Ragweed, Ambrosia artemisiifolia
Genus species: Artemisia artemisiifolia
A artemisiifolia: Common ragweed, bastard wormwood, hogweed, Roman wormwood, bitterweed
A trifida: Tall ambrosia, great ragweed, horseweed, wild hemp
Bitter, pungent, slightly astringent
Astringent, antiseptic, styptic, vulnerary, bitter
Degree of action: 3rd
Tissue state: Depressed
Despite causing so many allergies, ragweed has many virtues that have been passed on from our eclectic and native american forefathers. Ragweed is most well known and used for its astringent qualities so became popular in its use for hay fever which is mostly described as itchy, watery, bloodshot eyes, sore throat and itchy, runny nose. It seems to work well in any case of excessive discharge where the mucus is clear, slightly yellow and watery. King’s mentions its use for leucorrhea and also for water discharge from the urethra that is seen with gonorrhea. It’s also mentioned in excessive cases of salivation from mercurial poisoning or when horses get the “slabbers”. It also has a use topically as a styptic and antiseptic for recent wounds, tumors or ulcers. It seems particularly to have an affinity for these things when oozing and putrefaction are seen. King’s (1898) mentions a specific affinity of ragweed for “ulcers of fetid or gangrenous character”. Because of its astringent character it is useful of cases of diarrhea or dysentery. In short, ragweed is used for “excessive irritation of mucous membranes…with free mucous discharge” of the nose, throat, mouth, urethra, and bowels.
Luckily ragweed was given a lovley scientific name which makes up for its street name that generally start with “that $^@$^% plant…”. Ambrosia comes from the greek word ‘ambrotos’ which means immortal and the species name artemisiifolia comes from the fact that the leaf is shaped similarly to wormwood and mugwort in the Artemisia genus. Common ragweed is well known for its ability to cause hay fever since it is a wind pollinated herb and it is estimated that there are about 90,000,000 pollen grains in a gram of ragweed pollen (Remington & Wood, 1918).
Several different species of Ambrosia exist through the U.S with all having similar uses and being extremely common, noxious weeds. The common ragweed actually inherited the name hogweed or hogwort since only hogs would eat this stinky, bitter plant. It became a pest in pastures since occasionally it would be eaten by cattle giving their milk and the butter made from it a bitter taste. Also when accidently gathered with other grains such as wheat it will impart a bitter flavor to the flour. One of A. artemisiifolia relatives, A. trifida, is described as having a spicy, pleasant aromatic taste, resembling that of ginger” which is much different than its bitter relative. The fibers from A. trifida were also used similarly to hemp (Felter & Lloyd, 1898). Seeds have A. trifida have also been found at archaeological sites which lead to the belief that giant ragweed was used as a medicine or even a source of food that may have been cultivated specifically for food and fiber (Kindscher, 1992).
Ragweed may not be a popular remedy in modern herbal texts but was a common medicine employed in native american populations. The names given to ragweed by the Lakota tribe in the midwest include: ‘canhlogan wastemna’ (sweet smelling weed), ‘canhlogan onzipakinte’ (weed to wipe the rear) and poipiye (to doctor swellings with). They most commonly used ragweed as an infusion of the leaves to apply topically to swellings. The Dakotas who also inhabited the midwest had a few more uses for this common weed that are recorded. They called it pexhuta or bitter medicine and used an infusion of the leaves for bloody flux, nausea and to allay vomiting (Kindscher, 1992).
As you move farther west, the native tribes used a western ragweed called A. psilostachya or western ragweed. The Cheyenne often used this herb as an infusion of stem and leaf to treat bowel cramps, bloody stools and colds. The Zuni tribe down towards New Mexico used western ragweed in which the “entire plant was made into tea, which is drunk warm for obstructed menstruation” and also massaged into the abdomen. A strong infusion of the tea could produce an abortion, however this use was not widely spoken of as it was not a welcomed practice. The ground root was also packed in a hollow tooth to relieve toothache. The Kiowa referred to western ragweed as horse worm plant and a decoction was used for non-healing sores as well as on horses for “wormholes” (potentially referring to gadfly or botfly infections), a common skin condition producing sores (Kindscher, 1992).
Ragweed is an interesting in herb in that it appears in a variety of older eclectic texts but you’d be hard pressed to find it in many modern herbals. If you even mention the name ragweed most people get a distasteful look on their face as they happily relate a group of undesirable symptoms including, itchy, watery eyes, runny nose, itchy throat, coughing, sneezing and the list goes on as they relate their laundry list of allergy symptoms. While it is true that ragweed is the true culprit of so many people’s discomfort little do they know it is also their cure. Common ragweed is one of the allies of the over-secreting mucous membranes. Generally the discharge is white or light yellow however it has been used topically for more infectious sores.
This remedy is particularly well known to the very few who use as a remedy much like goldenrod for hay fever. The watery, itchy eyes and constant sniffly, runny nose is the symptoms that ragweed dreams of. It seems to have an affinity for the drippy mucosa in the upper respiratory. Excessive droolers would benefit greatly from this product and so might their sleeping partner that accidentally roles on their pillow. 7song recommends ragweed for its anti-histamine type reaction. He finds it useful in hives, symptoms of hay fever and general allergic responses to food, insects and drugs.
Ragweed does have use as an astringent for dysentery and diarrhea. It also works as a vulnerary for hemorrhoids, ulcers, tumors and wounds. Here it works well as an infusion of leaves made into a poultice for topical application. William Cook (1869) has more gastrointestinal uses for this herb. He states “a strong decoction influences the kidneys considerably, sustains the tone of the stomach, and slowly elevates the circulation; and these actions render it useful in the treatment of chronic dropsies, especially when combined with hepatics and stimulating diaphoretics.” I believe Mr. Cook’s words are still true today that Ambrosia is an “article too much overlooked by the profession.”
Ragweed allergies are extremely common among North Americans . In order to combat the growing number of individuals experiencing allergies, researchers are working on sublingual immunotherapy for individuals suffering from chronic ragweed allergies. The pharmaceutical industry has come up with a Ragweed Sublingual Immunotherapy Liquid extract (RW-SAIL). The most recent article is a Phase 3 DB PCT, meaning they are getting really close to having it on the market. The results using the RW-SAIL showed a significant increase in immune response proteins IgG4 and IgE. There was a 42% reduction of total related symptoms in the treatment group versus placebo which was statistically significant. Also, the difference between daily symptoms in average days during pollen season and particularly high count days was significantly less in the treatment group. While the prepared extract is pharmaceutical based and far from what may be seen in clinical it illustrates ways in which classic uses of herbs may be used within the context of our modern pharmaceutical structure. The “like treats like” of homeopathy or hormesis theory applies here whether the authors would like to admit it or not.
- Creticos PS, Esch RE, Couroux P, Gentile D, D’Angelo P, Whitlow B, et al. (2014). Randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of standardized ragweed sublingual-liquid immunotherapy for allergic rhinoconjunctivitis. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 133(3):751-8.
7song: 15-20 drops
Fyfe: 5-10 drops every 2-3 hrs
Use with caution in those who suffer from ragweed allergies.
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Creticos PS, Esch RE, Couroux P, Gentile D, D’Angelo P, Whitlow B, et al. (2014). Randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of standardized ragweed sublingual-liquid immunotherapy for allergic rhinoconjunctivitis. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 133(3):751-8.
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