Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Swampy Medicine for Swampy Lungs

This post is part of the October Blog Party: Bio-regional herbs for the Cold and Flu Season being hosted by Rosalee de la Foret at www.methowvalleyherbs.blogspot.com

Photo by Darcey Blue French

My relationship with Eastern Skunk Cabbage began with a dream about digging its roots to treat my own asthma -- a journey chronicled in an earlier post.

Recently I have been finding that many of my own experiences with the plant are consistent with the discoveries and practices of the Eclectics who knew the plant as Dracontium foetidum. (By the 1890's, most botanists were using the name by which the plant is known today, Symplocarpus foetidus, but I much prefer the older name.)

I believe Eastern Skunk Cabbage deserves a place in the Materia Medica of modern New England herbalists as an excellent ally in treating asthma and respiratory infections -- including the stubborn, lingering respiratory infections that often follow when someone does not get enough rest to fully recover from a serious bout of the flu. We have a tremendous amount to learn from earlier generations' usage of the plant.

The 1898 edition of King's American Dispensatory describes Skunk Cabbage root as "a stimulant, exerting expectorant [. . .]" Just as the plant's contractile roots reach deep into swampy soils to drink up moisture, the root as a medicine brings up excess mucous from deep in the lungs. Energetically it is neutral to warm -- well suited to treating the kind of deep, cold congestion that can set in with a stubborn lingering case of bronchitis or pneumonia.

Yet as a diaphoretic herb it can also help to release the excess heat associated with influenza and the ensuing inflammation of the lungs.

The Eclectics frequently combined Skunk Cabbage with Lobelia in their formulae. Lobelia would help to open the airways while Skunk Cabbage would help to bring up phlegm.

Both medicines are profoundly antispasmodic, and Skunk Cabbage is slightly narcotic, so the combination would also help to quell violent coughing fits and allow a sick person to sleep.

Skunk Cabbage root is also a nervine. King's American Dispensatory notes that "Its action upon the nervous system is marked, relieving irritation, and it has a tendency to promote normal functional activity of the nervous structures." As an asthmatic I know that the shortness of breath caused by the contraction of my airways is always compounded by the wave of panic that ensues when I can't get enough oxygen. Skunk Cabbage helps tremendously in calming that panic.

I harvest the roots Eastern Skunk Cabbage in March, when the green buds of the flowers have emerged but have not yet turned purple. There is usually still snow on the ground -- Skunk Cabbage is thermogenic and melts the ice, frost, and snow around it to become the first plant emerging in the swamp in spring. I dry the roots for a few days as a precaution because drying diminishes the levels of calcium oxalate crystals present, and then tincture them in 100 proof vodka. For acute respiratory infections I use 5-15 drops 4-6 times a day.

For bronchitis and bacterial and fungal pneumonias I usually use Skunk Cabbage along with Usnea.

For persistent, deep, cold, wet bronchitis and pneumonia I use Skunk Cabbage along with Elecampane and Pleurisy Root.

Large doses of Skunk Cabbage root may be emetic -- and in one nineteenth century formula, Skunk Cabbage was combined with Lobelia, Wild Ginger, Pleurisy Root, and Bloodroot as an "emetic for children and infants, [. . . ] safely used in croup, whooping-cough, bronchitis, asthma, convulsions, and in all cases where an emetic is required." When my asthma was at its most severe growing up, I often felt relief only when I would throw up, forcing some of the mucous from my bronchi in the process. In my own practice, I am not quite ready to revive old emetic therapies for acute bronchial and pulmonary congestion, but the idea is worth thinking about.

Friday, September 18, 2009

September Update

September Update

In this issue:
  • Green Man Botanicals -- New this month: Holy Basil, Self-Heal, and Ghost Pipe
  • Seeking venues for talks and workshops
  • September Special for new clients -- sign up for a first consultation and get your second one free!
  • 2 Herbalists and a dog seeking work and a winter home


The forests and fields of Maine have continued to be bountiful, and I am pleased to have more tinctures and flower essences to share. All are made from organically grown or ethically wild-crafted plants.

None of this information and none of these products are intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, or cure of any medical condition.


All tincgtures are made using the Simpler's method.

Holy Basil
(Ocimum sanctum) -- Traditionally used in India to treat memory loss, fatigue, colds, asthma, and indigestion. Some practitioners have also had great success in using Holy Basil to alleviate stagnant depression and help release thoughts and emotions stuck in the past. Research indicates that the plant may also aid in the modulation of immune responses. Flowering tops and leaves in 80 proof brandy. -- $10/oz

Self-Heal (Prunella vulgaris) -- Used in Europe traditionally for inflamed topical wounds and in Traditional Chinese Medicine to soften hard masses and swolen lymph nodes and to treat conditions connected with rising Liver Fire. Many herbalists also use Self Heal to relieve fevers without lowering the body's temperature too far. In addition, Self-Heal has antiviral, antimicrobial, antibacterial, astringent, carminative, vulneary, and antispasmodic actions. Flowers in 80 proof brandy. -- $10/oz

Ghost Pipe (Monotropa uniflora) -- A powerful plant to be used with great care in small doses for short periods of time to relieve intense physical pain or severe acute anxiety or in cases of acute dissociative episodes. Whole plant in 100 proof vodka. $10/ 1/2 oz, $15/oz

Oxeye Daisy (Chrysanthemum Leucanthemum) -- The Eclectic Physicians of the nineteenth century classified this plant as tonic, diuretic, and antispasmodic. The 1898 edition of King's American Dispensary suggested its use for "whooping cough, asthma, and nervous excitability." Some contemporary practitioners have noted its affinity for the upper respiratory system. Aerial parts in 80 proof brandy. $10/oz

