Podcast 183: Herbs A-Z: Codonopsis & Commiphora

Today’s plants are both precious and powerful.

Codonopsis pilosula, codonopsis, is deeply restorative. We locate its center of activity in the marrow, where it feeds the production of both white and red blood cells. It is not a stimulant, yet it’s very helpful for those who are feeling fatigue – whether that is a post-viral chronic illness, or simply due to depletion and stress. Codonopsis is excellent in a broth or a long decoction, and you definitely want to cook the same roots more than once (they are expensive). Don’t leave the medicine behind!

The exudate from Commiphora myrrha trees, myrrh, has been valued for its medicinal virtues for millennia. Katja’s favorite way to work with it is to take a small lump of resin and hold it in the mouth, to fight infections and heal abscesses. It’s very potent, so it is good to formulate it with other herbs. And of course, it also makes an excellent incense.

These quick plant profiles were done off-the-cuff & on-the-spot. If you enjoyed them, we have more! Our organized & comprehensive presentation of our herbal allies is in the Holistic Herbalism Materia Medica course. We have detailed profiles of 90 medicinal herbs! Plus you get everything that comes with enrollment in our courses: twice-weekly live Q&A sessions, lifetime access to current & future course material, discussion threads integrated in each lesson, guides & quizzes, and more.

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Our theme music is “Wings” by Nicolai Heidlas.


Episode Transcript

Katja (00:14):
Hi, I’m Katja.

Ryn (00:15):
And I’m Ryn.

Katja (00:16):
And we’re here at Commonwealth Holistic Herbalism in Boston, Massachusetts.

Ryn (00:19):
And on the internet everywhere thanks to the power of the podcast.

Katja (00:23):
Woohoo. Y’all it just took me like four tries to get that right, so the rest of the pod is going to be great.

Ryn (00:30):
We’re just working on it. We’re having a good time. This is going to be a good day. We’re going to talk about codonopsis and about myrrh today.

Katja (00:38):
Two herbs I love to talk about.

Ryn (00:40):
Yeah. As we continue on in our tour of the shelves, the apothecary shelves that we’ve got here, right now. So we’re going to leap on into that. But first we just want to remind you that we’re not doctors. We’re herbalist and holistic health educators.

Katja (00:55):
The ideas discussed in this podcast do not constitute medical advice. No state or federal authority licenses herbalist in the United States. So, these discussions are for educational purposes only.

Ryn (01:07):
We want to remind you that good health doesn’t mean the same thing for everyone. Good health doesn’t exist as an objective standard. It’s influenced by your individual needs, experiences, and goals. So keep in mind that we’re not attempting to present a single dogmatic right way that you should adhere to.

Katja (01:22):
Everybody’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 new information to think about and some good ideas to research further.

Ryn (01:33):
Finding your way to better health is both your right and your own personal responsibility. This doesn’t mean you’re alone on the journey. And it doesn’t mean that you’re to blame for your current state of health. But it does mean that the final decision when you’re considering any course of action, whether it’s discussed on the internet or prescribed by a physician, is always your choice to make. All right. Housekeeping, updates, news.

Katja (01:56):
Housekeeping. You know, sometimes people leave us reviews on apple podcasts or various places, which we so appreciate. And also we do read all of them. And sometimes people say I like this podcast. And sometimes there’s this squeaking, but it’s okay. It goes away. And I think about all the noises that all of our animals make on the podcasts. Especially because while we were trying to get through that section, Elsie, our dog, was like scratching and trying to get comfy, and just like couldn’t quite get there.

Ryn (02:35):
And pacing back and forth.

Katja (02:36):
Yeah, exactly. Sometimes the birds chirp, and sometimes the cats are cats, and whatever. Anyway, thanks for putting up with our animal noises.

Ryn (02:46):
Yes. They’re all part of Commonwealth Herbs in their own way. Very good. That was a glimpse of the future right there.

Katja (02:57):
Yeah. Someday y’all, someday.

Codonopsis pilosula: Codonopsis & Burnout

Ryn (03:00):
All right, codonopsis. Yes. An herb that, you know, the common English name is the same as its botanical name. So this is Codonopsis pilosula. That’s the full botanical plant there.

Katja (03:14):
I love codonopsis a giant enormous amount. And if you think about like in our online courses, it’s in the material medica. It’s certainly in immune health. I’m pretty sure it’s in neurological and emotional health. I’m really certain it’s in there. It’s in reproductive health. Oh, it’s in musculoskeletal, I’m pretty sure. And then I feel like in the clinical program this comes up a ton, because it is such a helpful herb for people who have longstanding chronic illness that they need support for. And the kind of support that I mean is not I’m really tired, and I need more energy. That actually is a way to…

Ryn (04:15):
Well, that’s almost always the way that the request or the desire is framed. When people come in, and they’re like look, I’ve been exhausted for a while. I need something to change about it. Have you got any herbs that can make me feel more energetic..

Katja (04:29):
And there’s something wrong with that desire.

Ryn (04:30):
Of course, right? It’s practical.

