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powerful healing spices

Garlic and Cayenne

Charles R. Garcia, Director  fb CSHH

Garlic and Cayenne

Okay friends and students…this will be the longest lesson you will read because I've included TWO herbs. I personally believe these are two of the most important herbs you will learn about. So it's dripping heavy with science information. Just plug on through it…you won't be disappointed. I have read that in the United States, in addition to its use in cooking and food preparation, garlic is now second in sales only to Echinacea as a best selling herbal supplement. As it grows in popularity, mixed reports and controversy continue to surround claims of its medicinal properties. It has been, in fact, probably the most studied herbal product, with about 1,200 medical and pharmacological reports, and an additional 700 or so chemical studies, now published. With that much scientific attention, one would think that we would be able to sort out clearly fact from myth.


For the last 4000 years of human history, Garlic, properly known as Allium sativum, has been both cherished and reviled, both sought for its healing powers and shunned for its pungent after effects. From miracle drug to vampire repellent to offering for the gods, this unassuming plant has had an undeniably important place in many aspects of human history, and today enjoys a renewed surge in popularity as modern medicine unearths the wonders of this ancient superfood.

Unlike that mysterious Tupperware lurking at the back of your fridge, garlic has been employed in a variety of functions for millennia. Archeologists have discovered clay sculptures of garlic bulbs and paintings of garlic dating about 3200 B.C. in Egyptian tombs in El Mahasna. A recently discovered Egyptian papyrus dating from 1,500 B.C. recommends garlic as a cure all for over 22 common ailments, including lack of stamina, heart disease and tumors, and it’s been said the Egyptians fed garlic to the slaves building the pyramids to increase their strength. Garlic proved itself worthy to peasant and royalty alike as Tutankhamen (Egypt’s youngest pharaoh) was sent into the afterlife with garlic at his side.

In ancient Greece and Rome, garlic enjoyed a variety of uses, from repelling scorpions to treating dog bites and bladder infections to curing leprosy and asthma. It was even left out as an offering to the Greek goddess Hectate. Early Greek military leaders fed garlic to their troops before battles to give them courage and promise victory (and perhaps in an attempt to fell the opposing army with one good whiff.)

Ancient Transylvania, home of the vampire legend, found garlic to be an effective mosquito repellent as well as a way to ward off toothsome visitors. In the Middle Ages garlic was thought to combat the plague and was hung in braided strands across the entrances of houses to prevent evil spirits from entering. While modern day experience cannot confirm garlic’s effect on evil spirits, it has been proven that garlic, at the least, will prevent a goodnight kiss at the end of a date.

For many years, garlic was shunned by Western cultures such as Britain and America because of the residual stench it left behind. In seventeenth century England, garlic was considered unfit for ladies and anyone who wished to court them, and it was avoided in America even early into the 20th century, when famous chefs would substitute onion for it in recipes. As America experienced a huge influx of immigrants during the 19th century, however, garlic slowly gained a foothold in the American palette. 

Generally, garlic has been so extensively domesticated over so many thousands of years that there no longer are wild forms found anywhere in nature related to the type of garlic humans now use. It is believed that as a variant of the lily family of plants it originated probably somewhere in Central Asia, and spread rapidly in all directions -- westward to the Mediterranean, eastward throughout China, and southward into India. In all of these areas it has since the beginning of recorded time been used as both a food and a medicinal product.

Indeed, garlic has been employed for medicinal purposes by more cultures over more millennia than any other plant product or substance. The first recorded use was by the Sumerians of Mesopotamia, in the now Mid-East regions of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

Garlic as previously stated, of great medicinal importance in nearby Egypt. It has been found in the tombs of the ancient Pharaohs dating back to 3,200 B.C. Its use by the pyramid builders, who believed garlic gave them strength, is inscribed on the Great Pyramid of Cheops. The only slave revolt in Egypt (beside the Jewish Exodus) was by laborers over a lack of garlic one year when the Nile flooded the garlic fields. In the Egyptian "Ebers Codex," written in 1550 B.C., there were 22 different medical formulations that included garlic. Just three nights ago on the National Geographic Channel I watched a program on excavations in the Valley of the Kings found. Several caskets were found with mummies and…you guessed it…garlic cloves.

The ancient Israelites were fond of garlic long before Moses led them out of Egypt. In the Mishnah, a collection of Jewish traditions incorporated into the Talmud, the ancient Hebrew writers refer to themselves as "the garlic eaters." In the Bible (Numbers 11:5), still on their way to the Promised Land, the Jews lamented the absence of garlic, as well as other foods from Egypt.

Today, nearly 70 variants of garlic grow in the Holy Land. The widespread dissemination of garlic around the world is attributed, in part, to the Jewish diaspora.

The Greeks used garlic to bring strength to their athletes at the Olympic games and in other contests, and employed it, as well, to help heal battle wounds. Hippocrates, who lived 460 to 370 B.C. and is considered the father of western medicine, recommended garlic for pneumonia and other infections, for cancer and for digestive disorders, as well as a diuretic to increase the flow of urine and a substance to improve menstrual flow.

Another Greek, Dioscorides who is the favorite herbalist of OLD HERBALISTS like myself, who lived in the first century A.D. and is held in esteem as the founder of the modern pharmacy, dispensed garlic to treat rabid dog bites, snake bites, infections, bronchitis and cough, leprosy, and clogged arteries, as well as other conditions.

The ancient Romans carried the garlic medicinal practices of the Greeks forward. Galen (129-199 A.D.), personal physician to the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, and whose writings were to influence Arabic and western medicine for over the next thousand years, called garlic "the theriac of the peasants," an inexpensive near "cure all" for a wide variety of almost countless ailments.

In the Middle Ages, a German nun, mystic, composer and writer, St. Hildegard of Bingen, who wrote two medical textbooks, advocated raw garlic to heal the sick. The London College of Physicians recommended garlic for the great plague in 1665. A leading English physician, Sydenham, also used garlic about the same time to cure small pox.

The Science of Garlic

Beyond superstition, modern research has confirmed what our ancestors believed about the health benefits of garlic. In 1858, Louis Pasteur documented that garlic kills bacteria, with one millimeter or raw garlic juice. It has been proven to be as effective as 60 milligrams of penicillin. During World War II, when penicillin was rare and sulfa drugs were scarce, the British and Russian armies used diluted garlic solutions as an antiseptic to disinfect open wounds and prevent gangrene. Though not completely understood at the time, today’s research has confirmed that garlic’s healing powers stem from hundreds of volatile sulfur compounds found in the vegetable, including allicin, (which gives garlic its offensive odor), alliin, cycroalliin, and diallyldisulphide.

Garlic’s Health Benefits

The allicin in raw, crushed garlic has been shown to kill 23 types of bacteria, including salmonella and staphylococcus. I've used it also for fungal infections when other herbs have failed. Heated garlic gives off another compound, diallyldisulphide-oxide, which has been shown to lower serum cholesterol by preventing clotting in the arteries. 

Vitamins in garlic, such as A, B, and C, stimulate the body to fight carcinogens and get rid of toxins, and may even aid in preventing certain types of cancer, such as stomach cancer. Garlic's sulfur compounds can regulate blood sugar metabolism, stimulate and detoxify the liver, and stimulate the blood circulation and the nervous system.

In many cultures, garlic is also considered a powerful aphrodisiac and a vegetarian alternative to Viagra. Some say it’s even able to raise a man’s sperm count. In Palestinian tradition, a groom who wears a clove of garlic in his buttonhole is guaranteed a happy wedding night. (Okay, so I don't necessarily believe it…but recent research coming out of Belgium suggests it does increase sperm count. [I had a hippie wedding so I wore a spring of pot in my flowered lapels the size of 707 wings.])

As more science began to enter the picture, Louis Pasteur demonstrated, in 1858, that garlic could kill infectious germs. Albert Schweizer, in the early and mid-20th century, used garlic in Africa to cure typhoid fever and cholera

Garlic was used throughout World War I to treat battle wounds and to cure dysentery. During World War II, garlic was known as "Russian penicillin" because it was so effective in treating wound infections when adequate antibiotics were not available. But the actual process or processes used on the wounded soldiers is still SECRET! 

Anyone who has compared Mediterranean and American cultures is bound to come across a disparity in habits concerning the humble bulb known as garlic. Mediterranean populations eat a lot of this plant, while Americans in general eat it only occasionally. However, recent studies suggest it's something worth befriending in the kitchen. Garlic's presence in Mediterranean cultures, both as a flavoring agent and medicinal plant, is traceable for thousands of years. There is evidence that Egyptians worshiped garlic, having placed clay models of the bulb in Tutankhamen's tomb. It is said that Hippocrates himself used garlic vapors to treat certain cancers. When antibiotics were scarce during World War II, garlic poultices were placed on wounds to prevent infection.

Garlic has also been widely studied for its role in cardiovascular health. Recent studies have examined its effect on blood cholesterol with mixed results. Some studies have shown a reduction in LDL cholesterol, or bad cholesterol levels, while others have not. However, if garlic does indeed have cardio-protective properties, it may be traced--at least in part--to its proposed ability to reduce the formation of blood clots, a claim that is gaining research attention of its own.

As if this were not enough to get garlic into the medicinal plant hall-of-fame, garlic has also been studied for its immune boosting properties. Numerous studies performed in recent years indicate that the compound allicin, found in fresh garlic, has antibiotic and antifungal properties. 

Is garlic a factor in the reduced rates of heart disease, cancer and other chronic diseases we see among Mediterranean cultures? It is impossible to set up a study that could accurately answer that question. However, differences among our cultures, both in health and eating patterns, has encouraged scientists to look closely at the many properties of garlic. What we have found so far suggests that we may do well to eat more garlic.

Because the chemical composition of garlic changes in response to being heated and even chopped--nobody is quite sure in which form it delivers the most punch. Allicin, for example is released when fresh garlic is chopped or pressed and destroyed with heating. It is for this reason that capsules, which contain processed garlic, may not be as effective as the real thing. 

When selecting fresh garlic, look for a firm, compact head with no sprouts, which is an indication that the bulb is relatively old. Store fresh garlic in a cool, dry airy place. A mesh bag or specially designed covered terra-cotta jar with holes in the sides works well. Avoid storing in plastic bags or sealed containers as this tends to cause the garlic to whither and rot. Properly stored, most garlic bulbs can last at cool room temperatures for up to six months.

So, where does that leave us today? Multiple scientific studies indicate that garlic can lower cholesterol and triglycerides levels, improve the outcome of coronary heart disease, reduce high blood pressure, improve claudication (leg muscle cramps on exertion), prolong infant feeding time for breast nursing, reduce or cure the fungal infection of Athlete's foot and some vaginal fungal issues, and reverse some middle ear inflammation. And, it can do much more. There may even be some value, in addition, for garlic in the potential reductions of certain cancers, especially those of the colon and stomach, a process I'm attempting to do at this moment.

Against this extraordinarily long and consistent history of garlic as a useful medicinal product, there continue to occur "negative" reports and healthy skepticism. Why are there discrepancies and why do serious questions about its medicinal value still remain?

Currently, there are at least five different forms of garlic that are widely marketed. Whole fresh garlic is rich in alliin (converted to allicin when garlic is chopped) and ajoene, the two chemical constituents thought to be most important to health. A daily dose of 1 to 3 cloves of whole fresh garlic is needed to promote health.

Dried garlic powder, when standardized by allicin potential to whole garlic, may also be beneficial. About 500 to 900 milligrams (with an equivalent 5,000 micrograms of allicin), however, are needed to be effective.

Steam-distilled garlic oil and oil macerates of garlic are readily available in several products, but the effective medicinal dose (if any) is not known.

Aged garlic extracts are also available, but again the effective medicinal dose (if any) is not known and most likely is extremely high.

Unfortunately, most of the scientific studies on these processed garlic products have not controlled for the content of the active constituents needed to assure health. Thus, as long as this lack of standardization continues to occur, scientific reports will continue to produce a "mixed bag" of results and some degree of controversy will be perpetuated.

So, is garlic beneficial to your health? Most likely it is, if we can learn anything from this long medicinal history. But, remember that the vast majority of positive observations of the past were based on the consumption of fresh whole garlic and plenty of it, at that!

So go for it!


On to our friend Cayenne.

For those who don't know and I doubt there are many, the Cayenne is a hot red chili pepper used to flavor dishes, and for medicinal purposes. Named for the city of Cayenne in French Guiana (bet you didn't know that), it is a cultivar of Capsicum annuum related to bell peppers, jalapeños, and others. The capsicum genus is in the nightshade family (Solanaceae).

The fruits are generally dried and ground, or pulped and baked into cakes, which are then ground and sifted to make the powder, Cayenne pepper. In my possession, as I write those, my mother's stone mortar and pestle lies in front of this computer. Deeply inbedded in the crevices are bits of cayenne she crushed for salsa for at least half a century.

Cayenne is used in cooking spicy hot dishes, as a powder or in its whole form (such as in Szechuan cooking ) or in a thin, vinegar-based sauce such as Tobasco. It is generally rated at 40,000 to 90,000 Scoville Units. Generally, the higher the number of heat units, the more beneficial. The lower-heat cayenne peppers are a lot less efficient, and they are the ones which are most highly contaminated. These are the ones you see labeled for 30,000 heat units. These are the ones to stay away from.

It is also used as a herbal supplement, and was mentioned by Nicholas Culpepper in his Complete Herbal. (A dog eared copy is sitting on my book case). Cayenne contains a pungent resin-like substance known as capsaicin. This chemical relieves pain and itching by affecting sensory nerves. Capsaicin temporarily causes various neurotransmitters to release from these nerves, leading to their depletion. Without the neurotransmitters, pain signals can no longer be sent. The effect is temporary. In the old days and not so old days doctors called this effect a counter irritant. 

Capsaicin and other constituents in cayenne have been shown to have several other actions, including reducing platelet stickiness and acting as antioxidants.

Cayenne pepper is considered to be misnomer by the American Spice Trade Association, which prefers the more generic term red pepper. Generally speaking any of a number of peppers are called cayenne. Capsicum frutescens can be grown in a variety of locations and needs approximately 100 days to mature. Peppers prefer warm, moist, nutrient-rich soil in a warm climate. The plants grow to about 2-4 feet of height and should be spaced three feet apart. This is generally true BUT I have grown them in the cold San Francisco bay area. 

The potent, hot fruit of cayenne has been used as medicine for centuries. It has endorphin-stimulating properties.

In addition, it has been used for the following problems:
• Gastrointestinal tract: including stomachaches, cramping pains, and gas.
• Diseases of the circulatory system: It is still traditionally used in herbal medicine as a circulatory tonic.
• Rheumatic and arthritic pains: Rubbed on the skin it causes a counterirritant effect. A counterirritant is something which causes irritation to the area to which it is applied. This makes it distract the nerves from the original irritation (such as joint pain in the case of arthritis).
• Sore throat: If gargled with water it can work as an effective treatment for sore throats.
• Styptic: Application of cayenne powder has traditionally been considered to have a powerful coagulating ability.
(LORDY THIS IS SOOO TRUE! My mom once powdered a bad cut on my hand. The bleeding stopped immediately. The pain much later.)

The main medicinal properties of cayenne are derived from a chemical called capsaicin. Capsaicin is the ingredient which gives peppers their HEAT. A pepper's capsaicin content ranges from 0-1.5%. Peppers are measured according to heat units. The degree of heat determines the peppers' usage and value. Generally, the hotter the pepper, the more capsaicin it contains. In addition to adding heat to the pepper, capsaicin acts to reduce platelet stickiness and relieve pain. Other constituents of cayenne are vitamins E and C.

Today cayenne is used worldwide to treat a variety of health conditions, including poor circulation, weak digestion, heart disease, chronic pain, sore throats, headaches and toothache.

Ayurvedic medicine also utilizes cayenne to treat poor digestion and gas. Chinese medicine uses cayenne for digestive ailments. 

When taken internally, cayenne soothes the digestive tract and stimulates the flow of stomach secretions and saliva. These secretions contain substances which help digest food.

Cayenne is the greatest herbal aid to circulation and can be used on a regular basis. Dr. Richard Schulze, the medical herbalist, says that "If you master only one herb in your life, master cayenne pepper. It is more powerful than any other." While I might agree with this in theory, the trick is mastering the moods of the plant…this means when to harvest, how to dry it, and how to apply it.

Cayenne moves blood

There is no other herb which increases your blood flow faster than cayenne. Cayenne moves blood. When people ask Dr. Schultze, "What are the 10 most important herbs to have in the home?" He tells them, "At the top of the list is cayenne pepper, because it will make the other 9 work better."

Cayenne is the greatest blood circulation stimulant known. You can take all the milk thistle you want, but if you have bad circulation to your liver, it's not going to do you any good. Cayenne increases your blood circulation immediately within seconds, more than any other herb.

When you have a sick area, there's often a restriction of blood flow to that area. Blood flow is what takes nutrition and the healing properties of herbs to those cells. Blood flow is also what carries out and removes waste material. Cayenne pepper is like TNT. It blasts through all that blockage to get to that area which is sick, taking with it all the minerals and vitamins from the foods you eat, and all the vital chemicals from the herbs you take - all the way to the sick area. People who are not used to cayenne just need to work their way up. One problem people have is that they blow their mouths with cayenne, right off the bat. For those who have never used cayenne pepper before, a good initial dosage is 1/16th of a teaspoonful in some juice. Work your way up in dosage slowly. Put a small amount in some juice, stir and drink. In Hispanic herbalism cayenne is often made into a vinegar based tincture and is given by the teaspoon full in water or juices…particularly aloe.

Cayenne powder

It is recommended that the cayenne powder be used, as opposed to capsules. It is believed that you are only getting a small part of the potential effect of cayenne pepper by taking it in capsules. When you put cayenne in your mouth, your stomach secretes digestive juices before the cayenne ever gets there. So when the cayenne gets down there, your stomach is ready for it. My own uses seem to have proven this over the decades. That being said, I will use capsule for children.

But if you swallow a capsule, your tongue tastes nothing. A capsule goes down in your stomach, and your stomach notices nothing, at first. Then, 5 minutes later the gelatin bursts, and you have a 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper in your stomach and your body is shocked. You surprised it. 

What is going on is that some of cayenne's healing action occurs right in your mouth. As cayenne touches your tongue, the cayenne absorbs in seconds and nerve endings send signals throughout the body - sending waves of fresh blood throughout your body.

Pain control 

Capsaicin has very powerful pain-relieving properties when applied to the surface of the skin. It is a counterirritant that temporarily reduces substance P, a chemical that carries pain messages to the brain. When substance P is depleted, the pain messages no longer reach the brain, and the person feels relief. Capsaicin is often recommended for topical application for the following conditions: 
• Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, as well as joint or muscle pain from fibromyalgia or other causes 
• Nerve pain from shingles and other painful skin conditions (postherpetic neuralgia) that recurs even after the skin blisters have disappeared. Not all studies agree, and the research is limited. Results may depend on the individual. Check with your doctor to see if trying this topical treatment is right for you. 
• Postsurgical pain, following, for example, a mastectomy (breast removal for breast cancer) or pain after an amputation 
• Pain from peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage experienced in the feet or legs) due to diabetes. However, capsaicin appears ineffective for peripheral neuropathy pain from HIV. 
• Low back pain: Homeopathic gels of capsaicin are available for low back pain, but they are not generally considered a first-line remedy because other homeopathic remedies have fewer side effects.


 Capsaicin cream can reduce itching and inflammation associated with psoriasis (a chronic skin disease that generally appears as patches of raised red skin covered by a flaky white buildup). 

Weight loss 

Some animal and human studies show that taking capsaicin orally may increase the body's production of heat for a short time. It may also help to regulate blood sugar levels by affecting the breakdown of carbohydrates after a meal. Based on these studies, capsaicin is being investigated to see if it would be useful in treating obesity. These studies, however, are still ongoing.

Cluster headaches 

Administering capsaicin via the nose seems to help relieve cluster headaches (a severe one-sided headache that tends to occur in clusters, happening repeatedly every day at the same time for possibly several weeks). This is a last ditch resort. Please don't try this if you are a young herbalist. 

Other uses 

• As a homeopathic remedy, capsaicin may help treat ear infections (otitis media) though in repeated attempts I have been unable to prove this. 
• Some evidence suggests capsaicin may help treat heartburn, but several people I've treated stopped taking capsaicin because of abdominal discomfort. Had they returned to me I would have continued the treatment adding aloe gel (one teaspoon) or even cinnamon powder.
• Capsaicin is being investigated for treating circulatory problems (for example, heart disease from atherosclerosis or plaque blocking the arteries to the heart) and reducing risk of an irregular heart rhythm. I've used this on my street people to revive a heart and ease brachycardia.

So there you have it. Two great ones. Enjoy! Friday, July 17, 2015 at 3:02am PT

Douglas S. Miller Thanks Doc Monday, May 18, 2015 at 2:53pm PT

Karen Roberts Can I share! Mother may I? Monday, May 18, 2015 at 4:48pm PT

Christine Borus I knew this was you posting !!! Monday, May 18, 2015 at 8:11pm PT

Charles Garcia Sun Cat...sorry, I don't know. Can anyone answer that question? Tuesday, May 19, 2015 at 3:42pm PT

vinegar recipes!

Herbal Vinegars & Herbal Wines

Charles R. Garcia, Director  fb CSHH

Random Thoughts on Herbal Vinegar and Herbal Wines

No one knows for certain where or how vinegar was discovered or first used. It does appear before wheeled vehicles were common in Sumeria. It was obviously around before the pyramids were built by less than happy Hebrews. It pre-dates beer by some 3,000 years.

I like to imagine that some poor soul left a stone jar of wine uncovered. When he discovers his mistake, he takes a sip and says…."Hey, this would taste good on fish and chips!"

But a more interesting mystery is who discovered the medicinal properties…and how? Festering sores heal when bathed in it. Diseased gums improve when washed with it. Arthritic joints would stop hurting when vinegar was consumed daily. The mystery is can never be solved. But we owe that unknown individual a great deal.

Vinegar was brought into California by the Franciscan padres…that is for certain. Its medicinal virtues were well known by this time. The good padres could probably quote 8 passages from the Bible that mention vinegar. (4 in the Old Testament, 4 in the New Testament. You find them.) Due to the necessity of needing a steady supply of altar wine, and eventually wine for export, the Franciscans no doubt had a steady supply of vinegar.

From Arab influences they had learned that rosemary vinegar relieved headaches, myrrh vinegar was excellent for a healthy mouth (one must assume they swished it and did not swallow), dandelion vinegar was useful for kidney ailments, mint vinegar was used for stomach distress and clove vinegar was the best for bad breath.

By the time Mission California had given way to the Ranchos and native-born Californios road the Camino Real, vinegar was a staple food and ingredient amongst settlers, natives, soldiers, and traders. It preserved food, healed the body, and just tasted good.


For our purposes, the curanderos/curanderas of California added one specific plant to the history of vinegar. The Blackberry.

Blackberry vinegar maybe a gourmet item today, but 140 years ago it was the only way to preserve blackberry leaves to battle the killer disease of dysentery. Fresh blackberry leaf tea was a cure for dysentery epidemics. Mark Twain and John Muir mentioned its efficacy in the treatment of the "bloody flux," in their early writings. While scores of miners would literally shit themselves to death, local Indian tribes would drink large amounts of blackberry tea, find a non-polluted water source, and move on.

A priest, soldier, or curandero came up with the idea to preserve blackberry leaves and some of the fruit in vinegar. If a dysentery epidemic hit in an area without blackberry or if the plant was out of season, a heavy dose or doses of blackberry vinegar usually saved a few lives.

The original vinegars were made from red and white wines. But with the arrival of East Coast settlers, apple crops and apple cider vinegar took center stage. Folk healers rapidly discovered the benefits of this vinegar. It had a more digestible taste, smelled better, and seemed to increase the strength of the herbs used in it.

In Practice

I do not know of any other curanderos/curanderas who still use vinegars, except for myself. Making medicinal vinegars are easier these days than it was 150-200 years ago. I don't make my own wine and let it go bad…nor cider. I just go down to the supermarket and buy a gallon of apple cider vinegar. I prefer Heinz simply for the taste and purity. I make a 1 to 2 combination in most cases. One part herb, two parts vinegar by weight. I keep this concoction in a cool dark place for two weeks.

The following are herbal vinegars I've used successfully in my practice.

Rosemary and Sage.
This vinegar is used for postoperative dental work. For myself and my clients with compromised immune systems, the chance of post op dental infection is quite high. Immediately after ANY dental work I rinse my mouth for 30 seconds. My clients with HIV rinse for a minute or more. I suggest three rinses a day for a week. This combination can be used for pre-operative dental work also.
Cloves and Cinnamon.
To tighten and cleanse poor gum tissue. A rinse in the morning and evening should show results within a week. For spasmodic vomiting a teaspoon of this combination can be given every 30 minutes until vomiting stops. This is not recommended for persons suffering from ulcers or IBS.
For older clients with memory loss. 2-3 teaspoons a day.
In lieu of oregano tea, this will aid in pre-menopausal irregular periods.
2 teaspoons in a class of water to ease stomach cramps and gas pains.
Depending on the condition of the client, this vinegar can be used for cirrhosis, inflammation of the intestines, and for lowering blood pressure. It is possible to become dehydrated with this vinegar…so fluid intake must be increased.
For stress headaches. 1 to 2 teaspoons in a glass of water.
Used for topically fungal infections. A diluted formula can be used as a douche for vaginal infections.
Possibly the foulest tasting herbs next to horehound in the world. Assuming you can get it in your mouth without gagging, this will heal open sores and wounds in the mouth. Very difficult to use because of its taste, but very effective. Can be used in conjunction with the rosemary and sage combination.
Red Pepper.
A half teaspoon in a cup of water as a digestive stimulant.
Apple cider vinegar…straight.
For gouty arthritis. 2-3 teaspoons a day for life. Apple cider vinegar tends to break down uric acid crystals in the joints.
For the traditional use of dysentery (or just the runs). Great on salads.


Apple mint
Lemon Balm
Bergamot (Monarda sp.)
Burdock (Arctium lappa)
Catnip (Nepeta cataria)
Chicory (Cichoriu m intybus)
Dandelion (Traxacum off.)
Dill (Anethum graveolens)
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
Garlic (Allium sativum)
Garlic mustard (Alliaria officinalis)
Goldenrod (Solidago sp.)
Ginger (Zingiber off.) and Wild ginger (Asarum canadensis)
Lavender (Lavendula sp.)
Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris)
Orange mint
Peppermint (Mentha piperata and etc.)
Perilla (Shiso)
Rosemary (Rosmarinus off.)
Spearmint (Mentha spicata)
Thyme (Thymus sp.)
White pine (Pinus strobus)
Yarrow (Achilllea millifolium)
leaves, stalks
flowers, leaves, stalks
flowers, leaves, stalks
leaves, stalks
leaves, roots
leaves and especially chive blossoms
flower buds, leaves, roots
herb, seeds
herb, seeds

roots, rhizomes, leaf
flowers, leaves
new growth leaves and roots
leaves, stalks
peel, organic only
leaves, stalks
leaves, stalks
leaves, stalks
leaves, stalks
leaves, stalks
flowers and leaves

Notes on Making Herbal Vinegars

~ It is vital to really fill the jar. This will take more herb or root than you would think.

~ A good selection of jars of different sizes will enable you to fit your jar to the amount of plant you've collected. I especially like baby food jars, mustard jars, olive jars, peanut butter jars and juice jars. Plastic is fine, though I prefer glass.

~ Always fill jar to the top with plant material; never fill a jar only part way.

~ Pack the jar full of herb. How much~ How tight~ Tight enough to make a comfortable mattress for a fairy. Not too tight and not too loose. With roots, fill jar to within a thumb's width of the top.

~ For maximum strength herbal vinegar, snip or chop herbs and roots.

~ For maximum visual delight, leave plants whole.

~ Regular pasteurized apple cider vinegar from the supermarket is what I use when I make my herbal vinegar. Unpasteurized apple cider vinegar can also be used. Note that unpasteurized vinegar forms vinegar "mothers." Vinegar mothers are harmless. (Actually, they're of value. I've seen vinegar mothers for sale for fancy prices in specialty food shops.) In a jar filled with herb and vinegar, the vinegar mother usually grows across the top of the jar, clinging to the herb, and looking rather like a damp, thin pancake.

~ Rice vinegar, malt vinegar, wine vinegar, or any other natural vinegar can be used, but they are much more expensive than apple cider vinegar and many have a taste which overpowers or clashes with the taste of the herbs.

~ The reason that most recipes for herbal vinegar tell you to boil the vinegar is to pasteurize it! I do not find it necessary to heat the commercial vinegar as it is already pasteurized and the final vinegar tastes better if the herbs are not doused with boiling vinegar.

March 1, 2014 at 12:23pm PT

Lou Falank Thank you for sharing March 1, 2014 at 12:50pm PT

Lou Falank Christopher Whitten thought you would enjoy this post! March 1, 2014 at 12:50pm PT

Christopher Whitten Very much so. March 1, 2014 at 1:20pm PT

Jane Foxglove Thank you for sharing this. March 1, 2014 at 4:43pm PT

Grace Lurry awesome write up! good info on herbal vinegars isnt easy to come by. thanks!

one question: do you worry at all about vinegar mouthwashes having a negative effect on tooth enamel? i've found it to have a strange effect on the "mouth feel" of the tooth, and wonder if the acidity could present a problem long-term. March 4, 2014 at 5:14pm PT

Naali Aelfgifu I'm just wondering if what they say in alot of herbal medicine making classes is true: that vinegar does not extract alot of constituents. I make vinegar medicines and want to do so more.Hard alcohol isn't good for me, even by the dropper and they probably put awful additives and chemicals, because who knows-they aren't required to give any information. Apple cider vinegar can be made at home and it doesn't even need to be made with whole apples, you can use cores and peelings. I would like to switch to making most of my tinctures with vinegar ideally. That and wine (preferably homemade), has already been on my mind. Thoughts? March 4, 2014 at 9:19pm PT

Grace Lurry @naali, here's some info i learned while preparing for a presentation on medicinal vinegars. i'd like to hear what @charles has to say, because this is mostly from books!

because of it's acidic nature, vinegar isn't the best menstruum for extracting acidic constituents. on the other hand, vinegar is great at extracting alkaloids because it transforms them into alkaloidal salts and prevents them from precipitating in solution. "precipitating" is when a solid is formed within a solution during a chemical reaction. Sometimes it's desirable, as in to remove salt from water. In medicine making, we avoid precipitation by forming alkaloidal salts, soluble in water and able to be held in solution instead of sinking to the bottom, giving us a more consistent medicine. Richard Green defines an Alkaloidal salt as "a safer, more soluble form of the alkaloid…follow an opposite pattern (from alkaloids): they are freely soluble in alcohol. The ready solubility of the salts of alkaloids have caused them to be preferred to the alkaloids themselves for therapeutic uses." (Green p. 93) 

and if you want a REALLY CHEMISTRYTASTIC answer, here's what Richo Chech has to say:
"When an acid menstruum is poured over certain alkaloidal herbs, a reaction occurs wherein the alkaloids are turned into alkaloidal salts, which then become available to the solution. [The reaction involves changing the alkaloids into alkaloid salts. The reason this works is that all alkaloids are organic bases having a nitrogen group that can become protonated (e.e. R-NH₂). The alkaloids in their basic (neutral) form aren't as soluble in polar solvents such as water or alcohol as the alkaloids in their protonated form (in which the R-NH₂ group becomes an R-NH₃+). this is why increasing the acidity of the solution helps with solubility. The alkaloids react with the acetic acid and become protonated and the polar solvent stabilizes the charges on the protonated alkaloids. The alkaloidal salts that form exist as dissociated anions and cations in solution and would only become associated with each other if you boiled off the solution. This would leave a crystalline residue consisting of the charged alkaloids and their counter-ions. In the case of acetic acid, the counter ion is acetate (CH₃ COO-) so the alkaloid salts that would form would be R-NH₃ + COO-. Here the alkaloid is the cation and the acetate is the anion.]" (Cech p.53) March 5, 2014 at 5:20am PT

Charles Garcia As for the tooth enamel issue: I've used vinegar for different problem for decades. When I do a quick brush with cold water on my teeth. No problems. March 5, 2014 at 8:38am PT

let's have some wine!

Herbal Wines

(Read Herbal Vinegars too!)

OK, so much for vinegars.

The wine section will be comparatively shorter. The use of herbal wines specifically for healing has been lost in California. The only wine I have used (and continue to use for sentimental reasons) is a lemon verbena wine.

Lemon Verbena Wine

Lemon Verbena is a New World tropical plant with leaves that smell STRONGLY of lemon. In itself an excellent beverage, lemon verbena was used traditionally in parts of California for summer fevers. (It's only been in the last year that a bacteria, common in the soil of the Central Valley, was identified as the culprit for summer fevers.) Summer fevers afflicted most of us youngsters in our pre-teen years. As polio was believed to strike in the summer time (pre-Salk vaccine days), many a parent dreaded summer fever as a precursor to full-blown polio.

A chilled lemon verbena wine would break the fever in a day or so. It was (and is) made by adding fresh lemon verbena leaves to a sweet white and left to chill for a week. A stronger variation was made by adding Lemon Balm leaves (Melissa Officinalis). It was a very popular cure. Many of us suffered from summer fever five to six times a week before our parents caught on. I do believe many a potential wino started with lemon verbena wine.

March 1, 2014 at 12:23pm PT

herbs to cultivate

A Selection of Homestead Herbs for Herbal Care

Charles Garcia A Selection of Homestead Herbs for Herbal Care  fb CSHH

  1. Rosemary: Not only an excellent culinary herb and preservative, but also anti-viral, anti-microbial, anti-fungal to a small degree, and a mild analgesic.
  2. Sage: A complimentary herb with Rosemary: Also anti-viral, anti-bacterial, a specific for bronchial ailments.
  3. Wild Ginger: A specific for severe bronchial ailments, fevers, and menopausal issues.
  4. California Poppy: Traditionally an analgesic and sedative for insomnia and night terrors. Very popular with California natives.
  5. Usnea: A lichen found on oak, redwoods, bay, and other trees throughout the word, but found in heavy amounts in the northwest. Often mistaken for Spanish Moss, a plant not found west of Texas. Usnea is nature’s penicillin and is a specific for wounds, bladder infections, and pneumonia. Not often seen on homesteads…but if you find it nearby your homestead feel grateful.
  6. Blackberry: The leaves and roots are a specific for dysentery and common diarrhea. When out of season the leaves can be kept in vinegar.
  7. Apples: Apple was a primary food for settlers in the new nation of the United States. As a medicine it was turned into hard cider and ACV.
  8. Lavender: Used since time in memorial lavender is a calmative for stomach and nerves. Can be used as a tea, a vinegar, and as a wash for minor skin wounds.
  9. Spearmint: Primarily used as tea for everything from a stomach ache to a serious fever. The wash of tea water is soothing for children getting over chicken pox or measles.
  10. Lemon Balm: A member of the mint family used for depression and as an anti-viral. Lemon Balm wine was considered a post dinner stomach sedative.
  11. Marigolds: Often made into salves for light burns, cracked dry skin, post partum perineum care, and minor cuts.
  12. Chamomile: Underused by most modern herbalist, the humble chamomile is a powerful anti-inflammatory, safe sedative for men, women, children and the elderly, a safe post partum douche, a cooling skin wash when combined with mint, and will break down uric acid crystals in cases of kidney stones and gout.
  13. Roses: Rose hips have more Vitamin C than the average orange. And while oranges will rot, rosehips will not. The roses petals make a powerful anti-headache remedy when preserved in ACV.
  14. Cilantro: Not just for tacos anymore. Cilantro was used as a treatment for “the painter’s disease” (It sounds better in Spanish.) long before Japanese medical research determined it to be far superior to any other drug for chelation therapy.
  15. Orange trees and lime trees: The blossoms of both trees are considered safe sedatives for men, women, children and the elderly to help with sleep or cases of emotional shock. Lemon water was given for cases of heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
  16. Walnut trees: The walnut husk is a powerful antifungal for cases of ringworm (common sixty years ago) and athletes’ foot.
  17. Dandelion: The leaves and root where used to help with urination and liver issues…primarily cirrhosis.
  18. Plantain: A common weed found from Manhattan to Santa Monica in various species. A salve of plantain was used for insect bites, wounds, septicemia, and splinters.
  19. Borage: The Romans had a saying about this plant…”I borage, bring courage.” Perhaps that is overstating it, BUT, it does improve and repair adrenal function when damaged by chemo-radiation treatments. For hundreds of years it was used for melancholia (depression), gout, and lethargy.
  20. Hollyhocks: Besides being a lovely flower, the root makes a soothing gelatinous goop much like true marshmallow. For ulcer pain, acid indigestion, pre-partum stomach upset (vomiting), and other stomach issues this plant was much beloved by Hispanic homesteaders.
  21. Cannabis: What can I say? The plant is a powerful anti-inflammatory and pain killer when rubbed on the skin. It was a specific for sore muscles, rheumatic joints, and sunburn. Because cannabis is not very transdermal it was processed in high grade rubbing alcohol with fresh mint. It gave a cool sensation to the skin slipping deep into the muscles. And for the record I don’t recall anyone getting high.
  22. Poppy (Papaver somniferium): Yep THAT poppy! Contrary to popular belief it is not illegal to grow the poppy for its beauty or its tasty black seeds that find their way into muffins and bagels. It is a federal crime to grow it for its narcotic properties. Healers often made a low grade (or occasionally a high grade) laudanum with this plant. It was unnecessary to capture the sap. Simply make an alcohol based tincture with the ENTIRE plant and let it steep for a month or two. The liquid was used as a painkiller in the days before a morphine drip. For those few of us who still make it, it is given to chronic pain or terminally ill clients.

Monday, May 18, 2015 at 2:45pm PT

Douglas S. Miller Thanks Doc Monday, May 18, 2015 at 2:53pm PT

Karen Roberts Can I share! Mother may I? Monday, May 18, 2015 at 4:48pm PT

Christine Borus I knew this was you posting !!! Monday, May 18, 2015 at 8:11pm PT

Charles Garcia Certainly Karen Roberts. Monday, May 18, 2015 at 9:57pm PT

Linda Martha Thank you Charles! Great list. Tuesday, May 19, 2015 at 4:03am PT

Sun Cat Regarding #15, Orange trees and Lime trees, do you happen to know if pear blossoms or cherry blossoms have a similar use? Thanks for the cool article! Tuesday, May 19, 2015 at 6:07am PT

Karen Roberts Did you know plantain was called "white mans foot" because it was brought to the country by Europeans and was found only after whites came to the area? Tuesday, May 19, 2015 at 8:11am PT

Charles Garcia Yup...In Europe it was called wound wort. Tuesday, May 19, 2015 at 3:41pm PT

Charles Garcia Sun Cat...sorry, I don't know. Can anyone answer that question? Tuesday, May 19, 2015 at 3:42pm PT


Migraines, Meds, and Herbs

Charles Garcia Migraines, Meds, and Herbs  fb CSHH

For a brief instant I thought I had been shot in the head. Was it a robbery? Had I been caught in crossfire of a gang shoot out? Had someone finally gotten angry at the long lines in Albertson’s and opened fire? Why was I still standing?

My vision cleared a bit, but had a slight purple tinge.

The second attack of pain was a little less severe than the first. My hands started to shake.

Thank God, it’s just a migraine. Then my mind cleared a bit more, and I thought, oh my god a migrane.

I rubbed my head above my left eye and moaned. A little old lady in the check out lane behind me asked, “Do you have a headache, young man?”

I smiled. Not many people call me a young man anymore.

Almost everybody has had a headache at one time or another. But not everyone has had a migraine. And I wouldn't wish one on anyone. (Then there is that guy in high school who threw in a trash can.) There are many types of headaches including tension headaches, cluster headaches, and sinus headaches.

But a migraine is different. According to the National Headache Foundation "All migraine headaches are characterized by severe pain, and in many cases, nausea, vomiting, tremor, cold hands, sensitivity to light (photosensitivity) and sound (phonosensitivity)." All migraines are one sided and the pain is throbbing or pulsating in nature. The pain can be moderate to severe and can last an hour or days, weeks and in extreme cases a month. (They obviously left out the one that feels like a lead pipe against the skull or a .357 magnum slug.)

There are different kinds of migraines. These include classic, common, and transformed. The difference between a classic migraine and a common one is that with a classic migraine the migraine you get a warning of some kind prior to the migraine. It may be a visual disturbance, a ringing in the ears or even just a feeling. This is called an aura. Other times the migraine can come on like a freight train, that kind is the common migraine. A transformed migraine is a tension headache that turns into a migraine. I’ve suffered from all three of these kinds at one time or another.

Currently the drug Imitrex is used to treat all these forms of migraines. I carry one or two tablets with me most of the time. Most individuals handle this medication very well. Occasionally some don’t handle it well, specifically those who have high blood pressure, certain heart problems, and those using various antidepressants.

For my clients who cannot or will not use pharmaceuticals I suggest the following three herbs. Feverfew, Wood Betony, and Lavender.


Feverfew has long been used as a migraine herb. St. Hildegarde of Bingen (1098-1179), mystic, herbalist, composer, and migraine sufferer was well versed on the use of feverfew. A few stained glass images of the good saint show her holding an unnamed plant. With a little imagination it looks like feverfew to me.

The traditional use of the plant was to eat one of the bitter leaves each day. This caused occasional mouth sores and is no longer recommended. A tea of the fresh leaves is a little more palatible, but not by much. The Spanish padres of the west often grew feverfew in medicinal gardens of the missions. Whether it was used as a migraine remedy is unknown. It was used for the reduction of fevers though.

Two double-blind studies of the plant done in Holland and the U.K. has shown that a feverfew extract of specific chemicals in the plant DID NOT WORK. But use of the fresh plant, either orally, in a tea, or an alcohol tincture made from the fresh plant DID WORK for many migraine sufferers. Despite our botanical knowledge, the actual migraine fighting constituents are still unknown.

Wood Betony

Wood Betony is often combined with Feverfew. The drug is largely concentrated in the leaves, though the root is regarded as specific for the liver with a gentle laxative action. Betony’s real value is as a remedy for headaches and facial pain. The plant is also mildly sedative, relieving nervous stress and tension. When stricken with a migraine there is no doubt that the stress and tension level goes through the roof.

In herbal medicine, betony is used to improve nervous function and to counter over activity. It is taken to treat “frayed nerves,” premenstrual complaints, poor memory, and tension. Traditional Hispanic herbalists have recommended a daily cup of warm leche (milk) with a teaspoon of Wood Betony leaves as a remedy for chronic headaches. The plant has astringent properties and in combination with other herbs such as mullein (gordo lobo) and linden flowers (tilia), it is effective against sinus headaches and congestion. 


The third herb often used against migraines is lavender. Written records of the use of lavender for medicinal purposes date back as far as 60 C.E. in the writings of Dioscorides (the Doctor Dean Edell of his era). At one time lavender was virtually essential to the ancient home medicine cabinet. It was used to relieve, among other things; headaches, fainting, hysteria, stress, insomnia, muscle aches, bug bites, rashes, colds, chest infections, rheumatism and flatulence. 

Many of the purported medicinal uses for lavender have, upon modern scientific testing, proven to be legitimate. Lavender oil does have antibiotic activity effectively killing many common bacteria. Lavender oil was used extensively during world Wars I and II on the battle field and whenever medical supplies became scarce to prevent infection and as a pain reliever.

The sedative effects of lavender are well documented in medical tests demonstrating its effectiveness in reducing caffeine induced hyperactivity, and increasing length of sleep by ingestion or inhalation. The use of caffeine is one culprit in causing the occasional migraine headache, so use of lavender before or after an attack can lessen or completely alleviate the pain.

It is possible to find herbal tinctures for headaches at health food stores, botanicas, and some drug stores. Most will list feverfew as the main ingredient, but this is slightly misleading. While feverfew might be the lead ingredient with more than 34 percent of volume, the other ingredients listed are often Wood Betony and Lavender. This is a winning combination.

I’ve used this, and still occasionally do so, though I make my own tincture. Some of my migraines are triggered by monosodium glutamate or MSG, commonly used in restaurants as a flavoring agent. When going to a restaurant I have dosed myself with sixty drops or more, just in case.

When stricken by a migraine I will immediately take up to 120 drops if my Imitrex is unavaiable and my herbal first aid kit is. 

So the fight agains migraines continue on all fronts.

Until a cure is found, I will use my medications, as well as my herbs.

Addendum: Since the time I originally wrote this my migraines have gotten less but more devastating. Some have been diagnosed as T.I.A.s (mini-strokes) (which explains a lot). Rx meds no longer work but my herbs and a Rx for oxygen has. It is a little difficult to drag a tank of O2 around the Safeway though. Sunday, June 28, 2015 at 7:31pm PT

Juniper Adelyn Waller Great post, thanks Chuck! One question - are you talking about Stachys betony or pedicularis?. Sunday, June 28, 2015 at 10:18pm PT

Charles Garcia Pedicularis. Sunday, June 28, 2015 at 11:07pm PT

Avonda Monotropa Thanks for the post. I have had migraines my whole life, but usually not more than once or twice per year. I had surgery three months ago and since then. I have had a migraine about every ten days. Not sure what is up with that but so grateful that I am one of the people that feverfew works extremely well for. Thanks for the additional suggestions Monday, June 29, 2015 at 3:06am PT

before Hall's & Luden's

The Noble History of the Humble Cough Drop

Charles Garcia The Noble History of the Humble Cough Drop  fb CSHH

I’m having my traditional summer cold as I write this. Much to my surprise it has come late in the season. Much to my pleasure it has not turned into bronchitis or pneumonia… yet. My doctor had warned me that another bout of pneumonia could possibly be my last. I was prescribed antibiotics (which I haven't used) and an expectorant cough syrup that I drink from the bottle like some wino on 23rd Street. Along with that I self prescribed myself echinacea, elderberry syrup and golden seal to stimulate my already battered immune system.

