Burdock & Rose

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

Tag: herbalism

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“Midwest Medicinal Plants”

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Making Chai Magical with Chaga

Weather’s changing. Glad for a warm hearth, food on my stove and a pantry & apothecary full of ways to keep me & my family healthy this winter. Counting my blessings.

With the cold, damp weather upon us, one of my most favorite warming drinks is Chai. I like my chai so many different ways — with boiled coffee, with Lapsang Seuchong tea for a nice smoky flavor. With good, rich raw organic milk and honey.

My chai is a basic Masala Chai and varies depending on my mood or what I have on hand.  Masala means blend, and that makes me feel good about never really being strict on what goes into the pot. It allows me to tailor it as I wish.

Chai, on the whole, is a wonderful beverage that can help move circulation to the fingers and toes. It is perfect for this time of year once the weather turns colder. If you are headed outside, drink Chai when you come back in to quickly warm up those extremities. As someone who is chronically cold, this is a great way to warm up (that, and making sure I get enough fats in my diet!!).

Funny enough, I never had many warming aromatic spicy drinks in my house growing up as a child. I don’t ever remember having ginger in the house or chilies … and gosh, maybe never even fresh garlic, now that I think of it. Ah, life as a caucasian child in West Michigan in the 80s… These are all herbs I’ve come to appreciate from my own culinary and herbal learnings as an adult. But I digress. That’s all for another post.

It wasn’t until I moved out to the San Francisco Bay Area that really began drinking Chai (REAL chai — not the stuff in the box that became popular in the late 90s). I learned how to first make chai while volunteering at Alice Water’s Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley… and somewhere I have that recipe that will serve 30.  I’ve adapted that recipe over the past 12 years (below), and now I can easily make just a pot of chai on the stove for myself while working at home or for visiting friends and clients.  You will find my recipe is written in a way that it can be easily scaled for any size group.

Making Chai Magical with Chaga. One of the most delicious ingredients I’ve been adding to my chai lately (as well to coffee, soups, bone broths, and sauces) is Chaga mushroom. Chaga (Inonotus obliquus) is a parasitic fungus that grows out of the wounds of birch trees (Betula spp). It grows across the northern hemisphere in forests with the Birch tree, and can be found here in the woods of the Great Lakes where the birch trees are plentiful.

Location & Foraging. I haven’t had much luck finding Chaga in the immediate Grand Rapids area, so I usually head north to forage it, where it grows aplenty. Some local folks have also said that it’s abundant along the lakeshore in West Michigan — though while growing up, I cannot ever remember that being one of the mushrooms we hunted for growing up (that’s not to say it isn’t there — I am sure it is). Bring along a mallet or small hammer to help get the Chaga from the tree. It’s harder than you might think. Be sure to thank the tree when harvesting always…

Because chaga is becoming popular and has been qualified as a locavore superfood, sustainable and careful harvesting of the fungus is important. Practice mindful harvesting techniques and do not remove the entire fruiting body from the tree to ensure that the chaga will continue to grow and mature for future harvests. It can take up to a decade for chaga to regrow to a harvestable size.

Uses. I was first introduced to Chaga as it’s used in herbal medicine by herbalist and friend Jim McDonald, and fell in love with the taste, smell and texture of Chaga when I first experienced herbalist Margi Flint’s skin cream. Because of it’s history of use for cell regeneration and support for the immune system, I learned from Flint that she incorporates the Chaga into foods, teas, beverages, and into that skin cream of her’s. Not only have I fallen in love adding Chaga to all sorts of foods, but I have had fantastic luck with making herbal variations of Margi’s Chaga Cream to support the skin’s ability to regenerate healthy skin cells and ward off melanoma.

Taste. Chaga has this rich flavor profile not all that dissimilar to a dark chocolate. It pairs well adding it to boiled coffee, pasta sauces, chili recipes, mole sauces, peanut butter & chocolate smoothies and ice cream and chai.  Imagine slathering yourself with this wonderful emmolient cream that smells of chocolate and feels so nourishing… Oh, I digress again. That cream recipe is for another post.

Processing. To get the most from this mushroom, it needs to be powdered and ground, and then its medicine is best extracted in a long simmering decoction in water to make a tea.

