Living in Place and the Genius Loci
****All Photos except for 'The Kuyhoora Valley and the Coyote are by Heather Perretta: http://heatherperretta.com/
The concept of “Living in place” is derived from the definition of bioregionalism and has emerged as a new way of connecting to the land and creating a healthy relationship with community, our food, health care and life in general. The term ‘bioregionalism’ was coined by Allen Van Newkirk in the 1970’s. He founded the Institute for Bioregional Research and described a bioregion as “biographically interpreted culture areas…” In other words, he was identifying the inextricable connection between human life, health, culture and the ecology of the land. Land-based activist from Northern California, Peter Berg, further developed the concept as an element of the environmental movement. This movement began as a reaction to the industrial expansion and globalization monoculture that was burgeoning at the time, and still continues to dominate and drive cultural, economic and political values. In the wake of our modern technological and industrial ascension has been the decline of natural resources and widespread, seemingly irreparable pollution along with vast environmentally related health issues. Our collective ideals of competition, production, the amassing of material objects, comfort and monetary wealth drives most Western people away from direct contact with the Earth and the deeper rhythms of nature that once held the dynamic balance of life sustaining forces that fed and nourished our ancestors. These values have also disregarded the essential interdependence of human health on the health of the soil, water, air, plants, animals, bacteria and all that are a part of the network of life. An interdependence that signifies a mutually dependent relationship between synergistic organisms, each with their own unique ecological and life sustaining function.
Author and bioregional advocate Jim Dodge explains the meaning of bioregionalism in his essay in "Home! A Bioregional Reader":
"'Bioregionalism' is from the Greek bios (life) and the French region (region), itself from the Latin regia (territory), and earlier, regere (to rule or govern). Etymologically, then, bioregionalism means life territory, place of life or perhaps by reckless extension, government by life. If you can't imagine that government by life would be at least 40 billion times better than government by the Reagan administration, or Mobil Oil, or any other distant powerful monolith, then your heart is probably no bigger than a prune and you won't have much sympathy for what follows."
As Western people and especially North Americans, we live a transient lifestyle often making choices about where to buy real estate based on job availability, access to shopping centers, health care providers, school systems; all valid considerations, but none of which will bring a sense of self-sufficiency, resilience, belonging, or a deep-rooted sense of home that was once a natural occurrence and birthright imparted to indigenous people all over the world. And yes, this includes people of European descent, all of whom are Native somewhere and come from destroyed tribes. Nowadays our attachment to place lasts only until the company moves or scales back, or a job somewhere else seems like a better option. Americans, including Native Americans who were forced off their homelands via the methods of imperial warfare, murder and genocide, have all been exiled by choice or necessity from their ancestral homelands where the very blood and bones of the people were shaped, formed and schooled by the elements they lived within for generations. Even nomadic tribes were deeply connected to place. In her book “A Field Guide to Getting Lost”, Rebecca Stolnit describes her traveling experiences and the varying degrees with which she felt a connection or lack of connection to the places she passed through or visited. She says that “…nomads, contrary to popular imagination, have fixed circuits and stable relationships to places; they are far from being the drifters and dharma bums that the word nomad often connotes nowadays….”
Whether we move or not we can connect to the land. Even in our vacation travels and adventures we can orient ourselves to wherever we are by learning as much as we can about the geography, ecology and human activities that occur in the places we live and visit. In this way, we not only ground ourselves, but also offer and display repsect for the people, culture and more than human world that we are a guest of. One great way to do this is by creating a genius loci profile or a bioregional outline. The genius loci literally means the ‘spirit of place’ which is a concept that originated in ancient Rome and, is often not just the 'spirit of place', but a guardian spirit that looks over the land and its people. Herbalist, writer and artist Sarah Anne Lawless devised a genius loci profile template that we can apply to our own places as a way of recording the qualities and characteristic of the land and natural ecological patterns where we live, thereby building a relationship with the natural cycles we are a part of. This process can change how we perceive our immediate surroundings, ground us in our daily lives, and engender a strong sense of home. There also several versions of ‘bioregional quizzes’ that can be used in the same way such as this one such as this quiz from Indigenize: http://indigenize.wordpress.com/2013/03/21/bioregional-quiz/ and this quiz from Amulet Magazine: http://www.amuletmagazine.com/2014/04/22/earth-day-bioregional-quiz/. The intent is the same, to become aware of the various attributes and conditions of our home that. if we are in right relation with, we can not only support our physical well-being, but derive emotional and spiritual sustenance that can only come from being interconnected with the natural forces at hand.
