types of formulae and prefer to give each client a blend customized for her. I find the general information about the various conditions  and the herbal profiles in these types of books to be the most helpful and relevant parts.

Not herbals, but if you are interested in women’s health you should read them.

The Garden of Fertility by Katie Singer and Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler

fertility book image

Either of these books (or both) are great additions to the library of those interested in or working with women’s health issues. Both are practical guides to learning the Fertility Awareness Method (FAM) to either achieve or prevent pregnancy. FAM is a method of observing and charting signs of fertility including  basal body temperature, cervical mucus and cervical position/quality.   Both of these books offer much more than learning the method. What you learned about the female cycle in health class in high school was a gross oversimplification. These books will help you understand the beautiful, cyclical nature of the female body.  You’ll also learn what’s going on hormonally during youth, the fertile years, pregnancy and perimenopause.  The books also cover the  how and why this system can be disrupted including conditions of hypothyroidism , PCOS, and other factors like diet, weight and smoking. I learned so much reading these books.  Even if you don’t feel like taking the plunge into the world of natural birth control, a study of this topic will deepen your understanding of your own body and what you are going through each and every month.

fertility book 2

Feel free to share your favorite herbals for women’s health in the comments section.

Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides)

A small stand of Quaking Aspen in March (Cannon Falls, Minnesota)

A small stand of Quaking Aspen in March (Cannon Falls, Minnesota)

Populus tremuloides is the scientific name for a common tree with many names.  As a Midwestern girl, I grew up calling these trees Popples.  I remember my dad remarking on the way the leaves tremble in the breeze.  Indeed many of the common names denote this feature: Quaking Aspen or Trembling Aspen.  It is also called American Poplar. We’ll call it Quaking Aspen for the rest of our discussion.

Quaking Aspen is described in many field guides as the most widely distributed tree in Minnesota and in North America. You will see large stands of Quaking Aspen. Quaking Aspen is a clonal tree that reproduces by suckering.  That means that in a large group of Quaking Aspen each “tree” is the genetic twin of all the trees around it, each has emerged from a common rootstock.  Therefore the argument has been made that a stand of Quaking Aspen is really one single organism.  The world’s largest organism is a Quaking Aspen stand in Utah with 47,000 trunks, covering over 100 acres, (Tekiela, p. 51).

Quaking Aspen is a native tree and was here in great numbers before European colonization. Quaking Aspen is a fast-growing, relatively short lived tree, rarely will Quaking Aspen exceed 100 years which is common of the large pines, maples and oaks.  Quaking Aspen is shade intolerant; you will not find it in the deep forest but rather out in the open.  It fills in space.

Quaking Aspen is a member of the Willow Family.  It shares the same genus as the Cottonwood trees and all other Poplars and Aspens including Populus balsamifera (Balm of Gilead), a noteworthy herbal remedy.  The Willow family plants produce dangling, fuzzy flowers called Catkins.  Quaking Aspen produces catkins in early April to mid May.  It releases seeds from mid-May to early June.  The willow family plants share a similar chemical profile. The contain glycosides of populin, salicin and methyl salicylate.  They are analgesic, anti-inflammatory, astringent and diuretic. These chemicals are most concentrated in the inner bark, the part harvested in early spring, but are also present in the leaves.  Tannins are also present in the inner bark.

The nineteenth century doctors focused on Quaking Aspen as an excellent remedy for intermittent fever.  Intermittent fever most likely refers to malaria, which is characterized by fevers that come and go with periodicity.  Most of us are accustomed to thinking of malaria as a disease of hot countries in the third world, but malaria was common in the United States in the past. Other diseases may also feature an intermittent fever, such as tuberculosis, which was also more widespread over 100 years ago.  Long-lasting feverish illness that came and went was a part of the health landscape in a way that it is not for us.  Such fevers were exhausting to the sufferer and would cause weakness, fatigue, debility, loss of appetite and weight loss. Much space is devoted to remedies for intermittent fever in the medical literature.  Quaking Aspen is one such remedy. While we, Minnesota herbalists, are unlikely to treat Malaria or tuberculosis in our communities, you might consider Quaking Aspen as an influenza remedy. Influenza is also characterized by alternating fever and chills.

