I’ve been sick for the past three weeks. A cold that passed quickly down into my throat, giving me a croupy laryngitis, and then finally settled in my chest… to stay, it seemed. It hung on and on and on. The incessant, mostly dry coughing, the headaches and muscle strains from coughing, the tight, painful chest, the hoarse voice. I was beginning to despair I’d never be well again.
I’d been pushing the fluids and mucilaginous infusions, eating homemade chicken soup, and also using ripe Poke berries* (Phytolacca americana) to stimulate my immune system and Chickweed (Stellaria media) tincture to thin the mucous. I swallowed a few whole Poke berries each day and took a couple doses of the Chickweed (a dropperful each time).
These would always start to move things along soon after taking, but never really pushed me past that threshold where my body could take over and really heal. Immediately after a dose of medicine, or a bowl of chicken soup, or a cup or two of infusion, I would get some expectoration and more productive coughing, and the Poke really did wonders for my chronic body aches and pains, but then my chest would just tighten back up again. The nights and mornings were the worst. What I was doing obviously wasn’t exactly doing the trick.
I was settled that if it didn’t clear up this weekend I would go and get some Mucinex. But turns out I didn’t have to do that. I saw some Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa), otherwise known as pleurisy root, growing nearby yesterday, so off I went to dig some.
Two cups of root tea last evening, one after dinner and one before bed, seems to have cleared this thing right up! After drinking a cup, I coughed up some nasty stuff! And then my chest felt so open and relaxed and I slept so well last night. I’m almost completely well this morning, with just the tiniest hint of a cough every now and then and almost no chest congestion at all. I feel a thousand times better than I did yesterday. I think I’ll drink another cup or two today to finish kicking this thing to the curb!
In researching the Butterfly Weed before I used it, I was interested to learn that in addition to its famed reputation for clearing and dispersing stuck fluids in the chest that it also works to move fluids in the joints and bursa. This was interesting to me because I’ve also had some tennis elbow and a painful shoulder for the last few months, as well as some pain in the carpals of my right wrist (overuse from mouse clicking all day at my day job!!). I’d been using Solomon’s Seal and getting some relief, but not really healing.
I’m thinking that maybe the reason I had such trouble getting rid of this chest cold was due to a constitutional problem with dryness as evidenced by the joint problems, among other symptoms. So, I may continue to work with the Butterfly Weed for a while longer yet to help address the body-wide symptoms of this underlying imbalance of dryness.
Matthew Wood (The Book of Herbal Wisdom) mentions that the flowers of this plant illustrate the way its medicine opens up and disperses fluids in the lungs. I also noticed that the plant itself is overall very dry. You can crush its leaves, break open its stem, cut up its roots, and get almost no moisture from them. The flowers are have the most moisture of the entire plant. To me this is an illustration of its ability to work from an overall dry condition to produce its beautiful orange star burst of dispersed fluids.
This whole experience has really taught me a lot about how to use herbs to treat problems from a constitutional perspective. Looking at all the seemingly unrelated symptoms as an overall pattern, the dots really begin to connect. I’ve read and read about how other herbalists do this, but getting this direct body experience is priceless in my learning process.
*The seeds of Poke berries are toxic, but only if they are broken open. If you swallow the berries whole, the seeds will pass through your body intact and harmless. They are very hard and it is unlikely you would be able to break them open anyway, but just in case, never chew Poke berries! The entire Poke plant has a lot of wonderful uses, but it is a very powerful plant overall and can be toxic if not used properly. It is always taken in very small doses. Be sure to do your research and consult experienced herbalists if you choose to work with this plant.