BATH THERAPY: DIY HERBAL TUB TEA

BATH THERAPY: DIY HERBAL TUB TEA

Herbal bath therapy is a warming, relaxing way to enjoy the beautiful aroma and therapeutic properties of medicinal herbs. A long luxurious bath filled with the aroma and nourishing properties of medicinal plants is also an invitation to slow down and engage in an act of self-care. During fall and winter months, I love to end my day with this soothing DIY herbal tub tea. I also turn to this luxurious medicine whenever I feel the slightest possibility that I may be coming down with a cold or flu.

HERBS FOR MAKING BATH TUB TEA

There are so many soothing herbs for the bath. The blend you see here contains Lavender, Rose Petals, Chamomile and Lemon Balm and helps promote sleep and relaxation. For more about herbs for sleep, including Lavender and Chamomile, check out this recent post, 5 Herbs & Essential Oils for Sleep. You can choose from a number of different herbs to create a bath tub tea specific to your needs and desires. Some are calming and relaxing, others are soothing to irritated, itchy skin, and others help to prevent or relieve a cold or flu. If you can’t choose from among the many herbal options, I’ve also included some therapeutic combinations below.

CALENDULA | A sunny golden flower soothing to inflamed, irritated, or itchy skin

CHAMOMILE | A sweet smelling, relaxing flower to ease tension and irritability, soothe tight painful muscles, cool sun burn, and provide relieve for inflamed, irritated, and itchy skin

COMFREY LEAF | A dark green leafy herb that helps speed the healing of wounds and broken bones

EUCALYPTUS | An aromatic, sage-colored leaf used to relieve sinus and respiratory congestion that is also stimulating and uplifting to mood

GOTU KOLA | A dark green leafy plant that soothes inflamed skin, speeds wound healing, and calms body, mind, and spirit

LAVENDER| A beautiful, aromatic herb that is relaxing to nervous tension and tight muscles, promotes a good night’s sleep, and soothes inflamed, irritated, and itchy skin

MUGWORT | A fluffy green aromatic herb that is relaxing and detoxifying, helpful for menstrual cramps, and beneficial in the early stages of colds or flu

PEPPERMINT | A rich green aromatic herb that is stimulating and uplifting to mood and also useful for sore, painful muscles and headaches

PLANTAIN | A green, weedy plant with the ability to soothe inflamed, irritated, or itching skin and promote healing of wounds

ROSE PETALS | A beautiful, aromatic flower, soothing to skin that also helps to relieve grief, promote emotional balance, and soothe and open the heart

HERBAL BATH TUB TEA COMBINATIONS

Calming & Relaxing to relieve occasional insomnia
Lavender, Chamomile, Rose Petals, and Gotu Kola

Morning Bath to stimulate & awaken
Peppermint, Eucalyptus, Rose Petals, and Gotu Kola

Itch Relief to calm dry, inflamed or irritated skin
Lavender, Chamomile, Plantain, and Calendula

Muscle Melt to relieve sore or tense muscles
Peppermint, Lavender, Chamomile, and Comfrey Leaf

Colds or Flu to relieve congestion and inflammation
Eucalyptus, Mugwort, Peppermint, and Chamomile

DIY HERBAL TUB TEA BATHING INSTRUCTIONS

1. Choose four herbs from the list above or choose one of the combinations.
2. Combine 1 cup of each herb in a large bowl and mix well.
3. Store in an air-tight container until ready to use. (Makes 4-6 baths)

Spoon 3/4 cup of your herbal bath tub tea blend into a muslin bag or a large square of unbleached cotton muslin. Bring 6—8 cups of water to boil on the stove. Turn off the heat, drop in the herb filled muslin bag, cover, and allow to steep for 20-30 minutes. While the bath blend is steeping, fill the tub. After the herbs have steeped, pour the bath tub tea along with the muslin bag of herbs into the bath. Turn down the lights, light a candle and get in to the bath. Relax, let go, and absorb the aroma and herbal goodness. You can massage your body with the herb-filled bag to release more of the therapeutic compounds in the herb and as a gentle skin exfoliant.

I hope you will allow time in your busy life for some nourishing bath therapy. Which tub tea blends do you look forward to trying? Leave a comment below and tell us or show us your favorites on Instagram with #NectarDIY.

wishing you health and happiness,
suzanne

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Nectar Apothecary Customer Spotlight | Nate Peltier

NECTAR APOTHECARY CUSTOMER SPOTLIGHT | NATE PELTIER

At Nectar Apothecary, we have been blessed with the most warm, delightful customers imaginable—and Nate Peltier is one of them. Nate is a charming, grounded artist and musician with a background in environmental geology and a deep love for community. Everyone who works at Nectar has felt an almost immediate kinship with him. From environmental design, to ceramics, to cooking and tea, Nate always has an interesting experience or insight to share. Here’s your chance to learn a little more about what makes this unique individual so special. You can also find his wonderful illustrations on social media under the handle @blockhead_art.

Would you share a little bit about yourself, your background, where you’re from, etc.?

Well! My name is Nate Peltier, I am 24 years old and I was born and raised in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It’s hard to say where I’m from because I feel that every place I have lived has influenced me so much that no longer do I strictly identify with one geographic location. When I turned 18, I moved up to Ashland, Wisconsin (right on the South Shore of Lake Superior) to study Environmental Geology at Northland College. I fell in love with the area by the tail end of my schooling (better late than never, I suppose), but ultimately decided I needed to situate myself somewhere that had longer periods of sunshine! So after I finished my degree, I moved to Prescott to pursue a new life in the sun. I’ve been here for almost two years now and it feels better and better each day. I am really into all kinds of creation such as drawing, painting, printmaking, jewelry crafting, tattoo, and music. I have been playing guitar for 13 years and it plays a large role in my life! I always enjoy hiking, running, backpacking, rock climbing, biking and really anything that can prolong my stay in the outdoors.

How have natural remedies such as herbs and essential oils made a difference in your life?

When I first started working with herbs, one of the biggest things I noticed was that simply the routine of seeking out different herbs (with certain intentions) and taking time to prepare them, whether in a tea, decoction or tincture, was enough to make me feel as if my quality of life was improving. It was perhaps the first benefit I received - and it was because I was trying to find ways to optimize my health and work with my body in an unfamiliar (but yet oh so familiar) way. Other than that, I feel as if the herbs I rely on a weekly or daily basis have made a difference in my life by boosting my immune system, upping my average mental clarity, regulating my energy levels and helping cope with the stress of a busy life.As far as essential oils go, I I haven’t taken the time to learn about aromatherapy and the likes, but I have been experimenting with essential oils regardless for about 5 years now! Longer than herbs. Most likely because they have greater curb appeal than, say, a bag of Mugwort. All the different smells and experiences are so stimulating and it is a fun outlet for fine-tuning one’s intuition - the intuition of what experience your body may want work with in a certain moment.

How do you fit herbs and essential oils into your daily routine?

I work with a handful of herbal tinctures on the daily, all for different reasons. And for the most part, I really don’t know what I’m doing by taking these certain tinctures, but that is more than half the reason why I work with tinctures on a regular basis - in hopes to gain first-hand experience with a specific plant’s wisdom. On top of this, I will make herbal teas (mostly at night) because they are very soothing to me! Also, I will add herbs to just about every cup of tea I make throughout the day. Rose and lavender being my favorites! As for essential oils, I have a diffuser at home that I run consistently nowadays. I have really been digging on geranium, vetiver and pine oils lately!

What else do you do to take care of yourself and the people around you?

I try to make good wholesome meals that are worth sharing as frequently as possible! I try to play music and explore new outlets of creativity as much as I can. I try to move my body in different ways, some being purely for exercise and to get out in the woods. I try to keep things interesting, laugh a lot, break routines and surprise myself. Really though, I just try to listen to my heart to find a balance within myself and in my external life experience because I believe that no matter what you do to take care of yourself, it could all be for not if you aren’t listening to your inner voice and finding ways to follow your feet.

Why do you like to shop at Nectar Apothecary?

I like to shop at Nectar Apothecary because I love the people who work there! I swear I’m not brown-nosing. I genuinely appreciate the atmosphere that has been crafted by these fine individuals who care so much about creating a space focused on health and harmony. As individuals, each and every one of them has a lot to share with the world - including a LOT of herbal wisdom between the group (that they are more than willing to share to great extents). It truly feels like a safe space located right in the heart of downtown Prescott. It goes without saying, but their herbs and teas are of supreme quality and come at a good price - so really there is nothing to lose, and only stuff to gain by shopping locally at Nectar.

What is your favorite herb, essential oil or tea, what do you like about it and why do you use it?

If I have to choose just one, I would say that my favorite herb historically has been Eleuthero, also known as Siberian Ginseng. It is the first adaptogen I started experimenting with, and also perhaps the herb that has stuck with me the longest, and most consistently. At first, what I really liked about it was that it gave me a good 30-minute forced break in all of my days. It became a routine to decoct Eleuthero in the morning, and drink it throughout the day. What I noticed at first was that my insomnia dissipated into thin air. I was having so much trouble falling asleep for YEARS and years - to the point where I had accepted my general lack of sleep as part of my reality. To this day, I use Eleuthero less frequently and at lower doses, but my sleep cycle remains unimpeded by insomnia. These days I like to use it more for the stimulating effects it can have, thinking that maybe it gives me a cutting edge while rock-climbing or performing physically demanding activities.

If you were a medicinal plant, what plant would you be and why?

I think I would be Creosote, partly because it is so versatile and useful but MOSTLY because then I would make so many other creatures smile when it rains. That would be such a sweet thing. And not to mention, I would probably be more self-indulgent due to the fact that I would enjoy my own smell.

What else would you like to share?

I am grateful to be a part of the community of Prescott! I am grateful for places like Nectar Apothecary for caring more about connection and their role in the community than making a sale - and I am happy to have this chance to express my gratitude for these people, on showcase to all who care to look! Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! And many hopes that this place we all call home for the time being can continue to refine its’ ways - finding better paths to stimulate the economy and whatnot by creating relationships and sharing knowledge just for the sake of sharing knowledge!

We are grateful for you too Nate. Thanks so much for all the kind words and for participating in our Customer Spotlight. We are so fortunate to have you as a part of our community. Hopefully the rest of you will have the opportunity to meet Nate out on the trails or creating art around town. Thank you again, and cheers to you Nate!

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5 Simple and Transformative Tips for Mastering Mindset and Reaching Goals

5 Simple and Transformative Tips for Mastering Mindset and Reaching Goals

Rachel Peters is a professional health coach who inspires her clients and students to live their best lives and achieve their goals through proven habit-changing techniques that involve optimizing daily routines. I can tell you from my own experience in Rachel’s Embody Ease program that the techniques are realistic and doable. Rachel is our guest writer in this inspiring blog where she offers her transformative tips to help you master mindset and reach  your health and wellness goals. Visit Rachel’s website for more about her programs to embody ease and come alive with new habits to achieve your dreams. 

Master your mindset

Your mindset is a powerful tool. It can be used in your favor and unconsciously against you. Your personal behaviors and daily actions have a deep cause and effect on your daily lifestyle and on your physical, mental, and emotional health. Today we are living out the ripple effect of decisions we made months, even years ago.

Your daily rhythms and choice points are like an inner compass, constantly making subtle and sometimes not so subtle shifts in the direction of your future and the unfolding of your life and ultimately your health.

Given the cultural norms of western society and the emphasis on body and image, most of us are likely limiting our health and wellness potential by comparison, questioning value, worth or some undercurrent of ‘I’m not good enough.’

  • Have you ever struggled to reach a goal you desired so badly or knew would completely change your life?

  • Do you tend to procrastinate things that are important to you because it’s not the “right” time? Or you tell yourself you don’t have enough time?

  • Have you ever stopped setting specific and measurable goals around your health and your life because in the past you haven’t reached them?

  • Do you put off projects (for example: a writing project, a creative project, a garden, taking up pilates or yoga, etc.) because you are afraid you will be judged or criticized by others?

  • Do you avoid investing in yourself and your own growth and health, because deep down there is a question of your value and real worth?

If you answered yes to any of the above you may be limiting yourself and your potential by the systems you are using to reach your goals. Ayurveda, “the science of everyday living” is  rooted in following the lead of nature. Nature’s fundamental role is to change, pulse and evolve. We are constantly being asked to play the edge, evolve and change if we are in the flow with nature.

Have you heard about Neuroplasticity? It is the proven principle that we can change the structure and function of our brain throughout our lives. Your thoughts, emotions, and behavior are the primary means of making change. Don’t underestimate the power of what you say and think about yourself. Your health depends on it.

5 Simple Tips To Reach Your Goals

If your mindset is getting in the way of reaching your goals, consider practicing and applying these five simple tips and tools to your current health or wellness challenge and  bloom into your potential:

1. Engage Your Edge

It’s scary to change and try new things. But did you know fear and excitement have the same physical sensation in the body? With this in mind, reframe how you define and relate to fear, take a step in the direction of your goals and dreams, and prioritize your growth. What matters most to you and why?

2. Start before you’re ready.

You’ll learn along the way. If there is a desire, hunger or craving for change in your career or health and wellness, begin now. Invest in yourself. You are worth the investment. What do you have to lose?

3. Do the one small thing.

Small steps towards your goal is how you make big change over time. When any part of you freezes up, or you find yourself in overwhelm, you know you’ve taken on too much. Small bites are easier to digest, assimilate and nourish. Make a list of all the things you want to do. Pick one.

4. Your Self Talk Matters.

Practice self-compassion and speak to yourself as you would to your best friend. What you think about yourself and how you describe yourself to others has a ripple effect. Be positive. Create an anchor statement for yourself for when you feel stuck to move you back into the flow of your potential.

5. Embrace the process.

There is no finish line. There are only points on the map. Enjoy the scenery. Life is a laboratory. Let yourself experiment. When we embrace the unexpected twists and turns and see them as teachers along the way, life becomes more fun and playful.

When you look at your health as more than a metric of weight or size and see it more as a state of being established in who you are, there is less room for critique and judgment and more room for experimentation and success. It’s the stuff we do every day (or don’t do) that dramatically determines how we end up feeling. I’m talking super basic stuff like getting enough sleep, how we feed ourselves, how we use our bodies, and how much stimulation we give our minds. When we’ve got these dialed in, we get off the exhausting treadmill of busyness and open up to greater ease, flow and potential.

I’d love to hear about your health and wellness goals and the different  things you do to help achieve them. Leave a comment below to share.

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Herbal Remedies for Digestive Health Part 3: Demulcents

Herbal Remedies for Digestive Health Part 3: Herbal Demulcents

Part one in this series explored herbal bitters that stimulate digestive function. Part two reviewed the use of carminative herbs that relax the digestive system and help ease gas and bloating. Herbal bitters and carminatives combine well together to relieve slow, weak digestion, often characterized by a feeling of heaviness in the gut after eating, gas, bloating, and constipation. In contrast, the herbal demulcents described here in part three are more often used to cool excessive digestive fire—soothing and restoring tissue health rather than stimulating.

Herbal Demulcents

The final installment in this three-part series on herbal remedies for digestive health features herbal demulcents—cooling, moistening, soothing herbs that relieve heat, irritation, and inflammation in the digestive tract. These symptoms are characteristic of conditions like acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), ulcerations in the gut or peptic ulcers, leaky gut, Ulcerative Colitis, and Crohn’s Disease. Demulcents are rich in mucilaginous compounds which become thick and sticky when wet. They also have an indirect, reflexive mucus-generating (mucogenic) effect on mucus membranes throughout the body. Demulcents provide a soothing coating to hot, inflamed tissue and especially to mucus membranes in the gut, respiratory system, and urinary tract, and tend to have a localized anti-inflammatory effect.

Licorice Root | Glycyrrhiza glabra

Licorice root is a very sweet, moistening, restorative herb with a wide range of therapeutic properties. In addition to its therapeutic role in the digestive tract, Licorice root is also used to strengthen adrenal glands depleted by chronic stress, enhance immune function, and combat viral and bacterial infections in the respiratory system and urinary tract. Licorice root is harmonizing in almost any herbal formula, improving the flavor of harsh tasting herbs and promoting absorption.

Licorice root and its active constituents have been the subject of numerous pharmacological and clinical studies for digestive complaints. Most notably, a special form of Licorice known as DGL (deglycyrrhizinated licorice) has been shown to promote healing of peptic ulcers. In this form of Licorice, a compound in the root that can increase blood pressure has been removed. DGL has been shown to stimulate the body’s natural defense against the formation of ulcers in the stomach and small intestine, improving the health of the protective lining of the intestinal tract and increasing blood supply to this vital area. Several head-to-head studies have found DGL more effective in the treatment of peptic ulcers than commonly prescribed pharmaceutical drugs.

Licorice root is also soothing to hot, inflamed tissue in conditions like acid reflux where it combines well with Marshmallow root to ease discomfort.

Licorice root should be decocted to prepare a tea and can also be used as a liquid extract or as DGL. Individuals with high blood pressure, heart conditions, and kidney disease should avoid the use of licorice root or use it only under the guidance of their healthcare practitioner.

Marshmallow Root | Althea officinalis

Marshmallow root is a cooling, moistening herbal demulcent. Its use as an herbal remedy can be traced back to at least the ninth century B.C. Thought not as sweet as Licorice root, it is a simple and effective herb to soothe the excessive heat, irritation, and inflammation associated with GERD, gastritis, peptic ulcers, and hyperacidity. Marshmallow root is also soothing to mucus membranes of the respiratory system and urinary tract, and can be used topically for burns, wounds, bites, aches, and sprains.

For digestion, Marshmallow root is best prepared as a cold infusion tea, steeped for several hours or overnight in the refrigerator to allow for extraction of more of the mucilaginous compounds. It also works well to relieve both diarrhea and constipation taken as a powder combined with Slippery Elm bark. To prepare, use one tablespoon in a cup of warm water, shaken to create a gruel (a thin liquid food) and ingested on an empty stomach.

Marshmallow root can even be used to make a healthier version those sweet, childish confections we know as marshmallows! Note that Marshmallow’s mucilage content may delay or inhibit the absorption of other herbs or medications.

Slippery Elm Bark | Ulmus fulva

The native people of North America knew the therapeutic properties of Slippery elm bark long before Europeans arrived. Like Marshmallow root, it is a sweet, moist, cooling demulcent used to relieve excessive heat and irritability in the gastric mucosa. Though often used interchangeably or in combination with Marshmallow root, Slippery elm is more nutritious and is even considered a survival food. As a nutritive herb, Slippery elm bark is an excellent choice for convalescence, debility, and weight loss associated with impaired nutrient absorption. It is highly nutritious for infants and children, especially when they are under weight or experiencing loose stools.

Like Marshmallow root, Slippery elm bark should be prepared as a cold infusion or steeped for 30-60 minutes in hot water. For individuals with weak digestion, combining Slippery elm bark with a gently stimulating carminative like Fennel or Ginger will help balance the cooling, moistening effects. The powdered form also works well as a gruel or combined with other soft, cooling foods and ingested.

Approaching digestive health holistically, and with the help of herbal bitters, carminatives, and demulcents to increase digestive function, ease gas and bloating, and soothe irritation and inflammation is key to optimal health and vitality. Understanding the herbal actions described in this series will help you choose the right remedies for your individual needs. Now that you’ve learned a bit about herbal options for digestive health, what questions do you have? Let me know in the comments below.

To your health!
suzanne

References:

The Energetics of Western Herbs, A Materia Medica Integrating Western & Chinese Herbal Therapeutics, 4th Ed., Holmes, Peter, Snow Lotus Press, Cotati, CA, 2007.

The Healing Power of Herbs, 2nd Ed., Murray, Michael, Prima Publishing, Rocklin, CA, 1995.

Herbal Medicine From the Heart of the Earth, 2nd Ed., Tilgner, Sharol, Wise Acres LLC, Pleasant Hill, OR, 2009.

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Herbal Remedies for Healthy Digestion – Part 1: Herbal Bitters

HERBAL REMEDIES FOR DIGESTIVE HEALTH PART 1: HERBAL BITTERS

Herbs have a tremendously important role to play in promoting the health of your digestive system. When the digestive system is weak or sluggish, herbal bitters stimulate digestion and increase digestive fire. Herbs like Peppermint and Spearmint ease gas, bloating and occasional indigestion. Other herbs relieve irritation and inflammation and promote tissue health. In this three part series we’ll explore three types of herbal remedies for digestive health and the unique actions each herb helps to address:

Part 1: Herbal Bitters to stimulate digestion
Part 2: Herbal Carminatives to ease gas and bloating
Part 3: Herbal Demulcents to soothe irritation and inflammation

Understanding herbal actions helps you approach your health holistically and enables you to make a more informed choice when it comes to using digestive herbs. Keep in mind that herbalism is a holistic practice. This approach includes examining how diet and lifestyle may be impacting your digestion. In addition to addressing the root cause of imbalance, we also want to look at the unique needs of the individual. Herbal remedies aren’t as effective when we take a “one size fits all” approach. For example, a commonly used herb for digestion like peppermint may help someone with gas and bloating because it is a carminative. On the other hand, it may make matters worse for a person experiencing a burning sensation in the gut because it is also an antispasmodic that may relax a weak esophageal sphincter, allowing acid to move upward from the stomach in to the esophagus.

It would be hard to overstate the importance of healthy digestion when it comes to optimal wellness and vitality. At its most basic level, your digestive system is responsible for your ability to assimilate nutrients and eliminate waste. Your digestive system also plays a key role in immunity, brain health, and emotional health.

When your digestive system is weak and lacking in the compounds responsible for the breakdown of food (like bile, digestive enzymes, and hydrochloric acid) you may experience gas, bloating, indigestion, cramps, diarrhea, or constipation. These symptoms can also be caused by overeating, poor food choices, food allergies and sensitivities, and other conditions. Other complaints may involve irritation and inflammation of the tissue that lines the walls of your digestive tract, including heartburn (GERD or Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease), leaky gut syndrome, ulcerations, and auto immune-related conditions like Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis.

The good news is herbal bitters, carminatives, and demulcents help restore healthy structure and function to your digestive system.

HERBAL BITTERS

Herbal bitters stimulate the digestive system when it is weak or sluggish. They help to ensure that your digestive tract is able to break down the food you eat so the nutrients can be absorbed. More specifically, bitters stimulate the secretion of digestive juices, including hydrochloric acid in the stomach, bile from the liver, and digestive enzymes from the pancreas. As you might’ve guessed, herbal bitters do have a bitter taste, which is often lacking in the standard American diet.

How do you know if your digestive system is weak or sluggish? The first step is listening to your body. Do you often feel full for hours after a meal? Do you experience frequent gas or bloating no matter what you eat? Do you experience discomfort or pain when you ingest fats, oils, or proteins? Do you have multiple food sensitivities? Do you suffer from constipation or diarrhea? If you answered yes to any of these questions there’s a good chance your digestive fire is weak and bitters may be a good choice for you.

Typically bitters are ingested 15-20 minutes before a meal. The bitter taste receptors on the tongue and throughout the digestive tract receive the signal that food is on its way and it’s time for the digestive organs to get to work. Because of their bitter taste, I prefer to use herbal bitters as a liquid extract rather than a tea. You might be inclined to avoid the bitter taste altogether by encapsulating your bitters, but in order to stimulate the bitter receptors on the tongue you’ve got to taste it! Or, you might be like me and actually enjoy the taste of bitters (especially when combined with some of the tasty carminative herbs!) A word of caution: because of their stimulating action, bitters are not appropriate in pregnancy. Here’s a short list of some of my favorite herbal bitters for digestive health:

Burdock Root | Arctium lappa

This dark, fleshly root is also called Gobo in Japanse cooking and it’s botanical name is Arctium lappa. Burdock root stimulates digestion and promotes liver, gall bladder, kidney, and lymphatic system function. It acts on the liver to produce more bile, which helps your body digest fats, and promotes the flow of bile from the gall bladder where bile is stored until needed. Burdock can have a mild laxative effect due to its stimulating action. Burdock is also rich in a compound called inulin, which is considered a “prebiotic,” that feeds and helps your healthy gut flora thrive. This nourishing, well-rounded bitter root is an excellent choice for chronic gas and bloating caused by weakened digestive fire. I also like it as part of a whole body cleanse and to help the gut recover from food poisoning or stomach flu. Energetically, Burdock Root is cooling, slightly sweet, and of course, bitter. Hot tempered, irritable people tend to benefit from this cooling root. Burdock can be prepared as a decoction, another name for a tea prepared by simmering the root, or taken as an herbal extract.

Dandelion Root | Taraxacum officinalis

Despite a lawn and gardening industry aimed at eradicating the lowly Dandelion, it is a nourishing plant ally with a wide range of actions that benefit the entire body. Formally known as Taraxacum officinalis, both the leaves and roots of Dandelion are used medicinally, though the root has a more pronounced effect on digestion. Like Burdock Root, Dandelion Root stimulates digestion and promotes liver, gall bladder, kidney, and lymphatic system function and it has a high inulin content. It also promotes the pancreas’ production of digestive enzymes. It combines well with Milk Thistle Seed and Turmeric Root to prevent gall stone formation. Like Burdock Root, Dandelion Root is also cooling and a good choice for anger and irritability associated with a sluggish liver. I prefer Dandelion prepared as a decoction. It has a somewhat milder, sweeter taste than Burdock Root. It can also be taken as an herbal extract, called a tincture.

Gentian | Gentiana lutea

The botanical name for this VERY bitter root is Gentiana lutea. Like all bitters, Gentian stimulates the liver and other digestive organs. In small doses before a meal it helps with sluggish digestion, promoting the secretion of gastric juices and improving nutrient absorption. I recommend using Gentian as a liquid extract. I like to combine this potent bitter with other milder bitters like Dandelion as well as carminatives with a pleasing taste. This is the herbal Mary Poppins’ version of “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.”

Yarrow | Achillea millefolium

This lovely, delicate flower known as Achillea millefolium is an effective bitter that acts on relaxed, atonic tissue in the digestive tract and throughout the body. Its astringent and anti-inflammatory actions also make it a good choice for inflamed, irritated tissue in the digestive tract. At the first sign of a cold or flu, Yarrow will help the body cast out the offending organism with its diaphoretic action and relieve discomfort. Energetically, it is considered cooling and drying. Yarrow makes a lovely tea prepared as an infusion and it can also be taken as a liquid extract.

There are many useful herbs for the digestive tract, including herbal bitters. Understanding their actions will help you know which ones are likely to be most helpful for you. A healthy digestive system is critical to optimal health. If you’re experiencing imbalance or discomfort in your digestive system, do not delay in seeking a solution. You’ll be glad you did. Do you have questions about using herbal bitters for digestive health? Feel free to leave me a comment below.

To your health,
suzanne

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HERBAL REMEDIES FOR DIGESTIVE HEALTH PART 2: HERBAL CARMINATIVES

HERBAL REMEDIES FOR DIGESTIVE HEALTH PART 2: HERBAL CARMINATIVES

In part two of this three-part series we’ll delve into the world of carminative herbs which relieve gas, bloating, and occasional indigestion. In part one  we looked at herbal bitters that stimulate digestive function, increasing the secretion of digestive juices and promoting the motility of the digestive tract. Part three examines herbal demulcents. While herbal bitters are helpful to restore healthy function to your digestive tract, and demulcents soothe irritation and inflammation, carminatives help ease the gas and bloating caused by weak or sluggish digestion.

Let’s take a closer look at herbal carminatives and how they might be used alone or in conjunction with herbal bitters.

CARMINATIVE HERBS

Remember when restaurants used to serve after dinner mints? That’s because peppermint is a carminative herb. Carminatives help to reduce and prevent the formation of gas in the digestive tract and relieve bloating. Most carminative herbs are also antispasmodics that help relieve digestive cramps. Carminative herbs can also help relieve nausea and vomiting caused by a stomach flu and in pregnancy. They will also help relieve nausea associated with motion sickness, especially when taken in advance.

Carminative herbs are most often used for occasional indigestion with gas and bloating. You might experience occasional indigestion if you’ve eaten too fast or too much, combined certain foods, or if you were eating on the run or when you were feeling upset or angry. Being mindful of when, where, what, and how much you eat is so important to healthy digestion and can make a big difference in how often you suffer from indigestion. If despite mindful attention to your meals, you still experience a lot of gas and bloating, feelings of fullness, constipation or diarrhea, your digestive system may be weak and sluggish. Sluggish digestion benefits from a combination of herbal bitters (discussed in Part 1 [link]) to stimulate function, and carminative herbs to relieve gas and bloating.

You’ll be pleased to know that most carminative herbs taste really good!Many of them are even culinary spices. There are many herbs to choose from in this category, but my favorites include Cardamom, Chamomile, Fennel, Ginger, and Peppermint.

You may even be able to create a quick and delicious carminative tea from culinary spices you already have in your kitchen cupboard. This Kitchen Remedy Tea [https://nectarapothecary.com/kitchen-remedy-tea/] is just one such combination made with herbs and spices you probably have on hand.

Essential oils, properly diluted and applied topically, are also an effective way to make use of carminative herbs for gas, bloating, and cramps. Add one to five drops of essential oil to one teaspoon of unscented lotion or carrier oil and massage on your belly in a clockwise direction. Relief is typically rapid. My favorite essential oils for this purpose include Peppermint, Cardamom, Fennel, and Ginger.

Cardamom | Elettaria cardamomum

You might be more familiar with this rich aromatic spice from its appearance in baked goods or in Indian Chai tea. Its subtle, complex flavor makes it one of my favorite carminatives to add depth and complexity to any tea blend. In addition to its ability to ease digestive discomfort, Cardamom is a gently warming and mildly stimulating stomachic, meaning it promotes healthy stomach function. It is also used for bad breath, heart burn, and nausea. To prepare a tea with Cardamom, steep one teaspoon of the seeds in one cup of hot water for about 15 minutes.

As an essential oil it has a pleasing spicy aroma that can be easily overshadowed by other oils. However, I like it for its subtle aroma. Whereas Peppermint essential oil is bold and overpowering, Cardamon essential oil, diluted and rubbed on the belly or just below the sternum doesn’t announce it presence to everyone in the room. This exotic spice is also considered an aphrodisiac and the essential oil can be used as a gentle stimulant to uplift and comfort the heart and mind.

