Thursday, December 4, 2014

Meadowsweet and Willow: The Aspirin Plants

Salicylic acid, sold commonly as aspirin, is one of many isolated drug compounds that was originally discovered in a plant. Aspirin is often recommended as a preventative medicine for various diseases. However, it is known that Aspirin irritates the stomach and can cause kidney damage if overused. 

An early pharmacy, with many plant medicines
on the shelf.
In addition to the belief that they would be more effective because they were created by "science", isolated compound drugs also became more widely used because they can be patented, and very often cheaply synthesized in a lab. As you might imagine, certain people have really raked in the dough
since synthetic medicines were first explored in the early 1900's. At that time, pharmacies carried hundreds of herbal products. Nowadays synthetic medicines are all that's available at a pharmacy. Ask yourself: is that drastic shift really because those synthetic drugs are more healthful or more effective?

In fact, it's common for whole plant medicines to be much safer than their synthetic and isolated counterparts. Willow and meadowsweet, the foremost plant sources of salicylic acid, have been long used in various traditional medical systems for fevers and pain. They contain other compounds that prevent the stomach irritation caused by salicylic acid, and have other scientifically unexplained effects that the isolated salicylic acid cannot claim. 

Using Willow and Meadowsweet

Dried willow bark
White willow (Salix alba) bark and meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) flowers can be used in many forms, including a tea made of the dry herb, capsules and tinctures. In my opinion, a tincture is the best of the three because of its convenience and speed of absorption. A tincture is an alcoholic extraction of an herb (look for "herbal extract" on the label). It actually starts to absorb in your mouth, unlike capsules which must be broken down by your stomach. If you're taking this for pain, my guess is that you don't want to wait
Meadowsweet, which grows in the wild in Britain.
around for that. Between the two plants, I prefer meadowsweet because of its taste, and its added effect of being an anti-inflammatory to the GI tract.

Like aspirin, these plants are used for pain where inflammation is the cause. Period cramps, headaches and pain from injuries are also excellent indications. It can also be used for Rheumatoid arthritis. However, as with any chronic condition, I highly recommend making a treatment plan with a larger scope. With the right actions, I believe there is hope for chronic conditions beyond easing the symptoms. Chronic headaches included in this.

I like to take a homemade tincture of meadowsweet for my menstrual cramps. When I first started to try this as an alternative to Ibuprofen or Aleve, it didn't seem effective compared to the silver bullet power of pharmaceuticals. After some experimentation, I realized that I wasn't taking doses frequently enough. I would take it, feel good for a while, and then it would wear off. 

Many people are unwilling to try herbal medicine because of their undying faith in modern medicine, and other perspectives highly conditioned by culture and history. Others try herbs, and are disappointed that they don't get results. I attribute this to a few different things, one being an issue of dosage and frequency. If you've ever taken Ibuprofen, you'll know that the effects wear off in 2-4 hours, which is highly noticeable if you're in extreme pain. If you take one dose and expect it to last you forever, you're setting yourself up for disappointment.

The obvious solution to this is to take it every hour or two hours in a smaller dose. Herb Pharm's bottle of Meadowsweet states 5 droppersful a day as the upper range, so you could take half a dropperful, once an hour, for 10 hours (1 dropperful= the amount of liquid that is naturally pulled into the glass dropper when you depress the bulb). I always start with one dropperful, to get the ball rolling.

Many herbs don't combine well with certain drugs. The reason for this is that they actually have physiological effects which can counteract or potentiate the actions of the drugs. There are also certain health conditions in which you should avoid certain herbs (pregnancy being the most common). Many herbs are safe for general use, but there are some herbs one should be mindful of, like herbs containing salicylic acid. Willow SHOULD NOT be taken with Anticoagulants/ Antiplatelet drugs. Here's a direct quote from Web MD: 
"Willow bark might slow blood clotting. Taking willow bark along with medications that also slow clotting might increase the chances of bruising and bleeding. 
Some medications that slow blood clotting include aspirin, clopidogrel (Plavix), diclofenac (Voltaren, Cataflam, others), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, others), naproxen (Anaprox, Naprosyn, others), dalteparin (Fragmin), enoxaparin (Lovenox), heparin, warfarin (Coumadin), and others. (direct from Web MD)"
There are also some other cautions. Read about it yourself on web MD here. These cautions apply to meadowsweet as well.

Mountain Rose Herbs also lists some interesting precautions for willow that are worthy of sharing:
"Native American herbal medicine used willow bark to diminish sexual desire. Long-term, daily use of willow bark will reduce sexual desire, although it will not alter sexual performance in either men or women. Do not use willow bark if you are allergic to aspirin, and do not give willow bark to a child under sixteen years of age who has symptoms of any kind of viral infection, especially flu or chickenpox."
The sexual desire aspect is not the same with meadowsweet, but the concern of Reye's syndrome is the same.

Making your own tincture:

You can make your own tincture of willow or meadowsweet using the tincture making instructions on my blog. You can purchase both herbs in dried form here. Note that Richo Cech recommends using a solution of 50% alcohol, 40% water and 10% glycerine for tincturing dried Meadowsweet. For willow bark use 40-50% alcohol.

I make many of my own tinctures, and sometimes they flop. Either the plant wasn't potent, the concentration was too weak, or something else happened, but they just aren't effective. Because of this, having tried an effective product is important. For this reason, before you jump into making a medicine yourself, I recommend buying products from a seller that you can really count on, such as Herb Pharm. That way, you can get a standard for which to measure your own medicines. Once you know what to shoot for, making your own tinctures is way more cost effective than paying $10 an ounce, and actually quite easy.

Feel free to ask questions and share experiences in the comments.

Friday, November 21, 2014

PODCAST: Episode 4: Using heat and circulatory stimulants for injuries

In this episode, I talk about the crucial role of heat in recovering from chronic and traumatic injuries. I discuss herbs such as chili peppers, arnica, willow and meadowsweet.

Resources from the podcast:

Friday, November 14, 2014

PODCAST: Episode 3: Effective Remedies for Cold and Flu Season

This week's episode is a timely subject. I hope it's not too late for you! See some recipes mentioned in the podcast below, and links to blogposts.

Sage and ginger tea

1 tablespoon dried sage, or 1 handful freshly chopped leaves
1 tablespoon dried ginger pieces, or grated fresh ginger
1 quart of water

put all in a pot and bring to a boil. When boiled, cover and remove from the heat. Let sit for 5-10 minutes. Sweeten with honey. Warning: Can be spicy! It's less spicy with fresh ginger.

