By Steven Martyn
It’s a curious thing that two of the primary healing plants for Lyme disease, Japanese Knotweed and Teasel seem to move into areas just when Lyme does.
The thing is, if our eyes are open we can see this pattern again and again. As the first waves of conquest swept through the ancient world starting in Asia, the Middle East, Europe and North Africa, the healing plants of the colonizer’s homeland followed in the wake of their destruction, bringing balance and healing. And, this miracle of compassion and intelligence has continued to this day. These gifts from our Mother Earth, while outside of our rational comprehension, continue to heal the land and offer us solace century after century. The most common of plants that surround us in North America, like Dandelion, Burdock, Clover and Nettle, are the very ones that have come to balance and heal the Earth and our bodies and soul.
Japanese Knotweed is still not as common as some of these others but offers her benevolent gift to a growing number who need her for Lyme. I have also use her in an arthritis combo for patients.
Lyme has just really started to creep into the Upper Ottawa Valley. It’s not often seen in this light, but I have a radical view of Lyme. I see this disease coming to the land as a healer, after generations of imbalance and abuse. Lyme disease is caused by spirochetal bacteria from the genus Borrelia. Spirochetes have been on the Earth far longer then humans but have only morphed into disease for us after millennia of not heeding and listen to Her more gentle messages.
Japanese Knotweed evolved in the temperate jungles of the Japan and Korea. In those countries it is well known to have many amazing qualities. Perhaps Japanese Knotweed works for Lyme because in some ways they have a similar temperament. In my eyes they’re both beautiful and terrible, embodying the unstoppable power of the Goddess Herself as Nature pushing back. Not surprisingly they are both greatly feared and dreaded.
Interestingly, the Japanese Knotweed we see here in America all came from one female plant. There are no males here, so every patch came from an original female root stock. In the 1800’s this original rootstock first made it to Europe and then the colonies. They were originally planted in people’s gardens as a bamboo-like feature. The shoots, leaves and flowers of this beauty are edible and traditionally eating in season. The bigger hollow stalks of the older plants can be dried and used as containers. And she’s not just beautiful, I also saw her used in a genius way that perfectly suited her. Way up north in Temiskaming, Zone 2, I saw a very healthy big patch used to retain the shorelines at the bottom of a great waterfall. But before you introduce this lovely tall one onto your land, realize that this is one genie you’ll not get back in the bottle. Because of her unstoppable nature (able to tear up concrete) many municipalities and urban people, in their ignorance wish to outlaw this plant. But we only banish plants or other things when our fear gets the better of us. And we may be banishing the very one that could save us.
As I treat more and more people for Lyme, I’m using more Japanese Knotweed. My old harvesting spot was in a county forest where people had dumped garden debris in a cleared area at the side of a back road. And unwittingly in the process, released this giantess. She had probably been growing for five years by the time I found the rare wild patch there. I harvested her there for about five years. During that time I was always harvesting at the periphery of the patch, with some fear that she was going to move into the surrounding forest. But the opposite happened. Instead, the surrounding hardwood forest grew in and over the Knotweed patch. This happened because she had no reason for being there. As it got shaded out this “unstoppable” plant started to naturally die out! Like almost every other plant I’ve come to know in the Earth’s parade of healers, Japanese knotweed has her time and place, but when the land is whole and balanced she moves off.
While the Japanese Knotweed here in North America may be all female, I think this plant is also very male, in its verticality. They stand tall, shoulder to shoulder slowly and proudly moving forward. We could all learn a lot about solidarity and activism from these tall wise ones. They are truly not just protesting against colonization, like all ‘weeds’ do, but actually able to completely stop it through their root solidarity! Roots linked arm in arm, they face the unstoppable aggressor. They tear up the concrete through their eruptive underground growth. With pointed focus their gathering force finds and pushes through the cracks in the facade of power.
When my patch in the woods was fading out I needed to look around for a new clean, wild place to harvest. Serendipity brought me to the land of some friends from the farmer’s market with a great old patch stretching almost from the river up to a hill twenty feet above. The patch was also threateningly edging into their vegetable garden. So it was a win-win, I’d dig out the roots in the garden and near to it in exchange for the roots themselves. For my years harvesting at the patch in the woods, I’d mostly harvested rhizomes and small roots to stop its spread into the forest and to keep the integrity of the original patch. When I harvested at the patch by the river, because I was trying to rid the garden area of the plants completely I dug up the whole tuber.
