The first time I met Elephant Head Betony (Pedicularis groenlandica) was in 1992, when I moved to Durango from Honolulu. My college roommates were great hosts and took me to some amazing places in the Four Corners area. The first place they took me to was Lewis Basin just outside of Mancos, CO. The goal for this outing was to climb to the peak from the basin and traverse the ridge, but I was really more interested in exploring the alpine meadows full of flowers that I had never met before. I would come back the next weekend by myself to poke around, dip my feet in the stream, and meet everyone.
That was when I met Elephant Head. It blew my mind. The whole meadow basin blew my mind and my heart wide open, but this plant enveloped my attention. We sat nose to nose that afternoon. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I didn’t know who this plant was at the time and was not at all surprised when I learn the common name – Elephant Head. Duh.
I attended a wonderful lecture presented by Dara Saville recently. Her visceral reaction to this plant, as she describes below in an excerpt from the essay on her class, is the desire to fling herself into the flower patch wholeheartedly for a deeper connection – a very reasonable impulse to such a heart-melting interlude. Mine, however, was quite opposite. I was in such awe of this plant that the idea of disturbing a single bloom was just absurd. It was best admired it’s natural home and I would do my best to photograph it to preserve the moment and “capture” its unique personality and expression.
After attending Dara’s class and learning about the energetic qualities of the two species that are abundant in my region, P. groenlandica and P. racemosa – beyond its traditional use as a muscle relaxant – I knew that when the opportunity presented itself to wildharvest either one of these plants, I would harvest if they gave me permission. I had never asked before, but next time, I would. I wanted to feel these energetics for myself. I felt called to undergo the shifts in energy and spirit these plants had to offer. I felt these plants could help me take things to the next level in my life. I wanted to feel unstuck and reconnect with the lost parts of myself.
Experts from Dara Saville’s Lecture Essay on Pedicularis spp.
P. groenlandicahas fern-like leaves and magnificent flowering racemes with elephant-shaped flowers, giving it the common name of “Elephant Head Betony”. To discover an alpine meadow blanketed by P. groenlandica is like falling in love. As my eyes met this magenta mountain meadow, my first reaction was to dive in head-first, to literally fling myself into it whole-heartedly. I felt a compelling attraction profoundly pulling me into the landscape, like two souls split part and now reunited. Knowing that this plant favors boggy places, I thought better of it and instead gazed drop-jawed at the majestic beauty, walked carefully amongst the little plants, and found a place to sit and soak it all in. I knew that later I would be making deep body healing salve born directly from the landscape, but for now P. groenlandica was nourishing me in the most intangible ways. I will never forget the happiness I felt from head to toe as I laid eyes on this striking scene. Simply knowing that such places exist in the world is comforting medicine for me. P. groenlandica’s mesmerizing inflorescence heals both directly as absorbed by the body and also indirectly as absorbed by the heart. Thriving in open wetter places with a tendency towards stagnancy, think of this species when the release of muscular tension is needed to promote more movement in the musculature, heart, and mind. This plant will help us to let go and move on from problems that may be holding us back.
Also known as 'Parrot Beak', P. racemosa flowers have a unique formation resembling a white bird's beak along with serrated lanceolate leaves, thereby differentiating it from other members of the genus described here. This plant inhabits the forest edges acting as liaison between worlds, an intermediary between light and dark. Approaching this plant, I feel it beckoning me to come deeper into the forest in search of fulfillment that only the wilderness beyond can provide. Just as its parasitic roots spread underground subtly shifting the energy of the forest ecosystem, it infiltrates the heart and implants trust and faith where fear, distrust, or other difficult emotions may reside. Working with it as plant medicine provides more than relief from musculo-skeletal aggravations; it also helps us to bridge the disparities in our own lives by connecting us with lost parts of ourselves. It summons from our own depths, the aspects of our being that we have ignored and helps us to be more complete individuals and more holistic practitioners. P. racemosa ultimately invites us to discover the unexplored magic within ourselves."
That day came about a week ago on one of my favorite hikes in the mountains near my home. I have been on this hike many times and have come to know the trail quite well – looking forward to seeing what’s new, seeing old plant friends, and being open to what the plants, trees, river, and weather may have to offer me in exchange for my deep gratitude and respect for their generosity.
