Pennyroyal: Sekhmet’s Gift

Pennyroyal: facts and folklore

Pennyroyal, Mentha Pulegium, has a killer reputation. In relatively recent times, several women have died using pennyroyal to end unwanted pregnancies. One was a 23 year old English woman in 1897, who drank a tablespoon of pennyroyal essential oil to bring on menstruation and died four days later of multiple organ failure. In 1912, a 16 year-old girl from Maryland died after consuming 36 pennyroyal pills to induce abortion. In November of 1978, there were two cases of pennyroyal poisoning within four days at Denver General Hospital. The first was an 18 year-old woman, who drank an ounce of pennyroyal essential oil and died seven days later, not pregnant. In the second Denver case, a young woman took 10ml of pennyroyal essential oil (a little less than a tablespoon) and was discharged after two days, still pregnant. In 1994 a 24-year-old woman, died in California after drinking pennyroyal tea. At the time of her death, she unknowingly had an ectopic pregnancy and the autopsy was unable to confirm whether her death was as the result of the ectopic pregnancy or from pennyroyal poisoning.

How did these women find out about pennyroyal’s reputation as means of inducing a miscarriage? Is this ancient wisdom enshrined in phylogenetic memory? Or does pennyroyal have other abilities, perhaps involved in ‘switching on’ (or off maybe) certain memory files?

Most of the internet references to pennyroyal’s effectiveness as an abortifacient or emmanegogue come from the same sources. This is from Wikipedia and you’ll find it repeated word-for-word on multiple sites:

“Documented use of pennyroyal dates back to ancient GreekRoman, and Medieval cultures. Its name – although of uncertain etymology – is associated with Latin pulex (flea), alluding to the manner it was used to drive away fleas when smeared on the body.[5] Pennyroyal was commonly incorporated as a cooking herb by the Greeks and Romans. A large number of the recipes in the Roman cookbook of Apicius called for the use of pennyroyal, often along with such herbs as lovageoregano and coriander. Although it was commonly used for cooking also in the Middle Ages, it gradually fell out of use as a culinary herb and is seldom used as such today.[6]

 

Records from Greek and Roman physicians and scholars contain information pertaining to pennyroyal’s medicinal properties, as well as recipes used to prepared it. Pliny the Elder, in his encyclopedia Naturalis Historia (Natural History), described the plant as an emmenagogue, and that it also expelled a dead fetus.[7] Galen only listed pennyroyal as an emmenagogue, as did Oribasius. Roman and Greek writers Quintus Serenus Sammonicus and Aspasia however both agreed that pennyroyal, when served in tepid water, was an effective abortive method.[7] A medical text on gynecologyattributed to Cleopatra (though it was never written by her but by a female Greek physician Metrodora) recommends the use of pennyroyal with wine to induce abortions.[7]

 

In regard to its contraceptive properties, it was referred to in a joking manner in Aristophanes‘ play Peace (421 BCE). The god Hermes provides the male character Trygaios a female companion; when Trygaios asks if there would be a problem if she became pregnant, Hermes responds, “Not if you add a dose of pennyroyal.”[5]In a similar manner, in Aristophanes’ comedy Lysistrata, after a pregnant female character on stage is told to withhold her body sexually from her husband, a slender female character, in comparison to the pregnant woman, is described as “a very lovely land. Well croppy, and trimmed and spruced with pennyroyal.”

Pliny the Elder also stated that consuming powdered sow’s dung relieved labour pains. Not everything written in ancient times is true, or workable today. I haven’t found any evidence to support the notion that pennyroyal works as a contraceptive, but it should not be used in pregnancy as it does increase the risk of miscarriage. Many herbalists will confirm that it is reliable for period pain and related issues.

There are some reports that pennyroyal was an ingredient in kykeon, the psychoactive potion given to the initiates in the Eleusinian mysteries. It is still burned in South America as a ritual offering to Pachamama and is said to have magical powers of protection, or to bring prosperity.

According to Hildegard von Bingen, in her work Physica, written between 1150 and 1158:

“He who has pains in the brain so that he is ill should add pennyroyal to wine and boil it, and he should lay it on his head while still warm, and he should tie a cloth over this, so that the brain is warm and suppresses the madness in him.”

The little clumps of pennyroyal growing around here grab you by the nose as you walk by and spike your mind, triggering memories which might not even be your own. You can’t come close to getting a feel for how she works through scientific explanations, but I find that this excerpt from  In The Country of the Pointed Firs, by Sarah Orne Jewett, (1910) leads you in the right direction:

“When the family pictures were wrapped again in a big handkerchief, we set forward in a narrow footpath and made our way to a lonely place that faced northward, where there was more pasturage and fewer bushes, and we went down to the edge of short grass above some rocky cliffs where the deep sea broke with a great noise, though the wind was down and the water looked quiet a little way from shore. Among the grass grew such pennyroyal as the rest of the world could not provide. There was a fine fragrance in the air as we gathered it sprig by sprig and stepped along carefully, and Mrs. Todd pressed her aromatic nosegay between her hands and offered it to me again and again.

