Messing [Up] in the Kitchen: Fleeceflower Root

IMG_4880I spent the end of last week making new medicines, as Mars moved into Virgo. I found out last week that my natal chart has Mars in Virgo, and that the degree I have it in is one that is typical of herbalists, botanists, and others whose work is connected with nature. But I did not know this detail about the degree until after the transit.  During the transit I made four tinctures – chaga, reishi, fleeceflower root, and white mulberry fruit, plus a vinegar tincture of nettle. This was my first medicine-making venture in a while, and I was amazed to find out that it had happened in synchronicity with the stars and planets.

I am especially excited about the fleeceflower root medicine, which will be a triple glycerine decoction/tincture. Fleeceflower root (steamed with black bean juice to remove its toxicity) is a popular herb in the Chinese pharmacopoeia, and is used in the treatment of liver injury, cancer, diabetes, alopecia, atherosclerosis, and neurodegenerative diseases. Its main function is to tonify blood, and a special function of tonifying Kidney jing, which is considered one of the body’s three treasures – it is a finite endogenous substance, stored in the kidneys, and said to be the densest matter in the body, the ultimate yin (thick, dark, sticky – exactly what the root looks like once it has been heated and macerated). Jing is hard to supplement, and can be easily burnt up – Chinese medicine says it is primarily lost, for men, through ejaculation, and for women, through menstruation and childbirth, but can also be taxed by illness, overwork, stress, trauma, and use of stimulant drugs. Jing taxation leads to problems like adrenal fatigue, hair loss, and tooth problems – essentially, as you age, your jing is naturally depleted along with the strength and resources of your body, although it can be preserved, protected, and increased through certain practices.  Jing is life force, which also explains why any herb that tonifies jing is considered a longevity tonic. Fleeceflower is one of the few herbs that tonifies this substance in the body, and thus to my mind seems an indispensable herb for these times, in which we in the West are constantly pushing ourselves beyond our limits, and are subject to high levels of stress and illness. [ASIDE: I just want to note here, so that you know, before you get all gung ho, that He Shou Wu in rare cases can be hepatotoxic.]

NP-HeShouWuFleeceflower root is usually only either decocted in water, or extracted into alcohol. You will see straight alcohol tinctures of it for sale. According purely to its chemical properties, it seems likely that you could get good effects from the herb using just a plain tincture, but to get the complete chemical profile of the herb, you need to use a hot solvent other than water. This is because chrysophanol – an anthraquinone which induces the necrosis of liver cancer cells, and is thought to have anti-inflammatory actions and regulate hormone levels (esp. testosterone), will not extract in water. Hence the glycerine. By doing this process first (and repeating three times in order to saturate the glycerine), and then adding the herb and glycerine into an alcohol extraction, you allow for a complete extraction of the herb’s chemical profile. This is important not only because chrysophanol has too many positive benefits to be left out of the mix, but because a plant’s efficacy is drastically increased when it is taken whole. This is why pharmaceutical extracts of what they consider to be the ‘active’ ingredient in certain plants tend not to work. For example, hypericin, said to be the ‘active ingredient’ in St. John’s Wort, will not serve you as a support for depressive conditions when extracted on its own into a pill. You need to use the whole plant. This is because other components of the plant aid in its bioavailability, meaning that the plant in its entirety is the medicine, not the individual chemicals it contains. An alcohol tincture of He Shou Wu will give you most of the plant’s components, but not all, and it seems to me important that the plant is chemically preserved in its entirety, on principle, even quite apart from the health benefits of its individual components.

HAVING SAID THAT, I have misplaced the source of my extraction information on chrysophanol, and have read several studies which indicate that it can be extracted from other plants in a water decoction, which means that everything that I have said above may be completely irrelevant. (“There’s a divinity that shapes our ends, / Rough-hew them how we will—” thank you Hamlet.) But what IS certain is that the medicine is going to be as faithful to the herb as possible which, quite frankly, gives me a kick. It is also a fun experiment, and really has to be nothing more at this point, given that it is extremely easy to powder the herb, add hot water and molasses, and drink it straight. If you are interested in complete profile methods, you may want to research spagyrics, an alchemical form of extraction which includes the ash of the herb after it has been macerated and burnt, in order to preserve its minerals.

OKAY ANYWAY—so, another principle in Chinese medicine is that you can’t tonify the Kidneys without tonifying all aspects of the Kidneys (kind of a like a complete herb profile approach, but with organ function). This means that, in addition to the blood and jing tonic I am getting with the He Shou Wu, I also need a yang tonic, and a yin tonic. This is why I am also macerating a tincture of mulberry fruit, which tonifies yin, and why I will add Rou Gui when it’s all ready, to access the yang.

CHEMISTRY ASIDE, my aim is to have a kickass kidney tonic ready in a few months. And whether I get there by stars, planets, chemistry, alchemy, sheer passion, madness, mistakes, or a combination of all of the above, it is going to be ready for winter time recovery and nourishment in the new year…

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