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.
April 18th, 2009 § § permalink
One thing I love about herbalism is that every herbalist has different herbs, practices and tactics that they favor. There is so many varieties and examples to learn from! Some seem to be more into tonics, others use simples (single herbs) in almost homeopathic dosages, but most all have specific remedies for symptoms while reiterating the need to support the body systems over the long term.
No matter how you look at it, suggested herbal formulas from trusted herbalists are a good place to start. They can also be used as guidelines when formulating for the individual. After going over a few examples from a few different herbalists, the beginning herbalist gains knowledge through researching the materia medica and action categories mentioned.
Let’s look at a few formulas to get some ideas, starting with some from Rosemary Gladstar. She reiterates that you should stick to an herbal program at least four months. Here is a “Hormonal Regulator Tea” from Herbal Healing for Woman, p 117. Decoct, and drink 3-4 cups for 3 weeks out of the month. As you can see, it is not simply herbs for the reproductive system. It offers much support for the liver, which has to process all the hormones circulating in the body, and supports the digestive system, inflammation, and enriches the blood.
- 1 part wild yam
- 1 part ginger
- 2 parts dandelion root (raw)
- 2 parts burdock root (raw)
- 2 parts licorice
- 2 parts sassafras
- 1 part yellow dock
- 1/4 vitex
It is also important to include sufficient calcium, as a low amount has been linked to cramping, as blood levels of calcium drop off 10 days before menstruation. Again, there are more than just calcium-rich herbs in here! There are nervines, blood and uterine tonics and emmenagogues. “High Calcium Tea” (p 118):
- 2 parts oatstraw
- 1 part horsetail
- 2 parts comfrey
- 2 parts nettle
- 4 parts peppermint
- 2 parts pennyroyal
- 4 parts raspberry leaf
For acute cramping, she recommends the following “Cramp-T”
- 1 part cramp bark or black haw
- 1 part pennyroyal
- 1 part valerian
- 1/2 part ginger
A tincture of valerian, about 1/2 teaspoon every twenty minuets until the pain decreases. Another handy remedy to have around is pennyroyal essential oil, to rub a few diluted drops on the abdomen during cramping. Please be cautions with pennyroyal essential oil and never take it internally, because it is extremely toxic internally.
Now let’s take a look at David Winston’s recommendations. In my last entry, I asked, “…I don’t know if all anodyne work on the same parts of the body…”. Well, Winston has cleared that up for me. Here is “Aspirea Compound” (32)
- willow bark
- meadowsweet herb
- St. John’s wort
- Jamaica dogwood
- indian pipe
It has anti-inflammatory herbs (willow, meadowsweet, St. John’s wort), Jamaica dogwood which is analgesic and antispasmodic which Winston says is “especially for dysmenorrhea…”, and indian pipe which “…creates a feeling of separation from the pain” (32). I have tried this formula for other types of pain with great success (tooth ache, back spasm), but have yet to use it for cramps. It is very relaxing.
“Full Moon – Woman’s Antispasmodic Compound”
- PA-Free Petasites root
- Black haw
- wild yam
- Jamaica dogwood
- cyperus root
- Roman chamomile flowers
Winston’s notes: for mild to severe dysmenorrhea and some of the accompanying symptoms, take acutely, not daily. Here we see lots of antispasmodics at work.
“J. Kloss Anti-spasmodic Compound” (p4 6)
- black cohosh
- skunk cabbage
This is an example of a classic formula that works well as is, or can be adapted to suit individual needs. I have seen and used a couple variations of this formula (Dr. Christopher has one), one with blue vervain, blue cohosh instead of myrrh and skunk cabbage for treating epilepsy in a dog (2 drops a day for 3 months) and a severe tension headache (1/4 teaspoon every hour), both times it worked great. In the later, I sipped miso soup to quell the nausea that came with the lobelia and vervain.
Here is one more set of examples from David Hoffmann’s Medical Herbalism from page 387 -8.
