Herbs and Botanicals

Herbs for Transitional and Challenging Times

By Steph Zabel
Herbalist & Ethnobotanist

2017 has been a challenging year for so many of us, on many levels. Just turning on the news can be heart-breaking and traumatic as we witness the loss, upheaval and grief so many of our kindred are experiencing due to human-made tragedies or environmental extremes.


What can we do? How can we respond?


When so many are wounded or are causing wounds, the pain existing in the world can seem overwhelming. If you feel at a loss for how to make a positive difference in the world at this moment in time… First, take heart that this too shall pass… Second, make sure that your body and spirit are nourished and comforted. Once you are well within yourself you will be able to spread this wellness and comfort outward to everyone whose lives you touch.


Some of my favorite ways of nourishing, comforting and healing myself — and my family — are the herbs below. These plants help us come back to our center. Some protect the heart; others nourish the nervous system; others lift the spirits. Read through these descriptions, try a cup of tea (or a tincture) of these plants and listen to the ones that call to you with their healing gifts.

 By Rasbak via Wikimedia Commons

By Rasbak via Wikimedia Commons

MILKY OAT TOPS Offering Nourishment & Calm
Milky oats provides deep, deep fortifying nourishment for the nervous system and helps to overcome exhaustion. It eases anxiety, frazzled nerves and emotional instability. When you feel like you’re about to either 1) throw a temper tantrum if the slightest thing goes wrong or 2) collapse into a sobbing heap if you have to deal with one more thing… turn to milky oat. It helps to soothe sensitive people and anyone who is feeling emotionally overwhelmed. It strengthens the physical heart and the emotional heart. Oat is food; oat is medicine; oat is pure nourishing LOVE.


To make: Use dried oat straw: and steep 6 heaping spoonfuls in a quart of hot water for 6-8 hours. Strain and drink for a nourishing tea. Or, get your hands on a bottle of the milky oat tincture (it must say “milky”!) and take 1/2 to 1 full dropper as needed.

oat tops.jpg

HAWTHORN Offering Protection & Openness

Hawthorn berry is a famous cardiac tonic, imparting a strengthening and protective effect on the physical heart. But it also has a very special affinity for the emotional heart. It can be used to bring comfort during times of loss, grief, homesickness and heart-break. Hawthorn soothes a saddened heart and provides gentle support during stress and overwhelm. It is one of the best herbs I know of for a tender or troubled heart, or for any period of emotional tumult. This red-hued berry also helps us to know when when better emotional boundaries are needed. It helps us discern when it is necessary to protect our hearts and when it is safe to open them completely.

To make: Use dried hawthorn berries and add 2-4 Tbsp. of the berries to 2 cups of water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil then simmer at low heat for 15-30 minutes. Strain and drink.

 By Ian Cunliffe via Wikimedia Commons

By Ian Cunliffe via Wikimedia Commons

SAGE Offering Clarity & Wisdom

Sage has a rejuvenating effect on the nerves, and has been used by herbalists to address depression, anxiety and nervousness. It is especially good for the frazzled feeling we get when life is too hectic or overwhelming. Sage helps us feel less anxious and more grounded. I believe when used over time it can also help us to feel more at peace with how things are, and to feel more connected with day-to-day reality, i.e. appreciating what is rather than what we want things to be. Many traditions have noted that sage has the ability to enhance one’s inner wisdom. Sage flower essence is especially beautiful and illuminating for enhancing inner knowingness.


To make: Use 1/2 Tblsp. dried herb per cup of hot water; let steep 7-10 minutes. Can also be gently simmered in a small saucepan for a more mellow flavor. Or, use sage flower essence, taking 3 drops 3-4 times per day.

 By Line via Wikimedia Commons

By Line via Wikimedia Commons

 

TULSI Offering Centering & Grounding

For centuries tulsi (a.k.a. holy basil) has been called a sacred herb. In traditional Ayurvedic medicine it is regarded as an “elixir of life” and is said to promote longevity and perfect health. It is also said to gladden the heart and lift the spirits. Tulsi is a lovely relaxing nervine, and a calming, centering herb useful for an anxious mind. It can offer comfort and grounding when it is most needed. It is a very important herb for helping the body adapt to stress and to cope with an over-active nervous system. Even the scent of tulsi is healing: it is uplifting, brightening and soothing to the mind and spirit.


To make: Use 1/2 - 1 Tblsp. of the dried leaf per cup of hot water; let steep at least 7 minutes, if not longer. The essential oil can also be used before bed or meditation, in a diffuser or simply inhaled directly from the bottle.

 By Shashidhara Halady via Wikimedia Commons

By Shashidhara Halady via Wikimedia Commons

Steph Zabel, MSc, is an herbalist and botanical educator who helps urban dwellers connect with the plant world. She teaches seasonally-oriented herbal classes that focus on local plants, herbal medicine-making techniques, and plant identification. She is also the creator of Herbstalk, Boston’s community herbal conference. Learn more about her work at: www.flowerfolkherbs.com and www.herbstalk.org.


This blog series — Herbs and Botanicals— is for general health information only. This Web site is not to be used as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment of any health condition or problem. Users of this Web site should not rely on information provided on this Web site for their own health problems. Any questions regarding your own health should be addressed to your own physician or other healthcare provider.

Visiting Vitality Works!

