Burdock & Rose

wildly-crafted plant tales from herbalist, forager & author lisa rose

Category: immunity

Herbal First Responders: Cold & Flu Care

 

Lisa M. Rose in a field of wildflowers in Millineum Park.

Gathering wild bee balm for my well-known Gypsy Tea.

Sometimes when you feel a cold or a flu coming on, it’s easy to brush it off and keep pushing ahead. But when that little voice tells you that your body has caught a virus, heed its warning!  Learning when and how to use popular herbal remedies can help you prevent from getting stuck at the corner of sick and miserable!

Elderberry (Sambucus nigra)

Plant medicines like elderberry can help shorten the lifespan of a virus — If you know when and how to use them! If you listen to your body’s call, and try preparations of elderberry elixir within the first 48 hours of the start of a virus, medical research shows that symptoms that come from colds and flus can be lessened by as much as 4 days. (1) Now, that doesn’t mean you can just chug elderberry elixir and NOT rest. Of course not. Resting is a crucial part to the body’s healing process.

But how does elderberry work? Elderberry is not only filled with antioxidants and flavonoids useful for the body, but it stimulates the body’s inflammation response against the virus. By triggering the production of cytokines – the inflammatory and anti-inflammatory agents that regulate the body’s immune system – elderberry powers the immune system which then inhibits the virus’ ability to reproduce. (2)

Elderberry is most commonly prepared as a syrup of the fresh or dry berries. Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) syrup is easy to make (RECIPE FEATURED IN RODALE’s ORGANIC LIFE), but if you don’t have time, make a trip to your local health food shop to stock up, or better yet – support this local herbalist by stocking up with her elderberry elixir blends!! (Hint, hint) So at those first signs of illness – down that elderberry syrup in large tablespoon doses!

 

Gypsy Tea: Echinacea, Mints, Yarrow & Elderflower

While downing tablespoons of elderberry when I start to get sick, you will also find me making pots of my favorite tea traditionally known as Gypsy Tea- a formula that goes back generations. Gypsy Tea is a tea blend of aromatic mints (I prefer the wild bee balm, Monarda fistulosa), the bitter yarrow, and the relaxant elderflowers. I also add in echinacea for its additional immune boosting power, and sometimes garden herbs like sage and thyme for extra aromatics.

Gypsy Tea is also a great base in which to add honey and your elderberry elixir!To make your own Gypsy Tea, these herbs can be foraged from the wild, or you can procure your own herbs from a reputable forager or an online source like Mountain Rose Herbs.

Gypsy Tea Ingredients:

1 Part Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

2 Parts Elderflower (Sambucus nigra)

2 Parts Bee Balm (Monarda spp) or Peppermint

1 Part Echinacea (Echiancea spp)

Directions: Add herbal ingredients to a french press or directly to a pot of boiling water. Cover, let steep for 5 minutes and drink hot. And like Grandma always says, Put on a hat!  Cover the body, keep it warm, take to bed and REST. If you really are feeling crummy, consider making a large thermos of tea to keep hot by the bedside – this will help you to stay in bed and support the body’s immune system as it works on staying well.

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Even herbalists get sick.

It’s easy to forget how to care for yourself once a virus settles in and your body begins to ache. Be prepared! Have on hand the ingredients you need to care for yourself allows your body to rest and fight off the virus. And remember to have a backup friend to rely on when you are at the corner of sick and miserable – even if it’s your golden retriever.

For more tips on making a plan for Cold & Flu season, click HERE.

A Few Other Good Links & Resources:

– Darcey Blue on Flu

– Todd Caldecott’s Ayurvedic approach to Colds & Flu 

–  7 Song’s Materia Medica for Colds & Flu

— Paul Bergner on Vitamin D

Footnotes:

1)  “Randomized study of the efficacy and safety of oral elderberry extract in the treatment of influenza A and B virus infections.” J Int Med Res. 2004 Mar-Apr;32(2):132-40.

2) “The effect of Sambucol, a black elderberry-based, natural product, on the production of human cytokines: I. Inflammatory cytokines” Eur Cytokine Netw. 2001 Apr-Jun;12(2):290-6

The Herbalist’s Line

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I’ve been in-house blending organic teas at The Spice Merchants in Grand Rapids as their resident herbalist. My favorite combos are now located right there at the shop under “The Herbalist’s Line.”

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I also have some of my own wildcrafted, Burdock & Rose herbals in stock at the Grand Rapids location, as well as my book, “Midwest Foraging.” I’m pretty delighted to work with the Spice Merchants – it harkens back to the family business in Flint – my Grandfather’s wholesale tea and coffee business: Mack Tea & Coffee.

