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!


Make your own Herbal Wines

July 18, 2011

herb Infused wine
Herbal wines
date back thousands of years. Egyptian wine jars have been found with residues of herbs and resins. It makes sense, as we now know that alcohol breaks down the medicinal constituents of plants, making it more bio-available to the body. That’s why we make alcohol extracts as herbal tinctures to deliver botanical chemicals to our body. The famous 12th century German mystic, Hildegard of Bingen, recommended herbal wines such as lungwort wine for emphysema, honey-parsley wine for heart pain, and unsweetened lavender wine for congested liver.

Bitters infused in alcohol have been used in Europe for several hundred years. They usually contain bitter herbs that help with digestion by stimulating bile juices. Bitters have also been traditioanlly added to beer for the same reason.  Angostura Bitters are a famous member of this category and are well-used in hundres of cocktails for a splash of complexity, and to this day only 5 people in the world know the well-kept secret of the herbs used in this special recipe. Though this mexture was hoped to help soldiers in WWI suffering from severe fevers and digestive disorders, it now serves to enliven many of our most special happy hour drinks today. Bitters are usually made with alcohols other than wines, but it might be fun to experiment with bitter herbs when making a more medicinal wine.

There are lots of super tastey concoctions that can be made in your own kitchen. I often make herbal simple syrups to add to gin or vodka drinks for something herbaceous, but it’s really fun to go directly to the source and create an alcoholic beverage that is lively and compex all on its own! This is why going the herbal wine route is worthwhile. Most people can afford a decent white or red wine to start with.

Making Herbal Wines

1. Place Herbs in a bottle (1 oz herbs to 1 pint wine)
2. Pour wine over herbs to fill the bottle (generally a ‘sweeter’ wine w/ about 12% alcohol)
3. Cap tightly and shake well
4. Store in a cool, dark place
5. Shake well every day for 2 weeks
6. Strain herbs.
7. Add sugar or honey to taste (optional), particularly for liqueurs
8. Some liqueurs need maturation time, in which case you might wait a month or more.
NOTE: herbal wines should last about a year. Herbal liqueurs may last longer.

rose infused vodka Rose Petal Wine
(Medicinal Uses: for headaches, heart disease, stomach pain & fever)
600 g rose petals (Rugosa preferred), dried and unsprayed
10 liters combination grape juice and young wine OR all young wine

1. Tie rose petals in a small bag & place in a container with the liquids
2. Infuse in a dark place (covered) for 3 months
3. Filter, pour into a sterilized bottle or jar and store again.

Ref: adapted from an article in The Herb Quarterly by Barbara MacPherson.


Use fresh mint for perfect skin care

March 8, 2011

mint leaves
It may be March, but I’m already thinking about mints. Fortunately, some of the herbs you may have brought inside for winter (or the herbs that may make early spring appearances) are wonderful for all manner of skin care concoctions. I don’t bring mint inside but as a vigorous perennial, it begins to show its minty face fairly early in the growing season.

Mint (mentha), whether one is referring to peppermint, spearmint, apple mint, pineapple mint, lemon balm, or any other variety, is a stimulating herb that is well known for its internal benefits (as a great digestive tonic and cure for indigestion, for example). But have you yet tried it externally in a skin care ritual?

For identification purposes, you can always recognize a mint by its square stem, though mints such as peppermint and spearmint are best known for their potent volatile, or essential, oils.  Mint’s delightful aroma makes it even more appealing to use as a skin care treatment, because it provides some aromatherapy, stimulating & clearing the mind. In skin care, mint is used as a deodorizer, cleanser, and skin soother. The toner below is particularly grand for oily/acne-prone skin because the citrus peels are marvelously anti-septic and ideal for further astringing the skin.

Rule of thumb: Dried mint 1 Tbsp = 3 Tbsp Fresh.

glass toner bottles

Citrus Mint Toner
3 Tbsp fresh mint leaves (lemon balm would be quite wonderful!)
peel from 1 orange
Peel from 1/2 lemon (Meyer lemons are really lovely)
Peel from 1/3 grapefruit
1 cup boiling water
1 Tbsp witch hazel extract or 1/2 cup witch hazel distillate.

1. Place mint leaves in a bowl and bruise with a spoon in order to release their volatile oils.
2. Add citrus peels.
3. Pour boiling water over leaves and peel and allow to cool completely
4. Strain to remove solids.
5. Add witch hazel extract (tincture) or distillate.
6. Pour into a clean container

*NOTE: as an unpreserved toner, this is essentially a “fresh” product that must be kept refrigerated and used up in a week or so. Don’t store it in your warm bathroom! Also makes a wonderfully refreshing facial mist for a pick-me-up any time of day.


Horseradish (Armoacia Rusticana): International Herb of 2011

February 18, 2011

Horseradish Horseradish? That seems to have been everyone’s response to the choice of International Herb of 2011, despite this herb’s long use as a medicinal herb. Not only is horseradish’s spicy, peppery taste a flavor booster, but it has the ability to clear the sinuses (you know what I am talking about!) and also has a range of antibacterial activity, which makes it additionally useful for infections. A powerful diuretic, horseradish has been used throughout the centuries to treat kidney stones and similar problems. Not surprisingly, horseradish is also great for indigestion and putrefaction in the digestive tract. As an expectorant, horseradish is helpful with lung problems, including asthma and coughs, and is additionally useful for arthritis. To add to the laundry list of uses, horseradish can be used as a skin treatment to remove blemishes and lighten discoloration; it is a successful vermifuge for expelling worms and parasites; it’s an immune stimulant that can strengthen a worn down system and as an anti-oxidant, helps counter the negative effects of pollution and stress; it’s also a detoxifier for the liver and spleen. It can even be held to the nose of a nursing baby who can’t nurse well because of a stuffy nose (the fumes will be strong for the baby, who may cry for a minute because of it, but it’s effective and safe).

