Green Wizardries: Herbal Medicine


I gave a talk at the Denman Island Garden Club on the third Wednesday in March.  The Garden Club meets every third Wednesday of the month at 2 pm from September to June and they are a really fun and sweet bunch of gardeners.  They usually meet at the United Church Hall in case you are hoping to join.

I explained that I am not a herbalist, just a gardener with a book of recipes from the great herbalist Rosemary Gladstar.  Despite being from California, Gladstar is quite a respectable person as she was trained by her Armenian grandmother who grew up in Armenia.  The bulk of Gladstar’s teaching is derived from her grandmother and other eminent herbalists whose roots go back to ancient times.  

The simple reason they were so good at herbal medicine is that they were poor.  It had to be pretty bad, a hopeless case almost, for them to go spending money on a Doctor.  These were women who routinely delivered babies and performed minor surgeries.  Women of that time could cure just about any animal, kid or husband.  One of my friends was lucky enough to be raised by her Croatian Granny and that woman doctored all the farm animals and all the kids with a great rate of success.  This was normal in rural life all over the world.  

I have found herbal remedies that I am able to cook up myself from local herbs, some of them weeds, usually do far better than what we can buy from the pharmacy.  I gave several instances where the products I made out of herbs were far more effective than the expensive, modern pharmaceuticals that had been used.  

An example of this occurred recently.  I have a friend who is in such pain with her back that she was only able to sleep two or three hours a night.  I gave her some Saint John’s wort ointment to rub on her back as Saint John’s wort is not just a great antidepressant, it is a wonderful herb for treating nerve pain.  

After a few days, I asked how she was doing and she said she loved the ointment and it was healing her intractable psoriasis.  I was a bit shocked and asked how it was working on her back pain.  She said the ointment turned her back pain from unmanageable to manageable but she was more excited about the improvement in the psoriasis.  She explained that she tries everything on the psoriasis to see if anything would help.  

Doctors have prescribed lots of different treatments for her psoriasis but none of them helped and the steroid cream caused her skin to thin without the least effect on the psoriasis.  I asked her if the Doctors blamed her for their treatments failing and she said of course they did.  They implied that she didn’t really want to get well.  Doctors hate to be wrong.  

I looked up Saint John’s wort in my copy of Rosemary Gladstar’s, “Medicinal Herbs, A Beginner’s Guide.  She describes Saint John’s wort as, “simply one of the best remedies for trauma to the skin.”  It is a good thing my intrepid friend thought to experiment with it.  

Another example came from one of my nieces who has terrible allergic reactions to mosquito bites.  She swells up like a puffer fish.  They used antihistamine cream and it did about as much good as holy water.  They were visiting here last summer and I gave her some magic ointment for her bug bites.  The swelling was vastly reduced.  The ointment was made from the rare and expensive herbs chickweed and plantain…  

I too have severe allergic reactions and came in from work with the skin of my forearm covered in angry red bubbles.  My husband told me to put some of the chickweed and plantain salve on it.  I washed and dried my arm and, as I am always experimenting, tried an antiseptic and astringent on the top half of the rash and the ointment on the lower half.  30 minutes later, the lower half of my arm was white and smooth again.  The top part of the arm was still covered in red blisters.  I have never seen an antihistamine cream that works as fast and as well as the simple ointment that I made.  

We finished the talk and an old friend came up to complain that I was too cynical about big pharma as he feels they are keeping him alive with his cancer.  A retired Doctor was standing next to us and the Doctor said, “She isn’t cynical.  Max is clear eyed.”  It must be very frustrating to be a Doctor who does not have access to helpful medicines.  

The Doctor then asked me to do a workshop where people can learn, hands on, how to make these simple but very effective preparations.  I will do a workshop later in the spring but just for fun.  I learned all I know from Gladstar’s book which teaches step by step how to grow, harvest, and prepare medicines from herbs.  Just buy the book!  You can order it at Abraxas Books, our local full-service book store.  


  1. Oh Max, your wonderful advice is just what the doctor ordered or would order if they were only allowed by their overlords – Big Phama!

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