Horse Chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum)

Readers of Anne Frank’s book, Diary of a Young Girl, may already associate horse chestnut trees with rejuvenation. A tall horse chestnut grew outside the Amsterdam warehouse were she and her family hid from the Nazi persecution. Anne Frank wrote frequently of taking breaks from their stuffy attic refuge to watch it’s branches sway in the wind.

For Anne, horse chestnut was medicine for the soul. For the rest of the world, horse chestnut is medicine for the body. This graceful tree offers constituents that targets problems with the circulatory system. It strengthens and tones the vascular walls.

Horse Chestnut

Horse chestnut contains a powerful chemical called aescin which works directly on the circulatory system. Aescin focuses on toning capillaries and veins. The presence of this chemical also prevents the body from producing enzymes that break down collagen and open holes in capillary walls. This makes horse chestnut perfectly suited for treating hemorrhoids and varicose veins.

In Europe, horse chestnut is one of the most popular herbs for medicinal use. The anti-inflammatory properties of aescin find their way into first aid creams and ointments. Horse chestnut is praised by Olympic athletes worldwide as it works quickly and effectively on sprains, bruises and sore muscles.

In America, this herb still takes a back seat. The FDA is cautious about approving horse chestnut as the fresh tree products contain bitter toxins that can cause stomach upset. Europeans handle this setback by using only dry nuts and bark.

The extent of horse chestnut extract’s abilities are still being researched. Aescin shows promise for treating skin ulcers, edema and rheumatism. Until the results come in, horse chestnut offers healing to those willing to reach for a tube of aescin ointment or like Anne Frank, have a few minutes to enjoy the gentle dance of horse chestnut branches against a cloudless, blue sky.

Author – Sue Sierralupe

Originally published as The Pocket Herbal on The Practical Herbalist website

Find this and other plant histories in Sue’s e-book “The Pocket Herbal – Medicinal Plants that Changed the World”

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Radish (Raphanus sativus)

Radish root may be a gift in the garden but radish seeds are what Chinese physicians list among their favorite herbs. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), it is important to balance the qi to maintain good health. Radish seed invigorates patients with deficient qi otherwise known as low energy or vitality.


The seed is collected in summer when the pods are ripe. Lai Fu Zi is the Pin Yin (Chinese) name for this medicine. It is offered to patients reporting sluggish digestion, excessive coughing or wheezing and abdominal pain. Lai Fu Zi is often prescribed with Hawthorn berry to balance the yin and yang energy in the energy medians.

Anyone savoring a taste of fresh radish root will recognize the pungent flavor of this popular salad vegetable. One bite reveals its energetic movement even as it tickles the tongue. Radish seed’s short germination time also translates into green heart-shaped leaves appearing above the soil line a week or so after planting.

Every part of the radish is edible. Each part is packed with nutrition from the root to the flower. This hardy vegetable is a storehouse of vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber. Couple this with radish’s power to stimulate digestion and you have a dieter’s best friend. In TCM, radish seed is a common treatment for obesity.

Many varieties of radish, including the famous daikon radish, are proudly displayed on produce shelves of Asian markets. Shoppers who know this plant as a vegetable are quick to add it to their carts. Shoppers who know this plant as an herb enjoy an extra gift that lasts beyond that first tangy nibble.

Author – Sue Sierralupe

Originally published as The Pocket Herbal on The Practical Herbalist website

Find this and other plant histories in Sue’s e-book “The Pocket Herbal – Medicinal Plants that Changed the World”

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Corn (Zea mays)


One version of a Zuni tribe legend reveals the powerful secrets of corn. It was said that was the magic of the Corn Maidens turned the hearts of the Zuni from war to farming. Their dance atop the corn stalks, visible as the wind stirs the corn tassels, is a vivid reminder of prosperity the Corn Maidens brought. When these goddesses were pursued for selfish reasons, they fled, leaving the corn of the Zuni people to wither and die. Only Paiyatuma, the god of dawn, and the melodies from his painted flute brought them back.


Although this plant is known to most as a valuable food source, the silken tassels the Corn Maidens danced upon are the most popular form of medicine for the herbalist. Fresh green corn silk is collected from the cob and dried for tea or processed into tincture. This medicine keeps the entire urinary tract clean, offering relief to chronic suffers of bladder infections.

