Ideas for an Herbal First Aid kit for the Washington DC March

January 12th, 2017

A few people have recently asked me what first aid items they should bring to the January 21 march in DC.

Please note, I am non-partisan at this (or any) event. I am there to assist anyone who needs help and is willing to work with me.

I have a much more detailed handout here. It is geared for street medics, but has useful information for anyone wanting to use herbal medicine in first aid situations. This is not meant to be a comprehensive list, just some ideas for folks to consider.
For most folks, you will only need a small fraction of the medicines and supplies below. I am including more information for those planning on treating a wider array of people, a large group one is traveling with, or practicing as street medic.

Most of these treatments are symptom relieving, since the march is only for one day. You are less likely to be treating infections, though you could offer support and advice.

People are often anxious and tired at these events having traveled a distance. All the excitement and people can induce anxiety and fatigue.

If you are going with a group of people ask to see if folks have the medicines they take regularly, such as inhalers or anti-depressants. If you are going to be helping others, it is important that you take care of yourself. Also, have the cell phone numbers of all the people you will be with in case you get separated.

If you are going to going to be part of any demonstrations outside from the march you may be arrested. If there is any chance you will be detained, have support people know of your intentions. They should be folks who do not intend to get arrested.

Police at the RNC in Cleveland.

Police at the RNC in Cleveland.

Fire Cider

A popular remedy at these events are the various kinds of ‘fire ciders’. These are a combination of spicy herbs (notably cayenne and other hot peppers) in a base of vinegar. People drink them to feel a sense of warmth. But one should not drink too much as they can cause flushing and sweating. This can drop body temperature without realizing it. Small amounts are okay, but avoid drinking enough to become too hot or sweaty.

First aid patches

First aid patches


  1. Red Cross/Street medic patch-If you are working as a street medic or with a large group where not everyone knows you, it is helpful to have some kind of identification to let them know you are there to help. It is important to note that occasionally street medics, who are easily identifiable, are arrested or detained by law enforcement. This is a part of any street medic training. If you not specifically doing this kind of work, it is very unlikely this would transpire.
  2. Snacks-one of the most helpful things you can bring are snacks for other people. People are often forgetful about bringing food and get caught up in the march where it is difficult to find any. Bring lightweight, easy to distribute foods such as ‘power’ or candy bars or dried fruit.
  3. Water-Especially in cold weather, people forget to bring water, but all the walking can dehydrate people. It is helpful to pass out bottles of water.

Preparations-Type of Medicines

  • To-go bottles-If you are going to give liquid medicines (tinctures, glycerites, etc.) you will need to have containers to put them in. Consider bringing along small plastic bottles with leak proof caps to give away medicines.
  • Labels-to write the ingredients of whatever you give people in the bottles.
  • Disposable Cups-to dispense liquid medicines and teas.
  • Water-to dilute the medicines and for cough syrups so they don’t stick to the cup.
  1. Capsules-easy to distribute
  2. Compresses, poultices and other external medicines-these can be difficult to apply when people are bundled up.
  3. Cough drops-similar to cough syrups but easier to distribute
  4. Cough syrups-herbs in a demulcent base these feel good on sore throats as people may be shouting and also useful for coughs.
  5. Glycerites-helpful alternative to tinctures
  6. Teas-difficult to carry around, but warm tea is a wonderful thing on a cold day. Consider having a wagon with a cooler to keep the tea warm and have disposable cups
  7. Tinctures-make sure to ask people if they have difficulty with alcohol before administering
  8. Vinegars-the base of ‘fire ciders’ and an alternative to tinctures
Water and paper cups to dispense medicines

Water and paper cups to dispense medicines


Small plastic to-go bottles and labels

Small plastic to-go bottles and labels

Common Health Issues and a Few Herbs for Each

This is a basic list of some health issues and a few herbal medicines to treat them. If you are traveling with a group, it is helpful to know which complications you are most likely to encounter. Do a little research on each of the medicines you plan on bringing to understand how to best employ them.
Note that most of these are single herbs, it can be helpful to make some combination medicines as well.

There are many more that could be added, but hopefully this offers some ideas. ‘Spp.’ indicates a number of species of the genus can be used

Water coolers to keep tea hot

Water coolers to keep tea hot

  1. Allergies
  • Eyebright (Euphrasia spp.)
  • Lobelia (Lobelia inflata)
  • Ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia)
  1. Anxiety/Stress
  • Anemone (Anemone spp.)
  • Blue vervain (Verbena hastata)
  • Kava kava (Piper methysticum)
  • Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca)
  • Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata)
  • Skullcap (Scutellaria spp.)
  • Johnswort (Hypericum perforatum)
  • Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)
  1. Asthma
  • Lobelia (Lobelia inflata)
  1. Cold– One of the most common problems during winter demonstrations is people getting cold, which can lead to discomfort and other health issues.
  1. Cough
  • Marshmallow (Althaea officinalis)
  • Slippery elm (Ulmus fulva)
  • Thyme (Thymus spp.)
  • Wild cherry (Prunus serotina)
  1. Dehydration
  • Tea
  • Water
  1. Digestive disorders– depending on what the condition is, there are various medicines to take.
  • Activated charcoal-adsorb unwanted substances in the GI tract
  • Catnip (Nepeta cataria)-calming for an upset stomach
  • Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla)-calming for an upset stomach
  • Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria)-GI inflammation
  • Oregon graperoot (Berberis spp.)-any type of GI infection
  • Peppermint (Mentha x piperita)-nausea
  • Wild yam (Dioscorea villosa)-GI cramps
  1. Exacerbations of pre-existing condition
  • The medicine depends on the symptoms
  1. Antiinflammatories
  • Arnica (Arnica spp.)
  • Licorice (Glycyrrhiza spp.)
  • Willow (Salix spp.)
  1. Panic attacks
  • Anemone (Anemone spp)
  • Lobelia (Lobelia inflata)
  • Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata)
  1. Pain-various
  • Black haw (Viburnum prunifolium)-antispasmodic
  • Jamaican dogwood (Piscidia piscupula)-general pain remedy
  • Kava kava (Piper methysticum)-skeletal muscle relaxant and sedative
  • Pedicularis (Pedicularis spp)-skeletal muscle relaxant
  • Silk tassel (Garrya spp)-menstrual cramps
  • Skullcap (Scutellaria spp.)-general pain remedy and sedative
  • Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)-general pain remedy and sedative
  1. Sniffles, Runny nose
  • Gumweed (Grindelia spp)
  • Wolfberry (Lycium spp)
  • Yerba mansa (Anemopsis californica)
  1. Soft tissue injuries (sprains and strains)
  • Antiinflammatory herbs
  • Elastic bandage
  1. Sore throats
  • Licorice (Glycyrrhiza spp.)
  • Marshmallow (Althaea officinalis)
  • Osha (Ligusticum porteri)
  • Slippery elm (Ulmus fulva)


Non-Herbal Supplies

  1. Bandana-in case of gas or pepper spray
  2. Disposable gloves
  3. Goggles-in case of gas or pepper spray
  4. NSAIDs-for headaches or other inflammatory problems
Disposable gloves

Disposable gloves

Carrying Your Supplies

  1. Organization is important, especially if you expect to need medicines or supplies in a hurry.
  2. Have medicines organized in a way that works best for you. For instance you might have all pain remedies in one bag or the tinctures may be in alphabetical order.
  3. Don’t put too many medicines all together. Keep them in separate plastic bags in cases any spill.
  4. Remember, anything you are carrying can be confiscated if you are arrested. This is only likely if you are practicing as a street medic.


  • Black Cross Collective– very useful information, especially about tear gas and pepper spray
  • Paper Revolution, street medic guide-There is useful information on this site, especially the links to other street medic groups. I would avoid the information on this page about the Rainbow Gathering CALM first aid area, it is very dated (circa 1989).
  • com-I have a number of handouts covering different aspects of first aid and herbal medicine.

My Experience at Burning Man 2016 or I went to Burning Man so you don’t have to go

January 4th, 2017
7Song in a Burning Man rickety tower

7Song in a Burning Man rickety tower

Amble to the Preamble

This blog was initially meant to be a reasonably succinct discussion of my thoughts and feelings about Burning Man. Instead it is has become a dissertation-sized exposition on this event.

If you are mainly interested in reading and viewing photos from Burning Man, jump to the sections below that interest you.

Burning Man

Burning Man


After many years of hearing tales of Burning Man, this was the year I finally attended. And while I have not held a fervid desire to go, I have always had a background curiosity. And this year the opportunity arose. But before I go into the events leading to my Burning Man debut, I want to make a few caveats before proceeding.

Some Caveats and Explanations, Or, I went to Burning Man so You Don’t Have to Go.

Burning Man

Burning Man

I have heard about Burning Man for many years. And while it never really seemed like my personal type of entertainment, I was intrigued. It is one of those unique US events, and I am one of those people who will to a place to be a part of a discussion.

This blog is about my Burning Man experience. I am a bit reticent writing this as I have mixed feelings about my time there and the event as a whole. I know many people who greatly enjoy it and I don’t mean to be disrespectful. But it will become obvious that it was not exactly to my tastes.

This was my first (and likely only) time at Burning Man and I realize that if it was someplace I frequented I might have felt more community and more included. Also, I tend to compare it with the Rainbow Gathering, and while they are vastly different events, having gone to the Rainbow Gathering for so many years, I cannot ignore my internal comparisons (more about that below). Also, one of my favorite aspects of being anywhere is enjoying the plant and animal life. And at Burning Man, besides human animals and eating vegetables, neither plant nor animal were to be found. And lastly, I reckon it should be noted I am not much of an art aficionado. The accompanying photos probably make this obvious as another person would have photos of the marvelous art cars, illuminated statues and fantastical structures. On a more personal note, I am a bit sound sensitive and Burning Man is a cacophonous fusion of sound. I knew about all of these before I went, so I hope I don’t appear to be complaining. But in noting these I hope it offers a sense of my perspective.

The Space Whale

The Space Whale

A Thought is Hatched

Here is how I happened to finally go. In 2016 I was taking a year off of running my own school and would be traveling. I was teaching along the west coast from August through October and had a spot open. I called the HAALo herb shop in Nevada City, CA to see if I could teach there and they said it was a bad time since many people would be going to Burning Man. And the thought slowly occurred to me ‘maybe I should go’. I knew I would be in the area and I now had some planning time.

I knew that it was difficult to get tickets, so I called up my friend and Rainbow Gathering comrade Tom Curotto (Tom from CALM) to enlist his expertise. He was very helpful untangling the complexities of purchasing a ticket. He said he would try to get me a ticket as a friend since he goes as a firefighter each year. By February it seemed that strategy would not work and so he helped again by having both of us try to purchase tickets when they went on sale for the general public.

Sunset at Burning Man

Sunset at Burning Man

So on that day, Tom in Idaho, and myself in Ithaca called at the proscribed time hoping that one of us would get through. And somehow, I did. I eventually went through a set of automated questions and got me my ticket. Frankly I was elated since I had gone this far, I wanted to go all the way through.

The information from the official website, said they sold all 30,000 tickets in 30 minutes, and so I felt lucky in my transaction. There are about 70,000 (yes, seventy thousand) people at Burning Man in 2016. I am not sure about what happens with the other tickets, though there are many volunteers.

Of course the downside was the price, All told the ticket cost $531.57. Yup, a buttload of dough. Here’s the breakdown of the ticket price; the entry ticket cost $390, a vehicle pass was $80. There was a $12 charge to mail the ticket, a $35.37 Nevada Entertainment Tax and a $14 service charge. So my enthusiasm was a bit tempered by all these seemingly extraneous costs, but I was also glad to finally get this part of the worry out of the way.

And then began the preparation. There are a number of websites with useful details, and I know a few people who also gave me helpful suggestions.

One thing that was commonly suggested to me was to stay at a well-established camp. I originally wanted to go and practice first aid, but I don’t have a degree (nurse, EMT, etc) and was not allowed to work in one of the official first aid stations. So I sought a camp where people treated participants (known as ‘Burners’). The main one was the Heebeegeebees healer camp (HBGBs) and I went through their application process and got accepted. To stay there and use their facilities, mainly getting fed 3 times a day, was $400. So now Burning Man was costing about $1000. As I’ll mention later, staying at the HBGBs was well worth it. I was also interested in working with the Zendo folks who practice psychedelic harm reduction at Burning Man, but they do not use herbs and so I felt it was not the best place for me to use my skills.

Sunset at Burning Man

Sunset at Burning Man

Travel and Travails Begin

And so, on August 27, I left the California School of Herbal Studies in Forestville for Burning Man. I had put the trip time into my GPS to see how long it would take to get there. It said I would arrive late at night which seemed odd to me, as the map showed I should easily arrive by 9 pm. Little did I know….

So after my crossing the beautiful Sierra Nevada Mountains and gassing up in Reno, I was on the long last road. It was still daylight and with 95 miles left my GPS still strangely showed me not arriving till after midnight. I drove cautiously as there were numerous police cars lining the road. And then I discovered that the GPS did not lie, as I eventually arrived to an indeterminable line of cars very slowly snaking their way to what lay ahead.

And so I grumbled and listened to books on CD and grumbled some more and watched the artistically clothed (and often cigarette smoking) folks get out of their cars and mingle while we inched along the road. And soon enough, the famous dust storms began and I could see perhaps one car length ahead of me. I suppose that I just should have relaxed into the strangeness, but I was concerned, as I did not know what lay ahead. After many hours I arrived at the first checkpoint where they checked my ticket and car pass. All this time the dust was kicking up with very low visibility, fraying my nerves a bit. I got to the second checkpoint a while later and to my surprise they searched my van to make sure that I was not smuggling any contraband or un-ticketed people into the event. I guess this makes sense, but it felt damn invasive. Many of the volunteers wore gas masks for the dust leading to a rather steampunk look which added some allure. I will admit that the questioning and search did not ingratiate me to this event. I was asked if I had any plants with me, I said yes, as I am an herbalist for botany’s sakes. Steampunk Car Checker asked to see my plants and I showed them my recently harvested dried Rosemary. They said it was not allowed. I may have argued a little saying what about all the food people are bringing; surely someone has some Rosemary in a bottle? Indeed I was feeling a bit herbalistically defensive. I was given the ultimatum that if I brought it in I could not bring the Rosemary outside my van during the whole event. And thusly I passed the second to last checkpoint. No plants indeed! At this point the Rainbow Gathering was looking like a lovely informal event compared to the restrictiveness of this festival.

