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!


Favorite Tea Accessories: Atelier Oker

April 13, 2011

Atelier Oker is a stunning Etsy shop by talented Belgian ceramicist and teacher, Jeannine Vrin. Each piece in her shop is a beautifully designed work of art that is meant to be used functionally. They all seem to fulfill the mission of this studio, in finding the “poetry of ordinary things.” Her exquisite ceramic tea strainer is no exception. It’s a gorgeous piece that would truly turn every cup of tea into a special tea ceremony. I am a great proponent of the need for such rituals in every day life. Be forewarned: Jeannine tells me that these tea strainers sell almost as soon as they are posted, so if you see one and like it, snap it up quickly! If not, contact her directly to pre-order if possible. Dank u, Jeannine!


Favorite Tea Accessories: Moon Spoons

February 15, 2011

Tea Strainer in "Cathedral" design

"Cathedral" Tea Strainer

I love tea. And there are so many great accessories out there to make tea drinking into a ritual. Just look at the wonderful history of the Tea Ceremony in Japan if you want a reminder of just how sacred and special tea drinking can be. I thought it might be fun to bring some wonderful additions to the personal tea ritual to your attention.

Honey Stick

Honey Stick

For Valentine’s Day I came across these amazing tea strainers from Moon Spoon After looking at their gallery, I realized that I already own some of the wooden baby spoons, one of which I now use as a sugar spoon, and I’d love to add their Honey Stick to my collection as well. I love the delicate honeycomb pattern.


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!


3 great uses of tea (camellia sinensis) for your skin

August 4, 2010
Black tea

Black Tea from Mountain Rose Herbs

I think most people know about the traditional use of soaked tea bags on the eyes for beauty-care. Why? Because of the astringency of tea, it makes a perfect mild toner for the skin and is especially good for keeping the complexion clean, smooth, and bright. That same astringency also reduces eye puffiness. Tea contains high amounts of polyphenols, which research suggests has protective effects against free radicals and toxins. Applied externally, tea, probably by way of these same compounds, also helps prevent against sun damage by squashing free radicals and reducing inflammation (not by blocking UV rays!). These properties also help prevent signs of aging by reducing the inflammation that can lead to wrinkles. Using green tea, and other tea (Camellia Sinensis) preparations with freshly brewed concoctions, taken internally or used externally, is the best way to receive the benefits from this wonderful plant!

Tea Toner
1/4 cup boiling water
2 tea bags — (green, white, oolong, or black)
1/4 witch hazel distillate

Pour boiling water over tea bags.
Steep at 30 min – 1 hr or longer for a strong infusion.
Combine cooled tea with witch hazel. (the distillate is better to use than commercially prepared witch hazel preparations found in drug stores)

Tub Tea
Large muslin bag or extra-large tea-ball
1/4 cup dried herbs (optional)
1/4 cup dried tea (green, white, oolong or black)
1/4 cup sea salts (optional)

The same properties that make tea so lovely for the face, also make it great for a full-body bathing ritual. Some herbs you can add to the tea blend include rosemary (stimulating), chamomile (relaxing), lavender (relaxing), raspberry leaves (invigorating), mint (stimulating), sage (cleansing, thyme (cleansing), lemon verbena (stimulating, cleansing), and rose (relaxing, comforting).

Sweet Feet Tea
Astringency at its best! Keep your feet smelling fragrant and clean. Soaking feet in black tea helps reduce foot odor and perspiration. How? The tannins in tea actually change the skin’s pH!

2 black tea bags
2 cups boiling water
2 quarts cool water

Make a very strong infusion: steep tea bags in boiling water for 30 min – 1 hour
Fill a large bowl or plastic pan (rectangular plastic dishwashing tubs work great for this) with cool water and mix in tea infusion.
Soak feet for 20-30 min. Repeat treatment daily for a week to achieve a decrease in foot odor.

If you have some favorite tea beauty rituals, share them with me!
If you are a tea lover, you might also like a post I wrote a little while ago on various blends of Indian Chai Tea


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?


Fabulous Chai recipes you can make yourself

February 16, 2010

Chai Tea Spices

Chai Tea Spices (courtesy of Herb Companion)

I love chai tea, as many of you already know. I am also a bit partial to Herb Companion, a fun herby magazine that is always a welcome arrival in my post box. It’s trustworthy in terms of information and sources, and I’m honored to be an occasional guest blogger, something I wish I had time to do more often! In any case, I’m often tempted to share bits and pieces from Herb Companion with you, and their January edition was no edition. In these cold winter months, there is nothing more pleasurable than lovely Chai Tea blends. Check out Herb Companion’s recipes for various chai blends below, including one that uses Holy Basil, my personal herb choice for 2010. There may be some surprises in the recipes below, depending on the regional variations of Chai. Kashmiri chai, for instance, includes blanched almonds and saffron, something you certainly won’t get at Starbucks. Traditional Chai Teas almost always involve simmering the tea & spices in both water and milk, producing a nourishing wintertime beverage that is as warming to the soul as it is to the tummy.

