March 28th, 2010 § § permalink
One of the first plants in my garden to awaken in the spring (and one of my favorites in general) is Lady’s mantle. Its round, accordion folded leaves start to perk up and green in the warming sun, though they are still tightly curled up on themselves. Each summer Lady’s mantle grows bigger and bigger, usually until it sprawls out into the yard or path. It’s minuscule lacy greenish-yellow flowers may seem like nothing special at first, especially compared to showier garden flowers, but upon closer examination they are quite delicate and stunning, like little shimmering five-petaled peridots.
Lady’s mantle is in the rose family, and contains no less allure or folk lore then the other well-known Rosaceaes like rose, hawthorn, or blackberry. The rose family seems to embody a wildness along with their beauty. They charm our senses with their fruits, flowers and scent so we invite them into our gardens. But anyone who grows roses or keeps raspberries know that they are anything but tame; they require strict boundaries or they will take over! Speaking of, here is a little something about the brambles in an ecosystem I wrote a while back.
Lady’s mantle is ‘Lady’s’ rather than ‘ladies’ to denote that it is the virgin Mary’s mantle (another word for rain jacket or cloak). Of course, before Christianity took over the Western world, Lady’s mantle was associated with local goddesses, like Freya in Germanic tribes (Wood) as well as Tatiana, the queen of the faeries. “It collects the morning dew and wears it like fine jewels. Its flowers are small, greenish, and lacy like the green hair of the fairy queen, Tatiana” (Gladstar, 245). These associations are logical, as this herb has many uses for women.
The botanical name, Alchemilla, or “little alchemist” speaks of the uses of Lady’s mantle which have the ability to transform. Matthew Woods writes an account of this in The Book of Herbal Wisdom. The alchemists found interest in the fact that the morning dew gathers like a translucent pearl in the center of the fan-like leaves, well into almost mid-day, when other plants are all dried off.
The first recorded instances of Lady’s mantle classified it as a supreme wound wort. Wood relays that it was called Greater Sanicle, trumping another wound wort called Sanicle, and since Lady’s mantle was an even better for first aid then the original it was bumped up to greater status. Though not nescessarily used for wounds in this day in age, Lady’s mantle is still used to “…restore the integrity of torn, ruptured, or separated tissues, as seen in hernias or perforated membranes” (Wood, 119). In that case it is not too surprising to hear that it was said to restore virginity in folk herbalism. Women of the Alps used packed Lady’s mantle leaves around the abdomen and breasts to tone the body after birth and nursing. William Salmon wrote about this in 1710.”Inwardly also taken, and outwardly applied to Woman’s Breasts, which are great and over-much flag, it causes them to grow less and hard.”
Lady’s mantle theraputic actions include:
- vulnerary (David Hoffmann, 525)
Like other members of the Rosaceae family, it contains a fair amount of tannins, along with trace amounts of salicylic acid. It has been used for all sorts of woman’s health issues; excess menstruation and pre- and post-menstrual spotting, prolapse or feelings of heaviness, hemorrhage, irregular cycles and vaginal irritations.
In general it is “…astringent, toning, and strengthening the abdominal tissues and structures” (W00d, 115). Lady’s mantle and shepherd’s purse blend well together for prolapse and hernia. This is a handy combination for hernias during pregnancy, or to arrest hemorrhage after birth. Its astringency also lends it to be used as a mouthwash for mouth sores or gargle for laryngitis (Hoffmann, 525).
Gladstar, Rosemary. Herbal Healing for Women.
Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbalism.
Wood, Matthew. The Book of Herbal Wisdom.
March 3rd, 2010 § § permalink
Southernwood in the foreground.
If solar infusions utilize flavor to accentuate medicinal qualities, then lunar infusions (or moon teas) add an element of ritual and seasonality. Ritual can take place in many ways, but in all cases, ritual involves conscious intention. Lunar infusions naturally add an element of dreaming, introspection, quietness to the tea. Lunar infusions are definitely more yin and receptive, and the qualities can be influenced by the phase of the moon, too.
I can’t say the words “lunar” and “herbs” in the same sentance and not think of the Artemisias! Mugwort, wormwood, sweet Annie, tarragon, sagebrush, southernwood… those silver-y, upward pointing trident-like leaves seem very moon-like. Not to mention the whole being named after Artemis thing. That calls for another post down the road!
My favorite early summer moon tea for dreaming is quite simple:
- a few mugwort leaves
- a few violet leaves and flowers
- a sprig of California poppy
Find a still spot out of doors to steep your tea. Set your intention. Add the herbs to a glass jar after sundown, fill with water. Leave the tea alone for a few hours. The tea will work best if you are taking care of yourself while you wait for it to steep; doing yoga, meditating, stargazing, not worrying, ect…okay, I am totally kidding about that one, but it can’t hurt! Recall your intention and drink the…ah…interesting (bitter!) moon tea. Of course you may add things to make it more palatable, if you wish. Go to sleep and dream away.
February 1st, 2010 § § permalink
A native Minnesota variety of an astragalus relative.