The concentration of potassium in corn silk makes it a wonderful supplement for a variety of kidney problems. Potassium is a key mineral in healing the kidneys. Corn silk offers more per gram than bananas.

Potassium is essential for controlling blood pressure. Human bodies are designed to eat mostly plants which are high in potassium and low in sodium. The modern diet is woefully lacking in raw fruits and vegetables. Corn silk offers the stabilizing action of a diuretic with elevated levels of potassium to keep both blood pressure and excess weight down.

Corn silk tea is traditionally served to children to help prevent bed wetting, also known as enuresis. Elderly patients with enuresis benefit from this delicately flavored tea as well.

Corn is known to botanists as zea mays. This nomenclature comes from the Hopi tribe that, along with the Zunis, live in the American Southwest. Zea Mays is translated as “cause of life” and “our mother.” This speaks volumes about the abundance that corn offers. Corn products are in almost every aspect of modern life from biofuel to biodegradable “plastic” to livestock feed. The Corn Maidens are generous but they will not tolerate selfishness. Watching their dance steps rustle the corn silk is a good reminder to use this gift wisely.

Author – Sue Sierralupe

Originally published as The Pocket Herbal on The Practical Herbalist website

Find this and other plant histories in Sue’s e-book “The Pocket Herbal – Medicinal Plants that Changed the World”

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Nutmeg (Myristica fragrans)

Anyone sailing to the European marketplace in the 1600s with a pouch of nutmeg seeds had his fortune made. This was the heyday of the spice trade when heavily armed armadas fought to defend loads of tropically grown treasure from pirates. Nutmeg was worth more than its weight in gold.

Europeans first found nutmeg trees growing on a small island in the South Pacific. Once Westerners acquired a taste for this spice, the battle to maintain a monopoly began. First the Portuguese, then the Dutch company Vereenigde Oost-indische Compagnie (VOC), dominated the trade. A VOC commander raided a British island with nutmeg trees and burned their forest to the ground.

Since nutmeg is a fertile seed, Dutch merchants dipped their cargo in lime to keep it from sprouting for the competition. Other VOC controlled islands were planted with nutmeg and jealously farmed. The mark-up rate soared to a staggering 6,000 percent. Counterfeit nutmeg seeds carved from wood polluted the market. Even in these conditions, sales were brisk.

Nutmeg possesses a distinct and delightful taste. Just a sprinkle of the powder enlivens a meal. Chefs used this herb for a second purpose, nutmeg soothes digestion as well. Affluent women of the time would carry silver pocket-sized nutmeg graters in their herb pouches so they could enjoy an after dinner dose of this herb. Rumors that nutmeg was an aphrodisiac and guarded against the Plague added more value to this spice.

nutmegwithmaceNutmeg seeds are covered with a bright red spice called mace. Its flavor is more intense than nutmeg but the uses are similar. They both share strong anti-microbial properties that make them smart additions to toothpaste and skin creams.

Nutmeg is still valued for more than its flavor. Nutmeg oil is in topical pain medicine. It serves as a homeopathic remedy known as Nux moschata. Since doses larger than 5 mg can be toxic, nutmeg’s value as a folk medicine has dimmed. Yet, research on nutmeg’s control of diabetes is gaining recognition internationally. As a medicinal herb, it is regaining its popularity. This time there should be no danger from pirates.

Author – Sue Sierralupe

Originally published as The Pocket Herbal on The Practical Herbalist website

Find this and other plant histories in Sue’s e-book “The Pocket Herbal – Medicinal Plants that Changed the World”

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Flax (Linum usitatissimum)

Flax is the grandmother of human civilization. Primitive foragers gathered its seed for food. Early Mesopotamians pressed the seed and fed the high protein remains of the seed mash to fatten their cattle. Ancient Egyptians wove its soft, flexible stalks into linen. As flax spread, clever fingers learned to disentangle the healing secrets from this innocuous looking perennial flower.

The ancient Greek physician, Hippocrates (ca. 460 BCE – ca. 370 BCE) praised flax for its success with treating colds and flus. Greeks cooked the oily seeds, also called linseed into a nutritious gruel that is still used to sooth coughs and sore throats. Hippocrates also recommended flax seed gruel to calm upset stomachs.