By Alyssa, Supplements Buyer + The Naturalist Contributor

Navigating the supplements section in any health food store can be a daunting task, especially when inevitable questions arise. Which brand is really the best? Are the claims on the label accurate? Which dose do I want? Is this a thoughtful and effective formulation? And then, of course, there’s the private label brand: why is it less expensive? Is it generic? Do I have to worry about the quality of the product?

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Lucky for our customers, at Cambridge Naturals we do the homework for you, vetting companies and offering only the highest quality supplements on the market today. In addition to the more familiar brands you love, we also pride ourselves on being able to offer you our outstanding private label Cambridge Naturals brand, including our herbal supplements and essential oils, manufactured for us by Vitality Works in Albuquerque, New Mexico. This summer, our supplements manager Zach and I were fortunate enough to tour their facilities, including their organic and biodynamic farm in Abiquiu. There, we spent time with Mitch Coven, the founder, formulator and clinical herbalist mastermind behind the company.

 Zach and Alyssa in the field

Zach and Alyssa in the field

On our first full day in Albuquerque, we settled into the environmentally friendly hotel that had been arranged for us - a clear sign to me that this was a company with values that I could get behind. Later that morning, Mitch held an herbal class and gave the group a tour of the manufacturing facility as well as the beautiful medicinal garden he cultivated around the property. I was particularly blown away by the fact that the garden was crafted to reduce water usage and save literally tens of thousands of gallons of water per year! Green initiatives are a major part of Vitality Work's core values. Some of these initiatives include: composting all botanical matter not used in the extraction process (about 345,000 pounds per year), recycling all cardboard (80,825 lb/year) and metal and plastic barrels (884/year combined), using motion activated lights and installing an energy management system throughout the facility. Needless to say, I was pretty impressed.

 Tasting delicious herbal extracts

Tasting delicious herbal extracts

Addressing all of his employees by name as he showed us around the production lines, my head began to spin in awe at how much dedication and passion goes into creating the Cambridge Natural Brand herbal products we sell to our customers every day. Not only does Vitality Works feel compelled to create the highest quality organic herbal medicine, but they strive to connect with and benefit local and global communities in the process, as well as honoring the plants themselves. When it comes to sourcing, herbs are purchased from local organic farmers and wild harvesters who grow and gather the plants responsibly and ethically. When asked why he doesn’t grow his own herbs, Mitch expressed his preference to support farmers and wild harvesters who are already established, rather than competing with them. For example, their milk thistle is grown in Iowa by a man named Leroy - the only organic milk thistle grower in the United States! Mitch has even funded a 5 year study on the sustainability of wild Osha, in order to ensure that using this plant was not going to harm its long term sustainability.

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Even though Vitality Works is highly selective with sourcing, the quality and purity of each product is still checked every step of the way. Organic and non-GMO herbs are always purchased whole (rather than ground or powdered), and from the freshest and most recent harvest, to ensure there has been no adulteration. This also allows for organoleptic evaluation (the process of using the senses to determine identity and quality) on top of the already scheduled laboratory testing done to detect any possible heavy metals and other environmental contaminants as well as potency. Since timing is essential in preserving potency, fresh plant matter is brought into production the day it is delivered. In the case of sourcing from the beautiful family owned 250 acre organic and biodynamic farm in Abiquiu, herbs are harvested in the early morning, driven to Vitality Works by 11am and brought into processing by 1pm! This year their offerings included ashwagandha, dandelion, spilanthes, echinacea purpurea, wormwood, marshmallow, valerian and St. John’s wort as well as offering the only biodynamic source of seabuckthorn in the country!

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By the end of the trip, I felt like part of the Vitality Works family and so excited to share everything we had learned with the rest of the Cambridge Natural team and our customers. I have no doubt that we are putting our name on what are among the best herbal products available anywhere. The Cambridge Naturals brand is formulated by a passionate and humble herbalist who has 17 years of experience in a clinical setting. You can feel confident in purchasing products manufactured by a company that values this planet, ethical and sustainable commerce, and takes no shortcuts in the process. Next time you are strolling through the aisles, take another peek at our brand and feel free to grab any one of us on staff to chat and learn more about what Cambridge Naturals has to offer!

ASTRAGALUS (Astragalus membranaceus): Shield & Strengthener

By Steph Zabel
Herbalist & Ethnobotanist

A sweet tasting, yellow-rooted plant, astragalus is an important herb for the home apothecary, especially in the winter months. Every fall I pull out my stash of sliced roots and start incorporating them into my soups and broths (more on that later…)

Astragalus Root2_SZ.jpg

This special plant is native to China where it has been used for thousands of years; it is becoming more and more popular in Western herbalism and is now cultivated in the U.S.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine astragalus is considered to be a restorative tonic, as it improves energy and stamina when used over time. Modern herbalists would call it an adaptogenic herb since it helps the body to overcome stress, disease and weakness and increases one’s resiliency.

An important immune system tonic, astragalus is wonderful when used preventatively against winter-time illnesses such as colds, flu, bronchitis and pneumonia. Not only does this root increase resistance to disease it also helps to tone and strengthen the lungs, which are the gathering place for infections and congestion. Astragalus root is also known to increase the number of stem cells in bone marrow and lymph tissue and encourages their development into active immune cells.