Sometimes it’s a drizzly day and I could hike forever in the crisp, clean coolness. Sometimes there are so many plant portraits my eye sees that I inch along the trail at a staggeringly slow pace taking photographs. On these days it’s best if I hike alone and not get on a friend’s nerves for dallying along. Sometimes I show up in my “hikey shoes” and mini skirt – the best way to hike, btw – on a warm sunny day in late June, and as I climb higher and higher, the trail turns from dry to moist, to mucky, to steady stream, to tiny raging brook, to snow bridges with rushing water underneath, to The Impassable Snowbound Trail for the gal in hikey shoes and a mini skirt. All great days on the mountain, for sure.
And sometimes, when all the stars have aligned, there are plants that are abundant and in their peak bloom and calling out to those that can hear, “If you ask nicely, I will let you harvest me and give you good medicine”. And on this day, Pedicularis was calling my name. There was Parrot Beak in bloom everywhere on the trail’s edge, snugging up to pine and spruce trees, and pulling my eyes into the shaded untrampled recesses of the forest. This trail has a lot of water and marshy areas at several elevations along the hike, so chances of seeing a hardy patch of Elephant's Head at certain locations along the way are good. And indeed, there where two of these patches in full bloom.
My usual routine on any hike is to observe and photograph my surroundings on the hike in. If harvesting opportunities present themselves, I will make a mental note of the location, let the plants know that I am considering harvesting on my way back down the mountain, and hold this intention as I hike to my destination while noticing what comes up in my feelings and thoughts. So I made some mental notes and asked for permission to harvest as I sat on the edge of the high alpine lake, with the wind carrying my request downhill, feet dangling in the cold water.
I came home with just enough to put up less than a pint of each plant in alcohol. I had enough to fully cover the P. racemosa, but not the P. groenlandica. The Elephant’s Head was soaked in alcohol, but not fully covered. Since it was a Sunday evening, there was not much I could do about it. I would have to go to the liquor store after work the next day and top off the maceration. That night, this plant called out to me in my sleep over and over again, “PREDICULARIS GROENLANDICA!” It was as if it was fervently trying to remind me that my job of turning it into medicine wasn’t done. I woke up in the morning, picked up the jar off the counter, held it up to my face and said, “I know, I know... I am going to buy alcohol after work and fill your jar. I won’t forget. I promise.”
After a few days of soaking, I impatiently decided to do a proving of each plant. These tinctures will be used like flower essences – drop doses for energetic shifts rather than dropper-fulls for physiological effects. I tried the Parrot Beak first and felt subtle sensations of the dry forest floor, warm shade and a sense of invitation to look beyond the edges of the path. With the Elephant’s Head – those first few drops sent me straight back to the dappled sunlight and the deep fertile smell of the marshy aspen grove where it called home. I could feel the warm squishy marsh between my toes again. I felt the glow of an ultra-green heartfelt embrace and its damp, verdant breath on my skin.
It’s still too soon to know where these plants will take me, but I look forward to the journey. I know it will require effort and risk on my part – it always does. Thank you, my plant allies, for helping me remain up for the task.
“Now we turn to all of the Medicine herbs of the world. From the beginning, they were instructed to take away sickness. They were always waiting and ready to heal us. We are happy there are still among us those special few who remember how to use these plants for healing. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to the Medicines and to the keepers of the Medicines. Now our minds are one.” Haudenosaunee (Six Nations) Thanksgiving Address
My goodness! I don't even know where to begin. It's been so long (mid-April) since I last posted about the garden. I guess I left off at the beginning of May. All the perennials were off to a great start with all of the rain we had. It was a wonderful spring. Lots of sowing seeds directly, and planting Rick's seed starters. The energy was building quickly. I could feel it.
The iris were unfurling and bursting with bold colors and Victorian lady-like air.
Mid May and the four trellises of hops along the fence are going crazy. Hops tips are deeeelishious sautéed with mushrooms, btw. We didn't do a heck of a lot in the garden that morning, as it was a drizzly day.
I was in Austin the end of May, so the next time I came to work in the garden was the first week in June and these Iris were absolutely driving me crazy. I could barely concentrate. I will spare you all of the photos I took and have only selected four to share.
