Cacao

In the spirit of Autumn Equinox, which is all about the balance between polarities (masculine/feminine, light/dark, hot/cold, inward/outward, etc.) I’m inspired to share about the medicine of Cacao, theobroma cacao (the plant that chocolate comes from).


The Essence of Cacao

I have used cacao for years as a heart opener and an aphrodisiac, but only recently learned that its essence helps to balance the masculine and feminine polarities within us. We carry Cacao Spirit Essence by Brigid’s Way, which comes with this description:

“Releases and dissolves pains and wounds held in the body, particularly in the female breasts and male genitals. Helps to heal limiting beliefs around sex, and see the Divine aspect of Lovemaking. Facilitates ecstatic union of the masculine and feminine, as well as sensuality.”

This certainly explains the aphrodisiac effects of cacao, but masculine and feminine energies are not limited to gender and sexuality. It’s really more about yin and yang and the primordial separation of unified source energy into two poles, which simultaneously attract and repel one another in a dance that creates life. We are all seeking to unify these opposite forces within us (although most of us are looking for something outside of ourselves to complete us). When we do balance these energies within our own bodies, we experience amplified bliss, energy and power.

History of Chocolate

The cacao tree has been cultivated for 11,000 years and was considered by Mesoamerican empires including the Mayans and the Aztecs. The Aztecs believed that cacao seeds had been brought from paradise and that wisdom and power came from eating the fruit of the cacao tree. The Aztecs prepared cacao into a thick, bitter and frothy brew made of mashed corn flour, roasted cacao beans and water and flavored with cinnamon and chili pepper. And it was primarily consumed by the elite, including nobility and warriors.  It was served at weddings and was used in offerings and rituals, including human sacrifice. The Aztec king Montezuma supposedly drank 50 goblets a day and an extra hefty dose of the beverage before visiting his harem.
 
The hot chocolate drink that we think of today is credited to Spanish nuns living in Chiapas, who added cane sugar, vanilla and cinnamon, omitting the chilis and salt.  They were so enamored with their creation that they would drink it in mass, despite the bishop’s attempt to suppress this behavior. Claiming that it helped them overcome ‘the weakness of the stomach’ and thus assisted their efforts to worship, they were allowed to continue.

 Therapeutics of Cacao

  • Actions: Diuretic, stimulant, aphrodisiac, anti-depressant/uplifting nervine, nutritive
  • Energetics: bitter, drying, initially warming, then cooling
  • Properties: Cacao contains psychoactive and mood altering compounds including tryptophan, a building block of serotonin, the feel-good neurotransmitter. Cacao also contains phenylethylamine (PEA), an alkaloid that triggers the release of norepinephrine and dopamine, all of which contribute to feelings of euphoria. PEA is identical to a hormone produced by the brain when a person feels infatuated [raises blood pressure, heart rate, heightens sensation, arousal, giddiness, nervousness and sleeplessness while lowering appetite.]
  • It also contains Theobromine, a close structural relative of caffeine. It is a stimulant but its effect on the central nervous system is less intense.
  • And cacao has compounds similar to THC (anandamine) which bind to cannabinoid receptor sites in the brain and produce a subtle pain-relieving effect and a sense of well-being.
  • Cacao is rich in antioxidants, which improve mental clarity as well as physical endurance, and support cardiovascular health as well as minerals like magnesium and copper.
  • Cautions: Ceremonial cacao is contraindicated with anti-depressants. A little bit of chocolate for dessert is okay, but avoid large, therapeutic doses with SSRIs or MAO inhibitors. Cacao is also stimulating, so you will want to use caution if you’re taking other stimulating medications such as ephedrine, Sudafed and amphetamines. Also because of its stimulating nature, high doses of cacao could exacerbate anxiety, high blood pressure and IBS.

Preparations

Cacao can be enjoyed as a chocolate bar, hot cocoa, added to smoothies, baked goods, or even teas and liqueurs. Dark chocolate is the best for medicinal purposes (look for 70% cacao or higher).  Cacao pairs well with rose, damiana for enhanced heart-opening effect. Maca, damiana, ginseng or epimedium will enhance its stimulating aphrodisiac qualities. And CBD, skullcap, kava or hops will create a more relaxing yet euphoric experience. Check out some delicious recipe ideas below:

  • Aztec Sipping Cocoa (Hot chocolate blend with maca, chipotle and sweetened with coconut sugar)
  • Kava Cocoa (A relaxing hot cocoa with kava kava, cinnamon, vanilla and organic cane sugar)
  • Damiana Cacao Liqueur Blend (a heart-opening blend of roasted cacao nibs, damiana and rose petals and a touch of cinnamon to infuse into your choice of liquor)

My favorite way to enjoy cacao is with a little bit of CBD (25mg), either as an infused chocolate square or a hot cocoa with CBD added. Then I light some incense, turn on some music and either dance, do some yoga or meditate depending on my energy level. You can also take a walk, journal, paint/draw, play music, hang out with friends, or anything else that makes you feel good and keeps you out of your analytical mind. I highly recommend carving out an hour or more in the evening, or whenever you can fully relax and spend some time doing whatever brings you joy.

