Make your own fresh herb tincture

April 16, 2011

I have long wanted to include some ‘practical’ instruction in my blog for the all important preparations that all herbalists and family healers use on a regular basis. This post will be devoted to a simple alcohol extract of a botanical, called a “tincture”. The extracting can actually be done with cider vinegar or glycerin, alternatively, though alcohol does work best. It is important to note that some herbs are better taken as infusions or decoctions, particularly if the vitamin content is what one is after (i.e. nettles).  It is also important to note that some herbs are absolutely best taken as a *fresh* herb tincture rather than a *dried* herb tincture. This post is for making tinctures from *fresh* herbs. Some examples of herbs that should be tinctured fresh are turmeric rhizome, ginger rhizome, St. John’s wort, Milky oat tops, and skullcap. Other herbs I prefer to tincture fresh are motherwort and tulsi.

Oat Tops in the Milky Stage

Oat Tops in the Milky Stage

Step 1:

Organize the necessary container for tincturing. It should be big enough to hold all the herb you would like to tincture. There should not be a lot of excess room in the jar, however.

Jar and herbs for tincturing

Step 2:

Put the herbs in a glass jar. I have a gallon sized glass jar here and I’m using fresh oat tops in the milky stage, shipped to me from Pacific Botanicals organic farm in Oregon.

pouring grain alcohol onto the herbs

Step 3:

After the herbs are in the jar, pour 95% (190 proof) grain alcohol over the fresh herbs. The percentage of alcohol you use is probably the most important part of tincturing aside from the quality of the herbs used. The percentage of alcohol for fresh herbs shouldn’t dip below 50% or the tincture will probably spoil. Because fresh herbs contain a lot of water already, you can assume that just by using fresh herb, you’ll be diluting the % of alcohol in the preparation. So, if you use (40%) 80 proof vodka, for instance, you may end up with a tincture that is only 20% alcohol, and that tincture would certainly spoil. Many herbalists use 100 proof (50%) vodka and have success, even with fresh herbs. I prefer to use a higher proof for fresh. Using 100 proof (50%) vodka for *dried* herbs is certainly okay, though more complicated formulas are used by professional herbalists.  Keep in mind that some herbs require glycerin at about 10%, including milk thistle seed.

So, you pour the alcohol over the herbs and fill the jar to the top. Leave about 1/2 – 1 inch between the alcohol and the rim of the jar. Try to make sure all of the herbs are under the liquid.

tinctured oat tops
Step 4:

Use a chopstick or spoon to press the herb down and stir in order to release any air bubbles that may be trapped in the jar.

Step 5:

Cap the jar. I often like to put a piece of wax paper between the rim and lid so that the lid doesn’t ‘stick’ to the jar. It’s not that this is really a problem, because you can run it under hot water, but it just makes it easier.

Step 6:

Label the jar with the herb, date, and percentage of alcohol. Store in a cool/dark place and allow to do its tincturing  magic for 4 – 6 weeks. You can really leave it for longer if you don’t get to it in that time frame.  I have left herbs in 180 proof alcohol for a *year* and it doesn’t go bad because of the high alcohol content. Sometimes I do up to 3 gallons at a time, so I don’t always decant everything right away!

Step 7:

When you decant, strain the herbs out and compost them after squeezing the alcohol out of them. You can wring out the herbs with a thin, clean dishcloth or cheesecloth. There are also professional herb presses that are available for just this purpose. The herbs will often become quite dessicated, actually, so sometimes it is incredibly easy to extract as much alcohol as you are going to!

Be sure to label your decanted tinctures with the Date and the Herb, as well as the alcohol used. Keep in mind that the % of alcohol is no longer 95%!!! Though it’s not easy to exactly determine, it’s probably closer to 50%, depending on the herb used.

Resources:

Gladstar, Rosemary, Herbal Healing for Women, 1993.
Weed, Susun, Healing Wise, 1989.
Tierra, Michael, The Way of Herbs 1998
Hoffman, David, Medical Herbalism, 2003.
Tilgner, Sharol, Herbal Medicine, 1999.