 Photo by Tigerente via Wiki Commons

Photo by Tigerente via Wiki Commons

Whereas some herbs can open the body up to release toxins and pathogens through perspiration (such as a diaphoretic herb like elderflower), astragalus is on the opposite end of the spectrum: it helps to close off the body to outside influences and germs. Because of this closing or sealing action some people have even noticed that it reduces the amount that they perspire. This property is very useful when we are trying to avoid catching other people’s germs, especially during cold and flu season. We can think of astragalus as a shield against illness. Traditional Chinese medicine states that it increases the “protective chi” around the body that keeps out cold, infection and external influences.

 Photo by Doronenko via Wiki Commons

Photo by Doronenko via Wiki Commons

You want to be sure to use this amazing action at the appropriate time, though. Because of the sealing property it has on the physical body traditional wisdom advises to avoid astragalus if you are sick or have an acute infection. That’s because it closes the body to external influences and prevents fewer things from coming in OR going out. Astragalus really is an herb best used to strengthen the immune system and prevent sickness… it is not for times of acute illness. (Depending on what’s going on, you could turn to other herbs such as thyme, elder and/or echinacea.)

HOW TO USE ASTRAGALUS:

To make a decoction of the root use 1 Tblsp. of the dried root per 2 cups of water and simmer for at least 20 minutes in a small, covered saucepan.

CONTRAINDICATIONS:

People with autoimmune disease should avoid astragalus. It is also believed that astragalus should not be taken during acute illness and infection.

Astragalus Root _SZ.jpg

RECIPE:

Astragalus slowly builds up the immune system and needs to be taken over longer periods of time (weeks to months) to be most effective. For prevention and immune-strengthening effects take daily. One of the best ways to get the supportive benefits of this herb is to eat it in soups and broths. The following recipe is one of my favorite ways to incorporate astragalus into my diet during the fall and winter months:

Steph’s Herbal Chicken Broth

bones, skin and leftovers of one roasted chicken
1 - 2 small chopped onions
2 chopped carrots (optional)
a handful of dried calendula flowers
6 - 8 large astragalus root slices
1 tablespoon black peppercorn
1 tablespoon dried thyme
4 cloves sliced garlic
1 star anise
1 small bunch of parsley, coarsely chopped
a little bit of salt
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

Place everything in a large pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil then lower the heat to a simmer. Skim off the scum that rises to the top. Cook for 12 - 24 hours, then strain and store in glass containers or freeze.

References:

stevenfoster.com

www.umm.edu

Steph Zabel, MSc, is an herbalist and botanical educator who helps urban dwellers connect with the plant world. She teaches seasonally-oriented herbal classes that focus on local plants, herbal medicine-making techniques, and plant identification. She is also the creator of Herbstalk, Boston’s community herbal conference. Learn more about her work at: www.flowerfolkherbs.com and www.herbstalk.org.


This blog series — Herbs and Botanicals— is for general health information only. This Web site is not to be used as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment of any health condition or problem. Users of this Web site should not rely on information provided on this Web site for their own health problems. Any questions regarding your own health should be addressed to your own physician or other healthcare provider.

Raspberry: Beyond the Fruit (Rubus idaeus | Rosaceae)

By Steph Zabel
Herbalist & Ethnobotanist

Raspberry leaf is a beautiful, delicious, nutritive and practical herb, and a very versatile plant that appeals to nearly everyone in one way or another.

Most of us are familiar with raspberry as a food — who doesn’t love fresh summer-ripe raspberries? But the part of the plant that I’ll be discussing in this article is the leaf. I love the foliage of this plant: the leaves are run through with veins, and are dark green on the top, and a lovely silvery-white on the back.

 Via Wikimedia Commons

Via Wikimedia Commons

If you ever run into a brambly-type of plant growing in or near a forest you might be unsure if what you are encountering is a blackberry or a raspberry as they look quite similar. But a quick way to tell the difference is to turn the leaf over: if it has that beautiful silver-white color to it, you know you have found raspberry.

This delightful fruiting shrub is native to both to Asia and North America, and is a member of one of my favorite plant families, the Rosa (a.k.a. Rosaceae) family. While everyone is aware that raspberry fruits are edible and nutritive, most people do not know that the leaves themselves are a very nutritive agent. In fact, they are high in Vitamins C, E, A and B, and hold a range of minerals such as magnesium, potassium, calcium, and phosphorus. They also contain essential trace minerals such as zinc, iron, chromium and manganese. These vitamins and minerals are imparted to us when we make a tea out of the dried leaves.

Beyond being a gentle, nourishing herb raspberry has been used for centuries to support respiratory, digestive and reproductive health. In Ayurvedic medicine raspberry leaves are considered to be a cooling herb that is good for reducing heat and inflammation in the body, especially throughout the digestive tract. As an astringent herb it helps to tighten up the skin around wounds and promote healing. It is traditionally used for diarrhea; nowadays it is also used to strengthen the lining of the intestinal tract where there is permeability or “leaky gut.” Raspberry leaf can help protect the gut from irritation and inflammation.

Raspberry leaf is most famously known as a lovely and supportive herb for women’s reproductive health, especially during the childbearing years. As a tea raspberry can help ease menstrual cramping (perhaps due in part to its high content of magnesium). In addition, the leaves contain an alkaloid called fragrine which helps strengthen and tone the uterus and the pelvic area. This special constituent can promote fertility, prevent miscarriage, and prepare a pregnant woman for birth.

