Ask An Herbalist

Philip Fritchey MH, ND, CNHP

Q. I want to ask you if you have any recommendations for cell phone and computer radiation, like maybe an herb or a product to combat all the everyday junk?

A. My best advice for all that electronic radiation is to minimize and avoid it as much as possible. Since it’s practically impossible to find a pay phone that works these days, even a techno-dinosaur like me ends up with a cell phone stuck z to the side of my head now and then. The greatest danger of such focused electro-magnetic pollution is the massive amount of free radicals that it generates, so the most logical thing to do is to consume as many antioxidants as you can, particularly those found in brightly colored fruits and veggies. One of my favorite herbal “cell-phone blockers” is common Sage. It is a surprisingly potent anti-oxidant with a well-established affinity for the brain. A couple of cups of Sage tea or a few capsules taken daily will go a long way towards protecting those gray cells from the free radicals that are generated by these "tools" that we somehow think we can't live without.

Q. Should I collect Comfrey leaves before the plant blossoms or does it not matter when the harvesting is done? Do you let the plant blossom, or pinch off the blossoms to have more energy for root growth?

A. Comfrey leaf can be harvested most anytime it is available, whether flowering or not. The plants are not short of vigor, and the roots will flourish with or without blooms. I generally cut most of the bloom stalks, leaving a few for seed, but it's mostly an effort to keep the bed neat which is generally a losing battle with such an enthusiastic grower. I use fresh leaf to make some tincture and oils in the summer, but most of my stored Comfrey is dried root that I dig in the Fall. Excess Comfrey leaves are one of my compost pile’s favorite foods.

Q. My 6 year old grandson has contracted Lyme Disease. He has responded very well to the Teasel, but we want to make sure the infection is eliminated. I know you have recommended adding Colloidal Silver, and using the Silver Pulser from Sota Instruments as a kind of zapper. They say in their literature that the Sota device can also be used to make Colloidal Silver, and that the silver it produces is 5-8ppm. That struck me as maybe the particles are on the big side. That’s all I need is for my grandson to turn blue! My daughter will tar and feather me. The people at Sota also said one set of wires will produce 80 gallons of the silver. Can that possibly be true?

A. There’s not much chance that your grandson will get to join the Blue Man Group, unless, of course, he’s an extraordinary mime. I don’t normally recommend battery generated Colloidal Silver for long term use, but the Silver Pulser is a cut above. When distilled water is used, C/S made with it is almost entirely single atom ions at 5-8ppm. Larger, potentially problematic particles only begin to form when the concentration gets significantly higher, or if tap water with contaminants like minerals or chlorine are present that bind with the silver. (Despite what you may hear or read, NEVER add salt to speed up the reaction.) If you get a chance to attend the Nature’s 9-1-1 seminar, we spend an entire day on colloidal silver, building a generator, making C/S, and understanding the processes—and hype—involved. 80 gallons of 5-8ppm C/S from one set of 14 gauge silver wires is feasible but a bit of a stretch in practice. Still, even at half that amount, the unit will pay for itself many times over compared to the price of store bought Colloidal Silver—tar and feathers not included.

Q. I fell about a week ago, and I think I have broken my left foot. I would like to use Comfrey to try to heal it. So far, I have wrapped the foot 2-3 times a day in cheese cloth that has been soaked in Comfrey root powder and distilled water (the solution was simmered for 15 minutes before application). I have been using the same solution for the entire week. We refrigerated the solution over night. For at least 1 application a day we added 2 fresh Comfrey leaves to the wrap. We’ve used the same two leaves the entire week). Can you give me any suggestions on how I can better use the herb for this purpose? How long should I expect it will to take to heal? Will it get worse before it gets better? What about swelling? Should I do something special to make sure the bone sets properly or will it take care of it on its own? After it feels better how long before I should put pressure on the foot?

A. If you haven’t already, you should definitely have that foot x-rayed to determine how much if any damage there is. Fragile bones in the feet can be difficult to heal correctly unless the break is immobilized with an appropriate boot splint or cast. Comfrey can surely help speed repair, but you risk long term or permanently disabling damage if the break is continuously flexed.

Your approach is fine, but you should use a freshly prepared decoction each day. Herb teas are storehouses of energy that can not only heal, but also become a virtual buffet of nutrients for bacteria. If you have plenty of fresh Comfrey available, count yourself as blessed. Otherwise, I would suggest you get a pound of dried Comfrey root (cut and sifted, not powdered) from a good herb company like Mountain Rose Herbs (www.Mountainroseherbs.com), and use that to make your daily brew. Simmer a heaping tablespoon of the dried root in 3 cups of water until it is reduced to 2 cups. Of course, I would personally drink some of the fresh tea each day as well.

