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Editor:

© Kat Morgenstern
September 2003
Vol.II Issue: 3


This Issue:


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Happy Autumn Equinox

fall.GIF (6K)It seems hard to believe that autumn equinox is already knocking on the door and that it is already time to tidy up loose ends and get everything ready for winter. Just a few weeks ago we were shriveling in the sun - at least in this neck of the woods. While many people seemed to have enjoyed to exceedingly hot summer, I can't say that I did. By June most of the herbs had wilted to hay and while wine growers are happy, other homesteaders and farmers are deeply concerned. Few crops do well without at least some rain. Sunflower seeds and other seed and nut crops are underdeveloped or hollow. The global climate changes that are producing ever more extreme weather conditions should give us pause for reflection. Sure, for some time the lack of rain can be compensated with artificial irrigation, but how long will the water last? Water is a more precious than oil, yet we tend to treat it as though it is an infinite resource. With the climate heating up, is it time to research and grow crops that are adapted to warmer and drier climes? How many crops, trees or medicinal herbs will eventually be lost if the climate continues to grow hotter and drier? How long will it take before the changes become drastically noticeable, 50 years? 100 years? 250 years? And what other species will be lost as a secondary consequence?

One rarely thinks about such serious topics while basking in the summer's sun, but if we want to preserve planet earth for a future that will be worth living, for our children's and grandchildren's sake, and all the generations of sentient beings that will come after us - we better start thinking about the future and how our actions today will impact those lives to come. No matter how small we might feel, we can make a difference today.

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Sweet Chestnut

nuts.GIF (6K)Nothing quite smells like autumn as the delicious scent of roasted chestnuts. It is a curious, warming, slightly sweetish aroma that immediately conjures up images of bonfires and harvest feasts. When the days are beginning to get shorter and one can detect that crisp little nip in the air that heralds the coming of the cold season, when the leaves are turning bright in color and are spreading a thick carpet on the ground, when the earth smells musky and moist from the rain, chestnut season is upon us. Sweet chestnuts, which must not be confused with horse chestnuts, belong to the family of the Fagaceae, which comprises numerous species of trees with edible nuts, such as oak and beech. Sweet chestnuts are at home in a temperate climate while shunning excessively cold and wet habitats. In Europe their range extends as far north as southern England, though they are most comfortable in the Mediterranean climate, where they form quite extensive forests. In North America the native species (Castanea dentata) has been largely replaced by the Chinese species of Chestnuts, which was imported in the early 1900s. Unfortunately the imported trees carried a disease, a virulent blight which quickly spread and tragically wiped out almost the entire population of native chestnuts.

castaneaflower.jpg (31K)Sweet chestnuts grow into beautiful tall trees, with elegant large, but quite narrow serrated leaves, which develop before the flowers appear. The flowers grow as long golden yellow catkins, which are reminiscent of arboreal fireworks, especially when seen en masse covering the canopy of native woodlands. The nuts develop in early autumn. They are protected by a very prickly shell. Each shell contains 2 or three nutlets, beautiful dark brown nuts, shaped a bit like pixie-hats, with a white, pointed tip.

Commercial chestnuts are derived from a cultivated variety, which yields one large nut per shell, rather than two or three as in the wild species. Most commercial growing is done in Italy, Spain, Portugal and France, where chestnuts are still well established on the autumn menu.

nuts.jpg (17K)When collecting chestnuts the temptation is almost irresistable to jump on the very first that fall to the ground in September. However, the very first are usually not yet fully ripe and usually not worth the bother. Better to wait another month. By October the nuts that hit the ground have filled in and are deep reddish brown all over, except for the very tip. The shells should be a little bit open, but not too much. Now one has to hurry, otherwise the forest folk, the squirrels and wild boars will get the better of them. It is advisable to wear protective gloves, as the shells are really prickly. The easiest way to remove them is to gently step on them and roll them around a little bit in the dirt until the shell comes off by itself. Check the nuts for little holes as these indicate the presence of worms. Worms tend to be more of a problem after heavy rains or when the nuts have been lying on the ground for too long.

