Abandoned houses can be found everywhere. Bad for the economy, yes; but very good for herbalists! Read More
Color can tell us a lot. In just a minuet or two of observation, some subtleties about a plant can come forward. Read More
I have been preoccupied with school. It is my constant companion, my ball-and-chain, my ultimate teacher, my inspiration, the first thing I think about when I wake and the last thing on my mind at night. Read More
After much time and toil, I finally concocted the my ideal body scrub. Read More
After a bout of tossing and turning, I got out of bed and wandered to my book shelf. Matthew Wood’s Healing Wise – New World Plants edition called to me, so I picked it up and randomly opened it to the entry on blue cohosh, Caulophyllum thalictroides. As I read, I realized that I needed to learn much more about this Eastern US woodland herb in the Berberidaceae than I thought. Read More
All I have left from my calendula harvest this year is caterpillar poop. And some golden calendula flower oil, probably with a caterpillar or two in it. For all the flowers I picked, all the times I tried to meticulously remove caterpillars, and all the ways I tried to harvest and dry them, not a one remains. Read More
This is a post I shared a few months ago at my friend’s Suzie’s inspiring blog, Key & Bones. I want to share it because I am reaping the benefits of this extremely simple little remedy. Last week my ear started to feel a little funky/gunky, swollen, itchy. Each day it got a little worse until my left ear was entirely clogged for two days. Garlic oil, just a drop or two in the ear canal, every other day, relieved the irritation and opened it right up.
In the past I have made more of an ‘ear formula’, with another fabulous standby, mullein flowers. Now that I live in a city, my mullein flower harvesting has diminished. There are still plenty of mullein around, but not in my back yard garden like it was before (so spoiled I was, sigh…). Willow bark, cayenne, eyebright, St. John’s wort and calendula are some other options (among many) to add to your herbal ear oil.
I do have to say, however, that just plain good old garlic does the job quite nicely.
Garlic has been hailed as a super-food for millennia, and rightfully so. Every year it seems that the powers of garlic expand as the scientific community catches on to folk uses of of garlic. Recently, there has been investigation around garlic and weight loss, but it has long been know for other benefits. It is widely accepted as having anticancer, high blood pressure and high cholesterol reducing, antibacterial, antiviral, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, and immune-stimulating effects, in addition to being a nutrient-dense food.
One common folk use of garlic is an oil used topically and in the ear for infections. A 1995 University of New Mexico study looked at garlic oil’s effect:
“Aqueous garlic extract (AGE) and concentrated garlic oil (CGO) along with various commercial garlic supplements and pharmaceutical prescriptions were used in an in-vitro study. AGE and especially CGO were found to have antifungal activity. These agents showed similar or better inhibitory effects than the pharmaceutical preparations…” [emphasis added].
Garlic oil for medicinal purposes is easy to make and easy to use. It is essentially just like making culinary garlic oil, except that extra care is taken to strain all the garlic particulate out of the garlic before bottling. It smells delicious (in that garlic-y sort of way), and of course can be used for cooking, salad dressing and bread-dipping. Just store it away from the stove, so it doesn’t get the chance to raise its temperature. If you are making a large batch, use a wide-mouthed jar and store it in the fridge. Olive oil, being an unsaturated plant fat, will solidify in the fridge, so you’ll have to scoop it with a spoon and melt it before using in the ears.
Garlic Oil Recipe and Dosage:
- Peel a few heads of garlic, trim the bottoms, rinse and air dry (or pat with a clean towel).
- Lightly crush, chop well and let it chill out on your cutting board for a few minuets before adding it to the jar. Crushing the garlic opens the cells and allows health-benefiting alliinase enzymes (one of the multiple compounds in garlic) to become active. I don’t recommend using a garlic crusher, though, because it opens the cells too much, expressing a lot of the garlic’s water quickly. Introducing extra water to the oil to increase the likelihood of bacteria and mold growth, as well as promote oxidation and rancidity.
- Add to a small jar, cover with extra virgin olive oil until a half inch of oil is over the top of the garlic.
- Cover with a tight-fitting lid and let sit in a sunny window for 4-6 weeks, shaking every now and again (once a week or every-other day is good).
- Occasionally, open the jar to check for extra moisture beads condensing along the lid. If there is moisture, simply wipe it off with a clean towel.