Processing is super easy if you just go online and order pre-powdered Chaga from a reputable mushroom source. I have had great experience with Mushroom Harvest and highly recommend their products.  Not so easy if you are foraging your own Chaga.

If you forage your own fresh Chaga off the Birch tree, Chaga is nearly impossible to process without the use of heavy stone tools, a hammer, and — I most recently l learned — a wood rasp to grind it down to a beautifully fine powder for infusions.

Don’t put whole Chaga pieces in your blender or spice grinder as it most likely will burn out your motor and screw up your blade (trust me on this one). If you are smashing it up, take care to use a sizable, durable mortar and pestle (once broken down into larger chunks).  Some say to remove the blackened exterior shell of the mushroom, but I just use the whole thing. You might want to wear protective eye-wear, too, lest you want chunks of flying Chaga in your eyeball (Safety first, right?).

Preparation. To make a Chaga infusion, add 1 part ground/powdered mushroom to 10 parts boiling water and then simmer for 20 minutes for a long extraction. Strain and consume. Make stovetop boiled coffee with it (yum). The infusion can be frozen for future use to cook foods like pastas, grains, nourishing infusions and bone broths. It can also be used as the waters in a cream recipe if you make your own skin cream.

The ground/powdered mushroom ~can~ also be added directly to a sauce or soup or smoothie (take care, though there are no large bits, lest you want to break a tooth by surprise). Some suggest a double extraction if you wish to make a tincture from a tea, but I haven’t used it this way and am not sure of the ratios. For my Chai, I add the ground mushroom to the final simmer of the herbs in the water. Or an infusion can be used to simmer the aromatics.

Lisa’s Masala Chai:

Masala Aromatics (for 2 quarts of Chai):

1 TBSP cinnamon

1 TBSP coriander

1 TBSP cloves

1/2 TBSP cumin

1/4 TBSP cardamon

1/4TBSP black pepper

1/4 TBSP dry ginger

I toss all these ingredients into an iron skillet and slightly toast them on the stove. I let the blend cool and add a dash of nutmeg, then grind when ready to make Chai. Because I make large batches of roasted Masala blend, I store it in a glass jar and then use about 5 tablespoons of herbs to grind and then make into Chai.   Pro-tip: This is the same blend you can use to make a Masala vegetable dishes. So it’s good to have a large batch on hand for more than just chai.. 😉

Simmering the Chai:

Add the Masala Blend, 2 TBSP of ground Chaga to a pot and cover with 2 quarts boiling water, simmer for 20 minutes. For a bit more local flavor, add in a few tablespoons of local SpiceBush Berries if you have some.

Remove from heat and add black tea (I like Lapsang Seuchong) if you wish. If your tea is added as loose leaf, I suggest that you strain the Chai into a thermos or teapot after about 2 minutes (the tea can turn your Chai very tannic if left to steep too long). If using a tea ball, just remove the tea after a few minutes.

Sweeten the entire pot or by the glass with real maple syrup or honey. Yum. Add milk, too, if you like. Sip. Enjoy.

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Resources:

Processing Chaga video: I came across this interesting YouTube Video and thought I’d share. It demonstrates the use of a rasp.

More on Chaga from another Michigan WildCrafter

Kiva’s Chai Musings

Double extraction process for making a tincture with Chaga

For other Chai recipe ideas: FoodIly

To order bulk organic herbs, I frequently recommend Mountain Rose Herbs

The Roots of My Practice

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Maya healer and wonderful friend, Don Daniel Pool-pech. Tulum, MX

“If you don’t do the work of the heart, then you will always have pain.” ~ Don Daniel, Maya plant friend in Tulum MX, 2015.

I traveled to Tulum first in 2009, the first of what began as many trips to the Yucatan and the beginning of a love affair with such a magical place.  It was on that trip that I met an herbalist from Colorado – Shelley Torgrove where she introduced me to her Maya teacher and plant healer, Don Daniel Poolpech.

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Don Daniel and Shelley Torgrove, Tulum MX.