Katja (04:34):
Yeah. It’s driven by our culture also, where you have to go to work. You have to pay your bills. You have to watch your kids. You have to all the things we have to do, and we don’t have anybody to help us with. But it also is like exactly the trap. Because our culture pushes us to ask that question, plus also it isn’t super fun to not have energy all the time. And the real answer to the question is oh. You need a lot of support so that you can restore what has been used up. And our society is not breaking down anybody’s door just waiting to offer that.

Ryn (05:15):
Yeah. I mean also we have so many stimulants available. And people have certainly had caffeine and other things in their lives before they come to talk to the herbalist. And so they’re sort of like well, maybe there’s some like free stimulation I can get, that’s not going to give me jitters, or not going to make my belly hurt, or not going to keep me up all night, or other things. But it’s just going to be straight up good for me and give me that boost that I’m craving.

Katja (05:40):
Right. You kind of can’t have both. You can’t have both. But you can have good for you, and you can have energy restoration over a period of time. But you can’t have good for you and five hour energy drink.

Ryn (05:59):
Right. If we drink it right now, and then in a few minutes or in an hour we have a surge of energy, and we run around. That’s a straight up stimulant, you know? And there are totally ways to take many adaptogenic herbs that would be in that manner. If you take high doses of rhodiola, then it’s going to act as a pretty straightforward stimulant in that regard.

Katja (06:21):
Eleuthero will do that too for a lot of people.

Ryn (06:23):
Especially with like modern products where they’re concentrated down much further than any decoction or even a standard tincture could be. You end up with something that’s much more potentized. Yeah. Now with codonopsis we’ve certainly had people who start working with this herb, do an herb of the month thing as a student, or we mix up a formula and have them take it. And they do feel more energy, more capacity to get through their day. And to feel like they’re not at the end of their rope. But it’s almost never like wow, I got really stimulated when I drank that. Or it really woke me up in the morning.

Katja (07:03):
Codonopsis reminds me of like child safety products.

Ryn (07:06):
Okay. I want to hear this one.

Katja (07:09):
Okay. So, you know how like those child safety caps are super obnoxious. But the reason that they’re there is so that kids don’t get hurt by whatever it is that’s inside the container, right? Or like swimmies for a little kid learning how to swim. Or actually that’s maybe a really good one. But there’s so many. Like even a safety gate so that the kid doesn’t fall down the stairs. Oh, maybe that’s the best one. Because if you take a bunch of… If you’re like I’m really tired. I’m really exhausted. I’m exhausted because I’m completely depleted by living my life, or whatever part of your life is depleting you. And I just need some energy so that I can keep going at this pace. That’s like a kid standing at the top of the stairs.

Ryn (08:07):
I want to go fast.

Katja (08:08):
Right before they tumble.

Ryn (08:10):
You may go fast, but you may tumble down also.

Katja (08:11):
Right before you tumble head first down, right. And like the safety gate at the top of the stairs is like let’s just not fall down the stairs. And I feel like in our culture, wow. I think I’ve said in our culture today about a million times. It’s hard to talk about energy depletion in all of the forms that takes, whether it’s all the way to chronic fatigue syndrome. And it has some sort of like post-viral association. Or if it is like utter burnout that doesn’t need a post viral association. It’s just a post capitalist association, or late stage capitalist association, or whatever. And so, I think that just our culture right now really is the perfect incubator for these situations of extreme depletion.

Ryn (09:08):
Yeah, and they come together. I mean, you know if people have post-viral fatigue syndrome or something like that, had they been fully well rested, and cared for, and nourished, and moved, and supported, and everything in the first place, maybe that infection wouldn’t have lingered for years, you know?

Katja (09:28):
Yeah. I mean you can’t ever know for sure, but yeah. Maybe you would’ve been a person who got over it.

Ryn (09:35):
Maybe your chances are a little better, right?

Katja (09:36):
Yeah. Your chances were better. So I feel like a bunch of the strong stimulants are like standing at the top of the stairs with no safety gate. It’s like oh, you want more energy? We’ve got that for you. Except what’s going to happen is like, it’s not like that’s inherently bad. It would be fine to have more energy if you were like, listen. I just need one more day of this, and then I can sleep for a week. Great, yes. You know what? Take all of the rhodiola. Take the eleuthero too. Just go right ahead and do it. In fact, dump some coffee on top. It’ll be great.

Ryn (10:14):
Well, that’s the thing, right? Like stimulants are not necessarily something to have every single morning, you know? I totally see again, where this is necessary or people are feeling that way and everything. But if we’re thinking in the idealized world, it can be nice to have a stimulant every now and then. And then go carry all the rocks across the field, you know, whether that’s for fun or whether that’s productive or whatever.

Katja (10:38):
Right. Whatever it is. Yeah.

Ryn (10:40):
Sure. That’s good sometimes. But if it’s like I can only claw myself to consciousness in the morning after I’ve had my coffee, it’s an indication of a problem, you know? And because it’s so normalized, and because it’s just sort of like part of the environment that we find ourselves in, and everyone else is doing it too. That makes it seem like well, it’s not an indicator. It’s not anything. It’s just a basic fact.