Medicinally, flax has been used as a laxative for thousands of years. Linseed has anti-inflammatory properties that still offer relief to patients suffering from conditions such as IBS, colitis and hemorrhoids. Since linseed is a remarkable fluid retainer, patients take five times as much water as volume of seed with their doses.

Flax is still sharing secrets with those creative enough to ask the right questions. New research into cancer and heart disease prevention have brought scientist knocking on Flax’s door again. No other plant has been found to be a better source of Omega 3 essential fatty acids and scientists are just beginning to discover how vital these unsaturated fats were to a vast range of health related concerns. As a result, flax is back in the medicine chest again. No wonder this plant wears such a knowing look.

Author – Sue Sierralupe

Originally published as The Pocket Herbal on The Practical Herbalist website

Find this and other plant histories in Sue’s e-book “The Pocket Herbal – Medicinal Plants that Changed the World”

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Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra)

True licorice is an uncommon treat. It is rare to find licorice candy that is still flavored with licorice root. Most manufacturers use anise or artificial flavorings instead. For Alexander the Great however, there was no substitute for simply chewing on a piece of dried licorice root. The Egyptians taught Alexander the Great about how this root was not only an excellent healer but abated the thirst of soldiers and left them energized for battle. The fact that licorice is surprisingly tasty made it easier to convince his troops to comply.


Often called sweetwood, licorice contains an alkaloid called glycyrrhizin which is 50 times sweeter than sugar. This constituent holds the secret to licorice’s long list of healing properties. Commonly used to soothe coughs and upset stomachs, this plant has powerful anti-inflammatory properties that also come in handy for everyday aches and pains.

The glycyrrhizin herbalists rely on is a double edged sword. This alkaloid also retains sodium in the body at the same time dismissing potassium through the kidneys. These actions can increase blood pressure so deglycyrrhized licorice (DGL) is now available at pharmacies and health food stores.

Licorice has a vast amount of properties that conquer viruses, bacteria and fungus that invade the body. This was the battleground that Alexander the Great was fighting on with licorice as a weapon. He knew that a healthy army was a powerful army. His soldier’s probably didn’t care as long as they had a good excuse to chew the sweet treat known as licorice.

Author – Sue Sierralupe

Originally published as The Pocket Herbal on The Practical Herbalist website

Find this and other plant histories in Sue’s e-book “The Pocket Herbal – Medicinal Plants that Changed the World”

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Sweet Cicely (Myrrhis odorata)

Lacy green patches of Sweet Cicely graced almost every traditional Victorian garden in Europe. This shade tolerant perennial was one of the first to emerge for honeybees in the spring and the last to lose its cheerful display of blossoms in the fall. The Victorian gardener was happy to have Sweet Cicely for its taste and medicinal value as well.

This hardy herb has a delicate anise flavor that sweetens acidic foods like currents or rhubarb. The leaves, root and unripened seed pods are delightfully flavorful, which has earned this garden staple the nickname “Grandma’s Candy.” Sweet Cicely allowed children to nibble their way through the garden all summer.

Chefs stirred this plant into the cook pot with cabbage because it reduces intestinal gas along with refreshing the flavor of the meal. Sweet Cicely’s secret is an essential oil called anethole. This is the same chemical you can smell and taste in both fennel and star anise. Anethole works to sooth the digestive tract and reduce inflammation.

Sweet Cicely

Sweet Cicely’s taste makes it an excellent choice for dieters and diabetics. The dried leaves may be tossed into tea as a natural sweeter that doubles as a digestive aid. The root can be nibbled either raw or dried to suspend sugar cravings.

By a happy coincidence, North America has another member of the carrot family with a striking similarity in flavor and medicinal use. It’s called Western Sweet Cicely. This little treasure also enjoys shaded, moist soil and gives off the same tell-tale anise scent which betrays the presence of anethole. Western Sweet Cicely has an added bonus of offering mild anti-fungal relief to those with yeast infections. Either version of Sweet Cicely deserves a respectful corner in the modern garden and a place of honor in our medicine cabinets.