Cold and Flu tincture recipe

1 part echinacea tincture
1 part red root tincture (Ceanothus sp.)
1 part licorice root tincture

Take 1 dropperful every hour. The first dose should be 3 droppersful. Take at VERY first sign of a cold.

Marshmallow root gruel recipe for sore throats and coughs.

Post all about echinacea, a classic cold and flu remedy.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Folk Medicine Podcast Series, Episode 2: Keep your Digestion Moving

In this episode, I talk more about the link between emotions and digestion. I also breach the important digestive topics of constipation and loose stools, giving key herbal advice, and other tips. Have a listen!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Folk Medicine Podcast Series, Episode 1: Herbs for Healthy Digestion

Weak digestion is a common problem that causes a lot of discomfort for people. During this first episode of my new podcast, learn about simple herbal remedies, and some other tricks to strengthen and sooth your digestive tract. This is only the tip of the iceberg, so stay tuned for more.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Secrets of Echinacea

You would be hard pressed to find someone today who hasn't heard about echinacea. It's cure-all reputation has spanned the decades from the early days in the wild west, when traveling salesman sold ointments and oils of it that were supposed to "cure everything". In fact, some people believe that the term "snake oil" came from the oil made from the snake-shaped root of echinacea and sold by such salesmen. It has also been used for snake bites.

The local native people to the plains where echinacea grows used it for many things, including toothache (it is a local analgesic... good echinacea should make your tongue feel numb), sore throats, snake bites and certain infectious diseases.

Nowadays, echinacea is commonly used for colds and flus, and other types of infections. Lots of research has been done on it; both confirming these uses and questioning them. For me, echinacea has been incredibly effective taken at the onset of a cold when I feel a sore throat or fatigue. It's the primary herb in my cold and flu formula.

My experience confirms what other herbalists have said, which is that echinacea is most effective when taken intensively for a short period of time. Unlike herbs such as Astragalus and Reishi, it is for getting rid of colds rather than preventing them. I take one dropperful every hour during the day when I am sure I have a cold. Frequent doses are the best for acute situations, because the medicine is consistently in your system. If you let up, it might give the cold virus a moment to get the upper hand.

The root of echinacea is most commonly used. It can be easily grown in your garden, and comes back year after year. Some say it's the seventh year root that is the most potent. However, many people are hesitant to harvest the roots, as it kills the plant. Though the plant is quite resilient, it was overharvested from its native prairies, and people are now discouraged from harvesting in in the wild. As with many plants, its habitat is threatened by human developments as well. It's best to buy it organically cultivated. Pacific Botanicals even sells it fresh in the fall.

Echinacea tenneseensis is on the federal list of threatened and endangered plants. Seeds are available at Horizon Herbs if you want to help the preservation of the species by planting it in your garden. According to them, it's quite powerful!

Echinacea seed head tincture.
There are two varieties commonly available. The cheaper one is Echinacea purpurea, which is easier to grow but not as potent. The more expensive is Echinacea angustifolia, which is a wilder variety and stronger, but much harder to grow in your garden.

The seeds are, in fact, the most potent part of the plant. However, they are less often used. Echinacea has spiky seed heads that start flat and grow into cones as the flower matures. That's where the name "coneflower" comes from. These seed heads are also potent medicine, immature or mature.  On some varieties the seed heads can get huge! I like to harvest them when they get large, before they start turning black at the end of the season. I chop them up and tincture them, blending them in with the alcohol in my blender.

Cold and Flu Tincture
(formula from Stephen Harrod Buhner)

1 part echinacea seed top tincture
1 part red root tincture
1 part licorice root tincture

Red root makes lymph more efficient at processing immune system waste. This is helpful during a cold, because it prevents waste from backing up and causing swelling in lymph glands. Licorice root is also an antiviral herb, which decreases swelling and thins mucous. Combined with Echinacea, which encourages the proliferation of white blood cells, they make a great immune formula. This is effective at fighting viral colds, as well as bacterial colds, because they simply make your immune system more efficient. I've used it against so many colds with success that I'll never use anything else.

One last thing; echinacea won't work for someone whose innate immune system is compromised, because there is nothing to stimulate. So, if you're on chemo drugs or you have a weakened immune state, try something else!

Dosage: Take 2 droppersful every 2 hours at the first sign of a cold or flu. Consistency is important. If you were to take it only twice during the day, you will not benefit.

Hawthorn Berry Mania

Hawthorn's three stages of
harvestable growth
Did you know that the Mayflower was named after the Hawthorn tree? The Romans placed leaves of hawthorn in baby cradles to ward off evil spirits. In Ireland, it’s bad luck to cut down a Hawthorn tree.

It is yet again that magical time of year when hawthorn boughs bend with deep red berries. “Haw” is the name for the seedy berries, and “thorn” is for the half-inch thorns lurking beneath the leaves. Well named indeed. If you’re into folklore and stories, check out GuidoMasé’s article about Hawthorn

I have written a post about Hawthorn already, including my recipe for the Hawthorn Berry Chutney that I make every year, which pairs wonderfully with chicken and pork. This evening, we devoured an appetizer plate filled with pepper-rosemary chicken, chevre, fuji apples and hawthorn chutney. Delicious. That post also includes some information about identifying and picking hawthorn in the wild.

People these days are getting their knickers in a knot about all these exotic foreign "superfoods". There is a notion that the more exotic it is, and the more expensive it is, the more miraculous it is! This is a psychological phenomenon that some people are taking massive advantage of. Rather than paying an arm and a leg for Goji berries, which could be cultivated next to a nuclear plant in China for all you know, try our local superfood: hawthorn berries! Studies conducted with hawthorn have shown it to allow blood to flow more freely to the heart, and to help a damaged heart pump more efficiently. Eating the prepared berries throughout the winter is a fantastic health tonic.
Removing leaves from stems from the berries.

This post is focused on the berries due to the season, but the spring flowers and leaves have a stronger medicinal action. Deborah Frances writes in detail about Hawthorn in her book “Practical Wisdom in Natural Healing”, reporting success using hawthorn in cases of acute allergic response in her patients. She also uses it energetically for opening the heart, and recovering from grief.

I think that the berries are best prepared as a food, rather than in a tincture or in capsules. They are not great raw or unsweetened. I’m a big fan of the chutney, and jams and jellies of it are also fantastic (a jam has bits, a jelly is clear). The following recipes are low-sugar, freezer jams. Low sugar is ideal not only for your health, but because it lets the hawthorn flavor out.

Hawthorn Berry Freezer Jam (sweetened with honey)
Makes 4, 8 oz jars of jam
Mashing the cooking berries with a potato masher.

Hawthorne jelly is more common, but a jam is great because it gets more of the actual pulp from the fruit that contains good medicine. Its taste is more intense, and its texture thicker. A totally different experience.

8 cups fresh/ frozen hawthorn berries, (washed and stems removed)
3 cups water
2 Tbsp lemon juice (helps gel and maintains color)
1 heaping tablespoon low sugar pectin*
1-2 cups raw honey

In a large pot, put berries, lemon juice and water. Bring to a gentle boil on medium heat, then reduce to a simmer and simmer for an hour, mashing with a potato masher if you have one. Remove from the heat and allow to cool for 10 minutes or so.

With a hand cranking food mill, on the finest setting, add the pulp in batches. Use a spatula to scrape strained red mixture off the bottom of the food mill, and discard the seeds from the hopper after each batch. Alternatively, you could blend the mixture briefly (in batches) in your blender, and press it by hand through a metal strainer. In any case, your goal is to remove seeds and extraneous stems. I actually used the food mill, and THEN I used the hand strainer, as there were some stems that still made it through the mill.

Once you have your strained berries, get it back into a saucepan on Medium high heat. Stir in the pectin with a wooden spoon, and bring to a boil that cannot be stirred down. Vigorous bubbling! Maintain that, stirring enthusiastically, for about 30 seconds. Remove from heat, stir in the honey, and pour into the awaiting jars. Let the jars sit for about 12 hours, and then put them in the fridge or freezer. In the fridge, it will keep for a month or more, and for much longer in the freezer. Because this is a low sugar recipe, be sure you know what you’re doing before you preserve it.

Hawthorn Berry Freezer Jelly (sweetened with sugar)
Makes 4, 8 oz jars of jelly
Hawthorn berry jelly,  ready to eat!

For the recipe below, I used the leftover seedy pulp from the above recipe. There was still quite a lot of good stuff left, and so I added more water and simmered it for about 30 minutes, then strained it with a flannel cloth (cheesecloth would be fine). You could easily use 3 cups fresh berries, simmered in 4 cups of water for an hour and mashed, and then put through a cloth to make the juice.

3 cups strained hawthorn berry juice
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons low sugar pectin*
1.5 cups sugar (or more if you like it sweet)

Heat juice on stove until steaming hot. Whisk in the fruit pectin and continue to whisk. Bring to a boil that can’t be stirred down and stir vigorously to avoid burning for 30 seconds or so. Remove from heat and stir in sugar. Turn heat down, put back on heat, and heat for a minute while stirring. Fill clean 8 oz mason jars. Let sit out for 24 hours to set, put in either the refrigerator or freezer.

* Low sugar pectin should be used when using honey, no sweetener, or less than 55 percent sugar in a recipe. Regular pectin needs white sugar at 55%+, which is a lot of white sugar!

Please comment or email me if you have any questions! If you’re having trouble commenting, please let me know and I will attempt to fix the problem.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Spicy Herbal Daikon Oden (Japanese radish slow cooked in broth)

Fall is upon us, reminding us that we are only human. We pull on our gore-tex and go about our lives in the horizontal rain, listening to the wind in the trees as we go to sleep at night. This is the time for tonic soups with things that warm us. Ginger, chili, pepper.

Daikon radish is huge, white and spicy. At the market in japan they can be 2 feet long and 5 inches in diameter! It's starting to become available at specialty grocery stores, and asian grocery stores here in the US, but usually much smaller. Like many Japanese foods, Daikon is medicinal. Eaten finely grated and raw, it can help the digestion of fatty foods. It is often included on the side of traditional japanese dishes as a condiment in this form. Eaten cooked it is a gentle tonic for the kidneys and respiratory tract, and a great thing to eat at the colder seasons come.

There are many ways to cook daikon, but I think the most delicious and simple is Oden. Oden is a traditional Japanese winter food often sold from food carts. It is made by simmering daikon, fish cakes, yam cakes, and eggs in a dashi (fish) broth. Karashi (Japanese hot mustard) is often eaten with it. In this modified recipe, we will be simmering daikon in a much different broth, but the process of slow simmering, and the resulting delicious, soft radish are the same.

This is a more obscure recipe that some people may be intimidated by. It's fortunate that the nearest grocery store to my house is a cheap asian grocery store that sells daikon, ginger, burdock, lemongrass, chilis and mushrooms super cheap. Luckily, nowadays many grocery stores carry these things.

Spicy Herbal Oden
Serves 2-4
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 1-2 hours

1 12 inch daikon radish, chopped into 1 inch thick rounds
1-2 small chilis, sliced lengthwise
2 pieces lemongrass, chopped into 2 inch sections
2 handfuls fresh or dried shiitake mushrooms
1-2 inch piece of ginger, peeled and julienned (galangal is better if you can get it)
3 pinches of salt
5-10 whole black peppercorns
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced lengthwise
OPTIONAL: meat bones leftover from another meal

Put 2 quarts of cold water into a pot and add all ingredients.

Bring to a simmer on medium heat with lid on. Try not to let it get to a rolling boil, as this can shock the vegetables and make them less tasty later. (This is true for sweet potatoes and lentils as well.) Turn the heat to low or medium low and leave the lid on. Simmer 1-2 hours. This could also be done in a crock pot, and may make the daikon sweeter.

Many of the ingredients are too woody to eat, so pick out the daikon pieces and pour some broth over them. If you want, you could add a splash of soy sauce at this point, but I like the clear spicy broth alone.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Eating Animals in the Modern World

Eating food in the modern world is very different than it was 100 years ago. As I'm sure we all know, our agricultural methods have changed significantly, and the food along with it. We've also been freaking out about fat for a good 20 years now, and it's time we made some connections.

Everyone these days is worried about inflammation, and for good reason. Inflammation is a major cause of heart disease and cancer- the current top two killers in our country. Long term inflammation can cause a large variety of chronic and/or life-threatening diseases. Yet, people either ignore it or take fish oil or turmeric, getting mild but generally disappointing results.

Chicken livers of various upbringings.
We all eat fat, because our evolution tells us its delicious (ie. full of energy). Hence, the popularity of bacon and butter. When I think about bacon and butter, I think about heart attacks... but is that association accurate? Well, it depends on your farmer.

Back in the day, animals ate grass and bugs, and some grain during the winter. However, grain was expensive and grassland was cheap in our large abundant country, so grazing was in. As a result, the butter was yellow, the milk was rich, and the meat was lean. They cooked with lard, spread their butter thick, ate steak, and were healthy as horses. Their animals were happy frolicking in the fields.

