Powerful Teachers

by Olga Sievers

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Powerful plants are those who say, “Stop. Do not trample me. Do not abuse me. Be conscious, be careful. Pay attention.” They can be allies when respectfully approached and partnered with; and they can make a life miserable if used in ignorance and excess. These teachers are guardians to powerful effects on the human body, and it is unwise to underestimate them.

          Herbalists have long known, that often the determining factor between poison and remedy is dose and frequency. This is especially true of any plant with high alkaloid content. Western culture is too often deluded enough to think itself above reprimand from plants. Yet, any powerful plant will ultimately not allow itself to be abused and inevitably offer a learned lesson. Some of the most potent substances are derivatives of plants; think of the coffee bean, tobacco leaf, coca leaf, and cannabis. When approached and used with respect, they work with the human body to enhance our current state. But when abused, the energy of these plant teachers will turn from ally to antagonist, leaving us chemically and psychologically bound, rather than free.

Here are a few plants that have been honored by indigenous cultures:

  • Coffee and chocolate – considered foods of the Gods and used in ceremonies and rituals.
  • Tobacco – known as sacred plant used as an offering to the Gods.
  • Coca – treasured as a all-healing, medicinal panacea.
  • Marijuana – prized as medicine and used in journeying.

Today… Western culture tends to abuse these plants, discarding their sacred context within which the plant was known.

 Coca leaves

Coca leaves

 

Today, stimulation saturates our environments –on our screens, demanding expectations and in the implicit cultural demand to always be going and doing. It seems we have conscripted plants to help us in this mad dash to nowhere. A stimulating consumable substance evokes dreams of endless energy, heightened awareness, and sensory arousal. Caffeine is a perfect example. Let’s honestly explore the effects of long term use of this familiar stimulant:

1.   Chronic hyper-arousal of the nervous system that often leads to anxiety, irritation, and insomnia

2.   Over-activity of the adrenals that results in chronic feelings of fatigue and depletion

3.   Long-term stress on the kidneys

Promising energy and vitality, caffeine will dull and eventually sap the vitality we long for. Now, this is not to demonize a deliciously robust cup of coffee! No less than any of us, I fully appreciate the burst of energy that caffeine affords me. The key is appropriate timing. An honorable relationship with this plant means partaking seldom enough to where you are not at its mercy, and your energy is not governed by it. When saved for the occasional treat rather than a daily crutch, coffee can be savored and enjoyed! Because why shouldn’t we enjoy life, after all?!

HERBAL STIMULATION THERAPY

So given that lengthy preamble, what do we mean when discussing Herbal Stimulation? Contrary to conventional stimulant use, this therapy can offer increased vitality by nourishing the nervous system, removing energy blocks, activating the organs, and building those inner reserves needed for optimal immune function. This is not a quick fix rush of energy, but rather we are tapping into an inner wellspring that is sure, strong, and deep. When properly used and combined with other self-care practices, herbal stimulation therapy can awaken the senses and feed a sustained sense of vitality as crisp, clear, and deep as an alpine lake.

It can increase energy by:

  • Activating inner vitality of the body through nourishment and warmth.
  • Promoting the function of other herbs in a formula by catalyzing the herb and activating the body's functions.
  • Increasing circulation, metabolism, and elimination.
 Roasted coffee beans

Roasted coffee beans

 

Examples of commonly used ‘stimulant’ herbs include:

  • Cayenne
  • Cinnamon
  • Clove
  • Ginkgo
  • Ginseng
  • Gotu Kola
  • Horseradish
  • Peppermint
  • Prickly Ash
  • Siberian Ginseng
  • Spearmint

WHEN TO USE:

1.   In acute stages of illness, when you need to activate body's natural defense system. In cold/yin imbalances: cold/flu, congestion, yeast infections

  Ex. Cold care formula – peppermint, elder, yarrow, ginger

2.   To aid with elimination by activating organs of elimination

  Ex. Digestive remedy formula – fennel, peppermint, coriander, ginger, comfrey root, licorice,      clove