Chamomile | Matricaria recutita

This charming little flower is a rich source of plant medicine. Often referred to as German Chamomile, its botanical name is Matricaria recutita. When it comes to digestion, it’s not only a carminative herb used to ease gas and bloating, its also a mild bitter that gently stimulates digestive function, an anti-spasmodic and anti-inflammatory. Chamomile, is perhaps better known for its relaxing effects helping to relieve nervous tension and promote a good night’s sleep; it’s also often used topically for inflammation and sore muscles. But, used for digestive health, its relaxing action coupled with its effects on the digestive system make Chamomile a shining choice for people who experience digestive discomfort when they’re nervous or stressed. This herb works best for digestion when prepared as lovely and fragrant tea even little ones can enjoy. Steep 1 heaping teaspoon in one cup hot water for about 15 minutes.

Fennel | Foeniculum vulgare

Fennel seeds are sweet and aromatic. They have a more robust flavor than the bulbous Fennel root you may have enjoyed as a vegetable. The botanical name for this pleasing carminative is Foeniculum vulgare. The seeds can be chewed after a meal to promote digestion and freshen the breathe. Consider keeping a small container of Fennel seeds in your bag or pocket in lieu of mints or other sugary breathe fresheners. To ease indigestion or gas, steep up to one tablespoon of crushed seeds in one cup of hot water for 15 minutes and sip.

Nursing mothers may find Fennel seeds help increase breast milk and soothe babies with colic or indigestion.. Fennel essential oil, properly diluted can also be used as a carminative to promote circulation, relieve edema, reduce cellulitis, and for menopausal problems.

Ginger | Zingiber officinalis

This spicy, aromatic root is a warming carminative. The botanical name for Ginger is Zingiber officinalis. In addition to relief for gas and bloating, Ginger is especially helpful for nausea and vomiting. It can be used for nausea or vomiting caused by flu or in pregnancy. Sipping on a cup of Ginger tea can also quell nausea and vomiting, and help you stay hydrated during a bout with the flu. In addition, Ginger’s diaphoretic (induces sweating), antipyretic (reduces fever), anti-spasmodic, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic properties offer welcome relief for the fever, body aches, and headaches that often accompany the flu.

Dried Ginger Root is considered hotter and somewhat more stimulating than the fresh root, though overall the plant is gentle and appropriate for both children and the elderly. Prepare a tea with the dried root by steeping one teaspoon in one cup of water for at least 15 minutes. If you’re making tea with the fresh root, chop up a piece about ¾-1½ inches in length and steep for at least 15 minutes. When you don’t feel up to making tea, the liquid extract of Ginger is a quick and easy alternative.

Peppermint | Mentha piperta

Peppermint is perhaps the most well-known carminative. Though it is easily recognizable from its bright fragrance, its botanical name is Mentha piperta. Whether as a tea or a diluted essential oil, Peppermint relieves indigestion, flatulence, nausea, and vomiting. It is considered a specific remedy for irritable bowel syndrome. It is gently stimulating and makes a nice afternoon pick-me-up.

A healthy digestive system doesn’t just promote your body’s ability to absorb nutrients and get rid of waste, it plays a key role in vitality, immunity, brain health, and emotional health. I’d love to hear about your experiences using herbs, including these carminatives for digestion health. Drop me a comment below to share.

To your health,
suzanne

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Herbal Wisdom: 8 Benefits of Adaptogens

Herbal Wisdom: 8 Benefits of Adaptogens

Herbalists use the term adaptogen to describe herbs that help the body adapt to stress, improve stamina, and increase resilience. Adaptogens increase the body’s resistance to physical, biological, emotional and environmental stressors. They will also strengthen a weakened immune system reducing the chances of you catching the common cold or flu bug. Adaptogens have been used by athletes to increase stamina and reduce recovery time after strenuous exercise. Many adaptogens improve mental focus and clarity. Some adapotgens have an affinity for specific body systems, including the cardiovascular system and the male and female and reproductive systems. Historically, adaptogens were used to increase longevity and promote healthy aging.

How Do Adaptogens Work?

People have been enjoying the therapeutic benefits of adaptogenic herbs for eons. Much of our understanding of these potent plants comes to us from the ancient wisdom of traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurvedic medicine. Resting on the shoulders of this ancient wisdom, modern science and clinical research has helped us better understand how these plants work to increase stamina and improve health.

Though research is ongoing, we do know that adaptogenic herbs are loaded with a complex range of phytochemicals (naturally occurring compounds found in plants), including compounds known as terpenes, polyphenols, and polysaccharides. They act throughout the body to promote balance and have a pronounced effect on the body’s central stress response system known as the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA). Of these phytochemicals, terpenes have a strengthening effect on the adrenal glands which help the body respond to stress, and also show anti-inflammatory, immune-modulating and liver protectant properties. Many of the polyphenol compounds have antioxidant properties which combat aging and age-related degenerative conditions. Polysaccharide-containing adaptogens stimulate the immune system, improve resistance to disease, and increase energy and vitality.

8 Benefits of Adaptogens + Why We Should All Be Taking Them

In our complex, fast paced world most people will benefit from the use of adaptogens. These are the eight reasons we should all be taking herbal adaptogens every day.

Stress Relief

Acute and chronic stress can wreak havoc on our lives and on our bodies. Stress may show up in common symptoms like anxiety, irritability and insomnia while it drives illness and diseases like cardiovascular disease, cancer, high blood pressure and obesity. Cortisol, sometimes referred to as the “stress hormone” is often elevated, leading to immune suppression, rapid aging, and increased deposits of inflammatory belly fat. When cortisol becomes depleted and unavailable in normal amounts to moderate stress, the lack of cortisol allows inflammation to go unchecked.

While diet and lifestyle modifications are critical in reducing stress, herbal adaptogens can play an important role. Adaptogens help normalize excess cortisol levels and assist the body in maintaining a balanced stress response. If you work long hours or feel tense and stressed trying to juggle home, family, and work demands, adaptogens are an excellent way to support your body and a good way to start your day. Some of the best adaptogens for the complexities and stress of modern life are Ashwagandha, Holy Basil, Eleuthero, Maca, Panax and American Ginseng, and Rhodiola. If you tend to feel anxious and worried when you’re experiencing stress, Ashwagandha may be an especially good choice. Unlike many adaptogens like Ginseng, Maca and Rhodiola, that are stimulating, Ashwagandha calms the mind and relieves anxiety. It can also be used to promote more restful sleep, especially when stress and worry make sleep a challenge.

Increased Energy & Enhanced Athletic Performance

Stimulating adaptogens are the best choice for individuals who want more energy without the draining effects of caffeine. Herbal adaptogens are also helpful in individuals whose lack of energy is driven by chronic fatigue syndrome and adrenal fatigue (a reduction in adrenal gland function). For chronic fatigue and adrenal support, consider adaptogens like Panax and American Ginseng, Ashwagandha, Cordyceps, Eleuthero, Holy Basil or Rhodiola.

Adaptogens can also be used to enhance athletic performance and have enjoyed a long history of use by Olympic athletes. Specifically, adaptogens have been shown to increase endurance and strength, help build muscle mass, improve the use of fuel by the muscles during physical activity, and shorten recovery time. For enhanced physical performance choose adaptogens like Panax Ginseng, Cordyceps, Eleuthero, Holy Basil, and Rhodiola.

Immune Strength

Healthy functioning of the immune system is critical to our health, resistance to infection, and defense against certain diseases. Chronic stress suppresses the immune system’s ability to do its job and increases our susceptibility to disease. Frequent colds and flus may be an indication that the immune system is depleted and that herbal adaptogens are in order. Adaptogens act to stimulate the immune system, increasing resistance to many viral, bacterial and fungal infections. To strengthen immunity, choose adaptogens like Astragalus, Panax or American Ginseng, Cordyceps, Eleuthero, Reishi, Rhodiola, and Schisandra.

Research on Eleuthero shows that regular use may reduce the incidence of colds and other common infectious diseases, and for athletes, prevent the immune-depletion caused by excessive training. Astragalus root is a good choice for people who are run-down and need an overall immune boost. Used for long term strengthening of the immune system, its antimicrobial activity may improve resistance to colds, flus, and bronchitis. In Chinese medicine, Astragalus is said to strengthen the Lung qi, which is a protective energy that helps prevent illness caused by external forces.

If you are taking adaptogens to enhance immune strength and do get a cold or flu, Traditional Chinese Medicine principles dictate suspending use of the adaptogenic herbs during an acute viral or bacterial infection typically associated with a cold or flu.

Healthy Aging & Longevity

Rich in antioxidants that combat age-related degenerative conditions, the daily use of adaptogens is a therapeutic routine for anyone wanting to live with energy and vitality. In parts of the world where herbal medicine is practiced by everyone, adaptogens are used daily, without any symptom of disease and long before the signs of aging. Astragalus and Panax Ginseng are two adaptogens used to promote and long, healthy life.

Modern scientific research has shown that Astragalus, long used in Chinese medicine as an adaptogen to promote longevity, works at the level of human DNA to combat aging. Astragalus contains compounds that boost production of an enzyme, telomerase, that plays a critical role in cellular health and anti-aging at the level of our DNA, the genetic material that contains the instructions all organisms need to develop, live, and reproduce. Specifically, telomerase controls the short bits of DNA known as telomeres, which ensure accurate cell division and replication. Telomeres are sometimes likened to the plastic tips that protect the ends of shoelaces to prevent them from unraveling. As telomeres shorten, errors in cell replication accumulate, causing a wide range of age-related conditions including certain cancers, cardiovascular disease including stroke and vascular dementia, osteoporosis, and diabetes.

Panax Ginseng, another highly esteemed adaptogen in Chinese medicine is another excellent daily adaptogen. One of the most heavily researched herbs, Ginseng’s legendary status as a longevity tonic has been validated by modern scientific research and clinical studies. Like Astragalus, Ginseng is an adaptogen and antioxidant. Considered the most stimulating of adaptogens, Panax ginseng can be used at any age to promote stamina and endurance, and improve cognitive function and memory. Panax Ginseng helps relieve adrenal burnout and exhaustion and reduce cortisol levels elevated by stress. For more about herbs for healthy aging, visit this blog, 7 Herbs for Your Holistic Aging Practice.

Better Sleep

While it might seem paradoxical that herbs to increase energy and enhance athletic performance can improve sleep, adaptogenic plant’s ability to balance the nervous system and reduce the effects of stress also improves sleep. Stress, accompanying anxiety, and elevated cortisol levels can make falling asleep and staying asleep difficult. Adaptogens that balance excess cortisol and calm the nervous system are best for stress-related sleep problems. Ashwagandha before bedtime is especially useful where stress and anxiety go together to make sleep difficult. Eleuthero is also a good choice to improve sleep quality or nighttime wakefulness. American Ginseng is a good choice for sleep problems related to chronic fatigue syndrome. For other natural approaches to better sleep, visit this blog, 5 Herbs & Essential Oils for Better Sleep.

Brain Health, Memory, Focus & Concentration

Adaptogens can support brain health and improve memory, focus, and concentration for people of all ages. Elevated cortisol and its inflammatory effects have a direct impact on brain health and appear to play a role in the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Stress and mental fatigue also impact our ability to focus and learn.

For brain health, improved memory, mental clarity, better concentration and focus consider adaptogens like Ashwagandha, Eleuthero, Ginseng, Rhodiola, and Schisandra. Rhodiola has been subjected to more than 180 published pharmacological, phytochemical, and clinical studies. A stimulating adaptogen, Rhodiola promotes brain function and memory and is used to relieve mental fatigue, reduce depressive syndromes, and ameliorate memory loss and cognitive dysfunction from a variety of causes, including brain injuries. It has been shown to have a positive effect on parts of the brain responsible for memory, perception and information processing, especially in healthy individuals working long hours in fields requiring complex analysis and critical decision-making.

Schisandra is a unique adaptogen with calming and stimulating properties. It calms the mind at the same time as it enhances reflexes, work performance and mental clarity. This combination is especially effective for individuals seeking relief from nervous tensions and anxiety who still need a high level of mental clarity and focus in their work. For other herbs for brain health and mental clarity that combine well with adapotgens see Brain Supplies: 5 Herbs to Remember.

Enhanced Mood and Relief for Anxiety & Depression

Stress-relieving adaptogens like Schisandra help elevate mood and relieve anxiety. Ashwagandha is another good choice to consider especially when stress, anxiety, or elevated cortisol levels disrupt sleep. Unlike most other adaptogens that are stimulating, Ashwagandha calms the mind and relieves anxiety. It helps to nourish and rebuild a nervous system depleted by long-term stress or illness and reduces cortisol levels elevated by chronic stress. It promotes thyroid function and is beneficial for people with hypothyroidism, or a low functioning thyroid. Ashwagandha can also be helpful for mild to moderate depression as are Ginseng, Holy Basil, Maca, Rhodiola, and Schisandra. For more about other herbs that combine well with herbal adaptogens to calm the nervous system, see Natural Relief: 7 Safe and Effective Herbs for Anxiety.

Cancer Prevention

Adaptogens’ stress-relieving, immune-strengthening, and anti-oxidant properties all help prevent cancer. While there are many factors that lead to the develop of abnormal, cancerous cells and the growth of cancerous tumors, stress is a contributing factor. Adaptogens ability to alleviate the effects of stress to prevent cancer offer yet another reason to incorporate adaptogenic herbs into your daily routine. Adaptogens’ ability to strengthen the immune system also helps the body defend against cancer. The body’s immune system can clean up abnormal cells before they become cancerous and form malignant tumors. Oxidative damage to cell DNA can also lead to cancer causing cell mutations. The antioxidant power of adaptogens helps inhibit this type of damage. Adaptogens with stress-relieving, immune enhancing, and antioxidant properties include Ashwagandha, Astragalus, Eleuthero, Ginseng, Holy Basil, Schisandra, and Rhodiola. Many of these herbs are also used to support individuals undergoing radiation and chemotherapy to treat cancer. Astragalus, for example, is also used to counter the immunosuppressive effects of chemotherapy treatment and possesses tumor inhibiting activity.

If you are new to the wonderous world of adaptogens, it all may seem too good to be true. But, humans have continued to use adaptogens for thousands of years, because they work!

There is a wide array of adaptogens to choose from with similar and different properties. They can be combined for a synergistic effect or used alone. To choose, consider your own body, how you respond to stress, and your family-history-driven health risks. Of course, you can always ask an herbalist or another herbal practitioner to help you choose. As always, use common sense (more is not necessarily better) and consult with your healthcare practitioner if you are being treated for a medical condition.

Do you have questions about adaptogens or how to use them? Leave them in the comments below.

Wishing you health and vitality,
suzanne

References

Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief, Winston, D and Maimes, S, Healing Arts Press, Rochester, Vermont, 2007.

Beneficial Effects of Lepidium meyenii (Maca) on Psychological Symptoms and Measures of Sexual dysfunction in Postmenopausal Women are Not Related to Estrogen or Androgen Content. Brooks NA, et al., Menopause, 2008 Nov-Dec, 15:1157-62.

A Clinical Guide to Blending Liquid Herbs, Herbal Formulations for the Individual Patient, Boone, Kerry, 2003.

Comparison of the pharmacological effects of Panax ginseng and Panax quinquefolium, Chen CF, Chiou WF, et al., Acta Pharmacol Sin, 2008, 29(9): 1103-1108.

A Double-blind Placebo-controlled Trial of Maca Root as Treatment for Antidepressant-induced Sexual Dysfunction in Women, Dording C, Schettler P, Dalton E, et al. Evidence Based Complimentary Alternative Medicine, 2015; Article ID 949036.

Effect of comprehensive lifestyle changes on telomerase activity and telomere length in men with biopsy-proven low-risk prostate cancer, Ornish D, Lin J, Chan J, et al., The Lancet Oncology, 2013, 14(11): 1112-1120.

Effects of Panax ginseng extract on exercise-induced oxidative stress, Kim SH, Park KS, et al., J Sports Med Phys Fitness, 2005, 45(2): 178-82.

Effect of Rhodiola Rosea extract on Ovarian Function, Proceedings of the Scientific Conference on Endocrinology and Gynecology, Russian Academy of Sciences, 1970 Sept 15-16; 46-48.

Effects of Red Ginseng Supplementation on Menopausal Symptoms and Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Postmenopausal Women: A Double-blind Randomized Controlled Trial, Young Kim S., et al. Menopause 2012; 19(4) 461-466.

The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, 3rd Ed., Murray M, Pizzorno J, Atria, 2012.

Functional assessment of Pharmacological Telomerase Activators in Human T Cells, Molgora, B, Bateman, E, Sweeney, G, at al., Cells 2013, 2(1): 57-66

Herbal Medicine From the Heart of the Earth, 2d Ed., Tilgner, Sharon, Wise Acres, LLC, Pleasant Hill, Oregon, 2009.

A prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of safety and efficacy of a high-concentration full-spectrum extract of ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in adults, Indian J Psychol Med. 2012 Jul;34(3):255-62.

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7 Essentials for Your DIY Wildcrafting Tool Kit

7 Essentials for Your DIY Wildcrafting Tool Kit

Your mother, father and common sense probably taught you the importance of having the right tool for the job. This is just as true for foraging and wildcrafting as it is for cooking or woodworking. When I go into the forest or desert to harvest edible and medicinal plants I carry these seven essential items in my wildcrafting tool kit.

But first, is it Foraging or Wildcrafting? That depends on who you ask. Herbalist’s have long used the term “wildcrafting” to refer to the practice of harvesting medicinal plants in the wild where they are found, rather than cultivated. The term “foraging” is more often associated with the practice of gathering wild food stuff like wild greens, berries and mushrooms. Regardless what term you choose, gathering wild plants ethically and sustainably requires, knowledge, sensitivity and respect. You can read more about the practice of ethical wildcrafting at Independence and Interdependence: What to Know About Foraging Medicinal Plants.

DIY Wildcrafting Tool Kit

PLANT IDENTIFICATION BOOKS
Experienced herbalists and foragers know the importance of correct plant identification. There’s no better way to learn to identify medicinal and edible plants in your bioregion than from someone who already knows them well. A good plant identification book is the next best option. Here’s a list of my favorite books for identifying and harvesting wild and medicinal plants.

SCISSORS & CLIPPERS
Scissors and clippers are the tools I use most frequently. From tender green herbs like mint and plantain to hardier stems and branches on plants like chaparral and willow, these simple tools will serve you well. If you are a beginner herbalist, I recommend investing in a good quality pair of garden clippers. I bought my first clippers more than twenty years ago when I started herb school and I am still using them. Your clippers are also an important medicine-making tool for chopping fresh roots, like Echinacea and Dandelion in the process of making an herbal extract.

GLOVES
I love to get my hands in the soil and I love to smell the fragrant oils and plant resins on my skin. So, though I often wildcraft without gloves, I always keep a pair of gloves in my backpack. There are lots of prickly, thorny plants that demand thick sturdy gloves, especially in the desert.

TROWEL & FOLDING SHOVEL
You’ll need these to harvest most roots. The trowel is adequate for small or shallow roots in soft soil. For large, deeper roots you’ll want a larger shovel. I like the folding shovel because it can easily be strapped to my backpack. In some places, were the soil is hard and rocky, harvesting roots is easier with a small pick axe to break up the soil and free the roots.

PAPER BAGS
Brown paper bags are my preferred method for collecting and transporting most freshly harvested plants from field to home. Paper bags absorb excess moisture and allow the plant to begin drying. Avoid plastic bags (which are the worst possible bags for the environment) that trap moisture and invite mold to form on your plants. Plants very high in moisture, berries and fruits for example, are an exception. I usually gather these in a bucket.

Having the right tools in your pack will ensure that the plants are harvested with the least harm and that they are in the best possible condition for drying, medicine-making, or your dinner plate.

I hope your wildcrafting and foraging adventures are fun and fruitful! What other essentials are in your wildcrafting toolkit? You can share your experiences with us below or snap a photo of your wildcrafting adventures with us on Instagram using #nectarDIY.

Blessings,
suzanne

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Independence and Interdependence: What to Know About Wildcrafting Medicinal Plants

Independence and Interdependence: What to Know About wildcrafting Medicinal Plants

Wild crafting medicinal plants is both art and science. It is also a celebration of independence and paradoxically, a celebration of interdependence. Wild crafting medicinal plants and using locally grown and prepared herbal medicine becomes an act of independence in our modern world, when almost everything we need is produced in a distant city by giant corporations that care little about our health or the health of our community. My teacher, James Green, described herbal medicine-making as the “technology of independence”—medicine by the people, for the people.

Independence requires knowledge of the plants in your bioregion, the skills to create your own herbal medicine, and the wisdom to use it safely. Done with care and respect, wild crafting is an also act of interdependence. It recognizes that our health, the health of our communities, the health of our air, water, and ecosystems, and the health of the medicinal plant communities are all interwoven. People taking responsibility for their health, growing food and medicine, making medicine, and providing basic healthcare for their family and community all begins with the wild crafting of medicinal plants.

Start small. Harvest what grows in your own backyard. Plant and grow native medicinal plants. Before you wild craft a single medicinal plant, recognize and acknowledge your own interdependence. Whether harvesting herbs in your garden or gathering medicinal roots in the wild, always offer wholehearted gratitude in recognition of life supporting life. Honor and offer respect for the plant, the plant community, and the other creatures that may depend on it. Slow down, listen, ask permission with gratitude, and make an offering. Meditate, offer a prayer, a song, or native seeds. You can do this in your own way, according to your own traditions or you can create a new tradition for this purpose. Only then is it appropriate to harvest.

The Art & Science of Ethical Wild Crafting

Plant Identification, Status, and Respect

The science of wild crafting (or harvesting in your own backyard) requires correct plant identification. Many plants have lookalikes and some plants even have poisonous look alikes. Learn from a botanist or herbalist, your local community college, or organizations like your local Native Plant Society. There are also excellent medicinal plant books. I recently reviewed some of my favorites in  my post, 6 of the Best Wild Crafting Books for Identifying and Harvesting Wild Medicinal & Edible Plants.

In addition to correct plant identification, you need to know the status of the plant. Is it rare, threatened, or endangered ? United Plant Savers  is an excellent source on the status of rare, threatened, and endangered medicinal plants. Never pick rare, threatened, or endangered plants. Take only a picture and a loving memory.

In addition to an offering of gratitude before you begin, ethical wild crafting also demands that you proceed with sensitivity and respect. Leave the ecosystem healthy, walk softly, replant rootlets and seeds where possible, and restore disturbed ground. Harvest only where the plant is abundant. Even if the plant is abundant in your bioregion and the stands you have encountered are large, take only a small portion, no more than you will use that year; never more than 10%; and less if you are harvesting medicinal roots. Make certain that neither the plant nor its water source have been contaminated by human activities—mining, farm fertilizers and pesticides, urban runoff, and the like. Do not harvest near roads even though some medicinal plants love these disturbed areas.

Horsetail (Equisetum spp.) grows in wet, wild places, but will pick-up any toxins present in its water supply. When wildcrafting be certain that the area is clean and free of pollutants.

When to Forage Medicinal Plants

You can enhance the potency of your herbal medicine by harvesting at the right time of day and in the correct season, when the plant is in the optimal stage of its growth. You may also align the harvest with the stage of the moon if you feel guided by lunar phases. In general, the optimal harvesting time corresponds to the time when the energy of the plant is at its peak in the part of the plant you intend to use as medicine. This will vary depending upon whether you are harvesting flowers, leaves, or aerial parts, seeds, berries, bark, rhizomes, or roots. Of course, knowing which part of the plant to harvest is part of the knowledge base you will acquire as you get to know the plant and before you venture out

Bee Balm (Monarda spp.) is found both as an ornamental landscape plant and in drainages in the southwest. Its medicine is most potent when in flower.

 

If you are picking flowers or flowers and leaves, harvest just before the flower reaches full bloom—when the color and fragrance are most attractive to pollinators. If only the leaves are to be gathered, do so when they are fully developed, but before the blossoms develop and the energy of the plant moves in to flower production. In either case, if you are harvesting the aerial parts of a plant, the best time of day is late morning after the dew has dried and before the heat of the day, which can temporarily wilt the leaves. On or near the full moon is considered the best time to harvest the aerial parts of plants. For highly aromatic plants which are rich in essential oils, optimal harvest time is during the hottest part of the year when the medicinal oils are most prominent. This includes many of the culinary herbs you may have in your garden like Rosemary, Thyme, Oregano, Mint, and Lavender.

Prickly Poppy (Argemone spp.), native to the southwest US, is harvested when in flower. All the aerial parts of the plant are used as medicine.

If you plan to make medicine with the entire plant, flowers, leaves and roots, harvest when the plant has freshly flowered. In general, rhizomes and roots are best harvested in the fall, when the aerial parts of the plant have begun to die back or very early in the spring before new growth begins. If you are harvesting the rhizome or roots of a perennial allow two to three years of growth, and in some cases longer. On or near the new moon is considered the best time to harvest roots.

Use heavy kitchen shears or garden clippers to harvest aerial parts of plants. You can usually get by with a good strong trowel to harvest roots. Collect the plants in a basket or brown paper bag, which allows the plants to begin to dry. Avoid collecting in a plastic bag which will trap moisture and invite your newly cut plants to mold.

How to Dry & Process wild crafted Plants

Herbal medicine of superior quality is made with plants that have been harvested at the right time, handled with respect and delicacy, and carefully dried or processed while fresh. Whenever you harvest, be sure to allow time for immediate processing of the plants. Allowing the cut plants to sit around for days is not only disrespectful, it invites mold and decay.

Roots and rhizomes need to be washed, scrubbed clean and chop into thin pieces for drying. Aerial parts of medicinal plants that grow close to the ground (Mullein for example) tend to collect dirt and need to be washed in cool water. The upper leaves and flowers often do not need to be rinsed, but you will need to make this judgment call each time you harvest. Once cleaned the plants are prepared for drying unless you plan to make a fresh plant extract.

These fresh roots of Yerba Mansa (Anemopsis californica), another southwest native, have been washed, scrubbed clean and ready to be made into a medicinal extract.

Plants that have been dried well resemble the fresh plant in color, aroma, taste, and texture. To dry leaves and flowers on stems, bundled them together with a rubber band and hang to dry. Attention to detail is very important. As you prepare the bundles carefully inspect the plant and discard anything that does not look healthy or that fails to meet your standards of excellence in medicine-making. Strip off leaves at the end of the stem so that no leaves are trapped under the rubber band where they will mold. Your banded bundles should allow circulation among the leaves. If they are too large and dry too slowly, the possibility of mold and decay increases. Hang bundles in a warm dry place with good circulation. I often use a small closet dedicated to that purpose and leave the door ajar. A drying screen or dehydrator is useful for drying roots, flowers, leaves, or berries. I do not recommend trying to use the oven (too hot) or a microwave (too damaging).

Wild Mint (Mentha spp.) has been bundled using rubber bands and is ready for the drying rack.

Your medicinal plants are ready for the next stage of processing when all the parts feel somewhat crisp to the touch. The timing varies widely; some plants take only a couple of days to dry thoroughly, others can take a week or more. After the plant is dry, its ready for garbling! Garbling is a term unique to the herb world and refers to the process of carefully separating the best and most medicinal parts of the plants from those parts that are not going to be used as medicine. Attention to detail is paramount. Carefully inspect the dried plant and compost any parts that are discolored or show other damage. Gently strip dried leaves and flowers from stems if the stems are not typically used medicinally. Your dried herbs should be stored in jars out of direct sunlight.

When you next venture out to wild craft, make it a celebration of independence and interdependence. Reflect on the ways we can take back control of our health and the health of our communities—and take action. Make your own herbal medicine and teach this “technology of independence” to your children and grandchildren, to your friends and neighbors. And, remember our interdependence—the reality of our dependence on each other and on the Earth.

I’d love to see and hear about the plants you’re working with in your bioregion. You can share in the comments section below or snap a picture and tag us on Instagram with #nectarDIY.

For the Earth,
suzanne

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6 of the Best Books for Identifying & Harvesting Wild Medicinal & Edible Plants

6 of the Best wild crafting Books for Identifying and Harvesting Wild Medicinal & Edible Plants

For plant geeks, whether herbalist, wild crafter, or nature lover, books are an important resource. Though not a substitute for getting up close and personal with the plants and trees in your bioregion, they can be tremendously helpful in identifying new plants and understanding those you already know. When it comes to identification and harvesting of wild medicinal and edible plants, these six wild crafting books are my best company on ventures into the wild.

A Side Note About Buying Books
Before you purchase any of these books, please consider who your purchase supports—the author, a small business, your local community, or a global corporate online book seller? We sell all but one of the books mentioned here in the shop. If you have an independent bookstore in your community, an herbal apothecary, a locally owned outdoor shop, or a local nursery and you want to keep them in your community, please buy plant books from these sellers. And even if they don’t carry the book you want, there’s a good chance they’d be happy to order it for you.

1. The Wild Wisdom of Weeds – 13 Essential Plants for Human Survival by Katrina Blair

In The Wild Wisdom of Weeds, Katrina Blair dives deep into thirteen edible plants common around the globe wherever human settlements are found. There’s a good chance you have some of these plants growing in your backyard. Blair is an author, holistic health educator and expert in sustainable living practices. She is the founder of Turtle Lake Refuge, a nonprofit whose mission is to celebrate the connection between personal health and wild lands. From the wide world of wild edible plants, Blair identified this distinguished group of wild weeds because they are common around the world, provide both food and medicine, and adapt well to a diverse range climates and conditions. From Dandelion to Mustad, Plantain and Thistle, each chapter provides a comprehensive look at another wild weed including its history and current use, food and medicinal uses, and lots of unique recipes. In this book, Blair offers a unique and practical perspective on the use of wild weeds to nourish our bodies and help us align with the wisdom of nature.

