August 29, 2015
[00:00] Introduction/Kimera Koffee
[03:06] About The Speaker – Guido Masé
[12:49] Guido's Process
[21:21] Significance of Alcohol to Mix with Wild Plant Extract
[22:48] Aromatic, Bitter and Tonic Plants
[28:35] Digestive Bitters and Digestive Enzymes
[30:35] Eating Bitter Plants in a Meal
[33:04] Wild Plants vs. Domesticated Plants
[35:50] Tonic Plants
[48:44] Using Tonics in Physical Activities
[49:43] Effect of Plants on Cognitive Performance
[1:00:28] End of the Podcast
Ben: Hey, it's Ben Greenfield here, and I've got a question for you. What do you think what happened if a Mixed Martial Artist, American Jiu-Jitsu Grandmaster, a professional surfer, adventurer, historian and acrobat all got together to create a morning beverage. Specifically a coffee. Well, what you might wind up with is a high-altitude premium coffee that's blended with a bunch of nootropics slash smart drugs. We're talking about stuff like Alpha-GPC, Taurine, DMAE and L-Theanine. If all that just went completely over your head, all you really need to know is that those are some of the most proven cognitive, performance enhancers on the face of the planet. And when you combine those with the most studied molecule for brain performance on earth, coffee, you get something pretty dang potent. It's called Kimera Koffee, K-I-M-E-R-A Kimera. Koffee, K-O-F-F-E-E. You can check them out at kimerakoffee.com, and you can also save when you use 10% discount code “Ben10”. I've been drinking this stuff a bunch. It tastes amazing. It was developed by athletes who want to think smarter, and so it could be right up your alley. So again, you can check it out. Kimera Koffee, that's www.kimerakoffee.com, use 10% discount code “Ben10”. Enjoy sipping that morning brew full of brain performance. And now onto today’s show.
In this episode of The Ben Greenfield Fitness Show:
“I'd like the alcohol extracts like a peppermint in a little bit of sparkling water. You put in even just one drop of the stuff, and you smell it and you'll taste it and it'll bring you in the moment and then really help you transition to your next task.” “Some plants are extremely powerful even at very, very limited doses. Others require higher doses. So when we're talking about blueberries or hawthorn berries, usually pretty high dose.” “I mean, I'm a big believer that people should be using more herbal medicine in getting into these wild plants in their life. It's a huge missing piece, and it's a great benefit.”
Ben: Hey folks, it's Ben Greenfield here, and as you know if you've been listening to this podcast for the past few months, I have, you might even say, an infatuation with wild plants and wild edibles and forging of late and spend a great deal of time in my backyard digging around for everything from mushrooms to nettles to wild mint. You name it, and my guest today actually wrote a book about a specifically plant-based medicine. It's called “The Wild Medicine Solution: Healing with Aromatic, Bitter and Tonic Plants”. It's a really cool guide to being able to use plants effectively for everything from cognitive and sports performance to enhanced immunity to even doing things like enhancing your ability to be able to handle altitude, for example.
Guido Masé is the author of that book, and Guido is a clinical herbalist. He's an herbal educator, and he's a garden steward even though I'm actually not quite sure what a garden steward is, but he specializes in holistic western herbalism, and describes his plant-based medicine approach as eclectic and drawing upon many influences which I'm interested to hear a little bit more about.
Anyways, Guido spent his childhood in Italy in the Central Alps and in a renaissance town called Ferrara, and then he traveled to the United States, and he settled into Vermont. Over in Vermont, he's the co-director of the Vermont Center for Integrative Herbalism, and I actually met Guido through a company that he serves as the Chief Herbalist for. A company called Urban Moonshine, and I was actually speaking at a food event over in Vermont a couple of months ago and happened to run into some of these Urban Moonshine whole plants tinctures and tried a few of them and thought it would be interesting to learn how things like that are made and how plant based medicine really works. So if you're interested in kind of a plant-based medicine 101 and how to use wild plants for a variety of different needs and purposes, then you're listening to the right podcast.
So Guido, thanks for coming on the show, man.
Guido: Ben, it's great to be here. Thanks for the invite.
Ben: I should have mentioned by the way because I'm always more into getting like legit folks versus people who spend all their time on a lab on the show that you're also a trail runner in a marathon. Correct?
Guido: Yeah, I got kind of hooked on running about five or six years ago, maybe a little bit longer than that now, and I haven't been able to give it up. It's just been great on such a range of different levels, and it gets me out in the woods pretty much every day.
Ben: I was going to say it probably lends itself well to going out looking around for plants. Although it could be, I suppose, disruptive to a run for you to just be kind of running in the forest, and stopping every few hundred yards to pick up a plant, but I could just…
Guido: You know, like everything else, there's some days when you've got to do the workout, and there's some days where you can get a little more relaxed, and I could just take the harvest basket with me.
Ben: Right, exactly. Not run with the giant basket over your shoulder.
Ben: So Guido Masé? That's an interesting name. What are the origins of that?
Guido: Well the last name Masé, which is my dad and my grandfather's, there's this whole village in kind of a central Dolomite region actually in Manolo de Campillo, which was the sight of the Winter Olympics a few years back. Where almost everyone's last name is Masé, and that's kind of where that last name comes from. And Guido's actually, I mean, a relatively common name in Italy. So I was born and raised there, and we moved to Kansas City which is where my mom is from when I was about fourteen. And you know, I carried my name with me, and it stands out here for sure, but it's actually not that uncommon in the Alps.
Ben: Gotcha. And when you were growing up, were you kind of like into walking around the forest and delving into nature and collecting plants and things like that or is that something you kind of discovered later on in life.
Guido: Well, we lived in this great environment especially when we were up there in the mountains where the woods are at your doorstep, and the culture as such that people wander around in the hills all the time. You go up above the treeline, and you spend two or three weeks with very little running water and electricity or amenities that aren't that common still up there. And we would gather a lot of stuff including mushrooms. My dad and his family are crazy about putting up enough mushrooms to last you through the year. We get berries, and we get herbs and steep them in grapan, bring them back, and it'll last us through the winter. So I kind of with that stuff which, when I was little, it just seemed normal. It seemed like part of the culture, and I really realized how much I loved it and missed it when we move to Kansas City which is pretty much the exact opposite.
