3 Herb Mamas

THE ECOLOGICAL, SOCIAL & ECONOMIC SUSTAINABILITY OF SUPPORTING LOCAL HERBALISM

Rose Hips

Vitamin C-rich Rose Hips from Rosa canina in my yard

Rose Hip Syrup

Wonderfully delicious Rose Hip syrup gathered from my garden and prepared for winter colds & flu prevention. Yumm!

Herbalists are as varied as the flowers of the field so I do not pretend to speak for all. However, I am feeling so grateful, at this time of the year especially, for the support I find in my local community. This blog post has been brewing for awhile. Every person who has contacted me, ignoring my quirky lack of advertising and promotion, and accepting my simple, homemade packaging, in order to purchase soaps, salves, syrups, or other herbal preparations for their holiday gifting has been counted as a blessing. I really feel encouraged and supported. Thank you!

Supporting a local herbalist whether through purchase of herbal products, attending classes offered, or spreading the word to others who might be interested offers three major benefits and all are rooted in sustainability. They are ecological, social, and economic sustainability. They build communities as well as relationships between individuals as well as health on many levels.

Wineberry Centerpiece

A summer harvest of wild Wineberries provides a favorite fresh treat with more than enough for jam making. The Sunflowers attract pollinators, feed us with beauty, and the birds with seeds.

When we find a local herbalist to support we also support ecological sustainability. An herbalist who grows, wildcrafts (gathering where no man, or woman, has sown), preserves, and prepares her/his own herbs for a variety of purposes will automatically have an eye to conserving the resources because repeated harvests year in and year out, season after season is essential. Because local herbalists are mainly concerned with providing their local communities’ needs, as opposed to building a large, broad customer base, they will be keeping an eye on the status of wild species, planning their gardens for appropriate harvests to meet local needs, and making sure to keep production clean and green since they live where they work and will reap the benefits (or consequences) of anything used to amend or nourish the soils in which they grow.

DSCF1700

Gathering St. John’s Wort (an important herb traditionally used for addressing depression and healing wounds as well as achy muscles) for making oil & tincture on or around the Summer Solstice is an annual habit I look forward to all year. Some years the plants are abundant and productive with a high hypericin content. Other years they are scanty and less vital. I can adjust harvests accordingly and plan for alternative herbs to use if necessary.

Supporting local herbalists is socially sustainable because this is someone with whom you continue to interact well past the time of an initial purchase. Herbalists are generally dedicated to ongoing education and you can count on being able to get answers and information along with any herbal preparation whether it is as simple as a bar of natural soap or tea blend for clearing congestion. They know the herbs they use intimately, having often tended them all the way from seed to product. They know why they have included every single ingredient, its purpose, actions, and attributes. And they are usually more than happy to share that. If something is not effective or there is a problem you have someone to come back to for other options. A local herbalist is invested in you being not only satisfied with a given herbal preparation but in your optimum health and vitality because you are part of the same community that she/he lives in.

motherwort_closeup

Motherwort in flower; a local “weed” that can be wildcrafted for heart health and cyclical balance for women.

Lastly, there is economic sustainability as a byproduct of supporting a local herbalist. More money stays in your community. We live in a rural area where grocery shopping is at least 30 minutes away from many of us and the closest larger city is an hour away. A local herbalist is likely close by and/or will meet you halfway or even deliver to your door if you are somewhere along the route of her/his travels locally. Often packaging can be simple because your herbs and herbal preparations are not being shipped long distances. This encourages using recycled and recyclable materials that are at hand. I generally use canning jars and lids for most of my preparations because they are readily available and save money and natural resources over mail ordering specialty containers, professionally printed labels, and other packaging. Every dollar spent with your local herbalist can be viewed as an investment in a stronger, cleaner community.

Oats at Milky Stage

Oats in the “milky stage” which only lasts about 3 days. Gathered at this time and preserved they provide optimum nourishment for a healthy nervous system.

Think Globally. Act Locally is still a good slogan and perfectly suited to herbs. Consider this blog post my thank you note and virtual hug along with wishes for a blessed and healthy holiday season! ~Leenie

comfrey

Comfrey in all her beautiful glory in my garden!

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Herbal Medicine Making: ECHINACEA HARVEST

Echinacea

Echinacea purpurea

As the nights turn chilly and the mornings frosty, I know that it is time to turn my thoughts to harvesting medicinal roots before the ground freezes solid. Chief among my autumn digs is Echinacea, a flower much beloved by the winged pollinators during the summer. Although I often make whole plant tincture by steeping each plant part in turn, starting with leaves in spring, flowers in summer, and roots in fall, I have found the roots to be the most active. Since I have also found fresh root tincture of Echinacea to be much more active than dried (Huge understatement!) I always use freshly dug and scrubbed roots.