We loaded in a new pile of mushroom compost from Hazel Dell in Fort Collins, CO. I turned the compost that was cooking and added in some of mushroom compost to it. Rick said it go up to 120° when he checked it several days later! The Lovage and Angelica are getting really big. This is their second season, so I am happy to see them thriving.
This brings us to date, and the garden is exploding with vibrancy and earth energy. Rick and I were standing in front of the hops having a conversation and I could feel the pulsing life force it was sending out to us.
Rick is trying to convince me to take MORE greens! The Calendula are blossoming and I am starting my summer-long process of collecting the flowers and drying them for tincturing or infusing in oil. I am very eager for my GIANT Red Clover bush to bloom – wonder why it hasn't yet... The volunteer Borage and Narrow-Leaf Plantain dominate the bed with the quickly ripening Golden Peas. When trimming the Yarrow, I noticed a Leafcutter bee still clinging to the umble. It was early and he was still waking up.
Striking, silvery and quiet as he glides through the water with ease
(going with the flow undetected in the shade)
A dragonfly sunning herself on top of the glistening water. He can’t look away.
She notices his eyes
(or is that the clear blue water?)
and alluring way. She forgets he’s a fish
(and she a dragonfly) and forgets to fly away.
I think you’re beautiful. Would you like to play?
(with a gesture of his lean body and a liquid gaze)
(trusting, she says)
She’s intrigued by his mystery and careful use of words.
(she wants to touch him)
He’s right underneath the surface gulping for air. Her delicate hands can feel his sensitive skin tingle at the touch
(for a moment)
He smells clean and crisp.
( the breeze blows softly… breathe in slowly… Cottonwood… )
In a flash
he leaps out with unusual confidence
(and eats her whole)
(he says quietly)
Slipping away undetected
(into the eddy in the shade)
Ok... it's February... so it's all about Valentine's Day, right? Sorry if I don't sound more enthusiastic about it, but I have to admit, Valentine's Day is not my favorite holiday. Don't get me wrong. I love "love"! In fact, my totally awesome boyfriend in college, and my (now ex) husband of 13 years both arranged first dates with me on Valentine's Day. Random coincidence, and I found it very romantic. Yet it's normal to feel a bit jaded and faded about loves past – making me go around mumbling things in my head like "Love doesn't last!" and other forlorn proclamations. I'm sensitive when it comes to romance. Thankfully, we have our herbal allies to soften the blow and open us up to new possibilities again.
While matters of the emotional heart are tricky, matters of the physical heart don't have to be. Simple changes in diet, lifestyle, and some herbal support to help steer things in the right direction can make a huge difference in prevention and improvement of cardio vascular disease. My article on this topic (below) does some serious myth busting about the role of saturated fats and cholesterol in the diet. We've been lied to and cheated on by medical researchers, pharmaceutical companies, the US Department of Health, and giant agriculture industries including sugar, canola oil, soy, wheat and corn – all promoting hidden agendas for profit and using our declining health to line their pockets.
It's time to break up with the cheaters and liars, and reunite with our true love – the one that has always loved us from the very beginning – Nature! Plants, animals, water, wind, sun...
This article was lovingly written for the February Edition of AromaCulture Magazine, an online publication featuring informative articles written by respected aromatherapists and herbalist. I am humbled to be included among them. This issue is a nice blend of articles and recipes that speak to all aspects of taking care of our hearts.
Matters of the Heart – Nutritional and Herbal Prevention of Cardiovascular Diseases
By Malia Thompson, CN, CCH
The health of the cardio-vascular system is greatly impacted by chronic conditions such as atherosclerosis, diabetes and high blood pressure. All of these conditions have roots in inflammation due to dietary choices. By removing inflammatory foods like processed sugars and carbohydrates, processed oils, and factory farmed meats; adding high quality fats and oils; as well as incorporating supportive herbs into our daily dietary routines; we give our heart the opportunity to perform at peak levels for years to come.
As controversial a topic that it is, it is impossible to discuss cardiovascular health without talking about cholesterol. Let us first establish what cholesterol is and how it functions in the body before we wade into more treacherous waters of the “good or bad” debate.
