Sunday, March 24, 2013

Further 'Goldenseal Sanctuary' Adventures & Herbal Classes

Golden leafs of American Ginseng
in the fall

            Been dreaming about my internship at the non-profit United Plant Savers’ “Goldenseal Sanctuary”, especially recently because it’s the only place that has really “felt like home to me”. Being appropriately named after one of the most prolific herbs at the site, personally I didn’t learn a TON about it, I had already read loads of information regarding it’s powerful antibacterial, antimicrobial actions, especially in the form of Kloss’s liniment. This being said I’ll briefly tell you some of what I learned about American Ginseng while in the field. American Ginseng or Ginseng quinquefolium, appropriately named and translated to English as ‘five-leaved’, because it has groupings of five leaves on each stem. Also, This Ginseng’s leaves have five points each. Each stem, or part with this leaflet is known as a prong. 
Wild Ginger on a hike at the sanctuary
On a prong having five of these ‘leaves’ means it is around 2 years of age. Besides ‘five-leaved’, another Appalachian folk-name for this herb is sang, which helped to determine if a location had rich soil. Another plant which helped people find sang, is called sang-pointer, which is Rattlesnake fern which was believed to “point” to Ginseng to help find more! This fern along with Ginseng, Goldenseal and Spicebush, when prevalent actually does ‘show’ that you have found a moist, healthy and mineral rich area. *NOTE Virginia Creeper is often misidentified as American Ginseng, be sure of identification!!*
Virginia Creeper

        Another G-herb, being Wild Ginger, is an interesting one! It flowers early in the spring and pollinates with the assistance of beetles, which I had never heard of before. Wild Ginger is closely related to the Appalachian native Virginia Snakeroot, Aristolochia serpentaria, though they look nothing alike. *WARNING: irritating and potentially toxic in high amounts*. Though used similarly to Ginger’s use, for promoting sweating, the menses, indigestion and other stomach ailments, and fevers, this is a very rare and as warned, pretty toxic herb. Now, back to Wild Ginger, you may think because it has ginger in it’s common name that you can use it for all of the same ailments, and in cooking, as you would cultivated ginger, but I am sorry to disappoint you—you can’t, or shouldn’t at least. No really, too much can cause what cultivated ginger can treat—vomiting. Wild Ginger, Asarum canadense, is a creeping perennial, with heart-shaped leaves (see picture), was used historically for colds, coughs, ‘female’ troubles, relieving gas, and indigestion, and to promote sweating, and help with fevers and sore throats.
Though you must be careful IF you do ingest this wild herb, since too much of it’s acid can be toxic to the kidneys and liver. WARNING: Aristolochic acid, being prevalent in this plant, is considered highly toxic!!*

Self Heal, Prunella vulgaris
            Another plant that I came to know well throughout this internship was Lobelia. Lobelia, or Lobelia inflanta, is also commonly known as Indian Tobacco, THOUGH it wasn’t what native Americans traditionally used for tobacco at all, this is where botanical names come in handy. It’s folk-name is a good hint at Lobelia’s traditional use, was and currently is still used by some herbalists, for respiratory ailments, and has been said to help prevent and stop asthma attacks. Along the same line of one of my favorite colors, when it comes to flowers, is Self Heal, also known as ‘all-heal’ and ‘heal-all’, though other herbs are as well. Botanically known as Prunella vulgaris, it has been traditionally used throughout China for treating: kidnet ailments, scrofula, conjuncitivitis, boils, bruises, bad circulation and ‘heat in the liver’. Also was traditionally used for treating: diarrhea, fevers, sore throats and mouth sores, ulcers, wounds and bruises. Self-Heal is currently used for healing major wounds, especially due to its astringent properties, is excellent in cream, and is even a flower essence.
        Two other interesting herbs I had also never seen, but had read about previously, include: Vitex, and Wild Yam. The former, is also commonly referred to as Chaste Tree, is a major leading female-hormone regulating herb, and helps balance what may be out of balance in your menses. The latter, Wild Yam, Dioscorea villosa, is now a very rare endangered herb. Was historically used by the eclectics, but I am not sure for what. Commonly used by a handful of herbalists I know, as a GI antispasmodic, but not when you are vomiting though, and also to treat menstrual problems (only pre-menopausal), and regulates hormones, and ulcerative colotics, or chrons disease. **Harvest a plant just before flower, or just as flowering and after the morning dew has left (for aerial parts specifically).