2. Edible and Medicinal Plants of the West by Gregory Tilford

Edible and Medicinal Plants of the West is a beautiful, practical book by respected herbalist and naturalist, Gregory Tilford. Despite the reference to the “West” in the title of this book, the author notes that the many of the plants described in the book can be found throughout much of the United States—from the Midwest and Southeast and from the west coast of Canada to southern Alaska. Tilford’s description of more than 130 commonly used medicinal plants includes the detail to help you identify the plant, including bloom time, habitat and range, and how to distinguish it from “look-alike” plants. In addition to Tilfords’s expertise on the medicinal properties, what I love most about this book are the glossy plant photos. If you are more of a visual learner, this book will provide you with endless enjoyment whether you’re studying at home or wild crafting in the wild

3. Medicinal Plants of the Desert & Canyon West by Michael Moore

Medicinal Plants of the Desert & Canyon West by Michael Moore is one of three must-have books for herbalists, wildcrafters, and plant geeks of all stripes who live in the western United States. The late Michael Moore was a renowned and beloved herbalist and founder of the Southwest School of Botanical Medicine. His writing about medicinal plants is as humorous and irreverent as it is informative and insightful. His book includes detailed descriptions and botanical drawings to help you accurately identify plants, as week as instructions for collecting, drying, and preparing the plant as medicine.

4. Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West by Michael Moore

Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West is another of the must-own books by Michael Moore. In general, this book describes higher altitude plants of the west (compared to Medicinal Plants of the Desert & Canyon West), specifically medicinal plants common to mountains, foothills, and upland areas. In the Arizona Highlands where I live, a transition zone between the Sonoran Desert and Colorado Plateau, I find both books very useful.

5. Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West by Michael Moore

I have loved Michael Moore’s Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West since I went to herb school in California more than twenty years ago. Like Moore’s other books, this is a classic for beginning and experienced herbalists and wildcrafters. In his entertaining, relatable prose, Moore weaves his intimate knowledge of the plants, their appearance, habitat and chemistry with his practical experience working with these plants as an herbalist and medicine-maker. From a geographical perspective, this book overlaps somewhat with the plants in Moore’s books, but is more focused on California and the temperate regions of Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia.

6. Southwest Foraging – 117 Wild & Flavorful Edibles by John Slattery

Southwest Foraging – 117 Wild & Flavorful Edibles is the latest offering by John Slattery, the founder of Desert Tortoise Botanicals, herbalist, educator, and expert on food and medicine of the Sonoran Desert. In this book, Slattery covers offers a unique blend of food plants and native medicinals commonly found in the diverse habitats of Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, and southern Utah. The beautiful images in this book, coupled with the detailed descriptions, simplify plant identification. In addition to instructions on when, where, and how to harvest, Slattery emphasizes the importance of sustainable harvesting and respect for the earth, with a section on “Future Harvests” for each of the featured plants. This book is an informative and delightful guide to deepen your connection to place and grace your plate with nature’s abundance.

When it comes to  wildcrafting, be safe, know your plants, and above all respect the plants and the communities in which they thrive. All these authors share a deep love and respect for the plants they write about. I hope that you will too. You can read more about harvesting and ethical wild crafting in Independence, Inter-dependence & Herbal Medicine-Making.

Whether you want to wild craft  plants or simply get to know the plants in your bioregion, you will find something to nourish body, mind, and spirit in these six books. We sell most of these books in our Prescott, Arizona shop or look for them at a small local business in your community. Do you have a wild crafting book you’d add to this list? Share in the comments below or take a picture of it and tag with #NectarApothecary on Instagram.

Blessings,
suzanne

Looking for more herbal inspiration?

Cycle Support: How Chaste Tree Promotes Reproductive Health

Cycle Support: How Chaste Tree Promotes Reproductive Health

If you are looking for support for your monthly hormonal cycle, your new best friend might be the herb, Chaste Tree. Also known as Vitex agnus-castus or just Vitex, Chaste Tree is one of the most important herbs to enhance reproductive health and regulate the menstrual cycle. It helps normalize a wide range of menstrual and reproductive issues from Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) and irregular cycles to infertility and perimenopausal symptoms, which we’ll discuss below.

First, to understand how and why Chaste Tree works, its helpful to have a basic understanding of the menstrual cycle and the hormones responsible. This explanation is simplified but should give you enough information to understand how Chaste Tree helps normalize menstrual irregularities and enhance reproductive health.

Understanding Your Monthly Cycle

The monthly hormonal cycle starts in the brain. A small part of the brain known as the hypothalamus is constantly sending messages to the pituitary gland. The pituitary gland responds to certain messages by sending Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) to the ovaries. FSH tells the ovaries to begin creating a follicle near the surface that will enable an egg (or ovum) to develop to maturity. The follicle is home for the maturing egg and secretes the hormone estrogen. Rising levels of estrogen cause thickening of the lining of the uterus. Eventually, the follicle bursts releasing the egg to travel down the fallopian tubes toward the uterus.

All the activity up to this point in the cycle is referred to as the follicular phase. After the follicle bursts, it forms what is known as the corpus lutem. The corpus lutem then begins to secrete the hormone progesterone. Rising progesterone levels help maintain the thickening walls of the uterus and would eventually help maintain a pregnancy should one occur. If the mature egg making its way to the uterus encounters sperm and is fertilized, an embryo is formed. The embryo then implants into the thickened wall of the uterus. Or if the egg is not fertilized, eventually progesterone and estrogen levels decrease, and the wall of the uterus begin to shed. This is menstruation. The activities from the formation of the corpus lutem to menstruation are known as the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle.

As we age, fertility declines and there are fewer and fewer eggs available to ripen to maturity. In some months, no egg matures, the corpus lutem never forms and progesterone levels begin to drop as a result. This is common in perimenopause and often results in estrogen levels that are high in relation to progesterone. This is described as estrogen dominance. Eventually, the decline in fertility and ripening eggs leads to a decrease in estrogen, too. The lining of the uterus does not thicken, and menstruation comes to an end. Twelve months after the last episode of menstruation is considered menopause. After that, a person is considered post-menopausal.

Tracking your monthly cycle is an important way to attune to your body and its needs. It will also help you track changes, whether positive or negative. Consider using a calendar or smart phone app to record your cycle. Day 1 is the first day of menstruation. In a regular cycle, ovulation typically occurs around Day 14, though it can vary from month to month and from person to person. Some people may experience minor discomfort when they ovulate. If a pregnancy has not occurred, menstruation typically begins around Day 28.

This exquisite dance of hormones can easily be thrown out of balance. Our hormonal cycles are influenced by the moon and tides, who we live and work with, culture, diet, stress, exercise, weight, emotions, family history and genetic predisposition. Restoring balance requires a holistic approach that takes all the relevant factors in to consideration. Chaste Tree may be one of the most important herbs for reproductive health, but like all herbal remedies, it is best used in a holistic context.

Chaste Tree and Reproductive Health

Chaste Tree (Vitex agnus-castus) is a large shrub or small deciduous tree native to the Mediterranean region and parts of Asia. The tree bears beautiful columns of purple-blue flowers that produce the spicy berries used by herbalists to regulate the hormonal cycle. The tree is often planted as an ornamental in warm regions throughout the world and is much loved by bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the Chaste Tree berry is considered warming and drying. It’s flavor is bitter, pungent and somewhat astringent. The berries can be prepared as a tea or taken as a liquid extract or tincture or in capsules. For a tea, steep 1-2 teaspoons in a cup of boiled water for 20-30 minutes and drink 2-3 cups per day. The tincture will yield a more complete profile of the active ingredients. For the tincture take ½ teaspoon (2.5 ml) 2 -3 times per day. Chaste Tree also takes time to work. If you decide to use Chaste Tree, commit to a minimum of three months and expect to see optimal results at about six months.

Chaste Tree’s ability to balance menstrual cycle irregularities is indirect, but profound. It appears to act on dopamine receptors in the brain through the hypothalamus and in the pituitary gland to inhibit follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and promote luteinizing hormone. The overall effect is a shift in the ratio of estrogen to progesterone, in favor of progesterone. This “progesterone-like” effect is beneficial for the full scope of menstrual disorders and life cycle changes. Chaste Tree also appears to inhibit a pituitary hormone called prolactin. One of the most important roles for prolactin is supporting milk production in breastfeeding. However, prolactin levels can become elevated in people who are not breastfeeding. Elevated prolactin can inhibit ovulation leading to infrequent or irregular cycles, low progesterone and a uterine lining that cannot support an embryo and infertility. Elevated prolactin levels are also implicated in PMS.

Though it may seem paradoxical, Chaste Tree has long been used to promote breast milk and its effects as a galactgogue have been scientifically validated. Like many of our plant allies, Chaste Tree appears to have a normalizing or amphoteric effect, lowering prolactin levels that are abnormally high and supporting prolactin levels associated with normal lactation. So, yes, Chaste Tree is safe during breast feeding and is even beneficial.

Chaste Tree works well on its own, but also combines well with other herbs that help balance hormones, regulate liver function and tone the reproductive organs. For other herb that support hormonal balance visit this blog, Three Herbs to Unleash Feminine Power. A holistic approach may also include diet and lifestyle changes.

Chaste Tree for PMS & Menstrual Irregularity

During the reproductive years, Chaste Tree can help relieve the varied emotional and physical symptoms of PMS. These symptoms can range from mood swings with anxiety, irritability and anger, to bloating, breast tenderness, food cravings, headaches and low back pain. Several studies have shown Chaste Tree to be especially effective in relieving PMS accompanied by breast tenderness, as well as fibrocystic breast disease, which may be an indication of elevated prolactin levels. Irregular cycles, both infrequent and too frequent can benefit from Chaste Tree, whether caused by elevated prolactin levels and the lack of ovulation or inadequate progesterone leading to frequent menstruation. Chaste Tree can also help reduce excessive menstrual bleeding, which can be related to excess estrogen and excessive thickening of the uterine lining. Chaste Tree has also been used in conjunction with other herbs for endometriosis, a common but complex condition that is often difficult to treat. It’s effect on endometriosis may be due to its ability to reduce the estrogen available to stimulate endometrial tissue.

Chaste Tree for Infertility

Many of these menstrual irregularities can also lead to infertility, including elevated prolactin levels that inhibit ovulation. In one study, the use of a Chaste Tree extract significantly reduced prolactin levels, and normalized progesterone and luteal phase deficits that cause irregular cycles leading to infertility. While Chaste Tree is not recommended during pregnancy, Dr. Tori Hudson, ND advises that there is no need for worry for someone who becomes pregnant while taking Chaste Tree in the first trimester.

Chaste Tree for Perimenopause and Estrogen Dominance

During the approach to menopause when progesterone levels begin to decline, Chaste Tree can be especially helpful in easing the symptoms caused by estrogen dominance. These symptoms can include reduced libido, mood swings, including irritability and depression, irregular or abnormal menstruation, bloating, fatigue, insomnia and mental fog. Keep in mind that though menopause results in estrogen deficiency, progesterone deficiency normally occurs first. Some people can suffer from estrogen dominance for 10 – 15 years before menopause. Before looking for ways to increase estrogen levels, if you are approaching menopause and experiencing mood swings, irritability, or menstrual irregularities, it may be the result of decreased progesterone.

Have you had success with Chaste Tree or other herbs or other strategies for menstrual irregularities? Share your insights in the comments — I’d love to hear your story and I’m sure other readers would too. And, if you have questions about Chaste Tree or other herbs for hormone balancing or reproductive health, stop in and see us or leave a comment below.

Blessings,
suzanne

References

Atmaca M, Kumru S, et al., Fluoxetine versus Vitex agnus castus extract in the treatment of premenstrual dysphoric disorder, Hum Psychopharmacol 2003;18:191-195.

Berger D, Schaffner W, et al., Efficacy of Vitex agnus castus L. extract Ze 440 in patients with pre-menstrual syndrome, Arch Gynecol Obstet 2000; 264:150-153.

Decapite L, Histology, anatomy and antibiotic properties of vitex agnus castus, Ann Fac Agr Univ Studi Perugi 1967; 22:109-26.
Halaska M, Beles P, et al., Treatment of cyclical mastalgia with a solution containing a Vitex agnus castus extract: results of a placebo-controlled double-blind study, Breast 1000; 8:175-181.

He Z, Chen R, Zhou Y, et al. Treatment for premenstrual syndrome with Vitex agnus castus: A prospective, randomized, multi-center placebo-controlled study in China. Maturitas 2009; 63:99-103.

Hudson T, Women’s Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, Alternative Therapies and Integrative Medicine for Total Health and Wellness, 2008, McGraw Hill, New York, New York.
Holmes P, The Energetics of Western Herbs, A Materia Medica Integrating Western & Chinese Herbs, 4th Ed., 2007, Snow Lotus Press, Cotati, California.

Loch E, Selle H, et al., Treatment of premenstrual syndrome with a phytopharmaceutical formulation containing Vitex agnus castus, J Womens Health Gend Based Med 2000; 9:315-320.

Milewicz A, Gehdel E, et al., Vitex agnus castus extract in the treatment of luteal phase defects due to hyperprolactinemia: results of a randomized placebo-controlled double-blind study, Arzneim-Forsch Drug Res 1993; 43: 752-56.
Schellenberg R., Treatment for the premenstrual syndrome with agnus castus fruit extract: prospective, randomized, placebo-controlled study, Br Med J 2001; 322:134-137.

Van Die M, Bone K, et al., Effects of a combination of Hypericum perforatum and Vitex agnus-castus on PMS-like symptoms in late-perimenopausal women: Findings from a subpopulation analysis. J Altern Compl Med 2009; 15(9):1045-1048.

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Natural Relief: Herbs for Pain Management

Natural Relief: Herbs for Pain Management

Aching, burning, throbbing, sharp, dull, tingling, hot—because the individual experience of pain and what drives pain is so unique, herbs for pain management are best when they are specific and personal to the individual.

It was once thought that pain was caused by damaged tissue; tissue that could be identified, surgically removed or treated with medication until healing occurred. Our modern understanding of pain is more sophisticated and continues to evolve. We know there is rarely a simple, direct relationship between the extent of tissue damage and the amount of pain some individuals feel. In painful and chronic conditions like Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome damaged tissue usually cannot be identified.

Fortunately, nature has provided us with many pain-relieving herbs that possess a wide range of actions. Unlike pain medication that tends to target one cause of pain, herbal pain formulas can target many and help address the emotional toll often associated with chronic pain. The many pain-relieving herbs described below possess actions that are anti-inflammatory, muscle relaxing, , nerve pain-relieving, circulatory stimulants and analgesic. In most cases, they are best used in combination to address the unique experience of the individual. As always, if you are being treated for a medical condition or taking medication, discuss the use of these herbs for pain management with your healthcare practitioner, first.

A Holistic Approach to Pain Management

While herbs can help relieve both acute and chronic pain, as with most herbal remedies, they are best used as part of a multifaceted approach. There are many therapeutic options for pain relief and chronic pain management beyond western medicine and pharmaceuticals–herbs, acupuncture, body work, chiropractic adjustments, dietary changes, yoga and other movement modalities, and psycho-therapy, to name just a few. The choice is personal, and results will vary, but a focus on your individual experience is key. The Academy for Integrative Pain Management sums it up this way: “[t]he path to pain reduction lies in the power of applying many different healing therapies in a way that complements the patient’s needs, beliefs and personality. While each of these therapies offer healing, the patient remains the key component to pain reduction. Pain patients must believe and affirm that they can reduce their pain and then select those therapies that will assist in doing so.”

Whether you are looking for new solutions for chronic pain or alternatives to the over-the-counter pain-killers in your medicine chest, these herbal alternatives for pain relief have much to offer.

 

Herbs for Pain Management

 

Herbal Anti-inflammatories

Herbal anti-inflammatories modulate or damp down excessive inflammation. They are useful in most herbal pain formulas, and especially for joint pain, osteoarthritis, back pain, headaches including migraines, and fibromyalgia. Herbal anti-inflammatories are also helpful in autoimmune conditions like Rheumatoid arthritis, Lupus or Hashimoto’s. Some of the most effective herbal anti-inflammatories are: Boswellia (Boswellia spp.) also known as Frankincense, Cannabis (Cannabis spp.), Devil’s Claw Harpagophytum procumbens, Ginger (Zingiber officinale), Turmeric (Curucma longa), and White Willow Bark (Salix alba).

Herbal Anti-spasmodics

Herbal antispasmodics help to relieve muscle pain, relax tight muscles and relieve excess tension in the body. They help soothe muscle spasm in both skeletal muscles and in smooth muscles like those of the digestive tract or the uterus in cases of menstrual cramps. Like herbal anti-inflammatories, anti-spasmodic herbs are helpful in most pain formulas. Even when the primary cause of pain is not muscular, muscles around the painful area often become sore and stiff in their efforts to avoid pain with movement. Some of the best herbal anti-spasmodics for pain also calm the nervous system and help ease nervous tension. This calming effect can have a significant impact on the brain’s perception of pain and improve one’s ability to cope with discomfort. Good anti-spasmodic herbs include: Cramp Bark Viburnum opulus), Kava (Piper methysticum), Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora), Valerian (Valeriana officinalis or stichensis), and Wild Yam (Discorea villosa). Among these, Skullcap, Kava and Valerian also help relieve nervous tension and irritability.

 

Herbal Sedatives and Anodynes for Nerve Pain

Some herbs help relieve nerve pain or neurogenic pain, which may be caused by damage to the peripheral nerves or to the central nervous system itself. While the cause of nerve pain is sometimes hard to identify or explain, it may manifest as burning or tingling sensations or sharp, shooting pain. Some herbs that help relieve nerve pain are strong sedatives that help numb pain. A nerve anodyne describes other herbs that seem to have a direct effect on nerve pain, though the mechanism of action is not fully understood. Herbal sedatives and nerve anodynes for nerve pain include: California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica), Kava (Piper methysticum), St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum), Valerian (Valeriana officinalis or stichensis), and Wild Lettuce (Lactuca virosa). Of these, California Poppy, Valerian and Wild Lettuce are sedative and anti-spasmodic.

Circulatory Stimulants

Good blood circulation to stiff joints, aching muscles and other areas with localized pain helps relieve congestion in tissue and promote recovery. To promote circulation add one or more of these herbs to your pain formula: Ginger (Zingiber officinale), Prickly Ash (Zanthoxylum clava-herculis), Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis). Ginger is also an effective anti-inflammatory.

Topical Analgesics

An analgesic simply refers to a substance that relieves pain. Herbs can also be used topically to relieve pain in a variety of ways. Anti-spasmodic herbs used topically can have a direct effect on sore muscles and herbal anti-inflammatories can reduce localized inflammation as in the case of joint pain. Some herbs used topically for pain work by depleting a neurotransmitter, called Substance P, which is used to transmit the pain signal from peripheral nerves to the brain. Without Substance P, the pain signal cannot be sent. Herbs that deplete Substance P include Cayenne (Capsicum annuum), Ginger (Zingiber officinale), and Turmeric (Curucma longa).

There is a wide range of possibilities when it comes to choosing herbs for pain management or creating a personalized formula. Consider both the mechanism causing pain and your personal experience. Are you using any of these herbs or utilizing other holistic strategies for pain relief? What has or hasn’t worked for you? I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments below!

Blessings,
suzanne

 

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The Informed Consumer’s Guide to Buying Quality Herbs & Teas

The Informed Consumer’s Guide to Buying Quality Herbs & Teas

If you are concerned about the health and nutritional content of the food you purchase, you probably choose organic over non-organic, read labels diligently, and carefully choose the brightest, best-looking fruits and vegetables available at your local market. Do you apply the same scrutiny when buying bulk herbs or loose-leaf tea? Do you know how to tell the difference between an herb rich in health and nutrients and one that lacks energy and vitality? In many ways it’s common sense and relies on skills you already have. However, I have discovered that many consumers who are otherwise careful about the health and quality of the food they purchased do not apply the same level of care when it comes to buying bulk herbs and loose-leaf tea. I created this informed consumer’s guide to buying quality herbs and teas so you can make the best buying decisions when it comes to stocking your herbal medicine cabinet.

 

How to Buy Quality Herbs and Teas

Choose Organic

First, is it certified organic or not? Just like your produce, if it’s not labeled organic, it’s fair to assume its “conventional,” which means it has probably been grown using chemical fertilizers and pesticides and may still carry that potentially harmful residue. You may also encounter dried herbs that are “wildcrafted” or “wild-harvested.” This means the plant was harvested wherever nature allowed it to grow, rather than cultivated by people. Herbs ethically wildcrafted in clean environments may be of excellent quality and potency. If you are curious about wildcrafting or foraging, you can learn more about ethical principles in this article, Independence, Interdependence & Herbal Medicine-Making.

Get to Know the Herb

Next, when buying loose or bulk herbs, bring a bit of prior knowledge about the herb. First, know the botanical or scientific name of the herb and expect to find that name on the bulk herb jar or package. This is simply reading the label, something you’re probably already doing when you buy food. All herbs have both common names and botanical names. Knowing the botanical name ensures that you’re buying the right plant. It’s also important to know which part of the herb is used medicinally. Different parts sometimes have different therapeutic properties.  So, know if you are looking for the flowers, the leaves, the bark or seeds. This is common sense, but you can learn more about why this is so important in this article, Capsule, Tea, Oil or Extract: A Guide to the Many Forms of Herbal Medicine.

Trust Your Senses

Now the fun part! The most valuable tools you have to evaluate the quality of bulk herbs and loose-leaf tea are your senses—use your eyes, your nose, and your tastes buds. High quality loose or bulk herbs, whether single herbs or blended to make a tea, should closely resemble the fresh plant in color, texture, fragrance and taste. If you don’t know what the plant looks like fresh, Google it or purchase a medicinal herb guide or local plant book. Although they have been dried, buying quality herbs and teas is no different than choosing a banana or head of lettuce. You probably already do this when you buy fresh fruits and vegetables. You skip over the brown, bruised bananas, you choose a head of lettuce that is green and crisp, not wilted, and you hold the melon to your nose to find one that smells rich and sweet. It’s even better when you can sample a bright, crisp apple or juicy plum at the farmer’s market. So, what does this mean for bulk herbs and loose-leaf tea? Let’s look at some examples.

Chamomile | Matricaria recutita

Chamomile, also known as German Chamomile, grows as a small sweet flower, with a large yellow center, petite white petals and a fine green feathery foliage. The flowers, used to make tea, are rich in fragrant oils that relax the nervous system, aid digestion and promote a healthy inflammatory response.

Chamomile tea in a white cup on a wooden backfround with chamomile flowers sprinkled around

A high-quality bulk or loose chamomile rich in therapeutic compounds, should contain the yellow flower centers, a little light green foliage, and a sweet, earthy fragrance. Consider these samples—all purchased in the small town where I live.

The sample on the left shows all of qualities of a vibrant, properly harvested, carefully dried herb. Note the flowers, colors and texture. In the middle sample, the entire herb is a brown monotone color. This is either very old (even though I purchased it a month before this article was written) or it was poorly dried, allowing for oxidation and decay in the drying process, or it was this sad dead color when it was harvested. The last sample on the right, is also a monotone color and does not appear to contain any of the oil-rich flowers. Imagine you’re choosing the most vibrant produce you can find. Imagine you can smell these samples. Which one would you choose?

three neat piles of dried chamomile each one less fresh looking than the last

 

Yarrow | Achillea millefolium

Here’s another example using yarrow. Yarrow produces a small, irregular umbrella of fragrant white to cream colored flowers on tall stems. Its foliage is sage green with feathery leaves at the base and along the stalk.

fresh yarrow bundle held by a young woman with a turqoise ring

The entire above ground parts of the plant are used medicinally, but it is considered most potent when in flower. Yarrow has a wide range of therapeutic properties from reproductive tonic to cold, flu and first aid remedy.

Now consider these dried yarrow samples. The sample on the left is wildcrafted. I recently purchased the sample on the right. In the high-quality sample on the left the creamy flowers and sage green foliage are visible. Contrast that with the brown, monotone colored sample on the right. Like the chamomile sample above, we can surmise that it was dried poorly or was already dead when it was harvested. We can also surmise that it lacks the therapeutic potency of the sample on the left.

a neat pile of freshly dried yarrow leaves and stems next to a neat pile of dull looking finely ground yarrow

Mullein | Verbascum thapsus

two images of a budle of fresh mullein leaves in nature

Here’s a similar set of samples of mullein, a common herb used for respiratory support. The furry, sage colored leaves of the fresh plant are obvious in the wildcrafted sample on the leftt. The dark brown, almost black sample on the rightt, purchased recently, bears no resemblance to the live plant and may even have molded in the drying process. Yikes!

a neat pile of fresh coursely ground mullein next to a neat pile of dull looking finely ground mullein

So, you’re probably getting an idea what to look for. The more you know about the plant, the more you know what to look for in the dried herb. When it comes to taste, don’t be afraid to ask! The herb shop or market should welcome your assessment of their quality and be willing to let you taste a small sample of the herb.

Loose-Leaf Tea vs. Tea Bags

Evaluating the quality of a loose-leaf tea blend is really no different than evaluating the quality of individual herbs. Look for the individual plant parts shown on the label or jar. Look for vibrant colors and robust fragrance. Unfortunately, if you’re purchasing tea in tea bags sold in boxes, you can’t use your senses to evaluate quality and freshness. If you could, I suspect you would soon switch to loose-leaf tea. So, I recommend that you do a little investigation comparing what’s in the tea bag with the loose herb listed on the ingredient label. You may find something like this.

The fine powder on the right came from a tea bag labeled Chamomile. There may be actual chamomile flowers in the tea bag, but it’s really impossible to tell. You can have much more confidence in the chamomile flowers shown on the left. Here’s another example using a tea blend from a tea bag:

a pile of fresh dried chamomile next to a tea bag torn open with dull looking dried chamomile spilling out

In the example below, the fine powder on the right comes from a tea bag said to contain cinnamon bark, chamomile flowers and lavender flowers. The sample on the left is also made from dried cinnamon bark, chamomile flowers and lavender flowers. Which one do you think would make the best cup of a relaxing herbal tea? If you do this experiment at home, be sure to notice the difference in fragrance and taste, too.

a neat pile of vibrantly colored herbal tea next to a tea bag torn open with dull looking finely ground herbs spilling out

In general, what you’re getting in the tea bag are herbs that have been ground to a consistent size powder. The grinding or processing causes the herbs to lose their freshness and potency more quickly.  Some tea companies make their tea bags with organic herbs, which are healthier than non-organic herbs. However, they may still be overly processed and it is almost impossible to know what condition the herb was in before the tea bags were manufactured.

Being an informed consumer of bulk herbs and loose-leaf teas is not difficult. In fact, with a little knowledge and your senses, it can be rather enjoyable to see the rich, vibrant colors, notice the flowers, berries or barks, and inhale the fragrant aromas. At Nectar, we take herb quality very seriously. I welcome you to come in, use your senses, and be sure to ask for a sample of whatever piques your interest – we’re always here to help.

Well Wishes,
suzanne

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Herbs for Detoxification: A Holistic Approach to a Whole Body Cleanse

HERBS FOR DETOXIFICATION: A HOLISTIC APPROACH TO A WHOLE-BODY CLEANSE

Why take a holistic approach?

The human body has a complex and elaborate system for cleansing and detoxification. The skin, lungs, kidneys, lymphatic system, the gut, including the bowels, and liver all play a part in neutralizing toxins and eliminating waste. However, during a cleanse many people make the mistake of focusing only on the bowels. Indeed, the bowels need to work well for the body to eliminate waste, but a holistic approach will promote all the body’s pathways of detoxification. Along with other holistic practices, herbs for detoxification help to ensure that all the body’s natural systems are optimized to support a thorough, balanced cleanse.

But First, Do I Even Need to Do a Cleanse?

Even people who do their best to eat clean, use clean body care products and maintain a toxin-free home are exposed to harmful chemicals that persist in our soil, water and air. Almost everyone carries some level of toxic body burden. The Center for Disease Control has systematically tested people living in the United States to see which environmental chemicals are present in their blood and urine. The CDC first published results in 2009, with an update in 2017; the study showed widespread exposure to environmental chemicals. Most people tested had been exposed to chemicals commonly found in consumer products including personal care products, plastics, flame retardants and non-stick cookware. A chemical known as perchlorate, used to manufacture things like explosives and rocket fuel and to release static in food packaging was found in every person tested! The US Environmental Protection Agency reports that perchlorate is common now in public drinking systems with a frequency and at levels that present a public health concern. A study by the Environmental Working Group found the same chemicals (an average of 200 industrial chemicals and pollutants) in the cord blood of newborn babies in the United States.

Many of the toxins we are exposed to are transformed or neutralized by the body or safely eliminated. However, when the body is overwhelmed with environmental chemicals or its detoxification systems are under performing, toxins accumulate in fat and other body tissue. Physical signs and symptoms of this bioaccumulation may include body odor, constipation, fatigue, weight gain and chronic inflammation. More harmful effects include suppressed immune function, endocrine and reproductive system dysfunction, including decreased male fertility, increased risk for cardiovascular and liver disease, and diabetes. Parabens found in most personal care products (deodorants, moisturizers, shampoos, etc.) mimic estrogen, interfere with other hormones, accumulate in breast tissue and can stimulate proliferation of human breast cancer cells.

So, do I need to do a cleanse? In short, yes, probably. If you are on medication or being treated for a specific condition, be sure to discuss detoxification with your healthcare practitioner first. Also, if you have reason to believe that you may be carrying a high level of accumulated toxins, obtaining the support and guidance of a skilled practitioner is best and safest for you.

 

When is the Best Time to Cleanse?

While you may choose to cleanse or detox any time of year, the science of Ayurveda (which translates as “the knowledge of life”), emphasizes a life in harmony with nature which includes cleansing in the spring and fall. In nature, spring is a time of rebirth and renewal. If we live in harmony with the rhythms of nature, spring is an auspicious time to awaken new energy and vitality with a whole-body cleanse. A  spring cleanse will help your body release the heaviness of winter and attune to the fertile energies of spring. A fall cleanse helps reduce heat and the effects of over-stimulation that tend to accumulate in the body during the summer months. It also helps us slow down and restore balance as we head into cold, blustery weather.

