I Come to the Garden Alone


James A. Duke (4 April 1929 ~ 10 December 2017)

With sadness, we wish to inform readers of this Green Farmacy Garden blog site that Jim Duke peacefully passed in his home on December 10, 2017. He lived an amazing life filled with adventure, plants, people and music until his senectitude at age 88. Jim’s desire was for his medicinal plant sanctuary to continue for as long as possible to educate and inspire students. We, at the Green Farmacy Garden, are committed to Jim’s vision and will maintain the garden for tours and workshops. Look for a list our tours and workshops in the spring.

to read tributes of Jim, click on the following links:







Remembering Jim.


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Spicebush – Ethnobotany and division of the flower sexes

3 April 2017 ~ Jim’s ethnobotany of spicebush below Helen’s observations.

Traipsing through the lowland forest this past weekend and even on the cold dreary days of last week, it was impossible to miss hints lemon yellow glistening in the understory. Drawing nearer, it became detectable that the bright color standing out against the past winter’s worn out brown was from the small flowers of the spicebush shrub, Lindera benzoin. Spicebush is in the Lauraceae or Laurel family, which includes sassafras and avocado.

IMG_0003 Lindera benzoin spicebush

spicebush flowers dominating the color scheme of the understory 4/2/2017

For those of you also in the outdoors this week and near a spicebush, focus in close and look into the flowers. Do you see pollen laden anthers of the male staminate flowers?… or do you see a roundish central pistil overshadowing small non-functional stamens in the female pistillate flowers? There are only male flowers on some bushes and only female flowers on other bushes. This type of division of the flower sexes with separate male plants and separate female plants is indication that spicebush is dioecious. Dioecious means “two houses” and is a term used mostly to apply to species with separate female and male plants. The males produce viable stamen with pollen for cross pollination of the female plants. I noted on my walks that the majority of the spicebush shrubs were bearing male flowers. According to John Eastman in the Book of Forest and Thicket (1992). “the female plants will be pollinated from “early solitary bees, ladybug beetles and by bee flies.” The female flowers will eventually drop, and if pollinated, the ripening ovaries will become lipid rich small red drupes appearing toward the end of summer. Wood thrushes and veeries enjoy the ripened fruit as do an occasional songbird.


P1070404 *spicebush berries lindera benzoin

spicebush berries or drupes

Spicebush flowers before the leaves emerge in late winter to early spring. Many folks who frequent the outdoors in the mid-Atlantic know this native plant even in a deer nibbled wood. Deer avoid munching on this plant most likely due to the aromatic scent just beneath the outer bark ~ making it unappetizing for these four-legged herbaceous beings. Often spicebush is the most prolific understory plant where deer are in high populations. The scent is one of nature’s defense mechanisms. No matter the season, scratch the bark and the spicy citrusy scent is very apparent. The scent is also apparent in the flowers bark and berries.

male staminate flowers lindera benzoin spicebush

Spicebush male staminate flowers above and female pistillate flowers below (not quite opened) photo taken at the macrophotography studio of the USGS Bee Monitoring and Monitoring Lab

Lindera benzoin pistillate flower, 23 March 2017 spicebush, Howard County, MD, Helen Lowe Metzman_2017-03-24-16.44

Jim Duke, who turns 88 on 4/4/2017 on spicebush:

on the phytochemicals:

“thanks to the work of Tucker and associates (1994), we know that the leaf essential oil is dominated by beta-caryophyllene (~ 15-50%), 6-methyl-5-hepten-2-one (~2-35%), and (E)-nerolidol (~10-12%). The twig essential oil is dominated by 1,8-cineole (~45%), sabine (~7%), alpha-terpineol (~ 7%), and alpha-pinene (~6%). Fruits are dominated by alpha-phellandrene (~65%). (Tucker, Maciarello, Burbage and Sturtz, 1994).

