herbalism

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.

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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.

Ritual: Tea, Breath, and Song for the Autumn Transition

By Heather, CN Lifestyle Buyer + The Naturalist Contributor

As late September ushers in the Autumn season, our bodies’ ancestral instincts kick into gear, slowing us down as we prepare for colder months. Paradoxically, our schedules speed up: school beginning, work goals and projects, change-of-season shifts, different routines... in my experience, it can feel overwhelming to have such opposing actions occurring in our internal and external environments. The answer? Tea. When in doubt, always begin with tea.

I have learned that for my personal well-being, I need to make sure I have time to slow down in the face of the momentum and frenzy. Whether it be at the beginning or the end of the day (or better yet, both!), I find that taking even just 5 minutes to breathe, drink tea, and have my own little ritual is monumentally helpful for my peace of mind.

Below I have listed a tea to sip, a simple calming ritual, and a Cambridge Naturals Autumn Tea Ritual playlist. If you can, take an hour to yourself to brew this tea, sit and sip, and enjoy the relaxing music. Focus on letting go of the daily and global stressors that surround us all and build up in our bodies. This blend is naturally cooling, and put together with the aim to aid in relief of physical tension. I find it to helpful to sip during my busy day when I crave quiet moments. It can be put on ice or kept hot; a delicious, nutritive drink no matter what temperature fluctuations that September’s transitional weather brings.

Tea blend:

  • Tulsi (Holy Basil) - an adaptogen supportive for the body's response to stress
  • Lemon Balm - uplifting and aromatic
  • Milky Oat Tops - nourishing and trophorestorative (aid nervous tissue function and vitality)
  • Skullcap - comforting and tension-relieving
  • Red Raspberry Leaf - Steph Zabel, MSc, local herbalist and botanical educator says: "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.”
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Equal parts of each herb, but follow your intuition - if one herb feels particularly helpful or smells wonderful to you, add more of it!

Short steep: Steep 2-3 teaspoons of dried leaf per cup of hot water for 10-20 minutes.

Long steep: 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.

Note: If you’re crunched for time, you can always put water on to boil as soon as you get home so that it is ready for you by the time you settle in and pick your herbs!

Ritual:

Nadi Shodhan pranayama (Alternate Nostril Breathing)

Here is an approachable video for this technique, taught by Adriene Louise, curator of the wonderful Yoga With Adriene YouTube channel. Adriene says, “This breath technique has so many benefits! It is a great way to calm the nervous system and relieve tension and anxiety. It is great for concentration, cleansing, and is a fantastic headache cure!”

CN Autumn Tea Ritual Playlist:

 
 

This blog series — Ritual — is for general health information only. This website 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.

Six Favorite Herbal Recipes for Autumn

Fall! It’s almost here!… The official start to the season is the autumn equinox on September 22nd. I’m sure you can already feel the shift in the air, the different slant of light and the ever-changing colors of the trees.

If you read my blog or newsletters you know that fall is my absolute favorite season. Summer is pretty wonderful, of course, but I have to admit that it always feels like a huge relief when the heat and brightness of the summer sun fade into the cooler, more gentle days of autumn. There is a special sort of beauty that exists only in fall.

In celebration of this season I am compiling some of my favorite, go-to herbal recipes. Some of these are quite simple to make and others are a bit more involved. Read on for the healing benefits of the plants in each recipe. I hope you are inspired to make a few of these herbal concoctions…

May your autumn days be full of beauty and abundance!

SIMPLE ELDERBERRY SYRUP

elderberry.JPG

Elderberry is an important herb for every home apothecary, especially as we enter the colder months of cold and flu season. This syrup is very easy to make, tastes delicious and is one of the best things you can do to support your immune system. It is my go-to potion for sniffles, colds, flu, and anytime I am starting to feel run-down. Take 1-2 tablespoons a day for preventative measures and to keep your immune system going strong. This syrup is also delicious added to teas (or hot toddies!), or as a special garnish on desserts.

