Tag Archives: Bay

Herbal medicine for colds / influenza

‘Tis the season… for respiratory illnesses.
But don’t take antibiotics! In the long run they will weaken both your and your environment’s immune systems. There are about ten times more bacterial cells in your body than your own cells. You want to kill them all off with antibiotics and leave their habitat empty for takeover?! No; instead, take medicinal herbs, especially in hot teas, and eat healthily – lots of juices, fruits and veggies, and hot clear soups.

The following are herbs that the California Indians used to combat colds / flu / sore throats / bronchitis / fevers. They are all native to the California Bay Area, extending through Central and Northern California, but many of the same species or their relatives can be found across the US, both wild and in herb stores. I’ve tried to list them roughly in order of importance and availability.

Yerba santa (“holy herb,” Eriodictyon californicum) – an infusion or decoction of the leaves was drunk as an extensively used, very effective, and specific cure for colds, influenza, fevers, and stuffy / runny nose (Chesnut 1902, Moore 1993). This is probably the best herb for colds/flu; I made a strong infusion and noticed my discharges immediately drying up. I drank several cups of strong infusions with raw wildflower honey the evening I felt real bad and felt much better the following day, drank the same, and was cured by the third. I did, however, use many other of the below herbs, but I feel like most were temporarily relieving symptoms whereas yerba santa was curative.

Wormwood / mugwort / bronchitis plant (Artemisia spp.) – a decoction of leaves was drunk as a specific cure for colic and colds, was very efficacious for bronchitis, and fresh bruised leaves were placed in the nostrils to relieve the symptoms of colds (Chesnut 1902).

Angelica (Angelica spp.) – the roots, gathered when the plant’s leaves dry off in mid to late summer, were chewed and the juice swallowed for colds, fever, and sore throat, a decoction wash made of them for relief of colds, or they were crushed and smoked like tobacco for colds and stuffy / runny nose (Chesnut 1902, Goodrich et al. 1980). I chewed this and swallowed the juice and definitely had some relief; this would be a great relief for sore throat.

Coffeeberry (Rhamnus californica) – a decoction of the bark (a handful of bark per gallon of water was boiled until it tasted like wine) was a specific remedy for influenza (Chesnut 1902). I tried this but it was a little late to tell whether it helped. It was not so much like wine but about as bitter as red wine.

Madrone (Arbutus menziesii) – an infusion of leaves was drunk for colds by the Little Lake tribe (Chesnut 1902).

Manzanita (Arctostaphylos spp.) – an infusion of the leaves was used to cure severe colds by the Calpella tribe (Chesnut 1902).

California spikenard (Aralia californica S. Watson) – the roots, gathered July-August, were dried and a decoction made from these was highly valued as a cure for colds and fevers (Goodrich et al. 1980, Chesnut 1902).

California bay laurel (Umbellularia californica) – an infusion of the leaves was used for colds and sore throats. This is a strong antimicrobial but likely doesn’t cure a viral infection.

Pines and firs (Pinus spp. and Abies spp.) – an infusion or decoction of needles and/or sap were used to relieve and cure colds (Strike 1994). The resin or sap was also burned for incense to relieve sinus problems (Strike 1994).

Infusions or decoctions of redwood, red cedar, and other conifer needles or sap have similar antimicrobial and decongestant effects (Moore 1993). I drank a lot of redwood needle tea and ate pine sap to feel better.

Sweet coltsfoot (Petasites palmata Gray.) – roots were used for influenza (Chesnut 1902).

Balsam root (Balsamorhiza sagittata) – a decoction or tincture of the fresh root is a disinfectant-expectorant used for sore throat, bronchitis, and the flu (Moore 1993).

Lomatium (Lomatium dissectum) – a cold infusion or tincture of the fresh or dry root is a powerful antimicrobial that is used against respiratory virus infections such as influenza, bronchitis, and sore throats (Moore 1993).

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) – a powerful medicine of many uses, yarrow is especially helpful for acute fevers that begin as a head cold or flu (Moore 1993). For this ailment, drink a hot infusion  or tincture (of the whole plant or any of its parts) in hot water (Moore 1993).

Ciliate gilia (Linanthus ciliatus (Benth.) Greene.) – an infusion was used as a remedy for coughs and colds in children (Chesnut 1902).

Rosinwood (Grindelia sp.) – a decoction of the whole plant was used to cure colic and colds, especially in children (Chesnut 1902).

White horehound (Marrubium vulgare L.) – a decoction of leaves and stems was used to cure colds (Chesnut 1902).

Pepper vine (Clematis ligusticifolia Nutt.) – the stems were chewed to cure colds and sore throat (Chesnut 1902).