The nineteenth century doctors also noted that Quaking Aspen has a “decided affinity to the genito urinary tract,” (Felter and Lloyd). It has been used for swollen prostate and in women for vague conditions like uterine congestion.  It has both diuretic and astringent action and is therefore is used during urinary tract infections, a condition for which contemporary herbalists can also make use of Quaking Aspen .  Historically it was used for sexually transmitted diseases like gonorrhea, however, in contemporary life antibiotics are the best primary treatment for STIs.  The physiomedicalist, Dr. Cook sums up the action on the kidneys:

 “It acts gently on the kidneys, and is of service in chronic scantiness of urine and aching of the back; and it is highly commended in dropsy, but is there useful as a tonic, (if combined with stronger tonics,) and not because of its diuretic action, though it always gives tone to the kidneys.”

Quaking Aspen is useful for the stomach as well, for lack of appetite and lack of tone and overactivity in the digestive tract leading to chronic loose stools and diarrhea and poor general digestion. Matthew Wood writes that this kind of chronic loose stools comes from an overactive sympathetic nervous system causing increased bowel peristalsis. Wood also draws a connection between the stomach symptoms of the individual with excess sympathetic nervous system activity and their emotional and psychological state. He writes that these individuals “get a shaky feeling when nervous in the stomach.” And that they experience nervousness, fear and anxiety, (Wood, pp. 278-282).  For those who like the poetry of the doctrine of signatures this makes perfect sense; the leaves of the Quaking Aspen tremble markedly in the breeze. Perhaps Quaking Aspen can be used for other symptoms of shaking and trembling.

Dr. Bach made Quaking Aspen, called Aspen among flower essence practitioners, one of his original remedies.   In Bach’s own words “Vague unknown fears, for which there can be given no explanation, no reason. It is a terror that something awful is going to happen even though it is unclear what exactly. These vague inexplicable fears may haunt by night or day. Sufferers may often be afraid to tell their trouble to others.”  The Flower Essence Society writes that

“These people are inordinately sensitive to impulses and psychic currents around them, such as conflicts in the workplace, the psychic energy of a fellow rider on a bus, and of course, the fear of war, financial disaster, and other “what ifs.” They are often aware of developing conflict before others around them take notice.

Their fear, unfortunately, remains nameless. In the negative Aspen state, sufferers are overcome with fear without being able to say why they are fearful. It’s a “feeling” of dread and anxiety – as if something terrible is about to happen.

In extreme cases, the fear turns into full-blown anxiety attacks, complete with trembling, bouts of sweating, and fluttery feelings in the stomach. And still, they cannot say why.

Children in need of this Bach flower remedy often believe that the “monster under the bed” may bereal, and insist that their bedroom door remain open or that a light be left on all night.

Some Aspen people have a fearful fascination for magic and the occult. Many, even as adults, fear the dark.”

Contemporary uses focus on the presences of the salicin and populin as analgesics and anti-inflammatory agents, much like aspirin. David Hoffmann writes that “Quaking Aspen is a relevant anti-inflammatory for arthritis and rheumatism accompanied by pain and swelling. Its use in this indication is quite similar to that of willow and it is most effective when used as part of a broad therapeutic approach, not as the sole treatment. It is very effective for flare ups of rheumatoid arthritis,” (Hoffmann, p. 575).


Note the characteristic bark: smooth and white with lenticels, but the older parts of the trunk are darker and coarser, with
furrows and ridges.


“Bach Flower – Aspen (Populus Tremula).” Bach Flower Reference Guide. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Feb. 2012.

Cook, William H.  The Physiomedicalist Dispensatory. Cincinnati, OH:  1869. <http://www.henriettesherbal.com/eclectic/cook/index.html&gt;

Felter, Harvey Wickes and John Uri Lloyd.  King’s American Dispensatory. 1898.  <http://www.henriettesherbal.com/eclectic/kings/index.html&gt;

Ellingwood, Finley. The American Materia Medica  Therapeutics and Pharmacognosy. 1919. <http://www.henriettesherbal.com/eclectic/ellingwood/index.html&gt;

Elpel, Thomas J. Botany in a Day: Thomas J. Elpel’s Herbal Field Guide to Plant Families. Pony, MT: HOPS, 2000. Print.

Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts, 2003. Print
Smith, Welby R. Trees and Shrubs of Minnesota: The Complete Guide to Species Identification. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, 2008. Print.