 

At the time of that trip, I was between “careers” … I had recently left my work as the director of our local nature center, which included leaving the small nonprofit I had founded called Mixed Greens (we created school gardens to teach nutrition education programming to urban schoolkids). I had no idea what I wanted to do. I was doing some food systems consulting, but that wasn’t tugging at my heart-strings. My children were little, then-husband commuting to Ghana (yes, Africa) and I was needed at home. NGO work had burned me out, having babies had sucked me dry — I was fried. And I was only turning 30.

I remember telling a farmer friend of mine I was so tired that I couldn’t even bother clearing away the leaves from my garden. His reply – maybe you shouldn’t. Maybe you should sit and listen to the plants. In Tulum – and upon meeting Shelley – I said out loud, “I want to work with plants as an herbalist” (even though I had no idea what that even meant – and still don’t haha). I just ~knew~ that being an herbalist was my calling.

Don Daniel, seeing how anxious I was (about everything) gave me blessings and a strong sedative tea. He told me (in Spanish) to drink it, as it’d help heal my stomach, clear my head and open my heart. Then he sent me back north to begin my path as an herbalist…

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Vinca blanca, an ingredient for my tea from the garden of Don Daniel in Tulum, MX.

Now 2015, I went to him with gratitude and humility and prayers for clarity and strength as I begin this next chapter in my life.

Don Daniel took me into his garden to harvest plants for my medicines and taught me their names. I dried the plants in my window of my rental car, as an impromptu solar dryer. Plant medicines for my own healing, to carry with me as I head back north to continue along the path.  Hopeful. Softer. Less anxious. Focused. And free. There’s healing power inherent in gathering your own medicines.

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My visit with Don Daniel in 2015

My plan is to return to Tulum within the year with my own students, to introduce people to the culture, food and herbal traditions of the Yucatan. We will stay in Tulum with locals, ride bikes, swim at the beach, dive into cenotes, eat nourishing foods and learn a bit from Don Daniel’s ways of Maya healing. It will be adventure of rest, renewal and growth. Look for an invitation soon to join me on a trip in May of 2016.

For now, I am partnering with Shelley on a fall excursion in Maya healing with Don Daniel. Interested? Take a look at Shelley’s website, Artemisia & Rue for the October 2015 excursion. We’d love to have you join us.

A Herbalist’s Pilgrimage to Tulum

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The Ruins of Tulum, MX 2015

Tulum has always held a special place in my heart. My first visit was in 2009 and I instantly fell in love with her people, ruins, beaches, city and plants.

Since that time I’ve made many visits around the Yucatan – Merida, Valladolid – all lovely places with unique personality. So in choosing all places to visit again, I chose Tulum.

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Sipping coco frios at the Ruins. Tulum 2009

This trip to Tulum was special. I was alone, with dictionary in hand. Sort of a soul-searching trip with not much on the books save for rest, eating, beach and plant study with my Maya friend and teacher Don Daniel.

I came down here again to recognize my own transformation over the years and the beauty of growing into my skin – despite all the heartache and pain of moving through that ever changing life of our’s. I needed to be able to document it for me as a reminder that life molds us like clay. And that we are shaped by so many people and experiences and not to push away any of it but embrace it. Pull it closer.

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Same place. Same Chacos. Older, wiser (up for debate). Definitely softer and open to new beginnings. Tulum 2015

I needed to see for myself that I didn’t push any of it away- but rather embraced the challenges over the past years, survived and am vital and full of life. No matter how painful it is to go into the darkness, dig deep and find the source of what really makes “us.” Put those roots deeper into the earth. Add water. Soil. Sun. Grow.

Appropriately enough, Tulum in Maya is translated as New Beginnings.

I traveled to the ocean to wash away the detritus of the past few years with the salt water beneath the ruins. To release myself from the strangling anxiety and to be open to new experiences for the future, to reconnect with the plants that first called me to be an herbalist.

To find rest and renewal and encouragement, to dig deep and be courageous to “live in the not knowing” – as Don Draper would say.

To be free.

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Sometimes, you get the signs you need. In English. Tulum, MX 2015

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.

Grow Your Herbal Apothecary from the Ground Up

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It’s that time of year again — Spring! I know I’ve been thinking about planting time since January, when the seed catalogues began to drop into our mailbox (an evil tease, I say) and this time of year I become so excited to once again get my hands into the soil. It is my therapy and peace.