3.   For ailments characterized by reduced energy

    Mental stimulation: Best over long period of time to revitalize a tired and foggy brain

o   Brain Tonic formula – peppermint, ginkgo, gotu kola, rosemary, sage, ginger

     For the blues: When feeling generally down and/or depressed

      Ex. Emotional Support formula -- peppermint, gotu kola, ginkgo, rosemary, sage, borage,          oatstraw, alfalfa, nettle

 

WHEN NOT TO USE:

  • In cases of long term illness characterized by extreme weakness because there is no inner vitality left to draw upon – one must focus on nourishment and toning first
  • Use with caution in eruptive skin disorders because will temporarily worsen condition due to stimulation of elimination
  • Minimize use in chronic nervous disorders which will benefit most from calming nervine herbs like chamomile, catnip, and hops

 

 Peppermint

Peppermint

Peppermint: Mentha piperita

  • Family -- Lamiaceae
  • Parts used -- aerial (leaves and flowers)
  • Medicinal Actions -- carminative, anti-spasmodic, aromatic, diaphoretic, anti-emetic, nervine, antiseptic, analgesic
  • Used for -- “A blast of pure green energy!” (Rosemary Gladstar)
    • stimulating due to its aromatic property
 Ginkgo biloba

Ginkgo biloba

Ginkgo: Ginkgo biloba

  • Family -- Ginkgoaceae
  • Common names -- Maidenhair tree
  • Parts used -- leaves and fruit (nut)
  • Medicinal Actions -- (nut) expectorant, antitussive, anti-asthmatic, sedative, mildly astringent; (leaf) improves brain circulation
  • Used for -- brain circulation, improving peripheral circulation, coldness, tinnitus, Alzheimer's, senility, improve mood and sociability, Raynaud's disease, rheumatism, arteriosclerosis, eye weakness of poor circulation, vertigo, anxiety and tension, lung and bronchial congestion
            • Historical evidence from China points to improved brain function

REFERENCES USED:

Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health by Rosemary Gladstar

The Science and Art of Herbology by Rosemary Gladstar

The Way of Herbs by Michael Tierra

 

Compiled by: Olga Sievers

18 February 2018, Denver CO

 

*Please remember: This article is intended to provide educational information for the reader on the covered subject. It is not intended to take the place of personalized medical counseling, diagnosis, and treatment from a trained professional.                                                                                                                       

Burdock Root :)

Burdock is safe, useful, and relevant medicine. 

After reading this post, you will realize the many uses of Burdock and its potential in the kitchen, in your diet, and as medicine.

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From the dirt

Burdock would be a great addition to your garden, but plenty of space is needed.  Start from seed, just after threat of spring frost and give it plenty of water to get it started. Burdock is easy to grow too! Grow in full sun, in rich organic soil.  Its big, handsome leaves remind one of rhubarb or dock.  It's large, fleshy tap root grows deep in the soil, up to three feet in length.  If you are looking for root medicine, harvest the root during the first year, after first frost.  During its second year of growth, the stems and inflorescence (flower) can reach heights of ten feet.  Burdock is a biennial, meaning it will die after two growing seasons.

If you garden with Burdock or locate it in the wild, digging up the root can be quite a challenge.  They are deeply set in the soil, and break easily.  And once free from the soil, a thorough wash is necessary as clumps of dirt are bound to the root, and the many crevices of the gnarled root make it difficult to clean.   But it is worth the effort.  Even one plant, grown for only five months in the hot Colorado summer sun, can reward you with enough medicine for the year.  Once harvested, leave the dirt stained skin on (to prevent browning), until you are ready to consume, or process into medicine.  