The herbs for detoxification discussed below will help to ensure that all the body’s natural systems for cleansing are working well.

Herbs for Detoxification

Milk Thistle Seed | Silybum marianum

I believe Milk Thistle seed is in THE most important herb to support a cleanse. Though considered a weed in many parts of the world, Milk Thistle’s little brown seeds pack big benefits and have been used medicinally for liver conditions for over 2,000 years. With an estimated 50 clinical trials, modern research has confirmed Milk Thistle’s role in promoting liver function and restoration, assimilation, and detoxification.

When it comes to a cleanse, Milk Thistle could not be more perfect for its support of the liver’s role in whole-body detoxification. Specifically, Milk Thistle increases and helps maintain liver activity critical to  the neutralization of metabolic waste coming from the digestive system, including unwanted chemical compounds from drugs, pesticides and herbicides, toxins produced in the gut (enterotoxins), and exogenous microbial compounds. A natural side effect of your liver’s neutralization of these toxins is the production of free-radicals, which are highly reactive molecules that can cause cell damage. Here too, Milk Thistle plays a role by stimulating the liver’s production of glutathione, a potent anti-oxidant that neutralizes these free-radicals. Glutathione is also necessary to convert fat-soluble toxins to water soluble compounds which are more easily excreted from the body. In addition to increasing glutathione levels, Milk Thistle itself contains powerful anti-oxidant compounds (ten times more effective than Vitamin E) that help protect the body from free-radical damage.

As for its role in liver conditions, Milk Thistle is used for hepatitis, particularly as a liver protectant and for liver damage (alcoholic and non-alcoholic) including abnormal liver function and fatty liver. People who have been exposed to chemical pollutants and pharmaceutical drugs have been shown to benefit from the use of Milk Thistle as do people with skin conditions related to liver dysfunction. Milk Thistle is also helpful for occasional indigestion (dyspepsia) with gas, bloating or heartburn and for gall bladder complaints including the prevention of gall stones.

To incorporate Milk Thistle seeds into a cleanse, I recommend using the powdered seeds (12 - 15 g per day) mixed with soft foods or a good quality capsule. It is important to note that most of the therapeutic compounds in Milk Thistle seeds are not readily soluble water in water; as such, I do not recommend making a tea with Milk Thistle seeds.

Burdock Root | Arctium lappa

This dark fleshy root can sometimes be found in the produce section of your local market and is often used in Japanese cooking, where it is known as Gobo. Burdock root offers a wide range of properties that promote multiple pathways of elimination making it especially useful for herbal detoxification. Many people undertake a cleanse to improve digestive function and promote gut health, areas in which Burdock root excels. Burdock root promotes digestive function, improving the breakdown of food, assimilation of nutrients and elimination through the bowels. It can even have a mild laxative effect due to its ability to stimulate digestive function. During a cleanse, at least one effortless bowel movement per day is required to reduce the potential for toxins to be reabsorbed back into circulation. Burdock root is also rich in a compound called inulin, which is considered a “prebiotic,” that feeds and helps healthy gut flora thrive. Burdock acts on the liver to produce more bile and promotes the flow of bile from the gall bladder, which helps your body digest fats. Burdock also promotes kidney function, an important route for the elimination of water-soluble toxins as well as lymphatic function, which is necessary for the removal of cellular waste. Like Milk Thistle, Burdock root is also an anti-oxidant and helps prevent abnormal cell mutations that can lead to cancer. Even if you’re not doing a cleanse, this nourishing, well rounded bitter root is an excellent choice for chronic gas and bloating caused by weakened digestive fire. Energetically, Burdock Root is cooling, slightly sweet, and of course, bitter. Hot tempered, irritable people tend to benefit from this cooling root.

If you’re using Burdock root to support a cleanse, I recommend preparing it as a decoction  (a simmered tea). Use one tablespoon per cup and drink 2-3 cups per day throughout your cleanse.

Nettle Leaf | Urtica spp.

Nettle leaf, also known as Stinging Nettles is a nourishing spring tonic that supports detoxification and benefits the entire body. It helps improve elimination of metabolic waste and is rich in vitamins (A, C, E, K) and minerals (calcium, magnesium, silica, and iron). Nettle leaf promotes detoxification by improving kidney function and urine output and is considered a urinary tract tonic. It is also alkalizing, meaning it helps promote balanced pH in the body. Balanced pH is important because the opposite, heightened acidity, places excess stress on the body, may negatively impact bone health and is associated with an increased cancer risk.

Nettle leaf is especially helpful for toxicity that manifests as rheumatic conditions like arthritis and gout, helping to eliminate uric acid build-up in the joints. It is also used for skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis that can be aggravated by poor liver function and heightened levels of toxicity within.

Nettle leaf is best prepared as a cold infusion to extract more vitamins and minerals. To prepare a cold infusion, cover the loose herb with cold water and allow to soak overnight at room temperature. In the morning strain and enjoy. Use one heaping tablespoon per cup and drink up to four cups per day during your cleanse.

Ashwagandha Root | Withania somnifera

Some might be surprised to find a plant like Ashwagandha that supports the nervous system on a list of herbs for detoxification. While it’s true that Ashwagandha Root is not specific to the body’s various pathways of elimination, when you undertake a whole-body cleanse, I believe it is also an opportunity to reset the nervous system, reduce the effects of stress on the body, and release negative emotional patterns. This is where Ashwagandha root fits in. Ashwagandha is an adaptogen, which is a shorthand way of describing an herb that helps the body adapt to and respond to stress more favorably. Unlike most other adaptogens that are stimulating, Ashwagandha calms the mind and relieves anxiety. It helps to nourish and rebuild a nervous system depleted by long-term stress or illness and reduces cortisol levels elevated by chronic stress. It promotes thyroid function and is beneficial for people with hypothyroidism or a low functioning thyroid. When it comes to insomnia or restlessness, ashwagandha promotes more restful sleep. Ashwagandha is also used to reduce cravings, especially sugar cravings, which can be aggravated in the early stages of a cleanse.

Ashwagandha can be prepared as a decoction, (1 -2 teaspoons per cup, up to 4 cups per day) or used as a powder (1/2 – 1 tsp, up to 4 times per day).

Beyond the Herbs: Cleansing Holistically

In addition to these herbs for detoxification, adequate hydration, sweating, exercise, deep breathing practices, meditation, journaling and rest are other important components of a holistic approach to a whole-body cleanse. Water—about eight, 8 ounce glasses per day helps both the liver and kidneys flush toxins from the body. Sweating, whether from exercise or a sauna, helps release toxins through the skin. The skin is the body’s largest organ of elimination and aids detoxification  through the release of sweat and oil, including the release of fat-soluble toxins such as pesticides and heavy metals. Exercise is a good choice to make you sweat, but the movement will also stimulate lymphatic uptake of waste.

Deep breathing (known as diaphragmatic breathing) promotes balanced pH  and the elimination of waste through the lungs. So, during your cleanse, breathe and breathe deeply! Plan to take brisk walks or other exercise that promotes deep breathing or learn a deep breathing practice you can do at home. Meditation can be helpful during a cleanse to calm the nervous system and reduce the agitation and cravings some people experience in the first few days of a cleanse. Regular meditation is a good way to release toxic emotions and transform negative thought patterns. When you undertake a cleanse it is also helpful to slow down, do less and notice how your body feels. Journaling is a good tool to help you reflect on the changes you may be experiencing as well as cravings or other thoughts patterns you want to release. Your body needs plenty of good quality rest to repair and restore and especially during a detox.  So, along with slowing down and doing less, plan on going to bed earlier during the duration of your cleanse.

What About Food?

Yes, what you eat (and don’t eat) during a cleanse will have a profound impact. There are many theories, books and programs about what to eat and not eat to help your body detoxify. Some approaches are primarily plant based and some allow organic chicken or turkey, some allow grains, while others are grain free. Choose a plan that seems right for you.

I have had the most success following an elimination diet for 2 - 3 weeks, but there are other approaches. By success, I mean my energy levels increased, my digestion felt balanced and there was greater equanimity in my thoughts and emotions. An elimination diet involves avoiding common food allergens or other foods suspected of causing digestive problems during the course of the cleanse. In general what’s left are simple, whole,  unprocessed foods.  You can find good “elimination diet” guides online. There is a simple printable guide here on the University of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine website (click the link for Elimination Diet Guidelines). You can also find more resources and downloads at the Whole30 website. In addition to these online resources, at Nectar we offer a handful of books that I trust to support you in a whole-body cleanse, including two of my favorites, Clean and Clean Gut, by Alejandro Junger, M.D. Another approach I like is the one discussed in The Prime, by integrative neurologist, Kulreet Chaudhary, M.D.

In evaluating and choosing a program, avoid any approach that sounds dramatic, extreme or promises results that seem unrealistic. Choose one that will allow you to feel balanced and in control. A good  cleanse program will be reasonable and safe and will help you develop a healthier lifestyle.

While a cleanse may seem daunting, the rewards are worth the effort. Increased energy and vitality, healthier-more conscious eating habits, fewer cravings, improved digestion, fewer allergies and sensitivities and less swelling and inflammation are just some of the signs of a successful whole-body cleanse.

I’d love to hear about your approach to cleansing—what’s been most challenging, what herbs for detoxification have worked for you, and how has cleansing improved your health? If you’re considering your first-ever detox, please let us know if you have questions. Come chat with us in the shop or leave us a message in the comments section below.

To your health,
suzanne

References:

Body Burden: The Pollution in New Borns, Environmental Working Group, https://www.ewg.org/research/body-burden-pollution-newborns/detailed-findings#.WpNGB66nGM8, accessed February 6, 2018.

Chaudhary, Kulreet , The Prime, Harmony Books, 2012, New York , New York.

Junger, Alejandro, Clean, Harper Collins, 2012, New York, New York.

Junger, Alejandro, Clean Gut, Harper Collins, 2013, New York, New York.

Murray M, Pizzorno J, The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, 3rd Ed. Atria, 2012.

National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals, Center for Disease Control and Prevention, https://www.cdc.gov/exposurereport/index.html, accessed February 6, 2018.

Perchlorate in Drinking Water, US Environmental; Protection Agency, https://www.epa.gov/dwstandardsregulations/perchlorate-drinking-water, accessed February 6, 2018.

Tilgner, Sharol, Herbal Medcine From the Heart of the Earth, 2d Ed., 2009, Wise Acres, LLC, Pleasant Hill, Oregon.

Vargas-Mendoza N, Madrigal-Santillan E, et al., Hepatoprotective effect of silymarin, World J Hepatol, Published online 2014 Mar 27, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3959115/.

Winston, David, Adaptogens, Herbs for Strength, Stamina and Stress Relief, 2007, Healing Arts Press, Rochester, Vermont.

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Capsule, Tea, Oil or Extract: A Guide to the Many Forms of Herbal Medicine

Capsule, Tea, Oil or Extract: A Guide to the Many Forms of Herbal Medicine

Understanding the forms of herbal medicine is crucial for helping you make informed decisions when choosing herbal products. Almost daily someone comes into Nectar Apothecary and gazes with awe and wonder at the extensive array of bottles and jars. Many people think that all the little bottles contain essential oils, but that’s only one type of herbal medicine you have to choose from. There are also bulk herbs and tea, liquid herbal extracts (called tinctures or glycerites), and herbal capsules. You can also choose herb-infused oils and salves or flower essences. Each incarnation of plant medicine has unique advantages and disadvantages. Which form is best for you depends on a variety of factors.

Learning how to evaluate herb QUALITY deserves our full attention too, so I’m going to leave that important issue for another day and another post. That said, I do recommend choosing the highest quality organically grown herbs you can find. Old herbs and poorly dried or poorly processed and prepared herbs will not yield the results you are looking for.

 

Which Form of Herbal Medicine is Best?

First, know that an individual herb can be used in many different forms. Take German Chamomile for example. You could use it in a “loose leaf” or “bulk herb” form, as a liquid extract from a small eyedropper bottle, or as an essential oil. Consider another common medicinal plant like Milk Thistle and you’ll find whole seeds and powdered seeds in bulk, liquid extracts and capsules. When faced with this array of choices, I am frequently asked, “which form is best?” Well, it depends. Different forms of an herb are suitable for different people and different circumstances. To make an informed decision, you need to know the herb and know yourself. By simply acknowledging your likes and dislikes, preferences and predilections, you can choose the form of herbal medicine that is right for you. This is how it works.

First, Read the Label

You’re probably already accustomed to reading labels on food products. Herb and supplement labels require the same careful scrutiny. First and foremost, the label should tell you what’s actually in the bottle. And, whether you eventually decide on a bulk herb, liquid extract, capsule or other form, make sure what’s in the bottle or jar is really the herb you’re seeking. This may seem obvious, but it’s important to know which part of the plant you want to use. Different parts of a plant may have different medicinal properties. Dandelion is a good example. Both the root and leaf are used medicinally, but they offer somewhat different properties. An experienced herbalist or a good herb book can help you identify the correct plant part. You should also know the botanical or scientific name of the herb and look for that on the bottle, since common names can be misleading and confusing.

Let’s take German Chamomile again as an example. Most people refer to this common herb simply as “Chamomile.” The sweet, delicate flowers of this plant relax the nervous system, calm digestive imbalances, and possess anti-inflammatory and anti-histamine properties. Its scientific name is Matricaria recutita. So, if you’re looking for German Chamomile , look to find this scientific name somewhere on the jar or bottle. If the scientific name reads Anthemis nobilis, guess what? It’s Roman Chamomile, not German Chamomile. You might even encounter a lesser known Chamomile relative, Ormenis multicaulis, commonly referred to as Moroccan Chamomile. Sometimes herbalists use different species of a plant interchangeably if their medicinal properties are very, very similar. While German Chamomile and Roman Chamomile share many of the same properties, each has a unique composition of medicinal compounds. You can read more about the similarities and differences, here. Common names also vary among different countries and cultures. So, even though the common name of the plant may appear front and center on the jar or label, keep reading until you find the scientific name. There’s other important information to be gleaned from herb and supplement labels discussed below, but it all starts with the correct name of the plant and the correct plant part.

Now, once you’ve found the correct plant and realized you could purchase it in many different forms, how do you choose? Let’s look at the different forms, their advantages and disadvantages, and how your plant knowledge and self-knowledge come in to play.

Bulk Herbs, Powders + Teas

In most apothecaries, you’ll find dried herbs in large jars. The plant parts, whether roots, leaves, flowers or some other part, are typically cut up into small pieces sometimes even powdered. Again, make sure the jar label describes the correct plant part and confirm the scientific name. If the herb is available in bulk, you have the option of preparing it as an herbal tea. Most herbs can be prepared as a medicinal tea, though it’s important to prepare the tea correctly in order to optimize the therapeutic benefits. If you’re new to herbal teas, check out this post to learn how to prepare loose leaf herbal tea. If you like to drink tea and the herb makes a pleasant tasting tea, this may be an excellent choice. Dried powdered herbs can also be incorporated into smoothies or stirred into other soft foods like yogurt or applesauce.

Don’t let the simplicity of an herbal tea dissuade you. Herbal teas have been a mainstay in herbal medicine for thousands of years and offer profound health benefits. Making tea does require a greater time commitment than some other forms of plant medicine. But most people, myself included, benefit from slowing down and allowing time in their day for the soothing self-care ritual of making tea. When it comes to preparing bulk herbs as tea or incorporating powdered herbs in smoothies or other foods, know yourself. If you’re finicky about new flavors or unlikely to allow time in your day to brew tea or make a smoothie, choose another form.

In general, while most herbs can be prepared as a tea, there are some exceptions. Let’s look at our Milk Thistle example again. First, the seed is the part used medicinally and the botanical name is Silybum marianum. Milk Thistle seed is a potent liver protectant and restorative, especially useful as part of an occasional cleanse or detox or for various liver conditions. The seed is often sold whole or powdered, in liquid extract and in capsules. Unfortunately, for tea drinkers, the potent medicinal compounds in this little seed do not extract well in water. In fact less than 10% of a key compound known as silymarin is extracted in tea. If you want the benefits of Milk Thistle seeds, you’ll do well buying in bulk, but you’ll need to incorporate the ground seeds in food or smoothies to get the therapeutic effects. You can also choose Milk Thistle in capsules or liquid extract.

When it comes to knowing the plant and preparing it as a tea, water solubility is only one issue. It is also important to understand the difference between the dried plant and a fresh plant preparation. Some plants lose much of their medicinal potency when dried. Milk Oats (Avena sativa), Skullcap (Scutellaria laterifolia) and St. John’s Wort (Hypericum performatum) are good examples. While these plants are often available dried, tea prepared from plants like this will not be as potent as a fresh plant preparation. Fresh plant preparations are available in liquid extracts and sometimes in capsules. Again, know your plant.

Liquid Herbal Extracts

In general, liquid herbal extracts come in two forms—tincture and glycerite. By definition a tincture (pronounced, ˈtiNG(k)(t)SHər) is an extract created using alcohol and water. I recommend using tinctures made with organic alcohol. A glycerite is an extraction made with glycerin and water. Glycerin is a sweet, thick substance typically derived from vegetable oil. Though sweet tasting, it has very little impact on blood sugar. You’ll find tinctures and glycerites in small amber bottles with eyedroppers. They can be ingested under the tongue or added to a small amount of water, tea or other beverage. The dose is of course specific to the herb and individual, but may range from a few drops to upwards of a teaspoon. Like the water used to make a tea, alcohol and glycerin both have unique solvent properties, meaning that they differ in their ability to draw the medicinal compound out of a plant and into solution. Like herbal teas, tincture and glycerites also have unique advantages and disadvantages. For a more in-depth discussion about why you might choose a tincture, check out this post.

Liquid herbal extracts are quick and easy to use. They may be a very convenient choice for you if you’re loathe to prepare several cups of tea per day. The alcohol and glycerin also act as preservatives in the finished product. As such, tinctures and glycerites have a much longer shelf life (2-5 years) than dried herbs. So, if you want to keep herbs on hand that are only used occasionally, like herbs for colds and flu, stocking a cold-curbing tincture or glycerite in your medicine chest may be a better choice than a bulk tea blend. As discussed above, if the plant you desire does not hold its therapeutic properties when dried, a tincture made with the fresh plant is desirable. Likewise, herbs like Milk Thistle seed, with compounds that are more alcohol-soluble than water-soluble, are better prepared and taken in tincture form. The sweet taste of glycerites makes them a natural choice for kids or anyone else with a very sensitive palate. There are also disadvantages to liquid extracts, like the alcohol. Though the alcohol in a standard tincture dose is not enough to be inebriating, for people who abstain from alcohol entirely (whether for health, social, or religious reasons) tinctures are not an option. Herbal teas, glycerites or capsules may be a better choice.

Herb Capsules

When you pick up a bottle of encapsulated herb, read it carefully. Of course, you’re going to confirm the botanical name, but you need to look further. What’s inside those little capsules may be dried powdered herb or a dried, concentrated extract of the dried or fresh plant. Or, it might not be an herb at all. It may be asingle compound that has been extacted from the herb, but not the whole herb. Turmeric is a good example here. Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a popular spice and medicinal herb used to promote a healthy inflammatory response. It contains more than two dozen compounds that promote a healthy inflammatory response , but one compound in particular, called curcumin tends to get top billing. If you’re looking for Turmeric, someone might try to sell you curcumin, the single isolated compound rather than the whole herb we call Turmeric. There are advantages and disadvantages to isolated compounds. However, as an herbalist, I prefer the whole plant with all its therapeutic compounds and the beautiful complexities provided by nature, which we have yet to fully understand or duplicate. This can get confusing, so read carefully and ask an herbalist if you’re unsure.

Some herbalists do not recommend encapsulated herbs. Not only is it hard to assess quality and freshness (unless you grindand encapsulate the herbs yourself), the pills contribute to a greater disconnect between us and the medicinal plants that support us. Nevertheless, I do believe herbs in capsules have a place in our apothecaries. Assuming a quality preparation, encapsulated herbs are simple and easy to use. If you’re not likely to become a tea drinker and cannot ingest the alcohol in a tincture, capsules may be your best choice and the only way you are likely to be consistent in taking your herbs. For people with sensitive palates, or if you travel a lot, capsules may also be a good choice. If you’re taking herbs to address a long-standing imbalance in your body, consistency is critical.

More Tiny Bottles – Herb Infused Oils, Essential Oils & Flower Essences

If you’re still wandering curiously through an apothecary or supplement store, you’ll likely encounter small bottles that are neither tinctures nor glycerites. What are all those tiny bottles? They might be herb infused oils, essential oils or flower essences. Look closely.

An herb infused oil is somewhat similar to a tincture or glycerite. However, to create an infused oil, a fixed oil (like Olive or Almond oil) is used to extract the therapeutic compounds from an herb, instead of alcohol or glycerin. Infused oils are typically prepared with plants used topically for skin conditions and musculoskeletal issues. Herb infused oils are often the base for herbal salves—ointments and thick creams for topical application.

Essential oils are yet another category of tiny bottles filled with plant medicine. Also referred to as “volatile oils,” essential oils are highly concentrated aromatic extracts, most often obtained through a process of steam distillation. Like other forms of plant medicine, essential oils have a wide range of therapeutic properties, from relaxing the nervous system to promoting immune function. Because they are so very potent, essential oils should not be ingested unless you are guided by a professional aromatherapist or other practitioner trained in ingestion. Even used topically, most essential oils should be diluted with a fixed oil. Essential oils can also be used through simple inhalation or environmentally, using a diffuser. As always, know the botanical name of the plant you’re seeking and expect to see that information on the essential oil bottle.

Flower Essences occur at the opposite end of the plant medicine spectrum from essential oils. Flower essences are subtle, vibrational and extremely safe. Flower essences also come in tiny eyedropper bottles and are most often used to address emotional and spiritual imbalances like fear and anxiety, anger, resentment, insecurity and low self-esteem. The typical dosage is four drops four times per day. Though they contain a small amount of alcohol as a preservative, they are extremely safe and can be used by very young children, elderly people, and even dogs, cats and other pets.

Next time you’re faced with rows and rows of little bottles, pick one up. Study the label. What’s inside? How was it prepared? Maybe you can even smell it, taste it, observe the color and texture. The closer you look with all your senses and consider your individual needs, the more you’ll learn and the better decision you’ll make.

When you have questions about which forms of herbal medicine are best for you, we are always here to help. Drop in to see us or leave a comment below, or on our Facebook or Instagram pages.

Blessings,
suzanne

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Reap the Health Benefits of Cacao with Herbal Dark Chocolate Truffles

Reap the Health Benefits of Cacao with Herbal Dark Chocolate Truffles

These herbal chocolate truffles are dark, rich, coated with herbs and so delicious. If you choose the best chocolate, your truffles will also be organic, vegan, fair trade, gluten-free and loaded with the health benefits of cacao! The herbal coating on these dark chocolate truffles gives them an extra boost! How’s that for a guilt-free indulgence?

Health Benefits of Cacao

Used for millennia as food, medicine, and even currency, chocolate comes from the seed of a tropical evergreen tree known as Theobroma cacao. Theo or theo means “god” and broma means “food.”  Chocolate, the common name of this “food of the gods,” comes from the Aztec name, chócolatl. Scientific analysis of ancient pottery shows that chocolate or cacao beverages were being consumed in the Americas before 1000 B.C. The ancient Mayans and Aztecs combined chili peppers and other spices with cacao to make a beverage to improve stamina on long journeys. They also considered this dark rich food a “love tonic.” When cacao was introduced to Europe in the 1500’s sugar and vanilla were added to create what is more often referred to today, as chocolate. Those ancient peoples were on to something; today we have a better understanding of the health benefits of cacao.

Before I say more, keep in mind that to optimize the health benefits of cacao your chocolate should be dark, ideally with a cacao content of 80% or more and low in sugar. Cacao is an antioxidant, heart and cardiovascular tonic and nervous system stimulant. It is also rich in vitamins (B complex and E), trace elements and beneficial amino acids.

As for its effects on the cardiovascular system and heart health, clinical trials and epidemiological studies show that consuming dark chocolate may improve the health of the lining of blood vessels and heart, balance blood pressure, and have a beneficial effect on cholesterol and glucose/insulin. One recent study showed that dark chocolate consumption has a positive effect on brain function and cognition in elderly people with vascular risks.

Cacao’s stimulating effects on the nervous system and it’s mood-lifting effects are due in part to its caffeine content. However, it also contains other stimulants, including one very interesting compound called phenylethylamine or PEA. This compound is also found in the human brain where it acts as a neurotransmitter, releasing the feel-good hormone dopamine and endorphins to produce an anti-depressant effect. Often referred to as the “love-drug,” some scientists believe that PEA is responsible for the euphoric, intoxicated feeling we have when we fall in love. It seems our brains may be hard-wired for a love affair with chocolate!

Herbal Dark Chocolate Truffle Recipe

In this recipe for the optimum in dark chocolate goodness, I used Pascha’s Organic Dark Chocolate Chips, which are 85% cacao, vegan, kosher, paleo-certified, and Non-GMO project certified!

Ingredients:

17 – 18 ounces dark chocolate chips
¾ cup + 1 tbsp full fat coconut milk
½ tsp vanilla extract

Herbal Coating:
Dried rose petals, lavender flowers, dried raspberries, dried blueberries, and one of my favorite aromatic tea blends, White Tea Rose Mélange.

Instructions:
Place the chocolate chips in a mixing bowl and set aside. Gently heat the coconut milk in a small sauce pan until tiny bubbles form. Remove from the heat before it boils and pour over the chocolate chips. Cover the mixing bowl and allow the chocolate and coconut milk to sit undisturbed for approximately 5 minutes. The chocolate will soften and melt from the heat of the coconut milk. Stir gently until with a spoon until the chocolate is fully melted. If any small chunks of chocolate remain, set the mixing bowl in the microwave for short bursts, 15-20 seconds, and stir until the chocolate is smooth and creamy. Stir in the vanilla extract. Cover the mixing bowl and place it in the refrigerator for 1-1.5 hours. To test for readiness, a knife stuck in the middle of the bowl should go in easily but come out clean.

While the chocolate is firming up, prepare your coating. With the truffles you see here, I used three different coatings, dried rose petals crumbled with freeze-dried raspberries, dried lavender flowers crumbled with freeze-dried blueberries, and White Tea Rose Mélange crumbled into small pieces. Place each of your toppings in a small bowl.

Once the chocolate is reasonably firm, scoop out rounded mounds using a one tablespoon cookie scoop or a tablespoon. Dipping the spoon in hot water makes it easier to scoop the firm chocolate. Use your hands to roll the mounds into even balls and place each ball in one of the small bowls. Gently swirl the chocolate ball in the crumbled coating until it is fully covered. Admire your beautiful herbal chocolate truffle.

Store your truffles in an air-tight container in the fridge and remove 10 – 15 minutes before serving so they have time to soften slightly.

These herbal chocolate truffles are outrageously rich and delicious – and because of the health benefits of cacao, they’re good for you too. I highly recommend you share them with your besties and beloveds. Next time you whip up a batch, be sure to snap a picture, tag it #nectarDIY and post it to Instagram. We love seeing your herbaceous creations.

With love,
suzanne

 

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Nectar Apothecary Team Member Spotlight: Cathie Devore

Nectar Apothecary Team Member Spotlight | Cathie Devore

Cathie has been an essential part of the team at Nectar since before we even opened the doors in September 2014. Her ready smile and commitment to serving others seem to endear her to everyone she meets. In addition to working as an herbalist, Cathie is a yoga teacher with a healthy, active lifestyle. You might find her out on the trails with her dog, Zack, or mountain biking with her husband, Bill.

In 2008, in the midst of a professional career, Cathie began studying herbal medicine when she moved to Boulder, Colorado, taking classes at the local herb shop, Rebecca’s Apothecary. Her time at Rebecca’s inspired her to become a life-long student again—reading, studying, and formulating with herbs. After she moved to Prescott in 2013, Cathie enrolled in the Foundations of Herbal Medicine course offered by Mike Masek at Forager’s Path two hours away in Flagstaff. Shortly before finishing that 9-month course, Cathie came to work at Nectar Apothecary.

What did your family do for healthcare when you were growing up?

My parents took the traditional western medicine route to care for us while we were growing up. We had a pediatrician named Dr. Buckley, and he actually made house calls when needed! I can still remember the three of us being pretty sick, my parents leaving the front door unlocked, and Dr. Buckley coming in during the night to check on us.

Oftentimes, if she thought what we had was mild, my Mom would take us to the pharmacist first before consulting Dr. Buckley. She trusted the pharmacist too, and it was a more cost-efficient route.

How have natural remedies like herbs and essential oils made a difference in your life?

Natural remedies like herbs and essential oils have had a HUGE positive impact on my life! The list includes (and is not limited to!) the quality of my digestive system (Bitters, Chamomile, Licorice, Wild Yam), the calm of my nervous system (Ashwagandha, Passionflower, Skullcap, Lemon Balm), the strength of my immune system (Echinacea, Osha, Elder Berry, Thyme), the beating of my heart (Hawthorn Berry, Motherwort, Rose), the balance of my inflammatory response (Turmeric, Ginger, Green Tea), the health of my skin (Calendula, quality oils, Shea Butter, essential oils of Frankincense, Helichrysum, and Lavender). I am so grateful to these many plants for being my dear allies!

How do you fit herbs and essential oils into your daily routine?

I start my day with green tea (after 3 large cups of hot water), and it goes from there. I routinely take Zyflamend for inflammation (I have a dislocated toe joint), Lion’s Mane (brain health and immune health), Milk Thistle (liver health), and Ashwagandha (nervous system) and then whatever I feel I need. This might include herbs at bedtime (Passionflower and Skullcap) or digestive herbs at mealtime (Chamomile and Ginger). I have a little apothecary at home, and that helps!

What else do you do to take care of yourself and the people around you?

Mostly, I prepare meals with healthy organic whole foods. I have a daily prayerful meditation practice and exercise just about every day (hike with my husband and our dog, practice yoga, bike ride, ski when possible). I also journal daily, usually as a gratitude practice.

Why do you like working at Nectar Apothecary?