Tekiela, Stan. Trees of Minnesota: Field Guide. Cambridge, MN: Adventure Publications, 2001. Print.

Wood, Matthew. The Earthwise Herbal: A Complete Guide to New World Medicinal Plants. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic, 2008. Print

Herbal Medicine Head to Toe–A Comprehensive Series on Herbs for the Systems of the Body

Join me this winter and spring 2013 for a series of classes on herbs for the various organ systems of the body. This will be a great series for those wishing to deepen their knowledge and practice of herbal medicine.  We will  explore some of the imbalances or disorders that may be encountered by the contemporary herbalist, learn a variety of remedies for different organ systems and learn to differentiate among them, using herbal energetics, tongue assessment and specific indications. The special emphasis of this series is on locally available, abundant plants.

Each class stands alone so that participants may pick and choose the classes that work for your schedule or most interest you.  A discounted rate is available for students wishing to register for the whole series.

Herbal Energetics–Making Sense of Patterns in the body.  Thursday, January 10th.

Holistic is not merely another word for natural. Traditional holistic medicine is concerned with the patterns  of health and disease manifested in individual bodies. These patterns are often called energetics and are described in various well-developed traditional medicine around the world.  In this workshop we will introduce (or review)the concepts of energetics. We will also discuss tongue assessment as a useful means to identify the patterns of health in an individual and the direction for treatment.  If you have ever wondered what it means to be hot, cold, damp or dry, this is the class for you.

Nervines–Herbs for Mind, Spirit and Psyche. Thursday, January 24th.

Herbal Medicine shines in the arena of mental health.  In this class we will explore the many locally available nervines to alleviate insomnia, anxiety, worry, panic attacks, obssessive thoughts, depression, tension related aches, pains, headaches and other symptoms.

Lymph/Immune  Thursday, February 7th.

The lymph system plays an important role in our immunity and overall health.  In the holistic tradition we also acknowledge that the lymph system plays a role in the health and appearance of our skin, the health of our breasts and our overall mood, emotional health and motivation level.  In this class we will address lymph symptoms and imbalances and the herbs that treat these important little glands.

Kidney/Urinary Tract Thursday, February 28th. 

We’ll start with urinary tract infections and then move onto more chronic problems like interstitial cystitis, gout, kidney stones, bedwetting, incontinence/prolapse and some high blood pressure related to kidney function.

Female Reproductive Part One: Hormones, Menstrual/Cyclical Concerns and Menopause  Thursday, March 7th

Our March class will cover the female endocrine system including common cyclical and menstrual complaints like PMS, cramps, bloating, and problems such as breast tenderness and pain, endometriosis and fibroids. We will also explore hormonal complaints related to aging and menopause such as night sweats, hot flashes, vaginal dryness, flooding and hypothyroidism.

Female Reproductive: Pregnancy, Postpartum and Breastfeeding   Thursday, April 4th.

In this class we focus on childbearing, including pregnancy tonics for a healthy pregnancy, safety concerns in pregnancy, herbs for specific pregnancy discomforts, herbs that may be useful in labor. Then we turn our attention to the postpartum period including postpartum depression,  blood building after birth, tissue healing, colic and fussy babies, breastfeeding concerns including low milk supply, sore or cracked nipples, thrush in mom and baby and more.

Skin Thursday April 18th. 

During the skin class we will cover eczema, acne, psoriasis, hives, boils and fungal skin infections among other concerns.

GI Tract including Liver and Gallbladder Thursday, May 2nd.

Many people suffer from digestive ailments. We will cover constipation, Irritable Bowel Disorder, acid reflux, gallstones, food allergies, gallbladder migraines, blood sugar control and more. We will also explore the idea of the liver as the Master Organ in traditional Western Herbalism and take a close look at many of the alteratives so relied upon in Western Herbalism.

Respiratory Thursday, May 16th

We will look at these sensitive organs, the lungs and also the sinuses, throat and ears.  Some time will be spent addressing acute concerns like  upper respiratory infections, flu, whooping cough, ear infections, strep throat  and more. We will also  look at ongoing issues like asthma and seasonal/environmental allergies.

Herbs for the Cardiovascular System, Thursday,  May 30th

During the cardiovascular segment we will discuss high blood pressure, varicose veins, hemorrhoids, cholesterol and lots and lots of Hawthorn!