The most tedious part of chestnut preparation is not the collecting, but the shelling. The nuts are covered by an inner membrane, which adheres to all the nooks and crannies of the inner fruit. There are several methods of removing this membrane, and the method employed depends to some extend on what one wants to do with the nuts. All methods require that each nut is cut on the bottom surface, usually in the shape of a cross. Then they can be roasted without exploding, or boiled briefly, which eases the process of removing the inner skin.

To preserve chestnuts for long-term storage it is best to dry them quickly in the oven so as to avoid moulding. Dried chestnuts need to soak in water before the can be used again. In France a traditional method of curing the nuts was to spread them on the floor of a harvest hut and smoke them for a period of time. These smoked nuts could be stored for up to a year.

Pan/Oven Method

Cut a cross on the flat side of each nut and place in a heavy skillet. Add about ½ a teaspoon of butter per cup of chestnuts and roast on a medium heat until the butter is melted. Put the pan in the oven at 475 degrees and allow to stand for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and take off the shells with a small sharp knife. It is still a tedious process but if done right the inner skins will adhere to the outer shells, thus making the process of shelling much easier.

Chestnuts are a great wild food. They are very nutritious. Unlike most nuts, they are rich in both carbohydrates and proteins, but contain very little fat and no cholesterol. This distinct composition has earned them their nick names ‘l’arbre a pain’ in French, meaning ‘the tree of bread’ or the English equivalent, ‘the grain that grows on trees’. Their flavour and consistency is unique in that it lends itself very well to both sweet and savoury dishes. A favourite is chestnut stuffing, but they can also be used in soups, nutloaves, cookies or desserts or can be ground into nut flour.

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Roasted Chestnuts

One of the most delicious and simple ways to enjoy chestnuts is to simply roast them either in the oven or on an open fire. In southern Europe special chestnut roasting pans are employed for this purpose, though they are not strictly necessary. These pans are a basically cast iron pans with holes on the bottom. But it is just as simple to roast the chestnuts in a traditional pan. The important thing to remember is to slice a cross on the broad side of each nut so that they don't explode. Place in a pan and shake over a medium flame for about 15 min. The flavour is completely transformed by the process of roasting. Even when processing for other dishes, such as soups or stuffing, roasting them prior to further processing is highly recommended. Roasted chestnuts taste great straight from the pan, or can be served with blue cheese and wine.

Stuffing

Minced chestnuts are excellent as stuffing for birds, such as pheasants or goose. Roast onions and garlic, add boiled and minced chestnuts and rice along with chopped celery sticks and apples. Stir an egg into the mixture and season to taste, e.g. salt, thyme, sage, rosemary, mugwort. Add wholemeal flour, oats or wholemeal breadcrumbs until the mixture has the right consistency, neither too dry, nor too wet. Judge the amounts by the size of the bird.

Chestnut Loaf

The above described stuffing can also be adjusted to make a nice chestnut loaf. The chestnuts can be mixed with other nuts, e.g. peanuts or walnuts. Mix roughly half and half nuts and rice, add grated or finely chopped vegetables, e.g. zucchinis, mushrooms, onions and garlic either sautéed or raw, add an egg and flour until everything sticks together nicely. Season to taste. Fresh herbs such as thyme, rosemary and a touch of sage are nice. Grease a breadpan and fill with the mixtures. Bake in the oven at about 375 degrees until a crust forms on the top and the dough no longer sticks when pricked with a wooden stick. Serve with steamed vegetables and mushroom sauce.

From http://members.iinet.net.au/~cdibley/chestrec.html

Glazed Chestnuts And Winter Vegetables

Cut kumara into large chunks. Cut parsnip in half lengthwise. Combine all ingredients in a baking dish; bake, uncovered in hot oven (220°C) about 45 minutes or until the vegetables are tender and browned lightly. Turn gently halfway through cooking. Serves 6 to 8.