Author – Sue Sierralupe

Originally published as The Pocket Herbal on The Practical Herbalist website

Find this and other plant histories in Sue’s e-book “The Pocket Herbal – Medicinal Plants that Changed the World”

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Myrrh (Commiphora myrrh or molmol)

During the California gold rush of the 1850’s, myrrh was more valuable by weight than gold. As San Francisco was being built, quality dental treatment was scarce. An infected tooth could prove excruciatingly fatal overnight. As one miner wrote, “No place can hardly be worse for a sick man than California.” Myrrh was widely known to be an effective tooth powder to both fight and prevent infection. As a consequence of the crush between supply and demand, the price of this African import skyrocketed.


Although the price of myrrh has stabilized, it is still in great demand. The tree resin is still found in antiseptic toothpaste and mouth rinses. The anti-inflammatory properties the 49ers valued for reducing the swelling around infected teeth can still be relied on to ease pain for modern patients. This aromatic herb also stimulates the body to make more white blood cells that battle infection.

Myrrh’s antimicrobial ingredients occur in greater concentration when the tree waxy sap is harvested with out damaging the tree. Thorny myrrh trees ooze the therapeutic resins naturally. Wildcrafters have been collecting myrrh from the same trees in Northeastern Africa for generations.

Myrrh from these trees was tested by 19th century miners the same way it is tested today. The resin should be clear, dark and bitter with enough potency to stick to the teeth. Whether myrrh is being paid for with gold nuggets or cash, this reliable medicine is worth every penny.

Author – Sue Sierralupe

Originally published as The Pocket Herbal on The Practical Herbalist website

Find this and other plant histories in Sue’s e-book “The Pocket Herbal – Medicinal Plants that Changed the World”

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Alien Protest

Alien Protest

protest fistSetting: Outside a capital building, a group of angry protesters waving signs that say “Deportation Now” or other anti-immigration rhetoric.

Protester 1:  Down with Aliens! Down with Aliens! Send ’em home!

Protester 2: Build a wall! Build a wall!

(2 new protesters show up)

Protester 3: My brothers! We have come to join you! We are also against aliens!

Protester 1: Welcome! Do you have signs?

Protester 4: We just made them last night!

Protester 1: Great! Our chant is “Down with Aliens”

Protester 4 gives a sign to his friend. It is a drawing of a space alien. He waves it and shouts the slogan.

Protester 2 joins in.

Protester 1: Stop! Hold on. What’s on your sign?

Protester 3: An alien. The worst kind. A gray. They don’t stop at probing cattle…if you know what I mean?

Protester 1: No. That’s not the aliens we’re talking about. We are protesting job stealers.

Protester 3: The lizard people? I hate those aliens too. I would have drawn a lizard person but the greys are so much easier. Round head, big eyes and just a line for the mouth.

Protester 2: Lizard people?

Protester 4: Lizard people live in the skin of humans and infiltrate the media and the government. We have had a lizard person as president since the 60s. They are everywhere. Real job stealers.

Protester 2: They steal your skin and your job. I saw that on “Men in Black” except it was a bug.

Protester 4: Hollywood only gets half the truth.

Protester 2: Whoa! It was a documentary!

Protester 1: No, no, no. That’s just a movie. We are protesting Mexican aliens. We want to build a wall.

Protester 3: A wall won’t keep ’em out. You got to have a lot of aluminum foil and underground bunkers.

Protester 2: I like bunkers. Are all aliens bad?

Protester 4: No. ET was ok.

Protester 3: ET was a myth!

Protester 4: No he wasn’t. Just because you don’t like Reese’s pieces doesn’t make him a myth. Just because you have a peanut allergy, doesn’t mean that aliens without it aren’t real.

Protester 1: ET??? What is going on here?

Protester 3: I am a half human/half alien hybrid. My peanut allergy clears shows that alien blood is not suited for life on this planet.

Protester 4: (taunting) Peanuts.

Protester 3: (recoiling) Brrrr.

Protester 4: (taunting) Peanuts.

Protester 3: (recoiling) Brrrr.

Protester 4: (taunting) Peanuts.

Protester 3: (recoiling) Brrrr. You’re giving me a rash on my 1/2 alien skin!