For a sinus remedy, the famous herbalist, Dr. Christopher, recommends the following: “Start with 1/4 teaspoon of the freshly grated root and hold it in your mouth until all the taste is gone. It will immediately start cutting the mucus loose from the sinuses to drain down the throat. This will relieve the pressure in your sinuses and help clear infection.” Incidentally, the grated root is apparently sweeter and milder when fresh than when purchased from the store.

I think horseradish is perhaps best known as one of the five bitter herbs (along with coriander, horehound, lettuce, and nettle) eaten historically during the feast of the Passover Seder.

I’m chagrined to admit that despite the obvious strength of horseradish’s energy, I haven’t used this herb very much myself, and could also do to incorporate it into my diet more often. Herb Companion has posted a number of culinary recipes for the use of horseradish, including those listed here. Leek and Celery Root Gratin with Horseradish looks really intriguing, and just like I enjoy mashed potatoes with dijon or whole seed mustard, I’m sure I’d love the peppery addition of horseradish to a creamy potato dish.


Top 50 Blogs for Learning about Herbalism

August 2, 2010

cilantro and basil herbs Yeah for me! Lilith’s Apothecary ~ this blog ~ was recently listed as one of the Top 50 Blogs for Learning about Herbalism, much to my delight. The blogger, Rachel Davis, divides her list of blogs up into categories of  1) General, 2) Farming, 3) Herbalists, 4) Herbalism & More, 5) cooking, 6) Medicine. The final category of blogs is where my own appears. There are lots of great blogs to check out on this list, and some great new discoveries for me include:

1. The Herbwife’s Kitchen, a blog written by a traditional Appalachian community herbalist based in West Virginia
2. Herbs from the Labyrinth, a blog from a community herbalist out in Lancaster, PA, about an hour outside of Philadelphia.
3. Rosemary’s Sampler, a lovely blog from The Rosemary House, a charming establishment in Mechanicsburg, PA, and a place I’ve been wanting to go for years. They often have great little workshops and herbwalks with well-known herbalists such as David Winston.
4. The Medicine Women Gather: five herbalists from the Pacific NW gather to share recipes, wildcrafting, and the gifts of the earth.
5. Joseph Alban: an acupuncturist in NY who teaches us acupressure points to use for ourselves and our children, as well as other info about chinese herbs, etc.

Share some of your favorite herb-themed blogs with me! I’ll write a future post on some of the most useful herb blogs, including those by Michael Tierra & Leslie Tierra, Stephen Foster, and other master herbalists. Michael Tierra just blogged about Richo Cech, a “plant whisperer” and author of The Medicinal Plant Grower.


Making Infused Honey with Household Spices & Herbs

March 26, 2010

cinnamon infused in honey I wrote this DIY post for a local group of handmade artisans here in Philadelphia, for the Handmade Philly blog. But what could be a better project for my own readers than herb-infused honey, using readily available sprices from your kitchen cabinet and herbs fresh from the garden? Pop on over the Handmade Philly and check out the post.


Calm Child Formula: a recipe to calm the little ones

January 22, 2010

I currently study herbal medicine under the tutelage of Michael and Leslie Tierra and their East West School of Planetary Herbology. My focus in much of my work in herbal medicine has been maternal and child health, which you may note from many of my posts. One of the things I love about the world of herbal medicine is that the masters — our masters in this current time — are always intersecting in one way or another. The most respected herbalists of the United States are usually connected to the American Herbalists Guild (AHG), the closest thing to a regulating body that we have. It’s not easy to get AHG after your name, either!

I was looking through Naturally Healthy Babies and Children, a great resource by Dr. Aviva Jill Romm, mostly in thoughts of preparing for a course I have been dreaming about since last spring — and nodded to in a earlier post — and I came across this wonderful formula for a “Calm Child Formula“. Aviva Romm writes about it. Michael Tierra came up with it. And probably hundreds of children have been happily subjected to its calming effects. How wonderful to have a formula sanctioned by our modern masters and certainly born of a long herbal tradition of empirical evidence and experience.

The formula is a nervine, which means it has a calming effect on the nervous system, and digestive calmer, helping to bring a sense of tranquility to a child, even during times of sickness. It can be used as a tonic for active children or even during long car trips. Tierra’s company, Planetary Herbs, sells it in their formulas, or you can prepare it at home as a water-infusion or a syrup. (Ref: Romm 2003) The recipe below is for a syrup. An alternative way to make  a syrup would be to use all the same herbs and to prepare it as I describe in this post for the Herb Companion last year.

chamomile

chamomile

Calm Child Formula

1 oz. catnip tincture
1 oz. chamomile tincture
1 oz. lemon balm tincture (fresh lemon balm is superior)
1 oz. valerian root tincture (stinky!)
1/2 oz. lady’s slipper tincture
1/2 oz. hawthorn tincture
1/2 oz. vegetable glycerin

To Prepare: Combine all ingredients in a dark amber jar.
To Use: Dosage is 1/2 to 1 tsp as needed. Shake well before using.

REF: Aviva Jill Romm (2003) Naturally Healthy Babies and Children: A commonsense guide to Herbal Remedies, Nutrition, and Health. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press


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