Medicine For Your Family: Oregon Grape Root and St. John’s Wort
As I naturopathic practitioner, I treat my patients holistically. This implies that my cures not only involve treating the whole body but also helping patients reconnect with the natural world. To that effect, I will devote this article to persuading my audience to spend time outdoors. I would like to encourage everyone to locate and harvest two herbs that grow in the Rogue Valley. There is nothing technical about making these preparations. The task will require that you spend the afternoon hiking outdoors; in return you will create two highly effective medicines. Both herbs are extremely safe to use both topically and internally.
The first herb I will discuss is Oregon Grape Root, Mahonia aquifolia and M. nervosa. This plant is ubiquitous in the hills of southern Oregon but in fact exists throughout the state. It grows in abundance on the “white rabbit trail system” above Ashland. Mahonia is an excellent antibiotic specifically for infected mucous membranes of the throat and digestive tract. Along with Echinacea and Usnea, Mahonia is an herb I use throughout the winter. Mahonia is also a digestive stimulant and is offers strong antimicrobial support for skin infections. The time to gather Mahonia root is between November and March. Bring your pruners. After cutting off a small portion of the root, store it in a damp paper towel and obtain more root from a different plant. At home, wash the root well and shave off the skin. It should have a very distinct goldenrod yellow color. This color is indicative of the herb’s isoquinolone alkaloids, the constituents that impart the medicinal properties. So long as the woody portion of the root has this deep yellow color you can continue shaving deeper into the root. Next, simply fill a canning jar halfway with brandy, whiskey, vodka or even wine. Put the shavings into the canning jar so that the fluid covers the root. Store in a cool, dark place and shake this mixture once a day for 2-3 month. After that time, discard the shavings and you will have a tincture that will likely last for 3-10 years depending on the strength of the alcohol used.
The next herb that is remarkably easy to acquire is St. John’s Wort, Hypericum perforatum. Hypericum blooms from early June through late August and it is these small, bright, yellow flowers that you want to harvest. Locally, I have seen it growing in abundance along the fields and watery ditches off Dead Indian Memorial Rd. Hold its leaves up to the sun and you will note tiny but distinct “pores” in the leaf, perforations that give the plant its name. Take along a canning jar filled half with grain alcohol and begin to stuff the jar with buds and flowers. The fluid will slowly turn from clear to blush to rose to apple to garnet and then finally to a rich, satisfying crimson-wine color. Again, keep the jar in a cool, dark environment for 6-12 weeks, shaking it daily. Michael Moore describes Hypericum as one of the best remedies for nervous depression and numbing frustration. The 2008 Chochrane report indicated that Hypericum is comparable in effectiveness to standard antidepressants and has fewer side effects. It is also useful for viral illnesses, so it works well in conjunction with Mahonia. St. John’s Wort is well known for its ability to help nerves regenerate. Any nerve injuries could be aggressively treated with this herb. Hypericum oil can be used externally to treat fresh bleeding wounds, burns, sores and abrasions from almost any type of injury including bed sores and skin that is toxic from chemotherapy. Its use with neem oil has been demonstrated to accelerate the healing of such sores remarkably.
Spring has arrived! Spend an afternoon hiking with your friends and family. Teach them about the versatility of herbs and gather yourself some potent medicine for the coming years.