One of our Intern-coordinators with a botanically inclined
intern, teacher her how to tell the age of  American Ginseng

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Herbal Actions 101: Useful words in the Herbal World

            While recently thinking of what herbal blog to put up next, I remembered all the past typed-up herbal adventures from my internship in Ohio, along with my copious amounts of written notes from my recently completed herbalism program, so I thought I would share with you some excerpts about herbal actions!
            Even if you are a pro-herbalist and know all the ins and outs of herbal actions, hopefully this blog can still be informative and interesting, otherwise you may wonder what are “herbal actions” anyways?
            The most simple definition I can think of is this. An herbal action is essentially: how the herb acts upon the body; and thus by taking it what changes occur after using it?
An example may be: you are constipated, and you took an herb such as peppermint or ginger, though you find yourself not being immediately relieved and passing lots of gas, and think that didn’t work at all! Well, maybe not. Gas is a symptom of constipation, and thus at the passing of it, means those herbs probably helped your body to gently “move it through”. As I have learned many times from many wise herbal teachers “Symptoms are the body healing itself, not the disease”, or from your body being OUT of balance, so if you support the body in helping it to do what it does best, than you’ll get a healthy outcome! 
            The following, in alphabetical order, are the major herbal actions I have learned over time, their definition, how it affects the body, examples of herbs with this action, recipes and a break-down of several herbs!
Witch Hazel  at Goldenseal Sanctuary
Rutland, Ohio
            An herb that is Astringent means it tightens the bodies’ tissues, which is why when drinking something astringent you can feel yourself having a dry mouth. Astringency can also be due to eating something with tannins in it, such as chokecherry, oak leaves, or even white willow tincture/tea. The tannins bind to proteins, so if you drink it they bind to your salivary proteins essentially and they dissipate, causing the ‘tight/dry mouth’ feeling. This can be prevented when drinking black tea by adding milk, being a common practice in Britain. Also, astringent herbs are usually found in beauty products, such as toner, to tighten your faces’ skin, and also have a gentle cleaning effect. Some times in which using an astringent herb is helpful is whenever something is overly “oozy” or needs to be tightened so: loose gums, diarrhea,. Astrigent herbs include: Blackberry, Raspberry (anything else in Rose family), Witch Hazel, White Willow bark, to name a few.
Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica)
Adaptogen, anti-catarrhal & Tonic
Findhorn Ecovillage, Scotland
            An herb that is an Adaptogen is a gentle- tonic that builds one’s health over time, but can also help with acute ailments, this action can also be called a tonic, common herbs of this category include Holy Basil (Tulsi), Stinging Nettle, Burdock, Dandelion and Red Clover. This herb you may want to use to slowly heal chronic-health conditions over time. Next is the action of Anodyne, which really just means to externally relieve pain. This is a loose definition to be sure, but there are many useful pain-relieving herbs, depending on the situation at hand. An common example including a sun-burn, so some herbs that would help are burn herbs, St John’s Wort, Yarrow and Lavender come to mind, and a burn is usually hot so a cooling herb also; another excellent herb could be Plantain because it pulls out whatever there is excess of, and is generally cooling in nature. An Antispasmodic herb is one that helps minimize/treat involuntary muscle movements, generally of the uterus or stomach area. I have no personal experience in dealing with this, though from books and past teachers I have learned several of these herbs to be Black Haw, Black Cohosh.
The herbal action Analgesic is really a synonym to Anodyne. Next is an interesting one, Anti-catarrhal. You may wonder what on earth catarrhal refers to—inflammed mucous membranes. So an herb that treats anti-catarrhal, would also likely help with allergies (to mold, dust, pollen and animals; as well as food allergies), asthma, and other bronchial ailments when inflamed mucous membranes are at hand. Some anti-catarrhal herbs include Stinging Nettle, and Echinacea. My personal favorite way to treat allergies though is with a neti-pot and Allergy Tea!
            Thymes Ancient Remedies’
                        Allergy Tea~              For one pot of tea I put in the following…
            -3/4 tsp Yarrow  *NOTE don’t take Yarrow if pregnant*
            -1 tsp Mullein leaf or flower
            -3/4 tsp Sage
            -1/2 tsp Stinging Nettle (dried)
            - ¼ tsp Thyme
            Brew…Pour boiling water over the herbs, steep for 10-25 minutes and Enjoy!