I have formatted my own here below with some additions that I felt were important in relation to the work I do with the plants and health care. I highly recommend that, if you have any call to connect with a feeling of home, community and a healthy lifestyle, that you try this yourself with your own place. I have organized these by each of the four elements; Earth, Air, Fire and Water as all life contains these in different patterns and proportions. Although these are listed as separate components, they are constantly in dynamic interaction and one does not exist withouth the other.
Creating a bioregional profile
"Where are you living?
What are you doing?
What are your relationships?
Are you in right relation?
Where is your water?
Know your garden.
It is time to speak your Truth.
Create your community.
Be good to each other.
And do not look outside yourself for the leader."
~attributed to an unnamed Hopi elder, Hopi Nation, Oraibi, Arizona
Bioregional Profile for the Kuyahoora Valley
This can be used for your own location. Each individual, even living in the same place, may have some similar answers and some different answers. This outline is flexible and subjective depending on the unique needs of every bioregion and so can be adapted to reflect other qualities as needed.
Town/village/City/State/Country: Town of Newport, NY USA
Major Region: Northeast, Central New York, Mohawk Valley, Adirondack foothills
Bioregion-Kuyahoora Valley, Mohawk River Highlands
Map: From Google Earth-https://www.google.com/earth/
Elevation: 636’ above sea level, Highlands of the Mohawk River
Watershed: West Canada Creek
Terrain: flood plain below rolling hills
Soil type: Sandy loam, some clay, glacial silt. You can contact your local Natural Resource and Soil Conservation office if you are interested in getting a soil survey. In Herkimer County our office is here: http://www.herkimercountyswcd.com/ This was the results of the soil survey we had done of our property: It is mostly Fredon Sandy Loam, 15-20% Howard and Palmyra soils, 3-8% Howard gravelly silt loam and 3-8% Wassaic silt loam.
3 Rock types: Herkimer diamond(quartz), Limestone, Adirondack rock(granite-gneiss)
Nearest Mountain, Valley, Plateau, Plain: Nearest plateau-Tug Hill, Mountains-Adirondacks, Deerfield Hill-1,582 ft above sea level. Mount Marcy is the highest peak in the Adirondacks at 5,344 feet above sea level
Archeological History-The kuyahoora valley was under a glacier until 10,000 years ago. It receded and melted leaving the whole area covered under a big lake that eventually receded leaving many rivers and lakes. The Adirondack mountains were once beneath mountains that were the height of the Himalayas. This explanation from Matt Harvey in his article The Mighty Adirondacks-were they once as tall as the Himalayas? describes what happened:
"The metamorphic rocks that makeup the Adirondacks were formed at great pressures and temperatures far beneath the surface of the earth, as much as 30 km below ground. In order for these rocks to have been cooked to their present form, they must have spent a great deal of time at or near the bottom of a very thick column of crust. This crust would have had to have been about twice as thick as normal continental crust, such as the crust found under today’s Himalayas at the plate boundary between India and Asia. In order for this to happen, the rocks that make up today’s Adirondacks must have been buried beneath a mountain range the size of the Himalayas that was subsequently eroded away (to the tune of 25,000 meters of flattened mountains!), and then the Adirondacks were uplifted to the surface where we see them today."