An herbal syrup might sound complicated, but really it is just a mixture of:
a strong herbal tea + a sweetener + brandy

elderberry syrup2.jpg

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 cup dried elderberries
  • 1 teaspoon dried ginger root
  • 1 tablespoon dried cinnamon chips
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 cup local honey
  • 1/2 cup brandy

1. Create a strong tea (decoction) by slowly simmering the elderberries and spices in the water. Let the water content reduce by half, which may take an hour or more.  Keep an eye on the pot and make sure the water does not evaporate too much - if needed, add another cup of water.

2. Strain and discard the herbs from the liquid.

3.  Measure your remaining liquid. If you started with 4 cups of water, you should have 1.5 to 2 cups of liquid left. Add 1 cup of honey. You can adjust the amount to your taste, and preference for consistency. (If you want a thicker, sweeter syrup, add more honey.)

4. After adding the honey, cook on very low heat until just combined, usually just a minute or two. When using honey (especially raw honey) you want to be careful with the amount of heat you use.

5.  Remove from the heat and let cool. At this point your syrup can be considered finished, but if you would like extra preservative properties for a longer shelf life, add 1/2 cup brandy. Mix thoroughly.

6. Pour into clean glass bottles, label it with the ingredients and date, and refrigerate. The syrup will keep for several months when preserved with brandy and stored in the fridge.

Options: You could also add other spices such as cloves, cardamom or orange peel to this recipe. I also like to add in a small amount of dried rosehips for added Vitamin C content. Use this basic recipe as a starting point and let your creative juices flow!

 

ROSEHIP OXYMEL

The combination of honey, vinegar and herbs creates an ancient preparation called an oxymel. This simple medicine dates back to the time of the Greeks and has been used for many different ailments. Today we can make oxymels as a delicious way to preserve our favorite herbs, or to create a medicinal tonic.

The basic method of making an oxymel is to mix together equal parts honey and apple cider vinegar and pour this mixture over your herbs to steep. (Use more vinegar for a thinner oxymel, less vinegar for a more syrup-y oxymel.)

Rosehips are an excellent herb to incorporate into your fall herbal routine as they are chock full of Vitamin C and help our immune systems stay healthy. Use this tart honey-vinegar concoction directly by the spoonful, or add to seltzer water for a refreshing drink. You can also use it as the base for sauces, marinades and salad dressings.

INGREDIENTS:

  • Rosehips
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Raw honey

1. Fill a pint sized jar 1/3 full of dried rosehips or 1/2 full of fresh, chopped rosehips.

2. Cover with a vinegar/honey mixture (start with a 1:1 ratio of vinegar: honey). Stir it up to remove air bubbles and cover the top of the jar with a sheet of wax paper before capping if using a metal lid. (Or use a plastic lid to avoid corrosion from the vinegar.)

3. Shake those hips! Shake the jar often to make sure the herb does not clump together. Add more vinegar if necessary.

4. Let infuse for 2 – 6 weeks. Then strain out using a cheesecloth and store in a tightly capped bottle out of direct sunlight.

 

SPICED ASHWAGANDHA HOT CHOCOLATE

What better way to take your fortifying ashwagandha powder than in hot chocolate?! Make this brew on cold nights -- it is lovely to sip on as you are winding down from the day.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 tablespoons Cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon Ashwagandha root powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon Cinnamon
  • a few sprinkles of freshly grated Nutmeg
  • 8 oz. Coconut milk* (or other milk of choice)
  • Honey or maple syrup to taste

This recipe makes one serving. Pour the milk into a small saucepan and whisk in the cocoa powder, ashwagandha powder, cinnamon and nutmeg. Heat gently over low heat for a few minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour into a mug and add honey or maple syrup to your taste. Enjoy!