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You will see me around the DT Market every so often, working alongside their great staff answering herbal questions. I’ll try to get better at announcing when I’ll be around so you can stop by!

In the meantime, be well and drink tea!

Poison Ivy & Favorite Herbal Remedies

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Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) is a common invasive plant across the Midwest, found in damp riverbeds, woodlands, trailsides, sand dunes, and open fields. The poison ivy is abundant this year – finally leafing out and growing in large stands in backyards, along trails and carpeting the woods, keeping the morel mushroom hunters at bay and irritating gardeners who want it eliminated from their cultivated garden beds.

“Leaves of three, let them be” may be a good start to identifying poison ivy, but the plant takes many shapes and if you only look for leaves of three, then you will also be avoiding plants like the raspberries and the roses. Poison ivy has compound leaves in sets of 3-5, with outside asymmetrical leaves and a middle leaf that is symmetrical that alternate along a woody stalk.

When the leaves first appear in the spring, they can be a soft or shiny purple leaf than changes to green over the season. It can be a small creeping plant, or the stalk can also be a thick, hairy vine that winds up and along tree trunks and buildings.  Poison ivy produces inedible berries in the fall, and its hairy vine can be identifiable in winter. It can be easily confused with box elder, whose leaves are also compound but are opposite along the stem.

Poison Ivy & The Gardener

To the surprise of many, I actually admire poison ivy for it’s ability to mark territory and protect lands from trespassing or overuse. It was once told to me that poison ivy was given to us humans when we started to forget to say “Thank You” for the abundance of the earth’s blessings. This makes sense – poison ivy doesn’t pull down vegetation like the bittersweet vine, rather it creates a blockade causing humans to step back. Poison ivy protects the land while allowing it to regenerate.

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Next time you see a large plant of poison ivy with runners all along a piece of land, take a step back and consider what is going on with the area’s ecology. Is it trying to heal itself from overuse? Is it an area that gets a lot of human traffic that needs to be limited? Something to consider, and perhaps help shift your perspective on the role of poison ivy in our environments.

Frequently I am asked how to manage the plant in gardens and in landscaping. And my answer is that I usually don’t feel a need to remove poison ivy, rather learn to identify and avoid it (those that are highly allergic never like this response, but nonetheless, I feel it’s a more realistic strategy than trying to aggressively remove the plant from the yard).

A Few Favorite Remedies for Poison Ivy

Invariably, folks that enjoy the outdoors – especially in springtime before the plant fully leafs out – will come into contact with poison ivy. There are a lot of homemade remedies to help care for the aggravating wet, weepy rash, and I list a few of mine below. Take note, that oil-based preparations should be avoided with poison ivy as it can worsen the rash.  For those with serious allergies, a visit to your MD sometimes is the most prudent course of action.

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Rose Vinegar One of my first aid kit must-haves is a rose-infused vinegar in a spray bottle – which is great for poison ivy rashes. A rose-infused vinegar is useful in the herbal apothecary for topical skin infections, abrasions, burns and rashes.

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Rose petals infusing in apple cider vinegar to make a spray to astringe the wet and weepy rash of poison ivy.

Preparations of rose – teas, liniments or soaks – are naturally astringent and antimicrobial can be used topically as a skin wash to cool and soothe inflammation. Vinegar – especially the naturally fermented apple cider vinegar – can also be used to wash and astringe the skin, especially conditions that are wet and weepy caused by rashes like poison ivy (it can also be used directly on the leaves and vines to help force it back from an area you are trying to clear).

Together – the rose petals extracted in vinegar -makes an awesome vinegar-based wash that is so very soothing on poison ivy inflicted skin. Simply infuse the vinegar with the rose petals and leaves (fresh or dry works), let steep for a week, strain and add to a spray bottle. Keep refrigerated, and mist skin as needed. Also perfect to soothe a summer sunburn.

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Echinacea is useful for topical and septic infections like poison ivy.

Echiancea Echinacea is an excellent herb to help support the immune system’s response to septic infections.  It can be used topically as a preparation of tea (strained, cooled to room temperature) to wash the wet and weepy skin infection of poison ivy. It should also be taken internally as a tea or tincture to support the immune system’s response to the plant.

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Jewelweed is a useful plant to apply topically to areas of skin that have been exposed to poison ivy.