That shows the chemical variation in different plant parts. If you were after a single phytochemcial, you would usually find more beta-caryophyllene in the leaf essential oil, more 1,8-cineole in the twigs, and more phellandrene in the fruits. Once we get our database integrated this might hint at which part of the plant might be better for a given indication. There are at least four antiyeast compounds in spicebush: borneol, cineole, limonene and beta-pinene. This suggests, but by no means proves, that you’d be better off with the twigs for a yeast infection. Coincidentally, I am suffering a yeast overgrowth now as a result of Doxicyclene. In addition to Lactobacillus, I am taking garlic and spice bush tea from the back yard to curb the yeast.”

SPICEBUSH by Jim Duke (Written before his retirement almost twenty years ago)

Approaching retirement from the federal government, I am getting a bit more uninhibited about sounding off on one of my favorite themes, giving the herbal alternative a fair shake. Today, I’ll just talk about spicebush (Lindera benzoin), its culinary and folk medicinal uses, and its potential as a remedy for yeast (candidiasis), an ailment widely mentioned on TV today..

Spicebush is one of the commonest undershrubs in the forest around my place. And it has quite a bit of folklore about it. Still I don’t find reports on the chemicals which no doubt contribute to its aromatic, culinary, essential oil, medicinal, and pesticidal properties. We and the Asians have studied their species of Lindera while ignoring ours. And some American scientists, while busy studying alien species of Cocos, Cuphea, and Umbellularia as sources of lauric acid, ignore this copious resource in our back yards.

Is spicebush a food? Facciola (Cornucopia, Kampong Publ. Vista Ca. 1990) says:

“Young leaves, twigs, and fruits contain an aromatic oil and make a very fragrant tea. The twigs are best gathered when in flower as the nectar adds considerably to the flavor. Dried and powdered fruits can be used as a substitute for allspice. The new bark is pleasant to chew.”

King’s American Dispensatory (Eclectic Institute, Reprint 1984) says:

“The dried berries were used during the American Revolution and in the South during the late Rebellion as a substitute for allspice … The bark, in decoction, is said to be refrigerant and exhilarating, and exceedingly useful in all kinds of fever, for allaying excessive heat and uneasiness; a warm decoction is employed to produce diaphoresis. The decoction may be drunk freely.”

I quote these directly so you, and the FDA, may see that they have served as tea and spice for years. That puts them in the category I abbreviate GRAF, generally recognized as food.

In my Handbook of Northeastern Indian Medicinal Plants (Quarterman Publ., Licoln Mass. 1986), I mention that the Cherokee Indians used spicebush for blood disorders, cold, cough, croup, dysmenorrhea, hives, phthisis and swellings. Cherokee drank spicebush tea as a spring tonic, and steeped the bark with wild cherry and dogwood in corn whiskey to break out measles. Creek Indians used the teas for pains of rheumatism, (anodyne antirheumatic), for purifying the blood (depurative) and making themselves puke and sweat. (emetic and diaphoretic). Wisely they added willow to spicebush tea for drinking and using in the sweat lodges for rheumatism. The drug of choice today is still usually based on salicylates derived from willows. Ojibwa took the tea for anemia and that “tired rundown feeling”. Rappahannock used the tea for menstrual pain or delayed periods.

To these Moerman (Medicinal Plants of Native America. Mus. Anthropol., Tech Rept. 19. 1986), in his more extensive survey adds that the Cherokee also took the tea for hives (sometimes associated with yeast, JAD). Iroquois used it for colds, fevers, gonorrhea, measles, and syphilis. Mohegans chewed the leaves or took the tea for worms.

In their Peterson Field Guide to Medicinal Plants (Houghton Miflin, Boston. 1990), Foster and Duke add that the settlers used the berries as a substitute for allspice. It’s not bad! Medicinally the berries were used as a carminative for flatulence and colic. The oil from the fruits was applied to bruises and muscles or joints for chronic rheumatism. The tea made from the twigs was popular with the settlers (and available all year) for colds, colic, fevers, gas, and worms. The bark tea was used for various fevers, including typhoid, and to expel worms.