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) Glycerite -- Yarrow has traditionally been used to release trapped heat from the body, stem bleeding, ease pain and spasms including menstrual cramps, bring relief from colds and flus, and aid in divination. Flowers and first year leaves in vegetable glycerin. $10/oz

Red Clover (Trifolium pratense) Elixir -- Traditionally used to nourish pregnant women and lactating mothers, smooth the transition into menopause and andropause, promote fertility, and support the lymphatic system, among dozens of other uses. Flowers in a blend of vegetable glycerin and brandy. $10/oz


Stock essences -- $15/oz, $8 1/2 oz Dosage bottles of any essence or combination -- $10/oz, $8 1/2 oz

Eastern Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) -- For those who walk between worlds.

Trillium (Trillium Erectum) -- An ally in giving birth to the self.

Pink Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium acaule) -- Cradles and supports the heart, allowing it to open to healing love and healing eros, human, wild, and divine.

Self-Heal (Prunella Vulgaris) -- Restores faith in our ability to heal ourselves.

Black Cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa) -- Aids in emerging from abusive patterns and relationships and emerging from dark depression.


Payment accepted by check or Paypal. To order e-mail seandonahuepoet@gmail.com . $5 shipping per order.


Sean is looking for venues to give talks and workshops on the following themes this fall, winter, and spring:


There is lots of frightening and confusing information in the press and online about "Swine Flu" right now. And panic itself can be a factor in the spread of disease as stress first amps up and then wears down our immune systems. Herbalist Sean Donahue helps put the threat in perspective and gives practical herbal and nutritional strategies for preventing and dealing with flus.


The daily stresses of living in a culture that is so wildly out of balance take their toll on our bodies over time. Herbalist Sean Donahue explains the biology of stress -- how it plays out in our bodies and how it contributes to disease. And he shares how herbs, nutrition, meditation, and lifestyle changes can help our bodies, minds, and spirits deal better with the frustrations, anxieties, and fears that are part and parcel of living in these times.


Stress, pollution, and poor nutrition all combine to take their toll on the immune system. Some of us have immune systems that are dangerously depleted, leaving us vulnerable to infection, others have immune systems that are revved up too high, causing our bodies to attack themselves. Herbalist Sean Donahue will talk about how nutrition and herbs can help to restore and support healthy immune function.


The world is alive and constantly speaking to us – we just have to learn to listen. Throughout history and throughout the world, indigenous peoples have used their hearts as organs of perception to take in messages from the living Earth – this is how the great healing traditions of the world were born. Herbalist Sean Donahue explains the philosophy underlying this approach to the world, the biology of the heart as an organ of perception, and simple techniques that can open the hear to the world around us.


Our bodies have a tremendous ability to heal themselves given the right support. Working with herbs, flower essences, nutritional and lifestyle changes, energy work, and ceremony, Sean Donahue helps people find the support they need for physical, emotional, and spiritual healing.
An initial session involves an in depth exploration of the history of the issues a client wants to work on and the client's health history. Intake sessions typically last 1 1/2 - 2 hours. Clients are also asked to fill out a questionnaire before the first session.
Future sessions will be shorter. Depending on the client's needs they may include energy work, ceremony, and adjustment's to herbal protocols.
Sean works on a sliding scale, charging between $100 - 150 for an initial intake session, and $30 - 40 per half-hour for each follow-up session. He can also often provide herbal forumlae for an additional fee of $10-15 per ounce depending on the plants used. THIS MONTH ONLY, EVERY NEW CLIENT WILL RECEIVE A FREE FOLLOW-UP SESSION 2-6 WEEKS AFTER THEIR INITIAL CONSULTATION.
Barter is also joyfully accepted. Installment plans can be negotiated as well. No one is ever turned away for lack of funds.
Sean is currently available to see clients at the Center for Mindful Living in Lawrence, MA and at Nezinscot Farm in Turner, ME. He also sees clients in the Boston area. Soon he will also be seeing clients in Bethel, ME and Richmond, VT.
While it is ideal to meet in person, Sean is also able to offer long distance consultation by telephone and e-mail. Long distance consultations are a starting point and are not a substitute for an in person consultation with a local herbalist.

If you have questions or would like to make an appointment, please call Sean at 978-809-8054 or e-mail him at seandonahuepoet@gmail.com.


My Siberian Husky, Trill, and I have been tremendously lucky to spend the Spring and Summer in a wonderful community in Sumner, ME.

But we will be moving on this winter. My partner, Darcey Blue French, an amazing herbalist, nutritionist and chef will be making the cross-country trek from Tuscon, AZ to join us this winter. And so we are looking for a winter home for our little family, hopefully in New England or upstate New York.

We are looking for a low cost living situation, and between us can come up with a small amount for rent and utilities each month. We are also glad to provide free health consultations and herbs, delicious healthy meals, running errands, care for children, elders, pets, or plants in exchange for reduced rent. Our needs are simple -- we would be very happy with a bedroom and access to a kitchen and a bathroom or outhouse in a family or communal home, or would be delighted to take care of a cottage or cabin for the winter as long as there is a way to heat it.

In addition, we are both looking for work this winter. I have extensive experience in writing, editing, and political organizing. Darcey has extensive experience in the natural products/health food industry, retail sales and management, gardening and indoor plant care, writing and editing.
Please e-mail me as seandonahuepoet@gmail.com with any leads.