Here is a recipe from Mountain View Chestnut Farm http://members.ozemail.com.au/~jncasey/recipes.html

Savoury Chestnut Croquettes

Ingredients Method

In a heavy saucepan cook the onion and the garlic in the butter over moderately low heat, stirring, until the onion is softened, add the chestnuts, the broth, the cayenne, the cloves, and salt and pepper to taste, and simmer the mixture, covered, stirring occasionally, for 25 minutes or until the chestnuts are very tender. In a food processor purée the mixture until it is smooth, add the parsley and the fresh breadcrumbs, and process the mixture until is it combined well. Transfer the mixture to a bowl, let it cool, and chill it, covered, for at least 6 hours or overnight. Have ready in one bowl the egg wash and in another bowl the dry breadcrumbs combined with the almonds. Form the chestnut mixture by heaping teaspoons into balls, dip the balls, in egg wash, and roll them in the almond mixture. In a deep fryer heat 2 inches of the oil until hot, in it fry the balls in batches for 2 minutes, or until they are golden brown, and transfer them as they are fried to paper towels to drain. Can be served with puréed cranberry sauce for dipping.

Curried Chestnut Soup

Sautée the onions with the carrots until the onions are soft, add zucchini, and apple. Continue to sautée and stir. Add mushrooms. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of vegetable stock powder and a teaspoon of curry powder and a pinch of cinnamon into the vegetables and continue to stir. Add one pint of water. Bring to the boil and add the roasted minced chestnuts. Stir continuously so as to avoid any of the ingredients sticking to the bottom. Squeeze the garlic into the soup. Add 1 pint of milk and simmer until all the vegetables are cooked. Season to taste with extra salt, coriander, cumin and chillies. Adjust liquid level so the soup is creamy but not too thick. A tiny touch of honey can blend the flavours perfectly.

Baked Apples With Chestnut Stuffing

Roast the chestnuts as described above, shell and mince. Mix with raisins, sultanas, oats and honey. Remove the apple core and fill the hole with the stuffing. Place on cookie sheet and bake in the oven until the apples are soft. Serve with vanilla ice cream.

Chocolate Chestnut Mousse

Chestnuts combined with cocoa and amaretto make a perfect ending for a festive dinner.(adapted from http://www.delmarvelouschestnuts.com/recipe.htm)

Shell and peel chestnuts as described above. Boil until tender. Drain and add sugar or honey, cocoa and Amaretto. Blend in a food processor until smooth. Beat whipping cream until stiff. Fold into chestnut puree. Divide among dessert glasses. Chill. Decorate with whipped cream and chocolate shavings. Serves 10.

The mousse can also be used as a cake filling.

Chestnut links:

J Hill Craddock's Chestnut Links http://www.utc.edu/Faculty/Hill-Craddock/chestnutlinks.html

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Remember:

All that the earth is fragile and that we must not take from her beyond what she can sustain. Overharvesting, particularly due to commercial collection of medicinal plants has brought many once plentiful blessings to the brink of extinction. As 'plant people', we should adopt the attitude of green guardianship for our mother earth, who so plentifully provides for us.

Here are the rules that every forager should live and breath by:

Get to know the plants that grow around you on a personal, first name basis: familiarize yourself with the herbs, bushes and trees, try to learn as much as possible about the ecosystem you are a part of and the plant members of your 'extended family'. Learn to identify them correctly and investigate all their uses, this will give you a much deeper insight into the nature of a plant, than merely learning its name.

It is especially important that you learn to identify the poisonous plants you are likely to encounter, so as to be sure you will avoid picking them when you gather your meal. The importance of this point is completely obvious, but cannot be stressed enough. When you think you know a plant, think again and see what other, non-edible look-alikes might be fooling you. This is even more important when it comes to collecting mushrooms, as there are many more poisonous mushrooms than there are poisonous plants you are likely to mistake for anything edible.

Don't be greedy!

Only pick as much as you need and never take ALL the plants of any one kind in a given patch. After harvesting an area give the plants plenty of time to recover before returning to the same patch. Be especially conscienscious when it comes to harvesting roots and barks. Remember that often this means the death of the plant, so before you start digging ask yourself if this plant is really plentiful and if it can sustain a harvest of its roots. If in doubt, don't collect. Consider growing some in your garden rather than depleting natural stands. Collecting barks can also be fatal to a tree. If you must collect this part, try to collect it from smaller branches rather than the stem, from branches that have fallen, or trees that are due to be cut for other purposes.