Ben: Yeah, I was going to say here in the U.S., we go to CBS or Walgreens and buy drugs with our kids. Rather than going up into the forest for the most part.
So, is that how you became a wild plant expert or an herbalist who was simply going on from that childhood to attending formal education in herbalism, or is there something that happened along the way that got you even more attracted to this idea of wild plant medicine?
Guido: I mean, when I was a kid, it was just sort of the cultural baseline for most folks there. So it didn't feel like it was that special, but once I mixed it when I was in the States, I started realizing that I did really enjoy being outside for one. And for two, knowing, what? All the botanical species and the species of mushrooms that were growing around me. So I tried to attend a year of college. It was a university, and I tried to study Organic Chemistry as well as sort of Eastern Philosophy in Mysticism, and I was having a really hard time reconciling those two things. So I left college, and for about three years, well my soon-to-be wife was continuing her education at school. I traveled around the country and pursued what I would call a completely informal, not entirely self-taught and that I worked with a lot of really incredible “plant people”, but completely informal path towards understanding and learning about medicinal plants and wild plants, and where they grow, and how to prepare them, and what time of year to harvest them and how best to combine them to achieve the most potent results to help folks out.
Ben: Don't take this question wrong, I'm not trying to be rude, but when you call yourself a Clinical Herbalist, can anybody just call themselves a Clinical Herbalist after spending x amount of time in the woods or did you actually have to like take some kind of a test or go through some kind of a training for that?
Guido: I mean, the herbalists in this country don't have standardized curriculum or training program that they have to complete in order to be called herbalists. In Europe, there are such things, but in this country, we don't yet. So it's really an incredibly diverse thing. I kind of feel okay about that because honestly some of the folks that knew the best spots where the Ginseng grew in that place. I mean, they couldn't read or write which is incredible. They knew where these plants were, they knew how to process them, and they had this relationship with this forest that was amazing. So, the reason I feel like I get to call myself a Clinical Herbalist is that we do have an organization in this country called The American Herbalists Guild, and if you submit your experience and case studies and complete examinations that they provide, you go through a peer review process, and they grant you the qualification of Professional Herbalist or Professional Member of the Guild. And so that's really the certification I draw from folks like Aviva Romm, and Michael Tierra, and David Winston who are at the head of that organization.
Ben: Okay, gotcha. It does make sense what you say about people not being able to read or write, and yet knowing a great deal about plants. I know I fall into a habit often of talking about my kids to much on this show, but like my kids will go on a walk with me now through the forest, and point out 5 different plants that I don't even remember the name of, and they tell me what it's for, what it's named, its herbal benefits, whether it can be eaten and whether it's edible or whether it's toxic or poisonous, and they have zero formal education on this. And of course, I greatly appreciate the benefits of practical education and internships, mentorships, things like that versus just like, I guess sitting in the classroom learning about nettles or something like that.
Guido: Yeah. I mean, my daughter's the same way, and I really appreciate you taking your kids out and helping them learn that kind of stuff. I think that's really what we need for the next generation.
Ben: Yeah, yeah. And they actually, I mean, they're to the point now where I just give them my phone.
Guido: They love it, right?
Ben: They go out and well, if they can't identify a plant, they take a photo of it, and we use this app called Flower Checker, and they know how to upload it now to Flower Checker. And then it's a team of live botanists on the other end, and they reply and give you the name and the genus and the species and the uses of that plant, and so that's one of the ways that my kids are kind of exploring the forest. It's just basically with an iPhone 5S, and bare feet and dirty faces running around the woods. So it's an interesting marriage of nature and technology.
Guido: No, that's exactly it. That's the hybrid we need for the 21st Century.
Ben: Yeah, I agree. So when you are learning about a plant, about an herb, do you have a process that you go through? I mean when you were being educated, and kind of, you learning with some of these mentors who taught you, as I mentioned, you described your plant-based medicine approach as eclectic and drawing upon many influences, how does it actually work? Give me an example of a plant you'd find in nature and how would you go about identifying what it's for and how you learn to extract the actual chemicals from that plant?
Guido: Yeah, so it's definitely a bit of an involved process when you're doing it at a professional level, but it always starts outside, and it starts with an interest or a need or a desire. Sometimes I'll get a piece of information coming across my desk about a specific plant that is exotic. You know, that might be like a goji berry relative or some other kind of Polynesian turmeric relative, and then you can do computer-based research to try and see what the pharmacology of that plant is and the proposed mechanisms of action if there have been any. But while I was learning it, it really all started outside, and it still does. You'll find a plant, you be curious about it and almost sometimes, you know, herbalists have this mystical understanding of plant communication or a sort of plant spirits, if you want to call them that, that inhabit these beings who are actually alive when you meet them out in the forest and we believe that sometimes they, almost in an intangible way, can communicate with you and draw you towards them. Draw you, from an interest's perspective, towards them, and so the first thing I try to make sure of is obviously knowing what the botanical identification is.
And we have a formal process for that, that describes just to really simplify it, what the arrangement of the leaves is around the stem, what the shape of the leaves is, how divided or toothed they are and the nature of the inflorescence that we're seeing. How many principle parts it might have, the degree of irregularity or symmetry, and we describe that in very formal terms. So we can go back to sort of the classic botanical texts, and you know it's great if you have a sense to kind of just go like your kids do and look it up online and I love to start there, but you really want to make sure that you can write a formal, botanical description, and compare it to botanical textbooks like Flora Novae Angliae which is one I use up here a lot for New England that formally describes all of the pieces. The degree of hair on the stem and the nature of the stipules that might be connecting the branch to the main leaf, and when you put that all together, you can get a really clear understanding.
Ben: What is the name of that guy?