Astragalus membranaceaus is a native to China and other areas of Asia and is a member of the Fabaceae (pea) family. It tastes sweet, starchy, slightly warm and moist. According to Lesley Tierra, astragalus has adaptogenic, diuretic, antiviral, cardiotonic, antioxidant and hepatoprotective properties. Astragalus has gotten a lot of press as an adapotgen and for helping people with cancer and rightfully so as it “…helps prevent immuosuppression caused by chemotherapy and has tumor-inhibiting activity”(Winston, 149). It is a personal favorite of mine for preventing and/or treating regular-old colds and related infections.
The Chinese name of this herb is huang qi, huang meaning yellow (the color of the root) and qi meaning leader, as it is considered a “leader” among the tonics in the Chinese pharmacopeia because it can be used by a wider range of people than other tonics like ginseng. Astragalus strengthens spleen qi to aid weak digestion, nausea and vomiting, bloating, assimilation and lack of appetite. It also bolsters wei qi (protective energy or immunity) and lung qi. Not surprisingly, astragalus has been adapted into Western herbalism because of its use in strengthening the immune system and aiding in defense of colds, flus and infections of the respiratory system.
Astragalus is usually sold in root slices or pieces. It is mostly prepared as a tea although it also comes n powdered and tinctured forms. To make astragalus tea at home, bring 4 cups of water to boil, add about 4 tablespoons of the root and simmer covered for 20 mins. Let cool slightly before pouring a cup or two and straining. It is quite palatable, and people don’t usually have a problem drinking 3 cups of it in a day. A little honey or a simmering a cinnamon stick along with the astragalus extenuates both the sweetness and the moistening quality.
I like to drink astragalus tea daily in the winter, often for a month or longer, when everyone around me is getting sick or when I feel on the verge of a getting a cold. Just recently my husband came down with a horrible cold. I knew I’d be next, so I loaded up on astragalus tea so when I got the cold myself it wasn’t that bad – just a runny nose without a cough or constricted chest. It also combines well with other immune enhancing herbs like shiitake, eleuthero, ginger and echincacea, and is safe for children, pregnant women and the elderly.
December 11th, 2009 § § permalink
Last spring I started seeds inside to get a jump-start on the growing season. When I planted the healthy seedlings out the first week of June, the weather consisted of downpour, near-freezing temperatures overnight, and incredible winds that smacked my innocent seedlings around with no pity. None of the fifteen or so different species made it. Needless to say, I was heartbroken. I made another go with direct seeding, with varying degrees of success; zinnia, globe amaranth, chickweed, sunflower, teasel, elecampane, wild carrot germinated while the light-dependent germinators like tobacco, zahir poppy, foxglove, figwort, evening primrose, bee balms and holy basil did not.
Then while weeding the gardens in the middle of summer, I stumbled upon an uplifting surprise–holy basil! It was hiding underneath a canopy of bee balm and overgrown lamb’s quarters. Some how it made it through six weeks of gardening before I noticed it. Did it shoot up fairly recently? Or has it been there the whole time and I never payed attention? However baffling it may be, it is very welcomed.
Mmm…the aroma of tulsi is sublimely spicy and complex, yet hits the nose in a clear way. I use the names Tulsi and holy basil equally,but the plant is the same; Ocimum sanctum. Like the common kitchen herb basil, holy basil is in the Lamiacea or mint family originating from India and growing through Indo-China (southern China, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Thailand) (Winston, 168). It looks a little like basil, with serrated leaf edges and the pinkish-purple flowers. There are a few different varieties of holy basil, the one I chose from Horizon Herbs was rama tulsi because it is a more cold-hardy.
Tulsi has been (and still is) used in Ayurveda for as long as we know, which is at least three thousand years (168).
“Holy basil is sacred to the Hindu god Vishnu and is used in morning prayers to insure personal health, spiritual purity, and family well-being. String of beads made from the plant’s stems are used in meditation to give clarity and protection. The ancient ayruvedic texts, the Charaka Samhita (approx. 100 BCE) and Sushruta Samhita (400-100 BCE) both mention the use of this herb to treat people with snakebites and scorpion stings.” (168).
Tulsi is an adaptogenic herb, enhancing the body’s ability to respond to stress of all kinds (or non-specific stress). In particular, tulsi promotes a sense of mental clarity and calmness. Winston describes its medicinal actions as: adaptogenic, antimicrobial, antidepressant, antioxidant, carminative, diuretic, expectorant, glactogogue, radioprotective, stress-reducing and supporting the immune system. There are numerous studies on holy basil which are all interesting in their own right. I suggesting reading Winston’s Adaptogens book for those of you who, like myself, are intrigued by scientific studies.
To summarize an herb with so many medicinal actions isn’t always possible, but there are some ways , holy basil is an adapotgenic herb well-suited for treating the mental and emotional body, at least in my opinion. Winston uses holy basil for reducing a “mental fog” and “stagnant depression” when people cannot seem to move past an event or trauma that brought them down. Holy basil makes a worthy addition to just about any uplifting/antidepressant or memory tea or tincture blend.
Here is my one of my favorite teas with holy basil, used for seasonal depression:
- 2 parts Holy basil
- 2 parts Lemon balm
- 1 part Rosemary
- 1 part St. John’s wort
- 1/2 part Rose hips
- 1/2 part Hibiscus
- 1/2 part Fennel seeds
Winston, David. Adaptogens, Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief.