Mayapple (extremely toxic)

Mayapple (extremely toxic)

Podophyllotoxin (podofilox) and its derivatives, which come from the mayapple, is used to create the chemotherapy drug Etoposide (which is sold by Bristol-Myers Squibb as VePesid, aka VP-16).

AN ABORIGINAL APPROACH TO FIGHTING CANCER

Cancer is like a prairie grass often spreads quickly and consumes all in its path. Buffalo medicine teaches us that those who survive the prairie fires keep a level head, knowing where to go to stay alive. Dealing with cancer using sacred medicines means a similar shift in thinking.

Cancer and diabetes were virtually non-existent when plant medicines were discovered. Now, modern illnesses have caused us to revisit our "plant people" to determine if traditional medicinal herbs have new uses. Cancer is one of the illnesses we have targeted, heads and horns down to charge like buffalo!

Much of what our ancestors had to say about "purification" is correct. The old healing rituals remind us of the need to keep internal organs free of toxic build-up. Blood purification rituals are practised annually to keep the body free of viruses and parasites. Anything which suppresses the body's immune function is capable of starting one of the disease fires.

We use burdock root tincture for a month each autumn as a simple cleansing routine. Black walnut tincture has additional properties as a blood cleanser and vermifuge and is useful at any time of the year. Contemporary about diet agrees with that of our ancestors' thinking: no hydrogenated fats, increased fibre and elimination of substances like refined sugar, alcohol and (from my observation) preservatives. This is a healthy start. The ancestors' diet of whole, natural foods, roots, vegetables and fruit (see sidebar) when followed religiously, is both heart-smart and healing.
The ancestors' traditional diet included healing teas. The following is a partial list we use when dealing with the lifestyle changes associated with a diagnosis of cancer. These herbs often require special gathering and preparation.
Certain plants, like burdock, are gathered when they are first-year plants to maximize potency. Others are gathered before full blossoming, while some are gathered after maturity. In the case of plants like mayapple, if picked at the wrong time they are actually poisonous. Some plants are so specialized that even the time of day they are picked is crucial. Certain plants are gathered for the blossoms or leaves while some are gathered for the roots--sometimes just certain sections of the root. We are careful of the moon quarter we harvest in, preferring new moon through full moon for this task. Occasionally, if necessary, we harvest in the third-quarter of the moon cycle, but never in the fourth quarter.

Ancestral Medicine is Best

In terms of preparation, plants might be dried and consumed in capsules while others are made into tea. Some are boiled with water and others infused in alcohol to extract their essence. This is the education of the medicine person--we do not want desperate people going out and getting just any old version of the plants mentioned and trying to heal themselves. In North America, medicine people have used trial and error for tens of thousands of years to determine plant use.

Indian pink, also known as cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), and chicory/cornflower (Cichorium intybus) were used historically as a poultice for fever blisters. Currently, they are used in combination for skin cancers and radiation exposure. They can be combined with white pine blister rust to increase potency.
Ironwood (Ostrya virginiana) bark, from the side of the tree facing the sun, is boiled and applied to rectal cancers.
Pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellata) is used in combination with other plants (spearmint or curly mint) as a tea for stomach cancer.

Fleabane (Erigeron canadensis). The whole plant is gathered, just before the daisy-flower blossoms, and boiled in three litres of water. The mash created is used as a wash and poultice on cancers of the legs.

Common thistle (Cirsium vulgare) is made into tea and consumed throughout the day.
Wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) is eaten and made into teas to use as a preventive for both diabetes and cancer. It's considered a blood purifier.

Garlic (Allium) needs to be eaten daily, both as a preventive and to combat active cancers. Don't like garlic? Take odourless garlic capsules.

Ground ivy (Glecoma hederacea), when combined with honey and calendula marigold into a tea, helps with cancers that eat away flesh.

Bittersweet (Solanum dulcamara) inhibits the growth of tumours and can reverse their progress.
Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) is a multipurpose plant whose application to cancer is best derived from ingestion of the tincture.

