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“Coral Root as a Healing Herb”

I wanted to talk a little bit about the medicinal herb Coral Root.  Members of the Corallorhiza family are many, and most of them are endangered.  In our forest we’re lucky to have a variety of coral root that is not state or nationally endangered.  Coral root is an orchid.  It’s entirely parasitic.  It produces no leaves and contains no chlorophyl.  It survives by leeching nutrients from the roots of the plants around it, as well as being fed by mycelium and other generous members of its ecosystem.

The ‘root’ of coral root is what we harvest for medicine.  Coral root doesn’t actually have roots.  It has an elaborate network of finger-like rhizomes that grow in segmented fashion, curling in on themselves and encasing anything they curl around.  The root ball then, which is technically a rhizome ball, is a tightly-knit wad of little segmented fingers.  Anything from roots to rocks become encased in their grasp.

The rhizomes, unfortunately, smell like urine.  Both fresh and dried.  I really wish they didn’t, because I love this herb.  And I dislike drinking my “cup of hot urine” when I need to take coral root.  Thankfully the flavor is easily masked with mint, pine needles, or other strongly aromatic herbs that combine well with it medicinally.

The harvested rhizomes are a PAIN to clean.  If I wanted to get paid a living wage for selling coral root I’d have to charge $20-30 an ounce for it.  I’m not going to do that because I want folks to have access to this herbs that has little or no industrial production and is not widely available.  To clean the rhizomes, root balls anywhere from 5 inches to 10 inches across must be completely broken apart.  Every last little segment of rhizome (each segment is less than an inch long, there are thousands of them in a small ball) must be broken apart, since their style of growth means they have encased huge quantities of substrate and forest debris.  The amount of substrate they can harbor is astounding.  So the entire ball must be tediously picked apart in a container of water, and thousands, if not millions, of little segments must then be washed and virtually scrubbed free rocks and soil.  It took me many back-aching hours to clean about 10lbs of coral root rhizomes in 2020.  And sadly they dried down to just 1 pound of dried rhizome.  It didn’t

leave much to go around, and I ended up gifting the majority of it to friends in need of herbal anxiety relief.

 

Moving on, though, to what coral root actually does.
First, as it’s more known for, coral root addresses cerebral tension and can help quiet racing thoughts, agitated moods, and anxious states.  It works via the central nervous system to calm and quiet the mind and body.  I find coral root very useful when I feel overwhelmed, over worked, and bordering on states of mental anxiety.  It’s a reliable way to turn the volume down on all of the mental ‘white noise’ and regain the ability to focus and think clearly.

Coral root is also specific to lung infection recovery.  Weakened immune systems and long-standing lung infections specifically indicate oral root.  One friend I sent coral root to in 2020 found drastic improvement in his condition.  He got COVID in the spring of 2020 and even though he had otherwise recovered, he had a persistent lung infection he couldn’t clear up.  I now know of at least 3 people who have this same complication, where 6-9 months after

recovering they still have deep stubborn lung infections.  This particular friend saw an immediate movement and expulsion of the long-standing fluids with each cup of tea he drank.  I likewise use coral root when I have lung complaints or stubborn fluid in the lungs after an incident or illness.

 

Additionally, coralroot can be mildly stimulating to menstruation, so best to exercise caution if One is striving for pregnancy.

Because I have rationed quantities of this herb, I typically make 16oz. pot of tea with a small pinch of about a dozen or so segments of rhizome in it.  These segments, once dried, are only a few millimeters in length.  Just a small pinch is enough to give me coral root’s anxiety fighting effects.  In a rush, I’ve even swallowed a pinch of root with water, like pills.  The effects were slower to kick in and not as pronounced.  But it works if making tea isn’t an option.  Back to making tea though- I typically steep the same pinch of rhizomes twice, with the second steep lasting as long as I can let it to leech every last bit of goodness out of the rhizomes.