It delights me with happiness that the urban farming and gardening movement continues to gain momentum and that others are joining in, tilling the soil to grow their own food and herbs. For reasons of health, economy, environment and justice, it’s now quite popular to have tilled the grass for edible plants and vegetables as outdoor landscapes instead of lawns. On the note of health, as you think about starting your garden this spring consider including herbs into the plan.

Imagine this at the end of your harvest season– your own herbal apothecary filled with local herbs that are gathered from your gardens, the farmers market, and even field hedgerows and woodlands that you can turn to when you feel a cold coming on or get an upset stomach after an indulgent meal.  There is nothing more gratifying and satisfying to know you’ve stocked your pantry with herbal concoctions and medicines to keep you and your family well throughout the year. {AND you will find you will not need to take those expensive trips to the health food shop to procure your herbal remedies!}

For many, the word herbal apothecary evokes images of shelves, bottles and jars all filled with mysterious herbs, herbal formulas from exotic plants.  But to have an herbal apothecary that your family can turn to for basic ills and chills, plants need not be exotic or mysterious – in fact, as more and more people look to local plants and herbs to incorporate into their natural wellness routine, beginning your own apothecary can begin as close to home as the garden.

Grow your own.  In establishing a supply of herbs for your own herbal, consider growing a few perennial kitchen herbs like popular plants such as Rosemary, Thyme, Sage, Mint, Bee Balm and Lavender. These well-known plants will not only offer you a source of fresh culinary herbs throughout the season for cooking, but can be dried for tea for winter’s warm sipping. Also keep in mind that it’s nice to have these culinary herbs close to the kitchen for easy harvesting when cooking.

I also love other perennials like Echinacea, Yarrow, Comfrey, Borage, Boneset, Roses and Milkweed. Pollinators love these plants (think BEES!) and they offer wonderful medicines for the herbal apothecary. They also work in containers.

Kitchen herbs can be easily integrated into a current garden plan if you already do have a garden or yard, or can be easily grown in containers on the patio and in the windowsill if you are an apartment dweller and lack growing space.  These basic kitchen garden herbs are widely available at local greenhouses and can often be found at the farmers market (when selecting transplants for your gardens, be sure to look for plants that have a vital energy and have been started in chemical-free, heavily composted soil).

Farmers Markets. Don’t feel left out if you aren’t a gardener. The summer farmers markets are gearing up for the growing season. And if you aren’t growing your own, the farmers market is the next best place to be procuring garden-fresh herbs that you can preserve and dry. Check out LocalHarvest.org for a market or farmer that sells herbs in your area.

Harvesting & Preservation. Throughout the growing seasons, kitchen herbs can be easily cut with scissors and can be used to make herbal honey or vinegars.  Their stalks can be bundled and hung to dry simply dried on screens to later be blended together for a soothing aromatic tea blend. An added bonus for cutting back the first round of blooms: Sometimes an early cutting of the flowers will result in a second bloom. Lavender will often do this if it’s a warm summer.

To dry the plant material for tea, individual leaves and flowers can be harvested and dried on screens in a dry space. The larger stalks can be bundled and hung to dry. Be sure to harvest the plants after the morning dew has evaporated and that the plants are fully dry before storing in glass jars.  If the plant is not thoroughly dry before storing, there is a high likelihood that the drying plant material will mold in the container — and that’s a drag. Be sure to always label and date the jars as you put up your herbal harvest.

Using your herbs in your apothecary. Tasting, smelling your freshly harvested herbs will set you on your way to better understanding how plants can be used in times of illness and as part of a regular diet.  Take note as to how they taste in tea using both dry herbs and fresh plants. Notice a difference? You will learn ways to prepare the herbs to suit your tastes, and also how they may have an action on the body. So as you continue along your herbal harvest journey, experiment with the herbs singly as a tea or try blending them together!

Over the coming season, you may find that you like working with plants so much you will want to delve into making herbal salves, herbal infused oils and tinctures.  Or become a forager of the wild, uncultivated plants. You certainly will discover that it is truly satisfying to begin to rely on the natural world for wellness and to connect to a  tradition of herbal healing and reliance on plants that is as old as time itself.