Dust storm at Burning Man

Dust storm at Burning Man

There was one further checkpoint where I was given some directions and instructions and eventually wound my way to the HeeBeeGeeBee camp. My GPS was correct after all, it was past midnight; the last few miles had taken about 4 hours. At the camp I found some people who let me know that I was at the correct spot. And I parked my van and appreciatively went to sleep in it for the night. The people who helped me did not seem too friendly toward me, which foreshadowed much of my time there. But more about that to come. For now, I had finally made it into the quirkiness that is Burning Man.

The Burning Man

The Burning Man at the end of the playa promenade.

The Stage is Set-The Playa and ‘Dust’

Videos-Daytime View from a Tower

Video-Sunset view from a Tower


In front of the HeeBeeGeeBee camp

In front of the HeeBeeGeeBee camp

Burning man is on a ‘playa’, a large dried lakebed (over 100 miles long) formed in the Pleistocene era. It is completely free of plant life, as they do not grow on these ever shifting alkali flats. This aspect was a bit difficult for me as I can usually distract myself by looking at plants. I don’t think I have ever been to a terrestrial region so devoid of them, and by devoid I mean zero plants (nor algae or fungi).

Burning Man from a tower

Burning Man from a tower

The playa dust is one of the main features of Burning Man. It is likely the one thing everyone who has been there will speak about. It is a constant, whether on a clear windless day or during a raging dust storm where the visibility is scanty and coarse. The small particles of dust get into all possible crevices such as car windows, clothing and yes, even there. I was sort of prepared for it, but like almost any aspect of nature one needs to be immersed in it to appreciate it. It is fine particulate dust that is easily swept up by the wind and distributed everywhere and on everything and can create near white out conditions. And it is true that many months later, dust still seeps out from my vehicle. This dust make one very cautious about using any technology as it will easily get into the device and maim it. I kept my laptop in a large sealed bag in a sealed container in my vehicle and used it with the door closed. I limited outdoor exposure to my camera and phone. This dust is also quite drying. I walked in flip-flops for most the time as the ground is very soft and felt fortunate that my heels didn’t begin cracking until the last few days.

Rickety Tower at Burning Man

Rickety Tower at Burning Man

Burning Man from a tower

Burning Man from a tower

The Playa as Backdrop

One of the interesting things about the playa is the scale of the place. It is on a large flat plane with mountains in the background. The location is best viewed from one of the camp towers. I was fortunate that there was one just across the road from the HBGB camp. It was a rickety affair, but I went up most days, especially around sunrise and sunset, which were often spectacular.

The scale is striking when looking at the big art installations from a distance, as they look quite small. But up close many of these structures are the size of buildings. If you look at the photograph of the Burning Man, you can see how small the people look working right under it.

Burning Man and workers

Burning Man and workers

Bicycles are the main means of transport, and fortunately I had use of one (thank you again Tom). While there were some deep sandy spots where it was difficult to pedal, the surface makes for easy riding and the ground is level. The main considerations are other bicycles and the slowly moving art cars. These vehicles are skillfully done and elaborate in design and function. And were loud as well, each blaring the music or sounds preferred by their creators. They are integral part of the Burning Man playascape.

Sunset at Burning Man

Sunset at Burning Man

Sunrise at Burning Man

Sunrise at Burning Man

Sunrise at Burning Man

Sunrise at Burning Man

Energy, Resources and ‘MOOP’

Sunrise at Burning Man

Sunrise at Burning Man

To produce such a fantastical panorama, a lot energy and resources are needed. This was the one of the parts of Burning Man I liked least. From an environmental perspective, it seems wasteful. They do have a number of measures to try and reduce waste. The term ‘MOOP’ (matter out of place) is used for garbage and there are guidelines on how to reduce this. There is a 7-mile perimeter fence to catch blowing trash and there was very little garbage on the playa, which is surprising and impressive given all the people and projects.


The largest energy consumption is from all the vehicles driving to this remote region of Nevada. Another big use of fuel were the conspicuous fire displays. One such attraction was a towering metal figure that would send huge bursts of flame. I assume they use a variety of combustible liquids and gasses. I may be wrong, but they must go through a lot of fuel for such an attraction. Another large consumer of energy is the extravagant light displays (which are often lovely) as well as the large array sound systems.

The most egregious environmental impact is likely to be the very large fires (the ‘burns’). More about these below.

‘The Scene’

The Temple at Burning Man

The Temple at Burning Man

From the towers you can see the individual camps that make up Burning Man. Many of these camps have a theme such as a huge EDM soundstage or a pickle bar. Some are very elaborate such as the Thunder dome where contestant in elastic straps face off with Goth-clad ringmasters and metal music blasting. Other camps are much more subtle where friends come to spend time with each other or provide all the fixin’s to make your own s’mores.

One of the things I admired about Burning Man is what they call the Gift Economy. There is almost nothing for sale at Burning Man except ice and coffee at an official kiosk. So if there is a margarita night somewhere, the drinks will be free. It changes the atmosphere of a place for it to be non-commercial in this way. This event still exudes wealth; the cost of the structures, the time needed to put them together and of course the price of admission. But it could have all those factors and still be a marketplace, so I applaud the people who generously devote and donate their time and money to offer people a treat or a sensation.

On the aesthetic side, it seems that feather boas, lingerie, steampunk, faux fur and a general slinky look are de rigueur at this event. And I admit to a conservative streak and so the clothing styles did not lend much appeal to me.

Also a big part of the ambience is the music, often very loud music. I cannot say it favored me to this event, but perhaps I am just a thin ear-drummed prig.

Buildings and Other Structures

The Temple at Burning Man

The Temple at Burning Man

Burning Man showcases creative, attractive, flamboyant and intricate structures. These include various types of statues and buildings. There is statuary throughout the camps and some very large pieces on the playa. Many are quite spectacular. There were some large buildings including pyramids, lighthouses, a temple, and the burning man itself.

The Temple at Burning Man

The Temple at Burning Man

Of all the structures, the temple was my favorite. The wood smelled like cedar. And it was beautiful and intricate. But more than the structure itself was its purpose, a place where people come to consider those who have died. People posted photos and notes, some very personal as well as to famous folks like David Bowie. The first time I went I was curious about the structure. But I came back later and being among the people crying and thinking about those people who have passed was very moving. It was a sentimental reflective experience.

The inside of the Temple at Burning Man

The inside of the Temple at Burning Man


But frankly no matter what I thought about the various structure it was somewhat obviated by knowing that they would soon burn. This seemed like a colossal waste of resources. I guess if there were just one giant fire it might just seem a bit foolish, but each of these large buildings was soon to burned down. And while I can appreciate ceremony and symbolism, I could not get past the waste and air-borne particulate matter.

The Temple at Burning Man

The Temple at Burning Man

The Temple at night at Burning Man

The Temple at night at Burning Man

More about the burns below


I never really felt a part of any group, nor did I make any strong connections at Burning Man. This is uncommon for me, for while I sometimes keep to myself I am also an ambivert and enjoy conversing and getting to know people. But it was obvious that for many people Burning Man offered a time with friends and the opportunity to lavish attention on some project. Many of the camps housed outrageously elaborate designs clearly the work of many people. In these there was a clear show of community and networking.

The HeeBeeGeeBee Healer Camp

Video-A 360° view of around the HeeBeeGeeBee camp

HeeBeeGeeBee Healer Camp 1

HeeBeeGeeBee Healer Camp 1

HeeBeeGeeBee Healer Camp 2

HeeBeeGeeBee Healer Camp 2

HeeBeeGeeBee Healer Camp 3

HeeBeeGeeBee Healer Camp 3

The HeeBeeGeeBee healer camp (HBGB) is where I stayed and practiced at Burning Man. A lot of my thoughts and feelings about Burning Man revolve around this camp. HBGB was primarily for people who had ongoing health issues though some came for non-emergency first aid. Burning Man has 6 official first aid stations (and a small hospital) and this is not one of those.

HeeBeeGeeBee front entrance

HeeBeeGeeBee front entrance

This camp is organized by a few individuals who generously donate a lot of time and resources. It was a boon to the many people who visited each day.

HeeBeeGeeBee Class Tent

HeeBeeGeeBee Class Tent

HeeBeeGeeBee Kitchen

HeeBeeGeeBee Kitchen

This section will cover the details about the HBGB. The next section is about my experiences as an herbalist there.

While at first I chaffed at paying $400 to stay at the HBGB camp. I was glad I did. It offered a home base, a community of people, food, and a place to practice herbal medicine. People knew about this camp and began arriving from the first day onward. I was glad to be in a situation where I could practice herbal medicine.

HeeBeeGeeBee Shower

HeeBeeGeeBee Shower

HBGB camp shower water whisk. Water is evaporated in the hot dry air by the small fans that move due to air current.

HBGB camp shower water whisk. Water is evaporated in the hot dry air by the small fans that move due to air current.

We were fed three meals a day and had filtered water, snacks, and a place to recharge phones available. There was a hot water bag shower, which was helpful to remove the daily dust accumulation. They have an interesting method of evaporating the water with wind-driven fans. This is to avoid contaminating the playa with the water. And it was very helpful to be able to relax under the large tents to get out of the dust and sun.

HeeBeeGeeBee hang-out area 2

HeeBeeGeeBee hang-out area 2

HBGB occupies a fair size space. The camp was divided up into a few areas. There was a kitchen and eating and meeting area. There was a large teaching tent where classes were held throughout the day. Next to that was a circus-sized tent, which served as the main area for people waiting to be seen or just wanting to come in out of the elements. It was well appointed with pillows and cushions and offered a relaxing atmosphere. Next to this was a separate partitioned area where the healers worked. Only practitioners and people being treated were allowed in, which helped it maintain a calmer atmosphere. There was also a large tent to house people’s smaller individual tents so they were not directly exposed to the environment. I slept in my van, which worked well to reduce noise, dust and wind as well as it gave me some privacy.

They have an interesting system for setting up appointments. In the covered entrance to the main tent there are poster boards. On these boards were sheets describing each practitioner and the services they offered as well as a place to sign up. After signing up they waited in the comfy large tent. There were two 3-hour shifts each day and there were usually at least 5 body workers for each shift. This was fortunate as it was the modality most people wanted. Some of the people who came to see me did so because there we no more room to be seen by a body worker.

HeeBeeGeeBee Entrance

HeeBeeGeeBee Entrance

HeeBeeGeeBee poster boards to sign up for practitioners

HeeBeeGeeBee poster boards to sign up for practitioners

There was a wide range of bodywork and it was interesting to sit in the middle and watch the various methods employed.

There were some parts of the HBGB camp that I found disconcerting. On a sanitation level, a better pre-meal hand wash would be helpful before people began serving themselves (this is the first aid worker in me speaking).

This next part is about the clothing at the HBGB camp. This reflects my conservative nature, as it seems to be the norm at this camp and Burning Man in general.

HeeBeeGeeBee main tent

HeeBeeGeeBee main tent

HeeBeeGeeBee main tent

HeeBeeGeeBee main tent

There was a fair bit of partial nudity by practitioners at the HBGB camp, which I felt could be triggers for people coming in to be treated. I realize that this sounds prudish of me but I am fairly comfortable around nudity (it is a norm at the Rainbow Gathering) but felt that in a place set up for healing, it might make some people uncomfortable.

There was a practitioner meeting concerning patient’s consent by body workers. I appreciated this talk and there was a separate area for sensual massage. The body workers mostly seemed professional in their skills and temperaments. But a number of them were partially clothed and I imagine for a number of people it could be a uncomfortable.

One of the male-bodied practitioners wore a skirt with nothing below it. This would normally go unnoticed and would in fact feel good in the desert. Except that he would often be on top of the table working on patients. This makes the situation rather revealing. Again, I may be the only one who feels this way, but I am not sure everyone wants to be worked on with a practitioner’s reproductive organs in full view and close by.

Another example was during the daily post-dinner meeting. The person who gave a follow up of the day’s activities wore a long open robe with nothing beneath and after dinner one of the staff would undress showing off their panties. Again this seemed the norm and there is a good chance that I was the only person there who found it in poor taste, as many people were a part of the catcalling and jeering hoots.

I feel a bit embarrassed to even mention this and people may judge me a prude. But I appreciate a bit more decorum in an environment where people are getting treated. And while it may be the norm at Burning Man, I feel HBGB would do well to let patients and staff know what to expect this way.

A different discomfiting situation for me was that one of body workers would encourage his clients to shout as a sort of primal therapy. I understand that this type of therapy may be appropriate for some people, but in a room full of other people working quietly it is unnerving and seemed disrespectful. It only happened a few times but it was alarming.

You may paint me Victorian-esque, but these aspects made it uncomfortable for me to work there. Panty showing-off indeed.

HeeBeeGeeBee hang-out area

HeeBeeGeeBee hang-out area


Practicing Herbal Medicine at the HBGB Camp

7Song's consultation area

7Song’s consultation area

I was glad to be a part of the HeeBeeGeeBee healer camp (HBGB) and to have a place to freely practice herbal medicine. A quick note about the word ‘healer’. While many at this camp use this term to describe the work they do, I find it a bit pretentious. I tend to think of herbal medicine and most forms of health care in more prosaic terms.

I set myself up to do consultations in the middle of the treatment room. Fortunately the acoustics did not travel far in the tent so during the consultation we could talk at a normal level and hear each other well but not easily be heard by others. During each shift (I usually worked both shifts daily) I would bring in my herbal gear, which consisted of a large suitcase with supplies, my first aid bag with tinctures, a gallon of water, small disposable cups, and empty 1 oz plastic bottles. After discussing the person’s health I would then usually make them a tincture. For this I would pour from the bottles of various individual tinctures into the 1 oz plastic bottle. I would then dilute it with water and affix a label on the bottle with the ingredients and dosage. Sometimes I prepared a medicine in one of the paper cups to be taken right away.

By the end of the second day I realized that I had to stop giving out as much medicine as I was quickly running out. I was mainly running out of the herbs for anxiety.

HeeBeeGeeBee treatment area

HeeBeeGeeBee treatment area

After the second day I started to record basic patient information and the types of health issues I was seeing. The camp did not require any paperwork, but I like to have this data for other herbalists who may work at Burning Man in the future.

I saw between 8-12 people per day. They were mainly from larger urban areas and were middle class and higher income brackets. The reason I write this is that folks from lower economic strata often have different health care issues from a lack of access from their earliest days. The most common health issue I saw is the same one I see in most places I work, anxiety.

