Guest post by Chris Chisholm
This is the first in a series of five articles that Celebrate Plants in the Springtime, written by my good friend and naturalist Chris Chisholm (founder of Wolf Camp and Wolf College).
I was hurriedly descending the lowest slopes of Mt. Baker, the northernmost volcano in the continental U.S., through a giant old-growth forest, trying to reach the road before nightfall. My ride was waiting there, and I could see my friend in her car, just below me through a break in the trees. The trail continued at a gradual angle 1/4 mile sideways before switching-back to the parking area.
I was young, so even though going off-trail would create erosion, my young mind thought that cutting downslope was an acceptable choice since someone was waiting for me. Wrong. In the dim light, I scrambled over fallen trees and jumped down steep inclines, not taking care to avoid damage to the forest, nor to myself.
Instant Karma hit as I crossed over a little stream. My momentum was fast forward, but my leg fell into some kind of hole which had a broken root that caught my thigh. Direct hit, causing the worst charlie-horse I’d ever received, and that’s from a kid who grew up with 6 siblings, always playing outdoors. It took me a while to catch my breath, and about 10 minutes to move the remaining 100 feet down to my ride.
The pain increased as I sat in the car. By the time I returned to town an hour later, the pain was worse than any I had experienced in my life. Years later, after taking EMT training, I realized that I had suffered a hematoma, which can be a simple as a bruise, but can be as serious as constant internal bleeding.
As soon as I elevated my leg, the pain decreased a bit, from a “9″ on the scale of 1-10, to an 8, and after a few minutes, to a 6.5. But whenever I lowered my leg, the pain would increase to an 8 again. I couldn’t sleep that night, and the next day, the pain was a “5.5″ when my leg was elevated, but a “7.5″ when walking.
First Two Tenets of Herbal Medicine
At the time, I was trying never to use modern medicine, and instead, was endeavoring to learn about herbal replacements. Unfortunately, I didn’t even know the basics. For instance, I acted like there was a cure-all for everything. I had behaved like many of us in our teens and 20s behave, thinking that we can do anything however we want, partially because modern medicine mitigates our risks.
When I impetuously scrambled off-trail, I had broken the first tenet of holistic herbal medicine: prevention. Then I broke the second tenet: immediate and consistent treatment. Not only did I sit in the car with my leg lowered, but because I was avoiding modern medicine at the time (and testing my manhood, of course), I refused ibuprofen. Reduction of severe pain actually helps the body heal faster, but also, ibuprofen reduces swelling, exactly what I would have needed.
Fortunately, in Bellingham where I was living, there was (and is) an herbalist, Linda Quintana, who runs a store downtown on Railroad Avenue called Wonderland Teas & Spices. It took me a couple days to get my tough self over there, but one look at my swollen, bruised thigh, and Linda grabbed a bottle of Arnica Oil from the shelf and told me to apply it every couple hours.
The next day, my thigh was tender, but there was otherwise no pain. That bottle of Arnica Oil traveled with me for the next 10 years, although I forgot about it for a couple days the next time I was injured. By then, I had turned 30 and had “discovered” the wisdom of ibuprofen, but after a couple weeks enduring a sore, hyper-extended elbow from too much wheel-barrow work, I remembered the Arnica Oil, and within a week, my elbow was cured.
Sometime later, I returned to that place where I suffered the hematoma, and growing along the banks of that cascading stream, right where water sprayed off some rocks, grew a beautiful Arnica plant. There are a few different species in the genus Arnica, so I’m not sure which one Linda used in her oil, nor which one grew along that stream, but seeing it there was astonishing.
Third & Fourth Tenets of Herbal Medicine
The third tenet of herbal medicine is to harvest the highest quality of herbs, and process them in the best ways, in order to produce herbal remedies that actually work. For instance, have you ever tried Celestial Seasonings herbal teas, and then switched to Traditional Medicinals? The difference is astounding. Traditional Medicinals was co-founded by herbalist Rosemary Gladstar who offers a renown herbal medicine correspondence course that Linda Quintana originally recommended to me, and in which my wife Kim is now enrolled.
Linda, Rosemary, and the current proprietors of Traditional Medicinals know how to propagate, wildcraft, harvest, and process herbs so that their medicines are effective. So if you have tried herbal medicines that don’t work, look deeper. Do your research, test products, and discover what works for you. Order products straight from knowledgeable producers. The best mail-order source I know of is from Northwest wildcrafter, herb farmer, and permaculturist Michael Pilarski who runs Friends of the Trees.
The fourth tenet of herbal medicine is to learn the plants in your area, and to test them to see what works for you as an individual. In the Rocky Mountains, Northwestern States and Southwestern Provinces, we plant guides published by Lone Pine which are excellent for identifying plants based on family characteristics. If you live in one of those regions, your Lone Pine guide is indispensable.
For everyone else, the book Botany in a Day by Thomas J. Elpel is key to learning plants. As for herbal guides specifically, there are a variety of excellent resources. Some of my favorites include Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health by Rosemary Gladstar, the Medicinal Plants series covering the western U.S. by the herbalist Michael Moore, Healing Wise by Susun Weed, and the various Peterson field guide to wild edible and medicinal plants, among many other books.
Coming next week:
Treating Trauma, Cuts, Headache, Pains, Filth, Colds and Other Infections with Wild Herbs. Plants covered will include: Arnica, Willow, Yarrow, Fir Trees, Nettles, Red Alder and Oaks.
Chris Chisholm is founder of Wolf Camp and the Wolf College and author of the Wolf Journey Earth Skills Training Course which Joanna Powell Colbert studied as part of her research for the Gaian Tarot. Chris appears as a model in two Gaian Tarot cards, the Explorer of Air and the Five of Earth. (Chris, his wife Kim and their beloved Skye shown in the photo above.)
Chris is leading an Herbal First Aid workshop on Saturday, March 5th, 2011, from 10:00-4:00 at the Wolf College campus in Puyallup, WA. The workshop is listed on the Wolf College website or please contact Chris at 253-604-4681 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Chris is also leading several evening classes on Wild Edibles & Herbal Medicines throughout Washington and Oregon during the month of March which can be found by clicking on the Wolf College calendar.
More extensive upcoming Wolf College courses include:
June 19-24, 2011: The Naturalist Mentor – Outdoor Leadership Training
July 3-8, 2011: Wilderness Survival Training & Trek
July 17-22, 2011: Wildlife Trackers – Ecology & Zoology Training
July 31 – August 5, 2011: Wild Ethnobotany & Herbalism Training
August 14-19, 2011: Earth Skills Artisan – Traditional Technologies Training
August 28 – Sept 2, 2011: Permaculture Farm Camp