Guido: Well, the book is called Flora Novae Angliae, or The Flora of New England in Latin, and it's sort of the classic botanical reference for most comprehensive, current botanical reference for the flora of New England. The botanists are always changing up to the way they, what the plant families they assign and these herbs too based now on DNA evidence for instance. So we really want to make sure that we're describing the plant correctly. And then after you do that and you have a good idea of the plant, whether it's safe or edible or medicinal or toxic or any combination thereof, then you can go back with a specimen usually, and that specimen can either be photographic or it can be something you've harvested and take it, and look at all of the traditional and modern reference sources. So when we compile what we call a monograph for the plant, we want to make sure that we define not only macroscopic, but also microscopic identification what it looks like under a microscope and other defining characteristics. What it tastes like, what it smells like, the place where we found it growing, sometimes we sort of geotag that place with a set of coordinates to make sure and describe the habitat, and then we go into a range of different texts.
People have been using medicinal plants for thousands of years across the world, so we have rich texts that now have been translated from the Chinese and Japanese materia medica, from the Ayurvedic tradition of the Indian subcontinent, from the Jamu tradition of Indonesia and Southeast Asia, African herbal traditions, South American and Central American herbal traditions, Polynesian herbal traditions and of course, a range from the Europeans. Now in the Northern Hemisphere and North America here, in the sort of 19th Century, there was this group of physicians called the Eclectic Physicians appropriately, who were able to take a lot of the knowledge of medicinal plants that grew here, and sort of dove tail it with the European imports that have been brought over, over the last couple hundred years, and they wrote volumes and volumes about their medicinal activity, how to extract them, how to apply them, what kind of patients might benefit from them. So we take all of that traditional knowledge to kind of get a sense. We speak with contemporary herbalists who have used or applied this plant and seen what it's done in human beings, and then we go to, what is now an extensive pharmacological and clinical research basis online, searchable through PubMed or my favorite, Google Scholar, and get the chemical constituents, the mechanisms at action and the clinical research behind that plant.
Once you know the chemistry pretty well, it's a short leap to figuring out how to best extract it. Has to do with the degree of water solubility of the chemistry and how much time it would take and whether it needs a little bit of heat or not and how to separate potential constituents if desired, and we put that all together, we can come up with a really solid, powerful medicinal extract. We can concentrate it if it's appropriate or if we feel like we need to. And then we know exactly how to dose it and in what type of clinical contexts it would be useful to administer.
Ben: Got it, that's really interesting. When you have a plant or an herb that you've identified and you know what it's going to be good for, how then do you go about actually extracting it. Like I'm curious. Specifically like the amount of raw matter, right, like I've got a bunch of for example, I can see it right now from my office window, you know. All those bright yellow Saint John's Wort outside, growing on the hillside, and I'm curious when I go by say like a tincture or Saint John Wort's supplements or capsules for, depression or mood disorders as they're typically used for. How much of the actual plant is in that. I mean, do you need a crack-load of plants to actually get what you would put into one bottle?
Guido: Yeah, I mean it really does depend on the plant, of course. Some plants are extremely powerful even at very, very limited doses. Others require, usually the more nutritive ones, right? The ones that are food like, require higher doses. So when we're talking about blueberries or hawthorn berries, usually pretty high dose. You can cook them down in jam and eat a couple tablespoons a day. Very simple extraction process. When we're talking about something like nettles, you know you can make a tincture out of that, and it will help for sort of allergies and inflammation, but it would be better to cook it in soup or to make a really strong tea out of it because it's just a rich, iron-rich, calcium-rich, nutritive mineralizing tonic. So you want to consume it like you might in food.
Saint John's Wort contains some pretty powerful compounds that are active even at relatively modest doses, you know. On the range of a gram of herbal material, and so you can get away with making an alcohol based extract that is really powerful and you don't have to drink ounces and ounces of a day. So it does depend on the plant, and then when you're talking about an herb like Saint John's Wort, it is a fairly resinous plant, and the pigments it contains are where a lot of its active constituents are. So you want to use a fairly high percentage of alcohol if you can, something in the order of 60 or 70% ethanol, almost a hundred and fifty proof to extract it optimally. So a low-alcohol Saint John's Wort extract usually isn't as effective as a high-alcohol Saint John's Wort extract. Now if you do that, other companies will sometimes take that extract, and then using a hood for instance, evaporate some of the solvent, the ethanol in this case, and then what you're left with is kind of a paste material which can be put into a capsule, and it's just another way of delivering that same medicinal activity.
Ben: That's one thing that I noticed when I try, when I was at that food festival. I tried some of your Urban Moonshine, I think you call them tonics, and they tasted very alcoholy is the best way I can describe it. What is it about ethanol or alcohol that makes it useful for taking the constituents of a plant and dissolving it in there to produce a tonic? Why alcohol?
Guido: Yeah, it has to do with the fact that alcohol is a hydrocarbon solvent that has both a water-loving side and an oil-loving side. So it's able to extract a greater range of constituents than say oil by itself would or water by itself would, and thus it becomes most useful for not very water-soluble constituents like polyphenols found in mushrooms or some of those resinous constituents like hypericin and hyperforin found in Saint John's Wort. Or some of the more volatile constituents like even menthol or pharmasol from Linden or eugenol from Clove, some of the more volatile oils are essential oils from the plants that aren't as water-soluble.
Ben: Got it, that's impressive considering that you didn't finish organic chemistry.
Guido: Oh well I mean, I didn't finish it in school, but I'm kind of really bit fascinated with it.
Ben: Yeah, yeah. No, I can tell you know your way around a hydrocarbon. So in your book, you go into three different types of plants. I mean, the title of your book or the sub-title is “Healing With Aromatic, Bitter and Tonic Plants”, and you differentiate between aromatic, bitter and tonic plants. Can you do that for us here? Can you explain what the difference are between an aromatic plant, a bitter plant and a tonic plant?
Guido: Yeah. I mean, I'm a big believer that people should be using more herbal medicine in getting into these wild plants in their life. It's a huge missing piece, and it's a great benefit, so what I try to do is really just distill it down to what I thought was the simplest model for what herbal medicine has to offer because really herbal medicine is not just an alternative to drugs. It's a whole other system of doing things that involves getting outside, it involves walking around barefoot and getting muddy like your kids do. It involves kind of making stuff at home in a very empowered way, but it also requires a sort of habit, right? It's not something where we wait ‘til there's a problem, and then rush out to the herbal dispensary. It's sort of something that we train and corporate in to our lives that these plants weave themselves into our being. So I wanted to try and make it as simple as possible, and break it down into those three categories, the aromatic, bitter and tonic plants. And so really just to make it super simple, aromatic plants are ones that have a strong smell. There's a range of different ones, and they're all fairly similar in their activities.
One, the essential oils that they contain tend to kill bacteria really well, so they tend to be antibiotic and antiviral. The other is that they have this amazing effect of rebalancing our internal state of tensions, so herbalists will use thee aromatic plants for mental, spiritual health and for muscle spasm and tension. If you think of something as simple as like, using menthol externally on a cramped muscle or a sore strained muscle or a hot ginger compress externally on an area of inflammation and tension like an enflamed tendon in the body, but that works internally too, and a lot of these plants are used for anxiety, tension, high blood pressure, etcetera. So the aromatic plants are for mental and spiritual and muscular tension really.
Ben: An aromatic plant would typically be one of these plants that you smell like a mint or, you know around here, we have things like I guess Yarrow is another example of one that I find frequently growing around that has kind of a minty smell or Tansy or ginger or something that you smell and it definitely has a distinct aromatic sense to it.
Guido: You got it. If it has a smell, it means it usually has some volatile compounds, and those volatile compounds are what are doing the action on the nerve and smooth muscle inside the body. Helping to rebalance the state of tension of our heart, our vessels, our GI tract, et cetera. But yarrow's actually an interesting one because it's definitely aromatic as you say, but it also is bitter. It contains a lot of bitter compounds as well, so it kind of crosses over between the two categories.
Guido: And any plants that taste bitter have this incredible ability to sort of awaken our digestive juices and our digestive secretions. It's really thought that it might partly be a protective reflex to help detoxify and neutralize anything that might be poisonous. Generally poisonous things taste very bitter, but you know, historically if we were to talk about a Paleolithic human, 90% of what we would have available to us would be very bitter tasting wild plants, and so the thinking now actually grown up in the context of consuming huge amounts of bitter plants on a daily basis, and that serves as a cue for pancreatic enzymes secretion, hydrochloric acid production in the stomach, optimal bile production in the liver and hepatic detoxification of everything we eat. And in the absence of these bitter compounds, we tend to see blood sugar disregulation, insulin, desensitization resistance develop, poor digestive function with a lot of gas and bloating especially when people overeat carbohydrates. And all of the stuff that we have seen and sort of the rapid adoption of the Western diet, some of the stuff Loren Cordain talks about.
Ben: That's interesting, and just to briefly interject, I interviewed a guy named Dr. Richard Aiken several weeks ago on the show, and he indeed also explained how this loss of being able to handle or even grow to appreciate the taste of bitter foods has actually harmed us physiologically, he didn't come at it from the point of like digestive enzyme secretion and things like that like you have as much as coming at it from the point of like just hormesis. Just the fact that some bitter plant actually have higher levels of antioxidants or are able to activate our natural defensive mechanisms when consumed at insane amounts.
Guido: You know it comes from both levels actually, and like everything else in the human body. You know, we've got these macroscopic effects like when you taste something bitter, you start to detect more saliva in your mouth. And that juiciness increases all through the GI tract, but then once those chemicals are absorbed, particularly polyphenolics like bioflavanoids that are found in a lot of bitter plants. What you tend to see is this hormetic effect where minuscule doses of bioflavanoids which actually plants produced before humans existed. They produced them as insecticides, right? They produce them as neurotoxins, but we don't ever achieve high enough concentrations in our body to have them harm us. The hormetic effect, hair-of-the-dog style, actually stimulates nerve growth, stimulates cell longevity, stimulates cardiovascular longevity and reduces inflammation in the arterial system. So I completely agree that both are acting competently.
Ben: Now what's the difference between, because you see this a lot, digestive bitters and digestive enzymes?
Guido: The real simple answer to that is digestive bitters stimulate your body's own production of digestive enzymes. Digestive enzymes are an artificial external source of those same compounds. So it's kind of like saying, you know, you could get to your friend's house by riding a bike or you could have a car drive you there, and in the first sense, the body's doing it. In the second sense, an external thing is doing it for you.
Ben: So if I go up to the cupboard, the special adult cupboard upstairs, and I open the cabinet where all the martini-making materials are. You know, the vodka and the liquors and tequilas, and there's the little bottle of bitters there. Could I theoretically just like sprinkle those bitters that would normally be used in a martini into a glass of water, and drink them before a meal to enhance digestive enzyme secretion?
Guido: Absolutely, that's one of the major reasons why those bitters exist is as in a paratif to prevent issues or as a digestif to take after meals, to help if you're feeling bloated or indigestion. I mean, I grew up in Italy and the old timers especially, but you know I think my dad gave me bitters when I was six years old after a meal. So again, it's a big part of the culture, and in almost every culture except of the one we find in United States. Bitters are always taken around meal time for exactly that function because the diet doesn't have as much of it as it used to, right? So instead of optimally secreting to digest our food, we're eating this food that lacks the cues or the triggers. So it's no wonder people experience all these problems. You can use digestive enzymes to correct that, but as an herbalist and a plant guy, I'm much more into using this sort of raw, straight-up, whole plant, wild solution which is found in that bottle of digestive bitters right up there next to their mouth.
Ben: Interesting, interesting. What about actually eating bitter plants with a meal? Can you give us some examples of plants that you could include with a meal that might enhance the digestion of that meal?
Guido: Yeah, that would do it to, and that's a great way of doing it and it almost approximates more of the sort of foraging mentality, and the best place to get them is honestly foraging. Almost any wild green that you get as opposed to say a domesticated vegetable is going to have a much more bitter flavor. Just think of a wild, mustard green like even an invasive, garlic mustard compared to some of the mustard greens you might find at the store.
Ben: I remember the first time I put mustard greens in a smoothie 'cause I had gotten them from the store before. And then we started growing them, and I put them in a smoothie and actually hadn't used them in a salad or anything like that, but I took a sip of my smoothie. It was almost like drinking horseradish.