 photo by Jeanette Burkle

photo by Jeanette Burkle

 In the Kitchen

Sometimes the best medicine is food.  No tincturing or tea making required. The leaves and stems are edible, best eaten in the spring. Once referred to as Butter Dock, cheese, butter and meat were once wrapped in the cooling leaves of Burdock to prevent spoilage. The root is loaded with nutrition, fiber, prebiotics and beneficial compounds for the body.  So let's focus a bit more on the root.  Burdock contains up to 50% inulin, a starch the plant produces and stores in the root for winter survival.  Inulin is extremely beneficial to humans because it helps increase calcium absorption in the body and it is a prebiotic.  Meaning, it helps feed the good bacteria in our gut.  A word of caution, Inulin may be problematic for those who suffer from IBS.  Inulin may rapidly ferment in the gut, and produce uncomfortable gas and bloating.  

Burdock root is a great addition to stir frys and root vegetable dishes.  Burdock root, also called Gobo root, pairs well with the earthy nuances of mushrooms, the sweetness of pork, and soy sauce.  They can be pickled as well.  

Burdock Pickles

  • 3 medium roots of Burdock, washed peeled and sliced into thin rounds
  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed and chopped
  • 1 red chili of choice, finely diced
  • 1 2 inch piece of ginger, sliced thin
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Tamari
  • Sake
  1. Place burdock, garlic, chili and ginger into a jar
  2. Mix equal parts of Apple cider vinegar, tamari, sake and pour over the vegetables until covered. (if the liquid mixture is too potent, and a little water)
  3. Seal jar and let it sit in the refrigerator until ready to use. 

 

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As medicine

Back to safe, useful, relevant medicine.  Burdock is a liver and skin ally.  This safe herb should be used over a long period of time for chronic skin issues such as acne, eczema, and other skin inflammations.  It is slow medicine, so be patient and persistent. And make sure to utilize this plant in several ways as well.  For example, prepare Burdock root tea, Burdock root vinegar and tincture.   Then incorporate these preparations in your daily diet and routine.   

 Historically, Burdock as been referred to as a "blood cleanser" or an alterative.  But herbs don't clean the blood, the liver and kidneys clean the blood.  So think of Burdock as a friend of the liver.  We live in a world of pollutants, medications, food additives, and preservatives.  It's very possible that these substances create a strain on our liver.  When our livers are strained, or inflamed, this stress can manifest in the form of skin irritation.  So if you are looking to clear up your skin, consider including Burdock root in a tea blend, or incorporate Burdock tincture into your day. When taking herbs to help the liver, consider adding a diuretic herb as well.  Diuretics help flush out unnecessary waste from out body through urine.  Two of the best diuretics and kidney allies are Nettle and Dandelion.  

Thank you for taking the time to read.  Remember, the Denver Medicinal Plant Society is always open to new members.  No experience of medicinal plants and herbs required!  This is a society which prides itself on connection, community and educating one another. As humans of the 21st century, we need this, so stop by and have some fun.  

 We typically meet on the last Thursday of the month at the Denver Botanic Gardens.  The doors open at 6pm and the meeting begins at 630pm.  

DMPS Guide to Healthy Skin

Over the past three months the DMPS meetings have focused on skin health.  We covered many topics including:

  •  the importance of diet and exercise
  • healthy habits and rituals to improve skin health and function
  • herbal cosmetics to help clear and nourish the skin
  • liver herbs to promote skin healthy

 

Diet and Exercise

 Yoga at the Denver Botanic Gardens

Yoga at the Denver Botanic Gardens

 

Do your best to eat an organic, local and seasonal diet,  avoiding highly manufactured and processed foods which are low in sun energy (prana) and high in chemicals.  During mealtimes, prepare a plate full of colorful vegetables, a healthy grain, and small portion of farm raised, organic meat.  Don't forget the legumes, which are very high in fiber and protein.  Also eat green, leafy vegetables - well cooked to help release all the amazing vitamins and minerals inside of them.  Cook with healthy oils, snack on nuts and fruit, and go easy on all the fun stuff (butter, milk chocolate, wine, ice cream).

