3 Herb Mamas

Wednesday’s Weeds: PENNYROYAL

Pennyroyal

American Pennyroyal (Hedeoma pulegioides) surrounded by Clovers, Wood Sorrel and Smartweed.

Both American (Hedeoma pulegioides) and European Pennyroyal (Mentha Pulegium) contain pulegone and have been used interchangeably. This fragrant terpenoid ketone is one that can provide potent benefits or fatal consequences depending upon how it is used. Finding a patch of this useful plant along a woodland edge delighted me and came at a perfect time when I was considering potency and responsible use of herbs and their essential oils. Pennyroyal is the perfect herbal poster child for this topic. 

Dried Pennyroyal can be used in pet bedding and rolled up in a bandanna tied around a pet’s neck to deter fleas. Some dogs will roll in a patch when they come across it, effectively self-treating themselves instinctively. Humans, too, can tuck a little of the crushed fresh stems and leaves into a hat band or bandanna to repel gnats. Although I have not tried it yet (but I will!), Pennyroyal is said to be a natural deterrent to flea beetles that love to devour eggplant. Companion planting and/or spraying a strong tea of Pennyroyal on leaves seems like a good approach. 

Sounds like a wonderful plant, doesn’t it? And it is. However, too much pulegone can result in miscarriage for pregnant humans and animals, liver toxicity, and even death. Many sources caution against internal use at all. The essential oil of Pennyroyal can definitely be dangerous to use. Remember, this is a very good plant used properly and responsibly. 

According to a Mother Earth New article (“What You Need to Know About Pennyroyal,” October 10, 2008), in a well-documented 1994 case a college student died after ingesting two teaspoons of Pennyroyal essential oil over a two day period. In another case, a healthy dog died after licking his fur after a similar amount had been applied. These cases highlight a very important issue that has the potential to do a lot of damage. It makes me think of the old adage that, A little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing. Knowing that Pennyroyal is an excellent insect repellent = good information. Access without education to those handy little bottles of essential oil that don’t require gathering, dehydrating, preparing, etc. CAN = a very bad thing. 

Something to consider with most essential oils is that a single drop of this very concentrated volatile oil, when ingested is the equivalent of drinking 28 cups of tea from the same plant! Two teaspoons of essential oil would be a massive dose. Is Pennyroyal (or other) essential oil bad? Of course not. But the misuse of it could prove tragic. 

The reason I said that stumbling across Pennyroyal in my forest garden was timely and perfect is because I am seeing a lot of mis-information being shared on the internet lately regarding both the internal and external use of essential oils. Their popularity is growing and the risks are significant. I’ve seen severe burns from externally applying the wrong essential oils “neat” (undiluted in a carrier oil) although the “aromatherapy consultant” had told the client it was perfectly safe. Whenever we apply externally or ingest internally any herb, food, or other healing agent or procedure we should ALWAYS do the research and inform ourselves of the potential risks and benefits. I am so thankful for my good teachers and mentors who insisted that I substantiate any and all health claims from at least three sources. That meant three different sources, not three books by the same author (or today that might mean three reference cites by one internet source or company, and I might be inclined to up the number to at least half a dozen given the plethora of copy and paste style references). That holds true today. No one else will know your precise sensitivities, allergies, or state of health so it is up to each of us to educate ourselves and make the best decisions we can based on the information and options available. 

 

Happy (and hopefully pest-free) Dog Days! ~Leenie

 

 

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HERBAL HALF-DOZEN FOR THE GARDEN

It’s that time of year again, Folks! Time to plan and soon, to plant your herb gardens. I am usually asked at this time of the year what to plant for a medicinal herb garden. It is really a difficult question to answer. Every herb garden is unique to the person tending and harvesting from it. There is no one size fits all. If you or your loved ones have frequent respiratory challenges then your healing garden would emphasize plants that support that system, like Comfrey, Elecampane, and Rosemary. If, on the other hand, digestive upsets are a frequent occurrence for you then you would want plants like Mallow, Mint, and Plantain. So you might have to put in a little research time before you make your plant and seed selections and begin designing your herb garden for health. Think first about what your top one or two health concerns are, google or search your herbals for appropriate plants, look up the cultivation requirements for those and make choices that suit your needs.