My Chai (Yogi) Tea

My Chai (Yogi) Tea

RECIPES:

Black Chai Tea

Green Chai Tea

Tulsi (Holy Basil) Chai Tea


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 #5 – Herbal Tooth whitener

November 4, 2009

strawberry As a follow up to my recent Herbal Remedies Tip #4 – Tooth Powder for Natural Mouth Care, in which I gave you a basic recipe for making your own herbal tooth & gum powder, I am writing this brief post to give you a few tips on natural tooth whitening.

Many chemical tooth whiteners on the market are very irritating to gums, even painful, and have short-term benefits at best. Regular beverages such as coffee and tea stain the teeth, and while you can do your best to keep stains at bay through brushing, you will still need regular teeth cleanings twice a year. That said, there are some natural remedies you can try to help eliminate stains.

Herbal Tooth Whitener:
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp 3% hydrogen peroxide
Dip toothbrush into the mixture and brush for three minutes, then rinse thoroughly. Fllow with regular tooth paste or herbal mouth rinse.

Strawberry Whitener:
To lighten tooth stains and whiten your teeth, crush a fresh strawberry and rub it onto your teeth. The natural alpha-hydroxy acids found in strawberry should help lighten teeth. Follow by rinsing with water.

REF: Laurel Vukovic


A little autumn magic…

October 5, 2009

Ishtar-320piWith the arrival of October, I welcome Autumn, the end of the summer harvest, the real advent of cooler, crisp breezes and sparkling fall days. While springtime seems to be my most productive and invigorating time of year, full of creative new projects, products, and inspiring concoctions, I also find this time of year poignant in many ways. Though it is more a time of retreat and reflection for me, it is also a time of gentle, creative magic and quiet meditation. I often think about the Sumerian goddess, Ishtar, and her decent to the underworld for renewal. She is seen by some scholars as the ‘sacred whore’ but for me, her story is more about our need for retreat, our need for reflection, and perhaps even a need to descend into a time of darkness so that we may find healing and strength. Carl Jung writes of Ishtar as signifying “earth, nature, fertility, everything that flourishes under the damp light of the moon and also the natural life-urge”. (“Adam and Eve”, Mysterium Coniunctionis). Thus, Ishtar might stand, for us, as a return to the earth, and that like the roots of the forest that place their energy now in the roots rather than blossoms and berries, we must now ground ourselves and soak up the nutrients that in decay now cover the forest floor…leaves, nuts, fruits, and other organic matter.

Ishtar_tea_1

Ishtar Root Tea Decoction

Back in 2005 or 2006, I created my Ishtar Root Blend with this myth in mind, and still find this blend ideal for autumn reflection and healing. Ashwaghanda, an ancient Ayurvedic tonic herb, is an adaptogen that brings balance, immune-building, and calming harmony to our nervous system. Shatavari, the ancient Ayurvedic fertility tonic for women brings fertile ground for our bodies, spirits, and reproductive system; it is indeed but another adaptogen with moistening energetics, soothing vata and providing an ideal tonic following childbirth, sickness, or as a vitality tonic for any time of year. Dandelion and Burdock roots attend to the needs of the liver, providing nourishment and nutrients to this oft’ overworked organ, the very organ responsible for processing hormones, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, environmental toxins, and fats & sugars from the food we eat. Cinnamon provides a warming energetic and catalyst to spark the other herbs into action, soothe one’s belly, and provide that delicious taste craved by many this time of year. In sum, I find it a lovely, nourishing accompaniment to autumn’s necessary moments of reflection and building of inner strength and peace. Namaste.

astarte

Directions for preparing a root decoction:
1. Measure 2 Tbsp of root blend and place in a pot with 1 quart of water to simmer.
2. Simmer roots for at least 15-20 minutes. Add milk and simmer a little longer if desired.
(*in Ayurveda, a Shatavari root tea is often simmered with milk and cinnamon and then honey and ghee, or clarified butter, would be added before drinking)
3. Steep 10-15 min longer with the pot covered.
4. Strain and drink as much as desired, or, in 1 cup increments 2-3x a day
5. Decoction will keep, refrigerated, for up to 3 days.
6. Drink with honey and/or ghee if desired!

mandrake_family

@ ciderandfaun.blogspot.com

By the way, for other magical connections to the earth around us, you might check out these additional delights:
Lady Lavona’s Cabinet of Curiosities
Cider and Faun
Violet Folklore
For Strange Women
Swan Bones Theatre
Totus Mel’s Wunderkammer


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