Friday, June 19, 2015

If flowers could roar

Leonotis leonurus (Lion’s Tail / Lions’ Ear / Wild Dagga)

Lion's tail bouquet

Said to originate in Africa, home of the lion, Leonurus leonotus has since been embraced around the world. Its 5-star ornamental appeal has led to its increasing popularity in home gardens, and its medicinal value makes it an attractive addition to the herbalist’s repertoire. Although its aromatics are not instantly obvious, it is a member of the mint family. On the other hand, the habit of its flowers, which consist of whorls of brightly colored (the brightest orange you can imagine) tubular petals, may remind you of bee balm (Monarda didyma), which is also a mint family member. However, unlike lion's tail, bee balm flowers do not occur in the lattice-like fashion characteristic of most mints. 

Mature in backyard
That said, I have witnessed this herb’s instant calming effect on acute coughing fits. About four years ago, I mentioned the herb to a friend of mine who has allergies and he said he’d like to try it. One day he was visiting while in the throws of an attack, which was clearly distressing him, but more importantly, annoying the heck out of me! I had some dried branches of lion’s-tail leaves (no flowers on it), and I lit a few leaves on the branch and quickly blew out the fire. This created a smoldering effect, which released smoke. The smoke is emitted in streams, much like what you see coming off of a stick of incense. Now, note that with this herb, a little smoke packs a powerful punch for treating coughs. With the smoking wand in my hand, I went into the living room where he was, walking from one end to the other, and milling about for a second or two. In all, I was in there for no more than 15 seconds. When he smelled it. He immediately scrunched up his face and, waving his hand in front of his nose, asked "What the hell is that smell?" Already the coughing had stopped. Thirty minutes had passed without a cough. An hour passed and still no cough. After an hour and a half of peaceful cough-free serenity, I told him that it was the Lion’s tail herb that he’d said he wanted to try. This friend is a skeptic and not one to quickly sing any praises. Of course, he could not deny its efficacy on that day, and since then, he requests a quick lion's tail body smudge when his allergies act up. 

I should note here that this tiny amount is not capable of inducing any of the purported "high" effects of the herb. However, it was enough for its antispasmodic properties to quell the coughing. From the many reports I've read, its pot-like effect requires the actual smoking of a lot of the herb, and even then, it is a very subdued high. Many even say that the whole high thing is a myth. And it's just as well, since that is not my purpose for growing and using the herb anyway. Other than its euphoric effect when smoking a sufficient amount, this herb has no notable adverse effects.

Africans mainly use(d) this herb to alleviate acute respiratory afflictions, such as asthma, whooping cough and allergy-related dry coughs. It has also been taken as a treatment for type-2 diabetes. However, in the West, it is lion's tail's purported euphoria-inducing quality that accounts for its primary use, outside of its ornamental value. In fact, Wild Dagga, which alludes to its hallucinogenic properties, is one of lion’s tail’s other names. The high that can be obtained by smoking this herb has been compared to marijuana, but said to offer a much milder sensation. Although I am not a smoker, I have tried this a couple times and did not get high so much as I nearly burned my trachea off! Again, I am not a smoker and also gagged fitfully whenever I’ve tried smoking pot.
Dry on dehydrator

Although the above example did not involve the flower petals, perhaps due to its aesthetic lure, the flowers are the most commonly reported official part used for smoking and smudging. Now that I have a bunch of flowers, as these photos attest to, I will give them a try as well and see if there are any noticeable differences. Since I have an asthmatic brother who has also shown interest in trying it, I hope to give him a whiff as well!

Depending on what your purpose is, lion's tail can be taken as a tea or decoction, or smoked or inhaled as an incense. There are also tinctures available. A wash or oil can be made for external application.


                high blood pressure
Dried and stored
                asthma, dry cough 
                hepatitis (viral)
Leaf, flower, resin:
                painful menstruation
                type 2 diabetes
Leaves & root:
                antidote for snakebite, insect stings, etc.
                a decoction for eczema, itchy skin

I started out with one plant, which I obtained from seed that I collected from a neighborhood plant. Now I have a total of two mature plants and one young one, all of which are in bloom as I write this. There are so many good reasons to grow this plant, and the cherry on top is its level of draught tolerance. With the severe draught we are facing in California, this plant is truly a gift for those who love to garden, but are concerned about water usage. I almost never water this plant, yet it gives and gives, to all who walk, or fly, by. Maybe we can call Leonotis King of the Mints. If you take one flower and set the whole disc up 90° so that you're looking at the "lion" face-to-face, perhaps we can add to its many names, Lion's Mane.

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