September 6th, 2013 § § permalink
The last 4 weeks have been a whirl-wind. But I made out out on the other side! Yes, I officially graduated.
My last board exam was the herbal one. I spent a week doing practice tests, reading through my notes and fondling my samples. My herb samples came from the free table at school. Some samples were missing, some had pre-made notes and some had lost their, um, freshness, but I didn’t care. They did the trick. It is much easier to memorize things when the thing you have to memorize is in your hands, or at least it is for me. I would’ve preferred to taste each one individually, see it growing, learn the botany, chemistry and ethnobotanic history in an attempt to really learn it. How much can you know about a plant by just reading about it? A lot, true, but so much can be gleaned experientially. » Read the rest of this entry «
June 5th, 2013 § § permalink
May 18th, 2010 § § permalink
Our household took a little internet break. It’ s been almost three weeks and although I enjoy the peace and quiet of web-free evenings, I miss blogging!
I have some beautiful pics to share from a spring walk through a Wisconsin woods, a video of nodding trilliums (yeah, I’m a dork), class updates for June and maybe even a post or two about herbs.
’till then, keep it green.
January 6th, 2010 § § permalink
Burdock flower, though the root is used for decoctions
Decoctions are simply simmering herbs to make a tea, rather than pouring water over plant matter. Decotions take a bit more time to make then infusions, but medicinal herbal teas of all sorts still remain the easiest way to take herbs; all that is required is steeping herbs in water, straining and drinking.
In my experience, most people project (and naturally so) a plethora of questions and details into the long-standing herbal tradition of making tea and end up feeling confused. I certainly did when I started out making teas. How long do I steep it? How much water or herbs are used? What’s the difference between using fresh or dried herbs? How do I strain it? How much tea should I make and drink? Hoe long before the tea goes bad?
I rarely measure the dried herbs (my personal preference) or the water, nor do I time my how long the herbs simmer. I just throw it all together, rarely if ever does the tea not turn out the way I want it. However, I wasn’t like this at first. I measured carefully and set a timer. Eventually, like learning how to cook, you learn to rely on your instincts. So don’t be afraid to be creative, and don’t think you need to have all the details sorted out before you engage with tea making.
The parts of herbs best used in a decoction are the harder portions of the plants; seeds, fruits, barks, roots, ect… Simmering these portions ensure that the medicinal properties are properly extracted, since the whole reason these parts are hard in the first place is to provide storage (fruits, tubers), structure (piths and barks) and protection (seeds).
Directions for making 4 cups of a decoction:
- Place 5 cups of water in a sauce pan with a lid, turn on heat.
- Add 3-4 rounded tablespoons of dried herbs to water (double for fresh).
- Bring to a light boil then reduce to a low simmer for 20 minuets, covered.
- Turn off heat and allow to cool on stove before straining and drinking.
- Drink within 24 hours, refrigerate after 12 hours.
When it comes to deciding how much tea to drink, that may vary. Are you trying to have an effect on a chronic, long-standing condition, or taking a nutritive tonic? Drink a quart daily, six days a week. Are you using low-dose or strong botanicals like goldenseal, lobelia, wild indigo, blue flag or poke? Sip from an eight ounce cup through the day, as needed. In these cases, I don’t bother making teas as I prefer the lengthy storage properties of alcoholic tinctures.
Here are two of my favorite decoctions…
Immune Booster Root Tea
- 1 part Echinacea purpurea root
- 2 part Eleuthero root
- 2 part Astragalus root slices
- 1 part Shitaake mushrooms, sliced
- 1/2 part Ginger
- 1/4 part Cinnamon
- 1/2 part Rose hips
- 1 part Elder berries
Mix together, measuring parts by weight. Prepare as a decoction, and drink 4 cups through the day through cold and flu season, or any time your immune system needs a boost. This tea is rich tasting and slightly fruity and spicy. Safe for pregnant or nursing mothers.
A Basic Liver Tea
- 2 parts burdock
- 2 parts dandelion
- 2 parts yellow dock
- 2 parts sassafras
- 1 part Oregon grape root
- 1 part licorice
- 1/2 part cinnamon
- 1/2 part ginger
- 1/2 part fennel seeds
- 1/2 part orange peel
Combine the herbs, using weights as parts. Prepare as a decoction. This tea is a good tea to start with for a liver-based formulas. For example, one could add chaste tree (vitex), mitchella, black cohosh and/or wild yam for action on the endocrine system. Another possibility is adding medicinal mushrooms like reshi or shitake, echinacea, Panax genus members (Asian or American ginseng, eleuthero, spikenard) to help the immune system or serve as adpatogens.
