Bruises and Bleeding

A photograph of a bumblebee on marigold flowers.

When I first trained in Chinese Herbal Medicine 12 years ago, I chose a company in Manchester headed by a Professor of Chinese Medicine, Shulan Tang. Shulan is from a family of Chinese doctors and, following a childhood of Cultural Revolution, did the usual full training of 7 years combined conventional and Chinese medicine.

Chinese Herbal Medicine at that time was quite unregulated in the UK and both the ingredients and the packaging looked very different from the high end cosmetic style pills that are seen today.

I had a few favourites whilst I was training, one of which was a product for cuts and bruises.

It was a white powder made from 4 dried and ground Chinese herbs. It came in a tiny, hand blown glass bottle, plugged with a cork, sealed with bees wax and wound with string to further secure the cork. The bottle itself came in a little cardboard matchbox, padded with cotton wool and enclosing a minute leaflet. The leaflet explained that the powder was especially useful for gun shot wounds; the bottle should be easily available so that the powder could be carefully poured into the bullet hole as soon as possible. Embedded in the underside of the cork was a single, little, white pill to help stop internal bleeding.

Modern Chinese Herbal treatment uses the same principals of treatment, just packages, choses and sources herbs in a way that better suits the modern world.

There are a whole range of herbs and acupuncture points which deal with bruising and bleeding. (It might seem quite ironic to think of acupuncture as an intervention to deal with bruising and bleeding! Actually, even though I might use one thousand acupuncture needles per week, I rarely see blood, and perhaps only one of those needles might cause a little bruise.)

In Chinese Medicine the causes of bleeding might not be obvious. There are, of course the usual causes; nose bleeds, injuries and so on, but the type of bleeding has a distinct form. For example a nose bleed might be gushing or slight; the blood might be bright red or thick and purple.

Spleen Qi deficiency (where, as always Spleen doesn’t relate at all to an anatomical spleen) can result in blood leaking out of blood vessels, while Heat in the blood could cause heavy, more persistent bleeding.

A lot of topical Chinese ointments and creams combine a whole range of herbs for injuries from bumps and falls.

I like to make my own ointments. My favourite base oil is an infusion of marigold (calendula) flowers in safflower oil. Now’s the best time to make this. The best flowers are the open ones, rather than the more decorative pom pom like heads. If you can, pick them fresh on a warm day when the flowers are fully open. If you can’t find any to pick then you can buy them dried from a herbal supplier like Baldwin’s.

Squash as many flowers as will fit into a sterilised, glass jar. Fill the jar with oil, making sure that the oil covers the flowers, then leave the jar on a sunny windowsill for a couple of weeks to infuse. You can strain the flowers off then and the oil should keep for a year or so in a cool place.

This is my favourite anti inflammatory base oil which can be used on its own, or combined with a whole range of other things, depending on what you are treating.

Happy marigold picking!

Anti Viral Potions in February

A photograph of a viola flower

It’s coming towards the end of February and here in the Lake District we’ve been having some breathtakingly beautiful days of cold, clear sunshine with just a hint of Spring in the air.

Today I had a pile of paperwork to do but the day was just too lovely to spend indoors!

Instead I had a ride on a friends horse along an open, grassy stretch of estuary. Toby (the horse) had just recovered from a long spell of mud fever which had left one of his legs swollen and tender with a lot of bare, sore looking skin showing.

I was checking his leg over before riding and a Chinese herb sprang to mind. The herb is a type of Viola flower which is used to help fight infections. In Chinese medicine it’s used a lot, both as a tea and also as a compress of the whole plant, for conditions like boils and skin infections. It’s also used as a component in mixtures of other herbs to help fight bacterial and viral infections, especially those in which there’s a degree of swelling or inflammation, for example tonsillitis.

I found a couple of Viola plants in my vegetable patch this weekend, so I’m planning to pick them, roots and all, and make an oil based lotion for Toby’s leg. Hopefully it’ll protect his skin while the hair grows back, and prevent infection if his skin is broken.

It’s really easy to grow Viola’s. The type used in Chinese medicine is the beautiful little violet and yellow hearts-ease Viola that grows wild in the UK. Here in Cumbria I’ve seen them thriving in sand dunes. They’re robust plants and would grow well in a pot, or out in the garden, as long as some sunshine could get to them and they weren’t overwhelmed by other plants.

Other useful plants to get planting for your home herbal medicine kit would be Marigolds (preferably open flowered rather than the pom-pom type bedding plant), and Dandelions (you might not need to buy seed for these!)

Calendula flowers are fantastic in creams and balms for their anti-inflammatory effect, and Dandelions are used in Chinese Medicine to ward off viral epidemics. My Chinese Herbal Medicine tutor, Professor Shulan Tang, used to reminisce about her childhood in the country side of China, living on community farms. She told us that if there were an outbreak of meningitis in the area, then huge vats of whole Dandelion plants cooked in water would be prepared, for every one to drink, as a preventative.

I like the idea of being able to make some remedies with ingredients that you can grow yourself. I’ll add to my medical chest list as I think of things over my next few posts.

Now I’m off to the kitchen myself to cook up my ointment for Toby.

Healthy Winter skin

Apologies for such a long break from writing!

It’s nearly the end of January now. Still mid-Winter out in my garden. The first snowdrops are just starting to push through appropriately snowy flower beds, and my bees are fast asleep. At least I hope they are! This is my first year of keeping bees and I’m keeping a very close eye on my new hive.

In Chinese medicine, the cold weather and lack of sunshine take a toll on our skin. It’s a good idea to spend some extra time taking care of it.

I like to make my own skin balms. Collecting herbs and flowers to infuse in oils is a favourite late Summer activity for me.

Now, in Winter the same oils can be used for making muscle rubs, lip balm and nourishing,moisturising skin cream.

My favourite base for Winter skin cream is organic callendula flowers infused in safflower oil. I cover the flowers with oil and leave on a sunny window sill for a couple of weeks until the oil has taken up the beautiful, rich, marigold colour. This oil is used as a natural anti-inflammatory in Chinese medicine and is gentle enough to use on children.

I mix the infused oil with aloe vera, apricot kernel oil, arnica, wheat germ oil, rose hip oilneem, coco butter, shea butter and bees wax.

This is another reason that I’m keeping such a close eye on my bees!

Next year I’m hoping to be able to use my own organic bees wax. I’m going to try using the hive propalis too as a natural anti viral for a cold-sore treatment.

In the meantime the days are getting longer at last, but the dark mornings remind us that it is still Winter. Keep wrapped up, stretch, catch up on sleep and try to include nourishing, warm, soups in your diet so that you’re ready for the extra hours in the day when they finally arrive!