Dandelion, Burdock, and Sarsaparilla recipe for skin and liver

Hello! This is Eloise, Secretary to the Denver Medicinal Plant Society.

 

As secretary I keep track of members, ensure their needs are met, and keep notes on our progress. Although I am a gardener and enjoy processing what my garden grows into teas, insect sprays, or whatever I can come up with, I’m still learning the Herbalism skills of the other members of the board. I’ll be posting regularly on what I am attempting to make and how it goes, to show that it really is all about trial and error.

 

Blake, Tori, and Annie keep telling there is no “right” way in herbalism. I’m here to prove it!

 

What follows is my first attempt to make something completely new (to me).

 

I started with a health concern: Dry angry spots on the legs, elbows, and eyebrows. All trips to the skin doctor, lotions, and so on have had no success. Blake had heard of a similar problem and discovered with some research that Dandelion, Burdock, and Sarsaparilla all have properties that can help the liver and skin.

 

I visited the Apothecary Tinctura (2900 E 6th Ave., Denver, CO 80206) to explore further. They have a self-serve counter where I measured out 1oz each of Dandelion root, Burdock, and Sarsaparilla. The ratio for my Infusion is 1:5, so 3oz of dried herbs to 15oz of Vodka. After combining, I put aside for three weeks and shook it often.

 

Right away, it looked like the mix would soak up all the liquid and turn into mush. But, it didn’t. About an inch of liquid remained at the top. At the end of three weeks, I transferred the liquid into about three 2oz dropper bottles, making sure to squeeze all the liquid out of the (?). That’s were the good stuff is! Remember to label your bottles, and you are done. Take three full droppers three times a day. You can dilute the concoction in 3-4oz of water if the taste is unappealing.

 

 

 

 

Blake’s Made-up Liver & Skin Concoction

 

1oz. Dandelion-root 

1oz. Burdock

1oz. Sarsaparilla

15oz Vodka

 

 

Dandelion

Dandelion is a very rich source of beta-carotene which we convert into vitamin A. This flowering plant is also rich in vitamin C, fiber, potassium, iron, calcium, magnesium, zinc, and phosphorus. It's a good place to get B complex vitamins, trace minerals, organic sodium, and even some vitamin D too. Dandelion also contains protein, more than spinach. It has been eaten for thousands of years as a food and as a medicine to treat anemia, scurvy, skin problems, blood disorders, and depression.

Liver

Dandelion has been shown to improve liver function by removing toxins and reestablishing hydration and electrolyte balance. It also increases the release of bile.

 

Burdock

 

Burdock is a plant. The root is sometimes used as food. The root, leaf, and seed are used to make medicine.

 

People take burdock to increase urine flow, kill germs, reduce fever, and “purify” their blood. It is also used to treat colds, cancer, anorexia nervosa, gastrointestinal (GI) complaints, joint pain (rheumatism), gout, bladder infections, complications of syphilis, and skin conditions including acne and psoriasis. Burdock is also used for high blood pressure, “hardening of the arteries” (arteriosclerosis), and liver disease. Some people use burdock to increase sex drive.

 

Burdock is applied to the skin for dry skin (ichthyosis), acne, psoriasis, and eczema.

 

Burdock has been associated with poisonings because some products have been contaminated with root of belladonna or deadly nightshade. These herbs contain a poisonous chemical called atropine.

 

How does it work?

Burdock contains chemicals that might have activity against bacteria and inflammation.

 

Sarsaparilla

 

Sarsaparilla is a plant. The root is used to make medicine.

 

Sarsaparilla is used for treating psoriasis and other skin diseases, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and kidney disease; for increasing urination to reduce fluid retention; and for increasing sweating. Sarsaparilla is also used along with conventional drugs for treating leprosy and for syphilis.

 

Don’t confuse sarsaparilla with Indian or false sarsaparilla (Hemidesmus indicus, Family: Apocyanaceae). There are reports that this false sarsaparilla is a common impurity found in sarsaparilla preparations. False sarsaparilla contains none of the possibly active chemicals found in true sarsaparilla (Smilax febrifuga, Family: Smilacaceae).

 

How does it work?

Chemicals in sarsaparilla might help decrease joint pain and itching, and might also reduce bacteria. Other chemicals might combat pain and swelling (inflammation), and also protect the liver against toxins.

 

 

 

 

Herbalist Lingo

Demulcent

de·mul·cent

ADJECTIVE

  1. (of a substance) relieving inflammation or irritation.

NOUN

  1. a substance that relieves irritation of the mucous membranes by forming a protective film

 

"Demulcent" is common term for herbalists, but maybe not so common for the every day folk. 

What is a demulcent?

Plants that contain demulcent properties soothe internal membranes which line areas inside of the body.  We have mucous membranes that line the organs, and pathways and tracts of the body. Think of these tissues as our "inner skin".  Examples of these tissues include inside the nose,  mouth, esophagus, stomach, uterus and urinary tract. Just like our outer skin, our mucous membranes may get inflamed or irritated during times of injury, illness, and disease.  Luckily, we have plants to protect, revitalize and soothe these areas of the human body. 

How do these plants soothe?  