However tempting it may look, never pick in places that are subjected to pollution from roads, industry or heavy spraying of farm chemicals (pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers etc.). And don't collect from nature reserves either - these are areas set up to protect wild species, so give them their space and let them be!

Cast seeds of native species to the earth and to the winds once in a while - as a way of giving something back. Consider adopting a little patch that you are particularly fond of. When you are out and about, never leave any litter behind, but try to bring some back with you - I always carry two bags, one for foraging and one for litter picking. Give thanks to the plants and to Mother Earth who has provided them.

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astroman.jpg (54K)The world changes through the way look at it - or put another way, the colour of our glasses tints our view of ‘reality’. In days gone by philosophers contemplaited the structure of what we call 'reality'in great detail. To develop mental models of the world, which can be projected onto reality and which in turn shape the interpretation of that reality as experienced by an individual or a society, seems to be a fundamental part of human nature.

Ever since Descartes declared the physical world to be mechanically functioning parts of essentially dead machinery, our world has changed accordingly. Life is no longer sacred. Even the human body is commonly regarded as a machine with parts that are supposed to fulfil a particular function. If they don't, they are obviously ‘malfunctioning’ and must be ‘fixed’, either with the aid of medicines, which are supposed to kick-start the ailing part into resuming its normal function, or else, the part is obsolete and can simply be removed or exchanged. Soon we will be able to grow our own spare parts from our very own cells and no longer will have to rely on spare metal parts, donor organs or pig parts.

Similarly, the rest of nature interpreted according to the same reductionist principles. Plants are considered the sum total of their biochemical constituents. Many are thought to be ‘useless’ as they are chemically ‘inactive’ while others exhibit promising activity, which chemists attempt to isolate and reproduced in pill form so it can be marketed as a remedy for various bodily dysfunctions. Welcome to the material world.

It is often assumed that this western model of reality is the only valid and scientifically proven model and it is therefore mistakenly considered ‘absolute truth’, as opposed to the quaint and folksy models adhered to by other cultures. The western scientific system is conveniently rational and ‘enlightened’ (i.e. uncluttered by magico-religious mumbo-jumbo) and can easily be grasped by the logos, the left-brained, analytical thinking processes. We love simplistic models. According to the materialistic model anything that cannot be measured, simply cannot exist, thus, we don't have to worry about it.

All very well, except that there are certain aspects of reality, which refuse to conform, they resist the western methodology and yet, they work. For example, why does visualization work? It has been shown that visualization can have a measurable effect on the involuntary nervous system, yet traditional medical doctrine teaches that the involuntary nervous system acts independently and is not under any kind of conscious control - yogis, spiritualists and shamans have proven science wrong time and again.

Traditional Chinese medicine, a very ancient and complex medical practice, treats organs, which according to the western model of anatomy cannot even be found in the physical human body. It refers to elements and energies and ‘meridians’, invisible energy lines that run through the body, but which cannot be paralleled to any of the bodily systems recognized by western medicine, neither blood, nerves nor lymphatic system. Yet, if manipulated by needles at certain specific points, measurable effects can be observed. Chinese doctors even perform heart surgery and other operations while the patient is fully conscious. The patient may even talk to the doctor who performs the op - with no other anaesthetics than a few needles applied to specific points.

Many traditional models of medicine don't view disease as mere ‘dysfunction’, but rather as an imbalance, a physical symptom of a psycho-spiritual cause, i.e. the falling out of equilibrium or alignment with the cosmic order. Health is the concept of wholeness, an alignment between inner and outer realities. If we loose our bearing, our purpose or place in life, we fall ill. Illness is taken as an opportunity to re-align ourselves with the cosmic order. Such concepts of course seem completely alien and abstract to modern western thinking, which even treats the soul as an aspect of brain biochemistry, which can be treated according to the same principles as an upset stomach. Psycho-spiritual realities are simply denied their existence.

