September 20th, 2010 § § permalink
Sometimes your favorite herbal concoctions come out of nowhere. One day a woman came into the herb shop with an ambiguous book under her arm called something like “Herbal Cleansing” and a list of about twenty herbs she needed for a such a cleanse. Hours after I helped this person with her herbs, I found a little scrap of paper with a formula called simply “Detox Bath”. It sounded so yummy I made it up right then and tried it out that evening. I call it “Refreshing Bath”, because I feel renewed after a soak in its freshness.
- 1 part Juniper berries, ground coarsely
- 1 part Rosemary, coarsely cut
- 1 part Calendula or comfrey
- 2 parts Peppermint
Directions: Steep 3/4 cup herbs in 6 cups just boiled water, covered, for 30 mins. Strain. Add to bath and adjust water temp.
Alternate directions: Tie 3/4 cup herbs in a thin cotton flour sack towel or place in a muslin bag, position under the faucet, and run hot water through to “steep”. Adjust water temperature, soak and enjoy.
Juniper (Juniperus communis) is an antiseptic diuretic rich in volatile oils and tannins. By itself, juniper is quite strong, but luckily it blends well with other cooler aromatic herbs. And no, it does NOT smell like gin, gin smells like juniper! Juniper is not recommended for internal use during pregnancy or severe kidney infections or disease (you don’t want to over-stimulate delicate kidneys) and I would extend those basic guidelines to external use.
Calendula (Calendula officinalis) and comfrey (Symphytum officinale) are great herbs to add to just about any bath because of their topical healing properties. Pick one, or both. I often choose calendula because it adds color to the mix (quite beautiful with dark purple juniper berries!) and is a gentle lymphatic. The other herbs in the recipe, rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) and peppermint (Mentha piperita) are wonderfully aromatic and stimulating members of the mint family that add to the experience.
September 10th, 2010 § § permalink
Labor Day is over, and for most of us in the States that means summer is winding down to a close. The shorter days carry cool breezes, overnight frosts threatens almost-ripe tomatoes, and sweaters and scarfs come out of their hiding spot. Now is the perfect time for enjoying a … herbal bath.
I have to pause here for a momentary rant. Perhaps you though I was going to say, “Now is the perfect time for enjoying a … hot cup of spiced chai”. Go ahead, have your chai, or any other warming and comforting teas for that matter. But let us not forget about good old fashioned baths. Let’s expand our herbal protocols to include the inside our physical bodies as well as the outside. Why not have both? Drink your tea while soaking in a bath. You don’t even need an actual bathtub to take one.
There are many different types of herbal baths, but in essence it is like immersing your body (or at least a part of it) in a giant cup of tea. Just like tea that we drink, this tea for the bath can be relaxing, ritualistic, pain-relieving, energizing, nutritive, cleansing and can be used for skin therapy or acute infections. Have your pick based on your mood, physical state, or both.
Herbal baths have a few qualities that make them a valuable menstrum (vehicle for delivery). First, baths posses the virtues of hydrotherapy. Put simply, hydrotherapy uses water temperature to affect the body’s circulation by either dilating or contracting the tiny capillaries, which in turn affects our body and mind. Warm water has a sedative action, cool or cold water can be a febrifuge (lower elevated body temperatures), and both cold and warm water can direct blood flow (especially handy in sitz baths to heal stressed genito-urinary tissues).
Secondly, herbal baths are great for topical treatments and soothing, healing and simply bringing vital life force into the skin. The skin, the largest organ of the body, absorbs herbal constituents while the senses are also engaged via volatile oils if aromatic herbs are used. The energetic uses of herbal baths are marked; there is no doubt that for most of us a hot bath is a relaxing experience, a time when we physically and emotionally cleanse.
Here are a few types of and methods for herbal baths:
- Basic herbal bath – Steep about 1 cup of herbs in 6 cups boiled water, covered, for 30 mins.
Strain carefully, add to bath water. Soak and enjoy!
- Steep in the tub bath – Tie the herbs in a thin cotton cloth. Hang the herbs over the faucet, so the water flows through the herbs.
- Herbs right in the bath – Pick two handfuls of herbs (whole flowers or sprigs work are the easiest to clean out of the tub later), throw them in the bathtub.
- Foot baths – Similar qualities and directions to the basic herbal baths, but with a conscientious focus on warming (or cooling) the feet and directing energy downward. Useful for colds, insomnia, anxiety, sore feet, skin infections, ritual. Hand baths are good, too, especially if there are sore joints.
- Sitz baths – Similar directions as basic herbal bath, but pour the steeped tea into a sitz bath (Rubbermaid storage bins work great) and immerse the pelvis, with the knees and feet hanging over the rim of the tub. Great for healing the genito-urinary area, especially during the postpartum.
- Herbal rinses – Prepare a big pot of strong herbal tea as described in basic herbal bath, but pour or rinse an isolated area or the whole body. Great for skin conditions and for time when a full bath is undesirable or not available (works great in the shower).
- The non-herbal bath – No herbs handy? Take a salt or oil bath, with or without a few drops of essential oils (do be careful with potent essential oils, start with literally a few drops to avoid mucus membrane irritation).
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.
February 10th, 2010 § § permalink
At first glance, sun teas (also known as solar infusions) may seem out of place along side medicinal infusions and decoctions. Most people associate sun teas with iced beverage teas, peppermint or green, sipped in the shade in the middle of summer. I am going to stretch the meaning of medicinal to envelope good-tasting teas. When it is hot in the summer, what can be more medicinal than cooling, invigorating mint tea, or passion-taming rose petals, or cleansing red clover berries, or thirst-quenching hawthorn?
Solar infusions take advantage of the sun to warm and infuse the tea, rather than heating water. They are typically made outside, in a big pitcher or jar out on a stoop (with a cover to keep out bugs). The time it takes to steep varies. Here are general directions to work off of:
- Place about twice as much dried or fresh herbs as you would use for an infusion in a pitcher and cover with tap water. 6-8 tablespoons dried tea for 4 cups water, for example.
- Let steep outside in the sun for about 4 hours.
- Strain, drink, enjoy! You may serve with ice, or place in the fridge to cool for later.
Sun teas remind me of the sweetness of summer. Gather a few leaves here, some flower petals there, cover with water and let it absorb the sun’s rays. Aromatic or sweet herbs make good solar infusions, hence the classic mint tea. Lemon balm, spearmint, lemon grass, bee balm, catnip, raspberry leaves, choke cherry leaves, yarrow flowers, red clover blossoms, holy basil, roses and linden flowers are some of my favorite local plants to pick fresh and prepare as a sun tea.