Guido: Yeah, they bite back, right? So yeah, I mean if you can get dandelion greens and you compare that to any kind of lettuce that is available at the store. One of my favorite comparisons on herb walks is I'll show people wild lettuce which is the Lactuca genus plant that all of our iceberg and romaine were bred from, and it is incredibly bitter. It's almost unpalatable like you almost can't take it. It's so strong, but that's the plant that used to be the only lettuce that we had available ‘til we hybridized and bred most of the bitterness out of it. But if you can't go out, you know if you live in a city, I wouldn't recommend getting dandelions from the side walk, so you can get endive or radicchio. They're sort of the two most widely available bitter greens. Also frisee, a type of salad contains a good amount of bitterness, and you can chop those up, add a little bit of olive oil, extra virgin raw olive oil, and that’s it honestly. If you want to put a trace of, you know, a little bit of salt, you can. And that makes a fantastic, sort of pre-meal salad or salad to eat afterwards if you're feeling a little bit of heartburn or anything like that.
Ben: So you said endives, radishes, what was the last one?
Guido: Endives and this lettuce called frisee but also radicchio.
Ben: Oh, radicchio not radishes okay. How do you spell frisee?
Guido: It's F-R-I-S-E-E.
Ben: Okay, cool. I'm going to try this this weekend. Interesting, cool. I like it, so you just put those in olive oil and salt. I love it. Why is it that something like mustard greens that you buy at the grocery store would be so much less bitter than what's growing in the wild? What's happening when we make a plant domestic that is reducing the bitter compound?
Guido: I mean that's a very interesting story, but it's kind of the story of the domestication of plants in general. Humans have picked out generation after generation, the individual specimens that tend to be least bitter because the bitter flavor is not our favorite. We like to go for stuff that is sweet and tangy, but that doesn't have a lot of bitterness. Unfortunately, almost all of the beneficial fidonutrients found in plants especially those, you know, hormetic polyphenols we were talking about earlier. They universally taste bitter because of again, it's sort of the body's wakeup call saying, “hey, wait. What is this thing? It might be a little bit challenging, let's get everything going. Let's get the juices flowing. Let's put up our vigilance. Let's hunker down the cellular protective mechanisms. Let's uptake antioxidant production.” So in the process of trying to make our vegetables tastier and juicier and bigger and redder and sweeter, we have cut down on the fidonutrient content in an attempt to cut down on the bitterness, and this is pretty clearly found across the board.
Domesticated lettuces, domesticated grains, domesticated tomatoes, everything that was brought into the vegetable garden generation after generation began to lose its bitterness which tasted great to us, but also lost its fidonutrients. A great example is the wild carrot which is the exact same species of the carrot that we get in the grocery store. If you dig up a Queen Anne's Lace plant, that is a second-year carrot that's growing out in the wild, Daucus Carota. If you can get it and try that root, you will find it's so bitter, so biting, and so spicy, and it's almost only white. So we bred these orange carrots to have high carotenoid content, lots and lots of sugar and starch, and almost none of the bitterness that is found in the original on hybridized Daucus Carota.
Ben: Interesting, but those little baby carrots taste so good.
Guido: They really do.
Ben: Yeah, that's another thing that Dr. Aiken and I talked about when I had him on the show is how plants not only have been bred for this enhanced taste and reduced bitterness, but they also tend to be much, much higher in the starch and sugar component.
Guido: That they do, which I mean, evolutionarily makes sense, you know? We have been starving for tens and thousands of years. It's really only been the last 67 years that we've had access to the massive overdose of calories and carbohydrates that we do. So you know, it's like a kid with his hand in the cookie jar.
Ben: Yeah. Now you've got your aromatic plants, your bitter plants, then your tonics. What are the tonic plants?
Guido: So that's a little more complicated thing to describe for most folks because again when you get into this practice of herbalism and you're going out and trying and tasting and using plants, you come across this notion in the old texts that someone might want to take a plant on an ongoing basis just to make their life better. Not to treat a disease or to solve a problem, but just to make their life better. Improve their performance, improve their overall vitality and resistance and recovery powers, all of that sort of stuff, and also act as a preventive. So tonics, I divide them into two major categories. The sort of sour, berry-like tonics where you see everything from superfoods like goji berry and acai berry down to the more humble but just as effective blueberries and currants and hawthorn berries. These are plants that generally have, again like red wine, these really high polyphenolic content, and the polyphenols in these plants speak to our DNA in this incredible way. They help activate and deactivate genes, usually deactivating the highly pro-inflammatory ones involved in chronic disease or vascular inflammation and activating the ones that connect to longevity and cellular protection and clean up and DNA protection. So regular consumption of these polyphenols not only do we see a clinical research evidence for things like hawthorn berry and congestive heart failure, but it also seems to be useful at just making every single cell of the body, and this includes brain cells, live longer, healthier, more sort of active lives at a cellular basis.
Ben: To me a tonic sounds very much like an adaptogen. Like an adaptogenic herb, are they similar?
Guido: So those sour tonics are not usually classed as adaptogens. They're more often considered epigenetic modifiers or regulators of genetic activity. The adaptogens are found in the other class what we might call the “Sweet” tonics. Not that they're sweet and that they contain sugar, but it just a ginseng root has more of a sweet flavor than say a sour hawthorn berry, and that's where you see a lot of our adaptogens, and that's precisely what they are. You know something that when taken regularly helps the body buffer the long term effects of stress, increase the time that the body has stress hormones available, so the body can endure longer and the mind can endure longer and improve and enhance recovery. Seems to be able to do this through interacting with the immune system even at the level of the GI tract and all of that lymphatic tissue where the immune cells live in our gut, but then also some of the compounds once they're absorbed into our bloodstream have similar, sort of stress hormone regulating effects, so that we don't kind of use all our adrenaline up at once and then are left totally depleted.
Ben: Gotcha, makes sense. Okay so, I have a question for you, more of a theory question. You get a lot of people saying that they don't use supplements or they don't use capsules or they don't use a lot of these things that people use because all you need is food. But wouldn't a wild plant extract or a tincture, one of these mixtures made from plants be something that people have done for thousands of years? I mean, isn't this just an ancient form of supplementation?
Guido: I mean in one sense, yes. I mean first of all, if you can get away with only food, but that's if you're going out and 30% of your calories are coming from wild plants which is a fortune.
Ben: Yeah, but I mean, can you? Like if you get sick for example? Like you need in many cases, these kind of extracts in their concentrated forms, don't you?