 Via Wikimedia Commons

Via Wikimedia Commons

In my own recent pregnancy I drank a lot of raspberry leaf tea. However, I waited until the second trimester to do so because if taken earlier it may cause a sensation of cramping. (I typically recommend only food grade herbs during pregnancy, but especially in the first trimester.) I increased my intake of raspberry leaf tea as I neared my due date. I felt that it was gentle, supportive and full of so many good vitamins and minerals for both me and the baby. I also brought a huge container of the tea with me to the birth!

Many people claim that it can promote a shorter and easier labor. I can’t say if it truly does or not. My own labor was relatively quick and straightforward for a first-time mom… but it definitely was not easy!

I also drank raspberry leaf tea right after the birth and for a while afterwards to help the uterus regain its normal size and tone. Again, I found the mineral content of the tea to be refreshing and helpful after such a physically intense process. Hands down, raspberry leaf is my favorite herb for fertility, pregnancy, and post-natal health.

But it’s not just for women! Men can also benefit from raspberry leaf as it supports prostate health and has a toning effect for the whole male reproductive system. Raspberry tea is also wonderful, safe and gentle enough for kids (perhaps sweetened with a bit of honey.) I also enjoy it as a simple beverage tea — it makes a wonderful alternative to conventional iced tea, having a similar flavor, but without the caffeine.

HOW TO USE:

  • Steep 1-2 teaspoons of dried leaf per cup of hot water for 10 minutes.
  • To make a more nutritive infusion with a high content of minerals, steep 4 tablespoons dried herb in a quart of hot water for 6 to 8 hours.
  • Raspberry leaf makes a great iced tea in the summer. You can do a cold-brew steep (or sun tea) of raspberry leaf by placing 4 tablespoons of the dried leaf in a quart of cold water for 3 to 5 hours. Place in a sunny windowsill if possible.
  • Raspberry leaf mixes well with rose petals, red clover, mint, and chamomile

NOTES:

In pregnancy wait until the 2nd trimester to begin drinking red raspberry leaf tea because it may cause uterine tightening or cramping. Also, because of the high tannins in raspberry leaf some people feel slightly nauseous if they drink the tea on an empty stomach.


REFERENCES:

Methow Valley Herbs

The Herbal Academy

Sunweed

Dr. Mahalia Freed

Steph Zabel, MSc, is an herbalist and educator who helps urban dwellers connect with the plant world. She teaches seasonal herbal classes and is the founder of HERBSTALK, Boston’s community herbal conference. Learn more about her work at: www.flowerfolkherbs.com and www.herbstalk.org.


This blog series — Herbs and Botanicals— is for general health information only. This Web site is not to be used as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment of any health condition or problem. Users of this Web site should not rely on information provided on this Web site for their own health problems. Any questions regarding your own health should be addressed to your own physician or other healthcare provider.

YARROW: A First-Aid Herb (Achillea millefolium)

By Steph Zabel
Herbalist, Ethnobotanist & Educator

Yarrow is an amazing plant that can yield incredible results when used in the right situation. If you don’t know this herb already, it’s time to become better acquainted with it, for this is a plant that has a direct, immediate and sometimes miraculous action in first aid situations.

Also known as Soldier’s Woundwort, Achillea millefolium has been used for thousands of years. It is an herb of the battlefield, an important herb for the soldier and the warrior, the healer and the medic. With its bright white, flattened cluster of flowers it easily catches the eye where it grows in meadows and areas of human disturbance.

 Photo by Renee Ricciardi via WikiCommons

Photo by Renee Ricciardi via WikiCommons

Yarrow, despite being a humble, overlooked plant, has the most incredible ability: it quickly and effectively stops bleeding. In my opinion, it is one of the most important plants for self-sufficient folks to be familiar with, and, if possible, to grow near the home. If you are ever in a situation where you’ve been wounded, cut, or bruised get your hands on some yarrow as quickly as you can. Let me share a few of my own experiences with this amazing plant to highlight its effectiveness…

One of the first times I got to see yarrow in action was many years ago when I was alone in the woods cutting some birch twigs with a knife. I was harvesting some small twigs off of a main branch when all of a sudden I used too much force and ended up slashing my left palm with the knife. I started to bleed profusely. Very fortunately for me, I had noticed where there was a patch of yarrow before I entered the woods so I ran back to it, picked a few leaves, chewed them in my mouth and placed this “spit poultice” on the wound. It stopped the flow of blood immediately. I was amazed and grateful, especially since I was in a remote area without further assistance.

 Photo by Renee Ricciardivia WikiCommons

Photo by Renee Ricciardivia WikiCommons

Another time, a friend of mine accidentally bit her tongue while eating, which besides being bloody, was also painful. Since it was winter I only had dried yarrow on hand so I quickly made a strong tea, strained out the herb and gave her the remaining liquid to hold in her mouth. It helped her right away — the bleeding stopped and the pain subsided.

One more story: a couple of years ago my husband was collapsing a big folding table in half when he got one of his fingers caught in the metal hinges in the middle. It was a deep, nasty gash that was quite painful. I gave him a few fresh yarrow leaves to chew and place on the wound. He was amazed to find that it helped dull the pain right away. For the rest of that day — and the following — he continued to put fresh leaf poultices on the area. What was a deep cut was quickly healed in record time. He couldn’t believe it. We have grown plenty of yarrow near our house ever since.