Native Americans used Echinacea for a variety of health needs but its use today is nearly synonymous with immune system support. Unlike pharmaceutical antibiotics, Echinacea stimulates and strengthens our immune system to better defend against viruses and infections. Our family likes to use it both preventively as well as during active infections.

Echinacea root harvest

Quite a harvest of Echinacea ready for trimming off the small feeder roots and stems, scrubbing, and chopping.

Echinacea roots

Echinacea roots after an initial washing. They still need more feeder roots removed and a more thorough scrubbing.

Range of Echinacea root sizes

Top to bottom these are all harvestable Echinacea roots. The top one is an average sized root, the middle and above-average, and the bottom is what I generally refer to as a “Grandmother” which is conglomerate of third-, second-, and first-year roots along with some tiny buds that would have grown into new plants next year. These roots are often near and growing under large rocks and the alkaloids are very active and potent.

Small Echinacea root

An average sized Echinacea root with feeder roots removed and scrubbed up.

Sliced Echinacea root

Sliced Echinacea root. I consider tasting each Echinacea harvest to be an essential step. I learn so much about how the growth season affects the vigor and vitality of that year’s crop, the differences between 1st, 2nd, and 3rd year roots, the most active parts of the plant. Chewing a slice of fresh Echinacea root is an experience not to be missed. The polysaccharides lend a subtle sweetness and the alkaloids leave my tongue and lips “buzzing”. 

Older hollow Echinacea root

In the third or fourth year Echinacea roots will become hollowed out in the center. Although the remaining root parts are still somewhat active the “daughters” and “granddaughters” that come after and around these hollow roots are often more potent. Clumps of mature roots often remind me of little villages and I like to read the “stories” of their history through the arrangement of the root crowns and sprouts.

Fresh Echinacea Tincture 2014

Fresh Echinacea root tincture 2014. I won’t go into all the details about water to alcohol ratios for optimum extraction of both water-soluble and alcohol-soluble components but if you are interested I would highly recommend Richo Cech’s (of Horizon Herbs) book MAKING PLANT MEDICINE. This is a very large batch of Echinacea tincture because I was cleaning out an old garden bed of all its plants in preparation for starting a fragrant Rose bed next spring. I will also need to start more Echinacea from seed this winter and begin a new bed, which means it will be three years before the next harvest. Good thing tinctures are fine for 10 years or longer.

One of my quirks in life is that I have a need to understand the true cost and value of things I use in every day life, as opposed to simply the current market rate for them. Growing Echinacea from seed to harvest, with all of the attendant care-taking and work involved, is part of the wholeness of its healing magic for me. This plant is easy to grow, a blessing to watch (especially when the butterflies are feeding on it), and an essential component of my herbal medicine chest. Maybe $10 for a tiny tincture bottle seems high in the glare of florescent-lit pharmacies, but waiting 3 years to harvest leaves me feeling like that is an amazing bargain…although it won’t hold a candle to what comes from my own garden at any price.

Echinacea tincture with inulin

A previous year’s Echinacea tincture with inulin settled to the bottom. When I strain the plant material out I try to include as much of this inulin as possible. Research indicates that naturally occurring inulin increases absorption of minerals like calcium and magnesium, benefits the immune system by enhancing the growth and activity of beneficial gut flora and inhibiting the growth of certain pathogenic bacteria, decreases cholesterol and triglycerides, improves kidney function (rehydration and re-mineralization), blood sugar regulation, and more. You won’t find the inulin in commercially available tinctures but you can grow it easily in your garden and make your own. I always shake up my tincture bottle before using in order to redistribute this water-soluble component. 

Dig deep for healing! ~Leenie

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Herbal Medicine Making: Gentle Health Care for Children During Colds & Flu Season

Rose Hips

Vitamin C-rich Rose Hips from my Rosa canina bush

The days, and certainly the nights, are cooling. The school buses are rolling. The leaves are changing, as are the winds. I am hearing more coughing, sneezing, and nose blowing. And my phone is ringing and message box filling with requests for herbs and herbal preparations to prevent and support healing from colds and viruses. Parents are looking for alternatives to antibiotics and I can hear the worry in their voices. Although I no longer have little ones, I remember that anxiety only too well.

