For this edition of Weed Love, I’m looking a bit outside our own property for inspiration- but what inspiration I found in our area as Spring finally arrives!
These beautiful flowers are Red Root, also known as California Lilac, or botanically, Ceanothus. They come in many forms, from ground-hugging shrubs to graceful small trees, and for most of the year, their leathery green leaves don’t make them very showy.
But come Spring, they burst into bloom in amazing ranges of blue- from pale robin’s egg to deep ultraviolet all over the hillsides and scrubby areas at the edges of roads and forests.
Traveling to early summer events, one of the sights I most looked forward to was the cascade of blue running from Southern Oregon all the way through the mountains and northern valleys of California. Red Root was there, all along our drive, and also there in the bottle of Spagyric Essence that I took to deal with my allergies to the Spring flowers.
When I worked at a garden center in Eugene, it was also there, and we called it California Lilac, encouraging people to plant this tough Western native in their gardens as an alternative to Buddleia or “Butterfly Bush”. Red Root is just as beautiful and just as supportive to butterflies and bees, but it is native to our area, requiring less care and not invading areas it’s planted.
Last year, as I recovered from surgery at my Mom’s house in a very flowery neighbourhood in Portland, Red Root was also there, planted across the street in a beautiful rock garden, and next to me in my healing tonic.
For that tonic, I combined Red Root, Burdock, Oregon Grape, and Calendula (another from my Weed Love series) to support swollen and damaged tissues and aid my body’s repair and recovery.
Red Root has very specific actions for healing, and it’s a little complex to understand, but its subtleties make it a very general medicine, useful in many types of imbalance, especially in combination with other herbs to direct it.
It’s an herb of immune support, but not in the direct way of Echinacea or Astragalus. Instead, Red Root supports the spleen and lymph systems as they clean out the invaders and infection that the body or some other herb has dealt with.
This makes it sound like it’s not as useful an immune herb as the more well-known ones, but if we think of the body’s vessels as alleys, and these destroyed viruses, bacteria, and germs as trash piling up, we can see how improving waste management in the “city” of our bodies will ultimately help recovery from nearly any imbalance.
In the case of infection, taking Echinacea to directly attack the pathogen, along with Red Root to clean it out and restore healthy flow can restore health more quickly than Echinacea alone.
After surgery or sudden injury, Red Root’s cleansing power can be used to help shrink inflammation so that healing nutrients can travel to the damaged tissues and repair them. This effect is increased by combining it with Calendula, another lymph tonic, and as in my combination, Burdock and Oregon Grape as direct fighters of potential infection.
For more chronic and long-term inflammation such as allergies or old injuries and arthritis, anti-infectives are not needed so much as more anti-inflammatory support. For allergies, Red Root combines well with the classic remedy Nettles, which lowers histamine reactions, and Yerba Santa, which improves the structure of the mucous membranes so that they are less permeable and reactive in the future.
To help with the pain and inflammation of arthritis and other joint pains, Turmeric quickly reduces inflammation and soreness, and Yerba Mansa and Yarrow have direct painkilling and cleansing properties that synergize with Red Root, as in our Bones & Joints Ens.
All these subtle interactions and indications are perhaps why Red Root isn’t well-known outside of herbal circles, but very well-loved within our community. The late great herbalist Michael Moore called Red Root “an herbalist’s herb” which “won’t cure you- just make you better able to cure yourself”. As a true fan of this lovely plant, I wholeheartedly agree!