I share these anecdotes to emphasize what an amazing healer this plant is. Its actions are considerable: as a hemostatic it stops the flow of blood, as an analgesic it lessens pain, and as an antiseptic it prevents infections. There is a reason why soldiers and healers have relied on the power of yarrow for centuries.

It deserves a place in any first-aid kit, so please keep some on hand for times you might need it! Below are a few different ways to use this amazing healer externally.

 Photo by Petar Milosevic via WikiCommons

Photo by Petar Milosevic via WikiCommons

HOW TO USE YARROW TOPICALLY:

➤ Use the fresh leaf as a poultice on wounds. Take some clean, fresh leaves and chew them up in order to release the juices of the plant. Use this “spit poultice” on your cut, scrape or wound. If you’d rather not chew-up the leaves, place them in a mortar and pestle or in a food processor and grind up.

➤ If you don’t have fresh leaves, you can use the dried and finely powdered leaf sprinkled directly onto wounds.

➤ Or, take the dried leaf and steep 1 tablespoon in 4 - 8 oz of hot water for 10 to 15 minutes, then strain. Dip a clean cloth into the remaining liquid and place on the affected area.

NOTES:
Yarrow is in the Aster family of plants, which some people are allergic to.
Not to be used internally during pregnancy.
Do not overuse internally as it may aggravate the liver.

REFERENCES:

UMM.edu
Botanical.com

Whispering Earth.co.uk

Steph Zabel, MSc, is an herbalist and educator who helps urban dwellers connect with the plant world. She teaches seasonal herbal classes and is the founder of HERBSTALK, Boston’s community herbal conference. Learn more about her work at: www.flowerfolkherbs.com and www.herbstalk.org.


This blog series — Herbs and Botanicals— is for general health information only. This Web site is not to be used as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment of any health condition or problem. Users of this Web site should not rely on information provided on this Web site for their own health problems. Any questions regarding your own health should be addressed to your own physician or other healthcare provider.

Herbstalk Plant of the Year: Rose

By Steph Zabel,
Herbalist, Ethnobotanist and Educator

How
Did the rose
Ever open its heart
And give to this world
All its
Beauty?
It felt the encouragement of light
Against its
Being,
Otherwise,
We all remain
Too
Frightened.
— Rose for the Heart / Hafiz

The Rose family (Rosaceae) is one of the most beloved group of plants —humans have had a deep love for Rose and her relations for thousands and thousands of years. Not only does this family produce beautiful flowering plants such as spirea, potentilla, lady’s mantle, agrimony and hawthorn, but also important fruit crops such as pears, peaches, plums, cherries, quinces, almonds, raspberries and strawberries.

What would our world be like without these delights?!

Of all these family members, Rose is the most well-known and sought-after. She is the true queen of flowers.

We all know Rose as the symbol of love and beauty but its use as an herbal remedy is less known. However, the gifts of this flower are plentiful.

Rose petals are cooling and astringent, which makes it useful in cases of heat or inflammation in the body. I like to mix rose petals (from pink or red flowering species) in tea blends to drink on hot summer days. Rose helps to cool heat that exists in the body, whether it manifests as hot, inflamed skin conditions or as internal heat in the gut, such as ulcers, colitis or Crohn’s. High in bioflavonoids, rose is also a wonderful cardiovascular tonic which helps to strengthen vascular function and support proper circulation in the body.

All roses will develop hips once their flowers fade, which are a delicious wild edible. They are nutritive and tart, and can be infused into a tea that is high in many vitamins, especially Vitamins A and C. Even though citrus fruits get all the glory for being a great source of Vitamin C, rosehips actually contain a higher concentration of this important vitamin and are in fact one of the richest botanical sources of it. This makes rosehips an excellent addition to fall and winter tea blends to help support the body in cold and flu season.

As an energetic remedy Rose works on opening the heart chakra (not surprisingly) and also acts as heart-settling nervine. It brings peace and strength to the body and spirit, and can help to lift anxiety and depression. Likewise, if one’s emotions are too hot or stuck — with frustration or anger — Rose comes to the rescue.

The gift of Rose is two-fold: it helps to soften and relax the heart space (and tense emotional states) while also offering strength and fierceness when needed. A rose is beautiful and vulnerable in flower but also sharp and fierce in thorns — it imparts these same qualities to us when we use it internally or as a flower essence.

There is so much more to learn about Rose — it is a multi-faceted and multi-purpose remedy. I believe it is also important for our modern day lives in that it helps us shift our orientation from being too much in our heads to being more in our hearts.

And this is exactly one of the reasons we chose Rose to be our Herbstalk Plant-of-the-Year for 2017!

Herbstalk is an annual event that takes place in early June at the Armory in Somerville. The Herbstalk Team also organizes the popular Wintergreen Holiday Market at the Armory in late November. More details can be found at: www.herbstalk.org. For more information on Steph's work (including classes and consultations) please visit: www.flowerfolkherbs.com.

Learning From Plants Directly

By Steph Zabel,
Herbalist, Ethnobotanist and Educator

In this spring season the plants are quietly emerging and greenness is returning to the land. Perhaps you’ve spotted the violets popping up around town. Soon we will have an abundance of these indigo gems sprouting up... Hopefully you will take the time to pluck a few to adorn your spring salads, or to place in a small vase in your home.

tea observation.JPG
pine.jpg

Now in early May, we may feel our restless hearts yearning for full-on warm weather and all of the blossoms it brings. We notice that things are changing very quickly and every day something new is emerging from the ground. So I send out this reminder: pay attention to the trees and weeds and bulbs that are sprouting at this very moment. You can learn so much from their growth and unfolding.