Coral root is relatively safe and benign.  It provides a bounty of benefits that are extra applicable during this pandemic.  I’m not trying to sell you on COVID cures- I don’t even have any coral root for sale at the time of posting this!  My intent is to provide you with another tool in your arsenal of herbal healing.  If coral root sounds like it could improve your quality of life, find a good source to buy from, or better yet, go wander your nearest conifer forest, identify you local coral root variety, and if it’s not endangered, dig yourself up some anxiety relief and lung-healing rhizomes.

It’s worth noting, additionally, that when digging up a rhizome ball, I take all of the ‘buds’ and replant them.  These are thick, thumb-like nodes on the finger-ball.  They are bulbous and often have a small ‘spike’ on them, which is an immature shoot poised to sprout out of the node.  I try to leave these buds with a small amount of rhizomes still attached and replant them in the area so I don’t impede on my local coral root’s population.

 

I want to add one cool story about harvesting coral root.
When harvesting, I have found no correlation between the number of flowering stalks present above the surface and the size of the root ball below.  Some huge root systems sport only 1 stalk, and some tiny golf-ball sized rhizome clusters may sport 6 or more flowering stalks.
To-date though, the biggest and most healthy rhizome  cluster I’ve found was symbiotically functioning as an ant nursery!  This rhizome mass was over a foot across.  I mined out only half of it.  It took harvesting the first half to really understand what I was seeing.  I certainly didn’t want to rob the ants of this sweet relationship with the coral root, so I replanted the buds and buried the hole I dug open, leaving the rest of

the coralroot undisturbed.

In amongst the rhizomes were networks and caverns of ant brood.  Little nurse ants scurried through tunnels in the rhizome ball.  Tunnels in the substrate lead to and from the rhizome mass to their anthill a few feet away.   Angry worker ants eventually began pouring out of the tunnels as I disturbed the nursery.

I can only assume that this was a successful symbiotic relationship.  It was the largest, healthiest patch of coral root I’ve ever seen, and the ants seemed to be flourishing as well.  I have to wonder if ant feces or carcasses fed nutrients to the rhizomes, or if said waste fed mycelium that fed the rhizomes.  Or perhaps the ants themselves offered supportive nutrition to the coral root via bodily fluids or intentional delivery of physical nutrients.  I’d really like to know!  It was a fascinating discovery!

 

 

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“On Self-Advocation and Self-Love #1”

