Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Juniper Tree, Medicine and Magic

The Juniper is the epitome of the Southwestern tree. It is common throughout the high deserts. There are two types of Juniper species.  One grows in the dry foothills between 1500 to 8000 feet in elevation, and the tree usually stands next to the pinon pine. Above 8000 feet the Juniper grows as a blue-green flat shrub with sharp needles. And both types produce berries.

The Juniper is mistakenly called a cedar, but is actually in the Cypress family. There are 13 species native to North America, of which only the Alligator Juniper has little to no, medicinal value. (But of course, has a distinctive personality!)

The berries begin as bright green, slowly maturing to a blue or purple color when they are ready to be harvested. Both the needles and the berries are beneficial, and can be collected year round. They can be used in a tincture, a tea or whole.

Primarily used as an aid for urinary tract maladies, a teaspoon of berries or crushed leaves in a tea three times a day is the recommended dose. It is a diuretic and has also been used to reduce fevers. Several berries chewed before meals is said to help in digestion and has also been a cure for stomachache.

Topically it can be used in salves for eczema and psoriasis due to the anti-inflammatory qualities Juniper possesses.

Many North American tribes have used five Juniper berries daily, steeped in tea, as a contraceptive. (Therefore it is not recommended for pregnant women, it does cause uterine contractions.)

But the magic in this tree is the many cultures that view it as a talisman to ward off "evil spirits, bad influences, and plague".  The aroma of this tree is pungent and said to get rid of "bad vibes". It can be found mixed into smudge sticks of sagebrush and when lit, creates a distinctive smell. Even bringing a branch of Juniper into the house as a wreath can create this desired effect.

Add this aroma to your house this fall to chase away all the leftover negative energy! The Earth provides what we need, when we need it. And Juniper is waiting in the hills to be of service.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Evening Primrose a True Treasure of the West

Evening Primrose (Oenothera)
Commonly known as Tree Primrose and Flor de San Juan.

A tall, impressive plant, the Evening Primrose lines the roadways and ditchbanks of the southwest from mid to late summer. In early summer the blossoms do open only in the evening, but once it begins its full showy bloom, you can see the flowers open all day and into the night. It is a biennial, blooming the second year and creating seed pods to reseed themselves. The flowers are easily identified, it's difficult to miss the yellow, white, and pink flowers that turn a reddish orange as they fade. The blooms stand atop a 4 to 5 foot  tall stalk.

Primrose has variable medicinal effects, depending on the variety and personal sensitivities. It can act as a laxative, a sedative, thyroid support, and supress PMS and menopause symptoms. It can also be used as an anti inflammatory and for muscle pain relief. The seeds contain gamma-linoleic acid (GLA), which can be used in place of fish oil supplements. GLA is an essential fatty acid that is known to prevent hardening of the arteries, heart disease, eczema, cirrhosis, rheumatoid arthritis, high blood pressure and has even had some success in treating multiple sclerosis symptoms.

This plant was a staple food for many Native American tribes, the root was boiled and the leaves can be eaten raw or boiled. The Evening Primrose is one of the few widespread, wild root vegetables of the West. The root is best eaten in the first year of the plant.

The Evening Primrose is one of the unexpected treasures of the desert Southwest. This beautiful, helpful plant takes you by suprise when it begins to flower and the plants are available well into the fall. It is a common plant, prolific and is one that is mild and should be tried!

Update on the Peru trip preparations- My fundraising is taking on a life of its own! I have had donations of over $2000! I have such heartfelt gratitude to everyone that has helped, I am truly humbled by the support of my community. My community is you, online and those in my neighborhood! My community spans the globe, which is my intention! I will be holding a raffle beginning this week, tickets are $5 each or 3 for $10. The gifts that are to be given have all been donated by those that believe in the vision of this trip, to bring the wisdom of the indiginous into our community, and to help the Shipibo people in return. I will post more details on donors and gifts, over $500 worth of donations!! 
There is so much love and support coming to me for this vision, I thank you all!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Yerba Mansa, Myth and Mystery

Yerba Mansa (Anemopsis Californica) 
 Also known as Lizard Tail and Swamp Root.

Yerba Mansa is native to the Southwestern United States. It grows in arid climates, tolerates alkaline soils but must have periodic flooding. It is perfectly suited to the Rio Grande Bosque of New Mexico. The name Yerba Mansa has an unknown meaning, Yerba is Spanish for herb, but Mansa could be the feminine form of gentle, tranquil or sedate in Spanish (although the herb is not known for sedative effects) or could be a Native word lost for all time. The plant has been described by local residents as magical, its qualities almost mythical.

This is a plant that lives up to it's reputation.

Although Yerba Mansa is not related to Golden Seal chemically or botanically it's uses are similar, to treat inflammation of the mucous membranes, swollen gums and sore throat. The plant is a mild anti-inflammatory, astringent, mild diuretic, antiseptic, and anti-fungal.Yerba Mansa is used for the common cold and related mucus production, cough, throat problems, and tuberculosis. It is also used for stomach and intestinal problems, including constipation, in addition to treating sexually transmitted diseases, skin problems, and cancer.