Some of the people who came to see me did so because there we no more room to be seen by a body worker. Many of the people who came to see me did not know what an herbalist did. I would ask if they have ever used herbal medicine or have seen an herbalist and to my surprise, most knew little about herbal medicine. This surprised me because of the environment I was working in and many likely lived more alternatives life styles. I would begin the consultation by telling them what herbalists do and what herbal medicine entails. Since people often came to the HBGB camp for body and energy work, I think practicing herbal medicine seemed a bit out of place. After introductions the conversation often went something like this;

7Song: ‘How can I help you?’

Patient: ‘I’m not sure, what do you do?’

7Song: ‘I am an herbalist, we treat various health problems using plants as medicines’

Patient: ‘I don’t really have any health problems’.

7Song: ‘Do you have any health issues such as digestive problems, asthma or rashes?’

Patient: ‘Well actually I do have (name an ailment)’

7Song: ‘Do you want to talk about it?’

At this point they would often talk about chronic health conditions such as ulcerative colitis or long-term depression. I think the reason it went this way is that people were not sure what an herbalist did, so were not really thinking about their long-term health problems. Also I think at festivals people like to focus on the positive, and to not think as much about their health issues unless it is currently affecting them. I sometimes felt a bit uneasy teasing this out as perhaps it is better for them not to focus on it. But I did not push much as I want people to enjoy their time at Burning Man.

But once they began speaking about their health we would often talk for a while and I would discuss various treatment strategies, herbal and otherwise. I would also discuss ways to continue treatment after they left the event. One way was by letting them know practitioners I knew around where they lived.

In general it was satisfying, though a lot of folks who I saw were more interested in the spiritual aspects of their life and health and this is not where I focus.

The main health issues I encountered were

  • Anxiety, insomnia and other mental health issues
  • Various types of pain
  • Respiratory conditions
  • Digestive problems
  • Fatigue and a lack of energy
  • Allergies and asthma
  • A number of other chronic ailments.

If you are an herbalist who plans on working at Burning Man, I can give you a more specific run-down of what I saw there.

While I was appreciative for all the efforts behind this camp and being able practice freely, it was not a place I felt very comfortable.One reason is that a lot of the health care had a spiritual focus, and this is not the way I view the world. I like to help people and I appreciate serendipity but my view is through the lens of science. This is too large (and perhaps too personal) a topic to cover here, but I often felt distant from the conversations around me.

I often found it difficult to engage with the people around me at this camp. I am sure that much of this is how I present myself but I enjoy conversations and was disappointed by not finding myself engaged more often. My favorite conversations were with the people I was treating. In short, I often felt out of place and was sorry to not feel more at home there.

The Burns

Video-The Man Burning

Audience at the Burning Man burn

Audience at the Burning Man burn

Dust Devil at the Burning Man burn 3

Dust Devil at the Burning Man burn 2

Dust Devil at the Burning Man burn 3

Dust Devil at the Burning Man burn 3

Dust Devil at the Burning Man burn 4

Dust Devil at the Burning Man burn 4

Dust Devil at the Burning Man burn 5

Dust Devil at the Burning Man burn 5

Dust Devil at the Burning Man burn 6

Dust Devil at the Burning Man burn 6

Dust Devil at the Burning Man burn 7

Dust Devil at the Burning Man burn 7

The Burns are one of the bigger entertainments at Burning Man. This is where they burn various structures, a number of them building-sized. These are planned and calculated affairs utilizing various incendiary devices to create and sustain the fires. They also have many safety protocols in place. The burning of the Burning Man was a lavish show with fire dancers, and impressive fireworks. There is something alluring about watching these huge fires. I especially enjoyed the dust devils, which are miniature tornados caused by rapidly changing air temperature. The playa create excellent conditions for these.

Dust Devil at the Burning Man burn 1

Dust Devil at the Burning Man burn 1

Dust Devil at the Burning Man burn 2

Dust Devil at the Burning Man burn 2

But I find these extraordinarily wasteful, as well as creating a lot of air pollution. There may be significance behind these fires, but they just seem to be a reckless waste of resources, especially with so many of them.

My Escape

Sunset as I was driving out

Sunset as I was driving out

I went to sleep soon after the Burning Man burn. I awoke at the earliest signs of sunrise, hopped into the front seat and having gotten all my things together the day before, I was ready to drive. As usual, a dust storm swept in making the drive slow and unnerving but it added a bit of memorability to this escapade. Soon enough I was in a long line of vehicles snaking their way to parts beyond the playa. But it took less than 2 hours and during this time a beautiful sunrise adorned the scene.

After I made the first turn off going north, I felt the exhilaration of leaving Burning Man. Leaving behind the dust, the noise and my sense of un-belonging. A light drizzle fell as I made my way to my next adventure in southern Oregon.

My Inevitable Comparisons with the Rainbow Gathering

The Burning Man burn

The Burning Man burn

It feels odd or perhaps unnecessary comparing the Rainbow Gathering and Burning Man. But since I do so internally, I thought I might as well put these musings into writing. Most of this will not make much sense unless you have been to a Rainbow Gathering. And to state what will become obvious, I much prefer the Rainbow Gathering (even with its many flaws) and I suspect if a Burner wrote this blog, the favorability would be reversed.

First aid station (CALM) at the 2016 Rainbow Gathering

First aid station (CALM) at the 2016 Rainbow Gathering

The first Rainbow Gathering was in 1972 and has been held every year since. It is free, non-commercial event in a different National Forest in a different part of the country each year. It is an off-the-grid, wilderness gathering where people stay in tents and bring whatever supplies they need.

Before I go on, I want to state clearly that there is much about the Rainbow Gathering that I do not care for. I have working at the first aid station (CALM) for the past 25 years and this is the main reason I go as I have learned a tremendous amount working there. The first aid station is a free clinic with conventional and holistic modalities working together. I have been bringing my Community Herbalism Intensive students to work there since 1994 and I find it an excellent opportunity for them to get hands-on supervised experience.

These are some of the Lovin' Ovens used to bake for the Rainbow Gathering

These are some of the Lovin’ Ovens used to bake for the Rainbow Gathering

Something I did not expect form going to Burning Man is that it has made me more appreciative of the Rainbow Gathering. I hadn’t really thought of the Rainbow Gathering as a self-reliant event, but after going to Burning Man I can see that it is in many ways.

Both events are remote, though the Rainbow Gathering is in a different National Forest every year.While I wouldn’t call the Rainbow Gathering self-reliant it certainly makes better use of the local products from the environment than Burning Man, which is very reliant on manufactured items. Most structures at the Rainbow Gathering are built from local dead trees and the entertainment is non-electrified, Many people who come to the Rainbow Gathering set up camps to help each other; kitchens, water stations, first aid. It is far from perfect, but it seems much more neighborly than ‘radical self reliance’ (and if you have to call yourself ‘radical’ are you?).

The Rainbow Gathering does leave a big footprint, which moves from the different National Forests it is held each year. This is most apparent where the cars are parked along with footpaths and fire pits. Since Burning Man is held in the ever-shifting playa this is less obvious. It seems important to note that there are nearly 10 times as many people at Burning Man. If 70.000 people showed up in the National Forest, it would be a disaster.

One thing both events share is people having special event names such as Crystal Luna or Sparklepony. They also both have a lot of ‘in-house’ jargon.

Burning Man burn 1

Burning Man burn 1

Burning Man and Rainbow Gatherings both have a lax attitude towards clothing, though the type of favored apparel is quite different.

Rainbow Gatherings likely have a more negative impact to local towns. While they both bring in money, Burners have more money and are less likely to be bedraggled spangers.

To me one of the most important differing aspects is about whom gets to go. Both events impose limits on who comes in different ways. Burning Man carries a much higher price tag, from entry tickets to providing your own everything. The Rainbow Gathering is free and open to anyone, but you have to be willing to rough it, no electrified comforts to be found (nor margarita bars). While at Burning Man one must have a way to shelter and feed oneself in the hot, dry, dusty climate.

Since they are both long-standing, both have groups of people who come together once a year to see each other, party and network.

They are very different events, one being much more of a spectacle than the other. Burning Man is more clearly an art show while the Rainbow Gathering is more of a back-to-nature experience. Energy consumption-wise they are also significantly different with the Rainbow Gathering utilizing a lot less than Burning Man.

One thing that surprised me was how few people at Burning Man had any experience using herbal medicine, which is very different than the Rainbow Gathering. This could just be whom I happened to meet, but it was noticeable. I wondered if it could partially be due to who has better medical access.

And for me personally, I missed being around plants. The Rainbow Gatherings are held in National Forests with abundant plant life for perusing and using for medicine. There seem to be more classes and opportunities for networking at the Rainbow Gathering.

On a last note here, a lot of this has to do with my familiarity of going to yearly to the Rainbow Gathering. Once one knows their way around a place, it often becomes more homey. And I admit to being one of those outdoorsy types.

Considerations and Conclusions

A sunrise burn

A sunrise burn

To state the obvious, Burning Man was not an event that enticed me. The main times I enjoyed myself was while practicing herbal medicine and the occasional nighttime playa bike ride. But if one revels in art, Burning Man may just be the ticket.

One of the reasons I am writing this is that I am not sure many of my friends would enjoy Burning Man, but as they are curious, I am supplying some of the (obviously biased) details.

One thing that particularly irks me is that Burning Man encourages ‘radical self reliance and yet there are many rules. I appreciate the idea of people taking care of themselves, but it seems to encourage a lack of community. On the positive side, Burning Man is not a marketplace and people offer goods and services for free. But rather than a neighborly sharing environment, each camp is self-contained. I realize that this may seem petty on my part but Burning Man seems to be radically reliant.

 Driving Considerations: First, gas up in Reno or another large town before you get to HWY 447. The tiny town near Black Rock City has very long petro lines. Have your tickets ready and be prepared for waiting many hours before getting in. Remember about the car search. Here is the list of contraband items. Note ‘Plants, living or dead’ (Well what about all the people bringing in Cannabis, food or spices, huh? Not that I’m feel defensive at all about this).

 Expenses: Besides the tickets, it does not necessarily have to be very expensive. If you go with a number of people, many expenses such a food, water, fuel or a vehicle pass, can be shared. The $400 I paid to stay with the Heebeegeebees was well worth it, especially for my first time there, as I did not have to think much about equipment and food. I would suggest this to anyone going by themselves for their first time.

Sleeping: With the dust, the wind and the noise it is important to have good sleeping arrangements. I slept in my van, which worked well for all three reasons. If bringing a tent, make sure that it is inside a larger tent to reduce the sound, dust and wind.

Dust and Equipment: The threat of alkaline playa dust is real at Burning Man. Any item that is outside and not protected will get impregnated with it. The dust offers some distinction to this event, but be prepared. Here are a few brief suggestions, there are many more thorough descriptions online.

A bandana or scarf and goggles are helpful to avoid getting dust in one’s face. While I enjoyed walking on the soft ground barefoot or in flip-flops by the 6th day large cracks appeared in my heels. I saw many people who had profound heel cracks and wearing shoes and socks help prevent this.

As far as technology, I would leave all tech gear in a vehicle and be cautious using them outdoors. I kept my laptop and similar devices in large zip-sealed plastic bags in a tub that had a clasping lid. I do not think that this is an over-precaution, the inside of my van became filled with dust each time I opened the doors.

After the event, I suggest taking your vehicle to a car wash that can wash the undercarriage and perhaps do it again later.

Dust Devil at the Burning Man burn 3

Dust Devil at the Burning Man burn 3


  1. The official Burning Man website contains a lot of very useful information, and it makes for an interesting read.
  2. Thorough and readable description of the region where Burning Man is held
  3. Heebeegeebee healer camp
  4. There is no official Rainbow Gathering website, but this one has a lot of helpful links and information

Preparing fresh Kava kava root tincture

December 16th, 2016

We recently tinctured fresh Kava kava (Piper methysticum) root. I purchased the fresh roots (primary and lateral roots) from Adaptations in Hawaii. They came second day air and on the following day we tinctured them up.


Fresh Kava kava (Piper methysticum, Piperaceae) that just arrived from Hawaii. It is still in the carton it came in.


One of the Kava kava roots



The root crown of the Kava kava plant. Only the underground structures are used for the medicine.


Ly, Courtney and Carly helping prepare Kava kava tincture

Here is the process used to make the tincture. I was fortunate to have the help of Ly, Carly and Courtney.

Here’s a link for a spot of live processing action

First the roots are cut into sizes that can be processed by the Vita-mix blender. Kava roots are not particularly tough, and other blenders would likely work as well (as opposed to notoriously hard roots such as Redroot [Ceanothus species] or Wild yam [Dioscorea villosa]). For cutting the roots we use a variety of tools. Pruners are used for small roots, a cleaver for larger roots and a small hatchet for the largest roots.


Courtney chopping Kava kava roots with a cleaver.


Ly cutting Kava kava roots with a small hatchet.

As with a number of roots, there is a lovely design in the cross section.


Carly holding a cross-section of Kava kava roots


A cross-section of Kava kava roots


The tincture is prepared in a 1:2 ratio in 95% (190 proof) ethanol. The ratio is plant weight: fluid volume. To make this process easier, after cutting the roots they are divided into 1 lb (16 oz) batches. Then 1 pound of root is put into the blender along with 32 oz alcohol (the fluid volume). This proportion of roots and liquid fits effectively into this size blender.


One pound of cut-up Kava kava roots.


The reason for 95% ethanol (‘drinking’ alcohol) is that there is a lot of water in the plant and the final product will be diluted after the tincture is pressed. This ratio will extract most of the soluble constituents while still preserving the tincture.


We then blend the roots (action shot and pour them into gallon jars.


1 pound of Kava kava roots and 32 oz of 95% ethanol in the blender ready to be blended.


The now blended 1 pound of Kava kava roots and 32 oz. of 95% ethanol.

The jars are rinsed, labeled and will sit for a minimum of two weeks and then pressed in a tincture press.


The finished labeled Kava kava tincture. Next step, press them in a tincture press in about 2 weeks.


I use Kava kava tincture in a number of ways; as an anxiolytic (anxiety reducing), a sleep aid, and an inebriant (a disinhibitor of sorts). It is very idiosyncratic in its effects and some folks will enjoy the relaxing/ sedative qualities while others will find it disagreeable.

I will write more about the medicinal qualities of Kava kava, for now, I hope you find this mini-blog useful and that this information is helpful for preparing a number of fresh plants as tinctures

Herbal First Aid Bag

November 29th, 2016


This article is about my herbal first aid bag. I am writing about it for two main reasons: First, with the accompanying photos and information I hope to persuade someone to make me a new version of this bag. And secondly, I hope this information is helpful for others who would like to make their own herbal first aid bags.