Katja (11:05):
Yeah. So that is the wonderful thing about codonopsis, is it does not give you an energy boost. What it does is help to build some of the stuff you need to get out of that hole of fatigue. And so it’s a slow build. If you work with codonopsis every day for a month, every day for a season, even better. And hopefully you also are able to pair that with some really good nourishing food, maybe the opportunity to rest more than you had been able to do previously. Maybe even some like community care. Like maybe a friend who says hey, I can take care of your laundry while you’re recovering or whatever. I mean, like I’m clearly building now a situation…

Ryn (12:03):
This is our idealized world.

Flavor, Appearance, & the Doctrine of Signatures

Katja (12:04):
…not a lot of people have access to, and yet I feel like everybody should have access to. But even if you don’t, even if you’re not able to pair it with those things – but ideally you are – codonopsis over a period of time that is not days, but not years either. It’s like in the months category. It really does help to bring back some of the stuff you need. And actually, so this might be a good time also to talk about the appearance of codonopsis when you purchase it. Like if you just buy it from Mountain Rose Herbs cut and sifted, or anywhere that they would have it cut and sifted. You know, chopped up in little pieces for you to make and to tea. So, codonopsis roots kind of look like skinny parsnips, and they also actually taste kind of in the parsnip direction, that sweet kind of parsnip flavor.

Ryn (13:07):
Yeah. There’s a lot of earthiness in there. There’s a little sweetness. I like to just take the little dried bits of codonopsis and chew on them until they disappear.

Katja (13:17):
We discovered yesterday that our dog also enjoys that. I couldn’t believe it.

Ryn (13:21):
I know I was eating a couple of them out of the bag. And she was like give me one. And I was like I don’t know. Sure. Try it. But she liked it.

Katja (13:28):
And then she wanted more. Yeah, it was great.

Ryn (13:30):
That was funny.

Katja (13:31):
But so that is the first thing to think about here is that codonopsis is… even though it is in that category of adaptogens. Listen, the category of adaptogens is a broad spectrum. Not every adaptogen is a stimulant. And so even though it’s in that category, it really is a food herb. Not just because it’s like deeply nourishing and restorative, but also it looks like a parsnip. It tastes like a parsnip. You can eat it like a parsnip. It actually really is food. You can eat the whole thing. You don’t have to compost the marc afterwards. You can just go ahead and eat it, and it won’t be weird, right? Like some things you can do that.

Ryn (14:12):
This is when you can cook it right into a soup and just leave it all in there. The pieces will soften. They’ll dissolve a little bit.

Katja (14:18):
And no one will think it’s weird. No one will be like what did you put in this soup? They will literally think it was parsnips. Yeah. So, okay. So that’s the first thing is that deep nourishing, that root nourishment. But also when you look at them chopped up, right, so you have all these little cross sections, they really look like a little vertebra.

Ryn (14:44):
And there’s like… If you look at the cross section of the root there’s like rings, like ring layers. And there’s usually like a pale outer ring, and then like a dark band, and then the middle is more of a pale color. So it really does give the impression of like bone on the outside, some connective tissue and marrow and stuff, and then like a neurological spinal cord right down the middle of it.

Katja (15:08):
Yes, yes. Or sometimes I think about it like a cross section of a bone. And it’s like the bone and then the marrow in the middle. I think of it like that too. And so this falls into that category of things that can be referred to as doctrine of signatures, which was an old way to help people remember how to work with plants.

Ryn (15:37):
It’s like part plant identification, you know? Oh, look for the leaves with these kind of spots. And think about how the fuzziness on that reminds you of the lungs. And now this is lungwort, and you’re going to always remember what it looks like.

Katja (15:51):
Right. I think that it got a little overplayed in the revival of herbalism. And people sort of believed that doctrine of signatures maybe meant that some people in the past thought that any plant with any yellow on it at all was always good for the liver.

Ryn (16:06):
Right. Yeah, I remember hearing that from some of my earlier… not you, but other earlier teachers.

Katja (16:12):
Yeah, I think that probably never really was true. I think it really was always just a mnemonic for remembering things that are true, right?

Ryn (16:21):
I think part of it has to do with plant families. You know, like a lot of the Ranunculaceae has yellow flowers. And a lot of them are like strong liver stimulants among other kind of irritant effects.

Katja (16:30):
Yeah. The kind of liver stimulants that we don’t really turn to today, but in the 1800s.

Ryn (16:36):
And I mean look. You know, chicory does not have yellow flowers. It has blue flowers, but it’s a great liver herb. So, you know, you an only go so far with the doctrine of signatures is what we’re getting at.

