Friday, May 9, 2014

Teasel Root: Fresh or Dry? Preparations Methods, Lyme Disease and Herbal Giveaway

Teasel is a perennial plant is native to Europe, which now grows in the United States in some areas including invasively in Missouri, Colorado, Iowa, New Mexico, and Oregon.  I have found it growing in Tennessee.  Teasel provides food for Gold Finches who feed on the dried seed heads. This plant is used medicinally for treating Lyme disease, as well debility in the joints and sinews not caused by Lyme Disease.  Related Asian species are also used. One place that Teasel does not grow is Florida.  Our weather is just too hot.  

Dipsacus fullonum distribution via USDA

The currently accepted bontanical name is Dipsacus fullonum. It's former botanical name was Dipsacus sylvestris, which can be confusing if you are reading older herbal books. Sometimes it is also referred to as Dipsacus fullonum var. sylvestris. The latin species name fullonum is derived from the functionality of the seed heads which can be used for fulling or cleaning and thickening of wool.  Here is Susun Weed visiting a Teasel patch.


Teasel for Lyme Disease

Teasel was of favorite plant of one of my herbalist friends who died last year,  Lady Barbara Hall.  Up until last year whenever I someone asked me about herbs for Lyme Disease, I always had an easy answer. This was to simply refer them to Barbara.  Barbara Hall was a professional gardener, dancer, teacher, writer and herbalist. I learned a lot from her and she was always so helpful to people who were trying to identify plants. I was honored to be one of the gardener-herbalists who inherited of part of her seed collection which she left to us as 'parting gifts' when she died last year after a long struggle with cancer. As a gardener in New York Lady B contracted multiple cases of Lyme Disease, which she recovered from using Teasel root tincture, which is a remedy described in Matthew Wood's The Book of Herbal Wisdom. Now that Barbara has passed and I have friends struggling with Lyme, I would like to share her experience. Lady B describes her experience with Teasel Root Tincture in this 9 minute youtube video below.


Teasel Root Fresh or Dry?

Lady B and Matthew both describe using fresh Teasel root for making a tincture; Lady B rather emphatically only recommended the use of tincture from fresh roots.  I wasn't sure why there was emphasis on fresh root, because Chinese herbalists use two other species of Dipsacus in dried form: D. asper and D. japonica

The Asian Dipsacus species, D. asper and D. japonica, are both known as "Xu Duan," which translates to "restore what is broken." D. asper from Si Chuan provence is considered the strongest.  The Chinese name for both of these herbs is Xu Duan, but with the added "Chuan Xu Duan" it is an indication that the herb is the better quality from Si Chuan province.  Xu Duan is considered a Yang Tonic in Chinese medicine which acts on the Liver and Kidneys as they are defined within Traditional Chinese Medicine. The big heavy roots are considered the best and are harvested in Autumn. The first stage of processing of the root begins with drying them over low heat for 10 minutes, then putting them in a dark high temperature room until they turn greenish black. After that, the roots may be soaked in either salt water solution or rice vinegar, and then dry fried.  The salt water fried herbs (Yan Chao) are known as "Yan Xu Duan."  These root are used in decoction 10-20 grams at a time for treatment of bone fractures, and strengthening the tendons and ligaments. It is commonly used as a treatment for sore lower back and knees.  The raw Xu Duan (dry but not treated with salt or vinegar) or Rice Vinegar friend Xu Duan is used to promote blood circulation and for relieving pain or swelling in the lower back or limbs at the same dosage in decoction.  It is also used externally as a liniment for pain relief of this type.  

