Burdock & Rose

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

Tag: wellness

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

Crafting Your Cold & Flu GamePlan

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It’s unavoidable — being human means we will get the icky sniffles at some point this winter season, but the good news is that our bodies are of amazing design. We have built-in immune responses to help defend our system when we catch a virus or bacterial infection.

The trick is ~working~ with these immune system responses to ensure we can defend our body from further debility and return to everyday life just as strong as before.  Here’s a general game-plan for you to consider BEFORE you start to get sick so you can choose helpful therapeutics, recover and get back to the game of life.

Recognize the early warning signs. Stressed? Feeling worn out?Aches? Pains? These may be early signs that your body is giving you to SLOW DOWN. You may be under excess stress, making you more susceptible to viruses and illness. Dial back and rest, and most likely you will be able to negotiate the coming weeks sans illness. Make sure you nourish your body with good food, sleep, and Vitamin D.

Early-on Herbal Therapeutics. When you first start feeling crappy, try to kick the ick early and employ herbal therapeutics to support your body’s immune processes. Bust out the elderberry syrup – it can help inhibit the virus’ ability to reproduce. Echinacea also can help boost the peripheral immune system. Combo teas like mint, yarrow and elderflower are a must-have to help early on in a cold or flu, helping stimulate the immune system and relax the body.

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Elderberry syrup is a must-have staple in every home apothecary.

Rest up to kick it quick. My theory? Cut your losses early, rest and get better more quickly. Renegotiate any short term commitments to allow for some significant rest. I know this is hard for us parents, or folks with work that isn’t very flexible. Do what you can to re-arrange the workload so your immune system gets a bit more bandwidth to fight an infection. Remember, energy put into work while you are sick is energy that could be used for your healing. And the potential cost of pushing through a cold or flu virus? A secondary bacterial infection. No one wants that.

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Mandatory bed rest for your herbalist: At the corner of sick and miserable.

Got sniffles? A fever? At this point, you are sick and the hypothalamus is calling in the troops.  Don’t try suppressing those immune responses like the sniffles and a fever. Remember — these are not illnesses. They are ways the body helps fight illness. They are on your team!!! Fevers are not inherently bad (read more on fevers HERE thanks to Jim McDonald)– Support the fever’s therapeutic actions with herbs like elderflower, mints, yarrow, ginger, boneset, or chamomile. These are wonderful as hot teas (the hot water is a therapy in and of itself). These will help the body produce an effective fever and also be relaxant to the body (good for the aches and pains). As for those sniffles? Work with the body’s attempts at trying to loosen and move the phlegm and mucous so that healthy tone can be restored to the respiratory tissues. Using an OTC mucous eliminator is counter intuitive to maintaining healthy tissues — mucous is good!

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Aromatic garden herbs (fresh or dry) can be used as an herbal inhalation steam to clear clogged and congested sinuses.

Soothe the congestion. Try an aromatic herbal steam inhalation with peppermint essential or eucalyptus oil to open the sinuses. Or brew a pot of aromatic garden herbs like thyme, sage, or lavender to open the sinuses. Don’t forget to eat onion and garlic in copious amounts for its aromatic and antimicrobial benefits. Raw honey is also helpful too, especially in soothing a dry cough. A relaxant lung herb like mullein or cherry bark can help relax and open the lungs, while elecampane can work well on damp, wet coughs (great in bacterial infections also).

Chicken soup (or in my house -Jewish penicillin). Ok, it doesn’t have to be chicken. But any hot soups — nourishing clear broths full with onions, garlic, cayenne will help warm the body and the aromatic kitchen herbs can help clear clogged sinuses and offer additional anti-microbial benefits. I make broths well in advance of getting sick and store the quarts in the freezer so they are at the ready when my family gets sick. Click HERE for my recipes.

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Consider making chicken or beef broth by the stock-pot full and then freezing it to have on hand all winter long.

Clean out the gunk. Rest. Repeat. As the body starts to feel better, your lymphatic system will be working to clean up the debris left over from your immune system’s battle. Support this lymphatic work with continued liquids and broths, and herbs (teas or tinctures) that include red root, mullein, or very simply lemon in your water. This will help move the gunk from your body as it returns to normal. Also don’t jump back into the grind the first moment you feel better. Continue to take it easy for 10 days or so after a serious illness.mSlowly re-introduce work, stress and strenuous physical activity over time. This will all help to prevent a secondary bacterial infection that can easily settle in if your defenses are down and you carelessly jump back into the fray.

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When you start to feel better, continue to support your body by drinking lots of clear fluids – simple lemon water can help your lymphatic system “clean up” after illness.

Once you are better, keep feeding your body good foods, get enough sleep and exercise — that is foundational for winter wellness. For a bit more on my cold and flu theories read more HERE. And remember, at any given time you feel your illness is beyond your control and you find yourself turning to Facebook for answers — see a doctor.

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

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!~ 

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)