This lovely plant seems to be able to cure it all! But as with all natural remedies it MUST be used mindfully and carefully with diligence and respect. There are so many stories surrounding this plant it's difficult to ignore the truth to its healing properties. Many curanderas (Mexican traditional healers) use Yerba Mansa in their remedies. I know a Master Gardener (90+ years old) that swears she has a friend that was cured of cancer with the aid of this herb. It is included in all of the salves and oils I prepare, due to the antimicrobial effects. 

I am deeply connected to this little plant, it is my neighbor (many patches of it exist within a few blocks of my house), and if I could be stranded on a deserted island with only one medicinal plant, this would be the one! From the time I began to study the medicinal value of plants I was intrigued by it. I knew I had to find it growing in the wild, but was dismayed by the reports that it was difficult to find due to its shrinking habitat of wetlands (especially in the high desert of the Southwest.) But one day as I was horseback riding in the Rio Grande Bosque, weaving through the Cottonwoods, I found acres and acres of beautiful white blooms of the Yerba Mansa. The pungent, musty smell of the herb hung in the air as I gazed on the beautiful sight. I count myself blessed to be able to have access to this wonderful plant!

As I prepare for my upcoming trip to Peru in May, to learn the medicines and magic of the jungle, I am connecting with many in my community that are willing to partner with me on this venture. I have a fundraising site that is live until February 12, 2012. It is easy to use and I appreciate all donations!! I can also be contacted directly to arrange for donations. The village in the Amazon is busy preparing a space for us and creating works of art and textiles for us to purchase. Anyone interested in purchasing please contact me for details, funds will help with the hospital and village income. is my fundraising site. Please visit!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Goat Head the Terror of the Earth

Goat Head (tribulus terrestris)
Also known as Puncturevine, Sandbur, Caltrop

This seemingly innocent looking vine has earned many descriptive names, most of them not good. It's known as the arch nemesis of the cycling world and of pleasant dog walks. It's caused many flat tires and unhappy homeowners. Yet the medicinal value of this plant can hardly be overlooked.

It's amazing resilience has earned it a place under the heading of "noxious weed" for most states. The seeds can lay dormant in the soil for up to 20 years, all it needs are the right conditions to bring it to life. And the method of spreading its seeds is how it has earned its evil reputation. Those petite yellow flowers turn into a fruit hated by all, a small sticker, that impales itself into everything. The plant grows prostrate, flat on the ground, up to six feet long. Most people therefore don't hesitate to walk across it. But the stickers will stick into anything and go along for the ride. Then the sticker breaks open and the seeds that are carried along are spread to wait for the next good rain. Once established it is very difficult to eradicate and survives in drought and flood, sand and gravel, cold and heat. It's an extreme plant but has been found to have some interesting medicinal properties.

The Goat Head plant works primarily on the circulatory system. It has been found to be effective in treating hardening of the arteries, by bringing cholesterol down and lowering blood pressure. It has been shown to be helpful for mild heart disease by strengthening the heartbeat and slowing it. And as the crowning glory for this thorny wonder, it's attributed to be an aphrodisiac! It's been said to be nature's Viagra, due to the increase in blood flow it produces. If this is an old wives' tale or not, it does have some basis in scientific fact. So, although most people hate it, don't disregard it as a nasty, obnoxious weed. It does have some redeeming qualities.

Update on Expedition to the Amazon-
My fundraising site is up and running on Indie Gogo as "Community Connection" until February 12. I believe my vision of this being a community project will be held by many in my community and online also. The wisdom of the indigenous people of the Amazon is a connection that we all can share. I can't do this without you!!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

New Year New Possibilities

Belen Mesa, New Mexico
-Community and Connection-

After a bit of a hiatus, Sun Herbal Blog is up and running with new energy and new opportunities! Our plant world is sleeping in the high desert of New Mexico, which makes it a wonderful time to research, study and create medicines from plants collected last summer and fall. It's also a time to slow down and look at the array of possibilities that are given to all of us.

I am presented with an amazing opportunity that I believe will, not only benefit me, but my entire community, as well. I feel it will impact my community online, friends and family, in New Mexico, SW Colorado and beyond. I have been invited to study with the Shipibo Indian Tribe of the Northern Amazon in Peru. They are masters of the natural world, live in harmony with the jungle and have done so for many generations. They are master herbalists, artists and have a heart for the connection that ancient wisdom brings to all of humanity.

I was chosen from across the globe as one of 12 participants on this Expedition. I am one of 3 Americans that will be in this village during May/June of this year. The Children of the Sun Foundation will be facilitating this journey as part of their mission to bring connection and healing to this planet.
Children of the Sun Foundation
I will be shown the plants and the preparations of herbal medicines of the Amazon jungle as well as be trained as a Group Facilitator, to bring this information back with me to community.

The Shipibos have graciously agreed to share their wisdom with us. The Children of the Sun Foundation is helping to provide funding to create the only hospital for the Northern Amazon region. I have the privilege to be a part of this vision. I am asking you, as my community, to be a part of this also. I am raising funds for this expedition and also, I am asking for your prayers, and your talents for this to happen for our community. To date, I have already had about a dozen wonderful souls that have partnered with me on this adventure, and we are only beginning!

