with Susun S Weed
The enchanting world of the nightshades
My heart is filled with joy that you are still journeying with me into the healing green love of herbal medicine. I so appreciate you, each of you, and your wonderful notes and comments. What special women you are. Are you ready to add a little shiver to your plant journey? I know I promised you a trip to the bazaar in the old city of Jerusalem, but that will have to wait. We've been invited to visit the enchanting world of the nightshades. And I accepted! Don't you want to know about naughty woman's cherries? and sorcerer's herb? and sleeping dwale? I do.
The nightshade family has more magic and mystery surrounding it than any other family of plants. It encompasses food plants such as tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, and peppers, weeds such as black nightshade and bittersweet nightshade, beloved flowers like petunias, and some famous psychedelic poisoners: henbane, belladonna, thorn apple, tree datura, mandrake, and tobacco.
There are 2800 species in the nightshade family - the Solanaceae to the botanist. The few edible species are found only in the new world. All the Solanaceae that grow in Europe, India, and Asia are mind-altering poisons.
When the Old World met the New World, the fear (and respect) associated with the known poisonous nightshades was transferred to the benign, but unknown, edible ones. Europeans thought that eating tomatoes would make you crazy.
(Probably because eating the fruits of belladonna does makes one crazy, thus the common names naughty woman's cherries and crazy cherry.) Tomatoes were grown as ornamental plants only for more than one hundred years after they were introduced to Italian gardeners.
Hundreds of years later, despite abundant scientific evidence to the contrary, numerous people still believe that nightshade family plants are harmful. No study has found a connection between consumption of nightshades and joint pain. Nor do Solanaceae plants "grow at night" and become "dark"
and malign. And potatoes do not make us fat - unless we load them up with lots of butter and sour cream. Baked and boiled potatoes are good wintertime sources of vitamin C.
The poisons in the nightshade family are mostly in the green parts. That's why we don't eat green potatoes. (And why I don't eat green peppers.) We can use these poisons to our advantage, though. Both to poison pests, and to expand our minds. When I lived in a tent, flies were a major problem. A few green tomatoes leaves tied together and hung at the entrance was a highly-effective charm to keep them away. Placing green potato or tomato leaves with dried beans is said to keep them insect-free while stored. One or two of the green berries of the weedy Solanum nigrum or Solanum dulce-mare are quite mind-altering if you don't mind the headache the next day. For a hilarious eye-witness report of the craziness caused by consumption of green potato leaves, one need only read Powell's account in his journal: Down the Colorado.
Among the many poisonous alkaloids found in the leaves and roots of nightshade family plants, atropine and scopolamine are especially notable.
These alkaloids are most concentrated in datura (sorcerer's herb), henbane, and bella donna (Atropa). Atropine is named after Atropa, which is the Greek word for unalterable or inflexible. It refers to the third Fate; the one who ends our lives. Atropine can addle the senses, stop spasms, cause loss of consciousness, paralyse, and kill. Scopolamine became famous in the fifties as "truth serum" which could be used in "brainwashing." During the early part of the twentieth century it was mixed with morphine and given to birthing women to cause a pain-free "twilight sleep."
The nightshades are more frequently used as mind medicine than as body medicine. European wise women favored henbane-assisted flights; while sadhus (and prostitutes) in India often ally with datura. Brugmansia and tobacco are some of the most frequently-used shamanic herbs in the Amazon.
The lore surrounding tobacco is especially rich. Some Native Americans have told me one should avoid looking at the tobacco plant while it is growing or it will steal your spirit. Tobacco ties (colored cloths twists with tobacco inside) are critical to the well-being of the lodge of the stone people (sweat lodge). To ensure a safe journey, throw tobacco into moving water. To show respect, give a gift of tobacco wrapped in red flannel and tied well.