Plant mucilage is a thick, viscous substance that typically contains complex sugars and protein.  Nearly all plants contain mucilage to some degree.  And plants need mucilaginous material for protection, nutrient storage, seed germination, and to thicken membranes.  We humans can use this mucilage the same way.  Using plant mucilage on our tissues can certainly help cool and protect, and nourish problematic areas back to health.

According to the book "Medical Herbalism", demulcents help prevent and ease diarrhea, ease coughing, reduce irritation along the whole length of the bowel, lessen the sensitivity of the digestive system, and help relax painful spasms of the bladder and urinary system. 

Demulcent Plants

Althea officinalis, Marshmallow

The queen of all demulcents, Marshmallow Root has an abundance of mucilage.  And it is considered an excellent demulcent for almost all areas of the body, but specifically the digestive tract, lungs, and urinary tract.  Many herbalists talk of Althea being greatly under-appreciated.  On top of it's strong demulcent properties, Marshmallow root is considered highly anti-microbial, hypoglycemic (lowers blood sugar), and an expectorant. 

Glycyrrhiza glabra, Licorice Root

The demulcent qualities of Licorice Root soothe tissues of the digestive and respiratory system.  It has the power to soothe ulcers, abdominal colic, and diarrhea.  Licorice is also an ally during times of respiratory infection and illness.  It lessens irritation of coughs, sore throat and soothes inflammation of the lung tissue.  Licorice is also a liver protectant and a mild laxative. 

Ulmus rubra, Slippery Elm

The inner bark of the Slippery Elm tree is considered a soothing and nutritive demulcent.  A perfect herb for excess heat of the digestive system, it will help symptoms of gastritis, diarrhea, ulcers and many other "-itis" issues of the digestive system.  Slippery Elm has been used by many native peoples for medicine and food, for centuries.  It was an important source of energy for hunters and gatherers when supplies were scarce.  Slipper Elm is mild yet nutritious, making this a great herb during times of illness and healing.   

 

Plants with this healing demulcent quality are best taking as a cold infusion.  Please refer back to the beginnings of this blog to find the post on Cold Infusions. Happy Monday!

 

Dandelion to the Test

Yesterday, my dog Boss and I went hiking in the James Peak Wilderness area.  While on the trail, I passed many medicinal plants native to Colorado.  The trail was dotted with Elder shrubs in flower, Raspberry, Plantain, Valerian, and the magnificent smelling Rose. And to no surprise, Dandelion was everywhere!  While I was itching to harvest fresh Valerian, I only spotted a small little patch.  I was taught to only harvest plants that are in abundance, so I decided to leave the Valerian in the ground.  So, Dandelion it is!

 Crater Lake, James Peak Wilderness

Crater Lake, James Peak Wilderness

To harvest Dandelion, a sharp and sturdy garden knife is necessary to get deep into the rocky, and undisturbed soil.  The tap root is much like a carrot, and to remove the root in full requires a bit of skill and coercing.  Be patient, and gentle to get as much of the plant as possible.  In the end, I took home about 5-6 Dandelion plants.  

 Dandelion leaves, root and flowers for a tincture.  

Dandelion leaves, root and flowers for a tincture.  

Initially, I washed the plants at a nearby mountain stream.  When I arrived home, I spent a good ten minutes scrubbing and washing the plants in my sink.  To save water, get a giant mixing bowl and fill it with water.  Do your scrubbing in the bowl,  Once the dirt is removed, a final wash with fresh water.  Now, time to process this wonderful medicinal plant.  

Dandelion Greens and Stems

I have tried dandelion leaf on several occasions.  Not a huge fan.  The leaves are just too bitter for my taste buds to handle more than a few bites.  But I didn't want to waste my harvest.  I sauteed the stems and leaves in butter with garlic and salt.  It was delicious.  The leaves were not bitter at all, and the stems had a great texture and flavor.  I think what was different this time compared to other attempts, was that I was cooking with a younger plant.  The older and bigger dandelion gets, the bitter it gets.  

 Sauteed dandelion stems and leaves

Sauteed dandelion stems and leaves

Next was the medicine.  Rather than focus on just the Dandelion Root, I wanted to do a whole plant tincture: flowers, leaves and root.  Dandelion is an ally to the liver and kidneys, a diuretic, and safe to consume.  All parts of the plant are edible, medicinal and full of energy from the sun.  So why not bottle that up?  

Because I am tincturing this fresh, grain alcohol is used.  When you tincture with dried herb, you add a mixture of alcohol and water.  When fresh plant material is used, and water makes up a vast majority of mass in the plant, more alcohol is needed to draw out the medicine.  

Cut up the plant into bite sized pieces, and pack into a mason jar about half full.  Pour grain alcohol over the herb until the liquid covers the plant material.  

Thanks for reading!  And how about a picture of Boss after a long hike in the woods?  Have a great day!

Simple Elderberry Syrup

"Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication" says Leonard Da Vinci.  Here is an easy recipe for Elderberry Syrup.  Only three ingredients and packed with antioxidants, vitamins, and flu fighting power.  You can add other ingredients such as cinnamon, clove, or ginger for added flavor and medicinal action. 

