My Journey with Lyme: An Herbalist’s Perspective

My Journey with Lyme: An Herbalist’s Perspective
By Stacey Magliaro


My personal path to becoming an herbalist (like for so many others) started out of hardship and necessity.  At age 27, I was struck with a complicated case of Lyme disease that left me immobilized, exhausted beyond comprehension and in excruciating pain.  I had a two year old daughter and quite frankly, I was dying.  My family life was scary, stressful and seemed hopeless at the best of days.  Despite seeing arguably “the best” Lyme doctor in the country and multiple Chinese doctors, the majority of my days still consisted of laying stranded on the couch with my young daughter watching cartoons as I was unable to use my arms or legs for long enough periods of time to do significant activities with her.  I was told by that famous doctor that I was one of their toughest patients and they couldn’t help me anymore.  Deepening the blow, friendships disappeared and I got little family support.  There were also some invaluable lessons that I am grateful for such as that I married the right man, that I am stronger than I thought, and that continuing to “put one foot in front of the other” can go a long way even when it seems like all hope is lost.
I share this story for many reasons.  Certainly it is cathartic for me to express what I have gone through, but mostly I want others that are going through a similar hellish path that I have to know that there is hope and that the body has an amazing capacity to heal when blockages are removed (in this case bacteria and inflammation).   Throughout most of my journey I really didn’t know how much recovery was even possible for me but I kept on trying anyway. I think it is important for practitioners to stress to clients that even when “Late-Stage” Lyme symptoms are present and severe it is possible to recover and live a fulfilling life.  Hopelessness and fear are enemies of recovery.
It is my opinion that commonly in herbalism too much stress in placed on certain herbs as “wonder” herb cure-alls for Lyme sufferers.  A prime example of this would be the wonderful herb teasel.  I have seen many Lyme sufferers do a simple internet search and confidently determine that teasel is the answer they have looked for.   Yet, I personally have known no one that recovered from teasel by itself.
Lyme disease is often described as a “gate keeper” that breaks down the immune system and allows a number of other bacteria and viruses to infect the host.   The symptoms exhibited are a result of any number of a multitude of microorganisms (some with very specific symptoms; some with symptoms that are more elusive) that together form strong colonies protected by biofilms that are capable of cell-to-cell communication though signal molecules.  Add to the mix individual constitutions, diet, genetic variations, age and medical history, this illness is probably as far from the once-size-fits-all/silver bullet approach that you can get.  Helping someone recover from Lyme disease is both a science and an art form, and should not be undertaken by a practitioner who does not have a deep understanding of the symptoms of co-infecting microorganisms and the best herbs to use for each of them, plus a never-ending well of patience and understanding for the client.  Most of Lyme sufferers are experiencing the unfathomable in their bodies and many have been abandoned by the people closest to them as a result (A good topic for a different day would be “Lyme Disease: The Modern Day Leprosy!”).   At a lecture I attended, I heard Stephen Harrod Buhner refer to the failure of an herbalist to provide emotional support to the client as akin to “malpractice” as this is a community of people that is isolated from – and not understood by – society as a whole.
For understanding the many beautiful herbs that might be useful combating Lyme, without a doubt the place to start is reading Buhner’s wonderful books on Lyme, Lyme coinfections and herbal antibiotics.  Even he admits that the herbs listed in his books are just a jumping off point.  This is where the artistry begins.  Because the variety of possible infections, any herb that has antimicrobial action could have potential.
I would argue that when herbal medicine fails to aid in Lyme recovery it is often because modern herbal treatment often too heavily reflects a pharmaceutical approach to some degree “Take this for that symptom and this for that one and call me in three weeks.”  This might be partly due to the fact most that are treating with herbs recommended to them by well-meaning MD’s or are self-prescribed.   A holistic approach is needed that utilizes herbs and foods-as-medicine to rebuild the system and address weaknesses that contributed to the initial illness as well as to address specific infections.
Our ancestral diet consisted daily of a variety of daily nutrient-dense, chemically complicated food herbs that varied daily.  Many of the humble plants contain a rich assortment of minerals, antioxidants, and antibacterial and anti-quorum (break-up cell communication) compounds that one could assume would help keep bacterial loads at bay.  Modern diets not only rely less on raw plant matter but the plants we do consume are chemically simpler.  I believe that adding a daily and varied assortment of food herbs and spices to a vegetable rich diet can go a long way to attempt to mimic commonly lacking aspect of the Western diet can greatly improve the success rate of individuals seeking to regain their health from Lyme even if they are already following an herbal regimen.  Of the kitchen herbs, I believe thyme, cloves, sage, nutmeg, cinnamon, oregano, fresh ginger, rosemary, basil, garlic saffron and vanilla (make sure it is real vanilla!) should be used liberally and often due to their high antioxidant and antibiotic properties as well as  spices and curries commonly found in Middle Eastern and Thai dishes.  Spices can also add dietary excitement as individuals adapt to healthier diets in general.
If the Lyme sufferer is willing and able, they would likely benefit from learning to identify, collect and prepare the very common “yard weeds” that are often found in most of the areas in which Lyme is prevalent or even keep a small herb garden.  I truly believe that harvesting my yard herbs and growing a garden of a few simple herbs has been one of the best things I have done to strengthen my system.  The process of my recovery, until I began to seasonally consume fresh herbs and began to rely on cooking herbs, used to feel like digging a hole in the sand that was caving in at the sides.  I was making some improvements but lacked vitality.
Some examples of easy to find or very easy to grow herbs to assist in Lyme recovery:
Self-Heal Plantain Dandelion Rose Hips Chickweed Mint
Catnip Cleavers Burdock Nasturtium Calendula Echinacea
Lemon Balm Chamomile
I believe that gathering, preparing and ingesting these herbs can be as healing for the spirit of the Lyme patient as it is for the body.  It is empowering to feel like you are taking control of your health.  Of course, the suggestion of eating garden weeds in an herbalist/client relationship is probably best left until a relationship of trust has been developed and won’t be for everyone.