Then, we changed the diet and lifestyle of our food animals, and the fat composition and content of animals products changed. For example, there is much more cow mucous and cow antibodies present in cheap milk, because of the stress and antibiotics dairy cows are exposed to. Both types of molecules are triggering to human immune systems, causing more milk allergies, and inflammation... but that's another story. Basic message: the animals we raise in confinement and feed grain are unhealthy, and then we eat them (see above chicken liver comparison).

Grass fed on the left, grain-fed on the right. The yellow color is
from the anti-oxidant beta-carotene that comes from the grass.
Modern animal products contain a much higher ratio of omega-6 fats to omega-3 than they did back in the day. We also eat a lot of omega-6 rich oils like corn, soy, sunflower and peanut oils. Omega-6 is pro-inflammatory, and omega-3 is anti-inflammatory. To balance inflammation, we need need to balance the amounts of these fats in our diet.

A 4:1 ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 is balanced, which means 4 times more omega-6 than omega-3. Most Americans are getting 20:1, which means more inflammation and more disease. And so, fish oil is flying off the shelves. Hemp, flax, rapeseed, and camellina oils are also high in omega-3, which decreases inflammation.

Supplementation of omega-3 alone may not be enough to balance "average" diets. Ruminate on this: There is about 4 to 6 grams of omega-6 in 13 potato chips (ratio of about 56:1). If a capsule of fish oil contains one gram of omega-3, then you have to eat one or two capsules of fish oil for every 13 chips to maintain your ratio of 4:1. If you add a grain-fed hamburger (ratio of about 7:1) to the meal, you have to take another capsule. That's only one meal. In other words, taking one capsule of fish oil every day (recommended dosage) is like trying to save a sinking ship with a teacup.

In addition to balancing your intake of omega 6 and omega 3, consuming pastured animal products like grass-fed butter, pastured eggs, grass-fed beef, and pastured chicken might help people see more fulfilling results.

Pastured animal products contain more anti-oxidants than conventionally raised ones. The darker color in the butter and eggs shows the difference in beta-carotene (vitamin A). Butter also contains a fat called CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), which is also an antioxidant. Again, grass fed butter is 3-5 times higher in CLA than average butter. According to this guy, grass fed butter is in fact heart healthy. Though I haven't yet found a case for bacon, my connection between butter and heart attacks is shattered. I've started making pie again.

Which of these do you think is a pastured egg?
To sum it all up, eating grass-fed or pasture-raised animal products can balance inflammation. Balance is literally a key to healthy life.

The last thing that seems thoroughly overlooked so far by this run-down is money. Eating these products is expensive, and rightly so. Producing them takes care, land and time. For those of us who can't afford to eat grass fed steak every night, dedication to pastured animal products means eating less of them. This evening's dinner in our house was buckwheat noodle soup with sauteed pea greens... and no meat. We have 2-3 vegetarian nights a week, and sometimes more when funds are low. Not only does this allow us to afford higher quality stuff, but animal protein is a sometimes snack, not an every meal extravaganza.

Here are some things in my fridge that I recommend for yours:
Kerrygold grass-fed butter

Pastured eggs

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Mucilaginous Herbs: The Internal Band-aid

In a world where we eat garbage and stress out, our digestive tracts need extra nurturing in order to survive. Mucilage is just the ticket. By mucilage, I mean that clear, thick, sticky, gooey stuff. If you've ever put flax seeds in water... that's the stuff. Just like a foot massage and a cup of camomile tea at the end of a hard day, mucilage allows the lining of your gut to relax for a moment and heal. One blogger likened it to an internal band-aid, that actually adheres to your mucous membranes and prevents nerve irritation. For this reason, frequent doses over a period of a few days are required to provide adequate rest for the tissue.

Physically, mucilage is made of long chain molecules that entrap water in a matrix. Mucilage is made by many plants to store water or trap insects. Humans have used mucilage for its demulcent (soothing) properties, but also for things like glue. Some examples of mucilagionous foods and herbs are; natto (fermented Japanese soybeans), chia, flax, okra, lotus root, agar agar, psyllium, fenugreek seed, aloe vera, and tapioca.

The two main mucilaginous herbs discussed hereafter are marshmallow root and slippery elm bark. These two herbs have a long and important history in many different cultures. They are used in any situation of internal irritated tissue, which is ever more common in our modern world. They can be taken in many ways, but the gruel detailed below I have found to be the most efficient at delivering medicine and nutrients.

Typically, the gruel is made with powdered slippery elm inner bark, which has similar medicinal properties. Due to over-harvesting, slippery elm has become somewhat threatened, so I use marshmallow root instead. As an added bonus, marshmallow root has a special affinity to the kidneys and urinary system.

Marshmallow root gruel has three main functions: soothing an inflamed digestive tract (ulcers, IBS, leaky gut), soothing dry coughs, and soothing the kidneys and urinary tract. It has also historically been used as a food for convalescents and a first food for babies.

Spiced Marshmallow Root Gruel
1-2 servings, 10 minutes

2 heaping tbsp marshmallow root powder (or slippery elm powder if you prefer)
1/8 tsp cinnamon powder
1/8 tsp ginger powder
1/8 tsp cardamom powder
pinch of nutmeg powder
pinch of clove powder

1.5 cups water
1/2 cup nut milk (coconut, almond, hazelnut)

1 tsbp raw honey

1. Combine the powders together and pout into a small, dry saucepan.
2. In order to avoid chunks of powder in the final product, pour a small amount of water in first and stir. Add more water to make a fine paste, crushing any chunks that remain. Once it is smooth, add more water and stir. Finally, add all the water and milk.
3. Turn on the heat to medium. Stirring, slowly bring it to a boil. Once it starts to bubble, simmer it for 2-3 minutes while stirring. Add the honey and stir in.
4. Pour it into a mug and wait to cool before drinking. Drink this in the morning or evening.

In acute cases (dry cough or digestive weakness), drink 2-3 cups of this every day for 3-4 days. It may be the most effective to take in 1/4 cup doses every hour. If you are using it as a preventative tonic, you may drink a a cup every day for a week.

There are many variations you could try on this recipe. Instead of water and milk, try pear or apple juice. You can even add apple sauce, or add marshmallow powser to oat or rice porridge. You could also use licorice root powder in your gruel for its added GI healing powers.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

First Aid Value of Arnica and Hot Compresses

In the past few weeks before writing this post, I have been presented with a few golden "healing opportunities." The first one was a tooth abscess, the second was whiplash and bruised ribs. Most people would see this as misfortune, but I see them as opportunities to see the magic of folk medicine (which is the medicine you practice at home with the natural materials around you). To me, folk medicine includes plants, but it also includes basic remedies that don't involve plants, such as hydrotherapy. The two things I want to talk about today are Arnica (the plant), and hot compresses (a towel dipped in hot water or herb tea and applied externally).

