The weather's getting warmer, which means it's a great time of year to put on your hiking boots and hit the great outdoors. If you're like me, that also means those hikes will result in some scratches and cuts from running into sharp plants and tripping on the trail. This week, we'll take a close look at a couple of herbs that can help staunch blood flow, either superficially or internally. These plants can be used for the aforementioned scratches and nicks, for a heavy, unrelenting menstrual flow, or even in some cases for life-threatening internal hemorrhage. If blood loss is a problem, these are the herbs for you.
Let's start with yarrow, perhaps the most famous of the hemostatics, styptic, emmenagogue, and anti-hemorrhagic herbs. Hemostatics regulate blood flow (hemo- being the Latin root for "blood," static meaning stasis, or stability), anti-hemorrhagics combat hemorrhage, emmenagogues can either stimulate or regulate menstrual flow, depending on what's needed, and styptics contract tissues to heal wounded blood vessels internally. We can learn a lot from yarrow's Latin name, too: Achillea Millefolium. This is the plant, according to Greek lore, that was applied to Achilles' wounded ankle. And "millefolium" means "thousands of leaves/flowers," which, if you look closely, is exactly what a yarrow bud looks like. There are tiny flowers even within each flowerhead! According to my 1658 Complete Herbal, "an ointment of the [leaves and flowers] cures wounds, and is most fit for such as have inflammations...the ointment of it is not only good for green [infected] wounds, but also for ulcers and fistulas [ruptures in tubular organs]... Certainly a very profitable herb in cramps." Matthew Wood calls yarrow the plant for "cuts to the bone, cuts to the blood." In his experience, even cuts straight to the bone can be staunched and healed with the application of muddled yarrow leaves and flowers. The same goes for internal bleeding - drinking a yarrow infusion or taking yarrow tincture can have equally amazing results in stopping a period that won't quit, or stopping internal bleeding after giving birth, for example, or other internal trauma. I've used yarrow to slow down heavy menstrual bleeding with great results- both the bleeding and cramps lightened after drinking an infusion, and in one case the herb had a sedative effect on the friend I had given it to -- probably because she was finally pain-free and able to sleep soundly!
Rosemary Gladstar loves goldenseal, provided that it is organically grown. This is an endangered plant, so if the product you're looking at says it's been wildcrafted, that's a no-no, which is contributing to the depletion of this mega-useful astringent herb. She recommends making a salve of goldenseal according to the recipe below, and keeping that salve handy for any situation which calls for both astringent and disinfectant actions. An important note about goldenseal as used in first aid, though: Do NOT use if the wound is dirty. Goldenseal, as its name hints, will seal up skin quickly and efficiently. If you have a deep, clean cut, ie from a sharp knife, this is good. If you have a dirty cut, ie from a poky plant or an animal bite, this is bad, as the skin will seal in all the bacteria present when the wound was made. Think of goldenseal as nature's stitches. If you'd get stitches on it at the doctor's office, you want goldenseal in the outside world. Clean all wounds with water and a gentle soap before applying goldenseal, if there's any doubt about the cleanliness of the wound. Matthew Wood uses goldenseal with success, he says, on internal tears in tissues, like those caused in torn disks, torn miniscus in the knee, or torn bursa in the hip.
1 part organically grown goldenseal (if organically grown is unavailable, substitute chaparral)
1 part myrrh gum
Infuse the dried herbs in enough olive oil to cover in a double broiler. Bring to a simmer, then keep over low heat 30-60min. Strain out plant solids, discard. Add 1/4c beeswax per cup of infused oil made. Heat until completely melted, staying over low heat. This is your salve! Store in glass jars or tins in a cool, dark place.
Culpepper's Complete Herbal, Nicholas Culpepper
Medical Herbalism, David Hoffman
Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health, Rosemary Gladstar
The Book of Herbal Wisdom, Matthew Wood
Legalese: In our society, only MDs get to say they are "treating" disease. As such, this blog post has not been analyzed by the FDA, and the advice within has not been scientifically proven to diagnose, treat, or cure disease. Please see a health practitioner for medical treatment.