Herbs and Botanicals

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.

Frankincense: A Sacred Resin

By Steph Zabel,
Herbalist, Ethnobotanist and Educator

Last month we covered an exotic, aromatic tree and this time we’ll continue with the arboreal theme. Except now we will explore a small, shrubby tree that is native to dry, desert climates (rather than tropical environments, like cinnamon is). The resin of this fascinating plant — native to India, Oman, Ethiopia, Somalia, Yemen and Saudi Arabia — has been used for over 5,000 years. It has been highly regarded as a medicine, an aromatic perfume, a ceremonial tool, and was once worth even more than gold.

Photo by Ben Norvell via Wikimedia Commons

Photo by Ben Norvell via Wikimedia Commons

Perhaps you are familiar with the scent of frankincense — often burned as incense in religious ceremonies. Or perhaps you are more familiar with the essential oil — sometimes referred to as olibanum. The oil is commonly used in aromatherapy for soothing chronic stress and anxiety, reducing pain and inflammation, and boosting immunity.

It is also an ingredient in many natural skin care products because of its anti-inflammatory properties. Frankincense is believed to help protect and heal skin cells and is used to reduce acne, prevent wrinkles and slow signs of aging. It is an astringent, meaning that it helps to tighten and tone loose, sagging or lax tissues. The essential oil can be added to any moisturizing serum as a nice, supportive addition to a daily skin care routine.

Its physical properties also make frankincense a powerful antiseptic; it is used to eliminate bacteria and viruses, and can help disinfect an area — use it as an aromatherapy spritzer or burn the resin for this purpose.

Photo by Mauro Raffaelli via Wikimedia Commons

Photo by Mauro Raffaelli via Wikimedia Commons

The astringent action of this plant can also help eliminate phlegm and congestion in the lungs. For mucous-y situations that seem to hang around in the respiratory system or sinuses, try frankincense as it will not only help to dry up mucous but will also act as an anti-inflammatory in the nasal passages, making breathing easier.

Finally, when rubbed on the body topically frankincense oil can improve circulation and the symptoms of joint or muscle pain in arthritic and rheumatic conditions. It tends to have a soothing effect for any sort of bodily inflammation.

The Chinese called it “fanhunxiang” meaning “calling back the soul fragrance.” It is often used in meditation, since the scent is calming, grounding and pleasant to the senses. It helps one to become more present in the moment and encourages feelings of peace.

Let’s speak a bit of the more esoteric and spiritual aspects of this amazing resin… Frankincense is a venerable old tree, in use for thousands and thousands of years. It was so highly treasured that it was brought as one of the gifts of the Wise Men to be presented at Jesus’ birth.  The resin was also found in the tombs of Egyptian mummies, used not only as an embalming agent, but also as an offering to help the departed souls make their journey to the afterlife.

Amongst many cultures around the world the fragrance of this resin was believed to increase one’s spiritual connection and intuition. The Chinese called it “fanhunxiang” meaning “calling back the soul fragrance.” It is often used in meditation, since the scent is calming, grounding and pleasant to the senses. It helps one to become more present in the moment and encourages feelings of peace.

Several religions use frankincense incense in their ceremonies. It may be used to prepare the environment for ritual, and is said to call forth the angels and other invisible beings to assist in creating sacred space. Symbolically, the smoke that rises as the resin burns helps to carry prayers and offerings to Heaven.
 

Burning incense _SZ.jpg

HOW TO USE

Make Frankincense Water:
Place 4-5 small pieces of resin in a quart sized jar. Cover with boiled water, cap, and let steep for a few hours or overnight. The resulting liquid will be light in color and a bit cloudy. Drink up to a cup or so a day, using your taste buds to guide you on your own proper dosage. This tea comes in handy when you are feeling congested. Many people also drink it to help with arthritic or painful joints.

Use the essential oil topically:
Dilute 10 - 15 drops of frankincense essential oil in 1 oz. of a carrier of your choice (olive, jojoba, grapeseed, or almond oil) and rub onto the skin. This is useful for scarring, acne, wrinkles and painful joints.

