Deeper Than Plants: Understanding Plant Chemistry

As an herbalist, understanding plant chemistry is very helpful to my work. Using my senses, especially taste, tells me about the plant's actions and energetics. From plant chemistry, I now have a shared language with the plants. I am able to communicate with plants - with chemistry they tell me things and I can now understand what the plants want me to know about them. I, in turn, now have the chance to use the plants in a way that's beneficial to me and the plant. See? This sounds far fetched and crazy, but it's true. Trust me. 

There's a poetic language that explains how the plants can communicate with humans. There is something called the doctrine of signature, which helps herbalist retain medicinal properties, it leads to medicinal discoveries, and helps herbalists identify medicinal properties. The Doctrine of Signature makes it easier for herbalists to use plants for specific remedies in the body on the basis that the plant resembles a body part. For example, Matthew Wood, an herbalist from Minnesota, "pioneered the use of Peony for head injuries based on the signature of the bud looking like a skull."

Here's an example of plant chemistry at work. Let's look at tannins.

Before we start, here are some definitions:

Astringent: Something that tones and dries mucous membranes, also stops bleeding (wounds and menstrual)

Vulnerary: Something that is a wound healer

Tannins are derivatives of gallic acids, they protect leaves from predators by reducing palatability and they protect buds from frost. They also protect and seal mucous membranes and skin. Through chemistry, I know that tannins are water and alcohol soluble and this information also lets me know that they can prevent absorption of some minerals. 

Now, I know the actions of plants that have tannins: they're astringent, anti-inflammatory, antidote to alkaloid poisoning, and vulnerary. 

Why should I care?

Cuz tea leaves have tannins and too much of anything is poison. You might not drink much tea (or maybe you do), but you might also be having other herbs that have lots of tannins, too, like: coffee, wine, Red raspberry, Yarrow, Sage, St. Johns wort, Lady's mantle, Nettles, and Oak bark.

What can tannins do for me?

I'm glad you asked. Tannins:

  1. Decrease diarrhea
  2. Decrease bleeding
  3. Seal leaky gut mucosa
  4. Draw out poisons from stings, bites and alkaloids
  5. Curb inflammation when you're dealing with conditions like IBS

What else?

At Ivy's Tea Co. we use Red Raspberry (Rubus idaeus), which has a tannin content between 13% and 15%, in our Sister Sister 3 tea. It is astringent, anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic, and a uterine tonic. Perfect for issues around ulcers, wounds, bleeding gums, and diarrhea. Red Raspberry is even used in pregnant women when they may have a miscarriage. We also use Yarrow (Achillea millefolium), it's in our YPE, because it contains tannins that stop excessive menstrual flow and hemorrhaging.

*This information is for educational purposes only. Consult with a doctor or physician before beginning the use of any herbs as some can be toxic or conflict with  medications. We are not doctors nor make any claim to be. We do not diagnose, treat or provide medical advice. Nothin here should be interpreted as a substitute to your doctors recommendations. Statements made here have not been evaluated by the FDA.


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