The first five roots are interchangeable in some ways but have their distinct actions, so pick which ones that could serve you the best. The last four herbs (five plus licorice) are for digestion but more so for improving the flavor. Sarsparilla, birch, chai spices (black pepper, clove, anise, cardamom), fruits like rose hips, elderberries and hawthorn berries, and marshmallow can also round out the taste while adding medicinal actions on their own right.
Wild geranium or cranesbill root is used as an astringent
The root of butterfly weed is used in lung formulas
August 5th, 2009 § § permalink
Raspberry leaf, Rubus idaeus and wild species. Raspberry’s astringency, nutritive and tonic qualities lead to being well-known as a woman’s herb, especially during pregnancy. A hot cup of tea made from the dried leaves is quite pleasant with honey, or blended with other herbs. I do not have an exact quote on this (my copy of her pregnancy book is out on loan), but I think it was Aviva Romm that mentioned something about drinking raspberry leaf tea with a juice from a fresh-squeezed orange. Not only does that sound delicious, but it adds to the vitamin C content as well.
What makes raspberry leaf so toning besides it’s obvious astringency? One known chemical constituent that lends to this is fragarine. Fragarine is an alkaloid that has been long linked to raspberries toning action. I say ‘been linked’ because there are many other properties/constituents in raspberry, like the flavonoid quercitin, tannins, vitamins and minerals (it is very high in manganese), ect… From Herbal Amanda’s Rant blog:
“Fragarine was thought to be the ‘active’ constituent of raspberry leaf, the one that cause uterine muscle tissues to strengthen, but it is now postulated that is a more complex reaction that isn’t due to any one constituent, but a combination of many. This particular conclusion seems to be more and more excepted for most herbal medicines, as main constituents are usually found to not work, or have different actions when isolated.”
This makes perfect sense.
Need astringency for excessive menstruation? How about a cup or two or four of raspberry leaf tea drank as needed, combined with other herbs as desired (I love shepherd’s purse and lady’s mantle for this) or over many months as a tonic. That is a beautiful choice since raspberry can boost some of the nutrients lost from the lots of bleeding, as well as tone pelvic muscles, including the uterus. It has also been used for painful cramps, too, although it may be best combined with stronger spasmolytics. Don’t forget to use raspberry after pelvic surgeries or any kind as a general healing tonic.
When used for labor, raspberry has both uterine relaxing and contraction inhibiting actions, which seems contradictory. In 1970 the leaf (not only fragarine) was tested, and the researchers…
“…suggested that Rubus would prevent or reduce the risk of in-coordinate uterine action (a common cause of difficulty and failure to progress in labor), by regulating the action of the uterine muscles.” (Tricky, 423).
To use raspberry leaf tea during pregnancy, start drinking it after the first trimester. Don’t hesitate–steep strong! One tea bag in one cup of hot water steeped 10 minuets is not going to have the same effect as a medicinally prepared tea. Dried raspberry is quite fluffy, so go more for a fourth or third cup of the dried herb steeped, covered, in 3-4 cups hot water for 2 – 4 hours. Strain and drink daily. Blend with other herbs like nettle, oatstraw, or alfalfa if desired.
Strawberry leaf, Fragaria vesica. Let’s not forget the beautiful strawberry leaves, which have a similar sweet but astringent taste. I like making a lunar infusion of fresh strawberry leaves, covering a small handful of the leaves with water and letting steep over night.
Strawberry leaves are not used as much as raspberry, and thus not mentioned in the herbals as much either. I guess this makes sense, especially looking around in the woods. Raspberries are everywhere, spreading like mad, while little strawberry plants are much less conspicuous and have just a few leaves to each plant. And thus, it’s uses are often lumped with raspberry.
It’s astringent, cooling (as a member of the rose family), and nutritive. Rosemary Gladstar says “it can be combined with raspberry leaf and squaw vine for an exceptional tonic blend to drink during the entire pregnancy” (178).
