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.

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Nervous about Swine Flu? Look to Herbal Medicine for Immune Boosting

April 29, 2009

echinacea_300x300I’m going to reveal something you might not know about me – as a medical anthropologist (my professional training, aside from herbal studies),- it is tough to find a job that is ‘specific’ to my anthropological studies (as any anthropologists reading this will attest to!). One place where medical anthropologists fit in fairly neatly is in the public health field, particularly anthropologists who are more on-the-ground oriented. I work in a Center for Preparedness Research Education and Practice as my ‘regular’ 40 hour work week job, and part of what I do involves providing support to non-profit service providers of vulnerable populations in the area of emergency preparedness planning and training. I’ve been involved in numerous discussions, planning efforts, and even some research around pandemic influenza planning, and so am well tuned-in to the events of recent days.

There have been numerous reports to date that demonstrate the many ways that Tamiflu and other pharmaceutical antirvirals do not really work in preventing viruses. But for centuries, alternative medical systems have practiced preventative medicine by 1) building the immune system, and 2) using anti-viral and anti-biotic herbs. Herbs contain chemicals with different ‘actions’ on the body, and many of these chemical compounds are extracted or copied in order to produce the pharmaceuticals. The downside of these pharma drugs is that the side effects are often bad and the toll on the body can be hard, particularly for the liver.

Fears about swine flu abound, and with the alert level raised to ‘5’ today, its no wonder that the public is getting a bit anxious. In the preparedness field, we have learned one thing (at least), and that is to give people something that is in their control to do in the given situation. Does that make sense? In other words, if you can be proactive in taking care of at least one or two elements in your situation, you will feel empowered and are less likely to be fearful or panicked.

Approaches to viral and retroviral medicine have shifted over time to favor immune-building approaches to treatment rather than relying solely on antiviral drugs. The reason? The huge rate of mutation and eventual resistance to these drugs (if not immediate resistance). Boost your body’s immune strength and concurrently treat it with antivirals once a pathogen strikes.

So what herbs can we use? Lots. Master herbalist, Michael Tierra of the East West School of Planetary Herbalism, writes about the antibiotic and antiviral powers of pure oregano oil in his blog post about MRSA, and much of this is just as applicable to treating cold & flus. In some earlier posts, I also outlined some Herbal Remedies for Colds and Flus, Part I and Part II, both of which included immune-boosting herbs like Astragalus and anti-viral herbs and foods such as onions, garlic, thyme, etc.

I can’t leave out the power of Adapotens to boost the body’s ability to ward off infection and just generally cope with stress, reduce fatigue, and help us ‘adapt’ better to the stressors of our lifestyles. Adaptogens include well known ayurvedic tonics, Ashwaghanda and Shatavari, and Asian tonics such as Red Ginseng, Korean Ginseng, Eleuthro Root (Siberian Ginseng), and Rhodiola Root. These should be taken regularly and constently, along with Astragalus, for a strong immune-boosting tonic.

muira-puma-capsulesI have recently posted some immune-boosting capsules and herbal syrup on my etsy site and would welcome your comments and feedback both on etsy and here. What herbal anti-virals have worked well for you? I’ve heard about the use of colloildal silver for the treatment of flu, for instance, but have no experience with this treatment. Let me know your thoughts by commenting on this post! This won’t be the last of its kind.


DIY ~ Herbal Remedies for the Cold Season Part II

March 10, 2009
Elder Flower

Elder Flower

Ah, here I am sniffling away from a wee cold given to me by my darling 2 and a half year old, Maeve, who is all to0 glad to bring home little daycare germs to share with her family. *sniff*! Well, happily, there are lots of remedies to shorten the length of the cold, as well as to add some relief.  My Winter Spirit blend can help prevent colds but also treats those with slight fevers and benefits the immune system with high levels of nutrient-dense herbs like alfalfa and vitamin rich rosehips, a great source of in Vit C.