In all that listing of applications, there’s not much folklore to anticipate that spicebush might be useful in yeast (candidiasis). But maybe the Indians didn’t have yeast. Apparently the yeast is a normal component of the flora of all human beings.

Maybe cadidiasis is mostly an iatrogenic ailment, induced by our medicines. Respected naturopaths, Murray and Pizzorno (Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, Prima Publishing, Rocklin CA. 1991) say that when antibiotic use first became widespread, it was noted immediately that yeast infections increased. White man’s alcohol, anti-ulcer drugs, corticosteroids, increase in diabetes, oral contraceptives, tights insead or cotton undergarments, and too much sugar in the diet all may have contributed to the emergence of candidiasis as a major ailment, today afflicting half our womenfolk. The total incidence and relative frequency of vaginal candidiasis have increased more than two-fold since the late 1960’s.

There are a lot of synthetic alternatives for yeast, Nystatin, which is effective in mild cases. But Murray and Pizzorno suggest that garlic is more effective than Nystatin. I’d like to see the results of comparative heads-on trials between garlic, Nystatin and spicebush extracts. I’d like to see spicebush extracts compared also to Terazol, which reportedly leads to recovery of 95% of patients within three days. I’d like to see it compared with butacoconazole (Femstat), clotrimazole (Gyne-Lotrimin), ketoconazole (Nizoral) and miconazole (Monistat), all reportedly with an 80-90% cure rate. But the Graedons, after listing the latter four, reiterate the anecdote of the lady who had wasted $2,000 in office fees and medication, when a GP prescribed douching three times a day with 2 tablespoons vinegar in a quart of water (Graedons, 1991). That solved her $2,000 problem.

Studying 54 plant species for antimicrobial effects, Heisey and Gorham (1992; Letts. Appl. Microbiol. 14: 136-9.) found that extract of stem bark of Lindera benzoin (“spicebush”) strongly inhibited yeast (Candida albicans), much better than any of the other 53 species. (Walnut husks also showed some activity.). Now if vinegar could have saved that lady $2,000, might not a vinegar extract of spicebush bark and garlic be even better. Spicebush is best of the 54 studied. Garlic is reportedly better than Nystatin. I suspect that our mixture might be as safe and efficacious as any of the drugs names above, but we’ll never known.

You’ve seen the flurry of ads for expensive over-the-counter “remedies” for yeast. “See your doctor if you’re not sure. But if you’re sure you have yeast, use our brand.” Ten years ago, my doctor told me you couldn’t be sure without identification of the microorganisms involved. I doubt that has changed. Our FDA has become more relaxed in this regard. But if you started selling spicebush/garlic/vinegar for yeast, you’d be breaking the law, and the FDA might get you. But they won’t bother those OTC drugs because they have been proven safe and effective, to the FDA’s satisfaction, apparently. Are they more or less safe and efficacious than spicebush/garlic/vinegar? I don’t know. You don’t know. The FDA doesn’t know. The drug companies and physicians don’t know.

I want the best medicine for myself and my family. But nobody is going to invest $231 million to prove that spicebush/garlic/vinegar is safe and efficacious for vaginal candidiasis. Hence we’ll never know. Unless somehow, we convince some influential congressperson that no new drug for candidiasis should be permitted unless it is compared, not only to placebo, but to the best herbal alternative (s) as well. If the herbal alternative works safely, the world should know if. More than two-thirds of the world’s population and nearly a third of Americans can no longer afford the high-tech synthetic options. And their cost is going up at a much higher rate than other segments of our economy. So fewer and fewer of us can afford the modern pharmaceutical. And there’s no governmental or private incentive to investigate the cheap herbal alternatives, that may be as safe and efficacious.



