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Red Root: Balance the Body by Way of the Spleen

Healing is subjective. What each person needs cannot be dictated by some predetermined formula applied to all. It is dictated by the nature of the person in need of healing. This process involves asking questions. And as a practitioner, I ask many questions. But we must personally turn our energy inward to listen to what our bodies are telling us, and look at the pattern of unrest.

Fall gives us the time and space to do that. Fall is also one of the best times to harvest root medicine. As in a past article, I question the role of the plant’s root and what it brings to us. It is more than what holds the plant to the ground. It nourishes the plant and holds a place for it to survive in all seasons. It is the core of strength for the plant. Depending on the root, it can bring a core of strength to us as well, reminding us that we are strong, and have the energy and strength to persevere through hard times while helping us rebalance our bodies. The job of turning our attention inward can be difficult, and a long road for those who embark. Root medicine becomes our walking stick on the journey.Read more…

Red Root’s Journey As a Healer

One plant has caught my attention throughout my career in this field. It is red root, Ceanothus americanus. Ceanothus is indigenous to America, and grows mostly in the west, but in parts of the mid-west and northeast as well. Ceanothus thrives in sandy soil, or open areas with an abundance of light. It is a small to medium-sized shrub that grows to be about 2-4 ft. high with white clusters of flowers. Its leaves taste like black tea, which is how it came to be called New Jersey tea around the time of the American Revolution, and was used during the civil war as a tea substitute. While the leaves were employed medicinally for a bit, they are less effective and weaker than the root, and used primarily for afflictions of the respiratory tract. The root, known as red root for its deep red body, is the part we use for medicine in modern times.

Red root as a medicinal plant is powerful, yet underutilized. It can be found in the 1898 edition of King’s American Dispensatory with good representation, but many other Eclectic texts on herbal medicine display little or no notice of it. It wasn’t considered powerful or useful until the mid 1900’s. It seems to me the plant was misrepresented partly due to a lack of therapeutic evidence. The lack could come as a result of the part of the plant being used -mostly the leaves – which were not near as powerful as the root and very different in action. Another factor may also be that the importance of a certain organ system’s major role in function and disease, namely the spleen/lymphatic system, went unrecognized in Western medicine for so long.

Brief Function of the Spleen

The myth of the spleen as an unimportant organ is still perpetuated in many Western medical circles. There is a much different perspective in alternative health. We view the spleen as the body’s largest lymph node. It is through the spleen and lymphatic system that we address how well our immune system functions, how waste descends and is removed from the body, and how nutrients are sent up into the body to build blood, nourish cells and muscles.

The deficiency of the spleen results in edema, anemia, dampness in the stomach and swollen lymph nodes. There is decreased immune function, loss of appetite and decreased digestive function. That is just the beginning; there are a host of other issues that manifest as chronic or acute problems when spleenic deficiency begins.

Native American Uses of Red Root

We learned many uses of red root from the Native Americans. The Cherokee used the root as a digestive aid. The Chippewa used the root for constipation and bloating, pulmonary troubles and shortness of breath. The Iroquois made a decoction of the leaves, which are said to be more astringent than the root, for diarrhea, and the root for the blood and colds. Many tribes also found that it was helpful as a wash for wound healing, probably due to its astringent properties, and for healing the sores of venereal disease.

Modern Day Uses of Red Root

Today, we look at how red root functions in the body. Red root stimulates lymph and interstitial fluid circulation. It acts as an anti-inflammatory to the spleen and lymph nodes, prevents blood that is high in fat from clumping, and smoothes stomach and intestinal function. The blood transports better, because inflammation across the surface of the lymph nodes is decreased, and bioavailability of nutrients to the cells is increased. We see cases of malabsorption improve dramatically with the introduction of red root. It is a plant that clears excess secretion, and tightens tissue, influencing function to improve. When this occurs, blood is built, improving anemic conditions, cells and muscles receive their proper nutrients, and appetite and immunity improve.

There are many ways to apply red root to dysfunction in the body. In my practice, I recognize that the spleen plays a major role in digestive function, and when digestive disorders are present on a disease or syndrome level, deficiency of the spleen is a contributing factor. Spleen deficiency appears in Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Irritable Bowel Disease (Chron’s and Colitis), where there is impaired uptake of nutrients and an imbalance between wet and dry in the gut, and they respond very well to red root as a long-term tonic at moderately low doses.