Not everything went according to plan. The cough expectorant aggravated my cough to the degree that my ribs ached with every breath I took. Sleep was only possible when exhaustion set in. And finally, the expectorant was barely bringing up any phlegm out of my lungs. It was time to hit the big gun of herbal medicine.

Last year I was able to make a tincture of Wild Ginger root out of my own garden. It is a slow growing plant and tends to enjoy more shade and moisture than is available here in Richmond. Regardless, I had enough for several ounces. Despite the five years it took to grow the plant it certainly saved a trip to the central coast of California foraging for it.

The tincture was made extra strong using that fine Mexican alcohol, Cana de Azucar. Most herbalists tend to avoid using 192 proof alcohol, considering it unnecessary. I on the other hand consider many of my colleagues sissies. If you are going to make medicine…make it strong.

In this case I had to take my own medicine…literally. I took sixty drops of the tincture and let it slide down the back of my throat. Battery acid would have tasted smoother. I quickly washed it down with a several cups of water. Within twenty minutes I felt a spasm of coughing strike my chest. Unlike the previous weeks, the coughs were not dry. I began bringing up viscous phlegm. Every cough expelled more and more phlegm.

Over the next week I took Wild Ginger several times a day. My coughs became less violent and more productive. I hope to get thru the 4th of July without much of a problem.

Unfortunately this cold has left me with a spasmodic cough which strikes when I shock my system with something cold or something salty. There is no more phlegm to bring up, so the cough is unproductive. This spasmodic cough is a remnant of years of bronchitis and several bouts of pneumonia. The damage to my lungs will always be with me. Thank God I don’t smoke. (Well I mean tobacco. On occasion I have indulged…oh who am I kidding…a little cannabis in a bong never hurt anybody.)

In the past this type of cough has lasted as long as five months. My brother suffered from a similar cough that lasted almost twenty years. I’ve been prescribed inhalers to eventually ease the spasms in my chest, and I do use them. But occasionally, I don’t want the taste of inhalant in my mouth, so I turn to the simple and humble cough drop.

The cough drop is actually an ancient medication, first devised in Egypt in around 1000 B.C. Lacking sugar, which would not arrive in the region for many centuries, the Egyptian apothecaries used honey. To form these semi-hard candies, herbs, spices, and citrus fruits were carefully powdered and mixed into the honey. Sucking these candies relieved coughs by moistening a dry throat. It should be noted that an apothecary who failed the Pharaoh often ended up headless. So the cough drops had to be JUST RIGHT. Having made these lozenges myself, I am impressed by our ancient ancestors. It is difficult at best to find the right consistency for a good cough drop using honey.

The cough drop as we know it was first marketed by a Scottish immigrant, James Smith. Smith was a gifted carpenter by trade, but was a far better candy maker. In 1847 Smith moved the family to Poughkeepsie, New York where he opened a restaurant. One a day a customer in need of money offered James Smith the formula for an effective cough remedy. Smith gave the man five dollars (a considerable sum in those days) and promptly whipped up a batch of hard black candy. It was a particular hard winter that year, so Smith’s “cough candy” was field tested by family and friends. Smith made six pounds that year. It was perfect. (Does it strike anyone as odd that a mysterious stranger just happened to show up with a magic recipe for candy? Sounds like a Roald Dahl novel.)

His sons, Andrew and William, eventually took over the candy making enterprise and named the business, Smith Brothers. In 1866, realizing they needed a distinctive trade mark, decided to use their own hirsute faces on large candy bowls kept on drugstore counters. A few years later they designed a box to hold 12 lozenges. On the box was their now familiar unsmiling faces.

The actual recipe for the famous Smith Brothers Cough Drops has been a closely held secret for over a century. But I would hazard a guess that it included licorice root, sassafras, and horehound. Of course it included lots of sugar. Horehound, an incredibly bitter tasting plant, has traditionally been used by English herbalists for bronchial problems. In small doses with lots of sugar it is a popular candy flavor in Great Britain. The licorice and sassafras are Native American herbs, used for a host of problems, including coughs, fevers, and female complaints. In combination it is possible that these herbs work like a non-narcotic sedative. They ease the chest muscles, moisten the throat, and cut down unproductive coughs.

At the same time the Brothers Smith were becoming the Bill Gates of cough medicine, a Pennsylvania candy maker came up with his own brand of drops. In 1872 George Luden introduced an amber colored menthol flavored drop and the novelty of using wax paper to line his boxes. This kept his candies fresher and tastier. Shortly thereafter he introduced a wild cherry flavored cough drop. The bark of the wild cherry tree works much like horehound to ease coughing, and is far easier to swallow. Many folks considered his candies an improvement on the traditional black licorice of the Smiths. (I'm one!) Luden was an early proponent of quality control. His candies remained fresh and effective through every batch. They were perfect.

Still, the Brothers Smith kept a strong grip on the market and by 1888 were making 60 tons of cough drops a year. Well into the 20th century, Luden and Smith were the only real choices a coughing American had.

The Smiths and Ludens were not the only cough drop makers in the late 19th century. British Horehound drops were popular amongst expats and the venerable Jakeman's of Boston England (still being made by the way) nipped at heels of the giants for decades. It is possible they invented the lemon flavored cough drop. The controversy still rages.

As a child growing up in the small central valley town of Riverbank California, I thought that cough drops only came in three flavors…licorice, menthol and cherry. During the cold season most of us children at Cardoza Elementary School smelled like menthol cough drops and Vicks-Vapo-Rub. The aroma in our third grade class room was overwhelming. To this day, I hate the smell of menthol cough drops. But in the early eighties a new array of flavors hit the pharmacy counter. Honey and lemon, lemon and mint, fruit flavors with vitamin C, as well as extra-strength wild cherry, became available.

My mother, Martha Navarro Garcia made pastilles, a honey based candy for sore throats which could in a pinch act as a cough drop. The exact recipe passed with her, but from memory I've had my students recreate it. It involves honey, powdered cinnamon, lemon juice (if possible from fresh lemons in winter time), powdered rosemary, powdered lavendar, powdered wild cherry bark and honey sugar as a coating. They mixture is rolled into small balls and coated with sugar honey to keep it from sticking. I suggest oiling your hands if you try making this. The amount of herbs are up the maker but I suggest going easy on the lavander.

On my night stand, I keep several honey and lemon drops to ease my nightly coughing jags. But there is also one pastille wraped in wax paper…just in case. I keep it to remember that cough drops were originally made for ancient royalty, the poor, and mysterious strangers.

So next time you pop a cough drop in your mouth, consider its long and honorable history. And each one had to be perfect. Wednesday, June 24, 2015 at 7:31pm PT

Perrye Taylor Great post! I have similar cough drop memories. Wednesday, June 24, 2015 at 8:48pm PT

Karen Roberts You are simply awesome! Great read. Send me some ginger cough prep! Oh, I am on the central coast. Can I scavenge for you? Thursday, June 24, 2015 at 12:24am PT

Charles Garcia Are the crab in season?? Thursday, June 24, 2015 at 2:08am PT


The Curandero and Magick

Charles R. Garcia, Director  fb CSHH

I always have mixed emotions about this topic, as I feel I am giving you all a short shift on this topic. It is very vast, and takes in topic former is s that takes years to cover.

Before starting the lecture I'd like to recommend two books that are not herbals. For those of you interesting in Hispanic folklore please find copies of, Witchcraft in the Southwest, Spanish and Indian supernaturalism on the Rio Grande, by Marc Simmons and Mexican-American Folklore by John O. West. The

a more scholarly work but highly readable. The latter is an enjoyable collection of legends, songs, cultural mores, folk cures and more. I've used both these books to research the background of some of my own family and cultural history.

This class usually begins with me asking my students what the difference between belief and superstition is. I get some interesting answers. Most of the answers miss the point. I then say, "Belief is something I have. Superstition is what you have." At that point they understand. It is all a point of perception and cultural interpretation. Ethnologists of the last century as well as those late into this century have used the term superstition in a negative or pejorative sense. Beliefs of all native people were lumped into the categories of superstitions. Superstitions have no value, have no religious moral degree, have no basis in orthodox thought etc. Thankfully, the term superstition is slowly falling by the way side. We all have beliefs. Some beliefs can be understood by outsiders.

Some cannot. So be it.

At this point in my lecture, I ask my students this...I do not expect you to believe in the supernatural. I ask you to believe that I believe in it. So those are the only ground rules for this If you want to take a more in-depth class let me know.

Let me start with a ghost story (and I hope it chills your blood a bit,hehehe.)

Throughout Latin American countries and communities various beliefs are common. The voice of La Llorona, The Crying Woman, is heard from California to the Philippines. The origin of the story is lost in history, but she is supposedly a beautiful Indian woman who became Hernando Cortez mistress and translator. Originally she was called La Malinche. Today this is one of the worst names you can call a woman (or man for that matter) for it goes beyond political treason.

A "Malinche or malincho" is a treasonous whore. In short a traitor against an entire race of people.

In California it is an insult seldom used. Guns and knives often appear when the word is used.

La Malinche became La Llorona when Cortez eventually spurned her. In a fit of rage she murdered the children she had borne by him. When her senses returned she ran screaming and wailing into the night. Forever she weeps for her murdered children. Scary stuff. In historic truth this never happened. Cortez had her married off to one of his lieutenants and she lived to an old age in relative luxury. And yet the legend survived.

In the Central Valley of California, the late winter and early spring is very foggy. We call it Tule fog. While walking from church along the railroad tracks, we children would often hear an unearthly scream coming out of the fog. That would always make us break into a run for home.

What was it? You guessed it! La Llorona...or so our parents told us.... with the warning, "Be good children or the Llorona will get you!" I guess she was the Hispanic version the Boogey Man.

Some years ago while my mother was visiting, I asked if she remembered La Llorona. She did and volunteered this information. What we children had heard was the wailing of an old woman that lived near the tracks for many years. A train had killed her eldest and favorite son during one of the thick tule fogs that plague the valley. Her mind had eventually gone after her surviving children married and left. The community brought her food, a little money and flowers for the rest of her life. The story made me feel better for some reason. I then asked why I had never heard of her.

Mom said, "Oh hijo, she died before you were born. That was her spirit." A chill ran down my spine!

So how would a curandero protect a client from Llorona? Well in most cases one would not, as the spirit is not necessarily a malevolent one. But in California, to protect a child from fear, a small cross of rosemary or de-thorned blackberry branches would be made. A small blue stone or sliver of blue stone would be wrapped in a sage leaf and tied to the cross bar. Variations of this are:

a pinch of corn flour wrapped in sage, sea salt, a drop of menstrual blood from a virgin wrapped in sage, or the hair of a new born baby (again) wrapped in sage. You might ask me why sage? In five years of researching this custom, I have no clues. The closest I have come is the ancient word for sage which translates to Savior. Salvator. Also it is an ancient healing herb respected by the Greeks and later the Romans.

Some years ago I was patrolling the Richmond docks with another Hispanic law enforcement officer named Gus Fernandez. (Did you all know I was a police officer of and on for several years?) It was well after midnight and we were taking a well-earned coffee break. From a nearby hill we heard a blood-curdling wail. Automatically our hands felt for our revolvers. "La Llorona!" we both said. Now the closest Gus ever came to the valley was picking avocados out of the supermarket. We went on a shaky patrol of the area where the scream had come from. We did not need coffee that night to stay awake. Of course we saw and found nothing. But we shared our own versions of La Llorona. Yep, her legend is found even in the back alleys of Oakland and the docks of Richmond. The following evening Gus had a small cross of rosemary mashed in his uniform pocket. I had dipped my bullets in holy water.

Flying demons, or gente de chusma, who sail the night winds, are another common belief in Hispanic culture. It is possible this belief came from a combination of sources. Many native people believe the owl to be a harbinger of bad news or bad luck. The Spanish settlers believed in witches who took the forms of owls. Curiously the natives also had a similar belief. Combine these two and fear of owls and the night became strong in Hispanic folklore. My mother continually closed the window blinds in my home for fear of something bad looking in…or flying by. And whose to say she was wrong.

La Noche (night dew) was considered very bad. Could these fears have come from the belief that malaria (Latin for bad air) was spread by moisture and night breezes? It would make sense.

So what would any well respecting healer do against these problems? First close the window shades. Second, sprinkle crushed mustard seed or mustard powder on the windowsill.

Third, burn lemon peelings in the home. (Interestingly enough, these were the same methods used to repel mosquitoes in wet years in the Central Valley.) Fourth, wear a small amulet of garlic around your neck. (Sound familiar?) Not only did these methods keep flying demons away; they also kept away malarial mosquitoes. As a child, I remember the encephalitis epidemic of the late 1950's.

Mosquitoes spread this potentially deadly disease. The Anglo families tended to wait for the Mosquito Abatement district to solve the problems. The Hispanic families used our old tried and true methods against the gente de chusma. There was only one case of a Hispanic child in my hometown with encephalitis. Unfortunately there were numerous cases of Anglo children with it.

The concept of brujeria, (witchcraft) is rooted deeply in Hispanic cultures. But in the California and the Southwest, it is markedly different from our East Coast cousins. In California and the Southwest, the natives did not have a concept of a supreme good or supreme evil. As in people, there is good and bad, there is madness, there is illness, there are even concepts of restitution and redemption. In California, the shaman or medicine men walked a delicate balance between doing good and doing bad. The beliefs in some tribes were you couldn't have one without the other. A shaman who did "bad magic" usually turned it onto the village ne'er do wells, a bully, recalcitrant children, or people the tribe could no longer care for. In short, the shaman did bad things for the good of the tribe. The good mission padres of California never understood that fine point of logic. Eventually, the concept of black (bad) magic and white magic (prayer, herbalism, healing) ingrained itself into the native psyche. (It should be noted though, that a shaman who overplayed hand, did one too many "bad" things could be sentenced to death by the village.)

But native brujeria (witchcraft) never embraced a concept of the Devil, Satan, or a Lord of Evil to any great degree in California. In the Southwest this is more common. California brujos and brujas perform evil acts because they like it. There was no reason attached to their attacks on the innocent. Think of them as having a Serial Killer's mentality (although few ever committed

Still, one must eat. And a good way of getting money without working is extortion. Brujos and brujas often hexed (mal puesto) their neighbors, with the offer to take the hex off for a price.

Migraines were a common but effective curse. The brujo would place chili pepper seeds into a small squash gourd or pumpkin, shake it vigorously while chanting the victim's name and send an image of the victims brain pulsing with pain, across town into the poor wretch's mind.

Within a few days the victim would come to the brujo, mention the Terrible ache in his head, and ask if there was anything the brujo could do. The brujo would smile and say something like, "You've come to the right place!" sounding much like a used car salesman. All this is done with great deal of courtesy. A price for the healing is decided on, and if the victim is smart there is not a lot of haggling. The brujo tells the victim, "Go home and I will send a healing spell your way."

By the time the victim gets home, he's feeling a hell of a lot better. The squash and chili seeds are thrown into running water and the brujo sits back with a cool $20 bill and a cooler of cerveza. (beer)

Now if there happens to be a curandero in town, the end of this story is a bit different. The victim will go to the curandero and ask for help. No mention of payment is made. The curandero will take espigas de maiz (flower spikes of corn), burn it with a match, mix the ashes into water and have the victim drink it. Within a few minutes the migraine will be gone, the victim will slap the curandero on the back, shake his hand, and be on his way. The curandero is out one match and some perfectly good corn flower spikes, more usually used for urinary problems. (Don't expect to get rich as a curandero my friends.)

This scenario and several like it were played out in my neighborhood over a decade ago. An entire family of brujos/brujas moved in from northern Mexico. This was before I went "public" as an herbalist, though several families knew what I did. Within a short time I had numerous cases of headaches, stomachaches, colic, and mental stress, which could not be attributed to organic or environmental sources. Eventually the term brujo was mentioned. I located the family home and felt a distinct uneasiness about it. Having a background in police surveillance techniques, I kept the house under watch for several nights. I was fortunate to look through their garbage one evening. I found a lot of cornhusks, cornhusk dolls, split chili peppers without seeds, and far too many chicken heads. For two years I de-hexed the neighborhood, much to the frustration of the brujos and brujas of 27th Street. When a pregnant woman complained of a coldness in her womb, I performed a barrida, a ritual sweeping of the body.

I also had her drink raspberry leaf tea to help tone her uterus. She gone to her physician who suggested she just had pre-birth jitters. He was right in a sense. She recovered and had a healthy baby girl. When a truck driver complained of blurred vision, and medical tests found nothing to account for it, I used rose water (made with holy water) to wash his eyes. He now has better eyesight than I do.

When a young woman complained of pain in her breasts (and medical tests found nothing), I had her sleep with a poultice of corn flour, chili pepper, and salt on her breasts. The pain went away after one night. (She also said I increased the sexual sensitivity of her nipples. I think I turned bright red.) When an elderly couple complained of nightly noises in their home, I swept the house out with sea salt. No more noises.

A couple brought their teenage son and daughter to me. I knew both kids slightly and liked them. They were suffering from horrific nightmares. Their school grades were suffering as well as their health. I had to go to my mother for advice on this one. She taught me how to make dream-catchers using rosemary and manzanita (Arctostaphylos uva ursi). I told the kids to keep the dream catcher by their beds. You guessed it. The dreams stopped.

On the next full moon I had the kids burn the dream catchers. Supposedly this would return the bad dreams to those who sent them. I took up my surveillance point the following morning. Our neighborhood witches did not look too good. I suppose I shouldn't have taken pleasure in it...but I laughed my ass off.

Eventually they brujos found out who was taking money out of their pockets. I became very ill for many months, eventually giving my wife a small emerald engagement ring (I couldn't afford one 20 years before) and writing my will on the same day. One winter day I dragged myself out of bed and into the backyard. Our all black cat, Cinders,(recently killed by a pit bull) was digging at something under my bedroom window. I found a clay doll (made of Sculpy!) with features very much like my own. Pressed into the back of the doll was a black kernel of corn. Inside the doll was a piece of one of my finger-sticks, a chemical stick I use to check my sugar levels. Of course it had my blood on it.

I disposed of the doll in running water. Unfortunately, by this time my health was so bad, I felt no physical relief. It took a weeklong healing circle performed by my students to help me on the road to recovery. (Do you wonder why I love these young people so much?) I would like to say I returned to the peak of health, but that’s not true. I was never the same. But I am alive.

So it goes to this day. The witchcraft attacks on the neighborhood have stopped. My health is still poor but improving and the brujos had to find honest employment.

The question is usually asked at this point, how do you know which Ailment is natural and which is caused by other sources. This is not as hard as it seems, especially if you were born into a culture like mine.

First, there are individuals who are willing to believe that every ailment or period of bad luck or personal disappointment is caused by sorcery. If they believe that ALL their problems are caused by magick, it probably isn't. If after several sessions of discussion, there is absolutely no reason, either organic or psychological for health, personal, or emotional troubles...then and only then should you consider witchcraft to be a possibility. Some thought should be given to the investigation of co-workers, friends, ex-lovers, and family...and that includes children. If I believe I am dealing with a case of magick, I do not believe in privacy. I will go through letters, diaries, email, anything that might confirm my suspicions. Yes, I have found that co-workers, friends, ex-lovers, family, and children may dabble in the darker aspects of magick. Some do it innocently, others who have a taste for it, actually get a kick out of causing problems to those they know well.

Once I ascertain that a case has a magick background, I must consult with my client as to what he or she might want done. This can be as easy as making a dream catcher, to the danger of an exorcism of a home. We all have a sense that magick might make our lives easier. It does not. It is a power that tempts us to do good without enough information concerning its after-effects. Some of my students ask me if I am tempted to use magick. I hope you won't think less of me...but the answer is no. My training and upbringing has purged that out of me. I have a healthy fear of magick.

I guess on that note, I'll close :) June 5, 2013 at 7:22pm

Inspi Peeks I love this! Who were you thinking of in the introduction - was this to everyone, or a specific group... ? June 5, 2013 at 11:29pm

Charles Garcia Everyone.

Tipipaul Bisgaard Very interesting doc! Would there be more than one "voodoo doll" (to use a generalization) of you in an attack on you? Should you be inspecting the property for other buried items? Is there a distance factor that makes things more or less intense and are there any plants that those who practice bad magick avoid? Sorta like the garlic vampire thing. Many thoughts and questions arise. June 6, 2013 at 1:49am via mobile

Inspi Peeks Tipipaul Bisgaard Way to pulverize that thinking 'box', and vaporize the bits! I want you on my side any time I have to figure things out! The reminder to 'look for more', and plants that repel the bad (roses, Chuck?) So, Tipipaul, do you get a LOT of practice thinking like a 'bad guy'...? (nudge-nudge) June 6, 2013 at 7:48am

Tipipaul Bisgaard Just years of experience that makes one think several steps ahead sorta like playing chess or go mu ko. Knowing ones opponents possible moves can give you the edge needed to win the match. And in real life that can keep you out of trouble before its too late to avoid confrontation. June 6, 2013 at 9:12am via mobile

Charles Garcia doll provides the focus. All the malevolence is centered on that one item. Two or more might lessen the effect. Good question Tipipaul Bisgaard! June 7, 2013 at 3:19am

Inspi Peeks unless you've pissed off more than one witch, eh?   June 7, 2013 at 9:48am

from "Herbs In Our Lives", a column for the Zapata Weekly Times 'many years ago'


Charles R. Garcia, Director  fb CSHH

This column was originally published in the Zapata County News many years ago. I'm posting here out of nostalgia but the information is still good. Enjoy.

Herbs In Our Lives
By Charles Garcia

Honey. Not just for rolls.

Today we made a trip to my Mom’s place. We came for some of her beans, rice and tortillas, and to do a bit of harvesting. The pomegranates, quince, and almonds were ready to pick. In truth, Mom had picked most of the almonds already. Not bad for an 82 year old woman living on her own.

When I was a boy my Dad sold walnuts and almonds gathered from our trees and other properties around the county. Each nut was cracked, cleaned and sorted by hand. The husks and hulls were burned in our old Wedgewood stove and it kept the house surprisingly warm during those cold, foggy winter months in the Central Valley of California. Nut meats were separated by color and quality into five-gallon metal bins. We then drove two hours to the San Francisco bay area and sold them to health food stores and bakeries. Those darn nuts kept us fed throughout the winter and early spring. Later in the year, Dad would work in the cannery, contract for field laborers, and sell honey. He sold sage, wildflower, clover and occasionally eucalyptus honey. I don’t remember him selling almond blossom honey, as it has a sharp somewhat bitter taste. In my memory, no one could give it away. Imagine my surprise recently when I saw almond blossom honey being touted as a health food and at top dollar at that.

Like the walnuts and almonds, his customers knew the honey we sold was of the highest quality.

If anyone has carried on my Dad’s tradition of selling first rate honey, it is Rocky Palomino, my favorite vendor at the El Cerrito farmers market. As mentioned previously in this column, he, his wife and children have adopted my Mom and makes sure she’s okay. Honey is always a steady seller at any market, but Rocky’s is just a bit better than most others. He may not know it, but he’s carrying on a tradition that is thousands of years old. Honey sellers and harvesters (usually one and the same) have been important to the health of their communities since before Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt.

The Bible mentions honey 56 times and honeycomb 9 times. (To my colleague the Rev. Rogers, I site a few references. Genesis 43:11, Exodus 3:5, 3:8, 3:17, Mark 1:6. The rest you can find yourself.)

Images of honeybees and harvesters have been found carved in pyramids and in tombs dated back over three thousand years. Egyptians used it in preserving mummies. Similar images have been found in ancient Babylon, but it was used as a food. The Greeks recognized its ability to preserve food and prevent decay. Along with salt, honey was used to pay the legions of Imperial Rome. The Aztecs considered the bee and honeycomb as food from the gods. Both were consumed raw. How they avoided the stingers is not known, but being a sophisticated people I must believe they figured it out. Various American tribes considered honey hunting on the same level as going after buffalo. It took a brave brave to pull it off. It should be noted that in some tribes it was considered woman’s work. I have my own politically incorrect theories about that.

Honey is several times sweeter than sugar, 25 to 40 percent depending on specific blossom nectars. Obviously it has a higher calorie content. Honey has 22 calories per teaspoon to sugars 16. 

Honey as a healer has a long and distinguished history. I like to imagine cavemen first using it for sore throats. When they ate it with herbs or citrus fruits it became more effective. In more recent times I am certain many of my readers were dosed with honey and lemon juice by their grandmothers. Some of our grandparents added a shot of whiskey to it. (I have a vague memory of being very sick as a child and being forced to drink a cup of hot milk, honey and whiskey by my aunt Lena. I thought she was trying to poison me. I have since forgiven her. But I cannot drink whiskey to this day.)

For skin rashes, abrasions and burns, a small amount of raw honey was spread over the affected area. Occasionally a light dusting of cornstarch was used first to reduce stickiness. This prevented infection and reduced pain especially in burns. 

Our grandmothers, to keep their skins smooth for grandpa, used oatmeal and honey as a wash and moisturizer. Oatmeal and honey soap is still sold in specialty shops throughout the United States. It is effective for acne caused by cosmetics and exposure to dust and grit. 

It was reported that United States Army Special Forces (Green Berets) medics observed Vietnamese mountain tribesmen use honey on severe wounds. Raw honey, which has antiseptic, antibiotic, and antibacterial properties, was spread onto wounds and covered with a dressing or lacking that, a large leaf. Healing time was comparable to anything seen in a modern hospital. Amazingly, the lack of infection was better than anything seen in a hospital.

Medical experiments at a teaching hospital in London in the 1980’s verified these observations. Honey was spread on post-operative wounds and allowed to crystallize. No dressings were placed over the honey. There were no cases of infection. Other wounds were covered with standard hospital dressings.

The infection rate varied from 10 to 28 percent. Normal by most hospital standards.

A study by R. Bloomfield published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reports: “Applied every 2 or 3 days under a dry dressing, honey promotes healing of ulcers and burns better than any other local application. It can also be applied to other surface wounds, including cuts and abrasions…”

I use honey primarily as a base for syrups. Honey should never be boiled, as it will lose much of its nutrient and medicinal properties. To make syrups honey can be simmered in a double boiler with various herbs. If you want a thinner syrup you can add sugar water. But doing this will add moisture to the syrup, and eventually it will mold. To avoid this, keep your syrups in the fridge. Syrups made strictly from raw honey and dried herbs can be kept indefinitely without refrigeration.

My favorite honey syrups are the simplest. For sore throats with cough and fevers, I simmer several crushed garlic slices in honey. If I want a slight numbing effect for the throat I can add whole cloves or several drops of clove oil. A tastier if less effective syrup is made with eucalyptus honey and fennel seeds. The crushed seeds make a very gentle cough syrup. I would use this syrup with children.

At this point a warning is in order. Honey should never be given to babies one year old or younger. Being somewhat more conservative than my medical colleagues, I would hesitate giving it to a child under three. Honey can contain a spore called Clostridium botulinum. This bacterium causes a type of botulism toxin. Though rare it can cause fatal cases of botulism poisoning in infants. In the 1980’s a number of infant deaths were caused by honey.

According to research and reports from the Mayo Clinic, it is believed that infants do not produce enough stomach acid to kill the spores. Children over age one and adults can effectively and safely deal with the spores. It is my belief that children who are on severely restricted diets due to allergies, vegan lifestyles, or religious reasons should refrain from eating honey until a medical specialist is consulted.

So the next time you put honey on your biscuits, think about the history of this important food. Our grandparents knew it was more than just a sweetener. And our ancestors knew it was a gift from the Creator.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015 at 11:08am

dickens faire

Herbs Past and Present

Charles Dickens, Queen Victoria and Handicapped Parking

Charles R. Garcia, Director  fb CSHH

This year, the weekend before Thanksgiving Day began the annual Charles Dickens’ Christmas Faire season here in the San Francisco bay area. A corollary to the Renaissance Faire activities, this faire recreates Victorian London during the holiday season, using the novels and characters of Dickens as a template. Over the 30-some years I’ve lived in the bay area the Faire has migrated from various locales to its current home at the Cow Palace.

In years not-so-long past, my daughter Sarah would have been attending classes for diction and traditional carols. This was also an excuse to gather for potlucks, good wine and other activities I may not want to know my daughter was involved in. Her older sister Jennifer would have staged managed several of the shows at the Victoria-Albert Theatre.

Be that as it may, over the years I’ve decided to join into the festivities in full costume. I have attended as a gentleman from San Francisco visiting his daughter over the holidays, Doctor Ernest Navarro at your service. Occasionally I've been a middle-class English gentleman, while last year I was a United States Marshall attached the U.S. Embassy to oversee the protection of President Abraham Lincoln! This allows me to attend without attempting a faux British accent. My wife attends as a liberated woman of the day, in trousers and a bright red riding hat. This is somewhat scandalous to the well-bred Victorians.

During the run of faire you may well run into Scrooge, Tiny Tim, Bob Cratchit, the three Spirits of Christmas, and numerous explorers, writers, and celebrities of the time. You may even catch a glimpse of young Queen Victoria on the arm of Prince Albert. Rumor has it; Henry Morton Stanley might show up from the depths of darkest Africa to share the story of his meeting with Dr. Livingston I presume.

While the costumes and accents might be perfect I’ve noticed that historically these folks seem exceptionally healthy (with the exception of Tiny Tim of course.) The Victorian age in London was a cesspool of tuberculosis, venereal disease, high infant mortality, drug use, alcoholism, and numerous bronchial problems due to wood and coal smoke. Hunger and starvation were also not unheard of.

So if I were suddenly transported back in time, in full costume, how would this modern herbalist deal with such problems?

I make bronchial syrups which are popular amongst the street people of Richmond and many of the actors backstage at the Cow Palace. I’m sure the street denizens of old London would have agreed.

Bronchial Syrups

Two cups of fennel seeds, six sticks of cinnamon, one ounce of grated ginger, a handful of fresh thyme or a handful of fresh prunella (also known as Heal-all). Add to 32 ounces of dark honey and simmer in a double boiler for three to four hours. Stir and avoid boiling over. Filter out the solid material and bottle while still warm.

This is a non-narcotic cough and bronchial syrup. I gave this to my daughter to share with the performers at Dickens Faire. You won’t get sleepy, it eases cough, the honey, thyme or prunella, will act as antibiotics and sooth the throat.

Urinary Tract Treatments

Despite what you might read in old and modern herbals, there are no effective herbal treatments for venereal diseases, not then, not now. There are herbs that may help the urinary tract feel better, such as sarsaparilla, heavy doses of chamomile tea with marigold,


Like old London, Dickens’ Faire has its share of ailments passed around due to close quarters. Add this to thousands of visitors, you may hear a deep throaty cough being passed around from Mad Sal’s Dockside Ale House to Fezziwig’s Warehouse. To avoid pneumonia (a common killer in the Victorian era) heavy doses of garlic, either straight or in honey (popular with many of my Jewish students) can boost the immune system and kill bacterial pneumonia.

Sore Feet

The working girls of the London streets, then as now, put in a lot of hours on their feet. A nice hot foot bath of orange peel and rose petals ease the pain of very narrow shoes with full heels.

Muscle Aches

Proper ladies wore whale-bone corsets to give them that hourglass figure so beloved by our great grandparents. Of course it did nothing for the back, the ribs, or the intestines. Some women even had ribs removed so they could tighten the corset a little more. In the late Victorian age a new product helped with those aches and pains without the side effect of addiction. (Previously opium or laudanum was the main product for pain.) It was a French salve made from wintergreen and its salicylic acid components. Americans know it, as Ben Gay. This year I'll be wearing my male corset under my costume…with the hopes I won't pass out.

Hot Buttered Rum

A common drink for the working man was called Grog. More common in the royal navy, grog was watered-down rum with anything sweet thrown in. Although the origin is in dispute, this may have been the beginnings of the holiday drinks known as Tom and Jerrys, and certainly Hot Buttered Rum. For those who want to make their own Hot Buttered Rum, take three tablespoons soft butter, add two heaping teaspoons brown sugar, a teaspoon of powdered cinnamon, and pinch of powdered ginger and allspice. Mix well. Add a teaspoon to a mug of hot water and a liberal splash of dark rum.

Kidney Ailments

The character of Tiny Tim was based on Dickens’ brother who suffered a limp and died from a kidney ailment. If Tim had a kidney disease (which can cause a limp) the herbal medicines of the time might have saved him. Herbs such as marshmallow root, dandelion leaf and root, uva ursi (also known as Manzanita), and bilberry, plus lots of clean water, would have been used as kidney therapies.

The largest problem with this therapy would have been finding lots of clean water. Water was a public health hazard.

. . .

For those few who still think Victorian times were genteel, religious, and conservative I suggest they study the large number of sex scandals caused by the aristocracy. The day after photography was invented someone created pornography. By the time Victoria had been on the throne for twenty years, pornography pictures had evolved into the eponymous French Postcard. (Which is also a quite amusing stage show at the Dickens’ Faire. Adults only.) While the common folk were warned away from cheap entertainment such as music halls, the rich could and often did have sex shows at their homes and clubs. As long as naked models did not move, it was considered art. Child prostitution was rampant throughout London. For an interesting novel on the topic, I suggest Mr. Timothy by Louis Bayard. While the poor were told not to use strong drink but to relax with tea, the wealthy relaxed with tea, cigars, brandy and opium. Opium was sold along the docks by the pipe full. It was the Victorian equivalent of the crack house minus the poor.

Opium Addictions

Most of the tweakers I help are getting off of meth and not opium. I would prefer opium addicts as they tend to be less explosive and it’s easier to dodge their punches. To help opium addicts I would suggest a change of diet, heavy in diuretics, such as celery, cucumbers, and iron, such as stinging nettle and raw carrots.

. . .

Photos of the time show London crowded with carriages, sometimes three to four deep along the curbs. Parking was at a premium even then. Cabmen were even less polite in those days and got into fisticuffs for fares and prime parking spots. Private carriages, more rare than you might suspect, had to make due. There were no handicapped stickers for the many wounded soldiers of Victoria’s wars.

But for the weekends before Christmas, I prefer our make-believe London. My daughter sadly will not be singing with the Coventry Carolers as she won't be able to come from Austin this year.I will take in a few shows at the Victoria and Albert Theatre, I will have high tea in the afternoon with my dear friend Lori Conwell Pino and her cousin, be serenaded by singing chimney-sweeps, stroll down to the “docks” and hear bawdy sailor songs, and eat handmade chocolates, meat pies, and buy holiday knick-knacks for friends and family.

Digestive Distress

Though the entire event is indoors, with a bit of imagination you can feel the chilly London air (quite similar to San Francisco), and smell the coal smoke along with cinnamon and sugared almonds toasted outside of Fezziwigs warehouse. The poor upper class Victorians suffered from stomach ailments, mostly constipation and indigestion from their well spiced meals. In that case I would have prescribed Jesuit Bark for regularity and a strong mint tea for the heart burn with a warning to lay off the curry for a few weeks.

. . .

It had been our family tradition to take my mother-in-law, as her parents were born at the end of the Victorian age before immigrating to Canada. Unfortunately at 94, she is simply too frail. She enjoys the shows and the dancing and we enjoy her handicapped parking pass. We justify it this way: If Tiny Tim had had one, he’d have used it. But this year I have my own. 10 December 2013 at 12:02am PT

Charles Garcia Ruth McConnell I hope you have some comments on this! December 10 at 2:03am

Mandy Gough Fantastic story!!! I appreciate the delivery of all your herbal wisdom jn this fun and informative, dual period and local tale! December 10 at 7:48am via mobile

Ruth McConnell Missing London :( December 10 at 6:48pm

story, with a nopales recipe!

A Little Cactus in Your Life

Charles Garcia April 23, 2018

There is memory I have of my mom, known to some of you as Grandma Garcia, de-thorning cactus pads, slicing them into small squares, and preserving them in large glass jars (maybe old Best Foods mayo jars). The pads were from neighborhood cacti. Everyone was welcome to harvest the pads or the fruit (prickly pears) as wanted or needed. Later in my mother’s she would need them to help my father stay alive.

But first a little more information about the cactus itself. Wikipedia says; Nopal (from the Nahuatl word nohpalli for the pads of the plant) is a common name in Mexican Spanish for Opuntia cacti (commonly referred to in English as prickly pear), as well as for its pads.

There are approximately one hundred and fourteen known species endemic to Mexico,] where the plant is a common ingredient in numerous Mexican cuisine dishes. The nopal pads can be eaten raw or cooked, used in marmalades, soups stews and salads, as well as being used for traditional medicine or as fodder for animals. Farmed nopales are most often of the species Opuntia ficus-indica or Opuntia joconostle although the pads of almost all Opuntia species are edible. The other part of the nopal cactus that is edible is the fruit called the tuna in Spanish, and the "prickly pear" in English.

They are at their most tender and juicy in the spring.


Nopales are most commonly used in Mexican cuisine in dishes such as huevos con nopales "eggs with nopal", carne con nopales "meat with nopal", tacos de nopales, in salads with tomato, onion, and queso panela (panela cheese), or simply on their own as a side vegetable. Nopales have also grown to be an important ingredient in New Mexican cuisine[3] and in Tejano culture of Texas.

I was never a big fan of Nopales until late in my life. Somewhere at some hole in the wall Mexican restaurant it came as a side dish and the flavor exploded in my mouth life a burst of cayenne-nated sunshine. These were not canned but fresh from the kitchen, cooked in olive oil and garlic on a low heat until the outer portioned were almost crisp (some were) and then coated with a thick red sauce reminiscent of an enchilada sauce.

Most Nopales have a slight bitter under taste when cooked from scratch. These did not. Now I’m not opposed to using the jarred stuff you can buy in the store but those are actually pickled and will have to be washed thoroughly before using. So I suggest you shop in a Latino market and find the fresh Nopales that have been sliced and placed in zip lock bags for sale. They want last long so cooked them within a few days for the best flavor.

When my father became ill with diabetes type 2 (along with my brother and myself) she began using some folklore medicine to help him keep his blood sugars in check. It would take a separate lesson to cover all those foods so far now let us stick to Nopales.

In the morning my father would be served eggs cooked in olive oil with bits of garlic and Nopales. The Nopales would be cooked first with garlic and oil. My mother would then whip the egg or eggs in a bowl until frothy then add it to the sizzling cactus. Mom would add a pinch of salt and pepper then flip the egg over until brown. It was served with a warm tortilla made fresh of course. (How Mom made everything fresh I don’t know. I don’t know where she found the time or found the chicken for the fresh eggs. Damn I miss her.)

This was Dad’s favorite breakfast. If there were beans left over from the night before he’d have some of that.

Another favorite of mine was the beef and cactus cooked in a red sauce. Time has taken away the cut of beef from my memory. I only know it was a cheaper cut of meat and need to be cooked from morning until dinner time. When the meat was half way cooked the Nopales was added. Again this was fresh. The red sauce was made from crushed red peppers, crushed sesame seeds, and sometimes crushed dried pumpkin seeds, unsweetened chocolate, salt, and black pepper. Now this was time consuming but if you have a Cuisinart, it will definitely go faster than using a metate. Now read this carefully…you could use seasoned chicken broth to start the cooking process. Yep, you read that right. The beef and spices will eventually overcome any taste of chicken while the beef cooks. When the water or broth becomes hot you add the beef and the spices. Allow this to hit a boil then turn down to a simmer. Stir every hour or so. Pick at the meat. When it easily falls apart your soup is ready. Oh yes, I knew I was forgetting something. Add fresh garlic. As much or as little as you like.

The big question is WHEN TO ADD THE NOPALES? This depends on how you want the texture. Do you want it to snap? Add it in the last ten to fifteen minutes. If you want it soft and infused with the flavors of the sauce, add it half way into the cooking.

This entire process can be used with chicken, a turkey leg, lamb or pork. When I can find it at a decent price I love using lamb. Mom loved as her father told her that lamb is easier to digest for invalids. I have no idea if this is true. On the other hand I’ve never seen anyone get sick when I make my lamb stew.

If you make this combination I ask that you don’t add too much salt or pepper when you first taste it. Allow your taste bud the chance to search for the flavors of the spices. Let your mouth explore the texture of the meat and cactus.

If thick enough this can be poured over Spanish rice or eaten with pinto beans. And if you have a place that sells homemade tortillas by all means buy some. So why is this linked to diabetes health? Among other plants Nopales will first help lower blood sugar THEN stabilize it. When combined with garlic (fresh of course, not powdered) it will prevent sudden drops in sugar.

My father died at the age of eighty years and one month. He died from strokes and organ failure. But at the time of his passing he was OFF all his meds. He didn’t need them. Mom had spent ten years caring for the SOB and allowed him to live long enough that three generations of family was around his bed. Though he might have lasted longer if he hadn’t been a heavy drinker into his old ages, he didn’t die of diabetes. He lived long enough to hold a great grandchild. That’s not a bad legacy. So folks when you make your Nopales, think of my mom and dad. A couple who stayed married for nearly fifty years despite the Great Depression, WW II, working the land, and living in Stanislaus County California. Hey Mom, hey Dad, thanks for making me the person I am. Flaws and all. And Mom, thanks for the recipe.

story with a molé recipe!

In Memory of Mom, Molé, and Good Health

for Kiva Rose

Charles Garcia In Memory of Mom, Molé, and Good Health

As I compose this, el Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead) is barely a week gone. For me this is the start of the holiday season as celebrated by the Garcia family decades ago in the heart of California's central valley. My mother and her sisters, Tia Lena and Tia Carmen, would gather at either my mom's home or Tia Lena's (Aunt Carmen's place was simply too cluttered), and the spice making would begin. Sometimes it looked like a production line of older hispanic women grinding and regrinding, mixing and tasting herbs for the holidays. Being the youngest child of all the  cousins, I was often left to my own devices of entertainment. Books, cartoons, more books, and wandering the orchards filled my weekends. But occasionally I would sneak into the kitchen and watch them grind spices for the molé.

The world molé is a Spanish translation of an Aztec word pronounced muyl-ye, meaning ground spices. There are stories perpetuated by the Spanish that the Aztec nobility used human blood instead of meat stock to make their dishes. As a person who enjoys cooking I can't wrap my head around it, and I don't think it was possible to use that particular flavoring. Still…

Two cities in the old country claim to be the rightful inventors of molé, Puebla, where the greatest working chefs coming from (according to food writer and former chef Anthony Bourdain), and Oaxaca, where the greatest small restaurants are located (again according to Anthony Bourdain.) But in truth the answer (if there is one) is more complex. Puebla is known for the red molé, a sauce with a lighter and sweeter taste than it's southern cousin. Oaxaca is the home of the rich dark sauce with complex flavors and a heavy aftertaste. Neither sauce burns…nor should it, for these sauces were also used for health. (If you come to my home for a meal you would see me cooking with the Puebla version of molé out of respect for my non-hispanic friends.)

First, dear reader, allow me to share a secret. Molé was never used as an everyday dish. It was meant to be a celebration of the palate, and was seen at weddings, funerals, baptisms, first communions, confirmations, and since WWII at least, the return of the veteran. Also it was common to use the mixed spices as quickly as possible, as they were often not in season for very long. When refrigeration became common this was not considered as important, but the tendency still exists to use it quickly, and save some for the sick by freezing it.


From memory and a few phone calls to my only surviving older cousin, I'm recreating my mother's recipe for molé here, before I go into the healing aspects of the spices.

Martha Navarro's Healing Molé

½ cup sesame seeds
½ cup pumpkin seeds

1 heaping TBS butter 
1 large yellow onion, diced
4-5 cloves garlic, smashed
2 roasted dry chipotle peppers 
6 fresh tomatoes, roasted, peeled & chopped

2 ½ heaping TBS organic chili powder (not spicy)
1 TBS ground cumin
5 heaping TBS unsweetened cocoa powder (I use Ghiradelli)
a pinch of ground cloves
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp cilantro seeds
1 tsp garlic powder
4 tsp sea salt
½ tsp freshly ground pepper
½ tsp crushed dill seeds

2 cups of water
3-4 cups homemade chicken broth 
1 small square dark chocolate (Mom used Ghiradelli)


In a small pan (I love my cast iron but steel works as well), dry sauté over medium low heat, sesame seeds and pumpkin seeds, stirring constantly, until golden, about 3-5 minutes. Remove from pan and set aside. Some cooks put the toasted seeds into a coffee grinder for a finer blend. This is acceptable.

In a stock pot, over medium heat, melt butter and sauté onions and garlic. Add chipotle peppers and tomatoes. Stir. Add spices (chili powder, cumin, cilantro, cocoa powder, dill seeds, cloves, cinnamon, garlic powder, salt, pepper.) Cook about 5 minutes.  

Add toasted sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, water and chicken broth. Blend slowly over medium heat. Bring to a bubble and then reduce heat to simmer, stirring almost constantly about 20-25 minutes, or until reduced, darkened, and thickened to a cream-sauce-like consistency. If it gets too thick, thin out a bit with water or stock.

Stir in chocolate cube and stir until blended well.  

At this point the molé can be used as a topping for meats or added to meat dishes being prepared in broths. This is especially good when added to wild turkey, lamb, or goat. To offset the somewhat gamey taste to some meats fresh cilantro is floated on top of the molé. To add to thickness you can stir in cooked rice with fresh green onions.

During a trip to Louisiana I tasted Shrimp and Molé and was pleasantly surprised. This was served on a large soft corn tortilla. Of course being Lousiana, a heavy amount of cayenne was added. It took a few bites to accustom my mouth to it. 

These are not  quick preparations. But it is worth the effort.



So what are the healthy benefits,` if any?

First of all, anything you reading about the caloric intake of molé is probably wrong. There are numerous types of molé including green molé, the mild red, the robust brown, and everything in between. The ingredients all vary.

So here is what you should know about the history of molé in hispanic healing.