Katja (16:45):
Yeah, but I think also that if we really look at it as a mnemonic, like as a memory device, and so we don’t need it to always fit the exact same story. What we’re really doing is building stories around what we see. And so I do think that that is so perfect for codonopsis, because when we… So, another phrase that’s so popular and trendy in our culture now is core strength, right? Like every exercise everything is advertising that it has core activation and like whatever. And I think that is actually like whenever you see something showing up a ton in advertisements, I feel like it’s a reflection of needs and desires of the community. And so we see even the word community and the word connection being thrown around in advertisements so much. But okay, so core strength in advertisements. And I think well, yeah. We all sit at desk jobs. And that does not actually activate the core very much. But what I really think about when I think about core strength is like the ability to set boundaries effectively. The ability to… like it’s deep strength. It isn’t like can I pick up this box. Core strength is like at your core you can, you know, whatever. And so when I think about long term exhaustion, burnout, chronic fatigue, everything in the middle, I think about this is core depletion. Like there’s nothing left in there. We have, for whatever reason in the case of burnout for example, we have for whatever reason not said no to lots of things. And most of the time the reason we haven’t said no is because we have to pay the bills. And so we work the overtime. And then we get home and we help the kids with the homework. And then holy cow, there’s still laundry to do. And how is it 12:30 at night already? And I have to be up at six to get to work, to do the…

Ryn (19:17):
Yeah, these are not always adequately described as a choice.

Katja (19:20):
Right. So, when I’m thinking about the inability to set boundaries around that, what I actually mean is literally not being given that ability… to have that ability culturally removed, because of the way that our society is. And so it isn’t like well, how come you stayed up late last night? You just didn’t have any willpower. It is absolutely not that. But like replenishing that tired to the bone-ness, you know. That’s what I turn to codonopsis for. And it’s cool that it looks like the middle of a bone. Like ahh, yes, I need some of that please.

Blood Building & Immunity Support

Ryn (20:05):
Yeah. Codonopsis is a really cool herb on a number of levels, you know? So as an adaptogen we expect interactions with our hormonal system, the endocrine system. And as an extension of that, into our immunity also. There are lots of different ways to describe adaptogens, but one would be to say that they… Well, the usual way is we say that they help our body to increase resilience to stress. And that that is being accomplished by effects on our stress response hormones, and then also on the inflammatory process. And codonopsis for sure has those qualities to it. And it really does seem to be acting on the marrow of you. You know, that’s not entirely metaphorical. Codonopsis seems to be able to improve our production of all kinds of blood cells, so white and red.

Katja (20:59):
Which are produced in the marrow.

Ryn (21:01):
Right. Yeah. And again, when we think about fatigue, you can think about that from a traditional medicine perspective. And people would say like ah, your blood is low, or your blood is depleted, depending on which kind of system you’re coming from and the terminology and all that. But say like, you know, we’re seeing the fatigue evidenced in your body by maybe a pale coloration to the face, or like a draining of heat from your system, that kind of thing. And these qualities are associated with good, healthy blood, you know? So codonopsis, we can call it a blood builder. And I think either in strict like traditional Chinese medicine terminology, or in the perspective of modern science, or the perspective of ancient Greek medicine, or contemporary descendants of these ancient traditions, which like honestly our practice is not precisely described as being traditional Greek, Roman, Western herbalism. Like we do things a bit differently, and we have way more plants in our lives that they didn’t have access to and things like that. So, when we think about Western herbalism, when we think about traditional Western herbalism, we have to recognize that there’s been an evolution that has occurred. And the same is true for Chinese medicine, the same is true for Ayurveda, Unani Tibb, like any other practice that has that long reach. But I think from all of these perspectives, we can look at codonopsis as a restorative to the marrow, and because of that to the blood, and because of that to a lot of other systems, right? Blood and has to carry oxygen, it has to carry nutrients. And all of your other organs and systems can lose vitality when that’s going down.

Katja (23:00):
I want to say also specifically, since we’re talking about systems, and since post-viral got said a few times there, that codonopsis definitely has, I think, a very important role to play in post COVID recovery, whether that is long haul COVID, or whether you did not yet develop long haul. So, you might have had a mild round of COVID, and then you may have recovered. And maybe you were a little tired for a while, but like it was fine. It was just the kind of reasonable amount of recovery for being kind of sicker than a regular cold, you know, fine. But we don’t know how all this works yet. And sometimes long haul has come after a period of feeling recovered. And so there’s a lot of different manifestations of how things are playing out with this virus.

Katja (24:06):
And part of it is because you know, initially we thought of this as a respiratory illness. But really that’s just its mechanism of travel. There are so many other systems that are impacted. So I absolutely see codonopsis as a very important part of recovering from COVID, whether you are currently in a long COVID kind of situation, or whether you just got sick and you think you’re recovering and, and even you are recovering. Maybe you never get long COVID, that’s fine. My point here is that it has a place for everyone in terms of restoring the resources that your body used to try to get you through COVID.

Ryn (24:59):
Yeah. This makes me think of… This is going to make sense eventually. But when we talk to people about say elderberry syrup for the flu or something like that, we’ll often say yeah, you want to start taking it. Take good sufficient doses of it, so that it really does the job. But even if you start to feel better in a day or two, still take the full seven days or nine days to behave as if you were still sick or you were still recovering. So rest as much as you can. If you can take time from work or other commitments. And just take naps, drink tea, eat broth, relax.

