The Bramble & The Rose: An Exploration of the Medicine of the Rosaceae
The Rosaceae is one of the most widespread and abundant plant families in temperate North America. Most of us are familiar with their uses as astringents and anti-pyretics in herbal medicine but the finer nuances of their abilities, especially in regard to wound healing, moderating histamine response, and acute care tend to be less well known.
Rose Family Astringents
There are many ways to group plants based on their traits and actions, and oftentimes this is possible within a genus or family. In this case, the majority of the Rosaceae are often grouped as what is generally called Rose Family Astringents. I first learned this term from my teacher, Michael Moore, and it appears to now be in popular use in Western herbalism. It’s useful in that it tells us one of the primary categories most of these plants fall into. Astringents contract tissues, and therefore offer a variety of related actions, including reducing inflammation, bleeding or other loss fluids, and lessening or preventing infection.
On the other hand, I have frequently seen that it also seems to have the effect of oversimplifying the complex medicine this family contains. Major healing components in the Rosaceae are their flavonoids, which are responsible for many of the anti-viral, immune enhancing, cardiotonic, and anti-inflammatory actions. In fact, I would say the intense flavonoid presence in this family is probably far more significant for most herbalists than the astringency.
Rose Family Flavonoids
Antioxidants are big talk in the natural health world these days, with Green Tea being touted as the new universal panacea in many cases. And yet, the leaves of most species of Rosa contain more antioxidants than any kind of Green Tea. Flavonoids are one of our most widespread and important classes of antioxidants, they’re easily extracted and preserved through simple herbal processing techniques such as infused honeys, water-based infusions, tinctures, elixirs, and many more basic preparations.
Anthocyanins are a type of antioxidant that are colored pigments that occur in most plants, especially in flowers and fruits. Berries such as Elderberries, Blackberries, Raspberries, Grapes, Blackcurrants, Blueberries, Cranberries, and Hawthorn fruits tend to be especially rich in them. These compounds protect against oxidative damage, and have an enormous impact on overall human health. Most of the specifics are beyond the scope of this article, but I’ll touch on a few important points that clearly apply to herbalists and their practice.
Anthocyanins appear to strengthen the vascular system, and some studies indicate that they can lower blood pressure, prevent clots, lessen bruising and varicose veins, as well as reduce excess bleeding. Additionally, we know that anthocyanins can markedly increase visual acuity, even reversing vision loss and night blindness. Clinically, I have clearly seen anthocyanin rich plants increase vascular strength, including in acute vasculitis and I have also seen cases where cardiac health has been significantly improved, and vision loss has been reversed or stopped. Theoretically, they also inhibit cancer cell proliferation and I have seen some clinical work that corresponds with that idea but have no personal experience to cite here.
Rose Family Action + Energetic Patterns
A knowledge of the tissue states as laid out in Matthew Wood’s The Practice of Traditional Western Herbalism is helpful here, but not specifically necessary. Similarly, a basic understanding of energetics, Western herbal actions, and even TCM diagnostic and herbal energetic terminology will give more depth to the information presented here, but is not strictly required.
Many of the Rosaceae have specific actions and traits in common, some of the ones you may the see the most often include:
Hypotensive or cardio/circulatory tonic
Hawthorn: Lady of the May
Common Names: Hawthorn, Lady of the May,
Botanical Name: Crataegus spp.
Part: Fruits, leaves, flowers, thorns
Thermal Energetics: slightly warming
Taste: Sour, sl. sweet. sl. bitter
Actions: astringent, cardiotonic, diuretic, relaxant nervine, cardioregulator,
Diagnostic Keywords: Deficiency + Stagnation + Lability
Overview: The need for Crataegus can be simplified down to deficiency, stagnation, and lability. This is an herb nourishes, regulates, tonifies, warms, and moves energy and fluids in the body. It provides stability with movement, regulating fluctuations and swings while allowing the body to retain flexibility to adapt to stressors.
Connective Tissue Injury + Weakness: Apparently due to the flavonoid content, Hawthorn is wonderful for protecting, healing, and reinforcing connective tissue through its collagen stabilizing effect. I have found Hawthorn incredibly useful, especially when combined with Solomon’s Seal, in the treatment of any injury where connective tissue is involved.
Especially pertinent is the treatment of the hypermobility type Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, an incurable genetic connective tissue disease characterized by hypermobile joints, chronic joint pain, elastic skin, and frequently, mitral valve prolapse. EDS is especially common in those on the Autism spectrum, and Hawthorn’s focusing, calming, and heart spirit restoring properties are often especially valuable for folks on the spectrum.
Moving the Blood: Hawthorn excels at moving the blood, which can both relieve pain and improve circulation in those who it is impaired. We often think of Crataegus in cases of hypertension, but my experience indicates it’s at least as useful, especially as a simple, for labile, swinging, unsteady blood pressure, and I find it more useful for consistent hypertension when combined with herbs like Achillea.
Hawthorn is especially called for when there is erratic heartbeat with chest pain and cardiac weakness.
Healing the Heart: Hawthorn is healing to both the physiological and emotional heart, possessing the capacity to stabilize mood swings, contribute to focus, and resolve grief alongside its more well known actions on the cardiovascular system.