Molé was used against wasting diseases. We now call this problem toxic poisoning or lead poisoning. Molé was used to help clients gain weight, rid the poisons out of their bodies (think cilantro, garlic, onion), or if the poisoning was biological, such as parasites, tape worm or the like; garlic, cumin, pumpkin seeds, cilantro seeds, and possibly sesame seeds would expel the little bastards. (For all I know this could have been used on ringworm, which is really a fungus, but when all else fails...)

New mothers who suffered difficult births were often given molé with chicken breast to regain strength, and some combination of the herbs increased lactation. As my mother never shared the secret of why this happened (I doubt if she knew herself), it is still a mystery.

Molé was also used to help the stomach regain strength after surgical procedures. It helped produce acids much as Swedish Bitters do and possibly broke down proteins for easier digestion. But this is only speculation. I bring this up only because despite gorging on chicken molé, turkey molé, goat molé and the very very rare pork molé, I never felt "stuffed." And the "poo" factor, which I had the honor of speaking about (two years ago) at my favorite herbal conference, was always normal.

Molé brought appetites back to those who needed it. After any long illness the appetite tends to go bland. In old age many individuals say that food becomes nearly tasteless.  When this occurs wasting is sure to follow. In the hispanic culture this is almost unknown if molé is prepared (specially prepared) for the client. When my mom entered her mid-seventies she often complained that with the exception of spicy Thai cuisine, food tasted bland. Then I would ask mom to help me make molé.

I wish I had brought a tape recorder for those times…the stories of her mother who taught her how to make this dish, mom's life as a child migrant, learning the power of herbs from her father, camping out near the beaches of southern California and picking strawberries the next day, looking at Hearst Castle from afar, meeting Mary Pickford who came to her TB ward and gave all the children gifts.

She even told me how difficult it was to make turkey molé for my wedding, as I was her last son heading off into the world with a girl she felt unworthy of me (thanks mom, you were right!), and into a life with a badge over my heart and gun on my hip.

I just remembered it was a damn big bird and it served all the guests with enough leftover for my honeymoon and cross-country road trip.

All of this over molé.

So if you feel adventurous, take the time to make real molé. Don't rush it. Have a shot of whiskey as Tia Lena would do, or sing a favorite song with the person you talked into helping you. And if you do all this, take a moment to remember my mother, Martha Navarro Garcia. You would have liked her…and her molé.  Friday, November 07, 2014 at 9:22pm PT

steam & folklore

Notes on Steam and Folklore

Charles Garcia Notes on Steam and Folklore  fb CSHH

In treating infections in the lungs, smoke and steam have been traditionally used for generations. As I do not believe in the use of smoke except in extraordinary circumstances, let us investigate the use of steam.

There is research in the past decade that suggest that some viruses do not respond well in a steam environment. They are limited to a comfort zone of body temperature between 98.6 and 100 degrees. If that is so, then a steady stream of hot steam in the nasal passages should kill or at least neutralize the virus. There may be some truth to it, but I won't be my life or lungs on just plain steam. These four essential oils should be added to any steam therapy. Thyme, Rosemary, Sage (or White Sage) and Eucalyptus. The last is used as a carrier and bronchial dilator. A personal steamer now manufactured by the Vicks Vapo Rub Company can be purchased for around 40 dollars. Water, and drops of oil can be added to this device,and a hot steam can be aimed directly into the nose and mouth.

This is far more convenient than a pot of water on the stove and towel over the head. The Personal Steamer is portable, requires only a bit of water, and is comfortable to use.

I’ve seen many individuals use this simple device incorrectly. So I will make it simple. But your damn face IN the steam mask, not above it! Don’t be a child!

There. I’m glad I got that off my chest.

The essential oils all have certain qualities important to bronchial care. Thyme is one of the most potent herbal antibiotics and antibacterial. It literally kills on contact. Rosemary is anti-viral, but also anti-microbial. Sage and White Sage are both the strongest anti-viral herbs, but may have immune enhancing abilities not quite understood at present. While eucalyptus is not necessarily a powerful anti-anything unless used topically…it is a carrier for other herbs. It acts as a bronchial dilator, as stated before, but it works best when the steam is at its hottest. Test indicate the other oils bind with eucalyptus and are literally deeper into the chest.

For a seriously ill individual, steaming may not be easy but the Personal Steamer can be used at a bed side, or a chair. It is most highly effective when used six to more times a day. It is time intensive. A person should use it a minimum of five minutes at a time. I prefer ten minutes. At night, the individual should be wakened at least once to use it.

Care givers should monitor the sounds of breathing and sound of fluid in the chest by stethoscope. If you don't have one, get one. Most junior colleges sell them for their nursing programs, and occasionally drugstores have them. Take time to learn how to interpret the breathing.

In treating bronchial illnesses, the color, the density, even the smell of phlegm could give clues. A clear but excessive amount of phlegm could be a sign of bronchial irritation. In this case, drying up the phlegm would aid in avoiding a bacterial infection. Cups of rosemary tea, dandelion leaf, chickweed, or yarrow, could help this. Also, steam with rosemary essential oil could be quickest.

Phlegm that is light yellow could mean the beginning of a viral or bacterial infection but, it may also mean the lungs are taking in a heavy amount of pollutants. Be aware of environmental factors, including smoking and second hand smoke, smog alerts, open windows, and nearby factories.

Green or brown phlegm are signs of infections, and thus would require the immediate use of thyme and sage. If your client complains of a chest that feels heavy or bloated, consider that the phlegm is very deep, and thus the use of eucalyptus as a bronchial dilator and carrier is called for.

You may ask why I am not using all the essential oils at the same time. I tend to avoid that, as it can cause a severe headache, or even increase coughing in some individuals. Be conservative if possible. Don't through the herbal medicine chest at your client.

If the phlegm that comes up after painful coughing spasms is thick, or even appears as small balls of mucus, the condition is very serious. If you cannot get the person into the hospital, and we are working under the assumption this will not occur, you must break up the phlegm and help the person expel it, as quickly as possible.

First, increase fluid intake. Hot steam drinks, no dairy, are recommended.

The commercial brand of loquat syrup, is a combination of common herbs, such as spearmint, peppermint, licorice, ginger root, loquat, and several Chinese herbs, gained much popularity in the Hispanic culture here in California. Originally it was made by Chinese apothecaries to order. Two heaping teaspoons in a cup of steamy water makes an excellent beverage. It will ease the lungs, and increase fluid to the lung walls. While it will ease coughing, it will not prevent an effective cough from breaking the phlegm away from the lung walls. Please do not mistake this for an expectorant. Expectorants actually cause a mild irritation to provide some effective coughing.

Dried mullein tea can also be used to help soothe lungs, and to relieve excessive phlegm. Two to four cups a day, hot or cold, is an effective remedy. Mullein can be used as prophylactic treatment, as it tends to strengthen lung integrity, especially when pneumonia or bronchitis is an issue. During cold season my mother drank two to three cups of mullein a day, usually with a bit of honey, and though she only had one working lung, her colds if any were mild. She only came down with pneumonia the winter she broke her hip and was unable to get her mullein tea.

Continuing on the fascinating topic of impacted phlegm; when other attempts to loosen phlegm have failed, Wild Ginger must be employed. Heavy doses of the tincture, beginning at 120 drops three times a day, will literally cause the insides of the lung walls to sweat, pushing the phlegm off, and allowing it to be coughed or vomited up. A note on vomit therapy: This should not be use, even though it was effective in the 1800s Lobelia,also known as pukeweed, was used to induce severe vomiting, which spasmed the lungs and caused phlegm to be expelled. One had to have a strong constitution to undergo this tender and loving treatment. More importantly perhaps, Lobelia helped lower fevers caused by infections. More on fevers later.

Be aware, the client will sweat excessively during this process. It is important that you have the person rehydrate at all points, beginning, middle and end, of this treatment.

It is possible and even likely you may have no herbs at all other than those in your kitchen. If this is the case, there is one more treatment which can be attempted.

The mustard plaster. In my practice, the plaster is used to bring blood to affected areas of the body, which have been damaged by injury, muscular stress, trauma, or wounds. Blood follows heat. And in this matter, heat causes sweat. When used on the chest, the plaster sends heat directly onto to the lungs, bringing in fresh blood to the affected areas, and slowly causing the cellular walls to sweat. Again, the phlegm can be coughed out once it has broken away.

A mustard plaster consists of powdered mustard, flour and other herbs that causes heat on the skin. In this case I use cayenne pepper powder and powdered ginger.

The amount of each is not precise. The flour is used simply as a binder. Corn flour can also be used, and is actually more traditional in the Hispanic culture.

Hot water is added to the combined powders and carefully stirred into a paste. An oil, either olive oil or almond oil can be rubbed on the chest. Then a thin linen cloth is placed against the skin, and the paste rubbed onto the cloth. Another linen cloth is placed on top of the paste. The skin will turn red, but should not begin to rise. If this happens, remove the plaster for a minute or two and return it to the chest. In short you are causing a controlled chemical blistering. The chemicals released by the hot water will filter though the linen and the oil, into the skin and into the lungs. The plaster should be replaced by a fresh one while warm to the touch. This continues for awhile, so make sure it is a two or three person operation. Continued watch should be kept on the skin. The person will begin to feel a lessening of the phlegm and should be encouraged to cough as much as possible. It will be painful, but it is necessary.

Care givers should monitor the sounds of breathing and sound of fluid in the chest by stethoscope. If you don't have one, get one. Most junior colleges sell them for their nursing programs, and occasionally drugstores have them. Take time to learn how to interpret the breathing.

In treating bronchial illnesses, the color, the density, even the smell of phlegm could give clues. A clear but excessive amount of phlegm could be a sign of bronchial irritation. In this case, drying up the phlegm would aid in avoiding a bacterial infection. Cups of rosemary tea, dandelion leaf, chickweed, or yarrow, could help this. Also, steam with rosemary essential oil could be quickest.

Phlegm that is light yellow could mean the beginning of a viral or bacterial infection but, it may also mean the lungs are taking in a heavy amount of pollutants. Be aware of environmental factors, including smoking and second hand smoke, smog alerts, open windows, and nearby factories.

Green or brown phlegm are sure signs of infections, and thus would require the immediate use of thyme and sage. If your client complains of a chest that feels heavy or bloated, consider that the phlegm is very deep, and thus the use of eucalyptus as a bronchial dilator and carrier is called for.

You may ask why I am not using all the essential oils at the same time. I tend to avoid that, as it can cause a severe headache, or even increase coughing in some individuals. Be conservative if possible. Don't throw the herbal medicine chest at your client.

If the phlegm that comes up after painful coughing spasms is thick, or even appears as small balls of mucus, the condition is very serious. If you cannot get the person into the hospital, and we are working under the assumption this will not occur, you must break up the phlegm and help the person expel it, as quickly as possible.

First, increase fluid intake. Hot steam drinks, no dairy, are recommended.

The commercial brand of loquat syrup, is a combination of common herbs, such as spearmint, peppermint, licorice, ginger root, loquat, and several Chinese herbs, gained much popularity in the Hispanic culture here in California. Originally it was made by Chinese apothecaries to order. Two heaping teaspoons in a cup of steamy water makes an excellent beverage. It will ease the lungs, and increase fluid to the lung walls. While it will ease coughing, it will not prevent an effective cough from breaking the phlegm away from the lung walls. Please do not mistake this for an expectorant. Expectorants actually cause a mild irritation to provide some effective coughing.

Once the phlegm has lessened, become more watery, then dis-infection of the lungs can begin with aforementioned herbs. Again, I stress this is not a substitute for any anti-viral or antibacterial medicines being used. If you are unable to receive standard medical treatments, than these treatments are a viable recourse.

We can assume at this point that damage has occurred on a cellular level within the lungs. If during treatment you detect dark speck or bright red specks in the phlegm and mucus, it is quite possible you have bleeding. Bright red specks could be oxygenated blood, coming from the lungs. The problem with this is the lungs will have been suffering from lack of oxygen for several days. So the blood might not be bright. It is more likely though the blood is coming from a ruptured blood vessel in the esophagus. To stop bleeding, a cup of yarrow tea, or a cup of shepherds purse tea can be given.

Without medical tests it is difficult to determine how much damage the lungs have endured. We must assume the worst and act accordingly. Damaged lungs will be ripe for re-infection. The use of comfrey in three forms can help repair damage and strengthen the lungs. Mullein can be used, but tends to best as a preventative.

Remember please, comfrey is transdermal. It will go through the skin. Comfrey oil, mad with the fresh leaves, olive oil, vitamin B capsules as a preservative, and perhaps a bit of almond oil, can be rubbed on the chest to ease the battered muscles of the lungs. This should be done two to three times a day. It can be used warm, but it is not necessary to heat the oil to the point of discomfort. A linen covering can be placed on the chest to keep the oil in place and to prevent staining bed clothes.

A comfrey tincture should be given, starting at 90 drops twice a day. In between tinctures a warm cup or two of comfrey tea can be taken. The tea works best with dry leaves.

Horsetail, a plant that saw the dinosaurs come and go, and will no doubt be around when the last human animal leaves for space colonies, is well known for the high amount of silica in its stems. Silica in minute amounts can act as a base for new cells to begin growth. It will also, though the reason is unknown, set itself around areas where damage from pneumonia, bronchitis, and COPD is most evident in the lungs.

It is possible that horsetail could be used in very early stages of emphysema to repair lungs but this remains to be seen, as most emphysema sufferers seek medical aid when damage is quite extensive. Most of the information on this form of treatment is coming out of China, and difficult to find in English translations.

If you find a horsetail tincture, use it. Start with 60 drops twice a day. If you are unable to find a tincture, but know of a horsetail patch in a none polluted area, go gather it, dry it, and give as a tea two to three cups a day.

Soothing damaged lungs can be as important as healing them. The sick person must be willing to breath deeply, and this is difficult when it only causes more pain, or coughing. Coughing is not taking seriously enough by the medical establishment in my humble opinion. Lungs can suddenly begin coughing when all infection is gone, and all evidence of damage is healed. Can it be, like a muscle memory of playing a piano, doing a judo move, or riding a bike, the lungs will suddenly attempt to expel, dust in the air, mist in the morning, smoke in the afternoon, even a the taste of salt? Yes it will and it does.

Some physicians are using prescription asthma inhalers, such as atrovent and abuterol for these types of persistent coughs, and I highly recommend their use if it helps.

Unfortunately some of the side-effects such as insomnia and rapid heart beat can cause just as much discomfort in the long run. I recommend we return to the personal steamer for morning and evening use. Eucalyptus essential oil on its own can be soothing. Wintergreen is also useful. If either are used, two drops are sufficient.

A simple remedy is the use of garlic cloves soaked in dark honey. Garlic is a well known antibacterial and a mild antiviral. The honey in itself is soothing, and the garlic can kill numerous bacteria resistant to antibiotics. Not a strong suppressant, it can be used for low grade infections which accompanies a nagging cough. The garlic cloves can be left whole, or slightly crushed before being placed in the honey. The honey can be lightly heated either in a double boiler or for several minutes in a microwave at low power. Avoid causing the honey to boil. When cooled, the honey can taken in teaspoon doses. The garlic can be eaten along with the honey.

Some people actually enjoy the taste.

When the cough continues to be persistent, then it’s time to bring out the herbal big guns. In my practice I use a combination tincture of marijuana and California Poppy. Now I cannot ethically advise you all to go out an buy a baggie of pot, or to pick our state flower on state property but if you have access to either, making separate tinctures and combining them is a far better use than rolling a joint after a hard day at work.

California Poppy tincture can be purchased legally at most health food stores, or online.

If you can make a marijuana tincture, it is one to five ratio. One part pot and five parts vodka by weight. It should be ready for use within two to three weeks.

Combine this 50-50 with California Poppy tincture, and take by the tablespoon. Two tablespoons should be sufficient for the most persistent cough. This combination is foul tasting, So it can be mixed in a honey based syrup for those who cannot get it down. I need not recommend that no one should drive or operate heavy machinery while using this remedy. It does cause drowsiness. While a codeine based cough syrup is best, this does not cause constipation.

Fever is another issue in flu care. We all know and understand that fever is the bodies way of fighting infection. Unfortunately the body has yet to master when and how to turn off the heat. In short, the body’s cure can be as deadly as the infection.

Herbalists from Samuel Thompson to Jethro Kloss often times increased the temperature of a body using hot sheets to aid in fighting infection, or would use tepid or cool sheets in attempts to bring down fevers. My grandfather was known for both treatments during his day, according to my late mother.

While I technically know how to do this, I would rather use herbs. I will use some terms which you may or may not know concerning fevers. The first is; Runaway fever. This is a fever that occurs quickly with little or no warning, no sniffles, muscle aches, headaches, or anything else that would indicate a fever is coming on. It simply appears and rapidly reaches over 100 and continues to rise.

In the early days of the HIV epidemic, runaway fevers were common in the AIDS community. Using the 1918-1919 flu as our template, runaway fevers occurred in many flu victims and was often fatal. Our second term is Long Term Chronic Fever. These are fevers which may linger for two or three weeks, rising to 102 degrees and then dropping to as low as 99, then rising again.

To deal with a runaway fever, I would employ the ugly little weed known as Turkey Mullein (Eremocarpus setigerus). Internally, Turkey Mullein is a potent vasodilator, allowing the pores to open up and more heat escape. It can be taken as a tea, or as a tincture. But it is almost undrinkable. It is better to make a large pot of the tea, set the fever victim in a tepid tub of water, and bathe the person. This is labor intensive. But it does work.

Once the fever has noticeably lessened, attempt to give OTCs like aspirin or Tylenol. White Willow Bark tincture or tea can also be used. The Turkey Mullein bath may have to be used two or three times in a 24 hour period.

Allowing the person to sleep while the fever rises is NOT a good idea. If it is not possible to give a bath in the evening, a sheet can be soaked in Turkey Mullein tea and wrapped around the person. To increase the speed of cooling, fresh mint can be added to the tea. Several sheets should be prepared for this.

A Turkey Mullein liniment, either made from rubbing alcohol or vinegar, can be used as a rub down on the body. This is almost as effective as the bath. If turkey mullein is not available, a tea made from fresh mint and fennel can be added to a bath.

Wild Ginger tincture can be given, but may increase the fever temporarily as would the use of yarrow. If these herbs are used, then careful re-hydration must occur while the treatment is under progress. The fever sufferer will sweat. Cool water, Gatorade adulterated with water, or Pedialyte can be given. If these are not available, a flat-Coke mixed with cool water can be given in a 50-50 ratio. Not the best, but better than just water.

Long term chronic fevers can be treated a bit easier. Yarrow tea, Wild Ginger tea or tincture, culinary ginger tea, or cayenne pepper tincture given in moderation, can induce sweating and help break the fever. Again, your mantra should be, rehydrate, rehydrate.

Dealing with secondary and opportunistic infections, leads us to fighting infection and boosting the immune system.

Assuming allopathic medicines cannot be obtained, the use of White Sage, Yerba Mansa, Rosemary, and Usnea is highly recommended. Usnea in particular has penicillin type qualities, and is used in Europe for people allergic to penicillin. Usnic acid is primarily effective as an inhibitor of gram positive bacteria-including tuberculosis, staphylococcus, streptococcus, and pneumococcus. It functions as an antibiotic by blocking an essential part of bacterial metabolism. In a person battered by H5N1v I would not be hesitant to use 120 to 200 drops at a time. Although usnic acids have been used in commercial products from Europe to help in weight loss, and have been implicated in liver damage, short term use is considered safe by all herbalists.

Yerba Mansa, while not necessarily known as a bronchial herb to non-native herbalists, has been used for centuries by native people for poorly healing infections of the mouth, such as gum, mouth and throat sores; intestinal problems such as stomach and duodenal ulcers; urinary tract infections; and is useful for arthritis because it stimulates the excretion of uric acid and has an anti-inflammatory effect. It is anti bacterial and antifungal, so it is useful for skin infections also. The leaf tea was used for bronchial infections and my use of it as a tincture suggests it is effective.

Rosemary and sage tinctures should be given on a regular basis, and steam therapy should continue.

Now I have left out the use of Echinacea. If you have it on hand, by all means, use it, but in the post flu scenario we are talking about, 50 to 100 mgs., per day would need to be used. This can put an immense strain on the kidneys. So if you use that much, I would suggest two weeks on, one week off. The use of Goldenseal in conjunction with Echinacea for bronchial issues is controversial at the moment.

In the years I used both, I have found no difference in using the combination or just using Echinacea. I have used both to treat mouth infections and abscesses very successfully.

In regards to diet, it is hard to believe that nutrition was once considered a near psuedo-science. I think in this century it will take it’s rightful place next to organ transplants, limb reattachment, and gene therapy, as a potent healing modality. The ancients said we are what we eat. And while there may well good political reasons to boycott certain types of walking and mooing protein, and good health reasons to suspect it has been hormoned beyond reason, we should remember that human beings are omnivores. I do not take meat out of the diet, but I do restrict it in the first week of therapy.

Assuming the H5N1 will act like its distant cousin the Avian flu of 1918, appetite will be severely depressed. The ability to absorb nutrients will be compromised. To increase appetite a strong decoction of hard stick cinnamon tea is suggested.

Simmer the sticks for 10 to 15 minutes. The longer you simmer the sweeter it tastes. It should be taken either warm or cold, three times a day. Within a day or three, the appetite should improve enough for something more substantial. Sweet basil milk is our next consideration, either in nonfat milk, 1 percent milk, lactose free milk, soy milk, almond milk, or any other milk substitute, simmer fresh leaves of sweet basil, hard stick cinnamon, and dark honey. Care should be taken not to let the milk boil or scorch. Take your time. Regular milk should be avoided if necessary.

This drink will provide starting nutrients to the body. It is tasty, and can be given chilled if the person is feeling feverish. It will also act as anti-spasmodic to the colon, stomach, and slightly to the lungs.

The following week, soups can be added to the diet. A vegetable base stock (carrots, onions, garlic, celery, ginger root, green beans etc) can be used to introduce egg, tofu, and bits of vegetable. To increase blood flow, a pinch of cayenne can be added.

Salt should be added in minute amounts. This same base can be used later to add breast of chicken, rice, lentils, pasta, or beans. Though beef can be used, the taste does not go well with the ginger.

Cheese, cream, and regular milk should be avoided until the lungs and sinuses are completely clear of mucus.

Lightly cooked greens are highly recommended. Raw food is not recommended at this point, but should be lightly steamed.

If the weather is decent, the person should be allowed to go outside. The lungs will need to readjust to changes of temperature and ambient pollutants. This may take months or even years.

At this point of treatment, teas made from mullein, hollyhocks, and licorice root. can be given to sooth any remaining inflammation. (Please avoid giving licorice root to person with high blood pressure.) At this point, inflammation is not necessarily a sign of infection. Even with a mild influenza, viruses can utterly and entirely denude the upper respiratory tract of epithelial cells, leaving it bare, stripping the throat raw. The repair process begins immediately but can take weeks, months, or in some cases years.

The actual process of inflammation involves a certain type of white blood cell protein called cytokines. Cykotines have various important duties in the body, yet they also have toxic effects. They can cause a condition called tumor necrosis factor or TNF.

This condition is cykotine cells that kills diseased and health cells alike. TNF toxin is a major cause of toxic shock syndrome. It is believed the 1918-1919 flu and its accompanying pneumonia virus caused a cykotine storm in the body. It maybe the reason why certain individual died within 24 hours of showing flu symptoms.

One clue might be a sudden increase in watery sounds in the lungs. If this happens immediate hospitalization is the only chance for survival. If the hospitals are no longer accepting patients, which occurred in the original killer flu, aggressive herbal care is the only option. These herbal suggestions are just that. Suggestions.

First, to deal with the cykotine body storm, heavy doses of cilantro tea or tincture, heavy doses of borage tincture, heavy does of blue flag tincture, and heavy doses of prayer. One hundred drops every four hours would be my starting point. The herbs mentioned are generally used to clear the body of heavy metal poisoning. It is feasible they could help flush the blood system of cykotines, and act as a general tonic. To deal with the increase of fluids in the lungs, chickweed tea or tincture, dandelion tea or tincture, of if necessary raw dandelion can be given to increase fluid drainage in the lungs. The use of foxglove could be helpful, but it would take a better herbalist than yours truly to administer to it.

Assuming the person survives the cykotine storm, the flu, and pneumonia, you can take pride in knowing you may have done the bare minimum in saving that life. Herbs can only do so much.

At this point, the flu sufferer is in danger of relapsing with bacterial pneumonia. Recent research suggests that the typical influenza virus makes it easier for some bacteria to attach itself to lung tissue creating a lethal synergy between virus and bacteria. If that is true, we are back to using usnea, yerba mansa, rosemary, thyme and sage.

So it goes.

Herbal treatments are time consuming and labor intensives. It requires a person willing to learn and willing to do. If you lack either, do not attempt these treatments. Herbal healing is no magic bullet.

There is not true end to this lesson. There is only more and more information, some of which may work occasionally, some of which is only folklore, and some that borders on desperation. In extremis, when medical science no longer provides an answer and thousands are dying and many more at risk, I will put my trust in folklore.  June 30, 2013 at 7:59pm

Kate Hunter Wow ! a Wealth of information. thank you! This makes me a happy mama! June 30, 2013 at 11:08pm via mobile

Edward Binns Doc, please comment on my one quibble: for steam masks... with or without aromatic oils... "use distilled water if you've got it." If you don't have it, use POTABLE water only. June 30, 2013 at 11:47pm

Barbara Meza Hey Doc, I shared this to myself via PM so I won't forget when I found it and can read when I get home. July 24, 2013 at 10:51am


Oh, To Breathe Fresh Air!

Charles Garcia fb CSHH

I recently received an email from a person in Texas, who suffers terribly from allergies. Though she can control her food allergies with diet, she also suffers from severe sinus pain and headaches from other unknown allergens. She’s gone through courses of sprays, shots, and eye drops with little or no relief. There is hardly a period in twenty-four hours where she does not suffer a headache. And last, but not least, she suffers a continual buzzing in her ears.

Ordinarily I would not write a column concerning one person’s problems. But this is not the first email from a person suffering from these conditions. It is sad to note that bronchial and nasal problems are becoming more common and more serious in my practice. It may be pollen in combination with industrial pollution, environmental pollution, or just an overall weakening of our immune systems. Who can say? I suffer from seasonal bronchial problems myself. Pneumonia and asthma are old friends during the Thanksgiving and Easter seasons. I have a feeling that when the Grim Reaper finally comes for me he will be dressed as either a Pilgrim or a Pink Bunny. Recently, my wife informed me that the San Francisco Bay Area has air that is 200 times worse than the standards set under the federal Clean Air Act. (Of course this is better than Los Angeles which is more than 400 times worse.) She has suggested this may be a partial cause for my lung problems and my asthma. In short, it may be time to move. (How’s the air in Zapata County dear readers?)

Be that as it may…there are some herbal remedies that may help with the sinus and lung problems. But they are labor intensive and require diligence in their collections, preparation, and use.

The first herb I would use is nettles. (Urtica dioica and other varieties) Yep, that kind that stings like heck. Sometimes sold in Mexican botanicas under the name Ortica, nettles tea tastes a bit like celery. Nettles has a spotty record for success in sinus problems, but it seems that God has given us westerners better luck with it than our eastern brethren. Though it does not affect the sinuses directly, it does ease the inflammatory effect of allergic reactions. I prefer it cooked fresh (yes, it is safe to eat once boiled) in soups and scrambled in eggs. It has a flavor of young spinach and goes will with fresh garlic. If used only as a tea, it can be combined with a bit of Mormon Tea, ephedra, for a combination drying effect and anti-inflammatory properties. Warning…go easy on the ephedra. It will raise blood pressure if overused. Two to three cups a day with a pinch of ephedra would be enough to start the healing process. A teaspoon of dried nettles to a cup of boiling water, with a fourth of a teaspoon of ephedra, is a reasonable amount. It can be consumed hot or cold. It is most effective if sipped throughout the day. The ephedra should not be drunk at night.

Often accompanying sinus problems is facial pain and headache. St. John’s Wort has been found effective for the facial pain and a combination tincture of feverfew, lavender, and wood betony will ease or eliminate the headaches. St. John’s Wort can be taken in capsules or in a tincture. The tincture tends to be stronger and faster acting, but many folks cannot abide the taste.

On the off chance that St. John’s Wort does not relieve facial pain, homeopathic doses of Aconite may help. For those of you who have read this column religiously and remember Aconite to be a poison, yes, you are correct, it is the same plant. Homeopathic aconite pills are quite safe as the dose is quite small. They are sold in many larger pharmacies and health food stores.

Two herbs useful for sinus problems where headaches are common are California Mugwort and Lomatium (sometimes called Indian Parsnip or Desert Parsnip and Biscuit Root). The tea of California Mugwort has a soothing effect on the affected sinuses and allows for draining. In heavy doses it also has a slightly hypnotic effect, enjoyed by some counter-culture types, which my fair state has in overabundance of. If taken at night, odd and tantalizing dreams may result.

The root of Lomatium is often tinctured and can be found in many health food stores. Ten to twenty drops, five to eight times a day, will stimulate hardened mucus to exit. This herb should not be used for more than a week. It will also stimulate the liver to help cleanse the body of more waste, so occasional pimples and a light rash may appear…though this is unusual. The taste of Indian Parsnip may seem familiar to some individuals. If you have tasted Robitussin cough syrup, you have tasted the active chemical ingredients of Indian Parsnip.

A buzzing in the head or ringing in the ears is common for sufferers of sinus conditions. I use a tincture of Ginko to lessen or eliminate the problem. A combination of Ginko and Gota Kola is often sold. It tends to act faster than Ginko alone, but should not be taken at night. (Unless you plan to stay up watching old movies.) A dropper full of Ginko, roughly 30 drops, has always worked for me. It is safe to take as much as 90 drops at a time with no ill effects. I’ll be using these drops during my trip to the Traditions in Western Herbalism conference this week in Cloudcroft New Mexico.

For temporary relief of sinus congestion, I heartily recommend the new personal steam inhalers. Costing somewhere around forty and fifty dollars, these nifty little devices send controlled amounts of steam directly into your mouth and nose. A small amount of water is added to the steamer. Several drops of essential oil of eucalyptus are then dropped into the water. (No more than five drops please.) If there is some evidence of infection, I also add drops of essential oil of rosemary. Ten to fifteen minutes of steam should be slowly inhaled. This is a high tech version of your abuelita’s simmering-pot-and-towel-over-the head technique. It worked then…it works now!

If all this seems a great deal of work for sinus problems…well, it is. As our country becomes more urbanized and more polluted, sinus and bronchial conditions worsen. The simple act of breathing can be an exercise in agony. Those of you who, thankfully, have not suffered from it, cannot imagine the pain or frustration of those who have. I do recommend that anyone who wants an herbal alternative to bronchial and sinus care do so with extreme care. Find an herbalist, even if you need to drive a hundred miles to do so, who has experience in these techniques. Don’t self medicate. More importantly, don’t give up. Herbs are subtle. They are not a quick fix, but when used properly they are a long-term fix, and hopefully, a permanent fix.

Perhaps a breath of fresh air will soon be a reality for all of us.  Wednesday, September 16, 2015 at 6:27pm

Tipipaul Bisgaard My first feeling was for her to move away from there. As you said pollution and poor immune systems added together are a one two punch. Are we too many mice crowded in our city mazes, waiting......... September 16, 2015 at 7:44pm PT

Tanya Stiller It's true the air quality of here is poor, but not as bad as LA, Beijing, etc. my life ha wanted me to move away about 4 years ago. I didn't listen. But did drastically change my diet to a GAPS/ Paleo thing and that along with lots of good long term herbs has almost vanished all my allergies (other than the food ones). Wednesday, September 16, 2015 at 8:03pm PT

Sun Cat "too many mice crowded in our city mazes...." my perception precisely. Thursday, September 17, 2015 at 3:34pm PT

from "Herbs In Our Lives", a column for the Zapata Weekly Times 2001


Charles Garcia   From "Herbs In Our Lives", a column for the Zapata Weekly Times 2001 (reprint fb CSHH)

Samhain. All Hallows. All Hallow's Eve. Hallow E'en. Halloween. The most magical night of the year. Exactly opposite Beltane (May 1st ) on the Celtic wheel of the year, Halloween is Beltane's winter twin. For Americans it is a night of glowing jack-o-lanterns, bobbing for apples, tricks or treats, and dressing in costumes for wildly funny parades (at least in San Francisco) or wildly fun parties. For a token few it is a night of ghost stories, séances, tarot card readings and scrying with mirrors. For the pre-Christian Celts it was a night of power, when the veil that separates our world from the Otherworld was at its thinnest. A 'spirit night', as they say in Wales and Ireland.

All Hallow's Eve is the eve of All Hallow's Day (November 1st). And for once, even popular tradition remembers that the Eve is more important than the Day itself, the traditional celebration focusing on October 31st, beginning at sundown. And this seems only fitting for the great Celtic New Year's festival. Not that the holiday was Celtic only. In fact, it is startling how many ancient and unconnected cultures celebrated similar holidays. The Egyptians and pre-Spanish Mexicans, for example celebrated this as a festival of the dead.

More than 500 years ago, when the Spanish Conquistadors landed in what is now Mexico, they encountered natives practicing a ritual that seemed to mock death. It was a ritual the indigenous people had been practicing at least 3,000 years. A ritual the Spaniards would try unsuccessfully to eradicate. A ritual known today as Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. The ritual is celebrated in Mexico and in Hispanic communities of the United States. Although the ritual has since been merged with Catholic theology, it still maintains the basic principles of the Aztec ritual, such as the use of skull masks. Today, people don wooden skull masks called calacas and dance in honor of their deceased relatives. The wooden skulls are also placed on altars that are dedicated to the dead. Sugar skulls, made with the names of the dead person on the forehead, are eaten by a relative or friend, according to anthropologist and writer, Mary J. Adrade, who has written three books on the ritual.
Unlike the Spaniards, who viewed death as the end of life, the natives viewed it as the continuation of life. Instead of fearing death, they embraced it. To them, life was a dream and only in death did they become truly awake. However, the Spaniards considered the ritual to be sacrilegious. They perceived the indigenous people to be barbaric and pagan.

In their attempts to convert them to Catholicism, the Spaniards tried to kill the ritual. But like the old Aztec people, the ritual refused to die. To make the ritual more Christian, the Spaniards moved it so it coincided with All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day (Nov. 1 and 2), which is when it is celebrated today. Previously it fell on the ninth month of the Aztec Solar Calendar, approximately the beginning of August, and was celebrated for the entire month (now THERE was a race of people who knew how to have a good time ). Festivities were presided over by the goddess Mictecacihuatl. The goddess, known as "Lady of the Dead," was believed to have died at birth, Andrade said.

Today, Day of the Dead is celebrated in Mexico and in certain parts of the United States and Central America. In rural Mexico, people visit the cemetery where their loved ones are buried. They decorate gravesites with marigold flowers and candles. They bring toys for dead children and bottles of tequila to adults. They sit on picnic blankets next to gravesites and eat the favorite food of their loved ones.

My mother did not grow up with Halloween or “Tricky or Treat”, as she usually called it. She did remembers cleaning up the graves in the small hilltop cemetery of Temecula California with her sisters, brother and some friends when she was a child. Now an upscale commuter suburb of San Diego, Temecula was a small desert town of rolling hills, ranches, Indian reservations, and chaparral.

The town and cemetery, which I visited some years ago in search of a link to my mother’s past, is tended beautifully now. But seventy years ago it was overgrown by weeds and scrub. Some of the children took it upon themselves to tend the graves, light candles, and say prayers for the silent inhabitants probably on All Souls Day. Mom has mentioned that the wind always blows across the hills. And on the day we visited the cemetery, sure enough, a good wind was blowing.

Despite the wind, the children were able to keep the candles lit. Walking down the hill towards home, one boy kept looking back at the cemetery. In the growing twilight, the glowing candles must have given an eerie glow, enough to rival the frightening “I’m so scared,” scene in the Blair Witch Project. Suddenly with a shout he scared my mother and the other girls with, “Los muertos están viniendo!”

(“The dead are coming!”) There was a sudden scream from everyone and general panic. I wonder what the good people of Temecula thought when they heard the thundering footsteps of a half dozen frightened children crashing through the night. I would like to say the children got home and had atole and pan de muerto to celebrate their adventure. But that probably did not happen, poverty being the rule of the day. So in honor of my mother’s adventure of being chased by the Dead, I would like to share a recipe in the hopes that someone in Zapata will make it in memory of loved ones.


Pan de Muerto (Bread of the Dead)


1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup (half a stick) margarine or butter, cut into 8 pieces
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 package active dry yeast
1/4 cup very warm water
2 eggs
3 cups all-purpose flour, unsifted
1/2 teaspoon anise seed
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons sugar


Bring milk to boil and remove from heat. Stir in margarine or butter, 1/4 cup sugar and salt.

In large bowl, mix yeast with warm water until dissolved and let stand 5 minutes. Add the milk mixture.

Separate the yolk and white of one egg. Add the yolk to the yeast mixture, but save the white for later. Now add flour to the yeast and egg. Blend well until dough ball is formed.

Flour a pastry board or work surface very well and place the dough in center. Knead until smooth.

Return to large bowl and cover with dish towel. Let rise in warm place for 90 minutes. Meanwhile, grease a baking sheet and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Knead dough again on floured surface. Now divide the dough into fourths and set one fourth aside. Roll the remaining 3 pieces into "ropes."

On greased baking sheet, pinch 3 rope ends together and braid. Finish by pinching ends together on opposite side. Divide the remaining dough in half and form 2 "bones." Cross and lay them atop braided loaf.

Cover bread with dish towel and let rise for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, in a bowl, mix anise seed, cinnamon and 2 teaspoons sugar together. In another bowl, beat egg white lightly.

When 30 minutes are up, brush top of bread with egg white and sprinkle with sugar mixture, except on cross bones. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.


Happy Halloween Zapata!  Friday, October 30, 2016 at 2:25am PT

Mandy Gough Thank you for sharing your story and your recipe Charles. I always deeply enjoy your writing and the evocative sensory experience you evoke in your story telling. Friday, October 30, 2016 at 4:32am PT

Sun Cat What is atole? Friday, October 30, 2016 at 8:20am PT

Charles Garcia Atole is a hot drink made from corn, amaranth, or other grains and can be flavored with chocolate, cinnamon and other spices. It is very thick, almost the consistency of a pudding. Friday, October 30, 2016 at 8:32am PT

case study

Case Study: Haunting

Charles Garcia Taking Your Own Advice  fb CSHH

It's hard to take your own advice. Sometimes the case is too hard, sometimes the person is too far gone, sometime fatigue has clouded your judgement...and you have to walk away. Or run.

For those who believe in the paranormal I need not explain, those who don't I ask you to believe that I believe in what I experienced.

This morning I was called to the home of a former student. She had moved into a new residence this late spring. For a month now odd things have been happening to her and her and her 13 yr old daughter. At night they hear doors slamming. Cupboard doors are found open in the morning and in several instances have opened on their own. Some sort of male voice calls out both in the day and night. Books flip out of book cases. Mother and daughter see blood streams in the bathtub, but on second looks nothing is there. Only at night do they hear giggling

A Barbie doll still kept by the daughter was found on the bed, legs splayed, clothes ripped.

And the house feels bad. Just bad. My stomach rolled when I walked in. Although every window blind was open, the house still looked dark.

My skin seemed to burn...and my right knee started hurting. I hurt that knee 30 some years ago.

When I tried to open my medicine bag, my right hand was struck with a severe pain.

Then a book flipped out of book shelf. The daughter screamed and the mother held on to her. I picked up the book, it was excerpts from Walden Pond. I put it back. Everything felt hectic and my heart pounded. Quieting my mind I went into the kitchen where all the cupboards were open. I closed them all, but none opened while I was there. Instead a door slammed and slammed again. I yelled at the sound to stop. It did.

But then I was slipping into an RSDS spike, which I'm still trying to shake.

Walking into the bathroom I felt nothing. But walking down the short hallway I felt like I was being pushed against the well, and I fell slightly to my left. Thankfully I brought my cane.

I tried to light my white sage bundle, but the matches refused to light. My lighter only sparked. Moving back into the light of the living room my eye started to hurt...and a saw later that a few of my blood vessels had burst. Then I just felt defeated. I told mother and daughter to meet me at a sacred spot...and to call me to make an appointment. If the do or don't I have no idea.

So I needed to write this out. I don't think I'm crazy. Either I witnessed true poltergeist activity or something is very very sick with that house. In short, I don't think I'm the man I was...I'm not taking this one. June 1, 2014 at 3:43pm PT

Rick Parton Any ideas as to why this entity would feel it has squatting rights? June 01, 2014 at 3:50pm PT

Charles Garcia I wish I knew. June 01, 2014 at 3:52pm PT

DeLayne Blagg So many things about the after life we do not remember while we are here but my guess would be evil energy June 01, 2014 at 3:55pm PT

Eugene Oleo Be careful what you fool with. Don't take lightly things from dark spirits. Invite good spirits to help battle the dark ones. Good spirits are commonly known as Guardian Angels. June 01, 2014 at 3:59pm PT

Charles Garcia I don't know if I feel more like a coward, or a little old man. June 01, 2014 at 4:00pm PT

Rick Parton I personally believe there are many ways to deal with this sort of thing. I know what my Christian friends would do, and I have done the same in the past to thwart oppressive spirits. Are these people Catholic? June 01, 2014 at 4:00pm PT

Charles Garcia No, these folks have no religious affiliations. June 01, 2014 at 4:01pm PT

DeLayne Blagg Why mess with evil energy there are to many living people to help and she should take her child to safety it is just a house a thing get out June 01, 2014 at 4:08pm PT

Charles Garcia That's my thought DeLayne. I'm not strong enough or young enough to do a limpia on the house. June 01, 2014 at 4:10pm PT

DeLayne Blagg I am so happy to hear that June 01, 2014 at 4:13pm PT

Kenneth Chin I'll send up some smoke for them later this evening ..... maybe I can try something from here ..... I have some friends who help me with such things from time to time.
They don't operate under the same constraints I do ...... June 01, 2014 at 4:19pm PT

Michaela Maestas geez,, they need to move out June 01, 2014 at 4:22pm PT

Michaela Maestas match blood with blood ….. I wish I was there to help June 01, 2014 at 4:23pm PT

Michaela Maestas no child should be in that house .. June 01, 2014 at 4:23pm PT

Charles Garcia moving out is easier said than done. June 01, 2014 at 4:40pm PT

Michaela Maestas Of course,,, i know,, i am sorry June 01, 2014 at 4:54pm PT

Michaela Maestas need limpias with some strong powerful people/ helpers and medicine … I would be making hole water with some strong stuff …. U need a Voodoo High Priestess , or a few … some died ? in the house ,, self inflicted or murdered ? June 01, 2014 at 4:57pm PT

Michaela Maestas these females need to learn how to do ,,, Limpias, treatments for them selves … June 01, 2014 at 4:48pm PT

Blessed Homestead If a spirit won't let you light the sage, use a burner on the kitchen stove, or ANYTHING that will get hot, hot enough to eventually ignite that sucker. June 01, 2014 at 5:00pm PT

Barbara Meza Doc I am relieved you aren't taking this on. You are tired physically and you have much good work yet to do. There are others, physically stronger and yes younger, with the necessary vitality to pe rform the limpia. Do you have former students that you have trained? June 01, 2014 at 5:11pm PT

Missy Rohs Wow, that's awful, Chuck. I'm sorry. June 01, 2014 at 5:14pm PT

Kenneth Chin Whatever it is now .... I'm willing to bet that the thing in that house was once human ..... June 01, 2014 at 5:15pm PT

Kara Rose Please do not perform a limpia on this one, and to all of you who are offering help, please believe me this is not something you want to try and stop. I may not have been there physically with him, but I was in spirit. It is being taken care of, no one else should get hurt. It feels like a poltergeist, but it is not, something much darker. June 01, 2014 at 5:16pm PT

Blessed Homestead I am in agreement, here, with Kara. I do not believe this was once human, I believe it's something dark that has gained access and is trying to gain more energy by freaking people out, and wrecking havoc. It needs to be handled correctly, by the right people. June 01, 2014 at 5:18pm PT

Jane Dutton Robb I had some of these experiences in a house in Alameda. Flowers vases thrown at me, doors opening and closing. images waking my then, nine year old son, telling him to get out. Until he was do frightened and scared he turned white and stone cold. A a friend came over and did an exorcism of the house. Praying and burning spices. Then told us to stop acting scared. Just to go in with our business as a family. It did stop eventually they told is the spirits would learn ton live with us in harmony. No more problems a door or two opened a couple more Times after this but no violence. We lived in that house for over 7 years after that. June 01, 2014 at 5:18pm PT

Barbara Meza Kara, understood. June 01, 2014 at 5:31pm PT

Blessed Homestead Yes, you can NOT be afraid in these situations. They feed off that energy and grow stronger for it. That is why they do what they do. June 01, 2014 at 5:19pm PT

Darcey Blue heartxoxoxo take care of you so you can help the ones you can. June 01, 2014 at 5:22pm PT

Jane Dutton Robb Ps we even spoke to the spirits telling them to knock it off. Come to find out a young man had Committed suicide in the house some years before. His name was Kenny. We addressed him by his name after we found this out June 01, 2014 at 5:25pm PT

CarolAnn Bauer Try contacting Jimmy Hernandez. He is a mexican shaman. let him help them. I think this might be up his alley. June 01, 2014 at 5:59pm PT

CarolAnn Bauer Oh, he is in North close. June 01, 2014 at 5:59pm PT

Charles Garcia I have faced a lot of things in the past but nothing ever felt like this.I'm not sending anyone into harm's way with this weather. Please understand I've been doing the very least 30 years.for some reason this felt like a suicide. I don't want to do an investigation into the house as I know I will be tempted to return.sometimes you just have to cut your losses. And this is one of them. June 01, 2014 at 6:16pm PT

Blessed Homestead Kenny was affected by this negative entity there, though, Jane, which drove him to suicide, to feed off the energy of that act, to grow stronger. Kenny is not the only one there. The one that Charles interacted with was NOT Kenny. June 01, 2014 at 6:18pm PT

Kara Rose Charles and friends, please know this is being taken care of, there is nothing any of you can do for this one, I cannot protect you if you attempt to enter, either in person or in spirit. Please let me do my job, you may not know me, and that is ok, but I really do know what this is, and how to deal with it. It is nothing any of you have ever seen or could possibly know about. Let's just leave it at that. Brightest blessings to all. Chuck, still sending you good energy and love. June 01, 2014 at 6:30pm PT

Jane Dutton Robb I am not talking about "this" house. I was sharing my experience. In Alameda, dime 40 years ago. Sorry if I was not clear and KARA Rose Good luck. !!! June 01, 2014 at 6:58pm PT

Christine Borus If it doesn't work consider a religious exorcism as well by an experienced priest June 01, 2014 at 7:02m PT

Joe Schilling Wish we were there to help you. Sounds like something there is one bad mambajamba, June 01, 2014 at 7:42pm PT

Irene Sturla Perhaps the medicine here is for Mom and Daughter to find a place that is filled with healing spirit and for you to care for you. That is a curandero performing the best limpia of all. Te quiero. June 01, 2014 at 8:38pm PT

Pixie Kaminski See you Tuesday?? June 01, 2014 at 8:55pm PT

Terrie Schultz This sounds horrible. I hope they can get out of there soon. June 01, 2014 at 8:56pm PT

Charles Garcia Ah yes my friend. ..see you Tuesday. June 01, 2014 at 9:33pm PT

Bobbi Borders Mileham Get a Priest. June 01, 2014 at 11:17pm PT

Lela Dowling Geez Doc, I'm glad you know when you're biting off more than you can chew! Be careful. June 02, 2014 at 1:15am PT

Charles Garcia This defeat hits hard. But tomorrow the sun will rise and there will be other dragons to slay...or at least stare down. June 02, 2014 at 2:07am PT

Bonnie Kavanagh You did the right thing, Charles. Every practitioner knows when to refer... June 02, 2014 at 4:03am PT

Mark D. Steele Peace and Light Doc. I have no experience of such things. Thoughts are with you though. June 02, 2014 at 5:26am PT

Pamela Heyda Poltergeist for sure. Usually occurs when there is a prepubescent girl in the house. All that energy. I'm sure there is someone out there who can help them. June 02, 2014 at 6:35am PT

Kara Rose Hugs and lots of love sent your way, remember who and what your are, this is not defeat, nor a temporary setback, this is life. It will be ok. June 02, 2014 at 7:54am PT

Mark D. Steele That's not an entity. THIS is an entity. (Ok so only I would mash The Lord of the Rings and Crocodile Dundee). You Shall Not Pass - The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (7/8) Movie CLIP (2001) HD Link opens in new window: June 02, 2014 at 8:42am PT

Emily Grace Willis Sending love and light to you... June 02, 2014 at 10:03am PT

Charles Garcia enjoying breakfast today have at a small cafe near my is cold gray and windy.I don't think I'll be spending time in my garden. I think I'll take a trip to the library.sometimes you have to do hands-on research instead of going online.later today I'll be making more jam and jelly. June 02, 2014 at 10:50am PT

Donna Garcia If you message me a little about them I may be able to help. I have been good at taking care of the bad ones. Even my houses. June 02, 2014 at 12:16pm PT

Kara Rose Chuck, it has been taken care of. But please let the young lady know she needs to move to a better location, the conduit is still there (but protected) the energy may take awhile to clear. For anyone else, please do not attempt to work on this one, as stated before, this is not a type of bad thing to mess with. You will not find it in a book or online, there is no human word for what it is. June 02, 2014 at 2:28pm PT

Joe Schilling Doc, ever hear about the Japanese version of a poltergeist? June 02, 2014 at 3:40pm PT

Herb Healer ezine

Herbs for my Patience

for Herb Healer ezine

Charles Garcia Herbs for my Patience

Yes dear reader, you read that correctly. Herbs for my patience, not my patients. Though most of my practice concerns the homeless of Richmond and San Pablo, California, I do have a clinical practice out of my home. My living room is where I greet my patients, the kitchen is where I compound medicines (or remedios for my Hispanic clients), the backyard is my pharmacy, and if I had to, the dining room could become a decent surgical room. Just spray a little Windex on the table and all would be ready.