Mammals-White tail deer, Eastern Coyote/Brush wolf, Beaver, Black Bear, Raccoon, Fishers, Bobcat, Mink
Coyote photo from wiki commons.Attribution: http://www.ForestWander.com
Birds-Eagle, Hawks, Pileated Woodpecker, Bluebirds, Crows, Ravens, Falcons, Blue Heron
Insects and Spiders-Monarch Butterfly, Deer ticks, Black Flies, Orb Weavers
Fish-Trout, crayfish, Bass, Northern Pike
Reptiles-salamanders, snapping turtles, grass snakes, milk snakes
• Trees-White Pine, Maples, Yellow Birch, Black Cherry, Hawthorne, American Beech, Elm, Ash
• Shrubs-Elderbush, Hobblebush, High-bush Cranberry, Barberry,
• Edible-Leeks, Cattails, Groundnut, Wintercress, Blackberries, Raspberries
1. Roots-Burdock, Yellowdock, Dandelion, Angelica
2. Leaves-Nettles, Mugwort, Motherwort, Dandelion, Chickweed
3. Flowers-St. Johnswort, Elder blossom, Red Clover
Native species-Trillium, American Ginseng, Blue Cohosh, Wild Ginger, Bloodroot, Wild Sarsparilla, Ghost Pipe, Orchids
European species-Burdock, Queen Annes Lace, St. Johnswort, Mugwort, Coltsfoot
Plants from other lands-Japanese Knotweed, Japanese Honeysuckle
Sacred Plants and Trees- White Pine was sacred to the Haudenosaunee and considered the “Great Tree of Peace”
Mugwort-Artemisia vulgaris species sacred in Europe and used for protection and healing
White Cedar(Thuja occidentalis) native to the Northeast of North America and used past and present ceremonial and as medicine
Fungi-Reishi mushrooms(Ganoderma Tsugae), Turkey Tails, Amanita flavoconia, Puff balls, Chaga
Ancient-First people inhabited area 9,000 years ago-possibly the Lamoka people
Pre-Colonial-Haudenosaunee(Iroquois) , the Kanien'kehá:ka(Mohawk) people of the(Iroquois) confederacy inhabited the Kuyahoora valley for all of documented history until colonial invasion.. The Kanien'kehá:ka means the People of the Place of the Flint. Flint, as it turns out, is a form of quartz and although it is commonly thought that the Mohawks were named because they were Flint knappers, no Flint quarries have been found in the Mohawk Valley.
"They were known to themselves and to the other Iroquois nations as the Kanyenkehaka, the people of Kanyenke (also spelled Ganienkeh). This has usually been translated "Place of the Flint," but the flint (or more properly chert) sources in Mohawk country were not particularly sought after. More important were the clear quartz crystals now called Herkimer diamonds, which could be quarried in a few local mines and abound on Mohawk village sites. These were highly valued by Iroquois and other nations. Kanyenke was more likely "Place of the Crystals." Crystals were symbolically important as amulets of success, health, and long life, artifacts more likely to inspire a name than a second-rate chert. The Mohawks were the main suppliers of quartz crystals up to 1614. After that they became primary middlemen for the Dutch glass beads that replaced them." Dean Snow, The Iroquois
Colonial-Dutch, German, English, Irish
Industrial-The industrial revolution brought an influx of immigrants from other parts of Europe primarily Italy, Germany and Poland. They came to work the many mills that had been built along the major waterways.
Current-predominately white of various European descent although the Haudenosaunee and their confederacy continue to hold a strong and stable presence and energy in New York State with many activists from their central communities and elsewhere working towards bringing the messages of peace, balanced social structure and ecological law into the mainstream. The Onondaga Nation of the Iroquois is currently promoting their “Two-Row Wampum Campaign” in partnership with their friends and neighbors of all races and cultural backgrounds near and far. This is an effort to establish harmonious co-existence based on a treaty that was made with Dutch immigrants 400 years ago stating that they would all live peacefully. http://honorthetworow.org/
Our nearest city of Utica is an extremely diverse community as it is the fourth largest refugee center in the United States and is home to refugees from all over the world including Bosnian, Somolia, Vietnam, Sudan, Burma, Bhutan, Afghanistan, Russia, and Belarus.
Auriesville shrine-A Roman Catholic shrine that was once the Mohawk village called Ossernenon. Kateri Tekakwitha(below) was born there.
Kateri National Shrine, Fonda, NY- the shrine of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha Mohawk woman who became the first Christian saint in the United States and Canada
Herkimer Diamonds and Ace of Diamonds-Herkimer crystal mines where hundreds of people visit every year to excavate these precious healing gems.