Jewelweed  Jewelweed is a tall succulent annual plant that sometimes grows densely like ground cover. Its root system is shallow and its hollow stalk a neon translucent green, growing about 3 to 5 feet tall. The plant is very juicy when crushed, and makes a wonderful topical poultice to apply to areas that have had contact with poison ivy, but the skin hasn’t had any eruptions. Jewelweed can also be made as a tea for a skin wash. For use throughout the season the plant can be frozen into ice cube trays for later use, or even incorporated into handmade oatmeal soap recipes for a poison ivy wash.

Of course, soaking in a tub of oatmeal water still works to soothe the itch, as does Mom’s calamine lotion. It also helps to reduce the metabolic load on the system while the body fights off the reaction – this means eliminating alcohol, sugar, refined carbs and coffee. This just opens up more bandwidth to help the body clear up on its own. Lymphatics like red root or cleavers can really help with this process.

Further reading

Jim McDonald’s treatise on poison ivy can watched here.

A Winter’s Foraging Walk

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Folks frequently ask, “Can you forage in winter?” and my response is always a resounding yes! While there aren’t the summer’s berries and flowers to be found in the deep snow of the Great Lakes; a forager can delight that there are barks, buds, and even sap to be gathered in the cold of January and February.

Not only are there plants that can be gathered in the winter, but wintertime is a perfect chance to practice your plant identification skills – you can practice keying out plants and trees from last season’s leaves, stalks and barks as well as discover new plant stands for spring harvesting. Moreover, I am a believer that we should spend time outdoors in all four seasons – it helps with seasonal depression, can boost immunity and is just all around good for the soul to get outside and appreciate the natural world around us.

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Just this past weekend, I headed out with my trusty and patient companion, Rosie, to walk along the icy Lake Michigan shoreline in northern Michigan. As I made my down the beach, I said hello to the overwintering uva-ursi who will soon have pink flowers again in May.

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I saluted the stately milkweed, whose pods looked like a well-crafted sculpture against the white snow. I even bent down to collect a few handfuls of juniper berries for spice and tea in my kitchen.

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I hiked along the front dunes, stopping at the clustering stands of Poplars to gather their aromatic and resinous buds to make a Balm of Gilead warming muscle salve.  Stopping at each tree (stands of P. grandidentata; though stands of P. tremuloides, P. balsamifera, and P. deltoides are also common on the foredunes of this area), I tasted the buds for that signature resinous-camphor-like flavor on my tongue so I would know which buds to gather. My dog stopped along with me — patient and musing as to why her human companion was tasting trees again. I tasted to be sure they were the most strong buds. Not surprisingly, the flavor varied from tree to tree.**

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The large-toothed aspens delighted me with super resinous buds – way more warming, resinous and spicy than the quaking aspens (P. tremuloides) back downstate in my own woods and in the nearby back dunes, from which I’ll gather bark later in the spring for bitters blends. The buds will vary from species to species and from locale to locale. Use your senses to determine strength and how you might want to use them.

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The buds will be extracted into a coconut oil base to be made into a muscle salve. If I have enough, I will also extract the buds into a tincture of high-proof alcohol to make a topical liniment for tight and sore muscles. The poplar buds can be formulated also with goldenrod, St. John’s Wort, and yarrow for a well-rounded muscle salve or liniment.

Balm of Gilead Infused Oil Recipe : Add 1 cup fresh Poplar buds (taste for resinous and aromatic flavor) to a mason jar, cover completely with olive or coconut oil. Let steep for 6 weeks and then strain. For faster extraction, simmer mason jar in a double boiler with water or in a crock pot. Finished oil can be used alone as a massage oil or used as a base for a nice salve.

**A note on sustainability: Poplars drop their branches during heavy windstorms, making it most sustainable foraging to gather barks and buds from fallen branches. Buds can be gathered from live trees, but do gather only a handful from tree to tree, and be sure to give thanks for the harvest the trees offer. 

 

 

 

Are you a worry wort?

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The darkness of winter gives us a chance to rest and replenish as the days begin to grow longer and progress toward spring. In addition to nourishing the body with good foods and healing flavors, now is the time to experiment with ways to address stress, insomnia, and worry and find out what works for you to help you have a better handle on life to address your stressors year-round. There are many things we can do on a daily basis to help manage stress, anxiety and worry including use herbal therapies to help us achieve the life style changes we need.