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We’ve gotta get ourselves back to the garden

March 9, 2017

Maybe its the time of year or maybe its the time of man….but it’s definitely the time to get back to the garden. As the last third of winter descends on the Green Farmacy Garden, we are back pruning woody plants and removing the last year’s annuals and perennials stubble of dead growth wearing t-shirts one day and bundled up in our thick coats the next. Climate confusion with a fluctuating roller coaster of hot and cold temperatures seems to have become the norm the past several years. The early warmth last week of temperatures close to 80 degrees summoned new growth and buds to swell only to be followed by a sudden dip back to the freezing 20’s and unfortunately nipping the tender growth. Plants such as the coltsfoot and butterbur emerge yearly as the earliest bloomers and push up their flower inflorescences prior to their leaves. Slippery elm, horny goat weed, Chinese coptis, vinca minor, Christmas rose, shepherds purse and bitter cress are also amongst our early flowering arrivals.

It’s also the time of year that many folks still exhibit lingering coughs.  Possible relief for respiratory irritations from two of our early bloomers comes to mind.  Coltsfoot, Tussilago farfara, a member of the Aster family, with its sunny yellow flat topped ray flowers upon a scaly scape are easy to spot among the decaying leaves. Coltsfoot is indicated to reside in our asthma, bronchitis, cold and smoking plots – but currently is only in our asthma plot. The dried flowers and horseshoe shaped leaves are traditionally used for their mucilaginous, soothing, expectorant and antitussive qualities. While coltsfoot was used for centuries as a respiratory demulcent, there are now safety concerns with prolonged and large dose uses of this plant due to the pyrrolizidine alkaloids – specifically senkirkine -that are found in the plant. The pyrrolizidine alkaloids may have hepatotoxic (liver harming) properties, and for that reason, it is not recommended to take coltsfoot except for short periods of time and at low doses. Coltsfoot is taken as a tea of the dried flowers and leaves, but cautioned to use only in small doses and not by those who have a compromised liver, children, pregnant or nursing moms.

coltsfoot tussilago farfara

Tussilago farfara, Coltsfoot in flower

While there may be a risk with taking coltsfoot as an expectorant, slippery elm poses no apparent safety issues. Slippery elm, Ulmus rubra, is harvested for its slimy or mucilaginous inner bark. At the Green Farmacy Garden, we harvested small diameter twigs last week to keep our tree from getting too tall; but to get the best medicine, harvest when the sap is running on larger diameter branches or trunks. Slippery elm, like American elm, is susceptible to Dutch Elm disease spread from a fungus and an elm bark beetle. Slippery elm is also on the United Plant Savers “at risk*” list. Sustainable harvest is essential for this native plant. Only harvest from plants that may be subjected to Dutch elm before the inner bark is affected or only take branches or parts of the bark of healthy trees without girdling the tree. Girdling kills the tree by cutting off the food and water routes of the plant and could invite Dutch elm disease. Cut off the corky outer bark to find the slimy inner cambium layer that readily peels off. Dried slippery elm bark can be chewed as is, or made into powder for a delicious nutritive porridge or a tea.


Jared and Andrea harvesting from the just pruned slippery elm branches


Slippery elm flower in bloom

Here is the recipe for Nutritive Gruel of Slippery Elm from one of our beloved Appalachian teachers, Paul Strauss:

“To make a nourish gruel, bring 1 cup of milk to a simmer. Add 1-1/2 teaspoon of powdered slippery elm and 1 teaspoon of honey to the milk and stir until it reaches the boiling point. Remove from the heat. Stir the gruel a few seconds more, adding a pinch of cinnamon powder if desired. This is delicious and very good for young children.”

We adapted the recipe at the Green Farmacy to use about a half cup of  milk, water, or a milk substitute like almond, coconut or flax milk and a couple of tablespoons of slippery elm powdered bark, and spiced with cinnamon and honey to make thick delicious gruel.


harvested inner bark from pruned branches of slippery elm..typically larger branches are used to harvest the cambium layer


dried and powdered bark

slippery elm gruel_3621

nutritive gruel

IMG_3624 andrea thumbs up slippery elm

Andrea gives slippery elm gruel a thumbs up

slippery elm thayers

or… simply go to the store and buy slippery elm lozenges or a health food store to get powder.

The medicine from slippery elm bark is not only used for inflamed sore throats and coughs, but also excellent to coat the gut for irritable bowel, and as a poultice for wounds and dry chapped skin.

