Friday, February 25, 2011


Recently, I met with Keira Zikmanis, writer for the Nexus - Camosun College's student newspaper. We spoke about wildcrafting medicinal plants and she has included some info in her latest article. The article is brief but offer a couple good resources if you are interested to learn more. Check it out at:

Pacific Rim College also offers a summertime course on Wildcrafting, led by Amanda Howe, who has experience as a clinical herbalist and a researcher of sustainable wildcrafting practices. Through the course students have the chance to learn to wildcrafting and contribute to research on sustainable practices. To view research by Amanda visit Royal Roads Centre for Non-timber Forest Products:

Some of the first plant to wildcraft in Spring include: Thuja plicata (Red Cedar) and Galium aparine (Cleavers). Spring plants you may find in your garden include Plantago spp. (Plantain) and Stellaria media (Chickweed). Equisetum arvense (Horsetail) & Urtica dioica (Nettles) must be collected in Spring, as older Summer plants contain Silica which irritates the kidneys. Remember to follow good practices to ensure that population of plants is maintained for the next generation!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Thyroid Disorders

Thyroid Disorders: Hypothyroidism and Hyperthyroidism

The thyroid gland is a small, butterfly shaped organ at the base of the neck just below the adam's apple. Its vital function is to secrete thyroid hormones, which control how much of our body functions. Thyroid hormones effect the metabolic rate by influencing how much oxygen our cells use and by stimulating tissues to produce proteins. Simply put, the rate and intensity of our bodily functions are controlled, in part, by the thyroid. It does this by releasing T4, which is converted to it's more active form T3 in the liver.

The thyroid is not an independent organ. It is controlled by the pituitary gland, which is in turn controlled by the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus secretes a hormone that causes the pituitary gland to produce Thyroid-Stimulating Hormone, or TSH. This hormone, as its name implies, stimulates the thyroid to produce T4. As T4 and T3 reach a higher level in the blood, the pituitary gland stops producing TSH. When T4 and T3 levels drop to low, this stimulates the thyroid to begin producing TSH again.

Of course for all of this to work, the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, thyroid gland, liver, circulatory system, and other aspects must be in good working order. Iodine must be obtained from the diet in sufficient quantities for the production of T4 to occur. If any of these functions are disrupted in any way, it can cause widespread changes in the body. Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) and hyperthryroidism (overactive thyroid) are two of the more common thyroid disorders.

Underactivity in the thyroid gland will cause a slowing down of the body's mental and physical processes. Common symptoms include weight gain despite diminished appetite, low energy and fatigue, slowed heart rate, constipation, dry rough skin, hoarse voice, depression, hair loss (especially eyebrows), low libido, infertility, poor memory, muscle weakness and cramps, delayed reflexes, heavy menstrual periods, and puffiness around the eyes. Some of these symptoms, such as slowed heart rate, can cause additional problems in the long term, like atherosclerosis.

Conventional Treatment of hypothyroidism

The deficient hormone is replaced by taking an oral preparation of an organic or synthetic version. Dried animal thyroids are occasionally used, but synthetic versions are generally preferred by doctors since the hormone levels are less variable and easier to control. Thyroid hormone replacement therapy has been used for almost 100 years and is considered safe and effective. Doses should be monitored carefully, with the lowest possible effective dose used.

Herbal Approaches to Treatment

Since conventional treatment is so effective, herbs are generally used to support the body in resolving symptoms. If a person's hypothyroidism is mild, they may elect to pursue a strictly botanical treatment. Treatment protocols include cardiovascular support, bitters, nervine tonics, adaptogens, circulatory stimulants, and emollients.

Specific Herbs

The following are examples of herbs that may be used safely in hypothyroidism to combat symptoms. They are not always appropriate for everyone, and do not represent the sum total of effective herbs. For the best and safest results, consult with a medical herbalist who can recommend the best herbs, diet, and lifestyle choices for your individual needs.

Fucus vesiculosus


This seaweed is only indicated when hypothyroidism is caused by an iodine deficiency. However, it has been known to worsen the condition or cause hyperthyroidism due to it's variable iodine content, and may interfere with conventional treatment. Prolonged use may also interfere with iron, sodium, and potassium absorption.

Withania somnifera


This adaptogen is a tonic and rejuvenative that has been used for centuries for it's dual ability to promote energy and calm at the same time. It is an immunomodulator, nervine, and muscle, heart, and lung tonic. It is beneficial in most stress related conditions. Ashwagandha is commonly used in hypothyroid conditions due to its ability to stimulate the thyroid to increase T4 production.

Commiphora mukul


Guggul has been shown to act directly on the thyroid gland, increasing levels of T3 in the body. It also reduces levels of LDL cholesterol, is an anti-inflammatory, reduces blood clots, can help clear atherosclerosis, and enhances tissue healing throughout the body. It's ability to raise the white blood cell count can help with lowed immunity due to slowed metabolism.