Below I’ve included a half dozen medicinal plants that are likely to be useful in every home. I’ve chosen them for ease of cultivation as well as their broad usefulness. I will describe my experiences growing them as well as how we use them in our home apothecary. I limited myself to half a dozen because that is both a sufficient  place to start…actually, starting with ONE plant you love or want to learn about in depth is perfectly fine…and less likely to overwhelm than planting dozens of must-have herbs that would be better grown gradually over a lifetime. So, here are a half-dozen medicinal plants that I always hope to have in my garden.

ECHINACEA

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Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea or E. angustafolia) is also known as Purple Coneflower and is as lovely and welcome in the flower garden as the medicinal garden. Hummingbirds, bees and butterflies love it so it will attract pollinators to your garden. This is our go-to plant for boosting the immune system to fight off colds and flu. It is also reliable to improve lymphatic circulation and drainage. E. purpurea is the easiest variety to grow from seed. Other varieties might be more easily obtained by most home gardeners by purchasing plants either locally or by mail order. Once established in a nice dry, sunny place Echinacea is care free. Plants should be allowed to grow a minimum of 2-3 years before digging roots for medicine making. I prefer fresh root tincture over dried plant preparations. In my experience they have proven far more effective. We have lots of shale in the ground on our little mountain top ridge and Echinacea is happy with our maniacally good drainage. I never fertilize and yet the plants reseed freely and thrive. The enemy of Echinacea is “wet feet”, or their roots being in heavy wet soil. I have known people to lose Echinacea plants who planted a border against their house where the rain water running off their roof collected and soaked the plants regularly. Echinacea can be made into whole plant preparations or root only ones. Tinctures and syrups are my preferred preparations but many people dry, powder and encapsulate it as well. I have found dried Echinacea root to be far less effective than fresh tinctured and the dried and powdered preparations degrade very quickly. If I use dried root I like to dry it myself, powder it and then promptly store it in the freezer for use as needed.

CALENDULA

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Calendula officinalis is so sunny and bright and easy to grow that I want to encourage everyone to use it. When you discover its powerful healing properties you will welcome it to your garden year after year. The flowers have a sticky resin that makes for excellent skin preparations of all kinds from daily-use lotions and creams to healing salves. It is one of the essential triad of herbs I use in my Triple Healing Salve. The blossoms are the part used and they can be gathered and dried all summer for use as needed. I also like to steep fresh flowers in extra virgin olive oil for use in salves as needed. The dried blossoms are a beautiful addition to tea blends and offer a soothing, healing component for ulcers and digestive upsets. I have used Calendula as an eyewash as well as a gargle and mouth rinse thanks to its antiseptic qualities. It also makes an excellent hair rinse, especially for blonds. You can grow this plant easily from seeds, which are widely available at nurseries and garden centers. Left in place it will readily reseed year after year. Keep clipping off blossoms and drying them to encourage more to form all summer.

MINTS

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The Mint Family is comprised many and varied members and you are bound to find one especially suited to your needs. Spearmint and Peppermint are perhaps the best known but there are many others. Lemon Balm is a particular favorite of mine. This is a huge family of plants and I can’t possibly cover them all. All can be soothing and healing for the digestive and nervous systems and make an excellent addition to tea blends to improve flavor. Many mints prefer damp, shady soil. I gather wild Spearmint from along a nearby stream and I grow Lemon Balm in ordinary garden soil. Lemon Balm is fabulous fresh but loses its unique lemony flavor quickly upon drying. I generally preserve it by chopping and freezing in ice cube trays or by steeping in white wine instead. Spearmint and Peppermint dry well while retaining their distinctive flavors. Both of these are good for promoting good digestion and thus make an excellent after-dinner tea. Or simply place a sprig on dinner plates as a garnish to chew after your meal. All three of these make wonderfully refreshing, energizing iced teas in the summer. Peppermint combined with Elder blossoms and Yarrow from the wild makes a very effective tea or tincture for bringing down high fevers. All the mints are useful additions to baths, facial preparations and body lotions or creams.