The Logistics

All classes will take place from 6:30-9 pm.  All classes will take place in St. Paul.

No supplies are necessary.  Extensive handouts will be provided by email.


Classes may be taken individually or as whole series. Individual classes are $25 each.  A discounted rate of $200 is available for those registering for the whole series.  Contact me by email at epiorier@mninter.net to register. Indicate the class(es) you are interested in.  Pre-payment is required.  Payment accepted is by check (Erin Piorier, 851 Dayton Avenue, St. Paul MN 55104 )or via paypal; click on the pay now button below to take you to paypal.

One Class: $25

Full Series: $200

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Medicinal Trees and Shrubs: Intermediate/Advanced Herbal Medicine Series Begins February 2013

Registration for the 2013 Medicinal Tree and Shrubs is closed.  This class is full.  Please check back for the 2014 session.


**Deepen your relationship with our natural landscape** Increase plant identification skills** Enlarge your herbal pharmacy** In-depth information about our tree and shrub medicines**Hone your hands-on skills as an herbalist

This series consists of about 35 hours of workshop time spread out over seven  months time  from March to September.  Exact dates will be determined soon and announced on my website and my blog.

Sunday,  February 24th. 1-:530 St. Paul

Sunday, March  10th.   1-5:30 Cannon Falls

Sunday, May 19th1-5:30 Cannon Falls.

Sunday,  June 9th, 1-5:30 St. Paul

1 Wednesday in July 6-9 St. Paul Date to be determined.

Sunday, July 14th. 1-5:30. Cannon Falls

1 Wednesday in August 6-9. St. Paul Date to be determined.

1 Sunday in August 1-5:30 Date and location to be determined.

Sunday, September 29th.  1-5:30 St. Paul.

Some classes will take place in Cannon Falls (or other rural locations)and other classes will take place at locations around the Twin Cities.

  • In depth: Black Walnut, Cramp Bark, Elder(blossom and berry), Ginkgo, Hawthorn, Juniper, Linden, Oak, Prickly Ash, Quaking Aspen, Raspberry, Rose, Sumac,  Northern White Cedar and Wild Cherry.
  • Plant identification walks with a special emphasis on trees and shrubs, but encompassing whatever local flora we come upon, differentiating between plants in the same genus, plant families and relationships, understanding plant habitats and where you are likely to find what you are looking for. Some classes, particularly the May class and the July Sunday class will have opportunities to harvest herbaceous plants when available and time permits.
  • Identification during different seasons
  • Harvest of medicinal parts
  • Tincturing, oil and salve making(Black Walnut and White Cedar) and syrup making (Elderberry, Hawthorn and Rosehip syrup)
  • In-depth  Materia Medica
  • Opportunities to practice your clinical skills  such as case-taking, pulse and tongue assessments with clients or each other
  • No homework or projects outside of class: but two or three quizzes will be given.

Class is limited to eight participants.  $50 deposit to confirm your place.  $250 additional class fee that you may pay as you go. Online payment with credit card is also available via paypal.

Extensive handouts will be available online and students will provide their own medicine making supplies such as jars, alcohol, oil and honey.

This class is best suited for those who have a foundation in herbal medicine. Participants ideally can identify common medicinal plants/weeds such as Yellow Dock, Burdock, Chickweed, Motherwort , Mullein etc., are able to make a tincture or infused herbal oil,  are conversant with general herbal terms and actions (for example: diaphoretic, emmenagogue, astringents , tannins, mucilage and so on).

Email Erin at epiorier@mninter.net  if you have questions about if this class is right for you.  Registration is by email. Deposit is required to hold your spot.  Deposits by check may be mailed to Erin Piorier, 851 Dayton Avenue, St. Paul MN 55104.  Oruse the paypal button below to make a deposit online.

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Thuja occidentalis: Arborvitae or Northern White Cedar

Thuja occidentalis is an evergreen tree known in forestry circles as Northern White Cedar, in the gardening world it’s known as Arborvitae.  The Thuja genus is small, encompassing just five species worldwide.  However, there are over a hundred of Arborvitae cultivars all derived from Thuja occidentalis.  Thuja is not really a Cedar nor closely related to other Cedars; Thuja is a member of the Cypress family.

