Dark blue berries and star shaped clusters of cream white blossoms with a strong sweet and musty aroma, the elder is one of the most famous and revered of all herbs in the Western Hemisphere.

‘Our forefathers also held the Ellhorn holy wherefore whoever need to hew it down (or cut its branches) has first to make request “Lady Ellhorn, give me some of thy wood and I will give thee some of mine when it grows in the forest” – the which, with partly bended knees, bare head and folded arms was ordinarily done, as I myself have often seen and heard in my younger years.’ (Arnkiel)

Used for thousands of years as protection against the invasion of evil influences both physical and spiritual, today elder is recognized as an effective anti-viral. Tracing it’s use back to several thousand years before the common era, the elder tree has been one of humanities allies long before recorded history ever remarked upon its virtues. The entire plant, from the bark and leaves, to the flowers and berries has been used for everything from food and medicine to flutes and toys. Over the millennia elder has gained a reputation for having influence over spiritual forces, both evil and good.

In Cole’s Art of Simpling he relates:

‘in order to prevent witches from entering their houses, the common people used to gather Elder leaves on the last day of April and affix them to their doors and windows,’

Lady Northcote in The Book of Herbs says:

‘The Russians believe that Elder-trees drive away evil spirits, and the Bohemians go to it with a spell to take away fever. The Sicilians think that sticks of its wood will kill serpents and drive away robbers, and the Serbs introduce a stick of Elder into their wedding ceremonies to bring good luck. In England it was thought that the Elder was never struck by lightning, and a twig of it tied into three or four knots and carried in the pocket was a charm against rheumatism. A cross made of Elder and fastened to cowhouses and stables was supposed to keep all evil from the animals.’

Potent Antiviral

Today, the flower and berries of the elder plant have been extensively studied for their potent antiviral abilities against influenza and herpes simplex 1. They have also been shown to be anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory and antipyretic (lowers fever). Elder’s blue berries are also high in Vitamin C, making elder a perfect herbal remedy with direct action against the virus or bacteria making you sick, and also relieving the many side effects that come along such as a high fever, sore throat, and inflamed airways.

Chinese Medicine and More

In Chinese Medicine Elder is described as cooling and able to expel superficial heat causing symptoms of cough, sore throat and malaise. This is the same use as what modern research indicates. Elder’s cooling nature is especially helpful at breaking a fever, and relieving the upper and outer areas of your body like the sinuses, throat and skin when they feel warm, congested and are inflamed. While best to take in the first days before feeling very sick, elderberry is a perfect immune boost even if you are already suffering from a cold or flu. More than just a cold and flu remedy however elder has many medicinal compounds inside that are antioxidant, beneficial for blood pressure and also assist in blood sugar metabolism.

Great Recipes to Enjoy

If you want to make your own medicine from elder it is quite easy. Simply make a tea with the freshly picked flowers or blue berries. Elder wine is a common treat enjoyed in Europe and a syrup made with the berries is a great way to get your kids to take their medicine. Click here for many great recipes using elder such as vinegar, syrup and a tasty cordial. I look forward to making this cordial every year! Keep in mind however, there are many types of elder tree out there though, and while the flowers and leaves can be used medicinally in all species, the blue berries are the only berries that should be consumed in any significant quantity. So, if you live in Colorado like I do where the main type of elder that grows in the mountains contains the red berries, please, only consume the flowers and not the berries.

  1. Chevalier, Andrew. Natural Health Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine 2nd ed. New York, New York: Dorling Kindersley Ltd, 2000.
  2. Garran, Thomas Avery. (2008) Western Herbs According to Traditional Chinese Medicine: A Practitioner’s Guide. Rochester,      Vermont: Healing Arts Press.
  3. Grieve, Maude. (1971) A Modern Herbal. New York: Dover Publications, Inc.
  4. Hearst, Caroline et al. (2010) Antibacterial activity of elder (Sambucus nigra L.) flower or berry against hospital pathogens. Journal of Medicinal Plants Research, 4(17), 1805-1809.
  5. Vlachojannis, J. E., Cameron, M and Chrubasik, S. (2010) A Systematic Review on the Sambuci fructus Effect and Efficacy Profiles, Phytotheapy Research, 24, 1–8.