Good luck with your first tincture. Feel free to comment below if you have questions!
My tinctures can be found on my Etsy site.


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.


DIY: Fragrant oils to condition and nourish your hair

May 4, 2010

Herbal Hair Oil Over the years, when I would hear about a hair oil or see a recipe for one, the association was usually with a hair treatment oil that would be used for a deep conditioning application for dry or damaged hair. This kind of hair oil treatment can be a great benefit to hair, because the oils penetrate and revitalize extra dry locks to great effect. Because my hair is on the oily side to begin with, I knew that a hair oil treatment of this kind is not something I would necessarily need. Plenty of lubrication there! I prefer using herbal hair rinses to reduce oil production and increase lustre and shine.

That said, when perusing Colleen Dodt’s Essential Oils Book a few years ago, I came across what was, for me, a novel concept. Dodt advocated the use of a blend of fragrant essential oils in a carrier oil base that are put in a dropper bottle, applied to a wooden comb, rubbed into the wood, and then combed into the hair.

The result? Hair that smells really, really beautifully — delicately scented, aromatic, and provides a halo of natural fragrance wherever you go. She likes to use it to banish smoke when leaving a smokey environment and carries a tiny bottle in her purse at all times. I just love the concept and often apply it to dry hair in the morning or evening before going out. My hair is actually on the oilier side, and this kind of application needn’t aggravate oily hair at all. You are basically just –very lightly — applying a nourishing hair conditioner that contains essential oils actually beneficial to the hair itself.  There are definitely hair oil treatments that can be applied for deep conditioning for drier hair types, but this fragrant application does not fit into that category.

Aromatic Hair Care Oil

Start with 1/2  oz. of base carrier oil, such as jojoba oil. Be sure to use only pure essential oils, not synthetic fragrance oils. You can add to a comb or brush as described below and comb into dry hair OR you can add a few drops to your scalp, especially if you have a dry scalp, when hair is wet and allow essential oils to add conditioning fragrance to your hair as it dries.

Try any of the following blends, as your needs dictate:

Soothing Scalp Refreshment Blend: 2 drops rosemary, 2 drops lavender, 2 drops clary sage, 2 drops jasmine absolute
Fragrant Garden Blend: 2 drops lavender, 2 drops rose geranium, 2 drops ylang ylang, 2 drops patchouli
Conditioning Blend: 2 drops Roman chamomile, 2 drops lavender, 2 drops sandalwood, 1 drop jasmine absolute
Earth Blend: 2 drops rose absolute, 2 drops patchouli, 2 drops sandalwood, 2 drops lavender
Healing Scalp (anti-dandruff) Blend: 2 drops cedarwood, 2 drops lavender, 2 drops rosemary, 2 drops tea tree.

Directions:
1. Fill a 1/2 oz. dark glass dropper bottle with the carrier oil and essential oils.
2. Add 2-3 drops of hair care oils directly onto a hair brush or comb before using. If you have a wooden comb, the oil can be rubbed directly onto the comb. The oil conditions the hair as you brush or comb.
REF: Colleen K. Dodt, The Essential Oils Book: Creating Personal Blends for Mind & Body, MA: Storey Publishing, 1996.


Herbal Remedies Tip #9 – How to make a mustard plaster for coughs and bronchitis

January 21, 2010

mustard powder A mustard plaster? What the heck is that, you may be wondering…and even if I knew (your mind continues), wouldn’t it be messy and probably ineffective anyway? Well, I don’t know. But I like the idea of it, and I’m going to try it too! You can use a mustard plaster to bring warmth and circulation to the chest when battling persistent coughs or bronchitis. No one in my house has had a persistent cough or bronchitis in as long as my memory can stretch, but you never know. And the herbalists I trust the most, including MD Aviva Jill Romm, certainly advocate their use. As Dr. Romm indicates, the increased blood flow reduces coughing and speeds healing (Romm 2003). And yes, this is perfectly fine to use with children over three years of age. In fact, that’s who she suggests it be used for, though of course it’s useful for adults too.The only caveat is that mustard plasters must be used with those who have the ability to communicate with you if it becomes uncomfortable, so the individual must be awake and able to communicate clearly.