* The conservation of native medicinal at risk plants like slippery elm is of significant concern. It’s the time of year to please consider becoming a member of United Plant Savers during the March Membership Drive. Supporting United Plant Savers helps to ensure the renewal of native medicinal plants for future generations.

For more information about United Plant Savers and becoming a member please see https://www.unitedplantsavers.org/

For more info regarding tours and volunteering at the Green Farmacy Garden contact us at greenfarmacygarden@gmail.com


Sanguinaria canadensis, bloodroot, blooming March 7, 2017 almost a month before it typically blooms.


Helleborus niger, Lenten Rose blooms with snow dusting


Epimedium sagittatum, Horny Goat Weed in flower and buds


Wood frog, Rana sylvatica, down in the pond


Wood frog eggs laid the first week of March

gfg barn

the old barn on the edge of the valley

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Jim Duke Speaks for the Plants

An Interview with Jim in a video created by Jason Bryan in 2016:

Interview with Dr. James Duke 2013
In this interview with Dr. James Duke, he explains his inspirations for studying ethnobotany and talks about his time in the field. Videography: Charlie Weber | Editing: Courtney Adkisson for the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage


as reprinted from



By Hannah Norris, Intern,
Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

Dr. James Duke is a botanist known for his extensive study of plants and their medicinal properties. Curator Betty Belanus made two field visits to Dr. Duke’s garden, the first with intern Hannah McConnell and research associate Sita Reddy, and the second with intern Katie Fernandez, video producer Charlie Weber, and Karen Anne Malkin of the USDA. Ongoing research on traditional medicine may lead to a future Smithsonian Folklife Festival program, or at least help inform future presentations of traditional medicine practices of various groups to the Festival.

Dr. Duke believes that natural remedies from plants are much healthier for people than the synthetically produced medications often prescribed. This conviction is a result of his many years of plant research done both academically and professionally.

The practice of using plants as medicine is known as traditional medicine. Humans across the globe have been using plants to prevent and cure disease for at least five thousand years, with written references in the Old Testament and in Egyptian manuscripts like the Ebers Papyrus. Early in his career, Dr. Duke began conducting research in the forests of Latin America, including extensive field visits to Panama. He was convinced that plants can serve the body with far fewer and less dangerous side effects than man-made pharmaceuticals.

“There’s a process called homeostasis,” he says. “By this process, your body, more than your doctor, or your quack, or your shaman, or your herbalist, knows what your body needs. You’re not going to have so many side effects through this homeostatic process of your body grabbing the chemicals that it knows it needs.”

He is author of the book The Green Pharmacy, which offers recommendations on herbal remedies for 120 common diseases and conditions. Dr. Duke also has a “teaching garden” dedicated to the cultivation and research of various medicinal herbs which he readily shows to visitors.

In this online exhibition, the theme of traditional medicine is explored through the story and work of Dr. Duke. His years of research at home and abroad as well as experience recommending herbal remedies provide a vast sum of resources for anyone interested in traditional medicine.

A Visit to the Green Farmacy Garden, Fall 2013
Dr. Duke and gardener Helen Metzman lead an exploration through the Green Farmacy Garden, giving examples of how their plants can be used as medicine.



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87th Birthday Note from Jim Duke


Excuse my corny canned birthday note!  On April 2, I instrumentally backed Jared and John as we played some bluegrass in the sunshine on the patio for a garden tour, son John on guitar, gardener Jared on mandolin, me on the bass fiddle. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pry53UbSm5M