Guido: Most sickness will resolve and may take a long time. Some sickness won't, but if you use some of these plants, man, you can get it to resolve a whole lot more quickly, and you can feel a whole lot better in the process, and certainly human beings have been doing this since before we were humans to be perfectly honest. You know, primates use medicinal plants for self-medication in a really different context.
Guido: Oh, absolutely.
Ben: What does a primate do?
Guido: For example, chimpanzees will use particular herbs to help with grooming, to help with lice that they may have, body lice. Other herbs will be harvested sometimes when a member of the troop has eaten something poisonous, and they'll give them something to make them throw up basically and get that stuff out of their stomach. I mean they're intelligent enough to understand this. Heck I mean, dogs and cats go out and do it in the spring too. Forage on plants to kind of go for their own sort of spring time detoxification, and get everything woken up a little bit. So this interaction with plants when we do feel a little lot of sorts is something that predates humans, and certainly we've been doing forever.
Ben: Gotcha, so you're saying that it's not that you need this stuff, but that it really is kind of better living through science when you're able to be smart enough to incorporate it into your life, or into your nutritional habit? You know, like this tip you gave on using the endives and the radicchio and the frisee with the olive oil and the salt. It's like I could digest my steak without that, but I'll probably digest my steak much better with less potential for gastric distress or maybe, you know, less of a feeling of tiredness afterwards if I were to have like these bitters beforehand.
Guido: Yeah, I mean, I think you hit it right on the head. Nowadays in this modern context, we kind of need this stuff because we don't have it available on a day to day basis the way a human animal might have twenty thousand years ago. But even back then, the occasional judicious use of more concentrated forms of some of these medicine plants were used for fevers and joint pain and everything you know that has ailed humanity since before we were human.
Ben: Yeah, makes sense. Well I want to ask you because, you know, you're an athlete. You run, you do marathons. I want to ask you, well first of all, about physical performance. I know that, actually when I was at this food festival in Vermont, the bottle of this Urban Moonshine tonic that one of the people there at the Urban Moonshine table gave me, they mentioned that it could help with something like performance at altitude or endurance performance. Can you go into some of the plants or the tonics or the bitters that can be used to enhance physical performance, specifically regarding like endurance or performance at altitude?
Guido: Yeah, so I mean, the bitters are always good if your digestion tends to have some issues, particularly with endurance sporting. But I would say out of all of the categories, it's the tonics and particularly the adaptogens like you mentioned that have gotten the most attention as performance enhancers, and when we say performance, it's not just physical. It's also cognitive and mental performance that we see from these plants, but certainly physical as well.
Now, the first thing to do is to be intelligent about how you're training especially if you've got a goal in mind, and I don't have to tell you that but I try and work with folks and recommend periodic changes in their training and going through different cycles of sort of speed versus endurance, aerobic versus anaerobic; all of that sort of stuff. But one thing that I've seen repeatedly is that particularly as people push themselves hard during anaerobic cycles, when they're sprinting a lot or doing a lot of sort of on demand muscle activity in the short twitch fibers, is that they will reach this point where their body starts to break down and they start being unable to gain more performance and in fact begin to lose performance wake up feeling unmotivated to do their workout. And this is where I really see an incredible effect from adaptogens, particularly if there's a lot of, sort of break down and inflammation particularly from an herb called licorice which I'm sure you're familiar with, which really helps spare cortisol secretion and reduce the sort of cortisol flood that comes from the sort of high intensity, very demanding physical activity. So that can really help people kind of go instead of just being able to only do three weeks of this intense cycle, maybe do three and a half or four weeks before they have to take a week to ten days of more reduced activity.
I also really love the adaptogens in the context of higher volume running, when people are sort of building mileage and going from 70 to 80 to 90 miles a week or sometimes even more, and they start to again get this level of burnout that creeps into their life, whether they start to lose motivation and start to just feel more fatigued instead of getting jazzed by their workouts. And here I tend to use plants more along the lines of Rhodiola and Eleuthero, Cordyceps and maybe even something like American Ginseng although I don't bring that one up to often.
Ben: Always in like a liquid form? Like a tonic?
Guido: Well not necessarily always. I mean, rhodiola in particular can sometimes be difficult to take on its own. But if it's combined with other herbs, a liquid is just fine. Some people are really motivated they make bone broth every week which is one of my favorite preparations, and so you can just throw a lot of these roots right in there particularly things like the cordyceps, some of the medicinal mushrooms and eleuthero. You can just have it while you're drinking your bone broth every day. It's enhanced with sort of these adaptogenic medicinal plants. But if you're going to take it in a more concerted fashion, especially something like rhodiola that has an intense flavor, I like mixing it with other herbs and taking it in liquid form. One of the reasons I really like the liquid is that it's easy delivery and sort of full bio-availability. The alcohol has done a little bit of the extracting already for you, so you don't have to do it with your digestive system.
Ben: Is there any importance when it comes to timing? Like if you were going to go for say like this Saturday, you were to get up and go for a long run. Is this just something you kind of work into your day to day life to keep you topped of, or would you actually take something with you on the run or right before the run?
Guido: So the research that's been done on sort of VO2Max and energy delivery for endurance athletes has looked particularly at this combination of three plants, rhodiola, eleuthero and schisandra, and they're given an equal parts combination, and they've studied them actually in two cases. They've studied it in chronic use, you know where they give it to people for 4 to 6 weeks at a time and have then just given them a bicycle or a treadmill test and seen what their VO2Max looks like and their time to exhaustion looks like. And it generally pushes the fatigue threshold back in all endurance events if it's been in your system for that prolonged period of time, but rhodiola rosia in particular, if you sort of need in the moment, acute use, performance enhancing plant. It's perhaps my favorite.
Some folks that I've talked to also like the cordyceps mushroom for that purpose. Rhodiola rosia is the sort of short acting adaptogen too, and the best way I've seen it described and have experienced it myself is sometimes especially at the start of a race. You'll be standing on the starting line, and you'll feel really adrenalized and sort of buzzing from the excitement from it. And that's really not the time when you want to be using all of your adrenal hormones, right? You want to be saving them for sort of mile 20 or a mile 23, so what rhodiola does is it keeps you from overreacting to stress in the short term, helping you have longer term, healthy balanced adrenal hormones secretion. And especially for longer training runs or more endurance events, taking some rhodiola acutely before the bout of exercise does seem to push back the fatigue threshold in the moment. And there's clinical research on this as well which I just find incredible.
