September 1st, 2010 § § permalink
Here in the Western world, in addition to formal education, apprenticeship, and first-hand experience, reading books is still one of the main ways to accrue information and learn a particular subject. Luckily for those studying herbalism we have many valid opportunities to engage in all of these forms of learning. Home study courses, classes, conferences and books abound, and of course we can take a walk and meet some plants along the way.
There are many types of herbalism out there, and there are many corresponding books. When people ask for a book recommendation as they begin or expand their herbal education, I first ask a few prying questions to get a feel for their style of herbalism and learning. Matching an herb book to a person is not always transparent, though. For example, I knew one medical student who, contrary to my first impression, didn’t want any research-driven, phyto-chemistry heavy, plants as drugs resources (think Tyler’s Honest Herbal). Instead, it turned out she was craving the more New Age-y, mystical, plant spirit medicine type books as a break from the daily grind. The beauty of herbalism is that there are little rules – both ways are perfectly valid!
But when it comes down to it, most people that I talked to didn’t really care what they read, especially starting out. They were open to and thirsty for any decent herbal information. For pretty much everyone, Rosemary Gladstar’s Family Herbal is a good starting place due to it’s beauty, wisdom, variety and practical bent. Matthew Wood’s The Book of Herbal Wisdom was recommended often, as it dedicates many pages to a single herb to help the reader get to know the plant, it’s energetics, and plethora of uses. There are more similarities then differences within herbalism (at least I think so); if it works and promotes health, it’s medicine.
Back to the book. Last week I finished re-reading a well-known herbal, The New Holistic Herbal by David Hoffmann. I choose to bring this book with me on vacation for a number of reasons. Mainly, it has a good herbal section, an alphabetical section of well over 200 herbs containing growing habitat, parts used, constituents, actions, dosage and of course indications. I am building an herbal reference notebook, so the book I brought with me had to have a decent herbal. The other reason I brought it with was simply to re-familiarize with a book I often recommend to as an introductory book (the last time I really sat down with it was in 2004). If I am telling others to read it, I better know well what’s in there!
In addition to the herbal, The New Holistic Herbal has information about preparation, chemistry, action categories, a small section on harvesting (the suggested harvest times are not for every bio-region, especially Minnesota!), self-care and prevention and a brief section on creating an herbal protocol for yourself. The uses of the herbs themselves and examples of formulas are in a body systems format. Basically, this book as a little bit of everything which is what makes it so useful for those discovering herbalism.
The edition in my possession was updated and printed in 1990, nearly 20 years ago, but it originally was published in 1983. Some ideas have changed with the times, and having read his much newer Medical Herbalism book, I know Hoffmann has updated some things, too. One example of this is seen in dietary recommendations. A healthy diet in the early 1990′s often emphasized whole grains, limited fats and lots of fruit. Nowa days, quality protein and veggies reign.
Details and dates aside, I’d still recommend this book as an introduction because of it’s underlining emphasis on holistic herbalism. Holistic in this sense emphasizes the interconnectedness of all life, within the earth and withing out bodies, and moves us to overcome “…centuries of conditioning to ‘apartness’ thinking”. The first page of the book says, “A herbal celebrating of the wholeness of life”.
Instead of listing all the herbs good for this or that, Hoffmann keeps reminding the reader of two underlining principles of herbalism. First assist the person, not the disease, and secondly, to learn the qualities of herbs (like action categories) – advice that is more pertinent now then ever.
June 8th, 2010 § § permalink
I have three classes scheduled before I move from Duluth. This series of classes combines two subject very near and dear to my heart: women’s health and herbalism. I find that they support each other nicely, for many years I have seen these two topics as partners. It is my wish that mainstream women’s studies continues (or starts) to embrace empowering modalities that help us learn to care for ourselves.
April 25th, 2010 § § permalink
Let’s say you are interested in doing some sort of cleanse and would like to add herbs for extra nourishment and support. Where should you start? Well, that is entirely up to you and your needs.
One thing I like to to is start general and easy. Simple means rather than specifically focusing on one body system (like the skin or urinary system) to base herbs around, start with alteratives, lymphatics or other herbal categories that are more supportive of the whole body. After a few weeks, perhaps the body systems that need more attention will present themselves (something I heard from Nicholas Schnell). By easy, I mean don’t overwhelm yourself with trying to keep up with taking a plethora of herbs! Why not choose some herbs that are local to your region? Depending on the season, harvest some tender tops of nettle or dandelion roots if you can to add the zest and vital nature of wild foods to your protocol. Easy also means it’s not too complicated to make, like good old-fashioned teas. Above all, herbs should be individualized. Here are my personal guidelines for a basic three-week herb-supported cleanse:
- Drink a quart (4 cups) of a decoction of one herb, an alterative, daily.