The deep red, orange and yellow leaves rustle in the crisp autumn wind. Day by day the sun sets a little earlier and the nights get cooler. Fall time. That magical transition between the heat of summer and the chill of winter where nature sheds the old before hibernating and beginning anew. So many iconic flavors and smells permeate the air this time of year but one of the most iconic is Pumpkin Spice. What is it about this blend of sweet and spicy herbs that we all love so much? Even the smell seems to soothe and comfort bringing thoughts of cuddling in front of the fire while scents of cinnamon and nutmeg waft through the house from a tasty treat baking in the warm oven. This blend of spices can vary, but is usually a blend of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, clove and allspice.

All these herbs are considered to be warming in herbal medicine. Warming doesn’t necessarily refer to an actual hot temperature, although some may raise your body temperature and even cause you to sweat, but instead warming herbs more often refer to herbs that are able to increase movement, activity and circulation in the body. As it gets colder this time of year this blend of herbs can improve circulation in the body, reduce inflammation and help conditions such as arthritis and joint pain that often get worse in the wintertime. All these herbs also help the digestion. Helpful if you’re feasting more this holiday season, many studies have shown cinnamon’s ability to help reduce cholesterol and improve sugar metabolism. Ginger helps with this as well, and is also well known to reduce nausea, stomach upset, gas and bloating. Cloves, nutmeg and allspice have traditionally been used for digestive upset too. One of the most helpful attributes of these herbs however is to fight off infection. As cold and flu season comes into full swing, the aromatic chemicals that give these herbs their distinctive smells are all highly anti-bacterial. So if that wasn’t enough for you, placing clove oil on a sore tooth can reduce dental pain, and nutmeg has been shown to help reduce the degeneration of neural pathways that may lead to dementia or Alzheimer’s. Below is a recipe for some pumpkin spice you can make at home. Feel free to play with the proportions depending on what you like and add it to your coffee, oatmeal, or steamed milk with a little sweetener to make a tasty chai-like tea. Enjoy this traditional herbal blend with some great health benefits this season!

Pumpkin Spice Blend

2 Tbsp cinnamon

2 tsp ginger

2 tsp nutmeg

1 tsp cloves

1 tsp allspice


What Is Holistic Rheumatology?

This is a specialty where we focus on treating pain and inflammation of the musculoskeletal system using natural holistic treatments. In this post we’ll discuss the many holistic solutions to rheumatological diseases such as Fibromyalgia, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Lupus, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and more.

Why Do We Have Pain?

Before we talk about how to get you out of pain it’s important to know why we have pain in the first place? Think of a suspension bridge like the Golden Gate Bridge. Tall, red, steel towers, with arching cables spanning the length of the bridge reaching to the steel girders lining the pavement of the road below. This suspension bridge is a great analogy for the way our body is constructed. The steel cables are like our muscles, tendons, and connective tissue and are attached to the large steel supports and the road, which are like our bones. All these must be balanced and even for the bridge to be usable; just like the tissues in our body must be balanced and healthy for all the blood vessels and organs to have clear passage and space to function. If the steel cables of the bridge have uneven tension one side is pulling more than the other, and it would begin to pull the whole bridge up in one spot while another spot would sink. In the short run, if the amount of pulling was small, it may not cause permanent damage, but over time cracks develop and the cables weaken from this imbalanced tension. This must be repaired, or eventually everything will collapse. The same is true with our body, if one area is continually pulled or pushed more than another, the body must adapt or collapse. The way we repair a bridge is by sending in construction crews. The construction crew must be able to easily drive along the road in order to deliver all the necessary equipment to the bridge, then they must block the area they are working on in order to give them space to do their work. In our body the “construction crew” is our immune system and the response and flow of this crew is dependent upon the vessels in our body and a proper inflammatory response. Like the construction crew rushing to the area, our body increases blood flow to an injured area and immune cells infiltrate the spot to break down the damaged tissue and repair it. Like the orange cones and flashing signs blocking the work site, the nerves send a pain signal as a warning to restrict movement in the area and prevent further damage.