It’s a fairly common tree in the upper midwest.  You will find it in moist and rocky places. Walking through a stand of mature Northern White Cedars never fails to give me pause and stop for a moment to marvel and feel reverent.   It’s hard to put into words, but underneath the dark canopy, with the spicy conifer smell around you can feel the magic and mystery and majesty of these trees.  It feels to me like what I imagine walking through an ancient forest must feel like.

Northern White Cedars can live for a very long time. According to DNR tree expert, Welby Smith, the oldest tree in Minnesota is estimated to be a Northern White Cedar that is estimated to be 1,100 years old. (Smith, 2008)

Another famed Northern White Cedar in Minnesota is called the Witch Tree.  The Witch Tree is a distinctive Cedar found on the shores of Lake Superior and  described by French explorers in the early 1700s.  It was described as a mature tree at that time and it is still alive today.  The Witch Tree is found on tribal land and is a sacred tree to the local American Indian Population.  Thuja occidentalis is called Grandmother Cedar by the Ojibwe and are of spiritual importance as well as historically having a variety of uses.  Arborvitae means tree of life in Greek.  These names reveal to us that people from very different cultures have similarly recognized that this tree is exceptional.

Thuja occidentalis has distinctive thin, striped bark. The leaves are born in fanlike fronds or sprays.  If you look closely you will see that leaves are scaly, like Juniper.  Unlike Juniper the leaves are soft and not prickly.  Thuja occidentalis produces both male and female cones on the same branch. The male cones release pollen and the female cones release seeds.  You will likely not notice the make cones because they are only about 1.5mm in size. The female cones, however, are typically noticeable, like tiny pincecones  up to about 1.5 cm.

The characteristic bark of Northern White Cedar. Note the long, peely, vertical strips.

The characteristic bark of Northern White Cedar. Note the long, peely, vertical strips.

The leaves of Thuja occidentalis is delicious to deer and communities of these trees may be threatened by overly high deer populations in the upper midwest.

Because these trees are not native to Europe, most of our information on historical uses comes from Traditional Chinese Medicine, American Indian Herbalism and traditional herbalism in North America.

The strong fragrance in a plant like Thuja indicates the presence of essential and volatile oils. These fragrant oils provide medicinal action that affects the lungs and can be used during respiratory infection as an expectorant.   Volatile oil rich plants like Sage, Angelica, Anise Seed, Ginger, Anise Hyssop, Cinnamon and countless others all share this tendency to promote expectoration. Thuja  may also be used for croup, bronchitis and tonsillitis.

Like other volatile rich herbs, Thuja is also used for the urinary tract.  Specific indications from the late 19th century include “Enlarged prostate, with dribbling of urine in the aged; urine easily expelled upon coughing or slight muscular exertion; vesical, irritation and atony; enuresis of children” (Lloyd, 1898).

Thuja has been the subject of a variety of scientific studies, most attempting to determine Thuja’s effect on the immune system. Thuja has known ability to stimulate the immune system.  German studies have shown that Thuja “enhances the immune system by stimulating T-lymphocytes and increasing interleukin-2 production,” (Yance, 1999).   Herbalist, Donald Yance, who specializes in the treatment of cancer suggests that Thuja  “may allow for greater tolerance of chemotherapy and radiation therapy,” (Yance, 1999). Along with Echinacea and Baptisia, Thuja is one of three ingredients in the popular European remedy Esberitox.

Thuja has also been shown to be an active anti-viral.  This may explain its’ use for upper respiratory infections but it is also commonly used in contemporary herbal practice to treat warts, genital warts, HPV and cervical dysplasia (often caused by HPV). Thuja is used orally in small doses to treat these genital conditions but an infused oil of Thuja can also be applied directly to the affected area. This is probably one of the most interesting and significant contemporary uses for Thuja. There are many herbs for coughs and colds, many herbs for the urinary tract and a number of fine herbs for the immune system but viruses and growths affecting the genital tract—Thuja is singular in this respect.