Burn the resin:
To burn the dried resin use a small charcoal disc (often sold to use in hookahs). Light the charcoal outside on a fire-proof dish and when it finishes smoking and sparking it should simply glow. Place 1 to 3 small pieces of resin on the charcoal and it will start to burn immediately. The resulting incense is pleasant and sweet and can be used to clear and purify the air.

NOTE: Frankincense should not be used during pregnancy, because of its emmenagogue and astringent qualities.

REFERENCES:

Sacred Earth
Dr. Mercola
Enfleurage.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.

The Tree of Spice: Cinnamon

By Steph Zabel
Herbalist, Ethnobotanist and Educator

For many people, cinnamon evokes thoughts of the holiday season, of tasty desserts and of cozy kitchen aromas. And rightly so, for it is such a common and comforting culinary spice.

Despite being a staple of kitchens throughout the world, cinnamon is very much a plant of the tropics. True cinnamon is a small, evergreen tree that is originally native to Sri Lanka. The aromatic bark is the part that is harvested for use in food and herbal preparations. For ages it has been a highly regarded and often mysterious spice… The Greeks used it to flavor their wine and the ancient Egyptians used it in exotic blends for incense to perfume the air.

By Köhler–s_Medizinal-Pflanzen via Wikipedia

By Köhler–s_Medizinal-Pflanzen via Wikipedia

There is often some confusion surrounding the different types of cinnamon, since there are actually several species of trees which are sold on the market. True cinnamon, Cinnamomum verum, (also called Ceylon cinnamon) is grown in Sri Lanka. There is also Cinnamomum cassia, Chinese cinnamon or cassia, which tends to be more commonly sold in powdered form in the United States. To me, cassia cinnamon has a bolder, spicier taste to it, and true cinnamon is lighter and sweeter. Try both kinds to see which one you prefer.

The first time I ever had cinnamon as a tea — yes, it can be drunk as a tea! — I was on a very small island in the Caribbean. The local people there drink cinnamon for upset stomach and digestive issues. I remember feeling so surprised by the tea — how immediately delicious and sweet and warming it was. It was one of the best things I had tasted!

Several herbal traditions around the world also use cinnamon for digestion as it stimulates and supports weak or stagnant digestive organs. It can be especially useful for nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

By L. Shyamal via Wikipedia

By L. Shyamal via Wikipedia

I like to think of cinnamon as a more gentle substitute to ginger. We all know how spicy and warming ginger is, and all the great benefits it has for the digestive system… however, for some people dried ginger is just too hot. If you’re like me and ginger root makes you sweat and feel uncomfortable, you probably already have a warm constitution and don’t need something so strong. Try cinnamon bark instead.

Given the inherent warming properties of cinnamon, it has traditionally been used for “cold” conditions such as a weak digestion, cold extremities or poor circulation. It may also be quite helpful for reducing the uncomfortable symptoms of Reynaud's Syndrome. In women, it can be helpful in improving blood flow to the pelvic region, especially in cases of amenorrhea or fibroids.

Cinnamon also seems to play a role in regulating blood sugar and is often recommended for people with diabetes as it can improve insulin utilization. How interesting, then, that it is such a traditional ingredient in sweet, sugar-filled desserts around the world!

Finally, the bark of this wonderful tree possesses anti-inflammatory properties; as such it may help inhibit allergic reactions by reducing the histamine response caused by seasonal or environmental allergies. Blend a bit of cinnamon bark with nettles to help combat a dripping nose or itchy eyes during allergy season.


HOW TO USE CINNAMON:

➤ To make a tea use up to 1 tablespoon of the dried bark per 2 cups of water. Let simmer for 20 minutes in a small saucepan on low heat. Then strain out the bark. You can use whole cinnamon sticks (crushed) or cinnamon chips.

➤ Use cinnamon bark as a more mild substitute for ginger in teas/chai blends if dried ginger is too warming and stimulating.

➤ Sprinkle powdered cinnamon on top of beverages, warmed milk, or desserts.

Note: It is believed that Cassia cinnamon — which is high in natural coumarins — can be damaging to the liver when used in large quantities over time, especially in sensitive individuals. If you use cassia cinnamon, use only in moderate does. Or, choose to use true cinnamon instead which does not contain the high level of coumarins that cassia does.

