Chapter from “Backyard Medicine Chest”
Notes from the Eclectic Physicians
Part Used: Root
In a Word: Dries up diarrhoea
It’s hard to be on the run when you have them. In most cities, it’s a challenge to find a public toilet, let alone one that you would want to use! When you’ve got diarrhea, you want a medicine that will stop the problem as quickly as possible.
While it may not be pleasant, diarrhea is not necessarily a bad thing. There are two kinds of diarrhea: chronic and occasional. Chronic diarrhea is obviously a problem, for reasons I’ve already mentioned. However, in the case of occasional diarrhea, we need to change our attitude. Generally speaking, when you have a case of the runs, your body is desperately trying to get rid of something that has made its way into the gut that has no business being there. This could be a bacteria, either from an airborne source, as in what we call an “intestinal flu,” or from a food source, as in food poisoning. In either case, diarrhea is the body’s way of getting the offending items out of the GIT. Sometimes the body goes overboard in achieving this aim, but understand that diarrhea is the body’s attempt to do you a favor. Diarrhea is a symptom, not an illness. It indicates something is amiss, and you ought to take notice.
There is also, of course, what is known as nervous diarrhea, and people suffering from this affliction know exactly what it is. Some stressful situation occurs, and before you know it, you find yourself locked in a bathroom for hours on end. I suppose that this is one way of hiding out, literally, from whatever is getting on your nerves. Our second sort, occasional diarrhea, is a horse of a different color, though the symptom is the same.
In the case of occasional diarrhea, the unspeakable condition is potentially dangerous, particularly in children. As the body evacuates the bowels of whatever nasty creature has moved in and set up shop, it also junks everything else down there, nutrients and fluids alike, and children especially don’t have that much to spare. The body can’t selectively purge – it all has to go. If the condition persists for more than 24 hours, you need to consult a healthcare provider to find out exactly what is going on.
The plant we will be using for both chronic and occasional diarrhea is called American cranesbill, Geranium maculatum . As the scientific name reveals, cranesbill is a member of the geranium family, a family that includes the potted plant found in front of houses around the world. If you are now eyeing your potted geranium as an emergency source of diarrhea medication, don’t event think about it. Not all geraniums are good for diarrhea, and the one decorating your stoop is definitely in the ornamental class.
Cranesbill was initially used by the Native Americans for the treatment of diarrhea, and when Europeans colonized North America, they soon discovered it and added it to their medicine bags. In dramatic recreations of life in colonial America, one of the many day-to-day realities left off the silver screen is chronic diarrhea. In the New World, Europeans came across all kinds of bacteria strange to their intestinal tracts, and they suffered terribly. One of the leading killers among colonials as they moved around the globe was dysentery, the long-play version of the affliction, and cranesbill’s ability to stop diarrhea saved many colonists’ lives.
American cranesbill has a thick, tough perennial root and erect, greenish-gray stems. The plant grows from one to two feet high and is quite tolerant of the cold, unlike its fashionable relation. The spreading, hairy leaves have deeply cleft lobes, and the large flowers are usually purple and grow mostly in pairs. Less showy than those of the garden variety, the flowers are nevertheless attractive. There are several varieties of cranesbill, though they all have the similar medicinal properties: they stop diarrhea from annoying the owner of the bowels in question.
The woodland plant was transported from North America to Europe, where it was received with great favor. People were forever returning to capital cities such as London from colonies in Africa and Asia with life-threatening cases of the runs. The plant got its name from the resemblance of the long, narrow seedpod to the bill on a crane, and European doctors considered it a very snappy treatment.
If you were to peruse an herbal medical text from the past century, you would find that the doctors of the day loved cranesbill for its ability to stop the trots. In the eye-catching 1895 title A Compendium of Botanic Materia Medica for Use of Students of Medicine and Pharmacy , Dr Samuel Waggaman writes: “The rhizome of the geranium has some tonic properties, but its main virtues lie in its powerful astringent properties, and it is highly recommended in diarrhea and dysentery.” If that isn’t riveting enough for you, here’s more along the same lines, from another medical text dating to 1920, which called cranesbill: “A powerful astringent, and one of the best remedies for diarrhea, chronic dysentery, cholera infantum, hemorrhage, etc. The decoction is made from the underground stem. It improves the appetite and digestion, and promotes nutrition.” This business about cranesbill’s improving the digestion, which we can assume to mean the overall condition of the gastrointestinal tract, as well as curing the diarrhea, is a widely held notion and should be of some interest to the person suffering from chronic diarrhea.
Sad to say, you have to rip the plant out of its happy soil home and kill it to harvest the medicinal portion, which is its rhizome or root. These rhizomes contain gallic acid and tannins, which act as an astringent on the mucous membrane of the lower intestine. The chemicals contained in cranesbill literally dry up the mucous membranes that manufacture the diarrhea.