- After steeping, strain the oil into a clean, dry bottle. This is the time to add other medicinal ingredients, if desired.
- Label and date, store in a cool, dry place. Use within 18 months.
- Use one drop for kids over 2 in each ear, and three to five drops for adults.
- Drop the oil in, one drop at a time, while side laying. Drape a towel under your head, and adjust your head position so that the ear canal feels vertical. Play around with moving your head around to distribute the oil, lingering at any sweet spots, or tug on the ear and massage the area. Kids and dogs love that part.
- Sit for a few minuets, maybe more if it feels good and you have the time. When you sit up, wipe the outside of your ear off with a clean towel. Yes, your ears will kind of smell like garlic. It should dissipate after an hour.
- Administer twice daily for acute infections, once daily or every other day for a week for lingering problems (recovering from a cold, itchy ears, ect.) or once a week for maintenance (this is the best dosage for prevention).
- Warm the bottle in a cup of hot (almost boiled) water for a minute or two before dropping in the ear, making sure to test the temperature before using. Warmth thins the oil, so it can penetrate the ear canal, and provides comforting relief for infections. A warm oil makes all the difference. If you are in a pinch, wave the dropper over a candle flame, being mindful not to spill the oil from the dropper as it thins. I loosely fix the label on the bottle so I can take it off when it is warming.
Now that you have your lovely garlic oil, what can you do with it? If you are like I was when I first heard of garlic oil, you will be asking, why would I want to put it in my ears? It just so happens that oil is very soluble in the ears because its normal environment is oily (well, waxy, but close).
Uses for garlic oil:
- Ear infections.
- To prevent swimmer’s ear, use a drop or two in each ear a few hours before swimming. Dry the ears extra well before swimming. Once swimmer’s ear has set in, it is best to avoid garlic oil.
- Fighting a cold. The ears are closely connected with the nose and the throat, areas that first come into contact with microbes causing the common cold or influenza. A little garlic oil in the ears at the first feelings of a scratchy throat, drippy nose, itchy ears can sometimes kick the cold out before it sets in.
- Excessive wax build-up, or gummy or closed ears. Use one drop daily in each ear.
- Eat on food for the medicinal effects mentioned above, a teaspoon or more per day.
Lett Appl Microbiol. 1995 Jan;20(1):14-8. Antifungal effects of Allium sativum (garlic) extract against the Aspergillus species involved in otomycosis. Pai, ST, Platt, MW. Department of Microbiology, University of New Mexico, School of Medicine, Albuquerque 87131
I don’t have any numbers, statistics, or reports, but I’d bet that chamomile is one of the most well-known herbs we use. It is sold in the most typical of grocery stores, served at restaurants and referenced in the media and literature. I remember reading about it as a child in Beatrix Potter stories.
How many people without an herbal background would recognize bupleurum, eleuthero, hyssop or damiana if they heard them? Not many. How many would recognize ‘chamomile’? Many more, even though they may not know how to pronounce it (cha-mole-y, anyone?).
Despite being commonly known, Chamomile is not just a benign little flower that tastes sweet in your cup, it packs a powerful medicinal punch. Chamomile should not be thought of in terms of what specific diseases it can be used for, because there are too many uses to list, nor is is helpful to only think of what herbs can ‘do’. After reading though my favorite herb books, I summarize the actions of chamomile as being:
- Relaxing nervine for states of tension
- Aromatic and bitter for regulating digestion
- Anti-inflammatory and anti-allergy
- Safe, tasty and suitable for everyone, including babies, children, pregnant women and the elderly
- Matthew Wood says that “The fresh preparations preserve the oils, so they are more relaxing, the dried preparations are bitter and promote secretions to the stomach, G.I. and liver.”
Here are some of the chemical constituents present in chamomile and their generalized actions (mostly from Wood, but also from Simon Mills, David Hoffmann and Chanchal Cabrerra)
- Flavanoids – cooling and relaxing
- Bitter sesquiterpene lactones – stimulate digestive juices
- Volatile oils – antipyretic, anti-spasmodic, can reduce histamine-induced inflammation
- Mucilage – soothing, nutritious and immuno-stimulating
- Amino acids, fatty acids and many more
Cabrerra describes volatile oils as being helpful in allergic situations. These volatile oils reduces histamine-induced reactions mostly because Mills says they inhibit contractions provoked by histamine, acetylcholine, and bradykinin. Some, if not most, volatile oils have a counter-irritant effect on the body and cause local vasodilation, bringing fresh oxygenated blood to the area, and thus stimulating a healthy healing response. This explanation of inflammation makes me view anti-inflammatory herbs are actually pro-inflammatory. Inflammation is our body’s healing response. If we value inflammation as a positive, helpful and intelligent response from the body, then we would want a pro-inflammation response.