Syrups are pretty easy to make.  The sugar acts as a preservative, so don't cut down on the amount of honey or sugar.  When making any syrup with medicinal plants, use equal proportions of infusion or decoction and sugar or honey.  For example, if you make a decoction of Ginger, strain the liquid into a measuring cup, and you see you have 6 ounces of liquid, you will need to match that and add 6 ounces of sugar.  Boom, you have ginger syrup.

Ingredients:

3/4 C Dried Elderberries

3 Cups of filtered water

3/4 to 1 C of Raw Unfiltered honey or White Sugar

Cheesecloth

Directions:

Combine dried Elderberries and water in a saucepan and bring just to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer on Low or Medium for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring from time to time. It won't hurt to mash the berries from time to time either.  Let the mixture cool just enough so you can still work with the infusion.  Using a cheesecloth, strain the liquid into a bowl.  When the liquid has come to room temperature, stir in raw honey or sugar.

Label and store in the refrigerator for up to 6 months. 

The standard dosage is 1-2 tsp 3 times a day.

Enjoy!  And thanks for reading.

Homemade Happy Hour: Pastis and Carmelite Water

A few weeks ago, I spent an afternoon going through a stack of Medicine Making books at a local bookstore.  And I came across a very interesting recipe: Carmelite Water.  This recipe contained a few ingredients that really excite me: Lemon Balm and alcohol.  I have been thinking about this recipe ever since.  Then, a few days later, a friend sent me a DIY Pastis recipe which contains Star Anise, Licorice Root, and other herbs......and booze.  I am sold.  The Universe is telling me to start making Aperitifs

An Aperitif is a alcoholic drink consumed before a meal.  Usually something, dry, and containing a blend of alcohol and medicinal plants to help prepare the body for a meal.  A Digestif is much the same, but served after a meal to help aid digestion.  A digestif may contain bitter components or carminative herbs, which keep the gastric juices flowing and prevent gas from forming.  If you enjoy sipping on a cocktail before and after a meal, thank the Europeans for this trend.  Aperitifs and digestifs are custom throughout Europe, and have been for centuries.    Many European countries have their own heavily guarded recipes and rituals.  This idea of book-ending a meal with booze, loaded with medicinal plants sounds great to me. 

Carmelite Water

Carmelite Water caught my eye because of its history, and it's use of Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis).  Lemon Balm has an uplifting scent, yet mildly relaxing for the mind and body.  Lemon Balm is anti-viral, a carminative, and it helps ease anxiety that causes digestive problems such as heartburn, diarrhea, and nausea.  The recipe is a medicinal formula created by the Carmelite nuns sometime in the 14th century.  Records show it was used as an herbal tonic and as a toilet water, which is a terrible word for "skin freshener."  This recipe also includes Angelica Root.  Angelica Root is a warming herb which helps improve circulation, and it has bitter components to aid digestion.  Also known as "Dang Gui", the root is highly prized in China.  Angelica Root is taken for "deficient blood" and to help invigorate or bring vitality back to the body.  Try making Carmelite Water using the recipe below.  You could also substitute brandy with a white wine.  Typically, herbs need around 4 weeks of steep time in alcohol, but feel free to taste each week to see how the mixture is coming along.  

  Melissa officinalis

Melissa officinalis

Carmelite Water Recipe

3 parts Lemon Balm leaf

1 part Angelica root

1/2 part coriander seed

1/2 part lemon peel

1/4 part nutmeg

80 proof Brandy or Vodka

Honey (optional)

Place all ingredients in a mason jar, pour Brandy or vodka over the herbs so they are completely submerged in liquid, with some ability to move around when shaken.  Store in a cool dark place for 2-4 weeks.  If desired, add warmed honey before bottling. 

* This recipe calls for dried lemon balm.  If you have some growing in your garden, use fresh!

 

Pastis

Pastis is a anise flavored aperitif heavily enjoyed in Southern France, and arguably the national drink of France.   Some say Pastis was invented by a monk who was looking to brew an "elixir of life".  Scholars traced Pastis' roots back to a hermit hiding out in the forests of France to avoid the Bubonic Plague.  He concocted an herbal blend of anise seed, and other roots and plants with the strength and power to ward of illness and disease.  Once the plague subsided, he headed south to Marseille, France and began sharing his elixir with the community. 

The recipe is not set in stone, and many variations exist.  But they all seem to include Anise Seed, Star Anise, and Licorice Root.  While Anise Seed and Star Anise are similar in taste and medicinal properties, Star Anise (Illicium verum) comes from China, and is a member of the Magnolia family.  Anise seed comes from Pimpinella anisum, a member of the Parsley Family.  Both plants are anti-bacterial, a carminative, and a sialagogue (increases the flow of saliva).  

With the addition of Licorice Root, this recipe becomes even more powerful and medicinal.  Licorice Root is such an important herb.  Perhaps another post can be dedicated to this special plant.  In a nutshell, Licorice Root is an anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-fungal and is considered a liver protective.  An ally during times of inflammation and illness.  Below is the recipe.  Feel free to experiment with other herbs such as sage or black pepper. 

Pastis Recipe

Ingredients:

10 star anise pods

1 tablespoon licorice root

1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds

1/4 teaspoon whole coriander seeds

1/2 teaspoon anise seeds

1 1/2 cups vodka

1/3 cup sugar

1/2 cup water

Directions:

Break up the first fie ingredients in a spice blender or mortar and pestle.  Place in a mason jar and add vodka.