            Next comes Alterative, which is an action that changes the ‘nature’ of the disease you have, to improve it’s nature, or get rid of it all together. It works by stimulating the liver, cleaning blood and metabolism; eliminates waste through kidneys, bowels and other organs, so overall has detoxifying nature and balances long-standing imbalances. Some of these herbs can include Burdock, Cleavers, Dandelion, Echinacea, and Stinging Nettle.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
Alterative, Tonic, Adaptogen & Cholagogue
            A Carminative herb, relaxes your bodies’ muscles to help stimulate secretions to get your digestion doing, helps you pass gas to move constipation through. Usually rich in volatile oils many common carminative herbs include Fennel, Spearmint, Peppermint, Catnip, Cinnamon and Ginger. My favorite way to enjoy the health benefits of these warming herbs is in the form of Chai tea!
                     Thymes Ancient Remedies’
                                      Chai Tea~       
    simmer in a pot with 4 cups of water for 25-35 minutes.
            -1 cinnamon stock
            -1 tsp cloves
            -1 tsp cardamom
            -2-3 tsp fennel seed
            -1 tsp black tea
            -2 tsp licorice root
            -1/4 tsp burdock, dandelion and yellowdock root
            -1/8th tsp cumin
            -dash of nutmeg
            A Cholagogue herb is one that acts upon bile, liver and gallbladder to name a few. Includes herbs such as Dandelion, Burdock, Yellowdock. These are just a few of them, though the ones I have more experience using. These cholagogue herbs are earthy, very root based (lower region of our body is where the major digestive and filter organs are), and when you find Burdock and Yellowdock, I’ve learned their properties solely from taking a leaf, rubbing it and than chewing it, see how it tastes, what is stimulated…and we found lots of bile and saliva! So it must get your bile in lower organs going, why I like adding these herbs to my chai, to get lots of digestion going smoothly and secreting the bile that helps to do it!
Coltsfoot in Rutland, Ohio
Demulcent Expectorant (cooling)
            An herb that is Demulcent (external version of Emollient), meaning it soothes tissue internally. An example where this would be useful is if you have a dry, hacking cough and sore throat, so taking an internally soothing of the tissue, cooling moist herb is a very good idea. Demulcent –cooling herbs include Marshmallow root, Plantain, Coltsfoot…and other general Demulcent herbs include: Comfrey, and Echinacea. Diaphoretic goes hand-in-hand with Anti-catarrhal a lot of times because if you have inflamed mucous membranes, not due to allergies, so you have a cold or flu, you’ll most likely need to sweat it out, and that is a diaphoretic herb; one that stimulates your body to make you sweat out a disease. Very common herbs for this include Boneset, Yarrow and Elderberry/flower. My favorite way of taking this is as an Elderberry honey, or syrup (recipe here). Next is Diuretic, this action is commonly thought to “make you pee”, which is a common misconception. An herb that is Diuretic actually stimulates the kidneys, which makes you have to urinate more, by increasing the rate at which the kidneys filters blood. Examples include: Cleavers, Mullein, Dandelion, Horsetail, Linden and Stinging Nettle.  
            An Emetic, is an herb that makes you vomit, I never work with these, but knowing if an herb does this is helpful…to know what to stay away from (common one is Elder BARK)! The action of Emmenagogue means this herb brings on the menses (period), so you should AVOID WHEN PREGNANT! These herbs can include Yarrow, Black Cohosh and Motherwort are the main ones I know of. Motherwort is excellent at bringing the period of, as well as helping with cramps, and comforts the emotional rollercoaster (so helps the heart)*NOTE Stinging Nettle is excellent in not bring on the menses but lessening blood flow if you have a heavy ‘flow’, because it diverts blood away from the pelvis*
Boneset at Northland College in Ashland, WI
            An herb that is an Expectorant helps you cough up excess phlegm, by loosening it, and adding more mucus (say if a dry hacking cough) to help alleviate these symptoms. So if you had a cold, phelgmy cough, it could be good to take a warming expectorant to help balance this cold, wet tissue state, so ginger would be a good choice, along with licorice, anise or even cayenne. Though, if you had a dry hot cough with little phlegm, a cooling moistening expectorant, such as Marshmallow root would be good. Other herbs are: Boneset, Yarrow, Mullein, Elderberry/flower. Febrifuge is an herb that helps to cool the body, so not exactly sweating a fever out, because you could just have heat-exhaustion or heat-stroke. Peppermint, Yarrow, Elderberry/flower, Hibiscus and Boneset are good for this. A Galactagogue herb increases the secretion of milk, so it’s obviously helpful for nursing mothers, and includes: Fennel, Milkweed, and Stinging Nettle; though if you want to dry up your milk Sage and Parsley are good.
            A Hemostatic herb—stops bleeding. Includes the herbs Yarrow and Cayenne, which are the best two I know from learning, and hearing excellent success stories of using Yarrow especially.
            Next are laxative herbs, (also see below Purgative). A Laxative herb overall works by cleaning you out via the gallbladder. Some more gentle and bulk-forming laxatives includes psyllium seed and husk, these aren’t as hard on the body, and still shouldn’t be used more than needed. The next level of laxatives includes the herb Senna; after that the third level is a very strong laxative including Castor oil (internally), Rhubarb Root and Cascara sagrada. Lastly is purgative, the strongest (see below). **NOTE Do NOT use laxatives without doctors approval/assistance** Some herbs that can prevent the need for using laxatives include Burdock, (any of the carminatives, and cholagogue).
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
Emmenagogue, Febrifuge, Hemostatic & Vulnerary
            An herb that has the action of Mucilage, really is how it sounds, it coats and soothes the membranes, and thus calms inflamed areas. Oats is an excellent example, as are Marshmallow, Slippery Elm and Plantain. These herbs also commonly replenish one’s electrolyes, some of these hers also include: lemon, honey, maple syrup, and dandelion.A Purgative being the MOST powerful of the laxatives majorly irritates the bowels, and can include Cascada sagrada, senna. **DON’T use a LAXATIVE without DOCTORS APPROVAL/supervision!!!**