Our body was meant to walk, dance, run, jump, and stretch.  Do something active for 30 minutes..... Every.  Single.  Day.

 Healthy skin is a reflection of our overall health.  Seeing a person with clear, soft, and vibrant skin may indicate very good genes but it may also mean he or she exercises on a regular basis, eats a diet of wholesome, nourishing, unprocessed food, drinks plenty of water and gets a good night sleep.  Remember, all of these parts make up the whole, so there is no magic pill to take.  Just do your best :)

 

Rituals

 Dry brushing

Dry brushing

 

Engaging in a few minutes of self care each day help lower stress, help boost our sense of self worth, and benefit our mind, body and soul.  It is important to spend a few moments a day with ourselves. Want to improve your skin and feel great?  Here are just a few rituals you could try:

  • Self massage each day.  Rub your feet and hands to increase circulation, lightly knock your fists on sore/tight muscles each morning to awaken, wash your face and moisturize with oil or lotion after.
  • Yoga/Meditation.  Even five minutes of stretching benefits the body.  Do a few rounds of Sun Salutations when you wake up.  Salutations move lymph, trims our waistline, and balances out our energy which may get stuck in certain places in the body. Not much for yoga?  Meditate in a quiet room for 5 minutes.  Focus on breath and stillness to help promote clarity and keep you grounded throughout the day
  • Dry Brushing.  This Ayurvedic technique helps remove dead cells from the skin's surface.  A dry skin brush can be purchased online, anywhere from $10-20 dollars.  Before a shower, brush the skin in a circular motion.  Start at the feet and work towards the heart.  Not only will this practice remove dead skin, it helps move lymph, increases circulation, reduces cellulite, and it is quite invigorating! 

 

Herbal Allies for the Skin

 Calendula officinalis: anti-inflammatory, wound-healing, antibacterial, emmolient

Calendula officinalis: anti-inflammatory, wound-healing, antibacterial, emmolient

 

There are so many herbs that benefit the skin. Check out our other blog posts to discover more information.

  • Keep an astringent herb handy to help clean the skin and tighten the pores of the skin, especially before bedtime.  Witch hazel is a great example of an astringent.  Highly tannic herbs such as green tea, rose, and raspberry leaf are also great astringents. 
  • If a morning moisturizer is needed for the skin, try a light, non-clogging oil such as Argan, Almond, Jojoba, or Rose Hip Oil. 
  • During times of inflammation, herbs such as Calendula, Plantain, and Yarrow help heal the skin. 
  • Emollients such as Marshmallow Root, Elder Flower, Oats, and Comfrey can help soften, soothe, moisturize and protect skin.  Use these herbs in a salve, or even a bath
  • Thyme, Oregon Grape Root, Oregano, and Calendula help keep bacteria at bay. Mix one or several of these herbs with isopropyl alcohol, let it sit for a few weeks.  After you strain out the plant material, you have an herbal hand sanitizer. 
  • Diuretic herbs and Liver-loving herbs may help the body's natural process of detoxification.  Burdock root, Dandelion, Gentian and Stinging Nettle help boost the function of kidneys, liver and gall bladder.  When these vital organs are functioning properly, the rest of the body benefits, including the skin.

 

Garden Grown Goodness

 From bottom to top: Holy Basil, Calendula, Grindelia and Plantain

From bottom to top: Holy Basil, Calendula, Grindelia and Plantain

The first harvest of the year is complete!

This combination of Calendula, Holy Basil, Grindelia, and Plantain contains many anti-inflammatory, rejuvenating and skin protecting properties.  Soon these herbs will be processed into an All Purpose Healing Salve made by the Denver Medicinal Plant Society. This salve is perfect for minor skin issues including dry skin, cracked feet, chapped lips or rough hands and elbows.  Or, apply to bug bites, minor scratches and burns. 

Are they any readers out there interested in an all-natural skin salve made from organic, garden grown and hand picked plants? 