Seal and shake each day for 5 days.

Boil sugar and water to make a syrup, and let cool.  While the syrup is cooling, strain the vodka to remove all spices and sediment. 

Add cooled syrup to the vodka and shake. 

Store at room temperature for up to 4 months or in the refrigerator. 

CHEERS!

 

Self Heal

The great herbalist John Gerard is quoted as saying this, "There is a not a better wound herb in the world than that of self-heal." A bold statement? Yes.  But he was on to something.  According to various medical texts, documentation and folk lore, the wound healing plant Prunella vulgaris somehow found its way to the Quinault Tribes of the Pacific Northwest, Ancient Chinese Medicine during the Han Dynasty (circa 200 B.C.), even German military physicians used self-heal during the 16th century. 

  Prunella vulgaris

Prunella vulgaris

 

 How could so many diverse cultures, in different centuries, know about Self-Heal?  The exact answer to this question is not known.  But they knew that Self-Heal was a natural wound healer and antibiotic.  Self-Heal is a vigorous grower, to the point it is considered a nuisance.  It is native to Europe and Asia, but made its way around to most of Earth's temperate regions.  Left to the elements, it self-seeds very efficiently, taking over a lawn, garden bed, or open space very quickly.  Some consider Self-Heal to be an aggressive garden weed. But to an herbalist, this abundance just means more medicine.  The aerial parts of this plant contain tannins which help to stop bleeding, and calm inflammation.  In TCM, Self- Heal is prescribed to cool "liver fire." The other main constituents of Self-Heal are considered antibiotic and anti-septic, even anti-viral.  Studies have shown that Prunella may stop a virus from growing within cells, and prevent a virus from binding to cells. 

Description: Hardy perennial, vigorous growth.  Height 2-12 in.  Clusters of blue/purple flowers all summer.

Parts Used: Aerial parts

Constituents: triterpenes, tannins, rutin,  rosmarinic acid, Vitamins B, C, K

Actions: Astringent, wound healer, alterative, anti-inflammatory, antibiotic, antiviral, bitter tonic, hepatic

Medicinal Uses: Gargle for sore throat, apply as a poultice to cuts, abrasions, boils, burns.  May ease diarrhea.  Slows or stops bleeding both externally or internally. Consume to reduce symptoms of seasonal allergies. 

Preparations:  Fresh plant poultice applied to skin.  Fresh plant tincture 1:2.  Young leaves are edible (salads, soups, stews).  An infusion can be made from aerial parts.

Precautions: None known

Cultivation:  Grow in full sun to partial shade.  Very easy to establish.  To prevent self-seeding be sure to deadhead after flowering.  To sow from seeds, plant in the Fall.  When harvesting for medicine, harvest aerial parts when in flower. 

 

 

Calendula + Lavender Daily Hand Salve

Hello Herbie Friends!

I first want to introduce myself. I am Clare Anderson, fellow yoga teacher and herbalist to Blake Burger, the wonderful mind behind Denver Medicinal Plant Society. I feel so lucky to be a part of this community now, helping to bring more awareness and fun to plant medicine. Please get used to reading more of my contributions to this blog and society, and I am so looking forward to hearing from you all! Aside from teaching yoga and studying herbalism, I am also a thai massage therapist, holistic health coach, and I spend the rest of my time gardening, rock climbing, making coffee + good food, and snuggling with my amazing cat, Edward Coates. Thanks for stopping by!

Calendula + Lavender is one of my absolute favorite daily healing hand salves. If you have ever wanted to make a salve but have been to afraid to, now is the time to drop the attitude and give it a go, because it is easy and very hard to mess up (unlike lotions and creams). The ingredients are simple, the process is simple, and the results are magical. I do not go anywhere without my calendula + lavender hand salve. The motivation behind making this at home was my dry cracked hands from rock climbing. My hands are getting beat up every single day, and the dryness makes me crazy. I wanted to create something simple and effective that would absorb into my skin and actually repair damage done. Us Colorado folk really need to be mindful of our skin at this altitude, and with little humidity, we need all the help we can get. Here are the ingredients you will use:

Beeswax
Olive Oil
Jojoba Oil
Calendula Essential Oil
Lavender Essential Oil

What is so great about these ingredients? Well the beeswax is key because it is what is going to make the salve hard, and the more you use the harder it will be, the less you use, the softer salve you will have. It is also antibacterial, very hydrating, and contains high amounts of vitamin A. Mixed with olive oil which has an incredibly long shelf life and won't go rancid, and jojoba oil which is also high in Vitamins A and E and contains anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, its the perfect combination. Calendula is the ultimate go-to for skin disorders, including acne, eczema, bruises, and just generally dry skin. It is antimicrobial, anti-fungal, and incredibly moisturizing. Along with lavender it is great for wound healing when used topically and also has a really lovely calming and relaxing aroma to it. All of these things together make for the best daily hand salve in my opinion!