Aviva states that the process may seem elaborate or complicated, but after doing it once it will be simple. The relief your child will get will make it all worthwhile.

Supplies:
1/4 cup dried mustard
2 cotton kitchen towels
large bath towel
hot tap water
large bowl
warm, wet washcloth
salve or petroleum jelly

Instructions:
1. Lay out one kitchen towel on a flat surface. Spread the mustard powder onto the towel, leaving a 1 inch border around the edge uncovered. Next, fold the bottom border upward over the edge of the powder to keep the powder from following out. Place the second towel over the first one, and starting from each of the short edges, roll the edges to the center, forming a scroll.
2. Place the scroll in the bowl and cover it wiht very hot water. Bring the bowl and all the other supplies into your child’s room. Be certain there are no drafts in the room.
3. Place the large bath towel open on a pillow, take off the child’s shirt, and liberally apply the salve or petroleum jelly onto the nipples to protect them from getting blistered or burned.
4. Thoroughly wring the water out of the mustard filled towel when it is cool enough to be handled. Unroll the mustard bandage to the folded edge. With teh folded edge at the bottom, place against the child’s chest and as far aroudn the back as it will reach. The child should quickly lie back on the bath towel, which you then wrap over the plaster. Cover the child with blankets.
5. To prevent burns, remove the plaster immediately when the child says it feels hot or is stinging. This may be after only a few minutes. After removing the plaster, wash the area with the damp washcloth and cover the child with blankets to prevent chill. Never leave the plaster on a child under the age of eight for more than 5 minutes. Adults can tolerate it for a maximum of 20 minutes. Do not repeat more than twice a day for two days, and discontinue if the area becomes red. Never leave a child unattended while the plaster is on.

Okay….so try it out and please, please, please…tell me how it goes!

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


Holy Basil: the Divine herb for 2010

January 7, 2010
Tulsi, or Holy Basil

Tulsi / Holy Basil

Ocimum sanctum. The very name seems hallowed and sacred somehow., don’t you think? Well, Tulsi, or Holy Basil, gets my vote for the numero uno herb for 2010. After 2009, we all need it! But you judge for yourself.

From the Lamiaceae family, and called Tulsi (Hindi), surasa (Sanskrit), and sacred or holy basil, this wonderful herb has so much to offer us. A prized medicinal in Ayurveda, the 5,000 year old traditional medical system of India, we are all fortunate that holy basil has now found its way into the Western herbal reperatoire. And how can it be ignored? It’s an adaptogen, antibacterial, antidepressant, antioxidant, antiviral, carminative, diuretic, expectorant, galactagogue (promotes the flow of mother’s milk), and immunomodulator. But those are scientific terms to describe what Ayurveda has been attesting for perhaps 3,000 years: namely that this herb is a rasayana, a herb that nourishes a person’s growth to perfect health and promotes long life.

Tulsi’s uses in Ayurvedic history are myriad. Sacred to the Hindu god, Vishnu, holy basil is used in morning prayers in India to insure personal health, spiritual purity, and family well-being. Beads made from the tightly rolled plant stems are used in meditation for clarity and protection. The daily use of this herb is thought to support the balance of chakras (energy centers) of the body. It is thought to possess sattva (energy of purity) and as being capable of bringing on goodness, virtue, and joy in humans.

Holy Basil From Indian Medicinal Plants by B.D. Basu, 1918

From Indian Medicinal Plants by B.D. Basu, 1918

In terms of application to bodily disharmony or dis-ease, holy basil has many uses, including for nasal congestion, as an expectorant for bronchial infections, for upset stomach, for digestive issues, for soothing the urinary tract when urination is difficult and painful, and even to lower malarial fevers. Today this versatile plant is primarily seen as an adaptogen with antioxidant, neuroprotective, stress reducing, and radioprotective effects. It has also been shown to lower blood sugar levels, and can be a useful adjunct therapy for a diabetic. One of the primary reasons why I love the herb are for its stress reducing, anti-depressive effects. Clinical studies have shown significant anti-stress activity when the herb is taken as an alcohol extract, as it seems to prevent increased corticosterone levels that indicate elevated stress.