The reason this plant is called knotweed may be because of the regular knot like joints along the stem, but more likely because of its rock-like roots. Like gnarled fists a foot down, made of hair, root, sand and stone. I’ve worked with every medicine and food plant in my part of the world and I can tell you I’ve never had such a challenging root mass to deal with. Where the rhizomes are quick and easy to harvest, clean and cut up, the central root mass of each large plant can take an hour to harvest and fully process. But even as I was wrestling out these giants from the black earth, I sensed the effort was going to be worth it. I could feel that in their massive root was the heart of their great strength. And indeed when I began to process the roots to make tincture later, I found the orange coloured skin on the older rhizomes was many times thicker then the younger rhizomes. And the skin on the old hairy main root was many times thicker than that. Inside the bear-like black mat, the skin opened bright as the setting sun and thicker than rawhide. It was at least ten times as thick a what I had been harvesting (and effectively using) for years. The skin of the roots is where most of the medicine resides.
The reason older roots have stronger medicine is because as they get older they grow new layers of skin each year, or in the case of some plants like Japanese Knotweed, the skin, like the bark of an older tree, gets thicker as the root get bigger. Many more common plants, like dandelion, yellowdock and echinacea, all get more potent with each year, but for commercial reasons are harvested too young. And often, as in the case of Echinacea the plant is harvested as it is coming into flower, so the producer gets a root harvest, a leaf and stalk harvest and a flower head harvest. But of course by harvesting Echinacea at the wrong time, in early summer of their second year, rather then waiting for the hard frosts in the fall of the plant’s fourth year, you are greatly diminishing its healing potential.
During this last winter, after the old Japanese Knotweed root tincture had finished brewing, I tried it (which I take as a maintenance dose for chronic lyme). Not surprisingly, its effects (which for me are side effects of the die- off) were at least twice as strong as my regular stuff which is a good deal stronger than anything you could buy. This plant’s medicinal credentials are impressive and not just for lyme. In his book, “Healing Lyme” Stephen Buhner lists Japanese Knotweed’s qualities: Antibacterial, antiviral, antischistoeomal, antispirochetal, antifungal, immunostimulant, immunomodulant, antiinflammatory, angiogenesisis modulator, anticarcinogenic, vasodilator, central nervous system relaxant, central and brain protectant, antioxidant, antiulcer, hemostatic and astringent.
As Japanese Knotweed adapts to almost any disturbed or imbalanced environment, she enables our immune function to take on pathogens. As she can push through any barrier, so too can her medicine push deep into our protected organs like our heart and brain, getting to the strongholds of Lyme carditis and Lyme neuroborreliosis. This natural antibiotic can cross the blood/brain barrier where many other antibiotics can’t. As a ground retainer, she also stops the erosion of our cells and organs from toxins and over stimulation. Her flexible long strong stem brings balance to the land by channeling moisture from stagnant, cool, wet areas. With this gift she helps us with arthritis and inflammation, as well as protection from the effects of oxidization.
Japanese Knotweed is not only used to treat Lyme and chronic lyme but works also as a preventative. I’ve heard many times of people successfully taking Japanese Knotweed tea every day as a lyme preventative in endemic areas.
In terms of the herbal industry, clearly from what I’ve told you about harvesting her, any Japanese Knotweed that you buy will be made from the rhizome and probably young ones. Consider making this medicine yourself. Some other differences between my tincture making and commercial products are that I make tinctures as strong as I can. I use 1 part plant to 1 or 2 parts menstrum (alcohol/water mixture). Whereas, commercial tinctures are usually 1:4 or 5 parts menstrum. To some these differences might be a red flag to regulate. But isn’t this just a knee jerk colonization approach to controlling something meant to be fluid, leveling culture in the name of safety. Ironically, levelling free enterprise as well. The much easier, cheaper and more human response to the situation is to just buy medicine from people you know and trust. Or if it’s a new source, ask specific questions about the quality.
For me as a practitioner, because I’ve learned to make a stronger product, it is of course my responsibility to either dilute it or tell my clients and whoever I sell it to, that it’s very strong and to start at a quarter their regular dose.
As someone who takes medicine everyday, I prefer to take as little as possible, mostly because of the alcohol in the tincture. So, rather than dilute my Japanese Knotweed tincture I prefer to just tell people it’s stronger. As a client, you also just got a 2 oz bottle of tincture which is at least equivalent to 4oz, two for the price of one. Everyone wins. But because of corporate rigged regulations, I could probably be sued or fined for selling such strong medicine.
It’s also relevant that in the case of Japanese Knotweed some practitioners feel there is not enough resveratrol (the so called active ingredient ) in most tinctures to be effective. This forces lyme patients to take pills or extracts (products once removed from the plant). The other non-propriety problem with this information and conclusion is it forces Lymies (people with lyme) who mostly already have digestive problems and are already taking a dozen other pills a day to take yet more pills.
As I bestow you with this wisdom about this powerful healer I plead for you to partake of become a protector of Japanese knotweed. If not for the plant itself or the Earth, do it for yourself and your loved ones who could in her find a healing balm for this life changing disease that we could contract at any time. Even if your medical alliance is allopathic you may still need to turn to her because lyme and particularly chronic lyme, is not treated well through conventional medicine. Through giving this “public hazard” some grace we may well find our own.