Finding herbs that are gentle enough for children yet effective, and in a palatable form for sensitive taste buds, can be a real challenge. I’ve learned a few things caring for our four children over the past 25+ years and even a few things that I wish I had known when mine were small. I am including some recipes and ideas for remedies you can prepare and keep on hand for your own family. Obviously, I am not a doctor and, hence, cannot prescribe any herb or method for you or your family but I am happy to share things that have worked in our home to inspire you to research, experiment, and find what works best in your own situation.

Prevention is always preferable to treatments so look to a diet rich in plant foods, lots of dark, leafy greens, a wide variety of vegetables (Soups are delicious and warming on these cooler days!), whole grains, plenty of water, and warm herbal teas. Make sure to get some fresh air and sunshine daily. Get plenty of rest and add a daily immune system tonic such as Elderberry Syrup, like the one described below.

Goldenrod Tea

Goldenrod (Solidago spp.) Tea

A simple pot  or mug of tea is a wonderful healing ritual that just takes a few minutes to do each day. Not only is it health-promoting but it makes it easier to administer herbal teas to children when they catch a cold than it would be if it was a completely new approach. Many herbs are suited to children such as Chamomile, Lemonbalm, Tulsi, and Goldenrod, which is blooming abundantly in my area right now. Add some raw local Honey for added benefits, like its ability to thin mucus and fend off viruses. It’s also a nice way to pause and listen to your child. I have cherished memories of many a “moonlight tea party” shared with my oldest daughter who is a lovely young woman out adventuring on her own independent life now. But she gifted me with those sweet blue teacups pictured and I think of her every time I use one.

Elderberry Syrup

Elderberry Syrup is just one immune system supporting tonic we like to use daily starting in the fall through the winter. It’s sweet and spicy and delicious. 

Although I have a preference for Fire Cider, a hot and spicy Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) based tonic, I realize that not everyone likes such a kick-in-the-pants as a daily tonic. For children especially, I like to keep Elderberry Syrup on hand. I generally make mine using fresh or frozen whole Elderberries, Elderberry concentrate, Cinnamon bark, fresh Ginger root, Cloves, distilled water, and raw local Honey. Recently, however, I had a need to make an even more potent syrup for an active “bug” so I added fresh Rose Hips, which are super rich in vitamin C, and fresh Echinacea roots, one of my favorite go-to plants for the immune system.

Elderberry Syrup Plus Ingredients

Some of the ingredients for my Elderberry Plus Syrup: Rose Hips, Echinacea roots, Ginger root, Cloves, Cinnamon, along with Elderberry, raw local Honey, and distilled water.  

Syrups are easily made by combining your herbs with distilled water, simmering until reduced by half and then straining and stirring in Honey to thicken and sweeten. I like to add the Honey once the herbal base has cooled a bit to preserve the natural healing qualities of the raw Honey. It only needs to be warm enough to dissolve the honey. Although lots of sugar is conventionally added to make syrups very thick and shelf-stable, I prefer a thinner syrup with a natural sweetener such as Honey or Maple syrup. Sugar only increases mucus production and complicates healing. These are the general ratios of ingredients in Elderberry Syrup:

1 cup fresh or 1/2 cup dried Elderberries

1 Cinnamon stick

5 Cloves

About 1 generous Tbsp. minced fresh Ginger root

2 cups distilled water

1 cup local, raw Honey

1/4 cup Elderberry concentrate (optional)

Combine everything except the Honey in a non-reactive pot. Bring to a simmer and allow to simmer until reduced by half, generally 15 to 20 minutes. Cover with a lid and allow to steep for several hours. Very slightly re-warm this and strain through cheesecloth, squeezing out all the juice you can. Add the Honey and stir to dissolve. Bottle, cap, and label. Store in the refrigerator, where it will keep for at least 2 months.

For my Elderberry Plus Syrup I added 1 cup of crushed Rose Hips and a healthy handful of scrubbed and minced fresh Echinacea roots.

In our family, we take 1 Tbsp. daily as prevention or that amount hourly for active colds or flu. This is also delicious over pancakes, in smoothies, or on ice cream.

Elderberry Syrup simmering

Elderberry Syrup simmering is so lovely and it always makes the kitchen fragrant in the most beautiful way.