There's a world of difference between treating my clients on the streets and those in my home. The former make no pretense at sanity. The latter are the ones who drive me crazy, though. With brand new Volvos, they park in my driveway (with the exception of the one who drives a BMW, who parks on the street) and enter my home complaining that my lawn is too weedy and may eventually bring down the property values.  (In this neighborhood??)

Then comes the critique of my last treatment, which usually "hasn't done squat," unless it has caused a rash, difficulty breathing, skin eruptions, yeast infections, eczema, swollen testicles, painful ovaries, insomnia, sleepiness, impotence, Saint Vitus' Dance or symptoms of the BLACK DEATH!! And this was just the colored water I gave them. At this point I realize that I am dealing with an agressive hypochondriac individual who can point out every reason why an herb (any herb) is contraindicated for his or her conditions. It's like a chess amateur playing the late great Bobby Fischer. You can't fucking win.

In the gentlest way, I try to tell them that maybe herbalism is not for them. Try Reiki, Feldenkrais, Acupuncture, Ayahuasca, Chelation, Magnetics, Past Life Regression, Divination, forty days in the Mojave or the Sinai. Preferably the Sinai.

I usually end up Rx-ing a gentle tincture available in nearby San Francisco, where, I hope, the seller will get into a conversation with my client, causing her or him to return in a panic.

When the Volvo rolls away several hours later, my stomach is in cramps, my blood sugar is up, my eyes are bloodshot, I'm three steps away from a migraine, and I MIGHT HAVE SAINT VITUS' DANCE! (At the worst I start checking under my armpits for black bulboes.) Hypochondria is catching.

Sadly there have been days when I've gotten two or three of these types of clients in a row. I don't schedule it that way. They just happen to be inconsiderate and show up at my doorstep. (My homeless never do that…as they don't know where I live.)

The frustration of wasted time and wasted herbs builds a type of anger in me and a depression that is difficult to describe. I do not charge for my services, of course, but that doesn't make the herbs, glassware, alcohol, and other material I use free to me!  Sometimes the dark part of my soul cries out, "If you are so fucking sick, hurry up and die!!" Not very nice, is it. But it is very, very human, when you have held people in your arms who are desperately ill and watched them die.

So to keep my brain on an even keel and my emotions in check, my first stop is my garden.

Lemon Balm

Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) was first cultivated by Greek and Roman physicians, and is an herb often used to treat anxiety and stress. A member of the mint family, lemon balm contains terpenes (chemicals thought to produce a relaxing effect.) My mother kept a brown paper bag of the dried herb in the kitchen ready to make a strong tea for colds, influenza, and the occasional cold sore. As the weather in my part of the world is often mild enough to have lemon balm all year long, I just go out back, harvest a handful, and set it to simmer. Depending on various factors it may have a slight bitter taste, but I'm willing to drink it straight or add a half teaspoon of honey.

I make a mild decoction with this wonderful plant using leaves, stems, and blossoms when in season. The liquid is a beautiful light green and smells like a fresh sliced lemon. Boiling will make a stronger drink, but it tends to be too bitter for some people. Lemon Balm also helps in dealing with grief (as I've written before in these pages). On occasion I will run a warm bath, make a strong decoction of lemon balm and add it to the bath as I float amid the steam and songs of Tom Russel and Elton John.


And yet there are times when one needs something stronger. Like Sam Spade in the Maltese Falcon, who is ready to turn his lover Brigid O'Shaughnessy over to the cops, "Yeah I'll have some bad nights after I turn you over, but nothing that a bottle of bourbon won't help." My next choice is Skullcap.

Skullcap is a native American plant, the dried leaves and stems of which are used as an herbal medication, and in teas to treat anxiety, stress and insomnia.  Now, Skullcap has been linked to several instances of clinically apparent liver injury, but usually in combination with other botanicals. That being said, it is very rare, and the actual action of the hypertoxcitiy of the liver is unknown.

Skullcap is a short-term herb, and I prefer it in tincture form. I limit myself to 15 drops in a few ounces of cool water. The effect (on me) is rather quick. Within twenty minutes the anger begins to fade. I'm willing to take another 15 drops in forty-five minutes if the original dose is ineffective. If at this point I feel nothing, it's time to move on.

This is a treatment I would use if I knew I had to be out of the house, seeing clients on the street or making house calls. In large doses, sixty or more drops at a time, it can help a tweaker or meth head come down a bit easier. Curiously, this does not help the D.T.s in my experience though older herbal manuals says it does. While not known as a treatment for migraines, I've used it on some stress hangovers with amazing results.

Bleeding Heart

Bleeding Heart - white - ©2015 Roane
Bleeding Heart - White

Bleeding Heart ©2015 Roane
Bleeding Heart - Pink

I'll move on to Bleeding Heart, sometimes called Pacific Bleeding Heart (Dicentra formosa), which ranges from southern British Columbia, down into the Sierra Nevada mountains of California as well as some of the redwood forest, and a few choice locations in Idaho and northwestern Montana. It prefers forest habitats such as thickets, stream banks, ravines and other moist locations. Mosquitoes tend to enjoy it also, so beware.

As with so many plants in the Pacific Northwest, this species has valuable medicinal properties. In the form of a root tincture or hot compress, it can help pain relief, and can be applied externally to bruises and sprains. Internally, the tincture of bleeding heart can also help calm frazzled nerves, especially after a frightening experience such as an accident or other trauma...or spending two or three hours with an aggressive hypochondriac. Several of my students prefer the blossoms as a mild sedative in tea form to help with insomnia, or the mind chatter after a bad day in the city. Again, I prefer this as a tincture and will take ten drops every fifteen minutes until I feel calm, competent, and willing to make a banana-watermelon-strawberry smoothie. This is another herb excellent for those individuals who are coming down from speed, XTC, or coke, or other speedy recreational narcoctics. Again, sixty drops would not be too high to start in helping a tweaker down off the wall.

California Poppy

If the consult has also given me physical pain (usually in the lower back where two discs are falling apart), I will go to an old favorite, Eschscholzia californica, more commonly known as California Poppy or Yellow Poppy. (Be aware that this species of poppy has no relation to the Papaver sominifera variety, of morphine and laudanum fame.) First let me say that I find the tea virtually worthless. The taste if vile and the effects are primarily imaginary. But if it works for you, hey, whatever floats your boat.

I harvest the plant in the early mornings while the dew is still on the leaf and quickly chop the entire plant for a tincture. It breaks down easily in alcohol, so I can use a cheap vodka rather than a higher grade rum. The tincture tastes as vile as the tea, but goes down quicker. The ubiquitous Dr. Oz touts this plant to be safer and just as effective as Vicodin or Percocet. I'm not certain that is true, but high doses can certainly kill a high degree of pain. Remember though, along with natural pain killers, you are sucking down a good amount of cheap vodka. In these cases I start at 60 drops, and will increase up to 120. California Poppy in light amounts, twenty-to-thirty drops, helps with insomnia, night pains, and in some cases, nightmares. And yes, sometimes the sights I see on the streets of Richmond and San Pablo give me nightmares.

California Poppy grows in a multitude of areas, but may die off under drought conditions or severe cold. It grows well in containers, and has returned again and again in the wooden wine barrels at my home.


I would be remiss if I left out Cannabis. Because we can purchase medical marijuana in this state, the type and variants are incredible. At the better marijuana stores you can ask for cannabis for your specific needs. RSDS, Fibromyalgia, nerve damage due to trauma, back trouble, hell they probably even have a variety for St. Vitus' Dance! But I prefer making my own tinctures. Cannabis also is a taste I cannot abide, but due to the sugar in marijuana brownies, I'm unable to avail myself of such treats. So I make a strong tincture using Capt. Morgan's Spice Run, 152 proof. After a month of infusing, the tincture is ready. I begin with thirty drops and work my way up, ten drops at a time. Cannabis tincture has a long effect on me, so I cancel any driving, shopping, or clients if I take it. In large amounts it will affect balance, so be warned, good reader.

Cannabis tincture is not the only way I use this much maligned plant. If in severe spinal pain I will use a liniment of marijuana and spearmint in high-grade rubbing alcohol. This is a remedio my mother used for many years (even after pot became illegal.) The coolness of the alcohol and mind causes a quick anti-inflammation effect, while the spearmint acts as a trans-dermal carrier for the painkiller pot! Thank you Mom! (The old ways are the best ways.)

Final Rest

And if all else fails, I will take a lemon and orange into the bathroom, my iPod, and a sharp knife. Fear not, dear readers, I am not suicidal. I slice the fruits into thin pieces and toss them into a steaming tub of water. Easing my aching body and mind into the water, I listen to Loreena McKennitt or the works of Rumi. My mind floats to better times where young ladies shared this delight with me. I let my fingers and hands wrinkle, my body becomes soaked with citrus oils, and after a few moments I may slip into a gentle sleep.

Perhaps these are the best herbs for my patience.

Because once I exit the tub, I'm ready to hit the streets and see my crazed and beloved homeless. (But I do check out the window first in case I see a Volvo roll up the driveway.) October 10, 2014

Merry Christmas!

The Gift of the Wise Men

Charles Garcia The Gift of the Wise Men  fb CSHH

Their actual status is unclear. Some call them Kings. Others name them as astrologers. Other use the Greek term, Magi, which can mean anything from a priestly caste in Persia or a sorcerer. Most of us know them as the Three Wise Men, Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar.

To the humble young mother and her husband sheltered in a grotto with oxen and donkeys, they may have seemed like exotic visitors from another world. These visitors from afar knelt before a manger and gave the swaddled child gifts of frankincense, myrrh, and gold. Theologians and philosophers have debated the symbolism of these kingly gifts. The mother and father had no doubt of their true meaning. Each gift had a deeply practical purpose.


Boswellia branch
- from NYT article
Boswellia Sacra trees in Dhofar photo by Helen Pickering for Kew Gardens
Boswellia sacra, Dhofar, Oman
- Helen Pickering for Kew Gardens
frankincense - from Home Remedies for Mom

Frankincense is the dried sap of the Boswellia tree found in parts of southern Arabia. The tree is hardy and is often found growing where little else grows. Collecting the sap was (and still is) a risky pursuit. Vipers are often found in the nooks and crannies of the tree trunk.

It was and is used for incense and perfume. But in the time of the baby Jesus, healers and mothers knew it was important as a fumigate against insects, mosquitoes, sand fleas, wheat moths, and a treatment for arthritis, laryngitis, and bronchitis. Pure frankincense is clear and may have no color, or at most, a slight yellow tinge. This is considered the best and safest variety for internal use. Other varieties can vary from yellow to dark brown.

Past studies, at Johns Hopkins University and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, have shown that burning frankincense resin helps to alleviate anxiety and depression. This may explain its heavy use in temples throughout the eastern world. The scent is almost hypnotic. The University of Munich also found the anti-inflammatory properties of frankincense very effective as a treatment for joint pain and arthritis.

The famous eleventh-century Arabian physician, Avicenna, recommended its cooling effects as a remedy for infections and illnesses that increase the body's temperature. We know this today as a fever. He also recommended it for tumors, ulcers, vomiting and dysentery.

Greek and Roman physicians used Frankincense in the treatment of a great variety of diseases. Frankincense appears in the Syriac Book of Medicine, ancient Muslim texts, and in Ayurvedic and Chinese medical writings which specifically suggested its use in cases of leprosy.


myrrh resin on a myrrh tree
myrrh tree resin
- from
myrrh tree in ethiopia by Ermias Dagne
myrrh tree in ethiopia
- Ermias Dagne for apothecarygardens
myrrh gum
myrrh gum
- from

Myrrh, another resin, was also laid at the foot of the manger. At the time of Jesus' birth, it was literally worth its weight in gold. Unlike frankincense, which comes from several species of the same tree, myrrh refers to the resinous dried sap from a number of trees and bushes of the Commiphora and Balsamodendron species. The Commiphora myrrha, the most common source of myrrh, grows natively in Somalia, Yemen and eastern Ethiopia. The word myrrh comes from the Hebrew murr or maror, which means "bitter."

Today myrrhis a common ingredient in toothpastes. In the time of the Christ it was often mixed with wine and used as a mouthwash for infected gums. It is a powerful astringent and can heal wounds with its antiseptic qualities and the shrinking of damaged tissue. Possibly more important to the mother Mary, powdered myrrh could be used for severe diaper on the holy infant's bottom. It could also be used on injuries, which as every carpenter knows, will occur when you least expect it.

Myrrh has also been recommended to help toothache pain, and can be used in liniment for bruises, aches and sprains.

In Chinese medicine myrrh is most commonly used for rheumatic, arthritic, and circulatory problems. In the traditional medicine of India, it is consider a stimulant and blood tonic. It helps "stagnant" blood areas to begin flowing again. Older folks believed it to be a rejuvenate remedy. Who knows, it might have worked.

Truly, these two symbolic and practical gifts were fit for a king.


Lastly, gold was given. 

gold structure
microscopic structure of gold
- from csiro

While gold has been used medicinally, this was not used by the holy family for arthritic fingers or joints. When the mad King Herod sent out his henchmen to kill all male children of a certain age, the good carpenter Joseph, heeded the words of an angel sent in a dream, and made a run for the border of Egypt. Don't tell me he didn't bribe the local federales or custom inspectors to let them in.

Yes…the holy family were illegals. 

In Egypt they found sanctuary, and the gifts of the Magi were put to good use. 

So the next time you hear a discussion of the symbolic meaning of each gift, stop and think.

Are your Christmas gifts as practical as the Magis'? Tuesday, December 16, 2014 6:49pm PT

Witching Folklore

Witching Folklore

Charles Garcia  fb CSHH

As we are nearing the witching season I thought I'd post this old lesson from years ago.

Before starting the lecture I'd like to recommend two books that are not herbals. For those of you interesting in Hispanic folklore please find copies of,
 - Witchcraft in the Southwest: Spanish and Indian Supernaturalism on the Rio Grande by Marc Simmons
 - Mexican-American Folklore by John O. West.
The former is a more scholarly work but highly readable. The latter is an enjoyable collection of legends, songs, cultural mores, folk cures and more. I've used both these books to research the background of some of my own family and cultural history.

This class usually begins with me asking my students what the difference between belief and superstition is. I get some interesting answers. Most of the answers miss the point. I then say, "Belief is something I have. Superstition is what you have." At that point they understand. It is all a point of perception and cultural interpretation. Ethnologists of the 19th century as well as those late into 20th century have used the term superstition in a negative or pejorative sense. Beliefs of all native people were lumped into the categories of superstitions. Superstitions have no value, have no religious moral degree, and have no basis in orthodox thought etc. Thankfully, the term superstition is slowly falling by the wayside.

We all have beliefs. Some beliefs can be understood by outsiders. Some cannot. So be it.

At this point in my lecture, I ask my students this...I do not expect you to believe in the supernatural. I ask you to believe that I believe in it. So those are the only ground rules for this lecture.

Let me start with a ghost story (and I hope it chills your blood a bit, hehehe.)

La Llorona

Throughout Latin American countries and communities various beliefs are common. The voice of La Llorona, The Crying Woman, is heard from California to the Philippines.

The origin of the story is lost in history, but she is supposedly a beautiful Indian woman who became Hernando Cortez' mistress and translator. Originally she was called La Malinche. Today this is one of the worst names you can call a woman (or man for that matter), for it goes beyond political treason. A "Malinche or malincho" is a treasonous whore. In short, a traitor against an entire race of people. In California it is an insult seldom used. Guns and knives often appear when the word is used.

La Malinche became La Llorona when Cortez eventually spurned her. In a fit of rage she murdered the children she had borne by him. When her senses returned she ran screaming and wailing into the night. Forever she weeps for her murdered children. Scary stuff.

In the Central Valley of California, the late winter and early spring is very foggy. While walking from church along the railroad tracks, we children would often hear an unearthly scream coming out of the fog. That would always make us break into a run for home.

What was it? You guessed it! La Llorona...or so our parents told us.... with the warning, "Be good children or the Llorona will get you!" I guess she was the Hispanic version the Boogey Man.

When my Mother was visiting several years ago, I asked if she remembered La Llorona. She did and volunteered this information:  What we children had heard was the wailing of an old woman that lived near the tracks for many years. A train had killed her eldest and favorite son during one of the thick tule fogs that plague the valley. Her mind had eventually gone after her surviving children married and left. The community brought her food, a little money and flowers for the rest of her life.

The story made me feel better for some reason. I then asked why I had never heard of her. Mom said, "Oh hijo, she died before you were born. That was her spirit." A chill ran down my spine!


So how would a curandero protect a client from Llorona?

Well in most cases one would not, as the spirit is not necessarily a malevolent one. But in California, to protect a child from fear, a small cross of rosemary or de-thorned blackberry branches would be made. A small blue stone or sliver of blue stone would be wrapped in a sage leaf and tied to the cross bar.

Variations of this are: a pinch of corn flour wrapped in sage, sea salt, a drop of menstrual blood from a virgin wrapped in sage, or the hair of a new born baby (again) wrapped in sage.

You might ask me why sage? In five years of re-searching this custom, I have no clues. The closest I have come is the ancient word for sage which translates to Savior. Salvator.

Some years ago I was patrolling the Richmond docks with another Hispanic law-enforcement officer named Gus Fernandez. (Did you all know I was a police officer of and on for several years?) It was well after midnight and we were taking a well-earned coffee break. From a nearby hill we heard a blood-curdling wail. Automatically our hands felt for our revolvers. "La Llorona!" we both said. Now it must be noted that Gus was born and raised in Oakland and closest he ever came to rural areas was picking vegetables out of Safeway. We made a thorough if shaky patrol of the area where the scream had come from. We did not need coffee that night to stay awake. Of course we saw and found nothing. But we shared our own versions of La Llorona. Yep, she's even in the back alleys of Oakland. And the following evening Gus had a small cross of rosemary mashed in his uniform pocket. I had dipped my bullets in holy water.

Gente de Chusma

Flying demons, or gente de chusma, who sail the night winds, are another common belief. It is possible this belief came from a combination of sources. Many native people believe the owl to be a harbinger of bad news or bad luck. The Spanish believed in witches who took the forms of owls. Finally the night itself was often considered unhealthy. The night air or El Sereno De La Noche (night dew) was considered very bad. Could these fears have come from the belief that malaria (Latin for bad air) was spread by wetness and night breezes?

So what would any well respecting healer do against these problems? First close the window shades. Second, sprinkle crushed mustard seed or mustard powder on the windowsill. Third, burn lemon peelings in the home. (Interestingly enough, these were the same methods used to repel mosquitoes in wet years in the Central Valley.) Fourth, carry a small amulet of garlic around your neck. (Sound familiar?)

Not only did these methods keep flying demons away; they also kept away malarial mosquitoes. As a child, I remember the encephalitis epidemic of the late 1950's. (Karen old friend, do you have any memory of these?) Mosquitoes spread this potentially deadly disease. The Anglo families tended to wait for the Mosquito Abatement district to solve the problems. The Hispanic families used our old tried and true methods against the gente de chusma. There was only once case of a Hispanic child in my hometown with encephalitis. Unfortunately there were numerous cases of Anglo children with it.


The concept of brujeria, (witchcraft) is rooted deeply in Hispanic cultures. But in the California and the Southwest, it is markedly different from our East Coast cousins. In California and the Southwest, the natives did not have a concept of a supreme good or supreme evil. As in people, there is good and bad, there is madness, there is illness, there are even concepts of restitution and redemption. In California, the shaman or medicine men walked a delicate balance between doing good and doing bad.

The beliefs in some tribes were you couldn't have one without the other. A Shaman who did "bad magic" usually turned it onto the village ne'er do wells, a bully, recalcitrant children, or people the tribe could no longer care for. In short, the shaman did bad things for the good of the tribe.

The good mission padres of California never understood that fine point of logic. Eventually, the concept of black (bad) magic and white magic (prayer, herbalism, healing) ingrained itself into the native psyche. (It should be noted though, that a shaman who overplayed hand, did one too many "bad” things could be sentenced to death by the village.)

But native brujeria (witchcraft) never embraced a concept of the Devil, Satan, or a Lord of Evil to any great degree in California. In the Southwest this is more common. California brujos and brujas perform evil acts because they like it. There was no reason attached to their attacks on the innocent. Think of them as having a Serial Killer's mentality (although few ever committed murder).

Still, one must eat. And a good way of getting money without working is extortion. Brujos and brujas often hexed (mal puesto) their neighbors, with the offer to take the hex off for a price. Migraines were a common but effective curse. The brujo would place chili pepper seeds into a small squash gourd or pumpkin, shake it vigorously while chanting the victim’s name and send an image of the victim’s brain pulsing with pain, across town into the poor wretch's mind.

Within a few days the victim would come to the brujo, mention the terrible ache in his head, and ask if there was anything the brujo could do. The brujo would smile and say something like, "You've come to the right place!" sounding much like a used car salesman. All this is done with great deal of courtesy. A price for the healing is decided on, and if the victim is smart there is not a lot of haggling. The brujo tells the victim, "Go home and I will send a healing spell your way."

By the time the victim gets home, he's feeling a hell of a lot better. The squash and chili seeds are thrown into running water and the brujo sits back with a cool $20 bill and a cooler of cerveza (beer.)

Now if there happens to be a curandero in town, the end of this story is a bit different. The victim will go to the curandero and ask for help. No mention of payment is made. The curandero will take espigas de maiz (flower spikes of corn), burn it with a match, mix the ashes into water and have the victim drink it. Within a few minutes the migraine will be gone, the victim will slap the curandero on the back, shake his hand, and be on his way. The curandero is out one match and some perfectly good corn flower spikes, more usually used for urinary problems. (Don't expect to get rich as a curandero my friends.)

This scenario and several like it were played out in my neighborhood over two years ago. An entire family of brujos/brujas moved in from northern Mexico. This was before I went "public" as an herbalist, though several families knew what I did. Within a short time I had numerous cases of headaches, stomachaches, colic, and mental stress, which could not be attributed to organic or environmental sources. Eventually the term brujo was mentioned. I located the family home and felt a distinct uneasiness about it. Having a background in police surveillance techniques, I kept the house under watch for several nights. I was fortunate to look through their garbage one evening. I found a lot of cornhusks, cornhusk dolls, split chili peppers without seeds, and far too many chicken heads. For two years I de-hexed the neighborhood, much to the frustration of the brujos and brujas of 27th Street. When a pregnant woman complained of a coldness in her womb, I performed a barrida, a ritual sweeping of the body. I also had her drink raspberry leaf tea to help tone her uterus. She had gone to her physician who suggested she just had pre-birth jitters. He was right in a sense.

She recovered and had a healthy baby girl.

When a truck driver complained of blurred vision, and medical tests found nothing to account for it, I used rose water (made with holy water) to wash his eyes. He now has better eyesight than I do. When a young woman complained of pain in her breasts (and medical tests found nothing), I had her sleep with a poultice of corn flour, chili pepper, and salt on her breasts. The pain went away after one night. (She also said I increased the sexual sensitivity of her nipples. I think I turned bright red.) When an elderly couple complained of nightly noises in their home, I swept the house out with sea salt. No more noises. A couple brought their teenage son and daughter to me. I knew both kids slightly and liked them. They were suffering from horrific nightmares.

Their school grades were suffering as well as their health. I had to go to my mother for advice on this one. She taught me how to make dream-catchers using rosemary and manzanita (Arctostaphylos uva ursi). I told the kids to keep the dream catcher by their beds. You guessed it. The dreams stopped.

On the next full moon I had the kids burn the dream catchers. Supposedly this would return the bad dreams to those who sent them. I took up my surveillance point the following morning. Our neighborhood witches did not look too good. I suppose I shouldn't have taken pleasure in it...but I laughed my ass off.

Eventually the brujos found out who was taking money out of their pockets. I became very ill for many months, eventually giving my wife a small emerald engagement ring (I couldn't afford one 20 years ago) and writing my will on the same day. One winter day I dragged myself out of bed and into the backyard. Our all-black cat, Cinders, was digging at something under my bedroom window. I found a clay doll (made of Sculpy!) with features very much like my own. Pressed into the back of the doll was a black kernel of corn. Inside the doll was a piece of one of my finger-sticks, a diabetes test stick I use to check my sugar levels. Of course it had my blood on it.

I disposed of the doll in running water. Unfortunately, by this time, my health was so bad I felt no physical relief. It took a weeklong healing circle performed by my students to help me on the road to recovery. (Do you wonder why I love these young people so much?)

So it goes to this day. The witchcraft attacks on the neighborhood have diminished. My health is still poor but improving and the brujos had to find honest employment.

The question is usually asked at this point, how do you know which ailment is natural and which is caused by other sources? This is not as hard as it seems, especially if you were born into a culture like mine.

First, there are individuals who are willing to believe that every ailment or period of bad luck or personal disappointment is caused by sorcery. If they believe that ALL their problems are caused by magick, it probably isn’t. If after several sessions of discussion, there is absolutely no reason, either organic or psychological for health, personal, or emotional troubles...then and only then should you consider witchcraft to be a possibility. Some thought should be given to the investigation of co-workers, friends, ex-lovers, and family...and that includes children. If I believe I am dealing with a case of magick, I do not believe in privacy. I will go through letters, diaries, and email, anything that might confirm my suspicions. Yes, I have found that co-workers, friends, ex-lovers, family, and children may dabble in the darker aspects of magick. Some do it innocently, others who have a taste for it, actually get a kick out of causing problems to those they know well.

Once I ascertain that a case has a magick background, I must consult with my client as to what he or she might want done. This can be as easy as making a dream catcher, to the danger of an exorcism of a home.

We all have a sense that magick might make our lives easier. It does not. It is a power that tempts us to do good without enough information concerning its after-effects. Some of my students ask me if I am tempted to use magick. I hope you won't think less of me...but the answer is no. My training and upbringing has purged that out of me. I have a healthy fear of magick.

On that note, I will close this lesson. I can almost feel the questions bubbling up in all of you. I do teach a three-lesson course on this topic alone if anyone is more interested. Just let me know.  Friday, September 25, 2015 9:54am PT

from "Herbs In Our Lives", a column for the Zapata Weekly Times 2004

Potluck, Prayers, and America’s Most Wanted

Charles Garcia From an article for the Zapata Weekly Times 2004 (reprint fb CSHH)

Herbs In Our Lives

Potluck, Prayers, and America’s Most Wanted

On Halloween night, courtesy of America’s Most Wanted, I was flown to Los Angeles to consult with the LA bureau of the show. I spent the evening at the Beverly Plaza Hotel and thoroughly enjoyed watching the freak show in the bar. For those of you old enough to remember the cantina scene in Star Wars, it was very similar. The following morning I was driven to the Fox Network studios and discussed a disturbing case of brujeria, fraud, and sexual predation, which occurred in Fresno, California. A man passing himself off as a curandero (folkhealer), had promised many battered and abused women he could change their husband’s behavior through magick. Of course, he did that for a price: five hundred dollars, jewelry, and sex. It is believed he has raped over one hundred victims.

Studying the police reports as well as tapes of the victims, I ascertained that this scumbag was not practicing any type of Hispanic curanderismo (healing), or even brujeria (witchcraft) as we understand it. He was practicing instead an extreme form of Santeria, a type of Western Africa-Caribbean magick known as Palo Mayombe. A cold chill went through my spine, and I told the chief reporter on the case, “You’re not looking for a scam man. You’re hunting a witch.”

I spent the rest of the day and a good part of the evening recreating his rituals for the camera, and advising on authenticity.

At the end of the recreation, I was interviewed by the reporter and asked to explain what a real curandero does. I hope my friends in Zapata tune into the Fox Network on November 18th to watch my 15 seconds of fame. How much of the interview will actually be shown is unknown. The show will be focusing on 50 criminals in 50 states, with live feeds throughout the program. Let us pray this sexual predator is captured quickly.

Occasionally in my practice, I treat women who have suffered the trauma of rape. I do not and cannot treat the physical results of rape. Hospital emergency rooms and counselors do a much better job than I ever can. At times though, the emotional after effects linger far beyond the legal resolutions of these attacks. Depression, anxiety, fear and anger explode in these victims again and again. For such cases I suggest a counselor in whom I have much faith. I also suggest a course of herbal therapy.

California Poppy tincture, which can be purchased commercially, is very effective for anxiety conditions caused by trauma. When mixed with Bleeding Heart (Dicentra formosa), it will affect the central nervous system and prevent the sudden attacks of panic and anger. This herbal combination is best used for individuals who have suffered violence, emotional trauma, or a sudden physical injury. Persons who have survived terrible car, train or aircraft accidents react well to this plant.

Sometimes though, a client may have slipped deeply into the darkest of depressions. She may feel worthless, desperate, and suicidal. She may wish to sleep, but will fear sleep. Her attacker still waits in the darkness of dreams. And whatever kind of sleep comes, it brings no relief.

For these cases, the good Lord has given herbalists the beautiful Pasque Flower (Pulsatilla) to ease the afflicted. I often mix this with a bit of Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis). It will bring a gentle sleep without dreams. More important, it can and often does, allow the victim to release her depression. This can show itself in a sudden burst of tears or a scream of anger. And then peace. I have seen the glassy eyes of rape victims slowly unglaze and refocus into a new sense of purpose.

Over the years I have seen too many victims of men who have escaped the law. I hope this sexual predator who has caused so much pain is captured in short order.

On the 18th, several friends will be joining the Garcia family for a potluck to share my few moments of television notoriety. My new friend Clara, who is a native Texan and just published a book concerning a well-known Texas feud, will be bringing jalapeno cornbread. My student Liana, who is suffering morning sickness (as well as afternoon and evenings) may bring a green salad. A friend and colleague of my wife’s, Donna, who is a technical writer, but not a cook, will probably bring wine, while dear family friends, the Rishels’ (Judy got me into deaf education for a decade, husband Wes got my wife into computer software editing) will hopefully bring the famed Thornton Potato Salad (named for Judy’s mother, Granny Thornton).

I am thinking of cooking chicken enchiladas in red sauce. I usually boil the bird, de-bone it, dice it, and mix in a mild sauce, green chili, black olives, sautéed onions, and a mixture of cheeses. I wrap this mixture in large tortillas, and bake them with more sauce for half an hour at 350. People usually don’t come for seconds due to the size of my enchiladas. One enchilada has been known to feed a family of four for a week. Though few of my friends have complained about the flavor of my enchiladas, several have noted that their stomachs do complain of gas pains later in the evening.

This potluck, I will be prepared with a number of herbal alternatives, as well as Pepcid.

Warm milk simmered with sweet basil, cinnamon, and honey soothes most upset stomachs. This coats the stomach, soothes the colon, and eases acid reflux. This is especially good for ulcer patients on the way to recovery.

Simple Yerba Buena tea (spearmint) is the classic Hispanic cure-all for upset stomach. But the tea should not be steeped more than fifteen minutes. Some people find it a bit bitter if over steeped. As an experiment, I added some yerba buena tea to unflavored soda water. It made a good alternative to Alka-Seltzer. I chugged it and rapidly felt the belch of relief. A decent anti-spasmodic as well as a mild acid reliever is Manzanita (chamomile). A favorite with Hispanic abuelitas throughout the world, manzanita tends to calm an overactive stomach. Though not as effective as Pepcid, it is natural and cannot be over used. (Warning: Though there have been reports of allergic reactions to chamomile, none have been thoroughly documented or proven. It is believed that any allergic reaction may actually come from chamomile pollen rather than the plant itself.

Eventually though, someone WILL be found to be allergic to chamomile. Lawyers will rejoice everywhere. Some poor company will be sued. And chamomile will be taken off the shelves. So stock up now!)

Although my friends will be joining us for a fun occasion, I will offer a prayer for the victims (most of whom were too frightened or embarrassed to help with the investigation of this criminal) in the hope someone recognizes this brujo. So watch this show Zapata. Help bring closure to this case.

Addendum: The case was solved some four years later when El Brujo moved his operation to the east coast and was recognized by a viewer who remembered the presentation. He pleaded not guilty and was found guilty by a jury of twelve men in two hours of deliberation, including lunch. He is currently doing 120 years in a high security prison in northern California. With luck his sentence will be lightened to eighty years.  Friday, October 30, 2015 2:33am PT

Ingrid Guthrie What an extremely interesting experience you have had. As always, I do so enjoy your writing style as well as all of your herbal knowledge that you bestow on us. I just put the note in my book to watch the show! Many thanks for the good work you do, Mr. Charles. Friday, October 30 at 5:13am PT

Ruth McConnell I remember this one all too well, glad to hear they caught him Saturday, October 31 at 12:40pm PT

Tracker article

Some Very Personal Thoughts on Being a Healer

Charles Garcia Some Very Personal Thoughts on Being a Healer  fb CSHH

Several years ago Elizabeth Moes, editor of a private zine dedicated to the philosophy of Tom Brown jr, known as the Tracker, asked me to write a piece concerning a darker aspect of my practice as healer. It was prompted by an article written by a journalist friend for his masters’ thesis at UC Berkeley, which I sent her in a fit of depression. In two previous articles my friend documented my history as a curandero-herbalist, the effect of it on my eldest girl who will not be the next generation of healer, and the care I’ve provided for two clients, one who was terminally ill.

The most controversial portion of his thesis relates an incident that occurred while I allowed him to ride along on my street patrols where I treat homeless clients. At the end of the first day he accompanied me, I forcibly entered a crackhouse to find a teenage girl who was being prostituted by her parents. I delivered the girl to a private aid organization where she is now being cared for and offered rehabilitation for a host of ailments both physical and mental.

Unfortunately during the attempt to retrieve her I was forced to defend myself against an attacker. A short but violent struggle ensued. I left my attacker with several wounds.

My friend was deeply disturbed by the action I took, but somewhat more disturbed by my acceptance of the act as necessary to what I do. At no point have I ever described myself as a pacifist. Nor have I described myself as a warrior. He was unable to find the proper term for what I am. For that matter, neither have I.

Later, he also learned I had stopped a sexual assault by threatening to cut off the fingers of man who was groping a severely disturbed street woman I’ve nicknamed The Talker. An interview with a former street person, turned student, turned healer, exposed more of my life. In short, this has gone on for years.

The middle-aged, limping Latino man with a stutter, he had known for three years, could be a thoroughly dangerous person on the street. Once over a double cap at Starbucks he jokingly called me an undercover herbalist. I laughed. Then it didn’t seem so funny.

At various conferences, including the Herbal Resurgence (formerly Traditions in Herbalism Conference) my street herbalism classes often included brief descriptions of violent encounters and how to avoid them…or how to win them. More than once I could see the light of acceptance go out of the eyes of some of the attendees. But that was okay in my mind. They wouldn't be my kind of street herbalism anyway. And this thought (true or not) helped me accept that I had offended or disturbed some very nice people.

When I was a boy there was a television program called Tightrope, starring Mike Connors as an undercover police officer. It was never really clear what agency or department he worked for. Those minor details didn’t matter in the late ‘50’s. He was the good guy, even though his entire life was a lie, he committed criminal acts, and eventually got away while the other criminals got caught. In the late ‘80’s a more realistic undercover cop show called Wiseguy, showed the stress and legal ambiguities eventually crushing a young federal agent. I loved both shows. Both characters walked a tightrope of violence to do good.

In my darkest dreams, I never thought I would be in that type of situation. I am by training and inclination a healer. I carry a self-made medical bag with herbal tinctures, salves, syrups, vitamins, as well as a well stocked first-aid kit with latex gloves, blood sugar testing device, stethoscope and blood pressure kit. My clients are the destitute and the demented. I also carry a Tracker knife, and a neck knife. Both are easily concealed by the type of clothing I wear.

In the years I’ve worked the streets of Richmond and San Pablo I’ve never run into a social worker, minister, or doctor. Depending on the city, the police either take my advice on who’s harmless and who is not, or try to arrest me for interfering with a police officer.

I prefer patrolling early mornings when my street people are waking up and still in one place. (The cops are also tired from the night shift and less inclined to stop me. The thugs have gone home to bed.) I’ll do a quick check for bronchial ailments, bladder inflammations, and skin sores. If necessary I’ll pass out what herbal remedies I can, or offer the most seriously ill a thirty minute ride to the county hospital. There are no longer any free clinics in Richmond or San Pablo. I can see several groups before eight o’clock, head home, and get some breakfast.

Night patrols are inherently more dangerous. I park my car in a well-lighted area and head out on foot. I carry my gear in a backpack and carry a sturdy walking stick (which I really do need), as I will walk a three- to four-mile area looking for my night people. The drill is the same when I find them. Chest, bladder, skin. Most nights are uneventful. I try to avoid the roving gangs of reavers as I’ve nicknamed them. White, black, Latino, or Asian. Most are young thugs who terrorize the night people and remove what little money they've managed to panhandle, earned from recycling cans, or saved from SSI checks. I am no match for four healthy hoodlums. On the other hand, two have learned that a limping middle aged man with a walking stick and knife can ruin their entire evening. They tried taking my backpack, and I knew I couldn’t out run them. What would you, dear reader, have done?

Yes, I could have given up my gear. (Probably along with my wallet.) No one would have been hurt. My deeply pacifistic students and friends have counseled me that this is the best course of action.

On a practical basis, I just can’t. I can’t afford to replace my gear anytime a thug wants it.

But more importantly, on an emotional and spiritual level I refuse to be a victim. I refuse to let my street people be victimized anymore than they are. I do not go out looking for a confrontation. I actively avoid it. But if it comes to me, I’ve made the decision to fight. Not go down fighting…but to fight and win. There are no second place winners on the streets of Richmond. Does this make me less of a healer? Perhaps. Ethically I should never do harm. On the other hand, if I allow myself to be chased from the streets, my street people will be harmed. For those readers who still believe the police protect the streets, I will only say, not here.

Does this make me a warrior? I don’t know. I hope not. I’m uncomfortable with the term. It’s not a metaphor as Tom Brown jr. might use it when he has asked his students to be warriors for Mother Earth.

As I write this, an interesting topic, Compassion, is being debated on a survival forum I write for. Can we have compassion for the “mad dogs” who victimize others? It strikes to the core of my being as a healer.

As painful as it is for me to admit, I can’t do it. As I’ve written in these pages before, I only have a limited capacity to love. Like Brown’s concentric circles of care/love, they eventually peter out. I love my family, friends, some of my students, many of my street people. I only have a limited capacity for compassion also. It goes to the victim and never to the victimizer. If that makes me less of decent individual, I can accept it. I can live with the knowledge that I am flawed. I am not a saint. I am not a great man. I’m just me.

My journalist friend admitted in his article that he does not want to accept this aspect of my life or practice. The aura of potential violence which surrounds my work makes for uncomfortable choices. He would rather write about the healer who treats the sick without charge, and ministers to the homeless. But that would be a lie of omission, so he wrote the truth.

I am a healer who is willing to cause hurt to protect myself and others. I carry my medicines, my gear, my cane, and my Tracker knife. I do this because I can.

Two years ago I went on hiatus from my work, my marriage, and the stress of my street work. After less than a year I returned to Richmond. Older, sadder, fatter, wiser.

The streets hadn't changed. I'm not sure I did either.

I walk a tightrope with a cane.

I’ve made my choice. Sunday, October 5, 2014 at 12:11am PT

Amadea Botel Such empathy. I think your heart is in the right place. You are a warrior of sorts to continue to work with the people you do. And there are emotional consequences. You should remember that what you do is important. Sunday, October 5, 2014 at 12:40am PT

Karen Roberts You have chosen to go beyond the normal, clean, disinfected battlefields, to the raw places, where there is much need. You go places I would not go. I accept that you must protect yourself. None of us is innocent, we just have varying degrees of angel nature. No one knows what they are capable of until we are tested. Most of us chose not to enter your war zones. We are not therefore in a position to judge those who do take on those battles. Nor should we judge which "weapons" you take with you to do "battle", either with disease or ignorance. I salute you, worry for your safety, but know I could never stop you from going where you are called! Love who defies easy explanation! Sunday, October 5, 2014 at 12:47am PT

Ben Blackburn Chuck, if one night you were doing your rounds and found one of those thugs huddled on the sidewalk sick and delirious, would you attack them while you had the chance because of what they represent and have done in the past, or would you offer to help them heal?

I think you are judging yourself based on the prejudices of others who do not know what it is like, and accepting that you don't love that much.

When a person is doing a bad thing, good people stop the bad people. That is what makes the world go round, always has.

Now we live in a place where the police are expected to stop the bad people, and the stories you tell, if you had a uniform and a badge, you would be writing of how many bad guys you had shot, and everybody would understand, but because you are "supposed" to be a nice gentle healer, and not "supposed" to be a protector of the weak, (since the cops do that now *snort*), then you are judged as a barbarian.

Well, the sheep usually hate the sheepdog because of the fangs and the bark, which the sheepdog needs to keep the wolves away.

It is sad that a healer must carry the lance, but when you are going into the wolf den to rescue their victims, you must be wise and as harmless as possible.

In your stories, you didn't finish them off and hang their head from the streetlight with a sprig of St Johns Wort in their teeth as a warning not to mess with the healer, you used the minimum force needed to stop the threat and complete your mission, which was not one of going and attack them.

You are one of the few living active Scouts, which Tom Brown Jr defines as the balance between a Warrior, a Healer and a Shaman.

You work and move and love in the shadows where others fear to tread, spending your life peacefully, except when others bring battle to you that you can't avoid, then you pick up the lance, acquit yourself as a warrior and then return to helping the weak.

