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Helpful Herbs Following Surgery

by Anne McIntyre(more info)

listed in herbal medicine, originally published in issue 174 - September 2010

I have recently had to undergo knee surgery which involved a half knee replacement. I thought I would take this opportunity to share information with others who may have to have surgery of one kind or another about some of the herbs I found helpful in my healing process. It is not easy to ascertain what progress is expected, and what level of pain and activity is normal after knee surgery. When I enquired of the surgeon/consultant about this the response was that there is no 'normal' as everyone is different. In my experience, the severe pain lasted a few days and of course is mitigated by the use of pain killers, which naturally I was loathe to take unless absolutely necessary. One of the mixtures I prescribed for myself included Gotu kola, meadowsweet, comfrey leaf and sariva.

Gotu kola (Centella asiatica /Hydrocotyle asiatica) is an amazing healer and excellent post operatively for enhancing microcirculation to the area of trauma and speeding the healing of different types of connective tissue. The aerial parts of this creeping plant from India are used and these contain essential oil, fatty oil, ß-sitostenol, tannins, resin, alkaloid: hydrocotylin; bitter principle: vellarine; pectic acid, polyphenols, saponins (braminoside, brahmoside), flavonoids.

Gotu kola prevents bleeding, and so minimizes bruising, stimulates synthesis of collagen and production of fibroblasts, relieves swelling and oedema from inflammation and is an excellent wound and scar healer. When used externally it acts similarly, increasing synthesis of collagen and fibronectin, and speeding wound healing.[1]

I found Gotu kola useful for the nausea and digestive discomfort I had from the pain killing drugs I was given in hospital.  It is used for indigestion, acidity and ulcers as it cools heat and reduces inflammation; it also has analgesic properties itself.  As a tonic for the brain it may well have helped the brain fog and mental tiredness that can result from general anaesthetic. Interestingly, its Sanskrit name is Mandukaparni and also Brahmi; it is named after Brahma because of its action on the brain.  It has a reputation for its ability to enhance memory and concentration and promote wisdom and intelligence. As an added bonus it also clears toxins.

Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) is another amazing healing herb. Its main constituents are mucilage, gums,  tannins, allantoin, inulin, resin, rosmarinic acid, pyrrolizidine alkaloids, essential oil, beta-sitosterol, triterpenes, silicic acid, calcium, iron, potassium, amino acids, vitamin B12, protein, zinc. It has been highly valued for thousands of years for its ability to promote repair of wounds, ulcers, fractured and broken bones and is used to reduce pain, inflammation and swelling after trauma and in arthritis and gout, carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, sprains and strains. Allantoin is a remarkable cell proliferant, and stimulates the production of cells responsible for forming collagen and connective tissue, cartilage and bone. It speeds repair wherever there is damage or injury to such tissue. The rosmarinic acid decreases inflammation.

Comfrey is also rich in mucilage which soothes irritation and inflammation, particularly in the digestive tract. Its astringent tannins stop bleeding and protect mucous membranes against inflammation and infection. It is a good cooling and soothing remedy for heartburn, gastritis, peptic ulcers, diarrhoea and ulcerative colitis. Comfrey leaf is rich in nutrients, nourishing and restorative after physical trauma. Comfrey root which is richer in allantoin can be used externally to promote wound healing and tissue regeneration.

Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) has elegant flowers and leaves and can be found growing wild in damp ground all over the British countryside in July.   When crushed, they give off the characteristic smell of salicylicates which gives them similar benefits to Aspirin without side effects of irritation of the stomach due to the presence of tannins and mucilage with their protective and anti-inflammatory actions. Their other constituents include essential oils, (salicyladehyde, methylsalicylate), spireine, gaultherine, flavonoids, (quercetin, rutin, spiraeoside), vanillin, coumarins and glycosides.