Price $10.00 for 2 ounces

To place an order, email : burgerb@botanicgardens.org

Fire Cider

Last night at the Denver Medicinal Plant Society meeting, we discussed the many benefits of Fire Cider.  Fire Cider is an ingenious combination of Mother Nature's finest fruits, vegetables, and herbs mixed with Apple Cider Vinegar.  This infusion typically contains immune boosting and stimulating ingredients such as garlic, turmeric, horseradish, lemon, and jalapeno.  Add to this, the power of Raw and Unfiltered Apple Cider Vinegar and you have a probiotic, pH balancing, immune enhancing, antioxidant and vibrant elixir.  Fire Cider is safe to take on a daily basis to promote circulation and wellness in the body.  If you feel a cold coming on, Fire Cider is a trusty ally to have on hand.  Fire Cider is also an excellent marinade, or combine it with Olive Oil for a delicious salad dressing.  Below is a basic recipe.  Feel free to make it your own and be creative!

Ingredients:

1/2 cup diced onion

1/2 cup shredded horseradish root

1/2 cup sliced ginger root

2 organic cayenne peppers or jalapeno peppers, chopped

2 organic lemons, thinly sliced

1/4 cup of garlic cloves, crushed and finely chopped

1 Tablespoon of Black Pepper

5-10 Fresh Thyme or Rosemary Sprigs

Raw Apple Cider Vinegar

Honey to taste

Equipment:

1 Quart Sized Jar

Wax paper

Instructions:

Place all ingredients in a quart sized mason jar,  Fill the mason jar with Apple Cider Vinegar until the liquid covers all of the ingredients.  To prevent spoilage, keep all ingredients submerged in Apple Cider Vinegar.  If your mason jar has a metal lid, line it with wax paper before screwing the lid on (this step prevents corrosion of the metal).  Place in a dark place in room temperature for 2-4 weeks. 

After 2-4 weeks strain out all of the plant solids and add honey to taste. 

Store in the fridge.

Herbalist Lingo: Nutritive

Nutritive

nu-tri-tive

ADJECTIVE

  1. of or relating to nutrition:

    "the food was low in nutritive value"

    • providing nourishment; nutritious:

      "nutritive food"

In Herbalism, a Nutritive herb is a plant which is rich in vitamins and minerals.  These plants help support and sustain the systems of the body, boost immunity, increase energy and overall well being. 

Nutritive Herbs

Happy New Year!  Thank goodness for 2017!  The month of January is a perfect time to get back on the pathway of good living.  An opportunity to set some healthy intentions for the mind, body and soul.    If this is your month to get back on track, consider adding some nutritive herbs to your daily routine. 

Nutritive herbs are packed with vitamins and trace minerals, chlorophyll, and energy.  Because these plant constituents are water soluble, all you need is some hot water.  This is easy medicine folks!  Skip the brightly colored, store bought synthetic energy drinks, and try adding in some nutritious herbal infusions to your daily diet.  Another great way to add these herbs into your day is to infuse with vinegar.  How about a Red Clover vinegar for your salad dressing?  Or a daily shot of Apple Cider Vinegar infused with Nettle?  Nutritive herbs can be found at your local apothecary or online.  Below is a concise guide to nutritive herbs.

Oatstraw

Avena sativa

The King of nutritive herbs, Oatstraw is high in iron, zinc and manganese.  It is considered a soothing herb for the brain and body. Oatstraw increases energetic performance, calms the brain, and may increase libido.  This herb could be a great ally during times of stress, anxiety and depression. For just $18.00, a 1 lb. bag of organic Oatstraw can be purchased online.  Check out Starwest-Botanicals.com  

Rosehip

Rosa sp.

