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!


The Healing Power of Herbs: Liniments

November 17, 2010

Oil with herbs Liniments. Hm. Sounds vaguely medicinal, right? I remember once going to a bar that was ‘inspired’, I take it, by herbal formulas. Some drinks (shall I say ‘concoctions’?) boasted the inclusion of herbal tinctures of elderflower, ginger, or lavender. Not a bad thought at all, as we often use more familiar alcohol extracts of vanilla or orange peel in herby libations. However, there was a drink that supposedly included the use of an herbal liniment…..HA HA HA HA. Well, that’s the herb snob in me, I’m a little ashamed to admit. Why? Because liniments are for external treatment, not for cocktails. In fact, many liniments use rubbing alcohol as a base which sounds downright raunchy as an addition to an evening beverage. In truth, a liniment could essentially be made the same way as an extract meant to be taken internally, despite the fact that the definition implies that it is used externally. It can also be made as an infused oil, which, if made with the right kind of oil, can be a fabulous culinary addition! Still, I feel some “nameology” needs to be in order.

Moving on.  A liniment is most often made as an alcohol extract. The purpose is to provide a vehicle for the important chemical compounds in herbs that would be used for external application. I have included a DIY recipe below for a ginger liniment that is made with a neutral oil, and some additional possibilities are olive oil, safflower oil, or sunflower seed oil. Essentially an infused oil, this ginger liniment works great as a massage oil post-exercise to relieve aches & pains. It is also a great treatment to increase circulation. Try on arthritic joints, on sore muscles, and troublesome joint pain. Best used twice a day at least!

gingerDIY RECIPE : Ginger Liniment

3″ piece fresh ginger
1/4 cup almond oil

Grate ginger and combine with oil in a non-reactive (non-aluminum) saucepan. Cover and heat on low heat for one hour. Make sure you have this at the lowest possible temperature to avoid the oil overheating or ‘burning’. Remove from heat and steep for another hour. Strain out ginger. Pour oil into a 4 oz colored glass bottle with a tight-fitting screwtop.

Alternative: Use 1/4 cup grain alcohol instead of oil. Infuse for a minimum of 6 weeks (without heat) in a dark place. Apply externally with a cotton pad to relieve aches and pains. Do not apply on broken skin.

NOTE: whenever applying an external remedy, do a test patch first to make sure you are not allergic to any of the ingredients. Apply a small amount on the inside of your arm and wait 24 hours to make sure you won’t have any reaction. Some minor redness can be a natural side effect of a ginger liniment, as increased blood circulation may bring blood flow to the surface of the skin.


Herbal Remedies Tip #10: Tension Headaches

October 28, 2010
Lavender bush

"Lavender": Mooseyscountrygarden.com

Sigh. Tension headaches. I know, I know…in some respects, tension headaches aren’t quite as bad as true migraines (that nausea thing! ugh!), but at the end of the day, if your tension headache is bad enough, it can render you incapacitated. When I was in graduate school, I began to develop severe tension headaches. I ended up in the ER one night (total waste of 9 hours on an icy, snowy, Montreal night) and found that allopathic medicine has just about nothing to offer someone suffering from this condition. The solution for me? Chiropractic medicine. I mean it. Total godsend for me. Now, if you feel a tension headache coming on or you have a mild tension headache that doesn’t necessarily require the re-adjustment of your bones, herbal therapies can help. Think “calming” to begin with. Lavender essential oil (as aromatherapy) can be helpful in getting you to involuntarily relax! Never a bad thing. You can also try the tea below, which has ingredients that can ease tension and pain. Skullcap is an herb of particular import, as it is specific to anxiety, particularly when clenching the muscles, ticks, palsies, or other physical outcomes of anxiety/tension are involved. You can take this herb as a tincture, but be sure the tincture is made from the *fresh* herb and not dried.