I LOVE working at Nectar for a whole host of reasons. We have an especially loving, caring, knowledgeable team and I feel so fortunate to be a member. I love the culture that we have developed, one of a holistic health approach and deeply thoughtful listening. I love talking with customers, hearing their health concerns and stories, trouble-shooting together and formulating ideas to help them. That is truly an honor! I am so grateful that so many have trusted me, taught me, and provided helpful feedback. I also love teaching classes at Nectar and joining so many of our customers on their herbal journey! What a gift!

What’s your favorite herb, essential oil or tea, what do you like about it, and why do you use it?

My favorite herb is Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera). It is a calming and restorative adaptogen, immunomodulating, and antispasmodic. As such, it helps the body adapt to stress, strengthens the nervous system, relieves anxiety, stress and exhaustion, supports a balanced immune function, and promotes vitality. I typically use it as a tincture.

My favorite essential oil is Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia). It is such a beautiful oil and so multi-purpose. Lavender is anti-inflammatory, analgesic, a calming nervine and wound-healing, to name a few of its actions. I add it to most of my skin care products (salves, lotions, creams, body butters, etc.) and often rub some (diluted) onto the soles of my feet before bed. I love its calming effect!

My favorite tea is Matcha. As a green tea (Camellia sinensis), it is antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-carcinogenic, and has a pronounced effect on the cardiovascular system. Green tea contains L-theanine which both helps stimulate alpha brain waves responsible for mental clarity and focus, and promotes feelings of tranquility and calm. I make a latte with it most mornings! Delicious!

Do you have any advice for someone, just starting to explore natural remedies?

For folks embarking upon their herbal journey, I have some suggestions. Enroll in herb and essential classes at your local apothecary (Nectar offers great classes!). Learn from herbalists and aromatherapists. Buy a book written by a respected herbalist and/or aromatherapist and read it from cover to cover. Become a student! Start experimenting with just one herb: find the one that calls to you and incorporate it into your life. Then add another! Keep an herb/essential oil journal so that you can record your formulations and experiences! Have fun! Ask lots of questions. Herbalists like Suzanne, Tiara, and me are so happy to talk with you and share your journey!

If you were a medicinal plant, what plant would you be and why?

This was a really fun question to answer! I would be Osha (Ligusticum porteri). Osha is also known as “Bear Root” or ” Bear Medicine”, because the bears dig it up when they come out of hibernation to help boost their immune systems and protect them after their long sleep!  I love the smell of Osha root, its many herbal actions, and where it grows in the Rocky Mountains. Additionally, I have a strong connection to the spirit of the Bear. I was a single mom when my children were young and my daughter called me “Mama Bear.” If I were Osha, I might be able to see a bear now and then, and perhaps I could help the plant somehow. It has unfortunately been over-harvested over the years.

Herbalists come from all backgrounds and perspectives, but none with a heart as big as Cathie’s. We are so grateful for her work at Nectar Apothecary, for her expertise and inspiration, and for the deep connections she has created in our community. Her presence is a gift to all who have the opportunity to know her. A deep bow, heart-to-heart hug, and many blessing to you, Cathie.

With love,
suzanne

Looking for more herbal inspiration?

Three Herbal Anti-Aging Tonic Recipes for Health & Vitality

Three Herbal Anti-Aging Tonic Recipes for Health & Vitality

Taking herbs is not just something to do when you’re sick. Taken regularly, herbs can enhance well-being, increase energy and vitality, and reduce the risk of age-related conditions. These three herbal anti-aging tonic recipes are all formulated to support radiant health, and contain herbs to strengthen the body and improve resistance to stress and disease. They differ in their concentration of herbs for overall health, cardiovascular function, and brain health.

Herbal tonics are defined in various ways. The American Botanical Council defines tonics as herbs that “increase strength and tone.” Herbalist David Winston, in his book, Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief, describes tonic herbs as those that enhance energy and well-being, alleviate conditions of weakness in the body, and can be taken every day, usually without side effects. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), one of the most ancient and highly evolved systems of herbal medicine, deserves much of the credit for our knowledge of these highly specialized herbs and for laying the foundation for modern pharmacological and clinical research to understand how they work. In TCM, herbal tonics are said to aid in the attainment of a long life, balance mind and emotions, and have broad and profound health-promoting actions. They have no negative side effects when used appropriately and can therefore be taken over a long period of time yielding cumulative long-term benefits. They must also be readily digestible and taste good enough to be consumed easily.

Herbal tonics may sound like some sort of remedy from a bygone era, but their efficacy is validated by modern science. You can read more about many of the herbs in these recipes in this post, 7 Herbs for Your Holistic Anti-Aging Practice.

Total Vitality Anti-Aging Tonic

 

This tonic is especially useful for improving energy and vitality, and increasing resistance to disease. Astragalus and Panax Ginseng are two herbal adaptogens and oxidants that strengthen the body and promote healthy immune function. Turmeric is also an antioxidant and an important anti-inflammatory with compounds that have been shown to have therapeutic benefit in a wide range of age-related conditions from cardiovascular disease and cancer, to osteoarthritis and dementia. In this tonic, Milk Thistle and Burdock Root support the liver, detoxification, assimilation, and elimination. Ginger is an anti-inflammatory and digestive aid that promotes circulation and adds flavor to this tonic.

Ingredients:

3 parts (3 ounces) Astragalus
2 parts (2 ounces) Panax Ginseng
1 parts (1 ounce) Turmeric Root
1 part (1 ounce) Milk Thistle Seed
½ part (½ ounce) Burdock Root
½ part (½ ounce) Ginger

Instructions:

This tonic is best prepared and taken as a liquid extract (also know as a tincture) or as a powder blend added to your daily smoothie. If you are preparing this tonic as a tincture, parts are by fluid volume (e.g., one part equals one fluid ounce). If you are preparing this tonic as a powder, parts are by weight (e.g., one part equals one ounce by weight). Take 1 teaspoon of the liquid extract 2 times per day or 2 tablespoons of the powder per day. Because most of the therapeutic compounds in Milk Thistle are not water soluble, I do not recommend preparing this tonic as a tea.

Healthy Heart Anti-Aging Tonic

 

The anti-aging tonic is formulated for people who want to improve their cardiovascular and heart health, which may include people with a close family history of cardiovascular disease. A heart-healthy diet and lifestyle are critical, but herbal tonics are useful, too. This tonic incorporates two potent antioxidants that promote cardiovascular health. Hawthorn berries, leaf, and flower protect against heart disease, inhibit the build-up of plaque in the arteries, and help maintain healthy blood pressure. Green tea helps protect and maintain the health of blood vessels, inhibiting inflammation and other risk factors that can lead to stroke or heart attack. Green tea also has a positive impact on cholesterol levels, helps lower blood pressure, and reduces the risk of abnormal blood clots. You can find out more about the myriad health benefits of Green tea, here. Schisandra berries are an herbal adaptogen that strengthen the body promote a relaxed, focused calm. Rosemary is an excellent circulatory stimulant that also promotes brain health. Elecampane is a digestive bitter that helps kick this tonic in to high gear by improving absorption in the body.

Ingredients:

3 parts (3 ounces) Hawthorn Berries
1 part (1 ounce) Hawthorn Leaf & Flower
1 part (1 ounce) Green Tea
1 part (1 ounce) Schisandra Berries
1 part (1 ounce) Rosemary
1 part (1 ounce) Elecampane

Instructions:

This tonic can be prepared and taken as a liquid extract (also known as a tincture) or tea. If you are preparing this tonic as a tincture, parts are by fluid volume (e.g., one part equals one fluid ounce). If you are preparing this tonic as a tea, parts are by weight (e.g., one part equals one ounce by weight). Take 1 teaspoon of the liquid extract 2 times per day or prepare tea with 2 tablespoons of the herbal blend steeped for 20-30 minutes in 2-4 cups of boiled water.

Beautiful Mind Anti-Aging Tonic

 

This tonic is focused on brain health, but with herbs like Panax Ginseng and Schisandra berries described above, it is also great for energy and overall vitality. Bacopa, Ginkgo, Gotu Kola, and Rosemary are all considered nootropics—a term that describes herbs that promote cerebral function, memory, focus, and concentration. Ginkgo and Rosemary also promote cerebral circulation.

Ingredients:

2 parts (2 ounces) Panax Ginseng
2 parts (2 ounces) Schisandra
1 part (1 ounce) Bacopa
1 part (1 ounce) Ginkgo
1 part (1 ounce) Gotu Kola
1 part (1 ounce) Rosemary

Instructions:

This tonic can be prepared and taken as a liquid extract (also known as a tincture) or tea. If you are preparing this tonic as a tincture, parts are by fluid volume (e.g., one part equals one fluid ounce). If you are preparing this tonic as a tea, parts are by weight (e.g., one part equals one ounce by weight). Take 1 teaspoon of the liquid extract 2 times per day or prepare tea with 2 tablespoons of the herbal blend steeped for 20-30 minutes in 2-4 cups of boiled.

I’d love to hear about other things you’re doing as part of your healthy aging routine. Is it yoga, meditation, or exercise? A healthy diet, perhaps? Please share your ideas and practices in the comments section below. If you’d like to add one of these tonics to your anti-aging routine, we are happy to blend them for you in the shop or help you formulate a tonic specific to your needs.

to a long and vibrant life,
suzanne

 

References

American Botanical Council, Terminology Page, http://abc.herbalgram.org/site/PageServer?pagename=Terminology, accessed 12.27.17.

Winston, D and Maimes, S, Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief, Healing Arts Press, Rochester, Vermont, 2007.

Teegarden R., The Ancient Wisdom of Chinese Tonics Herbs, Warner Books, Inc., New York, New York, 1998.

Looking for more herbal inspiration?

7 Herbs for Your Holistic Anti-Aging Practice

7 Herbs for Your Holistic Anti-Aging Practice

 

Why take a Holistic Approach?

Whether you’re 25 or 55, it’s never too early to begin an anti-aging regime. Though creams and serums are all the rage, their approach is mostly superficial. Do you just want to look good when you’re 75 or do you want to feel good, too? A more holistic approach to aging provides support for the entire body, with specific attention to energy and vitality, brain health, and heart health. Along with a healthy diet and lifestyle, herbs have an important role to play in healthy aging. Modern research has shown us that many medicinal herbs long revered for their ability to promote longevity do in fact support healthy aging. Adding some or all of these herbs for holistic anti-aging to your daily self-care routine is key.

These seven vital herbs have some things in common. All are antioxidants. Most are adaptogens, and many possess anti-inflammatory properties. Understanding these properties is important to choosing an herbal approach to anti-aging best for you. Antioxidants inhibit free-radical damage, which is responsible for aging at a cellular level. Free-radicals are also responsible for the onset of many diseases, including two major killers—heart disease and cancer. In short, antioxidants are thought to slow the aging process. In addition to a diet rich in high quality, organic fruits and vegetables, using antioxidant-rich herbs is a good way to boost your antioxidant intake. Herbal adaptogens have a strengthening and energizing effect on the body, promote immune function, and help alleviate the effects of stress. When it comes to aging, adaptogens promote energy and vitality, and help ward off disease. Herbal anti-inflammatories reduce inflammation in the body, including chronic inflammation sometimes referred to as the “silent killer.” Chronic inflammation is a contributing factor in the onset of many common and deadly conditions from cardiovascular disease and diabetes, to cancer and dementia. Herbs, along with diet and lifestyle, can reduce chronic inflammation and decrease the risk of these life-limiting ailments.

A healthy aging approach that includes a combination of antioxidant, adaptogenic, and anti-inflammatory herbs is best and considers your body’s specific needs. Among the many herbal options discussed here, you’ll notice that some herbs are especially effective at inhibiting certain age-related conditions. Let that be your inspiration. For example, if you have a family history of cardiovascular disease or certain cancers, design your herbal protocol to optimize resistance to these conditions. Finally, while the herbs on this list are generally safe for long term use, if you are on medication or being treated for a specific condition, be sure to discuss taking them with your healthcare practitioner first.

Holistic Anti-Aging Herb List

Astragalus | Astragalus membranaceus

Astragalus is a superstar in the anti-aging field. Like many of the herbs on this list, it is an adaptogen and antioxidant. Astragalus is also considered a heart and lung tonic and is used to prevent immune suppression caused by chemotherapy.

Esteemed in Traditional Chinese Medicine for thousands of years, Astragalus’s superstar status was cemented by modern scientific research. Among other things, this research has demonstrated that Astragalus contains compounds that boost production of an enzyme, telomerase, that plays a critical role in cellular health and anti-aging at the level of our DNA, the genetic material that contains the instructions all organisms need to develop, live, and reproduce. Specifically, telomerase controls the short bits of DNA known as telomeres, which ensure accurate cell division and replication. Telomeres are sometimes likened to the plastic tips that protect the ends of shoelaces to prevent them from unraveling. As telomeres shorten, errors in cell replication accumulate, causing a wide range of age-related conditions including certain cancers, cardiovascular disease including stroke and vascular dementia, osteoporosis, and diabetes

As part of your holistic anti-aging protocol, combine Astragalus with a plant-based diet, regular exercise, stress-reduction techniques like yoga or meditation, and a supportive social network. Why? A 2013 pilot study published in a distinguished medical journal, The Lancet Oncology, showed that these diet and lifestyle practices may also result in longer, anti-aging telomeres.

Ginseng | Panax ginseng or Panax quinquefolius

One of the most heavily researched herbs, Ginseng’s legendary status as a longevity tonic has been validated by modern scientific research and clinical studies. Like Astragalus, Ginseng is an adaptogen and antioxidant. Considered the most stimulating of adpatogens, Panax ginseng can be used at any age to promote stamina and endurance and improve cognitive function and memory. Ginseng helps relieve adrenal burnout and exhaustion and reduce cortisol levels elevated by stress. Like Astragalus, it is also used to support the immune system during chemotherapy treatment. Ginseng also supports blood sugar balance and healthy cholesterol levels, helping to combat two common age and diet related conditions. Ginseng is considered a fertility and sexual tonic for both men and women, and provides relief for women experiencing menopause related symptoms. For more about Ginseng’s role in menopause visit my blog, Three Herbs to Unleash Your Feminine PowerPanax ginseng sometimes called Asian, Koran, or Chinese Ginseng is and Panax quinefolius, or American Ginseng, possess similar properties, but Panax Ginesng is considered more stimulating.  Individuals sensitive to stimulants may prefer American Ginseng.

young woman holidng a white mug filed with hot green tea wearing a blue shirt and gray cotton shortsGreen Tea | Camellia sinensis

Drinking two or three cups of organic green tea every day is a great way to practice healthy aging. Green tea helps combat a wide range of age-related conditions from cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure to osteoporosis, memory loss, and cancer. You can read more about the benefits of green tea here.

Given that heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women, green tea’s wide range of benefits for the heart and cardiovascular system make it a top choice for those who want to age well. Its ability to promote cardiovascular health is derived from important compounds known as catechins. Tea catechins exert antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-hypertensive, anti-thrombotic, and hypo-cholesterolemic effects. In other words, these compounds in green tea help protect and maintain the health of our blood vessels, inhibiting inflammation and other risk factors that can lead to stroke or heart attack. They have a positive impact on cholesterol levels, help lower blood pressure, and reduce the risk of abnormal blood clots.

Green tea also helps improve memory and parts of the brain that shrink as we age. Compounds in green tea increase a protein in the body called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which plays a critical role in brain health and brain growth, or neurogenesis. Research also shows that green tea enhances memory by improving connectivity within the brain and increasing brain cell production.

Like many of the other herbs for healthy aging on this list, green tea is also a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. While antioxidants help us maintain healthy skin as we age, their importance is more significant. Antioxidants like green tea also help protect us from cancer. When it comes to specific cancers, research shows that green tea has a positive effect on breast, cervical, prostate, and stomach cancer. Population studies suggest that green tea consumption may be one of the reasons cancer rates are lower in Japan where people typically drink about three cups of green tea per day.

Drinking green tea may also offer significant protection against osteoporosis. Osteoporosis literally means “porous bone” and is associated with an increased risk of bone fractures and falls. This danger is significant given that fractures due to osteoporosis are associated with premature death in people 45 and older and hip fracture in the elderly increases the risk of dying within one or two years. Women are most at risk for osteoporosis after menopause. Tea catechins as well as vitamin K1 in green tea may account for this protective effect. Vitamin K1 assists the transport of calcium through the body, improves bone density, reduces bone loss, and decreases the risk of fractures.

a clear glass serving jar on a wooden table filled with dried hawthorn leaf and flower with a silver metal serving scoop on top of jarHawthorn | Crataegus spp.

The dark red berries of the Hawthorn tree are sometimes referred to as “food for the heart.” They are used along with the leaves and flowers of Hawthorn as a cardiovascular tonic, hypotensive, and antioxidant. Hawthorn is particularly rich in antioxidant compounds called flavonoids, in particular a group of flavonoids known as proanthocyanidins. These powerful antioxidants are responsible for the dark red and blue colors found in blueberries, blackberries, and of course, Hawthorn berries and are especially useful in protecting against heart disease. Hawthorn has also been shown to inhibit the build up of plague in the arteries and helps maintain healthy blood pressure. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, Hawthorn is considered a nervous system relaxant and is used energetically to open and protect the heart, and for recovery from grief, loss, and sadness.

Milk Thistle | Silybum marianum

Milk Thistle seed is another potent antioxidant, but possesses a unique ability to protect the liver and enhance detoxification. The fact is, we live in a toxic world. From heavy metals in our air and drinking water, to chemicals, herbicides, and pesticides in our food, our bodies–especially the liver–can become overwhelmed and damaged by this toxic load. Warning signals may include skin problems, chronic headaches, chronic fatigue, and inflammatory and autoimmune conditions. Heavy metal toxicity is also associated with impaired brain function, heart disease, high blood pressure, and cancer, among other things. Milk Thistle, used regularly and in conjunction with periodic cleansing, improves liver function and helps eliminate this toxic load.

Rhodiola | Rhodiola rosea

Rhodiola has been used for centuries in northern Europe and Russia, where it has been subjected to more than 180 published pharmacological, phytochemical, and clinical studies. As these studies have been translated into other languages, Rhodiola has gained popularity with practitioners across North America and elsewhere. Rhodiola is an antioxidant and adaptogen that promotes memory and brain function and has also been shown to possess anti-tumor and anti-mutagenic properties. As a stimulating adaptogen, Rhodiola is used to relieve mental and physical fatigue, increase endurance, and decrease recovery time after intense exercise. It also helps reduce depressive syndromes and ameliorate memory loss and cognitive dysfunction from a variety of causes, including brain injuries. It has been shown to have a positive effect on parts of the brain responsible for memory, perception and information processing, especially in healthy individuals working long hours in fields requiring complex analysis and critical decision making.

hand sifting turmeric powder into large glass bowl on a wooden backgroundTurmeric | Curcuma longa

This spicy member of the ginger family has been used as a culinary spice for thousands of years. However, in modern times its well-deserved reputation as a potent anti-inflammatory has outpaced its reputation in the kitchen. In addition to its anti-inflammatory properties, Turmeric is also an oxidant that contains compounds showing therapeutic potential in a wide range of conditions commonly associated with aging including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, arthritis, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease. Clinical studies show that compounds in Turmeric may be beneficial in the prevention and treatment of many types of cancer, including breast, colon, gastrointestinal, urinary tract, lung, leukemia, lymphoma, ovarian, pancreatic, prostate, and skin cancers.

Curcumin, one of over 24 unique anti-inflammatory compounds in Turmeric is being studied for its ability to block the formation of beta-amyloid, the substance responsible for the plaque characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease that forms in the brain and obstructs cerebral function. Parts of India where people eat Turmeric at almost every meal have the lowest rates of Alzheimer’s disease in the world. Among people 70-79 years old, the rate is less than one-quarter the rate of Alzheimer’s disease in the United States. Epidemiologists hypothesize that the daily ingestion of Turmeric as part of the Indian diet may be partly responsible for this result.

As for its role in cardiovascular health, in addition to its effects as an anti-inflammatory, Turmeric acts as a blood thinner, reducing blood platelet aggregation, which is linked to an increased risk for atherosclerosis and stroke. It also helps maintain healthy cholesterol levels (elevated cholesterol increases the risk of heart disease) and is considered cardioprotective.

We all hear the cultural drum beat that seems to value youthful appearance over a more holistic approach to aging. Herbs can help us look more youthful (more about that here), but I encourage you to look beyond the surface. I hope this list of herbs for holistic anti-aging inspires you to focus on the things that will help you maintain vibrant energy, a healthy heart, and an active mind. Have you discovered ways to navigate the cultural miasma of aging with grace or grit? Are you proactive when it comes to your approach to anti-aging? I’d love to hear your insights, wisdom, or worries in the comments section below.

Blessings,

suzanne

 

 

References:

Winston, D and Maimes, S, Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief, Healing Arts Press, Rochester, Vermont, 2007.

Molgora, B, Bateman, E, Sweeney, G, at al., Functional assessment of Pharmacological Telomerase Activators in Human T Cells. Cells 2013, 2(1): 57-66

Ornish D, Lin J, Chan J, et al., Effect of comprehensive lifestyle changes on telomerase activity and telomere length in men with biopsy-proven low-risk prostate cancer, The Lancet Oncology, 2013, 14(11): 1112-1120.

Chen CF, Chiou WF, et al., Comparison of the pharmacological effects of Panax ginseng and Panax quinquefolium, Acta Pharmacol Sin, 2008, 29(9): 1103-1108.

Kim SH, Park KS, et al., Effects of Panax ginseng extract on exercise-induced oxidative stress, J Sports Med Phys Fitness, 2005, 45(2): 178-82.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Heart Disease, Facts, https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm, accessed Dec 19, 2017.

Chwan-Li Shen, et al., Green Tea and Bone Metabolism, Nutrition Research, 2009, 29 (7): 437-456.

Velayutham P, et al., Green Tea Catechins and Cardiovascular Health: An Update, Current Medicinal Chemistry, 2008, 15(18): 1840–1850.

Ogunleye AA, et al., Green Tea Consumption and Breast Cancer Risk or Recurrence: A Meta-Analysis. Breast Cancer Research and Treatment, Jan 2010, 119(2): 477-484.

Kuriyama S, et al., Green Tea Consumption and Mortality Due to Cardiovascular Disease, Cancer, and All Causes in Japan: the Ohsaki Study, JAMA, Sep 13 2006, 296(10): 1255-1265.

Wang Y, et al., Green Tea Epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) Promotes Neural Progenitor Cell Proliferation and Sonic Hedgehog Pathway Activation During Adult Hippocampal Neurogenesis, Molecular Nutrition and Food Research, 2012 Aug 56(8):1292-1303.

Schmidt A, et al., Green Tea Extract Enhances Parieto-frontal Connectivity During Working Memory Processing, Psychopharmacology, October 2014, 231(19): 3879–3888.

Nobre AC, et al., L-theanine, a Natural Constituent in Tea, and its Effect on Mental State, Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2008, 17 Suppl 1:167-168.

Stallings A, MD, et al., Practical Uses of Botanicals in Skin Care, Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, Jan 2009, 2(1):36–40.

Setiwan VW, et al., Protective Effect of Green Tea on the Risks of Chronic Gastritis and Stomach Cancer, International Journal of Cancer, 2001, 92:600-604.

Tribout H, et al., Protective Mechanisms of Green Tea Polyphenols in Skin, Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, 2012:560682.

Ahn WS, et al., Protective Effects of Green Tea Extracts on Human Cervical Lesions, European Journal of Cancer, Oct 2003, 12(5):383-390.

Inoue M, et al., Regular Consumption of Green Tea and the Risk of Breast Cancer Recurrence: Follow-up Study from the Hospital-based Epidemiologic Research Program at Aichi Cancer Center, Japan, Cancer Letters, 2001, 167:175-182.

Khan N, et al., Review: Green Tea Polyphenols in Chemoprevention of Prostate Cancer: Preclinical and Clinical Studies, Nutrition and Cancer, 2009, 621(6):836-841.

American College of Rheumatology (ACR), “Fractures Can Lead to Premature Death in Older People,” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 8 November 2015, www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/11/151108084919.htm, accessed Dec 19, 2017.

Vavsteen BH, The biochemistry and medical significance of the flavonoids, Pharmacol Ther, 2002, 96(2-3) 67-202.

Wang J, Xiong X, Effect of Crataegus Usage in Cardiovascular Disease Prevention: An Evidence-Based Approach, Evid Based Complement Alternat Med, Published online 2013 Dec 29, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3891531.

Murray M, Pizzorno J, The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, 3rd Ed. Atria, 2012.

Vargas-Mendoza N, Madrigal-Santillan E, et al., Hepatoprotective effect of silymarin, World J Hepatol, Published online 2014 Mar 27, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3959115/.

Brown R, Gerbarg P, et al., Rhodiola Rosea, A Phytomedicinal Overview, American Botanical Council, HerbalGram, 2002; 56:40-52.

Engels G, Turmeric, American Botanical Council, HerbalGram, 2009: 84:1-3.

Mishra S, Palanivelu K, The effect of curcumin (turmeric) on Alzheimer’s disease: An overview, Ann Indian Acad Neurol, 2008 Jan-Mar; 11(1):13-19.

Aggarwal BB, Sundaram C, et al., Curcumin: the Indian solid gold, Adv Exp Med Biol, 2007, 595:1-75.

Looking for more herbal inspiration?

Nectar Apothecary Customer Spotlight | Heather Mead

Nectar Apothecary Customer Spotlight | Heather Mead

This month’s Nectar Apothecary Customer Spotlight belongs to Heather Mead, a Prescott native who embodies everything I love about this small town. The first time we met she was making an herbal concoction for her family and I had the most enjoyable experience talking with her about recipes and ingredients. More recently Heather brought me a handwritten copy of the shaving cream recipe she created for her husband. Heather radiates warmth and kindness. She’s real, down to earth, and always has helpful advice.

Would you share a little about yourself, your background, where you’re from, etc.?
My name is Heather and I was born and raised in Prescott. I am married to Garrett and we have eight year old twins, Trace and Ruby. I attended Northern Arizona University and have a BA in Interior design. We are all passionate about learning new things, design, art, cooking, creating, and being in nature. I am most comfortable being a doer, cleaning, and making whatever space I am in more calming, organized, and balanced.

What did your family do for healthcare when you were growing up?
My little brother and I were raised by our Mom who worked hard to provide for us. She put herself through beauty school when we were young, so we spent a lot of time with our grandparents. The two of them had many alternative remedies in their bag of tricks as they grew up during the depression, so we became used to that. Our grandmother also had a bottle of Merthiolate and she used to swab our sore throats with that…let’s just say, no one ever faked having a sore throat!

What are the biggest challenges you face in taking good care of yourself and living a healthy lifestyle?
The most challenging thing for me is time. I am trying to be more mindful about giving myself a little time each day, even if just to wash my face or reflect on my day. I’m good at taking care of other people, and I enjoy doing that, but it is also important to take care of myself. Having young children and other responsibilities means a full schedule most of the time. As they grow and become more self-sufficient there will be more time for other things!

How do you fit herbs and essential oils into your daily routine?
I love cooking and use culinary herbs in most all of our meals. I have also been making facial and body oils that we use daily. My husband uses homemade shaving lotion—when he feels like shaving! We have also been making elderberry syrup to keep our immunity strong.

What else do you do to take care of yourself and the other people around you?
I am very good at making sure my family gets plenty of rest and stays hydrated. We eat healthy, but also enjoy special treats in moderation—that is important for our wellbeing! We try to spend as much time as we can outside, usually riding our mountain bikes on the trails.

Why do you like to shop at Nectar Apothecary?
I love everything about Nectar! The moment I walk in, the smells lift my mood. Everyone who is part of the shop is so knowledgeable and kind. I feel like I still have SO much to learn and try and I love that.

What type of DIY herbal projects do you have in the works?
I am making rosewater with rose petals from my mother’s organic garden and also working on an herbal salt-water spritzer for our hair. I will be sure to let you know how it all goes!

Do you have any advice for someone, just starting to explore natural remedies?
Explore Nectar, ask questions, and just go for it! It’s so amazing to be able to use nature and creativity to create incredible products for your health. It’s much more cost-effective to make things yourself, and you know exactly what you’re putting into your body.

If you were a medicinal plant, what plant would you be and why?
This is a great question, so challenging to answer! I think Rosemary is my best answer. Low maintenance and strong, Rosemary is an independent and simple plant. Rosemary doesn’t like much attention and thrives with very little maintenance. It can be used for so many things from food, to internal healing. Rosemary is an achiever, and so am I!

What a cool person, mom, wife and maker. I feel so fortunate to have gotten to know Heather and look forward to more great conversations with her. Thanks so much Heather, for showing up for our Customer Spotlight and for being such a bright part of the Nectar Apothecary Community.
Blessings,

suzanne

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Homemade Herb & Spice Blends to Enrich Everyday Recipes

Homemade Herb & Spice Blends to Enrich Everyday Recipes

As an herbalist and wannabe chef, experimenting in the kitchen with new herb and spice blends is one of my favorite ways to infuse my culinary endeavors with my love of herbs. These homemade concoctions wind up in everything from coffee and cocktails to ice cream and cookies. Though I use these homemade herb and spice blends to flavor my dishes, most of the herbs in these recipes can also be used medicinally – so they’re not only delicious, but healthy too. These blends are easy to prepare and they make any meal feel extra special. I also love giving them as hostess and house warming gifts, or to young people learning to cook for themselves.

My 3 Favorite Herb & Spice Blend Recipes

HOMEMADE RED PEPPER SPICE BLEND

This blend works well to heighten the flavor and add a little heat to any savory dish. Adjust the amount of red pepper flakes for more or less heat. I grind this savory spice blend on everything from eggs to soup, even popcorn.

¼ cup dried rosemary
¼ cup dried thyme
2 tbsp black peppercorns
1-2 tbsp red pepper flakes or smoked red pepper flakes
1 tbsp Himalayan pink salt
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds

Instructions: Simply combine all the herbs and spices in a small bowl and mix well. Place the blend in a pepper or herb grinder and enjoy!