Stress & Our Body. Physiologically, it’s important to remember that when we are stressed, many of the body’s processes get put on hold. The body’s energy is diverted away from the immune responses, making it hard to both defend against viruses and infections – even chronic disease.  We stop digesting when we are under stress, reproductive hormones decrease, our glands dry up, and our respiratory response quickens. This, over-time, can have huge impacts on our immune system and quality of life.

Herbs aren’t needed for exercise! Get moving! Movement and physical activity (especially movement in the brisk, winter’s air) is something all bodies regularly need to both fight stress and build immunity: With proper hydration, movement keeps muscles and ligaments juicy and lymphatic glands moving. It helps blow off elevated cortisol from a stressful day and over time and in tandem with a healthy diet, can have a significant impact on blood pressure and blood sugar levels.

Aromatic Herbals for Energy. Instead of that extra shot of espresso, go with an aromatic herbal blend.  Rose, Mints, Lavender, Lemon Balm — all have aromatic oils that are uplifting and can provide a boost of energy without adding the extra stress on the system that caffeine offers. These herbs can help clear a foggy head in the middle of a workday, break up tension from stress or soothe a headache caused by dramatic changes in the weather patterns.  Try adding these aromatic essential oils in a bottle for a refreshing face mist or room clearing spray to help lift the mood.

Still tired? THEN SLEEP MORE!  Regular sleep patterns seem to be quite a luxury nowadays, but sadly, this lack of sleep is a contributing factor to weight gain and deprives our body of the desperately needed rest and restore time so it can recover from our demanding wake time.  How to support a regular sleep schedule? Reduce after-hours activities that include screen time. Late night computer and television use can actually disturb the REM sleep patterns later in the evening. Try to cut off screen time after 9 or 10, and certainly avoid the urge to turn the screens on if you are unable to fall asleep.

Avoid caffeine in the late afternoon and evening. This can affect the body’s ability to fall asleep later at night. Limit alcohol consumption to dinner time.  Having the proverbial nightcap may be a relaxant beverage, but regular, late-night consumption of alcohol can also disturb REM sleep patterns (not to mention, relying on alcohol or other heavy narcotic to support regular sleep can lead to longterm dependency).

Insomnia? Relaxant herbals can help you catch some Zzzzz’s. The ritual alone of bedtime tea can help you unwind at the end of a busy day. Try blending relaxant herbals like Chamomile, Lemon Balm, Spearmint, Catnip, Rose, Blue Vervain, Scullcap or Kava Kava. Hops and Valerian can also help and relax the body for sleep.

Try these as tinctures, teas or even as massage oils and balms to help the body relax and relieve the stressors of the day. Or perhaps a hot bath? Herbs can be infused into bathwater as a tea or infused into an epsom salt bath. This can be done with whole herbs or by using aromatic essential oils.

Upset tummy? Try bitters. In times of stress, the body slows the digestive process and this can inhibit the proper uptake of core nutrients leading to a different sort of malnutrition. Bitter herbs are a MUST for helping stagnant digestion that is symptomatic of excess stress.

Bitter foods ~should~ be had as food and a main staple in our diets (think dandelion leaves, Romaine lettuce, fennel, Chamomile tea) but they can also be integrated into our diets as classic digestifs (such as commercial Campari or Angostura) or tinctured bitters (variety of herbs can be used for homemade bitters, such as orange peel, cinnamon, aspen Bark, fennel, chocolate, etc).

Lemon balm or catnip does wonders for soothing an anxious stomach. Blend it with aromatic herbs like cinnamon or lavender.  Chamomile also does wonders to calm nervous anxiety.

Ulcerations: If there extreme digestive deficiency and there is ulcer, etc., more must be done with diet and herbs that can support the mucosa to heal should be introduced (marshmallow, slippery elm, etc). Reduce alcohol, sugar and refined foods. See an herbalist to formulate an herbal protocol to best help gut healing.

Can’t get out of bed? Herbs for Grief, Sadness or Depression. Herbs like tulsi basil, hawthorne, rose petals, lavender, and lemon balm can offer comfort for a sad heart. Aromatic herbs are uplifting and help clear away the dark clouds and offer some clarity and peace of mind. And of course, see a professional if your stress simply is hanging over you to the point where are are affected and family and friends can no longer help. There is a role for pharmaceuticals, and many can be used in combination with herbals – just first consult an herbalist familiar with both therapeutics.

Nourish your nervous system for the long term. Build back up your nervous system with herbs that can actually restore tone to the central nervous system used over time . These herbs include milky oats (Avena sativa), nettle, passionflower, skullcap, ashwaganda, burdock root, and American ginseng. There are others, but those are a few favorites (and toning needs to be done with lifestyle change).

