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Blog: On Health. On Writing. On Life. On Everything.

Invasive Plants 4 – Bindweed

October 17, 2011

Tags: herbs, aloe, Angel’s trumpet, angiogenesis inhibitor, Aztecs, bindweed, blood vessel, bowel, Calistegia, cancer, cathartic - drastic, contact poison, cholagogue, comfrey, Convolvulus arvensis, Convolvulus scammonia, cramps, dahlias, daylilies, fevers, field bindweed, gallbladder, hallucinogenic, infection, Invasive Plants 4 – Bindweed, Ipomoea, invasive plants, laxative, medicinal plant, Mediterranean, Mexico, morning glory, nausea, New World, Old World, poisonous, roots, Round-up, scammony, side-effects, skin sore, subtropics, Syria, taxonomy, tea – herbal, toxicity, tropics, trumpet flower, tumor, vascularization, vegetable patch, vine, Virginia, weed, wound - festering, wound healing

We all love morning glories, those blue-purple trumpets that open in abundance in the morning, then fade during the day, only to display a new crop of blooms the next sunny morning. But we all hate field bindweed. Yet, the two are closely related.

The family relationships of morning glories and bindweeds are exceedingly complicated – kind of like trying to figure out how Uncle Ernest is related to Grandma’s sister. Bindweed is Convolvulus arvensis, and the most common garden morning glory is really an Ipomoea. Some bindweeds are in the Calistegia family, but there are even more genera involved in these twining, flowering trumpets.

Let’s say you and I know what a morning glory is: a dazzling, desirable plant in the garden. And its lowly cousin, the bindweed, is a curse.

It is not that bindweed is ugly: Their trumpets are usually a bit smaller and often just plain white. But some have a blushing rose painted in, and could well compete with the showier morning glories if they were not so – well, invasive.

The pop up everywhere and vine themselves around your dahlias and daylilies and whatnot, and smother them. Just when you have hacked the vegetable patch, only days later their peep up again, and show you that all your work was in vain.

It comes out of the ground so dainty and harmless – but don’t be fooled: Scattering their seeds is only the small part of it. Worse is that the teeniest bit of root left in the ground will sprout a whole new plant in no time. That feature makes them a weed – and a weed that in all likelihood won’t be eradicated for good from your garden (or mine).

If the taxonomy and names of morning glories and bindweeds are confusing, so are their origins. Roughly one can say the showy garden morning glories come from the New World, especially Mexico, and bindweeds are Old World inhabitants. Bindweed was introduced to Virginia in the 1700’s, and rapidly spread from there. There is a Mediterranean variety called scammony (Convolvulus scammonia), used as a medicinal plant in Syria.

Bindweed and is mildly poisonous; “mildly poisonous” means you likely will not die but will be sick as a dog and you wish you were dead. Nevertheless, the Aztecs used it as a hallucinogenic – I don’t recommend trying what the Aztecs tried though. Suffice to know that Angel’s trumpet is a relative, too – all morning glories should be handled with caution. Literally handled: Some species, particularly in the subtropics and tropics, are so poisonous that mere contact can make one sick. Livestock might be poisoned, especially by the white roots, if for instance swine dig for the roots.

With all its nauseating toxicity, bindweed has been used as a medicinal plant: A tea from the flowers is good against infections and fevers, and also works as a laxative. Perhaps, to discourage its use, I should call it properly a drastic cathartic, which what it is. It is a cholagogue, meaning it induces the gallbladder to push out bile into the bowels. Nausea and cramps surely are some of its side-effects.

The herb has been laid on festering wounds and promotes healing. But unless you are in bind – umh! – I would prefer comfrey and aloe to heal wounds because we don’t know well enough how much of the bindweed is taken up through a skin sore.

And lastly, bindweed is being investigated as a possible cancer drug. It seems to be an angiogenesis inhibitor, meaning it does not allow a growing tumor to vascularize itself (growing the necessary blood vessel to feed itself) – thus, the cancer is starved. But it sound more straightforward than it is – again, I wouldn’t try this at home.

Bindweed, invasive and frustrating. But it might have its redeeming sides. Nothing on which we should use Round-up (which we should use on NOTHING!!) – just investigate its usefulness.