Chamomile isn’t my go-to herb for cold and flu, but after reading more about it, I will remember to add it in to steams, baths and teas the next time I catch a cold. Who doesn’t need a relaxing, tension reducing, and GI soothing and regulating herb when your sick in bed? Not to mention that it is used for people who are acting like babies, which I, for one, admit to feeling when I am sick. The gastrointestinal tract starts with the teeth well before it reaches stomach and intestines. Chamomile has been used in Europe for centuries for treating child complaints including teething, pain, whining and fussiness. One of the main indications for homeopathic chamomile is teething.
“Chamomile can be used for all sorts of tension, it can be used for menstrual cramps or people with a low tolerance for pain”, including “‘babies of any age’, petulant, self-centered, intolerant of pain or not having their way, inclined to pick quarrels, yet adverse to being touched, soothed or spoken to”.
I wish I would’ve had some chamomile candy to disperse when I was working with kids, because I have seen its effectiveness against babyish behavior. I have taken it for cramps, and although it didn’t decrease their severity, I did notice that the mental loop of negative, complaining thoughts ceased.
Aromatherapists Kathy Kevill and Mindy Green describe chamomile as an antidepressant, especially in individuals who are oversensitive, stressed out, anxious, hysterical, insomniacs or suppress anger. I think chamomile is indicated for people with a history of eating disorders, especially when digestive issues or sensitivity linger years after recovery.
Chamomile is a yellow, sunny, light herb with a depth to it. Flowers tend to ascend and disperse, but the bitterness weighs it down. It is a flower that has an affinity to the solar plexus, the middle jiao, and it is both dispersing to food stagnation and promotes coordinated movement of the digestive system due to its aromatic nature. It has been shown to speed up the healing of peptic ulcers, (Mills). The carminative properties of chamomile, with its volatile oils, helps relax the gut; at the same time, it has bitter properties that promote healthy bile flow, so that the system is not only relaxed, but keeps moving as it should (Mills).
My purely opinionated guess it that from a Chinese medical perspective, it enters the Spleen, Stomach and Liver meridians, possibly the Intestines or Lung. The Spleen and Stomach are the Earth organs, and are associated with our solar plexus, transformation and transportation of food, worry/over-thinking and with the flesh and muscles of the body – quite in alignment with the calming, relaxing and digestive properties of this herb, no? I think the Liver is involved because the Liver’s job is to circulate Qi freely around the body. When this isn’t happening efficiently, as can easily be caused by emotional upsets (especially pent-up anger or frustration), one can very easily feel stuck, tense and irritated, but luckily chamomile can release states of tension. A close cousin to chamomile and another white/yellow flower, chrysanthemum, helps calm the Liver, too.
If you remember from my previous entry about chamomile, I mentioned that Matricaria D genus name for German chamomile came from the word matrix referring to mother. Considering this, it is no surprise that chamomile is a gentle remedy for problems of the female reproductive system. I suppose it can be used in all sorts of situations, but I like to use it the best for morning sickness and nausea during pregnancy, tension during menstruation, menstrual cramps, and problems in appetite or digestion related to nervousness, your debility, or premenstrual tension. Aviva Rome, a midwife and an herbalist, also uses chamomile to relieve heartburn.
To get the most out of a simple cup of chamomile tea, steep it strong. 1 heaping tablespoon of herb for every one cup boiled water. Cover the vessel while it steeps and wait 10 to 20 min. before straining. If you wait longer, for the chamomile too cool from hot to room temperature, the bitter principals will strongly present themselves in your cup of tea; sweet gentle chamomile no more! I have heard of people steeping one handful dried herb to 2 cups water, steeped covered for an hour or home.
Cabrera, Chanchal. Lecture notes, Medicines from the Earth. 2006.
Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbalism.
Keville, Kathy and Mindy Green. Aromatherapy: A Complete Guide to the Healing Art.