 

“There ‘s nothin’ like it,” she said; “oh no, there ‘s no such pennyr’yal as this in the State of Maine. It’s the right pattern of the plant, and all the rest I ever see is but an imitation. Don’t it do you good?” And I answered with enthusiasm.

“There, dear, I never showed nobody else but mother where to find this place; ‘t is kind of sainted to me. Nathan, my husband, an’ I used to love this place when we was courtin’, and”—she hesitated, and then spoke softly—”when he was lost, ‘t was just off shore tryin’ to get in by the short channel out there between Squaw Islands, right in sight o’ this headland where we ‘d set an’ made our plans all summer long.”

I had never heard her speak of her husband before, but I felt that we were friends now since she had brought me to this place.

 

“‘T was but a dream with us,” Mrs. Todd said. “I knew it when he was gone. I knew it”—and she whispered as if she were at confession—”I knew it afore he started to go to sea. My heart was gone out o’ my keepin’ before I ever saw Nathan; but he loved me well, and he made me real happy, and he died before he ever knew what he ‘d had to know if we ‘d lived long together. ‘T is very strange about love. No, Nathan never found out, but my heart was troubled when I knew him first. There ‘s more women likes to be loved than there is of those that loves. I spent some happy hours right here. I always liked Nathan, and he never knew. But this pennyr’yal always reminded me, as I ‘d sit and gather it and hear him talkin’—it always would remind me of—the other one.”

Pennyroyal, like beads on a string

Pennyroyal the healer

I’d been getting to know pennyroyal for a year or so, when some friends asked if I could help their cat. I’m not a trained herbalist, nor any kind of medical or veterinary professional, but when a friend asks for help I’ll do the best I can. Mostly, it has worked out well for all concerned, there is always a risk. The cat had a weak immune system, was probably in the early stages of kidney disease and had acute scabies that wasn’t responding to treatment. After careful research and discussing the risks and options, I gave the owners some of my own pennyroyal herbal oil for the scabies, as it is the fastest way of killing the mites, through contact with the active ingredient in the plant and through suffocation through the oil. A few days after the treatment, they reported back that the cat was much improved and was hunting again. I don’t know what happened in the interim but, a couple of months later, tragedy struck and the cat died unexpectedly of kidney failure.

Nothing was said at the time, but I did consider the possibility that I’d made a fatal error and I went back to research everything I could find on pennyroyal for cats. The consensus is pretty clear, pennyroyal ESSENTIAL OIL is highly toxic for cats and should never be given to them, but there’s no information about the herbal oil. I couldn’t find any instances of a cat ever having been poisoned by pennyroyal essential oil either, but then, how would you know? Most often, you find information ‘copied and pasted’ from one site to another, without it ever having been verified by a single one of them.

The effectiveness of all plants and herbs will vary according to the strain, where they grew, what time of the day or the month they were harvested and how they were stored and prepared. Therein lies the appeal of the standardised approach of systemised medicine and pharmaceuticals but, of course, life stubbornly refuses to comply. Every creature has their unique experience and circumstances and they will respond better to some plants rather than others and the decision as to what to use, what dose, how and when, can only be made on an individual case by case basis. The terrible truth, that every healer knows, is that, not only will you make mistakes, but you can also do everything correctly and still not get the desired outcome – fate is always waiting in the shadows and there are always those that you cannot work with. When the choice is between third party information or my own instincts, I have to follow my guidance and face the consequences.

That said, there is a HUGE difference between pennyroyal essential oil and pennyroyal herbal oil. I make herbal oil, or sun oil, is made by steeping the leaves and flowers of the plant in olive oil and leaving it in the sun for several weeks, so that the plant oils leech into the olive oil. I then discard the plant material and use the infused oil topically. Herbal oil is generally considered to be safe as it is nowhere near as concentrated as the essential oil. Essential oil, the kind you buy in small bottles, is made through an industrial process by pressure steaming the plant material and cooling the vapour so that the essence of the plant in the form of its oil separates from the water. (The water is sometimes sold as a floral water or hydrosol.) Essential oil can be hundreds or even thousands of times more potent than the plant in its natural form and the smaller molecules are more easily absorbed by the skin. The real danger to humans and other animals is from consuming pennyroyal essential oil, a standard 12ml bottle could be fatal. You would have to be pretty desperate to drink a bottle of essential oil. This can be an issue for animals, who will lick and groom themselves and I’d never use any essential oil on a cat. I wouldn’t use pennyroyal essential oil for any reason, but then the plant grows wild here.

Ancient alchemists are also said to gave used steam distillation as one method of releasing the essence of the plant – the plant spirit.  However, what we are able to glean from surviving alchemical texts is a mere shadow of what would have been known before the intervention of Christianity.  And today, the principles of alchemy can only be considered and tested in a very different time and context.  I look at the alchemical images and I see that the oft depicted flask is the human body and the principles of mercury and sulphur are the yin and yang or the ida and pingala, the quintessence is intention.  This perspective has crystallized as I’ve used pennyroyal, whose spirit is activated by human intention – to kill or to heal.