The astringent qualities that dry up damp conditions aid conditions where lymphatic congestion is a problem. Mastitis, mononucleosis, tonsillitis and strep infections all find relief from red root. It reduces lymphatic swelling, and sooths sore throats. I often combine red root with other lymphatics, as well as herbs specific to the illness.

Chronic conditions that affect lymphatic function respond well to red root. They are leukemia, Hodgkin’s disease, rheumatism, AIDS and various types of anemias. Please consult someone clinically trained in herbal medicine and experienced in working with these conditions before embarking on your herb journey if you have a positive diagnosis for these diseases.

Because red root has a grand effect on overactive mucosa, it is an excellent expectorant. This is one area where the leaves are a successful treatment. I have found use for them in respiratory illnesses, such as bronchitis, both acute and chronic, and sore throats. I don’t employ the leaves alone, but often combine them with the root of the plant.

Herbs that support lymphatic function do so in many different ways. While I hear many speak of lymphatic herbs as being blood cleansers, we must remember that organs – not plants – clean blood. Plants stimulate and support the process, retraining the body in a function that was forgotten. In the case of disease, where blood is weak, herbs support recuperative function, and when the spleen and lymphatic system have been disabled, it is important to support those functions to increase healing potential.

Where wild fire once burned, red root thrives. It sprouts from rootstock after the tops are burned, and is usually the first to reappear after the fire. Ironically, the Native Americans used the root as firewood when timber was scarce. We see in the body that red root balances wet with dry. It clears the channels of dampness, and decreases inflammation, and increases function, allowing the body to transform food into energy and build blood. It becomes our body’s walking stick, helping it to move again and grow strong once more. From here, we can truly begin to heal.

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  • betty

    Thank you for your article. It is very informative and nicely written. I am not sure why the photo of achillia millefolium (yarrow) is featured. Red root has a rather different white flower.

  • betty

    Thank you for your article. It is very informative and nicely written. I am not sure why the photo of achillia millefolium (yarrow) is featured. Red root has a rather different white flower.

  • gbourisseau

    I have appreciated your commentary on red root here. It is the best I have seen. I am an Ayurvedic herbalist. I make salves where I include Western herbs. I have felt moved to add red root to a salve meant to cool inflammatory skin conditions (which might include cancers). Do you have any feeling on this??

    • Hi, and thank you. Red root is an amazing plant. And I believe you have an excellent idea for use topically. I would recommend the leaf as opposed to the root. It's anti-inflammatory, astringant and cooling properties would serve your salves very well. Thanks again for writing, and for your kind words about the article. I think your salve must be very well thought out. I wish you the best, Kathy

      Sent from my iPod

    • Denise Mcdonald

      I suffer with alopecia, leukemia and multiple myeloma
      Help, i refuse modern meds, always holistic but unable to absorb nutrients

  • Thank you very much for writing in such detail about this often-overlooked herb.  Question: If you have a case of spleen chi deficiency and anemia that includes increased bleeding time, would it be ok to use red root?  I see sometimes a contraindication of red root with blood thinners.  If a person with spleen weakness is not taking blood thinners, would red root increase the tendency to bleed, or would it help this issue by way of healing the spleen?

    • Hello!  And thanks for reading the red root article.  You are so right when you say it is an overlooked medicinal.  And excellent question about the contraindications of red root.  Red root is high enough in tannins that it can cause coagulation as opposed to thinning of the blood.  Someone on blood thinners doesn’t want that.  Red root is astringent, tightening and toning tissue.  The issue of thin and anemic blood is complex, though.  I could write a lot about my views on that.  I hope I answered your question.  Warm wishes, Kathy

      ________________________________

  • Red Root is not available in stores in my area. Can someone recommend a mail order source and whether I shold pick it up as powder, root/bark, or tincture? THANKS FOR THIS WORK!!

