Podcast 090: 3 Medicinal Invasive Plants

Where does loosestrife belong? Is barberry a badberry? And what’s with all the knotweed everywhere?! Most folks will tell you it’s simple: “These are invasive plants. They’re bullies, who take over an area and crowd out “native” plants! They need to be pulled out, root and branch! No use for ’em – not a good seed in the lot!” … Whew. If that were true, there’d be no such thing as medicinal invasive plants – but we’re here to tell you, there is such a thing. Many such, actually!

In this episode we’ll tell you all about three of our favorite “invasive” herbs in our part of the world: purple loosestrife, Japanese knotweed, and barberry (European and Japanese varieties). We’ll explore each one’s medicinal virtues and specific talents, drawing insights from historical & traditional practice, phytochemistry, and our own experiences working with these plants to solve problems and improve health.

In the process, we’ll work to challenge some of the underlying assumptions in the standard narrative about invasive plants. Too often, this concept is predicated on unexamined biased assumptions about what it means to be “native” and what it means to be otherwise. The truth is, plants aren’t native to geography, they’re native to ecology. As the environment changes, the places plants live must change too. Thinking differently about invasives can help us better understand and relate to our changing world. And where better to begin than with some common, underappreciated, but potent medicinal invasive plants?

Herbs discussed include purple loosestrife, Japanese knotweed, barberry, & autumn olive.

Also mentioned in this episode:

If you’re a regular listener, by now you’ve heard us talk about our podcast supporters – and maybe you’re wondering how to become one, yourself! Well, let me make it easy for you – all you need to do is click this link to support us at $5/month, or this one to support us at $10/month. At either level you’ll get immediate access to our weekly supporters video series. These exclusive videos come out every week and are only for our supporters. So if you’d like to help us keep our podcast, free clinics, scholarships, and other projects going strong – and get some goodies for your generosity – we’d very much appreciate it!

As always, please subscribe & review our podcast wherever you listen, so others can find it more easily. Thank you!!

Our theme music is “Wings” by Nicolai Heidlas.


Episode Transcript

Katja (00:15):
Hi, I’m Katja.

Ryn (00:15):
And I’m Ryn.

Katja (00:17):
And we’re here at the Commonwealth Center for Holistic Herbalism in Boston, Massachusetts.

Ryn (00:21):
And on the internet everywhere. Thanks to the power of the podcast.

Katja (00:26):
Woohoo! So this week we’re going to talk about Purple Loosestrife, Japanese Knotweed and Barberry.

Ryn (00:35):

Katja (00:35):
And the bonus plant Autumn Olive.

Ryn (00:37):
Oh are we?

Katja (00:37):
Yes. I’m excited about that.

Ryn (00:39):
You gave away the bonus right at the beginning? Right there?

Katja (00:42):
It’s very exciting.

Ryn (00:43):
Now they know what’s coming so they’ll stick around to the end.

Katja (00:45):
Yes, yes.

Ryn (00:46):
Sounds like a plan.

Katja (00:48):
So on the Massachusetts Audubon Society website, they state “invasive plants are one of the greatest threats to the nature of Massachusetts because they out-compete, displace or kill native species”. But I completely disagree with that statement. Just 100% disagreement. Well maybe 99% disagreement. And maybe by the end of this episode you also will disagree maybe just a little bit. Not you. Dear listener.

Ryn (01:20):
Dear listener.

Katja (01:21):
Yes. Yes. I’m looking at Ryn and he’s looking at me like no, no, I disagree with that already [laughter]

Ryn (01:28):
Yeah. So we’ll see if we can convert you there. But first the reclaimer.

Katja (01:33):

Ryn (01:34):
We are not doctors. We are herbalists and holistic health educators.

Katja (01:38):
The ideas discussed on this podcast do not constitute medical advice. No state or federal authority licenses herbalists in the United States. So these discussions are for educational purposes only. Everyone’s body is different. So the things that we’re talking about may or may not apply directly to you, but we hope that they’ll give you some good information to think about and research further.

Ryn (01:59):
We want to remind you that good health is your own personal responsibility and that the final decision when considering any course of therapy, whether to follow it or not is always yours.

Ecology & History

Katja (02:09):
All right. Well I’m pretty excited to talk about Purple Loosestrife. Because it’s really one of my favorite plants ever.

Ryn (02:19):
It sure is. Yeah. You really fell in love with this one.

Katja (02:22):
I really did. And sometimes when I tell people that Purple Loosestrife is one of my favorite plants, they agree with me. They’re like, Oh my God, I love that plant. And sometimes when I tell people that they get really like even aggressive and tell me that I’m a terrible person and it’s an invasive species and we should just kill all of it. And so I want to make an argument for the importance of Purple Loosestrife here.

Ryn (02:52):
Our good friends. Lythrum salicaria.

Katja (02:56):
Yes. So, first of all, I guess maybe kind of to kick off this whole conversation, I’d like to mention a book by Ken Thompson called ‘Where do Camels belong?’ And this is a really good book in trying to understand the concept of invasive species and looking at what things should we consider invasive and how should we define what invasive is. And at what point? Like should we make the cutoff for things that are native versus things that aren’t?

Ryn (03:37):
Yeah. Right. A lot of times it’s if it didn’t exist in North America before 1492, then it’s introduced and if it’s introduced and it grows really excitedly and easily and thoroughly and all of that, then we’re going to call it invasive. Those two elements together.

Katja (03:56):
There’s a piece of conservation land in Waltham, is it Waltham? It might be on the border of Waltham, that is being managed. And they’re clearing out the invasive species and their stated date is in the 1800s and they’re managing it to the state that it was in, in the 1800s. Well that’s not the native state that it was, that’s just they picked a time in history that they decided it was pretty and they want to keep it like that.