Katja (25:41):
Let the kids watch movies. It’s okay.

Ryn (25:42):
All that kind of thing. And the reason is because we want you to fully recover, right? Mm. When we’ve started to reduce the symptoms, that is a good sign, yeah. But there’s still work going on. And especially with a lot of these viruses, they’ll have a kind of a cycle. And you really need to allow your immune system to be responsive to a full cycle of the virus – again, in the case of flu, like seven to nine days or something – in order for you to have like fully or completely or as much as your body’s capable to have corral that and dealt with it. So with codonopsis here, you kind of want to be, I guess it’s like preventative recovery practices, right? You’re like well, I’m feeling okay, but I’m still going to work to replenish my immune system. I’m going to work with codonopsis or with astragalus, you know, is another fairly similar herb. And in that way I’m going to try to rebuild my immune bank, or my immune defenses, or however you prefer to visualize that.

Katja (26:48):
You know, it doesn’t really matter what you got sick with or how you feel on that day that you feel better. And you’re like I have some energy today, right? Whether you got sick with COVID, or pneumonia, or I don’t know, anything. It doesn’t matter, whatever it is. And whether you on the third day suddenly had enough energy to clean everything and were excited to get back to your email again or whatever. Listen, your body still did the work, right? Like a bunch of work happened. And you could move on and not pay anyone for that work, or you can pay that back, right? So, that you have it available to you next time. And I think that again, societally, we really are pushed to just move on and not even think about paying for that work. Like just oh, I’ve got to get back to work as fast as I can. Like these kids need a mom, you know, whatever it happens to be. And so there isn’t a lot of time once we’ve recovered. Recovered isn’t the word I wanted there, so pretend I didn’t say it. The word I really want is once we are no longer actively sick, there is not a lot of time or priority available for the other part of being sick, which is convalescence, recovery.

Ryn (28:36):
Yeah. I mean, and it’s, again, really common for us to not take that time. Because we’ve got to get back to the grind. We’ve got to get back to our responsibilities. And again, of course that’s the reality, so that’s what we have to live with. But at the same time I’ve just met so many people who are like yeah, I got sick this one time, and I’ve never been the same since. And I usually interpret that as like you did not have the capacity, or the materials, or the time, or the space, or the other things that are required to fully recover from that illness. And it was more like well I’m well enough if I drink some DayQuil. I can go to work and get through my meetings and all of that.

Katja (29:13):
Or some coffee or some whatever, yeah.

Ryn (29:15):
Or all of them together. Sure.

Katja (29:17):
So, that’s where codonopsis really has for me it’s most important work. Is regardless of whether, I mean, it’s ideal. It’s awesome if you have the support in your life to actually take a real recovery time, then that makes me jump up and down and feel very excited. But even if you don’t, there are still ways to assist your body in the recovery process, and codonopsis is one of them. And I really… Have I already said invaluable like five times? I really mean it.

Ryn (29:55):
Yeah. You’re very attached to this herb.

Katja (29:56):
Well, okay. Because I’ve been in that place of total depletion and having to rebuild it. And fortunately I did have you to support me through that. But it still wasn’t pretty, like even when you do have support. I mean, you know, I knew that the bills were getting paid, but I still had a kid to take care of. Like there’s never any chance basically these days where you get to just like… You remember like, I don’t know, in the 1800s, or maybe it was the turn of the century to the 1900s. And they had those like health spas where if you got sick you went to the ocean. And then you just sat in the Adirondack chairs with blankets and breathed in the ocean air and recovered, right? We need those.

Ryn (30:48):
Yeah. And we need them for everybody, you know, not just the landed gentry and the nouveau riche and whatever else. Like we need them for everybody.

Katja (30:55):
We need them for everybody.

Ryn (30:56):
So, as we work together to rebuild and to construct a new society, let’s keep that part in mind.

Other Ways to Work with Codonopsis

Katja (31:04):
Yeah. But so codonopsis and then how to work with it in this way. You know, there’s I think two really very effective ways. One is to put it in broth along with some seaweed, some medicinal mushrooms, maybe some nettles if you like that. And then eat it. And let it cook in the broth from the start, you know, so that you really are getting all the goodness out. But then you can also eat it as well. So, that’s one way. And the other is to make long decoctions. And it has a very pleasant flavor, so it’s very easy to make something that’s quite tasty. I mean you could easily just put chai type spices with it, and it will be delicious. But codonopsis itself is pretty tasty. So, I like to mix it with, especially because I’m thinking right now about post COVID recovery, mix it with hawthorn berries. Mix it with goji berries. Maybe put a little Solomon’s seal in there if you have some.

Ryn (32:18):
I think it pairs really nicely with astragalus.

Katja (32:21):
Yes, I really like it with astragalus. And this is going to taste really, really good. You could put a smidge of ginger or cinnamon if you want to, but you might not even need it. You could put some cacao nibs in there. Really, really good. And then just drink as much of it as you can. And if you’re making it in decoctions, you can boil it more than once. So that what I like to do is the first three or four cups that I serve out, I just dump the water back into the pot. And that way it doesn’t get like all the way diluted, you know. Like it still is pretty strong each time.