Ceremonial Cacao

Cacao ceremonies are a great way amplify the effects of cacao, to connect with the spirit of the plant, to more fully occupy your heart space, and to experience an expanded state of consciousness.  A Cacao ceremony is simply ingesting cacao with intention. The intention is up to you, but since cacao is so great at opening the heart chakra and uplifting your mood, intentions related to joy, connection, and self-love are good suggestions. Ceremonial grade cacao is ideal, but you can use any high quality 80-100% cacao (in bar or paste form rather than powder). It can be a solo or a group experience.  Read more about how to create your own cacao ceremony HERE.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. This article is not meant to prevent, treat or cure any disease.

Yarrow

(Achillea millefolium)

Yarrow’s genus name ‘Achillea’ refers to the Greek warrior Achilles who is said to have carried this plant with him on the battlefield. This speaks to the traditional use of yarrow for wound-healing, a use for which it is best known.

I personally used a yarrow poultice and did a yarrow foot soak when I put a 1/2″ deep gouge in the top of my foot with a hand sickle. It worked great. The bleeding was slowed and the wound remained clean. It healed quickly without the need for stitches. Yarrow is a must-have for any first aid kit, but its uses go way beyond first aid…


Parts Used: aerial parts

Actions: vulnerary, antiseptic, hemostatic, emmenagogue, bitter tonic, circulatory tonic, diaphoretic, anti-inflammatory

Taste: bitter, aromatic

Energetics: Cooling (but also sometimes warming), drying (but also sometimes moistening)

Uses: Yarrow’s vulnerary (tissue-healing), antiseptic (stops infection) and hemostatic (stops bleeding) properties make it ideal for treating a variety of cuts and wounds (including perineal tears, hemorrhoids and any kind of hemorrhaging). A fresh leaf poultice applied directly to the wound is great if you have access to the fresh leaf. If not, you can make a tea from the dried leaf to use as a wash, a soak or a compress.

Taken internally as a tea or tincture yarrow can help staunch excessive menstrual bleeding, resolve bruises, and bring fresh blood flow to cold/stagnant areas. This is why herbalist Matthew Wood refers to yarrow as the “great normalizer” of the blood. Yarrow can work amphoterically (bi-directionally). It can staunch heavy flow and bring on a fuller flow when menses is scanty. It can both aid in clotting and reduce clotting/thin the blood, depending on what the body needs.

In addition to regulating the viscosity of the blood, yarrow is a blood-mover. Yarrow flowers especially excel as a diaphoretic, meaning that they move blood to the surface to release heat through the pores. This is why it has been a favorite remedy for fevers. Yarrow is often combined with elder flower and peppermint as a cooling/relaxing diaphoretic tea (best drunk hot).

As a cold infusion, yarrow exerts a stronger influence on the digestive & urinary systems. As a urinary antiseptic, it can be helpful in cystitis. And as a bitter tonic, yarrow stimulates digestive secretion, strengthening assimilation & elimination. Its tissue-healing action can be felt in the GI tract where it helps to heal leaky gut, and inflammation of the intestines (colitis, gastritis, diverticulitis, etc.)

Indications: lacerations, bruises, active hemorrhaging, nosebleeds, excessive menstrual bleeding, dark or scanty menses with clots, thick/viscous blood with clots, history of or high risk for strokes, venous congestion, varicose veins, stagnation of portal vein, acute fever (especially when the skin is cool and the person is not breaking a sweat), cystitis, gastritis, colitis, diverticulitis (any ‘itis’), stroke.

With all that I have read about the possible complications of both ‘ronavirus and the injections, I cannot help but think of yarrow. It could be very beneficial for reducing the side effects of the injections, including clotting, strokes, and bleeding disorders. ‘Ronavirus is primarily a vascular pathology and yarrow, as the ‘normalizer of the blood’ could be very appropriate for these times. Even more so when you consider the relationship between this pandemic and 5G…yarrow flower essence offers protection against environmental toxins. It is said to strengthen our own forcefield and shield you from all forms of toxic energies. So I think it is a very appropriate herb on all levels- physical as well as spiritual.

Dosage: Dosage plays a huge role in the physical vs spiritual effects. With a tincture, you can use anywhere from 1-40 drops. The smaller drop doses work on the subtler emotional & spiritual energies while the larger doses (20-40 drops) have a stronger effect on the material body. For more information on energetic vs material dosing, check out our Dosing Guide. For a yarrow infusion, 1 TBSP of herb to 12 oz. boiling water steeped for 10 minutes is pretty standard.

Harvesting: You can start to harvest the leaves in late spring, before the flower comes. The flowers are harvested at their peak (early-mid summer). I like to harvest the top 6″ of the flower stalk, including the smaller leaves on the stalk. These leaves & flowers can be tinctured fresh or dried for tea.

Cautions: because it is a blood-mover, yarrow should not be used in high doses during pregnancy. Small amounts are fine when it is indicated. Also, yarrow belongs to the Asteraceae family, which includes ragweed, chamomile, sunflower, etc. Some people have allergies to plants in this family.

Products: You can find yarrow in many of our house-made products, including:

Works Consulted:

Wood, Matthew. “The Indispensable Blood Remedy” https://www.matthewwoodherbs.com/Yarrow.html 

Stinging Nettle

Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica)

Nettles in Spring.

Nettles full of zing.

The stinging hairs are filled with an acid that can irritate the skin. But don’t let that deter you from getting to know them. Stinging nettle is a generous weed, with much to offer those who dare to treat it with respect.