Culpepper speaks of the cooling nature of strawberry:
“The leaves and roots boiled in wine and water, and drank, do likewise cool the liver and blood, and assuage all inflammations in the reins and bladder, provoke urine, and allay the heat and sharpness thereof. The same also being drank stays the bloody flux and women’s courses, and helps the swelling of the spleen.”
Culpepper, Nicolas. http://www.bibliomania.com/2/1/66/113/frameset.html
Gladstar, Rosemary. Herbal Healing for Women.
Hoffmann, David. The New Holistic Herbal.
Trickey, Ruth. Women, Hormones and the Menstrual Cycle.
Weed, Susun. Breast Cancer? Breast Health!
Wood, Matthew. The Earthwise Herbal (Old World)
August 4th, 2009 § § permalink
It has been an interesting summer. Things are behind; the linden trees just bloomed two weeks ago–usually they peak in mid-June. In May I started marigolds, spilanthes, hearts-ease and bacial scullcap to give as favors for Rob and I’s big party last weekend, but they weren’t even close to flowering. It has been so cool, too, mid 60’s as average. Actually it is pretty nice; I haven’t even brought up the fan from the basement, let alone turn it on!
Currently, berries of all sort are ripe and ready for the picking. Raspberries, wild and cultivated, strawberries, blueberries, June berries, thimble berries are just screaming to be picked. Echinacea, Queen Anne’s lace, teasel with it’s wild band of lavender blooms, valerian spread wide and far, and roses lingering on are just a few of the plants in bloom.
Time seem to be standing still. I often don’t know what day or time it is, and I know I am not the only one. I get lost in the moment, and find myself enchanted over nothing, sitting, watching and listening. Strangely, I have no desire to harvest herbs except for roses, I am content to gaze upon them. I can’t figure it out.
I think it is partially because I left my job working with youth in May to be self-employed as a gardener for the summer, and partially because I know this is my last summer in Duluth, and I want to savor every moment.
Although I don’t know exactly when or how, Rob and I are moving to Portland sometime in the next year. I have been accepted to a Chinese medicine and acupuncture school called OCOM (Oregon College of Oriental Medicine) and have differed enrollment until next year. As much as I’d love to start this fall, I need some time to cinch up loose ends. I am excited to begin this formal education, learn new modalities, the energetics of Chinese medicine and the details of acupuncture. But mostly, I am craving a community, peers, teachers, regular study and a supportive learning environment.
I am savoring this summer, making visits and paying my respects and biding farewell to the plants, parks, neighborhoods and trails who seem like old friends.
May 19th, 2009 § § permalink
Next month I am going to Portland. Yea! To accommodate the trip, the herbal study group and herb walk will be moved to Monday, June 22nd.
Also, the time for the woman’s health circle will be moved back from 2 pm to 5 pm. Same place and dates, just different times. This Sunday (the 24th) the topic is Hormones. Come add your expertise and input! Check out the page for more details.
January 3rd, 2009 § § permalink
Every herbalist has a few standby cold and flu remedies stocked up for the winter. I have accumulated the following herbs based on my own needs and those closest to me. Your own list will vary based on your individual needs; for instance, milder onion plasters may replace mustard for chest pain and congestion, osha or horehound may replace wild cherry for the types of cough you may have, or slippery elm and licorice may be more soothing to your sore throat than astringent sage. I generally do not have sinus infections, so my list is lacking sinus openers like horseradish and eyebright. Luckily, part of the beauty of herbalism is that plant medicines are not set into strict categories. Rather there are opportunities for overlap; I could employ the essential oil already on my list, eucalyptus, for sinus congestion as a steam, if need be.
1. The homeopathic remedy Oscillococcinum is one I always have on hand. Use it for chills, sweats, achey bones, headache, and other flu symptoms. What more can I say? This is one of the few “products” that I personally recommend. Take it as soon as you can, like within hours, to increase your chances of warding off the flu.
2. Echinacea phytocaps. This is the second “product” I have to have around. Typically, I order these from Gaia herbs, because I have visited their North Carolina farms and facilities twice and became familiar with their line while working in an herb shop. This does to colds what Oscillococcinum does for the flu; potentially stops it in its tracks. Suck on a capsule and let the echinacea drip down the back of your throat slowly, repeat every two hours for the first day. The reason I prefer this to my homemade echinacea tincture is it seems to be more effective for sore throats, which are a major problem for me. When I have a cold without a sore throat, I use the tincture instead, saving the caps for when they are truly needed.