(As many of you know, I play standup  bass fiddle but neuropathologically I can no longer stand up). Unsolicited they also did Happy Birthday to me. I’m 87 today, April 4, 2016, two days later. Generates a bit of nostalgia about puppy love and bass fiddles. I fell in puppy love with lovely 14-year country bassist Carolyn Jean Saylor when I was 15 in Hugh Morson High School. She and her attractive older sister, Wanda, and mother (also Jean) constituted the Saylor Sisters lovely to look at AND hear, Jeannie played bass, Wanda accordion, and their mother, Jean, guitar, I conned my generous dad into paying half the cost of a used bass fiddle (50 bucks each) and that started my affair with the  bass fiddle. Within less than 2 years, I was recording (on the bass fiddle) Briarhopper Boogie (key of e) with Homer A, Briarhopper and the Dixies Dudes, in the Ernest Tubb’s Studio near the Grand Old Opry in Nashville. The 16 year old kid Jimmy Duke was pretty proud.. In college at UNC, and married to Jeannie, at 19.  I started UNC as a music major, with bass and bow. Not my cup of tea. I quickly switched to botany as a major, playing combo and big band bass, with Jeannie singing jazz in both big band and small combo j.. So I’ve been playing bass mediocrely 72 years. Jeannie left us all too soon. But she triggered my long time association with the bass fiddle.

Jim, John and Jared jam Paradise Lost to the students of Allegheny College

Jim, John and Jared jam “Paradise Lost” to the students of Allegany College of Maryland








Director’s Note: As Jim plays bass well into his golden years, the garden’s Goldenseal Hydrastis canadensis emerged a bit early glistening with staminate flowers:

Goldenseal, Hydrastis canadensis, emerging in early spring

Goldenseal, Hydrastis canadensis, emerging in early spring

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Green Farmacy Garden Greetings

28 March 2016

With the arrival of warmer than usual temperatures these last few weeks, the garden quickly awakened from its winter rest. Buds overwintering were hastily summoned to burst open and we were greeted by the flowers of:

butterbur, Petasites japonicusIMG_9225

coltsfoot, Tussilago farfara  IMG_9390

snowdrops, Galanthus nivalis  IMG_8949

slippery elm, Ulmus rubra IMG_9926lesser celandine, forsythia, Chinese coptis, yellowroot, rosemary, bloodroot and spicebush, Lindera benzoin IMG_9966 lindera benzoin spice bush  flowers.

Meanwhile, wood frogs, primed for mating delights, romped and “quacked” in the pond:IMG_9869and off in the distance, a chorus of spring peepers filled the airwaves. Phoebe, incessantly bobbing its tail and calling its name, returned and is building a nest under the Duke’s deck. The pair of red-shouldered hawks are seen circling overhead or gliding into the yin-yang valley also to tend their nest.


Year after year, these are our harbingers of another season of for The Green Farmacy Garden. 

To witness the stirring of winter into spring, to listen to the calls of amphibians and birds, to smell the organic chemistry of sweet birch, sweet Cicely and spicebush, to feel the cool earth warming, and to taste the wildness of nettles, chickweed, winter cress, and slippery elm bark marks yet another year. The patterns and rhythms of the flora and fauna, and even a fickle March, are all apart of the phenology – observing the seasonal changes of nature.  

With the change of weather and with this 2016 season, we have two new gardeners: 

Jared Gulliford (pruning sweet birch, Betula lenta, that was later made into tea and infused into oil)IMG_9911 and Elana Metzman (using a draw knife to remove slippery elm, Ulmus rubra, inner bark that she later dried and will grind for powders)IMG_9918Jim Duke, turning 87 in a week, continues to compile plant data and play stand up bass while sitting on his exercise bike. 

All of us – including the five-lined skink IMG_0059and Eastern mole IMG_0076.JPG

– are gearing up and getting down and dirty while preparing our medicinal plant garden for tours and workshops.

A listing of tours can be found on  https://thegreenfarmacygarden.com/tours-and-events/ Upcoming workshops will be listed ASAP.

If you are interested in receiving notices about volunteer times, tours, and workshops, please email greenfarmacygarden@gmail.com 

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Herbal Superdrugs for the Superbugs!