This herb is well know for building cardiac and circulatory strength, and is especially useful where there is labile blood pressure, general deficiency with anxiety and heart palpitations, mood swings, and inability to focus. Unlike the most common classes of drugs which decrease heart function in order to reduce the demand for oxygen, Hawthorn increases/improves actual heart function without increasing coronary blood flow. In cardiovascular issues, look specifically for exhaustion, cold extremities, as well as lability of blood pressure, mood, focus, and energy levels.
Hawthorn seems most valuable in treating the early stages of congestive heart failure, but is useful at any stage, and also potentiates cardiac glycosides so that smaller doses of the glycocides can be used in treatment.
Protecting the Spirit: Not simply relaxing, Hawthorn also stabilizes both emotional lability and energy level swings while also assisting in focus and balance. It is specifically useful for many folk on the autism spectrum, and also has an important part to play in moderating the negative or stressful symptoms that can occur in attention deficit disorder and bipolar disorder.
Formulation + Preparation Tips: Hawthorn plays well with other herbs, and is one of my favorite plants to formulate with. Here are a few of my favorite pairings.
Hawthorn + Solomon’s Seal: Phenomenal internally, for stabilizing collagen and reinforce or heal damaged or weak connective tissue. Highly recommended to those with chronic injuries, a slow healing acute injury, or even Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. Also a useful formula externally as a liniment or compress for treating slow to heal connective tissue injuries, Comfrey may also be added in such a situation.
Hawthorn + Milky Oats: Wonderful for balancing moods and energy levels without overt stimulation or sedation. Strengthens the heart and nervous system while increasing focus and groundedness.
Hawthorn + St. John’s Wort: Ideal for treating disturbed heart spirit issues with anxiety attacks, mood swings, and heart palpitations.
Common Names: Rose, Sweetbriar
Botanical Name: Rosa spp.
Part: Fruits, leaves, flowers, thorns
Thermal Energetics: slightly cooling
Fluid Energetics: drying
Taste: Aromatic, sweet, sour
Actions: astringent, cardiotonic, diuretic, relaxant nervine, liver relaxant
Diagnostic Keywords: Heat + Excitation
Overview: The underlying property of Rose is one of fluids/energy/blood movement and regulation, which explains many of seemingly disparate effects on the different organs and tissues of the body. It has an innate intelligence that gives it the ability to adjust the flow of the body’s varying energies and substances. It can calm heart palpitations, eliminate hepatic pains, reduce nervous tension or lessen menstrual cramps depending on where heat and irritation are being held in the body.
Liver Relaxant + Relaxant Nervine: While the healing power of the Rose is pervasive in how it touches nearly every part of a person, perhaps the most remarkable aspects of this flower are found in its ability to affect the heart and spirit. Long praised for its anti-depressant qualities and ability to open the heart, it has been used across the world to raise the spirits and heal broken hearts. An amazingly uplifting herb, I often use it as an antidepressant/anti-anxiety agent, especially for those who have been the victim of violence, sexual abuse or betrayal as well as anyone who can use more self-love. It has a profound opening effect on the heart and on sexuality, and is a deeply nourishing tonic for the nerves.
A very gentle (except for those thorns) plant, Wild Rose can be used by just about everyone though some traditional peoples warn against use in pregnancy due to the blood moving effects. I have not yet seen much in the way of constitutional aggravation from the temperature or humidity of this herb. In fact, I use the tincture much like Rescue Remedy for trauma, stress etc. And personally, I have found it to be more effective than Rescue Remedy for most things. For the ultimate herbal Rescue Remedy formula I do one part Wild Rose, one part Monkeyflower (Mimulus) and 1 part Milky Oats (Avena spp.) or Blisswort (Scutellaria), that’s some good stuff there! As a side note, some people find Wild Rose tincture fairly mind altering (generally in a very nice way) while others can’t feel the nervine effects when they first start working with it. I have seen some cases of people being shocked at how much it affected their thought process and emotional state.
A wonderful relaxant to the liver, Rose excels at moving stuck energy and relieving tension in the liver/gallbladder area. I use it frequently when treating cases of acute hepatitis or chronic/viral hepatitis where there’s signs of inflammation. And of course, it makes a wonderful heart-settling nervine suitable for nearly anyone, and gentle enough for a baby. In fact, the smell of Roses significantly decreases overactivity of the sympathetic nervous system while also reducing adrenalin output in the body. Likewise, several different major systems of traditional medicine also consider the hips and flowers both a tonic for weak kidneys and adrenals. I frequently include some part of the plant in formulas for clients with adrenal fatigue with symptoms of heat, nervous exhaustion and internal dryness.
Blood Moving: I’ve found it to be very useful in treating general pelvic congestion resulting in scanty menses, cramps, water retention, cysts and mood swings. Rich in the building blocks of hormones, Rose helps nourish the endocrine system through its provision of these basic hormonal elements. An age old aphrodisiac, stirring up both blood and libido as well as opening up the heart, it has a history of treating “sexual dysfunction” such as impotence and lack of sexual drive, even where there is interest.
Partially due to these same blood moving decongestant properties, Rose is also strengthening and healing to the heart and circulatory system. It is especially indicated in high blood pressure and/or poor circulation in individuals with Pitta symptoms such as inflammation, constipation, headaches, feverishness, red face, heart palpitations and hot flashes. Note that several of these symptoms can also be caused by a congested or inflamed liver, which Rose also serves to relax and cool.