HOW TO MAKE IT
(4 oz)
1 tablespoon beeswax, 1/4 cup olive oil, 1/4 cup jojoba oil, 12 drops calendula, 12 drops lavender
Step 1: boil a few inches of water in a pot and place your pyrex inside (double boil).
Step 2: Add your beeswax, olive oil, and jojoba oil to the pyrex and stir until melted. 
Step 3: Add your essential oils.
Step 4: Pour into a tin or jar, let cool until hardened. 

Voila!



Clare Anderson 


Medicinal Greens for Spring

Medicinal Greens for Spring 

Part II

Watercress

With the help of the skin, lungs, liver, and kidneys.....the body does a great job of detoxifying and removing toxins on its own.  But perhaps watercress can offer the body a lending hand. Many different medicinal texts throughout history, including Culpeper's Herbal, state the cleansing benefits of watercress.  It is believed that Hippocrates (a Ancient Greek physician), built a hospital near a stream just because watercress was abundant.  Watercress is a mild diuretic and cholagogue, stimulating the kidneys and gallbladder to cleanse and clear impurities.  This green is such a powerhouse of nutrients, containing over 15 essential vitamins and minerals. The leaves carry high amounts of Vitamins A, C and K, as well as high amounts of iron and calcium.  

Medicinal Actions:  Stomachic, mild diuretic, mild cholagogue, antibacterial, antioxidant

The peppery taste of watercress resembles that of Arugula.  A very versatile herb in the kitchen, watercress is a great addition to salads, sandwiches, pesto, and is great juiced.  Watercress leaves add a nice depth and spice to a traditional garden salad. 

When it comes to preparing watercress to eat, keep it simple.  Raw, fresh watercress is the best way to ingest this superfood.  This way, less nutrients are lost in the process of cooking.

Dandelion

The world's most recognizable weed is a true ally to the human body.  We should be eating these leaves rather than eradicating them from our lawns.  Dandelion leaves are high in vitamins and minerals, especially potassium.  The bitter constituents within the leaves help stimulate the flow of bile, promoting healthy digestion and health of the gall bladder and liver.  Dandelion encourages steady elimination of toxins that may come from illness, poor diet, or even environmental pollution.  Consuming the leaves can be beneficial for many types of inflammation, skin conditions such as acne, eczema, psoriasis, and arthritic conditions including osteoarthritis and gout. 

Medicinal Actions: Bitter tonic, diuretic, mild laxative, antioxidant, cholagogue

The leaves can taste very bitter and tough.  So, try picking young leaves during the springtime and consuming those.  If you do purchase or pick older leaves, try boiling them in salted water for 3-4 minutes, then transfer the cooked leaves to ice water.  This will quickly end the cooking process and prevent the leaves from becoming soggy.  Save the water as a tea, or let it cool and pour it into your garden beds. With this simple preparation, the boiled and blanched leaves are ready to be added to soups, prepared as a pesto or sautéed with oil and garlic. 

Medicinal Greens for Spring

Medicinal Greens for Spring

Happy Spring!  The smell of Apple Blossoms are in the air, Daffodils are shining bright, and the beautiful "Spring Green" color is appearing on the trees, a color only Mother Nature can create.  Todays blog is dedicated to cleansing medicinal plants, specifically, leafy greens.  We should be eating greens all year round, however, there is something extra rewarding about consuming them this time of year.  It's important that our diets reflect what is happening in our environment.  Seeing fresh shoots popping up from the earth, and baby greens growing on branches and stems should trigger our brains to eat fresh, clean and GREEN. 

The plants covered today are common, you know parsley and cilantro well.  Perhaps you didn't know their medicinal value.  And if you have never tried the fresh and pungent taste of watercress, don't miss out!

Parsley

Parsley is a member of the Apiaceae Family, the same family as carrot, celery and dill.  Its fresh taste and year round availability in our supermarkets makes it a great culinary herb.  During winter months, parsley can brighten the dull and heavy meals we tend to prepare. 

Two fun historic facts about Parsley..... During Roman times, parsley was used during orgies to cover up the smell of alcohol on the breath.  Corpses were also sprinkled with parsley to deodorize them. Parsley was once associated with death and curse, but during the Middle Ages, herbalists began to discover its power. 

Medicinal Actions: Diuretic, depurative, antispasmodic, carminative, mild uterotonic. 

To translate above, Parsley is a great cleanser for the body (diuretic).  Its root has laxative properties as well.  As it helps expel waste and cleanse the body (depurative), it also restores.  Parsley is high in Vitamin A, C, B, calcium and iron.  The volatile oils in the leaf are known to help ease gas (carminative) and may settle an upset stomach.  The flavonoids in parsley act as antioxidants, and a tea of parsley is said to help with painful menstruation, or infrequent menstruation. Use externally for itchy or inflamed insect bites.  And due to its high chlorophyll content, it is a natural breath freshener. For bad breath, chew on a few leaves and stems......brushing your teeth helps too.

Cilantro

Also in the Apiaceae Family, Coriandrum sativum is a giving plant.  the leaves and stems are referred to as cilantro, and the flavorful seeds are known as coriander.  Cilantro's taste is very unique and quite controversial.  People either love it or hate it.  Cilantro has been used throughout Europe and Asia for over 2000 years.  In fact, this plant was mentioned in the Ebers paprus, an Egyptian medical text dating to 1500 BC. 