*If using full fat coconut milk from a can I usually dilute it down with water to equal parts, i.e. 4 oz coconut milk plus 4 oz. water

 

HERBAL ROOT CHAI

root chai recipe.jpg

I love this chai because not only is it completely delicious, it is also very good for you. Dandelion, burdock and chicory roots are incredibly nourishing and make our livers happy. And astragalus is a sweet-tasting, tonic root that supports our immune systems — never a bad thing during cold and flu season. The spices in this recipe add a gentle heat that stimulates both our digestion and circulation. All in all, this root chai helps us to stay toasty and healthy during the cold months.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 6 cloves
  • 6 cardamom pods
  • 1 tsp. black peppercorn
  • 1-2 tsp. dried ginger root
  • 1 tsp. dried orange peel
  • 1/2 Tblsp. cinnamon bark (sweet or cassia)
  • 1 Tblsp. burdock root
  • 1 Tblsp. roasted dandelion root (roasted will yield a deeper, darker flavor)
  • 1 Tblsp. roasted chicory root
  • 1 Tblsp. astragalus root

Grind together the cloves, cardamom and peppercorn in a mortar and pestle. This will help their flavor be dispersed throughout the whole tea. Combine these crushed pieces with the remaining ingredients and mix thoroughly. Store in a tightly capped glass jar. This will make about 5-6 servings of tea.

To brew the tea, add up to 1 Tblsp. of the chai blend per two cups of water in a small saucepan. Bring everything to a boil, then lower the heat and let it simmer covered at for least 20 minutes. Just be sure to keep an eye on the water level and don't let it evaporate too much. When it is as dark and spicy tasting as you would like, strain out the roots and add milk and honey to taste.

 

AUTUMN APPLE TEA

Autumn Apple Tea.JPG

This unusual tea blends together some of the brightest notes of summer with our delicious New England fall fruits.

 

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 tablespoon dried lemon verbena leaf
  • 1 tablespoon dried (or fresh) sumac berries
  • 1/2 tablespoon dried rosehips
  • 1 tart apple, cut into pieces

1. Place all the ingredients in a quart-sized jar.

2. Cover with freshly boiled water and let steep for 10 - 20 minutes.

3. Strain out the herbs and add raw honey or maple syrup to taste. Drink cool or warm.

 

MUGWORT INFUSED VINEGAR

Mugwort Vinegar.JPG

Mugwort is one of my favorite herbs, full of healing on several levels. It is contains many minerals and vitamins and its bitter taste stimulates the digestion. I love to use this vinegar on roasted vegetables or as a salad dressing. I also simply take it by the spoonful!

INGREDIENTS:

  • Mugwort
  • Apple cider vinegar

 1. In a pint sized jar, add 1.5 cups chopped fresh mugwort leaves and stems. (If using dried mugwort, add just 3/4 cup.)

 2. Cover the herb completely with apple cider vinegar, until the liquid reaches to nearly the top of the jar.

3. Stir with a spoon or chopstick to remove any air bubbles.

4. Place a sheet of wax paper over the top of the jar and then cap tightly with the lid. (The wax paper prevents the vinegar from corroding the lid.)

5. Let steep for 4 to 6 weeks, if you can bear to wait that long! Taste at intervals to see if the flavor is to your liking. When ready, strain out the mugwort through a fine sieve.

6. Place the remaining liquid in a dark colored, air-tight bottle and label. The vinegar can be left at room temperature if used within a few months. For a longer shelf life, store in the refrigerator.

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.

Beauty Uniform: Shannon of Noel Herbal Skincare

By Mary, CN Body Care Buyer & The Naturalist Contributor

The secret is out: beauty really does come from within. What we choose to eat everyday affects our health internally, and will be displayed externally (#nofilter). Hydration levels, the liver’s ability to cleanse accumulated toxins, and especially increased levels of inflammation due to diet and lifestyle all affect skin conditions. And it’s safe to say that most of us are looking for youthful radiance and resilience when we talk about our skin needs.

Shannon of Noel Herbal Skincare is a local aesthetician and practicing herbalist. She uses her knowledge of plants to help her clients find balance with topical, hands on treatment in her studio, as well as take home advice to apply once they leave the comfort of the spa treatment they’ve received.

There’s something really magical about using the plants around us both internally and externally to treat our body holistically, and Shannon does just that. Below is a recent interview with the skincare maven herself, including some invaluable advice and insight into her personal and professional practice.