3. For swollen throat and glands, itchy, and congested ears, mullein flowers and garlic ear oil is a year-round favorite, but gets extra use in the winter time. You can tailor an ear oil for your own needs; I add a bit of St. John’s wort oil for nerve pain. Warm up the bottle in a cup of hot water for a minuet before adding a drop to each ear, twice daily if needed. For some people, uncomfortably cracking and itching ears are the first sign of a cold; using ear oil at the onset of a cold may ease symptoms or ward off the cold completely (as I have experienced a few times).
4. I always have a bag of mustard seeds in my cupboard, ready to be freshly ground in the coffee grinder, mixed with lukewarm (not hot) tap water and spread on the chest as a mustard plaster. Do not apply directly on the skin, instead lay a thin cotton cloth down first (flour sack towels work great) before spreading on the mustard plaster on the upper chest while laying down. After about 20 minuets, peel off the cloth with plaster intact, and place it on top of an old towel before laying down on it, this time with the plaster treating your upper back.
The mustard plaster is very useful for extreme chest pain and infection. It warms to break up congestion and relieves pain. “Warms” may be an understatement; it becomes down-right hot! As soon as you feel chest pain accompanying a respiratory infection, as if your chest is cut and bruised and feels painful to touch and breath, head for the mustard plaster. Use once or twice a day as needed until the pain recedes, all the while taking your choice of lung herbs and eating simple, nourishing and warm foods and soups. As mentioned above, you may get the same relief from an onion poultice, so try that first if you have any doubt about the powerfully stimulating properties of mustard, or for children.
5. Fresh garlic are always handy. To receive full effects for the immune system, consume 1-3 raw garlic cloves a day. Make a garlic “sandwich” with thin slices of fresh garlic between apple slices to help it go down the trap.
6. Some medicines you just crave; shiitake mushrooms is one of them for me. The last time I felt a cold knocking at my door, I drank a quart of shiitake and ginger tea a day for three days. I use dried shiitakes for tea. They are easy to prepare and store. Once in a while I will splurge at the grocery store for some fresh shiitakes, which I enjoy simply stir-fried with olive oil and crushed garlic.
7. There are dozens of dozens of essential oils that stimulate and support the immune system. It is utterly amazing! I choose to keep Eucalyptus (spp. globulus) because I have had great success using it for post nasal drip, as a chest rub, and for blocked sinuses. Plus, it is one of the most easily accessible and relatively affordable essential oils. Not all eucalyptus essential oil is crated equal; my favorites are from the Minnesota company Plant Spirit and David Crow’s Floracopeia.
December 7th, 2008 § § permalink
When the first case of influenza was reported in Wisconsin, it made the news. This was over three weeks ago and I don’t remember the details, except that the recipient was an 11 year-old boy. Isn’t it odd that something so common can evoke such dread? Practically everywhere you go, people are talking about it. And if you go the a pharmacy or clinic, people are royally freaking out about it: Cold and Flu Season.
I have had my fair share of colds and flus. In fact, you could say more than my fair share. During the 9 months that I was employed as a preschool teacher, I contracted four flus with vomiting and five run-of-the-mill colds (not to mention a never-ending case of pink eye). It was quite the learning-and may I even say spiritual-experience. Every ounce of my body, mind, emotions and spirit was taxed and worn down. Luckily, a friend had the sense to chime in to my incessant “why must I endure being sick all the time” with, “can you imagine having a really bad disease and feeling worse than this everyday for the rest of your life?”. Perspective is amazing.