Photo by Steph Zabel

Photo by Steph Zabel

RECIPES:

Here are a few fun cold-weather, holiday recipes below. One is for a cinnamon and apple cordial that will help you stay toasty warm in the winter months, and the other is one of my favorite recipes of all-time, my root chai blend. Enjoy!

Cinnamon Apple Cordial

  • 6 cups tart, local apples, seeded and coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup raw honey (or more to taste)
  • 2 large cinnamon sticks, crushed
  • 1/2 vanilla bean pod, sliced in half
  • brandy to cover

Combine all ingredients in a large glass jar. Shake often to help the honey dissolve. Let infuse for 4-6 weeks then strain through a cheesecloth and store in a clean, dark colored bottle.

Steph’s Root Chai Blend

  • 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

First, 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.

 REFERENCES

Botanical.com
University of Maryland Gazette
Herb Wisdom
Acupuncture Brooklyn  

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.

*The next Herbstalk event is the Wintergreen Herbal Market taking place on November 26th at the Armory in Somerville! More details can be found here!

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.

A Wild Fall Fruit: Rosehips (Rosa canina, Rosa rugosa and related species)

By Steph Zabel
Herbalist, Ethnobotanist and Educator

Photo by Rosendahl via Wikimedia Commons

Photo by Rosendahl via Wikimedia Commons

The Rose family (Rosaceae) is one of the most beloved botanical groups; humans have had a deep affinity for these plants 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.

Photo by Renee Ricciardi via Wikimedia Commons

Photo by Renee Ricciardi via Wikimedia Commons

While most people are familiar with the aesthetic and olfactory beauty of the rose, in this country there tends to be less familiarity with the fruit of the rose, i.e. the rosehip.

I adore using rosehips this time of year, when the scarlet fruits become full and ripe. All roses will develop hips once their flowers fade, but depending on the species they vary in shape, color, texture and taste. The hip of the dog rose, Rosa canina, is often sold commercially for tea. Around our neck of the woods we are lucky to find Rosa rugosa, the beach rose, which produces the most beautiful, large, tomato-like fruits.

So why would we want to use rosehips?

First of all, these fruits 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.

We cannot produce our own Vitamin C so it is essential that we obtain it from food. It is needed for producing hormones, neurotransmitters and hormones in the body. Having plenty of this vitamin in the diet has been correlated with a reduced risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease. In addition, Vitamin C supports the immune system and has been shown to shorten the duration of the common cold. This makes rosehips an excellent addition to fall and winter tea blends.

Photo by Oceancetaceen via Wikimedia Commons

Photo by Oceancetaceen via Wikimedia Commons

Like other red-hued herbs and fruits such as schisandra, hawthorn, and hibiscus, rosehips are high in bioflavonoids which have an antioxidant action that prevents free radical damage in the body. These bioflavonoids also strengthen heart and blood vessels.

Perhaps a lesser known use of rosehips are its effect on the digestive system. The hips are anti-inflammatory and soothing, and so are useful for hot, inflammatory conditions in the gut such as ulcers, colitis or Crohn’s. They are also a gentle laxative that is traditionally used for mild constipation; the natural pectin content has a beneficial, soothing effect on the intestinal tract.

Above all, rosehips are a food. They are commonly harvested to be made into jams and jellys; they can also be baked into pies, used as a thickener for sauces (because of their pectin content), and can even be made into a beautiful soup! (Check out this Swedish rosehip soup recipe I discovered!

Photo by Steph Zabel

Photo by Steph Zabel

HOW TO USE ROSEHIPS

  • Infusion: use 1 tsp. of dried rosehips per cup of hot water. Let steep 10-15 minutes.
  • You can also decoct rosehips to make a darker, stronger brew but you will lose much of the Vitamin C content with boiling.
  • Freshly gathered rosehips can also be made into jam or jelly.
  • Blends nicely with other herbs for a subtle, tart flavor. Try blending with holy basil, mint, lavender and/or lemon balm.

MAKING AN 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, but most especially for digestive and respiratory issues. Today we can make oxymels as a delicious way to preserve our favorite herbs, or to create a medicinal tonic.

The simplest 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.)