Lisa Rose’s Time for Sleep Tea**

1 Part Passionflower

1 Part Catnip

1 Part Elderflower

1/2 Part Holy Basil

Steep, covered in hot water (in a french press or tea ball) for 2 minutes and then sip. Promotes restfulness, focus and soothes an anxious mind and stomach so you can sleep.

**Bulk, dry herbs are available via Mountain Rose Herbs

Nourishing With Herbal & Bone Broths

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Broths! This may seem like the newest food trend but alas – herbal and bone broths have been in simmering on the stoves of healing kitchens across the globe and across time. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, broth is a key component to building yin deficiency and nourishing the body, and the Jewish bubbe knows that chicken soup is her form of penicillin. It’s an ancient food.

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A mug of gelatinous beef broth, a good replacement for that second cup of morning coffee.

Is it broth or stock? There is much banter back and forth between culinary professionals as to the difference between stocks and broths: To me, that’s like asking the difference between potato or po-tah-to. Personally, I consider stock (made from bones, meat and soft tissue – and sometimes prepared with herbs and veggies) a key staple in every kitchen. I consider broth the final preparation that is actually served at the table.

As an herbalist (and home cook, athlete and MOM), my focus is on making broths with nutritive benefits that come from cooking the bones (preferably from pastured, organic animals), soft connective tissue, herbal plants and mushrooms. Broths can be especially powerful when power-packed with nutritive herbs and medicinal plants like nettle, red clover, oatstraw, seaweeds, horsetail, astragalus, burdock and wild foraged medicinal mushrooms like reishi, maitake, shitake, and chaga.

Sun curing foraged Reishi for my broths

Sun curing foraged Reishi for my broths

I use broths as a simple soup and in many cooked dishes in my kitchen. It is a very nutrient dense, healing food! With the bones, connective tissue, herbs and veggies, a long cooking time (about 2 days, consistent heat, immediate storage) plus an acid added to the simmer (vinegar or tomato paste) extracts the minerals and amino acids found in bone and soft tissue into the broth.

Gelatin is made in the process of boiling stock that comes from the bones and the soft tissues of cartilage — which then produces collagen and thus amino acids for the body. These are then are the foundational building blocks for developing the body’s muscle and soft tissue. Consuming these as a broth makes them bioavailable to the body and easily digestible to nourish both the tissues and the immune system. ***

Broth can provide these building blocks to nourish the gastrointestinal tract, lubricate joints, re-vitalize skin, build muscle fibers, and enriches the blood. Consumed as part of a regular diet, broths can ease inflammatory bowel disease, serve as a preventative for rheumatoid arthritis (offering a food source of glycosamine), ease ulcerative colitis and gastritis, and address mineral deficiencies from a whole foods-centered perspective.

Broths should be a part of anyone’s approach to healing illness or debility. Recovering from the flu? Broths are easily digestible and can offer the immune system nutrients to rebuild while recovering from illness.

Healing a bone fracture, herniated disc, torn ligament or rebuilding dental deterioration? Because of the proteins, collagen and amino acids, the nutrients in broths can facilitate wound healing and support tissue repair.

Undergoing surgery? Broths can be included also as part of a pre- and post operative care regime to ensure the body has accesses to the most nutrients to endure surgery and facilitate recovery.

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A staple of my own diet, it’s great to see bone broth is becoming mainstream! I stock my own kitchen with broth for use across the year. It makes it super-easy to have on hand for both cooking and use when one of us in the family is sick.

I’ve learned many things about stock making over the years, and will say this: While there are a lot of techniques to produce the perfect stock, don’t stress. It doesn’t have to be perfectly clear like a consumme, or kept on a low simmer (we are extracting minerals here, so turning up the heat high if you don’t have a lot of time won’t matter – because heat doesn’t destroy minerals).

I invite you to learn more about broths and herbs I use to fortify my broth.  Read more ON MY BLOG for my recipes (with vegan tips as well). For classes on broths and broth making, check out my upcoming CLASSES.  To purchase my foraged herbs and medicinal mushrooms for your broth, visit my ONLINE shop.

Here are some recent links on the subject for your discernment:

Click HERE to see my most recent convo with WZZM13’s Healthy U and Val Lego on broths.

Jim McDonald’s recipes, musings and links on Broth

Chef Michael Rhulman’s Recipe for a Stovetop Stock plus links & Yummy bacteria convo

The Nourished Kitchen on Bone Broths with links to easy crock pot recipes.