Pennyroyal herbal oil has become one of our regular home remedies for ourselves and the dogs. We use it by rubbing a little over the solar plexus area or lower abdomen and it has an immediate calming effect with an accompanying feeling of relaxed self-confidence. It helps Freya get through her frantic moments and seems to make it easy for Tulku and Izzy to give her the space to do that without reacting to her shenanigans. Freya, as a spayed, vaccinated dobermann with a docked tail (she’s a rescue dog), has the occasional urinary incontinence issues and pennyroyal herbal oil rubbed on her lower abdomen helps her with that too. It works instantly. I find it gives me mental clarityand a more balanced perspective on events and experiences. Often just sniffing it is sufficient, as the olfactory bulb is part of the central nervous system. We also drink the leaves as a digestive tea, which has a light, refreshing flavour, similar to mint, but more floral.

Prior to industrial processing, pennyroyal was considered an essential healing herb to have at home:

“This plant, which the God of nature has scattered over almost every part of this country, is one of the most valuable of the Thomsonian Materia Medica. Its qualities are a strong and hardy aromatic but pleasant smell, a warm and pungent taste. The medical principle resides in an essential oil, possessing the same smell and taste of the herb. Its medical properties are carminative, (having power to remove wind from the stomach and bowels,) stimulant, (possessing the property of exciting increased action in the system,) diaphoretic, (promoting moderate perspiration. ) It also relieves spasms, hysterics, promotes expectoration in consumptive coughs, and is a good medicine in the whooping cough. It is good also to take away marks and bruises in the face, being bruised in vinegar, and applied in fomentations.

 

A tea of this plant is perhaps the best drink that can be given, together with the composition powder, Cayenne, etc., to warm the stomach, and assist an emetic in its operations. The tea should be made and given warm, freely and frequently. A person upon taking a “bad cold,” (by the way, he never has a good one,) by taking freely of this tea may throw it off, and of course prevent fever, it being caused by cold. This is a popular remedy all over the country for female complaints; but still few persons are aware of its extensive medicinal properties.

The best time for gathering this herb is about the month of August. It should be tied up in bundles, and hung in a warm, dry, and shady place until dry; then wrapped in paper, as the best means of excluding the air, by which, if exposed, it will lose a large part of its strength and virtue. This plant, simple as it is, will do more in the curing of the sick than all the poisonous preparations invented since the age of Paracelsus; bleeding and blistering into the bargain. No family should let the season for gathering it pass without securing a good supply.”

 

A Guide to Health, Benjamin Colby, 1846

 

One of my ‘go to’ references for plant remedies is, The Energetics of Western Herbs: A Materia Medica Integrating Western and Chinese Herbal Therapeutics by Peter Holmes. Traditional Chinese Medicine and alchemy spring from the same root and are mostly concerned with the transformative effects of the movement of qi, through the cosmos, the earth and the body. You can’t perceive qi with your ordinary senses, but it leaves its footprint in the imagination – TCM practitioners are trained to ‘feel’ the movement of qi in the pulse for diagnostic purposes. In the broadest sense, imagination itself could be said to be the product of qi, which is the driver of what is called the placebo effect – your innate ability to heal yourself. Western medicine focuses on biological mechanics (the shen of TCM), with barely a nod to the psyche and no recognition at all of any interactions with the natural and supernatural worlds. But it has provided a great deal of validated scientific information regarding the cellular activity of plants and other organisms. If alchemical regeneration is to be found anywhere, it will be in the sweet-spot where these two approaches converge. I work with the wild plants around here, not just for their therapeutic effects, but because of how they work on my imagination. I like this book as it’s comprehensive and considers western plants from a TCM perspective.

This is part of what it has to say about pennyroyal:

Caution: Being a uterine stimulant with mild neurotoxicity, Pennyroyal herb is contraindicated during pregnancy. Do not use this herb continuously (unlikely) at maximum doses because of its medium strength status.

 

The essential oil of Pennyroyal, which is extracted from both European and American types of pennyroyal, is contraindicated for internal use. It contains high levels of the ketone pulegone, which is neurotoxic. Note that American Pennyroyal (Hedeoma) has a higher content of pulegone than the European variety, and seems more spasmolytic on the sommoth muscles than its European counterpart.

 

NOTES

Pennyroyal herb refers to the European and the two North American genera of pennyroyal. While Mentha pulegium is the botanical sourse of European pennyroyal, various Hedoema and Monardella species are the sources of American pennyroyal. The nature, functions and uses of all these are virtually identical.

 

Pennyroyal herb is a reliable woman’s remedy that particularly excels in menstrual and childbirth situations when events become painful, delayed and difficult. Like Blue cohosh root, the herb is both actively uterine stimulant and relaxant, and so appropriate for both weak and tense types of conditions. As a stimulant emmenagogue, Pennyroyal treats functional amenorrhea; as a spasmolytic, it treats spasmodic dysmenorrhea; both conditions are seen in the syndrome uterus Qi stagnation with constraint. “It is an antispasmodic nervine and will be found valuable in dysmennorrhea in nervous ladies, and is of good service in hysteria” (LYLE 1897). “Hysteria” today would be described as PMS.