- black haw
- black cohosh
This is a basic formula that covers the many of the action categories mentioned in the last entry. All are antispasmodic, al are nervine, and black cohosh is uterine tonic. The dosage is 5mL of tincture as needed, so when pain is approaching and in full swing. If a woman has secondary dysmenorrhea caused by pelvic lesions (from endometriosis or pelvic inflammatory disease) the dosage is 5 mL of the following tincture taken three times a day, rather than just symptomatically:
- cramp bark
- wild yam
- black cohosh
Again, all herbs are antispasmodic, cramp bark and black cohosh are nervines with black cohosh being the uterine tonic.
October 15th, 2008 § § permalink
Summer has past its peak, but the flowers are still blooming. Some, like the California poppies, are blooming for a second time. Now is the perfect time to see what is available for homemade flower essences. Making flower essences is surprisingly simple; the brunt of the “work” is done by the plant that has flowered and the sun that distills the essence.
Midmorning on a sunny day, start the process. Sit next to the plants you will be gathering, to offer gratitude and to focus your intent. Fill a small, plain glass bowl with filtered, fresh water. With large leaves acting to cover your palm of one hand and fingertips of the other, pick flower-heads just below the calyx and float them on the surface of the water, covering it completely. James Green suggests to eliminate the human vibration as much as possible; do not touching the water and do not cast a shadow on the mother essence (127). Use a different bowl for each essence.
Let the essence sit for 3-4 hours to absorb the sun’s rays. Lift the blossoms out of the water, again, avoiding to touching the water with your hands. Stems are handy tools to pick them out. Pour this mother essence into a clean jar and label.
From here, you can make a stock bottle. Fill a cleaned 1 ounce bottle with brandy, and add 2 drops (yes, 2!) of the mother essence. Shake, and label. The flower essences you buy in the store come in this form.
Almost there! One more step is necessary to make a dosing bottle, that is, an essence that you will take internally. Add 2 drops from the stock bottle into a clean, 1 ounce (or smaller) bottle. Add up to a total of 5 different essences to make a compounded flower essence. Fill the bottle 2/3 full with spring water, then top the rest off with brandy to keep the essence fresh. Label, shake, and use.
The general dosage of the dosing bottle is 4 drops 4 times a day. Add the drops to a glass of water, or place directly in the mouth.
Most people are familiar with English Bach Flower Remedies, which are widely carried at natural food stores. But remember, flower essences can be made from any, yes, any flower. There are North American wildflower remedies, Australian remedies, flower essences made from endangered woodland plants, and so on. Flower essences are handy for any time you wish to address the emotions and spirit behind the physical ailments. I have found regular use of an essence for a week or more to be most effective, although even a single dose may make a notable difference. When taking flower essences, like herbal remedies, emotional symptoms can change and morph rapidly, so assess and make changes to the remedies as needed.
Many people ask me, “how are the meanings for flower essences derived?” The meanings have not been derived as much as the inherent qualities of the flowers have been observed throughout the years. Feel free to experiment with observing your own meanings of flowers essences; notice which flowers you are drawn to and ask yourself “why”. Prepare and take a flower essence, and mindfully note the emotional reactions that occur after receive a dose. If desired, study the established meanings found in the many quality references that are available. In some ways, I think learning flower essences is a bit like learning the tarot; sometimes you know exactly the meaning, sometimes you make an educated guess, and other times you have no idea. At Sage Mountain we chose our flower essences via pendulum dowsing; many of us picked essences that were perfect for our situations. Below are a few garden flowers essences as described by the Flower Essence Society.
California Poppy Eschscholzia califonica “Positive Qualities: Finding spirituality within one’s heart, balancing light and love, developing an inner sense of knowing. Patterns of imbalance: Seeking outside of oneself for false forms of light or higher consciousness, especially through escapism or addiction.” California Poppy is useful as a remedy for people susceptible to “dazzling phenomena” like psychedelic drugs, charismatic teachers, sensationalized “pure” diets, religious cults, glamour, fame, and other enticing psychic experiences outside of themselves.