My approach for recovery from Lyme and associated infections is the following:
1) Identify as many of the possible infections through symptoms and testing and tailor treatment to known infections. Start slowly with all herbs!  Die-off detoxing reactions can be severe and even life threatening.
2) Determine individual constitutional weaknesses and correct these through herbs, acupuncture, diet and Donna Eden exercises.
3) Detoxify, Detoxify, Detoxify.  Oh, and detoxify.  Besides any number of wonderful detox herbs, I believe that chlorella is almost always essential.
4)  Diet has to be strict, sugar-free and nutrient-dense.  Elimination diets can be a very important part of recovery.  As a result of their infections, many Lyme sufferers have hair-trigger inflammation responses and even eating small amounts of a seemingly innocuous food can send symptoms into a tailspin for days.  This is like a positive feedback loop, as some of the Lyme associated bacteria rely on inflammation for reproduction.
5) Immune system support.  This is tricky because you want to do this without triggering too much inflammation which might be counter-productive.  The Lyme sufferer’s symptoms can be the guide for this and “healing reactions” to immune boosting herbs should last no more than a few days.
6) Support affected bodily systems with appropriate herbs.
7) Reduce inflammation with appropriate herbs.  A lot of Buhner’s methods rely on breaking up inflammatory pathways and his work is valuable resource for this.
8) Supplementation for deficiencies such as magnesium and Co-q10
9) Work to improve sleep (a good number of Lyme patients are insomniacs) by insuring proper dietary amino acid intake, by the use of nervine herbs and supplements.
10) When appropriate, increase healthy saturated fats in the diet in order to increase cell-wall strength, nourish the nerves and brain, combat fat depletion by bacteria, and to take advantage of the natural anti-bacterial properties.
11) Nourish the body, mind and soul daily.
Getting better from chronic Lyme is often a battle and a lengthy process but can be awarded in the end with a rebirth and new outlook on life.  I recommend you use all the tools at your disposal and when you run out of them make new ones!

Getting better from chronic Lyme is often a battle and a lengthy process but can be awarded in the end with a rebirth and new outlook on life.  I recommend you use all the tools at your disposal and when you run out of them make new ones!

Disclaimer: For educational use only. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. Educational programs are available through Heart of Herbs

You can purchase Herbal Healing for Children and 475 Herbal and Aromatherapy Recipes

Mountain Rose Herbs