Parts Used: Leaves, seeds, roots

Actions: Astringent, diuretic, nutritive tonic, alterative, lymphatic

Energetics: Warming, drying

Uses: The leaves are the most common parts of the plant used although the flowers, seeds and roots are used as well. Nettle leaf is highly nutritious. It is our most proteinaceous plant in North America, and is one of the most nutrient dense plants in the world! Nettles contains high amounts of amino acids, chlorophyll, calcium, magnesium, iron, and other minerals. A strong tea, called a nourishing infusion (see recipe below), is recommended as a daily tonic to nourish and strengthen the blood. Nettle tea also makes a great herbal hair rinse that promotes new growth and vibrancy.

Think of nettles as a free and abundant superfood. Cooked nettle leaves may be used in the same way you would use spinach.  Cooking or drying nettle removes the sting. Add Nettle to your stir fry, soup or quiche. It also makes a yummy pesto (try mixing it with other spring greens like garlic mustard, chickweed, and dandelion greens). 

Nettle has a strong affinity to the urinary system. It is a lymphatic and a diuretic. Used daily, Nettle leaf will increase kidney function and aide in the elimination of toxins from the body. This is useful for conditions such as chronic urinary tract infections, water retention, gout and kidney stones.  Nettle seeds of are a trophorestorative for the kidneys, while the root has more of an affinity for the prostate.

Its ability to flush acid wastes from the body can also benefit skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis and rashes. Nettles are also known to alleviate symptoms of seasonal allergies. For allergies, fresh plant tincture or freeze-dried nettle capsules are best, because these preparations preserve the formic acid which has an antihistamine effect. Most herbalists recommend to start taking nettles 4-6 weeks before allergy season starts. For some this is Springtime tree pollen, for some it is the grass pollen of Summer, and for others the leaf mold of Fall is what makes them sneeze. 

Whether you suffer from Springtime allergies or not, Spring is an ideal time to use nettles as Spring is traditionally a time for cleansing. Not the extreme juice fasts and master cleanses that are popular today, but a more natural form of cleansing that uses seasonally-available plants to gently enhance the body’s innate mechanisms of detoxification by supporting the liver, kidneys, and digestive organs.

Because Nettle is so nourishing many people find it energizing. By improving energy levels throughout the day, most people will also find that regular use of Nettles helps them to sleep better as well. But they are drying and some people find them too warming. To offset its drying effects, try mixing it with some moistening plants such as violet. And it’s not advised to use nettle regularly if you are taking prescription diuretics as this can cause too much fluid loss.

Harvesting Nettle Leaf

When approached with attention and respect, nettle can be harvested without stinging. It only stings when it is carelessly brushed or bumped. You can always wear gloves to be extra safe. I like to crop the top 6″ of the plant because this encourages the plant to grow thicker and fuller. Make sure to snip the plant’s stem right above a leaf node. Then you can take your basket of nettle tips inside and pluck the leaves from the stem and spread them on a screen to dry or store the fresh leaves in the fridge to use in cooking.

It’s important to note that you should only harvest nettle leaves in the Spring before the plant goes to flower. Once it flowers it can be too irritating to the kidneys.  You also want to be sure that you are harvesting nettle from healthy soil, not on the roadside or a drainage ditch or a field sprayed with chemicals.

If you do get stung, try using fresh plantain leaf, curly dock leaf, or violet leaf as a spit poultice. Chances are you will be able to find one of these growing nearby. If you can’t, just sit with the sensation and know that it is bringing blood flow to the area and that the pain will subside soon. You might find it interesting to know that flogging oneself with nettles was a traditional treatment for rheumatism. The sting brings blood flow to the joints and can help with cold types of arthritis (pain is worse in cold weather and improves with warmth and movement).

How to Make a Nourishing Infusion

Nourishing infusions are essentially a strong herbal tea that is steeped for 4-8 hours or more. It takes this long to extract the minerals from a plant, so this method is used for mineral-rich plants like nettles, alfalfa, oatstraw, raspberry leaf, red clover blossoms, etc.   

I like to make mine before going to bed. That way it can steep overnight and is ready to strain in the morning.

To make 1 quart of nourishing infusion, you will need

  • 1/2 cup of (dried) plant matter
  • 1 quart-sized mason jar
  • 1 quart of boiling water

Simply add the herb material to the jar, fill the jar with boiling water and screw on the cap.

In the morning (or after it has steeped for at least 4 hours), strain the tea through a sieve into a clean jar or some other glass vessel. Drink the 2-4 cups throughout the day.  You can warm it up, drink it cold, add honey or lemon juice, or anything else to your liking. 

Other Nettle Recipes

This website is full of fun ways to add nettle into food & drink

*** This article is for educational purposes only. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA and this information is not intended to prevent, treat or cure any disease ***

Beets

Beets. While not technically an herb, food is medicine when it comes to nutrition, beets are hard to beat.

February is Heart Month, and beets are beneficial to our heart health. The red color gives you a clue that they are nourishing to the blood.

Actually, the red-violet pigment that gives beets their rich color comes from a compound called Betaine, which has been show to improve vascular health, lower blood pressure, protect the liver from non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, and protect other organs from inflammation. (1)

Beets also contain nitrate, which the body converts to vasodilating nitric oxide, another mechanism of lowering blood pressure (2).

AND, beets are loaded with polyphenols (antioxidant), carotenoids (precursor to Vitamin A), vitamin C, folate (vitamin B12), iron, potassium and other minerals (2). These phytonutrients work together to nourish the blood, reduce oxidative stress, lower inflammation & blood pressure, protect the blood vessels, support the liver & improve eyesight (2, 3)

According to Ayurveda, the sweet-tasting and dense beet is provoking for kapha dosha, and raw beets are provoking to pitta, while cooked beets pacify pitta dosha (3). The cooling quality is what helps to pacify pitta. The antioxidant bioflavonoids also reduce disorders related to heat/fire such as allergies, inflammation and infection.

Beets are said to cleanse and cool the blood and nourish the liver (3), partly due to the beta-carotenes.
February is a great time of year to detoxify the liver, before the rising temperatures of spring bring a surge in blood flow and biochemical activity.
To briefly summarize using the format of an herbal monograph:
Beet (Beta vulgaris)
Parts Used: root (the leaves are also delicious, but are not the part discussed here)
Tastes & Energetics: Sweet, salty, bitter, cooling (cooked), warming (raw)
Actions: nourishing tonic, blood tonic, alterative (blood-cleanser), hypotensive, antioxidant, anticancer, anti-inflammatory, mild laxative
Indications: deficient blood, anemia, seasonal allergies, high blood pressure, over-taxed livers. The cooked beet cools firey pitta people. The heavy, nourishing & grounding qualities balance the spacey vata types who tend towards anxiety, dryness, constipation and deficiencies.
Cautions: its sweet and anabolic qualities can aggravate kapha dosha if consumed in excess.
Now, without any further ado, here are two recipes from Tonic’s kitchen that are great ways to get beets into your day and into your body:

Vegetarian Borscht 
(serves 6)
Ingredients:
  • 2 lbs beet root, peeled and chopped
  • 2 medium onions
  • 2 large carrots
  • 1 lb green cabbage, thinly shredded
  • 2 TBSP vegetable oil (olive or avocado work well)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 tsp fresh ginger, grated OR 2 tsp caraway seeds
  • 5 cups vegetable stock
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • salt & pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Peel and cut the onions, carrots, beets and cabbage (you can use the shredding blade on a food processor to cut this prep time way down).
  2. Add the olive oil to a large stock pot and sautee the onions over medium heat. When onions are translucent, add the garlic and ginger/caraway seeds (I personally like the ginger, but caraway offers a more traditional flavor) and stir for one more minute.
  3. Next add carrots and beets and a pinch of salt. Sautee for 5-10 minutes, stirring often.
  4. Then add the vegetable stock and turn the heat to high. Add the cabbage and bring the pot to a boil.
  5. Simmer 15-25 minutes until the vegetables are soft.
  6. Remove from heat. Stir in lemon juice, and add salt & pepper to taste.
  7. Serve with sour cream, a wedge of lemon, or fresh parsley if desired.

Beet Muhammara (raw beet & walnut dip)

This was a customer favorite back in the day when we were offering more foods in the kitchen. Now you can enjoy it at home.

Ingredients:

  • 3 large fresh Beets, peeled and quartered
  • 1 ⅓ cups toasted Walnut Pieces (plus more for garnish)
  • 3 large Garlic Cloves
  • 1 tbsp Ground Cumin
  • 1 ¼ tsp Sea Salt or to taste
  • Freshly ground Black Pepper
  • ⅛ tsp Red Pepper Flakes
  • 2 tbsp Pomegranate Molasses or Mild Molasses (not blackstrap)
  • 2-4 tbsp Lemon Juice
  • 2-4 tbsp Olive Oil

Instructions:

  1. In a food processor, combine all ingredients and pulse to a textured paste. 
  2. With the motor running, drizzle in the olive oil and process until fairly smooth but still textured. 
  3. Taste and adjust seasonings and ingredients as desired. If you need to thicken it, you can add 1/3 cup of gluten-free panko bread crumbs. 
  4. Garnish with walnuts or pomegranate seeds. Serve with carrot sticks, cucumbers, pita bread, toast or crackers.
  5. Store in an airtight container in the fridge. Will keep in the fridge up to 1 week.

Works Consulted:
1) Biotricity
2) NIH 
3) Joyful Belly
*This article is for educational purposes only. It is not meant to treat, diagnose or cure any disease and does not provide dosage information, or possible interactions with prescription drugs. As such, this content should not replace professional health advice and readers are encouraged to seek the services of a doctor, nutritionist, naturopath or clincal herblist before using the herbs discussed in this article.

Spirulina

Spirulina, Chlorella, Klamath Blue Green AlgaeSpirulina (Arthrospira platensis & A. maxima) is a blue-green algae with enormous nutritional value. It is consumed as a dried powder with a dark green color. Chlorella (Chlorella vulgaris), a green algae is just as nutritious to its blue-green cousin, with a few differences in specific nutrients. For the sake of simplcity I will focus on spirulina in this monograph.

Spirulina’s nutritional profile is impressive. It is the most nutrient-dense plant in the world (Nettles is a close second, being the most nutrient-dense land-plant in the world). The blue-green algae is made up of 50-65% amino acids, including the essential fatty acid gamma linolenic acid (GLA). It is also chalk full of vitamins and minerals including B vitamins, carotenes, iron, calcium and chlorophyll.

Chlorophyll, which gives this algae its deep green color, is a key component in the process of photosynthesis. It helps plants to absorb the sun’s light energy and convert it into glucose.  We have thought that the ability to utlilize the sun’s energy was limited to the plant kingdom, but recent studies suggest that humans can also utilize the sun’s energy in the presence of chlorophyll.