 

Pungent, bitter and aromatic in quality, Pennyroyal herb is also a stimulant to digestive and respiratory functions. It acts as an excellent cholagogue, aperitive and relaxant in treating upper digestive stagnation and will improve the appetite. In children, Catnip or Fieldmint would be complementary herbs. In the syndrome lung phlegm-cold-damp, the herb is a good mucolytic expectorant for chronic forms of bronchitis and asthma.

Similar to Vervain herb, when drunk hot Pennyroyal herb is a vasodilatant diaphoretic and will cause sweating and dispel wind-heat colds and flus. It will also promote the appearance of eruptions in eruptive fevers.

 

In the words of MAUD GRIEVE (1931): “Pennyroyal is often found in cottage gardens, as an infusion of the leaves, known as Pennyroyal Tea, is an old-fashioned remedy for colds and menstrual derangements.” It was often combined with Mugwort herb for both these conditions.

 

In North African countries such as Morocco, European pennyroyal has been given for untold years for heatstroke. Where heatstroke or fever threatened to cause spasms or seizures – signs of internal wind – Pennyroyal is still the right remedy. A sweetened infusion of the herb would be a useful preventive of children’s spasms or convulsions, for example. Here, like Melissa leaf of Lavender flower, Pennyroyal can act as gentler, milder version of Lobelia herb or Yellow jessamine root (Gelsemium).”

As I began writing this post, after an interlude of nearly two years, the owners of the cat who passed away decided to inform me of my negligence in giving them pennyroyal essential oil for their cat, which I hadn’t done. Uncomfortable though that was, what stopped me dead in my tracks was that, the night before ‘the accusation’ I dreamed about it happening in exquisite detail. I had the strange, intense, trance-like feeling that I’ve experienced on many occasions in my life, that I’m beginning to think of as a pull from the future. Pennyroyal was reaching into my dreams, making connections in my brain and I felt that I was being guided. Clearly, pennyroyal had more to tell.

The dose makes the poison, Paracelsus

 

Pulegone: insecticide and archonticide

The primary active ingredient in pennyroyal is pulegone. Pulegone is a type of terpene. Terpenes are organic plant compounds that give them each their distinctive smell, through various combinations in each type of plant. Pennyroyal contains a dozen or so terpenes in all, which are also found in other plants. For example, rosemary has a high terpinene content, which gives turpentine its signatory smell and is also found in different amounts in apple, cumin, lilac and tea tree. Rosemary contains more terpinene than pulegone, but it is pulegone that gives rosemary its memory enhancing capabilities. The art and science of perfume making is all about terpenes.

Pennyroyal aka fleabane, or flea mint, (from Mentha Pulegium, deriving from the latin pulex, meaning flea) is a member of the Lamiaceae family of herbs, commonly known as the mint family. It was originally called the Labiatae family, because the flowers have petals fused into an upper and lower lip – how very rude! Other members of this family are: thyme, mint, oregano, basil, sage, savory, rosemary, self-heal, hyssop lemon balm and catnip. The main terpenes in catnip, Nepeta cataria, are nepetalactone and pulegone, with a higher concentration of nepetalactone than pulegone – catnip is safe for cats. Pennyroyal has the highest concentration of pulegone in the Lamiaceae family, which makes it harmful in large amounts.

In nature, pulegone protects the plant, and other plants in the immediate vicinity, from being eaten by insects. Plants from the Lamiaceae family can help keep bugs away from windows, doorways and outdoor seating areas. Clearly, it is one reason why pennyroyal is also known as fleabane. It is sometimes used in flea collars for cats and dogs, but these can be toxic too. Just because something is natural doesn’t mean that it’s safe, especially if you don’t know the amounts and combinations of other ingredients.

Pulegone has been quite well-studied because of its nootropic potential. The human brain’s most abundant neurotransmitter is acetylcholine, which assists in carrying signals across the nerve synapses and is essential for muscle stimulation, sleep regulation, memory formation, mental health and protecting the brain from neurological decay. Acetycholine is produced in short bursts throughout the brain, the central nervous system and the peripheral nervous system and is almost immediate broken down into acetic acid and choline by the enzyme acetylcholinesterase. Pulegone is an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor, meaning that it prevents acetylcholinesterase from destroying acetycholine, so that more of it is available to be used by the brain and nervous system. Acetycholinesterase inhibitors are considered beneficial for Alzheimers and other forms of cognitive impairment. However, pulegone doesn’t have star quality as a pharmaceutical, because of its toxicity when consumed and because of a special quality that doesn’t allow it to be reliably synthesized. That quality is its chirality.

In chemical terms, terpene molecules are described as enantiomers, which are simple types of optical isomers. This refers to their ability to spin plane polarised light in either a clockwise or an anti-clockwise direction. When you see chemical references to pulegone, the clockwise direction is denoted by (+) and the anti-clockwise direction (-). The chemical structure of (-) and (+) molecules are the same, but the arrangement is different, so that each molecule is unique – in much the same way as your hands are of the same structure, but mirror each other in such as way that one cannot ever be a substitute for the other. In naturally occurring pulegone, there will be a mix of (-) and (+) molecules that cannot be replicated in a laboratory. The laboratory product will always have equal (-) and (+) molecules and can never reproduce the biochemical, or its effects, as it works in nature.

