“The Environmental Protection Agency now warns us that indoor air pollution is the nation’s number one environmental threat to health- and it’s from two to ten times worse than outdoor air pollution. A child indoors is more susceptible to spore of toxic molds growing under that plush carpet; or bacteria or allergens carried by household vermin; or carbon monoxide, radon and lead dust. The allergen level of newer, sealed buildings can be as much as two hundred times greater than that of older structures.”
― Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder
As I sit here to write this newsletter, my writing is interrupted in a volley of sneezes. Ahhh, Ragweed has struck at last! In the years past, this time of year was a time of misery for me on a daily basis for weeks at a time. Since working with herbs to treat my seasonal allergies, I now generally only suffer one or two days for the entire season. Blessed herbs!
As always, I attack with a multi-pronged approach. I drink Nettles infusions several times a week throughout the year. In the spring, when Ragweed sprouts out of the ground, I start adding a leaf to my daily tea, increasing the dosage as the leaf size increases. And when an episode happens, I take a few doses of Ragweed extract and the spell is over by the end of the day. This month’s issue, Redeeming Ragweed, is about how our foe, Ragweed, can be turned into our ally. The following is an excerpt from this month’s issue…
Sneaky Ragweed, shyly blooming in the autumn, has a tiny green flower that is not visible without closely searching the plants upper stalk to find it. Goldenrod generally gets the blame for the allergies that are caused this time of year, unfairly so as Goldenrod is insect pollinated while Ragweed, blooming at the same time, is wind pollinated, freely sharing his pollen with anyone within sneezing distance.
Interestingly enough, the plant that causes much misery (he is the number two cause of allergens, following closely behind the number one spot held by mold), can also be the cure. Like cures like, as homeopathy suggests, and Ragweed is no exception. I prefer to add small amounts of leaf to my morning teas throughout the season, increasing the size of the leaf as the plant grows. In doing so, my body has become acclimated to the Ragweed and autumn is no longer dreaded. Similarly, the tincture can be taken over the year or taken during an acute episode to relieve the symptoms as well. More on this later.
Common Ragweed, Ambrosia artemisiifolia, removes lead out of the ground more efficiently than any other plant, making him a good crop for cleaning lead toxins from the soil.
Ragweed is often called Ragwort, the name of another plant that contains toxic pyrrolizidine alkaloids, Jacobaea vulgaris, syn. Senecio jacobaea, which is also called Ragweed. Pyrrolizidine alkaloids are toxic to our livers, as well as animals which may consume the plant. This is a great example why it’s important to learn the botanical names of plants!
Historically, the Native Americans grew fields of Ragweed. Were they crazy? It would seem so but interestingly enough, the seeds (and leaves) of Ragweed have a great amount of nutrition to be had. The seed, or grain, contains 47% crude protein and 38% crude fat according to Green Deane. Given the botanical name of “Ambrosia” or “food of the Gods”, it seems likely that Ragweed was at one time considered a staple of their diet and documented by white man who later named it accordingly. Ragweed also contains calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, molybdenum, potassium, phosphorus, sodium, sulfur and zinc. He most likely contains vitamins but no studies could be found with that information.
Ragweed contains a good many constituents including volatile oils, quercetin and bitter alkaloids.
If you have Ragweed growing in your yard or garden, pick a leaf to try this experiment. Chew a bit of the leaf and notice what you taste. Is the leaf bitter? How does it make your mouth feel? A bit dry? Does it seem to warm it up or cool it down? Most agree that Ragweed is bitter, drying and cooling.
Medicinally, Ragweed is antibacterial, antiphlogistic, antiseptic, antiviral, astringent, circulatory stimulant, febrifuge, hemostatic, kidney tonic, stimulant, styptic and tonic. Let’s take a look at what this means…
If you’ve ever had an allergic reaction to Ragweed, you won’t forget it: itchy eyes, nose and throat, sneezing, runny nose, eyes bloodshot; a whiff of the pollen is enough to make many people miserable. It is possible to build up a tolerance to the plant, by taking small doses of it throughout the year. It’s generally best to start as soon as the plant emerges from the ground, building up the amount taken as the seasons progress. Likewise, an extract or homeopathic dilution can also be taken to help nip the reaction in the bud. Ragweed is also helpful for rhinitis, or a stuffy nose, as well as sinusitis and ear infections caused by allergic rhinitis (seasonal allergies). Herbalist jim mcdonald uses Ragweed similarly to treat tissues that are swollen, inflamed and leaking, along with Goldenrod, Yarrow and Ox Eye Daisies. As an antiphlogistic, Ragweed helps to reduce inflammation of tissues and membranes, especially those associated with the sinuses.
Ragweed can also help to reduce fevers associated with colds and infections. As an added benefit, he is antibacterial and antiviral, helping to ward off the colds and infections at the same time.
As a styptic and hemostatic, Ragweed helps bleeding to stop. Chewed leaves can be applied as a poultice on a cut or nosebleed, stopping bleeding fast. Powdered Ragweed is useful for this as well and easier to keep on hand for use any time of year. Combined with his astringent actions, Ragweed is helpful for treating hemorrhoids too.
Herbalist Tommie Bass spoke of other folk herbalists using Ragweed for treating kidney problems though he never used it himself. Ragweed has a tonic effect on the kidneys, and has been historically documented as such. William Cook, in his book The Physic-Medical Dispensatory: A Treatise on Therapeutics, Materia Medica, and Pharmacy, written in 1869 wrote: “a use of a strong devotion influences the kidneys considerably, sustains the tone of the stomach, and slowly elevates the circulation”.
Ragweed is very drying and astringent, making him a good herb to use for treating diarrhea, especially crampy diarrhea and dysentery. This same drying action can help to reduce the amount of saliva in the mouth as well for those who have an overabundance of saliva.
Want to learn more about Ragweed and his uses? Check out this month’s issue of Herbal Roots zine, on sale through the end of the month.