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.
January 11th, 2010 § § permalink
Oh, the many ways to make tea!
Cold infusions are steeping plant matter in non-boiled water. The water need not be cold in temperature to make a cold infusion, it can be anywhere from lukewarm from the tap to icy cold spring water.
Directions for making a cold infusion:
- To make 2 cups, put 3 heaping tablespoons of dried herb to a large tea strainer/infuser or muslin pouch.
- Add water to a pint jar, then suspend the herb in the pouch or infuser in the water.
- Let sit overnight. squeeze or press the marc (the herb in the infuser or bag) into the tea to strain.
- Drink and enjoy!
Muslin bag and medium-mesh strainer
Marshmallow root cold-infusing
Why do we make cold infusions, you may wonder. If hot water aids in extracting the medicinal qualities from herbs, then wouldn’t steeping herbs in cold or room temperature water hinder the extraction of important chemical constituents? Not necessarily. Richo Cech explains;
“Some herbs, like marshmallow and blessed thistle, lend their active principles better to cold water than to hot. This is usually due to the presence of mucilage or bitter principles that are denatured, to a certain extent, by boiling water” (68).
Here is a list from James Green of herbs that can be extracted well in a cold infusion (110). You may notice they all have either bitter properties or are mucilaginous:
- Burdock root
- Comfrey root
- Uva Ursi
- Slippery elm
- Blessed thistle (Cech, 68)
There are a few surprises for me on this list. I have never thought to cold infuse cleavers, crampbark or uva ursi, but now that I think of it these are all bitter and cooling. The herbs that I cold infuse the most are marshmallow, chamomile, and comfrey. Before I knew about cold infusing I prepared marshmallow as a regular decoction (it’s a root, so it should be decocted, right?) every time I made it. After hearing that marshmallow should be cold infused, I tried it and noticed a significant difference. The room temperature finished product was much smoother and mucilaginous, making it even more adept to aid the digestive tract or dry throat and respiratory system. I also think it tasted a bit sweeter.
A note about slippery elm while I’m at it: this is an herb that I use mostly as powdered. Mix slippery elm powder into a finished tea to add a moistening and soothing quality. This kind of qualifies as a cold infusion, except you don’t strain the powdered herb out of the finished product, it is mixed in (best mixed by transferring the tea to a jar with a tight-fitting lid and shaking it well). I don’t measure, rather I start with a half teaspoon and work my way up to a tablespoon if I am particularly dry. The longer you leave the slippery elm in your tea, the thicker and more mucilaginous it becomes. When I am going into the hospital with a doula client, I always add an extra-large pinch or two of slippery elm to a quart of marshmallow tea to counteract the extreme dryness of the institutional forced air heating, and I bring a little jar of honey, bee pollen and slippery elm paste to suck on for a dry throat and lungs. Works like a charm every time. Read more about slippery elm and other herbs for dry environments at The Medicine Woman’s Roots.
Cech, Richo. Making Plant Medicine.
Green, James. The Herbal Medicine-Maker’s Handbook.
December 12th, 2007 § § permalink
I’ve always been a fan of bitters; my taste-buds appreciate the wake-up call, my belly the appetite stimulation. I have taken them from time to time, and felt they were effective. Until this morning, I never gave them my undying support much thought…until I read in Simon Mills’ The Essential Book of Herbal Medicine that bitters may not be indicated in cold conditions or people. I am a cold person (just listen to my screaming boyfriend when I crawl into bed at night and lay my icy paws on his back), and here I have been using bitters the whole while! After some investigation, I have found that aromatic digestives (sometimes simply referred to as aromatics) are indicated for cold people and conditions like myself. Aromatics will be discussed in the next post.
Mills (226) states that bitters are indicated for hot conditions, such as liver conditions like jaundice and food/drug toxicity, gall-bladder disease, poor digestion, food intolerances, “chronic inflammatory diseases of the skin, joints, vascular system and bowel, migrainous headaches and fevers”, and blood-sugar regulation.