 The below article appeared in the Journal of the American Herbalists Guild JAHG: Volume 13 | Number 1, pg. 51-54

Reductionist’s Rant:

Could cannabis be the superdrug of the year? In an effort to compile lists of herbs and phytochemicals that might help control some of the emerging superbugs, I was intrigued to find that five of the cannabinoids in Cannabis sativa were quite active against methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, commonly known as MRSA. Along with this important information about cannabinoids, I share in this rant a quick list of herbs and phytochemicals that have shown promise against MRSA and also methicillin-sensitive Staphylococcus aureus (MSSA), as well as some other species are also cited herein as ”anti-Staphylococcus.”

A particularly interesting paper compared the anti-Staphylococcus actions of the principal cannabinoids with pharmaceuticals. Under lead author Giovanni Appendino, the scientists studied four pharmaceuticals against a panel of six strains of Staphylococcus getting a wide spectrum of minimum inhibitory concentrations (MICs): erythromycin MIC=0.25->128 ug/ mL; norflaxacin 0.5-128 ug/mL; oxacillin 0.25-128 ug/mL; and tetracycline 0.25-128 ug/ mL. Keeping in mind that the lower the MIC, the more potent the chemical, that makes the cannabinoids look pretty good indeed, with low MICs: tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) 0.5-2 ug/mL; cannabidiol (CBD) 0.5-2 ug/mL; cannabinol (CBN) 1 ug/mL; cannabichromene (CBC) 1-2 ug/mL; and cannabigerol (CBG) 1-2 ug/mL (PubMed ID 18681481). I’m surprised no one has yet tried to encapsulate some of these in silver nanoparticles.

As this edition of the JAHG focuses on botanical essential oils, I’ll point out that noted cannabis researcher Ethan Russo posed the question, “Are cannabis terpenoids relevant
to the effects of cannabis?” in a paper entitled “Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy
and phytocannabinoid-terpenoid entourage effects” (PubMed ID 21749363). Terpenoids are components of essential oils that give a plant (in this case cannabis) its distinctive scent. Over 200 terpenoids have been identified in cannabis, but Russo’s paper singles out eight, all of which are widely distributed in the plant world and are GRAS (Generally Regarded as Safe) by FDA standards. They are listed here with examples of common plants that contain them:

Limonene, commonly found in lemons Alpha-pinene, commonly found in pine                  Beta-myrcene, commonly found in hops                                                                                Linalool, commonly found in lavender                                                                                          Beta-caryophyllene, commonly found in black pepper                                                Caryophyllene oxide, commonly found in lemon balm
Nerolidol, commonly found in oranges                                                                                       Phytol, commonly found in green tea

This study notes that while each terpenoid has its own set of pharmacological actions ranging from anti-inflammatory to anxiolytic, they may also act synergistically with cannabinoids to treat various diseases as well as to counteract effects of THC. More to the point of this article, the aromatic component pinene, commonly found in pine as well as in cannabis, was found to be effective against MRSA. Combined with the powerful anti-MRSA actions of the cannabinoids mentioned above, cannabis as an anti-MRSA agent is looking better all the time.

Big Pharma, CDC and FDA once praised antibiotics, often mono chemical derivatives of fungi, as the wave of the future. That failed future has come and gone! “Better living through (synthetic) chemistry” was an illusion generated by synthetic chemists, failing to appreciate that new synthetics can have many unanticipated side effects. Still today, monochemical superdrugs are failing. They say they have nothing new on track for the superbugs of the future. But there is still hope; the hope resides in our long-used herbs, those herbs the FDA has continuously and studiously tried to brainwash us into believing are useless. (Corporate crime I call it, rampant in America.)

Searching for the new “superdrug” (promising anti-MRSA herbs), I searched through the PubMed abstracts all the way back to 2010. Once again, as in many of my bacterial and viral compilations, Manuka honey seems very promising. I know no reason why Manuka should be better than our American honeys, especially if spiked with the more promising of the anti-MRSA herbs and phytochemicals listed below. Some synergies may make the combos “super,” i.e. superlative to the monochemical antibiotics, slowly or rapidly yielding to drug resistance, which should have been anticipated.