Basil Ocimum basilicum “Positive qualities: Integration of sexuality and spirituality into a sacred wholeness. Patterns of imbalance: Polarization of sexuality and spirituality, often leading to clandestine behavior or marital stress.” People in need of basil will feel a polarity between spiritual purity and physical sexuality, often struggling to reconcile. Sexual activity can then be secret, “sinful”, an obsession, extramarital, or perverse, compulsive, and basil helps “the soul no longer feel compelled to separate them into opposing and destructive activities.”
Agrimony Agrimonia eupatoria “Positive qualities: Emotional honesty, acknowledging and working with emotional pain, obtaining true inner peace. Patterns of imbalance: Anxiety hidden by a mask of cheerfulness; denial and avoidance of emotional pain, addictive behavior to anesthetize feelings.” In herbalism, agrimony is a specific when a person holds their breath due to pain, and also hides behind a facade of “everything is okay” when it is quite obvious it is not.
Angel Trumpet Datura candida “Positive qualities: Spiritual surrender at death or times of deep transformation; opening the heart to the spiritual world. Patterns of imbalance: Fear of death, resistance to letting go of life and crossing the spiritual threshold; denial of the spiritual world.”
Yarrow Achillea millefolium “Positive qualities: Inner radiance and strength of aura, compassionate awareness, inclusive sensitivity, beneficent forces. Patterns of imbalance: Extreme vulnerability to others and to the environment; easily depleted, overly absorbent of negative influences, psychic toxicity.”
Tansy Tanacetum vulgare “Positive qualities: Decisive and goal-orientated, deliberate and purposeful in action, self-directed. Patterns of imbalance: Lethargy, procrastination, inability to take straightforward action; habits that undermine or subvert the real intentions of the Self.”
Cosmos Cosmos bipinnatus “Positive qualities: Integration of ideas and speech; ability to express thoughts with coherence and clarity. Patterns of imbalance: Unfocused, disorganized communication; overexcited speech, overwhelmed by too many ideas”.
Peppermint Mentha piperita “Positive qualities: Mindfulness, Wakeful clarity, mental alertness. Patterns of imbalance: Dull or sluggish, especially mental lethargy; unbalanced metabolism which depletes mental forces.”
Green, James. The Herbal Medicine-Makers Handbook.
Kaminski, Patricia and Richard Katz. Flower Essence Repertory.
July 7th, 2008 § § permalink
Practically everyday I find myself using mints for one reason or another. Here are a few of my current favorites.
Skullcap: Scutellaria lateriflora for mental exhaustion
I have been drinking infusions of this cooling bitter nervine, as I usually do after a mercury retrograde when thinking, communication, and information dissemination are often difficult and confusing. Though I have heard that the fresh tincture is best for acute burn-out conditions, I am using the tea is as a brain tonic to promote a clear mind. Skullcap can be a good ally for mental tension, nervous fear and even dread. Ah yes, this plant is very effective for tension of all sorts, even high blood pressure during pregnancy. Guido Mase of Vermont mentioned that skullcap is useful for acute drug withdrawal symptoms (use frequently) as well as breaking addictions in general, especially that of pain-killers and other receptor-site addictions. I hear that skullcap and motherwort are used to treat sunstroke; luckily I haven’t had to try it.
Sage: Salvia officinalis for a sore throat
Currently I am gargling with a strong sage tea right before bed and upon waking to treat a sore, scratchy throat. I like the spicy astringency of sage for sore throats because it seems to promote reduction on the soreness in a stimulating manner, almost as if it is gently scratching my irritated tonsils. During the winter I often opt for the soothing, coating, mucilaginous ways of slippery elm, especially when the sore throat is a cold or flu symptom, whereas currently I have an infection of the tonsils. Sage seems to prompts a healing response and tone up the rawness I see in the back of the throat. Helium.com has a sums up the common uses of sage. Phyllis Light and Matthew Wood mentioned sage for ‘male menopause’ when there are signs of wasting, premature aging, nervousness and shaking when a man passes mid-age, as it converts hormones to be used by the adrenals. They also cite sage for cystitis caused by mucus congestion in the bladder.