That same uptight, overworked and congested liver can also cause any number of digestive symptoms such as diarrhea, constipation, gastric inflammation, IBS, hyperacidity and conversely, food fermenting in the stomach from sluggish digestion (usually rooted in stagnant liver Qi). Rose can help these symptoms through addressing the liver problem at the root, as well as cooling, healing and protecting the gut lining, assisting the digestive process to help things move a bit better and by generally nourishing the mucosa as well as the intestinal bacteria. I have personally found Rose petal infusions to be a very effective long term treatment for IBS with signs of internal heat and inflammation (diarrhea, food allergies, nausea, burning/churning stomach, red, cracked tongue with anxiety and restlessness).
Anti-inflammatory: Topically or internally, Rose is an effective anti-inflammatory and I regularly employ it in my infusion blends for those recovering from gut inflammation due to food intolerance (concurrent with removing the offending foods) or similar. Topically, it acts in the same way and is great for reducing redness, swelling and pain from any number of sources, including insect stings/bites, abrasions, blunt trauma and even puncture wounds.
Scandinavian studies show that Rose hips and seeds significantly reduced the need for painkillers in individuals suffering from osteoarthritis. I have found all parts of the rose to be strongly anti-inflammatory, and have used a liniment of rose petals for traumatic injuries, sore muscles and chronic muscoskeletal pain in individuals that fit the Pitta type profile Rose is most useful for. I’ve had remarkable success treating dislocated discs with accompanying swelling, stiffness and pain with topical applications of Rose petal liniment and infusion. Just this liniment, with no other treatment, recently resolved a dislocated disc with severe pain, swelling, tension and loss of movement. It’s also been effective in less serious cases typified by inflammation and pain. The flower has also been long recognized as a primary medicine in Ayurveda and Unani Tibb, and has been found to significantly contribute the “good” bacteria in our bellies.
Hyperimmunity: Rose can effectively balance hyperimmune disorders where the body overreacts to every perceived threat. It also generally enhances immune function through its cooling, cleansing effect. I use Rose as a standard remedy for any cold or flu type illness, the hip is traditional for this but I often use both hip and petal in my preparations. Many Native tribes were known to use the root or bark in the treatment of cold and flu, and while I haven’t yet tried this, I imagine it will be at least as effective as the petal or hip. I make Rose petal pastilles with honey for sore or inflamed throats. Rose infused honey can be used as a syrup for the same symptoms. And an infusion of petal and leaf will also help symptomatically with sinus congestion, runny nose or damp heat in the lungs.
Anti-Infective: While not popularly known for its anti-infective properties, it can indeed by a helpful herb in combatting bacterial/viral/fungal infections. Being a mild plant, it doesn’t have the immediate kick of something like Echinacea or Alder but nonetheless is an effective and useful herb for treating many infections topically.
Hemostatic/Styptic: Rose is mildly to moderately astringent (depending on species and part used), not astringent enough to tie your guts up in knots but strong enough to help stem the flow of blood when used topically and tighten tissues to help prevent the loss of further blood or the wound from becoming boggy and oozy. This in turn promotes quicker wound healing and less scarring.
Insect Stings/Bites: Rose, like many of the Rosaceae, has a distinct effect on histamine responses (see resources below for some research based validation of that traditional knowledge), moderating and sometimes preventing allergic type reactions. My experience does not indicate that it is as strong as, say, Prunus persica (Peach) or Prunus serotina (Black Cherry and allied species.) However, it’s plenty effective enough to be very helpful in the treatment of many insect stings/bites that trigger small histamine type responses. Rose petal poultices are great for reducing the pain, swelling and redness of bee/wasp stings and similar, even better with Plantain or Alder leaves.
Additionally, plain old Rose tincture or elixir is also a quick and effective treatment for mosquito bites and many other itchy afflictions.
Abrasions & Minor Wounds: Compresses (of strong tea or diluted infuse vinegar), petal/leaf poultices, crushed dried petals/leaves and a number of other preparations can be very useful in reducing pain and bleeding and speeding healing of minor wounds and abrasions. Children are often very fond of this remedy, being intrigued by the scent and color of the petals and often the very idea of such a well known flower being used as medicine. Adults are more likely to scoff at you, probably for the same reason the children are impressed.
Rashes: Itchy, red, hot rashes often respond very well to the application of crushed Rose petals/leaves, compress (with strong tea or diluted infused vinegar) or simple soak/bath. This is an old and widespread remedy that remains applicable today.
Note that if your rash is from poison ivy or some other contact dermatitis that it’s imperative that you remove the irritant (this includes washing with soap in the case of poison ivy) before treating.
Burns: Rose infused vinegar is my favorite treatment for general sunburn treatment, just dilute the Rose petal and/or leaf infused vinegar to about 1 part vinegar to 5 parts water and apply as compress or soak to affected area.
Similarly, Rose tincture or vinegar works very well for minor burns where the skin has not been broken. For more serious burns, where the skin has broken and especially where there is any potential for infection, I prefer to use Rose infused honey as a dressing. Rose formulates very well with other appropriate herbs such Alnus, Monarda, Oenothera or similar.
Cellulitis and Other Bacterial Infections: First off, serious bacterial infections, including cellulitis, should generally always be treated internally as well as externally whenever possible. That said, topical treatments via compress, soak, poultice and similar can be very helpful and initiate the healing process quickly. Where there is any chance of serious infection or cellulitis, I strongly suggest that you do NOT use an oil/fat based topical treatment, as I have seen this actually spread the infection on multiple occasions. Trapping moisture and encouraging bacterial proliferation is probably not your therapeutic goal so stick with with water or vinegar based preparations in these situations.