Identifying and Using Arnica

Arnica is a mountain plant, and has several species with the same or similar actions. The official european species is Arnica montana, but hiking in mountain meadows of Washington and Oregon you'll find broadleaf arnica (Arnica latifolia), or heartleaf arnica (Arnica cordifolia) or several other species. If you choose to harvest from the wild, remember to choose an abundance patch, don't pull up the roots, and leave a significant amount of plants.

You harvest the plant in full bloom, using the newly flowering tops of arnica, preferably fresh. A basic tincture, or infused oil can be prepared. See the "Basic How-to's" section for instructions.

Used externally, arnica can reduce swelling and bruising. I would use it in the case of injuries such as sprains, muscle pulls, stiff or sore joints, and broken bones. It works by opening the blood vessels and increasing circulation so that damaged cell wastes can be taken away, and fresh materials can be delivered. This plant is low-dose plant, meaning that it is mildly toxic when taken internally. For myself, I find external applications just fine.

I find that arnica is most effective when applied frequently and consistently. For example, 3 times a day for two weeks for chronic injuries, or 5 times a day for three days in acute situations. However, even if you can only find time for once a day, or a few times a week, it's worth it. I like to use arnica in a compress (hot or cold). With continued contact with the skin, and water, the medicine is absorbed most efficiently, especially with heat.

Arnica montana growing in the wild

How to Make a Hot Compress (with or without arnica)
Using hot and cold water to help healing is an incredibly underrated technique. If applied properly, I think simple hot compresses could save us from spending a lot of money on drugs and visits to the doctor. I want to walk you through the process of making a compress, and talk about two specific applications that were successful for me.

A compress is much easier, and requires much less preparation and material than a poultice (which involves putting fresh plant material on the area). To make one, you will need a small washcloth, a large towel, a bowl, hot water, and arnica tincture or oil.

  1. Boil the water. Prepare the area where you will apply the compress. Clothing should be taken off or pulled back, jewelry around the area should be taken off. I like to put on compresses next to the sink, so that my bedroom doesn't get all wet.
  2. Put the washcloth in the bowl and cover with hot water. Now is the time to rub tincture or salve of arnica in a few layers over the area. Of course, different plants can be used for each situation). Let the cloth cool in the bowl for a few minutes, or until it is cool enough to hold with your hands. You may remove it with tongs if need be.
  3. Assuming it has cooled just enough not to burn your skin, apply the towel on the injured area (neck, knee, face, etc). Wrap or cover the area immediately in several layers of the large towel. This is to retain heat.
  4. With with it until it loses its heat, and then dip it back in the bowl (if it's still hot, if not, add more boiling water), and repeat the process 2-3 times.
  5. You will know it is working if the skin where you applied the compress is red. You will know it is the wrong treatment if the hot cloth causes you intense pain (the area may have been too inflamed for a hot treatment).

When to Use a Hot Compress
Hot compresses should be used when you want to increase blood flow to a particular area. This could be helpful with a number of specific things: chronic injuries, recent injuries (without excessive and intense swelling, or after swelling has gone down), infections where circulation is not optimal, and tight muscles.

Whiplash in particular is a perfect situation for a hot compress with arnica. The heat will keep the energy moving and healing itself, and help to relax the muscles. Especially in the first few days, invasive treatments are not a good idea. The neck is still in trauma, and it needs some time to recover before being prodded or stretched too intensely (though mild massage and stretching is perfect). This time is the time to.

I used hot compresses as a cornerstone of the treatment for my tooth abscess. Because your gums and teeth are somewhat isolated from regular circulation, they need extra help to heal. I had a lot of fluid trapped in my gums, and also my cheek. I used arnica compresses on my face about 5 times a day for three days. This is more frequent than most people can realistically do in their busy lives, which is why I don't recommend treating this kind of thing at home for most people. 

Hot compresses should not be used when there is a lot of hot swelling and pain. For example, in the case of a painful toothache, or within a week of surgery. There are situations in which the inflammatory response is too triggered, and bringing more blood to the area won't be beneficial at that time. Carefully consider this before using a hot compress.

However, in the case of joint surgeries, it would be an ideal treatment to start when the initial inflammation goes down and you're ready to start your long term healing plan. Regular (1-2 times a day for 2 weeks) compresses with arnica or comfrey tincture could speed healing immensely. This kind of situation is in fact a true showcase of the things plants can do that conventional medicine cannot.

It's common to be given anti-inflammatories and told to ice ever after this initial period of intense swelling and trauma after a traumatic injury. Though it may be useful at first to prevent pain and excessive swelling, this will eventually prevent healing. At some point, you need to start with heat and get the blood in there to do it's work.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

On gluten and dairy: Fresh herb quiche with whole wheat crust

A traditional quiche is made with eggs and cream, and baked in a pie shell. One usually adds various vegetables and herbs. I have used whole wheat pastry flour and grass fed butter here, but if your diet calls for no dairy or gluten, you can find two good alternative recipes here. Typically, I would make the crust with olive oil, but I didn't have any in the house at the time. 

If you're going to eat butter at all, eat grass fed butter or cultured organic butter. My experience tells me that they aren't as harmful as their commercial counterpart. As I experiment with myself, I notice that any food that is made like it was 200 years ago is nourishing in moderation. It's the modern production and processing methods you have to watch out for. Getting eggs from the farmer's market, or buying them from a friend is a great step in that direction. They will have more nutrients, and less "bad stuff".

Finally, I'd like to speak about gluten. There's a nationwide gluten scare at the moment, and people are flocking to gluten free products by the truckload. Many of these gluten free foods contain gums and other weird stabilizers, which might effect your digestive system. I had problems for a while when I was eating gluten free breads, and the problems stopped when I started eating wheat breads again.

There is a tendency among people to generalize and make assumptions. We jumped to the conclusion that all gluten products are bad for us, and promptly forgot that not all foods are created equally. I would like to propose that most gluten products are bad for you. For example, cheap white flour is bad  for more reasons than simply lacking the nutrients of the whole grain. First of all, most non-organic flour is probably genetically modified. There are GMO wheat cultivars with herbicide resistance, and some for increased crop yield. Some people are saying that this new wheat is more inflammatory and toxic than traditional varieties. Also, white flour is required by law to be "improved", which means that they add vitamins and minerals to it. This may sound good, but you can be sure they get these from cheap sources, and that they are often waste products of other industries. White flour is often bleached with chemicals, or contains additives to preserve it. Gross! Whole wheat flour does not require improvement, nor is it bleached. If you're going to eat gluten, look for organic, whole wheat flours. Bob's Red Mill sells some great flours. You could even get radical and grind your own, or store it in the freezer.

One last piece of advice on how to be a successful gluten-eater: eat artisan sourdough breads wherever possible. The longer that the bread dough sits, the better. The sourdough process breaks down gluten proteins, making sourdough bread less glutinous. Before about 1920, there was no such thing as instant dry yeast, or active dry yeast, both of which are widely used in baking today. Yeast was gotten from the surface of the wheat, or from beer vats. Because those yeasts work more slowly, bakers let their bread sit for much longer. Nowadays, commercial bakers want to make their breads as quickly as possible, and thus yeast innovations have allowed quick rising varieties. I am suspect of this, as there is not as much time to break down proteins, develop flavor, and establish a healthy colony of bacteria and yeast in the bread.

Fresh Herb Quiche with Whole Wheat Crust

Pie crust
1.5 cups organic, whole wheat pastry flour
7 Tbsp cold, grass fed butter (straight from fridge)
1/8 tsp salt
2-3 Tbsp ice water

Making a good, flaky, piecrust is a battle against the sticky, long chain gluten protein. Gluten is activated through friction, heat and water. In breadmaking, you want to activate the gluten as much as possible to trap air bubbles. With pie, you don’t want to activate the gluten, because you want the crust to be flaky, not tough. When making a good crust, everything should be as cold as possible (I put the flour in the freezer), and you want to work it as little as possible. That is why a food processor is used. Rather than mixing it, it chops the ingredients.

In a large food processor, combine flour and salt and pulse to combine. Chop butter and add. Process until butter is in tiny pieces, and well mixed with flour. Use a ½ tsp measure to add the water a little at a time, pulsing a few times after each addition. Stop adding water when the dough begins to stick together (don’t add too much!) At this point, take the dough out and press into a ball. Try to avoid hand contact with the dough as much as possible, as your hands warm it up, activating the gluten proteins and making for a tough shell.

Roll out the crust into a circle, putting flour under and on top of the dough. Carefully lift it into a pie pan, cutting and molding it to the pan. If it breaks or cracks (it probably will), just use extra pieces of dough to press into it.

Pre-bake the piecrust at 350º F for 8 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow it to cool while preparing the filling. Sweet or savory fillings work.

Quiche filling
7 eggs (the freshest and most natural you can find)
¾ cup unsweetened almond milk
¼ tsp salt
1 Tbsp olive oil or butter
½ red onion, diced
2 cloves garlic
4 Tbsp chopped chives
4 Tbsp chopped parsley
handful of spinach, dandelion leaves, or nettles (any cookable, edible green will do!)
3 handfuls fresh basil

Preheat oven to 350ºF.

Combine eggs, almond milk and salt in a bowl and whisk together.

Heat up a sauté pan to medium heat. Add oil and onions. Sautée the onions until they begin to turn translucent, but don't burn them. Add the spinach and wilt it. Put this and all other ingredients in the egg mixture and stir it up, then pour it into the pie shell. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until it is no longer liquid in the middle. I suggest checking at 20 minutes to be sure.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Salad Secrets: White Peach and Basil Salad

Making good salad is an art. The reputation of salad suffers from the stereotype of romaine lettuce, tomatoes and croutons on a plate with your choice of thousand island or ranch. Salad can be so much more with a little creativity.

The first guideline I will put forward is to use quality ingredients. The best ingredients come from your garden, the next best from the farmer's market, and the next best from the supermarket. Freshly picked is better, tender is better, and greener is better.

Fresh herbs give your salad flavor. In my container garden on my balcony, I grow parsley, chives, peppermint, spearmint, and red shiso. The garden was as easy as getting fabric pots and soil from the nursery, planting starts in it, and watering when needed. The herbs that I grow are noticeably more flavorful than storebought. I buy cilantro, green onions, basil, and dill. All of these herbs are excellent in salads, and my salads are often at least 1/3 herbs and 2/3 lettuce.

Try putting fruit in your salad. Mango, strawberries, apples, pears, raisins, nectarines and peaches can put an interesting spin on your usual mix.

Fresh dressing is more delicious that storebought, and it doesn't have the additives. The dressing below can be used on almost any salad, and can be modified. Keep any homemade dressing in the fridge, and throw it out after 2 weeks.

Finally, the size and shape of the pieces in the salad can make or break the salad. I always chop the lettuce, rather than tearing it, and slice my herbs finely. If I add fruit, I dice it into small pieces. This way, each bite can have all the flavors. Also, your face won't be splashed with dressing as large leaves swing into your mouth. In addition to this recipe, try a papaya and avocado salad; a walnut, pear and raisin salad; or a black bean, red bell pepper and corn salad.

White peach and basil salad
Serves: 1-2 people
The intensely sweet white peach combines with fresh basil for a WOW flavor. 

3 Tbsp walnut, avocado or camelina oil (a mild flavored oil)
2 Tbsp Apple cider vinegar
1 tsp honey
1/2 tsp dijon mustard
pinch of salt
pinch of pepper

Put all ingredients in a jar and shake.

two handfuls of fresh basil leaves, finely sliced
one handful of fresh parsley leaves, chopped
3-5 large leaves of lettuce (oak leaf or red leaf), chopped
1/2 white peach, diced

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and toss with desired amount of dressing. Keep extra dressing in the fridge. Don't worry too much about measuring... the more basil the better.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Willpower is a Muscle

I have come to a conclusion about why it irks me when people say they are "lazy" or "depressed." Whenever we speak about ourselves, we are creating and perpetuating an identity. Speech and thought manifest reality. Whenever someone says "I'm lazy," they are subconsciously condemning themselves to be lazy. A less limiting declaration might be "I'm not feeling very engaged by what I'm doing, and I need more motivation." The second statement is more specific, and allows you a way to recover from your current state, rather than being confined to the image of "lazy."

Language forms our identities much like paint on a canvas. To me, this metaphor means that we are much more active in shaping ourselves than we believe. If we can become conscious of what we are creating and how, we can participate in the creation of ourselves.

The skills used to create your own self image can also be used to build happiness. Happiness takes work, and those seeking it should be willing to go against the flow. The ability to make choices that support your overall health and mental health is something that comes easier to some people, but is certainly achievable for all people. It doesn't require anything external to condition your inner thought patterns to create a more positive reality.

We are all free in any moment to alter the content of our minds, and push our thoughts in a more positive direction. Negative or depressive thoughts are just as addictive as sugar or cigarettes. When visited frequently, these thoughts are like paths that are worn from travel. It is easier to continue the negative thought pattern than to create a new trail of positive thinking, which is why it takes effort. In fact, your brain actually creates more neural pathways for whatever thought patterns you use most, which explains the phenomenon of the "vicious cycle." However, everyone is quite capable of giving up an addiction in any moment, though many are held back by doubts and unserving beliefs like "I could never do that" or "this is just the way I am" or the classic "this isn't the right time." Willpower is a muscle that needs to be exercised in order to work.

In fact, with proper training and sheer will, you can reprogram your brain to visit more positive and nurturing thought patterns. You might call this a "good" addiction. If we must be addicted to something (and it seems we must) it is much more prudent to get attached to something that serves your highest self, like choosing to spend 20 minutes meditating, or taking space to think instead of yelling at loved ones.

The mentality of praying for something to happen, or waiting for something to happen to you is ridiculous. We are active participants in our fate, and our lives will easily pass us by if we do not get off our butts and participate. When I pray, I like to pray for strength in my endeavors rather than expecting an external force to perform for me.

One common negative thought pattern is comparing ourselves to others. Seeing life as a contest can be very damaging to our feelings of self-worth. We have ideas about what's "good" and "bad", but these are culturally constructed notions. That means that there is no absolute model of what it means to be perfect, only what has evolved out of the society in which we live. The society I live in is incredibly hierarchical, and thus status is important to most people. It's only important to me if I choose to go along with that cultural belief. Do you think that having high status equates to being a good person? I don't, so I choose to ditch that belief. 

Having a high prestige job is a huge status symbol in the United States. This suggests that if you have a low prestige job, you are worth less than others. These "losers" of the game should be unhappy, according to our cultural beliefs. However, the unhappiness does not stem from lack of prestige or money, but rather pressure from the rest of society, and their role as the victim in the system. The victim role is perpetuated by both sides. You are only a victim if you accept the role. Without the judgements and the pressure to be more, most of us would most likely find joy in living frugally and doing our work. 

One challenge to constructing our own self-image, is our interactions with negative energy. It is next to impossible to control what other people think and do. It's hard to stop a father's wrath. It is your responsibility to do what's in your control to spend time around people that don't bring you down. 

This might involve simply steering the discussion in a more positive direction, avoiding relationships that are based on commiserating together, stating directly what your desires are in a relationship, or making new friends altogether. It also means training yourself to keep your cool when you are feeling triggered. Taking space is a good way to avoid blowing up at someone you love. 

I suggest discovering a way of communicating that makes you feel good. If I find myself upset, I like to examine the roots of why I'm upset. Perhaps it was the tone of voice someone used to me, or an assumption they made incorrectly. I try not to get caught up in blaming the other person for ridiculous and trite things, which is a common reaction.  It's difficult for me to do this in the moment, so I need to be willing to revisit the subject a few minutes later when I'm feeling more calm. The decision not to speak can be challenging, but rewarding. After five or ten minutes, you can approach the issue with reason, rather than veins filled with adrenaline and poor judgement.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Roasted Chicken and Chicken Broth by an Herbalist

In case you were unaware, I recently decided to give up my vegan kick and start eating meat again. The promise I made to myself was that if I ever craved meat, I would go for it.

Inspired by the cooking habits of old, my new goal has been to master roasting a chicken, and making a mouth-watering broth. In addition to feeling like royalty while I carve into the chicken at the dinner table, I also favor buying and cooking whole chickens for several other reasons. First of all, it's WAY cheaper to get an organic chicken than organic chicken breasts ($3.99 /lb vs. $8.99/lb). Second, you can use the carcass and bones to make a nutritious broth. Third, I feel fully acquainted with the fact that I am holding a dead animal as I hold it by the legs and wash it in the sink. And last but not least, after I did it for the first time, I realized how ridiculous easy it is to roast a chicken.

Herb-Encrusted Roasted Chicken

350°F for 1h30m

1 whole chicken of high quality (A whole chicken is usually about 3-4 pounds)

4 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp sage
1/2 tsp ginger
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp rosemary
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper

Choose quality meat. Pasture-raised/ free range/ organic are all good choices. Tyson and Foster Farms both use horrendous practices, drugs and processing, and should be avoided like the plague. These companies are a constant feature on the news for food poisoning outbreaks, too.

Defrost the chicken if needed (a frozen chicken will take about 2 days to defrost in the refrigerator).

Turn the oven to 350°F. Wash the chicken in the sink using a big bowl and cold water. Get the water inside the chicken, too. You may need to pull out a small packet that many butchers put the giblets in.

Drip dry the chicken over the sink, holding it by its legs. Put into a large, rectangular pyrex pan, legs pointing upward.

Mix the oil and spices in a small bowl. With a culinary brush (or your fingers), brush the chicken all over with an even coat of the spice and oil mixture. If you wish, potatoes can be roasted in the dish around the chicken. If you put potatoes in, chop them into large pieces, and brush them with herb-oil, too. You may also wish to stuff the inside with half an onion, apple slices or something of your invention.

Put the pan in the 350°F oven for 1 hr 30 mins. Take it out and let it rest for 10 minutes before cutting into it. Your oven may vary, so check the temperature at 1h30m the first time you roast in it. It should be at or above 165°F (check temp immediately upon taking chicken out, as temp falls quickly).

After dinner, there will inevitably be more meat on the carcass. Using gloved or cleaned hands, pick the remaining meat from the carcass. Don't be intimidated. Turn on your curiosity. The meat won't separate well from the bone after refrigerated, and it doesn't keep well in the fridge on the carcass, so don't procrastinate on this step. Use the picked carcass for broth directly after you are finished picking it.

SuperHerb's Crock Pot Chicken Broth

Making a broth feels so basic and so ancient. Traditionally, when made in a commoner's house, broth was made to get the most out of limited ingredients, using vegetable scraps and bones. Stocks are a great opportunity to harness valuable minerals from leftover animals parts, which most people would otherwise throw away. I add salt and vinegar in order to encourage the minerals out of the bones, which I don't find compromises the flavor. I also like to crack the bones where possible, as the marrow inside holds lots of good things, too. I also find this is a great place to sneak in herbs (See extensive list below). In line with how I like to take my herbs, I like to make my broth strong and full of herbs. Explore what your preferences are.

Making chicken broth is not an exact science, and mine is slightly different each time, depending on what I have in the kitchen. The chicken, salt and vinegar should stay the same each time, but all other ingredients are flexible.