Holy Basil is used to enhance cerebral circulation and memory, even to help alleviate the “mental fog” caused by chronic cannabis smoking. David Winston also advocates the use of Holy Basil in situations of ‘stagnant depression’, a classification of depression that he coined to describe a type of situational depression. As he describes it, “In this case, some type of traumatic event occurred in a person’s life, and because he is unable to move on, his live comes to revolve around the trauma. In addition to therapy, herbs such as holy basil, damiana, rosemary, and lavender are especially useful for treating this condition” (Winston & Maimes 2007).

Tulsi is an adaptogen that helps the body alleviate stress, but certainly at the time of a traumatic event, and will also help lift spirits, provide clarity when it is most needed, and hopefully help prevent the formation of the stagnant depression as described above. There’s no question that in simplest terms, an herbal tea made with holy basil, rose petals, lavender, and perhaps a few other nutritive herbs would be a wonderful blend for someone recovering from loss. For long term therapeutic use, however, tincture form is probably preferred.

Holy Basil

Holy Basil

Tincture: 40-100 drops 3 x a day
Tea: Add 1 tsp dried leaf to 8 oz hot water, steep, covered, 5-10 min. Take 4 oz up to 3 x a day.
Safety Issues: There have been contradictory animal studies showing that holy basil might be toxic to embryos. Until conclusive information exists, avoid using it during pregnancy. Holy Basil is also reported to have an antifertility effect and should be avoided if a woman is trying to get pregnant. It is perfect for after birth, however, as it helps increase milk production.
Drug Interactions: Preliminary studies indicate that holy basil might enhance CYP-450 activity, thus speeding up the elimination of some medications.

I prefer making a tincture from the fresh herb, which I purchase from Pacific Botanicals, an organic herb farm in Oregon. You can buy the dried herb from Pacific Botanicals, Mountain Rose Herbs, and other reputable companies. However, make sure the herb is green and aromatic, whether dried or fresh. You can purchase the tincture from me via Etsy or from Herbalist & Alchemist.

REF: Winston, David and Steven Maimes (2007) Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts 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!


Are herbal medicines useful against MRSA?

December 6, 2009
holy basil

Holy Basil

Yes, but let me tell you how. MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus) is a bacterial infection that is highly resistant to some antibiotics. Staph infections cause redness, inflammation, tenderness, sometimes oozing pus, possible skin abscess, and fever. MRSA has appeared often in the news recently because of a significant increase in the numbers of MRSA infections. Because severe MRSA infections can even lead to death, it’s very important to take MRSA infections seriously and to use whatever antibiotics are available. That said, stubborn MRSA infections may need the addition of helpful herbs to do several things: 1) potentiate (increase the efficacy of) the conventional antibiotics, 2) concurrently fight infection by immune system stimulation or antibiotic action, and 3) preventing the formation of biofilms.

In a nutshell, all organisms have ways of eliminating toxins. For bacteria and cancer cells, cellular efflux pumps help reduce cellular concentrations of antibiotics, chemotherapeutic agents, or environmental poisons. Some efflux pumps are known as multiple drug resistant (MDR) pumps, which reduce cellular concentrations of the very “medicines” we use to fight them (by way of chemo or antibiotics), and thus reduce their efficacy. Bacteria can “learn” resistance, which can be passed down to later generations, and resistant bacteria include MRSA, Escherichia coli, Salmonella typhimurium, and others. (Thank you, David Winston). In recent history, most MRSA infections have been transmitted via healthcare settings, but recently this trend appears to be changing. For one thing, the prophylactic and over-use of antibiotics contributes to the development of multi-drug resistant bacterial strains, as does the common practice of patients’ not completing a full cycle of antibiotics, allowing bacteria the ability to mutate, change, and become resistant to many conventional antibiotics.

Earlier I referred to biofilms. Biofilms are another survival strategy that help some (Persister) bacteria survive toxic medications. In this case, the resistance traits are not passed on to further generations, but persisters create bacterial colonies that produce biofilms, or slimy films that form a protective barrier against toxins. A few studies have demonstrated that some herbs, such as catnip, have the ability to break down biofilms, thus allowing the antibiotics to work better against the infection.