Over the past 20 years, I have had two specially made first aid bags designed for my needs as a ‘first aid herbalist’. It became readily apparent as I started working in first aid that none of the off-the-shelf or specialty bags would work for me. The main reason is that there was no place to store the bottles that held tinctures, glycerites and other liquid medicines. I wanted them to be easily accessed with their labels evident.

Around this time I had an herb booth at music festivals and came across Lisa from Blue Planet Packs who made various types of high quality bags; backpacks, shoulder bags, etc. I asked her if she would work with me on designing one for herbalists.

The Original Herbal First Aid Bag

I began working with Lisa in November 1997. Here is a photo of one of the first sketches I sent her (drawing has never been one of my strong suits). The major innovation was transparent plastic over the small sleeves that hold the bottles. This allowed me to find the individual remedies expediently. (The difficulty with this design is that there is little flexibility for changes of bottle size. This and other difficulties are discussed below). This first bag was useful and held many individual bottles, but it was not easy to wear as a backpack. Also, more individual pockets were needed in the bag to hold individual supplies.

Initial diagram of original first aid bag

Initial diagram for original first aid bag

Original First Aid Bag

Open view of original first aid bag


This is the front of the original herbal first aid bag.

This is the front of the original herbal first aid bag.

Original first aid bag

Original first aid bag


Herbal First Aid Bag #2

A few years later I talked with Lisa about designing a new bag that would be easier to carry, more backpack-like. The shape and size were changed as well as the sizes of some of the bottle holders and pockets. This is one that I have been using continuously since around 2001. I have had it modified a few times; zippers tightened, straps put on to hold bottles in place, compression straps and some parts of the pack fortified. The details are described below and are given so folks can use this as a template to make their own first aid bags. Or for anyone daring enough to help me with Herbal First Aid Bag #3

Material and Size

  1. The main part of the bag is made from ripstop fabric. It has done very well despite being used extensively over the years.
  2. The dimensions are approximately  24”L x 15”W x 5 ¾” D (depending on how full it is).
  3. It is made up three sleeves, individual compartments with padding in between.


  1. The rip stop material worked well and it might be a good choice for the inside pockets as well so they are lighter, though this will decrease their padding.
  2. Three sleeves worked well, this seems like the right number for convenience and bulk.
  3. The whole bag needs to be rugged and waterproof. All outside parts of the bag are placed on dirt, gravel, hot pavement, etc, and need to be able to take this kind of beating.
  4. It is often in the heat, is there any way to keep it cooler inside?
  5. Rain proof
  6. Protection of bottles between the different sleeves
  7. Wash-ability
  • The bag gets very dirty both inside and out.
  • The fabric has to be able to withstand a good soap and water cleaning.
  • Can it be washing machine safe?
  1. Color-definitely not camouflage-black or green work well.


Front view of first aid bag

Front view of first aid bag

First aid bag worn to show size

First aid bag worn to show size

First aid bag worn to show size

First aid bag worn to show size


Front, Top, Back, Sides, Bottom


  1. The front panel works pretty well.
  2. It is important to not have much weight here, as it will cause the bag to sag and pull on the shoulders.
  3. The top pocket works well. Perhaps it could be divided inside with another zippered pocket for small items. Or two separate zippered pockets.


  1. Ability to put on and remove a red cross on the front panel
  2. A clear sleeve to put an identification card in
  3. Note the 2 black plastic pieces on the front. They were for two fitted bags that held water bottles. It did not work because they added too much weight and dragged the bag downward in an uncomfortable way.


Front pocket

Front pocket


  1. The 2 handles are very helpful and used frequently.


  1. These handles should be placed in a way to distribute the weight of the bag evenly when picked up.
  2. They need to be stitched well and durable to not rip under the weight.
  3. They could be a little more comfortable with padding, but not too bulky.
Top handles of first aid bag

Top handles of first aid bag

Top handles of the first aid bag showing the handles

Demonstrating the top handles


  1. Most of the straps and pads worked well.
  2. It is reasonably comfortable to wear with its padded back and shoulder straps


  1. The waist belt could be a bit more comfortable, but without adding too much bulk.
  2. Comfortability matters as the bag may be put on and taken off many times over a short period of time.


Back of first aid bag

Back of first aid bag


  1. Initially there were no compression straps, which were added later. These made it more comfortable while walking around as well as putting it in luggage while traveling by plane.


  1. The compression straps should be added in the beginning so the bag can be cinched up.
  2. Two compression straps on each side would work well.
Front and side view of first aid bag

Front and side view of first aid bag


Side view-when bag is full it can be bulky.



  • The bottom needs to be rugged.
  • There is a place for straps to be attached on the bottom to carry a rolled-up pad or blanket. I haven’t used it, but it is a good idea.
Bottom of first aid bag

Bottom of first aid bag

Panel by Panel

This next section goes through the first aid bag panel by panel. These areas need the most re-designing, especially the bottle holders. There are some notes with each panel with more specific ideas for changes below.


  1. It might be advantageous to have bottle holders on both sides of the same sleeve (for instance, bottle holders on panel 5 & 6 on sleeve 3).
  2. This would make getting a number of tinctures at the same time easier.
  3. But the padding from the way it currently is with pockets on one side creates some cushioning. There might be bottle against bottle damage if they are against each other.

Sleeve 1 (furthest from back)-Panels 1 & 2

Panel 1

  1. These pockets mostly worked well. The material provided padding for smaller bottles.
  2. I would not have the bottle holders in between the pockets.


  1. The pocket material could be a little less bulky.
  2. The bottom pocket (and all pockets) need closures like zippers.
  3. There could also be 2-4 pockets.
  4. It is the furthest panel from the body and should not contain heavy items.


Panel 2

  1. Designed to hold many 1 oz bottles.


  1. This could be made into pockets to hold supplies and equipment.
  2. If kept as bottle holders, they should be larger sizes, just a few devoted to 1 oz bottles.
  3. See ‘Bottle Holder’ notes below
Sleeve 1

Sleeve 1

Sleeve 1, panel 1

Sleeve 1, panel 1

Pocket in panel 1

Pocket in panel 1

Panel 1-bottom pocket

Panel 1-bottom pocket

Sleeve 1, panel 2

Sleeve 1, panel 2

Sleeve 2 (middle)-Panels 3 & 4

Panel 3

  1. These mesh pockets work well to see what is inside, and they expand usefully.
  2. The Velcro didn’t work for long and supplies flew out when the bag is opened fast (which is often), they need zippers or some type of closure.


  1. Perhaps have both sides filled with bottles as long as it does not damage them. If so, move the pockets to a different sleeve
  2. Zippers or other fixtures for closing the mesh pockets.

 Panel 4

  1. This panel holds 1 oz tincture bottle.
  2. See ‘Bottle Holder’ notes below
Sleeve 2, middle

Sleeve 2, middle

Panel 3-first aid bag

Panel 3-first aid bag


Panel 3, bottom packet

Panel 3, bottom p0cket


Panel 4-first aid bag

Panel 4-first aid bag

Panel 4-first aid bag

Panel 4-first aid bag

Panel 4-first aid bag

Panel 4-first aid bag

Panel 4-first aid bag

Panel 4-first aid bag

Panel 4-first aid bag

Panel 4-first aid bag

Sleeve 3 (closest to back)-Panels 5 & 6

  1. This sleeve should hold the heaviest items being closest to the back of the person wearing it.
  2. All the pockets need some kind of zipper or fixture to keep them closed, but easily opened.

 Panel 5

  1. The upper large pockets worked well
  2. The mesh pocket is useful, though needs a closure
  3. The small pockets were made to hold readily accessible tools such as tweezers, scissors and other similar items, but they fall out easily.


  1. The large pockets are a bit bulky, but may be helpful for padding
  2. The small item holders need to be redesigned.
  • They could have some kind of strap holding them in place
  • They could be within another pocket that holds them in place, possibly zipped along 3 sides.
  • These pockets would be helpful to retrieve small items readily.

Panel 6

  1. These bottle holders were set up to hold 2 oz bottles
  2. The bottom strap held larger bottles


  1. This whole panel needs to be redesigned to hold larger bottles
  2. The straps on the bottom became loose. These could use some kind of draw cords or other kind of strap to maintain their elasticity.



Open view of sleeve 3


Panel 5-first aid bag

Panel 5-first aid bag


Panel 5-first aid bag

Panel 5-first aid bag


Panel 5-first aid bag

Panel 5-first aid bag


Panel 6-first aid bag

Panel 6-first aid bag


Panel 6-first aid bag

Panel 6-first aid bag


Panel 6-first aid bag, larger containers

Panel 6-first aid bag, larger containers

New Pack-Design, Changes, Improvements

As mentioned above, I am looking to have a new bag designed. I am willing to work with anyone serious about producing this bag. I would be glad to pay a fair price as I realize it will take a lot of time to design and make one.

 Bottle Holder Notes

The need for bottle holders is the main difference producing an herbal first aid bag. It is also the most challenging aspect.

It is important to be able that the bottles are held firmly in place, that they are easy to find to be able to put them back quickly so that the bag stays organized.

When I first began considering the design of these first aid bags, I wanted them to be light and to carry a large assortment of herbal medicines. This is why there are so many 1 oz bottle holders. When working at a first aid station, there is usually backstock so small bottles can be refilled as needed. But in other situations, refilling may not be a possibility. And for many herbal medicines, 1 oz does not last very long. In the redesign, it would be helpful to have less 1 oz and more bottle holders for 2 oz and 4 oz bottles as well as slots for some larger bottles.

What has worked

  1. Individual holders for each tincture bottle
  2. The clear plastic to see the names of the medicines and hold the bottles in place so the labels can be read and found easily.

What did not work

  1. The sizes bottles may change, but the design only holds one width.
  2. The straps holding the bottles in place became loose with time.
  3. The loosening made it necessary to add new straps along the top and to add bottom row to hold them in place.

Bottle Holder Considerations

  1. A clear plastic that does not break down but is still transparent and elastic
  2. Can there be a way to cinch the individual bottles or a row of bottles.
  • Potentially a draw string toggle or something similar
  • Would this be annoying when taking out and replacing a lot of individual bottles at a time? Would it slow down the process?
  • Would it hold up or break down with use?
  1. A place for larger bottles to be held. Potentially of variable sizes.
  • A toggle draw cord might work for these
  • Each individual larger bottle may have its own holder and toggle since there will be less of these and their sizes more variable.
  1. A bottom to hold the tincture bottles in place.
  2. Approximate number and sizes of bottles
  • 1 oz-16
  • 2 oz-24
  • 4 oz-8
  • 8 oz-4

 General Considerations

  1. This bag is carried and jostled a lot, it is important for bottles to be held in place in their pockets and sleeves
  2. Monprene droppers can be used in place of rubber droppers as they do not degrade like rubber.
  3. Can the bag be both backpack style, but also have a shoulder strap (see below).
  4. How the weight is distributed in the bag is important, with heavier items in panels closer to the carriers back.
  5. A backboard to keep the bag firm against the back.

 Zippers, Straps, Compression and Handling

  1. Zippers
  • These need to be a good quality and durable.
  • Cords attached for easier pulling.
  1. Compression straps
  • Two on each side of the bag
  1. Quality straps for shoulders and waist
  2. Handling
  • Two possible styles for handling
  • Backpack style, as it is now
  • Shoulder bag style. I often am carrying two bags with me, and this would allow me to carry the first aid bag as a shoulder bag while also wearing a backpack style bag.
  • Could the backpack style straps be reformed to make it a side/shoulder bag?


  1. It is important that the pockets can be tightly closed as the bag is often opened fast and things can fly out of the pockets.
  2. An extra pocket on the outside for items used often such as gloves, mask and checklist.
  3. Small secure slots/pockets for tweezers, scissors, etc.
  4. A place in the front for an identification card
  5. On the pockets, thinner material so it is more lightweight. But the material must provide some cushioning.
  6. A piece of clear plastic/label holder over each pocket where they could be labeled for what they contain. For instance, ‘Gloves’.
  7. Have about 7 pockets on the inside.
  8. There could be smaller pockets within larger ones to hold smaller items
  9. A few inside mesh pockets to be able to see what is inside them. These would need zippers or other secure closures.
  10. More outside pockets of varying sizes for the equipment commonly needed.


  1. What is the estimate of what a new bag will cost?
  2. Will you be producing these for sale?
  3. Would you consider making smaller first aid bags?
  4. Will you share the design?

Jamaican Dogwood (Piscidia piscipula) 2014

March 30th, 2014

Jamaican Dogwood (Piscidia piscipula) Monograph

Piscidia piscipula. A large tree growing in full sun


In late January 2014 I went down to South Florida to identify and gather some Jamaican Dogwood (Piscidia piscipula, Fabaceae). This is my second time making this trip. I had also gone down in 2007 and wrote a blog about it here.  Back then I gathered enough to make 4 full gallons, and have used nearly all of it over the past 7 years, so it was time to gather some more.

While I like to gather my own plants for medicine anyway, I had extra incentive with Piscidia. Time for a quick story. As its common name indicates, it grows in Jamaica and I have a number of friends who go to Jamaica regularly. I asked a few of them if they could bring me back a specimen of the bark so I could see what it looks like. Two friends, who know local Jamaican bush doctors, did so. The bark samples they brought back were different from each other, clearly coming from different plants. This made me cautious about what might end up in the marketplace as Jamaican dogwood medicine. Along with that, I have my own inclination to see the plants I use for medicine growing in their ecosystems.  So the next time I was invited to teach in south Florida, I left some time in my plans to try and find it. You can see this earlier story on my previous blog post.

This monograph will discuss more about Piscidia’s medicinal properties and clinical uses. I also cover some relevant botany for any intrepid wildcrafters who may want to gather (but not over-harvest) it themselves.

Piscidia piscipula showing tree holding branches in sunlight


Jamaican dogwood grows in Jamaica, Haiti, S. Florida and south into Central America (map; It is in the Pea family (Fabaceae or Leguminosae) and not in the Dogwood family (Cornaceae). It is not the most distinctive tree at first glance but there are a few characteristic features that make it reasonably easy to identify. I have not seen it in flower or fruit, so all of my identification is from other plant parts.  The following botanical descriptions are from personal observation, which may differ from some field guides.
On a slightly different note, I find it interesting that Piscidia is the only plant I know in the Fabaceae that is used for pain. It is a very large family with some well-known medicinal members such as Astragalus, Licorice (Glycyrrhiza spp.), and Senna (Cassia spp.) and the constituents in Jamaican dogwood are unique in the family.