 An herb that is Rubafacient in nature brings blood to area of wound to heal, helps improve poor circulation also to cold hands and feet. Some of these herbs include: Yarrow, Cayenne, Mullein, and Ginger. A herb that is Tonic in nature helps to build the body of nutrition, thus slowly healing chronic ailments, also can be an Adaptogen (see above). Herbs include: Red Clover, Stinging Nettle, Dandelion and Burdock. I have had a lot of personal success with Stinging Nettle, and for more information see a previously published article ( A Vermifuge is an herb that specifically kills worms and parasites, Black Walnut is an excellent example, Myrrh and Goldenseal also are helpful for this. Lastly, Vulnerary, is an herbal action of healing wounds, and one might think if you have a good one why not use it for all situations. The fact of the matter is it depends. For example, if you had a very clean wound, but it needed to be healed quickly, a good herb could be Comfrey; BUT if it is not clean you wouldn’t want to use an herb that makes your body regenerate it’s cells which could lead to a nasty infection. If you have a dirty wound, Yarrow is excellent at cleaning it out but slowly healing. Other good herbs include Calendula, Echinacea and Goldenseal; and herbs that heal wounds and relieve pain includes: White Willow bark, Yucca, Silk Tassel, Passionflower and Birch (Also see above Anodyne).

            Peppermint is a cooling carminative…also being a
                                    ---helps the nervous system, digestive system (stomach, bowels)

            Prickly Ash happens to be a nerve stimulant
                 So also a…
                        Stimulant (secretion, circulation)
                        Stimulates saliva
                        Mild laxative
                        Pancreatic and biliuary actions (gets secretions going)
                        Cardiac activity
                                    --stimulates heart, lymph, circulation, kidneys
                        Strengthen one’s “vital force”
                        Bowel spasms (constipation; gas is a symptom)—thus a carminative
                        Dysentery (loose bowels)
                        Neuralgic dysmenorrhia (nerv cramps in menstruation)

-Therapeutic Herb Manual by Ed Smith. An excellent informational book many major herbs and their medicinal actions the author found when taken as a tincture
-Native American Medicinal Plants by Daniel E. Moerman. An excellent book about traditional uses of native North American plants, includes herbal actions under each tribe and loosely how it was taken
-101 Herbal teas…by Kathleen Brown is a good basic herbal-book about common herbs, their medicinal uses and fun tea recipes to make with them!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Herbal Butter, Oils & Salad Dressings: my favorite ways to incorporate herbs and fats into my diet

            If you have ever wondered what you can do with all of your fresh herbs in the summer, besides drying and freezing, I have several fun ideas for you! One of my favorite ways to incorporate these extra herbs, along with healthy fats, into my many cooking dishes is by making and using herbal butters, oils and salad dressings! Besides that, I also love to incorporate fresh herbs and lots of greens into my salads, such as dandelion, arugula, chard, kale, and purslane!
            Butter, glorious butter! The list of health benefits of butter, especially when it’s of pastured, organic and raw is a very compelling one. Butter contains many vitamins (A, D, K and E), the first of which is crucial for the thyroid gland to stay healthy; as well iodine, selenium and more, which helps improve the immune function and metabolism, protects the body against heart disease, arthritis, gastrointestinal infections; helps the body better absorb calcium and phosphorous, which are essential for strong bones and teeth; and lastly is rich in saturated fats, so it is very good for lung function, and also rich in omega-3 and -6 medium-chain fatty acids, which is important for skin health, and brain function (see resources).
making my favorite herbal butter
 My herbal butter recipe isn’t exact, and I use whatever is easily available.