Perhaps this is a new idea for you -- Did you know that you can learn from plants directly, without a mediator (i.e. a teacher/herbalist) in the middle? You can! And it is likely much more simple than you ever expected.

In my practice I believe it is so important to taste, smell, observe and interact with herbs in order to more fully connect with them.

In honor of Spring's arrival, here are a few of my favorite ways to get to know plants one-on-one:

  • Observe. Consciously pay attention to the plant life that grows everywhere. Choose one plant -- you just need one -- that you will become deeply acquainted with, whether it's a tree, shrub, herb or weed that you pass in your daily routine. Notice what the plant looks like every day and how it changes throughout the year. Notice as it leafs out, opens it flowers, and creates seeds. Notice how it dies or goes dormant in the winter, and if it comes back the following spring. This is a slow practice that takes patience but it will give you so much insight into the growing patterns of your chosen plant.   
  • Be still and sip. Consciously sit with a cup of tea (made of one herb), and approach it as a sort of meditation. Appreciate and take in the color, scent, flavor and viscosity of the tea. Notice every single little detail. See how you feel about it, noticing its effects on your physical body and your emotions. After practicing with single herbs like this you may be surprised to discover you know exactly which herb will suit you best in the moment, and what herb to choose when you are unwell.
  • Use your imagination. Take a piece of paper and some colored pencils or pens. Go sit outside next to a plant that catches your attention. Start doodling as you look at the plant, just letting your pencil flow and not trying to draw the plant exactly as it looks. Add in colors. Be free and messy. Soften your gaze and allow yourself to play as your draw the plant. Pay attention to your intuitions about the plant; let your imagination use it as a starting point and see what artful expressions you create. What do these expressions tell you about the plant? What do they tell you about your relationship to the plant?

I encourage you to try out these simple methods. In my practice I believe it is so important to taste, smell, observe and interact with herbs in order to more fully connect with them. You can gain so much from these simple exercises.

If you would like more guidance in connecting with plants and learning how to use herbs in your daily life, perhaps you'd like to join me in one of my upcoming Herbs for Everyday Living series...

Warmest Spring wishes to you!


Steph Zabel, MSc, is an herbalist and educator who helps urban dwellers connect with the plant world.  She teaches herbal classes, is available for individual wellness consultations, and is also the founder of HERBSTALK, Boston’s community herbal conference.  Learn more about her work at: www.flowerfolkherbs.com and www.herbstalk.org.

Elecampane (Inula helenium)

By Steph Zabel,
Herbalist, Ethnobotanist and Educator


I must admit, elecampane is one of my favorite herbs. But it is often an acquired taste, and many people don’t get past its surprisingly pungent and forceful flavor, eschewing it for more mellow-tasting herbs. However, once you give it a chance there are many gifts to be gained from this beautiful and healing plant.

 Photo by Radu_Privantu via Wikimedia Commons

Photo by Radu_Privantu via Wikimedia Commons

Before we get to its use in herbalism, I want to note that elecampane is often planted in gardens due to its tall stature and beautiful flowers. It is a relative of the sunflower and you can see the resemblance in the cheery, long, yellow petals and in its graceful height. This plant will grow taller than a human! Elecampane takes its botanical name, Inula helenium, from the legend of Helen of Troy. Legend has it that the plant sprung up in the places where her tears fell when she was kidnapped from her home.

It can reach deep into the lungs and gets things moving again by clearing and releasing old infected mucus. Emotionally it is also used for grief and sadness that is stored in the lungs.

The pungent root is the part used in herbal medicine; it is harvested in the autumn when the plant is two or three years old. As alluded to above the taste of the fresh or dried root is strong: it imparts a bitter, spicy and warming flavor all at once.

Elecampane is most famous for its ability to strengthen and support the respiratory system. It is known as one of the best herbal expectorants for congested and stuck mucus in the chest, phlegm-y coughs, and for many respiratory infections, such as bronchitis. It can reach deep into the lungs and gets things moving again by clearing and releasing old infected mucus. Emotionally it is also used for grief and sadness that is stored in the lungs.

A strong antiseptic and bactericide that helps resolve bacterial infection elecampane will change thick, green, infected mucus to white or clear mucus. Old herbal writings also indicated the use of it for shortness of breath and swollen and inflamed respiratory conditions.

 Photo by Radu_Privantu via Wikimedia Commons

Photo by Radu_Privantu via Wikimedia Commons

In addition to its wonderful respiratory properties, the bitter properties of the root stimulate the appetite, overall digestive function and help increase the flow of bile from the liver to the small intestine. Traditionally it was used for all sorts of digestive woes from intestinal parasites to stagnant digestion to imbalanced intestinal flora. In fact,  another amazing attribute of elecampane is that the root is a rich source of source of inulin. This is a storage carbohydrate found in some plants which feeds and supports healthy digestive flora, acting as a prebiotic, i.e. food for our good gut flora.

HOW TO USE:

➤ To make a decoction of the root, place 1 tablespoon dried root in 2 cups of water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil then lower to a simmer and cover. Let cook for 15 to 20 minutes, then strain out the root.

Note:  Avoid elecampane during pregnancy.