Medicinal Actions: antioxidant, carminative, depurative, antispasmodic, aphrodisiac

The juice of cilantro, or coriander leaves are said to cleanse the blood, specifically of high metals. In Ayurvedic medicine, cilantro is considered an astringent, which promotes proper function of the liver. It is also cooling for the body and stomach, which may explain its frequent use in Indian and Mexican cuisines. Cilantro is high in Vitamins A, B, K, minerals such as iron, magnesium and calcium.  Many phytonutrients and flavonoids (antioxidants) are present as well.  A natural antiseptic, try cilantro juice or a poultice of the leaves on acne, rashes, or inflamed skin.

Cilantro Pesto

3 Cloves of Garlic, peeled and chopped

2 cups of fresh cilantro packed

1/4 cup of olive oil

2 Tablespoons of Sesame Seed Oil

2 Tablespoons of fresh lemon juice

Salt and Pepper to taste

Place cilantro and garlic in food processor.  As you chop, slowly add oils, lemon juice and spices until smooth. 

Stay tuned for part two........................

Hibiscus Tea

Hibiscus Tea

 As the days begin to heat up and we become more active, it is important to stay hydrated.  Water becomes boring on the palate, soda is unhealthy, and we shouldn't drink beer til after 5pm :)

Hibiscus tea is a great alternative.  It is quite tart, it's taste resembling cranberry juice. The tea is made from the calyces, or sepals of the Hibiscus plant. This drink is not only exciting for the taste buds, it is very cooling on the body.  In the medicinal plant world, Hibiscus is known as a refrigerant. A refrigerant can help cool the core body temperature, relieve thirst, and lower fever. No wonder why this tea is common throughout Africa, Mexico, Asia and the Caribbean.  Hibiscus is also high in antioxidants, and minerals such as iron and zinc.  That being the case, this is another great herb for the cold and flu season.

Regularly drinking Hibiscus Tea is very beneficial for heart health.  Medical studies and trials have shown that Hibiscus is helpful in maintaining healthy cholesterol and blood pressure.  This herb is said to lower arterial inflammation, thin the blood, and strengthen vascular and capillary walls.   

This tea is great to consume both hot and iced.  In the summer, add lemongrass, citrus and ginger for a refreshing drink.  In the winter, Hibiscus pairs well with warming spices like cinnamon and clove. 

Below is a very basic recipe.  This will allow you to have a great base to work with in case you would like to add other herbs. 

Ingredients

6 cups of water

1 cup of Hibiscus

1/3 cup of sugar

Pour water into a saucepan and add Hibiscus.  Heat just to a boil and then remove from heat.  Let the herb steep for 10-20 minutes.  Strain into a container.  Add sugar and stir until dissolved.  

California Poppy

California Poppy

Eschscholzia californica

California Poppy is a perfect medicinal plant for the novice Colorado gardener.  A native to California, and the state flower of California, E. californica thrives in hot sun and dry soil of Colorado.  In the Sierra Mountains of California, this plant is king.  Whole hillsides of California Poppy, Lupine and other native wildflowers turn the landscape into a real-life Monet masterpiece. 

As Spanish explorersapproached the shores of California, they saw an ocean of poppies in full bloom along the coastal hillsides. Perhaps this is why they nicknamed the coast "Land of Fire." They referred to the orange flowers as "copa de oro", or Cup of Gold.  And the Native American Tribes they encountered after making landfall, knew the benefits of this plant.  This plant wasn't just revered for its beauty, it was medicine.  Tribes throughout the Sierras used California Poppy to promote calmness and healthy sleep.  Also as an analgesic, for mild pains such as headache and toothache. Important to note, this plant medicine was (and is) considered safe for children. 

A medicinal preparation of California Poppy is helpful during times of restlessness and anxiety.  Unlike other poppy plants,  especially Oriental Poppy, E. californica contains no opiates, therefore it is non-addictive and safe for kids.  A tea or tincture is very bitter, but this bitter taste is quite beneficial for digestion. 

Family: Papaveraceae

Parts Used: Aerial parts

Constituents: isoquinoline alkaloids (similar to opium poppy, yet milder and non-addictive)

Actions: Relaxing nervine, hypnotic, anti-spasmodic, analgesic.  Cooling and bitter.

Medicinal Use: anxiety, restlessness, insomnia, headache, toothache.  Spastic conditions of the GI, Respiratory, Urinary tracts.  Promotes digestion.

Preparation: 1:2 extract of Fresh Plant 15-25 drops 3x a day.  Dry herb: Standard infusion 2-4 oz

Cautions:  Not safe for pregnant women.  Do not mix with other sedatives and anti-depressant drugs. 

Tips for growing California Poppy:

Prefers sandy, well drained soil.  Full sun.

Scatter seeds throughout your garden bed in April-May.  Then lightly rake them into the soil.

Keep area moist but not drenched.

Germination and growth will depend on Colorado's weather and soil temperature

California poppy flowers will open wide during full sun, and close at night or on cloudy days.

Remove spent blossoms to encourage a second bloom.

To harvest for medicine, harvest aerial parts. 