- Drink a pint (2 cups) of an infusion on one herb, from an action category of your choosing that supports cleansing, daily.
- Follow the dietary guidelines of your choosing.
- Include any adjunct practices for body and mind, and make any other lifestyle changes.
- Note: I often alternate a few different herbs for the infusion, but I keep them withing the same action category. For example, dandelion root on Mon., yellow dock on Tue., burdock on Wed., Oregon grape on Thu., dandelion on Fri. – Sun. I would not alternate red clover (a lymphatic) and skullcap (a nervine), because I don’t see them as analogous remedies.
- Continue the teas as in week one.
- Step the diet, home spa practices and any other mental/emotional/spiritual work up a notch. For example, if you were doing a diet of whole foods, see if you can eat 10 servings of fruits and veggies a day rather than 5. Go for a walk every day instead of three times a week, meditate or journal for longer.
- Take 30-40 drops of a personalized tincture, to support cleansing of the whole body, three times a day.
- Option one: continue as in week two.
- Option two: change teas and tinctures to move from generally supporting the whole body to more specifically working with weak areas that have showed up.
Is that simple or what?! In truth I hardly want to call it a cleanse because there is nothing fancy to it. One more thing to add: simple can be effective! You don’t have to be taking 25 herbal capsules and drink 5 gallons of tea to feel better. Quality and intention are often more important than quantity.
How you feel at the end of a cleanse, whether physically, mentally or emotionally, will vary from person to person. The first time I did an intentional cleanse, I felt great during but was back to my lethargic self as soon as it ended because I didn’t make lasting dietary changes. The next time I cleansed was the opposite; I felt awful during the cleanse but wonderful afterward! A few years later, I tried it again with my husband and felt so depleted and weak I quite halfway through the cleanse to have a cheeseburger. No kidding. Yeah, it was bad timing for me; it was late fall and getting quite chilly, I was iron deficient and had just finished bleeding. Cleansing and restrictive diets when you are depleted in any way are not a good idea. Instead, I listened to my body and added nutrient-rich foods and blood-building herbs and took lots and lots of naps and felt better shortly thereafter.
A few weeks ago, I completed the herb-supported cleanse I outlined above. It is definitely the easiest and most basic cleanse I have ever done, yet still effective. I restricted my diet a little bit, mostly of things I consider “junk” food. Yes, even certified organic, locally grown with utmost love and care, gourmet food can be “junk” (like potato chips and chocolate truffles). My dietary goal was to avoid the aforementioned “junk”, wheat, fried foods, coffee and sweets, and add in more veggies, grains and legumes. Simple. Herbal teas included burdock, dandelion, yellow dock concoctions and red clover infusions. I also started a personalized tincture blend that included lympatics, alteratives, liver and endocrine support.
More important to me than the diet was actually a fast from particular behaviors that had been getting on my nerves. I also added in activities that my soul had been yearning for, like reading Rumi, watching spring begin, and getting in contact with family and friends. At the end of the cleanse, I felt much more grounded and healthy, as if I have replenished my supplies to prepare for the transitions to come.
April 18th, 2010 § § permalink
Demulcent Tea Blend
I go back and forth about how I feel about supplements (which includes but is not limited to vitamins, fiber, herbal capsules, amino acids, essential fatty acids, ect…). There have been times where they have served my health extremely well, and other times where I felt it had little if any effect. But that’s just my experience.
Now I honor supplements almost the same way I do Western biomedicine; as a wonderful offering of modern day technology that we can intentionally choose or occasionally need to take to empower our health or correct a serious imbalance.
That being said, there are two supplements I have seen work well with cleansing. The first is a fiber and/or digestive demulcents. I say “and/or” because although they are often combined together and work well as one, considering they act on the same place (the gut) they don’ necessarily need to be. Fiber supplements can do more than simply add more dietary fiber to your diet. The “bulking” or absorptive quality of fiber can bind to heavy metals, cellular waste products and other general “toxins” and remove them, as well as increasing healthy bacteria in the gut. Demulcent herbs often added to enhance the actions of fibers, but offer their own level of healing, soothing and support for gut as well.