Ryn (04:26):
Yeah, there’s usually an arbitrariness of that type for that kind.

Katja (04:29):
Yeah. And I mean I also want to say from the outset, there is nothing wrong with that. Anybody who keeps a garden knows that you make decisions about which plants stay and which plants go. And just like in your home when you clear old things out that you’re not really working with any more, that’s not really using anymore, that you don’t really need anymore to make space for other things. Just like in your own life when you clear out old habits that aren’t really serving you anymore so that you keep focus on new behaviors. There’s nothing wrong with making decisions about land management. I just think that we should be a little smarter about how we define things as invasive. And this book ‘Where do Camels belong’ really does a very intelligent job of examining that.

Ryn (05:22):
Right. And neither that author nor us are saying that there’s no case ever where a plant or particularly an animal or insect species could get introduced to an area and cause damage. You know, it’s just that most places aren’t Guam. Guam has really big problems because snakes were introduced to the Island and the snakes happened to be very good at eating birds and fast forward a while and now there’s not really many birds left on Guam. So that’s a case where, yeah, an introduced species became invasive and caused serious ecological damage and species loss and all of that. But most places aren’t Guam.

Katja (06:05):
Yeah, exactly. And you know, again, if you put mint in your garden and you don’t tend to it, very quickly your garden will be mint. And that may or may not be what you desire. And that’s okay. Manage that. But that doesn’t necessarily mean we need to kill all the mint everywhere.

Ryn (06:24):
Yeah. There’s an aspect here too, you know, you’re talking about managing it and a lot of times what people are worried about is like, Oh, there’s wilderness over here. There’s conserved space, there’s land that is close to wild or looks to be managed wild or something. And, our concern is that the Loosestrife and the Barberry are coming in there and they’re going to crowd out all of the native plants and then there’s going to be a bad problem. But it’s a weird sort of intersection between, I want this land to be like untouched and wild and represent an unchanging state of nature that has never actually been true but I imagine it. And also I don’t want to have to have there be an ongoing human relationship with that either. I want there to be a fence around this and I want no humans to go in there and I want it to look like it did at some particular point in time in history and stay that way and not change. But I also don’t want humans to be relating with that piece of land on a daily or an ongoing basis. And the thing is that, you know, the forests that were here in 1492 they were heavily managed. They were just not managed in the way that the Europeans were used to. And so they didn’t perceive it in that way. But all around this country there was a ton, and I mean this both North and South America, there were massive land works and large ecosystem projects and things like this that people were undertaking. And those interventions shaped the flora. They shaped what kind of plants were prevalent and which ones were most abundant and all those other kinds of things. So you know, these two pieces of the invasive story, they don’t really fit together very well.

Katja (08:06):
Actually I’m reading right now or listening to it on audio book, ‘The secret Wisdom of Nature’ by Peter Wohlleben. And he has several chapters in this book talking about the way that humans have been shaping the environment since before we were legitimately human. Further back then we can genetically be called human. But it’s not just humans. If you look at the work that they did in Yellowstone when they brought in the wolves, it literally changed the path of the river.

Ryn (08:45):
Right, I was just thinking of a video. Yeah.

Katja (08:47):
Yeah. And so I think this concept that A, that nature is unchanging, definitely is a concept, that if you have never had a child and if you have never lived with a body of water, maybe you can believe in, but just like children, nature grows and changes all of the time. And that lesson really came home for me in a really personal way. The first time that I lived on property that had a river running through it. And I had this great idea that a particular place where the river was sort of eating away at the bank I was going to stop that from happening, that bad, bad erosion. I was going to fix that problem and not let the river erode that bank and wow [chuckles] do I ever learn a lesson there about just the reality that water goes where it will and you can’t necessarily change that, you know.

Ryn (09:46):
Yeah. A moment ago I was saying something about massive earthwork projects and people up and down all of North and South America changing their environment. So if you’d like to learn more about that, I recommend the book ‘1491’. It’s an exploration of the Americas before Europeans arrived, I guess, en masse. Because this is not before Eric the Red.

Katja (10:08):
Right. But just before colonization.

Ryn (10:12):
And the major epidemics and everything that came with that. So, yeah. ‘1491’, that’s a really excellent book on that topic.

Katja (10:21):
Yeah. But I think what we’re coming down to here is that, we as humans cannot remove ourselves from nature. We are necessarily in relationship with nature. Every single thing that we do, whether it is to say no one must ever touch this piece of land because it’s being conserved or whether it is to dump a bunch of toxic chemicals into a waterway, no matter what we do, we are impacting the earth. We are the earth, we are nature. And so I advocate for a relationship and a collaboration. And for moving ourselves back into relationship instead of all these efforts to try to hold ourselves out.

Ryn (11:11):
Right. And right relationship to, because a lot of times the places where you do see plants that have, you know, overtaken an area or are looking like they’re almost a mono culture in that space, it’s because that’s a really resilient plant that can thrive in a damaged environment where other things can’t. And who damaged that environment? Well… [chuckles] Yup. Yeah. That was people relating to land but not in an intentional or thoughtful or logical kind of way.

Purple Loosestrife

Katja (11:41):
Yeah. So that brings us back to Loosestrife actually because that is one of the things that Loosestrife can actually do, which is really amazing. Purple Loosestrife can actually remove PCBs from contaminated water and contaminated soil. And by the way, even from the air, although it does so much less efficiently than it does from water and soil. And there is a really good study on the efficacy of Loosestrife’s ability to do this, that they’ve been doing on the Hudson river with phenomenal and like eye popping results. An area that was heavily polluted by PCBs. They introduced Purple Loosestrife intentionally in that area, so that the Loosestrife would take up the PCBs through the roots. And what they found was not just that the Loosestrife sequesters the PCB in itself and then has to be like buried in a container that won’t leak. But that Loosestrife actually breaks up the PCB content into more inert compounds. And it’s like literally Loosestrife is like the liver of the plant world in this regard, at least in regard to PCBs that it is just like our liver. It’s taking things in the environment that are harmful and breaking them down into things that are not harmful so that they can be removed from the system. [pauses] That blows my mind.