Jennifer’s Herbal Butter:
-1/4 lb pastured organic cultured butter at room temperature
- 4 green onions, chopped
- 3-6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- ½ tsp dried sage, tarragon, and rosemary
*in summer substitute the green onions for a few handfuls of chives, and fresh herbs*

-when the butter is at room temperature, put all ingredients into a bowl, mix thoroughly, put into a jam jar and store in the fridge

            Next, some background on herbal oils. I personally have learned to use extra virgin olive oil, from trader joe’s, because a friends’ family from Spain said it was the highest quality (just from smelling it). Though, I trust that they, along with Italian friends of mine, know good olive oil. Otherwise, I buy bulk organic from the co-op, both of these sources have turned out to be excellent for herbal-infused oils. Besides the above suggestion, here are a few things I have learned from reading traditional food recipes about good oils and fats.
            Besides butter, other fats I add to most dishes are oils, specifically olive oil, though coconut oil and flax-seed oil are also excellent to cook with. Personally, I prefer using olive oil because it is multi-purposeful, so I can use it to make salad dressing, beauty products such as creams, and lotion, and salves, an ‘herbal ointment’. Also, olive oil is very rich in antioxidants, vitamin E, and the monounsaturated fatty acid (oleic acid), which is shown to protect against heart disease. If you would like to use different oil, you can  substitute with almond, sunflower or grape seed oil.

Yarrow Infused Olive Oil for
EXTERNAL use only
Herbal-Infused Oil Recipe:
            Here is how to make the basic infused-herbal oil, from what I learned in Lise Wolff’s “3 Seasons of Herbal Medicine”, course.
-Take fresh plant material, and wilt for 8-24 hours so enough moisture will be out of the plant, as to not cause any mold growth (which would ruin the oil)
-After the allotted time, rip or cut up the herb, and pack down into a jar, making sure there is at least 2 inches of head space
-Pour in oil, to fully cover the herb, and if the herb floats above the oil, hold down with rocks 
-Infuse for 4-6 weeks in a cool, dark location. Though, I infuse it in the sun, because how can herbs be harmed by sunlight, they do synthesize it into energy after all.
 -After 4-6 weeks, strain through a fine-metal strainer and rebottle. 
*For a measurement-based recipe see the book Herbs & Spices book in resources*

            Now for what you’ve been waiting for, background about   store-bought salad dressings, and a recipe on making your own healthy version at home! Salad dressings you buy in the store, even if they are low-fat, organic or any other ‘health label’ they can slap on it are still made with really low-quality oils, along with a slew of artificial colors, flavorings, preservatives, and don’t even get me started on sweeteners they add. By making your own salad dressing, you are combining healthy fats, such as olive oil, flax seed oil, eggs and in this case anchovies, along with lemon juice and mustard, to have your own incredibly fresh, healthy and delicious Caesar salad dressing! 

Caesar Salad Dressing Recipe~ 
 makes ¾ cup
Caesar Salad Dressing Ingredients
-1/2-1 tsp Dijon mustard
-1 Tbsp wine vinegar
-1 Tbsp lemon juice; freshly squeezed
-1 Tbsp Parmesan cheese; finely grated—fresh is preferred
-1/2 cp Extra Virgin Olive oil; cold-pressed
-1 Tbsp flax oil; expeller, cold pressed
-1 egg yolk; preferably organic, local and free-range
-2 anchovy fillets
-3-5 garlic cloves; peeled and mashed

Put all ingredients into a food-processor and blend until smooth. As you see in my pictures you may notice that the Caesar dressing is very runny at first—but not to worry—it will thicken with time and refrigeration.
  *Recipe courtesy from Sally Fallon’s book Nourishing Traditions*

-Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon
-Weston A. Price
-The Healthy Home Economist
-Herbs & Spices by Jill Norman. This book is an excellent book on how to use a majority of cooking herbs and spices, prepare and store them, includes recipes and herbal mixtures as well.