Tension-ease Infusion

1 part skullcap
1 part sage
1 part peppermint
1/4 part lavender

Infuse 1 – 2 tsp of the above blend of dried herbs in one cup boiling water for 10-15 minutes minimum. A longer infusion results in a stronger tasting brew with more medicinal effect, but the weaker infusion is perfectly fine & therapeutic. Feel free to add honey and/or lemon to taste!


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.


Keep yourself warmed with Herb & Tea infused Milk

March 11, 2010

Warm milk While the cool weather lingers, here in the early months of Spring, out comes the milk pot. I adore my Swiss-made red-enameled milk pot. To me, it means steaming hot frothy milky beverages that when poured, will not result in a milky mess all over the stove top or counter. To my daughter Maeve, Mr. Milk Pot means “vanilla milk”, “cinnamon milk”, “honey milk”, or “hot chockie”. To me, it means any number of milky beverages. Let me give you an example. Back in January, I made a fresh batch of organic lavender infused organic honey for ecoknits, a wonderful etsian who makes the most adorable little hats. Anyway, at the end of the process, I was left with a mass of organic lavender buds soaked in the most lovely clover honey you’ve ever tasted. My thought? Mmmm..this would be good in warm milk. I thought, why not throw in some organic fair trade earl grey tea while I’m at it? So I did. I let the milk come up to a near-boil (but not), called “scalded milk”. You can tell when it’s right because you see this hint of frothiness around the edges of the pot and the milk has not yet come to a simmer/boil.

Masala Chai Tea Some tea shops, such as Infusion, an independent coffee shop in Mt. Airy (Philadelphia) has been making tea-infused milk drinks, called cambrics, for years. Other places have more recently introduced the tea latte, an infusion of tea in water, made extra strong and topped with lots of steamed milk (i.e. frothiness at its best). I love steamed milk. (I’m a steamed milk nazi because I worked at a coffee shop in Dublin for three months and was forced to master the skill, but that’s another story. I digress.)  The ones who own the origin of the true tea latte are the ancient Indians, I guess, as milk is considered to be a perfect food in India. “Masala Chai tea“, or what I think of as “yogi tea” is a blend of black tea and energetically warming, aromatic spices such as cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, ginger root, and pepper traditionally infused (via heating to a near simmer or simmer) in milk and water for a warming, soothing drink. Other possible additions include saffron, nutmeg, and even rose petals, depending on the region of India. That said, you can experiment with this concept. Lavender and black tea or earl grey (bergamot-flavored) tea are sublime with milk, as is black currant flavored tea. One of my favorite tea blends is my “Sunrise Sunset“, which includes red rooibos ‘tea’ (an herb, really), rose petals, hibsicus, cloves, cinnamon, and a touch of orange peel, an herbal tisane which is superb when prepared with warm milk and honey. I also love herbal root blends prepared with a mixture of water and milk, such as my Ishtar tea (shatavari root, ashwaghanda root, dandelion root, burdock root, and cinnamon bark), or even just a mixture of Shatavari root and cinnamon bark. It is a nourishing, vata-clearing tonic that is so very nourishing to the spirit as well.

I am sure my readers will come up with all kinds of beautifully creative ways to infuse milk and create lovely winter treats for both themselves and their children. I want to hear about them! In the meantime, you can start with my lavender and black tea milk (and keep in mind that you can infuse the milk you use to make chocolate pudding, cream of wheat, oatmeal…you name it!). If you use tea leaves or herbs in your milk, you will need to use a fine mesh strainer to strain out the organic material from the milk as you pour into your mug. In the photos for this post, I just used cinnamon sticks and honey in the milk, so a strainer wasn’t really necessary.

cinnamon added to milk over the stove

honey added to warm milk

warm milk being poured into a mug

RECIPE: Lavender & Black Tea Infused Milk
1 tsp lavender blossoms
1 Tbsp. black tea (darjeeling, english breakfast, earl grey)
1.5 cups whole milk

Put all of the above in a milk pot or small saucepan and starting at medium heat, bring slowly to warmth, removing from heat before boiling/simmering. You will see a softening, frothiness around the edge of the milk, and a gentle steam will be rising from the milk. Add honey if desired!
Want to know more about my thoughts on milk nutritionally? Read on. If not, stick to the recipe above and enjoy!