Ayurveda, the ancient Indian philosophy of healing is not just concerned with physical well-being. It is a philosophy of life, which teaches balance and moderation. Mind, body and soul are acknowledged as separate aspects of the totality of a human being, and each part can bear on the others. Imbalances manifest as diseases, which can be emotional, spiritual or physical in nature and must be treated accordingly. An imbalanced mind can be healed with meditation practices, breathing exercises or yoga, while an imbalanced body can be healed through proper diet and herbs.

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Photograph courtesy of Dennis McKenna

Shamans often see diseases as demons, which they can identify and banish while in trance. A ritual is performed which places the patient in the centre of the shamanic universe, while the shaman goes on a spiritual journey to search for the demons and their causes as well as the healing plants needed for a cure. The shaman goes and finds the medicinal plants, however he does not believe that it is a particular chemical constituent that affects the cure, but rather, the spirit of the plant, which must be ritually invoked while he picks the plants. Improperly collected medicines are as good as useless. Furthermore, frequently it is not the patient, but the shaman or the family of the patient who are required to take the medicine that will cure the patient.

All of these different methods can work as good and in some instances better than the western model of medicine. But that is not even the point. The point is, why, if the western scientific model assumes the sole claim to ‘absolute truth’, do these completely irrational models work at all? Why do placebos work, or homeopathic remedies, which arguably may contain little more than a single physical molecule of any active substance in each of those little sugar pills?

The point is, that we must expand our limited mental horizons and accept the fact that not all that is 'real' can be measured and scientifically explained - at any rate, not with our rather crude instruments and current limited levels of understanding. And since our western model does not seem to explain the whole picture, we might as well open our minds to other models of reality. There are many different ways of looking at the world and one does not negate the other. The following little story from India illustrates the point:

Once upon a time a great guru and his elephant came to a little town, and as is the custom when a teacher comes to town, the people came to gather around him to hear his teachings. ‘Bring me all your blind people’ he requested, and the blind folks came forward. He lined them up around the elephant and said: ‘I want each of you to describe to me the thing that is in front of you.’

The first man, who held the elephants trunk felt it and said, ‘it's like a mighty python, muscular and a little hairy, but it seems to be hollow and it wriggles.’ ‘B*******’, the next man said, who held one of the tusks, ‘it is smooth and curved and quite stiff, and not very long.’ ‘What are you talking about?’ the next person said, who held the ear, ‘it is flat and thin like a pancake, and it flaps!’ ‘No way’, the next person said who held the leg, ‘it is more like a tree, round and sturdy and it has a tough bark!’ ‘I don't think so’ another man said, who held the tail, ‘it is thin as a string!’ And so they argued, each convinced that their own perceptions were true and the others must all be wrong. ‘Such is the nature of reality’, the wise man said, ‘we all perceive just a tiny part and mistake it for the whole, and worse still, we fight over it, each believing that only we have the ‘real’ truth. But the real truth is that there are as many perceived truths as there are people looking at the reality in front of them, and each is as right as the other, - from their perspective, and no individual perception is or can be all encompassing.

In the coming newsletters we will examine a range of different healing systems and the cosmological models upon which they are based.

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ANNOUNCEMENT

Jan 6-17, 2004:

Plants in Human Affairs January Intensive

Held at the Ohana Keauhou Beach Resort on the Big Island's beautiful Kona Coast, this 4-credit, 12-day intensive course explores humanity's ago-old symbiotic relationship to plants. Team-taught by ethnobotanist Kathleen Harrison and ethnopharmacologist Dennis McKenna, this course covers the role of plants in the evolution of civilizations, wars, migrations, religion, spirituality, art, medicine, and science. Guest lectures by local experts and frequent field trips bring the subject alive in one of the most beautiful and biodiverse environments on the planet. This course is sponsored jointly by the Center for Spirituality and Healing at the University of Minnesota and the Kohala Center in Kameula, Hawaii.

For information and details of costs, credit, accommodations, etc. contact Nancy Feinthel at 612 626-5166/ feinthel@umn.edu

Download the syllabus (pdf)
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The Tahuayo Lodge, situated in the north-eastern corner of the Amazon basin, offers one of the most flexible programs of any eco-lodge in the Amazon. Visitors can follow their own interests at their own pace with the help and guidance of the knowledgable staff. Whether you want to experience the rainforest 'up close' by exploring the canopy or going on a survival trek with a knowledgable guide, or simply want to enjoy the serene beauty of this unique natural environment from the comfort of the lodge, it's completely up to you.