Honey and clay, as mentioned in earlier posts, have a long history of topical use for skin infections. French green clay has been shown to have specific activity against MRSA (Williams 2007), and Manuka honey from New Zealand has been found to be an effective topical remedy for MRSA (AP, 2007).

There are many herbs that can be used against MRSA, and I have chosen a selection of those herbs for this post.  If you have questions about where to find extracts or how to create a formula, please let me know! As for the herbal remedies, it is important to note that some herbs A) inhibit the MDR pumps, discussed above, some B) inhibit or kill MRSA and other antibiotic resistant bacteria, and some C) enhance antibiotic activity in one way or another. It would be wise, therefore, to create a formula drawing from these three different groups, so as to best supplement conventional antibiotics. Even better would be to consult with a trained herbalist who can take into consideration the full spectrum of your health, potential for drug interactions or contraindications, depending on what pharmaceutical drugs you may be on or additional health conditions you may have. One can additionally create topical salves with antibiotic, vulnerary herbs and essential oils to further treat a skin infection, and these generally have no containdications except for allergic reactions (albeit rarely).

garlic

Garlic

Category A: herbs that appear to inhibit MDR pumps

Barberry Root & leaf (berberis spp.), Coptis Root (coptis chinensis), Goldenseal Root (hydrastis canadensis), and Oregon Grape Root (mahonia aquifolium, M. repens)  ~ berberine containing herbs can work together with berberine extract to both reduce biofilms, inhibit MRSA, and inhibit MDR pumps. It does appear that a standardized berberine extract should be used along with alcohol extract of the whole herb, and both are less effective when used alone. (Stermitz, et al, 2000)

Thyme (thymus vulgaris): baicalein (also see Baical scullcap, below), a flavone found in the leaves of this herb, is believed to inhibit several different MDR pumps as well as possibly damage the integrity of bacterial cell walls. When used with antibiotics, this flavonoid increased the efficacy of the drugs needed to kill MRSA (Stavri et al 2007).  Thyme’s essential oils are also considered antibiotic, and thymol, in particular, is a well-known disinfectant, antibacterial, antibiotic, and antiviral agent that makes thyme oil a wonderful addition to topical salves used to treat MRSA.

Garlic bulb (allium sativum) ~ ah yes, beloved garlic; creates inhibitory synergy with antibiotics; effective (in-vitro) for many resistant bacterial infections.  (Abascal & Yarnell, 2002)

Category B: Inhibit or kill MRSA and other resistant bacteria

Andrographis (Andrographis paniculata): in vitro research indicates that water extracts (infusion/decoction) have significant inhibitory activity towards MRSA. Traditionally used in Chinese and Ayurvedic medical systems for treating viral and bacterial infections, this herb has a long track record of use against flus and bacterial infections.

Catnip (nepata cataria): this common mint inhibited MRSA and reduced bacterial adherence by helping prevent the formation of biofilm in studies (Nostro, A. et al 2001)

Elecampane root (inula helenium): in vitro studies indicate that elecampane strongly inhibits over 300 strains of S. aureus, including MRSA (O’Shea 2007). I learn from David Winston, master herbalist, that the eclectics (nineteenth century Western herbalists) used Inula to treat tuberculosis, along with Echinacea, and it has been effective in treating antibiotic resistant pneumonia and viral or bacterial bronchitis.

Holy Basil/ Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum): an aromatic adaptogen that has shown signficant in-vitro inhibitatory activity against three strains of MRSA (Aqil, et al, 2005). Long used in Ayurvedic medicine for its antibacterial essential oils to treat bacterial and viral diseases.  Microbial endocrinology also shows us that reducing cortisol (stress hormone) levels can also help prevent and resolve illness, as well. Tulsi is an amazing herb that will be highlighted in an upcoming post — my readers simply have to know more about this herb!

St. John’s Wort (hypericum perforatum): long noted for its antidepressant effects, SJW’s powerful antibacterial activity is often overlooked. The alcohol extract of fresh flowering tops can be used internally to treat viral and bacterial conditions, and in this case, has shown activity against MRSA (Abascal & Yarnell 2002). Additionally, an infused oil is used topically for painful infections and nerve pain.