Celandine (Chelidonium majus). The root of this plant is used as a tincture for liver obstruction and cancer and externally as a poultice for skin malignancies.

Yellow dock (Rumex crispus). The root is used both internally and externally for cancers that produce swellings due to wastes accumulating in the tissues. Primarily it's used as a tincture or tea.

Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginica) is an important plant whose bark and leaves are prepared as topical poultices and from which a tincture is derived for internal consumption.

Violets (Viola odorata) give a tea used for cancer of the throat. I find this useful for any smoking-related cancers.
White cedar (Thuja occidentalis) is a sacred "Standing Person" (tree) to aboriginal people. A tincture from fresh green twigs is used for a variety of cancers.

Red clover (Trifolium pratense) is a plant of the "Times of Winds and Changes." Much recited in prophecies as a plant of the millennium, it's used in combination with other plants to produce profound, rapid healing. What plants it is combined with depends on the aspect of the cancer and the individual for whom it is being prepared.

Wild indigo (Baptisia tinctoria) has many applications, cancer being only one. The bark, root and leaves are used to create a tincture that is used alone and with Echinacea angustifolia.

Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) is virtually gone from the wild. due to extensive over-harvesting. It's an immune stimulant and cancer agent. but must be taken intermittently. It's commonly combined with echinacea to speed healing.
Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) is another important addition to the healer's medicine basket. When combined with elecampane in a tea, it's well known to affect lung problems of all kinds, including tuberculosis and lung cancer. It affects other cancers as well.

There are many other plants, like poke-weed and chaparral, which are not as readily available in the north. Professionals must handle mayapple preparation. It's toxic if picked too early in the season.

The Ancestors' Diet

I wrote the following about the ancestors' diet (see alive #215): "For breakfast we consume things 'high off the earth'--nuts. berries and fruits. This gives us the fructose, fats and proteins to get energized. The natural fruit sugars, or fructose, do not increase blood sugar levels in the same way as refined sugars. At lunch we eat the 'three sisters' (corn. beans and squash), grains and vegetables that grow above ground. From this group we get the complex carbohydrates, vegetable proteins and fibre needed to sustain high energy levels. For supper we eat root vegetables those grown below ground and occasionally fish, fowl or animal protein. These plants provide starches and fibre and sustain blood sugar levels through the night because they take longer to digest. Historically, animal proteins were eaten only every three or four days. This is a pH-balanced way of eating and it ensures a primarily plant-based source of protein."

Kathryn Gorman-Lovelady is a teacher of aboriginal healing. She lives in Durham, ON.
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By Kathryn Gorman-Lovelady

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Dealing with cancer using sacred medicines means a similar shift in thinking. Blood purification rituals are practised annually to keep the body free of viruses and parasites. Black walnut tincture has additional properties as a blood cleanser and vermifuge and is useful at any time of the year. The following is a partial list we use when dealing with the lifestyle changes associated with a diagnosis of cancer. These herbs often require special gathering and preparation. Some plants are so specialized that even the time of day they are picked is crucial. Some are boiled with water and others infused in alcohol to extract their essence. They can be combined with white pine blister rust to increase potency. The mash created is used as a wash and poultice on cancers of the legs. The root of this plant is used as a tincture for liver obstruction and cancer and externally as a poultice for skin malignancies. The root is used both internally and externally for cancers that produce swellings due to wastes accumulating in the tissues. A tincture from fresh green twigs is used for a variety of cancers. What plants it is combined with depends on the aspect of the cancer and the individual for whom it is being prepared. but must be taken intermittently. It affects other cancers as well. Professionals must handle mayapple preparation. These plants provide starches and fibre and sustain blood sugar levels through the night because they take longer to digest.

The Plants of the Healing Garden Collection

Pacific yew (Taxus brevifolia Nutt., Taxaceae) and English yew (T. baccata L.). Bark from T. brevifolia and leaves from T. baccata yield Taxol® (paclitaxel), used against breast, ovarian, lung, colon, and head and neck cancers. This evergreen may reach 80 feet in height, with densely needled branches. The Healing Garden collection includes an abstract design representing yew bark and suggesting stylized hearts, and another with yew branches and berries.