RECIPE: Elecampane Infused Honey

  • Fill a small glass jar 1/3 of the way full with cut, dried elecampane root. Cover completely with raw, local honey. Stir as best you can.
  • Cap with an air-tight lid, and label the jar with the ingredients and the date.
  • Let this mixture steep together for 2-4 weeks. You may want to flip the jar upside down every so often so that the root moves back and forth through the honey and does not stay clumped together in one spot.
  • Taste the honey at intervals to see when it has reached its desired strength.
  • To strain out the herb you may need to gently (very gently!) heat the honey in a warm water bath. The heat will loosen up the honey and allow the root to be strained out more easily. But you want to be sure not to heat it up too much or you will destroy much of the nutritional goodness in the raw honey.
  • Once the root is strained out, place in a glass jar and store in a dark cupboard.
  • Use this honey on its own or mixed into a hot cup of tea to help with coughs, colds and stuck congestion.

REFERENCES:

Botanical.com
RJWhelan.co.nz

PlanetHerbs.com

Steph Zabel, MSc, is an herbalist and educator who helps urban dwellers connect with the plant world.  She teaches herbal classes, is available for individual wellness consultations, and is also the founder of HERBSTALK, Boston’s community herbal conference.  Learn more about her work at: www.flowerfolkherbs.com and www.herbstalk.org.


This blog series — Herbs and Botanicals— is for general health information only. This Web site is not to be used as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment of any health condition or problem. Users of this Web site should not rely on information provided on this Web site for their own health problems. Any questions regarding your own health should be addressed to your own physician or other healthcare provider.

Three Herbs for City Folks

 Photo by  Shashidhara Halady via Wikicommons

Photo by  Shashidhara Halady via Wikicommons

By Steph Zabel,
Herbalist, Ethnobotanist and Educator

As an urban dwelling herbalist I like to focus on the issues and challenges that city folks face in their day-to-day lives. Obviously for many people high stress levels due to the demands of modern, fast-paced, caffeine-fueled living are on ongoing problem. Many of us have nervous systems that are depleted and/or over-stimulated which makes us prone to overwhelm, anxiety, and just plain exhaustion.

Of course there are many factors that should be addressed when you are feeling stressed and frazzled, involving adequate sleep, proper nutrition, exercise, and making sure you have enough joy and connection in your life.

So how do herbs fit into all of this?

Can drinking a cup of herbal tea or taking a tincture really make any difference in the midst of a hectic day?

Definitely.

Here are three of my favorite herbs for worn out, highly-strung city dwellers whose nervous systems are in need of some love:

SAGE (Salvia officinalis)

This common garden plant is known more for its culinary uses than its medicinal properties, but little do most people know what a treasure trove this herb is. There’s an old saying, “Why should a man die when sage grows in his garden?”…referring to the belief that sage promotes a long and healthy life.

 Photo by David Monniaux via Wikicommons

Photo by David Monniaux via Wikicommons

Personally I find sage to be one of the best plants to help me immediately feel calm if I am nervous or anxious. The tea is highly aromatic and comforting, soothing to both the mind and the digestive organs (much of the nervous system is housed in the gut). Sage essential oil can be used (diluted) to calm an over-active or overwhelmed mind, or inhaled before meditation to help you stay centered and focused. Traditionally sage was believed to have the ability to enhance inner wisdom and insight, thus one who is wise is called a “sage.”

Besides being a wonderfully calming cup of tea, sage can also be used in cases of stress-induced headaches, and may also be useful for some people who have sleep issues due to anxiety.

To make a strong cup of sage tea use 1/2 to 1 Tblsp. of the dried herb per cup of hot water. Let steep for 10 minutes. Add a spoonful of honey if you wish. The essential oil of sage can be diluted in a liquid spray and spritzed to impart its calmative properties.

Sage should be avoided during pregnancy, but soon-to-be mamas can benefit from our next herb…

MILKY OAT (Avena sativa)

Oats are incredibly nourishing. You probably know them as the hot morning cereal that has been an important staple crop of Northern European peoples for centuries. But besides being a nourishing food for the whole body they are specifically nourishing for the nervous system. Oats are a trophorestorative herb, which simply means that they feed nerve tissue and help to restore normal nerve function and vitality.

A tea or tincture of milky oats helps people to come back from nervous exhaustion and over-work. Oats help calm frayed or shattered nerves, and ease anxiety and emotional instability. Truly, this is one of my absolute favorite herbs because it is so gentle but so powerful at the same time and makes a noticeable difference for anyone who is stressed, constantly upset, overly sensitive or depleted and worn out. Herbalists have also used oats successfully to help calm the agitation from coffee or cigarette withdrawal.

If using the tincture, be sure to look for Milky Oat tincture, which means that the oats where harvested at a time when the seed yields a milky substance when crushed – this is where much of its nutritional and medicinal value lies.

If making a tea, use one big handful of the dried oat tops per quart of water. Pour boiled water over the herb and let steep overnight to extract as much of the medicinal qualities as possible.

One word of caution about oat – while it is one of the safest and most gentle of herbs, it may not be suitable for people who have severe gluten intolerance due to cross-contamination from gluten-containing grains.

TULSI or HOLY BASIL (Ocimum sanctum and O. tenuiflorum)

Recently tulsi has become the darling of many Western herbalists, and for good reason – in Ayurvedic tradition it has been a revered herb for thousands of years, called the “elixir of life” and used for everything from respiratory problems to beautifying the complexion to keeping evil influences away from the home. Western herbalists now know and love this herb (a close cousin of culinary basil) for its use as an adaptogen, which is a technical way of saying that it helps us adapt to and overcome everyday stress.