Some of the options available are : 1. Swim in a blackwater lake with pink dolphins (Nov-Jun*), visit a native shaman, take a medicinal plant hike and learn about traditional uses for these rainforest plants, Jungle survival training, observe wildlife, go birding (a list of nearly 500 species for the area near the lodge has been compiled), fish for piranha, go caiman crocodile spotting, hike and camp in remote terra firme forest (Oct-Jun*), visit native artisan market and native communities, visit conservation projects (May-Jul*), bathe under a small waterfall in a glade filled with orchids, evening lake boat trips to view southern constellations and nocturnal wildlife, such as boat-billed herons, potoos, owl monkeys and more, explore the canopy on the unique tandem zip-line system, observe spectacular hoatzin birds, caiman crocodiles and other species from observation platform on Lake Tabano, observe or participate in poison dart frog conservation management project, enjoy a revitalizing morning bath with medicinal plants, the list goes on and on. Enjoy a week's worth of unforgettable adventure or add extra days if a week is not enough time to do it all.

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Learn more about Tahuayo Lodge.
Learn more about Peru.

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Biodiversity and the Conservation of Medicinal Plants

The use of medicinal plants in naturopathic medicine is generally regarded as 'green medicine', a natural alternative to 'chemical medicine'. But how green is herbalism today, really? The health of the planet is in peril due to many factors ranging from socio-political to environmental causes and the web of interrelated issues is certainly complex. Are the proponents of herbalism contributing to the decline of medicinal plant species? The blame for the disappearance of medicinal plants is often laid squarely at the feet of wild-crafters, yet the issue is far more complex and before legislating against the collection of wild species we should examine and address all the issues at stake.

The first thing to remember when it comes to environmental policies is that mother earth knows no boundaries. The web of life connects all of us and global issues impact local issues even far away from their original source, and vice versa. To date scientists still don't know the exact number of species that this biosphere supports. Estimates range from 5 to 15 million, though only 1.5 million have been recorded and described, and far fewer have ever been examined in any detail. What we do know is that we are losing thousands of species at a frightening rate.

The overwhelming contributing factor to the loss of species, both plant and animal, is habitat destruction. Mankind still feels that the planet's resources are there for our taking, that wild lands are worthless unless 'developed' i.e. exploited for their usable resources. Our materialistic political philosophy supports this approach: the economy is only considered healthy if it 'grows', but growth invariably is driven by exploitation. Sustainability is considered an airy-fairy concept of idealists, not realists - despite the fact that it seems obvious that the opposite is true: the planet's resources are not inexhaustible, but finite. Unless we develop strategies to develop them sustainably instead of exploiting them until they have all but disappeared, which by the looks of it, won't be too long. We would do well to remember that nothing exists in isolation and that every strand of the web supports the integrity of the whole: the more strings we pull the more fragile the web becomes.

So, are wild-crafters to blame for the loss of medicinal plant species? Yes and no. First of all, it is important to distinguish between wild-crafters who collect for personal or cottage industry use, and those who collect for commercial use. The impact of the subsistence level wild-crafter is very different to that of the commercial wild-crafter. Unfortunately, the commercial wild-crafter is often at the bottom of the economic scale and has few, if any, other sources of income. They are usually not herbalists but 'hired hands' who are not concerned with healing people or safeguarding a piece of land, but are driven by the simple need to survive, to make enough pennies to put food on the table each day. It is their need to survive that forces them to go out and collect the plants, not their need for medicine. This problem can only be addressed when we are willing to address the issue of poverty and hunger. Exploitation of a work force is a factor in environmental degradation. The commercial enterprises who employ such labourers are merchants who in turn sell their booty at the global market, usually far away from the land of origin, where manufacturers of herbal medicines purchase them and turn them into herbal pills and products that are sold at highly marked up prices on the shelves of supermarket or health food stores. The consumer meanwhile does not think about the origin of their cat's claw remedy or whatever the latest craze might be.