Its functions are
Seventy-five percent of the body’s cholesterol needs are produced by the liver and circulated in the blood. Because of the importance of cholesterol, it is tightly regulated and is not haphazardly influenced by diet. (8) It is a wax-like substance that is found in every nucleus-containing cell of your body regulating, among other molecules, the passage of water through the cell membrane and protecting the cells from dehydration. Cholesterol in the cell membrane is part of the cell’s survival mechanism and its excess can point to dehydration. Blood lacking in hydration wants to pull water from other cells in order to thin the blood, but cholesterol is the cell’s survival mechanism and builds more cholesterol to prevent water from the cells passing through the cell membrane. Thicker blood means higher blood pressure and a heart that has to work harder to push the blood through the body. (10)
In 2015, the US Department of Health reported that after 40 years of promoting low fat diets, “cholesterol is no longer considered a nutrient concern for over consumption”. (1) There is caution for about 5% of the population who have an inherited condition called familial hypercholesterolemia and should closely monitor their cholesterol intake as their levels may be influenced by dietary intake. (8)
Testing for cholesterol is another area in the discussion of cholesterol that is proving to be antiquated. Most physicians use a blood test that measures total cholesterol, which puts cholesterol numbers in two camps: LDL’s (the “bad” ones) and HDL’s (the “good” ones). It is now known than there are at least five different types of LDLs and five different types of HDLs. LDLa is light, fluffy and harmless; while LDLb is a dense atherogenic, oxidized particle that causes big problems. Particle tests look at each division of HDL and LDL, giving a much more complete and nuanced view of cholesterol in the blood. (8)
The crux of the contention about cholesterol and its questionable link to coronary heart disease (CHD) has to do with the roll of dietary fats in the diet. In the article An Examination of the Evidence Supporting the Association of Dietary Cholesterol and Saturated Fats with Serum Cholesterol and Development of Coronary Heart Disease published in the Alternative Medicine Review, Marion Volk, MSHc, states that her article “revisits the origins of the dietary fat-coronary heart disease (CHD) paradigm and discusses the methodological problems involved. [Physiologist Ansel] Keys’ linear association between dietary fat consumption and CHD found its empirical verification in the Framingham Heart Study (FHS).” The FHS is of particular importance because a CHD predictor model was developed from it, which has been used as baseline for epidemiological studies and for treatment protocols ever since. Despite the difficulties of drawing clear conclusions from the Framingham studies, researchers continue to use them, and may partially explain why there is still such debate about the connection between both dietary and serum lipids and CHD. (2)
While the FHS showed there are many factors that contribute to the development of heart disease including smoking, stress, unhealthy diet, and lack of exercise, the FHS originally found that there was no relationship between a participant's intake of calories from fat and his or her cholesterol level. It also seemed as if a drop in cholesterol levels correlated with an increase of cardio vascular disease death for those over age 50. These findings puzzled the researchers and were not included in their official report. (2)
After reading several studies on the correlation between dietary fats – especially saturated fats from animals – and cardiovascular disease, one thing is remarkably clear to me. The tests do not specify what type of meat the people in the study are eating. This is a very important factor in the discussion of saturated fats, because not all fats are created equal. There is a radical degradation in the quality of meat and fat from an animal that has been raised in deplorable conditions, fed unnatural diets of GMO grains, antibiotics, hormones, steroids, and more. Toxins are stored in the fat, and if a person is eating this toxic meat, the health results will be quite different from those that eat pastured healthy animals.
