Treat yourself with western medicinal plants

By Christophe Nyerges

Pasadena Weekly Contributing Writer

Dr. James Adams is a man on a mission.

Adams recently retired from teaching pharmacology at USC, where he also taught medical students traditional Chumash healing as part of his regular classes.

Adams received his doctorate in pharmacology in 1981 from UC San Francisco in comparative pharmacology and toxicology. He has written over 200 technical articles.

Adams became interested in the medicinal uses of native plants in 1994. He and his son went on Boy Scout walks and saw local plants that were used by local Native Americans.

Adams then set out to find a Native American herbalist to learn from. After about two years, he met Chumash medicine woman Cecilia Garcia. Adams then became Garcia’s student and spent the next 14 years studying the intricacies and underlying belief structures of Chumash healing traditions.

Adams and Garcia eventually collaborated to produce the 2005 book “Healing with Medicinal Plants of the West.”

The fully illustrated book describes the chemistry and uses of plants used by the Chumash for medicine and generally used throughout the west. Since working together, Adams and Garcia led nearly 100 walks and workshops to teach Indigenous use of herbal medicines until Garcia’s death in 2012.

Adams said traditional herbs are safer for treating pain than opioids, and the flu and COVID-19 can also be treated with traditional herbs.

• Strong immune system

It begins by educating students about the immune system.

“The main purpose of your immune system is to protect you against all pathogens,” Adams said. “Your immune system decides what is allowed in your body and responds to kill pathogens. It contains a myriad of cells, each serving a specific purpose.

“When functioning properly, all cells work in concert to attack and kill any pathogens that enter your body. These cells also work together to collect antioxidants, vitamins and minerals and send them to the correct system ( vascular, muscular, urinary, etc.) When your immune system is not working properly, your body is wide open to all bacteria and viruses.

In his book, “The Balanced Diet”, Adams wrote that being healthy is a way of life.

“You boost your immune system by exercising daily, eating a healthy diet, getting enough light (or taking vitamin D), getting enough sleep seven to eight o’clock and maintain a healthy gut,” he said.

“One could also take hot baths (sweating allows toxins to leave your body), eat a healthy diet (low in meat, high in green vegetables, rich in phyto-nutrients) and take supplements known to support a healthy immune system. strong, such as Complex D3 and B.

According to Adams’ assistant, Enrique Villasenor, a healer, a common question from students is “Why do people get sick?”

Adams replies, “You get sick because you’re not ‘living in balance.’ This is one of the main reasons why people with serious illnesses succumb so easily to COVID-19. Their immune system is already compromised. If one or more systems are not working properly. COVID is coming and easily attacking these systems. At the start of COVID-19, doctors didn’t know why some people were collapsing and simultaneously suffering from multiple organ failure. Yet others have had milder symptoms because they have healthier immune systems.

• Prickly pear

Before discussing the use of herbs, Adams and Villasenor share the traditional use of prickly pear for food and medicine, which dates back thousands of years, particularly in Mexico.

It has been widely documented that eating – or drinking – the products from the towels helps cure adult-onset (type 2) diabetes, lowers cholesterol levels and improves the immune system. The single best source for clinical literature is “Prickly Pear Cactus Medicine,” by Ran Knishinsky.

Adams suggested consuming the prickly pear cactus pads to boost the immune system, especially using the cactus pads as a drink. They can also be cooked with eggs, potatoes and made into a variety of dishes. But to maintain the health benefits, cactus pads should be lightly cooked, if not cooked at all.

• Knowledge of herbs

Here are some of the common native herbs commonly recommended by Adams for the flu and even COVID-19. These are all available at native plant nurseries and most are readily available in dried form at herb stores.

• Elderflower

Different species of elderberry can be found around the world, often near water. It can be a large bush or a small tree, with divided pinnate leaves.

Although the fruit has long been cooked and used for juices, wine, jam and jellies, it is the flowers that are used against colds and flu.

Native peoples of California used the flowers to treat colds and flus. The flowers are made into an infusion and drunk. The flowers are only available in the spring, so you have to collect and dry them so that they are available all year round.

Here’s how: Add 1 teaspoon of flowers to 1 1/2 cups of water in a covered pot and let the flowers simmer in the water for 5 minutes. Sip when cool enough to drink.

A popular liqueur, St. Germain, is made in France from elderflowers; and is commonly used as a safe cold and flu remedy.

Sambucol can be purchased over the counter. However, read the label to make sure it doesn’t contain high fructose corn syrup and other junk.

Elderberry fizzies can be purchased at health food stores.

• Eternal, California

This, and several related species, are quite common in the west. The leaves have a sweet smell, similar to butterscotch or oranges. It’s easy to grow in backyard gardens, and the flowers can be harvested and dried, so the herb can be available year-round.

In Adams’ book, “Healing with Medicinal Plants of the West,” he recommends using these flowers as an infusion and drinking them at the first sign of a cold or flu.

The flowers contain flavinols, which boost the immune system and help get rid of illnesses like the flu virus.

The medicine is the flowers. For a cold or flu, put 1 teaspoon of flowers in a covered pot of water and heat until simmering. Adams suggests drinking it for four consecutive nights for colds and flus.

“If I had COVID, I would drink this tea regularly,” Adams said.

• Yerba Santa

It is a very common western herb, with several species being used in the same way. Yerba Santa leaves are boiled and the vapors are inhaled for upper respiratory problems. Typically, about five leaves are used per cup of water.

Herbalists use it for many ailments, and it’s especially good for coughing, breathing, and congestion, according to California Native People. Yerba Santa was also used around 100 years ago to fight pneumonia.

The afflicted can drink the infusion or decoction of Yerba Santa. However, the straight decoction of Yerba Santa is very strong. Hummingbird sage is often added to make it palatable. Some herbalists add sweetener before serving.

• White sage

The leaves of this common native plant are used in a wide range of medicinal applications.

According to Adams, it can be used as an infusion for sore throats or made into a drink to cure colds and flus. The leaves can be made into a drink by putting a leaf in cold water to promote strengthening and cure colds and flus. The leaves can also be used in infusion.

White sage is a great herb to have, grow, and use in everyday beverages and medicinal applications.

Source of live plants

Arroyo Seco Foundation nursery in Hahamongna Watershed Park. For more information, call 626-657-0392 or visit

Christopher Nyerges is the author of “Guide to Wild Foods” and other books on self-sufficiency and the outdoors. He regularly organizes wild food courses. Visit for more information.

Alvin J. Chase