Occupations-Farmers, construction workers, teachers, prison guards, small businesses
Primary form of healthcare-conventional medicine
Rainfall-about 42 inches a year
Growing season-from May-Sept
Snowfall-89 inches a year
Temperature Range-20 below zero to 95 degrees(Fahrenheit)
Weather pattern change in the last 50 years-I haven’t found any official data but everyone who lives here says that if you were born less than 30 years ago you don’t remember a real winter
Winter sky-Big Dipper, Cassiopeia, Little dipper,Perseus Orion
Summer-Andromeda, Big Dipper, Little dipper, Pegasus
Watershed-West Canada Creek which is really a river. It’s 76 miles long and the largest tributary to the Mohawk River. Watershed is 569 square miles. Waterflow up to 1500 cubic feet per second. The West Canada is dammed at Hinckley Reservoir so water flow fluctuates
Household water source-Well
Bodies of water-West Canada Creek, Shed Brook, Mohawk River, Hinckley Lake
Last time there was a flood-There’s one almost every year
Water Quality Indicators: There has been much talk about the high level of pollution in the Kuyahoora Valley but water and soil tests have not proven it to be so. There are several wildlife indicators of a healthy environment Based on my direct observation. They are: Mayflies, Dragonflies, Crayfish, baby Trout in the tributaries, Eagles, American Ginseng and Usnea lichen. These all indicate moderate to good quality air,water, and soil. When I was growing up in the 1970’s there were many species that I had never seen that I witnessed return through time. I had spent a great deal of my life at my Grandparents outside of Old Forge. We never saw ducks or geese or many other small birds as a result of heavy spraying for black flies with the pesticide DDT. Since that was stopped, I have seen wildlife returning in abundance. I can remember the first time I saw a wild duck on the lake and how excited me and my brother were when a whole family came swimming by us. I saw my first bald eagle in my early thirties when one flew over my head while I was driving along the West Canada Creek. The biggest environmental issue that I am concerned with currently is the myriad of corn fields that are heavily sprayed with no buffer zones along the creek, although, apparently, water tests have not shown pesticides above normal levels(as if there is a normal pesticide level).
Heat source-Wood Stove
Energy source- Power grid
Waste disposal-compost and garbage truck that takes garbage to a landfill and recyclables to the recycling center.
Last time there was a forest fire-None that I am aware of. We have major issues with flooding and mold. It's very rarely dry here.
Shortest Day of the year-9 hours, 33 minutes
Longest day of the year-15 hours and 19 minutes
Thank you to Heather Perretta for most of these incredible photos of our bioregion. Heather is a local naturalist and photographer with a great attunement to the land. You can see more of her photos at her blog: The Backyard Naturalist and find her on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/backyardnaturalist
Artist and Author Sarah Anne Lawless: http://sarahannelawless.com/
HOME! A Bioregional Reader by Van Andruss, Christopher Plant, Judith Plant and Eleanor Wright
Kuyahoora: Discovering the West Canada Valley by M. Paul Keesler
Mohawk: Discovering the Valley of the Crystals by M. Paul Keesler
It’s Goldenrod Time!
The wheel of the year is turning once again and the season of Fall is beginning her gentle emersion with first few leaves descending toward the turning Earth. There is a new chill wafting on the morning air and the Canadian Geese have us in their flight path as they embark on this year’s journey South. These signs and more tell us that the times they are a-changing. Many of us, including myself, experience seasonal allergies in the late summer and early Fall that will continue until the first hard, killing frost. Growing up in the Northeast I was always told that my allergies could be attributed to the Goldenrod as these bright yellow flowers are in blossom everywhere we look right now. If I look out to my back field it appears as if there is a sea of yellow flowing flowers that stretches into eternity.