The flowers and leaves are rich in vitamin C, iron, calcium, magnesium and silica which help speed healing of connective tissue. The salicylates and gaultherine are anti-inflammatory and analgesic, and relieve pain and swelling whether from wounds and trauma or more chronic problems like arthritis and gout.  Its analgesic properties are very helpful after surgery, helping to allow rest and relaxation and promote good sleep which is vital for healing. You can also apply a compress externally to relieve pain, promotes tissue repair and staunch bleeding. Meadowsweet also makes an excellent ant-acid and anti-inflammatory, for relieving acid indigestion, heartburn, gastritis, peptic ulcers[2] and other inflammatory condition of stomach and bowels. (NB.This herb is not recommended for anyone with salicylate sensitivity.)

Sariva (Hemidesmus indicus) is a popular herb in Ayurvedic medicine. It is also called Indian Sarsparilla. The bark of the root tastes and smells delicious, a combination of vanilla, cinnamon and almonds with a hint of camphor perhaps and made my mixture really palatable! It contains essential oils, fatty acids, coumarins, a ketone, triterpenoid saponins, benzoic acid, tannins, resin acids, pregnane glucosides, lupeol acetate, vanillin, smilacin, sterols, stigmasterol, beta-sitosterol and sarsapic acid.

Sariva is a cooling and cleansing remedy and a general strengthening tonic after trauma and bleeding. It is one of the well known Rasayana or rejuvenating plants of Ayurveda. It stems bleeding and promotes healing and has anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. It is particularly useful to include herbs that are antimicrobial after surgery to reduce the risk of infection. Externally a paste can be made by mixing the powdered root with a little water and can be applied to the skin to reduce inflammation, swelling and burning and to heal wounds.

As a digestive remedy, Sariva increases appetite and improves digestion. It is particularly good for digestive problems caused by ama, ie toxins in the gut and dysbiosis. It stimulates the flow of bile and removes toxins from the body, benefiting the immune system and enhancing general health. Its antioxidant activity is supportive in this respect. Sariva also supports the nervous system. It has an antispasmodic effect, relaxing tense muscles and calms the emotions. It has a reputation for reducing negative emotions and enhancing mental clarity.

I took 1-2 teaspoons of my tincture 3-6 times daily and I feel that through the weeks following the surgery that it supported me generally and more specifically helped to promote speedy healing. I hope to be back roaming in the countryside picking herbs, not to mention back on the dance floor very soon!

References:

1. Tenni R, Zanaboni G, De Agostini MP,et al. Effect of the triterpenoid fraction of Centella asiatica on macromolecules of the connective matrix in human skin fibroblast cultures. Ital J Biochem. Mar-Apr;37(2):69-77. 1988.
2. Bone, K. The Ultimate Herbal Compendium. Phytotherapy Press. Queensland. 2007.

Comments:

  1. Silvia said..

    Thanks for this article! I'm at least going to try gotu kola, other than what is in my tea. I just had knee surgery on my acl/meniscus.


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About Anne McIntyre

Anne McIntyre FNIMH MAPA is a fellow of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists and a member of the Ayurvedic Practitioners' Association. She has been practising as a herbalist for 30 years and has also trained in remedial massage, aromatherapy, counselling, homoeopathy and Ayurvedic medicine. She is the author of several books on herbal medicine, including The Complete Woman's Herbal (Gaia), The Complete Floral Healer (Gaia), The Herbal Treatment of Children (Elsevier), The Top 100 Remedies (Duncan Baird), The Complete Herbal Tutor (Gaia) and Healing Drinks (Gaia). Anne's latest book Dispensing with Tradition: A practitioner's Guide to using Indian and Western Herbs the Ayurvedic Way has recently been published. She teaches regularly in the UK and USA and spends as much time as she can in her herb garden which she opens to the public by appointment. She practises at Artemis House, Great Rissington, Gloucestershire, (Tel: 01451 810096) and in London and Wales once a month. She may be contacted on Tel: 01451 810096  www.annemcintyre.com

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