Ryn (33:00):
Yeah. So, you’ve got it in the pot. You ladle some off, pour it through a strainer, whatever. Tap the little root bits and the marc back into the pot. And then top up the water again, you know?

Katja (33:09):
Yep. You can do that three or four times.

Ryn (33:11):
And this is an important thing to keep in mind about codonopsis, because unfortunately it is fairly expensive compared to other herbs and roots that we might like to work with. So, hmmm. I want a phrase that means something like use it all up, but not in a sort of rapacious way. Respect the plant by working to pull everything out of it that it wants to offer you.

Katja (33:40):
Yeah. Don’t throw it out after the first simmer just because, whatever. No, it has more to give. It has more to give. And this is a plant that can be grown in a lot of places in the US. It is native I’m pretty sure to China. But you can grow it. I grew it in a pot actually, and it was fine. The trick with codonopsis is that because it is a root, you’ve got to let it go for a while before you can harvest anything. And when you harvest it, you have now harvested the roots. So, any time that we’re talking about root medicine, that does make it a little trickier to grow your own. It takes longer to get it established.

Ryn (34:27):
Yeah. And it can take, you know, because of that it can take more like ground space. If you have catnip, you can have a pot. And you can grow a couple of catnip plants and harvest the aerial parts, the leaves and everything several times over the course of a growing season.

Katja (34:43):
And you’ll still have more catnip next year, because it will grow back from those roots.

Ryn (34:46):
But if you had the codonopsis in that same circumference pot, then you might get one or two in there. You might wait five years for them to be big enough. And then harvest it. So there’s a lot more invested. And again, this is why it costs more. It’s for good reasons in terms of the amount of work that went in, both botanical and human.

Katja (35:09):
Right. So, that’s why actually I always like to say grow the easy stuff. Grow your catnip, grow your calendula, all the different mints, all the stuff that’s really easy to grow. Grow that so that you don’t have to buy it. And that way you have more budget to buy the things that are harder to grow or that are more intensive to grow like codonopsis.

Ryn (35:31):
Right. And also to be paying appropriate prices for them. I mean, operations that produce lower quality material and sell it for cheaper. They do undercut the capacity of sustainable farmers and growers to maintain what they’re doing.

Katja (35:50):
The other thing to be aware of is just contamination.

Ryn (35:57):
Contamination and adulteration, in particular because this is a fairly well known herb in Chinese medicine. It’s sometimes considered as like a substitute for ginseng, although much less hot, less stimulating as we’ve been describing.

Katja (36:12):
I personally think that it’s more valuable than ginseng, at least in my practice. But you knew I was going to say that, didn’t you?

Commiphora myrrh: Myrrh & Mouth Infections

Ryn (36:19):
Right. But yeah, I mean herbs like this are subject to adulteration and contamination, whether it’s intentional or not. Whether it’s known or not at the time of sale, or the many points of sale between the growers, and the collectors, and the distributors, and the middlemen of all kinds, and then what you actually end up with. So, know your source and try to know their sources too. Important. Well, you know, a lot of these same considerations would apply to myrrh, because myrrh is a… Well, it’s not the easiest thing to grow, is it. What is myrrh? Myrrh is the dried resin or exudate would be the more appropriate term, because it’s a mix of substances. The exudate of a tree, and a tree that is not going to grow everywhere in the world.

Katja (37:11):
No, it has actually a reasonably narrow sort of biome requirement. And it grows in areas that are pretty threatened by climate change.

Ryn (37:25):
Right. Places where, you know, say the warming is going to occur at a much faster rate than other.

Katja (37:30):
Is already occurring at a much faster rate. Yeah.

Ryn (37:33):
Faster rate than other latitudes, right. So precious, precious stuff, and has been for most of human history really, right? Gifts for your local instantiation of deity, whether that’s Horace or someone else, you know.

Katja (37:50):
Yes, exactly. Yeah. Jesus wasn’t the first one to get some myrrh. Yep. Here’s the nifty thing about myrrh though. When you purchase it, you can get it in these little kind of like pebbles actually. Actually, can you hear them as they’re like rolling around in the jar. They’re little pebbles. And if you’ve ever seen raw amber, it looks very similar to raw amber, which makes a lot of sense, right? They are very similar chemically. They are very similar chemically might not be exactly what I’m mean here.

Ryn (38:27):
In terms of their origin, you know. Amber has like fossilized.

Katja (38:30):
Right. But they are both tree exudates.

Ryn (38:34):
Yeah. I guess if we took a bunch of myrrh exudate and like put it under some pressure and left it there for a million years. I’m not really sure what would happen honestly.

Katja (38:42):
It would probably be very shiny and pretty, I don’t know.

Ryn (38:44):
Yeah, could be cool.