“Here we show that mammalian mitochondria can also capture light and synthesize ATP when mixed with a light-capturing metabolite of chlorophyll.” (1)

This means that if we consume chlorophyll-rich plants, we too can convert the sun’s rays into ATP! How cool is that? No wonder spirulina has a reputation for being energizing. Imagine how much more energized you might feel if you drank your spirulina smoothie and then went outside to for a walk?
Chlorophyll closely resembles hemoglobin, a pigment protein in our red blood cells which helps transport oxygen to our cells. When we consume chlorophyll, we essentially replenish our blood and our body’s ability to utilize oxygen. This is why chlorophyll-rich plants around the world are classified as blood tonics, plants that produce more blood cells or otherwise strengthen the blood.
Chlorophyll also has the ability to chelate heavy metal toxins and facilitate their excretion from the body. And it is a precursor to the production of glutathione, a potent antioxidant.
That is all just from the green pigment chlorophyll that spirulina, chlorella and many other dark green plants contain. But spirulina also contains another pigment called phycocyanin. This is the blue part to blue-green algae. Phycocyanins have powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties (2).
So the overall properties & effects of spirulina include:spirulina powder
  • tonic for the blood & spleen
  • anti-oxidant
  • anti-inflammatory
  • hypoglycemic (lowers blood sugar) (3)
  • hypolipidemic (lowers blood lipids) (3)

These properties suggest that spirulina could be beneficial for the following:

  • reducing the severity of allergies and other inflammatory conditions by helping to detoxify, nourish and invigorate the blood.
  • improving overall metabolism
  • regulating blood sugar & triglycride levels
  • supporting weight loss & impoving energy levels

Consider adding spirulina into your daily life if you are are feeling depleted, sluggish or overweight, or if you are wondering if you are getting enough essential nutrients in your daily diet.

I recently began to add spirulina into my daily protocol (click here to see my protocol & recipes) and can attest to the significant improvement in energy that I feel. I use it as an after-lunch pick me up and it helps me maintain mental clarity through the afternoon. I am excited to see how this changes with throughout the year with increasing my time spent outdoors in the warmer months.

This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to prevent, treat or diagnose any disease.

Works Cited

  1. https://jcs.biologists.org/content/joces/127/2/388.full.pdf
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19299804/
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22561632/

‘Tis the Season for Tisanes (and Relaxation)

Tisanes are herbal teas. Also called herbal infusions, these drinks are not technically “tea” because they do not contain Camellia sinensis– the plant used to make true teas like black, green and white tea.
Tisanes can be made from dried leaves, flowers, fruits, barks, roots and seeds–like chamomile, lemon balm, rose petal, mint and ginger. Flavors vary from sweet, sour, aromatic, bitter and astringent Many herbal tisanes have a relaxing effect and are loaded with antioxidants. They do not contain caffeine.

Speaking of caffeine, I am currently on day 4 of a no-sugar, no caffeine detox and am boy am I dragging! But that just goes to show how much I have been relying on these two substances to give me instant energy to get through my busy life.  I knew about the dangers of sugar and caffeine. I regularly teach classes about the physiological impact of these substances, and here I am, witnessing how exhausted my body really feels beneath the surface of the constant go, go, go. The Chinese say that coffee steals energy from tomorrow to use today. It depletes one’s kidney qi, or vital energy reserves. I knew this, but like so many of us I didn’t feel that I had a choice if I was to keep going to make money and try to maintain improve my life for me and my children.

This solstice I am making it a priority to stay out of fight-or-flight mode (stress mode). Stress can be subtle, especially when it is so normalized. Even a “normal” amount of daily worry about money, chores, or getting ready for the holidays depletes our vital energy reserves.

As we enter the darkest time of the year, we are invited to surrender to the unknown. Lay down our burdens. Trust in a greater power to take care of what is most important and let the rest go so that you can rest and replenish. ‘Tis the Season for Replenishment. And relaxing herbal tisanes can help!

Here are a few of my favorite relaxing brews for snuggling up on a wintry day:

Chamomile-Spice Hot Toddy

Heart-Warming Tea

Happy Hour Tea

Hibiscus Berry Tea


Herbal Allies to Support relaxation, replenishment and surrender:

 

