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.


Top 10 Aromatherapeutic Essential Oils

July 30, 2010
lavender & Honey Bee photo from My Little Eye on Etsy

photo by My Little Eye on Etsy

Aromatherapy is the use of scent to affect therapeutic change on the body: physiologically, psychologically, or otherwise. Researchers find that these effects are measurable and can be quite significant. First all, a few tips about aromatherapy:

Essential oils are the compounds found in medicinal plants that give the plant its smell and taste. These oils are very valuable medicinally and therapeutically. The volitile oils in aromatic plants often provide much of the the medicinal action of the herb. For example, carminative herbs, such as aromatic seeds (coriander, cumin, anise, fennel, carraway and dill seeds) act on the digestive system to expell gas and to ease digestion. It is the volitile oil of the seed that does this work! Aromatherapy uses the essential oils of these plants therapeutically to impact a person’s well-being via smell, and can be a great adjunct therapy.

Essential oils are very potent, and usually only a few drops is all you need (indeed all you can tolerate) and should not be taken internally as a general rule. The essential oils are extracted during steam distillation of the whole plant, which results in the botanical hydrosol (or distillate) and the pure essential oil. Because of their strength, they should always be diluted in a carrier oil, such as sunflower seed or jojoba oil, depending on your goals for treatment.  Finally, fragrance oils are synthetic copies of pure essential oils and are NO SUBSTITUTE. Always buy the pure essential oil and not its cheap imitations, as the copies do not have any therapeutic benefit whatsoever.

Top 10 Aromatherapy Oils

1. Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia): Relaxation, Mood-elevator

2. Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis): Mood-elevator (better to stick your nose in the plant, as the pure essential oil is quite expensive!)

3.  Orange (citrus sinensis): Anti-depressant, stimulating

4. Peppermint (mentha x piperita): Stimulating, awakening, enhances awareness

5. Rosemary (rosmarinus officialis): Improves memory and cognitive functioning; energizing

6. Ylang Ylang (Cananga odorata): deep relaxation, aphrodesiac, creates euphoric feelings

7.  Rose (Rosa spp.): Instills love & compassion; relaxing

8.  Chamomile (Matricaria recutita): Calming, anti-depressent, mood-elevator, anti-inflammatory

9. Cedar (Cedrus spp.): Emotional fortitude; enhances clarity (Himalayan cedarwood is my favorite!)

10. Basil (Ocimum basilicum): overcomes grief & melancholy, moves stagnant depression

Note: Sandalwood (Santalum album) is noticeably missing but it has become so incredibly expensive that most people are unable to utilize its benefits.

What essential oils are your favorites? I’ll be sure to write future posts about further DIY uses for essential oils and how to apply aromatherapy to your regular life, and of course I’d love to hear your favorite uses here too! Here are some posts you may find interesting:

Fragrant Oils to Condition and Nourish your Hair
Hydrotherapy with Salts
Want to Know More about Natural Insect Repellents?

* Photo copyright by Monica Wiesblott @ My Little Eye : http://www.etsy.com/shop/Mylittleeye


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 your skin: what the ingredients actually do

February 12, 2010
Red Tea

Red Tea, courtesy of Mountain Rose Herbs

 

In product descriptions in my Etsy shop, I often write about ingredients that act to “calm” the skin. What does that mean, exactly? For one thing, someone might turn to ingredients that calm the skin because she experiences redness, puffiness, dark circles, potentially inflammatory conditions such as rosacea or acne, and needs the harmonizing power of doubly calming & regenerative ingredients for more mature skin. 

Some of the ingredients used in the skin care industry include those that contain ANTI-OXIDANTSESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS (ESFs), and ANTI-INFLAMMATORY compounds.  In fact, many of these ingredients contain all three qualities, as anti-oxidants and essential fatty acids both work to reduce inflammation, and certain extracts or oils contain both anti-oxidants and essential fatty acids. 