You’ve been a skincare therapist for over 10 years, what has been the biggest change in skin care during that time?

Good question!  The skincare world is constantly evolving, and often times can feel overwhelming. For me the biggest change has been the advancement of new technology & machines that perform various actions for the skin.  They have their benefits, but I believe a personal touch is much more beneficial to the overall well being of a person resulting in happy balanced skin. Nourishing ourselves from within reflects how we look on the outside. I like to take care of the person as a whole, and create a space of healing & connection. I feel that nature is all the science I need, and that true healing begins from within.  In a world where computers and machines are taking over I want to stay true to personal touch and connection.

As plant lovers, we have a deep understanding that health and beauty start from the inside with what we put in our bodies. Do you have a few foods or plant allies that you have a certain connection to in this sense that you could tell us more about?

Yes I could not agree more.  I eat lots of fresh veggies, fruits, fish, & healthy fats.  Learning more about my skin over the years, I have found the crucial importance of healthy fats. Omega 3’s help to balance the production of sebum which is the oil in your skin.  Avocados are wonderful for this and happen to be one of my favorite foods.  I could eat them with every meal :)

For my plant friends I really love burdock root & marshmallow for their affinity to the skin.  Burdock root is a wonderful blood cleanser, which helps to clear those unwanted toxins.  This is extremely beneficial for anyone who is struggling with chronic skin issues like acne, eczema & psoriasis.  It is also loaded with prebiotics helping our gut flora.  Our gut health is so important to our overall health so anything to help support this is highly recommended.

I see so many individuals whose skin is compromised due to a lack of hydration to the skin. I love marshmallow for its extreme moistening effect to the body.  It is a demulcent meaning that it can carry water into many types of tissue in the body.  Marshmallow is wonderful for anyone who doesn’t hold on to water very well, myself included.  They may drink a lot of water, but do not retain it.  Marshmallow helps the water stick because of its mucilage and mineral content. Also really great for anyone dealing with gut inflammation, which is an all too common issue.

What is the most common skin complaint you hear from your clients and how do you address it?

The most common complaint that I hear about is; clogged pores (acne) and aging skin that has lost its luster.  Clogged pores can be a result from improper use of products, diet, & dehydration or all of the above.  I help clients learn about healthy anti-inflammatory foods, and herbs that can help soothe & heal the gut, & clean out toxins that may be resulting in skin related issues, and also educate on healthy products to maintain their skin with at home.

Aging is inevitable and also a very personal experience. As we get older, the skin’s natural shedding process slows down which causes a buildup of dead skin cells resulting in a dry, dull, even sometimes flaky appearance. A good exfoliation is important for our skin’s health.  It allows for better product penetration and gives you a healthier more vibrant appearance.

Do you have any special self care or skin care rituals you make time for each day, or each week?

When I am not running back & forth to Cambridge Naturals :) … I always no matter how tired I am, will wash my skin before bed and when I wake up in the morning.  I include a combination of serums & a moisturizer.  I love using hyaluronic acid, it’s such a simple but amazing ingredient that I find it really helps my skin stay healthy and hydrated.  I also love using Niacinamide, which is vitamin b3; it’s great for cutting & working through sensitivity. Once a week I make a mask with herbal tea.  I love French green clay so that is usually the base, and the tea infusion with a bit of honey is the rest. It’s really nice because I get to enjoy a cup of tea and also see how the herbs work on the skin.

What has inspired or continues to inspire your own beauty uniform?

I think herbs have really inspired me to take my skincare practice to the next level.  I have always believed in a holistic practice, but now having the foundation of being a practicing herbalist I am better able to guide my clients on a healthy path. Plants and helping clients find their own personal “happy state” is what continues to inspire me.

If you could offer one piece of advice to those inspired to adopt a natural skincare routine, what would it be?