Tulsi – also called Holy Basil. This aromatic adaptogen is relaxing, uplifting, warming and antiviral. It also strengthens our adrenal glands and helps to keep our bodies in parasympathetic (“rest & digest”) mode. It is a beloved herb in Ayurvedic medicine where it is considered a nervous system tonic. It is a great tasting tea on its own, and it pairs well with the other herbs listed below.
Hawthorn a calming nervine & cardiovascular tonic in the rose family. Rose and hawthorn have a lot of  similarities.  Hawthorn and rose are both gentle, relaxing, heart-opening and taste lovely. The berries yield a sweet and sour flavor while the leaves and flowers are light and aromatic. Flowers should only be steeped for 5-10 minutes or they will become bitter.  Read more about Hawthorn here
chamomile-tea Chamomile – this well-known flower is tiny but mighty. Its is soothing and mildly sedating action helps to relieve teething pain, irritation, sleep troubles, tension headaches, stomach aches and general crankiness. It soothes the nerves and the GI tract. Its aromatic and bitter qualities improve digestion and strengthen the enteric nervous system (i.e. the nerves in our abdomens). It is also antispasmodic and anti-inflammatory.
Oats – yes, the common oat that makes oatmeal can be used to make a deliciously sweet & delicate tea that is loaded with essential nutrients like silica, magnesium, phosphorus, iron, calcium, vitamins B & A. Oats are a nervous system tonic capable of repairing damage to the myelin sheath which covers the nerve fibers. They have a reputation for strengthening the nervous system and can be used to treat depressed or anxious states of mind. The minerals they provide offer a grounding effect while strengthening the hair, nails & bones. Use either the straw or the immature dried tops for tea and be sure to steep them for several hours to extract all of the minerals.
Passiflora Passionflower – Passionflower calms the nervous system, improves mood and relieves anxiety. It is one of our favorite herbs for supporting sleep. As a sedative and hypnotic, it helps with the transition into sleep. It quiets a racing mind and helps to break circular and repetitive thought patterns that may be keeping you up at night. Its ability to tone down mental chatter makes it an ally for those who are incessant thinkers and chronic worriers. Read more about passionflower here.
Lemon Balm – a cheerful aromatic plant from the mint family, lemon balm is mildly sedating but also uplifting. It won’t put you to sleep in the middle of the day or aggravate depression. In fact, it can help lift depressed states of mind, especially seasonal depression during this dark time of year. Lemon balm is indicated for stress, anxiety and hyperthyroidism & hyperactivity of any kind. It is also antiviral and its can be used topically to relieve cold sores. Lemon balm makes a great tasting tea that anyone in the family will love. Just avoid drinking lots of lemon balm if you have a hypothyroid condition.

Want to Study Herbal Medicine? 
Sacred Garden School is starting waitlist for next year’s Foundations in Herbal Medicine Program. Learn more about the program here.

 

kudzu

Invasive Plant Medicine

Did you know that many “invasive” species are highly medicinal?

Invasive species have been getting a bad rap, with most of the contempt coming from environmentalists who want to protect “native” species from the “invasive” ones. But our well-meaning comrades are operating under the assumptions that 1) the plants that were on our continent before the arrival of Columbus did not also migrate to or from distant lands and 2) that plants that threaten the existing ecological status quo are “bad”.

kudzu

Kudzu

But who are we to say what plants are good and what plants are bad? I certainly don’t feel qualified to make those kind of judgments. Our perspective is so limited. We assume that because certain foreign plants are out-competing other more familiar plants or creating disturbance in certain areas that they are harmful. That is what appears to be happening when you adopt a human-centric timescale. Now take a moment to consider the long-term view, centuries down the road. What if these plants created different but more resilient ecosystems well-adapted to climate change? What if we stopped fearing that which is different and truly trusted in the intelligence of Nature?

The mentality that prioritizes the familiar over the foreign, that resists change and tries to control the outcome at any cost is part of the dominant paradigm that we are in the process of shedding. We need to shift our point of view and learn to trust in a higher power, surrender our egoic ideals, and be comfortable with not always knowing the answer (aka relishing in the mystery of life).

What if you just entertained the possibility that invasive plants, those relatively new immigrants to our soil, are here to help us restore balance to ecosystems- both external and internal. Whether you agree with this premise or not, it’s time we started using them instead of condemning them. Can we all agree that eating or making medicine with them is better than spraying them toxic chemicals?

Japanese Knotweed

Japanese Knotweed

I have had an interest in Invasive Plant Medicine for the past 10 years, since first learning about the value of Japanese Knotweed and what it offers those who are suffering from Lyme. Stephen Harrod Buhner was the firs to notice the correlation between the spread of Lyme and the spread of Knotweed across the United States. Knotweed follows Lyme; turns out it is a most valuable remedy for Lyme as it is both antispirochetal and anti-inflammatory and protective of the heart, nervous system and connective tissue. Then I read a book called “Invasive Plant Medicine” by Timothy Lee Scott and was excited to learn about how the ways that these plants effect humans parallel their effects on the environment.

I do love my native medicinal plants too, and I’m not advocating that we start planting Knotweed in our gardens, but if I found Knotweed growing in my garden or in a place where I did not want it, I would either transplant it to a different location, or lovingly harvest it and use the root rather than scornfully “weed” it from the garden.

What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered” – Emerson

This year, my research on immune supporting herbs has strengthened my trust in the intelligence of Nature, as I see how perfectly aligned the medicinal virtues of invasive plants are for supporting humans with in the context of viral infections.

This led me to create a formula composed of 100% invasive plants. Many of these plants are mentioned in a recent article by Stephen Harrod Buhner.  (If you would like to review his articles you can find them at his website here). Others are included for their traditional use. Together, they check all of the boxes and offer antiviral activity combined with lymphatic support, heart protection, anti-coagulant properties, and immunoregulating properties (inhibit inflammatory cytokines).

Here is a BRIEF explanation of what each of the herbs in this formula can do:

Japanese Honeysuckle

Japanese Honeysuckle

Japanese Honeysuckle– a potent anti-viral herb. Honeysuckle has been traditionally used in Chinese Medicine to treat flu, colds, sinusitis, sore throat, dysentery and other infections. It is a part of a classic formula called Shuang huang lian that was used with great success in the early 2000s when SARS swept the Asian continent. It is also a component of a classic Chinese formula called Yin Qiao San which is commonly used for influenza with wind-heat patterns.