Grass-fed meats, wild seafood, seeds, and many plant-based foods are high in anti-inflammatory, heart healthy Omega-3 fatty acids. On the other hand, processed/trans/hydrogenated vegetable oils and factory-farmed meats are high in potentially pro-inflammatory Omega-6 fatty acids. Inflammatory foods that consist of much of the standard American diet are trans-fats, factory farmed meats, refined carbohydrates and sugars, and processed non-organic foods. All of these increase systemic inflammation and create highly oxidative waste in the body. This is the point that the quality of the vascular tissues decreases in flexibility leading to the narrowing and blockages in the heart and blood vessels. Cholesterol builds up in an effort to protect the vascular system, but becomes unstable and “sticky” due to poor quality fat consumption, excess dietary sugar and free-radical damage, increasing the chances of heart attacks or strokes. The one situation in which a low-fat diet is recommended is if a person refuses to cut out inflammatory foods. (8)
Omega-3’s have consistently been shown to improve cardiovascular health in a variety of ways. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) has been shown to be more instrumental in lowering blood pressure and heart rate, and improving vascular function. While eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) helps the body produce hormone-like lipids and thin the blood. The blood thinning effect allows the blood to be pumped more efficiently through the body and exerting less pressure on the heart. (4)
The U.S. National Institute of Health recommends 650 mg/day of dietary EPA and DHA for healthy people, and 1000 mg/day for those with heart disease. The best sources of Omega-3’s are from high quality fish oil supplements, wild seafood (cold water fish like salmon, cod, sardines), organic meat and dairy from pastured grass-fed animals, and eggs from pastured chickens. For people that do not eat meat, seafood or eggs, getting adequate amounts of EPA and DHA requires higher amounts of plant-based food sources like flax seed, algae, chia, hemp seeds, leafy greens, purslane, beans, cabbages, and winter squash. This is because the conversion rate of plant-based omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) to EPA and DHA is extremely low (less than 15%). (4)(6) The goal for healthy, plant-based eaters is 1300 mg of ALA/day from a diet largely consisting of the foods just mentioned and an ALA supplement, while avoiding excess omega 6’s. (6)
It is important to note that the balance of omega-3’s to omega-6’s is key. There are many “ideal” 3-to-6 ratios floating around – 1:1, 1:3, 3:1 and so on. The standard American diet is currently anywhere from 1:16 to 1:25 in favor of omega-6’s. It is not so much that omega-6’s are bad (indeed, they are not an Essential Fatty Acid for nothing), rather it’s the extreme imbalance between the two that causes inflammation problems. Put simply, the closer the two numbers in this ratio are, the better they are for you.
There are many types of healthy fats to be incorporated into the diet whether one chooses to eat meat or not. These include high-quality olive oil, avocados, avocado oil, coconut oil, borage and evening primrose oils, to name a few. The oils to avoid are the processes/trans/hydrogenated types like canola, safflower and soy. These get even worse when used to deep fry foods. A wide variety of oils in the diet help ensure a healthy ratio of omega-3’s and omega-6’s for optimal heart health. (7)
A heart-healthy, anti-inflammatory diet includes:
In addition to omega-3's, supplementation of vitamin D3 and magnesium is recommended to counter inflammation and support blood pressure regulation. Most people are deficient in these three supplements. (6)
There are some wonderful herbal allies that improve heart function and modulate blood pressure. Even for healthy individuals seeking prevention of heart disease, it is strongly recommended to seek the guidance of a qualified herbalist/nutritionist. It is even more critical to work with a qualified professional in conjunction with your doctor if you are on any medications before working with any of the herbs I am about to discuss. As you well know, matters of the heart are tricky.
Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) is the most well-known herb for the heart. It strengthens heart function, and serves as a cardio relaxant. Motherwort is indicated for those that have nervous and anxious tendencies. As a mild sedative and anti-spasmodic, it promotes relaxation and stress relief, rather than drowsiness. (3)
Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) has been fairly well researched for constituents that relax and dilate coronary arteries, increasing blood flow, and reducing symptoms of angina. It is high in antioxidants that protect and reduce the degeneration of blood vessels. It has also been shown to normalize an irregular heartbeat. (3)
Linden (Tilia europaea) flowers are commonly taken to lower high blood pressure, especially when emotional factors are involved. When used over a long period of time, Linden lowers systolic blood pressure associated with atherosclerosis. (3)
Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) root is not a heart herb per se, but it is important to note that it is contraindicated for those with high blood pressure. Prolonged use of licorice root beyond 6 weeks causes water retention, edema, potassium depletion and hypertension. The side effects are due to the constituent glycyrrhizin. There are glycyrrhizin-free licorice products available for those with hypertension. (5)
Motherwort, Hawthorn and Linden are also wonderful for the emotional heart – another great way to nurture and support an important organ that supports us 24/7.