Bigflower Tellima (Tellima odorata) – roots were chewed to relieve colds (Chesnut 1902).

Dog fennel / fireweed (Anthemis cotula) – this plant has extremely irritating juices that cause a burning sensation, but the fresh plants were sometimes placed in bath water as a wash for severe colds (Chesnut 1902).

References:

Chesnut, V. K. 1902. Plants used by the Indians of Mendocino County, California. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC.

Goodrich, J., Lawson, C., and Lawson, V. P. 1980. Kashaya Pomo plants. American Indian Studies Center, University of California, Los Angeles, CA.

Moore, M. 1993. Medicinal plants of the Pacific West. Museum of New Mexico Press, Santa Fe, NM.

Strike, S. S. 1994. Ethnobotany of the California Indians; Vol. 2. Aboriginal uses of California’s indiginous plants. Koeltz Scientific Books USA, Champaign, IL.

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Traditional and Modern Methods of Acorn Preparation

Bay Nature article by Emily Moskal about how the Indians used acorns and bay nuts for food, and how you can use analogous methods today with modern kitchenware! Acorns were probably the most important single food source for all American Indians, constituting up to over half their diet! Oaks are almost everywhere in the US, and all of them have edible acorns.

Umbellularia californica

The Useful California Bay Laurel Tree

NAMES AND TAXONOMY

California Bay Laurel

Umbellularia californica (Hooker and Arnott) Nuttall

Also called the bay laurel, bay, California laurel, Oregon myrtle, myrtlewood (name used for wood used in furniture, carvings, and other products), pepperwood, and peppernut (the latter two from the aromatic wood and nuts), and headache tree (from its ability to cause and relieve headache with its aroma).

It is the only member of its genus, which was widespread in the Pliocene.

In the august family Lauraceae – the same family as the commercial avocado, the sweet bay from which comes the commercial cooking spice (commonly sold in whole-leaf form), and the laurel tree common in many mythologies, often featured as a symbol of peace and victory (ancient Olympic games champions were crowned with a laurel wreath, and the pigeon on Noah’s arc returned bearing laurel leaves, indicating the floodwaters had receded and land was nearby). The most gorgeous bird ever, the resplendent quetzal, also feeds exclusively on fruits of lauraceous trees in the neotropics.

HABITAT AND IDENTIFICATION

It is locally dominant in moist soils of mixed forests, redwood forests, and in coastal foothill canyons, slopes, and streambanks. It’s commonly cultivated around its endemic range (coastal mid to northern CA and southern OR). Its understory is often made open by allelopathic leaf litter, being sometimes totally barren of any plants under the main portion of the tree’s canopy.

Its trunk and branches are thick and smooth when young, developing pale low ridges with age; somewhat oak-like. Often it’s single-trunked in cultivated or upland habitat, but more often it’s multi-trunked on steeper slopes or along creeksides where its root tangles form banks.

Its heartwood rot and trunk/branch loss leaves hollows inhabited by small mammals. I’ve seen many trees toppled and killed with the base regrowing into a full, large, multi-trunked tree.

Its epiphytes are often extensive, being laden with thick moss is wetter areas.

It usually grows 40-70′ (max 150′). It has alternate branching, with simple, lanceolate, thick, shiny, dark, paler undersided, ~3.5″ long, and strongly aromatic leaves. It flowers Jan-Mar, in tiny yellowish clusters. Its fruit is avocado-like, green to purple, globular, and ~1″ wide. (Peattie 1950)

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California Bay Laurel fruit on the ground.

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California bay laurel tree roots forming bank of stream in Wildcat Canyon

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California bay laurel trees along creek banks in Wildcat Canyon

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California bay laurel tree full of holes from dead branches, forming nice animal homes

A TREE OF MANY USES

The tree is really common in the CA bay area and has tons of uses, with edible fruits and nuts, leaves good as a spice, disinfectant / cleaner, flea repellant, de-licing agent, headache reliever (or inducer), toothache reliever,  and more…

CARVING MYRTLEWOOD

The wood is very hard, firm, heavy green, medium-light dry (40.5 lb/ft2), and fine-grained, with mottled heartwood, and thick sapwood. It is often used for bowls and furniture (Peattie 1950).

It is subject to attack by bark beetles, so be sure to cure the wood, ideally with repeated coats of linseed oil and turpentine mixed, and once fully absorbed (waiting several weeks between coats and gradually decreasing the turpentine amount, beginning from 50%), a final coat of beeswax made workable with a little coconut oil.