There are many body systems to pay attention to; the immune system of course, the upper respiratory system (nose, ears, throat, sinuses) and the lower respiratory system (the alveoli, respiratory bronchioles). As our body systems are interdependent, we must also look at the other organs of elimination in addition the the lungs (which eliminate carbon dioxide from the blood in exchange for oxygen from the air we breathe), the skin, kidneys, and the bowels. Get to know the following action categories:
- expectorants (both stimulating and relaxing) to bring up phlegm from the lungs,
- pulmonary tonics to strengthen the system
- demulcents to sooth irritated tissues
- anticatarrhals to lessen mucus
- antimicrobial herbs to ward off invading pathogens
- immune stimulants to support the body’s ability to stay healthy
- antispasmodics to reduce spastic coughing
- astringents to tone and dry up soggy tissues
- diaphoretics to support the body during fever
- lymphatics to ease swollen lymph nodes
Let us not forget the dietary and lifestyle practices. In particular, it is very important to limit or avoid mucus-causing refined starches (white flour), sugar (which also lowers immunity), and dairy products. While working at an herb shop in my home town, I saw people with chronic sinus congestion/infections stop eating dairy prior to getting well. Once the owner said something like, “that damn ice cream!” after visiting someone who’s sinusitis would not give up. Personally, I know that sweet stuff is a trigger for a sore throat and cold for me. A whole foods diet with lots of vegetables, nuts, legumes, and grains rich in B vitamins, vitamin C, A and E, magnesium, zinc, selenium and quercetin are extremely important to prevent illnesses, fight them off, and recover from them in a timely manner. Warm, brothy soups and hot herbal teas are more than just comforting, the steam and warmth help to reduce pain and break up mucus congestion. Add a little scallion, horseradish, daikon and ginger to really open up the nose.
Exercise, stress reduction, sleep and deep breathing are also very important to staying healthy. Practically any form of exercise will do; it strengthens the muscles, bones, heart and lungs, and propels lymphatic fluid throughout the body. It also lifts the spirits, too. I just read that a daily walk outside is as effective as SSRI anti-depressants. The lymph system has vessels through which it circulates through the tissues like blood vessels, but unlike blood vessels, it does not have a pump like the heart. For lymph to properly circulate, it uses the tension created from the body in movement. Taking a few deep breaths can help keep the lungs healthy, and has been proven to lessen the chance of contracting pneumonia in the elderly.
A big contributer to susceptibility to respiratory infections that people (amazingly) often overlook when cold and flu season arrives is smoking. I personally find it an exercise in patience and detachment to not want to wring the neck of a smoker who doesn’t seem to know why they cough like crazy all day long, hack up nasty phlegm, get sick every winter or has chronic bronchitis. “Smokers are still more likely to die from chronic bronchitis than from lung cancer, and giving up smoking is the first and most important preventative measure” (Hoffmann, 329). Let us listen to our lungs! They are the living tree of our body.
More to come about cold and flu remedies.
November 9th, 2008 § § permalink
October 29th, 2008 § § permalink
Plantain has done it again! This plant never ceases to amaze me in its ability to suck out splinters, dirt, bug venom and bee stingers. A few days ago, I got a nasty sliver in my index finger. It was deep under the skin, and in there so good I couldn’t see how it broke the skin. I tried the usual at-home surgical tools (sterilized nail clipper, pin, and tweezers), and after removing layer after painful layer of flesh, I realized it wasn’t going anywhere. I bandaged it up and went to bed. The next morning, I found a few succulent looking leaves in the yard, chewed them up and placed it on the sliver-laden finger. I used a fresh bandage to keep it in place for the afternoon. Three hours later, I took off the plantain band-aid to investigate; not only was the sliver gone, but the formally raw and bothered flesh was healing together quite nicely.
Plantain (Plantago major) can quickly pique the interest of a non-herb person when they see how easy it is to use the leaves and how effective they are (I think yarrow has this effect on herb novices, too). Just pick a leaf or two, chew, apply, wait and be amazed. Matthew Wood has a chapter about plantain in The Herbal Book of Wisdom, giving accounts of plantain as “the primary ‘herbal drawing agent'” throughout herbal history from the Greeks to the eclectics and phyisomedicalists, to Anishinabe herbalists. It is interesting to note that plantain was integrated into Native American herbalism after it was brought here by the colonists. It is often called “white man’s footprint”.
Count on plantain to draw out infectious material both topically and internally from the mouth, lungs and large intestine. “It is an excellent general tonic for the gums, pulling out infection and toning the tissues”, especially when there are infections here with mucus (392). For the lungs, it is cooling and moistening to irritated tissue. Wood says he uses it for coughs where it seems a like some particle is causing irritation (393). David Hoffmann says plantain “…acts as a gentle expectorant whilst soothing inflamed and sore membranes, making it ideal for coughs and mild bronchitis”(224 ). For internal use, it is best to prepare an infusion of dried leaves, drinking about 3 cups daily.