Katja (38:45):
But here’s the thing, so basically these are like little rocks. And they’re not, they will dissolve over our time. But if you’re careful about how you work with them, they will dissolve very slowly.

Ryn (39:03):
Particularly in water or saliva.

Katja (39:06):
Right. Exactly. And that’s my preferred method. So listen, myrrh’s actions are antiseptic and anti-inflammatory, but really anti-inflammatory in the context of an infection. And there are many, many, many herbs who have that function. So you can tincture myrrh. And we have some. And you can get myrrh into oil. But you can do that with lots of herbs. And there’s one thing that myrrh is really ideal at helping, and also it lasts the longest this way. So, I will explain it. And then you will say Katja, that’s kind of gross, but also awesome. And here it is. That I really love working with myrrh specifically for abscesses, cavities, and other kinds of infections in the mouth. Long term infections, not like you just got a little cut, and it’s going to heal in a couple of days. But like a long infection that is difficult to deal with, and maybe you don’t have access to dental care right now. And so we really need to be very careful that we fix it. So if that’s the situation, myrrh is one of my favorite tools Not the only tool. I’m going to intentionally try to get a very broad spectrum of actions here by switching up the herbs a lot.

Ryn (40:46):
Yeah. I mean, if we have spilanthes, kava, berberine herbs.

Katja (40:49):
And then also some meadowsweet and some of the other salicylates maybe. But the way that I like to do this is just to take one of the little pebbles of myrrh and suck on it. It’s not delicious.

Ryn (41:04):
There’s a bitterness. There is an aromaticity that like slowly emerges from the stone, and a lot of astringency.

Katja (41:15):
Right. And so I actually see the not deliciousness as a feature here. Because I don’t want somebody to suck on myrrh for two weeks straight, just like an eternal cough drop. Because at that point, like you’re going to have some digestive side effects that we would prefer not to have. But if you suck on it for 10 minutes, 15 minutes, and then put it in a dish with a lid. And, you know, or put it in a dish, just so it dries off, and then put the lid on it. And then come back to it, do it morning and night. And this is very much like, I don’t know there was this song. I was trying to remember how it goes last night. My dad was a DJ like when he was in college and sometimes played some silly songs. But there was some song about the bubble gum on the bed post overnight. And I have not deployed the Google to find it, but I was trying to remember it, and I can’t quite. Maybe if you’re a person of a certain age, or if you just really like old music. I think it’s a song from like the fifties. But anyway, maybe you will deploy the Googles and find it and then be amused. But so yes, I am referring to sucking on some myrrh, and then saving it, and then coming back to it, and sucking on it again. And okay, that’s maybe not the most appealing thing in the world. But it’s going to be your personal piece of myrrh that you’re sucking on. You’re not going to like pass it around. Right. But here’s the thing, it’s going to last for a really long time, a really, really long time. Like the whole length of dealing with this infection, you can do with just one little pebble of myrrh.

Ryn (43:07):
Yeah. Now with this process, it’s not just that there’s like water, you know, in contact with the myrrh. And so this is not at all the same as like trying to drop some myrrh into a cup and pour boiling water on it.

Katja (43:20):
Right. That would not work.

Ryn (43:21):
Now you will get some effect from that. There will be a flavor, and there will be some mouth feel. There will be some of that coming through. But when you have it in your mouth, there’s like slow warmth over time. There is the moisture of your saliva, but also some like little bit of enzymatic activity.

Katja (43:37):
And some acidity too.

Ryn (43:38):
Right, yeah. So it will slowly like break down the myrrh. And eventually it will kind of, you know, break apart or dissolve a bit and everything, but it takes a long time.

Katja (43:49):
A really long time.

Other Ways to Work with Myrrh

Ryn (43:50):
I mean, I suppose you could just like have a mug and keep the myrrh in the bottom of it. And like pour hot water on it once a day or twice a day and drink that, but…

Katja (43:59):
No, I wouldn’t be happy with that actually, because then the majority of whatever it is you’re getting is in your guts instead of your mouth. The key is that I really want this in the mouth. And then we’re also switching up with other herbs through the day, right? And that’s key too. Because like I said, if you were to suck on myrrh for like 12 hours straight, even probably three hours you might, depending on how touchy your guts are, you might start to notice like a little more astringency than you really want in the guts. Or you might notice if you did it for a very long time, a shift in your probiotic microbiome. And you know, all that stuff is replaceable. That’s fine. But so that’s why I do say do it for a short period of time, but like consistently morning and night as part of this complete dental health protocol. It really is super, super helpful.

Ryn (45:01):
Like you said though, we can infuse it into alcohol. That does take high proof alcohol. If you were to just put vodka over it again, there will be some extraction, yeah. But it won’t be anything like what happens if you find 95% alcohol and work with that instead. So you can make a strong tincture from this. You can apply it to sites of infection, whether they’re in the mouth or on the body.

Katja (45:28):
Although don’t put 95% alcohol tincture into your mouth, because that will feel awful.

Ryn (45:32):
It’ll be intense. Yeah.

Katja (45:33):
Very terrible.

