All posts filed under: Herbalism

Chamomile ~ The Ubiquitous Botanical?

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 …

Chamomile – my favorite garden herb of the moment

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 …

Nervines On My Mind

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, …

Multiple Means to Meet Medicine

During my interview for Chinese Medicine school, one of the interviewers asked if I had ever had acupuncture or taken Chinese herbs. “Of course! Why else would I be here?” was my response. I thought they were either joking or patronizing, but they looked dead serious. They didn’t respond. I asked if people actually went to school for acupuncture without ever having it, and they replied with, “some people go through school, pass their boards and start practicing without ever having it.” I was shocked. Chinese medicine isn’t the sort of field that people pick with the mentality, “I need a job, so why not do acupuncture?”. As I worked in the herbal dispensary and took Herbology classes, I found that its not entirely rare for students to have never taken the herbs they prescribe. It hit me when I asked my provider if they could make my bulk formula taste a little better. In truth, it tasted a lot like rotten stomach acid mixed with a side of fermented garbage juice – it was …

Reviving Skullcap and Milky Oat Tea

I’d like to share one of my favorite tea blends featuring skullcap and milky oats, two of my favorite herbs for reviving the nervous system. I like them individually as simples and do most of the time, but I also think they work well as a pair. Just the two of them, skullcap and milky oats, isn’t the best tasting tea I have ever had. I don’t mind them separately, but together? They need some depth, some warmth, some support and some flavor. Before I say more, take a look at the ingredients: 2 milky oats 1-2 skullcap 1 lemon balm 2 spearmint 1 chamomile 1/2 rosemary .25 ginger 1 rose hips 1 orange peel I still struggle with what to call this tea. I first blended a variety of it for a friend of a friend, a new mom who was getting a little frazzled with the demands (and joys!) of a newborn on just a few hours of sleep each day. This mom’s birth was on the long side (40 hours or so), …

Cool Surface-Releasing Herbs, East + West

It seems that there are a lot of cooling herbs in comparison to warming herbs, at least regarding what we need to know of Chinese herbs for class. There are cool herbs to release toxicity, cool herbs to clear deficient heat, cool herbs to resolve damp-heat and phlegm, and of course, cool herbs to release the exterior. Again, these are known diaphoretics and diuretics. And also again, they are working from a Chinese perspective to get some sort of invading pathogenic factor out of the body. We mostly think of pathogens as being microbes of some sort, in this case the common cold and influenza. But really, pathogenic factors can be all sorts of things – it just has to come from outside and make its way inside. An example of this is seen in people who are sensitive to eating a lot a sugar or drinking alcohol. They may start off feeling a scratchy, sore throat, drippy nose, gummed up ears, low energy, and if they continue to eat sugar over the next few …

Warm Surface-Releasing Herbs – East + West

The first groups of herbs students learn in Chinese herb classes are the warm and cool herbs to release the exterior. These herbs are active on the surface of the body and useful in externally-contracted conditions, like colds or the flu. Many are diaphoretic and open the pores to promote sweating, vent rashes, treat red, itchy eyes and sore throat in the case of a wind-cold or heat invasion, treat headache of carious causes, or drain dampness by being diuretic. One thing I love, love, love, love, love about learning Chinese herbs is the emphasis on the energetics of taste/flavor. I already mentioned this in my last post, but I can’t help but (over)state it again, because it has been so helpful in learning the herbs, and providing a bit of theory to base the use of these herbs in. Overall, the flavor and energy of these herbs goes up and out. Some are aromatic, most are acrid, a few are bitter or sweet. Most but not all of these herbs enter the Bladder and/or …

Learning Herbs – Chinese Medicine School Style, and Jing Jie

I am in 2 of 12 terms in school. The pace at which we learn things is incredible.  Study a subject  for one week and bam! you are expected to know everything (yes, this is an overstatement) about the muscles of the thigh, the Spleen meridian, the integument system, and (as luck would have it) certain categories of herbs. Tomorrow is out first herb test, which will consist of answering questions about the 14 herbs we learned in the “Warm Herbs that Release the Exterior” category. Starting in 2002, I regularly studied herbs in earnest. That meant that on most day of the week, I read about, tasted, looked at, sat with, thought of, gardened, identified and wildcrafted, and took notes about the herbs that I was studying. Since I was in a self-education situation, I tended to migrate towards herbs that myself or my friends and family needed. There is the time to sit and digest  (literally and figuratively) all the information and subtleties about the plants. With all the ways I studied herbs, …

A few of my Favorite Herb Books

Herb Books, mmmm… I buy them, read them, and re-read them as often as I can. For every herb book I have, there are three more that I desire. So many amazing herbalists have published books, on just about every topic imaginable. It was tough to narrow my favorite herb book selection. I sat in front of my bookshelf and paged through title after title; after 20 minuets of “this one is my favorite”, “this one is my other favorite”, I realized that all of them are valuable, useful, inspirational and informative (other wise I would not have shipped three boxes of them from Minnesota to Oregon). Some are sentimental, like Susun Weed’s Healing Wise. That was one of the first herb books I bought, and it significantly shaped both my view of plants and healing philosophy. Here is the semi-narrowed down list. #1 Most used, referenced, practical, favorite: “Medicines From the Earth” Conference Notes These ‘books’ aren’t really books at all, they are a compilation of lecture notes to a botanical medicine conference. Many …

Southern Blood Types

Learning herbalism is one things; learning pathology is quite another. Just today I was struck yet again with the realization that I can study what herbs do until I am blue in the face, but what good is it if I don’t know when to apply them? It’s an ongoing process to be certain, but one thing is quite useful for this; learning energetic qualities. Southern blood typology is interesting because it is an energetic system that is rooted in a physical phenomena, blood. Even though blood is quite tangible as a life-giving substance, here it is infused in energetic language and symbols. It makes me think of what I’ve learned about Yin (blood) and Yang (energetic) being both mutually dependent and ever transforming and flowing into each other. Speaking of Chinese medicine, many of the Southern blood classifications share similarities with TCM, like blood deficiency, heat in the blood, and so on. Again, I have to direct you to my list of references (Wood in particular, as this is mostly taken from him), because …

A bit on Southern Herbalism

With all the pertinent issues in modern American herbalism, like endanger species, failing health care system, drug companies, FDA regulations, GMO’s and GMP’s, it still is a great time to be in this field, as a student, participant and practitioner. One thing I am particularly grateful for is the plethora of learning opportunities, like classes, blogs, seminars, home-study courses, videos, recordings, conferences, and so on. A few years ago, I took a class with Matthew Wood and Phylis Light. As soon as they started discussing Southern folk herbalism, I was enthralled with the regional flavor that and the South brought to herbalism. It has also gained a new appreciation for the Southern herbs I adore like passionflower, peach leaves and sassafras.  Here is a little bit of what I have pieced together about the background of Southern herbalism, after listening to Light, reading Wood’s Earthwise Herbal and a few more sources. To many people of the United States (and around the world), the South is its own distinct entity with unique cultural nuances, food and …

New Place, New Ally: Rosemary

One thing I love about living in an urban area on the west coast is the shear quantity (and quality) of rosemary plants. Rosmarinus officinalis’ silvery green, upward reaching, linear leaves are in practically every other yard, growing to many feet across and high. When the breeze is just right, or when the air is cold and dry, you can be struck by its spicy smell. The flowers never stop – even now in the middle of January a few new blooms appear one after the other. A few years ago, a fellow gardener introduced me to the idea of eating mint flowers. The only mint flowers I had ever thought of eating fresh were bee balm. Spearmint and peppermint flowers are (expectantly) divine, with a hit of a warm honey-nectar sweetness combined with the cool minty flavor present in the leaves. Motherwort flowers are (expectantly) incredibly bitter with a aftertaste of, well, more bitter. The first few seconds of eating the motherwort flower justifies the whole experience, because they too are deliciously nectary-sweet. Thyme, …