Diet and Lifestyle

It is important to limit foods that block iodine utilization in the body. These include vegetables in the cabbage family (broccoli, cauliflower, turnip, mustard greens, rutabaga, kohlrabi, brussel sprouts, kale, radishes), peanuts, pine nuts, soybeans (and soybean products like tofu or tempeh), millet, strawberries, peaches, pears, spinach, and sweet potatoes. Supplementation with zinc and selenium, which help with the conversion of T4 to T3, may also be useful. Vitamins A, D, E, and C will also help the body to function more efficiently.

Dieting is not recommended as it causes the body to slow down the metabolic rate even further in order to conserve energy. Regular daily exercise will stimulate the metabolism and will counteract the metabolic slowdown in dieting overweight people.


In contrast to hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism involves a speeding up of the body's metabolic processes due to overactivity of the thyroid. Causes include benign or malignant tumor, inflammation due to infection, or Graves' disease. The cause may also be unknown. Symptoms include heat intolerance, heart palpitations, night sweats, insomnia, excessive sweating, tremors, difficulty sitting still or quietly, increased appetite and weight loss, flushed skin, nervousness and irritability. In postmenopausal women symptoms are often confined to one organ system (ex. heart/cardiovascular system).

Conventional Treatment

There are three main treatments available, the first of which is an antithyroid drug therapy. One or more antithyroid drug is given until spontaneous remission occurs. According to Dr. Aviva Romm, “twenty to forty percent of patients have spontaneous remission within 6 months to 15 years,” and within that there is a “fifty to sixty percent relapse rate.” If drug therapy is ineffective or relapse occurs, thyroidectomy or treatment with radioactive iodine are the remaining options. In thyroidectomy part of the thyroid is surgically removed, with the end result being a lifetime of thyroid hormone supplementation. Radioactive iodine is given in one dose and shrinks the thyroid gland over a period of weeks. The major complication is hypothyroidism.

Herbal Approaches to Treatment

There are a number of herbs that have demonstrated antithyroid activity. Those, along with herbs to provide symptom relief, are very effective at controlling hyperthryroidism. It is important to note that this is a long-term treatment. Results are often not seen for 2-4 weeks, and treatment needs to continue for years or possibly indefinitely.

Specific Herbs

Lycopus europaea/virginicus


Bugleweed acts directly by blocking TSH receptors and limiting the conversion of T4 to T3. It is also specifically indicated in heart palpitations, tremors, tightness of breath, insomnia, night sweats, and anxiety. Due to it's inhibition of the hormone prolactin, Bugleweed should not be used during pregnancy or lactation.

Leonurus cardiaca


The second half of the Latin binomial, cardiaca, suggests this plant's affinity for the heart. It is a specific for heart palpitations, especially with anxiety or tension. This cardiotonic also has thyroid inhibiting actions. For hyperthyroid conditions, Motherwort works best combined with Bugleweed.

Melissa officinalis


Lemonbalm is another herb that has been shown to inhibit TSH binding in the thyroid gland. It is a tonic for the heart, circulatory system, and nerves, and is especially useful if there are stress-related digestive upsets.

Diet and Lifestyle

Eat plenty of the foods listed above which are contraindicated for those with hypothyroidism. Be sure to avoid foods with high iodine contents, such as seaweeds. Eat foods high in flavanoids, which will have blue, purple, or red colors, such as berries, grapes, and cherries. Flavanoids decrease T4 levels and inhibit conversion of T4 to T3. Supplement with calcium, selenium, and zinc. Stress reduction will help ease symptoms as well. Yoga, tai chi, and meditation are all useful.


Bartram, Thomas. Bartram's encyclopedia of herbal medicine. 1998. Marlow & Company.

Berkow, Robert (Ed.). The Merck manual of medical information (home edition). 1997. Pocket Books.

Frawley, D. & Lad, V. The yoga of herbs. 2nd ed. 2001. Lotus Press.

Hoffmann, David. Medical herbalism. 2003. Healing Arts Press.

Holmes, Peter. The energetics of western herbs. Vol 2. 2006. Snow Lotus Press, Inc.

Pole, Sebastian. Ayurvedic medicine. 2006. Elsevier, Ltd.

Romm, Aviva. Botanical medicine for women's health. 2010. Elsevier, Ltd.

Herbal teas for a Happy Tummy!