Japanese Knotweed-antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, immunomodulating, anti-coagulant, antipyretic, analgesic, cardioprotective, central nervous system protectant and more. Knotweed has so much to offer! It is known among herbalists as one of the best remedies for Lyme-induced joint pain. It also has the potential to balance inflammatory cytokines and protect the endothelial cells, reducing many of the complications that this particular virus can induce. Stephen Buhner says that Knotweed is “highly protective of lymphatic endothelial cells”, and “specific for protecting endothelial cells from inflammatory damage and/or stopping clotting” (Buhner’s article can be found here on his website)

Forsythia

Forsythia

Forsythia Fruit– another antiviral herb with a long history of use in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). It is often combined with honeysuckle for treatment of respiratory infections

Kudzu– the ‘vine that swallowed the South’ also has numerous health benefits. Traditionally it has been used for migraines and alcoholism. It is also a heart protectant, antiviral, antioxidant and can block viral attachment to ACE-2 linkages. And, like Knotweed, it is a powerful regulator of inflammatory cytokines. Between Knotweed and Kudzu alone, every damaging mechanism of the active infection described in Buhner’s article can be addressed.

Sweet Annie

Sweet Annie– traditionally used for fevers, parasites and fungal infections. Sweet Annie is indicated for “heat in the blood” and recently has received a lot of positive attention for its effectiveness in treating tropical blood-borne pathogens. Chances are you have this sweetly aromatic herb growing in your backyard.

Barberry– this thorny shrub covers the new-growth forests in our area. Its roots are highly antimicrobial, and antioxidant. Barberry has been shown to inhibit certain inflammatory cytokines and improve T-cell immunity.

ailanthus

Ailanthus

Ailanthus – another valuable herb from the far East, “Tree of Heaven” is strongly antioxidant, antimicrobial, antiviral, antispasmodic and anti-inflammatory. It has been used historically to treat diarrhea, dysentery, asthma ad malaria. We included a small amount of ailanthus in this formula to help with possible digestive symptoms and overall bodily tension that often accompanies acute viral infection.

Other “Invasive” plants with medicinal value include dandelion, burdock, plantain, thistle, blackberry, garlic mustard, English ivy, Autumn olive, wild rose, purple loosestrife and bindweed. I do not know of medicinal uses for Japanese stiltgrass or Johnson grass, but I am sure that there are other ways that they could be utilized. Johnson grass, for example, could be used for roof thatching or cordage. Let’s use what is abundant and free. If you are going to be pulling out the grass anyway, why not use it and give it an honorable death?

What other ways do you use unwanted weeds? Please comment to this post if you have a favorite use or an idea for a potential use.

Disclaimer: this information has not been reviewed by the FDA. This article is for informational purposes and is not meant to prevent, diagnose, treat or cure any disease or illness. 

Dandelion

Dandelion

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

Parts Used: Root, leaf, flower

Actions: Diuretic, hepatic, cholagogue, antirheumatic, laxative, tonic bitter

Energetics: Cooling, drying

Indications: All parts of Dandelion have long historical uses but here we will talk about the leaves and the roots. Do keep in mind that many of the qualities of both root and leaf are interchangeable. Starting with the root, there is direct action on the liver and gallbladder. Dandelion aids these organs in their job of detoxifying the body. When there is fluid retention in the body, such as edema, gout or rheumatism, we know the kidneys need support and the diuretic action of Dandelion will assist. In this case we look to Dandelion leaf.

Signs of liver and gallbladder disturbance, such as skin eruptions and skin with a yellowish hue, point to Dandelion root. Keep this in mind for chronic complaints of acne and eczema. Dandelion also contains high amounts of calcium, iron, potassium, phosphorous and vitmains A, B, C and D. This “weed” was, and still is, one of our most popular wild foods with uses ranging from coffee substitute, delicious salad green to being used in brewing beer and wine.

This plant is so resilient and strong it grows up through city sidewalks and survives extreme chemical assault from pristine lawn keepers. It helps us to be more resilient as well. As a bitter, Dandelion aids the digestive system by increasing digestive enzymes and enhancing absorption. In early spring pick your Dandelion greens and eat them in salads. The bitter greens will help detoxify your body from a rich and heavy winter diet. Dandelion is a beloved herbal ally that is often overlooked. Yet it is one of the first herbs we learn to identify as children and one of the most commonly known plants to humans across the world.

Preparation: Chop and eat young roots and leaves in a variety of dishes. Make a decoction of the root by using 2-3 tsp of dried root per 1 cup of water, bring to a boil and then simmer for 10-15 mins, drink freely. Tincture root in 100 P. vodka if fresh or 80 P. brandy if dried, dose is 2.5 – 5 ml, 3x day.

*Dandelion is a diuretic and will increase urination.

You can find Dandelion root in our Carob Cafe and Liver Tonic Tea

Ayurvedic Detox Tips

You may have noticed your cravings for fats & sweets already subsiding as we begin to transition from the Vata season to Kapha season this month. Kapha season is a time of cold & dampness. We bring balance to these energetics by choosing warm and light foods like:

broths, radishes, beans, quinoa, brown rice, millet, buckwheat & cooked green vegetables.

You will want to cut back on heavy and cold foods such as:

dairy, wheat, oats, bananas, coconut, avocado, sugar and red meats.