Tea Tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) essential oil:  this powerful essential oil, used to treat all manner of skin conditions, has also shown to inhibit MRSA (LaPlante 2007) and was superior to chlorhexidine or silver sulfadiazine at clearing topical MRSA infections (Dryden et al 2004). Tea tree is already widely used for treating topical infections, burns, boils, etc, and makes a fabulous addition to handmade medicinal salves.

Scutellaria lateriflora

Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora)

Category C: Enhance activity of conventional antibiotic medicines

Baical Scullcap/ Huang Qin root (scutellaria baicalensis) or other scutellaria species, including S. lateriflora and S. galericulata: appears to assist antibiotics in their efficacy by enhancing bacteriocidal activity. This herb is commonly used in Chinese medicine for damp/heat infections such as infectious hepatitis, dysentery, tonsilitis, and bacterial infections with high fevers, and thus has a long use (Huang Qin) of use against such infectious conditions.  Studies have shown it  improves activity of 4 different antibiotics against 4 different strains of MRSA (Yang et al, 2005)

Sage (Salvia officinalis): sage extracts strongly potentiate gentamicin and other aminoglycosides in treating resistant strains (Horluchi et al 2007). Sage tea is effective for treating sore throats and is used for gastric ulcers.

Turmeric root (curcuma longa): extracts of turmeric have demonstrated ability to decrease MRSA effectiveness, acts as an antibacterial agent, and enhanced the effectiveness of beta-lactam antibiotics against MRSA (Kim et al 2005).  Curcumin extracted from Turmeric strongly inhibits virulence factors, including biofilm production (Rudrappa & Bais 2008). Turmeric is used in Ayurvedic medicine for treating gastric conditions, infectious hepatitis, and topically for infected lacerations. Turmeric is a powerful anti-inflammatory and quite possibly one of the top 25 herbs that no herbalist should be without. Because I live in an urban environment and can’t grow my own, I have fresh turmeric shipped to me from an organic farm in Oregon, Pacific Botanicals, so I can make my own alcohol tinctured extracts.

Uva Ursi (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) : corilagin, a polyphenol isolated from uva ursi, has had significant ability to enhance antibiotics by reducing the MIC (minimum inhibitory concentration) of beta-lactam antibiotics needed to treat MRSA (Shiota et al 2004). This is a herb frequently used for urinary tract issues and should not be taken continuously for long-term use, but is perfectly safe when taken in 2 week intervals.

Keep in mind that the above represents just a few choice herbs and that a larger range of herbs have been studied for effectiveness against drug resistant bacterium.  These herbs, however, are readily available and commonly used for similar conditions, so they should be easy to find.  A reputable source, and my first choice, for alcohol extracts is Herbalist & Alchemistwww.herbalist-alchemist.com), the company connected to herbalist David Winston, from whom I learned about most of these important studies.

References (full refs available upon request):
AP, 2007
Abascal & Yarnell, 2002
Dryden et al 2004
Horluchi et al 2007
Kim et al 2005
LaPlante 2007
Nostro, A. et al 2001
O’Shea 2007
Shiota et al 2004
Stermitz, et al 2000
Stavri et al 2007
Williams, 2007
Yang, et al 2005


Herbal Remedies Tip #4 – Tooth Powder for natural mouth care

November 3, 2009

Herbal tooth powderThere are plenty of natural or slighly-more-natural-than-Crest toothpastes on the market, but many of them still contain ingredients such as chemical foaming agents like sodium laurel sulfate (SLS). While most of us can (and do) withstand constant contact with sulfates, some people develop allergies such as contact dermititis, which can sometimes lead to more severe skin infections because of broken skin. If you do have an allergy to SLS, you should by all means avoid this allergen as dermititis and broken skin can lead to vulnerability to MRSA infections.