HOMEMADE HERB GARDEN BLEND

If you grow culinary herbs, you may be able to create this entire blend (or one like it) with dried herbs from your own garden. To me, it feels meaningful to use and gift herb blends from ingredients I grew myself. This one pairs well in dishes with Italian, Spanish, or Middle Eastern flavors.

¼ cup dried rosemary
¼ cup dried thyme
1 tbsp dried sage
1 tsp dried fennel seeds
1 tsp dried lavender flowers
Other Options: Basil, Marjoram, Mint, or Savory

Instructions: Simply combine all the herbs and spices in a small bowl and mix well. Place the blend in a pepper or herb grinder and enjoy!

HOMEMADE INDIAN SPICE BLEND

This blend uses spices traditionally found in food and recipes from India. It elicits a sweetness not found in the other two blends, but works well on savory dishes. I love it on roasted vegetables, sweet potatoes, and winter squash. Some of the spices in this blend don’t grind well in a pepper grinder, so I recommend using powdered herbs and spices, or grinding them beforehand with a mortar and pestle or coffee grinder.

2 tbsp decorticated cardamom or ground cardamom
2 tbsp dried fennel seeds
1 tbsp cinnamon chips or powdered cinnamon
1 tbsp dried ginger or powdered ginger
1 tsp coriander seeds, dry roasted for 3-5 minutes in a heavy pan
1 tsp cumin seeds, dry roasted for 3-5 minutes in a heavy pan

Instructions: If you are not using powdered herbs and spices, grind each ingredient with a mortar and pestle or coffee grinder (dedicated to your herbal endeavors). Combine all the powdered herbs and spices in a small bowl and mix well. Place the blend in a small glass jar with a shaker top and enjoy!

I hope you enjoy the simple pleasures of these aromatic,flavor-enhancing homemade herb and spice blends. I’d love to see how you incorporate them into your own culinary adventures! Snap a picture of your favorite dish and tag it with #nectarapothecary to share and inspire.

Cheers,
suzanne

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Nectar Apothecary Customer Spotlight

Nectar Apothecary Customer Spotlight | Rhonda Johnson

Rhonda, an Arizona native, medicinal plant lover, and Nectar Apothecary regular, already led a clean and healthy lifestyle when we met. It has been a joy getting to know her as she deepens her wisdom of herbs. Rhonda has taken our Materia Medica classes and the herbal manual she created has been an inspiration to other students. I was really surprised to find out that Rhonda has two grown sons, 25 and 27 years. I suspect her positive outlook, healthy lifestyle, and the DIY skincare products she makes help her look so youthful.

What did your family do for healthcare when you were growing up?

I was raised by a single mother who followed whatever the doctor or pediatrician recommended. I was a “healthy kid” for the most part. However, I was diagnosed with severe endometriosis in my 30’s and the doctor was pretty sure it had started in my teens based on my symptoms since that time. This diagnosis was a turning point for me, as this disease was heavily influenced by my diet (hormones in food to be exact) and up to this point I had no idea that diet was so important.

What are the biggest challenges you face in taking good care of yourself and living a healthy lifestyle?

Learning more about diet and the herbs and medicinal plants that can complement our diet and replace over-the-counter medications and even prescription medications has been fascinating to me. Unfortunately, it can be challenging to change old patterns of thinking and old habits. I believe there are alternatives to every choice we make; I want to make the cleanest, purest choice when putting something both in and on my body.

How have natural remedies like herbs and essential oils made a difference in your life?

Making this lifestyle change has been huge for me. I not only feel better but my hair and skin look better. Eliminating hormones from my diet and chemicals from my shampoo, deodorant, and beauty products was pretty easy, but I’ve had a more difficult time finding good moisturizers that are chemical free. I now make my own body butters and facial oils that actually hydrate, heal, and nourish my skin.

Have you taken classes at Nectar? What was your class experience?

Yes, I’ve taken a lot of the classes offered at Nectar. I’ve learned how to identify plants in this area, what medicinal properties these plants have, and a variety of ways to use them. I’ve learned the art of wildcrafting to create teas, tinctures, and herb-infused body butters and salves. I’ve learned how to use herbs as a preventative, for healing, and for nourishing my body.

What type of DIY herbal projects do you have in the works?

I’m currently wildcrafting the fall plants in my area, specifically Yarrow and Mullein to dry and use in my own “winter wellness” tea. I’m also drying many of my herbs that will die off during the winter. And, I’m always whipping up a fresh batch of my body butter that is infused with Dandelion root.

If you were a medicinal plant, what plant would you be and why?

If I were a medicinal plant, I believe I would be a Lavender plant. I’m a little bit of a flower child anyway, and purple is my favorite color. People who know me tell me I’m a calming person and I have a gentle spirit about me. I would like to think I’m a “relaxing nervine” to others, making them feel relaxed and accepted, and free to be themselves around me.

We could not agree more, Rhonda. We love to be in your calming and joyful presence, and are grateful for your friendship and support.

Join us for an up-coming class and you might have the pleasure of meeting Rhonda, too.

With love,
suzanne

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Tiny Pleasures: 12 Simple Ways to Practice Self-Care

Taking good care of ourselves should be a top priority, but because of never-ending “to-do” lists and packed schedules, it is easy to let self-care practices slip to the bottom of the list. Being consistent with  herbs and supplements every day is a good start, but our bodies, minds and spirits need more than that. That’s where these tiny pleasures come in—twelve easy-to-incorporate self-care practices to bring balance and well-being to busy lives.

Try weaving these simple rituals into your day to feel more nourished, grounded, and at ease.

1. Drink a cup of tea. Allow yourself the few minutes it takes to prepare a cup of tea, pausing to notice the aroma and savor each sip. Tich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist Monk and meditation teacher said it best, “Tea is an act complete in its simplicity. When I drink tea, there is only me and the tea. The rest of the world dissolves. There are no worries about the future. No dwelling on past mistakes…. There is only the tea, and me, converging.”

2. Light a candle. On your desk or at the kitchen table, the burning flame provides a focal point, a reminder to be present in the moment. I find a burning candle especially helpful when I need to use the computer for long periods of time. It’s uplifting and helps me stay connected to something greater, something more important than the words and images on the screen.

3. Take a bath. This is my go to ritual after a long day. I add bath salts to ease muscle tension and essential oils, like lavender, marjoram, and frankincense to quiet my mind and lift my heart. A bath is the perfect reset when I’m feeling stressed, irritable, or fatigued. Turning down the lights and lighting a candle makes this tiny ritual extra special.

4. Burn incense. In many cultures and traditions, incense is burned to evoke the sacred. The gently burning ember, the smoke rising, and the fragrance cause me to pause, slow down, and appreciate the beauty of the moment. Palo Santo, Frankincense, and Sandalwood are some of my favorites.

5. Go for a walk. Get up, take a break from your routine and move your body, preferably in nature. It always surprises me how refreshed I feel after a walk, even if I’m feeling tired or sluggish beforehand. It’s a little counter intuitive, but it works. When you get out for a walk, even a short one, fresh air, sunlight, trees, and flowers nourish every cell in your body.

6. Drink water. Did you know that dehydration can cause fatigue, irritability, and food cravings, among other things? Drinking plenty of water is a simple way to take care of yourself. Adding fresh herbs like mint or rosemary, or a little fresh seasonal fruit to your water bottle makes this self-care practice feel luxurious.

7. Oil your body. I learned the transformative practice of self-massage with oil from my friend and colleague, Rachel Peters when I took her Embody Ease course. In the Ayurvedic healing tradition that Rachel teaches, daily self-massage with oil is considered an act of self-love. In fact, the Sanskrit word for oil, sneha, can also be translated as “love.” This daily self-care ritual has many health benefits. It reduces the effects of aging, increases stamina, improves detoxification, and calms the nerves, just to name a few. I find that this nourishing ritual also encourages me to slow down and notice how my body is feeling. Read more about the practice of daily self-massage with oil here.

8. Go to bed early. Sleep plays an important role in our mental and physical health. Going to bed early is one of the most delicious, and beneficial self-care practices I know. It’s hard to describe the simple pleasure of snuggling into bed, knowing you’re in for a quality night’s sleep.

9. Get up before the sun. Especially if you have a family or live with others, getting up before the sun and before everyone else begins to stir, allows quiet time and space for you. This is the best time to drink water, move your body, and meditate. I make the most of it by abstaining from my phone, computer, news, and email during this sacred, pre-dawn time.

10. Breathe. You can do this anytime and anywhere. Stop, pause (put down your phone and step away from the computer), take a long, slow inhalation followed by a gentle, slow exhalation. And repeat, as many times as you like. Deep breathing, called diaphragmatic breathing, invites the body to relax. It activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for your body’s ability to “rest and digest.” Slow, deep breathing slows the heart rate, relaxes muscles, and promotes digestive and glandular activity.

11. Do less. Have you noticed we live in a culture addicted to busyness? Ask almost anyone, a stranger or your best friend, how they’re doing and you’ll likely hear about how busy they are. Notice if that’s how you respond to the simple greeting. For a deeper understanding of what drives our addiction to being busy, I recommend this article, The Disease of Being Busy. So, do less. Learn to say, “no, thank you” without feeling guilty or talking about how busy you are, and relish in your newfound freedom.

12. Be grateful. Say a prayer. Pranam. Taking a moment to acknowledge what we are grateful for has a pronounced effect on our overall sense of well-being. It makes us happier and improves our health and relationships. Some people keep a gratitude journal to record their daily observances. It helps to be regular, intentional, and mindful in your gratitude practice, but it need not be elaborate. Consider a moment of gratitude before you get out of bed in the morning, before each meal, or when you climb into bed at the end of the day. I like to remember what I’m grateful for when I get on my yoga mat and bow close to the earth in child’s pose. To pranam is to bow in reverence. This practice always leaves me feeling grounded and receptive.

Regular self-care is a practice, a skill to be encouraged and cultivated over time. If you’ve been putting everyone and everything before your own self-care, I hope you’ll find something in these simple rituals that you can do every day to nourish your beautiful self. If you know someone who struggles with self-care, please share these tiny rituals with them, too. What self-care practices are most powerful for you? I’d love it if you would share them in the comment section below.

With love and gratitude,

suzanne

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A Holistic Approach: 5 Practices for Natural Anxiety Relief

Whether you’re seeking relief for anxiety, the common cold, indigestion or any other health problem, consider a holistic approach. Holistic health takes into account the whole person, body, mind and spirit as well as environmental, social, and lifestyle factors. A holistic approach also means addressing the root cause of the problem, not just the symptoms. No two people suffering from anxiety or stress have the same experience, so the solutions can and should vary accordingly. When it comes to anxiety, there are many herbs that offer safe and effective relief for anxiety. However, because herbal medicine works best in a holistic context, I’d like to share with you five evidence-based practices for natural anxiety relief. In conjunction with the use of herbal medicine, these practices can be especially effective:

  • Reduce or eliminate caffeine
  • Develop a yoga practice
  • Develop a mindfulness-based meditation practice
  • Exercise regularly
  • Improve your sleep

Evidence-based Practices for Natural Anxiety Relief

Reduce or Eliminate Caffeine

Consuming too much caffeine can mimic symptoms of anxiety, causing the heart to race or pound in the chest, sweating, shakiness and irritability. Caffeine also causes an elevation in blood lactic acid levels, a significant biochemical disturbance common in people with anxiety. Research shows that eliminating caffeine can have a significant improvement on anxiety. Also, studies show that some people with anxiety disorders are more sensitive to the effects of caffeine than others, which may be due to a heightened sensitivity to lactic acid. Do you need to eliminate your morning coffee entirely? That depends. If you drink one or more cups of coffee a day, cut back, and see what happens. A holistic approach means listening to your body and doing what works for you.

Develop a Yoga Practice

The blissed out feeling some people get from yoga is real. Research shows that yoga increases levels of a neurotransmitter in the brain called GABA, that is associated with improved mood and decreased anxiety. A study conducted at the Boston University School of Medicine showed a positive correlation between yoga-induced increases in GABA and improvements in mood and anxiety scales.
In addition to being an herbalist, I also teach yoga and have been practicing for about 15 years. I mention this because I recommend yoga a lot, and I’ve heard every excuse imaginable about why someone can’t do yoga. I was almost forty before I went to my first yoga class and I understand why it can be intimidating. If you’ve developed a litany of reasons why you can’t do yoga, I recommend this article, 20 Reasons You Can’t Do Yoga…And Why None of Them Are True. If you seek out a yoga class, look for a yoga teacher and yoga space that feels friendly and supportive.

Exercise Regularly

If you’ve tried yoga and it isn’t right for you, consider other forms of regular physical exercise. Numerous studies reveal the positive effects of exercise on people with anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders. Research methods and recommendations vary, but regular aerobic exercise involving the rhythmic use of large muscle groups (walking, jogging, swimming, cycling) shows significant reductions in anxiety and depression, improvements in self-esteem and an increased sense of well-being. The physiological mechanisms responsible for the anxiety-reducing effects of regular exercise are many, and the health benefits also include reduction in the risk of chronic disease and lower rates of age-related memory problems.

Develop a Mindfulness-based Meditation Practice

I have a well-established meditation practice and can attest to the profound effect meditation has on my mood and mental state. Numerous research studies affirm that meditation is a helpful strategy for people suffering from anxiety. Meditation activates the parasympathetic nervous system which governs the body’s relaxation response. Repeatedly and intentionally activating the relaxation response through meditation counteracts activation of the sympathetic nervous system, also known as the “fight, flight or freeze” system. Frequent and heightened arousal of the fight, flight or freeze response results in an overall feeling state of anxiety and fear. In short, meditation helps balance the nervous system shifting it toward a place of relaxation. In a recent study reported in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, participants who practiced mindfulness-based meditation over an 8-week period showed significant reductions in anxiety, improved responses to stress, and a greater increase in positive self-statements compared to the control group.

Among the many styles of meditation, mindfulness meditation has been subjected to the most research. The practice involves a process of intentionally bringing your attention, in a non-judgmental way, to what is arising in awareness in the present moment, both internally and externally. It may include awareness of thoughts and feelings, bodily sensations, and your environment. In addition to relief for anxiety, research shows that mindfulness practices have a positive impact on depression, pain management, and chronic illness.

Beginning a meditation practice is not complicated, but can seem foreign. Having a supportive teacher helps. Check out your local yoga studios, many of them also offer meditation classes. The Insight Meditation Society is one of the premier teachers of mindfulness-based practices in the US. Their website includes numerous free guided meditations you may find helpful. The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh is a great beginners guide book to meditation and includes many mindfulness-based practices.

Improve Your Sleep

Though anxiety and insomnia sometimes occur together, clinical research shows that sleep deprivation and poor sleep habits can increase anxiety and depression, even in healthy people. When we don’t get enough sleep, we react to challenging life events more negatively and have fewer positive reactions to pleasant events. Maintaining a regular sleep schedule and practicing good sleep habits are important strategies for anyone suffering from anxiety. When anxiety itself makes sleep more difficult, consider taking calming herbs at bedtime to relax the body and quiet the mind.

These simple tools can have a drastic affect on one’s quality of life. If you or someone you know suffers from anxiety, I hope these holistic practices for natural anxiety relief are beneficial and deliver some much-needed peace and calm. Is there something I’ve left off this list? I’d love to hear about other practices that have helped you or your loved ones overcome anxiety – leave me a comment below to share.

Peace and happiness,
suzanne

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References:

Caffeine abstention in the management of anxiety disorders, Bruce MS, et al., Psychol Med,
1989 Feb;19(1):211-4.

Anxiety and caffeine consumption in people with anxiety disorders, Lee MA, et al., Psychiatry Res, 1985 Jul;15(3):211-7.

Caffeine and psychiatric symptoms: a review, Broderick P, et al., J Okla State Med Assoc, 2004 Dec;97(12):538-42.

Yoga Asana sessions increase brain GABA levels: a pilot study, Streeter CC, et al., J Altern Complement Med, 2007 May;13(4):419-26.

Effects of Yoga Versus Walking on Mood, Anxiety, and Brain GABA Levels: A Randomized Controlled MRS Study, Streeter CC, et al., J Altern Complement Med, 2010 Nov;16(11): 1145–1152.

Effects of Exercise and Physical Activity on Anxiety, Anderson E, et al., Front Psychiatry. 2013; 4:27.

Exercise for anxiety disorders: systematic review, Jayakody K, et al., Br J Sports Med, 2014 Feb; 48(3):187-96.

Effects of exercise on anxiety, depression and mood, Guszkowska M, Psychiatr Pol, 2004 Jul-Aug; 38(4):611-20.

Randomized Controlled Trial of Mindfulness Meditation for Generalized Anxiety Disorder: Effects on Anxiety and Stress Reactivity, Hoge E, et al, J Clin Psychiatry, 2013 Aug;74(8): 786–792.

An update on mindfulness meditation as a self-help treatment for anxiety and depression, Edenfield T, et al., Psychol Res Behav Manag, 2012;5:131–141.

A Test of the Effects of Acute Sleep Deprivation on General and Specific Self-Reported Anxiety and Depressive Symptoms: An Experimental Extension, Babson K, et al., J Behav Ther Exp Psychiatry. 2010 Sep; 41(3): 297–303.

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Nectar Apothecary Customer Spotlight | Tina Rose

Nectar Apothecary Customer Spotlight | Tina Rose

When I created Nectar Apothecary I envisioned a welcoming community, a sea of calm in a busy world, a place where people from all walks of life would feel at ease asking questions and discussing their needs, and where new relationships would be formed and nurtured. Since we opened in September 2014, these relationships with our customers and the connections that have been made between them have been the sustaining energy of the business. These warm and up-lifting relationships inspired me to create this Nectar Apothecary Customer Spotlight.

I want you to meet some of these beautiful souls that have become part of our community at Nectar. I am delighted to introduce you to Tina Rose! It seems like Tina, with her sunny personality and infectious smile, has been with us since the very beginning. Here’s what Tina had to say:

Would you share a little about yourself, your background, where you’re from, etc.?

I was raised in Goodyear, AZ. At the time it was a pretty small town and as kids my brother, sister and I would be outside from the time we woke up until sunset. It was a pretty beautiful way to live. In early college I met my husband. We knew each other about six weeks before we got engaged… we got married six months later. Last July we celebrated our 23rd anniversary, so I think it’s worked out well. ☺

I’m a career writer (I work for a digital marketing agency in Scottsdale, but work from home), an avid traveler, a lover of dogs AND cats, an enthusiastic cook, a mediocre gardener (though I do hope to improve my talent), a slow-ish runner who waves to everyone, a bawdy laughter, a semi-regular practicer of yoga, a novice climber, and an enjoyer of almost all workouts. I also stop to watch ants scurrying about the sidewalk – and if you ever pass someone sporting two ponytails who just happens to be staring up at an unkindness of ravens, well, that’s probably me – so give me a quick honk and a wave, and say hi!

What did your family do for healthcare when you were growing up?

Oh goodness. My mom had an arsenal of antibiotics and doctors in her address book who would call in more for us without anyone stepping foot in the office. Thinking back, it’s all pretty horrifying.

How have natural remedies like herbs and essential oils made a difference in your life?

I can’t even address this without talking about Nectar. Home remedies and keeping a home that’s healthy and natural has been a passion of mine for decades, but finding the information and finding the reliable resources necessary to make that happen were difficult. Then, a few years ago I popped into Nectar, and it was like discovering my tribe. Suzanne, Steve, and Cathie (and now Tiara – who wasn’t there in the beginning), are so warm, welcoming and knowledgeable, that I knew I’d found my place – my space – to learn and grow. And I have, and am continuing to do so. By allowing me to gain the education, and confidence to make my own home and self care products – and buy the quality supplies I need – I’m able to create a healthier home, and that’s about all I think I could ask for.

How do you fit herbs and essential oils into your daily routine?

Between my body lotion, lip balm and salves, shaving cream, and body spray, plus the essential oil diffuser, homemade laundry detergent, spray cleansers, teas, and general cooking, I don’t think there’s an area of our home where herbs and essential oils don’t make an impact.

Why do you like to shop at Nectar Apothecary?

It feels like a home away from home; a place where you have to be nothing more than that which you are. You can ask questions and really smart, kind, caring people will answer them. It’s a wonderful place – and I’m so grateful for it.

What’s your favorite herb, essential oil or tea, what do you like about it, and why do you use it?

Belly Calm Chai tea is easily the tea I drink most. I like that it takes 20 minutes to steep. It quietly builds anticipation – then it satisfies you with a warm mug of deliciousness that smacks of crisp fall days.

Have you taken classes at Nectar? What was your class experience?

So many (and there will be so many more). I love the interaction, the education, the laughter. The cocktails and mocktails class yielded an especially giddy crowd, and it was tons of fun, but every class I’ve taken has given me some new way to incorporate natural products into my life. Literally every class is worth it.

Do you have any advice for someone, just starting to explore natural remedies?

Start with something that sets you up for success. Salves are so simple and settle beautifully into their tins – and they feel so good on the skin. They also don’t take much in the way of supplies, so they’re a pretty inexpensive way to test the waters. And because they set up so well, they make pretty impressive looking gifts.

At Nectar Apothecary, our lives and our work have been made better because of Tina. I can’t wait to introduce you all to others who started as customers and are now part of our community. If we haven’t met you yet, we look forward to getting to know you, too – stop in at the shop or say hi on social media.

much love,
suzanne

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DIY Essential Oil Inhaler Recipes to Ease Anxiety + Promote Health

With these easy to make essential oil inhalers the soothing effects of aromatherapy are just one deep breath away. These little nasal inhalers are perfect for your pocket, purse or backpack, safe and convenient for kids, and an easy, low-cost way to share your essential oils with friends and family.

When you’re feeling anxious or stressed, inhalation is the fastest way to experience the calming effect of essential oils. Essential oils don’t just smell good, they cause a measurable biological reaction in the body. The tiny molecules of essential oil travel up the nose to the olfactory bulb. From there, biochemical signals are sent to regions of the brain responsible for emotions, learning and memory, and regulation of many bodily functions. In response, the brain sends messages throughout the body that may impact mood, muscles, breathe, hormones, organ function and more, depending on the essential oil you’ve inhaled.

Here, I’ve put together three essential oil inhaler recipes for relief from stress and anxiety, support for focus & concentration, and an immune booster to help you fight off common cold and flu bugs.

How to Make an Essential Oil Inhaler

Making the inhalers is simple. If you can’t find the “blank” inhalers at a small, local business where you live, you can buy them here at Nectar.

In addition to the inhaler, you’ll also need a small glass bowl and a pair of tweezers. Your blank inhaler should have four parts:

  1. large outer cover
  2. small inner cylinder
  3. absorbent pad
  4. small plug

Place the absorbent pad in the small bowl and add 10-20 drops of your favorite essential oils, or use one of the essential oil inhaler recipes below. Using the tweezers, roll the absorbent pad in the essential oils until the oils are fully absorbed. You can also add a few drops of carrier oil (like jojoba or grapeseed oil) at this point, which will help the inhaler hold the scent longer. Place the large outer cylinder over the small inner cylinder and screw in tightly. Using the tweezers, insert the absorbent pad into the small inner cylinder. Insert the small plug in the end of the small inner cylinder and press firmly to achieve a tight fit. Be sure to label your inhaler. The therapeutic scent of your inhaler should last 3-6 months, depending on how often it is used.

When it comes to labeling your inhaler, in addition to listing the essential oils, consider including a positive affirmation on the label that will remind you why you are using the inhaler. Keep your inhaler in a convenient place and when you need it, simply unscrew the small cylinder and hold the tip of the inhaler close to your nose. Close your eyes, remember your affirmation and breathe slowly and deeply for 2-3 minutes or until you begin to feel the desired effects.

Essential Oil Inhaler Recipes

I Am Relaxed and Peaceful | To Ease Anxiety + Stress

9 drops Lavender (Lavendula angustifolia)
5 drops Mandarin (Citrus reticulate)
4 drops Frankincense (Boswellia carterii)
2 drops Marjoram (Origanum maiorana)

My Mind is Clear & Focused | For Work, Study, Focus + Concentration

10 drops Rosemary (Rosmarnius officialis)
5 drops Scotch Pine (Pinus sylvestris)
3 drops Holy Basil (Ocimum sanctum)
2 drops Cedarwood (Cedrus atlantica)

My Body is Healthy & Strong | For Immune Support

8 drops Ravintsara (Cinnamomum camphora ct. cineole)
6 drops Thyme (Thymus officinalis ct. linalool)
4 drops Rosewood (Aniba roseodora)
2 drops Lavender (Lavendula angustifolia)

These easy to make nasal inhalers also make thoughtful, inexpensive gifts. And because they are so easy to use, they are a simple and safe way to introduce your friends and loved ones to the many health benefits of essential oils.

If you have friends or family who are interested in exploring essential oils, this would be a fun introductory DIY project to do together! Share a picture of what you create and tag it #nectarapothecary on Instagram. I’d love to see the positive health affirmations you come up with!

with love,
suzanne

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References:

Aromatherapy: A Complete Guide to the Healing Art, Green, Mindy and Keville, 2008.

Clinical Aromatherapy, Essential Oils in Healthcare, 3d Edition, Buckle, Jane, PhD, RN, 2015

Encyclopedia of Essential Oils, The Complete Guide to the Use of Aromatic Oils in Aromatherapy, Herbalism Health & Well-Being, Lawless, Julia, 2013.

Natural Relief: 7 Safe & Effective Herbs for Anxiety

If you or someone you love is one of the 40 million Americans plagued by anxiety, you know how debilitating anxiety disorders can be. Key to finding peace and emotional comfort is a holistic approach that rules out underlying medical issues, takes in to account the individual’s personal history and response to stress, and includes diet and lifestyle modifications. Within this holistic context, herbs for anxiety and stress related disorders offer safe, effective, and natural relief.

I’ve chosen these seven anxiety-relieving herbs because each one has special properties that may address an individual’s unique experience of anxiety. For some, anxiety goes hand in hand with depression. For others, excessive worry is punctuated by sudden and severe panic attacks. Other unwelcome companions of anxiety can include muscle tension and tension headaches, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, digestive discomfort, fatigue and poor sleep. In this short list of herbs to relieve anxiety you’ll find herbs that also help relieve these many anxiety-related symptoms.

7 Herbs for Anxiety

Lavender | Lavendula angustifolia

When it comes to relieving anxiety, Lavender is both gentle and effective. It is also helpful for nervous tension, irritability, and restlessness associated with stress. Lavender also helps ease symptoms of depression and promotes better sleep. Lavender is appropriate for all ages, from little children to the elderly, and even pregnant women. But don’t underestimate this lovely little flower. A study comparing a lavender preparation known as Silexan to the prescription drug Paxil showed that the lavender product was more effective than Paxil in the treatment of generalized anxiety disorder and with fewer side effects. In another study involving pregnant women, participants showed significant improvements in stress, anxiety, and mild to moderate depression with the use of a topical lavender cream.

Lavender essential oil is one of the easiest ways to take advantage of the soothing properties. Consider a simple inhalation several times per day or topical application in an unscented lotion, salve, or carrier oil. Lavender flowers can also be prepared as a simple tea for an uplifting and calming drink.

Lemon Balm | Melissa officinalis

This citrus-scented plant in the mint family excels at alleviating anxiety, stress, irritability and stress-related heart palpitations. Lemon Balm’s ability to ease gas and bloating and calm the digestive system makes it an excellent choice for people who suffer from digestive problems when they are stressed or anxious. Lemon Balm may also be useful to moderate an over active thyroid, which can be an underlying cause of anxiety. Though generally safe, lemon balm should be avoided in hypothyroidism.

This herb for anxiety also makes a tasty, citrus-like tea. Lemon balm liquid extract or lemon balm in capsule are convenient alternatives for busy people.

Skullcap | Scutellaria lateriflora

Skullcap helps to calm the nervous system and restore a sense of emotional balance and perspective. It also helps to relax sore, tense or aching muscles and soothe tension headaches. It’s especially useful for people who become short-tempered and irritable when overwhelmed or stressed.

Dried skullcap can be used in tea, but a skullcap liquid extract made from the fresh plant is more effective.

Passion Flower | Passiflora incarnata

Passion flower is a stunning flower whose name seems to contradict its calming, sedative properties. It is especially useful to comfort a worried mind and quiet excessive mental chatter. Despite its sedative effect, passion flower may be used in the daytime during heightened anxiety or for people experiencing frequent panic attacks. Like skullcap, it is also an anti-spasmodic that helps ease muscle tension associated with stress or anxiety. Though generally safe, passion flower should not be combined with sedative medications or used in pregnancy.

Passion flower can be prepared as a tea or used as a liquid extract. For insomnia, it is often combined with more sedative herbs like hops and valerian.

California Poppy | Eschscholzia californica

This bright, sunny flower is calming to anxiety and can be used as a mild sedative for sleep disturbances associated with stress and nervous tension. California poppy also helps reduce the muscle tension and nerve pain suffered by many people with anxiety. California poppy should only be used with caution and under the guidance of a healthcare practitioner in pregnancy.

California poppy combines well with other anxiety relieving herbs like lavender and lemon balm for an aromatic, relaxing tea or can be used as a liquid extract.

Ashwagandha | Withania somnifera

Ashwagandha is an adaptogen, which is a shorthand way of describing an herb that helps the body adapt to and respond to stress more favorably. Unlike most other adaptogens that are stimulating, Ashwagandha calms the mind and relieves anxiety. It helps to nourish and rebuild a nervous system depleted by long-term stress or illness and reduces cortisol levels elevated by chronic stress. It promotes thyroid function and is beneficial for people with hypothyroidism, or a low functioning thyroid. When it comes to insomnia or restlessness, ashwagandha promotes more restful sleep. Though safe for children and the elderly, ashwagandha is generally avoided in pregnancy.

Ashwagandha can be prepared as a tea or the powder can be incorporated in smoothies or other soft foods. Ashwagandha liquid extract is also available, but capsules might be favored if you mind the herb’s somewhat earthy flavor.