Is Inflammation a Bad Thing?

Overall, inflammation is not a bad thing. Just like a construction zone, it may not be convenient, but it is our bodies natural repair mechanism and the only way it can heal the damage. Of course, we’ve all heard the hype around chronic inflammation being a bad thing and causing many diseases such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes, but this is different than a short amount of inflammation. In our bridge analogy chronic inflammation is similar to our bridge continually breaking and the construction crew continually blocking traffic across. We’ve all tried to drive along roads that are always under construction and know the pain and annoyance this causes. More than just an annoyance however, what if this bridge is the only way in and out of a city? How well will the city function if supply trucks, workers, and residents can never get in and out efficiently? This is what is happening in the body when we experience continual, chronic injuries and inflammation and don’t allow for proper healing. So, yes, while inflammation is inherently not a bad thing, chronic inflammation, like a construction crew that never finishes will cause everything to become more congested.

How Can We Heal?

Fortunately, there are many things we can do to help our “construction crew.” We must treat the root of the pain, keep inflammation in check and maintain free and open pathways of healing. Holistic Rheumatology utilizes many tools of natural health to assist your body’s natural healing mechanisms.  When we use Acupuncture to heal the body, the acupuncture needle alerts the body to the area of damage. If our Golden Gate Bridge has a crack in it, someone must see the damage and call the repair crew. An acupuncture needle is doing just this. By inserting a needle into the body, it is signaling the brain and the immune system to recognize the damage and quickly send help. Herbal medicines are another great tool to help our body heal. They are like the tools and resources our construction crew uses in order to fix the damaged structures of the bridge. Perhaps we need asphalt to repair the road, cement, more steel cables, or more cones or barriers to block the area off. In the same way herbal plants are jam packed with minerals, vitamins and nutrients our body needs in order to nourish our tissues and provide it with the resources and tools it needs to heal. How do the engineers know how to build and repair the bridge in the first place? They run simulations and experiments in order to test their ideas and materials. This is what exercise and stretching does for us. By stretching and exercising we are modeling and practicing the activities and movements our body may have to perform. By physically training our body daily, we are forcing the body to adapt and change, so when we are unlucky and get into a car accident, or fall, we’ve already put our body into a position that it recognizes, we’ve already strengthened it sufficiently, and now it will not become injured so severely. No physical structure, neither our body nor a bridge, can continually function smoothly without continual routine maintenance and repair. The food we eat every day provides nourishment and resources to our body, so everything runs smoothly and efficiently and can provide the day to day maintenance it requires. This is why I combine multiple modalities in my practice to heal your pain. Nutrition alone, while providing the resources for routine maintenance is not always enough to repair recent damage. Herbs, while giving your body important tools to heal tissue damage and calm chronic inflammation, are not as quick at signaling the brain and the immune system as acupuncture is. Acupuncture, while sending a good strong signal, is not going to smooth out the bumps in the road. For this massage is best at maintaining smooth and efficient movement along your muscles and tissues. This is why at Wiseman Natural Health all these modalities of natural medicine are combined to give you the best tools available to stimulate your body’s natural healing mechanisms and keep you healthy every day.

During the SARS epidemic “health workers (took) herbal formulas to boost their immune system and combat the virus. Equally, patients treated with Chinese herbal formulas were achieving a much higher success rate compared to the Western medical approach of using the antiviral ribavirin combined with steroids.(Reuters, April 21, 2003)

As this quote shows Chinese Herbal Medicine has been highly effective at treating epidemic diseases such as SARS and the same holds true for other diseases that are simpler such as the common cold and flu. In fact, Chinese Herbal Medicine is not the only form of herbal medicine that has demonstrated effectiveness in treating these diseases and many other traditions of herbal medicine throughout the world also contain efficacious herbs. There is a certain sense of irony as each year fear over a flu pandemic grows, and yet there have been effective herbal treatments for this and other infectious diseases.