Full healing time will depend on the severity of the break, and other factors like your age, condition, and diet, but you can generally expect at least 2-3 months before you go out for a night of serious line dancing. You should be past any significant swelling or inflammation by now, but tea or capsules of Dandelion and Turmeric can help control those.

Q. I was wondering if you could point me in the right direction for some good information on using the moon phases? It seems there are an abundance of opinions on the internet. In your book, you mention it can’t hurt, so I was wondering if I could learn a little more about harvesting, and making my own tinctures and oils with a little lunar help. To me, logic says harvest the flowers/ leaves when the moon is full and the roots on the new moon, and put my tinctures up on the new moon. But if that is the case, then what do you do with the plant in between harvest and new moon?

A. Most of what I know about lunar influences I learned from my grandmother, and from the collection of well-worn old Farmer’s Almanacs she had. The pencil notes she made in the margins of those pages indicated that there was an occasional difference of opinion even then. Today, real life and my travels don't always accommodate the ideal lunar consciousness for my extracts, but I always try to factor them in. Here's how it works. When possible, I harvest aerial parts as close to the full moon as possible, and roots near the new moon. When tincturing from fresh, I start them all as soon after harvest as possible, and finish all on the next full moon. That means that flowers and tops end up going close to a month, while roots get right at two weeks. If there's no particular rush, herbs can be dried before processing. When the herbs are dried first, tinctures can be started on the new moon, and finished on the full regardless of the plant part. Of course, emergencies and general whoopsies sometimes throw all that out the window, and when it does, two weeks of maceration will still produce a good, usable product. I have even made a few batches of good tincture in 3 days using an incubator (cabinet kept at 122 degrees F) and a rotator for constant agitation. With genuine need and good intent, the plants and processes can be very forgiving.

Q. I have your book, and I have also been to the Herbal Medicine Maker Boot Camp seminar. I know I can use fresh herbs to make a hot oil extract, but can I use dried herbs that way also? I can't seem to find the answer in my notes.

A. I personally don't recommend heating dried herbs in oil. During a hot oil extraction, the moisture that is being driven off of fresh herbs helps protect them from overheating and damage. It can be a delicate balance even then. Even when they are available fresh, delicate herbs, especially the highly aromatic ones, are best when dried carefully first, then extracted as a cold infusion. It does take a lot longer, of course, but the extra time and care rewards with a much richer oil. Patience is a BIG part of the art.

Q. Would you please help me with understanding the term "maximum saturation" when making tinctures? I recently got a mailer from a supplier that claims their tinctures are all made that way.

A. Personally, I would consider the term mostly marketing hype. It implies that a tincture or extract is so concentrated that it cannot accept any more plant actives, but then that's mostly impossible and unnecessary. More is not always better and controlling doses of high concentration, saturation or extracts can be a problem. The dose of Teasel for Lyme for instance is very small, 1-5 drops even when the tincture is made at 1:6 (one part of herb spread through 6 parts of menstruum). If it was made more concentrated, say as a 1:1 fluid extract, it would have to be diluted just to get the dose low enough. In that case then, 1:6 would be the maximum practical saturation.

Like most businesses, commercial tincture makers are always looking for some way to imply that their product is better or more effective than someone else's. Since most people don't actually think it through, it occasionally works. Mostly though, such terms need to be taken with a grain of salt. Our herbal forebears worked out the most effective extract ratios for our plant medicines over centuries of active practice and observation. The 19th Century formularies and dispensatories that the Eclectic practices left behind still offer the best guidelines for tried-and-true botanical remedies, and are among the most treasured volumes in my library. Many of them have been tediously digitized for research, and some can even be downloaded for free from the Southwest School of Botanical Medicine at www.swsbm.com.

Philip Fritchey, M.H., N.D., CNHP is a Master Herbalist, a Registered Naturopath, and a Natural Health Lecturer, with over 25 years experience making hand-crafted herbal formulas. Dr. Fritchey is a graduate of the Trinity School of Natural Health. He is an instructor for the Body Systems, Herbology, Nature’s 9-1-1 and Herbal Medicine Maker Boot Camp seminars of the National Association of Certified Natural Health Professionals, and author of Practical Herbalism—Ordinary Plants with Extraordinary Powers (Whitman Publications, 2004). He and his wife Emily, a clinical esthetician, own Sunshine Botanicals, a producer of hand-made corrective botanical skin care products. You may e-mail comments and questions to drphil@HISgoodherbs.com.