So, what does all this mean? My direct experience is that pennyroyal/pulegone has the dual effect of enhancing some cognitive and memory based functions and filtering out others. It does this biochemically and electromagnetically/optically, through the combination of acetylcholinesterase inhibition and biophoton modulation – in simple terms, it recalibrates the blinkers! All mammalian brains produce biophotons and scientists are currently exploring the possibilities that the brain might have optical communication channels, although they apparently have no idea what could be communicated!

Polarized light navigation is used by bats, bees and other insects to forage and find their way home. The mantis shrimp communicates with other shrimp through polarized light signaling, that is invisible to other creatures. Aphids can see the different polarization patterns in infected plants and are attracted to them as diseased plants have a diminished ability to raise any biochemical defense. Pulegone spins light in such a way as to have an antifeedant action on the aphids, which is what makes it such an effective insecticide and, in accordance with the principle of correspondence, it works in the same way with the mind parasite.

I found that applying pennyroyal herbal oil on my skin, or just sniffing it, made it easier to see when I was going into self-doubt or mental looping, worrying over what might happen, or over analysing past actions and to replace that destructive pattern with creative thoughts and actions. In other words, using the power of my imagination to create what I don’t want, rather than using it correctly and intentionally. Pennyroyal herbal oil helps me clarify and focus my attention, so that I can see the ‘infected’ pathway that is ‘not me’ and choose to ‘not feed’ that self-destructive pattern. The mind parasite’s primary weapon is its invisibility – it has no defenses and no materiality of its own. It can only exist by co-opting your neurophysiology and once you recognize its pathology, in that split-second when you choose a different path, it’s game over. And that is the ‘archonticidal effect’ of pulegone. Once you see it in yourself, you can also see how it operates as a self-destructive process in others and how it recruits them into becoming unwitting agents of the enemies of life – more on that in a later post.

Pennyroyal Protection

Sekhmet gives us pennyroyal, at her best in the fierce August sun, imbued with Her ability to kill or to heal, Her great affinity for women’s issues and a particular relationship with cats. Pennyroyal works especially well with the solar plexus to bring courage to will.

A curious fact about pulegone is that it prevents corrosion of steel. (Effect of pulegone and pulegone oxide on the corrosion of steel. Steel is mostly iron and carbon, so it’s not much of a metaphysical hop to consider that pulegone might also protect the individual will from the corrosive effects of a sick society. If might be fanciful, but I have the distinct impression that pennyroyal can ‘abort’ the false self, which can be risky if that’s all you have.

Pennyroyal Tea, Nirvana, 1993

I’m on my time with everyone
I have very bad posture

Sit and drink Pennyroyal Tea
Distill the life that’s inside of me
Sit and drink Pennyroyal Tea
I’m anemic royalty

Give me a Leonard Cohen afterworld
So I can sigh eternally

I’m so tired and I can’t sleep
I’m anemic royalty
I’m a liar and a thief
I’m anemic royalty

I’m on warm milk and laxatives
Cherry-flavored antacids

Sit and drink Pennyroyal Tea
Distill the life that’s inside of me
I’m anemic royalty
I’m anemic royalty

Pennyroyal blooms

Yarrow: Achillea millefolium

Yarrow: Achillea millefolium

Everyone needs to get to know yarrow. It grows wild here through the summer and I harvest the flowers and leaves and dry them and make tinctures and sun oils for use throughout the year.  It is a wonderful helper plant, with many uses.

When I first noticed its feathery leaves growing abundantly and picked it, smelled it and crushed it in my fingers, it felt like a breath of fresh air. Yarrow has a lovely clean fragrance, gently floral and very slightly anti-septic (reminiscent of sticking plasters). Its scent is more pronounced in the leaves. I decided to pick some flowers and leaves, even though I didn’t know what I might use it for at the time – just following the trail of wondering.  Yarrow is good for that……

Yarrow

Yarrow’s ‘magical’ properties

When yarrow first caught me attention, with its lush feathery foliage tiny white flowers, floating like parasols in the breeze, I was certain it had a lot to offer. I have no hesitation in following my instincts. I get three clear indications when I question whether it is good for me to interact with a plant or substance:

  •  strong, clear ‘good for me’ with a feeling of eagerness and no hesitation or doubt, no mental chatter, my body just leaps joyfully towards whatever it is I’m asking about
  • a hard ‘no way’ often coupled with a feeling of repulsion, sometimes I will ‘accidently’ drop the plant or substance
  • nothing, no feeling at all. I’ve learned from experience that this also means that it’s not good for me, even though I might want it to be!

Very often, the first thing I’ll do with a ‘good for me’ plant is make a tea. I’ve never liked herbal teas, they always taste stale and smell musty to me, but I like teas from plants I’ve harvested myself. My current favourites are, red clover, Queen Anne’s Lace, pennyroyal and yarrow.

Yarrow tea

Yarrow tea, made with leaves and flowers that have been dried for an hour or so (or up to a year if it has been stored out of sunlight) has an immediate normalising effect on body temperature and makes you slightly thirsty (the astringent effect). It is a bit bitter (as are many herbs/plants) and so I sweeten it with little honey.