In exchange for financial donations I will be offering many opportunities for you. I am offering herbal medicines and salves, herb walks this spring in the Los Lunas Bosque and on the Belen Mesa. There is also the possibility of a salve making class! I will be sending personal updates for all partners, as well as local presentations upon my return. For everyone involved online I will be creating an online book to access.

I want to thank you all in advance for your time, your donations and your love, for making this a reality, and giving me the chance to be of service to you and all our community!

If you are moved in your heart to be a part of this vision, please email me through Facebook, or at    More details will follow....

Los Lunas Petroglyphs, New Mexico

And I promise I WILL tell you what that pesky plant commonly called a Goat-head can be used for!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Ethical and Mindful Wildcrafting

"I have often stopped to wonder why the growing hordes of urban and rural "survivalists" spend so much time buying really cool knives, oiling their marginally illegal armaments, and passing antiauthoritarian gossip around like a bunch of tongue-clucking fishwives. True survival rests not in the big macho stances, but in the gentler arts of knowing one's natural world and knowing how to use it in a moral and renewable fashion."                                                                 -Michael Moore

Michael Moore was the foremost authority on anything to do with herbalism in the U.S. and especially the Southwestern U.S. His words should echo in the minds of all who collect plants from their native habitat (wildcrafting), it should be done "in a moral and renewable fashion."

Wildcrafting is the collecting of plants growing in the wild, not cultivated, and using them for our own purposes. Whether that be for food, medicine, crafts, or beauty aids, the collection of plants from the wild is called wildcrafting.

I am of the firm belief that Earth provides what we need, when we need it. But our responsibility is to use it with respect, reverence and thanks. And common sense (intuition) dictates, if a plant is picked to extinction, it will no longer be there to help anyone. A good rule of thumb is, if an herb is not abundant in the area, there may be others there that serve the same purpose. Multiple plants have similar healing properties, so choose those that are plentiful in the area. And whenever possible choose to use the parts of the plant that are renewable (leaves, stems and flowers) as opposed to the root. When you dig the root you kill the plant. Dig the root only if there are at least 20 more of the same plant to take it's place. And be aware of the immediate surroundings, plants assimilate what is in their environment. A busy roadway would not be the best place to gather. But amazing plants grow in abandoned lots and along the back roads.

The story of the Osha root, Big Medicine, is one in which the herb was not treated with the respect it was due. In the area that is now Albuquerque, the pueblo people respected and used what was provided for them by the Earth. Osha root is a powerful medicine, and grows at altitudes generally above 8000 feet in the Sandia Mountains. The trek to find the medicine was an arduous journey to the mountain and even then the identification could be deadly. Osha is easily mistaken for Hemlock, which causes certain death. It was treated with respect by the entire pueblo and the journey to collect it, was in itself, a healing process for all involved. But with the advent of modern life and the automobile, this herb has been decimated in the Sandias. To supply a demand in the marketplace for the root, those with little to no respect or ethics, dug it almost to extinction. Perhaps it is time for this herb to rest, at least in the Sandias.

Wildcrafting is the opportunity to connect and be present with the natural world and spend time in the solitude of the search.
If you collect herbs with mindset of lack, you will not find many. But if you collect with abundance in your thoughts, what you seek will be everywhere!

In upcoming posts-
Goatheads (Puncturevine), most people (and dogs) hate 'em, they're really not that bad, unless you step on them.
Horsetail (Equisetum) is a living fossil and your skin will love it!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Mormon Tea- Ephedra of the Southwest

Mormon Tea (Ephedra)
AKA Desert Tea, Cowboy Tea, Whorehouse Tea, Canutillo, Poptillo, American Ephedra

Photo of Ephedra viridis Coville
Mormon Tea has an interesting history in the Southwestern US. As the story goes, because of religious beliefs, Mormons wouldn't drink coffee or teas and therefore substituted this plant. In addition, a "Jack Mormon" (one who is a Mormon in name only) in the town of Elko Nevada was afflicted with a bad case of syphilis after a visit to Katie's Place. Katie's was a house of ill-repute and frequented by many locals. This man found that the tea eased his symptoms and he recommended it highly to all the patrons. Chances are he learned of the plant's ability to work on the urinary tract, from local natives, who have used it for many generations.

It is a plant with many properties, the most pronounced being the way it works as a stimulant and a decongestant. It is used to treat colds and flu. Mormon tea is related to the Chinese plant ma huang (E. sinica), which contains the medication ephedrine, a bronchial dilator, decongestant, and central nervous system stimulant much used in western medicine. The American species has no ephedrine, however. But the combination of ingredients present in the plant seem to create a similar effect in the human body. It is also used as a diuretic and an anti-inflammatory for the urinary tract. 

Mormon Tea is a safe plant to drink as a tea, a treatment for urinary tract inflammation and relief for sufferers of allergies and colds. A bonus of this gnarled desert plant is as a source of calcium, the highest of any non-toxic plant.

Future installments include; Is there really a use for those horrible goat-heads, that flatten bike tires and irritate dog's feet? Ethical wildcrafting, collecting plants for our use. Stay tuned...