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The name hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens) comes from a Greek compound meaning “water vessel.” While this refers to the plant’s affinity to wet and sheltered growing conditions in the wild, it also has an interesting correspondence with its medicinal action on the water vessels of the human body, that is, the kidneys.
Many herbals refer to this herb’s effectiveness in diseases of the kidneys and especially where there are stones present (renal calculus). The root and the root bark are the parts employed medicinally. They contain mineral compounds of magnesium, phosphorous, sulfur, and calcium, which chemically break down and change calcium oxalate and calcium carbonate stones in both the kidneys and gall bladder.
The famed American physician Dr. Edward E. Shook explains how a patient of his had sharp stones in the kidneys. Under X-ray, the stones were seen to be piercing the ureter.
After treatment with hydrangea, the stones were passed without any damage to the ureter and were found to be smooth and round. Shook explained that once the sharp edges of the stones are dissolved, all pain, hemorrhage, and inflammation subside.
As well as having a dissolving effect on the sharp-edged crystalline structure of the stone, hydrangea chemically breaks down the stone into the “softer” compounds of sulphides and sulphates, which do not damage the ureter as they pass through.
The process of dissolving and softening of stone can and should be a gradual one. This elimination of stone and gravel through the kidneys is stimulated by hydrangin, the powerful glycoside present in hydrangea.
The naturopathic principle that the experiences of mind and environment will in their turn produce a physical change in body processes can again be seen in the example of kidney stones. Holistically speaking, we can expect that anyone whose attitudes have become hard and inflexible, set in stone, will inevitably produce hard, rock-like manifestations in the body.
Typically, people who present with this problem have held on to the emotions of hurt and resentment for too long. For this person, patterns of bitterness and cynicism for past slights have set in and hardened, bringing kidney stones, gall stones, and bladder gravel as the long-term physical manifestation.
An inability to let go of real or perceived wrongs can indeed feed further negative patterns. An indulgence in red wine and fatty foods coupled with seething resentments and internal emotional dialogues of who was right and who was wrong puts increasing loads on gall bladder and kidneys.
The positive lesson of hydrangea is the ability to let bygones be bygones, leaving the past behind and not holding on to grudges. This sort of attitude ensures that the mind does not become set in rock-like patterns of negative thinking. Just as hydrangea chemically softens and dissolves the hard rock-like concretions in the body, so too can it allow us to soften any rigid thinking patterns that may have hardened in our minds.
Herbalists prescribe hydrangea along with other herbs such as horsetail, uva ursi, and pellitory of the wall to chemically soften, break down, and remove stones and gravel from the body. An herbalist may request that you get an X-ray to evaluate whether the stones are safe to remove without surgery.
Herbal texts have recorded that hydrangea brewed as a decoction was used very effectively by the Cherokee Indians and later by early American settlers for diseases involving stones. However, the removal of stones using herbal medicine may take months or even years and should always be done slowly and carefully under the guidance of a qualified herbalist.
Hydrangea is an elegant shrub of which four varieties are indigenous to North America. The garden varieties, hydrangea macrophylla and hydrangea paniculata, are native to China and Japan and are the types most commonly seen throughout the gardens of the world.
As is the case with all herbs, they lose their medicinal qualities as they are hybridized for ornamental purposes. So do not use your garden-variety hydrangea as an herbal tea and expect to get any results other than a sore stomach.
Luke Hughes is a classical Western herbalist and horticulturist based in Sydney, Australia.