    • Hello! Thanks for writing. This is one of my favorite plants. It’s the root you want. The dried root can probably be ordered from the company Pacific Botanicals. I recommend taking a tincture. If you don’t want to make it yourself, I recommend you purchase from Herbalist and Alchemist or Eclectic Institute. Sometimes a local herb store or health food store can special order it. If you have questions about making the tincture yourself, let me know. I can tell you that, too. Warm wishes, Kathy

  • Its_Gwen

    Thank you for this great article on red root!  I was particularly interested in the information about supporting the spleen, as I’m researching herbs to use for Mono to support the liver and spleen.  I’ll be looking for some red root tincture!

    • Excellent!  Thanks for your comment.  I love red root, too.  It is an amazing plant.  Good luck with your search for mono plants.  You are on the right path.  If you have other questions, feel free to ask.  Best wishes, Kathy

  • bigtinysue

    My 13 year old small dog has huge lymph nodes as a symptom of diagnosed lymphoma. I am thinking of trying a little ground red root in his food (local sourced here in Colorado). Any known problem with red root and dogs?

    • Thanks for writing, and I’m sorry to hear about your dog.  As it stands, I have not seen anything that says red root cannot be used on dogs.  But-BIG BUT-dogs and cats process herbs differently than we do, and this makes some plants that seem innocuous quite toxic to them.
      There are other plants I can recommend for your situation that don’t cause problems. Burdock root, sheep sorrel, echinacea, turkey rhubarb, and kelp (yes, seaweed).
      I steer clear of treatments that push “detoxification”.  While these plants may support elimination and tonify function, they are also nourishing.  Detoxifying is not their first and strongest action. My opinion for animals (and humans)- while our animals are undergoing toxic treatments, we don’t need to stress them out further, but we do need to support them.  These plants do that. This will give you a bit on burdock root.  http://www.redrootmountain.com/begin-your-year-to-nourish-and-heal-with-spring-tonics/468
      Also, I prefer to treat pets with tinctures instead of whole or ground down plants. There is less plant material to process, and can be easier on their systems.
      I also highly recommend a consult with a vet who has experience with herbs and cancer. They can give you a specific plan. Warm wishes to you and your lovely companion.

    • PG

      I know your post in now 3 yrs old, but in case someone is reading this I would suggest checking out B.S.S.T. for pets. It is the same as Essiacs for people with cancer, but is formulated for pets.

  • Zawadi Z

    Hi. Red Root tea vs tincture – which would be more effective in addressing liver/varicose veins/skin tag issues? I’m new to the world of herbs and would appreciate any feedback/other herb recommendations sent my way. Thanks.

  • Svthdysthsbbth

    Praise Jesus! 🙂

  • vstew62

    Hi Kathy Thank you for such an informative article. I have the Epstein Barr virus I think it comes from glandular fever. I very often feel nasueas with it and go off my food which may seem to indicate spleen problems am I right in this? Do you think I would benefit from Red Root? I live in the UK by the way so I don’t have access to the plant. Thank you

    • Hi,

      Kathy Eich, here. Thanks for leaving a note on my website in the Red Root article.

      Indeed, the spleen can be a root problem for you. The liver can also. I would recommend that you try a formula if these 3 plants:

      Red root
      Milk thistle
      Yellow dock root

      If you are experiencing exhaustion and nervousness, please also consider skullcap.

      I recommend taking 3 drops of each plant 3 times daily.

      You can purchase the tinctures at Herbalist and Alchemist online. They are am excellent source, and will have red root.

      My best to you,
      Kathy Eich

    • Catherine Mill

      red root is available on amazon uk

  • vickie

    The Pala Indians in Ca. still drink Red Root. They boil the roots for hours & drink as tea. It does taste terrible, but is well worth it’s medicinal properties.

    • Thanks for your comment. I didn’t know that. Red root is an amazing medicine. Warm wishes!

  • Gail Kraker

    Kathy, I’m so glad to have come across your article. I have lymphedema in my left arm from breast cancer surgery. It is swelling quite a bit more lately and I was told some people are helped by redroot. Do you recommend combining it with any other herbs? I’m new to herbs. Would I get a powder and make it into a tea or should I get a tincture? I’d appreciate your help very much.