Nonetheless, there are herbal applications. The leaves of nightshades have been smoked to relieve bronchial spasms. The herbalist Gerard reports that datura juice boiled in lard will, when applied, "cureth all inflammations whatsoever." Potatoes are a wonderful drawing poultice. I grate them finely or slice them thinly and apply to burns, bruises, stings, and bites. Nothing draws a cactus thorn out faster than raw potato! Lycopene, found abundantly in tomatoes, is one of the best phytonutrients for preventing - even reversing - prostate cancer. (Is this why tomatoes are known as "love apples?") Remember to cook the tomatoes to free the lycopene; it is inactive in raw tomatoes. The longer the tomato is cooked, the more health it has to give! Herbalists adore cayenne pepper as a reddening counter-irritant to soreness and stiffness in the joints.
It surprises most people to discover that the Solanaceae plant most commonly used as medicine is tobacco. When it was first introduced in Europe, there were few illness it was not reputed to cure. The list of diseases and ailments said to be resolved by smoking or drinking tobacco covered many pages of text. Today we believe tobacco causes lung cancer. Perhaps. Or perhaps it is the chemicals used in growing commercial tobacco, or those used in processing and as additives, that are responsible for initiating cancer, not the tobacco itself.
Mysterious, magical, and medicinal, the nightshade family has something for everyone. Think I'll go enjoy a bowl of hot tomato soup with some french fries. Talk to you again soon. Green blessings.
(You will enjoy The Fascinating World of the Nightshades by Charles B. Heiser, Jr.)
My naturopathic doctor told me I have to do a cleanse to get rid of the numerous toxins in my body. What is this? And why don't you talk about it in your books? Kathy Cautious
The Wise Woman Way focuses on nourishing the wholeness and health of the unique individual. Cleansing ultimately damages the organs of detoxification and destroys the health of the body. A well-nourished liver will do its job - which is to remove toxins from the body - superbly. The liver is not an inert object like a car or a rug that needs to be cleansed. It is not a filter that gets clogged. It is a living organ that constantly replaces itself. The liver is so important that every cell in it is rebuilt every thirty days. Just think! You have a brand new liver every month. There is no need to cleanse it! Love it and nourish it and your liver will be well.
Herbs like milk thistle, dandelion, yellow dock and burdock are often called liver cleansers.They are really liver nourishers. Regular use can protect the liver against damage, as well as improve the rate at which the liver removes toxins, and help the liver rebuild itself in optimum health.
Every hour of every day every drop of blood in the body passes through the liver. The liver decides if the components of the blood can stay in the blood or must be removed (by being sent to the kidneys and thus eliminated).
There are some toxins - such as heavy metals and organochlorine chemicals - that the liver and kidneys can't eliminate. These are usually stored in the fat cells, which act as a jail for unwanted, unneeded, impossible-to-clear substances. "Cleanses" only mobilize fat cells, freeing the toxins stored there and allowing them to do damage. Cleanses do not rid the body of these toxins.
Kelp seaweeds have shown some ability to remove heavy metals, especially mercury, from our tissues. Wakame, kombu, and nereocystis (bullwhip) kelps are the best to use. They can be cooked with beans, with brown rice, in soups and stews, in oatmeal, or in cornbread, muffins, and other savory breads. Herbalists of five hundred years ago prescribed the nightshade henbane to eliminate mercury from the body.
A diet rich in whole foods contains plenty of fiber, which helps immobilize unwanted substances, allowing the body to dump them with the bowel movement. No amount of fiber after the fact will cleanse the intestines. So, don't cleanse! Eat well. Sleep well. And accept the abundant nourishment of the loving Universe. That's the Wise Woman Way.
Optimum Nutrition the Wise Woman Way - 3 CD set
Susun Weed. Green Nations Gathering 1996.
Simple secrets of optium nutrition, beyond rules, beyond heroics.
How to find, choose, prepare, and consume nutrient-dense foods that build vitality, joy, and superior health. Follow digestion from start to finish, encounter the mysterious cell wall, and marvel at the microbes that feed you.
Learn about the health-negative effects of vitamin/mineral supplements, problems with sprouts and juices, long-term difficulties caused by low fat, vegan, macrobiotic, and raw food diets.
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