Rose’s ability to firm boggy or damaged tissues, reduce inflammation and lessen bacterial proliferation while encouraging the growth of healthy tissue makes it ideal in the treatment of many microbial infections. I tend to use it in formulae with Monarda spp. leaves, Plantago spp leaves/flowers and Alnus spp., leaves for cellulitis or serious infections with heat signs along with addressing the issue internally.
Formulation + Preparation Tips: Rose can be prepared just about any way you can think of. As a nervine or heart medicine I prefer a fresh plant tincture/elixir of the flowers, leaves or hips made with brandy, and perhaps 10-15% of honey or glycerine. The tincture will work great for mosquito bites, burns, sore throats and many other things as well. It also makes a fine liniment for nerve pain, muscle inflammation or similar issues. I use a dosage of anything from a drop or two as a nervine to a couple dropperfuls for a sore throat or upset belly. The infused vinegar is great for sunburns, salad dressing, headaches and sore muscles. and can be made with fresh or dried petals, it can be used diluted or straight, as needed. The oil of the petals is trickier, and usually requires a high volume of petals, freshly dried and twice infused in oil to make something that really smells like Rose. The hydrosol is great for SO many things and can be added to elixirs and potions to make them even stronger. The dried petal or petal and leaf makes a wonderful tea or infusion for either external or internal use. Fresh petals or leaves make a great poultice. Rose petal mead is something every person should try before they die, it's amazing. Rose infused honey is delicious and a wonderful medicine. Dosage on all of these is pretty much to taste and as needed.
Common Names: Cherry, Chokecherry, Wild Cherry, Black Cherry
Botanical Name: Prunus serotina, Prunus virginiana, and allied Prunus spp.
Part: Bark, leaves, flowers
Thermal Energetics: slightly warming
Fluid Energetics: moistening
Taste: Aromatic, bitter, sweet
Actions: astringent, cardiotonic, diuretic, relaxant nervine, liver relaxant
Diagnostic Keywords: Deficiency + Irritation + Anxiety
Overview: Cherry is specifically indicated where there is pronounced deficiency accompanied by irritation which may initially look like excess, but is actually inflammation from weakness. The irritated tissue state is often present, along with significant amounts of anxiety/nervousness manifesting in the respiratory and digestive systems.
Relaxant Nervine: Flowers and leaves are very relaxing and calming. Similar to the bark, but a bit stronger in the flowers. It borders on euphoric but is not noticeably sedating. It’s quite the mood enhancer and carries over well to the tincture. The tincture of the flower, leaves and bark together smells similar to that of Peach, and stronger than that made just with Cherry bark. The scent is, as expected, very much like a very strong tasting cherry or almond extract. The inner bark tastes sweet, slightly bitter and strongly aromatic. The flowers are sweet, astringent and have that somewhat overripe smell that Hawthorn flowers also have. The leaves are astringent, bitter and somewhat aromatic.
Chokecherry is especially useful as a nervine when the stress is centered in the heart/chest region, and threatening to keep you from breathing. A feeling of pressure or constriction around the lungs and heart is common. Heart palpitations or pounding may occur, as well as nervous stomach and shakiness. There's also often signs of heat such as a red tongue, flushing, sensations of excessive heat and inflammation throughout the body. The symptoms will often have a normally sane, articulate and well managed person ready to climb the nearest wall or down the closest bottle of Valium. Five drop doses are usually quite sufficient to calm, and ten drops will usually stop a full blown set of heart palpitation gently but firmly.
Heart Palpitations From Weakness: The bark has long been recognized as a specific for those with cardiac weakness, especially when accompanied by a chronic cough, palpitations, high blood pressure, digestive impairment and signs of heat and irritation from weakness. I’d venture to say that the flowers perform these functions, and then some. I’ve noticed that wild cherry flowers can sometimes elicit the same minor but noticeable momentary irregular heartbeat that Hawthorn does in some people. Clients have often been able to feel an immediate slowing or smoothing in their pulse. Very relaxing, verging on euphoric in sensitive individuals. An excellent nervine for use in cases of grief, broken-heartedness and hysteria. I have found a few drops of the tincture useful in stopping my own heart palpitations on occasion, and also notice the steadying and slowing of the pulse.
My clinical and personal experience shows Cherry to be very effective in the treatment of mild to severe anxiety attacks and heart palpitation, both as a strengthening preventative and as an in the moment treatment. Southern herbalist Tommie Bass considered Wild Cherry to be a wonderful treatment for heart problems of any kind (as well as one of the most important liver herbs he knew of).
Nervous Stomach: Cherry relaxes liver tension and is also useful in the treatment of dyspepsia, IBS, and reduced appetite where weakness, heat, nervousness, and tissue irritation is a an issue. Cold infusion works well, but so does the flower + twig elixir or tincture. Cherry, like Hawthorn, Rose, and many other Rosaceae, seem to exert their tonic influence best over a period of time using small but consistent daily doses.
Respiratory Irritation and Weakness: Cherry bark is most well known for treating irritable coughs, asthma, and insomnia from respiratory irritation or tension. It is indeed very useful in these situations, especially as a percolation, although a cold water infusion can certainly suffice. It is especially effective in cases where there is both irritation and weakness, including in many cases of childhood onset asthma with pallor, exhaustion, dyspepsia, and a desire to remain still.