Rosy periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus (L.) G.Don f., Apocynaceae). A native of Madagascar, this flowering shrub is now found throughout the tropics. Cultivated widely as an ornamental, rosy periwinkle contains more than 60 alkaloids, among them vincristine, used against childhood leukemia; and vinblastine, used to treat Hodgkin's disease, as well as bladder, testicular, ovarian, and lung cancers. The QFC fabric highlights its colorful flowers.

Happy tree (Camptotheca acuminatta Decne., Cornaceae) is native to Western China and Tibet. Chemically active parts include new leaves and seeds, as well as wood, bark, stems, and roots. The cancer medications topotecan (for ovarian and lung cancers); irinotecan (against metastatic colorectal cancer); and 9-aminocamptotecin (undergoing clinical trials) are semisynthetic derivitives of camptothecin, which appears to stunt tumor growth. This plant's roots inspire an understated, textural print in Bonnie's collection.

Aspidosperma (Aspidosperma subincanum Mart, ex A D.C., Apocynaceae). Native to the Southwestern Pacific Rim and southern China, aspidosperma yields ellipticine, from which 9-hydroxy-2-methylellipticinium is derived, currently being tested for use against brain cancer. Aspidosperma leaves overlap creamy flowers in the QFC design
Tall or Purple meadow rue (Thalictrum dasycarpum Fisch. & Avé-Lall., Ranunculaceae). A robust wildflower, meadow rue's blossoms and stems are tinged with purple. The plant, two to six feet tall, grows in moist areas in the midwestern U.S. and Canada. Thaliblastine is a cytotoxic alkaloid derived from certain species in this genus. The meadow rue design uses stylized leaf and flower shapes in different sizes and shades on a black background.

Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum L., Berberidaceae). The mayapple, native to eastern North America, is also known as American mandrake, devil's apple, and duck's foot. The stem, one to two feet tall, bears two lobed leaves and one large white flower. In summer, it produces a large, yellow, hanging egg-shaped berry, sweet and edible, sometimes called wild lemon. The leaves and roots are soporific and very poisonous if eaten. Native Americans used the plant to treat snakebite, warts, and as an insecticide. Its chemically active parts are the rhizomes and roots. Etoposide (used against lung and testicular cancers, lymphoma, and leukemia), and teniposide (used to fight acute lymphocytic leukemia and neuroblastoma in children, and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and brain tumors in adults) are semisynthetic derivitives of podophyllotoxin from mayapple. The Himalayan mayapple (P. hexandrum Royle, syn. P. emodi) is another source for these drugs, however the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) lists this species in its Appendix II, not necessarily now threatened with extinction but may become so unless trade is closely controlled. Mayapple is an alternative still being investigated as a commercial source. Mayapple's graceful steins and flowers inspired a lacy design.

Sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas [L.] Lam., Convolvulaceae; Batatas edulis [Thunb.] Choisy, Convolvulaceae). Sweet potatoes probably originated in the American tropics. They were first recorded in 1519, when a European saw them being eaten in Brazil. They are sometimes called Spanish potato, and in the southern U.S "yams," but true yams are actually an African plant (Dioscorea spp., Dioscorcaceae). This creeping vine has heart-shaped, triangular, or cut-lobed leaves and rose-purple and white blossoms. The edible tubers contain more sugar and starch than white potatoes, and range in color from white and yellow to red and purple. When the root is infected with the fungus Fusarium solani (Mart.) Sacc., Nectriaceae, it produces 4-ipomeanol, which is in clinical trials for lung and hepatocellular cancers. Stratton's fabric features the vine, leaves, blossoms and buds.

PHOTO (COLOR): Swatch samples (from top to bottom): Pacific yew bark, Pacific yew, Rosy periwinkle, Happy tree, Aspidosperma. Purple meadow rue, Bleekia, Mayapple and Sweet potato.