Tannins, as I mentioned in the section on chamomile, act chemically by binding protean cells closer together than they would naturally be. Not only do they dry out the GIT, they also destroy bacteria, and if your diarrhea is caused by bacteria, using cranesbill has the added benefit of getting rid of the source of your problem.
Dr Waggaman gave the following prescription for diarrhea in 1895: “The decoction is made by adding to one pint and a half of boiling water one ounce of the coarsely powdered root and boiling down to one pint, the dose of which is one wine glassful three times per day.” Modern herbalists use the same prescription, and it has been proven safe over the course of history. Safe it is, a taste treat it is not. If you were contemplating softening the blow by adding a little milk to your cranesbill tea, think again. Milk is a protein, and this means that the tannins will bind with it and thus be rendered useless to the intestinal tract. I’m afraid this one needs to be taken straight.
The physicians of the past century felt that cranesbill was equally appropriate in the case of chronic or occasional diarrhea. As Dr John Fyfe noted in 1904: “It is employed chiefly in chronic and subacute bowel disorders, diarrhea, dysentery, and cholera infantum, when the discharges are profuse and debilitating. In dysentery and infusion of geranium is employed, which is made by infusing one ounce of the crushed root in one pint of boiling water.” In other words, when diarrhea is the problem, cranesbill is the answer.
Chapter from “Backyard Medicine Chest”
Cranesbill – Diarrhea
Its hard to be on the run when you have them.
The modern world with all our dashing about is not geared for people feeling a little under the weather and this couldn’t be more true for our next illness-the much dreaded diarrhea. As the title of this chapter reads, you cant run errands when you’ve got the runs. In most cities its hard to find a public toilet let alone one that you would want to use! In Britain alone people spent almost 18 million pounds on over the counter diarrhea medications which is a lot of people looking for a toilet! When you’ve got diarrhea you want a medicine that will stop the problem as immediately as possible, and have I got a plant for you. Geranium maculatum, cranes bill as it is known.
Doctors and house mothers alike in the last century kept lots of cranesbill in the medicine chest for moments like these. The Modern Materia Medica, written in 1904, said the following conditions were best treated with it, “Diarrhea, with constant desire to go to stool; chronic diarrhea, with mucous discharges; conditions attended by profuse mucous discharge.” Does that sound like anyone you know?
It is necessary for most of us to change our opinion about diarrhea, though it may not be pleasant, it is not necessarily a bad thing.There are two sorts of diarrhea, occasional and chronic. Chronic diarrhea is a problem, for reasons already mentioned. How ever, it is in the case of the occasional case of diarrhea that we need to change our attitude. Generally speaking when you have a case of the runs your body is desperately trying to get rid of something that has made its way into the gut that has no business being there. This could be bacteria either of the airborne sort, like an “intestinal bug”, or from a food source as in food poisoning. In either case the diarrhea is the bodies way of getting “offending visitors” items out of the GIT. Alright, sometimes the body goes a little over the top in this aim, but understand that diarrhea is the bodies way of flushing something bad out of the intestinal tract. Diarrhea is your friend! How was that for a revolting statement. Diarrhea is a symptom, not an illness. It indicates something is amiss and you ought to take notice.
There is of course what is known as nervous diarrhea and people suffering from this affliction know exactly what this is. Some stressful situation occurs and before you know it you find yourself locked in a bathroom for hours on end. I suppose this is one way of hiding out from whatever is getting on your nerves, literally. Our second form of diarrhea is a horse of a different color, though the symptom is the same.
In the case of occasional diarrhea the unspeakable condition is potentially dangerous, particularly in children. The body loses a lot of fluid in the process and children dont have that much liquid to spare. As the body evacuates the bowel of whatever nasty creature has moved in and set up shop it also junks everything else down there, nutrients and fluids alike. The body cant selectively purge, it all has to go. If the condition persists for more than twenty four hours you need to consult a health care provider to find out what is going on.
The plant we will be using for both chronic and occasional diarrhea is called american cranesbill, geranium maculatum. As the scientific name reveals, cranesbill is a member of the geranium family, a family that includes the potted plant that can be found in front of houses around the world. If you are now eying your potted geranium or your neighbors as an emergency source of diarrhea medication, dont even think about it. Not all geraniums are good for diarrhea and the one glamorizing your front stoop is definitely in the decorative class.