Cinnamon

Cinnamon

 

We can get these compounds in our diets, and certainly that is the best way to bring these nutrients to your skin, that great filtering organ that can benefit –or suffer from–whatever we put into our bodies. Antioxidants are found in colored fruits, leafy greens, and colorful vegetables, as well as green, white, and black tea, red (rooibos) tea, cinnamon, coffee, and black pepper. Essential Fatty Acids include Omega 3,6, & 9’s are found in fatty fish, flaxseed, and walnuts, among other sources. Dietwise, we get plenty of Omega 6 & 9’s regardless, so what you want to focus on are getting those Omega 3’s from good, fresh sources (i.e. keep your walnuts in the freezer to prevent rancidity). Anti-inflammatory qualities are found in superfruits like blueberry, mangosteen, goji berry (or chinese wolf berry/lyciium fruit), acai, and powerhouse herbs such as turmeric, lavender and chamomile.  You can get a great solid blueberry extract at Herbalist & Alchemist. The benefit of these superfruits is that they contain both antioxidants AND anti-inflammatory compounds, as these qualities often come from the same source. 

  

Blueberries

Blueberries

 

Anti-oxidants reduce free-radical damage and help repair the skin and protect it from long-term damage. In your skincare products, when you see extracts or oils from fruits & vegetables such as blueberry, carrot, or kelp, you know you’re getting something that is high in anti-oxidants. Extracts are usually alcohol “tinctures” which act to chemical extract these active compounds. You might see CO2 extracts, which can closely resemble the original plant, or alcohol extracts. It is preferable to have extracts made from grain alcohol instead of ethyl alcohol. Another type of extract can be created from glycerin, which adds additional moisture content to the product.  Oils used in bath & beauty products can also be high in antioxidants, including carrot, coconut, and meadowfoam seed oil. These high anti-oxidant oils not only protect your skin but they prevent further damage. There are many herbs that are rich in anti-oxidants as well, including Tea leaf (black, white and green), Rooibos, Cinnamon, and Rosehips. 

Essential Fatty Acids (ESFs) are usually found in oils that are rich in Omega 3, 6 & 9’s. Some of these oils include sunflower seed, safflower seed, rosehip seed, borage, evening primrose, camellia seed, sweet almond, and walnut oils among others. Borage oil is a fabulous source of the essential fatty acid gamma linolenic acid (GLA), and as the GLA of borage oil is 24% , it  is actually the richest known source in the world. Amazingly, GLA is needed by the body to produce the anti-inflammatory protaglandins believed to strengthen cell membranes & combat diseases such as eczema, arthritis, and other inflammatory conditions.  Essential Fatty Acids are superior moisture-grabbers. Research suggests that some of those with eczema or severely dry skin may have an ESF deficiency and would benefit from ESF-rich diet and skin care attention. Therefore, it is important for anyone with dry skin issues, especially dry, flaky and reddened skin to make sure they use products rich in ESFs both externally and internally. 

lavender

Lavender

 

Some favorite anti-inflammatory herbs are Turmeric and Chamomile. Turmeric is the anti-inflammatory herb of choice in Ayurvedic medicine and is also high in anti-oxidants. Chamomile is another favorite anti-inflammatory that I often use in the treatment of skin conditions such as eczema, as it seems to have clinically proven benefits as great as that of topical steroids. Holy Basil, or Tulsi, my ‘herb of choice’ for 2010, also has mild anti-inflammatory qualities. Essential oils and distillates/ hydrosols, the by-product of steam distillation, can also contain potent anti-inflammatory qualities in skin care products. Helichrysum hydrosol and essential oil, for example, is a strong anti-inflammatory often called ‘Imortelle’ or ‘Everlasting’ because of its wonderful anti-inflammatory and regenerative properties. Lavender is another herb that is wonderful to use as an essential oil, distillate, or extract for its anti-inflammatory compounds, and its calming activity on the skin has been seen in individuals with rosacea and acne. 

I hope that helps clear up a few questions! Are there ingredients that you’ve noted lately and have wondered about? If so, let me know!


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


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!


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