Cayenne

Cayenne

Capsicum annuum

Herbalist R.C. Wren calls Cayenne "the purest and most certain stimulant in herbal material medica."  And Juliette de Bairacli-Levy labels Cayenne "a supreme and harmless internal disinfectant."  Although Cayenne has probably been used medicinally (and in diets) for thousands of years, it was first written about by the historian Peter Martyr in the year 1493. The year before, Martyr had accompanied Christopher Columbus on an expedition to the New World, where the group of explorers first discovered this pepper.  Cayenne quickly spread throughout Europe, Africa and Asia, invigorating consumers with it's pungent flavors and integrating heat and spice into cuisines across the world. 

Cayenne is an extremely versatile medicinal plant.  Digestive disorders aside, Cayenne is considered a safe digestive tonic and stimulant.  Taken in small amounts, Cayenne increases saliva production, and kick starts the flow of gastric juices to help aid digestion.  West Indians soak the pods in hot water, add sugar and juice of sour oranges and drink when feverish.  This blend helps cool the body by means of perspiration, and supply the body with Vitamin C and antioxidants.  As a systemic stimulant, Cayenne can help strengthen the heart, and promote youthful elasticity in the veins and arteries.  For those who suffer from poor circulation or chills, a small dose of cayenne would be a perfect, warming remedy. 

Cayenne is one of the best rubefacients around.  A rubefacient generates a localized increase of blood flow when applied to the skin.  They help warm the skin and ease pain and itching.  As an anesthetic, Cayenne blocks the "C Fibers" in the nervous system, which when activated or stimulated, cause itching and painful sensations. Used topically, a salve or cream of Cayenne would be great for those who suffer from arthritis, chilblains, or even insect bites. A simple liniment is made by simmering 1 tablespoon of Cayenne in 1 pint of Apple Cider Vinegar; bottle, unstained, while still hot.  Use this liniment on the skin or as a gargle to relieve sore throat, or a toothache.

Family: Solanaceae

Part Used: Fruit

Constituents:  Capsaicinoids, capsaicin, Vitamin C, Vitamin A  

Medicinal Actions:  Stimulant, carminative, anti-catarrhal, sialagogue, rubefacient, antimicrobial, vasodilator

Medicinal Uses:  Systemic stimulant, tones the circulatory system and digestive system, increases peripheral circulation, cold/flu prevention, gargle for sore throats, topical rubefacient.

Preparation: Tincture, Infusion, Salve, Poultice, Liniment 

Contraindications: No side effects or drug interactions reported.  May irritate those with severe ulcers or IBS

Growing Cayenne at Home

Long growing season (14 weeks or longer)

Start from seed indoors in well drained soil.  Keep in a high light location.

After 6-8 weeks inside, plant outside when soil temperature has warmed to about 65 degrees

Plant 12 to 18 inches apart in rich soil

Water well during early stages of growth.

To harvest: Peppers should be 4-6 inches long, either red or green in color.  Snip at the stem just above the cap, store in a dry place at 55 degrees

Thyme

Thyme

Thyme is one of the world's most beloved culinary herbs.  Due to its floral and earthy scent, this herb is a staple in many classic bread, soup and braising recipes.  Thyme is one of several herbs comprising the Herbes de Provence blend, and it accompanies Oregano and Savory in a spice condiment know as Za'atar in Middle Eastern Cuisine. 

The name "Thymus" was Greek for courage, but other sources say the name derived from the Greek term "to fumigate."  Thyme has been held in high regard throughout many societies and civilizations. Thyme was used as an incense at funerals and ceremonies, on Medieval battlefields, Egyptians embalmed with Thyme, and Thyme was burned to ward of insects in the households in Ancient Greece. Thyme has always played an important role in the kitchen.  Before refrigeration, Thyme helped slow the spoilage of meat and bread. 

Thyme is effective medicine.  The essential oil of Thymus vulgaris, contains 20-54% Thymol.  Thymol is a powerful and proven antiseptic.  There is a reason why Thymol is an active ingredient in many toothpastes, deodorants, and mouthwashes, including Listerine.  But Thymol is also an effective antifungal (athlete's foot, nail fungus), and scientists are researching it's anti-tumor properties.  Thyme leaves should be considered an ally next time a chest cold comes your way. Taken as an infusion or made into a syrup, the leaves are an expectorant and can help soothe uncontrollable coughs.

Family: Lamiaceae

Parts Used: Aerial part of plant

Actions: Warming, Drying, Antiseptic, Expectorant and Antispasmodic

Preparation: Tea, tincture, wash, syrup, vinegar

Medicinal Uses: Sore throat, acute bronchitis, asthma, ulcers, fungal infections, athletes foot, insect bites, expels worms

Cautions: Avoid high doses during pregnancy

Growing Thyme at Home:

Beginner gardeners, start with common thyme Thymus vulgaris before trying other species

If sowing from seed, plant in a pot first.  Use well drained soil and water daily until seeds germinate, about one week.

Once established, divide seedlings and plant in soil (mid-spring to early summer)

Plant Thyme in well drained soil, or perhaps on a hillside or slope. 

When watering, water at the base to prevent fungal diseases.

Thyme is considered a great companion plant, benefiting tomatoes, eggplant and potatoes.