Anti-Histamine: Like Peach and Rose, Cherry is useful for moderating histamine response to insect bites/stings and similar. While Peach often gets more credit for this particular use, I’ve actually seen Cherry work faster and stronger with a smaller dose on several occasions.
Formulation + Preparation Tips: Cold infusion or percolation of bark and tincture or elixir of bark, flowers, leaves are my favorite, and seemingly the most active, preparations from Cherry.
Common Names: Peach
Botanical Name: Prunus persica
Part: Leaves, bark, flowers, fruit/seed
Thermal Energetics: cooling
Fluid Energetics: sl. moistening
Taste: Aromatic, sweet
Actions: astringent, anti-histamone, diuretic, relaxant nervine,
Diagnostic Keywords: Heat + Dryness + Irritation
Relaxant Nervine: In the South, Peach leaf tea is still sometimes given to someone before telling them a piece of hard to hear news, illustrating its time-honored ability to relax the nerves and reduce stress. Peach is especially useful where anxiety and irritation are making it difficult to relax or rest, and there’s a feeling of overheatedness and frustration, often with underlying exhaustion. The tisane or elixir can both work well, often calming and soothing within ten minutes of ingestion.
Anti-Histamine: I hesitate to give a label such as anti-histamine to this plant since I have no way of knowing the exact mechanism by which it works but I have seen through repeated experience that it can be invaluable in the treatment of venomous insects stings/bites, even when the person is clearly having some degree of allergic reaction. Like most treatments in this situation, Peach works most effectively when given immediately or as soon as possible after the initial bite or sting. Where someone has been stung by a bee, I apply a few drops of tincture directly to the sting site after brushing (NOT pulling) the stinger away if it still remains, and if I have a small piece of gauze or similar on hand I may soak the cloth with tincture and keep it applied to the site. I have also soaked fresh Alder leaf poultices with Peach tincture and applied that directly and find it works even better. I also give 1/2-1 ml of Peach bark/leaf tincture internally as an adult dose. I repeat this dose every 15-20 minutes until the swelling, redness and pain begins to recede. Usually this happens within 1-3 doses.
Two of my clients who are moderately allergic to bee stings have been able to successfully use Peach rather than their epi pens when stung by bees. They still carry their epi pens as well as the Peach tincture but in the five years one client has been using Peach and the two years of the other, neither have had to resort to the epi pen even once.
Additionally, I have found that Prunus persica is remarkable useful in the treatment of the bites of Cone Nosed Kissing Bugs (of the genus Triatoma), insects which inject their saliva into the victim before ingesting their blood. This injected chemicals can (and often do) cause moderate to severe itching and pain in the victim for 24-48 hours that is not only local but can effect up to 80% of the body and welts at bite sites may be present for several days. This swelling and itching is thought to be an allergic reaction at least in part and anaphylactic shock is possible, especially if symptoms include swelling in the tongue and throat. Severity of reaction to bites appear to increase with repeated exposure. I previously used a topical infused oil or tincture of fresh Larrea tridentata leaf to treat these bites in clients and students and observed that the intensity and spreading of the itching/pain was reduced by 10-20% most of the time. However, about five years ago, I experimented with Prunus persica tincture on a Triatoma bite based on my success with Peach in other venomous insects and discovered that the Peach tincture applied topically on the welt and taken internally (1/2-1 ml in an adult) reduced itching, pain and swelling within ten minutes and eliminated it entirely (with the exception of a barely visible red mark at the bite site) with half an hour. I have repeated these results in 14 cases over the last five years, in both adults and children. I always apply a few drops of tincture topically to each bite site (Triatoma will often inflict a series of bites if not noticed and stopped) in addition to giving the tincture internally.
Morning Sickness + Hyperemesis: I also find Peach exceptionally helpful in cases of morning sickness or even hyperemisis with obvious heat signs and where Ginger may aggravate instead of assist. I have seen several cases where women who were previously too nauseous to have an appetite or vomiting so profusely as to be unable to keep any food down regain some appetite with a single dose of Peach tincture. I originally read these indications as written by William Cook and have found Prunus persica to be a reliable and valuable remedy in this context.
Heat Sickness + Heat Triggered Asthma: Peach is the perfect herb to explore during the long, hot days of Summer. It helps to soothe the irritability that often comes with extended periods of heat, as well as lessen the nausea, diarrhea, insomnia, and lack of appetite that can go with it. Here in New Mexico where Summers can be exceedingly hot and dry, some people develop a dry, hacking cough in response to the climate and I have found that the Peach Elixir works very well to soothe it. It works similarly on asthma aggravated by heat, and I always keep it on hand for my daughter who finds both it and our local Chokecherry, Prunus serotina, in easing her breathing issues during the hot months. The local Hispanics of my region think of Peach leaf as an overall Summer tonic, and given how many heat induced ills it can alleviate, I’m inclined to agree with them.
Formulation + Preparation Tips: While I often use a beverage strength tea of dried Peach leaves as a reliable relaxant nervine, it is the tincture of the fresh leaves and twig bark (and sometimes flowers) that I use for most acute purposes, especially those involving venomous bites or stings. It is my experience that in order for Peach to be most beneficial as a medicine it should have a notable fragrance when the fresh leaves are crushed or the bark is abraded. Less fragrant specimens may still demonstrate some nervine properties but don’t seem to be as effective in the treatment of allergic-like reactions. I have never purchased Prunus persica and the bulk of my experience is directly drawn from working with the leaf, bark and flower I wildcraft from local feral Peach trees that grow along acequias and in abandoned homesteads here in rural southwestern New Mexico.