If you live with the aftershocks of trauma, one of the healthiest things you can do for yourself and others is to self advocate.  Speak up about your triggers.  True, over time and with proactive work, you can desensitize or eliminate your triggers.  But in the mean time, learn to speak up for yourself.  This not only helps to stop the trigger from happening, but it communicates clearly with others that you have a boundary that you’d like them to respect.   Maybe that’s being touched or approached a certain way, or loud noises of a certain kind, or certain conversational topics.  When you see the trigger coming, or right when it happens, politely but pointedly speak up.  You can say something like;
Hey, please don’t touch me from behind.
I don’t handle that well, please don’t do that.
I’m not okay with this, please stop.
This kind of thing is upsetting to me, can we turn the tv off/the volume down please?
You don’t have to go into a lengthy explanation of why you have a sensitivity.  The important thing is that you, in a respectful manner, advocate for that sensitivity in a clear and direct manner.  How someone chooses to react will tell you valuable information about the individual.  More often than not, the other person will say “Oh, sure, my bad.” And hopefully they’ll make a mental note of this new boundary you’ve set and will make an effort to respect it in the future.
If the other person is blatantly disrespectful and refuses to accommodate your reasonable request(s), make a note of it.  This person is willfully disrespectful.  They do not respect you and you should set boundaries with them accordingly.  If they intentionally subject you to the triggers after you have clearly communicated your request not to, it would be healthiest, if at all possible, to reduce your contact and communication with this person wherever possible.  If they’re a friend or family member, that still applies.  Loved ones do not have some special right to disrespect you. They should be held, on the contrary, to a high standard than the average person in your life!
If the disrespectful person is in the workplace, school, or other place you’re obliged to be present at and thus you must be around this person, my best advice is lead by the change you want to see.  If someone goes out of their way to disrespect you, after self-advocating and reminding them that you’ve requested respect from them, be certain that you go out of your way to respect their boundaries.  Chances are this other person has been disrespected so habitually in their life that they resent respecting others.  So giving them due respect may enact some positive change in their life.
Granted, I’m not referring to instances of overt and blatant abuse here.  Abuse situations require self advocation of a stronger suit.  That’s a topic in and of itself.
In conjunction with self advocation, you need to also respect your self.  The two go hand in hand.  Each will make the other easier, but the absence of either will hinder your efforts.  You may be at war with your body or your mind (or both), but they’re the only ones you’ll ever have.  Take small steps in treating yourself with respect by physically supporting the needs of your body and mind.  It’s hard to expect others to respect you when you aren’t showing basic respect to yourself.
So find ways to advocate for your body- to your self!  If you are struggling with your diet habits, make small, positive, healthy choices and changes.  Do it for YOU.  For no one but yourself, your body.  You were born with a meat ship and you’re stuck driving it until you die, so do your best to keep it running as smoothly as possible.  Try adding a few new veggies into your diet, or cooking a nice homemade meal, even if it’s simple, instead of eating out or microwaving an instant meal. Validate your worth, justify splurging a bit on yourself with a cut of high quality meat or fresh seafood from the local meat shop, or a switch to organic pastured eggs or higher quality ingredients, that rare-but-crazy-expensive seasoning that you normally don’t let yourself get, or, one of my own favorites, buy that obscenely over-priced pomegranate.  Why?  Because eating pomegranates without a utensil is fun, of course! I’ve learned to thoroughly enjoy the juicy, messy challenge, for no other reason than indulging in something that’s not only healthy, but is amusing, nonsensical, and lightens my mood.
If you struggle with hygiene, try simple conscious steps to improve the physical health of your skin- I highly recommend tea bathes for this.  Put a large pot of water on to boil while/before drawing your bath.  After it comes to a boil, turn the heat off and add loose-leaf herbs.  Lavender is soothing, mint is energizing, rose leaf is astringent, basil is antiseptic and pain numbing- these are all herbs many of us have in the kitchen or yard already.  If you have lung complaints, eucalyptus leaves can be added, or a few drops of its essential oils can add a lung-soothing aromatic to the bath.  Find a way to be intentional with your hygiene.  Do it for you body, because your body deserves your respect.
If you struggle with stress and sleep, both of these things can negatively impact your body in profound ways.  Prioritize YOU.  Sever your evening obligations and go to bed early because your body and brain deserve a good night’s sleep.  Dedicate 1 day per week to relaxing or being lazy- if that’s too drastic of a leap, dedicate 1 morning each week to sleeping in and having no agenda before noon. Take time for you.  For some people that looks like quiet alone time, meditation, reading, or sleep.  For others that might be something indulgent and stimulating, like exercise, cooking, working outdoors, or completing a project.  Anything goes, as long as it’s not increasing your stress or insomnia.
On the topic of stress, self advocation applies here as well.  It’s not just triggers that people need to stand up for, but stressors as well!  Learn to say “No” to people and be at peace with it.  You always have the right to decline.  I mean, there are some obscure, creative exceptions.  Like, when you get pulled over for speeding and the officer says “Can I see your license?” you probably shouldn’t say “No, thanks for asking though.”  Aside from certain scenarios, it’s generally healthy to exercise your “No” muscles.  Especially with friends and family, where it’s often the hardest.  Why?  Because caring for yourself and tending to your needs not only sets a healthy example of self-love to your loved ones, but when people see you respecting yourself, they become more inclined to respect you as well.  Saying “Yes” to everyone all the time isn’t healthy for anyone.  Period.