Myth: Saturated fat clogs arteries (i.e., “whole milk is bad”)
Truth: the fatty acids found in artery clogs are mostly unsaturated (74%) of which 41% are polyunsaturated (Lancet 1994 344:1195)

Sally Fallon is an important figure in the Weston Price Foundation, a non-profit organization that advocates the nutritional (dare I say, evidenced-based) philosophy of Weston A. Price, who wrote a fabulous book called Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, which chronicalled his research among various cultural groups in the 1930′s whose diets were still ‘untainted’ by modern foods such as jams, jellies, white (refined) flours and sugars. He discovered that the facial (skeletal) structures, dentition, physical health remained superior generation and generation only when individuals consume nutrient-dense whole foods and fat-soluble activators found exclusively in animal fats. Physical degeneration would appear in only one generation once modern foods were introduced to a cultural group. Sally Fallon,  the president of the foundation, wrote a wonderful cookbook called Nourishing Traditions, which outlines much of the nutritional basis of what the Weston Price Foundation advocates for through research, education, and activism. Much of the nutrional ‘message’ is quite opposite to what most dieticians preach, though much of this (peer-reviewed, scientific) research is beginning to gain ground in the public eye. Namely, that saturated fats and cholesterol rich foods are not at all the enemies they are made out to be, and are, in fact, vital to a healthy diet. All of this is to say…sigh…that whole milk is good. (P.S. And FYI …soy milk…not so good.)

tea strainerRaw Milk Warmer Sally Fallon, Nourishing Traditions
(2 cups)
1 1/2 cups raw milk
2 Tbsp carob powder
2-4 Tbsp maple syrup OR 1/4 tsp stevia powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp chocolate extract
1-2 Tbsp nutritional yeast flakes

Place all ingredients in a glass container and mix well with a wire whisk. Place in a pan of simmering water and stir occasionally until the mixture becomes warm. Do not overheat!

Raw milk is another story, as is the story of cultured milk products and their benefits to one’s health. What are your thoughts about milk?


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


Herbal Remedies Tip #8 – Herbal Hangover Relief

January 7, 2010

You might have needed this post most on New Year’s Day (though I actually went to bed at 11:50 if that tells you how exciting the eve of 2010 was for me this year), but hey – better late than never. Now, my love of nutrition and care of the body prompts me to admonish, “look now, people – metabolic toxins (i.e. alcohol) is not good for the body, and you know it!”, but let’s be fair. There are times when I get into a really good bottle of wine and can’t be stopped. I also lived in Ireland off and on for at least a year and a half, so I have sympathy for the human experience of the fabled hangover.

Hangovers, as most know, feel like a combination of headache, sometimes nausea, fuzzy head, maybe a bit of depression, certainly a lot of lethargy. Most of these are connected to an ‘overloaded’ liver, the organ responsible for processing the metabolic toxins from alcohol. Helping a hangover usually includes helping your liver. Bitter herbs stimulate the liver to release bile, aiding digestion and helping to detoxify the poor, overtaxed organ. You might try drinking some water with freshly squeezed lemon before bed and when you wake up in the morning to help the liver.

Morning-After Tea (no, not morning after *that*, just morning after lots of drink
1 part Vervain (bitter herb)
1 part Lavender (relaxing, calming, aids digesting, analgesic (pain relief)
1/2 part white willow bark (analgesic w/ similar compounds to asprin)
1/2 part burdock root (bitter root, liver tonic, nutritive)
* each “part” can be a tsp or 1 oz depending on how much of a blend you want to make. Try it as a cup first, though
Add 1 pint (2.5 cups) boiling water to a 2 tsp and steep (covered!) for a minimum of 10 min. Strain and sweeten with honey and/or add lemon if desired. Sip throughout the day until you start to feel better. It is a little bitter, but hey – you did it to your liver, after all, and this is what you need now!


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