Bitters work quickly through stimulation of the taste buds that seconds later trigger gastrin secretion, which is why they are effective as in cooling hot conditions (430). Since bitters stimulate bile, and bile your body’s natural laxative, some bitters are gently stimulating laxatives. Here is Mills’ description of the bitter action (321):
“Comprised chemically of the most diverse array of molecular structures, the bitter principles have in common the ability to stimulate the bitter receptors inside the mouth, and thus evoke the taste of bitterness. Unlike other taste effects that of bitter stimulation seems to involve no electrical event on the surface of the cells: the conclusion is that each bitter molecule acts on cell membrane receptors to produce intercellular biochemical change. The immediate result is a rise in the concentration of calcium within the cell: this is likely to initiate the signal to the gustatory nerve.”
For the chemistry geeks out there, a group of terpenoids include most of the bitters. They are iridoids (gentian, dandelion, wild lettuce, valerian), sesquiterpenes (Artemisias, blessed thistle, gingko), diterpene (white horehound, Curcubitacea), and some alkaloids (coffee, goldenseal, quinine) (321-2).
Just a few bitters:
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is a digestive and hepatic (liver) tonic. The leaves are nature’s perfect diuretic as it contains a large amount of potassium and well suited for edema but will not strain the heart, and the root is a mild laxative and detoxifier (434).
Gentian (Gentaina lutea) is an important bitter as it stimulates digestion and has an anti-inflammatory action. It is used “as a foundation for any prescription seeking to use the cooling, drying, and digestive stimulant effects” that may be present in inflammatory conditions (435).
Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) is a bitter with a warm temperament. When I first purchased wormwood and brewed a cup on an chilly Minnesota spring day, I took two extremely bitter sips and felt a welcomed long-lasting warmth spread through my body and last the rest of the day. It is so bitter as well as astringent that its acrid constituents actually raises the temperature. As it name implies, it is useful for purging parasites, but let’s focus on wormwood as a bitter. Used for gastrointestinal infections, inadequate stomach acid, colic, and spasmodic dsymenarrhea, wormwood has been quite effective (438).
Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) is one of the most healing and astringent remedies to the gut wall and other irritated mucosal linings, and is a bitter digestive stimulant and cholagogue (liver stimulant) (440). “Dyspepsia with hepatic symptoms [is seen as] the main indication for using goldenseal”, as it is a strong bitter (441).
Anyone who has tried a tripled-hopped beer can attest to hops’ (Humulus luplus) bitterness…and also to its relaxing qualities. Hops has a relaxing effect on the nervous system similar to chamomile, as well as tension-related indigestion (it’s tannins lend their astringency quite nicely here) and headaches (Hoffmann, New Holistic Herbal 206). Hops can be useful in upper-digestive infections, irritable bowl syndrome, Crohn’s or diverticulitis, nervous coughs, palpitations, nervous dyspepsia or “whenever there are signs of visceral tension in the body” (460), so long as it is indicated. Would one use hops with watery loose, stools? I would say not.
A gentle and sometimes forgotten bitter is cold chamomile (Matricaria recutita) tea. Another visceral relaxant with bitter properties. Chamomile is great for children–indeed some of it’s best uses are for anxiety, teething pain, colic, and sleeplessness. Chamomile beautifully and subtly combines its calming and bitter qualities; it both calms the gut wall (useful for nervous digestion) and stimulates digestion, bile flow and pancreatic action (454-5).
Rue (Ruta graveolens) combines anti-spasmodic and bitter properties like chamomile, but not so sweetly. Don’t get me wrong, rue is a very nice plant, it is just very bitter in the cup. Hoffmann suggests using it for relaxing smooth muscles “especially in the digestive system where it will ease griping and bowl tension” (229). It is known to bring on suppressed menstruation. I have no experience of using is as a woman herb…have any of you used it as such?
That is just the beginning to bitter herbs. Try them where indicated, enjoy the peace in the belly that may follow.
December 7th, 2007 § § permalink
Annual native to southern Europe, growing wild in stony, uncultivated areas with lots of warm sun. Cultivated throughout Europe as a beautiful plant to add texture to gardens as well as for its medicinal uses. Grieve’s historical research led her to say that “it is said to have obtained its name from its high reputation as a heal-all, being supposed even to cure the plague”. The plant was recorded as medicine definitely by the late 1500’s (probably earlier), and even Shakespeare wrote in Much Ado about Nothing, says: “Get you some of this distilled Carduus Benedictus and lay it to your heart; it is the only thing for a qualm…. I mean plain Holy Thistle” (Grieve, A Modern Herbal).