It seems only obvious that a field full of blowing flowers would be the allergy culprit of Fall, but in my herbal studies I discovered that Goldenrod is a highly medicinal plant and one of its main uses is for the runny, drippy, sinus symptoms related to these very allergies. Also, in studying the reproductive cycle of plants, Goldenrod is NOT wind pollinated and if you get up close and personal with a Goldenrod plant you will notice that there are always bees dipping down to draw out the rich, procreative pollen inside the flower. If a plant is not pollinated by the wind then there are not pollen grains blowing around in the air and into your sinuses. If you get even closer and look beneath the yellow canopy you’ll also see another, quiet, inconspicuous, yet volatile, smaller and, yes, wind pollinated green flowered plant called Ragweed. It is Ragweed that is responsible for many of our allergies and Goldenrod just gets the blame because she is so showy and bold. For more on Ragweed and seasonal allergies go to this previous post
Goldenrod(Solidago canadensis, spp.) is in the Asteraceae family and is one of the most prolific plants in Central New York and all of North America with 40-60 species existing worldwide. It flowers from July through September and is prevalent in open fields, along roadsides and any open space. All species can be used interchangeably with species differentiation being tricky as Goldenrod has mixed, matched and cross-bred to make infinite varieties. The most reliable key is to learn a few of the most common shapes such as (from left to right below)Plume-like, flat-topped, Elm-branched,Club-like or showy, and wand-like or slender. These forms each correspond to different species. Photos from A Field Guide to Wildflowers of Northeastern and North-Central North America by Roger Tory Peterson and Margaret McKenny
The Latin name Solidago is derived from Solidare or from the medieval Latin word soldago meaning to make whole or solid indicating its use as a wound healing herb. Also derived from Solidare is the English word solid that is related to the Old French word solide that goes back around to another Latin word, Solidus and means to make whole, undivided, firm and genuine. The Latin translation of Aster means star and symbolizes flowers that hold star-like qualities. The small, sparkly flowers of Goldenrod definitely remind me of twinkling stars and it was once thought that holding Goldenrod in the hand will reveal secret riches. It is also considered to indicate the location of springs which has proven to be true in my backyard. Our Goldenrod grows thickest right where our springs are found!
Energetics and Actions: Bitter, Pungent, Astringent, Cold, Dry, Aromatic, Slightly diffusive
Main constituents: Essential oil containing salicylic acid, tannins, saponins and flavonoids
Also known as: Woundwort, Blue Mountain Tea, Liberty Tea(used as an ingredient in the tea the colonists made themselves to replace English tea)
Parts used: Leaf and flower
Goldenrod is used as a digestive bitter and bitter it is. This bitter quality is present due to the tannins and the astringent action which tightens tissues making it especially useful for drying up mucus discharge from the sinuses during allergy season It can be taken as a tea, tincture or by simply chewing on a leaf. If I am starting to feel my allergies coming on I will often simply go outside, grab a Goldenrod leaf and chew it in my mouth for a bit. It is also known as a specific for cat allergies and I have used it repeatedly and always with success when I have visitors who are allergic to my cats. I learned this from Matthew Wood who says:
“I know of no better remedy for cat allergy. Boericke describes the characteristic eye symptoms: ‘red, injected, watery, stinging, burning.’ The eyes of the Solidago patient look like a person who has just gotten out of a swimming pool. There is a generalized redness of the conjunctiva. There are not the bright red blotches of Euphrasia, or the bloodshot appearance of Ambrosia. With this there is congestion, sneezing and running of the nose, redness and irritation of the skin. Solidago often has welts from allergy, a fact not mentioned in the literature I have seen.”
Goldenrod is also a diuretic and is nourishing and strengthening to the kidneys and entire urinary tract relieving edema, low-grade chronic Urinary tract infections, and kidney Qi stagnation. Basically, relieving dampness that is occupying space within the kidney.blocking the natural flux of fluids and reducing overall efficiency. It can prevent kidney stones and any other symptom that is associated with a lack of sufficient elimination of waste from the kidneys including hypertension, skin rashes, eczema, psoriasis and inflammation of the urinary tract.
One of my favorite uses for Goldenrod is as a poultice or liniment for bruises, strains, sprains or other soft tissue injury. It works like a charm as a pain reliever and anti-inflammatory while promoting deep and thorough healing by draining and eliminating excess fluid and dampness which allows for fresh, oxygenated and nutrient full blood and lymph to rejuvenate and repair damage. The image I have envisioned for this process is that of a flushing or cleansing that clears out congestion at the same time tightening and toning. This prepares the injured tissue to full access of its natural regenerative capacity. The toning action strengthens to create a flexible yet stable container for new, healthy cells.
These shining flowers that usher in the change of seasons and the darkening of our days are some of the years last blossoms to hold their small faces to the fading sun. These concluding light holders have an important use in alleviating Seasonal Affect Disorder, a common human reaction to small amounts of sunlight. Goldenrod carries the sun’s grace over the winter as an effective uplifter of mood, a nervine for chronic fatigue, nervous exhaustion, depression, stress, shock and disappointments. Particularly those that are correlated to a buildup of unprocessed emotions which, again, refers to that stagnation and heavy dampness that Goldenrod is so adept at releasing whether in our kidneys, respiratory tract or psyche.