I would say to anyone wanting to adopt a healthy regimen to become aware of safe ingredients vs. toxic ingredients.  A product label can market itself as anything, but after reading more into the list of ingredients you may find something that says it’s “all natural” may in fact be harmful to our bodies.  Lots of ingredients that are on the product shelves in my opinion are outdated and not safe.  Really familiarize yourself with reading a list of ingredients and not the headliner of the product that gets your attention.  Make a commitment to yourself and keep it simple ☺
 

And lastly, what are your top three favorite Cambridge Naturals products?

Ahh there’s so many making this is extremely tough!  I love the Evan Healy Wild Carrot eye balm, Sun Potion (Reishi), & the Bach flower essences.  I also really love Heart Grown wild face serums; the ‘Veil of Love’ is magical

Thank you so much for sharing your beauty uniform with us, Shannon! Noel Herbal Skincare is located at 689 Somerville Ave in Somerville and Shannon is now offering 20% off new customers first treatment when you mention this post! For updates follow @noel_herbals on instagram.

Monthly Muse: Evan Healy

By Emily, CN Second Generation Co-Owner

When I first came back into the business three years ago, my focus at the store was our body care section. There was a big learning curve with understanding the intricacies of buying: getting to know each brand's particular ethos and story, how to order the products, and how to communicate the value of each individual line to our customers. One of the first brands I worked with was evanhealy, a line we'd carried for over a decade. I was fairly familiar with the products, but I didn't know that much about their back story, the ingredients, and what truly sets evanhealy skin care apart.

Evan and her husband David launched their skin care company in 1999. Evan had been a natural skin care aesthetician for over 10 years, and had studied Ayurvedic medicine, homeopathy and aromatherapy in the US, Europe and India. She brought core tenants of these philosophies into her new skin care brand - as well as her own unwavering passion for authentic beauty and truth. What makes the evanhealy line so special is not just that their ingredients are impeccably sourced - they build deep relationships with women's cooperatives and small family farms around the world to ethically source the majority of their high quality, organic ingredients - but also that their plant-based products are formulated to highlight and embrace your skin. Rather than correcting "problems" or "challenges", Evan's products heal and harmonize with your skin's natural beauty. On every one of their shipping boxes is a sticker with the message "Who you are is enough." Using Evan's products feels like taking a deep breath of fresh air, drawn down into your belly, and exhaled slowly. The mixing of oil, water (and sometimes clay) is one of my absolute favorite daily rituals now.

We were lucky to learn more about Evan's own rituals, her quest for authenticity, and her passion for running evanhealy alongside David and their wonderful team. Read on for our interview:

All photos courtesy of Evan Healy.

Evan in a field of Sacred Tulsi in Trivandrum, India, 2009. Photo by Niika Quistgard.

Evan in a field of Sacred Tulsi in Trivandrum, India, 2009. Photo by Niika Quistgard.

Partnerships are very important to the evanhealy brand - when you source an ingredient like organic shea butter or fair trade argan oil, you're working closely with the communities that grow and harvest the raw material and you support their livelihood in deep ways. Can you tell us a little bit about why these relationships matter to you and to the company, and one particular partnership story that inspires your work?

Evan: Partnerships are the foundation of our business. Our relationships are what matter most. I prefer to deal with people I know and have met. We are very fortunate in our business that we work with families and folks devoted to the shared values of hand made and artisan, organic and holistic. We source from all over the global garden. We also value the profound knowledge of indigenous cultures. Traditional cultures and their regional remedies are often overlooked sources of wisdom. Traditional cultural remedies represent many generations of experience and knowledge of the natural world. This ancient knowledge is imbued with both simplicity and meaning, and I love learning about their historical context. I enjoy connecting with women who know the deep truths of the land on which they live. They exhibit such a generosity of spirit when they share their knowledge of their ancestors. This is true whether it’s the women of Kperisi in Ghana or the Berber Amazigh women of Tiznit, in the Atlas Mountains in Morocco. These women radiate the power, integrity and well-being of Place.

Meeting Urias in Mexico, 2007 - maker of evanhealy's clay bowls for the Clay Mask Kit. His sons and grandsons now work with him.