    • Hi Gail, Thanks for writing! I typically recommend things after getting to know someone in a consultation so that I can recommend something personally specific. But plants have affinities for conditions. That said, what I’m giving is general advice, not necessarily advice specific to you. Red root is a pretty amazing plant when it comes to lymphatic swelling. I’m sorry to hear of your new swelling. From the nature of it, I would say that red root would be an excellent fit. I would use a tincture instead of a tea, as the tea will taste terrible. It’s a very bitter and astringent plant. There are other things I would combine with it. Cleavers (Gallium aparine), is an excellent fit here. It has an affinity for moving lymphatic swelling, especially when swelling has become hard. It is also a favorite plant of mine to use in some post cancer treatment cases. Also, burdock root. It is anti-mutogenic, and helps the liver process out excess hormones. So the formula I recommend- equal parts tinctures of cleavers, burdock root, and red root. I would take a smallish therapeutic dose of 15 drops 3 times daily for a few months. See where that gets you with your swelling. I’m sure you already know to limit sugar and other things that may be affecting your lymph. Again, thanks for writing. I wish you the best. Keep me posted. Warm wishes, Kathy

    • drspell life

      contact drspellcastwicca@gmail.com, if you need help

  • Ayla Morgellons

    Wonderful article! I am on an herbal healing protocol for Morgellons/Lyme disease and feel because my white blood cell count is low, the die-off of bacteria is now causing a problem for my lymphatic system. Glands around neck and armpit are swollen. I just received my red root and am looking forward to seeing if it helps. Not sure how much I should start taking and if I need to advance very slowly. Any suggestions? Thank you for such a thoughtful article.

    • Hello, and thank you for your kind words. This plant is one that I have a lot of positive strong feelings about, as you can see. I’m all for the lowest therapeutic dose possible, so I say begin with about 5 drops 4 times a day. Do that a week, and see how it goes. It is specific for spleen swelling, and is excellent support for the lymph. You may also want to look at Gallium aparine (cleavers), as it helps stabilize the lymphatic system, improves the flow of lymphatic fluids, and reduces glandular swelling. I recommend reading about teasel, which Matt Wood talks a lot about, and Fenugreek for the die off symptoms. (Here is an article about that plant) http://www.redrootmountain.com/749/749 Warm wishes to you, and don’t hesitate to comment further with other questions. Kathy

  • shawn.zach.rr@gmail.com

    Hello I was told that red root can possibly get rid of my fibroid tumor. Is that true

    • Hello! Thanks for writing. Red root can inspire your lymphatic system to do the job of getting rid of the tumor to a degree, but if the reason is hormonal, which it typically is, and not simply lymphatic, you will need a different combination of plants. A good general formula would include a few lymphatic plants to stimulate the circulation and inflammation in the lymph, plants that help balance hormones, and plants that have an affinity for supporting the liver in doing the job of conjugating for elimination excess hormones. If you have excess estrogen (your cycle runs 29 or more days from day 1 of one period it day one of the next), an excellent formula would be vitex, burdock root, dandelion root, red root, and possibly cleavers. If bleeding is excessive during your period, add shephards purse or yarrow. I also recommend that the burdock root and dandelion root may be used as a tea, if interested. If a deficiency of progesterone with estrogen levels being fine is the issue, I’d look into Angelica sinensis with black cohosh instead of the vitex. These are general recommendations. To be clear, it is important to get a more complete assessment of your health situation to formulate something specific to you, not merely what you present with. I recommend you find a good herbalist with experience in your area of need locally. Warm wishes, and thanks again for your questions. Kathy

    • Hello! Thanks for writing. Red root can inspire your lymphatic system to do the job of getting rid of the tumor to a degree, but if the reason is hormonal, which it typically is, and not simply lymphatic, you will need a different combination of plants. A good general formula would include a few lymphatic plants to stimulate the circulation and inflammation in the lymph, plants that help balance hormones, and plants that have an affinity for supporting the liver in doing the job of conjugating for elimination excess hormones. If you have excess estrogen (your cycle runs 29 or more days from day 1 of one period it day one of the next), an excellent formula would be vitex, burdock root, dandelion root, red root, and possibly cleavers. If bleeding is excessive during your period, add shephards purse or yarrow. I also recommend that the burdock root and dandelion root may be used as a tea, if interested. If a deficiency of progesterone with estrogen levels being fine is the issue, I’d look into Angelica sinensis with black cohosh instead of the vitex. These are general recommendations. To be clear, it is important to get a more complete assessment of your health situation to formulate something specific to you, not merely what you present with. I recommend you find a good herbalist with experience in your area of need locally. Warm wishes, and thanks again for your questions. Kathy