I don't know what all you have been involved in at Tracker, and if you have only been on the traditional healing side, and not in the warrior side, I can understand you thinking you don't match what Tom talks about.

Trust me, fighting darkness is part of the picture, and it isn't pretty.

Doc, Warrior, Friend, Scout, I am proud to know you man! Sunday, October 5, 2014 at 1:24am PT

Ben Blackburn Oh, and when bad people attack you and get hurt, YOU are no more causing them hurt than a rock is causing them hurt if they punch it.

Their choice to victimize someone who has chosen not to be a victim is the cause of any hurt they sustain. DO NOT take credit for the work of others! lol

And as healers, we always have to be willing to cause hurt for the best outcome.

I mean reducing a shoulder out of it's socket, or setting a broken bone, or draining an abcess, even a good massage, and for sure some herbal potions cause pain, but they are part of the job. When we are working spiritually and emotionally, we have to dig deep into the most painful and broken parts of people, making them taste and feel things they locked safely away, so it can be healed. That is often hell for the person, and hurts everyone badly, but it is part of the healing.

So when you go on a dark place and some darkness attacks you, the pain that results is just a side affect of the healing. Sunday, October 5, 2014 at 1:30am PT

Maleza Furiosa When does pacifism just become an excuse to absolve oneself of the responsibility of challenging what is actively causing harm? How does it make you less of a healer if you must act in such a way to prevent more harm from being done, especially to an innocent? If you see no other resistance but a physical one for self defense, the defense of others, or even keeping your gear so you can keep aiding others then what realistic alternatives does this idealized path leave you? In my opinion, the decision to respond physically isn't inherently the problem... We do need to be careful about where the decision is coming from within ourselves and appraising the circumstances as well as we can so that the minimization of harm is paramount. . This ideology you describe seems only for people are expecting their reward in heaven and/or the earthly sanctimonious high ground and struggle only for others as long as it brings them no discomfort. Even if I'm willing to believe that those views are held in good faith, I've never lived in a world that safe or clear cut. Sunday, October 5, 2014 at 1:39am PT

Kenneth Chin Doc .... pretty much every practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine in my family was also a gung-fu man .... and what we do is nothing like the pretty wu-xia movies ... it's the kill or cripple them ASAP style of fighting.

But the funny thing is .... we don't attack without cause, and if we find our enemy on our door step bleeding out .... with damned few exceptions we'll do everything we can to save them.

As for 'compassion' ... even Kwan Yin teaches us that sometimes, compassion is when we use the flat of a sword to beat a rogue down instead of simply running him through with it.

That way, perhaps he'll choose to live a better way.

At least he'll still have that choice. Eventually it may be decided that he's used up his choices .... then we're choosing compassion for the victim.

One of my teachers had a term for this, she called it 'pragmatic compassion'

You are indeed a very loving, compassionate man, Doc. Just because it doesn't fit some yuppified, Hollyweird version of 'compassion' .... doesn't make it any less true. Sunday, October 5, 2014 at 3:25am PT

Judy Brown Geske I'm honored to hear your story. Sunday, October 5, 2014 at 6:00am PT

Michaela Maestas call or not call yourself what you will… I WILL CALL YOU Hero, Warrior for sure …( the dream / idea of the, the PC spin tales of .. " The Peace full , healer on the street " , are / is made from cute little hippy novels , and have nothing to do with real life, sugar coated bullshit ,, Sunday, October 5, 2014 at 6:22am PT

Michaela Maestas Our fake culture based on just ideas made up , do us no justice . Sunday, October 5, 2014 at 6:23am PT

Michaela Maestas I honor u , respect u, agree with you… spot on ,, right on target Sunday, October 5, 2014 at 6:27am PT

Michaela Maestas having compassion for the monster / monsters ,, does not mean we just sit there and take it… let ourselves be harmed or killed Sunday, October 5, 2014 at 6:28am PT

Michaela Maestas Bottom Line ,,, You are REAL, Really Real,,, that is what counts , Real life is not in a novel, article, website, web page, TV show, Movie , of sweet idea of what being a Healer is … 99% Fake . REAL Healers , say here in New Mexico , or Mexico / Central , South America / and other places, lands , cultures are not what people think … not white light bubbleheads, plastic shamans, Shame On ( making $$$$$$$$ ) real healers are not what we have pretended them to be,, not at all !!!!!unicorn riding , on purple clouds of sweet goodness, eating tofu and being all peaceful while driving a BMW … They battle disease of a level most people could never understand , battle evil on a level most can't even see and don't want to see, deal with Mother fuckers with Grace . Healers deal with Vampire Energies that are real ,,, not like from Hollywood ( Holy Weird ) ,,, but on a level that the average person has zero clue about or chooses not to see at all. Sunday, October 5, 2014 at 6:33am PT

Michaela Maestas Bottom Line ,,, You are REAL, Really Real,,, that is what counts , Real life is not in a novel, article, website, web page, TV show, Movie , of sweet idea of what being a Healer is … 99% Fake . REAL Healers , say here in New Mexico , or Mexico / Central , South America / and other places, lands , cultures are not what people think … not white light bubbleheads, plastic shamans, Shame On ( making $$$$$$$$ ) real healers are not what we have pretended them to be,, not at all !!!!!unicorn riding , on purple clouds of sweet goodness, eating tofu and being all peaceful while driving a BMW … They battle disease of a level most people could never understand , battle evil on a level most can't even see and don't want to see, deal with Mother fuckers with Grace . Healers deal with Vampire Energies that are real ,,, not like from Hollywood ( Holy Weird ) ,,, but on a level that the average person has zero clue about or chooses not to see at all. Sunday, October 5, 2014 at 6:43am PT

Colleen K. Dodt Thank you! facebook heart Sunday, October 5, 2014 at 7:57am PT

Sweetie Pie I am honored to know you. I bow before you, and i pray for your vigilance. You are a brave man and a good man. Personally, i would like to see the predators removed from the gene pool. Sunday, October 5, 2014 at 7:58am PT

Virginia Lee Adi Beautifully written. I could never do it. It is important to see this eye upon the world. Sunday, October 5, 2014 at 8:36am PT

Lauren Abbey Stauber Dear Charles, your Street Herbalism class at TWHC was the first time I met you. And it was there that I knew I had to learn from you more. All those uncomfortable feelings that arose in the face of those raw and real stories are exactly why. Because that is the world I grew up in, and while I might avoid it in some ways in my current little bubble of a life in a hippy Colorado city, I can never run away from it inside. And I forever know it is part of this world I live in, and part of me. It's part of why I started volunteering with the un-sheltered community here in our bubble city. Finding someone like you who really does bridge the compassion and loving care with the nitty gritty helps me to integrate those places inside myself too. I don't carry a knife, largely because I have no idea how to use one. And I'd probably get hurt trying to use it. But I respect the right to protect oneself and others. And I wish I felt more capable in that regard. Many great things have arisen from peaceful civil disobedience, and many great things have arisen from movements that included violence. And quietly, many innocent lives have been saved from an act of violence, and lost from non-action. Even the Buddha knew that. If non-violence leads to the death of 12 children, and one act of violence could have saved them, what is the kinder act? I know you have one of the kindest hearts and you don't seek out those confrontations for some sick thrill, as some on this earth do (may they finding healing). You are a caretaker and a lover, a man of roses and homemade soups, a story teller and a devoted grandpa, and you are a brave soul. And thankfully, you know how to use that knife, so you can keep on doing the work you do, down in the trenches, where so many other gentle souls have found themselves victimized. Thank you for what you do!!! And thanks for writing about it so beautifully and sharing it with the herbal community. Sunday, October 5, 2014 at 9:25am PT

Michaela Maestas you rip the masks off and get down to the core Sunday, October 5, 2014 at 9:36am PT

Michaela Maestas " Shamanism " , Real Healers ….. real healing ways, is / are NOT a safe kiddy ride at the amusement park of life …with pink popcorn and candy apples ….. it is a total BITCH Slap that leaves a stinging red marked hand print on your face or bum.. ( speaking in metaphor ),, sort of LOL ! Sunday, October 5, 2014 at 9:40am PT

Ingrid Guthrie Keep on doing Good. We all have the right to defend ourselves. It's not like you're the one picking the fight, no, you are defending yourself. Who wouldn't? Would your oposers really roll over and play dead? I seriously doubt it. LOL The world needs You! Keep up the GREAT work! Monday, October 6, 2014 at 6:05pm PT

Kenneth Chin Better watch it bub ..... they talk much nicer about you and I may have to include Plantman in the zompoc ...... Sunday, October 5, 2014 at 5:19pm PT

Michaela Maestas You have balls ,, real ones Sunday, October 5, 2014 at 5:29pm PT

Nichole Renee LeMay I have to say I found this consoling. It is a comfort to know that healers are not so black and white, and do walk in the shades of grey. Tuesday, October 7, 2014 at 6:28am PT

Christopher Whitten Doc, we love you for what you do and are an inspiration to me. I pass on what I can about balancing healing with warrior and use you as an example, even in our last class. We're using a different suite of plants here in the northeast and I'm not doing homeless runs (yet!) but your practical in your face (loved the poisonous herb class in your trad hispanic herbalism 1 class) is such a needed counterbalance to the "new age cosmic cow crap" that is in the community. Thank you. Tuesday, October 7, 2014 at 6:59am PT

Q&A via Social Media

after-class comments

Q & A - Bronchial Issues

Charles R. Garcia, Director fb CSHH

Colds, Flus, Bronchial Ailments

Whiteboard from Intermediate Class 7-28-2014, and comments on social media

whiteboard from Intermediate Class 7-28-2014

Charles Garcia Last night's class. We also made usnea tincture. July 29, 2014 at 1:18pm PT

Karen Roberts I need to finish the article on Datura that you wrote! Interesting respiratory medications.
July 29, 2014 at 6:52pm PT

Inspi Peeks Any natural antihistamines? July 30, 2014 at 7:03am PT

Karen Roberts Good question. July 30, 2014 at 7:30am PT

Charles Garcia American ephedra as a warm tea. Works fine. August 1, 2014 at 10:27pm PT

Michael Warner Plus that American ephedra is delicious! August 1, 2014 at 11:47pm PT

Chuck fb
Charles Garcia
karen roberts fb
Karen Roberts
inspi peeks fb
Inspi Peeks
michael warner fb
Michael Warner

curandero & community contributions

Q & A - Itchy Skin - Eczema

Charles R. Garcia, Director fb CSHH

eczema, itchy skin

e-mail to school 1-24-2015

I would really appreciate some herb or plant ingredients that might act as a topical analgesic, or relieve itch from Eczema.

I do not have any plans to study to become a Curandero or an expert, I'm just an older fellow whose wife needs relief from scratching herself to distraction from eczema.

Thanks for any help.
Paul Sxxxxxx
Colorado Springs, CO 80904

As Posted on fb:
e-mail to the school's web address:

I would really appreciate some herb or plant ingredients that might act as a topical analgesic, or relieve itch from Eczema.

...I'm just an older fellow whose wife needs relief from scratching herself to distraction from eczema.
-Paul S."

Saturday January 24, 2015 at 11:52pm PT

Comments from facebook

Chuck fb
Charles Garcia

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Karen Roberts

inspi peeks fb
Inspi Peeks

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Pixie Kaminski

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Johnny Tellez

shelly sasson fb
Shelly Sasson

Inspi Peeks A combination - aloe and petroleum jelly topically, and fish oil vitamins (+dual-action Iron, B-complex, C, D) daily, keeps the scales at bay for me. (Bet you didn't even know I had it?) What do you experts suggest? Saturday January 24, 2015 at 11:59pm PT

Karen Roberts Inspi, I posted an article about 12 natural treatments to Chuck's wall yesterday. I suffer mightily from this. I will try to find it and repost. Sunday January 25, 2015 at 12:00am PT

Karen Roberts

Sunday January 25, 2015 at 12:00am PT

Inspi Peeks Karen Roberts, I LOVE this article! It explains the underlying benefits of its solutions - whoo hoo. I laughed at the first one, for two reasons:

"Burdock root ... contains small quantities of many vital vitamins, including folic acid, riboflavin, pyridoxine, niacin, vitamin-E, and vitamin-C ... iron, manganese, magnesium; and small amounts of zinc, calcium, selenium, and phosphorus. ..."
- Burdock runs rampant around here, and 
- Hmmm, what specific vitamins do I take? smiley wink Sunday January 25, 2015 at 6:19am PT

Inspi Peeks Karen Roberts, California School of Hispanic Herbalism, if I could share this article with every herbal-aware person, I would. heart The bit on salves tells us why Charles Garcia's magic salves are so powerful! 

"They should contain one or more of the following herbs to help relieve itching and burning, and promote healing. The best evidence is for chamomile (Matricaria recutita) creams. Chickweed (Stellaria media), marigold (Calendula officinalis), and licorice (Glycyrrhia glabra) may also help. Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) cream can relieve itching. Liquid witch hazel can help with "weeping" or oozing eczema."
Sunday January 25, 2015 at 6:28am PT

Karen Roberts My problem is I think this is a systemic issue, not just skin, though it manifests ON the skin. The skin is our largest organ and frequently discloses inner problems. Putting something on the surface, while relieving the symptoms temporarily, may not be getting at the root of the problem! I appreciate your evaluation of the advice give her in, since I am not an herbalist, I do not have that fund of knowledge. Interesting Chuck has not told me about his salve as I have complained about my awful nummular eczema, on the palms of my hands, soles of my feet and legs. I only wear long pants because of the lesions. I will explore these remedies because I am using the dreaded, evil, allopathic medicines she skewers! Sunday January 25, 2015 at 8:57am PT

Johnny Tellez My partner breaks out on his face with red rash & lately small red bumps. I also thought its systemic of something internal. To much heat in his system. It really flares up when stressed and he's taken to lazer treatment. We've tried coconut oil, avoiding spices and it's gotten worse. WI'll try the cream mentioned next Sunday January 25, 2015 at 9:20am PT

Pixie Kaminski This would probably work for all types of itchy skin things. My skin is very sensitive and gets irritated easily and I'll scratch until I bleed, so I apply this cannabis lotion called docGreen's and no more itchy irritated spots. Sunday January 25, 2015 at 10:20am PT

Karen Roberts Where do you get it, Pixie Kaminski? Sunday January 25, 2015 at 10:27am PT

Shelley Sisson More info about Doc Green's lotion please! Sunday January 25, 2015 at 10:54am PT

Pixie Kaminski I get it from Harborside Health Center, in spite of the fact that you don't get high from pot by rubbing it on your skin and anyone stupid enough to eat lotion gets the digestive results they deserve. If you don't have access to a cannabis dispensary I know there are other companies that make cannabis lotions and salves, and if you know how to make salve you can make your own. Sunday January 25, 2015 at 2:01pm PT

Charles Garcia Here's another thing that people say is good. Volcanic ash in spring water seems like a legit remedy.

Sunday January 25, 2015 at 2:08pm PT

Karen Roberts No dispensary here. All closed down by the Feds and Sheriffs department hostile to cannibis. Sunday January 25, 2015 at 2:16pm PT

Charles Garcia contact moi, Karen Roberts, for special salves. Sunday January 25, 2015 at 7:14pm PT

Inspi Peeks Pixie Kaminski, I expect that has the same action as colloidal oatmeal (From Karen's referenced article, # 11)
Johnny Tellez, Karen Roberts, I agree, it is systemic. So change your body chemistry. Try the vitamins - just those, not a multi. You want to change the baseline biochemistry of your body in a positive way. (Spring Valley brand/Wal-Mart offers great vitamins with safe additives.)
High on the Vitamin C. Increase the D in winter. Steady on the B-complex; once your body gets used to having it, you will really notice if you miss a day.
Let us know what helps you! (The vitamins plus sleep fixes it for me.) Monday January 26, 2015 at 5:03am PT

Charles Garcia Try strengthening the liver. Passion Flower tinctures or teas, spikenard, good ol' dandelion root...fresh (yech!) or in a tea. Monday January 26, 2015 at 1:39pm PT

Inspi Peeks Oh, guess I'm doing more than I knew to help this - dandelion root! Charles Garcia, why do you alwaysdisparage tasty dandelion root? (Maybe its sweeter in the midwest? naaah.)
Come visit, we'll make you a special (extra-delicious) dandelion fried matzah. Hey, there's a recipe for the HIgh Sierra Radical Herbfest & Primitive Skills Gathering 2015!
We'll use dandelion flower buds too (tastes like tiny artichoke hearts) and craisins, and you'll be beggin' for more. If you insist, we can even use real schmaltz. Yum! Wednesday January 28, 2015 at 10:08am PT

Charles Garcia Never could get a taste for it...especially raw. The leaves on the other hand make a fine bitter...a friend used it in her sedar salad. No joke. The buds are wonderful...dear departed Ann Larricq made me some once. Wednesday January 28, 2015 at 1:50pm PT

Video Lectures


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Lectures & Classes


Case Files

Can you treat these?

Charles R. Garcia, Director fb CSHH

These are some of my old case files questions for new students. You may find them interesting. Share your ideas if you like. There are no wrong answers, just better ones.

Case Studies

Clara white age 51 5’ 8’ 126 lbs. divorced twice, post menopausal one child 18 years old.

Clara has been a legal assistance for 24 years and has just changed careers to being a full time writer. She is well educated with a MA in anthropology. She is aware of her age, but is fashionable, attractive, and currently sexually active with a long term boyfriend.

She travels extensively in Mexico and speaks fluent Spanish. She hopes to retire to Mexico and spend her time writing.

Complaint: Clara has noticed a reoccurring burning sensation upon urinating. She does not have a fever, and has not noticed pain in her bladder.

What questions would you ask, and what recommendations would you give? Take your time.

Carol of Greek and Irish heritage age possibly in her early 30’s (declines to state) never married 5’9” 154 lbs. in excellent condition.

Enjoys hiking, backpacking, and Burning Man. Considers herself a pagan but not a new ager. Would live naked in the forest if it was possible. Bi-sexual but not currently sexually active.

Complaint: After hiking part of the Pac Crest Trail, Carol took a tumble down a small scree of rock. She twisted her ankle but was helped back on the trail by 2 hiking companions. Luckily they were only three miles from the trail head. Several weeks of rest and therapy helped her ankle.

Complaint: Carol has suffered headaches since the fall which have gotten worse after her ankle has healed. She was not x-rayed for a head injuries. There was no bump on her skull or bleeding from the fall. The pain has continued despite heavy use of ibuprofen and marijuana. The pain lessens to a degree when she is bed. She wants to be quickly cured so she can attend Burning Man. What could be causing this pain? How could you help?

Maya Female Hispanic age 3 months. Doesn’t get around much.

Isn’t very verbal except when she cries, which is constant. Maya’s mom and dad are first time parents…though unmarried. They need sleep badly. Doctors of have told them the child has colic…which is medicine’s way of saying the tummy hurts and they don’t know why.

What would you do to help poor little Maya and her blurry-eyed mommy and daddy?

Chris age 56 white semi-retired computer programmer. 5’10” 245 lbs.

Took early retirement when offered by his company. Divorced. Has a new girlfriend girl friend. Sexually active. No health issues with the exception of high blood pressure…controlled with medication

Complaint: Chris is suddenly suffering from long term flatulence. This is causing some problems with his short term job…he’s is a professional Santa Claus during the holiday season. He’s having gas at all hours of the night and day. Parents and children are starting to complain.

Can you save Santa’s job??? What questions would you ask and what would you recommend?

Vera white age 77 retired court reporter widowed one adult child.

Vera has end stage emphysema. The lack of oxygen may have contributed to a car wreck where she fell unconscious at the wheel of her vehicle, smashed into several parked cars, and was severely injured. In three years since her accident she has suffered stomach surgery for cancer, and broken shoulder, and a mild stroke. Despite these issues she is still sharp of mind…reads two to three novels a week. She breathes oxygen 24-7 through a nasal canal.

Complaint: Her skin is easily torn and bruised. Suggestions. 20 December 2013 at 12:31pm PT

Grandma Garcia's Healing Recipes

Lesson 1

Charles Garcia fb CSHH

This a version of the first lesson in my Grandma Garcia's Healing Recipes class. I wanted to share it...because I miss my mom. No other reason. Hope you enjoy it. Please forgive the typos...this is the original template of notes.  –  CG

Grandma Garcia's Recipes for Healing

Lesson One

These lessons are close to my heart. I write them with pain and joy. Though my mother passed into the great beyond over ten years ago the loss is still sharp if I dwell on it for too long a time. Hence, this lesson has been painful to produce. Also, there is the sense that I have not done them justice. Well dear reader, we shall see, we shall see.

Food and the preparation of food is at the heart of every Hispanic home. Read or ask any writer of Hispanic heritage and they will tell you stories of food, the hours of preparation by mamas tias, abuelitas and comaderas, and the social and family functions these foods were prepared for. Very seldom though will they write or talk about foods used for healing. Perhaps it is because it simply never crosses our mind to include them. Maybe the writing of herbal and food healing is fraught with fear of ridicule…there are nutrition fact checkers on every corner like police officers on the streets of China or Big Brother in the novel 1984. The chance of criticism is much too high. Every year the food Nazis attack Hispanic food for being too rich in fats, salts, sugars, etc. Interestingly the dishes they dis (have a pun there) tend to be ones no working family really make. These are high cholesterol meals found in trendy restaurants purporting to serve AUTHENTIC Mexican foods. Sorry…I never ate that stuff until I left home for college.

So let us together begin this search thru my memory (as my mom left no notes, nor are any of her siblings left alive to confirm my thoughts) into healing foods. And just for the record, thanks Mom. Thanks for everything.

Bronchial infections had a particular terror to my mother. She was born during the Great 1918 Pandemic which was the worst pandemic in history. It made the Black Death of the Dark Ages look like a Sunday regatta. It killed more people in 20 weeks than AIDS has killed in 25 years. Even after the pandemic burned out 18 months later, people continued dying for many years after wards. The immune and bronchial systems were irreparably damaged. Her mother may have eventually died from the flu and tuberculosis.

So the treatment of bronchial issues was a very serious matter. In 1968 I came down with the very virulent Hong Kong flu…one of the worst flu mutations since 1918 up to that time. I was extremely ill. The new decongestant Contact was being given out by the handful by pediatricians and GP's nations wide. It helped a bit. But I was still coughing up plugs of phlegm. I was unable to keep food down. My fevers rose and fell with strange regularity. Mom wanted to break the fever as quickly as possible as it had laid me out for nearly two weeks.

Cinnamon, Cayenne, Pineapple Tea

In a large glass flask safe for boiling, fill with water, chunks of pineapple, eight to ten sticks of cinnamon, 1/3 teaspoon of cayenne pepper or flakes, two bags of Lipton Tea, and set to rapid boil. Boil for five minutes, remove tea bags, and serve hot. Give in cup size amounts. Due to the heat you may need to use a straw. This will cause the clients temp to raise. Watch for sudden sweat, along the body to sweat, but dry with fresh towels. Have clean pajamas ready. After serving the cup, give the client sips of cool water and serve a second up of tea (actually a decoction but my mother did not differentiate.)

Temp will drop dramatically but may begin to rise within an hour or so. It may begin to rise two or three hours later. One can never be certain. It this happens (and it more likely will), please serve the rest of the tea….HOT. The more you boil the concoction the sweat it becomes. If the clients feels the need to eat the chunks of pineapple please allow it. You may need to do this 3 times in a day. By the third time the sweats and fever should be gone or at a minimum. If so, the client will need to sleep. Let them.

The following day, if the fever stays at 100 or below, give aspirin. The cinnamon will attack as an appetizer stimulant.

This has also been used to help break chicken pox pustules will they are still small. On occasion you can actually here them pop!

This can be used in conjunction with other herbs to improve bronchial airflow…but in itself is not wholly effective. The cayenne acts as a bronchial dilator, while the hot tea and pineapple soften impacted phlegm.

For an interesting summer drink, this can be served ice cold.

Fever Soups

There's long been a question whether soups in themselves can help break fevers or if it is only the temperature of the soup that does the trick. Herbalists and nutritionists have occasionally gotten into heated discussions concerning this. In my culture there was never any doubt that what you put IN a soup is just as important as the heat of it. But to be completely honest, I just don't know. On the other hand, when I've served a nice hot meaty stew with taters, beef, and carrots to a sick person, the fever seems to be unaffected. So let us begin with….


Borage, or borago as my mother called was used as a pot herb by both Greek and Roman cultures. The Romans tended to infuse wine with it. It supposedly gave the Roman legions that needed umph to slaughter the barbarians, Hebrews, or anyone else that got into their way. We know now that borage effects the adrenal system, and will actually help repair a damaged adrenal gland. But in a soup, borage has a calming and cooling effective.

In a cast iron or ceramic pot, bring a chicken or vegetable broth to simmer. Add fresh garlic. Allow this simmer for about ten minutes. Then add four to five fresh borage leaves gather that morning just after the dew has evaporated off. It is best to use a younger leaf if possible, but if that is not possible, carefully bruise the entire older leaf before putting it into the broth. Continue to simmer. It is perfectly alright to add chopped green onions, and pre-cooked carrots. Mother added pre-cooked pieces (slivers) of chicken without the fat. No salt, put pepper is ok, as is a pinch of cayenne.

This soup should be simmered until the borage leaves are soft and the small hairs have dissolved. Taste it yourself before giving it. My clients often say I add celery, but that is the taste of the fresh borage. Older clients may complain of the blandness. If this is the case, Mrs. Dash spice always helps as a healthy flavoring. Again, please refrain from salt.

A variation of this is to add fresh rosemary with the borage. Rosemary is a natural if mild fever breaker, but in older people tends to improve the immune system according to my mother. Problem… fresh rosemary tends to be bitter. So, toast it gently in olive oil first. Then add it to the soup.

Lately I've gone to adding tofu to this recipe for folks who are vegetarian or vegan. I enjoy this variation myself and sometimes eat it for lunch. Unfortunately sometimes I need to change my shirt an hour afterwards. It is difficult to say how long this takes to prepare, because, remember, you are waiting for the leaves to soften. Borage is like people. Individuals. Some folks take a little seasoning and time to get used to. Or so I'm told.

Rosemary Fever Bread

Okay dear reader…don't laugh. Yes there is such a thing as fever bread. But this is for a long term fever due to a major infection, surgery, trauma, or long term illness or chronic illnesses of the immune system. This is the hardest recipe in the since that I leave the bread making technique up to you. My students have compared this to pita bread, a pupusa, nam, and the ubiquitous tortilla. Oh yes, one Canadian student called in bannock. This is a flat bread. I use sourdough starter simply because I like it…but you do not have to. Please find a flat bread recipe on line or in your culture. Practice with it.

You will need to experiment. But here in brief is a version of my mother's recipe. My mother made flour masa, the basis for a tortilla. When soft she added fresh rosemary and kneaded it into the dough. Then she rolled out balls of the dough, lightly floured them, rolled them out twice as thick as a tortilla would be, and cooked them on her tortilla pan.

My variation is, I add sourdough starter to my flower, work it in, pound that sucker like Sugar Ray Leonard working on Alberto Duran, and let it rise. Then I add the fresh rosemary…lots of it…knead and pound again, let it rise again, the roll out large balls of the dough. I then fry it in olive oil…preferably flavored. Garlic, basil, etc. Sometimes even cayenne olive oil…but make sure your client can handle it. When the dough has risen and turned brown, I'll pierce the bread with a fork and watch steam escape. Once that is done, I flip it out of the pan. it is now ready to eat. While my mother served hers warm, mine tend to be served hot. If need be I can reheat them in an oven or a microwave.

Within a week you will see changes in your client. The fevers will be less and certainly will drop. Strength will return. You can increase a healthy appetite with cinnamon breads or cinnamon teas. Yes I know cannabis works. But many folks will not use it and I respect their choices.

Post Fever Foods

I won't give you any recipes because most of these are all over the web. With my mother, her first choice of a post fever food was Flan. Flan is that unique Mexican custard that has so many different variations I hate to pick one. If you've ever made Crème Brule' you've made flan. Don't tell the French that. I will tell you if you find a recipe you like and think you can make…add good strong powdered cinnamon, AND use REAL vanilla…not vanilla flavoring. It just won't turn out right. My mother added spiced stewed raisins in her flan…but I've never been able to recreate it without my flan turning runny. Mother felt that the combination of eggs, sugar, butter, cinnamon, helped kicked the body into gear. Well, there is a lot of protein in it.

Number two was tapioca. She used the boxed stuff but added raisins…and yes, more cinnamon. In this case she sprinkled nutmeg on it. I asked her why. She said, "It tastes good."

Third was broth. Chicken, beef, veggie, venison…with small bits of veggies. Easily digestible. Curiously she sometimes added lettuce leaf or young dandelion leaf. Mom said it helped the old folks pee if they couldn't. I asked what if they could pee? Her answer, "Then they can pee better."

Okay dear reader…you have an assignment. Don't panic! I'd like to know if your family has fever recipe that you know of. Ask your parents or grand parents if they are still with us.

Don't be surprised if it includes Coca-Cola.

Also, please let me know how you would make a fever food…just off the top of your head. Imagine it is your child or a grand parent. Be aware of their wants and dislikes.

See you next week. And thank you for being patient.

much affection

Doc June 23, 2013 at 7:20pm

Jackie Chin Thank you June 23, 2013 at 7:32pm via mobile

Christine Borus Fever recipe? My grandma would give you a cool bath if you could tolerate it, and wipe you down with alcohol. When my baby sister got scarlet fever at age 2, they were advised to give cool baths and put an A/C in her room. That's how we got our first air conditioner in our country home. When my SO recently had a 72 hour flu I have him copious amounts of elderberry, tulsi tea with calendula, and lots of water. Lots of sleep - that's all he did - Tylenol and aspirin for the body aches and many many linen and clothes changes. Took 3 days. I had to force him to eat & drink. I was buying clear ensure by the end because he refused to eat. June 23, 2013 at 9:44pm via mobile

Inspi Peeks Chicken Soup, lots of garlic. LOTS of garlic. And matzo balls or kreplach, depending on the time of year. Then orange juice and water to keep you hydrated. June 23, 2013 at 11:15pm

Kenneth Chin For us, if I recall correctly, it was bitter melon soup for fever reduction. Every year though, Dad would make this chicken/ginseng soup that we'd eat every year just before Labor Day. As a general rule of thumb we didn't get sick for nearly the entire school year. June 24, 2013 at 7:36am

Kenneth Chin By the way .... don't let Jackie fool you .... she makes a home made chicken soup that will cure most things that ail you ..... October 11 at 3:36pm

Poison Path lecture

Charles Garcia fb CSHH

Notes on My Favorite Poisons
… for those coming to my lecture in September.

Some of my herbal colleagues cringe when I teach this topic. But for herbal historians, the use of poisons is a common topic. Furthermore, the term The Poison Path was a euphemism for herbalism in early medieval times. Considering how often the FDA puts warnings out on some herbs; comfrey, tansy, chaparral come to mind, it is no exaggeration to say that traditionalists such as myself follow the Poison Path.

Originally, when these classes began, I taught about a number of poisons used by brujos/brujas (witches) against the innocent. I don't do that as much anymore, as the number of students who ONLY wanted to learn about poisons seemed to double each session. It was a morbid if intriguing subject. Now I teach about herbs that are poisons in themselves but are used medicinally. 


So let us start with my favorite poison herb, Aconite. (Aconitum columbianum) For those of us old enough to remember old Bela Lugosi vampire films, (that's Karen, Warren and me…Kathy, you’re too young) you may remember Count Dracula facing Professor Van Helsing and saying, "I see you have garlic and Wolf's Bane, Professor." Well, the good Professor and vampire killer was holding Aconite. It is pretty long, stemmed (sometimes 6 to 7 feet high) purple flower also known as Monkshood, which grows throughout Europe and North America. It was used to poison wolves, hence the name Wolf's Bane. 

(Please do not mistake this for Arnica, which is also called Wolf's Bane by some English herbalists.)

If you decide to pick this lovely plant, some warnings are in order. Wear gloves. The plant juice is toxic. A small amount entering a cut can produce (and will produce) double vision, lethargy, disorientation and a slight headache. How do I know…some years ago I picked it on Mt. Whitney at the 9 or 10 thousand-foot level. I had a small cut on my palm. Driving down the mountain became more of a thrill than it usually was. My traveling companions took over. I was incapacitated for about an hour and a half.

It is interesting to note that my chronically painful back felt wonderful. Aconite will slow down heart action. Enough will simply stop your heart 

Now I hear you asking, why on earth would he use Aconite for anything?

First, it is sold in homeopathic doses for pain though I have never found it very effective.

Second, as a liniment or addition to a salve no better topical painkiller exists. I use a 1 to 2 preparation of the fresh plant. Blossom, stem, leaves and roots are used. Seventy- percent rubbing alcohol is the bare minimum for a good aconite tincture. For muscular pain with inflammation, this is the medicine to use. It can be used for post surgical scar pain, sciatica and for pain after the removal of genital warts. In such cases, apply with a Q-tip. 

In herbalism and amongst herbalist, the use of aconite liniment is controversial. Some of the more conservative herbalist (read, back EAST) consider the use dangerous. Be wise, my friends. You are not juggling nitro. Though it is supposedly possible to overuse this as a liniment, no one has found a case of aconite poisoning due to liniment overdose in this century.

Some herbalists will not use it on the neck or back of the head. Again, there is no evidence of liniment poisoning when used on the neck or head. I use it regularly for my neck pain after driving long distances. Just avoid broken skin and treat with common sense.

The best aconite (in my opinion) can be found in Alaska. The variety I collected several summers ago has kept its efficacy far longer than any found in California. When tinctured for a liniment, the alcohol takes on a deep green jade color. Absolutely beautiful.

I occasionally add it to my herbal salves for its anti-inflammatory capabilities (as I did last Thursday). If I am making a quart of salve, I will add 1/3 cup to the hot salve and stir until the liquid has been simmered off. My clients have found this salve effective for sharp arthritis pains with swelling. 

Third, I keep a small amount around for internal use. (A very small amount.) This is made with vodka obviously and not rubbing alcohol. It is effective against tachycardia (uncontrolled rapid hear beat). I have used 3 drops over and hour for pain due to fibromyalgia, though I believe I am the only who uses it this way. 

In a healthy individual who has a runaway fever, I will use two drops over 15 minutes to induce sweating. This can be very effective when a fever may cause brain damage or convulsions.

As you can imagine, such a powerful plant was used to murder, cause illness, madness and other evil mischief by brujos and brujas. At this time, individuals who have chosen to take their own lives, but cannot obtain general pharmaceuticals for that purpose are occasionally using it.

Aconite looks and grows alongside the beautiful plant delphinium. It is VERY easy to confuse the two. Only pick the plant with the blossom that resembles a monks HOOD. Otherwise you may make a tincture of delphinium. Good for absolutely nothing.

Turkey Mullein

Let's continue with an even more esoteric western plant, Turkey Mullein. (Eremocarpus setigerus). This weed can be found from Baja California to the lower eastern Sierra. It's not suppose to like cooler wet areas like the San Francisco bay area, but someone forgot to tell it. For my Texas students, yes it can be found there, you probably know it as Dove Weed.

This is one of those herbs only we Westerners use. Maybe it is because we are the only ones who can abide its foul taste. It makes Horehound taste like a delicacy. The tea or vinegar tincture can be used for pleurisy type pains, hangovers, and as a wash for the elderly who suffer from arthritis or sore joints. The tea used as a partial wash is excellent for breaking fevers when internal febrifuges might be contraindicated. In short…it allows the fever to flow out without putting internal stress on the body. This is very effective with my HIV clients who have intermittent fevers. Now, why is it poison??

The eastern Californian natives used a paste of its root on their knifes and arrows. It promotes profuse bleeding. Not many herbalists know that. Now you do. I won't give you the recipe though. A few Mono Indians use it for hunting and fishing. Yep, the roots when mashed up and thrown in water will stun some fish. The poison is not passed on when the fish is eaten.

I personally know of one bow hunter who uses the poison paste to hasten the death of animals he shoots. He would rather have an animal bleed to death quickly than track it for several hours if it is only wounded. I must add, he does eat the animal and tans the skin. Nothing is wasted.


Mountain Yarrow Aug2015 photo ©2015 Charles Garcia
Mountain Yarrow - Breaks fevers and stops bleeding  ©2015 Charles Garcia

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is an herb beloved by herbalists for centuries. It is another febrifuge, as well as menstrual regulator, styptic and astringent. For backpackers and wildcrafters who are clumsy with Swiss Army knives, its styptic qualities are legendary. I have seen the blossoms and leaves staunch some of the worst camping cuts. The essential oil, which is a deep blue color, can be combined with Saint John's Wort oil. It is effective on inflamed joints and some muscular problems where tearing has occurred.

It is one of my herbs of choice for runaway fevers. While not every fever should be broken, a long-term fever is dangerous for the patient. Yarrow will allow the body to sweat and cool itself while allowing the fever to kill infection. Occasionally the body will continue its fever long after the infection it is fighting is gone. Then it's time to bring out the yarrow in heavy doses and Turkey Mullein. My student Ruth has made an effective tincture of yarrow and Sheppard’s Purse using vodka and peppermint schnapps. Good work lady! She has used it for a nasty case of endometriosis. 

Why is it a poison? Technically it is not. But I classify any narcotic plant as a poison. NARCOTIC! I hear you shout. Yep. The native Californians smoked the half-dried root to promote visions and aid in medicinal diagnosis. It is a very pleasant high, if slightly difficult on the throat membranes. Yes I've used it in my work as a curandero. No I don't use it recreationally. No I don't use it that often. (If you would like more information on the use of psychoactive plants, I teach a whole intensive on it, let me know.)


In the same vein let's add Marijuana. (Cannabis sativa) Again, I don't promote its use as a recreational drug. (Let me digress. There are plenty of legal drugs. Booze and tobacco. Both have killed family and friends, lovers and enemies. Marijuana can scramble your brains long enough to drive your car into a seven year old child. I saw this more than once during my time as a campus cop. Enough said.) But as a medicinal herb it is wonderful. All of you know of its use in cancer and HIV cases, so I won't go into that. Let me tell you of its use topically. When combined with a spearmint (yep…yerba buena) liniment it is second only to aconite as a painkiller for sore muscles. Though not an anti-inflammatory, it will ease the pain of too much gardening, carpentry work, softball games, aerobic walking and other daily activities. The same tincturing rule applies. 2 to 1. When used on older folks they may become slightly sleepy. I don't think it is the Marijuana per se. I think it breaks the cycle of pain and allows them to become sleepy. To my knowledge no one has ever gotten the munchies.

Pasque Flower

The beautiful Pasque Flower (Anemone occidentalis) is at times in my Top 10 choice of favorite herbs. (When I can find enough of it!) My cyber students back East may know it as Old Man in the Mountain.

This plant is useful for conditions of severe PMS, gloomy irritable types of depression, certain types of drug or booze induced paranoia, but is NOT for those high metabolic types with red faces, or the sallow white vampire skinned types with bradychardia (slow heart rate.) It is for we average body types who have fallen into drug use, mental illness of the X-Files kind, depression caused by grief or personal loss. In combination with Saint John's Wort, it can help those with SEVERE clinical depression. I make my tinctures using 151 rum, at 1 to 3 ratio. Five to fifteen drops is considered the typically dose for most people. I don't dispute this, but I've used up to 30 drops for some clients with no ill effect. It has a slight sedating effect for those suffering from anxiety induced insomnia, (duh?) which is exactly what you want. It should be taken 3 times a day until the problems have eased. Then it should be limited to perhaps once a day.

Curanderas have used this plant for abortions and more specifically to speed up births. As this is not part of my practice (but was part of my Mom's) I won't comment more on it. But it should not be given in pregnancy.

Large doses of the tincture (and the plant ingested fresh) will cause the heart to stop. Advanced herbal students should take the time to know this plant. It is good medicine, some of the best on the Poison Path.


Next is Datura. Also known as Loco Weed, May Apple, Jimson Weed and Tolache. Another multipurpose herb, this plant was well known to the Aztecs and most native tribes north and south as a powerful healing herb and dangerous psychoactive plant. Four years ago some high school students in nearby Marin County smoked the seeds. One recovered. The other three are in private funny farms. This plant is not meant to be messed with. Smoking the seeds is like juggling nitro. The hallucinations are intense. Medicine men, healers, shamans, all used it very carefully. Carefully processed into a wine or tincture, datura can help healers enter the minds of the sick and despairing. It can aid the healer in careful diagnosis of the client. But first, the healer must face his/hers own demons. It is not pleasant. I know.

Topically, the plant can be used as a crude but effective pain- killer. The leaves and seeds are crushed and mixed in a lard base. The lard can be heated a bit to help the mixture fix into the grease. But it should never be brought to the boiling point. For most practicing herbalists this is not done anymore. Most herbalists who can use this plant have found it effective in cases of asthma and long- term bronchitis. A cigarette of the blossom and leaves is prepared for the client. Often, Coltsfoot (Petasis spp.) is combined with it for cases of viral pneumonia. It should be noted that this herb is most effective with clients who are NOT using inhalers.

Furthermore, if inhalers are ineffective for the clients, it is unlikely that datura alone will be of much use. An aggressive use of Coltsfoot, Lobelia, and Pleurisy Root would be in order in such a case.

There are herbalists who suggest the plant should be harvested before the blossom has appeared. I respectfully disagree, and suggest the optimum time is during the blossoming. If used specifically for childhood cases of asthma, the ratio of blossom to leaf should be 1 to 2. 

For its psychotropic properties, I only have one bit of advice. If you are not in training as a healer DON'T SCREW AROUND WITH THIS PLANT. Odds are you will survive. But I guarantee you will never be the same. Furthermore, at least in California, this plant has become popular with yard and garden types. A new friend recently chopped back one of the plants that had grown too large. A small portion hit her left eye. She rubbed it clear. In several minutes she had gone blind in her left eye. She went to an emergency and received an MRI. Of course it came up clear. A nurse asked is she had been working in her garden prior to the blindness. A quick investigation came up with the problem. Her vision returned after 24 hours.

Black Nightshade

Black Nightshade (Solanum spp.) is one of my favorite plants for presentation to classes. I usually read a passage from Maude Grieve's A Modern Herbal, regarding the poisonous qualities of the plant. I then pass the dark purple berries around to my students. When the plant comes back to me I say, "…. And never do this." Whereupon I promptly pop several in my mouth. There berries are primarily toxic when green or barely ripe.

While Black Nightshade can be poisonous in large doses it is seldom fatal. And the berries taste pretty good. Maude Grieve probably read about poisoning from Deadly Nightshade, which can grow in conjunction with Black Nightshade. To be honest, Black Nightshade can poison livestock and small children.

This much-maligned plant is used traditionally in salves and ointments for eczema and other skin disorders. Not a great deal is known of its medicinal qualities. For non-specific skin disorders it seems to work as a cell regenerative and mild anti-bacterial. It has a mild pain quality to it. Though ineffective against fungal problems, when combined with Yerba Mansa, it is soothing and effective against athlete's foot, jock itch and the like.

I use this plant in my salves. I added it fresh (minus the berries) along with lavender, comfrey root, and marigold. The amount is difficult to judge. I go by color though. A darker green plant has received more sunlight, so I pick it over the lighter green ones. I prefer using the leaves and the freshly mashed root. The salve should never boil. A long low simmer will give you a dark green salve. For aroma, add several drops of essential oil of lavender.

Stinging Nettle

Last but not least is Stinging Nettle. Again, not a poison per se, but if you have ever brushed up against it…you will swear (and I mean SWEAR) that liquid fire was on you. The hollow little hairs on the plant are filled with formic acid. The same kind of chemical fire ants use on their unsuspecting victims. The pain will be sharp for an hour or so, and will continue to be a dull ache for over 24 hours. A few California tribes whipped recalcitrant children with the leaves. (Those kids must have been hellions! California natives seldom struck their children.) But Sting Nettle, when properly cooked is a wonderful change from spinach. Cooking the leaves several minutes, either by boiling or steaming completely negates the acid. When the plant goes limp, it's ready. I personally enjoy them sautéed in olive oil with black pepper corns. Others just add some butter and lemon, a pinch of salt and enjoy.

I use this wonderful plant for cases of anemia, especially in HIV cases. The tea from the dried leaves, also safe, is a decent antioxidant. In suspected cases of environmental poisoning, I will use nettle tea first. Then switch to a tincture of pond lily or blue iris if necessary. The tea can be used in minor cases of arthritis due to uric acid build up. Although I prefer Chickweed in these types of cases, Nettle is more digestible.

A traditional use of this herb was applying it to severely arthritic joints. The applications were done several times a day. I saw this done several times in childhood. In all cases except one, the client regained use and relief. I have not used this in my practice in this manner, but I do not rule it out. I have used it just recently for a case a traumatic nerve paralysis. The client was very brave and endured applications of stinging nettle for 3 days. Her left leg regained 75 to 80 percent function. Through therapy she plans to bring it back to 95 or 100. I'm sure she'll do it.

So, now you have some of my favorite poisons. Sunday, July 05, 2015 at 12:00pm PT

Irene Sturla Thank you so much Charles. What a generous amount of info. I would love to take a course with you. May I copy this ? It will only be utilized upon discussion with hence interest in a class with you. I have been studying herbalism for over 10 years. I am a low key herbalist however am interested in deepening. Really enjoyed the Magical herbs class you gave in Tucson hosted by Darcey. Sunday, July 05, 2015 at 12:31pm PT

Karen Roberts I am a rosy youth...what are you talking about? Sunday, July 05, 2015 at 2:34pm PT

Charles Garcia Irene Sturla, please copy and enjoy. Sunday, July 05, 2015 at 3:10pm PT

Christine Borus Excellent! Sunday, July 05, 2015 at 8:12pm PT

eight wild weeds

Urban and Country Herbal Survival

Charles Garcia  fb CSHH

This is from an old On Line class I no longer teach. Hope you enjoy it.