Fiber + Herbs Powder
- 3 parts Psyllium husks
- 2 parts Apple pectin
- 1 part Triphala – (harada (Terminalia chebula), amla (Emblica officinalis), behada (Terminalia belerica))
- 1 part other demulcent herbs blend – marshmallow, licorice, plantain, ginger, or slippery elm
Mix all the powdered ingredients by weight, take 1 teaspoon mixed (shake water and herbs vigorously in a jar to mix thoroughly) in a cup of water or juice one a day. I think it is best to take fiber on an empty stomach or between meals, but I haven’t hear the final word so use your own judgment. During a cleanse, take daily. Some cleanse kits offer a similar fiber supplement to take three times a day during a fast. Doing so works surprisingly well at keeping hunger at bay while providing enough bulk to stimulate digestion.
The next supplement is a mild herbal laxative. The only reason you may need a laxative during a cleanse is when you are fasting and thus not having regular (daily) bowel movements. During a cleanse in which you consume a normal amount of food (although it may be different food than normal!) you generally do not need a mild laxative.
You can find herbal “digestive simulators” on the market, but why not make your own? Making your own tea is cheaper and engages your senses, which is helpful when taking herbs like cascara sagrada and senna. Who knows? Maybe one sip is all you’ll need, and you can tell the moment it hits your tongue. Here’s a classic recipe from Rosemary Gladstar:
“Emergency Constipation Remedy”
- 4 parts fennel
- 3 parts licorice
- 2 parts yellow dock
- 1 part cascara sagrada
- 1 part psyllium seed
- 1 part senna
Prepare as a decoction. How much should you drink? That will be up to you. Start with one small cup a day, increase if needed. Not for long term use.
Another “supplement” comes to mind for cleansing, although it is more of an herbal formula, and that is a bitters tincture. Bitters! I love them. I love making them, because you can personalize the bitters to your needs.
Formula for Bitter Tincture:
- 1 part artichoke leaf
- 1 part dandelion root
- 1 part wild yam
- 1 part gentian root
- 1 part fennel seed
- 1/2 part orange peel
- 1/2 part ginger
- 1/2 part cardamon
- 1/2 part angelica root
Prepare as a tincture. Take 45 drops (or a large dropperful) 30 mins. before each meal. Bitters assist digestion and assimilation, and are especially good for reliving bloating.
- Chop 4-6 cloves raw garlic.
- Bring to low a boil in 4 cups water for 30 minuets.
- Cool a bit, add juice from 1 to 2 lemons.
- Mix in honey or maple syrup to taste to taste.
- If you would like a savory broth, add miso, bulion, ginger, scallions and grated veggies instead of the lemons and sweetener.
Here’s a time-tested recipe for a surprisingly tasty garlic drink. The first time I had it, a friend had cut me off – it was that good! It is pretty strong, so it might be a too stimulating to drink on a regular basis. 4 cups for a day or two in the spring, fall is the “dosage” I was told. This drink doesn’t have any particular reason to be affiliated with a cleanse, although the “stinking rose” is almost a household panacea with numerous health benefits.
Basic Congee Recipe
- Add 1 cup white rice to about 8 cups water
- Cook on medium for 2-4 hours. It takes a long time!
- Add in your medicinal herbs, spices or veggies about half way through.
- Eat and enjoy!
Congee is basically rice that has been cooked so much that it has fallen apart – it almost has the consistency of watery rice pudding. The congee is derives its flavor from the what you put it in. Actually, the rice in congee is simply a vehicle to deliver the herbs, spices of veggies you want. It makes a great meal during a cleanse because it is a gluten-free and easily digestible.
Don’t forget to add herbs! That’s one of the perks of congees – it blends easily with herbs. One of my favorite additions are Chinese herbs lotus berries, white mushrooms and black cumin seeds with a chopped fresh pear flavored with cinnamon, ginger and cardamom. Or I go for a fruity version: lycii (goji) berries, schizandra berries, elder berries and rose hips with a sliced blood orange and cinnamon.
The herbs that work good in congees are dried fruits, berries, roots, seeds, fungus, that sort of thing. Anything you would normally decoct for a tea would probably fly (although some really woody roots would not be fun to chew, so remove them before serving). I would not add leaves and flowers, like peppermint or calendula as they would not blend well in the congee.
Gladstar, Rosemary. Rosemary Gladstar’s Family Herbal.