To learn more, consider signing up for one of my foraging and medicine making classes. I’d love to have you and share with you the healing wonders of the outdoors. It’s good for both mind, body and spirit (AND pocketbook!).

Honey Bee Medicine & The Apothecary

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Honey Bees are the Earth’s first and best herbalists. They flit from flower to flower; pollinating and as they do so they collect the plant’s magic pollen dust which then gets imbibed into deliciously healing honey. Bees also collect resin from trees to create propolis, which repairs cracks in their hives and is also a useful human medicine.

Honey bees are the magic link to our food system and are the proverbial canary in the cave when we think about health and balance in our ecosystems — coming soon is a post on how to help the honey bee as both gardener, land steward, eater & herbalist.

The honey bee is a special creature to be protected and revered, especially as we look to strengthen and repair not only our local ecosystems, but as we look to strengthen our own health and wellness.

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The Local Honey Pot 

Every kitchen and home apothecary should never be without a jar of locally sourced, raw honey. Not only is it a useful culinary staple that can be used frequently in the place of refined, processed sugars (honey’s glycemic index is approximately half that of refined white sugar) but local, raw honey is a truly pure, local medicine made by the honey bees from the plants and flowers that live immediately around us.

Just as it is important to source your food as locally as possible, sourcing local honey is equally important. It is easier than ever before to seek out local, raw honey from a local bee keeper  — just visit your local farmers markets or get online and use LocalHarvest.org to find a supplier nearest your locale.

Why local and why raw? Sourcing local honey does a few things: 1) It supports local bee keepers and their work to support local food systems. 2) Honey that comes from local bees is created with the help of plants immediate to your growing area (and often can help support the immune system that may have issues with plant/hay fever allergies).

Raw honey that hasn’t been heat or pasteurized (much of the commercial honey is processed), also contains all the beneficial enzymes and is not usually filtered. It also can have a bigger (and better, in my opinion) aroma and flavor profile representative of the local flora of the immediate area. It’s honey with terroir and higher medicinal power.

Speaking of terroir — Because of the global food trade and economy, much of the commercial honey available at the supermarket today is coming from Brazil, China and other places in the world. Frequently, large producers blend the batches together and because of limited labelling laws, a consumer will often find a label on a jar of honey to identify its place of origin as Brasil, China AND the US — ALL AT ONCE. Multiple countries all in one jar. Additionally, the commercial honey market is becoming increasingly unstable, with more frequent occurrences of adulteration being uncovered every day.

So, be sure to take time to read labels and source your honey from a local apiary or farmer near your home. That said, the purist in me be damned– if the only access you have to honey is the honey bear honey at your local convenience store and you ~need~ it, go for it. Better some honey than no honey at all.

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Infused Honeys

One of my most favorite uses of honey in both my kitchen and apothecary is infused honey. While using straight honey when a cough or cold comes about is easy and fine, there is nothing more divine that spooning out raw honey that has had beautiful herbs and flowers infused into it for several weeks, imparting not only the aromas of the flowers and plants, but their medicinal properties as well. It’s also good on toast. Haha.

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Making infused honey. Infusing honey is a very simple process. Gather herbs, flowers then add them to a jar. Then cover with honey and let infuse for at least a few weeks, taking the time to occasionally turn the jar upside down to stir up the plant material.

Some herbs that work well in infused honey include: Chamomile, Lavender, Rose, Jasmine, Orange flower, the invasive (and loved by me Honeysuckle), Lovage, Osha, Bee Balm (any Monarda), Vervain, Mint, Sage, Thyme, or Elderflower — these are just a few. Onion and garlic are also great choices and make for an excellent base for a cough and cold syrup. I prefer to use fresh plant material in season, but supermarket herbs also work, as do dry.

During the infusing process, because of its anti-microbial and preservative qualities, the honey with the herbs will not rot in those several weeks of infusing — especially if stored in a cool, dark place. However, there is the chance that the herbs and honey will begin to ferment — something that will be apparent if the jar produces CO2 and pushes up the lid. In this instance, you are well on your way to making mead. Contact your local brew shop for support on how to create this fine fermented concoction.