Digestive Aid

 Matricaria recutita (Chamomile flower)
Foeniculum vulgare (Fennel seed)
Zingiber officinale (Ginger root)
  • Preparation type: tea
  • Dosage and Duration of use: 1 tsp of each to 1-2 cups boiling water; drink as needed after meals to aid in digestion or at the presence of digestive upset until it has ceased
  • Instructions on use: boil Fennel seed and Ginger root in water 15 minutes; pour over Chamomile flowers, cover, and infuse for 10-15 minutes; drink when warm
  • Notes: can add raw honey, lemon juice, and citrus peel to the infusion as well
  • Limitations/When to refer for medical help: if digestive upset persists after several attempts at treatment as listed above, seek attention from a health care professional, especially if digestive upset is common and frequent or involves vomiting or frequent diarrhea or constipation 

Heartburn Relief

Filipendula ulmaria (Meadowsweet herb)
  • Preparation type: tea
  • Dosage and Duration of use: 1 tsp to 1 cup boiling water, cover and infuse for 10-15 minutes
  • Instructions on use: drink as needed until heartburn has ceased
  • Notes: avoid consumption of alcohol, caffeine, spicy and pungent foods, as these things both cause and aggravate heartburn
  • Limitations/When to refer for medical help: if heartburn persists after several attempts at treatment as listed above, seek attention from a health care professional; if blood is being coughed up or severe pain is frequent/consistent in chest or abdominal regions

    Contibuted by Laura Mroz, student of Phytotherapy and Tradition Chinese Medicine at Pacific Rim College. 

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Victoria Teafest

A number of Phytotherapy students from Pacific Rim College attended the Victoria Teafest last weekend. We kept busy all weekend offering short herbal consultations and dispensing customized tea blends. Many people were interested in this approach to medicine and we hope to see them visit our clinic at the college! Consultations in clinic are about 1 hour and we have access to more herbs for tea as well as tinctures and topical herbal medicines. The Teafest was a good chance for people to get a taste of what we have to offer and it was great for us to meet people and witness their excitement for using herbs to improve health! We also enjoyed trying different teas from other exhibitors, not to mention the beautiful pottery teapots!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Valentine's day!!

Valentine's Day is here! The perfect time to remember our herbal aphrodisiacs. 

Many factors can contribute to a drop in libido, including stress, pharmaceutical side effects and underlying physical conditions. If the physical spark is dim in the love nest, try adding one of the following herbs to start the fire..........
Withania / Ashwagandha: a supportive, adaptogenic root herb commonly used in India. It tonifies the reproductive system for both men and women. It's traditional folk name is the "man with a thousand wives"!

Maca Root / "Peruvian ginseng": a folk remedy used to increase stamina, energy, and sexual function.

Fo-Ti: also known as Ho Shou Wu, this Chinese herb is known for being a longevity tonic increasing vitality, stamina and also popular as a hair tonic for growth and color.

Damiana: a Mexican herb that is can enhance female sexual function via active constituents that have progesterone mimicking qualities.

If there is underlying stress of a hormone imbalance please consider seeing a herbalist to help you find long lasting balance in you love life!!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Herbs in Your Kitchen

Did you know that you are already using herbs as medicine? Take a look through your spice drawer and you'll most likely find plants like cinnamon, ginger, oregano, thyme, rosemary, cardamom, turmeric, sage, and garlic. All of these delicious herbs and spices help us to digest the food they're cooked with so we can lessen or avoid gas and bloating after meals. They are known as carminatives, which means they soothe inflammation in the gut wall, ease griping pains, and help expel gas.

Some of these kitchen allies help keep us warm as well. Cinnamon, ginger, and rosemary are all powerful circulatory stimulants and do an excellent job of keeping away the chills in winter. Just think of how nice it is to enjoy a hot mug of cinnamon hot chocolate. Yum! Cardamom is a nice alternative for those who want that earthy flavor but don't want to heat themselves up too much. Instead of stimulating blood flow, cardamom warms up the gastrointestinal tract and can be a big help in soft or loose stools. It also cuts through and breaks up mucus, whether it's in the GI tract or nasal passages. Cardamom is a great gentle warmer for people who are feeling damp or cold. Try it with some fennel, cumin, and ginger for an upset stomach, or with cinnamon and cloves for lung problems.

If you're eating away from home and are worried about gas or indigestion, a small handful of fennel or caraway seeds stashed in your pocket can help with any post meal pain or discomfort. Try chewing on a teaspoon or so of the seeds after you eat to prevent indigestion and to freshen your breath.

Want to make something simple at home that can help stave off or fight colds and flus, indigestion, and relax sore muscles? Make up a batch of Fire Cider!

1/2c Horseradish root, grated

1/2c Onion, chopped

1/2c Ginger, grated

1/8-1/4c Garlic, chopped

1 tsp Cayenne pepper

Place all ingredients into a quart jar and cover with raw apple cider vinegar. Let steep at least two weeks, preferably 8 weeks, and as long as three months. No need to refrigerate as vinegar is a natural preservative. This can be sipped daily as a general digestion, circulatory, and immune tonic. At the onset of a cold or flu, try taking up to a tablespoon three times a day until symptoms are gone. It can also be used a compress for sore muscles or on the chest for lung congestion. If the taste is too strong for you, it can be mixed with some raw honey, which also helps to fight cold, flus, and congestion. Fire Cider also makes a delicious salad dressing!

Always remember that if your herbs and spices are more than a year old they should be thrown out. Fresh will have much better and stronger flavors and stronger medicinal properties. They should always be stored in airtight containers away from light and heat. Happy cooking!