THE BAY LAUREL FOR MEDICINE

Medicinal uses of the bay tree, especially its leaves, abounded for the CA Indians. The probable active ingredient for most or all of these medicines was umbelliferone, which is the essential oil that gives the tree its spicy, peppery, aromatic, or bitter taste in all its tissues.

These medicinal uses include:

– An infusion of leaves was used as an antimicrobial for washing sores or was drank for colds, sore throats, stomach aches, menstrual cramps, and clotting.

– A poultice of the leaves was applied to the affected tooth for relieving toothaches. Heated leaves were applied as a poultice for rheumatism. Bathing in hot water with the leaves twice a day for two or three days was a cure for rheumatism, causing the skin to smart, which provoked thorough rubbing (Chesnut 1902).

– The nuts were eaten during gorges of clover (Trifolium spp.) to prevent the bloating that would often otherwise occur.

– Fresh leaves were crushed and smelled to relieve headache, which could also induce one. To relieve headache, a piece of the leaf was placed in the nostril, or several leaves were bound to the forehead, or the head was washed with a strong decoction of the leaves (Chesnut 1902). My fiance suffered severe migraines following a severe head injury, and smelling crushed fresh or dried leaves was one of the few things that would relieve her headaches.

– For chronic stomach complaints, a large quantity of leaves was tied around the body for a couple of days (Chesnut 1902). To cure both stomachache and headache, a decoction was sometimes drank (Chesnut 1902). The vapor and smoke from burning boughs and leaves on a slow fire was a cure for many diseases (Chesnut 1902).

– Washing the head with a strong decoction of the leaves also was used to kill lice (Chesnut 1902).

BAY LAUREL LEAVES FOR FLEAS

Fresh boughs and leaves were placed around dwellings repel fleas and insects (Chesnut 1902). I do this at my house to reduce the flea infestation, and when I rub crushed leaves on my cats, I can see the fleas fleeing. An essential oil extract placed on the nape of my cats’ and dogs’ necks repels their fleas.

I boiled up a strong decoction from a large potful of leaves with which to wash my cats. The smell from the boiling pot was so powerful it gave me an instant headache, and I had to open all my windows and turn a fan on. Once the bay leaf decoction was cooled, I added some soap (to enhance penetration) and dipped my cats one by one into it, laving lots of the liquid over their whole bodies till they were totally soaked, while standing in a pot full. They hated it and the one we didn’t have in a mesh bag when we washed them bit the hell out of me and Emily. But I’m sure it was a terrifying headache for them.

Afterwards, I inspected their coats and the fleas were all dead or stunned. Checking later, it was clear that many were just stunned, and were slowly recovering as the cat dried. It was really easy to pick them off at this time, since they were slow, and easy to see in the wet coat. Next time, it will be better to wash the cats in the full tub of soapy water after the bay treatment to wash off the stunned fleas and send them down the drain.

I also used the soapy bay decoction in a spray bottle to totally coat the carpets, floors, and other areas the cats hang out to kill flea eggs.

THE BAY LAUREL FOR EATING

One interesting use I’ve only read about once was that the root bark was used to make a drink by the California Indians in Mendocino Co. (Chesnut 1902).

A few fresh or dried leaves make a great spice for hearty or meaty stews. Substitutable for commercial bay, though using less since it has a stronger flavor. I use about 3 or four mid-sized leaves (usually young leaves since older ones tend to have sooty mold) for about a gallon pot of bean stew or pot roast.

The fruit looks like a mini avocado, about 1-2 in long, with skin ranging from lime green to dark green and often with purple, some even being entirely rich purple. I have not found a relationship between the fruit skin color and the stage of ripeness beyond that when totally unripe they tend to be lighter green, not usually developing purple until ripe, but many ripe fruits are still totally light green.

The fruit, which ripens in the fall, has flesh that is edible, but unripe it is rather bitter. Ripe, it is still somewhat bitter or aromatic, but can often be quite tasty if one finds the right tree. A good ripe fruit tastes oily and like an aromatic avocado. The flesh is about half essential oils and fats. But I’ve found that most sufficiently ripe fruits are partly rotted or eaten or otherwise damaged. Perhaps picking them slightly unripe and allowing them to ripen in a paper bag would be a solution.

COLLECTING BAY LAUREL NUTS TO EAT

The bay laurel has edible nuts that were a common food among the California Indian tribes living within the tree’s range. They parched or roasted the nuts in their thin seed coat shell, which then splits easily, revealing the large kernel.