Urban and Country Herbal Survival

Part One

First we decide to survive. There’s no purpose to dissecting the reason. We don’t want to die. Life may have its pains and even horrors, but death is the great unknown. We want to survive.

To that end certain things come into play. Skills, experience, dumb luck, and sheer guts may play a part in it. Even less noble things such as revenge or hatred can drive us to live one more day.

Whatever it is, we have a better chance of seeing another sunrise if we stay healthy, or can heal from a sickness or injury as quickly as possible.

The majority of us have seen movies, read books, or heard tales of survival in far distance places. But most of us won’t die in far distances places. I’m sure the Kim family who were lost on a snow packed backwoods-logging road didn’t expect to lose a father and a husband. The victims of Hurricane Katrina didn’t expect the tragedy that fell into their laps. As I write this, hundred of motorists are stuck on roadways near Pittsburgh due to snowstorms, requiring the National Guard to deliver food and fuel to them.

No one expects possible death close to home.

What-if a helicopter pilot hadn’t found Mrs. Kim and her children? What if FEMA had been even more incompetent during Katrina (hard to imagine)? What if the Pennsylvania National Guard units had been in Iraq?

People die.

While all these are extreme cases, and don’t directly involve medicinal herbs, the point should be clear. We must take care of ourselves.

Perhaps Mr. Kim should have attempted to walk out sooner. Perhaps the people of New Orleans should have stocked supplies far in advance of any hurricane. Maybe the drivers in Pennsylvania should have taken a clue from Alaska drivers and kept cold weather gear in their trunks. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.

Well, this course is designed to prevent the word PERHAPS. I’m hoping you will see herbs in a different light. I’m hoping you will think long term about the use of medicinal herbs. I’m hoping you will go out and recon your neighborhoods, your park land, your own property. I’m hoping you will go to your local libraries and see if any plant societies have written pamphlets on your area’s herbs. I don’t know what medicinal plants are around you.

But after reading this, I hope you can start finding out.

So let us begin.

Now as a native born Californian (the European side of the family came here in 1792…the native side in 10.000 BCE give or take a few months), there are certain things we take for granted. Weird politics, earthquakes, flood, and fires. (We can deal with the last three.)

All the scenarios I’m going to write about will be extreme. Writers of cheap TV movies love them. The hero usually survives with his girl friend and a dog. I’ve seen too many disasters in real life to believe in TV movies. That being the case, I’m going to extend the disaster possibilities. For us here in California it will be The Big One. The honking big disaster that will cripple the state and make the official 72 hour disaster plan look like a joke (which it is). For those of you back east, you’ll have to put in your own disaster. But remember, you are ON YOUR OWN. FEMA isn’t going to show up for a long time. You might need to care for family and friends.

So dear friends (and some of you are my friends) welcome to my nightmare.

Scenario One: Quake

An 8.3 quake slams down the Hayward Fault line ripping through the San Francisco bay area at over 600 miles an hour. It lasts only 12 seconds. Secondary fault lines near Concord and Walnut Creek shake at 7.1 on the Richter scale. The extensive BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) trains shut down. Which is good because the elevated tracks have come down in various areas. The Caldecott Tunnel under the Berkeley Hills collapses, effectively cutting off the bay area from the eastern counties. The Oakland Bay Bridge collapses while going through an earthquake retrofit. The majestic Golden Gate Bridge sways and looses yards of roadway. It stands battered but unusable.

Fires break out in all bay area cities.

In Richmond a mushroom cloud of fire explodes at the Chevron Refinery. I can see the fire from my home…or what’s left of my home.

I was getting out my car when the quake hit. I had just dropped my daughter off at college. It’s nine in the morning. Traffic on the freeways is backed up as usual. My wife is at her office across the bay in Daly City. I’m flat on my back having been thrown off my feet during the quake. There are more explosions coming out of the west. The smaller chemical plants in town are exploding. The emergency sirens are not going off. There is no power. I hope my wife is alive. I hope my daughter is alive.

I’m alive.

The attached garage of my home has collapsed along with part of the family room. I am unable to get to the gas line to turn it off. I can’t smell leaking gas, but the air is so filled with dust I can’t be sure what I smell.

I enter my backyard through my collapsed fence. The detached garage in the back is still standing. Outside in sealed containers are our earthquake supplies. Food, water, clothes, spare tent, sleeping bags. My medical supplies are in the house. But I smell something now. Smoke. My wood burning stove had been on just to take the chill out of the house this early spring morning. My home is burning. Our medical supplies are in the bedroom and I can’t get to them.

With difficulty I drag one container of supplies out of the yard. The fire grows in my house. Why didn’t I calculate the weight? Damn it. I know I have a bad shoulder. I’m unable to get the other two out of yard before an explosion rips through the remainder of my home.

No meds. A week or two worth of food. A tent. My bug out kit in my car. A pocket knife. A raggedy sleeping bag in my car trunk I forgot to give to Goodwill.

I’m lucky as I watch my home burn. I drive away as quickly as I can.

I’m alive.

Part Two

Location Location Location

So dear reader…what happens to poor old Doc? Where does he go? What does he do?

First of all, my family has a pre-set gathering point. In our case, it is Wildcat Canyon Park, one mile down the street in the foothills. It’s a former city park allowed to go unimproved. It has walking paths, a nice eucalyptus forest with many a fine old oak and bay tree mixed in, and a year round stream. Because homes and a former ranch were once in the park boundaries over a generation ago, certain non-native plants have gone wild.

Having walked this park for 13 years I have a good idea what is here.

You should recon possible areas for herbs in your area. Parks are great. Empty lots can be just as good. Check out your neighbor’s yard. Many homes have decorative herbs such as rosemary and Irish Moss in their yards. Both of those are antibiotic. Juniper bushes are also a common sight in this area. The cones are highly medicinal. Take your time and make a day of it. Start by walking around your block.

Here’s a checklist you can try:

Make certain you actually touch the plant, smell the plant, and identify the plant with certainty before using it. Looking at a picture isn’t enough. It certainly helps, but I wouldn’t trust my life on a photo…unless it was one of John Wall’s.

So let us make this survival scenario personal. Your friend Doc is a 60 some year old man with diabetes type 2, a poor immune system, and RSDS (a painful third cousin to MS).

He has made camp in Wildcat Canyon Park. His daughter Sarah, having survived the quake at her school has walked home and met him at their family rendezvous point.

Although the park does not have camping areas, they are not alone. A few displaced persons have joined them with tarps and blankets. Among these survivors you will find cases of diarrhea, cuts, wounds, hysteria, fevers and other maladies.

How do you find necessary plants? Start walking in fifty yard circle outside your camping area. Walk slow. Look at the ground. Make notes. You would be surprised how much you can find in fifty yards. Do this at home for fun. Get on your knees and crawl in a circle in your back yard. You’ll be surprised what will you find. Let me guess…weeds!

Good! Weeds are good! These are probably the same weeds I’ll find at Wild Cat Canyon Park.


Let us start with dandelion (Taraxacum officinale). I’m sure most of you know this plant by sight. Then again, you might be fooled by some look-alikes. So I’m going to bore you folks a bit with its official description by the great New York City naturalist, “Wildman” Steve Brill:

The dandelion is a perennial, herbaceous plant with long, lance-shaped leaves. They're so deeply toothed, they gave the plant its name in Old French: Dent-de-lion means lion's tooth in Old French. The leaves are 3-12" long, and 1/2 - 2-1/2" wide, always growing in a basal rosette.

The dandelion’s well-known yellow, composite flowers are 1-2" wide. They grow individually on hollow flower stalks 2-18" tall. Each flower head consists of hundreds of tiny ray flowers. There are no poisonous look-alikes. Other very similar Taraxacum species, as well as chicory and wild lettuce only resemble dandelions in the early spring. All these edibles also exude a white milky sap when injured, but chicory and wild lettuce leaves have some hair, at least on the underside of the midrib, while Taraxacum leaves are bald. Unlike the other genera, Taraxacum stays in a basal rosette. It never grows a tall, central, stalk bearing flowers and leaves.

The leaves are more nutritious than anything you can buy. They're higher in beta-carotene than carrots. The iron and calcium content is phenomenal, greater than spinach. You also get vitamins B-1, B-2, B-5, B-6, B-12, C, E, P, and D, biotin, inositol, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, and zinc by using a tasty, free vegetable that grows on virtually every lawn. The root contains the sugar inulin, plus many medicinal substances.

Dandelion root is one of the safest and most popular herbal remedies. The specific name, officinale, means that it's used medicinally. The decoction is a traditional tonic. It’s supposed to strengthen the entire body, especially the liver and gallbladder, where it promotes the flow of bile, reduces inflammation of the bile duct, and helps get rid of gall stones. This is due to its taraxacin. It’s good for chronic hepatitis, it reduces liver swelling and jaundice, and it helps indigestion caused by insufficient bile. Don't use it with irritable stomach or bowel, or if you have an acute inflammation.

The modern French name for this plant is pissenlit (lit means bed) because the root and leaf tea act on the kidneys as a gentle diuretic, improving the way they cleanse the blood and recycle nutrients. Unlike pharmaceuticals diuretics, this doesn't leach potassium, a vital mineral, from the body. Improved general health and clear skin result from improved kidney function. One man I spoke to even claims he avoided surgery for urinary stones by using dandelion root tea alone.

Dandelions are also good for the bladder, spleen, pancreas, stomach and intestines. It’s recommended for stressed-out, internally sluggish, and sedentary people. Anyone who's a victim of excessive fat, white flour, and concentrated sweeteners could benefit from a daily cup of dandelion tea.

Dandelion root’s inulin is a sugar that doesn't elicit the rapid production of insulin, as refined sugars do. It helps mature-onset diabetes, and I used it as part of a holistic regime for hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).

Thank you Mr. Brill! In five paragraphs the “Wildman” has covered a host of problems dandelion can help. Brill doesn’t mention it, but it can be used for diabetes type 2 by increasing urine production and thus helping the body dump excess sugar.

In a survival situation, you would need to eat the plant raw. But if you have a Sierra cup or anything to boil water you could make a decent decoction. The question of “how much” always come into play. That’s difficult to determine. If you are dealing with a person with diabetes, shock, or malnutrition, I would say as much as possible. I would be eating two handful of leaves a day, the root. One major drawback must be addressed. Dandelion is a diuretic. You MUST increase fluid intake.

If a person has congestive heart failure and no longer has their medication, which is usually a diuretic of some sort, dandelion leaf and root can be given as a stop gap. Unlike juniper which we will discuss later, dandelion is not hard on the kidneys and will act as an effective diuretic until medications can be used again.


Our second weed is the much maligned Plantain, officially described as any various plants of the genus Plantago that produce dense spikes of small greenish flowers, especially either of two Eurasian weeds, P. major or P. lanceolata. Also called ribwort.

It was also called Soldiers Wort. The leaves and seeds of plantain are most often used medicinally. The fresh leaves, crushed and applied to wounds, sores, insect bites, bee and wasp stings, eczema, and sunburn are healing to tissue because of the high allantoin content. The leaves are slightly antibacterial, but lose this if dipped in boiling water. Plantain is an ancient remedy used widely for relieving coughs, bronchitis, tuberculosis, sore throat, laryngitis, urinary infections, and digestive problems.

The decoction has been used as a blood purifying tonic, a mild expectorant, and a diuretic. The juice from crushed leaves may also stem the flow of blood from cuts, and soothe the itch of poison ivy or the sting of nettle (Urtica dioica). The root of the herb has been used to relieve toothache, though it tends to be hit and miss. The juice may relieve earache if applied directly into the ear canal. A decoction of plantain has been used in douche preparations to relieve leucorrhoea, and the juice or infusion can ease the pain of ulcers and inflammation of the intestines if taken internally. The amount again is hard to determine. I would start with one to two cups of the decoction. All plantains contain high amounts of mucilage and tannin, and have similar medicinal properties. Plantain is high in minerals and vitamins C and K.

And people call this a weed!

Be sure to rinse the leaves off well before applying them to any open wound. The taste of this plant can range from bitter to bland, depending on the time of year it’s used.


If you’re lucky, you may even find are next weed, Yarrow. The wonderful writer Maida Silverman describes yarrow this way : Yarrow is a plant whose habits are rather variable. One or several stiff stems may grow from the root. They are usually between one and two feet tall but are occasionally shorter, and may be smooth-or rough-textured. The leaves are larger at the base and progressively smaller toward the top of the stalks and are arranged alternately. They clasp the stems at their bases and are delicate and finely divided, resembling feathers more than leaves.

Yarrow in Flower by Roane ©2015
Yarrow in Flower  ©2015 Roane
(Cranesbill behind, Tiger Lily at left)

Flowers are in flat-topped clusters at the ends of the stems. The individual "flowers" are very small, with fine white "petals" and a yellowish center. This "flower" is actually two separate, distinct male and female flowers. The female flowers are in the yellow center surrounded by five white "petals," each one of which is a male flower. The entire plant has a strong, pungent odor and a bitter taste.

Ms. Silverman and I part company at this point. I frankly like the smell of yarrow and use it when identifying the dormant plant out of season. It does not necessarily have a strong smell in winter or early spring. During hot weather it’s aroma will become more pronounced. I’m chewing on a piece of feathery yarrow leaf as I write this. The taste is barely discernable, like weak celery.

In America, Yarrow was well known as a medicinal plant to native American peoples (as it is to all peoples where it grows). The Delaware and Algonquin tribes prepared a tea for treating liver and kidney disorders. The Lenape pounded Yarrow roots with a stone and boiled them with water to make a remedy for excessive menstrual flow. Yarrow was extensively employed by a number of other tribes. The Ute name for it meant "wound medicine," and it was used by them as such, and the Piute drank Yarrow tea to cure a variety of stomach disorders. Why this would work I can’t say.

In a survival situation, one would pretty much use it as our native American elders did and do. For bleeding wounds there’s not much better. Use a poultice of the plant directly on the wound. The blossoms when crushed and the leaves tend to make the best wound dressing. Remember though, this is not an antiseptic. It will not kill germs. Your main concern is bleeding.

In the case of fevers, while nothing is better than good old aspirin, a yarrow tea or decoction will often help break a fever. It will induce copious sweating. So be prepared to rehydrate.

I have used yarrow tea and decoctions for severe headaches, though that use is not often found in herbals. I will simmer the fresh leaves for about five to ten minutes. If the leaves are dry, I will let them steep for fifteen minutes. Two cups will usually relieve a headache.

Ladies, I have lived with three women for the last 26 years, so monthly issues are just a fact of life to me. For too heavy menstrual flow, drink several cups of yarrow tea or decoction. It will either slow it or shut it down completely.


Here on the west coast we have an abundance of our next herb. Blackberry (Rubus spp.). It’s actually a bit of pain if it becomes set on your property. I have a small bush that I cut back yearly, but it maintains it’s hold even after attempts to poison it. (The one I tried to poison is edging out of my backyard into my rose garden.) I keep one small bush for one specific reason. The “Runs.” Don’t laugh dear reader, this gets serious.

Some friends who did herbal health care and another who did clean up in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans brought back some harrowing tales of suffering by the citizens of that city. Diarrhea killed a number of people in the Super Dome and an unknown number of others directly in the Ward. Not to gross you out, but human shit was found in many homes, in corners, in small rooms, in buckets, etc. And often found not too far away was a victim of Katrina. Of course this was probably not a case of the ordinary runs. It was most likely mankind’s most lethal killer, dysentery. I don’t want to go into the difference in great technical terms, but the simple diarrhea is the body’s attempt to flush itself out. Dysentery is when the body is overwhelmed with a bacterium that draws fluid out of the body. And that includes blood.

Good hygiene put dysentery on the back pages of medical killers for a while. But when a person is unable to bathe after being awash in filth, you can bet dysentery won’t be far behind.

In our earthquake scenario potable water is at a premium. Survivors might be desperate enough to drink from Wildcat Canyon Creek. I sure wouldn’t. I’m boiling my water first and filtering it through the charcoal of my campfire. Oh yes, I’m using a t-shirt.

So if I were treating other people I would have blackberry leaf to rely on. And lots of it. The dried leaf makes a weak and barely efficient tea. If that were all I had I would use it. More times than not, I’ll have a bush the size of a Volkswagen to use. Pick the fresh leaves. There are 287 s types of blackberry in the United States alone. They grow in every state. My east coast friends call them brambles. Every species of blackberry is medicinal.

This plant cannot be used fresh. It has to be decocted to be effective. Simmer the leaves until the water becomes light brown, brown, or even near black. The last is the most effective, but it is difficult to drink. Keep the decoction coming! Cup after cup after cup. The fluid is a powerful internal astringent. Because it acts so quickly it is often considered a painkiller. It’s not.

How many leaves to a cup of water? Five. So do the math. You will need a lot of leaves for a pot of blackberry leaf decoction.

Warning! Do not use sugar or sweeteners. While sugars and salts will help replace lost electrolytes, too much of either can cause the body to reject them. Stop the loss of fluids first. I know this is contrary to what you might have learned in EMT classes, but here’s the reasoning behind it. In cases of dysentery fluid will be drawn directly from the gut and other organs at amazing speed. If you attempt to rehydrate a person orally rather than intravenously, you will NOT succeed. IF you have saline in 1000 ml lactated ringers bags, go for it. But you better have enough to keep the body going for several days. I’m guessing you won’t. So stop the shits FIRST…rehydrate with sugar and salts afterwards.


Hanging from a beautiful Bay tree (Laurel to your folks back east), is a stringy lichen. Grey green in color, it sways in the wind, weighing almost nothing. Some people might confuse it with the lovely Spanish Moss found in the our southern states. It’s not. For an herbalist, and for this scenario it’s more beautiful than Spanish Moss. It’s Usnea, sometimes called Old Man’s Beard. Like other lichens it is a symbiosis of a fungus and an algae.

In this state two varieties live side by side and are virtually indistinguishable to anyone but an expert. Usnea barbata, and usnea longissima. The former grows in long strands giving it a slightly sinister look. If you saw it in a move (and if you’ve seen The Hunted, you have) it conjures up images of something waiting to jump at you from behind a tree. The latter grows in clumps on branches. The lichen string, when broken will reveal a small white inner core. If it does not have this, it’s not usnea.

Usnea is nature’s penicillin. It’s effective against strep and staph. It is ineffective against E. coli. So it won’t work on dysentery. This is a wound medicine. It can be used as a packing for deep wounds. It can be made into a tea or decoction for bladder infections.

Great stuff, right?

Yes, but! Usnea is fiendishly hard to use. It does not breakdown well in water. You can boil the hell out of it, and most of the usnic acids will remain in the small strands of lichen.

If you are using it for wound packing, make sure the wound is washed clean. If possible, dip the usnea in boiling water for a few second to kill off any bacteria that may be clinging to it. Shake the water off and apply the usnea directly into wound, softly crushing it first. The blood in the wound will help release the usnic acids. If possible, change the packing three to four times a day. Yes, it will tear the wound open a bit, but you will notice it getting smaller and smaller as the days go by.

Another method is to powder it. In this type of situation I’m not sure how you could do it. But if you have pounding material (a round stone and a flat rock might work), you can pulverize the dried usnea (and there’s always dry usnea about) and use that as a wound powder or packing. Again, it is best used on an open wound.

Assuming you have some alcohol with you, be it rubbing or cheap vodka, moisten the usnea first. Alcohol, the higher grade the better, will help release the usnic acids quicker than blood will. It will hurt when you apply it. So let it air dry just a bit, but don’t let it go completely dry.

If you have alcohol, you can moisten the lichen first and then decoct it, or make it into a tea. It will be far more effective that way.

I’m sure you are asking if I’ve ever used it in an emergency situation? Well, certainly not like this one. But on a wildcrafting trip a decade ago, one of my students tore a gash in her leg in the Trinity Mountains. We washed it out and used the local usnea as a packing. Yep, it was that big. The nearest hospital was a day’s drive, so we kept an eye on the wound. By the time we got to Marysville, she decided there was no need to get it checked at emergency. The wound had healed over without infection. Oh yes, we did soak it in Everclear first. She took a couple of swigs for the pain and we slapped it in the wound. This is rough and ready field herbalism at its best.

Usnea is a good antifungal, but again is hard to use. If fungal infections occur on the skin, a powder could be dusted on the affected areas. A wash made from a strong decoction can also be used, but experience suggests the powder may be more effective. For yeast infections of the vagina, the same decoction can be used as a douche. This was used by a female herbalist colleague of mine who could not use common prescribed creams. She powdered the usnea first, moistened it with alcohol, and then simmered it covered for 15 to 20 minutes. After it had cooled she douched until it was used up. She repeated the process a second day. The third day she felt it was unnecessary but did so anyway. The yeast infection did not return.

Although more effective as a tincture, in a pinch it can given as a decoction for bronchial infection. More than likely either a bacterial or viral bronchial infection will strike at a time like this. Usnea is used for pneumonia in European country where individual might be allergic to penicillin. If you suspect a bronchial infection, have the person rest and drink lots of usnea decoction. The stronger the better. Simmer a packed palmful of the lichen to two cups of water. Push the fluids and repeat every hour.

They won’t thank you. It tastes vile.

Since my campsite is in within walking distance of my home I could harvest two more herbs growing in my neighbor hoods. Juniper and rosemary.


If anyone cares to know Junipers are coniferous plants in the genus Juniperus of the cypress family Cupressaceae. Depending on taxonomic viewpoint, there are between 50-67 species of juniper, widely distributed throughout the northern hemisphere, from the Arctic, south to tropical Africa in the Old World, and to the mountains of Central America in the New World. They are evergreen with either needle-like and/or flattened scale-like leaves. So it is best to find what is most common in your area. Juniper cones, sometimes called berries, are almost always dark blue or black.

Juniper has been used to clear uric acid from the body. Which means you can use it for certain types of arthritis. It’s not a pain killer, but will certainly ease joint pain. It is high in natural insulin, and has the ability to heal the pancreas where there has been no permanent damage. It is useful for all urinary infections and for water retention problems, as well as gout. Chewing the berries treats inflamed and infected gums. Native Americans used a decoction of the boiled leaves as a poultice for joints affected by arthritis and rheumatism. It should not be used by pregnant women or those suffering from kidney disease. In one plant you can help those afflicted with arthritis, gout, rheumatism, bad gums (either from poor dental hygiene, or like me from diabetes.), and even Juvenile diabetes IF necessary. Insulin is poorly absorbed in the stomach, but a little insulin might be better than none at all. (Don’t try this with late on-set diabetes 2, the sheer amount of tea or decoction needed wouldn’t be worth the attempt, and it probably would not help.)

Juniper is a diuretic and will help individuals eliminate waste matter from the blood more efficiently. Expect a stronger smelling urine when this happens. Don’t be frightened by it. It just means the juniper is working.

There is discussion as to whether it should be given to individuals with kidney diseases. A hundred years ago it was considered a cure. Today most herbalists shy away from it, considering too difficult to use on damaged kidneys.

I myself would not necessarily use it in full survival situations. Then again, if a person was dying, I just might. Don’t you try. I’m the professional.

The amount of juniper used as decoction should be as such; One to two ounces of the cones (berries) boiled for ten minutes in a pint of water. The decoctions should be drunk over a 24 hour period. No more than two ounces at a time. Cool water should be given after each drink.


Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis ) is a favorite garden plant, as it does not need a lot of water, is very hardy, and grows into a beautiful bush. It’s a woody, perennial herb with fragrant evergreen needle-like leaves that can be sharp and flat, or round and pointed depending on variety. It is native to the Mediterranean region. The flowers are variable in color, being white, pink, purple, or blue. My personal favorites are the blue. Rosemary has been found to be a stimulant and mild analgesic, and has been used to treat headaches, poor circulation, and many ailments for which stimulants are prescribed.

It can be used as a disinfectant, as a mouth wash and to treat fever or rheumatism. For a tonic against headaches put some sprigs into a teapot, add hot water, strain, and serve. It is a potent antibiotic and antibacterial.

Some people do have a reaction to too much rosemary, but that is mostly when used in essential oils, which you will not have in a disaster.

In this case, rosemary would be used solely as a decoction. In lieu of soap, you could bathe with it. Decoct a large amount and sponge down with it. Yes, wash your hair with it. (Ladies you will be surprised how shiny your locks will become!) (Guys, this was a traditional treatment for baldness.) Simmer the rosemary for 15 minutes and wash with the rosemary water as warm as you can stand it.

For headaches, joint pain, and poor circulation, drink up to two cups of the decoction a day. In this case, cold fluid gets into the blood stream faster, so let it cool down first. If you are only making a small amount of decoction or tea, use a palmful of the leaves to a large cup of water. Don’t over steep or over decoct, as the drink will become bitter. Five minutes should be enough, but no more than ten.

Because rosemary is antibacterial and to some extent antiviral it can be used in conjunction with usnea for bronchial infection. If you have both, make a concoction of the two. In this case, use a palmful of rosemary leaves with equal parts usnea to four or five cups of water. Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Have your sick person drink a cup per hour, every hour. Keep them sitting up as much as possible. If you suspect phlegm in their chest, pound their back and allow them cough and spit out the phlegm. If the phlegm is dark yellow, green, or brown, you got big problems. It is infected. Push the fluids and the concoction.

Last but not least, boil a large pot of rosemary if possible. Have the individual breath in the rosemary fumes. Continue all these treatments as long as necessary. With a bit of luck, recovery is possible.

Let us continue. After lighting the fire with your bow drill (Let’s be real here…I carry matches or a cigarette lighter.) you burn your hand or elbow or some other exposed portion of your body, on a hot coal. You are fresh out of burn crème. What are you going to do. Well, there’s not substitute for water. Go down to the stream and soak it for several hours. Yes, I said hours. Keeping the skin wet and cool is the best medicine if it is not a third degree burn.


What if for some reason you can’t go immediately, or even at all? Look around for chickweed. As I wrote in my chapter of Outdoor Emergency Care,

Chickweed (Stellaria media) looks like a ground cover when in full bloom. It can be found in shady empty lots, along sidewalks, in moist sections of parks and forest, in older established neighborhoods, riparian areas and many backyards.

It has a very tiny star shaped flower with five petals. Its leaves are oval in shape and the stems have very fine hairs that sometimes can only be seen in full sunlight. This plant likes a couple of hours of sunlight, but prefers to snooze in cool shade. It is edible, and can be used in salads. The young leaves have a mild taste, while the older leaves occasionally taste peppery. Chickweed is rich in iron, copper, and vitamin C. Long distance backpackers add this plant to freeze dried meals when they can find it. Warning…like dandelion, this plant mildly diuretic and will increase your urinary output. If used at dinner, it is guaranteed to hit you at two or three in the morning. It has an unusual aroma when cut fresh. Imagine a mild scent of celery and cilantro. Perhaps that’s why backpackers value it so highly for wild salads.

The fresh plant can be used as an emergency poultice for burns. It takes a great deal of the plant to make an effective poultice, but there is no such thing as a little bit of chickweed. Touching the plant with your bare hands will bring on a cooling sensation. On burns, it may feel almost like ice for several minutes. The crushed plant can be placed against a first or second-degree burn. The fresh juice has slight analgesic properties. Though it will not completely kill the pain, it will make it more bearable. Fresh poultices should be placed on the burn every fifteen to thirty minutes.

Chickweed is also a decent anti-inflammatory. It is used topically for swellings. It is especially useful for swellings of the foot, fingers, and hands caused by sprains, arthritis, and gout. Though it is not effective for deep injuries, it will ease most inflammations that appear directly under the skin.

What I should have added is this: Use lots of it. Completely cover the burn area and then some. Where you find chickweed you will always find more. I may have been too conservative with my original advice on changing the poultice. Don’t wait half an hour. Make fifteen minutes your maximum wait time. Change it every ten minutes if possible.

My lord, we’ve covered a lot of herbs haven’t we? No we haven’t. Only eight.


Does it seem like more? Probably. With eight plants you can deal with diabetes, wounds, infections, fungal issues, bladder infections, congestive heart failure, bronchial infections and burns.

So here is your non-binding assignment. If you can, find out what plants in your area you can use in lieu of these. If you have these plants in your home town or county, so much the better. If not, what plants will give you the same actions.

Secondly, put together, at least in theory a bug-out kit, appropriate for your geography and weather zone. For those folks who don’t know what a bug-out kits (but by this time have a good suspicion), a BOK as it is called by the US State Department is an emergency kit to be used if personnel must leave an area in a hurry. The contents are individualized, but most have some sort of first aid kit, radio, clothing, food bars, money, and ID. Each member of a family has one. Usually more than one.

My wife has one at work. I keep one in the car. My daughter has one in her room.

In mine, I have a full change of clothes, Purecell, first aid kit with rx meds, rope, several MRE’s (I like the BBQ beef and Chicken with dumplings), power bars, matches, a lighter, small flashlight, a knife, light rain gear, bandana, small bottle of vodka (for medicinal reasons only!) and a gun. In the trunk of my car I have a tent and sleeping bag, Nalgene jar, large metal cup, and two to three gallons of water. I also carry water purification tablets. So as you can see, if my nightmare comes true, I won’t be completely at the mercy of fate. As for those of you who might be troubled by my choice to keep a firearm at hand…well all I can say is, I live in Richmond. For those who are curious, I have a .22 Ruger automatic.

Your last assignment is…what is the most likely natural disaster you might face. And in a brief outline, how you would you deal with it? I might not be able to share all your answers. But I will share as many as I can.

Our next scenario will be…

Living In The Back Country…Lost and Loving It (Or, What The Hell Was I Thinking?)

Our last scenario will be….

H5N1. Stephen King’s The Stand, for real.

Sleep well my friends.

Wait a minute!!!

I hear some shouts out there! What about Doc’s wife? Did she survive? Well let me see.

Down the trail leading up to Wildcat Canyon Park, I see a haggard looking woman carrying a worn blue backpack. The time is dusk, and the smell of continued fires from the refinery is thick in the air. There is dark brown cut on her forehead. She has a slight limp. Her clothes are dusty. A bandana keeps here hair out of her face. Peaking out her front pocket is a Buck knife purchased at her first Tracker class. On her wedding finger is small emerald ring shaped like a heart given as anniversary gift long long ago.

Her husband tries not to cry. Neither is overly emotional in public, and there are others about. A young woman joins her father and stares for a moment.

“Mom!” she screams. And her mother’s face crumbles in tears.

Somehow she traveled by hook or by crook across the bay to find them.

She decided to live.

But that is a story for another time.

Sunday, October 26, 2014 at 10:09pm PT

Original Fiction


A Crust of Bread and the Last of the Bordeaux

by Charles R. Garcia 2018


In 1910 Halley’s Comet made its dazzling reappearance after 76 years. French astronomer, science fiction writer and mystic Nicolas Camile Flammarion and assistant astronomer Eugène Michel Antoniadi, waited in Flammarion’s private observatory for the Earth to pass through the gaseous tail of the comet. Flammarion had suggested this event would cause the extinction of mankind due to gas poisoning from cyanogen. This set off a wild race to purchase gas masks and quack anti-comet pills. Of course nothing happened. But what if…What IF…


            The early summer rain drummed against the study windows in an odd rhythmic pattern. Since the event in April, so many things had changed. God had forsaken France, thought Eugène Antoniadi. God had forsaken the entire world. The forty year old astronomer looked almost a decade younger; which his late wife Katherine would often comment on. Antoniadi deeply missed his wife; though his period of grief should have ended over a year before. His good looks, curly dark hair like a spaniel and well-trimmed mustache had turned more than one female head at the better restaurants where he used to dine.

Despite the drumming of the rain, Antoniadi could hear the sound of Flammarion’s Mors 32 horse power Roi-des-Belges. How an astronomer could actually afford such a vehicle was beyond his comprehension. Then again, Flammarion had built his private observatory on the outskirts of Paris on a hilltop in Juvisy, when he could have used the powerful Paris Observatory. “I do not want my opinions adulterated by professional scientific adulterers,” he once told Antoniadi.

Nicolas Camile Flammarion entered his office and shook off with a flourish the green rain that had gathered on his light wool coat. The rain stained the floor, but both scientists were beyond caring. Flammarion was deep into his sixties but still “hale and red-faced” as the English would say. Assuming one was able to see through his unkempt white beard, his was scarlet in most places.

“Merde,” explained Flammarion, his face red from hyperpiesia. “The roads are going to be rivers of green mud if this lasts much longer. And le boche almost climbed in with me when I made the sharp curve near la cour de France.”

“They would not have had the opportunity if you had not gone to Mass,” Antoniadi replied. Flammarion shrugged. “Religion is all I have now.” Antoniadi suddenly felt uncomfortable about his comment. He had been with Flammarion when he suddenly shot his wife Gabrielle Renaudot in the back of the head with a .32 caliber pistol only a day before. She had once been General Secretary of the Sociéte Astronomique de France. They had no children. Gabrielle was a respected astronomer in her own right. Antoniadi screamed in terror and anger when he saw her body hit the floor along with the notebooks she had carried into the observatory room. “Better this than what is happening in Paris, êtes-vous d’accord?” he asked sadly. Antoniadi could not answer. Did not want to answer. The sudden smell of cordite and blood had frozen his voice. He feared Flammarion would turn the gun in his direction and fire a small caliber bullet into his brain. He broke his paralysis and followed Flammarion downstairs for a long evening of introspection.

“How many do you estimate the contagion touched?” Antoniadi inquired.

Flammarion’s eyes seemed to darken with the question. He gave the famed Gallic shrug, which began from the neck then down to the shoulders.  It could be translated to either I do not know or I do not care. “From what I have seen though, I have developed a theory. May I share it?”

“Please do, but allow me to pour us both some wine and cut a few slices of brie,” Antoniadi suggested. Flammarion nodded sadly. The once great Eugène Michael Antoniadi was now a serving boy. Jealous astronomers had once called him Flammarion’s poodle. The abuse became so bad he challenged one astronomer to a duel. Flammarion was a French intellectual who still believed in honor and wished to be chosen as Antoniadi’s Second. This act had wiped away the personal issues between them that had originally driven him to London where he met his beloved Katherine. The duel never took place, somewhat to Flammarion’s disappointment. He had even found a set of dueling pistols once owned by a distant relative he hoped would be used.  Antoniadi let his mind wander for a moment. How excited he had been only a year before when he published a paper proving the canals on Mars were nothing more than an optical illusion. The Astronomical Society of France were at first horrified by this change of doctrine, but may have been more upset to learn that the young astronomer was born in Asia Minor and was Greek by ethnicity. Great astronomical finds were limited to French, German, and English astronomers in that order. Flammarion’s wife who was a voting member of the Society, called Antoniadi more French than the Eiffel Tower. His papers were met with approval after that.

Both men sipped their wine first and contemplated the flickering gas lights.

“I believe that the contagion came with the comet’s tail. I was in error concerning the amount of cyanic gas the Earth would suffer while it passed through Halley’s tail. The gas was too dispersed to cause any damage. The majority of individuals stayed in their homes, either trying to avoid a gas which was not there, or standing outside waiting for death, or the Second Coming. When those who were disappointed by the Savior went home, the contagion began. Remember what the plague-like the symptoms were? Painful limbs, fever, inflammation of the lymph nodes, and finally a relaxing of the body and death. All within three or four days. The Pasteur Institute did research on the heads of those who had turned and were quickly dispatched by fire arms. They found lesions attached to brain areas where movement, hearing, and sight are controlled. The rest of the brain had rotted into a black mass hardly recognizable as a brain. My theory is simple. The contagion did not affect those who stayed protected in their homes or huddled in the great cathedrals of France. The contagion cannot survive for long in our atmosphere. Perhaps it is our Sun. Our perhaps an earthly bacteria killed the contagion much like the conclusion of Mr. Wells’ story, War of the Worlds. But now, like rabid dogs these walking abominations hunt the unaffected. Have you noticed they never attack or eat one another? To return to the findings of the Pasteur Institute, merde we could use that man now, if the brain of one who is infected is separated from the body, the body will die. But the head will remain alive…watching, biting. But if a hole is driven into the affected brain it will die in seconds. Qu'est-ce que tu penses?”Antoniadi agreed and added, “The brain mass is suddenly affected by the oxygen and dies.”

“Exactly dear friend,” replied the French astronomer.

“So how do we kill these hordes? They are walking viruses…or bacteria if you will.”

Flammarion looked at his colleague and gave a sad smile. “We do not. We cannot. There are not enough bullets or marksmen in the world to quell this nightmare. Perhaps the human race will survive in small outposts on islands or well defended hill tops for a time. But as a species, our time is over. Due to a cosmic act of fate we become an evolutionary failed experiment. I know how I will end this. I made my confession before mass this morning. The priest was still strong in his faith, I must give him credit for that. He could not give me absolution for a sin I had yet to commit. I reminded him of the crusades. How Pope Clement granted absolution to all crusaders who went to slaughter the followers of Mohammed. I am certain the other waiting in line could hear our argument,” Flammarion said with a chuckle. “He explained those were different times and I was no crusader and he was no Pope. I agreed and left the confessional. Curiously he did forgive me the killing of Gabrielle,” he said sadly. Antoniadi noticed the word murder was not used. “Irregardless,” continued Flammarion, “I took communion and destroyed the body of our Lord and Savior with my dentures. It is certainly not the worst thing I have done, mon ami.”

Flammarion held out his hand. Antoniadi took it and pulled his friend and mentor into an embrace. “Go in peace my friend,” he whispered in Greek. He felt Flammarion nod. Mutual tears streaked their cheeks.

“It has been an honor.”

“The honor has been all mine. Please forgive the way I treated you those years ago,” Flammarion said and began his walk to the long stairway leading to the telescope room. This is where Gabrielle lay. Murdered so she would not fall prey to the monstrosities walking through Paris. Or worse yet, becoming one from an infected bite. How horrible! Horrible!

Antoniadi drank the last of his Bordeaux and found a piece of hardened baguette to nibble on. A quarter of an hour later he heard a muffled shot that echoed down the stairway. In heaven, or hell or nowhere Flammarion and his beloved Gabrielle were together.

The following weeks Antoniadi stayed in the caretaker’s home outside the observatory. Where the caretaker and his family had fled to the Greek astronomer had no idea. He rummaged through the kitchen which had several tins of food and bagged coffee. He also traded his clothes for the more rustic style of the caretaker albeit originally they were a bit snug. It seemed that the caretaker’s duties also included gardening. Antoniadi used Flammarion’s vehicle for expeditions into Paris for victuals and armaments. As a boy he had hunted doves in his native Greece so he was fully aware of the workings of a shotgun. He quickly found what he need in the police armories. In one station he picked a robust Chamelot-Delvigne 11 millimeter revolver. He carried as many boxes as he could find into the boot of the automobile. It took six trips. At a second station he found the petite pocket Farbrique Nationale .32 caliber pistol favored by police detectives and the somewhat secret Surete. It would have shocked his mentor to know Antoniadi had a taste for dime store detective novels. His final stop for weaponry would have indeed surprised his mentor and any modern soldier of the age. In the quiet of a private museum of arms he found what he was looking for. A halberd! A two handed pole with an axe blade topped by a pike it could skewer an enemy or cleave their head. A Swiss peasant had killed Charles the Bold in the winter of 1477 during the Battle of Nancy. Appropriating the weapon was more difficult when a voice called out, “No!”

The astronomer dropped the weapon in shock and heard it clang on the floor.

“What are you doing, M’sieur? That is a priceless piece of history!” The voice came from a slender young man of no more than thirty years. He appeared from a darkened corner of the museum.

“I need this to kill le boche.” Antoniadi answered with a grin.

“I am the curator of Le Musee de Armes. My name is Manon de Vidoq, à votre service. And if you really need a halberd I can offer you a contemporarily new one if you follow me.”

“I wonder if you are any relation to the great detective, Vidoq?” asked Antoniadi following at a trot.

“Perhaps,” was the only reply.

In a few minutes both curator and astronomer were in what appeared to be a room of relics strong with the smell of wood, alcohol and varnish.

“This is where we keep the replicas when we need to repair the originals. We replace them with these. Granted some are fifty years old or so, but they are made with the same skill as the originals. Being of better metals, except for the Damascus blades, they can still be used for killing I imagine. And why may I ask are you planning to kill the…undead with a halberd?”

“Sit down young man and listen to an old astronomer,” said Antoniadi pointing to a wooden chair. “But first allow me to enquire how you have survived?”

“Le Musee de Armes is a private concern. A minor member of royalty endowed us with a collection of battle weapons his family had collected over the centuries with a stipulation they be preserved, researched, and presented to the public. Over the years this post has been a stepping stone to greater curator posts throughout France. I am just the last in a long line. The Mussee de Armes backs onto the lawns of our benefactor’s palace though I would call it a chateau. I need only leave by the rear entrance and avail myself of the food left behind. There are hand pumps in the garden. So I have plenty of water.”

“Are there any others?”

“My wife, Jeanne, a cook and her young son.”

“Vidoq, would you like to die in Paris?”

“Not particularly, M’sieu…but with the dead walking every boulevard and the surviving military abandoning the city I do not see many options.”

“Let us speak mon ami, but if you have some bread and Bordeaux if would be an easier talk.”

“Let us see if the way is safe and we shall make a dash to the house, for it is more of a house than a palace in my humble opinion,” said the curator with a slight grin.

After sharing his plan with the curator the Greek astronomer with the heart of a Frenchman drove through the dusky light of midsummer. Avoiding the boche became problematic. The sound of the Roi-des-Belges often brought on dozens of stumbling rotting bodies that blocked the Parisian streets. Driving erratically and at top speed had prevented his death several times. The walking dead bounced into others of their unholy ilk. Driving over their rotting bodies produced an odor that repelled Antoniadi to the point where he kept a vinegar soaked handkerchief to mask the smell. If the dead had not invaded the observatory grounds he could take a moment to wash off the stink under the automobile with a water hose.

Antoniadi found the grounds undisturbed and maneuvered the vehicle into the gardens. Dashing into his offices and Flammarion’s he grabbed the observation journals made before, during, and after the coming of the comet. He placed the journals in a small sandalwood chest Gabrielle had kept in her offices. It was filled with her notes concerning the angle of spray from the comet’s tail and a small bottle of perfume.  Flammarion could easily forget a person was not just a scientist. Gabrielle made sure he remembered she was woman. She younger than her husband by half. Antoniadi often smelled the lavender scent as he walked up the steps to the telescope. He looked at his trembling hands. Antoniadi was tired, emotionally tired, but could not sleep. His mind needed action. He told Vidoq he would not return until morning but to have all things ready. He locked himself in the observatory and fell asleep with the halberd across his lap. He dreamed of men in Sunday dress slashing away with halberds against hordes of the undead.

The morning dawned with a light rain. Perfect, thought Antoniadi. Le boche seemed confused by rain. They stumbled around giving a moaning cry as if their senses, whatever those might be, had been cut off. Light or fire did not attract their attention. Only sound or perhaps smell guided these monsters. Antoniadi had packed lightly. A clean pair of pants from the caretaker whom he had never given a thought too. Suspenders, several bottles of high proof whisky, a hat, strong leather shoes, a coat, a change of underwear and his toilet. All were rolled carefully in a woolen bedroll like the tramps used in their travels. A hard lump in the bed roll suggested the large .11 millimeter revolver.  The last of the Bordeaux and some slightly moldy bread and cheese were stashed in the hideaway between the front seats along with the whisky. At the last moment he decided to push the vehicle onto the driveway, have it roll down the hill without starting its motor. It was a monumental effort for the astronomer who took little exercise except for climbing the stairway to the telescope. With an angry push Antoniadi started the open top automobile rolling forward. He quickly jumped into the driver’s seat and sped down the hill towards Paris. The rain splashed against his driver’s goggles blurring his sight. He splattered one forlorn walking corpse near the Rue de Savoy cursing the smell that would inevitably come from the chassis. He hazarded a brief look behind him and saw the corpse attempt to stand on two stumps that once were legs. He estimated his speed to be a roaring twenty miles an hour by the passing of telephone poles, each one placed one eighth of a mile apart. By gauging the time it took for several to pass it was just an easy problem of mathematics. When the speed began to drop he fired up the motor. For a moment the vehicle jerked and slowed down more. Then the engine caught and his speed reached a dangerous thirty miles an hour. The walking corpses could hear him but were unable to catch him.

“Merde!” he shouted with an insane joy forgetting the dead could hear him. “The old guard dies, but never surrenders!” This was the answer Napoleon’s military bodyguards gave the English at Waterloo when asked to surrender.

Stopping the vehicle directly in front of Le Musee de Armes he shouted with all his might.

“Vidoq! Now!” He was ready to leave Vidoq if the door did not open in two seconds. He counted to three when Vidoq, his wife Jeanne, the cook whom he met the day before and her ten year old son Martel came charging thru the door. Each had a bed roll. What each carried he could not imagine. Did Vidoq bring the History of Medieval French Arms? Did his wife bring some linens handed down from generations? Did the cook bring her favorite recipes? Did Martell bring the translated works of Mr. Wells? One thing Vidoq did carry was another halberd. Fitting three people in the rear compartment was not as difficult as he first perceived, as the vehicle was built on a carriage design. They fit snuggly, but they did fit.

“Ready, mon ami?” Asked the former astronomer now turned conductor.

“Let us leave this place. And if there is a God, let us hope we never return.”  Vidoq dug deep into his bed roll and pulled out something the astronomer recognized. A studded mace. I hope the walking dead do not come close enough for that thing to be necessary Antoniadi thought.

Antoniadi sped down the boulevards at speeds in excess of twenty five miles per hour. Vidoq laid part of the wooden staff the halberd in the Greek’s driver lap, while Antoniadi did the same for the curator. The vehicle would become a scythe if the halberds could be held onto.

“Problems ahead!” shouted the halberd wielding driver. “Not for long,” shouted Vidoq in return.