Even more serious are the destructive harvest methods of essential oil producers. The biggest problem here lies in the fact that often tons of plant material are required to distil or extract even small amounts of pure essential oil. Users of essential oils of course feel that the benefits of the oils make them worthwhile nevertheless. This may be true when the source plants are grown specifically for this purpose and thus are grown sustainably, but often they are not. In particular tree species are at risk from the ravenous essential oil market. Trees require many seasons to grow, not just one, and to harvest certain species often implies the destruction of old stands or whole tracts of forest in order to get to the desired species. Unfortunately essential oil producers on the whole have a long way to go before arriving at a practice that could be termed environmentally sound.

Wild-crafters who harvest without ethics are part of this problem too, but thankfully ethics is an issue that is considered and addressed by most wild-crafters who gather plants for their personal use, both in the developed and 'underdeveloped' world. In fact, studies have shown that the environment degrades in correlation to the extend to which people do NOT forage - which translates as, disengagement from the environment increases the alienation people feel from nature, which makes them less caring about it, and less protective of it, leaving it game to developers or whoever else wants to exploit it commercially.

Pollution is also a major contributor to loss of species, not least of all pollution from agrochemicals, including those used abundantly in any suburban environment. Herbicides, fungicides, pesticides and fertilizers aimed at controlling our environment control it by killing all but 'the desired species' within it. Furthermore, such chemicals are not only harmful to the species they are meant to control but to human, not to mention animal, health as well, though of course studies do not prove this (commercial interests are too powerful to allow proper studies). They are also ineffective in the long run as chemical control of this nature stimulates mutation and thus evolution of super-bugs, super-weeds and super pests, which of course call for ever stronger chemical weapons to combat them, or, as is now promoted, resistant GM species. However - the long-term effect is clear, the arms race is futile. Instead of protecting our perceived vulnerability with ever more potent weapons we should aim at a peace process, which gives each species their space and recognize that in a balanced environment there are no losers.

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So, what can we do to help preserve medicinal plant species and halt the environmental deterioration that leads to this tragic loss of species?

Resources

WWF 'Living Planet Report' on biodiversity and sustainability: livingplanet2002.pdf

Or the summery: Summary.pdf

United Plant Savers

Visit the CITES databank for endangered and protected species: http://www.cites.org/

Worldwatch Institute

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GOLDENSEAL IN PROFILE

GOLDENSEAL

(Hydrastis canadensis)

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Ranunculacae

Synonyms:

Yellow Root, Yellow Puccoon, Ground Raspberry, Indian Dye, Eye Root, Jaundice Root

Description:

A striking, perennial woodland herb. From an underground yellow rootstock rises a large (9" at flowering time), wrinkled basal leaf and a hairy flower stem. The rootstock consists of an irregularly knotted, thin (¼ - ¾ inch) horizontal root, marked with scars from previous year's flowerstalk. The rootstock also gives of numerous slender rootlets below. The flowerstalk emerges early in the spring, rising 6 to 12 inches above the ground. It is covered in downward pointing hairs and has small, brown scales at the base. The flowerstalk gives rise to two large wrinkled leaves, resembling the basal leaf. They are palmately cut into 5 to 7 lobes, with finely and irregularly serrated margins, prominently veined and also covered with hairs, especially on their upper side. The upper leaf is sessile, whilst the lower one is stalked. A single small flower, with three small, greenish-white sepals appears in April. The sepals fall away as soon as the flower expands, which has no petals, but numerous, prominent stamens. The fruit ripens in July and has the superficial appearance of a raspberry, with small, fleshy, red berries, tipped with the persistent styles and containing 1 or 2 black, shiny seeds. However, it is not edible.

Habitat:

Hydrastis canadensis is a woodland plant of the North Eastern region of the U.S. from Vermont to Georgia, west to Alabama, Nebraska, Minnesota and Arkansas. In Canada it occurs chiefly in Ontario. The main growing region used to be Ohio valley, before the area fell victim to deforestation and development. Stands in New York state have been depleted since early this century.