Ryn (13:21):
It’s pretty great, right?

Katja (13:22):
Yeah. And so right off the bat, when I see like Loosestrife is not universally, big quotey marks here, invasive, right? So when I see wetland areas with buckets of Loosestrife, my first thought is, well, is that a contaminated area? Is that like, is that a place where Loosestrife is required? Like is that the earth calling the cleanup crew, like the hazmat crew of the plant world to come and clean up? Before we do anything else, we should stop and test that area and say, is this an indication that there is PCB contamination here? And if so, woohoo! Thanks, Loosestrife! Well, Loosestrife also has a very long history of medicinal applications. But first I want to talk about another non-human aspect of Loosestrife because I think that it’s really, really important. Like it’s so common. I think one of the most common comments on our Facebook page is “what’s it good for?” Or “how do you use it?” And those are two phrases that we try really hard never to say. It doesn’t mean that we succeed, but we try really hard because it’s the language of exploitation. I don’t want to use a plant. Plants don’t exist for humans to use them. We are all in relationship together. So I want to leave the human interactions with Loosestrife till the last, and I want to talk about pollinators right now. So, Loosestrife is a phenomenal, abundant, prolific pollinator species, not just for honeybees, but also for our native pollinators. And by the way, as a little tangent, it is with some bittersweet emotion I think that I am starting to read a lot of writing about questioning whether or not we really should be saving the bees because honeybees are an introduced species and they are crowding out our local pollinator, our native pollinator population, because it’s not like before Europeans brought honeybees to North America, there was no pollinated happening. Right. There was absolutely pollinating happening. There were fruit here before we got here. We have tons of native pollinator species, but they have to compete heavily with all the honeybees that we kind of artificially prop up. Because we like honey and I like honey. I like honey a lot. So that is a whole concept to kind of think about, and I’m not sure how I come down on it, but, you know, we’re not to the point of calling honeybees invasive species yet, but I’m very grateful that my feelings about invasive species are very broad and expansive so that I don’t necessarily have to be like, yes, we should get rid of all the honey. I don’t want to do that. [chuckles] But anyway, Loosestrife is a pollinator species for all of the pollinators. Our native pollinators, the native bees and all the other little bugs that pollinate plants here as well as honeybees, as well as butterflies, as well as all kinds of different animals. But I want to talk actually specifically about honeybees because Loosestrife literally is helping to combat colony collapse disease, disorder or whatever it is they’re calling it. Because this is a late season flower that makes enough food that the bees really have that big burst of end of the year production so that they can make it through the winter. And the Middlesex Beekeepers Association, which is here in central Massachusetts, East Central Massachusetts, talking about, when they tried to eradicate Loosestrife and what they discovered was that when they were successful in eradicating Loosestrife, the bee colonies all really struggled and they lost a lot more of the colonies. Because what happened was they got rid of a bunch of Loosestrife. And in that space, another invasive species took over and that was Phragmites and it does not flower. It’s wind pollinated. So it really doesn’t help anyone. It doesn’t like, Oh goodness, here I’m going to go ready. It doesn’t contribute to its community. And so now there was no food for the bees and the space that had previously been producing food for the bees and all the other pollinators was now taken up by a plant that did not produce any food for anyone actually. No one can eat Phragmites.

Ryn (18:37):
Oh, you Phragmites lobbyists out there, you can let us know, what wonderful services this plant does provide to its ecosystem. And we will correct our statements.

Katja (18:47):
[chuckles] Yes. But so far, I don’t see any, and again, I’m not saying that a plant needs to exhibit merit that I can discover in order to have a place in the ecosystem. Definitely not saying that, but I’m just saying that the choice that we made to pull out all the Loosestrife had wide ranging effects on the ecosystem. And, we need to consider if those are affects that we really want.

Ryn (19:15):
Yeah, for sure. All right. Should we talk a bit about some of the medicinal applications for Loosestrife?

Katja (19:21):
Yes. Yes. It is really one of my favorite medicinal herbs. So, it’s not just my favorite. It has a very long history of medicinal application. Even Dioscorides was writing about Purple Loosestrife, which is awesome. It’s pretty far back. At that time, Loosestrife was mostly valued for its astringent qualities mostly for stopping bleeding, which, you know, I think that a lot of times we don’t stop to consider how rarely people get injured today. Like when was the last time that you needed to stop bleeding in your life? Like, really just think about that. It was probably a long time ago. It probably was not recently. Somebody is listening to this podcast who had to do it recently, like today. But most people, maybe you cut yourself, but it’s not big enough that you have to be concerned about stopping the bleeding. Like, maybe it was in your kitchen, you just nicked yourself on a knife or something. So, you know, when we lived more rugged lives, that was something that we had to think about a lot more frequently. So when we look historically at the way that they’re talking and writing about plants, a lot of times they are emphasizing the wound care aspects of plants because that was such a huge aspect in people’s lives. Just like today when we write about plants so frequently, what we’re emphasizing is the anti-inflammatory qualities.

Ryn (20:53):
Right. Yeah. And there’s an aspect there too where, when we hear about an herb that’s being helpful to slow, to stop bleeding, to improve clotting time or something like that, that’s relevant to like wounds and injuries and so on. But it’s also relevant to internal hemorrhages and internal bleeding. And, I mean also excessive menstrual bleeding for instance. But not only to, I got cut. Other kinds of bleeding as well.