The first kills were difficult. They cut off rotting arms, shoulders, a leg, and spiked a dead woman in the chest. She fought the pike while her body opened up and her intestines fell on the road. Vidoq managed to unhook her and she rolled onto the boulevard. The cook and Vidoq’s wife were screaming. The dead continued down the boulevard being beheaded by a French curator and a Greek astronomer. Heads would continue to snap as they rolled away like soccer balls.  Antoniadi’s kills were more difficult as he also had to manhandle the heavy vehicle and keep a steady speed. A naked man was nearly scythed in half by Vidoq when it stepped into the boulevard and gave a long moan before reaching for the approaching vehicle. Antoniadi veered slightly avoiding the corpse but gave Vidoq and excellent opportunity to kill it. The halberd blade sank deep into the chest of the walking dead revealing a lung. The movement of the vehicle unhooked the blade.

“You missed the head,” shouted Antoniadi.

“My arms were tired,” replied the curator without humor. 

“I think we have seen the worst of it,” Vidoq leaned over and spoke into Antoniadi’s ear. “At least for Paris. We are now officially out of Metropolitan Paris,” he said with a sense of relief.

At that moment a solitary representative of the walking dead showed himself a mere five yards from the speeding vehicle. A swerve would have caused a crash into a postal receptacle. Antoniadi struck the creature head on. Its body bounced onto the hood of the car. The creature was male and had dressed well before its death. Had it gone to church? Or a wedding? Perhaps it was attacked after a formal dinner? A torn bite mark on its exposed neck suggested the cause of the transformation. With its mouth open it crawled purposely towards the driver and his passenger.

“Shake him off,” screamed a terrified Vidoq drowning out the screams of his wife. Antoniadi steered like a drunk man, swerving at break neck speed to the right, then switching his swerve to the left. “Do something,” Vidoq pleaded with his driver as well as God. “I am open to suggestions,” The Greek shouted.  Despites Antoniadi’s best efforts the creature hung on for dear life, if it had a life. Its mouth gaped open as it reached out across the hood. From dead vocal chords it gave a chilling moan. The teeth showed colors of black and gray and red. “Use your halberd!” Antoniadi screamed. “I can’t maneuver it! He’s too close!” answered Vidoq.

Something seized Vidoq’s heart. He ceased his screams and dug furiously into his bed roll spilling common items of life into his lap. Then he found it. Pulling himself into a standing position he leaned as far forward as his slender frame could take him. Antoniadi straightened his driving. The sound of a smashed melon rang in the air. The creature rolled off the vehicle. Vidoq sat back down with the studded mace in his hand. It was covered in black gore. Antoniadi would learn later Vidoq had struck the creature so quickly his three blows sounded as one.

Mon Dieu,” Antoniadi replied. “If we survive this…I will never be sober again.”

Vidoq grinned, perhaps the first true grin he had given since the comet came.

Antoniadi slowed to a more manageable ten miles an hour. “Be on the lookout, my friend. I think staring through a telescope all these years may have decreased my sight. I used to hate mankind, and someday I will tell you why. But not now. Not on this trip. My hate forced me to look into the heavens. Not the religious heavens, but those you can see from hill tops, then towers, and finally telescopes. Now, I want to save what is left of mankind if that is possible.”

Vidoq said nothing to Antoniadi for many hours. The trip to Château de Montbrun would take almost as long in an automobile as it would by coach.

Near the end of day the cramped and terrified traveling companions stopped at an abandoned home. Everything was in place. Dishes, tea pot, photographs of grim looking relatives. There were tins of sardines, meat, potatoes and glassware of preserved fruits. The cook whose name Antoniadi finally remembered, Michelle literally rolled up her sleeves, lit a fire in the stove and made dinner. Surprisingly it was quite good. She added a red wine to the meat and potatoes and found an onion that had barely gone rotten. She found flour and spices and made a flat bread in a skillet with olive oil and rosemary. Vidoq’s wife showed cooking skills he did not know she had. He showed surprised. Antoniadi guessed that had not been married long.

“Can we stay here, M’seiu? Martel asked Vidoq. “I do not think the owners are coming back anytime soon.”

“That is what I fear…they will,” answered the curator.  

After a well enjoyed dinner the men sat in comfortable chairs smoking cigars from their unknown host’s humidor. Jeanne, Michelle and her son found two small rooms upstairs and set out bed linens from the closets. The sweet smell of cigars wafted upwards into the rooms. Jeanne helped Michelle in making a bed for her and her son as Michelle had helped her make a marital bed for Jeanne and her husband.

“If I may say, you seem so young to be head cook in a palace, even an aged one,” Jeanne said to Michelle.

“Hardly head cook,” she said with a strong accent of Alsace-Lorraine, “And hardly a palace. Our cook was beloved by the Viscount so he kept her into his dotage and hers. I do not mean that as a criticism. The Viscount liked things just-so. And Cook provided that in our kitchen. But I learned a few culinary tricks from the old woman,” Michelle sighed. “When the dead began to walk she said it was the end of the world and she was able to get a coach into the city. Why she went I do not know as she confided in no one. The staff scattered to the winds. I stayed as we had nowhere to go,” she finished.

“Your husband?”

“Ah you noticed my wedding ring. He committed a crime almost a year ago. It does not matter what crime. The gendarmes learned his name and he was on the run. Because he was born in Germany the law allowed him to join le Legion Etrangere. If he survives his term of enlistment he can give his real name, his crime expunged, and citizenship will be offered.”

Despite the differences in their social status Jeanne understood Michelle had just shared a painful secret in her life. This plump, blonde haired woman, girl really could make an excellent meal with tins of food, a bottle of wine, dried apples, and flour and water. Jeanne could not have done so, though less than three hours before she would have believed she could.

At that moment they heard breaking of glass and shouts of “Stay upstairs!” from both men.

In the small drawing room discolored arms and hands of the dead reached through a shattered window in a manic attempt to reach each man. Vidoq responded first grabbing his halberd and lopping off arms that slowly bled a blackened fluid. Antonidadi dug frantically into his bedroll and pulled the large pistol he had taken from the police barracks in Paris.

A woman who might have had some beauty before her death climbed resolutely through the shattered window. A loud report from the pistol shattered her skull plastering bits of brain on the wall and sofa pillows.

“How many are out there?” yelled Vidoq.

“I cannot tell. It is too dark. Did you bring an electric torch?”

“How much do you think a curator gets paid? Those cost several days wages.”

Then there was silence. For a several beats of eternity the two men of different worlds; one who looked into the past, the other into the future let their hearts return to a steady beat.

The moans broke their moments of piece.

“I think the family has returned!” shouted Antoniadi.

Armless stumps tried to re-enter through the broken window. The astronomer waited until he could see figures reflected in gas light and fired directly into the skulls. A man wearing an undershirt and trousers lost the back of his skull as the bullet entered above his right eye and continued outward into the summer night. The next to fall was boy of perhaps fifteen years. Antoniadi missed his first shot, the bullet entering the cheek and exiting through the neck. The second bullet struck just above the child’s nose. The gray mass of his brain exploded backwards on to the remaining bits of window.

Jeanne and Michelle were screaming questions rather than fear.

“Stay upstairs. We think we have eliminated them all. But let us check before you come down!” Advised Antoniadi.

“Mon Dieu,” gasped Vidoq. “Do you have another gun? I am the weapon expert here mon ami,” he said.

Antoniadi sheepishly answered, “It is in the vehicle. You can go get it if you like?”

Vidoq sat on the gore stained sofa and laughed. He laughed louder. Then he laughed even more.

“I think our unseen hosts may have left some Port? Would you like some?” asked Antoniadi.

“Please. This is no time to be sober.”

The night was spent with Antoniadi or Vidoq guarding the stairway while one or the other slept. Their dreams were marked with the smell of rotting bodies, cigar smoke, and cordite.

Michelle made a thorough breakfast with what was left of the flour, olive oil, spices, and meat. She demanded everyone eat while the men folk removed limbs from the living room.

A careful check of the property found a saw which allowed the men to shorten the halberds so they were more of a long axe. Each could fit on their laps. The balance was no longer as perfect as it once was, the halberd being built for a long pole. But in one way it was more manageable. Vidoq was given the small Belgian pistol and spent a few minute firing rounds into a tree. Antoniadi was impressed by the young man’s marksmanship.

“Remarkable shooting. Where did you learn?”

“My father was in the military. When he was alive we would go shooting and hunting on his estate,” answered Vidoq.

“Did he want you to follow in his footsteps?”

“Curiously no. He approved of my love of history. He said there had been enough killing in his family. Better that a son should read about it,” the young curator answered with a hint of sadness. “He died nine years ago in the Hoggar Mountains in Algeria fighting the Tuaregs. I am unsure why France wanted that worthless place. Only savages live there…and only when they have too. Most are Muslims,” he said with a hint of bitterness.

“Keep your pistol loaded. I absconded with several boxes of cartridges and two magazines for the pistol. My revolver only carries six shots. So I will need you protect me and the others if I run out of bullets,” Antoniadi explained.

“And let us keep our halberds on our laps. They will be more comfortable now. Are we ready to travel?” Vidoq asked.

“Alert the others. We leave in five minutes,” the astronomer answered.

The trip through central France was beautiful in summer. Rain showers were beginning to shed the awful green color that had come with the comet. Most of the coach roads were being paved for the automobile craze. They hit mud several times but four strong bodies pushed or pulled the vehicle out of mud traps. They found farm houses and villages emptied of provisions and people. Gasoline was found where farmers had shifted to motorized combines and tractors. If starved of gas the vehicle could also run on kerosene. Antoniadi wondered if it could run on good whiskey. He would hate to give up the bottles he had saved from Paris. But if needed he would. Good natured Michelle was always able to find food, either in overgrown gardens or neglected barns. Chickens will lay eggs without the presence of people. Cabbage, carrots, potatoes, and peas will run riot if allowed to. And the occasional chicken found its way into a pot spiced with rosemary and thyme. Each evening Vidoq and Antoniadi took turns with the shotgun peering into the night.

Perhaps the undead had all rotted away Vidoq hoped as they loaded themselves back into the vehicle. The morning shadows were lengthening each day. By early afternoon they reached the village of Dournazac. Jeanne considered it would have looked the same during the Revolution. There were no electric lines for a telegraph or the annoying telephones. Neither was there any scent of cooking fires. The streets were empty. A few rotting bodies lay in the way of the vehicle. The heads had rolled into gutters. The eyes moved as the car drove near. Antoniadi just rolled over them as if they were dead rats on a Paris boulevard.

“Where is the chateau?” Martel asked.

“Around this corner if memory serves,” answered Vidoq.

The car made a careful turn and the occupants took their first look at Chateau Montbrun.

“Mon Dieu” whispered Martel.

Vidoq chuckled and spoke loud enough to be heard above the rattling of the Roi-des-Belges engine. “God had nothing to do with it. But Richard le Cœur de Lion had a connection to this place. You know he was more French than English don’t you?” Martel nodded like a school boy who had aced a difficult question. “After a siege of twelve days he took the castle and promptly died from blood poisoning. That happened to many knights who were struck with a cross bow bolt in the shoulder,” said Vidoq with a smile.

“There is a new roadway across the moat, rebuilt in the last ten years I believe,” informed Antoniadi. “We should have no problems getting across,” he added hopefully.

The moat was connected to a small lake and several streams that had made it impregnable for hundreds of years. Lion Heart took the castle due to its small garrison. One old man, his wife and some servants. The family ran out of food as happens during a siege.

The vehicle ran into a barricade halfway across the bridge that led across the moat. Rotting corpses of the undead and bodies of the unbitten lay across heavy wooden tables, carts, chairs, a sofa, heavy planking, and large paintings.

“At least we know where the villagers went,” said Michelle.

“Who are you?” came a voice from a battlement. The travelers looked up and saw several men with long rifles pointed at them.

“We have come from Paris. I am Eugène Antoniadi assistant chief astronomer of the Flammarion Observatory. This is my friend Manon Vidoq curator of the Musee de Armes in Paris and his family. We ask sanctuary. None of us carry the plague or have been bitten by le boche,” he added.

Vidoq was surprised to be called a friend. Perhaps this is what his father once tried to explain to him. Friendships in war develop quickly. And truly this was a war.

One of the men pointed to unseen others. The portcullis began to rise with the sound of winching. Behind it was a stout wooden door. A half score of men came running out and with speed removed enough of the barricade for the vehicle to pass through. With the same speed the barricade was rebuilt.

“Hurry you fools!” shouted a bristly faced man in a torn shirt. “Get that contraption inside before the undead hear that infernal racket.”

Once inside the castle grounds, the travelers and defenders heard the portcullis go down and the door slam. Martel began to sob. It was finished he thought.

The mayor of Dournazac welcomed Antoniadi, Vidoq, Jeanne, Michelle and Martel with bread, wine, and cheese while begging for news of the outside world.

At a subdued dinner in the early summer evening Francois Torue, mayor of the village of Dournazac explained the plight of the people living within the compound of Castle Montbrun.

“When the plaque began the villagers did their best to kill these creatures. It was only later we learned that striking the head with a bullet or hatchet would lay these things to rest. I suggested we stay in the castle while the authorities deal with all this. The gendarme retreated to the larger cities and left us to fend for ourselves. We have forty-three individuals inside the castle walls including children and infants. Our water supply is excellent but food is rationed. The castle grounds are about 170 hectares with homes for servants, stables, grazing land and forest. The undead cannot to swim so they end up splashing and floating down river away from us…eventually. But if we try to catch cattle, sheep or goats, these abominations hear us and attack. Thankfully they are not that quick. At least the older dead are not. And there is the problem that many of them were or neighbors or kin. It is difficult to decapitate or destroy the head of a loved one,” explained the mayor. “At least the ones we like,” he added with Gallic humour.

Antoniadi chewed on the bread and rubbed his thumb and forefinger with a rhythmic motion.

Vidoq sipped on a local red wine. A decent Bordeaux he thought.

Jeanne, Michelle, and several women cleared the table.

Michelle suddenly stopped and spoke to the men. “Did not King Richard lure Saladin’s army out of Jaffa only to defeat him with only fifty-four French knights and a hundred Genovese soldiers?” she asked.

“Be quiet woman. These are matters for men,” grumbled the mayor.

“Wait,” said Vidoq. “What are you suggesting madam?” he asked politely.

“There is only one entrance into the chateau, am I correct? And did not the mayor say the moat leads to a river where the dead will float away? They surely cannot swim upstream, nor swim at all. Call them to the bridge with whatever noise attracts them. Then sweep these abominations into the moat. Do this as many times as needed. Then if a few survive they can be dispatched by sentinels. The fields can be plowed in the spring. In the meanwhile we can retrieve corn, sugar, wheat, wine, and other necessities from the village. And we can have meat for the winter. And milk for the children,” she finished.

“Go away silly woman. You suggest the impossible!” the mayor said with unconcealed anger.

Vidoq stood up and clapped his hands. The sound echoed in the castle chambers like a gunshot. “I wish my father had met you, Michelle. Brilliant! Truly brilliant! Mayor, round up all your men. If there are weapons in this place, take me to them! Immediately!”

“Show respect young man! I am mayor of this village. And this idea is madness,” the mayor said suddenly standing and knocking over his wine.

“I suggest you show do what he says, monsieur,” Antoniadi said respectfully pointing the huge 11 millimeter revolver at the mayor. “Better madness than starvation,” the astronomer said.

Forty-eight hours later the men of Dournazac and cleared away the barricade and prepared for a battle. Vidoq had drilled the men and few women on the use of halberds found in the castle. These were not original but had been built for those tourists who had been coming since the castle had been rebuilt by the Historical Society of France. The men worked in pairs. One would spike the undead holding it at bay while his partner in arms swung the second halberd lopping off the head. Firearms were given to those without enough strength to perform the killing ballet. The clanging of pots and pans, bells from the castle’s chapel, the discordant horn of Antoniadi’s car, and shouts of angry and fearful towns people soon brought a horde of the rotting, grey skinned, empty eyed ghouls from out of the picturesque forest. Some fell into the moat of their own accord. Others seemed to realize the bridge led to fresh victims.

Mon ami, we have been through much since Paris,” Antoniadi quietly said to Vidoq. “If this fails and we are to die today, may I call you by your first name?” he said gently. Vidoq teared up slightly. “Eugène, it has not been a pleasure. But it has been an honor,” Vidoq said. “Merci, Manon. The honor has been all mine.” The Turkish born Frenchman and the illegitimate son of a French military officer shook hands and gave each other the traditional Gallic peck on the cheek.

“Here they come,” shouted a voice. Definitely not the mayor who was left trembling in the high castle keep.

Eugène acted as Manon’s pike man. The dead struck helplessly while Manon either split the skull or sliced away at the neck. A head fell unto the bridge with the sound of rotten melon. Brain matter made the fight slippery. A villager went down while trying to break a skull. He was torn to pieces by three of the dead before shotgun blasts ended their existence for a final time. Townspeople pushed the dead into the moat while angry hunters fired into the water. In a surprising show of strength Eugène spiked a naked man in the forehead and led him to the edge of the bridge. Manon gave a solid push with his halberd and the creature fell into the moat with other of its brethren. The dull sound of a bow string pierced the curses and moans of the battle. A single bolt skewered the mouth of a woman wearing a tattered white dress. Defenders quickly decapitated it, bolt and all. Manon looked for the bowman. “Martel!” he shouted. “Get back to the castle!” Carrying a crossbow almost as large as he Martel shouted back, “Not while my mother fights! Non, lorsque ma mère se bat!” he shouted again.

And Manon saw Michelle with one of the smaller halberds he had modified for their journey, hacking off arms, hands, legs, until the creatures fell. Then with the swiftness of a woman who had spent her life cutting meat she severed the heads. Her ubiquitous white apron was stained red and black. Bit of brain mattered adhered to it. A second bolt from her son struck an elderly looking ghoul just above the nose. It pierced the skull and the corpse fell backwards onto another of the undead knocking it to the floor of the bridge. Michelle dispatched it with a heavy meat cleaver. The head rolled slowly into the moat. It splashed and disappeared beneath the water.

At least my wife has sense enough to stay out of harm’s way thought Manon until he saw her dragging the injured as far as her strength could take her. How strange he thought. She is wearing her favorite blue chemise. One man whose torn shirt showed severe gouging and bleeding begged her to kill him. “I think I have been bitten,” he croaked. “Do not let me turn into something unholy,” he asked. Jeanne knelt beside him, kissed his head and said, “Only God can make that decision. Let him decide, mon ami,” she said gently. With that she ran back into the battle.

Manon decided to rally the defenders and try to end this fight. Many of the walking dead had been slain. More were splashing and sinking into the moat. Now was the time. “Français est maintenant le moment de pousser! Utilisez vospiques et jeter dans le fossé!” With that final order everyone with a halberd spiked one of the undead and led them backward into the moat. The color of the water had turned from summer green to grey-black. The insistent moans of the dead were slowly being silenced by water. Those few left unspiked were dispatched by shotgun and rifle fire. Manon walked up to one of the dead and fired into its forehead with the small caliber semi-automatic. To Manon’s surprise the bullet exited out of the right ear. The creature fell with a slight jerk unto the bridge.

The only sounds were the human moans of the injured and the heavy panting of the exhausted.

Two town’s people died from wound infection but not from the plague. The man who was so certain had been bitten made a full recovery. From that day forward he was like an older brother to Jeanne.

Antoniadi and Vidoq fell into each other’s arms for a long embrace. No words were spoken.

After an eternity the astronomer said to the curator, “Now comes the hard part. We learn to survive.” 

“Yes brother,” replied Vidoq. “We shall.”

Epilogue: April 17, 3848 CE Old Earth Calendar

The Mars ships Flammarion and Antoniadi maneuvered to close proximity. A thousand kilometers was a dangerously close distance for ships of that size and speed.

“Captain on the bridge,” gave a voice. The captain of the Antoniadi no longer heard the polite protocols of military life.

“Is the Flammarion in position?” he asked in his neutral tone.

“Affirmative Captain. All is ready,” came the reply of his first officer. “Captain, may I ask a question?”

“Go ahead commander,” he answered while doing necessary paperwork on his wrist computer.

“Why are we sending this chunk of ice rock into the sun? Earth is…well dead for all intents and purposes. Humans have given Mars a molten core, a magnetic field, protection from radiation, terraformed it, made it as earthlike as possible if the historians are to be believed. Why kill Halley’s Comet?”

The captain smiled, something his crew seldom saw him do.

“So it will never endanger humankind again. No walking dead. No plague of zombies as they use to be called. That five mile chunk of rock is going to be nudged into Sol. For a thousand years our scientists have studied the virus it spews out from its tail. And we still don’t understand how it raises the dead. So it’s time to kill it. Does that answer your question, commander?”

“Yes Captain Vidoq. Thank you for your insight.”

“Open the com to the Flammarion. Have them fire on my mark.”

“Aye sir. Flammarion is ready.”

“One, two, three…mark,” said Captain Manon Vidoq with no emotion.

For a minute the ship vibrated slightly and gave a hum only the most sensitive hearing could pick up. In the vacuum of space the comet silently exploded, its pieces sent on a trajectory into the sun.

“Navigational guides from the Flammarion and our own computers confirm Halley’s Comet path is rerouted to Sol,” reported the first officer. There was no cheering or sense of celebration among the bridge crew. Halley’s Comet and the risen dead held no fear for the humans on either ship. It was a mere fairy tale to frighten recalcitrant children. But among Captain Vidoq’s possessions in sealed glass presentation cases were notebooks by a French woman charting the comet’s arc in the ancient skies of the early 20th century. A French woman whose despondent husband murdered her rather than lose her to le boche. And in a smaller glass case two ancient weapons. The rusted head of a halberd and a bulky 11 millimeter revolver.


Book Chapter

25 resource materials

On Wilderness Herbal First Aid

Chapter from the book, Wilderness Emergency Care, Steve Donelan, 2nd edition

Charles R. Garcia, Director (reprint fb CSHH)

This is a preview of the chapter on First-Aid Herbs for the Outdoors, to be published in Wilderness First Responder, edited by Steve Donelan. This is a national text in its second edition.

On Wilderness Herbal First Aid

No outdoors enthusiast should rely solely on medicinal plants found while backpacking, hiking, or camping for first aid. Rather than grubbing in the rain for medicinal roots somewhere on the Appalachian Trail or the Pacific Crest Trail, a well-stocked first aid kit is a thoroughly better choice for outdoor activities.

On the other hand, there are times when we may forget to re-stock a first aid kit, a doctor will refuse to prescribe antibiotics (as most do) for a trip, a backpack may fall into a river or stream during a crossing, a canoe may tip over, or a bear might decide to investigate the sweet smell of sun block exuding from a pack. More often than not, we just forget the kit at home or in the car.

This type of experience may leave us short on bandages, antibiotics, and aspirin. That being said, some knowledge in herbal first aid can come in handy…and occasionally has.

The following description of plants and plant usage will not negate the necessity of learning them first hand from a botanist or herbalist. Many of these plants are ubiquitous throughout the recreational outdoor areas of the United States.

Terms and Warnings

Herbs are most commonly used as tinctures--made of an ethyl alcohol base and requiring three or four weeks before being ready to be used as an internal medicine. Herbal remedies created with an isopropyl alcohol base are called liniments and are for external use only. In the days of the American wild west, this type of medicine was called Horse Medicine, and often used on Man and Beast.  Old western movies notwithstanding, it was never used for drinking.

In an outdoor setting, waiting three or four weeks for an herb to be ready to use is simply not practical, so the use of herbs in an emergency outdoor setting is limited to teas, infusions, decoctions, washes, and poultices.

A tea is made by pouring hot or boiling water on leaves, bark, or roots (usually dry) and allowing it to steep for a specified length of time, usually ten to fifteen minutes. If the plant is fresh, it is better to simmer or boil it.

A decoction is made by simmering or boiling leaves, barks, or roots for a specified amount of time. The time varies according to the remedy and the altitude.  A rule of thumb is 15-30 minutes below 1000 feet, with up to an hour at higher elevations.

A wash is the external use of either a tea or decoction upon an injured area.  The old term for this was a tisane.

A poultice is the application of mashed herbs or roots directly on an affected area. It can either be applied fresh or slightly warmed. It should not be chewed. While that may have been done in the days of the mountain man and is still shown in movies, the mouth is one of the filthiest places on the human body. DO NOT chew plants and place it on a wound.

It is not often that an herb is placed directly on an injury. This itself may cause infection, so a barrier such as a thin piece of cloth should be used on the skin. This allows the oils, juices, or other efficacious parts of the herb to drip directly into the wound or injury with risking material or debris from the plant becoming trapped in the wound.

If this is not possible and the wound itself is life threatening, then using the plant (well rinsed of debris) may be the only alternative.

Blackberry Leaf

The “Runs,”“Camp Cramps,” or “Montezuma’s Revenge” may not be considered life threatening at home, but it can be if the sufferer is unable to retain liquids. Common diarrhea is usually treated with OTC medications such Pepto-Bismol. In liquids and tablet form, this pink medication is the remedy of choice for many travelers. In Third World countries, diarrhea is one of the leading causes of death in newborns and young children due to the rapid onset of dehydration. If rehydration formulas are unavailable, death often follows.

The old name for this problem was dysentery. But true dysentery is a different matter altogether.  Dysentery is an inflammatory disorder of the intestine resulting in severe diarrhea (sometimes more than a liter of fluid an hour), containing blood and mucus in the feces and often accompanied with fever and abdominal pain. As recently as a century ago, it killed more soldiers and civilians during wartime than gunpowder.  If this strikes a backpacking party, it could leave them too weak to reach help. And if it strikes one or two members of the party, it can quickly spread to others.

John Muir, the great naturalist and founder of the Sierra Club, once noted in his early journals that certain native tribes used a tea made from blackberry leaves (Rubus canadensis) as a remedy for what was then known as the “bloody flux,” or dysentery as we know it today. Spanish padres already knew this from first-hand experience over a generation before. Though the native California blackberry is difficult to find these days, its now feral commercial cousin, the Himalayan Blackberry, can be found throughout the United States and far into Canada. Growing in fields, valleys, woodlands, and lower mountain elevations, a decoction of blackberry leaves can ease the symptoms of moderate to severe dysentery and diarrhea.

To prepare this plant for medicinal use, simmer several leaves for 10 to 15 minutes. This results in a light green liquid. If the diarrhea is particularly severe, simmer the blackberry longer until the decoction is brown. Drink two to three cups warm, without sugar or other sweetener. The tea is soothing with a slight celery taste in its weakest state. It becomes bitter when simmered to darker colors. Though not known as an intestinal antispasmodic, it can relieve common stomachache symptoms when taken in half-cup doses. I recommend the tea be made only with fresh leaves. As this plant runs riot throughout many recreational areas in the lower 48 states, it is very likely hikers and campers can find and use it.

Take some care, though when harvesting the leaves, as poison oak often grows alongside blackberry. I suggest taking leaves from blackberry patches at least fifty feet from any visible poison oak. Also remember that blackberry bushes have serious thorns, particularly the Himalayan variety. It is no exaggeration that the rose-like thorns on the stems can shred shirts, pants, and gloves, much like a grizzly can shred polar fleece.

Many herbal books suggest using the root of a blackberry bush for its medicinal properties. By all means, if you can actually get a blackberry root out of the ground without a shovel, pick, and perhaps one or two blasting caps, I highly recommend the root. Otherwise stick to the upper portions of the plant.

Finally, the ripe berries are a refreshing and nutritious addition to trail food.

Wild Strawberries

When Sir Francis Drake dropped anchor in California to re-caulk his leaking ship, the Golden Hinde, he also stopped to give his ailing sailors a chance to recover from scurvy. According to all accounts, he got along well with the natives, and they brought his ailing men fresh meat and “herbes that eased the bloody flux.” Unfortunately, Drake’s chaplain, who kept a record of the voyage, was no naturalist. Is it possible the California natives gave them some species of wild strawberry, such as Fragaria californica? I’d like to think so. Two hundred years later another Englishman, Dr. William Butler, wrote, "Doubtless God could have made a better berry, but doubtless God never did."

During that revolutionary winter at Valley Forge, General Washington’s troops dug through the snow looking for the still verdant strawberry plants. Scores of men survived by eating the raw root or adding it to medicinal teas. When in season, the juice from the ripe berry was squeezed into badly inflamed sores. The astringent properties of the plant may have acted as an anti-inflammatory. Doctors of the time often combined the juice with water and used it as a wash for badly irritated eyes.

General Washington may have also known of its dental uses. Mashed into a paste, strawberries can effectively remove tartar, clean teeth, and ease minor toothache, a topic that the Father of our Country was well-versed with. The same mash can be used on sunburn.

Wild strawberries (Fragaria vesca and its local variants) can be found throughout the United States, and as far north as the Aleutians. They are often called Alpine strawberries (when found at high altitudes) or Coastal strawberries when found along beaches growing several yards above the high tide line.  

As with the blackberry, the Wild Strawberry is a member of the rose family. The leaves of the plant will have three toothed leaflets, much like the Wild Rose, and the blossom has five white petals. The unripe berries are green in color. The ripened red fruit looks and smells similar to the typical strawberry you will find at your local farmer's market. Most of the fruits are less than 2 cm in diameter. The fruit season varies by location, but usually lasts no more than a month. July to early August are the best months to find the fruit ready to eat…or use.  The fruit is unmistakable in flavor and aroma. There are no poisonous look-a-likes on the continent. Hikers and backpackers can find them in the most unlikely places. Though most can be found in open woods, meadows, and seashores, the plant is also found in sub-alpine areas of the Sierra, the Rockies, the Appalachian Mountains, the Adirondacks, in the rainy Northwest coast range, along the Baja peninsula, and the railroad right of ways of the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe. I even found some near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

As previously mentioned, strawberries are members of the rose family, and like their well-loved cousins, they are antiscorbutic. High in vitamin C and K, strawberries are easily digested by those individuals who are suffering from scurvy or other ailments caused by a lack of fresh fruit or an excess of pre-packaged backpacker meals.

A decoction made from the fresh leaves is a gentle and effective remedy for simple diarrhea (though not as good as blackberry leaf). Simmer two or three tablespoons of crushed fresh leaves in two cups of water for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the water turns a light green.  This remedy can be drunk hot, warm, or cold. The leaves can be purchased commercially and make a nice tea beverage, but for medicinal purposes, stay with the fresh plant.

A strong decoction of the leaves and roots can be used as a mouthwash and a gargle for sore throat. It is also a decent astringent and will help tighten loose gums (good for that occasional case of scurvy or weeks on the trail without a toothbrush). To make this decoction, boil or simmer the entire root and several leaves for ten to fifteen minutes. For a sore throat, gargle while the water is still warm.

Native American tribes on the East Coast used this same decoction for blood poisoning, kidney pain, dysentery, excessive menstruation, and a host of other problems. While there is enough anecdotal evidence on the efficacy for all of these remedies, I suggest it be used primarily for throat, mouth, and gum irritations.


One of the most common camping and backpacking injuries are cuts. The ubiquitous Swiss Army knife has drawn more blood than all the swords of Genghis Khan. Yarrow (Achilliea millefolium), will stop bleeding in mild to severe wounds. The legendary warrior Achilles, in Homer's Iliad, uses yarrow to treat the wounds of his soldiers. Early Greek physicians used this herb to stop hemorrhage and fevers. Yarrow was mentioned in Culpepper's Complete Herbal in 1553 and forty-three years later in Gerard's herbal in 1597 and many herbals thereafter to this day. So its use as a medicinal is well-documented throughout history.

Yarrow was commonly used by Native American tribes for bleeding, wounds, pain, headache, and infections. It is used in Ayurvedic traditions, and traditional Chinese medicine for its ability to affect ailments of the spleen, liver, kidney, and bladder.

The constituents in yarrow (which would take too much space in this short chapter) make it a fine herb for accelerating healing of cuts and severe bruising.

Some people in Europe still call it knight's milfoil, a reference to yarrow's ability to stop bleeding and promote healing of wounds after a tough bout of jousting.

The plant is recognizable by its white blossom clusters and feathery leaves. If applying direct pressure and elevating the wounded area above the heart does not stem the bleeding, the blossoms and leaves (quickly rinse off dust and dirt) will halt the bleeding in minutes, if not seconds. Crush the blossoms and leaves and place them on the wound, or if absolutely necessary into the wound. This should only be done if the wound is life threatening. If the plant is not in blossom, the spongy soft root can be applied instead. Unfortunately, in the many years wildcrafting this wonderful plant, I have never found a spongy soft root. The root is often woody but slightly pliable. Scrape off the dirt and the outer layer of the root skin bark. Rinse the plant in clean water. Yarrow is purported to have anti-septic properties. At the time of this writing the antiseptic properties are still in doubt. In this regard, it should not be considered to be an antiseptic.  Infection is likely if the plant is not thoroughly scrubbed or rinsed before application, but with a life-threatening bleeding wound, infection is a secondary consideration.

Yarrow blossoms are extremely effective when use on slashed hands and knees. (If you use your knees as a cutting board, eventually a mistake will happen.) A quick poultice of the rinsed and crushed plant can be placed directly on the bleeding wound. If there is time, a quickly boiled poultice of the root, leaves and blossoms can be made and placed on the injury. The entire mass can be dipped into boiling water for one minute and used as soon as the plant has cooled and is warm to the touch and not steaming. As previously mentioned, place a thin clean cloth between the poultice and the injury.

Yarrow supposedly grows best at lower elevations. I have seen fields of yarrow in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, south into Mississippi and all along the Eastern Seaboard. In mid-summer it grows  in clumps throughout the battlefields of Gettysburg. It tends to grow below six thousand feet. But botanists have failed to inform yarrow of its limitations. I have found fields of it on both sides of the high Sierra at nine thousand feet, as well as in and around lower Yosemite National Park. It is common throughout the conifer regions of Nevada, all of Oregon and Washington, throughout Western Canada and as far north as Alaska. The blossoms give off a slight sweet scent reminiscent of chamomile. Though occasionally mistaken for water hemlock, on close examination the plant will not have the purple spots on its stems. Nor will it have the musty smell of hemlock flowers.

Yarrow is also effective against moderate to high fevers. A tea or decoction of the blossoms and leaves tends to be most efficacious for this purpose. Roughly a teaspoon to teaspoon and a half of yarrow in a cup of boiling water, steeped for 10 minutes, and drunk warm, will begin to ease fevers. As this remedy will cause sweating, liquid intake must be increased. If rehydration drinks are used for this purpose, they should be diluted by two thirds with water. For exceptionally high fevers, simmering or boiling the root for five to ten minutes will be more effective. Yarrow can be taken with a pinch of sugar and salt to maintain electrolyte balances if rehydration powders are not available. The taste of yarrow tea can be sweet, with a hint of bitterness. The more it is steeped the more bitter it becomes. For headaches, due to the salicylic acids in the plant, the stronger the bitter taste the stronger the pain relieving properties.

Another use of yarrow is specific to women’s needs. Two or three cups of a tea or decoction made from the plant will stop the bleeding from an off-date period or between-cycle spotting and will also help ease menstrual pain.

Yarrow increases urinary output, so can be used in a pinch for sudden diabetic sugar spikes. Lowering the glucose level any bit will help a diabetic who has run out of or lost the medications needed to control blood sugar. A simple tea of dried or fresh leaves will help lower and stabilize sugar levels to some degree but must be continued for several days for the highest efficacy.

Possibly more feared than a mountain lion attack is the possibility of a toothache while backpacking. Carefully placing the crushed root on the affected tooth or gum area will bring complete numbness within 45 minutes. The taste is not pleasant and it does cause excessive drooling. But the side effects are more tolerable than the throbbing of an infected tooth.

In all, yarrow is one of the more useful plants one might find during a daytime hike, camping trip, or tripping down one of America's great backpacking trails.


Usnea barbata and other spp. has a long history of use by Native Americans, mountain men (as portrayed by Robert Redford in the movie Jeremiah Johnson) and early settlers. Currently, it is used in Germany as an alternative for people who do not respond to the popular herbs Echinacea and Golden Seal.  A lichen hybrid of fungus and algae, Usnea is also known as Old Man's Beard in the Western United States, Women's Willow in the lower Appalachians and Bear's Beard in parts of the Northwest for its cascade of green-gray hair-like tendrils that hang from tree trunks and branches. Occasionally, it is misidentified with Spanish Moss and other tree mosses. Usnea can be found throughout the United States (and throughout the world for that matter), often attached to oaks, willows, redwoods, cedars and other trees growing along riverbanks and cool shady riparian areas. Usnea is always gray-green in color, even when young.

This lichen can grow as a bushy mat or in long strands ranging from a few inches to three or four feet long depending on the species.  In the wet seasons, it will feel cool and spongy. In years with a low rain yield, it feels dry and coarse. The medicinal species of usnea have an inner core of white material that can be exposed by gently pulling on either end of a strand. The outer coating tears apart to reveal a tough white inner cord.  These white-cored species are considered the most medicinally valuable.

Traditional uses of Usnea include dusting the dried, powdered herb directly onto open or infected wounds or making strong decoctions of the herb and washing the wound. Native Americans used the crushed and powdered plant on knife and arrow wounds, much like WW II medics used sulfa powder on gunshot and shrapnel wounds. This is an excellent outdoor first aid plant for backpackers who have been seriously hurt by a misplace tent stake or sharp piece of shale. If the crushed lichen is placed quickly on an open wound (and applied often) it can prevent infection.

Although blood will release the usnic acids of the plant, usnea does not yield its healing properties well in water, so a tea is little better than useless. A decoction is somewhat better.  To make a decoction of usnea, the lichen must be boiled and boiled well. Using the water and the boiled material on and in a wound is far more preferable than using just the plant itself.

For already established infections of any kind, particularly open wounds, usnea can literally save your life. This plant has a penicillin-like effect on wounds, but must be replaced several times a day to be effective. If you can’t make a decoction, a poultice of the crushed pasta-like portion interior of the lichen is most effective. But if time is of the essence, a crude dressing made from the crushed lichen can be used to cover the wound. Dried usnea works best when crushed and soaked in alcohol, vinegar, or in dire circumstances urine. (This is not recommended unless there is no hope for a quick rescue and a life is at stake.)

When made into an alcohol or vinegar based tincture, usnea is a premier cure for severe bladder infections, other than those caused by e-coli.  Women tend to get more bladder infections on packbacking trips than men. That being the case, if you neglected to pack tincture of usnea in your first aid kit, you can still make a strong decoction out of fresh usnea for the affected party. Though not very water soluble, continued cups of the tea will help eliminate a bladder infection.  Please do not continue your trip. Make camp and make lots of tea. Enjoy the scenery and make more tea. In a day or two the problem should be controlled.

Lastly, this lichen-algae is a specific for pneumonia, strep, and staph infections. Drinking heavy amounts of the decoctions will help get you back to your car and into an emergency room. If the staph is on the skin, usnea can be mashed into a powder, made into a watery paste, then applied on the affected areas. As stated before, this plant works best with an alcohol or vinegar base. So taking a small bottle of Gentleman Jack on a backpacking trip might not be such a bad idea after all, (but only for medicinal reasons).


Plantain ( Pantago major and various spp), that ubiquitous weed in your lawn and garden, growing through sidewalks of New York City and at 9000 feet on the flanks of Mt. Whitney, is also called the Soldier’s Herb and Wound Wort due to its historical use after battles. P. major is one of the most abundant and widely distributed medicinal herbs in the world. Originating in central China,  poultices of plantain leaves were applied to wounds, stings, and sores in order to facilitate healing and prevent infection. Native Americans call it the White Man’s Footsteps, as it seemed to crop up wherever white settlers went. It was supposedly brought to the United States by Puritan settlers, but this story may be apocryphal.

The active chemical constituents are aucubin and allantoinAucubin acts as an anti-microbial while allantoin stimulates tissue regeneration.

The astringent properties of this invasive visitor are used to treat diarrhea and soothe raw internal membranes. This is done by making a strong tea or decoction. Occasionally the leaves are eaten raw for these treatments.

Broadleaf plantain is also one of those plants highly touted by wild food enthusiasts as a very nutritious wild edible. The taste is akin to kale. The young, tender leaves can be eaten raw, and the older, stringier leaves can be boiled in stews.

When ingested, the aucubin in plantain leaves increases uric acid excretions from the kidneys, forcing its expulsion through the urinary tract. This treatment was used by progressive doctors in dealing with the painful condition of gout. America's most famous gout sufferer, Benjamin Franklin, supposedly carried several pounds of this plant on his diplomatic missions to Europe, perhaps unaware the plant grew in profusion there.

Historically, poultices of the leaves were used for blood poisoning caused by wounds from unclean knives, swords, and bayonets. If I ever had doubts about its efficacy for blood poisoning, I put them away the day a well-known Washington state herbalist related this story to me: Three days into a backpacking trip through a primitive reserve in her home state, a friend fell and cut his palm.  It subsequently became infected. Within a day, angry black streaks were moving up his arm, the first signs of blood poisoning. They made a decision to hike out to the trail to reach medical care. She placed plantain poultices on his wounded palm every 20 minutes. At night, she and her husband took shifts, replacing the used poultices with fresh ones. The black streaks began to reverse themselves. By the time they reached their vehicles the wound look like nothing more than a severe scrape. In the emergency room of the nearest hospital, the attending physician refused to believe the wound had ever been serious…until a day or so later when he was shown photographs they had taken of the wound in its earlier stages.

When used to reverse severe infections, it should be noted that this procedure only works if the wound is open. The plantain should be rinsed with clean water and mashed before being placed on the wound as you don’t want to introduce any more microbes into the damaged area.

A less dramatic use for plantain is for the treatment of mosquito bites. Bruising the leaves, or carefully splitting them, provides a soothing natural band-aid for the bite. Although settlers often chewed the leaves, then placed them on bites or sores, this is  not recommended. Rinse the leaves of all debris and use them with common sense.

If on a long multi-month backpacking trip one's gums become inflamed and bloodied, chewing the leaf or root will help strengthen gum tissue and stop bleeding within a day or two. Rubbing the teeth with the ribbed leaf will also help keep them clean. Although not commonly used for dental emergencies, the root can be placed on a broken cap or filling to prevent infection.


Chamomile is one of the most ancient medicinal herbs known to humankind. It is a member of the daisy (Asteraceae) family. Chamomile preparations are commonly used in many cultures for ailments as diverse as fevers, inflammation, muscle spasms, menstrual disorders, insomnia, ulcers, wounds, gastrointestinal disorders, rheumatic pain, and hemorrhoids.

If you visit the battleground of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, you may notice three medicinal herbs profusely growing in the fields where General Robert E. Lee marched his men to slaughter: yarrow, feverfew, and chamomile grow abundantly were once musket, bayonet, and cannon sounds shattered the summer stillness. In the summer, near the famed clump of trees that marks the high-water mark of the Confederate advance, are thousands of small, white, daisy-like blossoms smelling faintly of apples. No wonder the ancient Greeks named chamomile, “the ground apple.” Even the Spanish name for it, manzanilla, means “little apples.”

The two most widely used medicinal species, Roman Chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) and German Chamomile (Matricuaria recuitita) are virtually identical in use. Flowering from spring through late summer, chamomile is known primarily as an herb to soothe upset stomachs. Most children are first introduced to chamomile tea reading Beatrice Potter’s Peter Rabbit. The story goes that after eating his way through Farmer Macgregor’s garden and barely escaping the wrath of the long suffering farmer, Peter develops a stomach ache and is sent to bed by his mother after drinking a bitter cup of chamomile tea.

Chamomile is uniformly recognized as a treatment for a myriad of stomach ailments from gastritis to diverticulitis, so Mrs. Rabbit was wise in giving her son the tea for an upset tummy.

However, if the tea was bitter, then Mrs. Rabbit let it steep too long. Chamomile is sweet and soothing if steeped for less than fifteen minutes. It will ease the pain of a spasmodic stomach and bring on a comfortable sleep.

Topically, the herb is an excellent anti-inflammatory. A wet poultice of the blossoms and leaves placed directly on inflamed skin will bring quick relief. This herb has been found to be an effective antibacterial during in vitro testing. However, until more definitive tests are done, it should not be considered an alternative to soap.  Carried on camping and backpacking trips as a gentle sleep inducer, the moistened chamomile tea bags can also be placed on swollen eye lids and minor burns.

A simple poultice or wash with the tea is an easy treatment for contact dermatitis. The affected area should be thoroughly washed with a strong tea or decoction of the entire plant: blossoms, stems, leaves, and root. To avoid further irritation to the skin, the wash should be allowed to drop to skin temperature. Keeping the skin moist will speed the anti-inflammatory effects.

While not life threatening, hemorrhoids can quickly turn an outdoor adventure into an uncomfortable nightmare. While a wash would be of some comfort, a direct poultice of the blossoms and leaves is more effective. Some backpackers have suggested it is best to use just the blossoms while others support the full poultice, lightly simmered and allowed to cool. No matter. Either will work.

Another uncomfortable problem that affects only the women is vaginitis. A douche of the tea several times a day can ease or eliminate this condition. The sufferer should restrict her movements for two or three days and enjoy the sights and sounds of the outdoors while this treatment is used.

There is always a question as to how a woman is able to douche on a backpacking trip.  Though some minor engineering may be required, consider using a plastic bag or latex/nitrile glove with a few small pinholes in the appropriate places to allow the tea or decoction to exit under pressure.   One could also use a slightly disassembled pump water filter, though it should go without saying that all parts should be thoroughly cleaned after use as a medical device.

There have been a few documented cases of individuals with chamomile allergies. Those who have never used chamomile should do so in a safe environment before they use it in an emergency situation. Chamomile should not be used internally by anyone using the drug Warfarin or any other blood thinner, as it will increase the blood thinning effect.

Still, the most common and safest use of chamomile is as a remedy for upset stomach. So if on your way to a new campsite you happen to eat your way through some person’s garden (or stop at one too many fast food joints) take some advice from Mrs. Rabbit and drink a cup or two of chamomile tea.