When you are ready to eat the honey, the herbs can be strained out or left in the honey — it’s totally up to personal preference.

Uses of infused honey: Infused honeys can be added to herbal teas to help support the body’s immune responses to illness and can also be eaten regularly as added immune support benefit. Note, however, that eating honey is not a replacement for foundational immune strengthening — diet, exercise, stress reduction and sleep are core elements to staying healthy.

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Other uses for infused honey includes Herbal truffles and slippery elm pastilles. These are are wonderful honey-based herbal preparations that can be made in large batches and then refrigerated to have on hand when a sore throat or stomach ache come around the home. While it’s possible to make these with plain honey, using infused honey can make these herbal creations especially delicious.

Infused honeys can also be bases for making herbal elixirs — I use mine to make my delicious Elderberry Elixir. It adds not only the medicinal power of the plants & honey, but a nice flavor profile to this important apothecary staple.

Additionally, both plain and infused raw honey can be used topically in wound and burn healing, It’s antimicrobial and antibacterial properties can support the skin & membrane’s healing processes — it can also be used topically in instances of MRSA.

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Propolis

Bee propolis is another bee medicine that should become a staple in every home apothecary. Made from the resins of trees by the bees, it is used within the hives to protect, reinforce and repair the cracks and seams within the bee hives.

This magical substance is frequently leftover on the bee keeper’s hive and can be gathered for preparation into a liquid extract or to be eaten raw. Just be sure to use propolis that is free and clean of paint or linseed oil (common applications to the bee hive itself and can sometimes get into the propolis). To find a local bee keeper near you that may offer propolis, check LocalHarvest.org or visit your nearby farmers market.

Propolis possess the same medicinal properties as honey — the propolis is antimicrobial, antibacterial and is resinous in nature. Because of its resinous nature, it can be used as a liquid bandage in the instances of minor skin irritations, scrapes and fungal irritations (propolis is also antifungal in nature). Take care to not use propolis as a liquid application on a wound that may have debris or infection — it can seal in infection and can potentially cause more irritation than heal. And that’s no good.

Propolis is also frequently used by herbalists to heal sore throats (it is wonderful as a throat spray mixed with echinacea, osha and elecampane).  A liquid extract is helpful for easy preparation — I put mine in a spray bottle (also many commercial herbal products producers make a spray, which is good if you can’t be bothered with making your own spray).

NOTE: In the instance of strep throat it can also be used, but because strep so frequently can only be cleared up with strict adherence to an herbal protocol (not to mention ridiculously contagious), this is one instance where I turn to an antibiotic. Propolis can be used in tandem with an antibiotic to soothe the hot, scratchy symptoms of the strep.

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To prepare propolis. Freeze the resinous propolis to allow for easy smashing — freezing it allows it to not become a sticky mass otherwise. With a 1:4 ratio, prepare a liquid tincture of propolis using a high proof alcohol (In Michigan, the easiest to source is Everclear or Bacardi 151). Allow the propolis to extract for about 6 weeks. Strain and bottle, noting that everything the liquid propolis touches will gum up and become sticky. Clean materials and bottle lids with Everclear to get it clean.

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Beeswax

Beeswax is the third bee medicine that every home herbalist should have on hand — especially the local kind as it smells particularly divine. It’s a key ingredient in making salves and balms and creams!

In a time where more and more information is coming forward as to the toxicity of topical creams, cosmetics, and cleansers, making healthful skin preparations is an easy solution to avoid the petro chemicals & endocrine disruptors AND save a bit of money on beauty care! Using infused oils blended with the beeswax can result in salves that can be very useful to have also in the medicine kit. Here’s an easy herbal salve how-to by Mountain Rose Herbs.

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~ to learn more about these and other folk medicine making preparations, check out my class list!~ 

Wolf Moon’s Winter Woodland Plant Medicines

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The light of the shining January Wolf Moon falls onto the crisp, glimmering snow crystals of the Michigan Winter Woods.  Winter is at its peak — the smell of cold, crisp, harsh air reminds us of the scarcity of the dark months.