Katja (21:23):
Well, and other kinds of anything moving where it shouldn’t be. So Maude Grieve wrote about Loosestrife as actually superior to Eyebright for problems in the eyes. And we today in modern Herbalism, we’re like, Oh, Eyebright! You know, but, here’s Maude Grieve who knows. I mean, this woman was writing from her experience and found Loosestrife to be superior to that. So that’s pretty interesting. And in European Herbalism, it has a long history for everything from diarrhea to typhus to sore throats.

Ryn (21:58):
Yeah. All conditions where there’s going to be some laxity of a membrane or some tissue and you need to astringe it and tighten it up. So you know, anywhere that you need that astringency and that, like you said, that cooling, anti-inflammatory quality that’s also carried in this plant. It is one we consider to be cooling and drying and tonifying overall. If you have a sore throat, like you say, if you have like lax boggy conditions in the lungs, you can work with Loosestrife and you can get some astringency that refluxes over to those mucosa, that’s great.

Katja (22:33):
That’s really sort of my go-to. Well, I have two, but my real go-to for Loosestrife is that. It is respiratory crud that has a phlegmy component to it, which is the type that I normally get. And part of that is the sort of astringency aspect, but I really assert that Loosestrife has significant anti-microbial action as well. And I don’t know that it’s been widely studied, but I definitely know that it’s there. And a big part of that reason is because the other way that we work with Loosestrife in our practice is as an antifungal plant. And that happened frankly by accident. It was that trip to Arizona. So my daughter, when she was a child, had some athletes foot and we were on a trip and it was acting up and I didn’t have any herbs that I normally would work with for that. And we had some throat spray with us because I think I was just getting over a cold or something and it had Usnea and Loosestrife in it. So I was like, Oh, Usnea, okay, we’ll work with this. This’ll be fine. This’ll do something. So I sprayed that on her feet and it worked amazingly well. But then later I did a bunch of research, like trials ourselves and found that Usnea by itself was nowhere near as successful as Usnea with Loosestrife and Usnea by itself was nowhere near as successful as Loosestrife on its own. So, that really brought it home for me to really have Loosestrife in any kind of anti-fungal application that I ever work with, which, okay, we can come back to that respiratory aspects. So frequently respiratory infections have a fungal component, especially if it’s in the sinuses. And it could be a fungus and a virus, it could be, you know, all kinds of different combinations. But in that regard it’s very, very handy. But also I don’t really think that it’s anti-microbial action is limited only to fungal application. I just can’t prove that with a study.

Ryn (25:10):
Yeah. We’ve found good success with it in combinations, you know, in formula with other herbs where we were trying to apply something topically and resolve an infection. You know, it’s funny because the product you mentioned, the throat spray, they had previously been including Loosestrife in their blend. But then a while later we went to go and buy the same thing and found that they had replaced it with licorice. And didn’t we reach out to them?

Katja (25:39):
Yes we did. And we heard back from them that the reason that they did it was because, they had so much hate mail from people saying, “why are you working with Loosestrife? It’s an invasive species don’t promote invasive species!” And they were having to spend so much of their time dealing with people just out of the blue sending them hate letters because they were working with Loosestrife that despite that it’s an amazing medicinal plant. And hello. If something is considered invasive, then don’t you want people to be using it up? Like, isn’t that especially because you work with the flowering tops. So if you’re working with Loosestrife as medicine, that plant is not going to go to seed. If you don’t want Loosestrife around, you should be encouraging people to make herbal medicine out of it, not sending them arbitrary hate mail because you think they shouldn’t be working with that plant! Whatever! Anyway, because this company, this small company received so much on a weekly basis and it was taking up so much of their time to just deal with all these people hating on them literally because they were including Loosestrife in this formula. Even though by the way it was being produced in a state where Loosestrife is not considered invasive! Whatever. So they removed it from the formula. Which it just makes me want to cry.

Ryn (27:05):
Yeah, that was a bit sad. So yeah, astringency and then it’s historical internal application for things like diarrhea and it can also reduce inflammation there. But lots of chronic intestinal problems develop over time, if they didn’t even begin that way into a lax, hyper-permeable and inflamed state. So that’s going to happen with some forms of IBS, with Crohn’s, with ulcerative colitis, really any kind of ulceration in the GI tract. So, Loosestrife is really handy there. Historically it was considered a sovereign remedy for cholera, which has some similarities with those kinds of states as well.

Katja (27:52):
This is a big deal plant is what we’re saying.

Ryn (27:55):
It’s pretty great.

Katja (27:56):
And again, so often when we’re talking about our wild crafted medicinals, we have to say, Hey, be careful. Don’t take too much. Hey, don’t over harvest. Oh no, this plant is at risk because it’s being over harvested. And here’s a plant that is extraordinarily potent medicine with wide ranging applications that is not just helpful for humans, but helpful for the damage that humans have done to the environment and helpful for the rest of the ecosystem. Yes, let’s get in relationship with this plant. That’s what I have to say.

Ryn (28:34):
That’s a cool one.

Katja (28:35):
Plus, I noticed you have a note over there about blood sugar levels that I totally forgot about.

Ryn (28:40):
Yeah. So this has been in lab studies. We’re not yet sure how much it applies to like free living humans, but it has been found to lower blood sugar in a couple of lab studies. And that’s intriguing. That’s interesting.

Katja (28:54):
It is. Again, you know, a plant that is really applicable not just to the wound care applications of history, but the chronic inflammatory and diabetic like diseases of our modern times.