Though initially used by the Native Americans for the treatment of diarrhea, the colonials living in North America quickly discovered it and made good use of it. When you see dramatic recreations of the life in colonial America one of the many day to day realities left off the silver screen is chronic diarrhea. The Europeans came onto all kinds of bacteria strange to their intestinal tracts and they suffered terribly. One of the leading killers amongst the colonials as they moved around the globe was dysentery, the long play version of diarrhea. Cranesbill’s ability to stop diarrhea caught on quickly and saved more than one colonials life.
The native American cranesbill has a thick and tough perennial root and greenish gray erect stems. The plant grows from one to two feet high and is quite tolerant of the cold, unlike its fashionable relation. The leaves are spreading, hairy, and have deeply cleft lobes. It does have large flowers, usually purple and mostly in pairs. They flowers are not as showy as the garden variety, not by a long shot, but they are attractive in a simple sort of way. There are several varieties of cranesbill, though they all have the similar medicinal properties. The stop diarrhea from annoying the owner of the bowels.
The wild woodland plant found growing up and down the east coast and well into the midwest was transported to Europe where it found great favor in treating diarrhea. In colonial capitals such as London people were forever returning from the exotic colonies in Africa and Asia with life threatening cases of the runs. Doctors in such capitals found Cranesbill a very snappy treatment. In case you were wondering the plant got its name during colonial days due to the resemblance of the seed pod to the bill on a crane, long and narrow!
If you were to peruse an herbal medical text from the last century you would find that the doctors of the day just loved cranesbill and its ability to stop the trots from trotting. In the eye catching title written by Samuel Waggamans MD, “A Compendium of botanic materia medica for use of students of medicine and pharmacy”, penned in 1895, the following can be read about cranesbill, ” The rhizome of the gernqim has some tonic properties, but its main virtues lie in its powerful astringent properties, and it is highly recommended in diarrhea and dysentery.
If this isn’t riveting enough for you, heres some more along the same lines. Another medical text dating to 1920 had the following to say about cranesbill, ” A powerful astringent, and one of the best remedies for diarrhea, chronic dysentery, cholera infantum, hemorrhage, etc. The decoction is made from the underground stem. It improves the appetite and digestion, and promotes nutrition.”
This business about cranesbill improving the condition of the gastro-intestinal tract as well as curing the diarrhea is a well held notion and should be of some interest to the person suffering from chronic diarrhea.
The part of the plant we use in treating diarrhea is the rhizome or root, and sad to say you have to rip out the plant and kill it to harvest the medicinal part. The plant, roots and all, wrenched from its happy soil home so brutally contains tannins and gallic acid. These tannins are the active ingredient in our diarrhea cure! The tannins act as an astringent on the mucous membrane of the lower intestine. To put it rather bluntly, chemicals contained in the plant literally dry up the mucous membranes which manufacture the diarrhea.
Cranesbill is classed by herbalists as an astringent, a physician writing in a home medical advisor in 1850 was kind enough to write a book from which we can read the following profound words, ” Astringents are such substances as applied to the animal body produce contraction and condensation in the soft solids, and thereby increasing their density and cohesion. They corrugate, or pucker the part to which they are applied.” Like I said, cranesbill dries things up, not to worry, the doctor wasn’t suggesting your innards would end up looking like corrugated cardboard. He was just saying that it would firm things up a bit.
Tannins are rather interesting chemicals, painfully boring books have been written on the myriad of tannins produced by countless different plants. Rather than bore you with details that aren’t that important I thought I would give you the short version of these terminal texts. Tannins act chemically by binding protein closer together than they would naturally exist. If you were to put pure tannins in your mouth you would experience a serious puckering up sensation. It is for this reason they are used in tanning leathers, they pull the cells closer together making a tighter fit, which is why leather is more durable than skin. The general affect in the GIT is a drying one, just what the diarrhea sufferer needs done.
One of the really exciting features of these tannins is that they destroy bacteria. Imagine a healthy and happy bacteria in your gut looking like a juicy grape. If you dipped that same bacteria in a vat of tannins it would come out looking like a raisin. If the diarrhea is caused by bacteria, using cranesbill has the added benefit of being able to kill the source of the problem. As the tannin filled tea floats down your GIT it not only dries up the diarrhea it can effectively kill the bacteria causing it.
As I mentioned earlier the part of the geranium plant we use in herbal medicine is the root and the first step in making the medicine will be getting it out of the ground. As with many roots the time to do the digging is in septmeer and october. Its really a rather nasty trick we play on the plant, we let it sit in the garden all summer long storing food away for winter consumption, and once it has the maximum food put away, we rip it out of the soil and kill it. One tip to remember when digging the root, soak the soil they live in for a couple of days prior to the digging, this will loosen the soil and it make it easier to get the whole root out. Using a shovel pop the whole plant out of the ground and shake the sol off the roots. Clip all the aerial parts off the plant and take the muddy roots into the kitchen.