Size-while those grown in the open can get fairly big, they are generally mid-sized and tucked into the understory with trees of similar size. The larger trees can reach the same height as a mid-size Oak, but generally they are about the size of Apple trees (though not the same form).

Flowers and Fruit-I have not yet seen the flowers or fruits except in photos. The flowers are the typical butterfly-shaped pea flowers. The fruits are a bit more unusual looking. You can easily find photos of both online.

Leaf-the leaves are pinnately compound and composed of approximately 7-9 leaflets. The leaf itself is fairly long, about a foot when fully grown. One of the most obvious features of the plant is the distinctive leaflet color. The topside is a darkish green while underneath it is grayish-green due to its hairiness. This contrast is one of the first things to look for when trying to identify Piscidia.

Piscidia piscipula leaflets showing darker green above and hairy lighter green below

Piscidia piscipula leaves

Bark-depending on its age, the color of the bark varies considerably. Young twigs are a grayish green while medium-size branches are a darker green. A distinctive feature is the white lenticels in both of these branches (you cannot see them in older branches). Lenticels are pores where gas exchange takes place in the woody parts of trees and shrubs and are visually apparent and a helpful feature for identifying Piscidia. While other plants have obvious lenticels, the elongated shape and white against green bark is characteristic.As the branches age they often have patches of lichens growing on them. And the main trunk is sort of gray with green undertones.

Piscidia piscipula young green stems showing white lenticels

Piscidia piscipula young stems showing green coloration and white lenticels

Piscidia piscipula with green stems showing white lenticels

Piscidia piscipula trunk showing lichen patches

Piscidia piscipula trunk showing gray-green coloration

Young growth-the most notable identifying feature for Piscidia in winter is the young growth on the ends of some branches. Personally, I admire this growth. Part of my fascination is that it was how I first made positive identification when I initially sought out Piscidia. And as a photographer I find it lovely in its own right (which will be obvious from all my photos).

Piscidia piscipula details of young growth

Piscidia piscipula with young growth on a leaflet

Piscidia piscipula with young growth on a Piscidia leaf

Piscidia piscipula with young growth

Piscidia piscipula with young growth

The young growth is made up of small, unfurled hairy leaves surrounded by stipules, which are the parts that protect the young leaves until they emerge. The ends of the twigs are usually forked, with an axillary bud in the middle and leaves (initially wrapped in stipules) on either side. Look at these photos for a visual cue. As I said, I find this group of structures the most important trait to identifying a Piscidia when there are no flowers or fruits.

Equipment for Wildcrafting and Medicine Making

  1. Saw-a pruning or other type to cut branches
  2. Debarking knife or other tool to peel bark
  3. Cloth-or something to peel the bark onto
  4. Vitamix or powerful blender (optional)
  5. Ethanol-for tincture making
  6. Jars
  7. Scale and measuring cup
  8. Label making supplies

The Wildcrafting Tools I had with me

The Wildcrafting tools I would have liked to have had with me


This section is a bit difficult to write since I worry about this plant being over-harvested. But since I am writing about my Piscidia wildcrafting adventure, it seems obvious and prudent to let folks know best practices for gathering this useful medicinal plant.

The first and most important part about gathering Piscidia is to make sure it is plentiful and growing well where you are gathering it. It is not on any endangered plant lists, but it grows in only a small region in the continental US. And as I am talking about how useful it is I feel an obligation to say that I spent a lot of time looking for places where this plant was ethically harvestable. Please do the same.
One of the observable characteristics about Piscidia is that it likes to grow in full sun. Most often it is found growing in mixed woodlands on the border between the woods and an open space such as a roadway or power line clearing. You can see its branches reaching through the other trees and gathering sunlight at the edge of the woods. This makes it easier to spot while driving along back roads, especially once you learn the distinctive green leaf color.

It is the bark that is used as medicine, so the branches are gathered. On some of the plants you can see where the branches are continually cut back to keep the right-of-way clear. I think this is a good place to gather them as they will likely get cut off anyway. As with any time you are cutting off tree branches, employ good pruning techniques. Cut smaller branches where they meet a larger branch or the trunk. Do not cut in the middle of a branch as this makes it easier for disease to enter the tree. So cut the branch as close to the next branch as you can, a good pruning saw works well here. You may also have to cut the branches into smaller pieces for you car.

Glove on for peeling bark and not irritating blisters

Preparing the Bark

There are a few supplies that are handy to have on hand to process the branches and stems. These include a tarp to peel the bark onto, a saw to cut the pieces into manageable sizes and a good debarking knife. My favorite is a lightweight cleaver. If you are peeling a lot of bark, it is important to have a comfortable knife to do this, as this motion can be hard on the wrist and often creates blisters. Using a small pocketknife makes for difficult debarking. Even with a good knife, I started wearing a glove to protect my hand, though I did have a lot of bark to peel. Once you have peeled all of the bark, make sure that there is a lot of space between the peeled bark so that air can circulate between them they don’t mold (which would be quite annoying after all that hard work, yes?). Also, move them around daily to help facilitate their drying.
After the bark was reasonably dried I had to send it to myself as I was traveling by plane (and thank you again for sending it Susan Marynowski). This was expensive ($110), and a bit anxious-making, as I hoped the drying bark wouldn’t mold on its way to NY. And shew, it didn’t.

Piscidia piscipula-after it arrived by post back home in Ithaca

Medicine Preparation

I finished drying the bark by keeping it on a tarp near a window. When it was time to tincture it, I went to look on former labels to see the ratios and percentages I used last time I prepared it. It was 1:4 50% ethanol. I wanted to use the same numbers again as that medicine worked well and I am a bit conservative that way (if it worked last time…).
It is not easy to tincture strips of bark. They bend when you try to cut them with pruners and are very difficult to slice with a cleaver. So, I stomped on them. Yup, I had them in a large tarp which I folded over, and I walked all over them for days scrunching them down ever more. When it was time to tincture them, I wanted to use the blender to reduce it further because another problem with bark is that they take up a lot of room in a jar. We could only stuff 13 oz of the bark into a gallon jar. This means if we were going to go with 1:4 ratio, there would only be 52 oz of ethanol. And it being a gallon jar (128 oz) it would only cover about 2/3’s of the bark, leaving a lot of plant above the alcohol line. So reducing it with the blender was a better way to have all of the bark covered and saturated with ethanol. However, even with a Vitamix blender, strips of bark are problematic, as they still don’t break down easily. So we experimented for a while and finally figured out that adding more alcohol while feeding small amounts of bark into the blender while it was churning worked best. Also, the reverse switch on the Vitamix blender is helpful. This was time consuming, but after many hours all of the bark was processed. When we finally press it out, I think there be about 5 gallons of tincture, which should last me a few years. And then, back to Florida I go.

I have not used Piscidia in any other way besides as a tincture, so I do not personally know it effects in different medicinal preparations.

Piscidia piscipula drying back home in Ithaca, NY

Piscidia piscipula bark and peeled stems

Piscidia as Medicine


As I write about Piscidia as a medicine, it is important to know that much of my description is based on using it over the past 7 years.  The reason I say this is that while there is validity to clinical observations it also increases the risk of bias. Hopefully this monograph encourages others to experiment with this plant and figure out best medicinal uses.
As I mentioned above, I did not use this plant for a long time, due to being unsure of medicines labeled Jamaican dogwood. Initially I wasn’t sure how to best prepare it or how best to use it. I had read enough to know that its basic medicinal action was for pain, but that is a broad description. So, I experimented with preparation methods and figuring out the specifics of its medicinal activity. After about 7 years and a number of gallons later, I feel I have a reasonable idea on how to use this plant as medicine. Though this should not inhibit anyone from continuing to pursue other uses and preparations.

Arielle blending the Piscidia piscipula tincture

Medicinal Uses

I have become an admirer of Piscidia as a medicinal plant, one I am glad to get to know and apply clinically. I have only used it in tincture form, so all discussion of it here is about it in tincture form. Piscidia is a very serviceable pain medicine, especially for general body pains (such as after an accident or a jousting tournament) and as an adjunct for skeletal muscle pain. Its sedative effects are minimal which makes it useful for daily use as it does not impair the cognitive process. It is an excellent first aid remedy because when it works (no one plant works all the time) it works reasonably swiftly and can take the edge off of acute pain. In other words it is useful plant for a wide variety of pain. It combines well with other plants (see Combinations below). Some plants are stronger pain relievers such as Valerian (Valeriana officinalis), or Hops (Humulus lupulus), but they may leave the patient feeling lethargic and not thinking clearly, while Piscidia does not have this effect commonly. That can also be a disadvantage as some times, such as after a traumatic accident, it is helpful to the mental edge off, but then it can be combined with them.

Another important attribute about Piscidia is that it is well tolerated with unwanted side effects being uncommon. This gives more room to play around with dosages when using it for treating pain.

For me, it is a classic first aid plant. It can be offered to someone soon after they arrive to a first aid station, even while still evaluating the extent of an injury and the dosage can be incrementally increased.

Piscidia piscipula branch showing young growth at tip


When administering Piscidia and other pain medicines, it is helpful to evaluate an individual’s reaction to the specific plant before giving larger amounts. Herbal medicines that influence the nervous system often affect people with a variable range of individual reactions to the specific plants. This spans from having very little reaction to feeling disoriented or tired. While evaluating dosage by body size is helpful, this individual responses seem even more important to take into consideration. Initially try smaller amounts before giving large doses, especially in sensitive individuals (and they often know who they are).

I rarely see unwanted side effects from Piscidia, which makes it reasonably safe to use and larger doses can often be given. I have mainly used it with teens to older adults, but it seems like it would be safe for children. It is one of those medicines that you can start with a small to medium-sized dosage and just continually increase until the effect you are looking for is achieved or nothing is further gained from giving more.

For most uses, start with approximately ½ dropper (.6 ml) to two droppers (2.5 ml.), and then continue giving more in these increments. If there are other herbs in the formula, you may have to adjust your dosage depending on their strength.

Piscidia piscipula branches showing various colors and lichen growth

Formulation and Combinations

Depending on what you are using it for, Piscidia combines well with other medicinal plants. It has an ‘adjunct’ quality, meaning it seems to increase the medicinal effects of other plants as well as having its own amplified when they are used together. Two specific plants I think it works particularly well with for pain are Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) and Hops (Humulus lupulus). The following are some helpful combinations.

  • For skeletal muscle pain; Skullcap, Pedicularis (Pedicularis spp.), Black cohosh (Actaea racemosa) and Willow (Salix spp.)
  • For insomnia due to body aches; Skullcap, Valerian (Valeriana officinalis), Wild lettuce (Lactuca spp.) and Hops.
  • For a recent injury; Valerian, Kava kava (Piper methysticum) and Wild lettuce.

Piscidia does not have obvious antiinflammatory effects, but since inflammation is a common factor in pain, it can be combined with antiinflammatories such as Willow, Licorice (Glycyrrhiza spp), Arnica (Arnica spp.), Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) and Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) to help reduce the sensation of pain while the above herbs decrease inflammation.


I guess it will be obvious from this monograph that I have a fondness for Jamaican dogwood. It started with my finding, gathering, processing and making medicine from this plant, to incorporating it into clinical herbal practice. It is one of the plants that has obvious medicinal benefits, which I find very satisfying. So even if you don’t gather your own Piscidia, I hope you can find a good source and begin to use this helpful medicinal plant.

The nearly finished Piscidia piscipula tincture

A Jamaican Dogwood Story

February 15th, 2014

Jamaican Dogwood tree (Piscidia piscipula)

A pre-story note; I wrote this as an article after I first gathered Jamaican dogwood in January 2007. I recently wildcrafted this plant again in January 2014, and decided to present this earlier edition as a blog with photos. I have avoided giving the exact whereabouts where I gather the Piscidia as I get nervous about people over-harvesting and/or gathering the wrong plant. So the location has been withheld, sorry.

This is the tale of my first encounter with identifying, gathering and preparing Jamaican dogwood in January 2007.

This is the story of me and Jamaican Dogwood, a plant I have longed to meet. The botanical name is Piscidia piscipula and it is in the Fabaceae family (the Leguminosae or the Pea family).  I have heard a lot about this plant over the years, most famously for its pain-relieving properties and wanted to give it a try. My problem was finding a reliable source for the raw herb (the bark being the part used most commonly). At least twice, I asked friends who were going to Jamaica with connections there, to bring back a sample. And each sample was different despite each of my buddies telling me the ‘bush doctor’ that had gathered the bark was knowledgeable and reliable. So I felt apprehensive about what was on the current market without having anyone I know having gathered this plant themselves. So as is my nature, I began to formulate a plan to someday find and gather this plant myself.

The trunk and bark of a mature Jamaican dogwood tree

First question, does it grow anywhere in the continental U.S?  This point is important for a number of reasons. One is that I am not likely to visit Jamaica any time soon. And just as importantly, if you have ever wildcrafted overseas, you learn how difficult it can be to transport plant material to the US (often for sound environmental reasons). Also, it can be prohibitively expensive to send from another country. And lastly, the plant can rot en route.

So I was excited to see that Piscidia grew in southern Florida, thereby circumventing all my above concerns. Now I have to say that South Florida was not high on my list of places to visit (and perhaps even avoid, as a New York Jew, it seems we are destined to spend our days in the ‘second homeland’). South Florida, as I have learned has many similarities (at least floristically) with nearby and similar climated places such as Jamaica hence Piscidia is a native down there.

A fortunate circumstance opened an opportunity to me. A friend of mine invited me to teach at the Academy of Five Element Acupuncture near Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.  And so after teaching there, I inquired amongst knowledgeable botanical persons if anyone knew where it grew in any abundance, and learned where it was most common.

So a plan was struck. I taught my 6 days and then got me a little rental car and cruised on down to begin my search.

Actually, before I left I belatedly began to call state parks in the neighborhood to find a place to camp.  First I should say they all ran about $35 a night, which is a friggin’ hefty sum to pay for setting up a tent, little did I realize it was about to become worse.

A typical Jamaican dogwood tree alongside a road

I spoke to a guy on the telephone about making reservations for staying in one of the state parks. It went something like this;

Me: Do you have any opening in the local state park for tonight?
Him: Hmmm (a few minutes of him searching somewhere), sorry all filled up for that night.
Me: How about tomorrow night?
Him: Let me see, no nothing for tomorrow night either.
Me: How about a campsite at one of the other parks?
Him: I’ll check (a few minutes pass) no nothing for tonight or tomorrow night.