It's something that you can take before your workout to improve muscle oxygenation, oxygen delivery and push fatigue back. I've tried it myself on training runs and tried to keep the conditions as close to the same as possible. You know, I had the same amount of oatmeal breakfast, I had the same amount of rest the night before, about the same volume the previous week of running. And when you take rhodiola, you know about 3 to 4 milliliters of a liquid extract right before going out, right before I mean half an hour or 45 minutes, you or at least I can say from personal experience, feel less fatigued by the time you get to the end of your run, and you recover a little more quickly.
Ben: Interesting. These extracts, these alcohol extracts, let's say that someone, we're doing like an Ironman Triathlon, and then wanted to have something in like the special needs bag of a bike ride to give them a little oomph halfway through. Are they heat stable, like will they stay heat stable if you were to like have them with you on at longer training session?
Guido: They will for a few hours. They won't for a few weeks. If you kept a bottle of rhodiola on the dashboard of your car for a week, it will probably begin to degrade, but there's no problem. And you can, what I've done is I like honey as a way to sort of get calories mid run. I've always had an easy time digesting it, and I like it. So you can mix your extract with a little honey, and that cuts the alcohol to the point that it's undetectable and you're just titrate out your dose, so that you know that a couple of squirts from this honey packet will deliver 3 or 4 milliliters of rhodiola.
Ben: What about cognitive performance? You know you hear a lot about neurotropics and smart drugs, and I'm curious where wild plants come in with a consideration that I recently wrote an article at bengreenfieldfitness.com about how mint has some interesting research behind it for focus and cognitive enhancement, and like you know, an essential mint oil is dabbed on the upper lip or something like that. Are there other plants that function similarly?
Guido: So the plants like mint that you mentioned are all part of that aromatic class, and any aromatic plant will bring you into focus immediately in the moment. They've looked at mint, they've looked at pine, they've looked at lavender and lemon balm, and they found that all of these plants have strong sense. Maybe because it just grabs you by the brain, you know. Scent is this undeniable thing. It's like pay attention, be here now and do what you are doing fully because there's this strong new smell that might mean you need to be aware of something. All of them have this ability to kind of bring us into focus. They don't last.
Ben: So they'll like make you like hyper-aware almost?
Guido: Yeah, and you know the effect can for a while. It can last for just for a few minutes, but sometimes that's all you need to kind of get into the flow of whatever you're doing, right? For me it's the transition times that are the hardest. You know, I picked up my daughter, and we'll make some dinner then I put here down to sleep, and then I have to get back downstairs and start doing some writing, and that sort of transitioned from work to daughter and from daughter to writing. It's like sometimes it can take ten, fifteen minutes before I get into a good flow, but if I take a little bit of peppermint oil like you say and apply it to my temples or I have a cup of linden tea or something that's strongly aromatic, then the focus happens a lot more quickly. I'd like the alcohol extracts like an alcohol extract of peppermint and a little bit of sparkling water; you put it even just one drop or 30 drops of this stuff, and you'll smell it and you'll taste it, and it'll bring you in the moment and then really help you transition to your next task. So those are sort of great, short term, quick acting, focus enhancing herbs. The aromatics all do it really well.
Ben: I love it; so you said lemon balm, mint, pine and lavender, a few that you like.
Guido: Yup, and those are the ones that particularly have had clinical research behind them. They do these crazy studies where they'll take, some of my favorites are physicians on night shifts who have been on shift for about 36 hours, and they give them a test and it's equivalent to having had like 4 or 5 beers in terms of their cognitive function. And then they'll use lavender or they'll use mint or pine, and it will sort of immediately bring them into the moment, and help them perform better on that cognitive test.
Ben: Cool. I like it, and by the way for people who are listening in, I am taking notes on some of these compounds that Guido has discussed. Even though I know all of you out there listening have minds like steel traps and are just remembering all these plants. Just in case, I'm keeping notes over at bengreenfieldfitness.com/plantmedicine. That's bengreenfieldfitness.com/plantmedicine if you want to go and read the notes that I'm taking as Guido is talking. Were you about to say something else Guido?
Guido: I was just going to say that coupling those short term aromatic plants with particular nootropic tonics is a really good idea, and these sort of other agents are ones that sort of long term help to build the activity in the nervous system, retard or slow down aging in the nervous system. They're being used for focus and concentration in Dementia and even Alzheimer's dementia, and they include things like rhodiola even for cognitive enhancement, but also things like Lion's Mane Mushroom, Hericium which I think has received a lot of attention. I use it particularly in helping folks recover from traumatic brain injury where it seems to have this neuroregenerative, neurorestorative quality. And then in the anxiety and the cognitive dysfunction associated with dementia. One of my favorite herbs is Chinese Club Moss or Huperzia Serrata, source of the alkaloid huperzine, and this stuff unfortunately I've not been able to grow it. I've not been able to find it wild. It's one of the only ones that you may have to get a supplement for, and it's between 200 and 400 micrograms of huperzine delivered a day. Really seems to be a good sort of memory and cognitive function enhancer for people who are starting to see some issues or want to preserve their sharp minds as they move into later stages of life.
Ben: Yeah, I use this adaptogenic herb blend occasionally like on an empty stomach in the mid-morning when I need a little boost or cognitive performance. It's called TianChi. I know that has the Club Moss extract in it. It' a spendious hack, but it does work. I suppose maybe it's so expensive because it has that club moss which I know can be hard to get. Speaking of hard to get, and kind of like, going out and getting your own things, how easy is it for folks or like if you were to have like a simple recipe 'cause a lot of people have like dandelion greens for example growing in their backyard, or you know I have lots of yarrow and St. John's wort growing in my yard, like things that are typical wild plants that you'd find in someone's backyard. You talked a little bit about how you can take some of these, and put them on a salad or maybe put some olive oil or salt on them before a meal, but what about if someone wanted to try their hand in making like a tincture or an oil or an extract? Do you have any like quick, go-to recipes for a common wild plant that someone might be able to find if they wanted to kind of do a DIY version of their own tonic?