I have no allergy to SLS, per se, but I also like the fact that you can treat various mouth problems with herbs. The power of cloves was recently driven home to me when at my stepmother’s dental practice. I had a cavity (hey! from when I was 18!) refilled three times with a modern filler and I experienced continual discomfort and pain for months, both during and between repeated efforts. Finally, they dusted off the clove oil filling and at last! Pure comfort. It was also nice to have the aroma of clove oil surround me during the procedure. For whatever your reason, you might want to experiment with creating your own tooth powders or trying herbal tooth powders that are already sold by successful etsy sellers such as Joyful Girl Naturals

Herbal tooth powders have been in use for centuries in one form or another, and modern blends contain ingredients such as baking soda, herbs such as chamomile (soothing, anti-inflammatory), sage (strongly astringent), cloves (pain relieving), goldenseal (antibiotic), marshmallow root (anti-inflammatory, demulcent), myrrh (healing), plantain (healing and demulcent). Sage, which some call the “tooth herb” can even be used fresh to treat conditions like gingivitis.

Try this recipe at home in your own kitchen, using a VERY clean coffee grinder to grind dried herbs into a powder. (It’s actually best to own a coffee grinder that you have on hand for grinding herbs and grains). You can also purchase dried organic herbs from Mountain Rose Herbs. Baking soda whitens your teeth and freshens breath. Sea salt tightens the gums, peppermint oil and/or tea tree oil fights bacteria and adds refreshing flavor.

2 Tbsp baking soda
1/2 tsp finely ground sea salt (not table salt)
1/4 tsp powdered sage
1/4 tsp powdered myrrh (or substitute another herb depending on your needs)
3 drops peppermint essential oil

Mix the ingredients (through a sieve preferably) and store in an airtight container. Use half a teaspoon each time you brush. You can sprinkle the powder on your toothbrush, or make a paste using water, botanical hydrosols, or ingestible natural aloe vera.

 


What to do about H1N1 flu? 5 Tips

September 29, 2009
Winter Spirit Immuni-Tea

Winter Spirit Immuni-Tea

The “novel H1N1 Flu” (aka “swine flu’) is a new strain of H1N1 virus that is affecting communities all over the world, thus, it is labeled as a ‘pandemic’. That label does not mean it is particularly dangerous or threatening, as was once feared. On the contrary, H1N1 is a bit on the wimpy side so far. (That doesn’t mean it will stay that way, but for the time being…). I was listening to a physician-vaccine expert on NPR this morning and he was referring to all important public health measures for flu prevention, but neglected to mention anything related to nutrition or herbal supports in our arsenal against flu, both in terms of prevention and treatment.

First of all, it is worth noting that unlike colds, considered in Traditional Chinese Medicine to be energetically cold in origin and thus requiring ‘warming’ treatments and herbs such as the use of diaphoretics to increase sweating (elder flower, ginger) and the use of sweating therapy to help our bodies fight viruses, flus are considered in TCM to be energetically hot. This is significant in that we would thus not use diaphoretics, but other potent anti-virals that will help reduce fevers, lessen severity and shorten severity. Herbal treatments in this camp would include boneset, a potent anti-viral; echinacea, an immune stimulant; and herbs used in Chinese medicine in flu-fighting formulas, such as forsythia, honeysuckle, and red clover. Astragalus is often mentioned as an immune booster, and it certainly is, but we use astragalus for preventative means and not for treatment of acute infection. In addition, there was an intriguing comment on a previous post about the use of medicinal mushrooms being contraindicated with the treatment of flu because of the possibility of some strains of flus causing excess immune response in the form of ‘cytokine storms’.

Shiitake: Fungi MB

Shiitake: Fungi MB

Master herbalist Michael Tierra,  clinical herbalist, educator, and a founder of the American Herbalists’ Guild (AHG),  recently addressed this possible misconception in a seminar about the use of herbs to treat H1N1.  It appears that cytokine storms, or the theory of an overly strong immune response of some healthy adults, is not so much to blame in flu-related deaths, but rather, bacterial co-infection. Indeed, cytokine storms may not really be responsible at all. And just today there were reports that one third of H1N1 deaths to date were not a result of the flu itself but of bacterial co-infection. For this reason, I am not convinced that medicinal mushrooms such as shiitake, reishi, and maitake should be put aside in the therapeutic treatment of flu– and at the very least, they certainly offer immune-boosting potential. You might check out a lovely recipe posted by the latest Herb Companion issue that utilizes shiitake, astragalus, and garlic in an immune-boosting winter soup.