When you follow your wondering, you are led into the unknown, out of the matrix and directly into Gaia’s dreaming. This can happen so gently that you might not realize what is going on, until you look back on it later. Yarrow tea, made with dried flowers, helps me slip into the trance-like state of awake dreaming very easily.  One of its old names is Devil’s Plaything and a sure-fire way of identifying plants with psychotropic properties is to look for the devil in their folk lore names: Datura Stramonium, aka Devil’s Apple, Devil’s Trumpet; Belladona, aka Devil’s Cherries; Mandrake, Satan’s Apple and Devil’s Testicles. All these plants are known to have psychotropic properties, to be analgesic and have various other healing properties, as well as high levels of toxicity. In medieval times, anyone who practiced healing and enjoyed tripping was obviously in league with the devil!

Yarrow for colds and chills

Recently, I came back from the UK with a cold; probably because I didn’t take any warm socks and shoes when we went to Wales and my feet got cold and wet. Yes, you can catch a chill from sudden exposure to cold weather! Our bodies aren’t made to adjust instantly to the climatic and microbial extremes we can experience through the wonders of air travel. This kind of cold comes with a clear, runny nose, sensitivity to cold temperatures and a bit of a headache and may be the start of a sore throat. It commonly occurs with the change of seasons, which I experienced in the extreme in this instance. We tend to call it a head cold – wind with cold in Chinese medicine.

Yarrow tea is particularly good for this kind of cold, as it helps raise the body temperature to induce sweating. This may seem counter-intuitive with the sensitivity to cold, but sweating it out through the skin is the best approach for this type of cold, if you catch it quickly enough.

I made yarrow tea with ginger and went to bed, piling on four extra blankets and sweated it out. The cold was gone in a few days.

Yarrow was among the plants buried alongside a Neanderthal man, plausibly a shaman or medicine man, in the Shanidar cave in Iraq over 60,000 years ago. Does this suggest that maybe the Neanderthals were not as primitive as we have been led to believe? Yarrow has been helping us for a very long time.

Healing with yarrow

The legend of yarrow is remembered in its botanical name: Achillea Millefolium. This roughly translates as ‘Achilles’ Plant of a Thousand Leaves’. Achilles is said to have used it to staunch his soldiers’ wounds on the battlefield and it also known as staunchweed.

The medicinal properties of yarrow have been well studied and are summarised in this article (which everyone seems to quote without referencing):

A few weeks ago, Izzy got a deep gash on her shoulder after chasing a fox. I don’t know whether the fox bit her or whether she caught herself on a branch in the woods.  After I’d cleaned the wound, I saw that it was about 3cm long and a centimetre deep, pulling open because of the location on her shoulder. Dean thought it needed stitching, but it would have been next to impossible to get Izzy to the vets, so I packed the wound with dried yarrow powder. I did this twice a day for the next week or so as the wound dried out and scabbed over, then re-opened slightly because of her activity. Within three weeks it was completely healed, with no scarring.

Yarrow is styptic and hemostatic (stops bleeding), astringent (makes tissues contract), antiseptic (inhibits bacterial growth), vulnerary (helps tissues heal), anti-inflammatory, and slightly anesthetic. I use it powdered, dried in teas, in tinctures and salves. It is an essential element of the Gaian Medicine Cabinet

Powdered yarrow: to stop bleeding and aid wound healing

Take 6-10 white flower heads. Dry the heads for 2-24 hours, depending on the weather. Grind the heads in a coffee mill and store in an airtight jar. It remains effective for a year or two if kept sealed and in the dark. It has a lovely fresh clean smell.

Use by applying directly to any bleeding wounds and it will stop the blood flow almost immediately and help the wound heal.

Yarrow tincture

Tincturing is a method for extracting the active ingredient from the plant, so that it can be used in liquid form and easily stored. Most tinctures will remain effective for at least a couple of years, if stored in a cool dark place. I add a teaspoonful to teas, when I don’t have the fresh or dried flowers.

I make yarrow tincture from fresh flowers at their peak and the top few leaves of the plant only. I pick what I need on a dry sunny morning (yarrow blooms from May to October here) and let the heads dry for an hour or so before using them, to let any critters get out of the way. I don’t wash the plants, because everything I use is wild and organic and it’s very clean here.

I use Orujo for tincturing, which is the local spirit distilled from the solids left after the grapes are pressed for wine. It is usually over 50% or 100˚ proof. We get ours from a neighbour, so I’m not sure how strong it is, but it seems to work well enough.

Prepared yarrow
Prepared yarrow

Yarrow flower essence

All healer plants work on multiple levels and flower essences, being subtler, work on the energetic rather than the physical levels. Yarrow is a wound healer, so the flower essence works to heal ‘wounds’ in the psyche and energy field or aura.

Flower essences work very well with dogs. Just recently we adopted another dog, Freya, after Riley died. Freya had been found wandering the streets in a town in southern Spain. We don’t know anything about her previous life, but she was very skinny, covered in fleas and ticks and had lots of scars around her face and neck. She had obviously had a loving home before, because she is the cuddliest dog we’ve ever had, but she must have had to fight for her survival on the streets. She settled in immediately with Tulku (our male dog) but she and Izzy (our other female) were not quite sure of each other; they couldn’t work out the pecking order. Izzy is terribly sensitive and thought she had to take over Riley’s role, although that wasn’t what she wanted. Freya wasn’t taking any chances if Izzy came near her food and they both wanted to protect Tulku, who wanted nothing more than to play with them both at the same time.