More broth safety tips from The Kitchn.

My favorite SeaWeed Source: NatureSpirit Herbs

Need herbs? Organic, bulk herbs available from Mountain Rose Herbs. But they can also sometimes be sourced locally using LocalHarvest.org. 

Grassfed, pastured healthy bones for stock: LocalHarvest.Org for a farmer nearest you

Mushroom sources at Mushroom Harvest

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Broth on the run: Enjoying a bowl of Vietnamese pho, with rare brisket and extra tendon. One of my favorite nourishing dishes if I am out and about, or after a long run.

***Vegans will miss these benefits from stock, but there are herbal broths I recommend to provide key minerals for the body including magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, and silica. READ MORE for tips I offer those wishing to follow a plant-based diet.

Surviving Holiday Stress: Have a Cup of Tea

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We all know the holidays can be stressful- even lonely for many people.  The stress can take its toll — not just impacting our relationships, but excess stress can set us up for getting sick … and no one wants to suffer thru the holidays with a cold virus. While I cannot help you with your in-laws, shopping list or wild holiday calendar, I can suggest a few favorite de-stressing herbal teas that you can keep on hand to help you have a more bliss-ful season. 

Need an energy boost? Go with an aromatic herbal blend.  Rose, Mints, Lavender, Lemon Balm — all have aromatic oils that are uplifting and can provide a boost of energy without adding the extra stress on the system that caffeine offers. These herbs can help clear a foggy head in the middle of a workday, break up tension from stress or soothe a headache caused by dramatic changes in the weather patterns.   

Trying to catch some Zzzzz’s? The ritual alone of bedtime tea can help you unwind at the end of a busy day. Try blending relaxant herbals like Chamomile, Lemon Balm, Spearmint, Catnip, Rose, Blue Vervain, Scullcap or Kava Kava. Hops and Valerian can also help and relax the body for sleep.

Nervousness giving you a tummy ache? Lemon balm does wonders for soothing an anxious stomach. I love it in my Melissa Bitters Blend. Chamomile also does wonders to calm nervous anxiety.

Can’t stop thinking about that To-Do list?  I like Passionflower, Wood Betony and Blue Vervain. Great to add to sleepy-time blends when your list-making gets in the way of falling asleep.

Heavy hearted? For those missing loved ones over the holidays, loneliness and depression can set in. While herbs can’t replace the presence of those loved ones, herbs like hawthorne, rose petals, lavender, and lemon balm can offer comfort for a sad heart. I find aromatic herbs are uplifting and help clear away the dark clouds and offer some clarity and peace of mind.

Build up your nervous system. Stress can take its toll on the body and weaken the immune system, making it more vulnerable to illness. Herbal teas (or infusions) that can actually restore tone to the central nervous system over time include Nettle, Red Clover, Oatstraw, Burdock Root.

The pressure of parties and gift-giving can be manic and overwhelming, leaving little time left to savor the the season. Take a few moments for quiet reflection to appreciate all of our gifts during this holiday season. Moments taken to remember what we do have can offer true healing and feelings of abundance.

Join me for an upcoming workshop on stress and herbs on January 26 at Acorn Studios! You’ll learn about these herbs and others, and make your own personalized tea, herbal salt scrub and herbal spritzer. Register here, spots are limited!

Kick the Ick: Cold & Flu Herbal Tips & Tricks

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The sun has dropped to a low spot on the horizon. The days are darker and colder and the night is longer. Winter signifies a need for deep rest and nourishment. It’s a time of quiet. Soup’s on the stove, hot teas are being sipped. The proverbial fire is being stoked in the kitchen’s hearth.

The cold and flu season extends across this dark time of year. One of the best wellness remedies we have during winter is that innate desire to retreat, withdraw, rest and become the quiet the winter season embodies.

It’s no surprise, then, that a combo of quiet, nourishment and rest is my number one answer to the frequently-asked question, “What’s the best way to boost my immune system during the holiday and winter so I can remain healthy during the cold and flu season?”

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(hehe facebook joke)

Ok, I am not recommending becoming a complete hermit in the winter, but it is really good to dial back obligations and focus on rest.

As a fast-paced society that does not value rest, I get a bristling response all the time at this recommendation. “Rest? That would mean I’d have to sleep more. Nourishment? I can barely get my work done in a day, let alone sit down and eat quietly and mindfully. OMG, I don’t have time to get sick. What can I take so I can still get all the things done I need to do?? Can’t you give me something for that?”