Once you are at the kitchen sink wash all the dirt off the roots, you might find a little scrub brush handy. Once you have them clean, take a pruning shears and clip the roots into one centimeter lengths. This has been pretty clear cut up to this moment, but now it gets a little tricky. You have to dry the chopped up roots and the best way to do this is to put them in the oven on the lowest heat you have available to you. Once you have them in the oven let them stay there until they are completely dry. This should take about twenty four hours. Then store the dried roots in a paper bag in a dry location. Dont store in plastic, you can rest assured you will end up with mouldy roots if you do this.
The roots will stay effective for several years, but keep an eye out for weevils, if you have this problem you might want to store the roots in the refrigerator. With you drug in hand we can proceed along to using it for the occasional problem. Dr. Waggamen gave the following prescription for diarrhea in 1895, ” The decoction is made by adding to one pint and a half of boiling water one ounce of the coarsely powdered root and boiling down to one pint, the dose of which is one wine glassful three times per day.” Modern herbalist use the same prescription today and it has been proven safe over the course of history. Safe it is, a taste treat it is not. If you were contemplating lessening the blow by adding a little milk to the tea, think twice. Milk is a protein and the tannins will be bind with the protein and be rendered useless to the intestinal tract!
The physicians of the last century felt that cranesbill was equally appropriate in the case of chronic or occasional diarrhea, as Dr. John Fyfe had to say in 1904, “It is employed chiefly in chronic and subacute bowel disorders, diarrhea, dysentery, and cholera infantum, when the discharges are profuse and debilitating. In dysentery an infusion of geranium is employed, which is made my infusing one ounce of the crushed root in one pint of boiling water.” When diarrhea is the problem, cranesbill is the answer.
The thing to remember is this – if diarrhea represents a change in your usual schedule be aware that something is wrong. If the condition lasts for more than a day you need to see a health care practitioner to find out what is causing the diarrhea. There are some pretty nasty food poisoning bugs out there and you don’t want to let any of then go on for too long. Use your common sense, if it is not getting better with the cranesbill, get help. For the chronic diarrhea sufferer, continue taking the cranesbill until the attack has subsided.
Getting your supply:
1. Buy the dried root from the health food store.
2. With the help of a field guide, collect it from the wild. It’s a weedy plant and can be found growing wild all over North America .
3. Grow it yourself. Cranesbill is a perennial plant and when given a spot in the garden will grow happily and provide you with as many roots as you need. Its best to order a starter plant from a mail order herb nursery so you are certain you have cranesbill. Select a sunny to partially sunny location in the garden and turn the soil in the proposed planting site well, adding lots of peat moss. Since you will be harvesting the root you want to make the soil loose and light so you can readily pull the root out and not leave much of it stuck in hardened soil. Planted at any time of the year and well watered the plant will quickly root in and produce flowers in the first spring. It will also set seed and drop them in the garden bed which is exactly what you want them to do. Remember you have to destroy the plant to collect the seed so you want as many generations to come up as possible so you always have a supply of roots. The plant should be allowed to grow one season and drop some seed before you start harvesting the roots. The time to harvest is in the fall just as the leaves are beginning to fall from the trees in the neighborhood.
Notes from the Eclectic Physicians
1905: Petersen – GERANIUM MACULATUM
Syn – Geranium; Cranesbill
P. E. – Rhizome
N. O. – Geraniaceae
N. H. – United States and Europe
Properties: Tonic, astringent, alterative
Indications: Relaxed enfeebled mucous membrane, without inflammation. Excessive discharge of mucus or blood in above conditions.
Use: In chronic or sub-acute diarrhoea, catarrhal gastritis, mild form of passive hemorrhage, hematuria when indicated. In phthisis pulmonalis it will retard symptoms to a marked degree and is of value in night sweats. Dose from 5 to 15 drops every 2 to 4 hours. Shoul dnot be given in active inflammation. Nasal polypus injected with tincture will dry up and soon fall off.
Cranesbill, Geranium maculatum, is found native to the lowlands and open woods throughout the temperate Eastern United States . Being one of the astringent domestic remedies used in the form of infusion or decoction in diarrhea, dysentery, sore mouth, and similar diseases, it thus came to the attention of physicians, whose use of it finally led to its place in the pharmacopeia. In Eclectic medication geranium is much valued, the drug occupying a well-established position in all the publications of that school of physicians.
Disclaimer: The author makes no guarantees as to the the curative effect of any herb or tonic on this website, and no visitor should attempt to use any of the information herein provided as treatment for any illness, weakness, or disease without first consulting a physician or health care provider. Pregnant women should always consult first with a health care professional before taking any treatment.