1. 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, USDA, https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/
2. An Examination of the Evidence Supporting the Association of Dietary Cholesterol and Saturated Fats with Serum Cholesterol and Development of Coronary Heart Disease, Marion G. Volk, MHSc (Complementary Medicine), Alternative Medicine Review Volume 12, Number 3, September 2007
3. Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine, Andrew Chevallier, FNIMH, 3rd Edition, 2016, Penguin Random House
4. Health Effects of Fats: Blood Pressure, Fats of Life – A Science-Based Publication on Healthy Fats, www.fatsoflife.com
5. Herbal Vade Mecum, Gazmed Skenderi, 2003, Herbacy Press
6. Omega-3 Fatty Acids, National Institute of Dietary Supplements
7. Omega-6 Fatty Acids, University of Maryland Medical Center
8. The Cholesterol Myth; Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS, and Stephen Sinatra, MD, FACC; 2012, Far Winds Press
9. What is Cholesterol?, National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute
10. Your Body’s Many Cries for Water, F. Batmanghelidj, MD, 2008, Global Health Solutions, Inc.
Thank you to HerbRally for the opportunity to get up close and personal with herbs by way of writing monographs. My latest fascination is with Schisandra. My monograph on the famous "Five Flavor Berry" HERE.
Here is a blog I wrote for WishGarden Herbs about a mocktail match made in heaven.
WishGarden Herbs Blog
Saturday, July 15
10 am – 12 pm
Longmont Creation Station, 519 4th Ave, Longmont, CO 80501
(If you are trying to register on your cell phone, my link won't take you right to the class listing (only on a computer). Click "Activity Search", and search for "Herb" under the Type "General Interest and Education".)
This class will cover the basics of when and how to harvest medicinal herbs, as well as drying and storing techniques for preserving optimal potency. Handouts provided.
Class Fee: $15
I want to be the lead singer in an herbal punk rock band called APOPTOSIS. Songs include:
Slow Death in an Alkaline Environment
Mind Your Own F*ing Mitochondria
I'm in Love with Taraxacum (But She's Bitter)
Anarchy Against Systemic Inflammation
Curcumin Your Way Into My Veins
High on Alkaloids
It's easy to add medicinal herbs to your garden. Many of your culinary herbs act as medicinals too! This class will cover the basics of starting a medicinal herb garden suitable for Colorado's climate. Topics to be covered include design, selecting plants, great soil, propagation methods, maintenance and pest control. This is part 1 in a 3 part series. part 2 is How to Harvest, Dry and Store Your Medicinal Herbs; Part 3 is Making Medicine with Your Herbs. Register here! While registering, you will be asked if you would like to register for parts 2 and 3.
I am very excited to share with you the monograph I wrote about Borage for Mason Hutchison's lovely website, HerbRally. Thank you for the opportunity to share my love of herbs!! Borage Monograph
Seasonal pollen getting you down? Your diet plays a bigger role than you think.
Wednesday, April 12, 5:30-6:30 pm
Class is limited to 8 people, please contact me to register in advance. $10 fee. The class fee will be applied to your first consutation booked with me.
Location: Boulder Healing Hub, 2945 Center Green Court, Suite H, Boulder, in the large consultation room at the south end of the hall.
I am teaching my class on cellular hydration again!
Tuesday, October 25, 6-7:30 pm at Colorado School of Clinical Herbalism. Strategies to increase the body’s absorption and utilization of water. Strategies include, nutrition, lifestyle and herbal support.
What do heartburn, depression, aching joints, migraines, acne, high blood pressure and cellulite have in common? These are some of the ways your body may be telling you that you may be dehydrated. Water is life and plays a key role in nearly every function of the body.
Even if you think you are drinking plenty of water, you may be deprived of necessary hydration. Over time, cell membranes and connective tissues degrade, leading to a wide variety of ailments. From cellular energy to youthful skin, healthy cells and supple connective tissues are key to utilizing more of your water intake. When we are born, we are made up of over 75% water, but our water level goes down considerably as we age. Where does the water go in our bodies? What causes loss of water? Find out the answers to these questions and more!
$15 suggested donation. Colorado School of Clinical Herbalism, 2900 Valmont Road, Unit F-1, Boulder. RSVP malia@aLateBloomer.net.
Malia Thompson lives just East of Boulder, Colorado with a spectacular view of the Front Range.