I first met blessed thistle in an English style hedged garden at Perennial Pleasures, in East Hardwick, Vermont (perennialpleasures.net). I was immediately struck by the coexisting softness and sharpness evident in this plant. It’s almost feathery yet sharp, radial flower center are surrounded by the long downy leaves capped in irregular teeth, the whole plant seemed dense but only grew about 2 feet high. The multifaceted texture was complimented in this garden as it was growing amongst globe amaranth, double-headed echinacea, mugwort, nasturtium and holy basil.
Perhaps the best known ways in which blessed thistle is medicinally used is a galactagogue (a group of plants that can increase the flow of breast milk) and a bitter (bitters stimulate the digestive system). As I learn more about this plant I will post some specific info on how it works to promote milk production. Do any of you know?
According to asklenore.info, a combination of blessed thistle and fenugreek taken for increasing milk flow is more effective than taking either of the herbs alone. Lenore also says (which I have heard from nursing mothers) that it takes the herbs increase milk flow by the 3rd or 4th day of taking them.
Fenugreek: 3 capsules 3x a day
Blessed thistle: 3 capsules 3x a day, or 20 drops of the tincture 3x a day
Here is another formula to ensure a healthy milk production. Use as a strong cup of tea of the following 3x a day:
Rosemary Gladstar’s formula
1 part Fenugreek
2 parts Blessed thistle
3 parts Fennel
Remember I mentioned it is also known as a bitter. As you may have guessed, it tastes, well, bitter. The main bitter principle of blessed thistle is a 15-carbon compound called sespuiterpenes, which is also the bitter compound in the Artemisia (wormwood) family and ginkgo. Bitters are an important and interesting group which warrant further entries, so for now I will say that blessed thistle’s bitter properties are useful in increasing appetite (thus helpful for anorexia), and soothing dyspepsia and indigestion, (Mills, Essential Book of Herbal Medicine). Because it is known to “increase the flow of
gastric and bile secretions” blessed thistle can be helpful in any digestive disorder where there is sluggishness, gas, colic, or where a toning effect is needed (diarrhea or hemorrhage) (Hoffmann, A Holistic Herbal).
Matthew Wood has said medicinal plants have about 30 uses, 5 or 6 of those uses are pretty effective, and usually it was 1 use at which it excels. What are some of the other, less common uses for blessed thistle? Grieve says, “In large doses, Blessed Thistle acts as a strong emetic, producing vomiting with little pain and inconvenience” and calls it a “most useful diaphoretic” (a group of plants that promote perspiration) for intermittent fevers. There is also some mention of it used to help circulation and memory (Grieve) (by circulating blood to the brain); perhaps this action is related to its diaphoretic action. In 1652, Culpeper mentions that blessed thistle (then know as Carduus Benedictus) is a herb of Mars (because of the sharpness) in Aries, and used for jaundice, gallbladder problems, clearing the blood among other uses (see www.bibliomania.com/2/1/66/113/frameset.html for Culpeper’s complete herbal).
A note about dried capsules:
As a matter of personal preference and general herbalist’s convention, I almost never take dried herb capsules. A strong medicinal tea or alcoholic extract (tincture) have proved more effective to me time and time again. Once I bought echinacea capsules at Wal-Mart (stupid, I know, but I was new to the herbal thing). The local herbalist told me to open up the capsule and taste the herb on my tongue. I did; it tasted pretty bland. She then gave me a drop of echinacea tincture on my tongue to compare, and the difference was astronomical. The tincture made my whole mouth tingle-as is common with echinacea. The dried capsule had none of that buzzing effect. However, it is entirely up to you as to what method you take herbs in, and there are times when capsules are helpful. Lenore (above) prefers capsules to tea, but perhaps that is because she is not familiar with medicinal strength teas. A medicinal tea is much stronger than beverage teas (the way most people make tea) and purposefully acts to ensure the highest amount of medicinal activity. That may be a topic for a future post (if anyone needs instructions on how to make a medicinal tea please email me dandelionrevolution @gmail.com).