Many of the PubMed abstracts give a relative idea of the potency of anti-MRSA
herbal extracts and phytochemicals. I like in particular the MIC (minimum inhibitory concentration) usually but not always less than the MBC (minimum bactericidal concentration). Frequently they are compared with the MICs and MBCs of the many antibiotics, some lower, some higher. And I suppose (read: hope, but sometimes skeptically) most of these herbal and phytochemical studies are just as reliable as the PubMed pharmaceutical studies. Still I fear that some herbalists and phytochemists may be as aggressive and statistically manipulative at over-promoting their beliefs and products as Big Pharma scientists and reps. They may not even publish the negative points (or may completely leave negative studies unpublished). Too often, like too many Big Pharma scientists, they just publish the data that prove their point, and may sell their product. How I long for that utopian day when a benevolent FDA will support unbiased clinical comparisons of the natural herbal polychemical alternatives with the monochemical synthetics. My evolutionary homeostatic bias is that the herb will usually outperform the synthetic, when cost, efficacy and side effects are all considered.

Many authors compared their species with pharmaceuticals (including ampicillin, azithromycin, carbapenems, ceftazidime, chlorhexidine, ciprofloxacin, erythromycin, fluoroquinolones, gentamicin, levofloxacin, methicillin, norfloxacin, oxacillin, tetracycline, and vancomycin). Many authors also noted that the natural phytochemicals often potentiate the pharmaceuticals, often dramatically so. (A warning: my superficial compilation is often based only on the PubMed abstracts. In cases where there was a free publication, or the author sent PDFs, I dug deeper. In all cases where the authors did not cite the potency of their extracts or phytochemicals, I assume those extracts or phytochemicals were only modestly anti-MRSA.)

If we can believe the PubMed authors and the compiler (yours truly), the following are some natural phytochemicals which might individually be competitive or synergistically super- competitive with the failing pharmaceuticals with their reported MIC (in ug/mL).

But let me remind you as someone should have told BigPharma, using any one of these natural phytochemicals alone to fight a multi- drug resistant (MDR) ailment can rapidly
lead to resistance, as in quinine long ago, and now artemisinin. Using quinine alone instead of the mix of more than a dozen alkaloids cohabiting with quinine was a BIG mistake. We are better off using many anti-MRSA natural chemicals in synergy to avoid this problem. I cannot imagine Big Pharma was not aware that using just one chemical, natural or synthetic, leads to resistance. The more chemicals, natural or synthetic, the less the probability of resistance. But why even bother to synthesize unnatural chemicals unknown to your genes. Your genes know the naturals (at least those consumed by your ancestors), not tomorrow’s synthetics. Viva la natural synergies!

Furthermore, I suspect the whole herbs, like cannabis with its five anti-MRSA cannabinoids, or licorice, which contains dozens of antiseptic compounds, may synergistically be better anti-MRSA weapons than any one of the single compounds mentioned at left. And better yet, continued use of the mixtures will not likely lead to resistance like monochemical approaches will. On another hand, many species of Hypericum contain anti-MRSA activities and/ or phytochemicals, but no single species so far is reported to contain a huge number of anti-MRSA phytochemicals. Thirty-three of 34 chloroform Hypericum extracts showed anti-MRSA activity, 5 with MIC=64 ug/ml. This genus has great potential for anti-MDR activity (PubMed ID 12234572). Many Hypericum species also contain hyperforin, one of the more potent anti-MRSA phytochemicals. Mangosteen (Garcinia mangostana) seems also to be well endowed with a variety of anti-MRSA phytochemicals.

Turning back the pages of time, let us look back to the safer herbs, many of which have 5,000-10,000 biologically active compounds in them, dozens or even hundreds of which are natural antiseptics. Many of the same natural phytochemicals can synergistically potentiate the failing pharmaceuticals. Unlike synthetics, these phytochemicals have been known to your genes for as long as your ancestors (primates or even earlier ancestors before) consumed them.


Jim Duke “Better Living Through Phytochemistry” with Potentilla recta, Cinquefoil – The Green Farmacy Garden’s legal representative of Cannabis sativa as displayed in the Glaucoma plot

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