The drying method for the Asian species can be rather involved, and I had gotten the impression that maybe the use of dried D. fullonum root was frowned on for tincture making in for use in treatment of Lyme disease by the Lady B and Matthew Wood.  So I checked in with Matthew Wood, registered herbalist, on his opinion on the use of tinctures made from dry Teasel root.  Wood provided this informative response:  

"In general I tincture roots, leaves, flowers, and barks fresh, unless there is some reason not too.  This is why I recommend teasel root tinctured fresh.  I do not know if there is a difference if teasel (Dipsacus fullonum) is tinctured from the dry, but I would think not.  If it is still bitter it should still work.  For the beginner, buying dried teasel root is probably advisable because it takes experience to figure out when to pick the root.  Although teasel is a biennial, it is an 'unruly' one, springing up from the 'first year' basal rosette form to the 'second year' stalk almost any time of the year.  It is best harvested right before it shoots up.  That is when the root is big and sumptuous.  It quickly gets very small and I imagine, looses properties to the fast growing stalk.  Also, it might take twenty small roots to equal a big one in size and medicinal value.  The second year is usually avoided when picking biennial roots.  Teasel shrinks in the 'second year,' burdock (also a biennial) rots through the center of the root.

Mary from Cresent Moon Herbals uses dried Asian Dipsacus asper root exclusively to make her Teasel root tinctures.   Mary has a long list of positive feedback on her Teasel tinctures in her online store, some of which include indication of the user experiencing herx reactions, an indication that the tincture is effective in killing off pathogenic spirochetes which cause Lyme dissease.  I asked Mary if there was a reason why she preferred making tincture with dry D. asper, "I guess it is just a matter of preference. I have had extremely good results with my product. I've been selling it for over 10 years now and just feel that it is a stronger, more effective product. Every herbalist has their own belief, this is just mine...Dry is more convenient for me because I go thru so much of it. And, like I said, my customers have had great success with the product so I feel no need to modify it.

When I asked Mountain Rose about what stage of harvest their Teasel root is harvested they indicated that they harvest at all stages, but they try to get their harvesters try to collect roots at the early stages when the root is large. "The Teasel Root is harvested in all stages of its growth.  It is of course the best if we can get the roots in its first stage however the harvesters do harvest in each of its stages." 

Tincturing Teasel Root

If you are able to find fresh Teasel root, you can follow Lady B's great "how to" article on tincturing fresh Teasel root on her blog here.

Living in Florida, I don't have access to fresh Teasel root, therefore I made up a batch of dried Teasel root tincture using Dipsacus fullonum roots from Mountain Rose Herbs.  
I like to make up tinctures using a straightforward method described in my favorite beginners herbal which is Common Herbs for Natural Health by Juliette de Bairacli Levy.  I ground 2 oz of teasel root to a fine powder using a Vitamix.  A coffee grinder or mortar and pestel would work well also.  I added this powdered root to a glass jar together with 4 cups of plain (unflavored) 100 proof grain alcohol.  Plain 100 proof brandy or vodka would also work.  I then covered the jar with a tight lid and shook up the tincture close to daily over about 6 weeks. Juliette suggests that 2 weeks is sufficient for tincturing dried powdered herbs when the tincture is made in a warm place or in the sun and shook many times per day.   I strained this tincture through a coffee filter, bottled some for friends, and put some away in my dark herb cabinet where it can be stored indefinitely for future use.  The taste is very bitter, a good sign.

Dosing for Lyme Disease

In the Barbara's video she refers to her website, Lady Barbara's Garden for more information on Teasel and dosing with tincture made from fresh Teasel tincture. I am not sure what the ongoing status is for her website, therefore I have archived a copy to the web on google drive which can be accessed here.  Please visit one of those pages for more information on dosing. Mary from Cresent Moon Herbals, like Lady B and Matthew Wood recommend very small dosages of her tincture made from dry root, building up to higher dosages with time.

Teasel Root Giveaway from Mountain Rose Herbs

Big thanks to Mountain Rose for sponsoring our Teasel blog post.  Mountain Rose is offering 4 oz of dried Teasel root, D. fullonum to one winner residing in the US.  You can enter to win using the rafflecopter widget below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Have you used tincture from fresh or dry Dipsacus root?  We would love to know your results and what species you used.  Please feel welcome to leave a comment below.  

Information on preparation methods for Asian Dipsacus species is from my Pharmacopoeia
class notes from Dr. Li Jin, OMD 2001 at NIAOM.  

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