Thuja is also used topically for other infections like Ringworm and thrush as well as other kinds of growths including common warts and polyps and skin cancers.  For polyps it may pair well with Goldenseal (Ellingwood, 1919). Writes Eclectic physician, Finley Ellingwood, “It exercises a peculiar influence over abnormal growths and tissue degeneration ,” (Ellingwood, 1919). Other eclectic physicians writes of its powers:

“A tincture of fresh leaves of thuja will, locally applied, according to my experience, remove warts from the face and hands, condylomata about the nates [buttocks], but will not destroy swiftly growing venereal warts. It will deaden fungous granulations, and utterly destroy them in some instances. But the best action of the drug is in overcoming the growing and spreading progress of epithelioma. I have seen it repress and overcome fungoid and ulcerous epitheliomata in an astonishingly happy manner (Lloyd, 1898).

Injections of herbal material were part of the 19th century Eclectic medical practice.  Thuja was a commonly injected agent.  The Eclectic literature includes a variety of protocols and case studies that involve injecting Thuja preparations into cancers, polyps, birthmarks (the sort of fast growing type that are currently surgically removed early in life), hemorrhoids, anal fissures and other growths, wounds or organs.  Historically, Thuja was also used for syphilitic skin affectations and chancre.  Today’s wise herbalist would counsel an individual with syphilis to go to the local clinic and get some antibiotics and then assist the client with immune system support, gut flora protection and symptom relief. The Eclectics also used Thuja for hydrocele , also injected.  Hydrocele is a fluid filled sac in the scrotum. How would you like some Thuja injected into your scrotum? Yikes.

Both homeopathic Thuja preparations and herbal preparations are used in small doses in children to counteract possible negative side effects of vaccination. (Janet Zand, 1994).

Thuja is believed to be a strong emmenagogue. It is generally accepted that it should not be taken early in pregnancy.  However, this same principle may make it helpful in overdue pregnancies.   Matthew Wood shares this recipe:  “ripened, brown cedar cones were the remedy of choice to induce healthy labor in American Indian communities. The recipe I have says to simmer the tea of the cones for at least an hour. Use in a bath or on a warm towel on the womb,” (Wood, 2009). The old physicians believed that Thuja’s danger in pregnancy was due to its’ potential to cause intense g.i. tract irritation, rather than any type of hormonal action.  Large doses are irritant to the g.i. tract and irritation; purging through the bowels can cause reflexive irritation of the uterus due to the proximity of these organs.  Small doses are likely not a problem.

Thuja occidentalis contains up to 1% thujone.  Thujone is found in a variety of plants including Wormwood and Mugwort, Sage Yarrow and other common medicinal plants. Thujone is chemically strong and has known toxic properties. Thujone has been studied extensively due to its’ presence in the liquor Absinthe, which was widely used in the 19th century and has recently become a beverage enjoyed by the hipster crowd.   Thujone can cause nervous system irritability, including sleeplessness and anxiety and thujone in high enough concentrations can cause convulsions.   Thuja is, therefore, a low dose herb, not to be used internally in large doses for longer periods of time. As a general rule, Thuja should not be used orally during pregnancy. David Hoffman suggests a dosage of 1 to 2 ml three times a day. (Hoffmann, 2003) Many of us are used to thinking in terms of drops or dropperfuls.   Not all droppers are created equally; some dispense larger drops and  viscosity of the liquid matters.  In general, however, 20 drops equals a milliliter. For many Minnesota herbalists, trained in microdosing strategies by Matthew Wood or Lise Wolff , this safe dose is actually huge by our standards.

Thuja tincture is made by collecting young, fresh twigs and leaves. These are easy to tell from the older branchlets; the leaves are bright, light green, as opposed to the deeper darker green of the older leaves.  These can be tinctured fresh in the alcohol of your choice. Thuja makes an exceptional  infused herbal oil. It has a wonderful pine-like aroma.  Thuja leaves are not particularly moist and therefore don’t require drying before infusing in the oil of your choice.


Ellingwood. (1919). The American Materia Medica.

Hoffmann, D. (2003). Medical Herbalism. Healing Arts Press.

Janet Zand, R. W. (1994). Smart Medicine for a Healthier Child. Garden City Park: Avery Publishing Group.

Lloyd, F. (1898). King’s American Dispensatory.

Smith, W. R. (2008). Trees and Shrubs of Minnesota. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Wood, M. (2009). The Earthwise Herbal A Complete Guide to New World Medicinal Plants. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books.

Yance, D. (1999). Herbal Medicine, Healing and Cancer. Keats Publishing.