Again, among other preventive strategies mentioned in Part I, raw garlic always helps to banish a cold away, and broths or soupy grains made with a stock of simmered onions and garlic is always a good old wives’ remedy, with good reason! Add some ginger for an extra warming, antiviral punch. But raw garlic, steeped in olive oil and used for dipping a bit of bread, is an incredibly tasty, potent remedy.  Herbal Steams using essential oils and herbs are also a great way to add relief, and my post on that subject provides recipes in that direction.

The Best Cold Remedy Soup ever!
1. Combine 3 cups vegetable stock & 2 cups sliced onions (or two sizable onions)sliced
(Simmer the onions in the stock until tender)
2. Add: some sliced carrot & 2 Tbsp shredded fresh ginger root
(simmer for 10 min until carrot is soft)
3. Reduce heat to low and take a little bit of the stock out, whisk in 2 Tbps miso, and return to the soup. Do NOT allow the soup to return to a boil, as this will reduce the enzymic activity of the miso.

My real content of this post, however, is about making your own herbal tea blends to assist you when you have a cold. I’ll start with some of the wonderful herbs that are readily available, such as thyme leaf (antiviral, antimicrobial), elder flowers or berries (immune boosting, 2 antiviral compounds, significant relief for fevers), nettle leaf (the so-called weed that is one of the most nutritious plants available), and ginger (nearly a dozen antiviral compounds; reduces pain & fever; cough suppressant; warming).

The first recipe is for a lovely, incredibly pleasant blend that works throughout the winter months to boost your body’s ability to ward off illness, primarily by strengthening your immune system and nourishing your body:

Herbal Infusion for the Cold & Flu Season: Prevention
1 part alfalfa (nutritive)
1 part nettle (nutritive, adrenal support)
1 part rosehips (nutritive, vitamin C rich)
1/4 part cinnimon (catalyst herb that helps other herbs work ‘better’, warming)
1 part rose (spirit lifting!)
1 part thyme leaf (antiviral, antimicrobial)

Directions: combine the above and use 1 tsp – 1 Tbsp per cup of water. Steep in boiling water for 15- 30 min, strain, drink hot or cold. You can make a mason jar’s worth and just keep it in the fridge, heating it up as needed.

Herbal Remedy for that mean old Cold:
1 part thyme leaf (antiseptic, expectorant, carminative)
1/2 part dried ginger (nearly a dozen antiviral compounds; reduces pain & fever; cough suppressant; warming)
1/4 part lemon peel OR add a slice of fresh lemon to the tea (high in vit C)
1 part rosehips (vit C)
1 part elder leaf/flower (antiviral, helps treat fevers)
1 part alfalfa or nettle (nutrient rich)

Herbal Remedy for that mean old sore throat or cough:
1/4 part marhmallow root or slippery elm (demulcent, throat-coating, soothing qualities; anti-inflammatory)
1/2 part licorice root (demulcent, antiviral)
1/2 part mullein flowers/leaf (expectorant, demulcent, soothing)
1/2 part ginger root (nearly a dozen antiviral compounds; reduces pain & fever; warming)
1/2 part rosehips (vit C)
1/4 part lemon peel OR add a slice of fresh lemon (vit C)

Directions for either of the above: Combine the herbs as directed and use 1 tsp – 1 Tbsp per cup of water. Steep in boiling water for 15- 30 min, strain, drink hot or cold. You can make a mason jar’s worth and just keep it in the fridge, heating it up as needed. Keep in mind that the mucilage in the sore throat/cough tea will make the infusion more viscous. Also feel free to add a touch of herbal honey, especially a honey made with immune-boosting, antiviral herbs.

*Remember that any of these herbs made into a tea provides a valuable remedy. You don’t need to use them all! Simple ginger root and fresh lemon is most often my favorite remedy along with soups and broths. I might start the day with simple thyme & ginger and end it with a more soothing, alfalfa rich, vitamin C stocked blend. Experiment!

Watch out for my Next DIY cold & flu post: Herbal Syups , including my Herbal ‘Mucinex’ Recipe!