Meeting Urias in Mexico, 2007 - maker of evanhealy's clay bowls for the Clay Mask Kit. His sons and grandsons now work with him.

What does a typical day in the world of evanhealy skin care look like? What are your favorite daily aspects about what you do for a living?

I’m a creative person. I like variety. I don’t like to get up and do the same thing everyday. I'm not a nine-to-five person. I follow my energy cycles. In the morning I like to go outside almost immediately.

I do enjoy getting in to the office and talking to people. I enjoy their energy. More than anything else I appreciate the opportunity to exercise my creativity. I am our company’s Creative Director, so I am always scanning the horizon for new ideas, partnerships, products. Ultimately, it is the natural world from which I draw the most inspiration and value. In all settings, I work best in the moment, and often better alone. Those moments can often stretch out for months, or years! I like to take something that I’ve been tinkering with and give it life, take it to the next level. This takes time, and conversely, the process is also rather spontaneous. For me working with our nutritive oils, our various infused oils, nut and seed butters, sun dried clays, emulsions and hydrosols is an almost meditative experience. It deepens the connection to what I feel is best about myself. It both grounds me and expands me. I have been very fortunate in my life’s work.

I find the way ‘beauty’ is portrayed in the mainstream media rather shallow, and too perfectionistic. I have learned that, pared down to its essence, beauty lies in the cracks and crevices of our lives every minute of every day.

I love collaborating with our design and media team. I get inspiration from all avenues: photography, food and home-style blogs. I love picking up the camera myself. With or without a camera, I am constantly framing what I see, recording it, or making a mental note. I look for harmony, magical light and natural, unfussy beauty. I find it no matter where I am: in my backyard, on a trail, in a remote village, on the street, and of course, in the faces I see. During the years I spent in my skin care practice, I learned the valuable lesson of looking, observing and watching. All three of these actions convey the need to both soften the vision - while sharpening the focus. Attention to detail has always been my specialty!

Evan doing a summertime facial. 2016.

Evan doing a summertime facial. 2016.

Skin is constantly changing and evolving, reflecting thoughts and emotions, I find that fascinating. I am constantly looking to communicate a more authentic expression of beauty, in both word and image. I find the way ‘beauty’ is portrayed in the mainstream media rather shallow, and too perfectionistic. I have learned that, pared down to its essence, beauty lies in the cracks and crevices of our lives every minute of every day. The challenge these days is to slow down long enough to look and really see what’s there. When done right, it becomes a meditation. I love the idea that natural beauty is transitory and messy. Nature is not perfect, but it is enlightened. We place too high a value on perfection, and our nervous systems can’t handle this constant striving for perfection. All things are impermanent. The inherent lesson of our life is: learn to let go! Take a nap. Go for a walk. Take time to relax. Your adrenals will thank you. Expressed by the relative simplicity of our product range, we want to raise the conversation from one of a hyper focus on 'anti-aging' - to the appreciation of imperfection. The deeper truth behind our message is the fact that - who you are is enough.

Evan & David

Evan & David

You and your husband David work closely together to run evanhealy. As a (multi-generational) family-owned business ourselves, we'd love to learn how you balance the demands (and joys) of work life with your family life.

Oh yes! I struggle with balance every day. However, at this point, David and I have been collaborating for most of our twenty years together. It’s pretty seamless, it’s always rewarding, but yes, it’s not always easy. We like to remind each other of that analogy about stones in a tumbler, softening each other’s sharp edges. We’re pretty comfortable together, and with our business. It’s our life. It’s our child. And we are perfectly suited to it. We each exhibit the complimentary, but polar opposite of the other’s talent and skill. He’s organized and financial. I’m artistic and spontaneous. He works on Excel spread sheets. I scribble on thousands of post-its. We have taken the Yin and Yang thing to a whole new level. We have boundaries – day and night, work week and weekend – but they’re not strict. Neither of us are that good with boundaries. Ultimately, he is my most important relationship.

The never-ending barrage of internet ‘noise’ is so disruptive to our delicately balanced nervous system. It impedes access to the inner quiet life of our true self. To counter this we say: Slow down. Simplify.

