By Amanda McQuade Crawford
Three herb species: Astragalus Root, Willow Bark, and Sage Leaf combine properties that benefit the process of aging by supporting your health, without squandering your wealth. These are common herbs found throughout the world, and are your ticket to easy, natural aging!
The Chinese name, Huang chi, translates as “yellow root,” since the valuable compounds in this herb give a pretty lemon-yellow color to the dried root. Research supports the use of Astragalus root for three main concerns: protecting the aging or troubled heart, preventing or treating seasonal colds and influenza, and preserving vitality during chronic stress and illness.*
Tying all three health concerns together is Astragalus’ reputation for nourishing exhausted adrenal glands. These endocrine glands are central to our response to long-term stress, whatever its cause. Another interesting possibility, yet unproven, is that Astragalus root may benefit the enzyme involved in telomere length. What does this mean? As we age, cells divide. Repeated cell activity shortens telomeres, the “caps” of our chromosomes.*
More research will tell whether herbs help our chromosomes retain a healthy length for slower aging. Traditional herbal extracts may not be a Fountain of Youth – but current research does provide understanding of why natural products made with Astragalus root nourish our cells, improving overall health.*
Astragalus has polysaccharides (natural plant sugars that often have immune benefits) and saponins (the herb world’s “soap” which cleanses internally). The root brings antibacterial and antiviral activity to elders with lung problems. I add two slices of dried root to soups or grains at least twice a week for the whole family. It is preventive and protective; the number of colds has dropped to almost nothing in our house.*
Astragalus balances (rather than stimulates) immune function. Finally, Astragalus improves blood flow, reducing excess blood fats. Heart, Lungs, and Immunity are three constants in elder care. This helps explain why Astragalus is considered one of the premier herbs for healthy aging.*
Willow bark, as many know, is a source of aspirin. The chemical name of the drug, acetyl salicylic acid or ASA, got its name from the Latin name of the tree, Salix. Once it was discovered in bark and other herbs, the synthetic form manufactured in bulk became the most common anti-inflammatory drug of the last two centuries.
Country people and nature healers have used willow bark for pain, fevers, and inflammation for thousands of years. The first recorded use may be the Greek physician Hippocrates (c. 400 BCE) who recommended Willow for pain and fever. In 1853 chemists turned the active compounds into the drug, Aspirin.*
There are two huge differences between aspirin and willow. Aspirin causes problems to the lining of stomach and intestines. People accidentally overdose for pain relief so commonly, that most Emergency Rooms check patients with internal bleeding for recent aspirin use. In contrast, willow bark is given to heal eroded, ulcerated gastric linings.*
As well as helping the body’s self-healing repair mechanisms to work better, willow is a gentle but profound anti-inflammatory. Here is the second main difference: aspirin works on a headache in minutes. Willow bark works best on joint pain and fevers over hours to days, for lasting results. Willow is not just “weak vegetable aspirin.” It is a healer for different uses.*
Preventative Maintenance Goes a Long Way
As we grow older, unless we take extra care to stretch, exercise, and eat green vegetables and blue-purple fruit most days, we may think painful muscles and bones are “normal.” Even if we find ourselves celebrating a birthday we never imagined reaching since we did not avoid processed foods and commercial fats (fast food burgers), willow offers relief.*
Just think of graceful willows, swaying gently while winter winds storm by. The long-lived willow draws up the moisture of the earth (lakes, rivers, streams) but instead of becoming water-logged, grows more flexible. Willow inspires us at any age and any stage of health to regain self-mastery in space and time.*
Since we are increasingly exposed to foreign chemicals, longevity will depend in part on herbs for detoxification. Humble herbs everyone can grow and use fresh in small amounts daily such as sage may support (among other healthy functions) the necessary balance between Phase I and Phase II detoxification. In Phase I, a group of enzymes acts on toxins through hydrolysis, oxidation or reduction.*
In Phase II, conjugation neutralizes toxins more fully or prepares them for elimination from the body. If Phase II reactions are inhibited or if Phase I reactions are increased (by smoking, alcohol, some medications) the balance between detoxification systems is unbalanced. Since detoxification has everything to do with longevity, gentle “purifying” herbs take their place alongside more commonly suggested herbs for elders such as ginseng and ginkgo.*
Sage (Salvia officinalis) is cultivated and collected from the wild in Yugoslavia, Albania, Turkey, Italy, Greece, the United States, Spain, and Crete. Suited to warm, dry regions sage grows best on a nitrogen-rich, clay loam soil located in the full sun. The plant is sensitive to extended dry periods with excessively high temperatures. Five hundred species of Salvia and many varieties and chemotypes exist.*
Besides its culinary use, Sage is also used as a flavoring and antioxidant in cheeses, pickles, and other processed foods. The oil is used to extend the keeping quality of fats and meats. The plant is used in perfumes and cosmetics and as a natural insect repellent. As a bactericide, it has been used in natural mouthwashes. Salvin is a preparation of leaves used as an antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory agent in treating oral cavity disease.*
Sage has traditionally been used as an antispasmodic, antiseptic, astringent, diaphoretic, expectorant, nervine, and tonic. It is a folk remedy against colds, diarrhea, enteritis, excessive perspiration, snake bites, sore throats, toothaches, and more. The plant is thought by some to improve the memory. The name Salvia is from the Latin salvere, meaning "to heal," or "to be safe and unharmed.”*
Sage is one of the key ingredients in several of the Blessed Herbs Natural Menopause Support Line.