Schisandra | Schisandra chinensis

Like ashwagandha, this tart, red berry is also an adaptogen that helps relieve anxiety. Schisandra is both calming and stimulating. It calms the mind at the same time as it enhances reflexes, work performance and mental clarity. This combination is especially effective for individuals seeking relief from anxiety who need a high level of mental clarity and focus. As an adaptogen, schisandra also helps strengthen an immune system depleted by chronic stress and is useful for stress-induced asthma. Schisandra should not be combined with barbiturates as it can increase their effects. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, adaptogenic remedies like schisandra are not taken during acute viral or bacterial infections typically associated with colds and flu.

Schisandra berries can be prepared as a tea, but should be allowed to simmer 20-40 minutes to extract their full potency. Schisandra can also be used in the form of a liquid extract.

I hope these herbs for anxiety relief bring you comfort and serenity. In choosing an herb or combination of them, consider when and where anxiety and stress show up for you and how your body is affected. If you have friends or family members suffering from anxiety or panic attacks, be sure to share this post with them – sometimes it’s easier to hear what our friends and family members have been telling us when we hear it from a third-party. Anxiety can be a deeply personal issue, but if you or a loved one has experienced success with natural approaches to anxiety relief, feel free to share about it in the comments below. Maybe you’ll inspire someone else to begin his or her path to a more stress-free lifestyle.

Peace and happiness,
suzanne

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References

Anxiety and Depression Association of America, Facts & Statistics, https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics.

Lavender oil preparation Silexan is effective in generalized anxiety disorder–a randomized, double-blind comparison to placebo and paroxetine, Int J Neuropsychopharmacol. 2014 Jun;17(6):859-69, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24456909.

Effect of lavender cream with or without foot-bath on anxiety, stress and depression in pregnancy: a randomized placebo-controlled trial, J Caring Sci. 2015 Mar; 4(1): 63–73, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4363653/.

Heart palpitation relief with Melissa officinalis leaf extract: double blind, randomized, placebo controlled trial of efficacy and safety, J Ethnopharmacol. 2015;164:378-384, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25680840.

Phytochemical and biological analysis of skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora L.): a medicinal plant with anxiolytic properties, Phytomedicine. 2003 Nov;10(8):640-9, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14692724.

Plant-based medicines for anxiety disorders, part 2: a review of clinical studies with supporting preclinical evidence, CNS Drugs. 2013 Apr;27(4):301-19, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23653088.

Passionflower in the treatment of generalized anxiety: a pilot double-blind randomized controlled trial with oxazepam, J Clin Pharm Ther. 2001 Oct;26(5):363-7, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11679026.

A prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of safety and efficacy of a high-concentration full-spectrum extract of ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in adults, Indian J Psychol Med. 2012 Jul;34(3):255-62, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23439798.

Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina and Stress Relief, Winston, David, RH (AHG), 2007.

Herbal Medicine from the Heart of the Earth, 2d Edition, Tilgner, Sharon, ND, 2009.

A Clinical Guide to Blending Liquid Herbs, Herbal Formulations for the Individual Patient, Boone, Kerry, 2003.

Looking for more herbal inspiration?

Top 5 Health Benefits of Green Tea

Top 5 Health Benefits Of Green Tea

People have been consuming green tea both for its delicious flavor, and positive effect on their health for eons. There are many different varieties of green tea, but all come from the leaves of Camellia sinensis, a small evergreen tree or shrub native to Southeast Asia, including China, India, and Tibet. The distinctions in flavor, aroma, color and texture arise from different growing regions and farming techniques, harvest time, and production or crafting methods. Some of the most popular green teas include Bancha, Sencha, and Matcha, but all of them provide a host of health benefits.

These are the top five reasons I drink green tea every day.

  • Heart health and the prevention of heart disease
  • Improved memory, focused concentration and brain health
  • Cancer prevention
  • Bone health
  • Healthy skin

No wonder green tea is described as an “anti-aging” beverage. While I think the term “anti-aging,” is misleading, I do believe drinking green tea every day is one of the best things you can do for your body and mind if you want to be healthy and age well. Here’s what the research shows.

Green Tea for Heart + Cardiovascular Health

Green tea has a wide range of benefits for the heart and cardiovascular system. Its ability to promote cardiovascular health as we age is derived from important compounds in green tea known as catechins. Tea catechins exert antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-hypertensive, anti-thrombotic and hypo-cholesterolemic effects. In other words, these compounds in green tea help protect and maintain the health of our blood vessels, inhibiting inflammation and other risk factors that can lead to stroke or heart attack. They have a positive impact on cholesterol levels, help lower blood pressure, and reduce the risk of abnormal blood clots.

Some of the most interesting evidence on the heart healthy benefits of green tea comes from population studies in Japan. One study published in JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association, looked at the association between green tea consumption and causes of death in over 40,000 individuals over an eleven-year period. The study found that participants who consumed higher amounts of green tea had a lower risk of death due to all causes and a 26% lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease, including heart attack or stroke.

Green Tea for Memory Loss, Focus + Brain Health

Think of green tea as brain food! Green tea contains compounds that promote focused concentration, and improve memory and brain health. Green tea contains an amino acid known as L-theanine, which stimulates alpha brain waves responsible for mental clarity and focus. L-theanine is also available as a supplement used to relieve anxiety and promote feelings of tranquility and calm. Japanese green tea like Sencha, and especially Matcha, have high concentrations of L-theanine. Compounds in green tea also increase a protein in the body called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which plays a critical role in brain health and even brain growth, or neurogenesis. Research also shows that green tea enhances memory, both by improving connectivity within the brain and increased brain cell production. Green tea’s potential to combat degenerative brain diseases and memory loss continue to be the subject of much research. In the meantime, I’ll continue to drink green tea every day.

Green Tea for Cancer Prevention

Green tea acts as a potent antioxidant to help protect us from cancer. You may be familiar with the terms free radical and antioxidant. Free radicals are very unstable molecules that steal electrons from healthy cells causing cellular damage or cellular death. Free radical (or oxidative) damage is what makes us age. Antioxidants help protect against free radical damage. In addition to a diet rich in high quality, organic fruits and vegetables, drinking green tea every day is a good way to boost your antioxidant intake.

When it comes to specific cancers, research shows that green tea has a positive effect on breast, cervical, prostate and stomach cancer. Population studies suggest that green tea consumption may be one of the reasons cancer rates are lower in Japan where people typically drink about three cups of green tea per day.

Green Tea for Bone Health

Drinking green tea may also offer significant protection against osteoporosis. Osteoporosis literally means “porous bone” and is associated with an increased risk of bone fractures and falls. Women are most at risk for osteoporosis after menopause. Tea catechins as well as vitamin K1  in green tea may account for this protective effect.  Vitamin K1 assists the transport of calcium through the body, improves bone density, reduces bone loss, and decreases the risk of fractures.

Green Tea for Healthy Skin

Green tea’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties provide the same protective effects for the skin as they do for the rest of the body. Skin damage occurs because of free radical damage. Sun is the worst culprit when it comes to skin damage, but poor diet and environmental toxins play a role too.

Green tea is a common ingredient in many skincare products for good reason! Compounds in green tea have been shown to protect the skin from sun damage and inhibit skin cancer cells when applied both topically and taken orally. You can incorporate green tea in your DIY skincare products and reap the rewards. In this recipe for Green Goddess Green Tea lotion, I incorporated a strong green tea. Matcha green tea powder works well combined with cosmetic clay for facial masks and scrubs.

Even if you drink green tea daily, it’s still important to keep your sun exposure to healthy levels and use protection when necessary. Still, it’s comforting to know you’re doing something good for your skin when you start your day with a delicious cup of green tea.

For Maximal Health Benefits, Drink Green Tea Everyday

For the many health benefits of green tea, at least three cups per day is optimal. If you’re not a fan of the flavor, keep at it. For some, it is an acquired taste. Green tea is also available in supplement form in which the therapeutic compounds are concentrated. These concentrated supplements may even be the best option for individuals using green tea to combat specific conditions.

I’d love to hear about your experience with green tea, whether you’re new to green tea or a tea aficionado. Take a picture of yourself with a cup of green tea and tag it #nectarapothecary on Instagram. I love seeing what you’re up to!

If you have questions, please post in the comment section below.

Wishing you health and happiness,
suzanne

REFERENCES:

Boost Your Brain, The New Art and Science Behind Enhanced Brain Performance, Fotuhi M, MD, Ph.D, Harper Collins, 2013.

Green Tea and Bone Metabolism, Chwan-Li Shen, et al., Nutrition Research, 2009, 29 (7): 437-456.

Green Tea Catechins and Cardiovascular Health: An Update, Velayutham P, et al., Current Medicinal Chemistry, 2008, 15(18): 1840–1850.

Green Tea Consumption and Breast Cancer Risk or Recurrence: A Meta-Analysis. Breast Cancer Research and Treatment, Ogunleye AA, et al., Jan 2010, 119(2): 477-484.

Green Tea Consumption and Mortality Due to Cardiovascular Disease, Cancer, and All Causes in Japan: the Ohsaki Study, Kuriyama S, et al., JAMA, Sep 13 2006, 296(10): 1255-1265.

Green Tea Epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) Promotes Neural Progenitor Cell Proliferation and Sonic Hedgehog Pathway Activation During Adult Hippocampal Neurogenesis, Wang Y, et al., Molecular Nutrition and Food Research, 2012 Aug 56(8):1292-1303.

Green Tea Extract Enhances Parieto-frontal Connectivity During Working Memory Processing, Schmidt A, et al., Psychopharmacology, October 2014, 231(19): 3879–3888.

L-theanine, a Natural Constituent in Tea, and its Effect on Mental State, Nobre AC, et al., Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2008, 17 Suppl 1:167-168.

Practical Uses of Botanicals in Skin Care, Stallings A, MD, et al., Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, Jan 2009, 2(1):36–40.

Protective Effect of Green Tea on the Risks of Chronic Gastritis and Stomach Cancer, Setiwan VW, et al. International Journal of Cancer, 2001, 92:600-604.

Protective Mechanisms of Green Tea Polyphenols in Skin, Tribout H, et al., Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, 2012:560682.

Protective Effects of Green Tea Extracts on Human Cervical Lesions, Ahn WS, et al., European Journal of Cancer, Oct 2003, 12(5):383-390.

Regular Consumption of Green Tea and the Risk of Breast Cancer Recurrence: Follow-up Study from the Hospital-based Epidemiologic Research Program at Aichi Cancer Center, Japan, Inoue M, et al., Cancer Letters, 2001, 167:175-182.

Review: Green Tea Polyphenols in Chemoprevention of Prostate Cancer: Preclinical and Clinical Studies, Khan N, et al., Nutrition and Cancer, 2009, 621(6):836-841.

Looking for more herbal inspiration?

Everyday Herbal Alternatives to Over-The-Counter Drugs

Herbal Alternatives to Over-the-Counter Drugs

Herbs offer a safe and effective alternative to many over-the-counter drugs. With mounting evidence about the adverse consequences of many common medications, think of this as a way to detoxify your medicine chest.

When you choose herbs for common complaints, it’s important not to self-diagnose and to see your medical practitioner when appropriate. Most of us are comfortable taking care of a cold, an occasional headache or simple indigestion on our own, without seeking medical attention. Let your body and common sense guide you.

 

If you do take prescription medications, always be sure to check out the possibility of interactions with over-the counter medications and with herbs. You can start with this online herb & drug interaction checker or talk to your pharmacist or practitioner.

If you happen to stroll the aisles of your local drug store you’ll find non-prescription, over-the-counter (OTC) medications for a seemingly endless variety of symptoms from allergies, to colds and flu, digestive complaints, and poor sleep. Itching, belching, sneezing, coughing, you name it and there’s probably an OTC drug for it.

These drugs may provide temporary relief, but in most cases they do very little to bring the body back in to balance. This is where herbs excel! Not only do they help you feel better, they can speed recovery and promote healthy function and tissue repair.

So, detox your medicine chest and fill it with these herbal alternatives. If you feel a cold coming on late at night or suffer an unexpected bout of indigestion after dinner, you’ll be glad you already have these remedies on hand.

HEARTBURN + INDIGESTION

If you’ve experienced heartburn (acid reflux or gastro esophageal reflux disease (GERD)) you may have used an over-the-counter drug like Prilosec, Prevacid, or Nexium. These drugs are called proton pump inhibitors (PPI’s) and are designed to suppress stomach acid. Even putting aside the fact that most people who suffer from heartburn don’t have excess stomach acid, these drugs have serious side effects. Keep in mind that stomach acid plays a vital role in keeping you healthy. It inhibits bacterial overgrowth in the gut and helps your body break down and absorb critical nutrients. Bacterial overgrowth in the gut can eventually lead to compromised immunity.

Long term use of these drugs can lead to calcium and magnesium imbalance in the body and put you at risk for osteoporosis. These drugs are also associated with an increased risk of kidney disease and may be cause or accelerate dementia. Need I say more?

Herbal alternatives to PPI’s help soothe hot, inflamed irritated tissue, improve tissue health and promote digestive function. Herbal carminatives act to ease gas and bloating without suppressing function. Bringing your body back into balance will also involve looking at your diet, food sensitivities and other lifestyle issues. While you’re making the needed changes consider these herbal allies.

ALLERGIES

Hay fever and seasonal allergy sufferers are likely to reach for over-the counter antihistamines and nasal decongestants. Antihistamines block histamines (produced in an allergic response) from binding to receptor sites. Most antihistamines cause drowsiness because the brain requires histamine function for mental alertness. Now researchers have found a link between long-term use of some antihistamines (those know as anticholinergic medications) and dementia. This includes common over-the-counter drugs like Benadryl and Chlor-Trimeton. Some of the newer antihistamine drugs are less likely to cause drowsiness, but they still come with other common side effects like dry mouth, sore throat, hoarseness and nose bleeds, not to mention other more serious, but less common side effects like heart palpitations, jaundice and seizures.

If you suffer from seasonal allergies, why not switch to something natural, nourishing to the body and without side harmful side effects? There are many herbal options to reduce the allergic response, dry up excess secretions and relieve itching. Look for products that contain the natural antihistamines like Nettles and Quercetin or consider a simple inhalation of German Chamomile essential oil.

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COLDS + FLU

Common over-the-counter remedies for colds and flu are usually some combination of antihistamines (see Allergies, above), decongestants, analgesics (like aspirin or Tylenol), and cough suppressants. Despite wide-spread use, many studies have demonstrated that they offer little beyond a placebo effect. Analgesics do reduce fever but in doing so, they suppress the body’s own healthy immune response. In the case of the common cold, immune suppression can lead to a more serious infection and increase the duration of the cold.

Herbs on the other hand can help the body fight back, offering anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties along with stimulation of the body’s own immune system. Keep these herbs in your home medicine chest if you want to be prepared for cold and flu season.

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PAIN

HEADACHES | JOINT + MUSCLE PAIN | MENSTRUAL CRAMPS

When it comes to pain, the most commonly used over-the-counter drugs are acetaminophen (Tylenol), aspirin and ibuprofen (i.e., Advil and Motrin). These pharmaceuticals are not only toxic, they can make worse many of the conditions they are used to treat. Tylenol alone is responsible for more emergency room visits than any other drug. Drugs like aspirin and ibuprofen, called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs, are responsible for about 16,500 deaths in the US annually and more than 100,000 hospitalizations. They also damage the intestinal tract and are proven to accelerate osteoarthritis, a major cause of joint pain, and one of the reason doctors so often recommend NSAIDs to their patients. Tylenol is associated with frequent unintentional poisoning and Tylenol overdose is the leading cause of liver failure and a common cause of kidney failure in the US.

There are many good herbal alternatives for pain. It helps to focus on the cause of the pain, inflammation, muscular, or otherwise and choose the herbal remedies accordingly. As with any health issue, a holistic approach requires that you also look at and modify any diet and lifestyle factors causing or contributing to the problem.

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SLEEP

Common over-the-counter sleep aids like Unisom and Nytol are actually antihistamines. Remember from the discussion of allergies above, that these drugs cause drowsiness because the brain requires histamine function for mental alertness. This might seem like a good idea for occasional insomnia, but many people rely on these pharmaceutical drugs night after night, putting themselves at greater risk of dementia. These drugs also disrupt normal sleep patterns and the vital repair functions the body performs while we sleep.

Fortunately, there is a wide range of herbal products that promote a good night’s sleep. If you have trouble sleeping, be sure to look at underlying issues (diet and lifestyle) that may be disrupting your sleep. For a more in-depth discussion of good sleep habits and herbal remedies for sleep check out this article, 5 Herbs + Essential Oils for Better Sleep. For occasional sleep problems, stock these herbs in your medicine chest.

Click the image below to view.

Now you know the alternatives. Go take a good look through your medicine cabinet and see what needs to be replaced. If you wind up disposing of some of the over-the-counter drugs in your home, post a picture of the medicine chest detox or better still post a picture of your newly stocked herbal medicine chest and what you’re saying good-bye too, and tag it #nectarapothecary on Instagram. I love seeing what you’re up to!

If you have questions, please post in the comment section below.

Wishing you health and happiness,
suzanne

References

The Anticholinergic Cognitive Burden, Beyzarov, Elena , PharmD,  http://www.pharmacytimes.com/publications/issue/2012/april2012/the-anticholinergic-cognitive-burden, April 8, 2012; accessed July 18, 2017

Association of Proton Pump Inhibitors With Risk of Dementia, A Pharmacoepidemiological Claims Data Analysis, Gomm, Willy, PhD, et al., AMA Neurol. 2016;73(4):410-416. See also http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamaneurology/fullarticle/2487379.

Common Anticholinergic Drugs Like Benadryl Linked to Increased Dementia Risk, Merz, Beverly, Harvard Women’s Health Watch, http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/common-anticholinergic-drugs-like-benadryl-linked-increased-dementia-risk-201501287667; accessed July 18, 2017.

Is Your Medicine Making You Sick?, Murray, Michael, ND, http://doctormurray.com/is-your-medicine-making-you-sick/; accessed July 8, 2017.

Natural Alternative to Over-the-Counter and Prescription Drugs, Murray, Michael, ND, William Morrow and Company, 1994.

What the Drug Companies Won’t Tell You and Your Doctor Doesn’t Know: The Alternative Treatments That May Change Your Life–and the Prescriptions That Could Harm You, Murray, Michael, ND, Simon & Schuster, Inc. 2009.

Why I Won’t Take These ‘Safe’ Drugs, Northrup, Christine, MD, http://www.drnorthrup.com/three-drugs-that-i-would-not-take/; accessed July 18, 2017.

Looking for more herbal inspiration?

Health Benefits of Lavender

Lavender has a wide range of medicinal properties, a long history of use in cosmetics and perfumes, and offers a distinctive floral note when used as a culinary herb. This post is focused on lavender’s medicinal properties, but you can explore other ways to enjoy lavender in these posts:

Medicinal Uses of Lavender

I recently harvested a beautiful bouquet of lavender. The sun was high and the temperature was approaching 100°F, but the lavender flowers were sweet and tranquil, untroubled by the searing heat. Perhaps this ability to thrive in intense heat gives rise to lavender’s cooling and calming properties. This is certainly where lavender shines.

As for its specific therapeutic properties, lavender’s effects are three-fold. It acts on the nervous system as a calming nervine, anti-depressant, anxiolytic (which means it reduces anxiety), and mild sedative. It supports the digestive system as a carminative, anti-spasmodic, and mild bitter. Lavender is also an important first aid remedy with antiseptic, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. The clinical research on lavender has focused on the essential oil, but you can also use lavender flowers in tea, a liquid extract of lavender (also called a tincture) or a lavender glycerite.

Lavender and Nervous Disorders

Lavender is a gentle yet highly effective remedy for nervous tension, stress and anxiety. I say gentle because it is safe for use with sensitive people—children, the elderly, and even during pregnancy. Numerous studies on the inhalation of lavender essential oil found that lavender alleviated anxiety, elicited feelings of “happiness,” produced a less depressed mood and increased feelings of relaxation. Lavender essential oil is also effective diluted in a cream or oil and applied topically.

A recent study in pregnant women experiencing mild to moderate anxiety and depression used a cream containing 1.25% lavender essential oil. The lavender group showed a significant improvement in stress, anxiety and depression compared to placebo.

Another studying compared a proprietary lavender essential oil product known as “Silexan” to the prescription drug paroxetine (aka Paxil) in people diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). The oral essential oil of lavender product was effective in treating GAD and more effective than the conventional drug, paroxetine. Adverse events were also lower in those taking lavender making it a much more appealing choice given the side effects associated with many prescription anti-depressants, anxiolytics and barbiturates.

Lavender as tea or an essential oil inhalation is also an excellent choice to promote restful sleep and reduce difficulty falling asleep. Bathing with lavender essential oil or an herbal bath with lavender is an especially comforting way to use lavender to promote sleep.

Lavender and Digestive Disorders

As a carminative, mild bitter and anti-spasmodic, lavender is an excellent choice for functional complaints like gas, belching, colic, and cramping. When nervous tension or anxiety disrupts digestive function, causing irritability, gas or bloating, lavender does double duty, easing tension in the mind/body and relieving the digestive discomfort. A simple cup of lavender tea or essential diluted and massaged on the belly work wonders.

To make a lavender tea, steep one teaspoon of dried lavender flowers in 1 cup boiled water, covered, for 15 minutes. A simple rule of thumb for dilution of lavender oil for topical use is 1 – 5 drops off essential oil per teaspoon of unscented lotion or carrier oil. This results in a 1% to 5% concentration of the essential oil.

Lavender and First Aid

When it comes to first aid remedies, lavender essential oil is extremely versatile. Topically, in proper dilution, lavender is a cooling anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic, pain-reliever and antiseptic. Small cuts and scrapes respond well to lavender’s antiseptic and wound healing properties. Lavender essential oil combines well with peppermint essential oil in a carrier oil or spray to ease the itching of mosquito and spider bites. The pain of minor burns and sunburn can be relieved with a blend of lavender essential oil and aloe vera juice. This cooling combination will also speed healing and reduce scarring.

Tension headaches respond well to inhalation of lavender essential oil or a drop of the oil in a carrier, applied to the temples or nape of the neck. For ear aches, place one drop of lavender essential oil on small cotton ball and insert it gently into the outer ear.

Lavender, with it’s lovely, calming aroma is both gentle and effective. Its safety and versatility make it a “must have” for the home medicine chest.

blessings,

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References

Adaptogens, Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief, Winston, D., et al. 2007, Healing Arts Press

Aromatherapy Positively Affects Mood, EEG Patterns of Alertness and Math Computations, Diego, M.A., et al., International Journal of Neuroscience, 1998; 96(3-4):217-224.

Basic Emotions Induced by Odorants: A New Approach Based on Autonomic Pattern Results,

Vernet-Maury, E., et al., Journal of the Autonomic Nervous System, 1999 Feb; 75(2-3): 176-183.

Complete Illustrated Guide to Aromatherapy, A Practical Approach to the Use of Essential Oils for Health and Well-Being, Lawless, J., 1997, Elements Books Limited.

Psychological Effects of Aromatherapy on Chronic Hemodialysis Patients, Itai, T. et al., Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences Journal, 2000; 54(4): 393-397.

Silexan is Effective in Generalized Anxiety Disorder, A Randomized Double-blind Comparison to Placebo and Paroxetine, Kasper, S., et al., International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology, 2014 June; 17(6): 859-69.

Topical Lavender Cream Alleviates Anxiety, Stress and Depression in Pregnant Women, Effati-Daryani, F., et al., Journal of Caring Sciences 2015; 4(1): 63-73.

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Cooling Herbs for Hot Days [ Bonus Sun Tea Recipe ]

Cooling Herbs for Hot Days

I’d like to introduce you to cooling herbs for hot summer days. I love summer! I love the sun and I love summer time activities, swimming, hiking, outdoor parties, barbeques and picnics. When it’s hot, I use cooling herbs to extend the fun and stay hydrated.

Cooling herbs work in a number of different ways to cool the body and are sometimes referred to as refrigerants. Some cooling herbs also have what might be described as a cooling effect on the nervous system, helping to reduce anger or irritability. Others might be described as “cooling” to inflammation, helping soothe hot, irritated tissue. Some cooling herbs promote sweating, which is one of the body’s own mechanisms for regulating temperature and cooling off.

My favorite cooling herbs for hot days are Hibiscus, Lavender, Chamomile and Marshmallow. You can turn them into delicious, cooling herbal teas, herbal popsicles and other heat-beating treats!

Hibiscus | Hibiscus spp.

This beautiful, tropical flower makes the most stunning, ruby red tea. Its slightly sour taste combines well with citrus and other fruits. Hibiscus flower’s “cooling” effect extends to the cardiovascular system where it helps maintain healthy blood pressure and reduce other risks associated with cardiovascular disease. To make a cooling hibiscus tea, steep 1-2 tablespoons of dried hibiscus flowers in 4 cups of hot water. Strain, chill, pour over ice and enjoy!

Lavender | Lavendula angustifolia

When it comes to cooling the skin on a hot day or relieving sunburn pain, lavender is my first choice. It’s also a great first-aid remedy for itchy bug bites. For topical use, brew a simple tea with lavender flowers (about one teaspoon per cup, steeped 15 minutes), chill the tea, put it in a spray bottle and mist it on the skin. Lavender essential oil and lavender hydrosol also work well topically in an easy to make aromatherapy spritzer. When I’m going hiking on a hot summer day, attending an outdoor concert or art festival, I always take along a small misting bottle with cooling essential oils or hydrosol.  Lavender flowers also make lemonade more cooling and delicious. Check out this recipe for lavender mint lemonade. Lavender is also “cooling” to the nervous system, easing anxiety and irritability and promoting a good night’s sleep. The sweet floral scent of lavender just says “ahhh . . . relax, chill out.”

Chamomile | Matricaria recutita

This sweet little flower is cooling and calming. Like lavender, is can be used to soothe irritability and promote a good night’s sleep. Chamomile essential oil diluted in a spray bottle and Chamomile Hydrosol both work well to cool hot, red inflamed skin. A strong chamomile tea added to bath water is another way to get an “all over” skin cooling effect. How about creamy chamomile mint popsicles on a hot summer day? Chamomile also possesses anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic, and analgesic properties making it useful for pain, menstrual cramps and fevers. A cup of Chamomile tea after dinner will also ease indigestion, gas and bloating. Prepare a cup of tea by steeping one heaping teaspoon of chamomile in one cup of hot water for 15 minutes.

Marshmallow | Althea officinalis

Marshmallow root is soothing, cooling and moistening to dry, hot inflamed tissue. The Ruby Red Tea Cooler recipe below, with marshmallow root and hibiscus, is a perfectly delightful way to stay cool and hydrated in the summer heat. Marshmallow root tea can also be used topically in the bath or as a cool compress to calm hot, irritated skin. Internally, marshmallow root tea can be used to soothe irritation in the digestive, respiratory, and urinary tract systems. Prepare a cup of tea by steeping one heaping teaspoon of marshmallow root in one cup of cold water for four hours or overnight.

Ruby Red Summer Cooler

A stunningly beautiful drink to keep you cool and hydrated on hot summer days.

Ingredients:

  • 1 ounce (30 gm) dried marshmallow root
  • 2/3 ounce (20 gm) dried hibiscus flowers
  • 1/3 ounce (10 gm) rose petals
  • 4 vanilla beans, chopped in to ¼” pieces

Instructions:

Total Yield: 15-16 cups
Blend herbs until well mixed and store in a small jar. To prepare cooler, combine the herb blend with 16 cups filtered water in a large jar with a tight fitting lid. Shake gently to incorporate the herbs in the water. Allow to steep for at least four hours or overnight. Strain and enjoy this delicious hydrating cooler.

Have fun, keep cool and stay hydrated. If you have any questions about these herbs, please leave a message in the comments below.

with love,

Looking for more herbal inspiration?

Looking for more herbal inspiration?

3 Herbs to Unleash Feminine Power

unleash feminine power

 

Three Herbs to Unleash Your Feminine Power

In this post I’m going to introduce you to three herbs to unleash your feminine power. Feminine power is on the rise. Thank Goddess. Feminine power shows up as strength, endurance, fierce love and deep compassion, self-sacrifice, creativity, intelligence and intuition. After millennia of patriarchal systems, a shift in the balance of power and a revaluing of the fierce feminine is unfolding. We have a tremendous amount of work to do, within and without. We can and we will do this work. As women, we are not strangers to hard work, long hours, the pain of child birth, defending our families and communities, reclaiming our freedom and reinventing our lives in the face of illness and oppression. 

Some days I feel this feminine potency coursing within me like a great river. At other times the flow feels weak, anemic, barely a trickle. When my energy is low, I know more attention to self-care is in order. I also turn to herbal remedies that strengthen the nervous system and alleviate the effects of stress and hard work. These herbs are classified as adaptogens.

figures of feminine power

“Feminine power shows up as strength, endurance, fierce love and deep compassion, self-sacrifice, creativity, intelligence and intuition.”


Adaptogens help the body adapt to stress and restore balance. They increase the body’s resistance to physical, biological, emotional and environmental stressors. They will also strengthen a weakened immune system reducing the chances of you catching the common cold or flu bug. Adaptogens have been used by athletes to increase stamina and reduce recovery times after strenuous exercise. Many adaptogens improve mental focus and clarity. Some adapotgens have an affinity for specific body systems which includes those that promote fertility and reproductive health.

Are you starting to see how these medicinal plants might be the prefect remedy for a modern day feminine warrior, a single mom attending school at night or a grandmother working and raising her own grandchildren? Consider the energy needs of a busy executive or small business working long hours to prove her worth in a competitive environment. Adaptogens would support all of these women and others like them asserting their feminine power in every more powerful and creative ways. While there are many adaptogens in the modern herbal apothecary, in this post I’m going to introduce you to three powerful adaptogens uniquely suited for a woman’s health and vitality, Ginseng, Maca and Rhodiola

The roots of these plants are have been utilized as medicine for thousands of years. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that it is the roots of Ginseng, Maca and Rhodiola that offer us their strength and nourishment at the deepest level. A plants roots reach down into Mother Earth providing the strength that anchors the plant in place. At the same time, the roots draw nourishment in the form or nutrients and water upward, giving life to the leaves, flowers and fruit. The process of unleashing our feminine power is like this. It often begins with going deep, turning within and discovering the anchor that is our most authentic self. This inner wisdom becomes the source place for the expression of our feminine power, the power to manifest change, to be strong, openhearted and vulnerable. It is the power to bring forth something that did not previously exist, whether that is a child, an idea, a book, a garden, a form of service or a work of art. The roots of these adaptogens assist us in this deep and challenging work, nourishing and sustaining us as we struggle and grow.  