Ryn (29:11):
Right! Yeah. And this study has also been found to help prevent oxidative stress from damaging the liver and to reduce some inflammation that could be affecting it. And that’s another really common modern area of focus: liver health and detoxification functions in the system.

Katja (29:29):
Well, if it can detox PCBs, I’m pretty sure.

Ryn (29:34):
Right! And the thing is too, that like with all of this, this herb is still really safe. I think in [Maude] Grieve there is references to it for infantile diarrhea. Like, if you give an herb to an infant, then that’s pretty safe as plants go.

Katja (29:45):
Pretty safe. And again, that’s a thing I really have a great deal of gratitude and respect for Maude Grieve for, because she was writing at a time where she was writing from personal experience because it was through the war when they couldn’t get the drugs that they were accustomed to relying on. And so the population in Britain had to rely on herbal medicine, simply because there weren’t other options. And those books that Maude wrote came out of that situation. So if she writes it, she gave it to babies, she gave it to babies. There are times that she just reports historical aspects. I mean, she’s clear about this. This is just the history, you know, versus here’s how I work with it.

Japanese Knotweed

Ryn (30:46):
All right, so Loosestrife is a good friend. Let’s talk about Knotweed. I feel like Knotweed gets even more hate mail than Loosestrife does. Godzilla plant and the Terrible Knotweed and Oh, the evil Knotweed. Yeah, it gets a lot of hate and it’s partly because Knotweed does tend to form communities. It will grow a stand of itself and because it’s hard to get out, you know. And this is true with all these plants that get labeled as invasive, if it was as simple as pulling it out of the ground and walking away, people wouldn’t complain about them as much.

Katja (31:31):
Well, it’s never that simple. If you pull it out of the ground and walk away, you’ve got bare earth and Mother Nature hates bare dirt. Hates it. Something will grow there.

Ryn (31:39):
Yeah. So, but with Knotweed, it’s like you can try to dig it up and if you leave like a quarter inch of the root in the ground, the next year, you’re going to have a whole new healthy stand growing there. So bravo to Knotweed for being resilient, but it bugs people.

Katja (31:55):
Okay. Here’s the thing, you guys, I would like to change our perspective of Knotweed from whatever it currently is being considered as, whatever evil incarnate people think of it as, to your guaranteed get rich quick scheme.

Ryn (32:15):
Oh, grief.

Katja (32:16):
No, I’m serious. If I could talk with every town manager in areas where Japanese Knotweed is considered invasive, this is what I would say. Are you ready? Instead of paying for all these chemicals that are not going to kill it anyway, like they kill it one year, it grows back the next year, right? Instead of doing that, let’s -no, we’re going to have to remediate that soil. So that’s a problem. But let’s harvest all that Japanese Knotweed and dig it up. Harvest the roots and encapsulate it. Why you say? Because if you have gone out to purchase capsules of Japanese Knotweed anytime recently, then you know they are about 40 bucks a bottle. Now imagine if all the towns, especially small towns who are looking for new forms of revenue, started encapsulating and selling Japanese Knotweed like high quality Japanese Knotweed capsules. We would create jobs. We would create a revenue stream for these small towns instead of a expense stream of buying the chemicals. And you might say, Oh well what do we need Resveratrol for? Well let me tell you, first of all, one of the reasons that Japanese Knotweed is so closely associated with Lyme is because Resveratrol is really good at cleaning up some of the damage, especially in the joints that Lyme can cause. And Japanese Knotweed provides the highest known concentration of Resveratrol of any plant so far tested. So it’s a super efficient, effective way to get your Resveratrol, which is super, super handy. And if all we’re doing is grinding up the root and keeping it whole in its entire complex, then that’s perfect. We don’t have to worry about the problems that we might see with isolated Resveratrol supplements because it’s all in its complex form still just as ground up powder. But you might say, well eventually we’ll run out of people with Lyme and the price per bottle will drop. Well I wouldn’t mind if the price per bottle dropped because then it would be available to more people. And everybody would still be making a profit. So that’s fine. But wait, there’s more. And that is that they are doing big studies on Resveratrol, specifically from Japanese Knotweed, in working with cancer treatments. So here is one specifically on breast cancer. And what they found was that Resveratrol acts as an estrogen receptor antagonist in the presence of estrogen leading to growth, inhibition of estrogen receptor positive breast cancer in a dose dependent fashion.

Ryn (35:16):
Yeah. And this is also happening. This paper is attributing some of this activity to the effects of Resveratrol on methylation. And that’s another hot topic in research, including in the herbal world these days. So methylation is a process that occurs in every cell of your body many, many times per second. But it’s really critical and there can be genetic or environmentally induced problems with methylation that can lead to a variety of presentations. So an herb that has some influence on that process to end it in a better direction. Certainly I imagine that many, many herbs do this and we just haven’t had the language or the microscopes for it yet. But you know, here we can see that and we can recognize, here’s a rationale behind why this would happen. Pretty cool.

Katja (36:09):
At any rate, what they’re doing is they’re looking at the effects specifically on breast cancer cells and they are finding really positive effects. And this is just one study. If you just Google, ‘Japanese Knotweed Cancer’, it will turn up a bucket of studies for prostate cancer, for colon cancer, for all different kinds of things that they’re studying about working specifically. I didn’t google Resveratrol. I googled Japanese Knotweed, things that they are specifically studying Japanese Knotweed for. And a lot of that is centered around the Resveratrol content. But remember, it’s not just the Resveratrol that’s in those roots. There’s a lot of other really potent things. And that is pretty cool. So my point here is that we’re not going to run out of demand for Japanese Knotweed. And I don’t think a plant needs to have an economic benefit to justify its existence. But I do know that a lot of people are swayed by economic benefit. Like a lot of people make decisions based on that. And you want to know what fine, I’ve got an argument for that too. So, I hereby call for Japanese Knotweed to be removed from the Evil List and instead we can just be super duper grateful that we could send out crews of people to dig up every Knotweed root they possibly could and to do so with wild abandon and we don’t have to worry that we will use up all the Knotweed because they won’t get quite every bit and it’ll grow back next year. I mean, that’s an amazing gift because humans like to take everything and a plant that can survive that. That’s kind of just what we need.