This went on for a while and I finally asked, “When is the next opening for any state park campsite in this region?
Him: Oh, about mid-March.

Well that would have been much handier to know from the outset, as I was calling in mid-January. Granted I had waited way too long to call, but still, talk about being strung along. I imagined a bunch of reservation people giggling in the background as this conversation continued.

Then desperation set in as I was leaving that day to head down to (hopefully) Piscidia-land. So I hopped onto the internet, looked at a couple of somewhat scary-looking campgrounds, and chose the one closest to the park in the hope of a bit of nature.
Well they did have a spot or two, and you know how it is when your feeling desperate about something all the sudden the thing you would have not even considered a choice all the sudden looks tantalizing.  And so it was, even after looking at the map and noticing privacy would not be mine, I was still ecstatic to get a place to sleep that night on arriving.

My $40 a night campsite

And just as I suspected, it was basically a trailer park with many permanent RV’s and some camping spaces. But after a few tries, I found my own tiny little space on some white gravel surrounded by fence and patrons. And for $40 a night, oh well,  I am still indignant, but so it goes.

Now the Piscidia searching begins in earnest. I asked around if there were any trails which had plants labeled and identified. There were two, in a state park where I currently sat and a botanical walk a few miles up the road. I soon drove to the later and was walking, wondering, could any of these plants be my to-be Piscidia first-acquaintance? I looked at most of the obvious placards which showed interesting plants, but none yet the Jamaican dogwood (which is not actually a ‘dogwood’, i.e. a Cornaceae,  it is instead as noted previously a Fabaceae). I noticed that some of non-placarded trees had a small metal tag hung about them, and one, yes you can guess it, one had the Piscidia tag. Oh joy, oh good fortune! I stood there studying it, trying to memorize the features that would help me to sort it out later. The lowest branches were up too high for me to get a good look at the leaves and other conspicuous features.

I should add here that back in my car I had no fewer than 16 books on the plants of the region (or 48 pounds as the plane flies). This may seem excessive, but again I give sway to my tendency to pack heavy and be prepared for any number of alternate scenarios (just ask about my first aid kit). And sometimes one of these numerous books will be the one to provide that crucial detail that allows for positive botanical identification.

Young growth, very useful for identification

Young Piscidia growth. The roundish 'hood' shape (top of photo) is a bud with stipules. On the bottom is a very young leaf, covered in hairs. It will turn green and begin to photosynthesize later. There is a small round axillary bud in the middle.

Young growth, very useful for identification

I should also add here that while the focus of this story is about Piscidia, I am generally interested in keying-out (that is, making a positive botanical identification) any plant whose path I cross. So though I am writing about Piscidia, I was also enjoying other plants and looking forward to identifying and photographing these later. Hence a caravans’ worth of books. The book that was most helpful was The Biology of Trees Native to Tropical Florida by Tomlinson, as it has some beautiful black and white line illustrations (how I adore these), and showed some characteristics that were not included in any of the other books. You see, botany is primarily based on the reproductive characteristics of plants, that is, flowers and their sequel; their fruits (such as seedpods). As this was January, there were none of these to look at.  I felt fortunate just in the fact that Piscidia at least still had leaves on it.  And so with the aforementioned book, while it did describe the flowering and fruiting parts, it also illustrated what turned into one of the best field marks for the season, the youngest growth; the buds and very young leaves. These are quite distinctive.

Compound pinnate leaf of Piscidia (typical of many Fabaceae, plants in the Pea family)

Piscidia leaflets, showing the difference of color, dark green above, white hairy below

Back to the initial tree I saw in the botanical walk. I still had questions of knowing how to recognize other Piscidia since I could not clearly see the lowest leaves which were about 8 feet above my head.  I just stood looking for any obvious clues such as the tree trunk width, color of bark, or distinctive features such as stipule scars. I might add that due to my questioning ways, I also didn’t out rightly assume that this was Piscidia. I have traveled to many botanical gardens and the tags are often not scrutinized and are sometimes wrong. This is not as unusual or as uncommon as it may seem, and so especially on a trail like this without any clear association with a botanical garden I had my reservations. Also that it was just an unadvertised metal tag inconspicuously placed on it, I did not assume that it was an off-the-rack Piscidia. Still, I had done my homework and I could see that they were compound leaves, darker green on the topside, hairier on the bottom and arranged alternately on the stems. And I knew it grew around here from all accounts. So I kept walking looking to see if there were any more conspicuously labeled Piscidia’s. There were none, but it was a nice walk and I stumbled upon an abandoned condominium complex, and growing amidst the broken concrete slabs was a plant that looked suspiciously like a young Piscidia tree. So, I cut a couple of branches to bring back to the campground to further identify. At this point I was hoping that this was Piscidia as it was growing in a highly disturbed habitat which is good news to the wildcrafter. This means that it might be found it in other like-minded disturbed areas, thus not negatively affecting the local flora if gathered. Plants that grow weedy-like are some of my favorite to gather, as I feel I do less damage when gathering. And I knew Piscidia was native, which means it might not have these characteristics making a more difficult wildcrafting proposition, or not to be gathered at all (for more wildcrafting ethics and quandaries, see the Wildcrafting handout on website).

Jamaican dogwood stems in trunk of rental car

Excited by the day’s findings, I drove back to my acorn-sized crappy $40 a night campsite (such a complainer am I), ate a quick din-din, and busted out the botany books to compare. Unfortunately there was not enough there to convince me that I indeed had the right plant. Fortunately I met someone who had an excellent wireless card (this was 2007) and went on-line and perused as many Piscidia photos and descriptions as I could find in the internet universe.  Unfortunately nothing I came upon was good enough to convince me. Fortunately it was time to go to sleep and let go of my brain for the night.

Also, after being frustrated with not finding a photo on the internet to help me discerns Piscidia’s identity, I determined myself that if I was to find this plant, that I would post a butt-load of useful photos (hence this article).

Piscidia bark being peeled off stem

Piscida bark soon after being peeled

Next day, field guides in hand, I went off onto the less inhabited side roads. I found a likely place to pull over and began my explorations of the day.  And sure enough, trees of various sizes similar to the Piscidia I had seen the day before were in evidence. This time I did a more in-depth survey of all the available plant parts. And once again, disappointingly, there were still no flowers or fruits to work with. But I was able to look more carefully at the leaves, barks of various aged trees, and other distinctive characteristics such as buds, new growth and stipule scars. These matched up with the Tomlinson book and I felt I had a match. This was okay for photographs as they can be changed later, but not good enough for gathering. As I was driving around, I stopped at a nature center and asked the person working there some questions to see the breadth of his floristic knowledge. Fortunately he knew many plants, especially trees. As there was what I thought was a Piscidia in the lot there.  I asked and he unequivocally said it was Piscidia and showed me the positive identification characteristics. Excited and losing my last shreds of doubt, I asked his references (same as mine, Tomlinson, good) and if it could be confused with any other plant, which he answered with a firm “no”.

I felt pretty well satisfied from this experience, and now fired-up, I went back to my expensively-rented tiny piece of gravel-strewn earth.

Later that day, small foldable saw and pruners on hand, I headed out to find some inconspicuous roads to gather a bit of Piscidia. Not easily done in this densely inhabited area. But I came upon some lesser used roads and set up shop, meaning I parked my trusty rental, and sussed out where it would be best to do the least damage to the local plant population.

Typical size Jamaican dogwood growing alongside roads

In wildcrafting there are a lot of questions raised about how to gather and do the least harm. So that this paper does not become overly extended by covering a wildcrafting review, I will say that I chose to cut down small trees that were close to the road and mostly had limbs already chopped off for right-of-ways for cars and power lines.
So I cut and gathered a few smallish trees and then further cut their stems to fit into the boot of my rental car. And the whole time I was furtively glancing about for those who may not appreciate my wildcrafting work (for instance, Johnny Law). Eventually I had a few armloads and headed back to my ignominious budget-swallowing (yet cute in its own way) campsite. And then as those who wildcraft know, the longer and more tedious work begins. And so, post-sunset I put on my new iPod and began the long night of listening to mopey indie rock that I so cherish and peeling Piscidia bark. And indeed I did, well beyond the blisters and the general I-want-to-do-something-else crankiness. With kava as my spacing-out late-night buddy, I peeled until most of the local retirees and snowbirds had gone to sleep and then I peeled some more. Wildcrafting tip #501; most barks peel off much easier from freshly cut stems. There is more moisture between the cambium layer (the medicinal part) and the heartwood. Eventually tiredness (and kava) got the best of me and asleep I fell.
I awoke around sunrise and finished the job. This was made more painful by the big aching blister I had accrued the night before which lay between my thumb and forefinger. Eventually I used some vet wrap (a type of sports wrap, which is not a style of sandwich) during the night to cushion off this blistered area.

Young growth and leaflets of a Piscidia piscipula tree

And then the next part of the day’s events began. I got back into my vehicle and went off to gather more Piscidia before it got too hot (it reached into the 80’s by midday). And again I scuttled about, scouting for new areas, and gathering another armload.
Same routine, a bit of dinner and back to peeling bark into the wee hours. And again, rising early to finish the job.
What a relief to finally finish with all the stems (now just heartwood) looking pretty in their de-peeled state. It was now time to find a place to inconspicuously drop these stems off in an environmentally friendly manner.
It felt good to finishing peeling all that I gathered. It is one of the ethical risks wildcrafting entails, biting off more than you can chew. Sometimes it is so easy to gather a whole lot of a plant only to have some hampering factor slow you down for processing it all, and then you are left with ‘wasted’ material. So, it was with relief that this had not happened, though the risk was not over yet. Now that I had all this freshly peeled bark I had yet to dry it and somehow get it back to Ithaca in an un-moldy state to process.

But this decision needed to wait, as I now wanted to get the heck out this most immodestly-priced and privacy lacking campsite and into the Everglades. So away I drove.

I will not go into the details of this second part of the story except to say that how much I enjoy the sweeping beauty of the Everglades, the vast landscape of Sawgrass (Cladium jamaicense) and the wildflowers poking out here and there. And while I was in Everglades (and spending a more reasonable $16 a night for a handsome campsite) it was hard to not kick myself for not having spent more time of my short time down here in Flamingo, Everglades rather than the human-fill area of where I was.

A mature Jamaican dogwood tree

But then there was the Piscidia drying in my tent. The pungent smell now becoming ever more familiar. (I’m not sure I will want to sleep in a small tent with a lot of drying Piscidia for a long time to come.) If you have not visited the Everglades or the nearby Big Cypress, may I suggest it if you are ever in this part of the world. It is an uncommon and lovely ecosystem.

Just a little bit more to this torrid undulating tale. Two days later it was time to head back to civilization, and before I left The Land of Piscidia I thought about how I was to get all this peeled bark back to myself in Ithaca. So I obtained a cardboard box of the right size and materials from a box store going out of business, along with a big roll of packing tape. And as I was to leave soon, I packed the bark in the box and taped it up, brandishing a cloth sack-full that I would carry with me on the plane as a back up. Why a back up? Well, actually I was kind of nervous about what state the mailed bark would arrive back to me. I had dried it some, but it is humid in South Florida, so I was packing some perishable material. But the time had come, and so the first town I passed thru I stopped at the post office and after a 45 minute wait and $29 later, I sent this bad boy box of Piscidia to Ithaca, realizing there was nothing more I can do but wish it well on its journey.
The next day, I was home quiet home. Yes. And the day after that, I was thankful as my package arrived safely to my home. Anxiously I opened the box, nervous for the rank whiff of bacteria or mold. But, instead, a box full of beautiful Piscidia that I very soon put in my large dehydrator, and that’s how the story stands to this day.
Thank you for reading My Piscidian Adventure~7Song

Drying (and sleeping with) Piscida bark in my tent

First Aid for the Practicing Herbalist-Finger Wound

February 12th, 2014

Before I go into some of the details here, I want to say that herbal first aid is much the same as all other first aid, the main difference is in some of the medicines dispensed. But the basics of sanitation, wound dressing and making the patient comfortable are similar. In this article the emphasis is on the pertinent parts of this first aid situation, there is a lot of background not covered.
(Please note; you can click on the photos to enlarge them)

Florida Earthskills Gathering

This first aid problem happened at the Florida Earthskills Gathering. X had cut her finger with a small foldable saw. These types of wounds often create deep gashes and heal slowly due to the serrations of the saw. And due to the slow mending process from the laceration, it is important to look for, prevent and kill any possible infection.

First day treating saw injury (4th day after it happened)

The cut happened before the first aid station was set up.  I first saw her 4 days after the wound was inflicted. This was a deep and jagged gash on her pointer finger. At the time of the initial wound there were no first aid personnel and the patient was given numerous suggestions by the people around her. Not knowing which was the best choice, she tried a number of them. One of the treatments was putting bee’s wax directly on the laceration to prevent infection. The patient did not have an infection when I saw her, but the bee’s wax seemed like a bad idea as it trapped in water and created a waterlogged swollen finger impeding healing of the local tissue.

The first thing we did was to remove the wax and clean up and inspect the finger. While the tissue looked pretty torn up, it did not look infected and so the goal was to help prevent infection and mend the tissue.

The first day we cleaned it up well, scrubbing the beeswax and other plant residue to get a good view of the wound. We then put propolis on it as a disinfectant and wrapped it in a non-adhesive gauze pad. Then we put on a finger splint as it was near a joint and moving it would continually open it. Each time she came for treatment, she was given a few different internal medicines in tincture form. We would put each of these in a cup with water so it would be easier to take. To prevent infection we gave Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea) and Oregon graperoot (Berberis sp). For pain and relaxing she took a few nervines such as Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora), Valerian (Valeriana officinalis), Jamaican dogwood (Piscidia piscipula) and Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata). And after each time she was wrapped up, we gave her a to-go bottle of the above tinctures.

Second day of saw injury (5th day after accident)

Day 2 we cleaned it up better (we had to stop the day before as the area was getting too sensitive to work on) and removed some dead tissue that was in the wound. Again we gave her dilute tincture of infection fighting and pain relieving herbs.  She had to shoot down of couple of these as debriding the tissue and cleaning it well is a painful process.

