A walk in the woods with the co-author of “Healing With Medicinal Plants,” Dr. James Adams.
The book is available from www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com, from Amazon, and from Abedus Press (see end of article)
[Nyerges is the author of “Foraging California,” “Guide to Wild Foods,” and other books. He has been leading plant identification outings since 1974. Information about his books and classes is available from School of Self-Reliance, Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041, or www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com.]
The three of us drove for about an hour and finally exited onto a dusty trail in the Santa Monica Mountains to learn about the healing properties of plants.
Myself and Army veteran Mark Tsunokai (Sgt. T.) were in the field with Dr. James Adams, a doctor of pharmacology who also spent years studying from a traditional Chumash healer. Though we were actually on a quest to find one obscure plant whose buds can help alleviate the symptoms of pneumonia, Sgt. T. and I were also interested in the bigger picture of how to heal.
Dr. Adams is a walking encyclopedia, bringing alive both his western training in pharmacology and his training in the traditional healing ways of the Chumash.
Before we’d gone very far, we encountered the black sage and purple sage plants, both of which are excellent cooking spices. “The purple sage is the best plant to relieve pain,” Dr. Dr. Adams tells us. He explains that one should take two small handfuls of the leaves, simmer it in sea water, and then soak your feet in the water. My natural question was “what if you’re not near the sea?” Ordinary water will do, we were told. And though Dr. Adams said that this was the best plant for pain, he said that the black sage could also be used as an effective substitute.
What if it’s not your feet that are hurting?, I asked. What about a headache, a toothache, an aching back? Dr. Adams smiled patiently at my question while Sgt. T. took notes. “I’m saying that you should soak your feet for any pain,” he responded. “Your brain doesn’t feel pain, but your skin does.” OK, soak your feet for any pain!
This wasn’t going to be an ordinary hike, I quickly realized, as Sgt. T. continued to scribble notes into his waterproof military notebook.
Further along on the dusty trail we saw a family huddled around a bush, mumbling something to Dr. Adams. Dr. Adams began to tell them the identity of the bush they were standing around – golden currant – but this time they said they weren’t interested in the plants, just the red snake they pointed to under the bush. We all stopped and looked at the four foot long beautiful snake with its mottled red head sticking up motionless. It was identified as a red racer, somewhat rare. We took pictures and then it suddenly raced away.
Dr. Adams picked up some small dried plants and shook out some tiny seeds. “Chia!,” he declared. This was the native golden chia, the high-energy seed used by desert Indians for generations. This was our native chia, not the cultivated chia so commonly sold in the health food stores these days.
“Chia is the best treatment for someone who’s had a stroke,” Dr. Adams explains. “You add one tablespoon of the seeds to 10 tablespoons of water, and the seeds swell up gelatinously. You give this to the stroke patient once a day for a month.” Since I eat chia every day in my coffee, I asked Dr. Adams if this would help to prevent a stroke. “No, not necessarily,” he told me. OK, but I’ll still eat it because I like it.
As we walk, Dr. Adams speaks of “his teacher” who he rarely mentions by name. His teacher of many years was Chumash healer Cecilia Garcia, who passed away over a year ago.
On our short journey into the hillside, we see numerous spring wild flowers such as Mariposa lily, blazing star, brodiaea or blue dicks, and Mimulus. He stops and teaches how the nearly-miraculous mugwort leaves can be used for healing, as well as the California sagebrush, the details and recipes for which are in his book.
Finally, we come across a stand of erect but somewhat inconspicuous plants with little sticky yellow flowers, the object of our search, a plant known as both gum plant and gum weed. Dr. Adams carefully explained that to use this plant to treat pneumonia, you boil one bud in a cup and a half of water in a pot with a lid. You let the patient drink some each night. I took notes as Sgt. T. took photos, and I picked a few flower heads for experimentation.
Clearly, we’ve lost touch with nature’s pharmacy. Like so many areas of our lives, we’ve turned over our own critical thinking to “experts.” Dr. Adams the healer is on a mission to change that through his teachings and field trips. His book is highly recommended.
“Healing with Medicinal Plants of the West” was written by Dr. Adams and Cecilia Garcia, published by Abedus Press, P.O. Box 8018, La Crescenta, CA 91214. The latest (3rd) edition includes the recipes from Cecilia Garcia for how to properly use many of the plants for medicine.