Ryn (38:14):
Yeah. And did we say a few thoughts about why we care about Resveratrol? Right? So we mentioned Lyme disease and the attack on the collagenous tissues-

Katja (38:22):
And methylation in the case of cancer.

Ryn (38:25):
Yup. But with Resveratrol, it’s useful to know here that the reason that it helps with Lyme is not that it like goes in there and kills the Lyme spirochetes or anything like that. It’s more about saying, Oh, this is the tissue that’s under attack in this condition and here’s a substance that helps to enable your body to rebuild, to restore healthy collagenous tissue, healthy joints and healthy connective tissue and everything else. So, you know, with that information, we’ve worked with Japanese Knotweed for a really wide array of joint and connective problems, including it in formulas, often together with things like Solomon seal or maybe Teasel, or Prickly Ash or other herbs that have some relevance to the connective tissue in the body and can help you to fix it up good. So, that’s been really helpful. And you know, that’s included issues like arthritis and joint pain injuries, things like that as and herb to help to resolve those kinds of issues. So that’s something that Resveratrol does. Resveratrol though, is not only a connective tissue agent, it is a systemic antioxidant. And when people talk about the health benefits of red wine, for instance, they’re often attributing a large part of its systemic benefit to reducing overall inflammation and mediating a lot of that through the Resveratrol itself. So if we take Japanese Knotweed and we make tinctures of it, or we chop it up real good and dry it and make decoctions, then we are getting some systemic effects to reduce inflammation. We’re supporting the health of the collagen in your body. And like you say, we’re having some influences on methylation and lots of other factors that that can be relevant for long term health. So, yeah.

Katja (40:22):
Again, another anti-inflammatory plant really helping with the chronic disease of our time. You know?


Ryn (40:33):
Yeah. All right. So Knotweed is pretty exciting. Let’s talk about Barberry.

Katja (40:38):
Yay. I love Barberry.

Ryn (40:40):
Yeah. So, there are many Barberry’s. There are some that are native to North America, but not from what I can tell to our particular part of the continent. So, the Barberries that we have growing around us here, there are a couple that are naturalized. There’s your European Barberry, the Berberis vulgaris and then there’s the Japanese Barberry, which seems to be a little more common in Boston. But that’s Berberis thunbergii. Which these days makes me think of that teenage climate activist, Greta Thunberg who’s awesome.

Katja (41:17):
She’s amazing.

Ryn (41:18):
Yeah. I don’t know, Greta’s Barberry, how about that?

Katja (41:24):
Yes! That seems good to me.

Ryn (41:25):
And then sometimes they hybridize with each other. But anyway, those are the most common ones that we encounter around town and around the state.

Katja (41:35):
Hmmm. One of the reasons that I really love this plant so much, is specifically that it is not endangered.

Ryn (41:43):

Katja (41:43):
Because Barberry has really great berberine content, but in order to get it, you have to dig up the roots. The two plants that are native to New England that also have high berberine content are Coptis trifolia, Goldthread and Goldenseal. And both of those plants, you also have to dig up the roots to get it, but they are at risk and endangered. So here’s a plant that by the way, does not compete with those other two plants. It doesn’t grow in their same habitat regions, or the same type of biome. And it is prolific and abundant. So digging up the roots is not endangering our ability to have more. And that is really, really important. Now, berberine plants are so critical because they are very, very potent anti-microbial plants. Now they are anti-microbial on contact. They’re not a systemic. You may have heard of Goldenseal as like the herbal antibiotic. Well, that’s true if it can touch the pathogen. It is not going to go into your bloodstream and kill a bloodborne infection. That’s not what’s going to happen. But if you have an infection in a wound, if you have pathogens in the digestive tract, these are places where berberine content is super, super important. Even if you’re hiking and you can’t purify water for whatever reason – like obviously please filter your water when you’re hiking. But if for some reason you couldn’t, then berberine content in the water or like chewing it constantly, would help you with any kind of exposure to a waterborne pathogens. Now, obviously this is a total off-grid, austere application, but it illustrates the sorts of things that we can get at. Or, all those E coli outbreaks, you know, all that kind of stuff. So this plant is really, really valuable. Or this constituent is really, really valuable. But all of our sources for it here in New England are at risk or endangered. So Barberry! It’s neither of those.

Ryn (44:18):
Yeah, Barberry. Pretty fantastic. So, that anti-microbial quality of it is not the only thing that the Barberry plant can do. This herb is a strong cooling agent. Many of the related species or let’s say medicinally related plants that contain berberine in them have historically been employed in Chinese Martial Arts Medicine – Kung Fu Medicine or Hit medicine as they sometimes call it, in part of a formula that’s usually referred to as herbal ice. So it’s an anti-inflammatory blend. And it’s known for dying your skin a little bit yellow when you put it on. And that’s coming from the berberine presence in some relatives. There’s a Coptis species that’s much larger and much more resilient and common in China that was usually employed here and a couple of others. I’ve taken that little piece of knowledge and I’ve included Barberry root extracts in some topical blends for when you have a bruise or when you have an injury. And this is specifically for when it’s in that red, swollen, inflamed state, and you’re just in the first stage is trying to bring that down. You know, later on you’re going to move on to other actions, but it can be really helpful there. And I much prefer something like that to actual ice for reasons we’ve discussed in other episodes. So that’s a quality that berberine has and that Barberry shares. There’s also something to be said in especially in contemporary herbalism for the way that berberine and the berberine carrying plants have an influence on blood sugar. So there we are again with another story. Because excess blood sugar is going to accelerate inflammation wherever it’s found. So the standard applications for that nowadays are pretty high doses of isolated berberine. But you know, when we look at herbs in synergy and when we look at the effects this herb can have on digestion because it’s a bitter and it gets everything moving again and that too helps with blood sugar regulation. I think that there’s something to be said for it in that context also.