Like sage, tulsi is great for anxiety and overwhelm and will help you to RELAX. Used over time it can also increase energy and endurance. Ayurvedic practitioners believe that tulsi will move an individual towards whole health and vitality, protect against disease and gladden the heart. Overall it is a wonderful (and delicious!) herb that will gently reduce feelings of stress and is a delicious addition to your tea stash.

To make a strong cup of tulsi use up to 1 Tblsp. of dried herb per cup of water. Let steep for at least 10 minutes. Tulsi also makes a wonderful iced tea during the summer months – keep a pitcher in the fridge to drink throughout the day.

Try your hand at incorporating one or all three of these herbs into your life, and see how they support you during busy, stressful times. I’d love to know how they work for you – feel free to let me know in the comments below!

REFERENCES:

Methow Valley Herbs
CSHS
Blessed Maine Herbs
Herbal Remedies Advice

Steph Zabel, MSc, is an herbalist and educator who helps urban dwellers connect with the plant world.  She teaches herbal classes, is available for individual wellness consultations, and is also the founder of HERBSTALK, Boston’s community herbal conference.  Learn more about her work at: www.flowerfolkherbs.com and www.herbstalk.org.

CODONOPSIS (Campanulaceae Family): "Poor Man's Ginseng"

By Steph Zabel,
Herbalist, Ethnobotanist and Educator

Codonopsis (Codonopsis pilosula) is a sweet, nourishing root that comes to us from China where it is known as Dang Shen. You may also hear it called “Poor Man’s Ginseng” as it is often used as a substitute for the rarer, more expensive true ginseng, to which it has similar properties.

This plant is native to East Asia where it can be found growing wild, but it is also commonly cultivated for medicinal use. Once the roots are three years old, they are harvested. In Asia they are not only used for their healing properties, but also as a food; the tasty roots are used as in ingredient in soups and other dishes.

Codonopsis is becoming increasingly popular in western herbalism, where it is considered to be an adaptogenic herb. An adaptogen is a plant that helps an individual be more resistant to stress and also supports the adrenal and immune systems. In Traditional Chinese medicine it is known as a yin tonic, because it supports and nourishes the yin energy of the body through its sweet, cooling and moistening properties.

 Photo by Doronenko via WikiCommons

Photo by Doronenko via WikiCommons

As mentioned above this nourishing root is often used as a replacement for ginseng as a chi tonic — it gently increases one’s innate energy. It can be particularly healing for the spleen, blood, lungs, stomach and pancreas. Traditionally used for low energy, poor appetite, and debility after illness, codonopsis helps increase resistance to stress and builds strength in the body. It is often used in herbal blends for anyone who is low-energy and depleted, such as in cases of long-term disease, substantial blood loss, or after childbirth.

It is a wonderful remedy for anemic people to help them build up and nourish their blood. Research has shown that it increases hemoglobin and red blood cell levels, and lowers the blood pressure. If someone is showing signs of paleness, dizziness, fatigue and constant low-energy, think of supplementing with codonopsis root.

 Photo by Badagnani via WikiCommons

Photo by Badagnani via WikiCommons

In Asia it is traditionally used for asthma, shortness of breath and deficiency in the lungs.  As an immune tonic it is also excellent for people who tend to come down with every cold that goes around, and especially for issues that settle in the lungs. Codonopsis is an expectorant herb that can help to expel excess mucous, while also having the amazing ability to also soothe irritated mucous membranes.

Finally, codonopsis can be a wonderful herb for children, who may naturally be drawn to its sweet and grounding taste.  As a nourishing tonic herb, it is safe for people of all ages and constitutions to use.

HOW TO USE:

Add a few pieces of the root into the pot while cooking rice, or into soups/broths. The dried or fresh root can also be nibbled on its own.

To make a decoction, add 1 tbsp. of the dried root to 2 cups of water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil then lower the heat to a gentle simmer. Let simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, then strain and drink.

 Photo by Steph Zabel

Photo by Steph Zabel

RECIPE: Sweet Root & Berry Tea

This is a perfectly nourishing, grounding and earthy-sweet tea. I hope this simple trio of berries and roots will warm your heart and spirit over the winter months.

Blend together:

3 Tblsp. codonopsis root
4 Tblsp. hawthorn berries (link to hawthorn article)
1 Tblsp. burdock root (link to burdock article)

Once blended, this will make enough for 3-4 servings.

To make a single serving, place 2 heaping tablespoons of this mixture in 1.5 cups of water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil then lower the heat to a simmer, cover, and let cook for 15 to 20 minutes. Strain and drink.

REFERENCES:

Living Naturally
ITM Online

NIH.gov

Steph Zabel, MSc, is an herbalist and educator who helps urban dwellers connect with the plant world.  She teaches herbal classes, is available for individual wellness consultations, and is also the founder of HERBSTALK, Boston’s community herbal conference.  Learn more about her work at: www.flowerfolkherbs.com and www.herbstalk.org.


This blog series — Herbs and Botanicals— is for general health information only. This Web site is not to be used as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment of any health condition or problem. Users of this Web site should not rely on information provided on this Web site for their own health problems. Any questions regarding your own health should be addressed to your own physician or other healthcare provider.