Prepare for Year of the Snake

Happy Chinese New Year! It’s the year of the snake. Chinese astrological sages predict it will be a profitable year for business if caution guides decisions.

Happy Chinese New Year! It’s the year of the snake. Chinese astrological sages predict it will be a profitable year for business if caution guides decisions.

If financial decisions are made in haste, there maybe loss of funds. This advice agrees with the snake’s character. The snake is cautious. They only bite when provoked.

Snakes are resourceful thriving in some of the harshest environments, deserts.

Besides it being the year of the snake and having been born in the year of the snake, snakes have been on my mind. I have been hiking in snake country.

Joshua Tree National Park in California is one of the most peaceful, captivating landscapes I have spent time in.

It is a perfect place: rocks to scramble on, new and strange plants, endless sunshine, outstanding views and few humans.

The one drawback is the thousands of snake hole dotting the landscape. Luckily, the snakes are asleep at this time of year.

I can only imagine, and my husband asked me many times not to image but I could not help it, what the park would be like if the snakes were awake.

The desert would be slithering.

Looking around at the plants in the desert, I could not help but wonder which to use for rattlesnake bite.

In eastern Canada, black cohash (Cimmicifuga racemosa) was called snakeroot and used to treat snake bite.

On the prairie, there are two different snakeroots. Echinacea (Echinacea angustifolia) used as a poultice to stop the spread of venom as was seneca snakeroot (Polygala senega).

From India, some herbalists use Indian snakeroot (Rauwolfia serpentine) to calm high blood pressure. It is used to slow the spread of snake venom. The Europeans packed snake bites with plantain (Plantago spp.), the little plant that grows in the crack of sidewalks.

There is a snake root common to both Texas and Virginia called Aristolochia serpentaria that neutralizes snake venom.

When cowboys roamed the desert chewing tobacco, tobacco was the choice poultice to heal snake bite.

In Texas a plant called The Rattlesnake Master, (Eryngium yuccifolim) was carried in pouches just in case one had a rattlesnake incident.

This is just the beginning of all the plants that have been used to treat snake bite throughout the ages.

There are many, many plants called snake root. Hence, the importance of using botanical names when talking about a plant and its medicine. But that was not my problem at the moment.

I want to return to Joshua Tree when the desert is in bloom.

I was completely enchanted by the desert scattered with dried up, dead looking shrubs. Image the awe of the desert bursting in flowers! I am getting excited just thinking about it.

But when the desert blossoms, the snakes wake up. There really were a lot of snake holes in this desert.

Snake holes in every nuk and crany, under every bush, embankments were rattled with snake holes.

A friend reports that while driving through Joshua Tree snakes continually jumped at his car, attacking it.

I don’t really know desert plants that well, having not spent enough time with them, so I am stumped about which plant to grab, chew up and pat over a snake bit.

So I turned to the internet. Here is what I learned. (I thought I would share in case anyone else really needs to see the desert in bloom.)

• Get an emergency snake kit. It has a suction cup one can use to suck out the venom. Even though in the movies the hero always sucks out venom with his mouth; that is not recommended.

• Take a picture of the snake so the emergency room doctors know which anti-venom to inject. Interestingly, anti-venom is either made from horse or sheep blood.

• Do not do anything that will increase the heart rate, such as: get hysterical or run for your life. This will only speed the spread of the poison. In my case, I have advised my husband to carry me back to the car.

• Wash the wound with water and soap.

• But mostly, as prevention is the best medicine, check before putting hands or feet down and if one does come across a snake, give it space. It will move on.

For now though, back in Alberta, I need consider how to treat frost bite. I hear the larch’s sap is effective. Happy Year of the Snake.

Herbs for Life is written by Abrah Arneson, a local clinical herbalist. It is intended for information purposes only. Readers with a specific medical problem should consult a doctor. For more information, visit Arneson can be reached at

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