Spring has become my favorite season here in the desert. In lieu of my routine P90X DVD’s, I ventured out of my living room to get some fresh air. I took a hike up Piestewa Peak in Phoenix and noticed another one of my desert favorites, the Ocotillo, in bloom. Aside from its fun shape and beautiful flowers when blooming, it has some interesting medicinal properties.
The long branches of this plant have sharp spines camouflaged by small green leaves. Historic Indian uses include placing the flowers and roots of ocotillo over wounds to stop bleeding. (Convenient that my steep hike was lined with this lovely plant!) In botanical formulations in the clinic, the fresh bark tincture is used mainly as a lymphagogue. Lymphagogue botanicals promote the movement of the lymphatic fluid that helps with immune function and waste elimination. This class of botanicals can be further categorized by area of the body that it is known to have greatest effects. Ocotillo has an affinity for the pelvis and is therefore useful in conditions of stagnation such as constipation, hemorrhoids, fibroids or endometriosis. For example, I chose to include this botanical as a part of a formulation for a patient who had varicosities in her legs.
It is amazing to me that medicine is really all around us. I can imagine that I passed many plants on my hike that day that can be used medicinally. Often botanicals can have stereotypical uses like, “St. Johns Wort for depression,” but in reality the energetic and practical application of the plant is what gives it its unique characteristics and not always completely understood effects. Plant medicines are unique in that they often work slowly and gently to heal chronic conditions, but can be used in high does for short periods of time for acute conditions. Energetics are not easily explained properties of plant medicines, but rather to be experienced. I am excited to have another botanical medicine rotation coming up on my next (AND FINAL!!!) quarter of school where I will be able to learn and experience the energy of herbs!