C’mon guys! I totally get that it’s hard! This is ~me~ who’s talking here. The above statements are things I say in my own house— I am not exempt from wanting an easier solution to wellness … something other than the tough obligation of making choices to cultivate my long-term health and wellness. I know intimately how demanding the pressures of society, work, and family are — trust me – I really, really do. Making choices, saying “no” to people and projects to rest when I really am bone tired for me –that is… hard.

On the other hand, I know intimately how great a toll these pressures and stresses can take on one’s health — the entire body is affected from prolonged exposure to chronic stress and it can take years to recover from depletion and exhaustion.  Dialing back obligations and managing stress — as well as resting is a big deal for the body. And even though it’s freezing cold outside, foraging plant-sister Butter Wilde is reminding me to GET OUTSIDE. Get thee some good base layers, warm boots and a hat and get some fresh air. These are all key to staying well in the winter.

In regards to cold and flu season and without getting into the complete physiology of stress, it’s important to remember that when we are stressed, the immune system all but gets put on hold. The body’s energy is diverted away from the immune system, making it hard to both defend against viruses and infections. During cold & flu season, it is easy to not rest as much as we need and become easily stressed, particularly with the holidays just around the corner.

Alas — Getting sick is part of the human condition. Those viruses, bacterias — all part of the world and our biomes — will inevitably come into contact with our person. During cold and flu season, this can mean a whole host of viruses from the more serious influenza to strains of rhinovirus and norovirus.

A simple cold in a healthy person can be cleared as little as 4 days, or even rolled completely if the immune system is given a chance to ward off the invading illness. But a simple cold (there are many, many viruses under the heading common cold) or bout of influenza (which can last up to 10 days) for someone with a compromised immune system could deteriorate into in a much more complicated situation and illness. Having a strong immune system can help prevent that — and rest, good food and moderate exercise is foundational for a strong immune system.

What does that immune system offer during cold & flu season? The body has a ton of great immune responses to help fend off the invaders — runny noses, fever, vomiting, diarrhea. Immune responses are part of the body’s design and are meant to be supported as part of the body’s healing process. But if our immune system is compromised because of too much stress, lack of rest and lack of regular and adequate nourishment — or if we artificially and repeatedly suppress immune responses like FEVER our bodies will not have the tools they need to fight off and restore the body from an infection.

Herbs can be “helpers” in the body’s healing process when we do get sick. I rely on them to help support the body’s vital energy, not focusing on suppress symptoms.  I’ve taken time to get to intimately know the herbs I work with, their energetic properties and how they effect movement and change within the body.  Herbs can help ease pain and discomfort during illness and can help support the body’s process during a bout of illness through recovery, but the key is learning how to work with the plants as the body processes its illness.

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plant allies boneset and monarda fistulosa

When illness hits…

Creating the space to rest. Before I even reach for herbs, when a cold or a flu starts coming on my biggest strategy is to first dial back the activity and cancel all non-essential projects. The key word here is non-essential — Not everything is top priority. Some things really are (like having to show up for your work shift because you really will lose your job and don’t have enough paid sick time) and I recognize that. But a good deal of our commitments really are not and can be left to the wayside for a bit. More-over, when you are sick — YOU and your health are a priority!  Resting when sick is not a luxury or indulgence, rather rest is part of a natural healing protocol!

Arm the castle with good defenses. Get out the soup. Broths. Hot chicken soup is this Jewish mother’s penicillin. It’s ancient Grandma wisdom, and not only does the healing from the nutrients nourish from the deep inside out, but it’s a great childhood favorite and everyone loves it. Vegan? Vegetable broths can be equally healing and nourishing. I have excellent vegan and marrow BROTH RECIPES that include great herbs and foraged wild plants to add to the broths, making them extra-fortified with immune building herbs like Reishi, Maitake, Astragalus, Nettle, Red Clover, Oatstraw. Deep healing on a cellular level, broths are.

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spicy pho. cures what ails.

In addition to broths, I then reach for the herbs to help stimulate the peripheral immunity. I like to use Elderberry (inhibits the viruses ability to reproduce), Echinacea, Boneset, Yarrow, Osha all at once in my own Elderberry Elixir to help supply my immune system with that extra boost — kind of like adding men to the towers to defend my proverbial castle. Want to make your own? Herbbie friend Rebecca McTrouble has a great ELDERBERRY SYRUP RECIPE HERE, or call me to stock your shelves with my own Elderberry Elixir blend.