Katja (46:49):
I think also, you know, when you’re talking about the other berberines and their cooling effect, it brought to mind for me the other berberines, especially Goldthread and the classical way to work with Goldthread is with the roots and the leaves. And what they found was that the leaves have that quorum sensing inhibitor action. And so I would be very interested to see whether that is also true of Barberry leaves.

Ryn (47:22):
Right. Yeah. There’s some QSI action there. There’s also an efflux pump inhibitor present in the leaves of your berberine plants.

Katja (47:30):
Hey! Of all of them including Barberry?

Ryn (47:32):
As far as I know. So far anyway.

Katja (47:33):
That’s handy. I didn’t realize that that was true for Barberry.

Ryn (47:36):
Yeah. That’s the MHC compound. So yeah, that’s going to be present in there and that really helps because it’s like, the berberine is trying to get inside of the microbe and kill it. And then the microbe has the efflux pump, which like spits it right back out again before it can do that job. So the leaves of the plant have something to turn off the sump pump basically. [chuckles] So the berberine can get in there and be a lot more effective. So yeah. That’s a piece of practice that we’ve put into play now. Whenever we have a topical formula that includes some berberine herbs, then we go ahead and put the leaves in there with the roots or bark or stem or whatever was the berberine bearing part of the plant. And then it’s better.

Katja (48:20):
So here’s the thing. We’re always talking about not isolating individual chemical constituents from plants, but instead to work with the whole plant. And usually that’s defined as the whole part recognizable medicinal part by modern herbalism. But what we’re finding, at least in the berberine family is that the whole plant literally means The Whole Plant. That the leaves and the roots are working together. When you put them together, they are so much more effective at fighting microbes then one part individually. More whole things I think is what we’re saying.

Ryn (48:58):
Pretty awesome. Hey, speaking about other parts of the plant, it’s called Barberry because it has berries on it.

Katja (49:04):
And they’re delicious.

Ryn (49:05):
They’re really, really good. I like Barberry a lot. Particularly dried because like anything that you dry, it gets more concentrated sweetness to it.

Katja (49:15):
Yeah it does.

Ryn (49:15):
But, Barberries they have this really delightful amount of sour that is not too much.

Katja (49:21):
They’re really like [chuckles] they’re really like a sweet and sour sauce, you know?

Ryn (49:26):
They are like that.

Katja (49:27):
They have like just that nice balance of the sweet and sour.

Ryn (49:30):
Now I really want to get some and cook them down into something like that. That’d be pretty great. Yeah. Nice. But like other berries, they’re going to be high in anti-inflammatory bioflavonoids. They’re going to be high in vitamin C, they’re going to be high in a lot of things that your body can crave and can do a lot with. So, yeah. Wonderful. There was a period where I was making trail mix only with herbs and spices and things. I had milk thistle seeds, a bunch of crazy stuff. Like milk thistle seeds and Schisandra berries and whatever. But the Barberries were-

Katja (50:08):
We had bought from somewhere a big bag of Barberries.

Ryn (50:13):
Mountain Rose, I think.

Autumn Olive

Katja (50:15):
Yeah. And that was when you made that, that was so good. We should do that again. Yeah…. Well, and now we’re onto the bonus. The bonus invasive: Autumn Olive.

Ryn (50:28):
Which isn’t very olive-y and is more berryish.

Katja (50:30):
Yes! There’s no resemblance to olives at all, actually. I don’t even know where that comes from. They’re berries, they’re red, they’re beautiful. They have glitter on them. I love them. They’re great. This is like a shrubby tree actually, and it prolifically provides really delicious anti-inflammatory berries and any kind of plant that can do that, any kind of plant that gives you food. That’s good, in my book. I think that’s great. Okay, maybe it’s crowding out things that used to live here. But on the other hand, the climate is changing, the ecosystem is changing, and if there is a plant that can thrive here and feed us and provide the exact thing that our society needs most right now, which is these anti-inflammatory compounds that help us manage the rampant chronic inflammatory diseases in our communities today, then I am all for it! And Autumn Olive is delicious. It is so tasty. I love Autumn Olive in cranberry sauce. I love Autumn Olive as jam. I like to just eat it how they are. I love this berry. They’re so good. They’re so good.

Ryn (51:47):
Super tasty.

Katja (51:47):
Yes. So I put in a vote for Autumn Olive also.

Ryn (51:56):
Ok. So look, remember that we’re not saying here that all of these plants should be allowed to just be wherever and to do whatever and that we shouldn’t think about it at all or that all invasives are actually good or anything. That’s not the claim we’re making here today. Some plants that are listed as invasives really can be problematic. Right? We were talking about Phragmites earlier. And maybe they’re problematic. Maybe they’re operating on a different timescale, that we’re not attentive to. There are some places where there’ve been studies about an invasive species and people have realized like, Oh, right, if you wait 50 years, then actually this is going to stabilize the soil and there’s going to be a series of succession plants that come through and then things are looking really good again. Okay, I get it. But you know, maybe that’s going on. Maybe it isn’t. But we don’t have to like step back from nature and say that we should never touch it because we’re going to screw it up. We should be engaged with it, but in a thoughtful way.