I’ve been giving yarrow flower essence to all three a couple of times a day to help them with the transition into their new pack. Tulku didn’t need it, but he loves to take any kind of supplement or medication (seriously, he starts making sucking noises as soon as I get a dropper or syringe out). Izzy and Freya haven’t obviously bonded yet, but they can sleep on the same couch and the three of them all go off for a walk together often enough. It’s only been three weeks as I write this and they are becoming more comfortable with each other every day.

Yarrow insect repellent

There are many references on the internet to a US Army study that allegedly found a yarrow tincture insect repellent to be more effective than DEET. DEET is toxic stuff [http://www.naturalnews.com/029136_deet_toxic.html] that no one should ever put on their skin – have you ever considered that your skin absorbs substances as easily as your gut? So why would you put anything on your skin that you would not consider eating?

The references to the mythical US Army study made me conduct my own study with yarrow tincture as an insect repellent. I didn’t do it it scientifically, I just diluted some yarrow tincture with water and sprayed it around. It smells lovely and does keep some flies out of the eating area, but it also has a cumulative effect; the more you use it the more it keeps bugs away. I haven’t tried it specifically for mosquitoes, but it is very useful generally.

(We use a home-made pyrethrum spray as a really effective bug, tick and flea killer. I don’t like to spray it around more often than necessary, because pyrethrum is also a neurotoxin, although it is much less harmful to mammals than insects and an organic substance is easier for the body to deal with than anything synthetic. Pyrethrin is generally used in reference to the synthesized version.)

Very little research is done on natural compounds, as it’s not sufficiently profitable, but I found this study stating that yarrow has been shown to repel mosquitoes.

Abstract: An ethanol extract of Achillea millefolium L. showed repelling properties against the mosquito, Aedes aegypti L. “

 Yarrow In the compost heap

 “Yarrow works in the compost heap in the same way as used medicinally in the human body: it can remedy the weaknesses of the astral (soul) body.”

Rudolf Steiner

We compost as much as possible, as a matter of choice and necessity. We don’t have any rubbish collection where we live and we don’t have a sewage system or septic tank – we have a compost loo. I’m very interested in anything that that helps the composting process.

This statement by Rudolf Steiner had me wondering why yarrow is identified as working in the compost heap in the same way as it does in the body, as opposed to any other healing plant. I did a bit more research and discovered that yarrow is known as a compost accelerant because of it’s ability to concentrate both sulphur and potassium, along with other micronutrients such as copper and phosphates.

I’ve started putting some dead yarrow heads, as well as the leftover plant matter from tincturing, in the compost pile and we’ll see how it goes.

Yarrow around the vegetable beds

In addition to helping the compost heap, I think that yarrow works in the earth in the same way as it does in the human body. It’s root runners help balance temperature in the topsoil, just as its tincture does in the blood. It spreads happily bringing lushness to the beds and is easily dug up when it’s time to replace it with something else.

Yarrow attracts beneficial insects and pollinators and is a great companion plant, because of its antibacterial and antifungal properties. It is considered to be of special benefit to aromatics, but I’ve put it all around the veggie beds and find that it generally makes everything grow stronger. It looks beautiful too!

Yarrow around the broccoli
Yarrow around the broccoli

Yarrow as a natural fungicide

I haven’t tried this, as we haven’t needed it, but I came across this recipe for a fermented yarrow fungicide

[http://www.growtheplanet.com/en/blog/learn/article/486/fermented-extract-of-yarrow-a-natural-fungicide] just as a friend asked if I knew of anything that might help his goji berries!

Further resources

Matthew Wood on Yarrow, from the Earthwise Herbal

 A study of White Yarrow by Jane Ellen of the Flower Essence Society

“Yarrow is always the greatest boon, wherever it grows wild in the country — at the edges of the fields or roads, where cereals or potatoes or any other crops are growing. It should on no account be weeded out… In a word, like sympathetic people in human society, who have a favourable influence by their mere presence and not by anything they say, so yarrow, in a district where it is plentiful, works beneficially by its mere presence.”
– Rudolf Steiner.

Wasp Medicine

attracting Wasp venom

A couple of weeks ago, I disturbed a wasp nest.  Wasps attack immediately when they feel threatened and I was stung 10-15 times on my arm, hand and leg.  I couldn’t get away because of the long grass and brambles.  It didn’t hurt much initially, so I carried on working.  Then I started to feel a ferocious itching and burning in my groin, which I knew was lymph and I decided to head back to the cabin.  Before I got back my scalp, palms and the soles of my feet were on fire.  Within minutes my whole body was covered in a painful red rash and I jumped in the shower and turned on the cold water to try and give myself an adrenaline boost.  It didn’t seem to work.