Third day treating saw injury (6th day after accident)

Third day of treating saw injury (day 6 after accident)

After removing the tissue the wound initially looked more intimidating but better to me, as the tissue was now red and suffuse with blood rather than the waterlogged tissue previously. Again propolis was put on as a disinfectant. And a cotton gauze pad was put on instead of a non-adhesive to help wick water from the local tissue.

Day 3 the wound looked better as the gauze had wicked away some of the water and the blood now coming into the area was helping the healing process. There were also less cracks around the wound. Less cleaning was necessary and we gave her the above medicines, wrapped it in gauze and splinted it up again.

Third day of treating saw injury

Day 4 the wound continued to heal and fill in. The main difference was to remove the splint as the wound was healed enough where it wouldn’t easily open and her finger was getting stiff. While it hurt to bend, I helped curl it (ouch) as she held it in bent position for a few seconds. Again, propolis was placed on and the same internal medicines given.

Fourth day of treating saw injury

Fourth day of saw injury (1 week after it happened)

Day 5 (the eighth after the incident happened) was the last day I saw the patient. It was looking much better though still painful. We got her to flex her finger a little more so it wouldn’t stiffen up to much, gave her some medicines and a wound kit to take with her. She had a good idea how to put the gauze and tape on as we showed her the process each day.

Fifth (and last) day of treating saw injury

Our basic goal was to prevent infection and help the wound to mend. To do this we observed and cleaned it about twice a day. Externally we put propolis on to prevent infection. Internally we gave medicines for pain, relaxation and to prevent infection. We used a splint the first few days to help the tissue mend.
I would like to thank Susan Marynowski for all the hard work of setting up, supplying and working at the first aid station at the Florida Earthskills Gathering. I would also like to thank Lorna Mauney-Brodek for her excellent clinical and people skills and for bringing her herb bus and equipment to the Gathering. For more information-Florida Earthskills Gathering ( and Lorna’s Herb Bus ( I would also like to thank X the Patient for putting up with me taking photos.

Thank you for reading this and I hope it was helpful. ~7Song

Plant Medicine Notes-Chaparral (Larrea Tridentata)

December 28th, 2013

Plant Medicine Notes-Chaparral (Larrea tridentata)

Glass flower replica of Larrea (Harvard, Boston, MA)

One of my favorite first aid plants for infections is Chaparral (Larrea tridentata, Zygophyllaceae). It has a number of other common names, but in the world of herbal medicine, Chaparral seems to be the most common, common name. This is distinct from the southern California plant community which is also called ‘chaparral’. It is also called Creosote bush due to the similarity of its smell with creosote (a tar derivative). It is in the Zygophyllaceae, a small but showy family, also called the Caltrops family. This makes it related to Guaiacum and Tribulus terrestris (Puncturevine).
Please note, I will be using the name Chaparral and Larrea synonymously throughout this article.
There are a number of reasons I like this plant alongside its medicinal virtues. First, it is very common where it grows, which is throughout a number of desert ecosystems in the southwestern US.  So while that is quite a ways from here (Ithaca, NY), when I am out that way I can gather oodles of this fragrant (some would say stinky) plant without impinging on it or its environment’s health.

Botanical Description

Larrea tridentata is a medium-sized branchy shrub with evergreen dark green leaves. The resinous leaves are compound and opposite, with two leaflets attached to each other at the base. The flowers are shiny yellow with five petals. The fruit is a capsule densely covered in white hairs.

Two leaves-Larrea tridentata

Fruit-Larrea tridentata

Wildcrafting Tips

Chaparral is often the dominant plant where it grows. Frequently, there are huge colonies of it in its range. To wildcraft, drive into one of these areas and look for plants that have more young growth which is a brighter green color (and often a stronger resinous smell). You will see this distinction more often near the roadside as the scant water in the desert runs off the road and is taken up by the plants. I tend to avoid plants right along roads, especially given the profusion of them nearby. It is fairly easy to gather by either cutting the stems with pruners, or just breaking off the younger stems as the plant stems are brittle. I tend to go between the two methods when gathering. I put them in burlap bags which I find versatile for collecting many plants.

Two ‘Warning’ Stories

Story one; there were a few times when I have gathered Chaparral while on a Southwest road trip with family and friends. With the desert sun beating down through the car windows, the recently gathered wildcrafted plants reeked its strong odor. Sort of like 10,000 of those little pine fresheners, but each one coated with Larrea resin.
So, why the warning? Some of the people who have been with me on these trips needed a few years recovery time to able to be around this plant again without being overwhelmed by the smell. (This may be a bit of an exaggeration, but only by a bit.)
Story number two involves how I process (break down) the plant. In the mid 1990’s I was studying and teaching at Michael Moore’s school in Albuquerque NM. While there, I lived in a basement apartment. I was garbling (a quaint but useful herbal term for refining the plant for use) the recently gathered Chaparral by letting the plant dry on a tarp on the floor. After it dried I would then step on it to separate the leaves off the stems. This is pretty efficient, but as you can imagine, this Larrea Dance releases quite the odor tribute. And the landlords upstairs did not appreciate it. So I put a fan nearby pointing towards the only little window I had down there. After a while they stopped complaining, though I am not sure if it was that they didn’t want the hassle of kicking me out, or they just got used to it.

Flowers-Larrea tridentata

An Interesting Chaparral Fact

Another aspect that makes this such an intriguing plant is its longevity. There is a Larrea stand in the Mojave Desert called the “King Clone” that is a whopping 11,700 years old. Yup, you read that right. This makes it one of the oldest living organisms on earth (as far as measuring this type of thing goes). The original aboveground part of the plant died way long ago, but the plant continues to expand underground sending up new shrubs (clones) which now form a ring. All the plants in this clonal ring are genetically identical, and it has continued to grow and expand since, hmm, lets see, about 9700 BC.
Here is some perspective on what was happening on earth around then; in people-land, we are mainly hunting and gathering, though the nascent skill of agriculture is emerging. And the last big glacial period was ending around then too. At that time in what is now California, a seedling sprouted, grew and continues to this day through the many ages of we call modern human history.

So, counting up the ways I like this plant so far (its medicinal value forthcoming), is for the commonness in where it grows, the ease in gathering and garbling (sans neighbors), and a fascination on how long this plant can live. Plus, after a desert rain the air is pungent with the odor of Larrea, which I find revivifying.

Processing and Medicine Making

After taking the leaves off the stems, there are a couple of ways you can process this plant for medicine. First, you can just dry it for future use. The plant dries pretty easy, just lay it out on some kind of sheet (such as a tarp) in a non-moist environment. It is helpful if the room gets some sunlight to speed the drying process.  If you are going to use a dehydrator remember the smell will waft throughout your home, and your dehydrator will smell like Chaparral for a long time to come. This might be problematic if you are going to dry more delicate smelling plants or foods in it later.

We Interrupt this Blog to bring you Another Odd Anecdote

Years ago, I lived in a very drafty moist cabin. To keep most of my dried plants dry, I kept them in jars, buckets and tubs. But I kept my Chaparral in an open box figuring it would resist any molds, etc. A couple of weeks after I had stored it in the aforementioned box, I looked in and all of the Larrea had gone moldy. I didn’t even know that can happen, but it sure did and I had to compost all that hard work and plants gathered from far away. I guess Chaparral is not used to living in a constant moist environment and had no defenses against the pathogen.

Medicinal Preparations

The part of this plant used medicinally is the leaves, though if you have some branches, flowers or seed capsules in with them it will not hurt the medicine. The leaf can be used either fresh or dried, as there is not that much water in them to begin with.

There are a number of preparations that can be made from Larrea. Here is a list of some of the ones I make and use the most (medicinal uses for them are below). Due to the antioxidant properties of this plant, most of these preparations will have a longer shelf life than medicines made from other plants.

  1. Tincture-tincture with 95% ethanol at about 1:2, or as close to this as you can get while having the leaves covered by the menstruum and a few inches above it.
  2. Infused oil-soak (infuse) the leaves in extra virgin olive oil, and let them sit for at least 2 weeks in the oil. Cover the leaves with the oil and have a few inches of it above them. Since they resist mold, you can let the leaves stay in the oil for a longer period of time than most plants.
    There are two very good reasons to make this preparation. The first is Chaparral’s use as an external antiseptic. The oil alone, or combined with other plants, can be applied directly to wounds. The second reason is Larrea’s strong antioxidant effects. The constituents (chemicals) helps stabilize the infused oil, and by adding the Chaparral oil into other oils or salves, it will slow down their rate of rancidity and give them a longer shelf life. The only drawback to this is its strong taste and smell so you may not want to employ it in preparations like lip balms.
  3. Salve-salves are basically infused oils solidified with beeswax with essential oils sometimes added in. Using Larrea in a salve is similar to using it as an infused oil.
  4. Tea-tea is a water-based preparation generally prepared with hot water. Chaparral is usually infused (hot water poured on) rather than decocted (cooked) in the water. Remember that if this is for drinking, you may want to use a light touch with the plant, it is strong tasting.
  5. Honey-an infused honey is when the plant is covered with honey which will eventually extract the plant constituents. There are a few ways of increasing the ability of the honey to absorb these. One is heating it in a double boiler or just keeping the jar near a warm place so that the honey is liquid enough to allow movement of the materials between the plant and the honey.
    I have not used Chaparral honey yet, but I am considering it as a burn medicine to have the Larrea augment the honey for this type of treatment.
  6. Capsule-these are plants powdered and put into various types of capsules. There are good reasons to use capsules with Chaparral. First, the plant’s constituents are stable, so the medicinal action will still be potent even after the powdering process. The second is that this plant has a very strong taste so many people will not take it. But capsules can bypass the taste buds. Remember that if there is a lot of ‘Chaparral dust’ on the capsule, it might decrease patient compliance (meaning it will taste bad).
  7. Compress-a compress (compare to poultice) is prepared from a tea of the plant and then a cloth dipped into the tea is applied to the distressed body area. Chaparral compresses are especially helpful when you cannot directly soak the affected area. You can also soak a bandage with the tea (or tincture) though it is sometimes problematic to keep an area too moist for too long.
  8. Poultice-a poultice is when the plant is applied directly to the body (as opposed to a tea of the plant, see compress). I tend to use compresses more often as they are less sloppy. One of the most common types of poultice is called a ‘spit poultice’. This is when you chew a plant up and spit it on the hurt area. Good luck with this and Larrea.
  9. Powder-as mentioned in capsules, the powder of Chaparral is pretty stable and will last a while. A reason to powder it is to combine it with other plants and substances such as clay. It can also be stirred and drank, or put into capsules.

10. Wash/Soak/Sitz/Bath-these are all ways of soaking a body part in Chaparral tea (or tincture if need be). This is one of my favorite ways of using Larrea, making a very strong tea and then soaking an infected body part such as a foot or forearm. I think it is one of the most effective ways of using this plant. To prepare this, just make a very strong tea of the plant and soak the body part in hot, but not painfully hot water. The heat helps by keeping the local pores open allowing better infiltration of the plant constituents. Keep in mind that the water may have infectious material in it so make sure the vessel is washed well and the water disposed of properly.

Whole shrub-Larrea tridentata

Patient Compliance

An important consideration with Chaparral is how to get people to ingest it. Externally it is not so difficult, but internally this can be quite tricky as the plant is very bitter and for many the taste and smell are quite disagreeable. This is especially true if they are going to have to take it for a while. So when deciding what form (tincture, tea, etc) to give it is important to consider the patient’s ability to actually consume it. For someone used to taking herbal preparations this may not be as difficult. But for someone unaccustomed to drinking plant-based medicines you might want to figure out the easiest form for them to take. If it seems they will not use it, consider using another herb. It is not easy to disguise the flavor of Chaparral, adding honey to the tea just makes it taste sweet yucky. One form to consider are capsules. They have little flavor (unless the outside is dusted with the plant powder) and are fairly stable in powder form. The next most acceptable form is tincture, mainly because you can shoot it down quickly and you don’t need as much of it. You can add the tincture to juice or add flavoring herbs such as Cardamom to the tincture, but probably the best way to get it down is to dilute it, knock it back and follow with a chaser. I would reserve the tea for folks used to herbal medicine.

Medicinal Uses

While there is a wealth of information on the medicinal uses of Larrea, I am going to stick to the most common ways in which I use it. This is mainly in first aid and for various types of infections. If you are intrigued by this plant, I suggest researching other historical and current uses. This plant and closely related species have a long historical usage by people who have lived near it.


The main way I use Larrea tridentata is in various preparations to help prevent and kill a number of infectious organisms. These include; bacteria, fungi and protozoa. For herbal honesty’s sake, I want to be clear and say I have seen Chaparral not work many times, but it has helped often enough and sometimes where other plants (and drugs) have not. And so I continue to use and recommend it. It is valuable plant that I hope people who read this begin to use more frequently and widely.

In first aid the main common types of infections I see are skin and gut infections. Skin-wise, the most common infectious bacteria are staph (Staphylococcus aureus). Gut infections include bacterial, viral and protozoal organisms that are delivered through food and water. I also occasionally see fungal skin infections such as athlete’s foot.

With staph infections, it is one of a number of remedies that are helpful depending on the strain of staph, the extent of the infection and the individual’s immunological resistance. While this is not going to cover a full staph treatment protocol, this is how I use Larrea in these situations. If the wound is on an area you can put into wash basin (i.e., hands and feet) soak the infected area in a very strong tea of Larrea  If it cannot be soaked, use a hot compress. Afterwards alternate between remedies (see Combinations below) which will be applied topically. Apply the Larrea tincture directly on the wound and/or put it on a gauze pad which is then held in place. You may also want to employ other topical and internal plant medicines such as activated charcoal poultices and Echinacea tincture internally.  An important note about staph infections is to avoid using sticky tape to hold the gauze in place. When it is removed, the hair that is pulled out can leave a gap for an infection to take place. Use self-adhesive tape such as Coflex or Vet Wrap.. Staph infections are not always easy to treat, and when stubborn they need to be taken seriously. With these types of infections also consider community protection and letting the infected person know that they are contagious. Also, they need to be intelligent with their treatments. And you and they both need to clean up good each time you work together.

Another place to use Larrea is with infectious gut organisms. This gets trickier as it can be hard to tell if it is an infection or a non-infectious disorder such as irritable bowel syndrome. Also, it can be difficult to know which type of infectious organism. I will not go into those details here but if you know the person ate or drank contaminated food or water then consider using Larrea with other herbal medicines along with (but not at the same time as) activated charcoal.

One last place here to consider using Chaparral for is with fungal infections. I have seen it work well with the type of fungi (a Tinea) between the toes and also under toenails. The best way to treat this is with hot Chaparral tea soaks and topical application of the tincture.