Protester 1: Peanut allergy? What does this have to do with building a wall?

Protester 2: Aliens can fly over the wall in their floating bicycles.

Protester: 1: You’re an idiot.

Protester 2: You can’t talk like in front of my new friends. I’m going home.

Protesters 3 and 4: ET go home! ET go home!

Protester 2 smiles and waves as he leaves.

Protester 1: You’re all idiots!

Protester 3 and 4: ET go home! ET go home!

Protester 1 throws up his hands and leaves.

Protester 3 and 4 wait for the protester to leave as they signal for the audience to be quiet. They give each other a high 5s and bring out new signs saying, “No one is illegal”

Protester 3 and 4: Equal rights for All! Equal Rights for All!





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Presentatarian Protest – Snarky Skits

LibrarySetting: Outside City Library

News Anchor Bob: Tonight on News Room 13: Last week, we reported that a local member of our fair city was granted permission to declare his philosophy, “Presentarianism”, a federally recognized religion. Mr. Jim Bottoms, whose real estate business, Bottoms Up, went bankrupt in 2008, declared himself a prophet of what he calls “Now Think”. He stated that an invisible angel named Og told him to speak only in the present tense.
This week, Mr. Bottoms is currently in front of the city library waving a protest sign. Our on-the-street reporter, Stephanie Times, is coming in live on this development.
Stephanie? Are you there?

Stephanie: I’m here, Bob. Mr. Bottoms is over by the steps with a sign reading “Og Hates Past Tense”. He is distributing flyers on how to donate money to Presentarianism and is yelling abusive comments to patrons.

Mr. Bottoms: <chanting> Now Think! Now Think! Now Think!

Bob: Can you get in closer to get a few words with him?

Stephanie: I’ll try Bob. He is surrounded by an angry crowd of library patrons that are complaining that his chants are distrusting their reading. Mr. Bottoms! Mr. Bottoms! Can we speak with you, sir?

Mr. Bottoms: As long as we are speaking in present tense, I am happy.

Bob: Oh dear God.

Stephanie: Whew. Ok. I am eager to speak with you. I have faith in my ability to keep up, sir. Tell me why you are protesting at the library.

Mr. Bottoms: You are doing well. I am a Presentarianist. The library has books published in past tense. That is against my religion. To make it worse, this is a public institution. The city is subverting my right to practice my religion.

Stephanie: So you are saying that by serving a as public collection site for books written in the past tense, your right to practice Presentarianism is being violated?

Mr. Bottoms: Correct. I  am suing this city for violating my rights!

Stephanie: These people clearly don’t feel that these books violate their own religion. Are you saying that your religious views trump the views of others?

Mr. Bottoms: That is correct.

Stephanie: Isn’t this protest designed to gain attention for your new religion so you can attract more followers?

Mr. Bottoms: Maybe. The more people are hearing the words of Og and are saved.

Librarian: Hey! You! Off the premises. The cops are on their way to evict you. I called them 10 minutes ago.

Mr. Bottoms: I only speak in present tense! You have to say “I am calling the police”.

Librarian: I don’t belong to your money grubbing cult. I can talk anyway I want.

Mr. Bottoms: Oppressor! Oppressor!

Librarian: Sh! This is a library. Lower your voice. Leave now or I will have you arrested.

Mr. Bottoms: Future tense? Oppressor! Og is commanding me to silence you!

Stephanie: Whoa! Did you see that, Bob? Mr. Bottoms just punched the librarian! Are you okay sir?

Librarian: No one pushes me in my own library! This is a house of learning!

Stephanie: Sir? Sir? Whoa! The librarian just hit Mr. Bottoms.

Mr. Bottoms: You hit me! I’ll see you in court!

Librarian: Was that the future tense, you fraud?

Stephanie: Mr. Bottoms stop hitting the librarian with your sign!

Bob: Get all this on camera, Stephanie! They are rolling on the floor punching each other. That librarian has a good right hook. Is that a police siren in the background?

Stephanie: They just got here. The police have both of them in handcuffs. Looks like it’s over for now but I’ll return with more updates. This is Stephanie Times reporting for News Room 13. Over and out.

Written by Sue Sierralupe – All rights reserved

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