Dean found an anti-histamine, which I was reluctant to take, but I could see he was worried.  By this time, my face was really swollen and the pain was intense.  I put me feet in a bucket of cold water and had Dean rub me all over with St John’s Wort oil to try and cool me down.  Then my throat started to close and Dean wanted to know if we needed to go to the hospital.  I had a moment of fear and thought: take me now or make this go away and the swelling in my throat began to ease and the pain became more bearable.  I was still nicely swollen two hours later when Claudius and Michelle showed up, but managed to get out of bed a bit later so we could go out to dinner.  It took several days for all the swelling to go completely.

Since then I’ve been wondering why I had such a strong reaction and why did I not want to take the anti-histamine?  I don’t like pharmaceuticals and consider them to be more harmful than beneficial in most cases, excepting emergencies; and this was an emergency.  I don’t think Sophia set up this experiment with the intention that we should succumb so easily to insect stings either, although poisons definitely have their place.  However, histamine is not a poison, it is a neurotransmitter, so why do we need to shut it off?

A neurotransmitter is a chemical that is released by neurons in the nervous system and crosses the synaptic gap between neurons, to be received by another neuron in order to generate a specific reaction. The constant stimulation of neurons causes reactions in the body which are specific to the type of neurotransmitter that is passed.  Histamine’s role is to produce an immediate inflammatory response as part of the immune system that comes into action when your body is under attack.  Histamine causes the blood vessels to swell, so that white cells can get to the problem area quickly, that sounds like a good thing.  Over-reaction, like mine, is considered to be the result of histamine intolerance, due to the body not being able to break down histamine properly.  We always have a small amount of histamine circulating in the body and when I was stung, more was released at the site of the the wasp stings, flooding my body.

The exact composition of wasp venom is unknown.  From the wasp’s perspective, it stings to paralyse other insects that it wants to eat, or to warn off larger animals like me.  Wasps have been around for longer than humans and they are very effective predators, see Wasp Warriors.  However, it is not the poison that causes the allergic reaction.  Wasp venom contains a protein enzyme called hyaluronidase, which speeds up the dispersion through the body of any injected substance, by reducing the viscosity of hyaluronic acid that cushions the cells and increasing tissue permeability.  (Yes, hyaluronidase is used to break down hyaluronic acid based cosmetic fillers after people have had too much of it pumped into their faces to make them look younger!)  My allergic reaction was caused by the combination of hyaluronidase and histamine, which generated a systemic inflammatory response and the anti-histamine probably helped in this situation.  Adrenaline also stops the production of histamine, which is why people who know they are highly allergic carry Epipens.

But why do I have too much histamine in my body?  There are many  foods that contain histamine (and these foods are often involved in food allergies) but my intolerance most likely stems from the fact that I was on Zantac for 25 years, because of a stomach ulcer.  Zantac/Ranitidene, like its cousins Tagamet and Pepcid is a histamine blocker.  It targets the H2 histamine receptors, which are found in the stomach lining, heart, uterus, vascular smooth muscle cells and white blood cells.  It stops these cells responding to histamine, so that there is no inflammatory response from food or drink that would normally cause irritation.  The body naturally responds by producing more histamine, causing a permanent overload.  In addition these drugs, and others, actually deplete the levels of diamine oxidase in the body, which is primarily responsible fro breaking down histamine in the digestive tract.  I weaned myself off Zantac in 2010 and have had no pain or bleeds since and I’m able to eat and drink more liberally than I ever was while on Zantac.  I now need to look into how to reduce my baseline histamine levels – more on that in another post.

Apparently, most people who get an allergic reaction to wasp stings do not get it for bee stings, or vice versa.  It’s one or the other, so that’s a relief!

Then, a year later, I was stung again on my hand, that swelled up like a ballon. It was only a couple of years later, when I was stung yet again – that I began to understand what this was about.

histamine and self-sabotage

The last time I was stung, was when I was obsessing about an unpleasant incident with some one, that I could do nothing about.  Some one that I had thought of as a friend (not a close friend, but some one I could meet up and have a chat with now and then) had turned against me, for no reason I could understand – because she wanted to, I guess.  It was later that night, when the histamine itch came on, that I realised how my unhappiness about this experience was involved in my histamine response.

It came over me in a cool gel-like rush.  What is often termed ‘histamine intolerance’ was, in this case at least, a conditioned physiological response to emotional drama.  Did it make any difference to the quality of my life whether this person liked me or not?  Not a jot.  It only made a difference if I gave my attention to it, as if I was at fault.  In that moment of realization the heat and itching stopped.

The histamine response and symptoms were very real, but I was causing them myself – and I also recognised it as a pattern inherited from my father, although he was unconscious of it.  It took three rounds of wasp stings before my mind/body system was able to process the biochemical/electrical influx in such a way as to be able to change the pattern.  The change happened of its own accord in the moment that my internal dialogue stopped.

Everything in nature is conspiring to help human creatures come to the realization of what we are doing and what we are capable of.  It might seem like a delusion to think that a wasp sting could be a good thing, until you come to know that the body never lies and through its secretions and electromagnetic signature it is always in communication with nature – our consciousness doesn’t see that because we have been entrained to focus on other things.  Once you get it, you begin to participate in the correction process that you, as an individual needs, to get you back on track. Sometimes the medicine hurts, but the learning never disappoints.