Warming spicesgreatly support us this time of year by keeping the digestive system warm & clear of mucus (Cardamom, Fennel, Ginger, Turmeric, Mustard, Cinnamon, Pepper)

Warming Winter Spices.jpg

Herbal Formulas:

Trikatu– a classic formula containing equal parts ginger, black pepper and Pippali long pepper. Used to overcome mucus, aid a sluggish digestion, improve circulation and warm the interior. Indicated for clear damp discharges and anyone living in cold, damp climates.

Triphala– another classic formula comprised of 3 fruits. Triphala is a very balanced and gentle formula that can be used daily to promote good digestion and support elimination. It is a mild laxative that helps with bowel regulation. Because it is balanced, tonifying, and food-grade, it is non-habit forming and a great choice for anyone wanting to keep their channels clear of toxic accumulation.

Guggula– a relative of myrrh, Guggul is the resin from the salai tree. It is considered the be most potent in countering ama (toxic accumulation including cholesterol and thickened mucus). Think of ama as anything that gunks up the works of a body flowing efficiently. It has a reputation for reducing kapha and therefore reducing fat in the body. It is often combined with triphala to counter obesity.

You can find the above products on our shelves. Remember, good blood begins with good digestion. If you keep your digestive fire strong, your system clear of mucus, your bowels regular and your diet in harmony with the seasons, then you will digest your food efficiently without creating excess ama.

**This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease**

Elecampane

Botanical Name: Inula helenium

Other Names: Elf Dock, Scabwort, Elf wort, Yellow Starwort

Part Used: Root

Taste: Bitter, Pungent, Acrid

Energetics: Warming, Moving, Drying

Actions: expectorant, antimicrobial, digestive bitter,

Uses: Elecampane decongests stagnant fluids in the body. It is one of the strongest antibacterial herbs that we have (according to herbalist Matthew Wood, even diluted elecampane (1 to 10,000) will kill bacteria, especially tuberculosis). Elecampane has a strong affinity for the respiratory tract and most herbalists think of it as a respiratory herb for bronchial infections including bronchitis, tuberculosis, and pneumonia. It is indicated whenever there is heavy, thick, green or yellow mucus (a sign of bacterial infection) as well as a non-productive or persistent cough. Elecampane will promote expectoration from the deepest layers of the lungs, when the cough is not strong enough to bring up the mucus.

Elecampane is also used to help heal wounds that will not scab (“proud flesh”). It is being studied for its ability to kill MRSA (especially hospital acquired respiratory infections (Katja Swift).

As a warming bitter, elecampane also warms the fires of digestion, breaks up mucus in the digestive tract, and stimulates digestive secretion. It can clear overly damp conditions of the intestines and support absprption of nutrients by improving lymphatic flow around the intestinal tract. It can also  balance the microbiome of the gut by killing unehalthy bacteria, and by supporting beneficial bacterial through its high content of inulin. Inulin is a starch that provides food for probiotics. Inulin composes up to 45% of the root of elecampane, which is why the plant is named Inula helenium.

A lesser known virtue of elecampane is its effect on the heart. It is considered a heart remedy in the Ayurvedic tradition. Matthew Wood writes about elecampane being a remedy for heartache (specifically heartache due to being “torn away from one’s home”). He also writes about a client who used elecampane for a respiratory infection and had the pleasant side effect of healing her ventricular fibrillation. She had a dream about mucus being cleared from her heart area. I don’t have much evidence to support elecampane being used as a heart remedy, but from a holistic perspective, I can see how elecampane could indirectly strengthen and support the heart by helping to clear the channels of elimination. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the bitter flavor is said to nourish the heart/fire element. And the pungent/spicy flavor is said to increase the fire element. The combination of bitter and pungent tastes present in elecampane do support the claim as herb that can help strengthen the heart.

Folklore: You might be wondering what elecampane has to do with elves…well, some say that this plant was used to treat “elfshot,” which is a condition of wasting and preoccupation supposedly caused from being shot by an elf’s arrow. Elecampane also helps us to connect with the world of the elves. Elves are said to live under the plant. And anyone who has experience communing with devas, faeries, angels and other beings beyond the veil knows that such communion begins from the heart. We must be present from a heart-centered place (as opposed to a mental place). The heart is the middle chakra, the mid-point between our root and our crown. When we have emotional/energetic blockages around our hearts, the flow of divine source energy cannot flow freely through our central channel it is difficult for us to receive guidance from the heavens. And one look at the elecampane plant in full form, from is thick taproot to its tall radiant flower at its crown, suggests that it is a channel between heaven and earth. I would venture a guess that as elecampane can clear stagnation and open the channels of the physical body, so can it clear stagnation/blockages from the emotional and spiritual bodies, opening us to the mysteries beyond the veil, including elves & feaires. (Precaution: communing beyond the veil does require safety measures & discernment. Please do not attempt to do this on your own without guidance from someone experienced in these realms).

The species name helenium comes from the Greek legend of Helen of Troy who was abducted from her homeland of Sparta and taken to Troy. In the places where her tears hit the earth, elecampane is said to have sprouted. Based on this, elecampane is used in energetic preparations to treat heartache and grief due to being torn from one’s home.

Specific Indications: weak appetite, poor assimilation, swollen tongue (indicating a cold & damp digestive environment), wounds that do not form a scab, acute bronchitis, respiratory infections, chronic postnasal drip, yellow to green mucus.

Cautions: Not recommended during pregnancy or lactation

References: The Earthwise Herbal by Matthew Wood (Old World)

*This information is for eductional purposes only. It is not meant to diagnose, treat, or cure any disease.