One of the most important qualities of herbal medicine that makes it highly effective in treating these diseases is the differing diagnostic criteria compared to Western Medicine. For example, in western medicine to treat influenza the same treatments are always used. First, one must provide an influenza vaccination to prevent influenza, and if a person contracts the virus and is in a vulnerable state then treat the symptoms. Unfortunately, as recent history demonstrates the efficacy of these treatments is not always that great because there is limited ability to treat the virus itself. Herbal medicine on the other hand treats illness according to each person’s unique set of symptoms and therefore different herbs are used at different stages of disease. There are always going to be similarities and differences in each disease presentation, but whereas western medicine may diagnose the same illness in two people and therefore prescribe the same treatment, herbal medicine may view the same disease as having two differing diagnoses.

When we are discussing colds and flus in Chinese Medicine there are two main criteria for diagnoses, cold and heat. In Chinese Medicine humans and nature are inseparable parts of the same whole and under the same influences. Therefore, out in nature there are many influences upon the environment such as cold, wind, heat, humidity and dryness and these influences can also affect your body. For example, if you have contracted the flu and you have chills, very achey muscles, possibly a headache, some nausea, a runny and congested nose with clear mucus then these symptoms are most likely due to cold. Cold causes things to contract and be tight and aching so those are the main symptoms experienced and one must use warming herbs to disperse the cold.. On the other hand if you have a severe sore throat, a headache, nausea and a fever this is most likely due to heat and “light and fluffy” herbs that float to the upper body and release the cold through the surface are used. While there are many different formulas and herbs that could be used I will focus on a few that have been shown to be highly effective.

The first group of herbs I will discuss are ones that are better at treating what in Chinese Medicine is known as heat. The most common symptoms seen with this pattern of diseases usually includes sore throat, fever and cough with colored mucus and is most often treated with a formula in Chinese Medicine called Yin Qiao San. Within this formula are 10 herbs, some of which I will discuss later, but the main herbs for which the formula is named after are Jin Yin Hua(Honeysuckle) and Lian Qiao(forsythia). The overall formula inhibits viruses and enhances the immune systems ability to attack against pathogens. It is anti-pyretic, anti-inflammatory, anti-allergy and enhances the phagocytic ability of macrophages. The main herbs in this formula, Jin Yin Hua and Lian Qiao have these effects and more. They are also effective at relieving cough and Lian Qiao is highly effective against the influenza virus. Two other herbs within this formula Jing Jie and Mint both contain high quantities of menthol or menthol like chemicals which have effects at alleviating pain, inhibiting bacteria, decreasing inflammation and reducing fever. Mint, in its various forms has been an herb highly valued in Western Herbal medicine for many centuries. In the Bible it is described as being used as a tithe to the Pharisees. The form used in Chinese Medicine differs slightly to that used in Western Herbal medicine but both have similar constituents and activities. Two other herbs which are being used more for there powerful anti-viral and anti-bacterial effects are ban lan gen(isatis) and Huang Qin(Scute). Ban Lan Gen’s effectiveness has been demonstrated in numerous studies to be effective at treating many different infectious diseases from bacterial endotoxins to lyme disease and influenza. Huang Qin has also been shown to be highly effective at treating many forms of infection as well as being anti-inflammatory and slightly sedative. In fact, the form of scute used in western medicine differs from that of Chinese version and is used primarily as a sedative.

Several western herbs are worth mentioning here as well, namely goldenseal, chamomile, olive leaf, oregano and thyme. Goldenseal contains a highly antiseptic ingredient called berberine. Along with thyme, the essential oil of oregano and olive leaf these herbs are extremely effective at treating bacteria and viruses. Chamomile is an herb that is used for many differing complaints from digestive upset, to nervousness and irritability but also contains constituents which have anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial effects that would help in treating colds and flus. A Chinese herb, Ju Hua(Chrysanthemum) has similar effects to chamomile and is traditionally used for similar complaints.