COMFREY

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Comfrey (Symphytum officinalis) is a plant I have loved and loved to grow for 25 years now. I started a patch from a tiny pinkie-sized root cutting when our first child was a newborn and have continued to divide and use the plant for more than two decades, including a transplant to our new home 18 years ago. Comfrey is a cell regenerator and thus is useful for sprains, torn ligaments, bruises and other joint injuries. Many times we’ve made a fresh leaf poultice for someone in the family who has “turned” an ankle or wrist and every time we are all amazed and grateful for the rapid healing and soothing effects. This is another essential herbal ingredient in my Triple Healing Salve. I use both root and leaf preparations and have found them to be effective both fresh and dried. It grows easily but prefers shady, damp spots best of all. Goats love Comfrey and it is full of healthy minerals for both them and us. It is a bioactivator and speeds up composting so it is an essential in the biodynamic garden. In fact, you can make a most excellent garden and house plant fertilizer by brewing a strong “tea” from fresh leaves in a 5 gallon bucket and allowing it to ferment for a week or so before watering with it.

Tulsi

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Tulsi (Ocimum tenuiflorum or O. sanctum) grows readily from seed and makes the most delicious tea. I like to use it alone as a tea or as the base for many blends. Its uses are broad and varied. It is an excellent tonic for nervous, respiratory and digestive systems. It really has far too many uses to list. I love that it is so easy to grow from seed and yet is tasty and serves so many uses. There is hardly a bodily system or organ that will not benefit from Tulsi and it has no known side-effects. It can be grown in pots for those living in tight quarters without access to a garden. Use it both internally and externally in teas, tinctures, vinegars, herbal wines, hair and dental rinses, eaten fresh, facial masks, toners and creams, and just about any other way you can imagine. Studies are showing positive effects on blood sugar regulation for diabetics and cholesterol levels for heart patients. Tulsi is truly amazing and you can grow it in your own home garden!

BERRIES

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Although you may not think of berries as herbs in the strict botanical sense of the word, they are powerful allies for health and healing that are generally easy to grow and productive. Since these are often available only at a premium price, people often neglect to include them in their daily fare. Once established they are easy to harvest and preserve. Raspberries and blueberries, for example, can simply be gathered and frozen. Eating a cup a day is an excellent habit and will provide flavonoids and anti-oxidants in abundance. Raspberries and blackberries are happy in borders and edging places that other plants would struggle to survive in. Some varieties of blueberries can be grown in pots if space limitations are an issue. Berries are rich in vitamin C and fiber, assisting with weight management (They’re 85% water!) and managing type 2 diabetes. In studies they have provided beneficial improvement for those suffering from arthritis. They improve age-related memory loss, cataracts and eye health, as well as skin and hair health. The leaves of both raspberries and blueberries are mineral rich and make beneficial teas. Raspberry leaves are particularly useful for uterine tone and reproductive health for women and blueberry leaves help regulate healthy blood sugar levels.

Check back soon for my Wild Herbal Half-Dozen!

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Croany herbs

Nearly twenty years ago, now, I first read Susun Weed’s book called “Menopausal Years the Wise Woman Way”.  InImage that book she wrote about being crowned as a Croan.  Not until then had I ever read anything positive about being an “old Croan”.   I’m still not fond of the word, but I’ve become quite fond of the place.  No, I’ve never participated in a Croaning ceremony, but I’ve certainly paid the price of youth and the growing up years to come to this place of wisdom and peace.  I’ve always been a bit of a rebel and my interest in herbs was due to a class that a much younger herbalist gave in the 1990’s in her peaceful home.  Her great knowledge allowed me to swim through the meno years much easier than I otherwise might have.  From that I fed an interest in herbals and all things alternate.  I knew I’d had some influence on the younger generation when the simple use of a neti pot gave my 10 year old grandson the idea of describing my “coolness” to his peers.  “My grandma is so cool that she pours water into her nose and it comes out her eyes”.  Obviously he was looking from afar and rather than seeing the water come out of the other nostril, to him it was coming out of my eyes.  Regardless it seemed I was something magical to this young spirit.