 

A single tablespoon of Rosehip pulp contains a humans daily dose of Vitamin C.  Rosehips are packed with antioxidants, as well as Vitamins A, D, and E.  Rosehips are one of nature's finest demulcents, helping to reduce inflammation in the body. In addition, the oil of Rosehip has become a prized (and expensive) cosmetic, extremely high in antioxidants which helps diminish scarring, corrects dark spots, hydrates skin, and may quicken tissue regeneration. Purchase online or at your nearest Apothecary.  Better yet, take a walk in the woods some time in the late fall and gather some rosehips after the first frost.  Leave some for the animals please!

Watercress

Nasturtium officinale

This underutilized nutritive green can be found in produce section of most grocery stores.  Watercress is packed with vitamins A, B1, B2, B6, C, E, and K as well as trace minerals such as copper, potassium and magnesium.  This supergreen benfits the skin, enriches the blood and boosts the power of the brain.  While most of our medicinal plants tend to be dried this time of year, take advantage of the freshness of Watercress and add to salads, sandwiches or smoothies. 

Nettle

Urtica dioica

Nettle leaf contains very high amounts of vitamins, minerals, and chlorophyll, which when ingested, is extremely beneficial for the human body.  Chlorophyll helps stimulate red blood cells in the body (more Oxygen!), builds tissues, neutralizes free radicals in the body, and may be anti-carcinogenic.  Nettle is known to reduce adrenal fatigue and support the kidneys.  Thanks to an irritating and slightly painful sting, harvesting nettle leaf should be done with gloves. 

Spearmint

Mentha spicata

Spearmint, a nutritive herb?  Absolutely!  Per 100g, Spearmint is packed with iron (148% of RDA), Vitamin A (135% of RDA), B Vitamins, folates, and trace minerals.   The pleasant aromatics of spearmint soothe the soul, help combat stress and fatigue, and may help ease symptoms of the common cold and flu.  This is an easy plant to grow in your garden.  And once established, you will have fresh spearmint for days!  When purchasing dried, make sure the leaves are bright green in color and still have a strong spearmint scent. 

How to make a Lozenge

Last night, the members of the Denver Medicinal Plant Society braved the wind and snow and traffic to gather around a table to make herbal lozenges.  It was well worth the trek out into winter wonderland.  Making cough drops and herbal lozenges is another fun skillset to have in the world of medicine making.  It requires just a few ingredients, it's easy, and so versatile.  You could make a ginger lozenge for digestion, turmeric candy to decrease inflammation, or elderberry cough drops to have on hand during the cold and flu season.

Below are the basic steps.  Just know that the recipe can be adapted to your specific needs. 

Ginger Lozenges

Equipment needed:

Non-reactive saucepan

Wooden spoon or spatula

Pyrex measuring cup

Thermometer

Muslin cloth or strainer

Baking Dish (or silicon candy molds)

Ingredients:

1 cups of water

1/2 cup of chopped or grated Ginger

1 cup of sugar

3/4  cup of honey

Coconut oil

1. Place about 1 tablespoon of coconut oil at the bottom of a baking dish, spread around to coat.  This will prevent the melted mixture from sticking to the surface.

2. In a sauce pan, combine ginger and water, bring to a boil. Reduce by half so 1/2 cup of liquid remains.  For a stronger lozenge, slow this decoction process down.  The longer the herb sits in the water, the strong the lozenge will be. 

3. Strain herb from the liquid.  Make sure to strain out any residual liquid from the herb

4.  In a medium saucepan, combine tea and sugar. Turn stovetop setting to medium high heat and stir to dissolve the sugar.

5.  Cover heat to exactly 300F for a hard candy (280F for slightly soft candy).  Stir frequently to prevent sugar from burning.  To check the consistency of the mixture, place a drop of mixture in cold water and squeeze between your fingers to test

6.  Pour the heated mixture into the baking dish to begin the cooling process.  If you own silicon candy molds, now is the time to use them!

7.  Once the candy cools, begin slicing the mixture with a knife into desired shapes and sizes.

8.  To prevent the candy from sticking together, roll them in cornstarch or powdered sugar.  Store in an air tight container.