Mills, Simon. The Essential Book of Herbal Medicine.
Romm, Aviva. The Natural Pregnancy Book.
Wood. Matthew. Earthwise Herbal: Old World Plants.
This year, I am growing chamomile in my garden for the first time. The growing season on the West coast is longer, with more rain and milder springs and falls, so I have tried growing things I never grew in Minnesota. Actually, I tried growing chamomile in MN from a transplant, but it never took off. This is an into to this lovely herb; next week I’ll post some medicinal uses and properties.
Botanical info: Matricaria recutita is German chamomiles botanical name, an annual in the Asteraceae or aster/composite family. ‘Chamomile’ means something like “earth/ground melon/fruit/apple”, which I am guessing refers to its aromatic, apply-fruity smell and its height (about a foot or so). Anthemis nobilis or Roman chamomile is grown and used as well, sometimes interchangeably. Chamomile is an native to Europe and Eastern Asia, but it was introduced to North America and grows in temperate areas as long as it is a mostly sunny locale with decently draining soils. The flowers are small, with yellow centers surrounded by white petals. It seems that not all flowers on chamomile have petals or they fall off at some point, some are just disc flowers.
I thought that Matricaria alluded to the mat forming tendency of chamomile, but an University website says that Matricaria is from the Latin word matrix, meaning “womb”, indicating its use for women’s health, recutita meaning cut around (although I have no idea to what that is referring to).
Growth: The first thing I noticed about the chamomile was its vigorous growth. It was the first seed to sprout by almost a week; it quickly grew to about 24″, budded, flowered in a matter of weeks. It bloomed and bloomed some more after a number of harvesting. Another noticeable thing is the light but sweet aroma radiating from the patch when a breeze came through.
Harvesting: Collecting your chamomile is laborious, no doubt. There has to be another a better method than snipping every individual flower. How do big herb farms do it?! I tried giving the crop a hair cut and catching the trimmings, but that requires cleaning the herb later. The stems are thin and soft enough that I could pinch the flower heads off, but placing each individual flower in the basket got old. I ended up leaning the herb over the basket, which collected the flowers after snipping them with a scissors.
As the chamomile dries, the sunny yellow color darkens and the smell sweetens and intensifies. It is important to note that the yellow color concentrates, but the white of the petals is still present. This contrast of colors is NOT seen in chamomile that I buy by the pound, which is mostly yellowish-brown. Weeks after the first harvests, the smell of chamomile is actually getting stronger in my study/herb room. It is almost intoxicating – interfering my studying by making me sleepy, perhaps?
Chamomile has long been a favorite herb of mine for both medicine and beverage, for body and mind. It was probably the first herbal medicine I ever experienced, as my mom would make me herbal tea when I was sick with a cold. In truth, I didn’t like chamomile tea (or any tea for that matter) back then, and now I know why: it was stale. We lived in a basement apartment, and had a mold infestation. Anything that could absorb excess humidity did, herbal tea bags were a prime target. Still, there is something nice about getting tea made for you when you are in bed with a cold or sore throat, especially when that tea contains a liberal dose of honey.
Who doesn’t love nervines? You know, that relaxing category of herbs, so effective at soothing the mind, emotions and body. Some herbs like lavender and chamomile invoke tranquility through their pleasing scents and flavor. Others like valerian, blue vervain or wood betony may not taste as good, but work well on releasing headaches or pent-up tension in the musculo-skeletal arena; or they may do the trick on liberating worrying thoughts and emotions from those worn to a frazzle, like skullcap, ashwaganda or holy basil.
As much as I love them, nervines are not the end-all-be-all for perfect health, but they can be a good place to start when you don’t know what else to do, or are too stressed to focus on figuring out what you need to do, but you know you have to do SOMEthing. Yes, that is where they come in for me more often than not (hello, chamomile!).
Botanicals are multi-dimensional; a nervine can be a digestive tonic, circulatory tonic, glactagouge, cardio tonic and more. Some are warming, cooling, drying, moistening, sweet, bitter, acrid – basically there’s one out there for everyone’s constitution and needs.
Here are a few quick notes about some of these wonderful nervines. As you can see, they all share the common thread of restoring proper tone (functional, healthy resting baseline) to a body system. Many times, the restoration needed leans in the direction of relaxing a tense state, but sometimes flaccid, lax, boggy or atonic tissue state needs some sort of increase of tone. See the sources below for more detailed information.
Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) – Soothing diffusive, relaxing, stimulating nervine. Used with nervous irritation, atonic conditions, mental confusion. Use when both relaxing and stimulating effects are needed. Direct action on the smooth muscles, wonderfully anti-spasmodic.
Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) – Stimulating and relaxing. Anxiety, restlessness, fear, hysteria. Bisobolol and chamaezulene are volatile oils that are spasmolytic to smooth muscles and nervous tissue. The bitterness is tonifying and stimulating. Nervous irritability and persistent low grade anxiety.
Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis) – Anti—spasmodic, stimulating and cleansing in the nervous system. Aids relaxation, alertness, clarity from volatile oils. Convulsive disorders, as it regulates, balances, normalizes brain activity.
Melissa (Melissa officinalis) – Tonic and restorative for nervous function. A nerve remedy with a carminitive element. Depression, lethargy, insomnia, agitation, anxiety, headaches, hysteria, ADHD, nervous stomach. Inhalation of volatile oil very effective, sedative properties marked and rapid. Tincture more of a tonic and stimulating (with some bitters and resins). Paracelsus: “the elixir of life”. Culpepper: “…causeth the mind and the heart to become merry…and driveth away all troublesome cares and thoughts out of the mind arising from melancholy”.
Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) – Tonic nervine. Both sedative volatile oils and stimulating bitters, thus balancing. Depression, insomnia, hysteria. Mental exhaustion, hallucinations or delusions. The oil steadies the emotions, balances introverted and extroverted.
Milky Oats (Avena sativa) – Food for the nerves! Promotes myelin sheath integrity and growth. Wonderful for restoring the nerves. Amphoteric to the nervous system, as it is a stimulant (strengthening) and sedative. Nutritious. Epilepsy, nervous depression. Use to calm the mind without drowsiness.
Hops (Humulus lupus) – Hypnotic, permitting a deep sense of relaxation and tranquility, trophorestoritive to cerebrospinal fluid. Nervous digestive upsets, very bitter, strong anti-spasmodic effect on smooth muscle, presumably by mediating the nervous supply to the gut.
Scullcap – (Scutellaria laterifolia) – Calming and relaxing to the nervous system. Excellent nerve tonic where there is chronic anxiety. Nervous weakness, agitation, insomnia, nightmares, restless sleep, over-excitability, twitching.
California Poppy (Eschscholzia California) – Milder and non-addictive. Anxiety, nervous tension, insomnia, hyperactivity, fear, all sorts of pain. Well suited for children.
Gotu Kola (Centella asiatica) – Energizing effect on the brain. Overcoming stress, fatigue and mental confusion. Mineral rich. Enhances cognitive abilities and increases memory. Calming and adaptogenic, cleanses the blood, promotes healthy connective tissue repair – good for excess scar tissue.
St. Johns Wort (Hypericum perforatum) – Depression, raises the spirit and lifts the mood. Amphoteric, tonic to the brain. reportedly as effective as SSRI’s.
Blue Vervain (Verbena officinalis) – Nervine and stomachic, as it is bitter and stimulates appetite, production of digestive enzymes, HCL and more. Blends well in formulas for women’s health. Epilepsy and convulsions. Very balancing.
Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) – Increases cerebral circulation, anti-oxidant rich. Affinity to blood vessels. Normalizes acetylcholine receptors in the hippocampus – the area most affected by Alzheimer’s.
Wood Betony (Stachys officinalis) – Gentle, stimulating tonic for the brain. Hysteria, persistent unwanted thoughts, nervous debility, anxiety, chronic headaches, lack of energy, poor memory, dizziness, disordered thoughts. Bitter digestive tonic, adjusts the autonomic regulation of the digestive system. Anxiety with digestive upsets.
Ashwaganda (Withania somnifera) – Brain and adrenal tonic. Increases tolerance to emotional, chemical, and other stressors. Anti-depressant effect, libido lifter for exhausted states.
Hoffmann, David. The New Holistic Herbal.
Herbal Therapeutics: Specific Indications
Wood, Matthew. Earth-Wise Herbal: New World Plants, and Old World Plants.
Tierra, Micheal. Planetary Herbology.