Common Names: Silverweed, Fair-Grass,
Botanical Name: Potentilla anserina and allied spp.
Part: Leaves, flowers, rhizomes
Thermal Energetics: neutral to cool
Fluid Energetics: drying
Taste: sour, bitter
Actions: astringent, diuretic, relaxant nervine,
Diagnostic Keywords: Laxity + Dampness + Heat
Overview: A strong astringent with a specific affinity for the intestines and uterus. One of our most straight forward Rose family astringents, with the added benefit of being useful in nervous system tension resulting from overall tissue laxity.
GI Heat + Laxity: Acute diarrhea with burning sensations and potential bleeding
Clearing Heat + Tonifying Laxity Topically: Externally useful as a poultice or compress in the treatment of burns and hot, swollen, potentially infected wounds, boils, and similar. Also useful for external treatment of prolapses and other tissue laxity, as in sitz baths for uterine prolapse or hemorrhoids.
Silverweed and Rose petal infused vinegar is an excellent treatment for sunburns and minor to moderate burns, as well as
Relaxant Nervine: Silverweed (and all of the Potentilla spp.) are mild relaxant nervines that seem to have particular affinity for helping folks grow boundaries while remaining calm and centered. This action is often most specifically designated to Potentilla and Agrimonia, but it’s a common gift among the Rosaceae, thanks to their thorny but vulnerable natures.
Bramble + Berry: Rubus Medicine
Common Names: Blackberries, Raspberries, Salmonberry, Thimbleberry, Bramble,
Botanical Name: Rubus spp.
Part: Fruits, leaves, flowers, thorns
Thermal Energetics: cooling
Fluid Energetics: drying
Taste: Sour, sweet
Actions: astringent, diuretic, relaxant nervine, anti-viral,
Diagnostic Keywords: Laxity + Blood Deficiency
Overview: All the Rubus species are astringent with high flavonoid content, an affinity for the pelvic area, and anti-viral tendencies.
Rubus fruits are an effective treatment for kidney deficiency with frequent urination, and also useful in mild to moderate cases of diarrhea, although the roots and bark, being more tannic, will be of more use in cases of moderate to severe diarrhea or dysentery.
Similar to Blueberries and other Vaccinum species, Rubus spp. have a traditional reputation, with modern clinical backup, for the treatment of diminished vision via their flavonoid content.
Anti-Viral: Similar to Elderberries, the fruit of Rubus spp. can be very useful in staving off or shortening the lifespan of many viral infections. Also like Elderberries, they work especially well if used at the earliest sign of onset, usually when there’s still a fever. This applies to viruses as varied as cold/flu and any of the herpes viruses, including shingles and Epstein-Barr virus.
Uterine Tonic: Often only Raspberry leaf gets credit for this particular action, but it appears to be widespread through the Rubus spp. and pregnancy teas and similar are definitely effective when gathered from numerous other species such as Thimbleberry and Blackberry. Just note that the amount of tannins in the leaves of these different species can vary, and you don’t want to bind up the gut excessively.
Formulation + Preparation Tips: For medicinal applications, I find it useful to dehydrate berries to be later crushed and made into an infusion or decoction. In a pinch though, fresh/frozen berries or even a good jam (meaning that it actually contains copious amounts of the fruit) can be very useful. Blackberry syrup is a traditional remedy for diarrhea in pale, weak infants and is both nutritive and effective.
Meadowsweet: The Queen of the Meadow
Common Name: Meadowsweet, Queen of the Meadow
Botanical Name: Filipendula ulmaria
Part: Flowers or flowering tops
Thermal Energetics: cooling
Fluid Energetics: drying
Taste: Sour, bitter, sl. aromatic
Actions: Astringent, diaphoretic, diuretic
Diagnostic Keywords: Heat
Overview: Meadowsweet’s specialty is clearing heat. Heat from anywhere in the body, but with a specific affinity for the digestive and urinary systems. Especially useful in chronic disorders where there is systemic heat and a feeling of almost “radioactive” type inflammation in the body.
Gastric Heat, Ulceration, & Pain: An excellent herb for the treatment of gastric and duodenal ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome, and any GI disorder causing inflammation, heat, cramping, pain, and diarrhea. While it cannot cure a functional disease like IBS, it can certainly greatly reduce symptoms and discomfort, especially when taken over time and combine with elimination diets, proper nutrition, and increased health and diversity in the gut microbe ecology.
Meadowsweet combines well with Crampbark or Wild Yam where there are painful gut spasms, including gallbladder or other duct spasms. Excellent with Evening Primrose (Oenothera spp.) when there is chronic GI inflammation or someone is recovering from longterm food intolerances. It is frequently combined with Licorice in the treatment of peptic ulcers, but do be aware that some folks with autoimmune complications can react adversely to Licorice, so proceed with caution.
Urinary Infection, Heat, & Pain: Meadowsweet is useful in nearly any case of cystitis or urethritis where there’s heat, irritation, and tension. The herb’s astringency tightens up lax tissues and helps protect the mucosa from microbial infection or reinfection while the flavonoids reduce inflammation and accompanying pain. The diuretic action also relieve the discomfort of retained or scant urine. Combines well with demulcent Viola spp. where there is more burning and retained urine, or with Alnus spp. and Monarda spp. where there is moderate to severe microbial infection.