Basic ingredients:
One picked clean chicken carcass, any loose bones broken in half to reveal marrow to broth
1 tsp sea salt
1-2 Tbsp Apple Cider Vinegar (Red wine or white wine vinegar also fine here)

leafy celery tops (the part you cut off usually)
1 carrot, roughly chopped with peel on
1 whole onion, washed and chopped with skin on
1-2 sprigs fresh rosemary (dry is fine if not available to you)
2 sprigs fresh sage (dry is fine if not available to you)
handful of fresh thyme (dry is fine if not available to you)
handful of fresh parsley or cilantro (I often use the stems that are leftover from the bunch)

Enough COLD water to fill the pot

Other possible ingredients:
a few slices of dried reishi mushrooms (this is a popular immune support agent)
1-2" of sliced fresh ginger root (or galangal)
handful of dried medicinal or culinary mushrooms (porcini, shiitake, maitake etc)
1-2 sticks lemon grass
a few bay leaves
several cloves of garlic, crushed with skin on
1 Tbsp fennel seed
1 tsp black peppercorns (great for cold and flu season, and for those with stiff/ sore joints)
a few washed and dried egg shells (for calcium)
nettle stems (for minerals)
1 cup of sliced fresh burdock root

Put all ingredients in a large crock pot, and fill it to the brim with COLD water. Put on low and let sit overnight (8-12 hours). Strain through a mesh metal strainer in the morning, and store in a large glass jar (or 1/2 gallon carboy) in the fridge. It can be frozen for use later. You can use this broth in soups, and use it to cook grains in. I like to make rice pilaf and Minestrone soup the most. I have also cooked beans in it.

Idea: You could make an asian style broth by adding onions, garlic, ginger, lemongrass and black pepper. I did this once and made it as a base for a simple Pho.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Bitters, Plants and the Liver

We are now in the midst of a bitters revolution. If you haven't heard the word bitters in the last month, you're behind the times (or you don't live in the heart of Portland). Bitters are possibly the best thing that's happened to the gourmet cocktail movement, as they happen to be good for you.

The tradition of bitters originated in Europe as an herbal tonic to aid digestion. Bitters, as the name suggests, is a mix of bitter herbs steeped in alcohol. Herbs like dandelion, gentian, oregon grape, artichoke, rhubarb, milk thistle, cardamom, meyer lemon and orange peel are common ingredients. The bitter flavor, when tasted, increases the secretions of bile and other digestive juices from the liver and gall bladder. Basically, it increases the nutrient absorption and facilitates a cleaner passage of food through the intestines.

Whether commercially available bitters actually help your digestion is a matter of the ingredients and how it is processed. However, if it tastes bitter, it's probably doing something. Many people believe that the bitter flavor is an essential element in a healthy diet. I happen to agree with this view. The article that really won me over is Jim McDonald's article called Blessed Bitters, which will make you want to eat dandelion and arugula every day. Most people that aren't herbalists are totally weak when it comes to bitter flavors. As it turns out, bitterness is an acquired taste that takes time to develop appreciation for.  So, if you think you hate bitter flavors, you're actually just being a baby about it. Think about how many bitter wild plants early humans ate every day. Do you think they would have frowned at brussels sprouts? I think not.

The reason for this demonization of the bitter flavor lies in the fact that humans have the largest amount of bitter taste bud receptors, making it the most sensitive taste. Therefore, bitter tastes are the most intense for us, which is why kids hate broccoli so much! We developed this amazing number of bitter receptor sites in order to discern poisonous plants from food and medicine plants. Other animals use this same tasting ability every day for their survival, as they don't have pharmaceuticals or a supermarket.

Bitter foods to include in your diet:

Dandelion greens
Mustard greens
Collard greens
Lemons and Limes

Bitter herbs to help digestion:

Artichoke leaf
Dandelion leaf and root
Oregon grape root
Orange peel, grapefruit peel, lemon peel
Burdock root and seed
Milk thistle seed (It is best to consume the ground whole seed, rather than an extract. Refrigerate whole seeds and freshly ground seeds to prevent spoiling. Capsules can be made with freshly ground powder).
Gentian root and flowering tops
Angelica root
Horehound leaf
Wormwood leaf/ flowering tops
Coriander seed

Bitter Herb Tinctures

A tincture is an alcoholic extract of an herb. They are made be soaking the herb in 25% alcohol to 95% alcohol, depending on the herb. The alcohol will extract the soluble chemicals from the herb, making them more available to your digestive tract. Most herbalists tincture their herbs at 40%-50%, with the exception of such herbs as cottonwood buds, rosemary, thyme, usnea lichen and myrhh resin. These herbs require a higher proof because of the high resin content, with is NOT soluble in water. Much more potent tinctures will be made with 95% alcohol. Most people let their tinctures sit and extract for 6-8 weeks.

A tincture is the best form of medicine for the liver because alcohol goes straight to your liver to be processed. This means that your herbs will go right where they are needed. Teas can be effective, but I prefer tinctures for this specific thing.

Basic Bitters formula: (Recipe from our friends at Mountain Rose Herbs)

2 parts dandelion root
1 part fennel seed
1/2 part organic dried ginger root (dried is preferred here, as it's properties are different from the fresh)
1/2 part organic orange peel

Mix your herbs together and fill a glass jar only 1/3 full with the blend. pour 100 proof vodka over the herb and fill to the very top of the jar. Be sure your herb mixture is completely covered. Label your jar with the name of the herbs, date, alcohol strength, and parts used. Allow to extract for 6 to 8 weeks. shaking the jar often. Strain the herb with cheesecloth, and squeeze any remaining liquid in the herb back into the extract. Bottle the liquid in amber dropper bottles and label.

My Liver Cleansing Tincture Formula

1.5 parts dried burdock root
1 part ground milk thistle seed
1 part burdock seed (substitute with more milk thistle if you can't easily find this)
2 parts Oregon grape root
1 part licorice root

This recipe can be made with a blend of pre-made tinctures, or by using this mix of herbs to make a tincture (use). To make with dried herbs, follow the instructions for making a tincture above.

Burdock seed is not necessary, but I really like it for its added effects on the kidneys.

Herbalist's Orange Bitters

1 part orange peel
1 part red root
1 part oregon grape
1 part licorice root

Make this formula as dry herbs, weighed in parts and tinctured, or mix already existing tinctures together. This mix I found incredibly delicious, and effective. Michael Moore, and Howie Brounstein after him, praise red root for it's ability to lighten a rich meal in the blood. This formula is best for heavy meals where you might overeat on fatty foods.