Katja (52:59):
Yeah. If you’re worried you’re going to screw something up then the answer is education. And the answer is thoughtfulness and intention. So instead of saying, Oh no, we’ll screw it up, let’s not touch it. Let’s instead really educate ourselves with, you know, not educate ourselves about why something is terrible, but just educate ourselves, just openly educate ourselves. And then make decisions about where we want to go. And if you don’t like Japanese Knotweed, you don’t want it in your garden, that’s totally fine. Because you get to choose what your garden is like, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the plant is evil.

Ryn (53:40):
Yeah. But just the bare fact that a plant didn’t grow here as far as we can tell at some specific arbitrary time that we’ve decided was when things were pristine. And usually there’s a lot of like hidden racism involved in that. There were cities, there were the big cities, there were interstate highways. It was just not what a lot of us were taught. So just because the plant didn’t grow here before some kind of arbitrary timeline like that, that doesn’t mean that therefore it should never be allowed to be here. That idea doesn’t really serve us. It doesn’t serve the planet. Nature keeps changing. We keep changing nature, whether we’re aware of it or not. So let’s be conscious about it. Let’s be thoughtful about it and understand that things fluctuate on their own, that we make drastic impacts on our environment. And we need to be a little more nuanced about that. Oh, you know, how can we talk on this topic at all without mentioning Tim Scott’s book.

Katja (54:51):
Oh, right! Which is super important. I meant to say that at the beginning.

Ryn (54:55):
And you know, it’s been out like almost 10 years old now. It’s a great book to dig into and it touches on all these topics from the perspective of an active herbalist. So that’s ‘Invasive Plant Medicine’ by Tim Scott. And put that next to ‘Where The Camels Belong’ on your shelf. And if you can get through both of those books and still believe that these plants are unequivocally evil, then I don’t know what to tell you. It’s not going to happen.

Katja (55:25):
No, it’s not going to happen. And it just, you know, opening our eyes to our implicit bias or like our unconscious bias or conscious bias. Like it’s just something that we constantly have to do. It is work that we can’t ever slack off on. Just constantly challenge yourself. Do I think that because of bias? And if you think that because of bias, that doesn’t mean you’re bad. It doesn’t mean that the idea is wrong. I’m biased towards organic food. I think that’s the right thing. But it’s just important to understand your bias and to root out the ones that are not serving us. Root out the ones that are based in racism, root out the ones that are based in exploitation. And just be aware, you know?

Ryn (56:14):
Yeah. All right. So that’s what. Please send us your angry letters.

Katja (56:21):
No, please don’t. Only send us your happy letter. You guys, we get a lot of email. I only want to see the happy ones.

Ryn (56:27):
We get very few angry letters these days.

Katja (56:29):
It’s true. It’s nice.

Ryn (56:31):
We’ll see what happens after this episode. [both laugh out loud] All right everybody. So let’s do some shout outs before we leave you. First one goes to ‘She who sits with trees’ on Instagram, who just found the pod and is trying the new Nettles blend from our Nettles episode.

Katja (56:47):
Yay. Also Kayla, who listens to the Pod in Canada and is interested in the Clinical Herbalist Program.

Ryn (56:54):
Coming soon to an internet near you.

Katja (56:55):
November 4th.

Ryn (56:57):
Corinne who was listening to the episode about introverts and extroverts and is now making her very own cayenne tincture, which is super exciting. Somebody is looking for a bit of get up and go.

Katja (57:09):
Yeah. Also to Catherine, Karen, Sarah and Peggy who are new supporters of this podcast. Thank you so much for helping us to cover the costs of making the podcast and also for contributing to our community projects and programs.

Ryn (57:26):
Right on. Hey, if you would like to be part of our community of supporters and help us do what we do, then we would love to have you. You can go to Commonwealthherbs.com/supporters and you won’t just be doing good for the world, you also get some stuff. Every week we send out a bonus video to all of our supporters with some easy herbal tips that you can use right away.

Katja (57:50):
I am so excited about our theme for the month of August.

Ryn (57:54):

Katja (57:54):
Yes! We’re going to be doing a bunch of work around incorporating movement into your life and the importance of more movement from the holistic health perspective. So normally we are sending like herby recipes or whatever, but I’m really excited to take just a slight little tangent, which is in no way a tangent, it is inextricably intertwined to really be talking about movement and of course herbs that are applicable to that situation as well. But don’t think ‘Oh no, I missed some recipes’. In fact, when you sign up to be a supporter, you get access to every video that we’ve ever made for our supporters cause we keep them all in an archive. So you don’t just get to watch the ones that show up in your inbox every week, but you also get to watch all of the ones forever that we’ve ever made and they’re all for you.

Ryn (58:51):
So again, just bounce over to Commonwealthherbs.com/supporters to sign up for that.

Katja (58:55):

Ryn (59:01):
Such diction.

Katja (59:02):
Yes. Well, because what if they were jogging or something and they were like, I have to remember this and I didn’t quite hear it. Of course I’m sure it’s in the show notes. You can always click on it.

Ryn (59:12):
It is there. Yes. All right everybody, thank you for listening in and we’ll be back next week with another episode of the holistic herbalism podcasts. Until then, drink your tea, take a walk, climate tree and say hi to some invasive plants.

Katja (59:29):

Ryn (59:30):
Cause they probably would really like some positive attention today.


Join our newsletter for more herby goodness!

Get our newsletter delivered right to your inbox. You'll be first to hear about free mini-courses, podcast episodes, and other goodies about holistic herbalism.