Guido: Yeah, it's really, really easy to do, and my suggestion would be to get one aromatic plant that you can use for that short term, mental, cognitive stimulus, even if it's like the patch of spearmint that grows out in the park. One bitter plant, even if it's just a dandelion root, and one tonic plant or mushroom. If you're foraging mushrooms, it doesn't always have to just be Lion's Mane. Almost any mushrooms is loaded with immune-active, anti-cancer, good nootropic and hormetic chemicals. So wild mushrooms are fantastic, and you can dry them and just eat them in your food. The bitter plants, especially if you're using roots which you're most of the time what you're going for.
What you want to do is you want to take, the recipe I use involves a gallon jar, but you can break it down pretty easily into something smaller like a pint-sized jar. If you get about 4 ounces of chopped up dandelion root and leaf at the same time, fresh, right? It weighs about 4 ounces, and you chop it up, put it in a pint jar. You can add about 12 ounces of 100 proof vodka to that, put a lid on it, label it, put it in a dark place, and shake it maybe every other day for a couple of weeks. Then you strain it, and you've got a fantastic digestive bitter right there. If you've got an aromatic plant like peppermint, because again it's got these volatile oils in it, you want to try and extract it in a hundred and fifty proof Bacardi 151 rum, works just fine, and you extract it at a little bit lower of a ratio.
Ben: Haven't used that stuff since college. [laughs]
Guido: Yeah, I'm not a fan of the high proof alcohols just in them off themselves, but they do an amazing job of extracting those aromatic oils much better than lower proof does because again it's more oil-soluble. So there you would use maybe about 2 or 3 ounces of chopped up fresh peppermint leaf to your 12 ounces of Bacardi 151, and steep that for a week or two and shake it every other day, and strain it out. If you're doing any plant like yarrow or even nettles or some berries or something like that, the general rule of thumb is somewhere between 3 and 4 ounces of the fresh chopped up plant to about 12 ounces of some kind of alcohol in a pint-sized mason jar. If you're using dry herbs, you probably won't be able to get away with more than 2 ounces of dry herbs to 12 ounces of alcohol.
Ben: Interesting, that's really cool. Is there in your book, more recommendations for different plants and kind of DIY recipes, or would there be a different resource that you'd give people for learning more about the type of strategy you've just described?
Guido: Yeah, there definitely are some to kind of get you started, but I really only covered twelve plants and one fungus in that book, so it's just sort of archetypal, representative examples of the three classes of plants that I'm talking about there, but you can extrapolate those techniques to almost any other plant. I also talk a little bit about distilling or distillation of some of those medicinals.
Ben: And I know that you work at an herbal medicine clinic in school, right? I would imagine there's a few of those kind of spread out around the country as well?
Guido: There certainly are. and most of the time, they have community classes or something you could go to where they would give you a very basic, what they call tincture making class, and I do fully encourage you to start developing your own homeopathic area not only to add more aromatic bitters and tonics to your life or use some things for sports injuries or things like that, but also they make great cocktail mixers, and it's very interesting conversation to have with your friends if you're brewing a medicinal cocktail. It sort of has a history behind it, and you're knowledge of medicinal plant activity, and it's something you went out into the wild then got, and anyway. Just need to have.
Ben: Yeah, absolutely. That could make for interesting cocktail conversation. Hey, I made this myself. It's helping you to digest your food, it tastes great in your drink and it's going to kill cancer. It's a great conversation starter.
Well cool, like I mentioned, for those of you listening in if you go to bengreenfieldfitness.com/plantmedicine, I'll link to a lot of the things that Guido and I talk about, including some of the things we didn't get a chance to discuss. Guido has a blog, I'll link to that if you want to read some of his really interesting writings and poetry and thoughts on plant medicine. I'll link to his book, to the Urban Moonshine website where they sell a lot of these tonics. If you don't feel like making them yourselves, and also some of the different plants and recipes that he went over today.
So Guido, thanks so much for your time and for coming on the show, man. This stuff is fascinating.
Guido: Ben, it was great. I really appreciate your interest in this, and I do think medicinal plants can help the people you work with and you help us all.
Ben: Awesome. Well folks, this is Ben Greenfield and Guido Masé. Again, you can go to bengreenfieldfitness.com/plantmedicine to learn more. Have a healthy week.
Wild plants growing right in your own backyard can be used to enhance digestion, increase cognitive performance and improve endurance.
You just have to know how to use them.
And in today’s podcast with Guido Masé, you’re going to learn exactly how.
Guido is author of the book “The Wild Medicine Solution: Healing With Aromatic, Bitter And Tonic Plants“, a clinical herbalist, herbal educator, and garden steward specializing in holistic Western herbalism. A described his plant-based medicine approach as “eclectic” and “drawing upon many influences”. He spent his childhood in Italy, in the central Alps and in a Renaissance town called Ferrara. Then, after traveling the United States, he settled into Vermont where he has been living since 1996.
He is a founding co-director of the Vermont Center for Integrative Herbalism, an herbal medicine clinic and school. He serves as chief herbalist for the Urban Moonshine Natural Products Company, where he oversees research for an all-organic whole-plant tincture line and participates in product education and quality control.
Guido is also a trail runner and marathoner, and in this episode, you’ll discover:
-How Guido became a “wild plant” expert…
-What is it that has changed in domesticated plants that make them so much more inferior than wild plants…
-The important differences between aromatic, bitter and tonic plants…
-How many plants you actually need to produce a tincture…
-Why alcohol is such a great medium to mix wild plant extracts into…
-How you can use “bitters” to enhance your digestive process (and how they’re far different than digestive enzymes)…
-Why you should include plants like endives, radicchio, frisee, dandelion and mustard greens on your salad or with your meals…
-How to use wild plant extracts to support long bike rides, run or feats of endurance performance…
-How to use pine, mint, lavender and lemon balm to enhance cognitive performance…
-How you can easily make your own tonics and tinctures from common wild plants growing right in your own backyard…
-And much more!
Resources from this episode:
-Guido’s blog: ARadicle.blogspot.com