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making a small batch of elderberry elixir

Supporting the Process with Plants. Using plant energetics, work to match up the body’s needs with the right plants. This will change as your body moves through the illness. Got hot fever with chills? I like to reach for a strong diaphorhetic mint like Oregano or Bee Balm and maybe add in a relaxant herb like Elderflower to help my body relax from the chills and ache.  Sometimes the tension is really strong (think flu’ish hit-by-a truck symptoms) and then l can add calming, tension-relieving sedatives like Chamomile (also aromatic), Lemon Balm, Spearmint, Catnip, Passionflower, or Valerian to my blend. A favorite combo for cold and flu is the basic Gypsy Tea made of Mint, Elderflower and Yarrow. When I get sick, I sometimes make a large thermos of Gypsy Tea and put it bedside so I don’t have to keep getting up.

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my wildcrafted gypsy tea

Sinus? I turn to the herbs that are aromatic. Pine, Mints, Lavender, Bee Balm, Oregano, Sage –  all these herbs have aromatic oils that can be uplifting and can open sinus and relieve tension in the body. Steam inhalations are AWESOME. See how I do STEAM INHALATIONS (thanks, Jim McDonald for the kid towel tip – I am forever grateful for that teaching). Neti pots with saline rinses are also AWESOME tools to have on hand, and astringent, anti-bacterial herbs like Goldenseal or Mahonia can be added to the rinse in small drops as means to ward off a potential bacterial sinus infection.

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demo’ing steam inhalations. thanks jim mcdonald for the towel tip.

Coughs? Dry or wet cough? This is a great example of needing to learn the energetics of the herbs. A dry, barking dog cough can indicate a signifiant drying of the tissues in the lung and stagnant expectoration, and would benefit from moisturizing herbal combos like Mullein, Marshmallow or Licorice, Raw Honey and Wild Cherry Bark.  Damp, wet coughs can benefit from drying herbs like Garlic (though everyone can always benefit from garlic), Elecampagne, Osha, Pine. In both instances, long standing lung conditions indicate a significant illness and should not be ignored. Rest and herbs and even medical care to rule out serious conditions like pneumonia.

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raw, herbal infused honey.

Sore throat? Hot teas with lemon. Ginger. Bee propolis is awesome, especially when working in tandem with an antibiotic for strep throat — add some Elecampagne to that. And oooo raw honey. I can’t say enough about the importance of RAW HONEY  in the herbal apothecary.

Vomiting? Chamomile and catnip are two favorites to sip SLOWLY as tea, and Valerian can be a wonderful relaxant for excess painful cramping from dry heaves. I’ve also taken to using small tastes of the sour Umaboshi vinegar plum paste for cooling and soothing vomiting states. Diarrhea? Loose bowels due to a stomach flu can benefit from a strong astringent tea made with Blackberry roots. To make it kid-friendly, I’ve learned to use this tea to make a not too sweet hot cocoa, sweetened with maple syrup instead of white refined sugar. NOTE: LEARN THE SIGNS OF DEHYDRATION. Dehydration can become very serious fast, and if you don’t feel you have the ability to work with dehydration for your or your loved one, visit the ER immediately for appropriate treatment.

Recovering from sickness? Take it slow. Continue to rest and nourish with simple foods. Also, support your body’s recovery process in cleaning up the illness detritus by adding in bitters for the digestion, absorption and elimination of wastes in the digestive and lymphatic system. in general, bitters ~should~ be had as food and a main staple in our diets (think dandelion leaf, Romaine lettuce, fennel, Chamomile — check out Jim McDonald’s Bitters rap HERE) but in a recovery state (as well as everyday use) simple tinctured bitters (I hand make my own bitters with a variety of herbs such as Orange Peel, Cinnamon, Aspen Bark, Fennel, Red Root) can be very supportive of the metabolic process and foundational to a healthy  digestive system. Consider also adding in a good probiotic or digestive enzyme also, especially if recovering from a bout of stomach flu. The recovery process is very, very important so your body can properly return to a balanced state.

I really love sharing this vitalist framework to getting a cold or flu. It provides the basis and tools to truly support and work with the body in a deep way and more often than not, it has me back on my own feet sooner than I sometimes think when I get sick!!!

Got your own tips? Maybe recipes you use when sick? Share them with me!

A Few Other Good Links & Resources:

– Darcey Blue on Flu

– Todd Caldecott’s Ayurvedic approach to Colds & Flu 

–  7 Song’s Materia Medica for Colds & Flu

— Paul Bergner on Vitamin D