For the large intestine, the mucilaginous leaves of this cool temperature plant soothes and coats membranes. Plantain “stimulates the activity of the intestines, coats and soothes the walls, detoxifies the blood supply and assists elimination” (Wood, 394). Speaking of detoxifying the blood, Rosemary Gladstar states that she uses it both topically and internally for blood poisoning (106). The well-known fiber supplement psyllium is made from the ground seed husks of a species of plantain, which is employed as a soothing laxative.
Wood, Matthew. The Book of Herbal Wisdom.
Hoffmann, David. The New Holistic Herbal.
Gladstar, Rosemary. Family Herbal.
April 30th, 2008 § § permalink
Here is the long time in coming follow-up to a post I did a while back about Kidney Yang tonics. I realized in I need to resolve the ‘wintery’ topics and start thinking about ‘spring’ topics. From browsing some of my favorite herb blogs, I have fully realized how behind Northern Minnesota is, seasonally speaking. We are late bloomers! The grass just started to turn green last week, along with tiny dandelion whorls and a few budding trees. Luckily, I was able to harvest some Cottonwood buds last week after a storm broke a good sized branch to the ground. Umm, those resinous buds pack a powerfully good scent!
Ok, back to Yin… Yin, like Yang, is stored in the Kidneys. Yin is the watery foundation for the entire body; it moistens, nourishes and lubricates all the organs and tissues in the body. Yin and Yang may originate from the Kidneys, but of course are found all over the body and organ systems. We can talk about Yin in a general sense, or we can specify Stomach Yin or Deficient Liver Yin for example.
Yin concerns the fluids of the body: blood, lymph, muscles and connective tissues, reproductive and urinary fluids, and the fluids that lubricate the mucus membranes, skin and joints. It is normal for some Yin to diminish as we age. Basically, aging is when the Yin dries up; it is responsible for greying of the hair, lower libido, and dry, wrinkled skin. Vegetable foods and passive exercises like yoga preserve the Yin essence because they build rather than diminish our energy reserves. Herbs that nourish Yin build compassion, tolerance, patience. In my mind I have two ways of remembering Yin: I think of cigarettes as being the antithesis of Yin, and of amniotic fluid as being incredibly Yin.
When Yin is deficient, not only is the cooling, moistening qualities of Yin lacking, but Yang may overcompensate and become excessive with its warming and circulating energy. Remember that Yang is like the “pilot light for our energy system”, so if this energy is unchecked by Yin, what should be a little “pilot light” may turn into an inflammatory condition, and out energy system my go into autoimmune overdrive.
What do you think the symptoms of Stomach Yin deficiency would be? You guessed it: lack of stomach fluids. There may be other symptoms that overlap with Spleen Yin deficiency, like bloating and hunger with no desire to eat. Lung Yin deficiency manifests as a dry throat and cough without mucus, a great example of a lack of nourishing fluids.
Michael Tierra says that Kidney Yin tonics nourish the parasympathetic nervous system. Yin tonics support the cooling aspect of the adrenals. Kidney Yin Deficiency tends towards the following symptoms: Dry mouth at night, night sweats, dry throat with thirst, dizziness, tinnitus lack of libido and impotence, heat in palms, soles and chest, aches in the bones, constipation, dark, scanty urination, tendency towards being thin, dry and shriveled, malar flush, red tongue with no coat and a weak, tight and deep (thready) pulse.
Rehmannia is great for night sweats, thirst, back pains of kidney deficiency and to promote the healing of bones and flesh. We mention “wasting” or “wasting diseases”, tuberculosis is a good example, but any disease that effects you for a long time and steals your energy could be considered wasting, like scarlet fever or pneumonia. Rehmannia is enriches the blood, which makes it very replenishing and regulating to the menses. Add a bit of cinnamon or cardamon to make it more suitable for cold types, or use the prepared (rather than fresh or dried) version.
Lycii is sweet and nourishing. It is both a yin and blood tonic, which makes it handy in reproductive dryness. It is well known for strengthening and maintaining vision. Again used for yin deficiency (good for low back pain, weak knees and legs, impotence, tinnitus, poor eye sight) and wasting diseases, since it replenishes Chi. This delicious sweet and almost salty dried fruit is one of my favorite snacks.
Chrysanthemum, ligustrum, saw palmetto are other great nourishing herbs.