But even in the depths of winter’s darkness, nature offers us healing winter remedies for the season’s ailments. Up above in the canopy of the woods, the boughs of White Pine sends songs of its healing for the respiratory system into the breeze through the trees. Down below on the forest floor, the garlicky wild chives poke through even the most frozen ground, cold but still carrying that flavorful aromatic of onion.

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With the drying, resinous aromatic of the pine and the stimulating flavors of the wild chives, together both can be brewed as teas to help dispel the damp and stagnant lung mucous of winter’s respiratory distresses. It can also help release stuck mucous in the sinus cavities. And the Pine adds in a bit of Vitamin C for an extra boost of this needed winter vitamin. Because of this tea’s drying nature, juice of lemon and the addition of honey are nice to add a soothing, coating element to the tea. Also from the woods, wild cherry bark (Prunus, sp) can be added to help quell an  unproductive spasmodic cough and support it to be more productive in eliminating congestion.

For sustainable gathering, collect fallen boughs and branches of White Pine after strong winds have passed through the woods and clip the tops of the chives as they are perennial (at least here in the Great Lakes) and will regrow as the sunlight returns to the forest.  Brew handfuls of both pine needles & tips along with handfuls of chives in equal parts hot water for 10 minutes. Sip hot.

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For steam inhalations, put a few handfuls of the plants into a steaming pot. Remove from the stove and cover your head with a towel to help open the most stuck of sinuses. This trick below — particularly the use of the child’s towel – was handed down to me from teacher and friend herbalist Jim McDonald (photo credit: T. Beel, 2013).

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The aroma of the simmering pine also helps clear the air of stagnant winter ick that can collect inside the home. Simmer pine tips and needles on the stove, releasing the aromatic oils into the air.

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De-Stress, Rest & Restore

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The halls have been decked and gifts have been swapped, and in the midst of what can sometimes seem like holiday hell, hopefully there is a moment or two where you can catch your breath and rest.

Winter’s season, by design, is a time to turn inward, rest and reflect. It’s a time where many set New Year’s Goals and Resolutions and this is a perfect time to ask yourself, “What do you need to keep in your life in the next year to make you thrive? What doesn’t serve you that needs to go? These aren’t the easiest questions to answer, but recognizing that you ~do~ have the power to make your life work for you. And in this time of shoddy economy and global breakdown, if not now, when?

While resting in this quiet, take time and really rest and then you may hear the answers you already know.

Stress & Modern Day Bears 

I daresay that stress is one of the worst contagious illnesses of our time — and it’s absolutely preventable. The impact of this stress on our bodies is the underlying cause of chronic disease and general unhappiness. The fight or flight response to stress can be likened to being chased by a bear (thanks Herbalist Howie Brownstein)– the body’s systems shut down, healing all but stops and panic dominates. And while we aren’t chased by literal bears in our day-to-day activities, our modern day bears come in all forms — email, text, phone calls, CNN streaming in the airport, the 6pm news, the piles of bills on the counter, budgets, busy schedules. And these modern day bears chase us upwards of  80 hours of our week.

Many people feel out of control, unable to manage the day-to-day pressures, especially given the current pressures of the local economy and overall state of global events. LIttle do we realize that we actually have all the power we need to make choices and repair our body’s depleted systems that have been impacted by our daily demanding routine. Part of that power is taking a moment to remember and realize the impact of our choices on our health and then making a conscious shift to a lifestyle that is more supported of our values and nourishing to our lives.

That shift does not, however, happen overnight.  Peeling apart the layers can take time, struggle and dark moments.  But with the courage and determination to restore quality to your world and with the help of some basic guidance of the plants in our natural world, we can heal ourselves from stress.

Revisiting the basics to handle stress

In order to stay strong in the face of stressful situations, as cliché as it may be, we need to remember to rest and to eat. If you can’t change the stress, get more rest and get more sleep to start.

A healthy body eats whole, nutrient dense foods. Of all colors and flavors. And remember: NOURISH with Healthy Fats! Omega 3’s, fatty acids.  The brain and nervous system absolutely need healthy fats to function to the fullest.  Choose foods that are chemical free and local to the extent that your body allows.