One other use for your Elderberry Syrup is in making an herbal gelatin, which is an easy way to administer herbs to children. It is cooling, light, delicious, and soothing to sore throats. I use organic gelatin but you can substitute agar flakes, a sea algae, if you are vegetarian. My ratios for Herbal Gelatin are:

3 cups brewed herbal tea or juice (or a combination)

1/4 Lemon (or other) juice

1/4 cup pure Maple syrup

Heat this to a simmer and then stir in 3 Tbsp. gelatin (for a firm set) or 3 tsp. gelatin (for a soft set). You will need to use an immersion blender to dissolve the gelatin into the liquid but it only takes a couple of minutes. Pour into a glass dish and chill in the refrigerator until firm.

I recently made an Orange Elderberry Gelatin using 1 cup Elderberry Syrup, 2-1/4 cups Orange juice, and 1/4 cup Maple Syrup along with 3 Tbsp. gelatin. YUMM! What a fun way to take a daily tonic!

Herbal Gelatin

Herbal Fruit Juice Gelatin is a tonic many children will enjoy…and grown-ups, too!

Elderberry/Orange Gelatin

Elderberry/Orange Gelatin is a fun herbal medicine. The foamy whipped top comes from whipping the gelatin in but tastes as delicious as the rest.

Another simple way to administer herbs to children is by brewing them as you would for tea, although stronger, and then adding them to a warm bath. You can use a variety of herbs and add a few drops of essential oils for added healing. Ginger root baths are very warming and help when experiencing chills. Eucalyptus, Mints, and Rosemary are good for clearing sinuses and giving a generally uplifting outlook. Lavender and Chamomile are relaxing and help a restless child. You can use many of these same herbs as a “steam” to clear congestion by simply having the child lean over the bowl with a towel draped over their heads and breathing in deeply. Keep a box of tissues handy and stay nearby to avoid hot spills.

Herbal Steams/Baths

Herbs for Steams or Baths

Happy, healthy Autumn! ~Leenie

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“Fire Cider” by Any Other Name

With the recent uproar over an herbal business trademarking the name “Fire Cider” for their exclusive use there has been a surge of interest in this traditional home remedy. To be honest, I have no idea who originated the idea or the recipe for this wonderful formula but I am certainly glad they did. I know I have been making it for at least 20 years and I learned to make mine from a little self-published booklet by Rosemary Gladstar. There are probably nearly as many recipes, methods and names as there are herbalists making it. I’ve heard it called Master Tonic, Tonic Cider, Fire Tonic, Dragon Tonic and other names. The reason I call mine “Fire Cider” is because that is the name Rosemary gave to it and by now it is just habit. Although I am not a stickler for measurements, this is approximately how I make mine.

Basic ingredients for making your own 'Fire Cider' at home.

Basic ingredients for making your own ‘Fire Cider’ at home.

For each quart I plan to make I place:

1 bulb (NOT 1 clove) of Garlic, minced

1 Onion, chopped

1/4 cup grated Horseradish, chopped

a 1″-2″ piece of Ginger root, chopped or grated

several dried Cayenne peppers, crumbled up

I admit that I often take the easy shortcut and just toss everything in the food processor and chop it all at once. If you are in a hurry for your Fire Cider then mince it fine. If you are in less of a rush, roughly chopped will do. Place everything in a glass jar and cover with apple cider vinegar. I have a particular fondness for Bragg’s and I believe there are added nutritional benefits from using a raw (“with the mother”) vinegar over a pasteurized vinegar, although I have used the latter in a pinch. Cover, and if your lid is metal you might want to line the top of the jar with plastic to prevent corrosion from the vinegar. I like to allow mine to sit at room temperature for about 4 weeks. When it is ready I strain out the plant material by pouring it through a cheesecloth (I actually use old, clean pieces of jersey t-shirts.) lined strainer, pressing out as much liquid as possible. For every quart of herbal vinegar I add about 1/2 a cup of local, raw honey, stirring to dissolve. Now it is ready to bottle, cap and label.

"Fire Cider"...a wonderful folk remedy that works!

“Fire Cider”…a wonderful folk remedy that works!

Personally, I love Fire Cider as a daily tonic. It improves digestion and is warming. I love the “kick” it provides. It is also wonderful in place of regular vinegar or lemon juice as a spicy salad dressing or marinade. At the first sign of a cold or flu (that tickle in the back of your throat, or a warm, dry nose, or itchy, full ears) I take a tablespoon or two in a little water (Bottoms up!), along with some Echinacea tincture, vitamin C, a hot shower with Eucalyptus or a hot Ginger bath, and go to bed early for some extra rest. That is often enough to knock out the virus before it gets a toe-hold. For an active cold, I take a shot of Fire Cider hourly.

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