Singing the Praise of an Ugly Plant - Aloe Vera

January 20, 2011

Tags: herbs, water, Africa - Northern, aloe, Aloe vera, aloin, antiseptic, Arabic peninsula, band-aid, bedsore, burns, calligraphy, Chinese supermarket, comfrey, desert plant, diabetes type II, eczema, emolliant, film – healing, health food store, heartburn, houseplant, lubricant, redness (inflammation), Singing the Praise of an Ugly Plant - Aloe Vera, stomach pain, surgical cut, tea tree oil, ulcer, wound, wound - deep, wound healing, wound - superficial

If you have a black thumb and all plants wither if you just look at them, you still should have one houseplant, namely aloe. It does not ask for much: Put it on a windowsill and water it once in a while. The danger is more in over-watering, not in under-watering, as it is a desert plant. Its rosettes are boring, and the spiny edges of its leaves might be out to get you.

Aloe vera is a succulent (meaning: storing water) plant that comes from the arid regions of the Arabic peninsula and Northern Africa. It has been cultivated for thousands of years due to its medicinal properties, and one can’t find any natural stand anymore in the wild – all now existent plants seemed to have been planted purposefully – certainly this is a hint that aloe is a useful plant.

Aloe has long leathery leaves. The leaves can be spotted or not, the plant can be smaller or bigger – doesn’t matter. All the aloe one can buy has the medicinal properties.

Why do I want to sing the praise of Aloe vera here?

Last week, concentrating on my calligraphy, admiring the black lines of my brush on the paper, suddenly a beautiful red streak mixed itself in – a truly amazing color scheme: black, white and red. Only, the red was bleeding from one of my knuckles – and I didn’t even know how I had hurt myself. A flap of skin was barely hanging on. I applied a bit of tea tree oil and a band-aid, and continued my calligraphy.

It healed slowly - being on the knuckle where constant movement stretches the skin, didn’t help. Every time I thought I could take off the band-aid, the flap hung onto something, and the wound ripped open again, and bled. Taking onions out of their netting, stacking the stove, retrieving glasses from my pockets – everything conspired that the wound wouldn’t, couldn’t heal.

Then I thought of aloe. I have several plants in the house. I cut off one of the fleshy leaves at the base, and dripped some of its juice onto my knuckle, after I had reapplied tea tree oil. Aloe vera is said to have antiseptic activities too, but tea tree oil is always my choice to prevent infection of wounds. This time I skipped the band-aid. The juice dries to a film, and underneath healing takes place.

Within minutes of applying the aloe juice, the wound looked less angry. After two hours it had shrunk to about half its size. I could better see what was still viable tissue and what not – I cut of the dead protruding ends, and now I am not as likely to rip open the wound again.

Since yesterday, I have applied this mixture of tea tree oil and aloe juice several times. Today the wound is a quarter of what it had been, all redness is gone, and I assume by tomorrow all will be fine.

Because aloe heals wounds so quickly, it should never be applied to a deep wound - say, a bed sore or a surgical cut. Aloe would further superficial healing and wound closure so fast that the underlying wound could still be festering, and then break open again. Aloe is for superficial wounds only!

In the summer, comfrey does a similar spectacular job of healing a wound, but few people even know the plant with its soft felt-like large leaves and lovely purple drooping blossoms, and even less would know how to apply it to a wound (mash the leaves first – or chew them).

One also can buy huge aloe leaves in Chinese supermarkets and health food stores. Those I would first wash with a mild detergent before cutting – who knows how they have been treated before!

Interestingly, scientists are still debating if aloe furthers wound healing. They must have never watch the wound shrink within minutes after applying the plant juice to the wound. I suspect that studies were done with commercial aloe preparation – and those might not work the same way as fresh juice.

Each time I want to use the plant, I cut a thin slice of the leave, just to renew the cut surface, and immediately juice drips out.

Now that I have sacrificed a whole leaf, I will put the rest to good use: I brush my teeth with the inside gel because it heals gums. I also eat the gel when I have an upset stomach. Never eat the outside hard part of the leave as it contains aloin, a strong laxative that has been banned from over-the-counter- preparations because it is harsh on the intestines, and could even lead to the miscarriage of a baby. Whereas the inside gel is soothing and anti-inflammatory. So finishing up the leave, eating a few bites here and there, will do my whole body good. Aloe is also used as a food stuff, so there is no harm in eating it – on the contrary!

This is what the Aloe vera gel does:

• Wound healing, including burns
• Gum healing
• Stomach-soothing, especially good against heartburn and ulcers
• Anti-inflammatory
• Antiseptic
• Emolliant - softens and smoothes the skin, especially in eczema
• Lubricant
• Anti-diabetic (in preliminary studies)

It does a lot more. But just the wound healing should bring it into every household!
Aspen eyes, by Peggy Peters

Iguazu Falls, by Xin Liu

Alexa Fleckenstein M.D. 2012, by Lolita Parker jr.

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