Photo by Steph Zabel

Photo by Steph Zabel

ROSEHIP OXYMEL RECIPE:

  • Fill a pint sized jar 1/3 full of dried rosehips or 1/2 full of fresh, chopped rosehips.
  • 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.)
  • Shake those hips! Really… Shake the jar often to make sure the herb does not clump together. Add more vinegar if necessary.
  • Let infuse for 2 – 6 weeks. Then strain out using a cheesecloth and store in a tightly capped bottle out of direct sunlight.

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.

REFERENCES

Botanical Online
Oregon State
Sacred Earth
Vegetarian Nutrition
 

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.

*The next Herbstalk event is the Wintergreen Herbal Market taking place on November 26th at the Armory in Somerville! More details can be found here.


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.

COMFREY (Symphytum officinale): A healer of wounds, bruises and bones

By Steph Zabel
Herbalist, Ethnobotanist and Educator

September’s herb is a bit different than all of our past monthly plant profiles. This month we focus on the great green healer, comfrey. But, unlike all the other plants we’ve covered here, comfrey is meant for external use only, rather than for taking internally. (And I’ll explain why as we go along.)

Perhaps you’ve seen this lush, leafy plant growing in a garden, or even alongside the edge of a forest, where it has escaped cultivation and is happily growing in the partial shade. If you walk along the Somerville bike path you are sure to see some half-wild comfrey growing along the edges. In the summertime you’ll notice it’s lovely violet-hued flowers which are born on a spiral-shaped stalk and hang downwards like small bells.

Herb of the Month: Chamomile

CHAMOMILE: Matricaria recutita and Chamaemelum nobile (Anthemis nobilis) Asteraceae

By Steph Zabel
Herbalist, Ethnobotanist and Educator

The Greeks call it earth apple, Germans call it mother’s herb, and in Mexico it is known as manzanilla, or little apple. No matter the name, no matter the language, chamomile is a culturally important plant known and loved around the world.

Mugwort: A Wild Beauty in Urban Places

By Steph Zabel
Herbalist, Ethnobotanist and Educator

When I first moved to Boston a decade ago I felt like a country girl in the big city. I’d traveled and lived in several places before, but had never before set down roots in an urban environment. I was used to living amongst trees and woods, and wide-open spaces. Although I loved my new city home, I greatly missed natural open spaces, and forests, and wild places.

So I found consolation in a different sort of wildness: in untamed, weedy plants that sprout up in the neglected areas of town. Of all of these – the dandelions, chickweeds, shepherd’s purses and burdocks that I came to know and love – mugwort was the one to capture me the most.

When I first made acquaintances with this lovely creature I knew nothing of the plant, not even its name. I just loved the beautiful shape, tall stature, silvery leaves, and gracefulness as I observed mugwort swaying in the wind, or in the passing rumble of a train.

Chickweed: Stellaria media

By Steph Zabel
Herbalist, Ethnobotanist and Educator

You probably already know this if you have attended one of my herbal classes, but I love weeds! Yes, I have a great fondness for the plants that everyone tries to get rid of and “keep under control” especially the tenacious ones that keep on growing where nothing else could…. the crack of a sidewalk, compacted and poor soil, the top of a bridge, along railroad tracks, etc.

I love weeds because they are spunky and resourceful, and in some cases they are beneficial to the local ecosystem. These plants will hold down eroding soil, remove heavy metals, and/or provide greater soil fertility and organic matter.  They grow in niches where more delicate plants cannot.

Passionflower: Passiflora incarnata

By Steph Zabel
Herbalist, Ethnobotanist and Educator

There may not be an herb as striking and gorgeous as passionflower. Its circular, whirling, complex blossom is breathtaking. And although it seems to be an exotic species that comes from a far off place, it is a plant that is native to the southeastern part of our country.

Growing up in South Carolina I have vivid memories of passionflower vines from my childhood. My grandparents grew them outside of their home, and we also found them growing wild along the edges of the streets where we walked. My cousins and I would stop and exclaim if we found a passionflower in bloom. It always seemed like a little piece of magic that we stumbled upon at those times — something intensely beautiful and mysterious that stood out like a spark in the landscape.