Herbs for the Happy Tummy

February 22, 2012

I keep encountering moments with friends and colleagues when someone is struck suddenly with a very unhappy tummy, and is in need of quick digestive aid, for a little help when — oops! someone ate wheat bread and shouldn’t have, to help with gas troubles, some weird food combination that left a tummy churning, you name it. The digestive system is of course extremely important to our overall health and well-being, and when there is imbalance, one can even develop depression or anxiety troubles. But right now I am just going to address a group of herbs called carminatives. Essentially, a carminative is an herb that helps expel gas. So using a carminative is more of an acute treatment, though it can be part a long-term strategy to help with chronic digestive woes of any kind. Maybe that sounds icky, the thought that – gasp – your body might in fact have moments when gas is produced, but let’s face it, we all have “moments” and certainly our children too.  At those times, carminatives can be of great assistance, and should always be in your herbal arsenal. I will list some wonderful carminatives to have on hand in the space below, but I also want to point out two ready-made tinctures (alcohol or glycerite extracts) that are fabulous for kids and/or adults.

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1. Chamomile. Yes! it’s also a nervine, and therefore great for calming your nervous system, but this delicate apple-spiced tisane (water infusion) has a time-honored tradition of soothing the digestive system. It is especially frequently used for children with its mild, sweet taste, gentle action, and comforting aroma. Chamomile is easily incorporated into a regular routine for adults and children alike and one can include other tasty nervine-carminatives to this blend such as lavender.

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2. Lemon Balm. Like many other mints, lemon balm contains a high quantity of volatile oils that work to ease digestive woes. Lemon Balm, with its bright, lemony fragrance, also helps lift the spirits, so if Seasonal Affective Disorder AND tummy complaints are your bane, this is a great herb for you. It is worth noting that fresh lemon balm works best for the nervous system support but dried will help with digestive woes just as well as the fresh herb.

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3. Fennel. Known for its mild anise or licorice flavor, all parts of the fennel plant are edible and provide digestive relief. I often keep the seeds on hand with this purpose in mind, and as it is also a great galactagogue (helps promote milk flow in breast feeding women), this is a wonderful herb of choice for women who are pregnant, post-partum, or nursing and experiencing both tummy trouble and the desire to support their milk flow. IT also soothes colic (because of the digestive connection) and so it is great to impart to baby via breast milk or as a water-infusion via spoon or eye dropper.

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4. Cinnamon / Cassia. Usually what we think of as cinnamon is actually cassia, a close cousin. True cinnamon is sweeter than cassia, which can have a notably hot taste. The volatile oils are what usually give carminatives their power and both cinnamon and cassia have them in spades, so both are useful for digestion. Cinnamon & cassia are also energetically warming and can work as a ‘catalyst’ to enable other herbs to work better, and to stimulate digestion when food choices have been energetically damp or someone is convalescing. It is worth noting that cinnamon has also shown quite a bit of promise for people with diabetes, as it appears to stimulate insulin activity, helping the body to process sugar more efficiently.

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5. Peppermint. I can’t neglect the power of menthol, the source of peppermint’s unmistakeable flavor. Spearmint is a milder mint that can be used almost interchangeably with peppermint, but if you source  good quality dried peppermint, you will be astounded by how intense the flavor is. Mint is very easy to grow and root. I actually picked some from my garden this January, as there was still some (amazingly!) hanging on, and rooted it in my kitchen where it is now happily growing in a sunny window. Peppermint is stimulating and can perk up the mind and the senses, making this a good herb to use to start your day, get your brain in gear, and forge on to new adventures.

Naturally I have many other carminative loves, but for now, I’ll just leave you with those top choices. I would also be remiss in not pointing out Herbalist & Alchemist’s Kid’s Tummy Relief, an absolutely wonderful glycerite formula that tastes delicious and can really help out a kid’s tummy in a pinch. Okay, I keep some in strategic places for myself too, but grown-ups deserve tasty too, right? Another must? Ginger extract (alcohol): I always always always keep a bottle of this in my office, my car, and my home, as it is essentially herbal first aid for myriad complaints.

Feel free to share some of your carminative loves and natural digestive aids!


Herbal Demon Repellent. No, really!

February 9, 2012

Italian 15 c manuscript image of St Johns Wort

A friend recently passed along a fabulous blog called BibliOdyssey, as well as a post with illustrated manuscript belonging to a 15th c. herbal text titled the  Codex Sloane 4016. Like other early manuscripts focusing on herbs, these treatises documented accumulated knowledge about medicinal plants from the oral tradition. In the image above you will immediately recognize St. John’s Wort as the medieval “ypericon”, known now by the latin hypericum perforatum. With the myriad uses for the invaluable St. John’s Wort, SSRI action, anti-viral activity, and vulnerary for nervous system-related symptoms among them, what I did not know was that St John’s Wort was also considered a demon repellent. And what a cute little demon we have here in this medieval illustration, not unlike the many forms of hybrid creatures found on the column lintels that would have surrounded monastic herb gardens of that period. I am sure every monastery had its St. John’s Wort patch for this reason, among the many other uses.  Do pop back to this post to see the other lovely illustrated manuscripts from the Codex, as well as information about its facsimile at the British Library and even more delightful tidbits from their blog. And while you are at it, this wonderful collection of downloadable manuscripts, the Codex (Tractatus de Herbis) among them. Ahhh, if I were to go back to working towards a PhD again….I’d be sorely tempted.


Why Lilith? The reason for the name behind the Apothecary.