White Sage

Found growing wild in various western states and used by all Native Americans with knowledge of it, white sage (Salvia apiana) is antibiotic, antibacterial, antimicrobial, and may have antiviral properties. It has a gray stem, blue blossoms, and blue-green leaves. The plant stem can easily reach six to seven feet in height. This distant cousin of the common sage should not be used to stuff a turkey. But if you did, the bird might take longer to go bad due to the aforementioned properties.

Many hikers in the Southwest mistake the plant Artemisia (often called Sagebrush or Silver Sage.) for white sage. Sagebrush is strongly aromatic and bitter to the taste. These “sages” are often gray to grayish white in color and do not have the large prominent opposite leaves of the Salvia family.

White Sage is found from the Great Basin to Southeastern Washington, and throughout the southwest to as far south as Sonora Mexico and down the coast of Baja. The limits of its range are not entirely clear as it tends to appear in areas that are arid as well as those that are wet.

White Sage has  become one of the most a popular herbal medicines in the United States. It can be made into a tea which reduces mucous secretions of the sinuses, lungs and throat during allergy attacks, colds and influenza. Drunk hot, an infusion of the leaves stimulates perspiration, thus lowering fevers.  The cold tea is often used to help digestion, while a warmer tea is a good sore throat remedy. The leaves have been used by Native American women for hundreds of years as a remedy for heavy and painful menstruation when taken as a strong uterine hemostatic tea. Nursing mothers are advised by doctors not to use it since it reduces lactation (unless that is the point).

Although not currently used as a culinary herb, Southwest and California Indians used sage to make porridge by the grinding seeds into flour while the leaves were made into flavoring ingredients for cooking. The leaves of this plant were also smoked, eaten, and used as a prime remedy for colds and fever.

White sage can also be an effective remedy for eye ailments.  Some native American tribes would drop the seeds directly into the eyes and roll them under the eyelids while sleeping to soothe irritated eyes. While possibly effective, it is not suggested as a first aid skill. But if any of your camping party is showing symptoms of Pink Eye, better known as conjunctivitis, a strong decoction made from the leaves and used as an eye wash will eliminate this problem quite quickly. Boil the plant material, along with several cloths or bandanas, allow to cool and carefully wipe the eyes with this wash.  Repeat frequently for several hours. Sleep with a decoction infused cloth on the eyes. This should alleviate the problem in 48 hours.

S. apiana  is also used for self-grooming, especially in the outdoors, by crushing the leaves and mixing with water to create an herbal hair shampoo, hair-straightener and dye. It is also used to rid the body of foul odor by rubbing the crushed leaves all over the body or, better yet, used as a wash.

A tea or decoction of white sage can be used for topical and internal infections. If necessary, the leaves can be mashed into a poultice and placed on wounds. A specific for major bronchial ailments, white sage was once smoked to ease the pain of infected lungs and sinuses. Though smoking is no longer recommended, a steam made from the leaves can have the same effect along with breaking up congestion.  The leaves and stems can quickly be boiled in a Sierra Club cup and the steam inhaled.

Like many members of the sage family, the leaves are a potent antiseptic, and are used for abrasions, skin inflammations, douches to treat Candida, washes for staph infections and teas for sore throats, colds, and lung infections.

Burning the leaves is a traditional smudge against insects that have taken up residence in tipis, hogans, hooches, lean-tos and, more recently, tents and clothing. The rich, fragrant, aromatic smoke must penetrate all the nooks and crannies of camp life to be completely effective. When used for insect abatement, particular care should be taken in not dropping flaming portions of the plant on sleeping bags, favorite sweaters, polar fleece hats, or that well-loved Thermarest mat.

Wild Ginger

Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense) has no relation to the ginger found in grocery stores, Asian restaurants, and Chinese markets.  Known as Snakeroot to natives and early settlers, it is found along the Northern Pacific coast as well as hiking trails in the Hawaiian Islands. Wild ginger grows well hidden in Redwood forests from Santa Cruz County in California to the coastal range of British Columbia. This plant prefers shade, wet weather and redwoods.  Officially it prefers elevations of 3,500 to 7000 feet, but is also found  at near sea-level in coastal redwoods.  The leaves are heart shaped, dark green and leathery, and when crushed give off a strong ginger scent. Many a backpacker in the Pacific Northwest has stumbled onto a patch of Wild Ginger and suddenly had a longing for ginger beef with asparagus. It has been found as far east as the western mountains of Idaho and Montana. It was once common in the eastern states where some patches still exist in the cool dark groves of the Appalachian Mountains and the Adirondacks.

The name, A. canadense , is from the Greek asaron, meaning hazelwort. The common name of the European species of "wild ginger" is Asarum europaeum. The name of the species found in North America is a Latinized version of Canada, where it was first noted.

 European Wild Ginger was highly regarded by the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans for its medicinal qualities, especially for the application for which the name birthwort was applied; it was employed to assist a woman in the postpartum discharge of the placenta. A. europaeum was cultivated in Europe as an ingredient in a variety of purgatives, as a headache remedy, as a treatment for deafness, and as a palliative for a queasy stomach. It was considered somewhat a panacea, taken in small doses every day to promote general health.  To this end, it was one of the ingredients in some types of snuff. It was purportedly used in France as an emetic to induce vomiting after the consumption of an excessive amount of alcohol. 

As opposed to the more analgesic applications of its European cousin, A. canadense was consumed by North American inhabitants as a food additive due to its pleasant, aromatic taste that has been likened to mild pepper and ginger mixed.  Early colonists ground the leaves and roots and dried them to produce a powder that was used as a general spice for otherwise bland foods. It is probable that they adopted this practice from Native Americans, who added powdered ginger root to meals made with meat or fish to prevent poisoning due to spoilage. Ground up ginger root was also added to an Ojibwe dish made from bottom-feeding catfish to offset the taste of mud. The settlers of the Southern Appalachians made candied ginger by boiling the roots and then dipping them in syrup.  It was also used as a scent for clothing to cloak the more pungent, earthy smells that lack of frequent washing would cause or, for our purposes, the smell of camp clothing after three weeks on the Pacific Crest Trail.

The leaves are mildly antiseptic and anti-microbial and can be used like band-aids. They are most effective if slightly steamed or simmered first. If this is not possible, bruising the leaf before placing it on the affected area will help bring out the medicinal qualities of this plant.

The root and rhizomes when made into a strong tea or decoction, will break up the deepest bronchial congestion. This plant should not be mistaken as an expectorant. It will not produce coughs. Wild Ginger literally makes the lungs sweat from the insides, pushing phlegm away from the bronchial walls. Forced or chronic coughing will bring up large amounts of phlegm, allowing for easier breathing.

A decoction made from lightly simmering the leaves provides a tea for difficult menses. Female long-range backpackers on the A.T. or Pacific Crest trail have occasionally complained of painful and clotty menses. Two or three cups of the tea provide relief and easier flow during this time.

The tea or decoction can also be used to break fevers by causing copious amounts of sweat. Any time this plant is used for this purpose, the person must be given large amounts of water to replace what fluids are lost through sweating. Rehydration powder can be added to the water in conservative amounts.

A wash made from a decoction of the leaf, root, and rhizomes is a decent antifungal for common athlete's foot or the more painful Tinea cruris, also known as Jock Itch, Crotch Itch, and Ringworm of the Groin (although it is not ringworm.). This condition is caused by a fungal infection around the groin and can be found on either sex. While not particularly life threatening, it can open up the body to other opportunistic infections such as Candida albicans, Staphylococcus, and Cellulitis. Washing thoroughly with wild ginger and allowing the groin and other affected areas dry completely will help with this condition.


Mullein in the Sierras
Mullein  ©2019 Charles Garcia

Mullein  (Verbascum thapsus) grows in fields, burned-out forest areas, along country roadsides, and in waste places, from Maine to Santa Monica.  It is easy to recognize with its tall, straight stem, large soft wooly leaves, and its long, dense spike of yellow flowers.  Native Americans have used mullein as a health aid for centuries. Applied topically, the bruised or mashed leaves offer some relief for minor burns, joint pain from a too heavy backpack, as well a relief from hemorrhoids. Mullein has astringent properties, and is useful in healing wounds. The large soft pads can be placed on wounds once the injury is cleaned of debris. The pads can soak up a heavy amount of blood, if necessary. Doubling or tripling the leaves will make a good compress if other materials are unavailable.

An infusion of the yellow flowers steeped in warm olive oil is an old but good remedy for earaches and ear infections. Earaches, though not usually serious, can be quite painful and have destroyed more than one camping trip.  In an outdoor emergency, a teaspoon or two of the flowers or crushed leaves can be simmered for 10 to 15 minutes in olive oil. While still warm to the touch, but not hot, drops can be placed in the affected ear. Cotton, cloth, or paper tissue can be used to block the ear canal from irritating noises or cold drafts of air.

Mullein is also beneficial when used on abrasions (road rash) and soothes irritated skin. On a wildcrafting trip some years past, a student of mine repeatedly wore shorts in a field of drying brush and chaparral. By days end, her legs were scraped and swollen. Luckily, we were in a field with mid-summer Mullein. We bruised the leaves and applied them directly to her legs. In the morning, the most severe scratches had healed with hardly a sign.

Mullein also works as an antispasmodic. A tea made from the leaves relieves stomach cramps and helps control diarrhea. The same tea can relieve a chronic or asthmatic cough. The tea should be strained before being consumed, as the small soft hairs on the leaves are not digestible. Coffee filters are very effective in straining any type of herbal tea.

The large soft leaves were used by Native American women as menstrual pads and can still be used as such. Former students of mine suggest using the largest and softest leaves for this purpose. They can trimmed as needed. Though not as absorbent as cotton or natural sponge, it is an alternative to soft grasses in an emergency situation.

For the primitive skills enthusiast, it should be noted that Ishi, the “last” wild Indian of North America, used the dried mullein stalk as a fire drill. By spinning the stalk between his palms, Ishi could start a fire on a small fire board within minutes.  Try as he might, he was never able to teach his friend, professor Alfred L. Kroeber the skill. Having seen this done only once, I wonder if Ishi was playing a joke on Kroeber. The stalk must be absolutely straight, and absolutely dry. It is purported that the only extant photograph of Kroeber attempting to start fire shows a slightly bent and soft looking stalk in his hands. I believe Ishi took the secret to his grave.


Chickweed (Stellaria media) looks like a ground cover when in full bloom. It can be found in shady empty lots, along sidewalks, in moist sections of parks and forest, in older established neighborhoods, riparian areas, and many backyards.

It has a very tiny star shaped flower with five petals. Its leaves are oval in shape and the stems have very fine hairs that sometimes can only be seen in full sunlight. The hairs are on only one side of the stem. This plant likes a couple of hours of sunlight, but prefers to snooze in cool shade. It is edible, and can be used in salads as well as soups. It should only be cooked for five or ten minutes at most. It has a slightly sweet spinach flavor

The young leaves have a mild taste, while the older leaves occasionally taste peppery. Chickweed is rich in iron, copper, and vitamin C. Long distance backpackers add this plant to freeze dried meals when they can find it. Warning: like dandelion, this plant is mildly diuretic and will increase your urinary output. If used at dinner, it is guaranteed to hit you at two or three in the morning. It has an unusual aroma when cut fresh. Imagine a mild scent of celery and cilantro. Perhaps that’s why backpackers value it so highly for wild salads.

In the days of the great Nicholas Culpepper and John Gerard, chickweed was highly touted as a weight loss herb. Even today some weight loss herbal teas contain chickweed for its diuretic properties.

The fresh plant can be used as an emergency poultice for burns. It takes a great deal of the plant to make an effective poultice, but there is no such thing as a little bit of chickweed as it is extremely prolific. Touching the plant with your bare hands will bring on a cooling sensation. On burns, it may feel almost like ice for several minutes. The crushed plant can be placed against a first or second-degree burn. The fresh juice has slight analgesic properties. Though it will not completely kill the pain, it will make it more bearable. Fresh poultices should be placed on the burn every fifteen to thirty minutes.

Chickweed is also a decent anti-inflammatory.  It is used topically for swellings. It is especially useful for swellings of the foot, fingers, and hands caused by sprains, arthritis, and gout. Though it is not effective for deep injuries, it will ease most inflammations that appear directly under the skin. This makes it an excellent quick remedy for sunburn.

For diabetics who may have a sugar spike and are hoarding their insulin supply, a decoction of chickweed will cause a rapid reduction of glucose in the blood. It should be noted that it is not a sugar stabilizer like dandelion or Devil's Club. As noted, it will cause a quick increase in urinary output, hopefully expelling enough glucose that the sugar spike will drop and the diabetic can continue on his or her way.

This plant is in no way a substitute for any diabetic medication. But in a pinch, beggars and backpackers can't be choosey.


The humble blueberry (Vaccinium spp.) seems to have been relegated to muffins and breakfast cereals in this country. But the outdoors person lucky enough to find them in the wild not only has a culinary treat in store, but also a decent medicinal plant on hand. Vaccinium has a history worthy of a movie. North America Native Americans have used various species of Vaccinium for medicinal purposes, utilizing every part of the plant: flowers, fruit, leaves, young shoots, bark and roots. In the 12th century, Saint Hildegard of Bingen, mystic, nun, and the first woman to write on medicinal herbs, wrote that Bilberry (the equally effective European cousin of blueberry) fruits were good for inducing menstruation. Four centuries later, Hieronymus Bock, a German herbalist, claimed that the berries were useful for the treatment of bladder stones, and lung and liver disorders.

In 18th century, Germany blueberries, either fresh or dried, were soaked in water to make infusions or syrups. The infusions were then used in the treatment of coughs, diarrhea, gout, and rheumatism, to relieve symptoms of typhoid fever, as a mouthwash to soothe mouth ulcers, as a diuretic, and to prevent against scurvy. While our outdoor recreationalist may have no need to prevent scurvy or typhoid, one can still get mouth ulcers on the trail.

During WW2, improved night vision after eating bilberry jam was reported by British Royal Air Force pilots on bombing missions. These reports led to laboratory and clinical research on the effects of bilberry fruit extracts on the eyes and on the whole vascular system in the 1960's. Researchers concluded that the most effective medicinal use for bilberry/blueberry extract appears to be for improving micro-circulation, which in turn benefits the capillaries serving the eyes, and mucous membranes of the digestive and pulmonary systems.

People with type one diabetes, also known as insulin dependent diabetes, should know that blueberries will help increase insulin production. This can be invaluable information when the supply of insulin in your pack may seem low, or increased exertion has placed added stress on the body. Though not a substitute in any form for insulin injections, the berry can help extend the body’s intake of insulin.

Interestingly, the leaf used as a tea or decoction will lower sugar levels in cases of type two diabetes, commonly referred to as insulin resistant diabetes. It is rare in the medicinal herbal world that one plant can be used for both types of diabetes.

A bit of care should be taken when using this plant, as it is rich in tannins and can cause some stomach distress. The leaf is an effective remedy for diarrhea while the fresh berries can produce diarrhea in some people and stop it in others. In the far north were mild cases of scurvy can still be found on homesteads, the fruit is used for vitamin C, anemia, and colitis. A decoction of the roots has historically been used for congestive heart failure and urinary stones.  Fresh berry juice makes a good gargle for sore throats or as a mouthwash for inflamed gums. Externally, because of the tannic acids, the juice has been used as a wash for skin eruptions, sores, wounds, and mild burns. It is an astringent and may be mildly anti-fungal, though opinions on this are varied. It could be that the berry has anti-fungal properties only at certain times during its growth. Research is still being done.

The most commonly found blueberry is known as the low bush variety (Vaccinium angustifolium Aiton) and can be found in bogs, boreal forests, and pine barrens from the Eastern Seaboard, north to the Great Lakes region and into the Pacific northwest.


When my wife and I attended college together, we often camped out in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. We had one particular camping spot near a quarry surrounded by manzanita bushes (Arctostaphylos manzanita) . Many years later we attempted to find the same spot during a visit to our old alma mater. We were stopped in our tracks. The manzanita had overrun the old path and the camping spot. Considered the Conan the Barbarian of invasive plants, manzanita is loathed by those who must live near or hike through it. This red colored shrub grows at elevations of 2500ft. to 7500 ft.. Manzanita is a handsome plant, with fairly thick, ovate leaves, small hanging flowers which are pollinated by male mosquitoes. This should be a warning, though, to all those who camp near it, for where male mosquitoes are found, the blood-sucking female of the species can’t be far behind.

The Spanish word "manzanita" means little apple. Though the plant does produce a tart red berry which, like cranberry, can be made palatable with lots of sugar, it in no way resembles the taste of an apple in either in color or taste.

Manzanita is often consider a “woman’s” plant due to its use as a urinary tract disinfectant. Arguably, woman have more urinary problems in the outdoors than men. But this plant is just as effective on males as it is on females.

Widely used in the past by native-Americans and early Hispanic settlers, manzanita leaves were made into a tea to help kill bacteria and ease urinary problems. The tea works best when the urine seems more alkaline or has taken on a sharp odor. Two teaspoons of the leaf to a large cup of water is a common recipe. The tea and decoction is antiseptic, antimicrobial and antibacterial.

Due to it’s high content of tannins, some 7 % percent by volume of dried leaf, manzanita is best used as a cold infusion or a cooled infusion, followed by several cups of water. The tea can cause nausea if taken without food or without water. Stomach irritation is common with this folk cure. If this occurs, drink more water. One cup three to, at the most, five times a day should be adequate for most urinary bacterial infections.  Folklore herbalists consider the dried leaves easier to use as a tea. Fresh leaves should be made into a decoction and allowed to sit until it is tepid. The tea is vile tasting. The decoction is worse.

Due to the astringency of the tea or decoction, it can also be used topically for bleeding or weeping wounds. Some Hispanics have used it for skin eruptions caused by poison oak. This causes the open sores to dry up.

It is an unpopular, though effective, treatment for hemorrhoids.  And rightly so. Soak a clean cloth or bandana in a decoction of the leaves and place it on the offending portion of the body. Backpackers who have undergone this rough and ready treatment speak of pain, out of body experiences, cursing of friends and mothers, and eventually the ability to walk comfortably again.

A tube of Preparation H becomes de rigueur for any subsequent trips. 

One warning about Manzanita while camping near it, in it, or around it: the wood contains highly volatile oils. It burns quick and hot. Don’t expect to outrun a sudden fire if you are surrounded by manzanita.

Miner’s Lettuce

Miner’s Lettuce (Claytonia perfolatia) is often considered a weed in backyards. But for the original 49ers (the gold miners, not the football team) it was an important source of nourishment to ward off scurvy. Found at lower elevations and as high as 2000 feet throughout the Pacific states, this is one of the few American native plants introduced to Europe. It is called Winter Purslane across the Pond and is used for salads and stew seasoning. The leaves of the plant are small, round to oval, with a stem and small white blossom growing from its center.  The same leaves can be used as a poultice for minor burns.

While backpackers and long distant hikers enjoy it primarily as a food extender, the California natives ate the fleshy leaves raw or steamed and made a tea from the roots for constipation. Though certainly not life threatening, constipation is a common outdoor malady. A sudden change in diet will often cause this uncomfortable problem that can severely limit the joy of the outdoors. The roots be can eaten raw to improve digestion or taken as a tea to improve peristaltic action in the lower intestines. This is a gentle laxative, but will not have immediate results. Two to three cups of the tea should provide relief within a day or two.

Fresh, lightly steam or sautéed, Miner’s Lettuce will improve most backpacker meals. It should be noted that several Native American tribes of the Eastern Sierra used the plant to help stimulate appetite. This could be used for those long haul hikers who simply can't abide another dehydrated packet of stew.

The Shoshone Indians of Nevada used the crushed plant as a poultice for rheumatic pain. Exactly why this worked is unknown as the plant is not used as an analgesic by most western herbalists. As mentioned previously, it was used as a poultice for minor burns, but the Shoshone and Paiute tribes made LARGE poultices for major burns along with the Prickly Poppy. The exact ratio of plant to plant is unknown and may well be lost at this time. Still, it is good to know how this plant can be effective is when in the right hands.


The Spanish padres who originally brought it to the New World called it Hinojo. Botanists call it Foeniculum vulgare.  Kids call it Licorice weed. Most herbalists call it Fennel. Today fennel is best known as a cooking spice, but this versatile herb also has a long history of therapeutic use as an herbal tea. Ever since ancient times, fennel has enjoyed a rich culinary and medicinal history. The ancient Greeks knew fennel by the name "marathron"; it grew in the field in which one of the great ancient battles was fought and which was subsequently named the Battle of Marathon after this revered plant. Fennel was also awarded to Pheidippides, the runner who delivered the news of the Persian invasion to Sparta. Greek myths also hold that knowledge was delivered to man by the gods at Olympus in a fennel stalk filled with coal. Fennel was revered by the Greeks and the Romans for its medicinal and culinary properties.

For the first description of fennel's properties in the English language we must return to the great Culpepper:

“The leaves or seed boiled in barley water and drunk, are good for nurses, to increase their milk and make it more wholesome for the child. The leaves, or rather the seeds, boiled in water, stayeth the hiccup and taketh away nausea or inclination to sickness. The seed and the roots much more help to open obstructions of the liver, spleen, and gall, and thereby relieve the painful and windy swellings of the spleen, and the yellow jaundice, as also the gout and cramp. The seed is of good use in medicines for shortness of breath and wheezing, by stoppings of the lungs. The roots are of most use in physic, drinks and broths, that are taken to cleanse the blood, to open obstructions of the liver, to provoke urine, and amend the ill colour of the face after sickness.”

Now that is one of heck of a plant!

Considered a weed through most of the western states, it can be found in semi-desert areas, valleys, and lower mountain elevations. It has a long hollow bright green stem, yellow umbels of tiny flower, with thousands of green and string-like leaves.

Fennel "seeds" (actually tiny fruits) have traditionally been chewed to help dispel hunger pains during fasts as well as long hikes. Fennel is also a popular flavoring in many beverages and foods, because of its strong licorice taste. One constituent of fennel's volatile oil is "anethole," which may be responsible for its reputation as a digestive aid. Anethole assists in the metabolism of fats and aids in a thorough digestion. This helps after a week or two of freeze dried dinners and high-energy bars.

Fennel is a proven antispasmodic for the lower intestines.  It increases urination and decreases inflammation of the urinary tract.

It is easy to add this herb to a tea for severe stomach distress, or to chew on its string-like leaves to improve digestion. If given to a young child, they may wish to chew on the licorice flavored leaves rather than drink the tea. I would discourage this, as the leaves are not easily digested and could cause choking in a younger child.

If found late in the season, fennel seeds can be easily pulled from the dried stems of the plant. A teaspoon of these seeds simmered or boiled briefly in a cup of water will make a sweet licorice flavored tea. One to two cups will ease stomach spasms and dry heaves.

In early spring and summer, the plant is lush and leafy. Simmer the greenest part of the stalk and some leaves into a sweet, dark green tea. Drink only in sips.

Both types of tea can be used as a mild anti-inflammatory eyewash. Its use immediately brings a cooling sensation to enflamed eyes. Dip a clean cloth in the tea and wipe the eyes gently for several minutes. This is not a treatment for pink eye, but rather a remedy for tired trail worn eyes.

A body wash of fennel tea can soothe soreness and help bring on sleep. In the morning, it can be a rousing pick-me up for the coming day. It will also rid the body of hikers-hives, that slight irritation caused by too many days in the same clothes.

Yerba Santa

Yerba Santa (Eriodictyon californica), also known as Mountain Balm, Consumptive's Weed and Bear's Weed, is an aromatic herb with long, sticky, lance shaped leaves. It is not unusual to find some bushes 7 to 8 feet in height. The leaves have a resinous look to them, as if they have been shellacked. These plants are found on hillsides and ridges throughout the state of California, the Tahoe Basin, and parts of Northern Baja. It ranges from high desert areas to the lower Sierra  Nevada foothills of 5000 feet elevation.

Yerba Santa is a powerful expectorant and, when used with Wild Ginger, will expel the worst impacted phlegm. As well as a decongestant and bronchial dilator, it useful for respiratory congestion due to colds, flu, bronchitis and hay fever. It has been used help relieve asthma symptoms but is not considered as effective as Mullein. It can be used to treat mild urinary tract infections, and helps to reduce inflammation and decrease excess fluid. Externally, the fresh leaves of Yerba Santa can be made into a poultice and applied to treat abrasions, cuts, bruises and sore muscles. Native American woman supposedly tied Yerba Santa to their bodies to keep snakes away. This practice is discouraged by most herbalists.

Yerba Santa's anti-inflammatory property also makes it useful as an external treatment for poison oak rash. A simple poison oak remedy can be made by combining one cup of a strong infusion of Yerba Santa, a half cup of vinegar and one and a half tablespoons of salt. Other herbs such as mugwort, grindelia, and horsetail can be included in the infusion.

For internal use, make a tea by infusing a rounded tablespoon of the crushed, dried leaves in a cup of boiling water, let steep for at least ten minutes, and strain.

Yerba Santa can also be made into an alcohol tincture, which is usually taken by adding 10-30 drops to a glass of water.

The fresh leaves of Yerba Santa can be chewed. They have a strongly pungent, spicy flavor with a sweet aftertaste.

A cure-all herb to the natives of California, this plant was quickly adopted by the Spanish settlers for bronchitis, influenza and asthma. It can be made into a drinkable decoction or used as a steam to help clear nasal passages or phlegm filled bronchial passages. A handful of the leaves tossed into a steaming pot of water will provide relief from cough, congestion, and occasionally, dust-induced asthma.

A tea made the same way can be used for stomachaches and fevers.  The mashed and slightly steamed leaf can be used as a poultice for wounds, swellings, and broken bones. Hikers, backpackers, and campers have found it an effective wash against the torture of mosquito bites. It is also used for bee stings but tends to be less effective unless used immediately.


Arnica (Arnica montana)  is also known by the names Mountain Tobacco and, somewhat confusingly, Leopard's bane and Wolfsbane—two names that it shares with the entirely different plant, aconite. The arnica plant has a lovely bright yellow, daisy-like flower that blooms around July and early August. Found throughout the world, it is more often considered a mountain plant, which in the Northern hemisphere can bloom as high as 11,000 feet.

A legend has it that mountain travelers in ancient Europe used to chew the fresh arnica plant to relieve sore, aching muscles and bruises from falls. This might be true, but it is more likely they applied the crushed leaves to their muscles rather than risking the possible toxic reactions of this plant. Rapid heartbeat and nausea are the most common complaints when this plant is digested by the unwary.

For external use, Arnica makes an effective poultice for sore and cramped muscles. It quickly decreases pain and helps prevent the swelling and bruising associated with torn ligaments, sprains, crushed fingers, crushed toes, and broken bones associated with that famed pastime of climbing or hiking mountain paths.

Arnica works best if used immediately after an injury occurs. Americans tend to use the blossoms of the plant for an effective poultice. Europeans prefer the roots. Asian mountaineers tend to favor the leaves.  In short, the entire plant is medicinal. A fresh poultice of the plant should be reapplied each hour. Arnica creams and gels are easy to obtain and wouldn't take up too much room in a pack. Athletes, both amateur and professional, have used commercially available arnica for over a generation without ill effect. Clinical trials at Sloan-Kettering have shown it to be effective in the treatment of inflammation due to osteoarthritis.  Other studies have concluded that arnica is completely ineffective for the healing of bruises. I leave it up to the injured to decide.


 In the same league as Arnica, comfrey  (Symphytum  officinale) has been cultivated for at least 2500 years as a healing herb. A large bushy plant with slightly prickly hair on the leaves, comfrey was originally brought to the United States by English settlers specifically as a medicinal plant. It was commonly known as Knitbone. The name accurately describes its ability to knit cells together.  The word comfrey is derived from the Latin word for "grow together."

Common in the mid-West as fodder plant, comfrey has escaped from family farms to bedevil state agricultural agents for generations. Comfrey supposedly grows best in rich loamy soil and does poorly in most other types. But as with all other herbs, comfrey does not read agriculture manuals. In bad soil and poor weather, the plant may send up small leaves and few blossoms but will still survive until a good rain re-vitalizes it for a few days. Large patches of this plant can be found along the Appalachian Trail as comfortably far north as Northern Maryland.

Due to the prickly nature of the leaves, when used as a poultice for a broken bone, torn ligament, or severe sprain, the leaves should be mashed to green pulp. Comfrey also has a high water and mucilage content. It can be used effectively on burns for this reason. When used for this, be sure to singe off the hairs first or thoroughly mash the leaves into a wet paste. Some individuals suffer minor but irritating contact dermatitis when harvesting the leaves, so harvest with some sort of protection for your hands.

The root is more effective than the leaves for broken bones, but can be very difficult to harvest. If the root is easily available for use, it should be crushed into a paste and spread onto the injured area. Some herbalists suggest the mash be slightly warmed. If this is possible in an outdoor setting, I highly recommend it.

A  decoction can be made from the leaves to speed healing from within. A palm full of the cut leaves should be simmered in two or three cups of water for no more than 10 minutes. Note: Several years ago there was some evidence that comfrey caused cancer in laboratory rats. Use of comfrey as a fodder plant was suddenly placed on hold. There is no evidence that drinking an occasional cup of comfrey tea will cause liver cancer in humans.

Although technically not in the anodyne (painkilling) family of herbs, the use of comfrey has been known to alleviate severe pain connected with sores, burns, swollen tissue, and broken bones. For those backpackers who suddenly have a debilitating bout of back pain, comfrey has been known to alleviate the agony long enough to reach medical care.  A poultice of well-pulped leaves should be placed directly on the affected area. Rest and poultices are the best healing duo in these types of cases.

Serious burns, including severe sunburn, can and should stop a long-haul hike. If rescue is necessary then the burn victim must be given the utmost care to prevent infection and ease pain. Cooling the burn with water is the first action that must be taken. If a comfrey plant is nearby and rescue is at least 24 hours away, then the well-mashed leaves can be used as a poultice applied directly on the skin if necessary. The poultice must be reapplied as many times as possible while awaiting for rescue. Anecdotal evidence suggests that comfrey works best with second degree (partial thickness) burns.

In the case of minor sunburn, the juice of the leaves can be soaked into a bandana and allowed to soak onto the skin. If this is a constant problem on your recreational trips then less skin and more clothing is suggested. Or carry many bandanas and stay close to comfrey patches.

St. John’s Wort

I would be remiss not to mention Saint John’s Wort’s other valuable uses besides being an herbal antidepressant. Hypericum perforatum, is also known as Tipton's weed, rosin rose, goat weed, chase-devil, or Klamath weed. A creeping ground cover variety can be found in the Midwestern states and is known as Aaron's Beard. Approximately 370 species of the genus Hypericum exist worldwide with a native geographical distribution including temperate and subtropical regions of the world. The blossom of this plant has been historically used as a treatment for a wide variety of superstitions and nervous disorders. Its name, Hyperieum, comes from the Greek word meaning 'over an apparition,' a link to the belief that St. John's Wort was such a powerful plant that it could ward off evil apparitions or spirits. It doesn't.

The first long-trip backpackers, known as the Crusaders, valued it as a cure-all for wounds obtained in battle. It is antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, and has anti-inflammatory properties. Wounds heal faster and with less pain when treated with Saint John’s Wort. The great English herbalist of the early 20th century, Maude Grieve, considered it effective for pulmonary illness (in this case she meant TB, influenza, and colds), bladder problems including incontinence, dysentery, and a strong topical astringent for wounds. Only the latter can I personally attest to.

While harvesting this lovely plant in the Trinity Mountains of California, I took a fall down a mountainside. I literally bounced over a small stream when I hit bottom. My fellow herbalists gave me a score of “10-10-10-9” for form, speed, and grace. My palms looked and felt like hamburger. After washing off the dirt particles with water from my canteen, I took the fresh flower petals and pressed them into the wounds. Within minutes I noticed a reduction of pain. I changed the petals three more times that day. By the end of the trip, my palms had healed with no scarring. Little wonder this was the herb of choice for Crusaders heading to the Holy Land.

Unfortunately this plant was not welcome in the modern community as it tends to be an invasive. On farmland, it was ruthless eradicated as it was believed to cause sun sensitivity, depression of the central nervous system, and spontaneous abortions in cattle. Other ranchers believed it harmed the taste of milk from cows. Currently Saint John's Wort is listed as a noxious weed in over twenty countries.

Whatever the truth, Saint John's Wort survives in wild places with enough moisture and shade to keep it viable.

The blood red spots on the small yellow blossoms are antibacterial and can be used as a poultice for various injuries. The problem lies in the small number of blossoms growing in any particular spot. If you are lucky enough to find a large patch, I would not hesitate to harvest a few ounces to carry along on my trip. If possible, place the blossoms in an air tight container. The plant can be found in the lower eastern states and tends to enjoy hanging out (literally) on the sides of steep hills. Its range extends north into Southern Pennsylvania. In the western states, look for Saint John's Wort in the Cascade Range north into Southern Washington, though some hikers have claimed to have seen it as far north as the Canadian border.


Coltsfoot has been a source of irritation to herbalists possibly since the beginning of herbalism and still causes confusion up to this day, for there are two plants of this name Tussilago farfara, and Petasites frigidus, the latter being called Western Coltsfoot. T. farfara is native to several locations in Eastern Europe and Asia where it is believed to have originated. It is a common plant in North and South America where it was introduced, most likely by Spanish settlers as a medicinal herb. The plant is now often found in waste and disturbed places and along roadsides and paths. In some areas it is considered a weed and is eradicated. The plant spreads by seed and rhizomes. Dozens can be found clumped together at any one time. The blossom resemble dandelions but appear in spring before the first dandelions show up.

Western Coltsfoot, P. frigidus is a native of the Northern Hemisphere from the arctic to the temperate area of North America, Europe, and Asia. It does not resemble a dandelion, but has a blossom with white, pink, and sometimes light blue blossoms. The leaves can become quite large, in some circumstances twice as large as a man's hand. This plant is a member of the sunflower family.

T. farfara was much beloved by Nicholas Culpepper, who wrote in 1653:

“The fresh leaves, or juice, or syrup thereof, is good for a bad dry cough, or wheezing and shortness of breath. The dry leaves are best for those who have their rheums and distillations upon their lungs causing a cough: for which also the dried leaves taken as tobacco, or the root is very good. The distilled water hereof simply or with elder-flowers or nightshade is a singularly good remedy against all agues, to drink 2 oz. at a time and apply cloths wet therein to the head and stomach, which also does much good being applied to any hot swellings or inflammations.

The great Maude Grieve agreed with Culpepper and wrote in 1921:

The botanical name, Tussilago, signifies 'cough dispeller,' and Coltsfoot has justly been termed 'nature's best herb for the lungs and her most eminent thoracic.' The smoking of the leaves for a cough has the recommendation of Dioscorides, Galen, Pliny, Boyle, and other great authorities, both ancient and modern, Linnaeus stating that the Swedes of his time smoked it for that purpose. Pliny recommended the use of both roots and leaves. The leaves are the basis of the British Herb Tobacco, in which Coltsfoot predominates, the other ingredients being Buckbean, Eyebright, Betony, Rosemary, Thyme, Lavender, and Chamomile flowers. This relieves asthma and also the difficult breathing of old bronchitis. Those suffering from asthma, catarrh and other lung troubles derive much benefit from smoking this Herbal Tobacco, the use of which does not entail any of the injurious effects of ordinary tobacco.

Unfortunately for Ms. Grieve modern science has deemed this plant to be dangerous if over-used as it can induce liver damage. So recreational smoking is out. On the other hand, conscientious herbalists still give small amounts of the tea for out of control coughing or the dried leaves for smoking. Both will help coughs brought on by a long day of uphill hiking. In emergencies it can be used for asthmatic attacks when an inhaler is days away.

P. frigidus was is used for the exact same purposes, especially by the native peoples of the Klamath, up along the Pacific Coast, and into Canada. Although not today highly regarded as an edible plant, there are reports that the Western Coltsfoot was used by Native Americans as a potherb and medicinal tea. Perhaps most significantly, both eastern and western species were used as a salt substitute, by first rolling the leaves (and petioles) into a ball while still green.  After being dried they were placed on top of a very small fire on a rock and burned to obtain a salty flavored ash. 

Karuk Indians along the Klamath River in the not so distant past used the roots and rhizomes for the treatment of coughs, colds and chest ailments by making a strong decoction of the plant. The tea is a mild remedy for asthmatic conditions caused by over exertion and sudden shock. Western Coltsfoot was often combined with mullein and mugwort as an herbal cigar to help relieve cough, open up bronchial airways, and help ease a person to sleep.


Artemisia douglasiana,  known as California Mugwort, Douglas's Sagewort, Dream Plant, and the racist and no longer politically correct name, Chinaman's Herb, is one of many plants by this name in the genus Artemisia. The Asian variety has been highly touted as a medicinal plant for a thousand years. A. douglasiana  is native to Western North America. It thrives in the Western United States and can be found along the coast as far south as Baja California, Mexico. It can almost always be found in cooler shady areas with an abundance of water, or watery meadows. It has been found growing at six thousand feet in the Sierra and lower altitudes in the Cascades.

Its leaves contain the chemicals thujone, which is suspected to have mild psychoactive properties, and cineole, which is antibacterial agent. Thujone is toxic in high doses.

Chinese apothecaries recognized the plant as a relative to their own mugwort and quickly adapted it to traditional methods of healing. Whether they consulted with Native Americans on their uses is unknown.

Mugwort can be used for various purposes if found by a hiking trail. A mild tea made of the fresh leaves can relieve a sun-induced headache. The same tea is effective for fevers. A stronger tea or decoction can be used for a sudden bronchial infection. The steam has been known to clear congested sinuses, allowing for an easier sleep. The leaves make a decent poultice for sore muscles or a twisted ankle. The anti-inflammatory action is yet to be explained and some scientists and herbalist believe it does not exist. Native Americans and some backpackers would beg to differ.

When combined with Coltsfoot and Mullein the leaves, it can be rolled into a cigar and smoked for irritating coughs, severe bronchial coughs, and asthma attacks. Some people find the combination a nice break from tobacco. Unfortunately (or fortunately) recreational smoking of these herbs is not recommend as a rebound effect can occur with over use. The great American tracker, Tom Brown, Jr., relates in one of his books how he enjoyed smoking mullein and other local herbs during his childhood. In a short time he could no longer smoke these herbs without having an asthmatic type attack.

So use this plant wisely and with respect. It was beloved by two races and two cultures for its healing properties, but with all medicinals, abusing it can be dangerous.

Yerba Mansa

Anemopsis californica is a true American and botanical original as it is the only type in its genus.  With the common names of Yerba Mansa or Lizard's Tail, it was used by native tribes for a multitude of ailments, including sore muscles, bronchitis, influenza, open sores, wasting diseases, and vaginal problems such as vaginal candidiasis. Yerba Mansa is used by modern herbalists as an antimicrobial, antibacterial, and more importantly as an immune stimulant on par with echinacea and golden seal.  

The leaves and roots of this semi-aquatic plant are used in the treatment of inflamed mucous membranes, sore throat and inflamed gums. A warm tea or decoction used as a mouthwash will tighten the gums and relieve pain within hours. An infusion of the roots can be taken as a diuretic to treat  diseases like gout by ridding the body of excess uric acid crystals, which causes painful inflammation of the joints. This infusion can also be used for any painful rheumatic condition causing swelling.

Yerba Mansa helps prevent the buildup of  kidney stones. And probably more important to the average camper or backpacker, a powder of the dried root can be sprinkled on infected areas to alleviate athlete's foot, jock itch, and diaper rash for those nascent recreationalists.

This is a water loving plant once common in California and the wetter areas of the southwest. It can still be found growing along rivers, creeks and ponds, but unlike many herbs it is alkaline tolerant. The white flowers  resemble a huge plantain. It is lovely in springtime  and into early summer. The leaves and blossoms die back and turn brown or black in the fall. The root can still be utilized as a medicinal during this time as it is not dead, but merely dormant.

Anemopsis californica tolerates alkaline soil, sand, clay, no drainage and seasonal flooding. However, the plant should NOT be used if there is any chance of heavy metals in the water supply. This plant will clean out a pond or meadow of heavy metals given enough time.

It is difficult if not impossible to over harvest Yerba Mansa as the remaining rhizomes will create several more viable plants in the following year.

So if you have any ailment mentioned above and happen to see a giant plantain-like plant growing near a pond, meadow, river, or watery gully, take out your field guide and see if you've found an American original. You won't be disappointed.

Oak Bark, Pine Needles, Willow

Although not life threatening, hemorrhoids are embarrassing and debilitating, especially on backpacking and camping trips. Boiling pine needles, oak bark, or small branches of willow or its bark, will bring forth a potent anti-hemorrhoidal decoction. Soaking a sock in the still warm decoction and placing it on the offending vein will bring immediate relief. Several applications are recommended.

Oak bark, pine needles, and willow all have astringent properties, which can be used as washes for open wounds. Slightly antibacterial, the tea made from each plant prohibits or slows the growth of bacteria in the worst wounds. The astringency also adds in binding damaged cells, allowing for faster healing. After washing the injury thoroughly, a boiled piece of cloth can be used as a compress.

Although beloved by the natives as a sure-fire headache remedy, the use of willow branch tea should be avoided if possible. It is bitter and hard on the stomach.


Although not an herb, charcoal from a campfire can help in cases of food poisoning. This is not recommended for simple stomachache or over-indulgence. Food poisoning (or other poisoning) on the trail can be a matter of life and death. If you suspect poisoning, carefully scrape off the outer areas of a piece of wood charcoal (not leftover commercial charcoal briquettes), removing all gray portions. Break into bite size pieces and swallow. If you can’t swallow it this way, break it into a fine powder and mix with water. Do this several times. Keep the patient well-hydrated.


Another non-herb, but often found in backpack cooking supplies, is honey. Recently approved by the Australian and New Zealand medical establishments for sale as an antiseptic, honey is being used on wounds and second degree burns.  The high sugar content of honey drains bacteria of fluids. Honey is also naturally acidic, which further inhibits bacterial growth.  Long used as a food preservative, and long used by folklore herbalists throughout the world, research from Australia and the U.K. have concluded that honey is highly effective for topical wounds, surgical wounds, and burns.

Interestingly, the same Australian study has indicated what folklore healers have long suspected: the darker the honey, the more effective antibacterial properties it has. Lighter grade (and arguably tastier) honeys have a higher water content. The darker honeys, from wildflowers and eucalyptus blossoms, have a robust flavor, as well as a stronger and quicker effect on wounds.

Research also shows that upon contact with a wound, honey also produces a low-grade but constant hydrogen peroxide, which effectively reduces the introduction of more bacteria.


Not found on any hiking trail that I know of, cinnamon can more often be located in the food pouch deep inside your backpack. A strong decoction of the Chinese hard stick variety (Cinnamomum cassia) is a remedy for spasmodic stomach with projectile vomiting, nausea, and chills. Cinnamon is also an antifungal and can be used as a wash. A female herbalist friend has successfully used the same cinnamon decoction as a douche for yeast infections. This could be useful for long distance women backpackers who may develop serious vaginal infections. One may ask how one may accomplish a douche on a long back packing trip? A plastic bag with a pin hole, a latex glove with the same, and lots of imagination.


These are just a few of the herbs that can be used IN EMERGENCIES while on the trail. They are NOT a replacement for standard emergency medical care. But when you are out in our vanishing wilderness, a long way from the characters in your favorite television hospital drama, proper use of these plants might save your life.


 There are hundreds of herbals currently in print. I use over a hundred and twenty in my own practice and teaching courses. Three excellent sources on medicinal plants, their uses, and their locations are written by famed herbalist Michael Moore. They are: Medicinal Plants of the Mountains West, Medicinal Plants of the Desert and Canyon West, and Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West.  A valuable field guide on the location and use of western state plants is Edible and Medicinal Plants of the West, by Gregory L. Tilford.

Tom Brown’s Guide to Wild and Medicinal Plant by Tom Brown Jr. covers a number of herbs found in the eastern states. Not precisely an herbal, Brown covers the uses of many plants as he learned them from a Native American elder.

For the traditional uses of medicinal plants, California Herbal Remedies by LoLo Westrich, and Wise Woman Herbal: Healing Wise by Susun S. Weed are well written and practical for the lay reader.

The Complete Medicinal Herbal by Penelope Ody, provides one of the best herbals for beginning herbal enthusiasts. Its photographs of plants and clear instructions for herb preparations are worth the price of the book alone.

A Short Bio

Charles R. Garcia is a third generation Hispanic folkhealer. He is director of the California School of Traditional Hispanic Herbalism. He has lectured for various departments at the University of California, Berkeley, University of California, Davis, Wilderness Medical Society at UC San Francisco, the Mid-Atlantic States Primitive Skills Meeting in Virginia, California State University at San Marcos, as well as the San Francisco Healthcare Consortium.

He has been a volunteer for the Red Cross Wilderness First Aid classes.

In his off time he writes fiction and poetry.

He has currently become a grandfather for the first time.  24 November 2013 at 10:08am PT

Charles GarciaThis document (with minor edits) will be published next year in a national text for outdoor first responders. November 29 at 9:09pm

Christine Borus Awesome! Does it pay? November 29 at 9:12pm via mobile

Christine Borus Doc I'm so proud! How do I order a copy? November 29 at 9:12pm via mobile

Charles Garcia No pay. Just notoriety. I'll let you know when the text comes out. It will be a chapter in the book Wilderness Emergency Care by Steve Donelan. November 29 at 10:33pm

Christine Borus Awesomeness! November 29 at 10:33pm via mobile

Christopher Whitten Great! Do you mind if I share it on the FB page? November 30 at 12:16pm

Charles Garcia I don't mind, but make a note it is to be published later in 2014. November 30 at 1:13pm

Christopher Whitten Okay, thanks, the crew will like this. November 30 at 1:14pm

Inspi Peeks Christopher Whitten You might share it from the School Website with this link: November 30 at 3:25pm

Christopher Whitten Thanks! November 30 at 3:45pm