Get your ZZZs… 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.  Many studies are revealing that as a culture we are sleep deprived.  Re-organizing and re-prioritizing our evening schedules is necessary to be able to accommodate about 8 hours of sleep that the average person needs to maintain a healthful body.  Not all people require this amount of sleep, but many do.

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).

AND MOVE during the day!  Restlessness at night can be a sign that you aren’t moving enough during the day. The body needs to MOVE to manage cortisol levels that spike when under stress, and getting in regular exercise can significantly improve sleep habits.  Exercise need not mean a gym membership — it can mean gentle walking, stretching, dancing — anything just to keep the body lithe and circulation flowing.

Get some bodywork! ACUPUNCTURE, BODYWORK & MEDITATION: For those folks who travel internationally across timezones or those working night and swing shifts, this can mean a regularly disrupted sleep pattern that can last for days on end.  Consider supporting these work transitions with regular treatments of acupuncture.

Other regular bodywork treatments like massage, cranial sacral and acupressure can relax the body and help release tension that builds up because of the stress response. Additionally, adding in a mindfulness practice such as meditation or guided imagery can help break the patterns of circular thinking and can support an unloading of the day’s proverbial baggage, leaving space to rest and restore.   

Starner’s go-to herbs for Peace in Chaos

Herbs are our allies to help us move toward a life of making choices that serve us to lead brighter lives. The herbs ~cannot~ be a substitute for making those choices. That is our responsibility and we all have the power to do what needs to be done — they are here to support that. Here’s my fave short list of herbs that I love to have on hand to support the nervous system as we try to manage stress in our lives.

Reduce anxiety, improve clarity with AROMATICS. Rose, Geranium, Mints, Lavender, Lemon Balm, Bee Balm, Oregano, Basil — all these herbs have aromatic oils that can be uplifting and can provide clarity in times of stress. They can be sought out as teas to sip (the ritual of making tea in and of itself is calming) or as essential oils to vaporize in a room (or cupped in your hand) or added into a carrier oil for massage (remember those foot baths!).

Bliss out your stressed state with RELAXANTS & CALMATIVES (aka Nervines) and alive anxiety, restlessness. Chamomile (also aromatic and helpful to relieve stomach upset), Lemon Balm, Raspberry leaf, Spearmint, Catnip, Rose, Blue Vervain, Passionflower, Skullcap, St. John’s Wort.  All can be used as tea, or tincture, and some can be used extracted into oils for massage… Experiment a bit! For circular thinking — I like Passionflower, Wood Betony, Blue Vervain.

Help get better sleep with SEDATIVES. Hops, Kava Kava (gives me the giggles), Valerian (can sure calm spasm, quell anxiety and induce sleep in most people, and can agitate a select few– test it out first).

Build back up your nervous system with nourishing NERVINE TONICS. Herbs that can actually restore tone to the central nervous system used over time include Milky Oats (Avena Sativa), Nettle, Passionflower, Skullcap. There are others, but those are a few favorites (and toning needs to be done with lifestyle change).

What’s the correlation to stress and digestion? 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. BITTERS are a MUST for helping stagnant digestion that is symptomatic of excess stress.  BItters ~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 (I hand make my own bitters with a variety of herbs such as Orange Peel, Cinnamon, Aspen Bark, Fennel, etc). 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).

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Remember that everyone’s path (and constitutions) are different, so herbs that work for one may not be suited for another.  And the *right* herbs that are good for you now in this moment may not be the herb you need later down the road. Be open to this and if you want to talk more about what might be right for your constitution, schedule a time to talk with me about your needs.

Links:

Great Lakes Herbalist jim McDonald on Bitters 

Fascinating article on our culture of pill popping for stress: New York Magazine “Listening to Xanax” (2012)

Recalibrating

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I took a walk through the fields and in the woods this morning in one of my most favorite areas in GR– the gravel pits and down by the Grand River in and around Johnson/Millenium Park.

Not only did this help re-root my person back to my own land after being away in Nicaragua for the past few weeks, but it also gave me a chance to stop and say hello to some of my favorite plants as they move into winter’s hibernation.

I recommend getting out in all seasons, if you want to work with plants. It’s good for both an herbal practice and for the heart– even on those cold mornings (and remember, there’s never the wrong weather, only the wrong clothing).