Diaphoretic: One of my favorite diaphoretics to combine with Yarrow, Elderflower, and a stimulating Mint family plant like Mentha arvensis or Monarda fistulosa to help prevent or quicken the passing of any sort of influenza virus, especially where there is generalized joint and body pain, sensations of heat, scant urination, and little sweating.
Formulation + Preparation Tips: Best used with other herbs that more precisely direct the energy and movement of the herb, as Meadowsweet tends to prioritize clearing heat without much actual movement.
Whenever healing gut or urinary tract inflammation, it’s generally best to use water based preparations whenever possible to allow the herb the most direct access to the affected mucosa. Water based preparation are also generally preferable when using Meadowsweet as a diaphoretic.
Thorn. Leaf. Blossom: A Few Rosaceae Potions + Brews
For your elixir, it’s helpful to have on hand:
•A pint canning jar (or other glass jar that seals well)
•Fresh Peach leaves and/or flowers and twigs (the more aromatic the better, and either feral or domestic varieties will work)
•About a pint of high quality brandy (the better the brandy, the better your elixir will taste)
•Appr. 1/3 pint of raw honey (preferably local, and of a lighter wildflower type since darker honeys can muffle the Peach taste a bit)
•A good stirring spoon
Step by Step Instructions
•First, fill your jar all the way to the top with Peach leaves or flowers/twigs, you don’t have to pack them in but push them down a bit to minimize the air space in the jar.
•Now, pour the honey in slowly, stirring as necessary, until the plant matter is well coated.
•Next, fill to the top with brandy, against stirring as necessary to remove air bubbles and fill the jar evenly.
•Now cover the jar with a tight fitting lid, and shake carefully to finish the mixing process.
•Let macerate in a cool, dark place for four to six weeks (or as long as you can stand to wait.
•When straining, reserve liquid.
•Bottle and store in a cool, dry place away from sunlight until needed.
Rose petals compliment the medicine of Peach and they taste amazing together!
Cinnamon warms and spices up Peach, making it more appropriate year round.
Apple bark combines well with Peach specifically for gastric upset accompanied by heartburn.
Chamomile amplifies the digestion soothing properties of Peach, and they taste lovely together.
Chokecherry, Prunus serotina, bark and flowers have similar histamine moderating and respiratory relaxant properties, and work very well with Peach for those purposes.
Ideas for Application
Internally for soothing irritability and insomnia when the weather is hot or the tongue is bright red and the person feels overheated.
Internally for nausea, and vomiting from sun sickness, being overheated, morning sickness, and in any case where the tongue is red and the person feels excessively hot.
Internally for any gut upset, including nausea and diarrhea, with signs of heat and tension.
Internally for anxiety, tension, and irritability aggravated by the heat or resulting in feelings of overheatedness.
Internally for autoimmune flareups, especially those that cause inflammation of the gastric mucosa.
Topically and internally for insect stings and bites.
Rose Infused Vinegar: My Favorite Sunburn Soother
Rose vinegar is supremely easy to make and has about a million uses. Here’s how you make it: get yourself a jar, fill it about halfway with dried Rose petal or leaves, or all the way up with fresh petals and/or leaves. Fill to top with a high quality apple cider vinegar. Let infuse for at least two weeks, and preferably six weeks. A plastic lid will prevent the Rose vinegar from eating through the normal metal canning lids (turns your vinegar black too, very unpleasant). Your vinegar will turn a lovely shade of reddish pink to brilliant ruby if you use colorful petals (dunno how yellow comes out it, I’ve never used them).
A cloth can be soaked in this lovely preparation (dilute to 1 part vinegar to about 7-10 parts water) can be used placed on the forehead for headaches (especially heat caused headaches), wrapped around a sprained ankle or used to wash itchy bug bites and heat rashes. It excels at pulling heat from an inflamed area in a very short time. It is especially powerful at rapidly quenching the redness and pain from a sunburn in to time flat. In fact a medium sunburn, if caught within the first 24 hours, can be nearly erased in three or four applications of vinegar over a period of six hours or so. Even where there is threatening sun poisoning and blistering skin, it can greatly ease the pain and lessen the general trauma to the body. While not a replacement for emergency care in severe burns, it is nearly always incredibly helpful.
First, do yourself a favor and don’t smother your sunburn in salve or oil. It just holds the heat in and worsens it, no matter how healing the herbs contained therein may be.
Depending on the size of the burn, pour about 1/3 a cup of Rose Vinegar into a bowl, then add several cups of water and mix thoroughly.
Get a soft, absorbent cloth and dip into the liquid. Gently wring it out, being sure the cloth is still quite wet. You may want to use very large cloths/towels if the area burned is very large.
Place the cloths over the affected areas, it will very cold at first but the cloth will rapidly become hot. Keep re-dipping and wringing as soon as the cloth gets warm. Depending on the severity of the burn, I usually re-apply at least a dozen times during the first session.
Let the skin airdry. For a medium burns, I repeat the application about once every two hours. For severe burns, every hour. For light burns, as often as is needed.
Before bed, a topical application of fresh Aloe Vera gel can be applied (from the plant, not weird preserved stuff from a bottle) to the area.