Some people these days eat bay laurel nuts:

http://paleotechnics.wordpress.com/2012/11/05/baynutting-tips-for-harvesting-storing-and-using-california-bay-nuts/

http://rootedincalifornia.blogspot.com/2011/02/no-snow-and-california-bay-nuts.html

http://bushcraftusa.com/forum/showthread.php/79599-Bay-Nuts-I-eat-my-words!

I collected some bay nuts today, though the surrounding fruit flesh was very rotten on all of them. But that made it easier to squeeze the nuts out. A lot were already out of the flesh, just sitting on the ground in their nekkid seed coat. Close inspection of tooth marks revealed the fox squirrel (and perhaps some birds) was eating the fruit flesh and dropping the nut. Pretty surprising; I would think they’d prefer the nut to the flesh. But it was making my collection easier, so thanks Sciurus niger!

COOKING BAY LAUREL NUTS TO EAT

Raw, the oil-rich kernel is edible but a bit acrid. Cooked, the flavor is pleasantly peppery. A single family of Indians would use 3 or 4 bushels in a year, and even more were kept on supply by many (Chesnut 1902). Indians would eat only one or two dozen per meal (Chesnut 1902). These nuts were carried on long trips or when going a long time without food, being used for their stimulant properties (Chesnut 1902). They were often eaten with clover or were pounded up into a small mass, which being so oily, easily forms a cake of “bread” called pōl’-cum höt’-mil by the Yuki (Chesnut 1902).

Back home after collecting, I thoroughly washed the nuts, then let them them drip-dry a half hour (some were still damp when I put them in the oven). As per recommendation of a fellow flintknapper, Bill, a few weeks back as well as some of the above sites, I roasted my nuts in a convection (regular) oven at 450 degrees F, stirring every 3 or so minutes for a little over 20 mins total, until all the seed coats had cracked open, and the kernels changed from dull lime green to light greenish-brown or creamy brown.

Some were more well-roasted than others, but all of them were pretty good. They didn’t taste too much less bitter than the raw kernels, but I liked those pretty well too. I had to limit myself to only a few tonight since I didn’t want to be up late. I can’t wait to gorge myself on these in the morning and feel the stimulant effects!

I actually enjoy their peppery taste, and don’t expect wild plant foods to taste as bland as food you get in the grocery store. Aren’t things that are really good for you supposed to taste “bad” anyway, like brussel sprouts? A lot of people get turned off from wild foods when they find they taste surprisingly strongly of a flavor they’ve never tasted. But that’s actually one of my favorite things about foraging wild plants. Not to mention knowing those strong flavors are strong plant compounds that are bursting with vitality. Supermarket foods are as dull in taste as they are nutritionally void. I won’t go into the references but lots of studies show that wild plants have way more nutrition; macro and micronutrients, vitamins, minerals, active rna, etc. than what you find in grocery stores. In this respect, organic foods are not much better than conventional foods, and both are a chasm apart from wild foods! This holds for plant as well as animal foods.

UPDATE: After eating more of these and comparing the more to less roasted ones as well as getting feedback from another blogger (see his post http://paleotechnics.wordpress.com/2013/11/10/roasting-baynuts-in-a-popcorn-popper/), it became clear that lots of mine were not well enough roasted. They left a tingling, slight burning sensation in the back of my throat, compared to the well-cooked ones, which still had the same flavor, but without that lingering throat taste. My pictures show the kernels peeking through the seed coat crack that are still greenish and/or beige color… those are the unfinished ones. My main problem was not letting them dry first, or cook long enough. After putting the less cooked ones back in the oven for a few minutes again at 450, I got them all well done, and looking brown (see the above blog again for good pics of well-done nuts). Much better aftertaste for these now! They’re great with a little salt.

UPDATE 2: These are awesome if you grind them up (Emily, whose idea this was, used a blender) and make an infusion of (pour boiling water over) the powder! Smells and tastes like toasty cheerios, with a little bit of that zingy bay flavor. Since it has stimulant properties (though I haven’t felt much after several cups), this is a great coffee substitute!

UPDATE 3: BAY NUT COOKIES

For a recipe to make cookies out of bay nut flour and other CA native plants, acorns and manzanita berries, see my post “Winter Foraging”!

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California bay laurel fruits rotten on ground, but the nuts are still great to eat

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I collected this handful of California bay laurel nuts in about a minute

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Kernel of California bay laurel seed naturally splits in two

 

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Bowl of washed fresh California bay laurel nuts

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Washed fresh California bay laurel nuts ready to cook

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Cooked tray of California bay laurel nuts

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Close-up of bowl of cooked California bay laurel nuts

References:

Chesnut, V. K. 1902. Plants used by the Indians of Mendocino County, California. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC.

Peattie, D. C. 1950. A natural history of western trees. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston MA.