Ryn (45:34):
It will really burn a lot. So yeah, it’s strong stuff. And also even for wound care we don’t generally want to just put that high percentage of alcohol right on the wound, because there’s going to be collateral damage to your own tissues and cells and all that. Sometimes you say okay, that’s worth it. This infection is so bad or so scary, I want my strongest germ killing agent. And if there’s some collateral damage to your own cells, that’s all right. We’ll deal with it later on. But for most you’re going to deal with it at home injuries…

Katja (46:06):
In a not apocalyptic kind of scenario.

Ryn (46:10):
Yeah. This is maybe a bigger gun than you really want. Myrrh though, and also the other reason to not work with it too extensively there is just because again, it’s precious. It’s expensive. It’s something that we want to be really conscious of sustainability questions. We can formulate, you know. If you have even a 10% fraction of myrrh in a preparation that you’re going to work with for antiseptic purposes or that kind of thing, it will absolutely be contributing an extra quality to that formula.

Katja (46:46):
I really do you think it’s valuable in that way. And again, that’s another way to respect the scarcity of the plant also.

Ryn (46:53):
There’s even ancient formulas where people would take myrrh and grind it up to powder. And then mix that into some wine and infuse some other herbs into there. And again, it’s going to be a relatively small amount that you put in, but it’s enough. It’s sufficient to do that job. Again, this would’ve been like a wound care wine, right?

Katja (47:17):
Yeah. It’s funny, because when we say wine, we think oh, that must have been something they drank. But you know, all the wound care herbs were delivered in wine. For the gladiators it was garlic soaked in wine and yeah.

Ryn (47:34):
I mean you can consume a small amount of myrrh internally. You will get some immune stimulant effect from it and all of that. But again, you’re going to be kind of on that edge of like is this going to make my guts cramp up, you know, way up high?

Katja (47:46):
Yeah. I mean, if it’s just a little, little bit in a formula, fantastic.

Ryn (47:52):
Yeah. I think formulation is really the best way to avoid that kind of problem.

Katja (47:55):
But the thing is that there are other herbs who can do that job. And so I’d prefer to have those other herbs, and just stick with myrrh in the places where there is something unique about the myrrh that makes it really best suited for that particular whatever it is that’s going on. Which is why I like sucking on it so much. Even though again, you know, like sucking on it. And then like do not throw it away after you suck on it once. Do not do that.

Ryn (48:32):
Yeah. No way.

Katja (48:33):
Really do dry it off. Let it dry. Save it. Because otherwise the waste is astounding if you were to do that.

Ryn (48:43):
Yeah. Well, you know, I guess one other thing to say about myrrh is incense. And again, that could be straight up myrrh incense. Or you can even take the little resin drops, and if you have one of those self igniting coals, you can drop one of them onto there. And it will fill your house with myrrh-azement.

Katja (49:01):
Yeah. Maybe like shave a little bit off instead, so that you aren’t burning like an entire pebble of myrrh, but just like one little corner of it. Because again, intense.

Ryn (49:14):
Yeah. And then of course there’s like myrrh incense sticks. Where it had been powdered mixed with a binder, maybe some other herbs too, and then put onto the stick and all that. But we’re really big advocates for incense as an important way to interact with herbs. And especially in time when folks are worried about respiratory viruses, or maybe just more aware of the things that we’re breathing in from our contact with the human masses. So, you know, having some antimicrobial and immune stimulating herbs in air, every breath you’re getting a tiny dose. That stacks up over time. I also think about incense when there’s an environmental reason to be concerned. You know, sometimes you live in an apartment in Boston that’s underground, and moldy, and damp, and all of that. Can you tell I’ve been there? And you know, okay, you’re going to move when you can, if you can. But in the meantime what can we do to improve this local air quality? Or if there was a flood, you know, that kind of thing.

Katja (50:23):
Any kind of post hurricane or post flooding, incense can be really, really helpful. It doesn’t mean that you’re not going to get mold, right? Mold will still be happening, but you are breathing in…

Ryn (50:39):
Fewer spores? Yeah.

Katja (50:40):
You’re breathing in something that will help fight it. And you’re breathing it in on smoke, which is dry. And you know, sometimes we don’t want to dry the lungs out, because that can be uncomfortable. But sometimes there’s so much dampness, that we actually are grateful for the smoke and it’s drying action.

Ryn (50:59):
Yeah. All right. Well that’s it for us today. Thanks for listening. We’ll be back next time with some more Holistic Herbalism podcast for you. Until then take care of yourselves. Take care of each other. Drink some tea.

Katja (51:15):
Drink some tea or suck on some myrrh, yeah.

Ryn (51:19):
Yeah. And we’ll see you again later.

Katja (51:22):
Bye bye.

Katja (51:34):
Hi, I’m Katja.

Ryn (51:35):
And I’m Ryn.

Katja (51:36):
And we’re here at the Commonwealth…. Here we are at Communist…wow!

Ryn (51:43):
Communist Holithic Herbalation.

Katja (51:47):
Communist Herbs. Okay. Hold on. Ready?


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