February 9, 2012
Ishtar in her marital aspect

Ishtar in her marital aspect

My name is not Lilith. As many of you know, dear readers and customers of my Apothecary, my name is Sarah. Though many people name their businesses after themselves, the reason for using the name Lilith is a bit convoluted, and I often get questions about it, so I will try to be articulate about my reasoning here.

Lilith first appeared in ancient Hebrew texts as a demon or a monster, but I am not concerned about those earliest references which are controversial in their authenticity at best. More interestingly,  Lilith appears in the 8th–10th centuries in Jewish folklore as Adam’s first wife, created at the same time as Adam, and considered his equal, unlike Eve who was created from Adam’s rib.  In the 13th Century mythology, Lilith left Adam after she refused to become subservient to him and then would not return to the Garden of Eden after she mated with the archangel, Samuel. Though Lilith is a name often used in reference to a feminine stance, I wanted to think deeper about this mythological figure and what she represents. The fact that she was Adam’s equal from the start rather than made to serve him, that she was fiercely independent, and strong in character certainly stand apart from the story of Eve. She took control of her own sexuality and copulated with an archangel, thereafter refusing to return to the Garden, which despite it’s earthly delights, was not quite up to par with sex with an archangel, I’m guessing. Call it a hunch.

Burney ReliefThis is an Babylonian image that is often associated with Lilith and in my earliest labeling, I used this image on all of my products. Called the Burney Relief, Babylon (1800-1750 BCE), this figure is apparently based on a misreading of an outdated translation of the Epic of Gilgamesh, and modern research has identified the figure as either Ishtar or Ereshkigal. How perfect! The pairing of those two goddesses lends even more interest to the Lilith story, though the linkages may be only the red threads between them that exist in my mind. While  they may not be related to Lilith, the Assyrian Ishtar (or Sumerian, Inanna) is the goddess of fertility, war, love, and sex. Even as the goddess of fertility, she was not as kind and benevolent as you might think, and she was above all the goddess of sexuality and could be brutal to her consorts and lovers. That said, she had many faces, just as we humans do, and in a famous legend about her decent to the Underworld. There, Ereshkigal, the goddess of the Underworld, allows her to enter but only according to the rules. She must shed her clothing as she passes through each of the seven gates. When she finally arrives, she is naked and in a rage! Ereshkigal puts her in prison and sends 60 diseases upon her, but eventually Ereshkigal is commanded by the gods to revive her by sprinkling her with the waters of life.

And why am I telling you all of this? Because this descent and revival is so intrinsic to our life on earth as human beings. First of all, we need to nurture the many sides of our characters, and those may include facets we are not encouraged to present to the world, at least as dictated by our modern societies. We are not ‘encouraged’, for women especially, to present our anger, frustration, our deepest sexuality, our moods if they are not sunny and bright. We are told to be Superhuman in our ability to stay bright and lively and committed to everything, even when we are burdened with difficulties, with family troubles, with work, or even with the fatigue of our intense, modern lifestyles. Ishtar’s story reminds us of the need to feel our rage, to allow that descent to the Underworld and our darkest places, even if that means a temporary, quiet withdrawal from social obligations. We need to be able to confront our own demons, to even be assaulted by the emotions we feel, and then to have the space to seek respite, to nurture ourselves back to life again, thus the ‘sprinkling of the waters of life’ for revival. But it is important to note that these darker aspects of our nature are not necessarily needing to be expunged — they are part of who we are, and these dark places also need to be accepted as part of our whole being. There is a fantastic Jungian analysis of this mythology that was quite formative in my thoughts about this mythology, and also in my own journey,  allowing myself to feel and be respectful of the complexities of my inner world and deepest nature.

Bravery accompanies Her:
Ishtar the bold
Her festivals are the Warriors´ festivals,
The stimulation of the warriors at combat,
The rousing of officers
The liberation of armies
Her rage at combat,
Her enthusiasm in battle
Reveal Her true Nature
And demonstrate what Ishtar knows how to do!

So how does this all connect to me naming my business Lilith’s Apothecary? Well, quite simply it is a reminder to us all that we have every right to a firm footing in the world, that we have the ability to not only be equals with our peers, lovers, and mates, but that we can also allow the many parts of ourselves (those deep, hidden, or even dark places included) to exist in harmony and balance.  Using herbs, our plant allies, to nurture our deeper selves is just one piece of this need to attend to ourselves more fully.  In my small way, and despite more limited means than the large corporations we have come to know so well, I want to help provide men and women with the ability fulfill this important function with natural,  raw ingredients — minerals such as clay and mica; gifts from the animal kingdom like milk, yoghurt and honey; and oils, essential oils, and raw herb matter to nourish ourselves both inside and out. With these materials from the earth, we are able to nudge our bodies into balance, hopefully. Above all, the herbalist is concerned with helping a person achieve holistic balance, and thus it is also my primary motivation. By looking at the full person, we can help try to ascertain what needs should be met, and hopefully what we can suggest as helpful assistance, ideas, and suggestions for achieving that equilibrium that we all seek.

I do hope all of that makes sense. You’ll be happy to know that my new website, complete with herb consulting details, is only now waiting for me to tweak a few things and then it will be live very soon. If you have any comments, stories, or feedback, I would love to hear from you. xo ~ Sarah

Incidentally, you may be interested in my Ishtar blend, named for this very story and with the achievement of hormonal and emotional balance in mind. I just ordered some organic shatavari root so I can make you a custom blend if you would like to try it.

Ishtar root tea


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