As mentioned before however, there are differing symptoms a person may have when they contract a common cold or flu. When these infections take hold it is possible one may not have a sore throat, but instead have muscle aches, more chills than fever, clear mucus and possibly a headache. These symptoms are associated with a different pattern in Chinese Medicine and while the aforementioned herbs may help there are different herbs that are used more effectively. The herbs used in this situation tend to be “warmer” according to Chinese Medcine. These are herbs such as Ma Huang(ephedra), Gui Zhi(cinnamon) and Sheng Jiang(ginger). In western medicine herbs such as thyme, garlic, the already mentioned ginger and oregano fall in this category. Interestingly, all these herbs demonstrate anti-microbial, anti-viral and anti-inflammatory effects. However, these herbs also have differing effects on increasing superficial circulation, inducing sweat and relieving pain which assists in relieving the aching feeling and enhancing the immune systems abilities to fight infection. Some of these herbs such as ma huang are highly effective at dilating the bronchioles in cases of respiratory inflammation, reducing fever, and assisting the immune system as well. Overall, depending on what symptoms and what area of the body is more affected one can use differing herbs.

Often these herbs are combined with other herbs to further enhance the immune system’s ability to fight off infection during a cold or more importantly to prevent an infection from taking hold in the first place. One main formula for this purpose in Chinese Medicine is Yu Ping Feng San or the Jade Windscreen. There are only three herbs in this formula one of which has become extremely popular in both western and Chinese herbal medicine, Huang Qi(Astragalus). This herb is used in enhancing the immune function not only in respect to preventing colds and flus, but is commonly used in China during cancer treatment to prevent the damaging effects on the immune system. Echinacea is a common herb in Western herbal medicine that is used for a similar purpose. It has been shown to have marked effects on increasing the white blood cells function of fighting infections.

Overall, the most important thing to keep in mind when treating and/or preventing the common cold and flu is to treat the symptoms as they are presenting in you. For example, you may be a person that always gets a sore throat when you get sick or you may be different and instead always get achey joints and chills. Depending on who you are different herbs may be more effective. When in doubt seek a qualified herbal practitioner in order to receive a proper diagnosis and treatment.

Fall is now upon us and that means falling leaves, cooler weather, Halloween costumes and of course those dreaded colds and flus. During this time of year I treat many people for their runny noses, sore throats and coughs and thought it would be beneficial to give a few tips from Chinese Medicine on how to stay healthy this season.

In Chinese Medicine there are five main elements that not only govern the world around us, but also our bodies within. Fall time is associated with the metal element which corresponds to the Lungs in Chinese Medicine. Traditionally, humans would use metal tools in order to perform many functions such as defending themselves from attack, reaping the crops for the harvest, or pruning back the plants in preparation for the winter. These functions are all attributed to the Lungs as well. The lungs are in charge of your bodies defenses and must mount a proper immune response and they must harvest the oxygen and nutrients from the air through the process of respiration. They must also prune back the waste material and rid the body of carbon dioxide and also rid other waste products through the paired organ of the Large Intestine. Just as the tress must shed their leaves each year so must your body shed unwanted and used material on a regular basis.

Chinese Medicine uses acupuncture, herbs and nutrition to support all these functions of the Lungs in order to maintain a healthy system and fight off any viruses that may be trying to take hold. First of all, receiving regular acupuncture if you’re prone to getting sick or if you are already experiencing symptoms can boost your immune system and reduce the time it takes to kick that cold. Secondly, there are many very classic herbal formulas that have been used in Chinese Medicine for centuries that support the immune system, actively fight off bacteria and viruses and reduce any symptoms such as cough, sore throat or a runny nose. Finally, proper nutrition is essential for maintaining your bodies immune system and can even reduce any symptoms that you may be experiencing. Some specific foods such as mushrooms are great for boosting the immune system and keeping your body strong. Apples, pears and almonds are all fruits that are harvested in the fall and extremely beneficial to the lungs. During this time of year, especially in Colorado, the lungs are prone to dryness and we easily get that dry sore throat, sticky sputum that is difficult to cough up and causes irritation and cough. Foods such as apples, pears and almonds help moisten the lungs, soothe that dry and irritated throat and reduce coughing. A traditional recipe from China calls for an Asian pear cut in half and scoop out a small section in the middle of each half. Fill with slivered almonds, rock sugar and cinnamon and place in the oven at 400 degrees until soft. (If rock sugar is not available use good quality local honey.)

So, remember while you’re enjoying those beautiful fall colors and trying to stay healthy to eat healthily and treat any symptoms that come up before it manifests into a severe cold.