Keep up the treatment until the area no longer feels hot to the touch. If the burns are very severe and there is the possibility (or existence) of infection, dress the burns with Rose and/or Beebalm honey between vinegar applications.
Once the area has cooled off (and stays that way) it’s ok to use a healing salve or cream like Rose, Alder and Elderflower to speed the skin’s complete recovery.
If there’s no Rose vinegar on hand, plain or similarly herbal infused (Elderflower, Chickweed, Alder, Plantain) apple cider vinegar may be used.
This is such an effective treatment that I wouldn’t dream of traveling without it or not having several quart jars of it in my pantry and medicine chest.
Heart of Guadalupe Elixir: Courage & Vitality for the Sacred Heart
This bittersweet blend of heart opening and vitalizing herbs is uplifting, reducing grief and anxiety while strengthening the heart on both emotional and physiological levels. It’s also stimulating to the digestion, circulation, and general energy levels.
Cacao and Magnolia are a traditional heart formula from Mexico, both with distinct actions on the heart, nervous system, and circulation. Magnolia is fairly unknown as a medicine in the United States, but has a long history of use in Mexico, which is where I first learned about it. There it is called Flor de Corazón, Flower of the Heart. This is a relaxing, soothing, and strengthening herb that can help lessen hypertension, as well as address grief and fear on a heart deep level.
The Rose and Hawthorn bring further power and flavor to the blend, while the hot pepper increases peripheral circulation. Both are well known for their heart opening and strengthening effects, and for their inflammation reducing actions on the whole body. They’re both also fantastic relaxant nervines, and excel at lessening anxiety and nervousness while enhancing the mood.
Altogether this is an effective remedy for all sorts of grief, sadness, lethargy, mild to moderate depression, and some forms of burnout. In cases of burnout, do consider using this alongside something exceptionally nourishing to the nervous system, such as Milky Oats tincture and mineral rich decoctions of herbs like Oatstraw and Nettles.
Some folks do have negative reactions to Cacao, and in that case the Cacao can either simply be eliminated, or replaced with another aromatic bitter such as Calamus root. This will significantly change the flavor, and to some degree, the effect of the elixir, but many wonderful variations are possible.
Overall, this is a fairly balanced formula suitable for most constitutions who are dealing with sadness, grief, lethargy, depression, apathy or lack of motivation, and difficulty with focusing.
1 part Roasted Cacao beans, nibs, or brick
1 part Magnolia root and/or flower
2 part Rose petals
1 part Hawthorn berries
Pinch of Chile Piquin or Cayenne
Tequila, rum, vodka, or similar spirits
Fill a jar about half way with mix of herbs, noting that parts are by volume.
Add honey, just covering herbs.
Stir well, evenly distributing honey.
Fill jar with spirits.
Stir again to mix honey and spirits, and to release any air bubbles.
Top off with spirits if necessary.
Cover with airtight lid.
Allow to macerate for 4 weeks in a dark, cool place.
Strain, reserving liquid.
Bottle and store in cool, dark place.
Rose in Winter Spiced Tea: A Warming Brew for the Cold Moons
This spicy, aromatic blend has become one of my favorite uplifting blends for the cold moons. I especially love it with the conifer needles included, and when prepared just right, the first taste will be of orangey-sweet conifer leaves that transition to richly flavored spices, with the lingering flavor of a thousand roses blooming on your tongue.
I tend to prefer preparing this tea with whole spices or large pieces, rather than any powdered herbs. It’s certainly possible to use powdered spices, but the texture will be different, and the flavor may be less robust. This recipe is based on parts by volume, so that you can make any size batch you like, from a single fragrant pot to big jars full to share with family and friends in the future.
1 part Ginger pieces (this is with dried, you can also substitute fresh Ginger)
1 part hulled Cardamom (or 2 parts whole Cardamom)
2 parts Cinnamon chips or crushed sticks
1/2 part whole Cloves
1/2 part whole Black Pepper
2 parts whole Star Anise
5-7 parts roughly chopped Fir, Douglas Fir, and/or Pine Needles (optional)
2-3 parts Black Tea (I like Darjeeling or Assam for this purpose)
2 TBS - 1/4 C Rosewater per serving
Combine all ingredients except conifer needles, tea, and rosewater in a mortar and grind enough to break down into fairly uniform pieces. This is to allow for easier extraction of flavors during the decoction process.
Now place crushed spice mix in a bowl, then add the tea and conifer needles, and stir well. You can add more or less black tea depending on how strong you like your brew.
From this point, depending on how much volume you’ve made, you can either store the blend in a jar or other airtight container for later use, or make yourself up a pot right then.
Add spiced tea mix and water to a pot, approximately 1 TBS per 2 cups of water. Use more or less depending on how strong you like your brew.
Bring to a boil, and simmer for 5-10 minutes.
Strain, reserving liquid and herbs.
Pour liquid into mug.
Add 2 TBS - 1/4 C of Rosewater to each mug, depending on how much Rose flavor you want and how large your mug is.
Add cream and sugar/honey to taste.
Now, take a deep breath of your fragrant brew, swoon, and enjoy
You can reuse the already boiled tea mix at least one more time.
You can also substitute a different base herb for the tea, peach leaf can work well, and some people like honeybush or roobois for this purpose.
This brew tastes extra fine when spiked with some Cinnamon & Rose infused tequila.