Goldenrod grows in great abundance and can be gathered freely, although always with respect and thanks. The different species all contain similar properties and may all look alike at first glance, but as you get to know them better you will begin to observe the subtle variations in not just form but taste and effect. New Mexico herbalist Kiva Rose has determined a few important species characteristics:
Special consideration should be given to the variability of the flavors and scents within the great many spp. of Solidago. If you have multiple species near you (and you probably do) take the time to taste the leaf and flower of each kind, and get to know the subtle differences. The most aromatic tend to be more helpful for mood elevation, kidney problems and external use, while the more bitter or bitter/aromatic spp. are especially nice for digestive issues and the astringent/aromatic types are great for upper respiratory issues and general mucus membrane over-secretion. These type of subtleties apply to all herbs, but Goldenrod tends to be a great example of it because of the many spp. and sensory variances even within a single species or subspecies.
Tincture-2-4 ml 3x per day
Tea-1/2-1 tsp. of dried or fresh leaf and flower per 1 cup of boiling water steeped for 5-10 minutes. You may want to add honey to this as it will be bitter.
References and resources:
The Earthwise Herbal by Matthew Wood
The Energetics of Western Herbs by Peter Holmes
The Medicine Woman's Roots blog by Kiva Rose, just put Goldenrod in the search box and you'll get a list of excellent posts!
The Wild Ways of American Sarsparilla~Aralia Nudicaulis
Botanical Name: Aralia Nudicaulis. A member of the Araliaceae or Ginseng family
Status: Native to North American in boreal forests. It is found beneath hardwoods in rich soil.
Common names: Wild Sarsparilla, American Sarsparilla, Small Spikenard, False Sarsparilla, Wild Licorice, Rabbit Root
Description: A perennial that grows in the woods of the Northern United States and Canada. The leaf stalk grows up to 18” tall with compound leaves that branch out into 3 groups of 5 each. The flower is an umbel that comes up beneath the leaves in groups of 3.The leaves die back in the summer leaving the flowers to ripen into purplish black berries. The root is gathered although all parts of the plant can be used. The main root grows vertically down just a few inches but there are secondary runners that grow horizontally. New plants emerge from these underground rhizomes forming interconnected colonies. Gather in the Spring or Fall.
Taste: sweet, pungent, aromatic
Energetics: Cool, moist, oily
Actions: tonic, alterative, antisyphilitic, diaphoretic
Preparation: decoction of dried root or alcohol tincture. Tincture dose- 15-30 drops 3-4 x per day
Metaphysical pattern-Aralia Nudicaulis provides nourishment for the body and soul in a gentle but profound way. It has roots(actually underground stems) that grow laterally. This signifies communication that is dispersed in a web of synapse alongside the mycelial network. This transmits information in a matrix that, instead of being concentrated up and down, is dispersed outward where it is less centered, more continuous and evenly distributed. This offers sensory intelligence that is less polar, more insulated and therefore less interrupted. This contiguity allows for easy networking from plant to plant providing steadily accessible nutrients, perception and expression. This patternis different in contrast with American Ginseng, another aralia, that has a solid, centered root and conveys a strong message and presence. Wild Sarsparilla has less compact energy and is much more celestial in presence with its horizontal connection being held by the Earth's magnetic field as a wave instead of as a solid, directive force. When standing among a patch, or really it’s a sea, of Wild Sarsparilla there is always a feeling of aliveness, awareness and alertness but without feeling over- stimulated, as if my cells are being provided just the precise amount of energy required that can be effectively metabolized and released. When we can facilitate our energy laterally it offers us the opportunity to disseminate it outward while still being able to hold it in our field for further access and reflection.
