Tuesday, February 14, 2012


One thing we can all count on at some point during the year is pain, be it temporary from a self-limiting problem or chronic from a long-term issue. Early February is the time to plan the summer’s herbal harvest and this year my sweetheart entered several pain relievers on our order form. It will be our first try for California poppies, a legal variety of the far Eastern kind, so I’ll let you know how it’s tincturing and use goes next fall. Our best pain formula to date contains tinctures of a different pain killer (Indian pipe), an anti-inflammatory (willow bark), and a sedative muscle relaxant (hops).

Indian pipe

Indian pipe (Monotropa uniflora) is an odd flowering plant without chlorophyll. The white stem sprouts from the eastern forest floor after a summer rain and quickly unfurls a pink-hearted flower if moisture remains.  Just as quickly it involutes and disappears if disturbed or the soil dries out. Since it extracts best fresh into a lovely violet tincture, it’s best to carry a jar of 50% or higher alcohol on summer hikes. I’ve seen a path full of this rare ephemeral plant disappear when I returned the next day to collect it. But be careful to take only stems and leave plenty untouched in order to preserve the population.

Willow blossoms

The pain relief of Indian pipe is complemented nicely by the anti-inflammatory effects of willow bark, the original source of salicylic acid in Aspirin. White willow (Salix alba) is the classic medicinal species but any will do including weeping willow, pussy willow, and the wild North American species black willow (Salix nigra). It’s tedious to strip off the inner bark from the trunks of these trees but quite simple to snip off thin terminal branches into small pieces for extraction as tea or tincture. Wild yam root (Dioscorea species) is an anti-inflammatory alternative to willow and also adds a muscle relaxant effect.

For nighttime pain, a sedative can be added to an herbal analgesic formula. I like hops (Humulus lupus) because it climbs up our back porch each summer with its bitter strobiles. Since these fruits are so feathery, you’ll need to tincture them in a blender to achieve the usual 1:5 plant to alcohol ratio for dried herbs. Other garden sedative pain relievers are lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), valerian root (Valeriana officinalis), and passionflower (Passiflora incarnata). 

Hops strobiles in late fall

HERBALIST’S NOTE: Pain is a symptom which expresses that something is wrong with the body, mind, or spirit. It is important to listen to pain and make any necessary changes in lifestyle to alter its causes.


Indian pipe (Monotropa uniflora) 1:2 in 70% - 2/3oz (1 part)
willow bark (Salix alba) 1:5 in 50% - 2/3oz (1 part)
hops (Humulus lupus) 1:5 in 40% - 2/3oz (1 part)

1) Pour Indian pipe, willow bark, and hops tinctures into a 2oz dropper bottle;
2) Take 1-3 droppers (10-30 drops) at bedtime for overnight pain relief.

DOCTOR’S NOTE: Avoid sedatives before driving or operating machinery; Avoid willow bark if allergic to Aspirin.

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