All my grandsons live a few hours away from us, so my influence is only slight.  Nevertheless when the oldest had colic, I was quick to offer catnip and fennel tincture to help it along and then nourishing herbal teas to my daughter in law during her second pregnancy.

Then the granddaughter came to us last July, (2013).  She lives HERE, just ten minutes away.  Her parents were desirous that she have no non-organic foods or formula until it became absolutely necessary (if ever).  My son and daughter in law were adamant that they wanted to protect our Hannah from the harmful effects of chemicals, pesticides and all the offenders that are suspect in our food chain.  Thankfully in this time we live it is quite easy to find all things organic within the stores, no matter how far away out you live. Our daughter in law works full time so growing it all isn’t as easy just yet.  But we’ll get there.

Nevertheless, one vice we all share is that we are pretty heavy tea drinkers in our homes.  Our Son and his wife drink tea and we drink tea.  While I was raised on hot, black tea early on, no one wanted our Hannah to have caffeine.  But, still, when she saw me drinking hot or cold tea, it was obvious she wanted some.  So, hmmmm, what’s an herbal tea drinker to do?  Well, what DO I DO?   For the first thing, I have a pretty extensive library of books ~ all things herbal, so I started thinking which herbs were favorites of mine and which herbs did I have in my herb pantry. A quick research on what would be good for Hannah and still taste good to her new little tasty buds was first priority.   My favorite herb is Tulsi Basil and I love the taste of it in tea.  While it’s not generally used for very young children, I knew at the time that H1N1 had broken out here pretty heavily, so a bit in a tea wouldn’t hurt her and she hadn’t had her flu vaccine yet, so it was a good time to add just a bit to the mix.   Spearmint tastes and smells wonderful, so I added some to the mix thinking it would help with gas and reflux  along with a few Linden blossoms to do the same for her.  The fruit from the rose would be next…. a few rose hips to add vitamin C and a tarter taste to compliment the mint.  And tea is not complete with a bit of lemon, so I added some Melissa, (lemon balm), to the tea blend as an antiviral.  I knew I didn’t want too many ingredients just in case I had to eliminate some if the tea bothered her.  Because I was in a hurry I added the items by the handful except the Linden which was maybe 1/4 cup.  The smell of the tea was wonderful.  Now to see what Hannah thought!  After mixing the blend by hand I took a teaspoon and placed it into a small one cup pot.  Let it steep for 5 minutes and poured it into a sippy cup.  I also added an ice cube to cool it.  Hannah went berserk.  She loved the herbal tea and fussed every time I put the cup down.  It was a simple blend to tighten up her immune system and settle her tummy after lunch at the same time.  I don’t feed it to her every day, but I could, and I don’t give it to her at every meal, though I could.  I’m starting her off early and plan on having her with me to play in the dirt and herbs this summer.  She’ll learn to identify, gather,dry and store; then blend, tincture and all the other fun stuff with herbals as she grows, Lord willing.  What a great legacy for an old Croan to leave to her only (for now) granddaughter.  Thinking of Spring, Janet

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Woo Hoo! 3 Herb Mamas!

I’m excited to be joining my sister family herbalists/plant enthusiasts, Leenie and Janet,  to share, learn, and explore the world of herbs together. The ground is blanketed with snow, protecting and nurturing the sleeping plants and seeds that will soon burst forth in spring.  I am grateful that this afternoon’s plans have been cancelled due to the weather, and that we can enjoy the beauty outside our windows safe and snug at home. Now on to my favorite activity at this time of year: looking through seed catalogs and dreaming of this year’s gardens while sitting near the woodstove  sipping tea.

BASHO-HAIKU-WINTER-SOLITUDE

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