Thyme: Thymus vulgaris for a respiratory infection
About a week ago I awoke with an intense pain in my lungs, as if my chest and ribs were beaten to a bloody pulp. To my dismay, I had another respiratory infection. Feeling wiser since my last infection, I promptly took care of myself the best I could. Acupressure, deep breathing, saunas and steams, light soups and steamed veggies, gentle movement to circulate lymph, mustard plasters (you know it’s bad when you skip the onion plaster and go straight to mustard) followed with chest massage with essential oils, echinacea, goldenseal and osha tinctures, and lots and lots of thyme tea.
Spicy and warm thyme is an expectorant, antiseptic, and anti-infective, which makes it so useful in protecting the lungs from a worsening infection. I use it for both acute coughs and lung congestions, as well as for recovering from chronic infections. Looking back, I should’ve taken thyme for a longer duration after my last respiratory infection–I know I will now! Use it for pneumonia, tuberculosis, cold and flu, whooping cough, and sore throat. I read somewhere that it is not the best for chronic bronchitis where there are a lot of secretions, but rather indicated in dry coughs.
Pennyroyal: Mentha pulegium or Hedeoma pulegiodes as an emmenagogue
A few years at an herb conference in North Carolina, a complete stranger came over to me while I was making some tea. When she read the ingredients of the formula, she scoffed and said, “why are you using pennyroyal of all things? It’s a very dangerous herb best let to practitioners, young lady!” “Yes”, I told her, “I am well aware of the dangers of pennyroyal, and make sure to never ingest the essential oil” and continued on with my tea time. Common sense tells me it is always wise to employ caution when using herbs and essential oils. However, I am not about to be scared away from responsibly using pennyroyal herb after hearing a few stories. According to drugwarfacts.com, “Each year, use of NSAIDs (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs) accounts for an estimated 7,600 deaths and 76,000 hospitalizations use of NSAIDs in the United States.” (NSAIDs include aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen, diclofenac, ketoprofen, and tiaprofenic acid). Would this woman have reacted in the same manner if I took out a bottle of aspirin?
Pennyroyal is one of my favorite herbs to have around to use both premenstrually during the first few days of bleeding. It is a well-know emmenagogue, antispasmodic and sedative, while calming nervous tension that settles in the stomach . I can feel its warm, diaphoretic action almost immediately; pelvic congestion and fullness with a bit of coldness or stagnation is allayed. A few drops of the essential oil in a spray bottle with plain water is one of my favorite mosquito repellent.
Lemon Balm – Melissa Offinalis as a calmative
Volatile oil-rich Melissa is hands down one of my favorite herbs. It is so sweet yet tart, cooling yet uplifting! Could there be a more tasty herb? During the long Minnesota winter, melissa is a melancholy sun-mourners best friend (along with Saint John’s Wort, calendula and rosemary), as it seems to dry up the dreariness and cheer one out of any funk. In true Scandinavian style, the winter darkness doesn’t seem to bother me. In fact, I thrive off of the most yin time of the year. Rather, I like to drink lemon balm tea in the summer to healthfully align myself to the yangness of the long sunny days. I say healthfully align because I have a tendency to be overstimulated in the expansiveness of summer, so much so that I drain my adrenals with too much all-day physical activities and late-night projects. Melissa helps me stay calm in the face of nervousness and insomnia, so I can be more appropriately active. I appreciate its carminative and somatic properties after eating too many raw and cool foods.
Peppermint – Menta piperita as a cooling beverage
I inherited a community garden plot that is chock full of gobs of healthy peppermint. When I initially laid out my garden beds, I transplanted all the peppermint to its own designated spot. With a little bit of conscious planting and watering, this former weed is now the prime example of health and vitality in my garden. Every time I come back from the garden, I take a hand full of peppermint with me to make into a deliciously aromatic sun tea. What says summer like fresh mint tea? To my roommates requests, we will probably be making mojitos soon.