The fragrant blossoms of Thyme attract honeybees

Calendula

Calendula

Calendula officinalis

A native to the Mediterranean and Iran, the use and cultivation of Calendula seems to be worldwide, and dates back thousands of years.  In India, Indians place a wreath of Calendula to crown their beloved deities.  Ancient Egyptians considered this plant a rejuvenating herb.  Calendula flowers were a staple in the kitchens of Ancient Greece. And in the American Civil war, Calendula flowers were used by battlefield doctors to treat open wounds. The word Calendula derived from Calends, the first day of the month in the Ancient Roman calendar.  The people of Ancient Rome observed that this brilliantly orange plant seemed to bloom the first day of each new moon cycle, so they gave this flower the name Calendula. 

Any plant that provides continuous blooms, vibrant color and medicinal value should be held in high regard.  Once established, it's the plant that keeps on giving, all summer long.  Pluck the flower tops from the plant, and let the medicine making begin.  Make a poultice and apply to help heal bruises and cuts. An oil infused with Calendula can help decrease the visibility of scars.  Add the flowers to tea during times of illness and internal inflammation.  The flower petals can brighten a dinner salad, or color rice.  A packet of Calendula seeds can be purchased at your local nursery for less than five dollars.  Affordable and abundant medicine!

Calendula officinalis

Family: Asteraceae

Parts Used: Flowers

Medicinal Actions: Anti-microbial, Anti-inflammatory, Anti-fungal, analgesic,

Medicinal Uses:  Bowel diseases, gastritis, internal and external inflammation, heals wounds, moistening.

Culinary Uses: Petals can be eaten in salads, and used as a coloring agent in broth and rice.  Calendula wine

Medicinal Preparation: Tea, tincture, salve, ointment, cream, and baths

Cautions: Asteraceae Family allergy

Tips for Growing Calendula:

Calendula is easy to propagate from seed, and is a self-seeding annual.

Sow fresh seeds in April or May, when soil temperature reaches 60 degrees

Plant in full sun, well drained soil

Calendula is a very hardy plant that can survive a light frost and snow

Blooms all summer long

Simple Calendula Oil Infusion

Materials needed:

Oil (Olive Oil, Grapeseed, Jojoba)

Dried Calendula Flowers

Mason Jar

Strainer/Muslin Cloth

Instructions:

1. Fill mason jar 1/2 full with dried Calendula Flowers

2. Pour oil over plant material until fully immersed

3. Seal jar and place in a sunny windowsill or countertop

4. After 3-4 weeks, strain, removing as much plant material as possible. 

Spring Forward

Spring Forward

Happy day to you, you budding Herbalist! Spring fever has officially settled in.  March has been very warm and dry, and the plants are starting to awaken from their winter slumber.  Pictured above is the beautiful bloom of the Magnolia Tree planted here at the Denver Botanic Gardens.

The next five posts will be dedicated to medicinal plants that can be grown rather easily and efficiently in your home garden.  These plants are perfect for Colorado's hot and sunny summer and yield high amounts of plant material for medicine making. 

Hops

Humulus lupulus

Who doesn't love hops?  This twining herb has been used as a bittering agent for beer for hundreds of years.  Hops provides a floral aroma and a bitter, citrusy flavor so beloved by those snobby IPA connoisseurs.  The first mention of the use of hops in brewing in Germany was 1079. Due to its preservative qualities and taste, hops phased out Gruit over time. Gruit was an old fashioned herb mixture used for bittering and flavoring beer. Brought to North America in 1629, Hops became an important field crop in 1800.  In the United States today, most hops are grown in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and California.

Hops is much more than a flavoring agent for beer.  It's powerful medicine, most notably as a sleep aid and sedative.  Field workers have reported how quickly they tire after a day in a sunny hops field.  Abraham Lincoln and King George III reportedly placed sachets of Hops under their pillows at night to induce pleasant dreams and restful sleep.  Sipping on a bitter Hops infusion can help stimulate appetite, and can be good for digestion.  Due to its anti-bacterial properties, Hops may be applied as a poultice to minor cuts, acne spots and other forms of dermatitis. 

Family: Cannabaceae

Parts Used: Strobiles (flowers) fresh or dried

Medicinal Actions: Nervine, sedative, hypnotic, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and cooling

Medicinal Uses: Anxiety, insomnia, nervousness, loss of appetite and indgestion.

Culinary Uses:  In early spring, young shoots can be prepared and eaten like asparagus.  The male flowers can be parboiled, cooled and tossed into salads.  Young leaves can be blanched and added to soups and salads. 

Medicinal Preparation: Tincture, Infusion and Poultice

Cautions:  May cause dermatitis when harvesting.  Careful when using with Anti-depressants. 

Tips for Growing Hops: Pick an open and sunny location . Healthy hops can grow up to one feet per day so plan accordingly (use a fence, a trellis, or string) and thin out as needed. Plant when there is no threat of frost. Add plenty of compost/manure to produce a rich soil. As growth begins, trim back unhealthy shoots to promote strength of larger shoots and the rhizome. Powdery mildew is an issue, keep the watering to the base of the plant, and clear out any unhealthy foliage, weeds, other debris to prevent an environment fit for mildew. Hops need at least 120 frost free days to produce the flowers.  When harvesting, wear a long sleeve shirt and gloves!

Hops garden arch