By Kate Maxey
Pain is something we all have to deal with at some point in our lives. It’s just one of the consequences of being in a body. Pain can be a crippling and exhausting experience of living in a body, however we have many plant allies to help us through the pain process. Utilizing medicinal plants for pain is not a “one size fits all” type of thing and there are many different plants for different types of pain. Here I will talk about nerve pain, musculoskeletal pain and joint pain, all of which you would treat differently when implementing plant medicine.
There are more than 100 different types of nerve damage. The various types may have different symptoms and different causes including: autoimmune diseases, cancer, compression/trauma, diabetes, motor neuron diseases, and nutritional deficiencies especially B6 ad B12. Because nerves are essential to all that we do, nerve pain can be debilitating and really affect ones quality of life.
We have come to know St Johns Wort as a treatment for depression and anxiety but it is quickly becoming one of my favorites for nerve pain. There are two species that grow in the northwest area, H. perforatum, which has been introduced from Europe and the native species, H. formosum. Both have similar constituents, however H. perforatum is about twice a strong as the native species so we tend to stick with using that one. St John’s Wort is useful for general nerve pain, sciatica, back spasms, injuries to the spinal cord and nerves, including nerve injuries to the fingers and toes. St John’s Wort is also great for calming and nourishing frayed nerves due to acute stress or when we are dealing with intense change and feelings of being overwhelmed. It combines well with Arnica and Poplar Buds. The infused oil, which turns a beautiful shade of red, is a great way to deal with nerve pain and is great when combined with essential oils specific to nerve pain like helichrysum, chamomile, marjoram, and lavender. I have seen St. John’s Wort be useful when drunk as a tea for treating symptoms of Fibromyalgia. It is also great as a fresh plant tincture with the dose being 20-30 drops, three times a day.
Many things can bring on musculoskeletal pain. Muscle tissue can be damaged with the wear and tear of daily activities. Trauma to an area like jerking movements, auto accidents, falls, fractures, sprains, and dislocations can cause musculoskeletal pain. Other causes of pain include postural strain, repetitive movements, teeth grinding, overuse, and prolonged immobilization. Changes in posture or poor body mechanics may bring about spinal alignment problems and muscle shortening, therefore causing other muscles to be misused and become painful. The best we can do is sit up straight and avoid accidents, however we sometimes find that our body takes a beating and we need to reach for plant allies.
One of my favorites for musculoskeletal pain is Pedicularis, which comes in a variety of species like P. densiflorus, P. semibarbata, P. bracteosa, and P. racemosa to name a few and also has many common names such as Indian Warrior, Lousewort, Elephant’s head and Betony (not to be confused with the genus Stachys which is also called betony). The fresh plant extract is the best way to utilize this plant and you can use up to a teaspoon for acute pain making it a higher dose plant. It can also be used as an external liniment applied to problem areas. What I love about this plant is that unlike a lot of pain relievers Pedicularis doesn’t make you drowsy so that you can use it throughout the day and still maintain mental focus and clarity. It reduces muscle spasms and relives tension of the muscles making it useful for tension headaches, jaw pain due to grinding of the teeth; chronic and acute back pain and menstrual cramping. It is also a great plant to use before doing yoga or getting bodywork done for it helps to pre-loosen the musculoskeletal system enabling the body to find a deeper relaxation and letting go of tension. I can certainly feel the difference when I take Pedicularis versus when I don’t when I go to my cranio-sacral practitioner. All in all this is a great plant for when our bodies are feeling tight and unwilling to relax and loosen up.
Joints form the connections between bones. They provide support and help the body to move. Any damage to the joints from disease or injury can interfere with your movement and cause a lot of pain. Many different conditions can lead to painful joints, including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, bursitis, gout, strains, sprains, and other injuries. As you get older, painful joints become increasingly more common.
Another way to look at the cause of joint pain is to consider the diet of the individual. Excess of rich foods, sweets and meats combined with a lack of exercise and poor digestive power can clog the channels of the body and contribute to the development of arthritis, rheumatism, gout and overall joint pain. Another thing to consider is that if the blood is too acidic, which happens with a rich, meat heavy diet, the cartilage in the joints may dissolve causing joint inflammation and pain.
There are many herbs out there that help with joint pain like turmeric, yucca and devils claw, however due to the digestive element of the problem I will discuss including burdock root in a joint pain regime. Arctium lappa is the latin name of this plant and is a Eurasian weed spread by burs. Burdock is what is called an alterative, which is a plant that not only cleanses the blood of toxins and metabolic wastes, but also gradually alters metabolic function, increasing nutrients to the tissues. As rich foods and meats accumulate in the body, inflammation occurs within the joints. Burdock helps to clear away these inflammatory wastes allowing for the joints to heal and repair themselves. It helps to stimulate the natural flow of lymphatic fluid that supports excretion of toxic by-products from the cells. It is a general anti-inflammatory, digestive stimulant, blood and lymphatic purifier and has a cooling effect on the body. It is great as a tea, which Michael Moore says to do as a cold infusion however a decoction would work too. It can also be used as a fresh plant tincture using ½ to ¼ teaspoon four times a day. It grows very well in the Humboldt area and the root is yummy used fresh in soups, stews and as a roasted veggie.
Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West by Michael Moore
Planetary Herbology by Michael Tierra
Herbal Medicine From the Heart of the Earth by Sharol Tilgner
Class notes form Christa Sinadinos