botanical names: Chimaphila umbellata, Chimaphila maculata
parts used: leaf & stem
Found in coniferous woods where the soil is relatively undisturbed by the compression of foot traffic, this little plant has a mighty action as a renal antiseptic. Its action comes not only from the tannins, but its stimulating action, as well. As a stimulant, it helps to clear stagnation (specifically of the lymphatic and renal systems) by warming and activating. Matthew Wood writes that it is indicated when the tongue is swollen with a white coating in the middle.
It also possesses astringent and antiseptic qualities, serving the urinary system where there is urinary tract infection or kidney inflammation. This is a gentler alernative to the harsher Uva Ursi, due to fewer tannins (thus better suited for older animals and long-term use). Its stimulating and diuretic effect helps to keep the urinary tract flushed. As a lymphatic stimulant serving whenever there is any form of stagnation or swelling of glands, it is applicable for irritation of the prostate, as well.
Pipsissewa is a hot plant, energetically. I remember taking a class over the winter with Sean Donahue, and we were working with Cayenne. I had taken my dog on a long snowy hike, and packed a little bottle of Cayenne tincture to experience the energetics of it during a break in the quiet woods. When I found a good spot to sit, I took off my backpack to find that the tincture was not there. (Interestingly, I had an inflammation on my skin due to food sensitivities, and Cayenne is contraindicated with any inflammatory condition.) We continued on our hike and toward the end, I was prompted to sample a Pipsissewa leaf. A few minutes after I chewed it, I was overcome with a heat so strong that I had to wipe beads of sweat from my face and take off my hat. So, thank you, Pipsissewa, for standing in for Cayenne!
It is that quality of heat that fires up the body to get fluids moving – especially in the kidneys and lymphatics. It acts as an alterative by getting the blood and lymphatics moving. In this sense, it was the perfect substitute for Cayenne, mentioned above, as it offered the energetics of HOT, but in an alterative form that can actually benefit skin conditions. By aiding in keeping the body’s fluids flushed and drained, it allows wastes to be eliminated via the proper channels, rather than creating inflammatory conditions as they are expelled through the skin (as in hot spots).
Pipsissewa is, unfortunately, in fear of being endangered. Its slow growth and specific soil requirements, along with past overharvesting, has caused it to be far less prolific than in the past. This is a gem of a little plant – let’s keep it safe!