Wild Sarsparilla was used by the Haudenosaunee(Iroquois) as “Blood medicine”, for upset stomach, rheumatism and diabetes. The recommendations are to steep a handful of the root in 4 quarts of water and “drink any quantity anytime”. It was one of nineteen plants used in one woman’s(Sarah Snow) special blood tonic formula. Her gathering practice was sacred and offerings of tobacco were made to each plant:
“It takes about a pound and a half of tobacco to make this medicine. The tobacco is used at every plant that is taken for the formula. She gathers the plants during the last part of September, in the Fall of the year. She always sprinkles tobacco at the side of the first plant of a variety, and this plant she does not take, but takes the next one. She makes a little hole with her hand parting the brush to clear a space on the ground next to the plant, and then covers it over afterward by placing the brush so that other people do not see it. Then she says a prayer.” ~Iroquois Medical Botany
Wild Sarsparilla is well known as an alterative or a blood purifier and is often considered correlative to Sarsparilla of the Smilax genera that grows sub- tropically. Both are considered to be alterative, but Aralia Nudicaulis has a stronger affinity to normalizing hormones, particularly excess androgens because it has the ability to enable efficient cellular metabolism. Being in the Ginseng family it is nourishing and can provoke our internal capacity to maintain dynamic equilibrium and it this quality that also helps to balance hormones. Because it is particularly helpful in regulating excess androgen levels it is a good choice for acne in teenagers and those with polycystic varian syndrome
Wild Sarsparilla is highly nourishing with significant amounts of calcium, potassium, magnesium, iron, and zinc along with starch, sugars, resins, saponins, pectin and volatile oils. The impressive mineral content makes this plant a good choice to improve bone growth, increase the flexibility of connective tissue and as a treatment for arthritis. Being that it is considered to have the nourishing qualities of rabbit medicine by the Cree, it is indicated where disease or lack of nutrition has led to muscle wasting, weight loss, and general weakness. It’s saponins contribute to it’s effect on arthritis as they provide an anti-inflammatory quality. Wild Sarsparilla has been used for rheumatoid arthritis, not only because it is anti-inflammatory, but also because it also seems to modulate immune function and therefore may down-regulate auto-immune response. It’s blood purifying action contributes by encouraging the removal of stagnant waste products that often build up in the joints and tissues with this condition.
Wild Sarsparilla and the Smilax variety are both considered useful in the treatment of Syphilis, with Smilax now being used in modern herbal medicine as a primary remedy for Lyme disease; both Lyme and Syphilis being infections by spirochetal bacteria. Smilax Sarsparilla is used presently as an anti-sprirochetal and anti-bacterial. Both of these plants, are alterative and will bind endotoxins in the blood protecting against the Herxheimer reaction that is caused by spirochetal die off during treatment. Aralia nudicaulis itself has been shown in recent research to be anti-mycobacteria with its two constituents, falcarinol and panaxydol, being identified as the active elements. Mycobacteria are gram positive and cause a variety of illness, the most common being Tuberculosis.
“It is relaxant and gently stimulant; mild and moderately slow in action; and expending its properties chiefly upon the skin and kidneys, and moderately upon the mucous structures of the lungs and uterus. It is mainly valued for its influence upon the first-named secernents, for which it enjoys a just repute as an alterant. It is principally used in mild secondary syphilis, and in cutaneous affections connected with irritability. It is seldom employed in pulmonary difficulties; yet is good whenever the lungs need a mild expectorant with stimulation. In the same way, it may be used in simple cases of leucorrhea and weakness of the back. Boiling impairs its properties. A decoction may be made by steeping an ounce of the root in a pint of boiling water; one half of which may be used in twenty-four hours. In preparing it for sirups, it is oftenest combined with such articles as arctium, celastrus, and menispermum; and treated by percolation.” The Physiomedical Dispensatory
It has other known uses as an external remedy for skin conditions of any nature including burns, shingles and fungal infections such as ringworm. It is considered useful as an expectorant and used for coughs, colds and irritated mucus membranes.
Although Wild Sarsparilla is not a widely used plant it was one that I have come to cherish and value. I use it often and it is a primary member of my apothecary. It’s major uses are a just a few of many and I hope to explore its finer qualities in the future. It is quite common and prolific in our Northeastern forests and, although it doesn’t provide the intensity of action that it’s relative American Ginseng offers, it’s therapeutic ability is equally as capable of re-organizing patterns of imbalance and resolving obstacles to optimal health and resilience.
The Earthwise Herbal by Matthew Wood
A Modern Herbal by Mrs. M. Grieve :http://botanical.com/
The Physiomedical Dispensatory by William Cook, M.D., 1869
Anti-mycobacterial diynes from the Canadian medicinal plant Aralia nudicaulis,. J Ethnopharmacol. 2012 Mar 6
Iroquois Medical Botany by James W. Herrick