Atragalus: Mountain Rose Herbs

Astragalus: Mountain Rose Herbs

TIPS TO PREVENT & TREAT THE FLU

1. Follow public health measures: wash your hands, cough into your inner elbow, and use anti-bacterial hand sanitizer in public places whenever necessary. Whether or not to get the vaccine is up to you. That said, vaccine manufacturers don’t claim that the vaccine will actually prevent flu, per se, but will just shortens the flu’s duration by 1/2-2 days and may decrease severity. Make an informed choice and it will be the right choice for you.  

2. Get some REST: Putting America’s obsession with business aside is a tough task for most, but realize that the less sleep and relaxation you get, the more vulnerable you’ll be! If you actually do get the flu, make sure you rest and don’t try to work through it. You’ll only end up more sick and vulnerable to nasty bacterial co-infections.

3. Plan to Stay at Home if you do get flu. Check out resources for sheltering-in-place and have some herbal and nutritional supplies stocked up ahead of time (maybe some extra soup frozen, some herbal syrups made, some tinctures all tinctured up, some herbal blends made both for tea and facial steams).  Vitamin C is better as a flu preventative than a treatment, but raw garlic is a powerful anti-viral remedy to take as soon as symptoms start to appear. Check out some earlier posts about such herbal remedies and recipes.

4. Take Astragalus syrups, formulas, soups, or capsules as a preventative measure. Along with immune-boosting soups, stews (both of which you can add astragalus root to), take astragalus or Jade Windscreen (TCM formula containing Astragalus) to help prevent the onset of flu. Stop taking if acute infection shows up. Tierra’s Planetary Herbalsmakes an alcohol-free glycerite of the Jade Windscreen for children.

5.  Fight Flu with Nutrition and Herbs: Use non-diaphoretic, immune boosting, anti-viral herbs to shorten the duration and decrease severity of flu symptoms, as mentioned above. Eat therapeutic foods such as kicharee, soupy grains, and easy to digest foods. Raw foods, particularly vegetables, are eliminating and difficult to digest, and thus are not recommended to fight flu. Tierra believes that fruit juices have the wrong energy for fighting flu, and thus recommends warm stocks and broths, kicharee and herbal teas and decoctions. Miso soup with onion and garlic (added at the end) is another great choice, as the miso provides assistance with digestion and keeps gut flora up to snuff.


Natural Remedies Tip #2: Honey mask for oily, blemished skin

August 12, 2009

honey_herbal_4Raw, unprocessed honey is ideal for treating oily, blemished skin. Even better, an herbal-infused honey can add more ‘punch’ to the already wonderful qualities of raw honey. Generally speaking, honey’s antibacterial properties, combined with being a wonderful humectant, serves to moisturize the skin without clogging pores or contributing to excess oil production. A ‘humectant’ attracts moisture, actually drawing water right out of the air, and thus, honey has fabulous hydrating abilities.  Jeanne Rose, the famous essential oil distiller and aromatherapist, recommends a “honey pat” or a facial mask (best done in the bath tub!), wherein raw honey is applied to the face and then tap-tap-tapped with the fingers until it becomes tacky (‘type your face like a keyboard’). When you remove the mask with warm water, best done with a warm washcloth, you will find your skin to be supple and soft. Adding cosmetic clay to the mask provides more drawing & detoxifying properties, thus increasing the cleansing potential of the mask.

Honey & Clay Mask

2 Tbsp raw, unprocessed honey or an herb-infused honey (with antiseptic herbs like rosemary, thyme, or sage)
1 tsp cosmetic clay (French Green, Bentonite, Fuller’s Earth, Rhassoul, or Dead Sea)
2 drops lavender essential oil (soothes inflammation, antiseptic, healing

Bonus: If you have it, try adding a tsp of seaweed (powdered or ground in a coffee grinder) to benefit from seaweed’s balancing, mineral rich properties too!


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