    • drspell life

      contact drspellcastwicca@gmail.com, for help

  • #amom

    My son has a lot of cyst in his kidney he is only 11 years old will this help him.
    Sincerely,
    A Caring Mom

    • Hello, Thanks for writing. I’m sorry to hear about your son, and hope that he heals swiftly. Red root can be foundational as the kidney stress can stress the lymphatic system, as well as other eliminatory organs. While I am not a doctor, and cannot prescribe herbs, there are some general plants that may be helpful that you can research- dandelion root and leaf, burdock root, nettle seed (not leaf, very irritating), parsley (as a food), celery (as a food), cleavers (another lymphatic). Yarrow is excellent if there is bleeding, and goldenseal is excellent if infection complicates the issue. I wish you well in your search for answers. Warm wishes, Kathy

  • Flygirlgrace

    I purchased red root in the dried form. It looks like small pieces of tree bark. My mother has leukemia and in turn has an enlarged spleen that has become painful. I’m wondering if there is a ratio of tea to water ratio that is recommended for use. There are no instructions on the bag.

    • Hello! Thanks for writing about your mother. I’m sorry to hear of her battle, and hope that she recovers well. Red root is an excellent spleen medicine. The tea will be extremely bitter and astringent. Here is what I recommend. You could make a tincture with it using vodka. The vodka is not a good fluid for fresh plant tincture making, but it works okay for dried. Add 1 part of plant by weight to 5 parts of vodka by volume to a mason jar. Shake it, and let it sit in a cool dry sunless place for about 8 weeks. Press it out the best you can, and give her 5-10 drops of tincture 3-4 times daily for a few months. Low doses work well, and I recommend staying away from the high strong doses that some will recommend. Red root is a powerful plant. While you are waiting for the tincture to macerate, you can order some tincture from Herbalist and Alchemist. They make a lovely red root tincture. For your mom, the tincture will be most effective, and she won’t have to drink tons of it to gain the medicinal benefits. Many warm wishes to you, Kathy

    • Susan Hill

      you are probably going through a healing crisis red ruut is a detoxifyer also especially if paired with other cleansing herbs. consider this a good sign but decrease the amt for a few days to give your body a chance to catch up. make sure you drink plenty of water as cleansing old toxinsvis hard work. you may need the guidance of a hr
      ealer familiar with red root

  • JCWCJ

    I’ve just started taking Red Root extract over the past week or so and while my lymph nodes have decreased in size (they are normally always swollen), I am noticing a lot of breaking out in the facial area with pimples. I’m just curious if this is part of the process such as side effect. If so, that’s fine and I will deal with it. I just can’t seem to find any side effects anywhere online. Thanks for your time.

    • Laura

      As someone with acne caused by food allergies, you’re spot on! Whenever I have a break out it is always bilateral, and in areas of lymphnodes. The face has tons of lymphnodes. My theory is that The lymphnodes will push some toxins to the skin, causing the break out. Drink lots of water and excercise enough to sweat to assist the skin, but it should clear up!

  • Darlene

    Where can one purchase a Red Roots to grow?

  • Gloria Curnuck

    Hi I have a fatty liver ,so would Red Root be good for that..And would I use the drops ? As I have just ordered this …Also should I take milk thistle as well ..Thanks Gloria

  • pomipomi

    What an amazing article! Makes me wonder if it helped the Union win the war 😉

  • Maggie Schneider

    Hi Crew — I would like to find and gently harvest a few pieces of wild buckthorn somewhere in the Madison area. Any suggestions as to where some is growing? And how to dig up without digging too much and damaging the shrub?

  • Paulette Kenyon

    Do you think this would help people with interstitial cystitis?

  • Just what @lisbonlifestyle needs