Status:

Goldenseal has been listed as an endangered species since 1991. On June 18, 1997 it has been proposed and accepted for listing on Appendix II of the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) at the organizations 10th Conference of parties meeting in Zimbabwe.

HISTORY

Goldenseal has a long established history for use as a medicinal plant among the native people of the northeastern United States. The Cherokee used it for treatment of cancer, "general debility," "dyspepsia", to improve appetite and as a tonic and wash for local inflammations. The Iroquois made a decoction of roots for treatment of whooping cough and diarrhea, liver trouble, fever, sour stomach and gas and as an emetic for biliousness. They also prepared a compound infusion with other roots for use as drops in the treatment of earache and as a wash for sore eyes. Mixed with bear's grease it was used as an insect repellent. Native people also valued the yellow roots as a stain and dye.

The first settlers learned about the benefits of this herb from the native people and soon Goldenseal gained widespread popularity. In 1760 Miller brought a sample back to the old world (then known as Warnera) and it was grown at Kew, Edinburgh and Dublin. However, since the herb did not appeal to gardeners it never became a popular plant for cultivation in England. In 1782 Hugh Martin mentioned the use of Goldenseal as a yellow dye to the Philosophical Society but it was not until 1798 that its medicinal virtues began to attract attention. From then on its reputation as a powerful healing herb spread, both in England and the United States, and by about 1850 it had became an important article of commerce. The demand for it increased rapidly and as early as 1905 the U.S. department of agriculture drew attention to the situation, which even then appeared to have been somewhat worrying. The annual supply in those days was estimated at between 200 000 - 300 000 pounds! A tenth of this staggering amount was designated for export to the old world. Needless to say, the supply began to diminish, both from over collection, but even more so due to deforestation of its natural habitat, since much of the eastern United States was stripped of its native woodlands. In 1991 it was officially recognized as an endangered species and by 1997 trade restrictions were being imposed in a belated attempt to save what was left of this once abundant species.

CULTIVATION:

Goldenseal can be grown both from seed and from the rhizome. It requires a partially shaded situation (60 - 70%), in a well draining, rich humus soil. Rootstocks can be divided into small pieces and set at least 8" apart. Planting should proceed in the autumn. The plants should be allowed to grow for 2 - 3 years before harvesting, though by the 4th year the roots become too fibrous for medicinal use. Transplanting may be undertaken at any time. According to an American grower it requires 32 healthy plants set per square yard to produce 2 lb of dry root after three years of growth.

CONSTITUENTS:

Goldenseal contains at least three active alkaloids, namely Hydrastine, Berberine and Canadine, as well as traces of essential oil, fatty oil and resin.

ACTIONS:

Tonic, alterative, astringent, haemostatic, anti-inflammatory, anti-catarrhal, mild laxative, muscular stimulant, oxytocic, bitter,

MEDICINAL USES:

Goldenseal has recently gained a reputation as a herbal antibiotic and immune system stimulant. Traditionally it was used for treatment of inflammatory conditions of the mucus membranes, especially those of the digestive system. Its' traditional uses include treatment of peptic ulcers, gastritis, dyspepsia and colitis. It has proven its value in cases of diarrhea, hemorrhoids and habitual constipation. As a bitter it stimulates the appetite, aids digestion and generally has a toning effect on the whole body. It is also effective for treatment of catarrhal conditions of the upper respiratory tract and inflammations of the urinary system. Its astringent properties have also been employed in cases of excessive menstruation and internal bleeding. It has a stimulating effect on the uterine muscles and thus is sometimes used as an aid in childbirth. However, since this effect can be very powerful and hence quite painful, it is not recommended to attempt such treatment without the supervision of a midwife skilled in the use of herbal remedies. Externally, a wash can be prepared to treat skin conditions such as eczema and ringworm, as well as wounds and badly healing sores, or used as drops in cases of earache and conjunctivitis. The decoction may also be effective as a douche to treat trichomonas and thrush. As a gargle it can be employed in cases of gum infections and sore throats.

CAUTIONS:

Large doses should be avoided. Goldenseal stimulates contraction of the uterus and thus should be avoided during pregnancy. It may also raise the blood pressure and should not be used by people who suffer any kind of cardiac problems.

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