Your products have a devoted following among our staff and customers - and not just because they are well-formulated and made with beautiful ingredients, but because they inspire a deeper sense of self-care. The word "ritual" always comes to mind: The daily ritual of slowing down, taking time for your skin, and therefore yourself. What are some of your favorite self-care rituals?

Evan:  Yes, I love the word ritual as it pertains to care of the skin. I like to ease into my morning. I get up and immediately go outside with bare feet on the grass, stretching or yoga, with a cup of hot lemon water, tea or coffee. I’m an introvert, so being quiet is my touchstone. I can only regenerate when I am alone and early morning is my time. I go from a sleep state to a slow, calm, natural state via our backyard. By standing under our ancient apple tree, I go within. And while I don’t mind getting up early, I don’t like to have to be somewhere, or for that matter, leave my house at all. I prefer to glide slowly into my day. As I get older, I notice my rhythms change. The stability of daily rituals matter more. They become deeper, slower and more infused with meaning.

A shell Evan uses for scooping clay, found on the beach of her childhood summer home in Scituate, MA, a place she feels a deep connection to. Her hands are also one of the main ways she connects with the world around her - both as an esthetician and as a healer.

A shell Evan uses for scooping clay, found on the beach of her childhood summer home in Scituate, MA, a place she feels a deep connection to. Her hands are also one of the main ways she connects with the world around her - both as an esthetician and as a healer.

Out of necessity, I’m driven to find what calms and relaxes me. I struggle, frankly, to get away from the internet. I do a lot of the writing, planning, and I find inspiration by scanning social media, but I don’t find it healthy to know what’s going on every minute of every day! You certainly don’t need to know I’ve just flossed my teeth, boiled an egg or blinked my eyes, for instance. A distortion of our natural rhythms results in an imbalance of the autonomic nervous system and all its attendant symptoms, such as higher cortisol. Adrenal depletion can often been seen in the area around the eyes. The never-ending barrage of internet ‘noise’ is so disruptive to our delicately balanced nervous system. It impedes access to the inner quiet life of our true self. To counter this we say: Slow down. Simplify.

I use our copper distilled plant Hydrosols and Facial Serums as remedies, not just for the skin but also to send a message to my spirit. Healers have to remain grounded in nature. It’s what connects us to our own inner physician. I love saturating my face with our Hydrosols, followed by massaging a few droplets of our Oil Serum (Blue Cactus Beauty Elixir is my idea of heaven these days!) into my skin. I use our Whipped Shea Butter, made with our own infused oils, to cure any and all skin ills.

Copper stills used in making the evanhealy Hydrosouls

Copper stills used in making the evanhealy Hydrosouls

The world has seemingly become more chaotic and our political scene ever more divisive. What people, books, media, or movements are inspiring you to keep going these days?

In my earlier years, and out of a need for answers, I spent years reading classics, philosophy and books about eastern religion. Books that encouraged my flights of imagination were often about women explorers such as Alexandra David-Neel, Gertrude Bell and Freya Stark. I was looking for answers to the age-old question of how do I live an authentic life? And for that matter, what is an authentic life? I was truly on a journey of self-discovery. My path took me to mystics and teachers like Joseph Campbell and His Holiness the Dalai Lama. My list of teachers and mentors is long and varied! There are so many sources of inspiration, and the search is always a deeply personal one.

Stepping outdoors for an afternoon walk in Big Sur.

Stepping outdoors for an afternoon walk in Big Sur.

These days, I am inspired by topics and books such as Dirt: The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth by William Bryant Logan. I loved the book In Praise of Shadows, by author Jun’ichirō Tanizaki. I have read and reread Leonard Koren’s books: Wabi Sabi – Further Thoughts, and his earlier book, Wabi Sabi: For Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers.

The books on Wabi Sabi share the profound and ultimate wisdom of finding true beauty in imperfection. Embracing the cycles and profundity of nature. It’s a beauty that is simple, slow and uncluttered. This is what makes the most sense to me.

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.

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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.