To simplify, if you think it is an infection and it is not posing an immediate risk, then consider using Chaparral, either internally or externally.

Fruit-Larrea tridentata

Other Medicinal Uses

Larrea is also used for a much broader array of medicinal uses. It has been well researched due to it containing nordihydroguaiaretic acid (NDGA) which has strong antioxidant properties. The free radical scavenging abilities of NDGA recommend it being helpful in a wide range of diseases. Someday I hope to expand my use of this plant for some of these chronic disease states. If you are interested in learning more just search nordihydroguaiaretic acid

Due to its bitter flavor it can be used as digestive bitter but since it has many other properties it seems better to use a safer (less complex) bitter such as Gentian (Gentiana spp.).


It is difficult to give concise dosage guidelines for almost any remedy or treatment but here are some general protocols. When treating an acute infection as with something brought on by ‘bad’ food or water, use a large loading (the first) dose and then use medium amounts regularly for 2 days or so afterwards. To give an example;  you and a friend drank some iffy ‘live’ water from a stream near where you were camping in the Rockies. Two nights later you both wake up around 3 am with diarrhea. You are nauseous but not vomiting. Start with about 4 ml (nearly a teaspoon or about 3 full 1 oz dropperfuls) along with some other herbs. Alternate with activated charcoal (but not at the same time). And then take about 2.5 ml (about ½ teaspoon or 2 full 1 oz dropperfuls) every four hours for about 2 days. And then reduce it to about 1.25 ml (a full 1 oz dropper) every four hours for another day or so. It is hard to say how long as it depends on whether your symptoms are getting better. So this is a very broad parameter for treatment.
For external infections, try to soak the infected part in hotish water at least 1-2 times daily. And apply Chaparral tincture throughout the day.

Bud and flower-Larrea tridentata


While Larrea can be used alone, it also combines well with other plants. What percentage of the plant you use in a formula depends on the main health benefit you are seeking. For instance, if you are using it for an infected wound, you might use a larger percentage of Chaparral as it is a strong disinfectant. But if you are looking to treat inflammation, you might add plants that have as stronger antiinflammatory action.

For staph infections in particular, it is helpful to use a mix of plants and change them after every few wound care treatments. This seems to help keep the staph infections at bay.

  1. Antibacterials-Echinacea (Echinacea spp.), Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum), Osha (Ligusticum porteri), Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) Oregon graperoot (Berberis spp), Barberry (Berberis thunbergii), Yarrow (Achillea millefolium).
  2. Antiinflammatories-Arnica (Arnica spp.), Yarrow (Achillea millefolium), Willow (Salix spp.), Turmeric (Curcuma longa), Licorice (Glycyrrhiza spp.)
  3. Astringents-Anemopsis californica (Yerba mansa), Oak (Quercus spp.), Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana), Geranium root (Geranium maculatum).
  4. Vulneraries-Calendula (Calendula officinalis), Yarrow (Achillea millefolium), St. Johnswort (Hypericum perforatum).

Safety Profile

There are a number of concerns about the internal use of Larrea mainly involving liver damage. Again, as with the medicinal uses section, please look through the literature to learn more. As with many studies, it is hard to interpret the causality of Larrea creating damage to the liver and other organs. But here is my take on it, it is a strong herbal medicine; in taste, smell and effects. It has a decisive action on infections. My recommendation is that for external use, it seems safe enough unless it was put into a deep wound over a long period of time which would allow for systemic uptake. Internally, I would try to limit its use to about 2 weeks or so. If it has not helped by then it might be time to change the medicine. Also, the flavor tends to limit people’s ability to take it, so if you are using capsules, which have no flavor, you may want to set a regular dosage with a time limit.
Any quantity I suggest here is just conjecture. I have no way to evaluate how much a person can take or for how long. You will have to figure this out for yourself using common sense guidelines, information gleaned from outside sources and the knowledge of your own body.
Two special notes.  Internally I would suggest people with frank liver damage such as Hepatitis C avoid it. I don’t know any studies to confirm or deny this, but there are other plants that might work and frankly Larrea just seems strong.
Also, while there is no clear evidence of Chaparral interacting with any conventional drugs (such as with CP450 pathways), it seems possible that it might. So if you are taking drugs that are essential for your well being, you may want to have some lab tests performed to make sure your markers haven’t changed.
I realize that this may seem hedging but it is the best information I feel I can offer. So, to reiterate, Larrea is strong and could possibly cause some health problems taken in large doses over a long period of time. Avoid it when the liver is damaged and be cautious taking it regularly if you are on any life-sustaining medications. I think using Larrea for first aid situations, notably infections, is reasonably safe due to the duration it is used.

Chaparral is used by some people as a cancer treatment, and I frankly I feel unqualified in giving any response to this. I don’t have enough information and would just suggest that anyone with serious health disorders to make sure to be seen by knowledgeable people.


Please remember that when helping people to keep the patient’s needs first. Their getting well is more important than your desire to experiment with herbal medicines. If there is an infection that is quickly getting out of hand, it may be time for medical intervention. It is not that antibiotics always help but sometimes they might work better or in conjunction with Larrea and other herbs.


Larrea tridentata is a useful plant for number of reasons. First, it has strong infection fighting potential and can be used for number of different infective organisms. This makes it a useful plant for anyone preparing to do first aid in an outdoor situation, especially at a longer event. Next, it is a common plant where it grows and a lot of it can be gathered without harming the plant population or the environment it grows in. It is soluble in a wide variety of menstruums and can be prepared into a number of helpful medicinal preparations. It has strong antioxidant properties so it maintains its medicinal strength for a lengthy period and can be added to other medicines as a preservative. For all of these reasons, plus the way it makes the desert smell after a rainfall, I hope that others learn to appreciate and use this plant.

The Kidneys-A Brief Evolutionary Story

March 7th, 2013

The Kidneys-A Brief Evolutionary Story

Once upon a time, a very very very long time ago, you and I were very small creatures floating freely in the vast oceans of the earth. How small were we? We were tiny, just one cell big. To put that into perspective, we are much bigger now, about 60 trillion (60,000,000,000,000) cells bigger.

Life was easier then. Floating in an ocean full of nutrients, we took in what we needed directly from the environment and got rid of any non-useful substances in the same way, released directly from our little bodies into the sea around us.

Well, it seemed like getting bigger might be a good idea, and so we started adding more cells to our bodies. Life was still pretty simple at first as these cells could still interact directly with the environment around them, pulling in foodstuffs, releasing wastes.

Over time we became even bigger and had to start evolving ever more complex ways of getting nutrients to every single cell (they all need to ‘eat’), no matter how far inside of the body they were. And as always, we had to have ways of getting rid of the waste products (they all need to ‘poop’).

Things got distinctly more difficult as we made our way to land. Now, we had to adapt to a wholly new environment. Extracting nutrients from the atmosphere, locomotion on solid earth, protecting ourselves from direct sunlight, new food sources, and getting our water needs met.

Our bodies became ever more complex. And larger. And we developed decidedly more complex systems. A respiratory system to help extract oxygen from the air around us, and release the gaseous byproduct. A digestive system to take in, absorb and excrete food. Strong skeletal muscles to move us around. And a pseudo-ocean inside of us, the bloodstream. Through an elaborate circulatory system, this became the highways, roads and paths inside of us to deliver what was needed to every individual cell, no matter how tightly hidden away, and the ability to get rid of all the unwanted materials.

But the blood traveling through the circulatory system is a closed system, going around and around and around. No outlet unless we are bleeding. So what was needed was a filter and removal system. This filter would ‘read’ the blood, and while keeping the vast majority of necessary substances such as water within our bodies also the ability to remove toxins, excesses and waste products.

The urinary system is just such a device. After the blood is filtered, the unwanted portions are sent down to a storage unit (the urinary bladder) where they stay out of harms way, until till time to eliminate them

At the heart of this system are the two kidneys. Their goal, is to maintain homeostasis, that is, keeping things at normal levels in the body. They do this with about 1 million small tubes called nephrons. Each one of the nephrons independently filters to insure the blood is kept right and proper, the correct proportions of things.  A massive amount of blood is sent through the kidneys each day, about 45 gallons (180 liters) pass through each 24 hours. And of all of this only about 2 quarts (2 liters) are excreted as urine. 45 gallons! A day! Imagine an average size garbage can, that’s about the right size. And now imagine dipping a quart size canning jar in and removing 2 jars worth of fluid from the garbage can. Of course we don’t have that much blood in us, we have about 1.3 gallons (5 liters) so it is constantly re-circulated and re-scrutinized.

So the kidneys are the guardian filters of the blood. And the blood is the thoroughfare from which most substances move throughout our body. Their well-being is essential for overall health. They help maintain the closely guarded pH of the blood, the electrolytes (important elements such as sodium and potassium). They help regulate blood pressure, and a variety of other important functions.

But this is not a dissertation about the kidneys, no, this about one organ system that allowed us to evolve from the very simplest of organisms floating in a very large bath, to the exceedingly complex creatures whom we now are.

And the journey is not finished.

Postscript. I realize that this is way oversimplified and I left out many other important bodily systems (reproduction anyone?) and I took other poetic license as well, after all, many of our body systems were adapting and changing at the same time. But I wanted to filter it down to this bare kidney story. I hope you have found it entertaining.

Gelsemium sempervirens-Wildcrafting and Medicine Making

February 13th, 2013

Yellow jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens, Loganiaceae)

While in Gainesville, Florida recently I gathered some Gelsemium sempervirens for medicine. Honestly, I have some from when I last gathered it in 1994 or so, but I like to sometimes wildcraft plants again to remember the specifics of gathering them.

Gelsemium has many common names generally alluding to its sweet (many would say overly sweet) floral fragrance. These include Jessamine and Yellow or Carolina jasmine (or jessamine). These names can be confusing as it is not related to the Jasmine plant (Jasminum species) commonly used for its fragrance. Gelsemium (my preferred common name to avoid confusion) is generally placed in the Loganiaceae family, though it also sometimes placed into the Gelsemiaceae.

This plant has a large natural range from Southeastern US to Central America. It is a vine and while it can be a bit weedy, I find it rather lovely, and glad to see and smell it when I occasionally visit Florida in February.

Yellow jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens Loganiaceae)

Gelsemium as Medicine
I have not used Gelsemium much for medicine yet, partly due to its toxicity. However, in the proper dosage, it has been used

Gelsemium sempervirens flower

to help reduce pain and I would like to learn how to use it this way.

The underground structures (rhizomes and roots) are the parts used as medicine. I tinctured them fresh at approximately 1:2 in 85% ethanol. The reason it is approximate is that I was flying home with the medicine, and to avoid adding too much weight to my already weighty baggage, I added just enough ethanol in the jar with the cut-up herb before leaving Florida to preserve it until I got home and add the rest of the alcohol.

You may notice that a number of plants that are used to help with pain are potentially dangerous, such as Atropa belladonna (Belladonna) and Aconitum columbianum (Monkshood, Aconite, or Wolfsbane). The reason for this is that plants affect neurotransmission, that is, the ability of the body to ‘talk to itself’ through the nervous system. And since the nervous system is involved with the transmission of pain signals, interrupting this pathway can help reduce pain. But this also disrupts the body’s ability to perform very important processes such as breathing. That is why you see respiratory failure as one of the common lethal affects of some of these plants. As an interesting historical note, it has also made them infamous as poisons.

Gelsemium sempervirens flower

So why use them at all? Because in first aid pain one of the most common problems (here I am referring to physical pain) and so any agent that can help with this situation is worth a consideration. Also, the dose is often well discussed in older herbals as well as current herbalists who use these plants. So gather it I did.

Wildcrafting Gelsemium

Gelsemium sempervirens flower bud

These notes were made while gathering Gelsemium near Gainesville, Florida. This is a very common plant and not threatened in anyway, so there is little worry about hurting the population. I would just avoid taking it from an area where the soil seems contaminated, or if someone is purposefully allowing the graceful vines to grow around their home. This plant grows in a number of soil types, though I looked for it growing in sand (common there) as it would be easier to dig out. The parts used for medicine are the underground structures, especially the rhizome, along with the roots. The rhizomes (a type of underground stem) grow somewhat horizontally and not too far below the soil surface. This is one of the ways that this vine spreads itself as it sprouts up from various places along the rhizome. Because it was not growing too deeply in the soil, I was often able to extricate it from the soil with just my hands pulling the rhizome and roots loose. There is a special ‘yanking’ technique for helping remove underground structures. The roots are often holding the plant fast in the ground and so you want to loosen them while not having the plant break off and then left with just a small piece. Instead, give firm pulls to the rhizome, so that it and the roots start to separate from the soil. This is the yanking part. This way, when you eventually pull even harder, more of the root and rhizome comes out.
One of the difficulties of gathering roots and rhizomes is deciding which is the one to plant you want to gather. This can become difficult, as there are a number of different roots in any given piece of earth. And there are also other vines tangled in with the Gelsemium, notably a number of Smilax species. There are a few ways to do this. First, find an area that only has Gelsemium growing as a vine, so as not to confuse it with the Smilax or other plants. Next, the first few times you gather it,

Gelsemium sempervirens rhizome and roots

gently unwind the plant from the plant it is growing on so that you have the whole plant in your hand (as opposed to only having the root). This way it is obvious that it is attached to the right plant. And since Gelsemium has opposite leaves (as opposed to Smilax with alternate ones) it doesn’t have to be in flower. You may want to wear jeans or other heavy-duty clothing as you will likely be working around the thorny Smilax plants. I want to point out, however you gather this or any plant, you have to have properly identified it in the first place. There is no substitution for good botany skills here.
So, find a Gelsemium vine that is not entangled with other vines, and follow it down to where it meets the soil. Now with your hand, or using a hori hori, follow the rhizome under the soil, gently and firmly jerking it, so that it loosens from the dirt. And continue moving your hand along the rhizome to find and loosen more of the underground structure. In larger vines, the roots are thicker and will need to be dug out with a hori hori or other too. While I am doing this, I am using my pruners to separate the many vines that are attached to the rhizome to make removing it easier. One more notable feature of Gelsemium is that the rhizome and roots have a distinctive smell. I wouldn’t trust this alone to identify the roots, but it is helpful, and I like the smell.

And so that is my Gelsemium wildcrafting and medicine making adventure. I hope you found it helpful, and I will post later as I learn to use this plant as medicine. ~7Song

Gelsemium sempervirens wildcrafted

Gelsemium sempervirens tincture