Ginseng Root | Panax Ginseng

Panax Ginseng root has been used for thousands of years. It is one of the most studied herbs in the modern herbal apothecary with a significant body of modern scientific research confirms traditional uses. Panax Ginseng is available in different forms and varieties and is also sometimes called Asian Ginseng, Kirin Ginseng, Korean Ginseng, Red Ginseng or White Ginseng, depending on the its origin, the age of the root and how it has been processed after harvesting.

panax ginseng for feminine power

For women of any age who are juggling family, work, self-care and the demands of living in a complex world, Ginseng improves stamina and helps reduce mental and physical fatigue. Considered the most stimulating of adapotgens, Ginseng is used for adrenal fatigue and depletion of the endocrine system, general weakness, to reduce cortisol levels elevated by stress and as an immune tonic. This power plant made the short list of herbs for feminine power because it also supports the female reproductive system at all stages of a woman’s life–maiden, mother and crone. In young women experiencing infertility of indeterminate cause, Ginseng can help by improving overall health and vitality. For women of all ages Ginseng is known as an aphrodisiac promoting sexual desire and response.

Ginseng is also a source of phytoestrogens which are naturally occurring plant nutrients that exert and an estrogen-like effect on the body. Ginseng’s phytoestrogens may assist a woman who is not menstruating due to low estrogen levels and can be especially helpful for low estrogen related to menopause. Ginseng can provide relief for many menopausal symptoms from mental fatigue to hot flashes, vaginal dryness and depression. In one randomized, controlled clinical trial using 3 grams of Red Panax Ginseng the Ginseng group had significant improvements in all menopausal symptoms, including hot flashes, using two of the most common research tools for evaluating menopausal symptoms. Participants in the ginseng group also saw a reduction in total cholesterol and LDL levels compared to the placebo group. 

Energetically, Panax Ginseng is sweet, bitter, warm moist and stimulating. Some people may feel over stimulated by Ginseng. Others may feel a strong kindling of inner fire and drive. Choose accordingly and listen to your body. You may want to avoid Ginseng is you suffer from anxiety, insomnia, or hypertension. Ginseng can be used as a tea, liquid extract, or in capsules. 

maca for feminine power

Maca  Root | Lepidium peruvianum

High in the Andes mountains of Peru, Maca root has been used as a food for thousands of years. It’s popularity as a “super food” for energy, stamina and sexual health is much more recent. While pharmacological research and clinical trials are still few compared to Ginseng, the results are promising and support the historical and anecdotal record. We do know that Maca is a nutrient-dense root, rich in amino acids, essential fatty acids, vitmins and minerals. This alone would tend to explain its ability to increase energy, strength and stamina.

Maca appears to have important benefits for women in their reproductive years, reportedly relieving menstrural irregularities including moods swings, irritability and depression. Women of all ages also report improvements in libido and sexual responsiveness when using Maca. In a recent study with older, women, Maca relieved depression and sexual dysfunction in post-menopausal women. In another recent clinical trial Maca also helped relieve anti-depressant (SSRI) induced sexual dysfunction in post-menopausal women.

Like Ginseng, different varieties of Maca, red, black and yellow are reported to have slightly different properties. Energetically, Maca is warming and stimulating.  You can use Maca root in its powdered form in smoothies or in food, simmer the powdered root for tea, or as a liquid extract. Personally, I find Maca helpful for my busy life as a small business owner. I incorporate the powdered root in smoothies and I love to have these Maca-rich Mental Energy Balls for a quick pick-me-up. For you and your beloved, I highly recommend these Raw Chocolate Bliss Balls made with Maca, Chocolate and Coconut!

Rhodiola Root | Rhodiola rosea

Rhodiola is native to the harsh, cold sub-arctic regions of North America, Europe and Asia. Vikings reportedly used the root for strength and stamina before epic battles and long voyages. In parts of northern Europe recently married couples once received gifts of Rhodiola to promote fertility and the birth of healthy children. Today there exists a large body of published research on the medicinal properties of Rhodiola root that corroborates thousands of years of traditional use.

rhodiola for feminine power

For women who need to remain cool and collected under pressure, Rhodiola relieves fatigue and promotes mental clarity and alertness, even improving memory and the ability for prolonged concentration when used regularly.  Rhodiola supports muscle building and improves the energy available to muscles during strenuous activity. It also improves muscle strength and endurance.

Rhodiola is also a good choice for women with menstrual irregularities who are having trouble conceiving. In one clinical trial 40 women who had ceased menstruating were given Rhodiola. Normal menses were restored in over 60% of the women and 11 became pregnant. Physicians have also reported women becoming pregnant after using Rhodiola for several months where standard fertility drugs had failed. In post-menopausal women, Rhodiola can help relieve menopause related depression and brain fog.

Energetically Rhodiola is sweet, slightly bitter, spicy, cool and dry. It is consider more cooling than Ginseng and is less likely to cause anxiety or over-stimulation. The root can be prepared as tea by simmering the roots or taken as a liquid extract or in capsules.

Dear sisters, the time to cultivate your warrior heart is now. Feminine power is on the rise and the Goddess is calling you to offer your highest and best. The planet, the waters and all the living creature needs you to show up and lead. So, take good care brave ones, support one another and when the going gets tough, reach for the strong hands and hearts of your loved ones, and don’t forget your favorite adaptogen.

With love,

 

References:

Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief, Winston D, Maimes S, Healing Art Press, 2007.

Women’s Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, Alternative Therapies and Integrative Medicine for total Health and Wellness, Hudson T, McGraw-Hill, 2008.

Effects of Red Ginseng Supplementation on Menopausal Symptoms and Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Postmenopausal Women: A Double-blind Randomized Controlled Trial, Young Kim S., et al. Menopause 2012; 19(4) 461-466.

Beneficial Effects of Lepidium meyenii (Maca) on Psychological Symptoms and Measures of Sexual dysfunction in Postmenopausal Women are Not Related to Estrogen or Androgen Content.  Brooks NA, et al., Menopause, 2008 Nov-Dec, 15:1157-62.

A Double-blind Placebo-controlled Trial of Maca Root as Treatment for Antidepressant-induced Sexual Dysfunction in Women, Dording C, Schettler P, Dalton E, et al.  Evidence Based Complimentary Alternative Medicine, 2015; Article ID 949036.

Rhodiola Rosea: A Phytomedicinal Overview, Brown R, et al., American Botanical Council,  HerbalGram, 2002, Issue 56:40-52.

Effect of Rhodiola Rosea extract on Ovarian Function, Proceedings of the Scientific Conference on Endocrinology and Gynecology, Russian Academy of Sciences, 1970 Sept 15-16; 46-48.

Kitchen Remedies: Herbs & Spices for Common Aliments

Kitchen Remedies: Herbs & Spices for Common Aliments

If you have a drawer or cupboard full of culinary herbs and spices, you also have an abundance of herbal medicine right under your nose. Did you know that almost all of the herbs and spices we use to make our food more delicious also have medicinal properties? In this post, I’m going to take you on a whirlwind tour through my spice drawer. I think you’ll be amazed at the many kitchen remedies for colds, flu, digestive complaints and other common aliments in those little spice bottles. And that’s not all!

In addition to adding flavor and complexity to our food and offering relief for common ailments, culinary herbs and spices can play a really important role in maintaining optimal health and vitality. So, spice it up! In addition to improving flavor, cooking with herbs and spices offers many collateral benefits. Using more herbs and spices is a good way to reduce salt in your food without sacrificing flavor. Excessive salt is a risk factor for high blood pressure. Eating food that is well seasoned with herbs and spices also expands the palate and increases satisfaction, that is to say, satiation, without the addition of more calories in the form of fat and sugar. And, when food is tastier and more satisfying to the palate, we tend to eat less, which helps maintain healthy weight.

My spice drawer is also loaded with herbs and spices that are protective against many of the common diseases of western culture—conditions like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, arthritis, cancer, and dementia. And these are not exotic spices. If you like to cook even a little, I bet you have them in your kitchen too. Basil, Oregano, Rosemary and Turmeric all possess anti-oxidant properties. Turmeric and Ginger are effective anti-inflammatories. Cinnamon can help balance blood sugar. Basil, Garlic, and Turmeric all support a healthy cardiovascular system, helping to maintain healthy cholesterol and blood pressure.

Even a single serving of spice-rich curry can dilate your arteries and help prevent the negative cardiovascular effects associated with eating common foods. A study reported in Nutrition Journal compared consumption of a traditional curry dish made with Coriander, Cumin, Garlic, Ginger, Onion, Red pepper, and Turmeric with consumption of a spice-free control meal. Both meals included cooked rice and the same calorie count. The consumption of the curry meal improved blood flow through the blood vessels, whereas the control meal resulted in decreased blood flow. Specifically, spice-rich curry prevented the negative effects of the meal on post-meal ‘endothelial function,’ that is, it prevented the inner lining (endothelium) of the blood vessels from contracting and inhibiting normal blood flow through the cardiovascular system. The researchers concluded that the activity of the spices in the curry meal may be beneficial for preventing cardiovascular events and may help fight against lifestyle related diseases like atherosclerosis (aka hardening of the arteries) and type 2 diabetes (sometimes referred to as adult onset diabetes, though if occurs in young people as well).

So, in case you thought your grandmother was passing on “old wives tales,” think again. There is an ever growing body of research on the therapeutic benefits of herbs. There’s real wisdom in some of those so-called “wives’ tales,” and there’s good medicine in your kitchen!

Next time you feel a cold coming on, can’t sleep, or have a belly ache, take a look in your spice rack. I hope you discover some of these kitchen remedies.

Herbs & Spices for Common Ailments

Anise or Aniseed (Pimpinella anisum):

This sweet, aromatic seed is useful for simple indigestion with gas and bloating. It is also an excellent remedy for dry coughs or bronchitis. Steep the seeds in hot water for a simple tea, or use the crushed seeds in honey.

Actions: Carminative, expectorant, antispasmodic.

Basil (Ocimum basilicum)

This familiar culinary herb helps fight infection with its antibacterial, antifungal, and anti-candida properties. It is also useful for colds, flu, and fevers. Uplifting to mood, it also improves memory, concentration, and metal clarity. Steep the dried herb in hot water to make a simple tea. A strong tea can also be added to a bath for colds, flu, and fever.

Actions: Antimicrobial, antispasmodic, carminative, anti-depressant, gentle stimulant.

Cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum)

This delicious spice is relieves gas, bloating, cramping, and improves sluggish digestion. Steep the seeds in hot water for a simple tea, or use the crushed seeds in honey. I also love to grind the seeds with coffee beans for a more nuanced ‘cup of joe.’

Actions: Carminative, calming digestive bitter, antispasmodic, mucolytic, and aphrodisiac.  

Cayenne (Capsicum spp.)

In small doses, this hot spicy remedy aids digestion, improves appetite and supports circulation. (Be careful not to overdo it with Cayenne—large doses can have the opposite effect, causing stomach irritation and acidity.) It can be used topically (in oil or creams) for joint and nerve pain and to stop bleeding. If you have a cold and flu, a pinch of Cayenne in tea or food will help open congested nasal passages. I always include a bit of Cayenne in my Fire Cider to make this winter health tonic more warming. You can find my Fire Cider recipe, here. Use a pinch in tea or food. For topically use add a pinch to olive oil or coconut oil and massage in to the affected area, being careful not to touch your eyes or face.

Actions: Anodyne, warming stimulant, circulatory aid, antispasmodic, carminative.

Cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum)

This is another delicious spice that useful for gas, bloating vomiting, and weak digestion. It acts as an astringent to mucus membranes throughout the body—making it helpful for diarrhea, sore throat and excessive bleeding. It will even inhibit bacterial growth and helps normalize blood sugar levels. For healthy blood sugar use 1.5 teaspoons per day in food. I prefer using chipped Cinnamon when making tea rather than powdered cinnamon which makes a clumpy mess. Steep chipped cinnamon in hot water up to 30 minutes to make a tea.

Actions: Astringent, warming carminative, antispasmodic, and antimicrobial, blood sugar balancing.

Clove (Eugenia caryophylus)

This winter spice is useful for toothache and can be used topically as a local anesthetic. It combines well with other carminative spices like anise and cardamom for gas, bloating, indigestion, and digestive cramps.  Chewing on a clove bud will help to clear mucus in colds and flus and relieve sore throat pain.

Actions: Warming carminative, analgesic, stimulant, antispasmodic, antiseptic.

Fennel Seed (Foeniculum vulgare)

Chewing these sweet, aromatic seeds after meals helps settle the stomach and ease digestion, gas and bloating. Fennel also promotes lactation, and nursing mothers and small children can drink the tea to relieve colic. Spasmodic coughs, chest congestion, and bronchitis are also relieved by fennel. Steep tea seeds to make a simple tea.

Actions: Cooling carminative, antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory, expectorant, galactagogue.

Garlic (Allium sativum)

Garlic is powerful medicine! The health promoting compounds are absorbed into bloodstream from the digestive tract and excreted via the lungs, bowels, skin, and urinary system, acting as a disinfectant. Its antimicrobial properties make garlic an excellent remedy for colds, flu, bronchitis, and pneumonia. Raw is best! Chop a couple cloves of raw garlic; add honey, and a squeeze of fresh lemon to make a potent cold buster. Garlic also features prominently in Fire Cider.

Actions: Antimicrobial (antiviral, antiseptic, anti-parasitic), antispasmodic, immune-enhancing, blood-vessel strengthening, antioxidant.

Ginger (Zingiber officinale)

There are so many spice cupboard remedies for common ailments. Like garlic, ginger also works well fresh, but dried ginger is good medicine, too. Ginger relieves coughs, congestion and fever during colds and flu. It is an effective remedy for motion-sickness and nausea as well as colic, gas, and indigestion. Promotes blood flow to the peripheries and as such has a warming effect. Steep fresh or dried ginger for tea. You can gargle with ginger tea for a sore throat. For fevers, steep 2–3 inches of chopped ginger root in 2 cups water for 15-20 minutes, add juice of one lemon, a spoonful of raw honey, and pinch of cayenne pepper; drink immediately. Topically ginger can be used for sore inflamed joints or sprains. Simply grate the fresh ginger root and apply as a warm compress. An infused oil of grated ginger (optional pinch of cayenne pepper; avoid contact with eyes/mucous membranes) can be used to massage sore muscles.

Actions: Anti-inflammatory, carminative, anti-emetic, antispasmodic, expectorant, circulatory stimulant, vasodilator, anti-coagulant.

Oregano (Origanum vulgare)

This common Italian herb is useful for indigestion, colds, flu, fever, and bronchitis. Externally it can be applied as a poultice for coughs, arthritic, and muscular pain. Gargle with oregano tea for inflammation and infection in the mouth and throat. The tea is also an excellent remedy for coughs and menstrual cramps. Steep the herb in hot water for a simple tea, add a strong tea to your bath, or use the herb in a steam inhalation.

Actions: Antimicrobial (antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, and antiparasitic), antioxidant, antispasmodic, expectorant, carminative, hypoglycemic.

Sage (Salvia officinalis)

Another common Italian herb, sage is toning and calming to digestion and diarrhea. It acts to soothes and tone mucus membranes and reduce inflammation making it a specific for congested respiratory infections. Add sea salt to sage tea for an excellent gargle for strep and sore throat. The cool tea is a great mouthwash for inflamed and bleeding gums, tongue, or mouth ulcers. Sage can also be used to reduce sweating, making it helpful with hot flashes. When nursing mothers and their small children are ready to wean, sage can be used to reduce milk production. As its name implies, sage also promotes wisdom, mental calm and mental clarity.

Actions: Carminative, astringent, antimicrobial (antifungal and anti-bacterial), antioxidant

Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)

I have thyme in my spice drawer and I do use it in the kitchen, but I use it way more frequently as a medicinal herb. It is most helpful for bronchitis, whooping cough, and asthma. The tea makes an excellent gargle for laryngitis, tonsillitis, sore throats, and irritable coughs. It is also helpful for any infectious condition including gastro-intestinal and urinary system infections. Steep the herb in hot water for a simple tea or add a strong tea to bath. It can also be use in a steam inhalation and combines well with oregano for this purpose.

Actions: Antimicrobial (antiviral and antibacterial), expectorant, bronchodilator, antispasmodic, carminative, antioxidant.

Turmeric (Curcuma longa)

Volumes have been written about the many health benefits of turmeric, but let’s keep it short. Turmeric is useful for indigestion, gas, ulcerations of the digestive tract, and gall stones. It possesses potent anti-inflammatory compounds and is useful for chronic joint pain. Used regularly this pungent spice can help you stay healthy warding off conditions like cardiovascular disease, dementia, and cancer.  Use turmeric liberally in your diet, at least one tablespoon per day. Golden Milk is a delicious warming drink and one of my favorite ways to get turmeric into the diet. You can find the recipe here.

Actions: Anti-inflammatory, digestive aid and liver stimulant, hypolipidemic, hypotensive, anticoagulant, anti-mutagenic, antioxidant.

Surprised by all the good medicine in my spice drawer? Go take a look at your own spice rack, now. What do you see? Next time you experience indigestion, feel a cold or flu coming on, or have a headache, reach for one of these simple effective remedies. Your body will thank you.

Stay well and be happy,
suzannesign
Herbalist & Proprietress
Nectar Apothecary

References:
A single consumption of curry improved postprandial endothelial function in healthy male subjects: a randomized, controlled crossover trial, Nutrition Journal 2014 13:67; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4082484/

5 Herbs & Essential Oils for Better Sleep

5 Herbs & Essential Oils for Better Sleep

Fall arrived officially last week. The days are growing shorter and the nights longer. On these dark mornings, I sometimes find myself wanting to stay under the warm covers a little bit longer, especially if I didn’t sleep well. Sleepless nights are not a common occurrence for me. I’ve come to understand what gets in the way of a good night’s sleep and I do my best to avoid these things. I’ve also developed a hierarchy of herbs and essential oils I sometimes turn to for better sleep.

In this post I’d like to introduce you to my top five herbs and essential oils for a restful, restorative sleep. The cool, crisp days of fall are an invitation to turn inward, to reestablish healthy routines and a sense of stability and groundedness. If you’re not sleeping well, now is a very good time to reevaluate your sleep habits and consider herbal allies for better sleep.  

Ask another herbalist and they might offer up five different herbs or essential oils for sleep. That’s because herbalism offers a holistic perspective rather than a “one size fits all” approach. While there are many different relaxing herbs and herbal sedatives, some may be better suited to your needs than others. That’s also why I describe my top five as “hierarchy.” It begins with very gentle remedies and proceeds toward herbs that are stronger sedatives. Give attention to your body, your life experience and current circumstances, and come to know the herbs. If you’re still not sure where to start, talk to your local herbalist.

Who Needs Sleep?

You do. I do. We all do. Restful, restorative sleep is crucial to our overall health and sense of well-being. It gives the body time for repair and rejuvenation. Muscle growth and tissue repair occur primarily at night, including the repair of heart and blood vessels. Sleep is essential for healthy brain function; it improves learning, decision-making and creativity. Sleep is essential for healthy hormone regulation, including those responsible for feeling full, feeling hungry, and regulation of blood sugar. Ever notice that you feel hungrier and crave sweets when you don’t get enough sleep? Now you know why!

So,what can you do? First, look at the bigger picture of your life. If you’re drinking lots of coffee or energy drinks every day, start there. Cut back and see if that helps. If stress has you lying awake at night worrying, making lists, ruminating over the day’s events, consider adopting new tools and developing new habits to alleviate stress. If you’re waking up due to menopausal hot flashes, consider ways to address the hormonal transition you’re experiencing. These are just a few examples. The point is before you jump on the sedative bandwagon—even if you’re considering an herbal sedative, address underlying health and lifestyle issues that may be interfering with your sleep.

Practice Good Sleep Hygiene

Next, look at your bedtime routines and habits and practice good sleep hygiene. That doesn’t mean you need to take a shower before bed. Rather, ask yourself, how clear, intentional and pristine are your bedtime practices and your bedroom? Good sleep hygiene includes:

  • Elimination of sleep inhibitors like caffeine, alcohol and large meals before bedtime
  • A regular sleep schedule
  • A relaxing bedtime routine
  • Maintaining a dark bedroom and adequate exposure to natural light during the day
  • Eliminating digital screens and other mind stimulating technology from the bedroom—no TV, radio, computers, tablets, or cell phones

Contrast these calming, sleep supportive practices to those nights when you watch an action movie until bedtime, spend a few minutes (or more) checking email, getting lost in your Facebook feed, or reading the news before jumping in bed because its suddenly well past a reasonable bedtime and you have an early meeting.

I know people who sleep next to their cell phone and check for new messages when they wake up and night. And wake up they do. If this sounds like you and you’re not sleeping well, please know that you have the power to take back your bedroom and make it a place of peace and tranquility.

5 Herbs & Essential Oils for Better Sleep

If you’re doing your best to address underlying health and lifestyle issues and you’re practicing good sleep hygiene, but still having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, it’s time to consider herbs and essentials oils. Whatever your approach is, keep in mind that reestablishing healthy sleep may take some time and consistency, especially if the problem has been long standing.

I’ve listed these five remedies from gentle to most sedative. When it comes to natural remedies, more is not necessarily better, and stronger is not always appropriate.

1. Lavender

Lavender Essential Oil (Lavendula angustifolia) 

Lavender is calming to the nervous system and helps ease anxiety and depression. This sweet aromatic flower is used to relieve nervous tension and irritability associated with stress. For insomnia, it’s gentle enough for children and the elderly and my first choice after a stressful day or evening working in front of the computer.

You can make a simple tea with one teaspoon of Lavender steeped in one cup of hot water for 15 minutes. Drink the tea about 30 minutes before bedtime. I prefer to use a drop or two of Lavender Essential Oil on my pillow at bedtime. I recently created what I call a “pillow diffuser” to use with essential oils at bedtime. I’ll be posting the instructions to make your own later this month. Stay tuned.

At Nectar we offer two beautiful Lavender Essential Oils, Bulgarian Lavender and French Lavender. You can also find Lavender in our Free & Easy Tea.

2. Chamomile (Matricaria recutita)

Comforting and familiar, Chamomile is another gentle sleep aid and mild sedative. Its calms the nervous system and is especially useful for highly sensitive, irritable, restless individuals. Like Lavender, it is gentle enough for children and the elderly.

A cup of Chamomile tea after dinner will also ease indigestion, gas and bloating. Chamomile also possesses anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic, and analgesic properties making it useful for pain, menstrual cramps and fevers.

Prepare a cup of tea by steeping one heaping teaspoon of Chamomile in one cup of hot water for 15 minutes. Drink the tea about 30 minutes before bedtime. Chamomile also combines nicely with Lavender to make a soothing floral tea.

At Nectar we combine Lavender and Chamomile with other relaxing, worry-relieving herbs in our Free & Easy Tea. We also blend Chamomile in our Sleepy Zzzz Tea with some of the stronger sedatives herbs described below.

 3. Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)

Ashwaganda holds a special place on this list because it is not a true sedative. In fact it is strengthening to the nervous system helping to relieve nervous exhaustion and stress-induced insomnia. If you tend toward anxiety and often lay awake up at night thinking and worrying, Ashwaganda may be a good choice for you.

Ashwagandha is also used for deficient thyroid function, and weakened or over-active immune function. Ashwagandha can be consumed as a liquid extract (tincture) or tea. The suggested use is 30-40 drops of the tincture up to three times per day, with the last dose 30 minutes before bedtime. Prepare a tea with the one tablespoon of the cut root, simmered in 1.5 cup of water for at least 20 minutes. Powdered Ashwagandha Root, approximately one teaspoon serving can also be stirred into a smoothie, other beverage, yogurt or applesauce.

 At Nectar we prepare our own Ashwagandha Tincture from the fresh organic root. Ashwagandha also features prominently in our Steady Sleep Tincture and our Inner Calm Tea.

4. Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata)

This wild and exotic flower is in fact a reliable and effective sedative and antispasmodic. It will ease muscle tension and elevated blood pressure associated with stress or anxiety and is a good choice for an overactive, monkey mind that interferes with relaxation and sleep. Passionflower is typically consumed as tea or tincture. Prepare a tea by steeping one heaping teaspoon of herb in one cup of water for at least 15 minutes and consume about 30 minutes before bedtime.   

You will find Passionflower in many of Nectar’s sleep blends including our Steady Sleep Tincture, Sleepy Zzzz Tincture, and Sleepy Zzzz Tea.

5. Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)

Valerian is a strong and reliable sedative and antispasmodic. The aromatic root is grounding and calming in states of heightened tension, irritability, and restlessness. As a nervous system relaxant, I reserve Valerian for more extreme nervous tension caused by sudden and unexpected events. It is an effective sleep aid helping induce a deeper sleep.

Valerian has an intense musky aroma that many people find offensive. If you don’t mind this aroma, Valerian can be prepared as a tea (1-2 teaspoons steeped in hot water for at least 15 minutes). I prefer the tincture or capsules.

That said, this fine root is not for everyone. Some people experience intense and uncomfortable dreams when they use Valerian and are better off with Passionflower or an even more gentle sleep aid like Chamomile or Lavender. A small percentage of people are stimulated by Valerian, though at this time we have no way to know in advance who will be so affected.

At Nectar we prepare our own Valerian Tincture and you will also find it in our Sleepy Zzzz Tincture and Sleepy Zzzz Tea.

It is impossible to over emphasize the importance of sound sleep. If you’re not waking up refreshed, addressing underlying health or lifestyle issues and good sleep hygiene are key. Herbs and essential oils are useful and comforting allies that can help bring your body and sleep cycle back into balances even as you are making the necessary health and lifestyle modifications. This range of natural remedies are also good to have on hand for occasional sleeplessness.  

Leave a comment below if you have questions. Or, better still come see us in person.

wishing you sweet dreams and deep sleep,
suzannesign
Herbalist & Proprietress
Nectar Apothecary

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Looking for more herbal inspiration?

5 Herbs for Cold and Flu Season

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5 Herbs for Cold and Flu Season

In this post I’m going to introduce you to five herbs for cold and flu season. These herbs are a must for your herbal medicine chest, especially at this time of year.

Here in northern Arizona we’ve been having the most delicious cool nights and chilly mornings. I love the four seasons in this beautiful place, but no matter how much I’m enjoying the season of the moment, I’m always excited to feel a change in the air. Alas, I’m not the only one. Did you know that common cold and flu viruses thrive in cold dry weather? Yep! Now is the time to make sure your herbal medicine chest is stocked with herbs to defend yourself and your loved ones from colds and flu. Wondering what you should have on hand? In this post I’m going to introduce you to Five Herbs to Defend ‘You & Yours’ Against Colds & Flu. You might even have some of these herbs in your kitchen spice cupboard.

Maintaining a strong immune system is always the first and most important defense against colds and flu. A healthy diet (low in sugar and rich in vitamins and other nutrients), adequate rest and a balanced approach to stress all contribute to the health of your immune system. For people who still suffer from frequent colds or flu, immune strengthening herbs may be in order. If you seem to catch everything that’s going around, this article, Winter Health & Herbal Immune Tonics will help you evaluate and choose herbs to strengthen your immune system. Now is the time to get started.

Despite a healthy immune system our best efforts, sometimes our defenses fail. When that pesky cold or flu bug strikes, use these five herbs to fight back and return quickly to your normal state of vibrant health.

 

Echinacea | Echinacea purpurea or angustifolia

Native to North American, Echinacea was used by native people for a wide range of ailments from sore throat, swollen glands and toothache to snake bite, venomous stings and poisoning. The wisdom of Native American healers has been corroborated in a plethora of pharmacological research, scientific trials and the experience of clinical herbalists using Echinacea to combat the common colds, enhance immune activity and relieve glandular inflammation. Echinacea produces an unmistakable, hearty purple flower with a spiny orange center. Though the entire plant from root to flower can be use medicinally, the roots are somewhat stronger.

If you are preparing your herbal medicine chest for the coming cold and flu season, make Echinacea your first line of defense for the common cold and infectious conditions in general. Echinacea has been shown in numerous studies to reduce the severity and duration of acute upper respiratory infections so it is best to reach for Echinacea at the first sign of a cold—sneezing, sniffles, scratchy throat or that hot, full-sinus feeling. In addition to immune stimulating properties, compounds in Echinacea show anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and anti-fungal activity. To prepare an Echinacea tea, simmer one heaping teaspoon of dried root in 1-2 cups of water for at least 20 minutes. The liquid extract or tincture of Echinacea is a quick and easy way to take Echinacea and it will last for many years in your medicine chest. The dosage for any tincture is dependent on the strength of the extract and should always appear on the bottle.

 

Elder Berry | Sambucus nigra

elder berries

Also known as Black Elder Berry, this delicious dark blue berry is an immune stimulant with anti-viral properties traditionally used for cold and flu symptoms, including aches and pains, coughing, nasal congestion, mucous discharge and fever. Like Echinacea, consider Elder Berry in the front line of defense for on-coming colds or flu. Elder Berry can also be used in lower dose as a preventive during cold and flu season or when you are exposed to a higher risk of infection in air travel or large crowds. Dried Elder berries can be prepared as a tea by simmering one tablespoon in 1-2 cups of water for at least 15 minutes. You can also find Elder Berry as a tincture or alcohol-free glycerite. If you want to really feel empowered when it comes to care of yourself and your love ones, you can make our own Elder Berry Syrup with this simple recipe. Kids tend to be much more receptive to the sweet, rich berry flavor of this Elder Berry Syrup than they are to other cold remedies.

 

 

 

 

 

Fresh Ginger Root

Ginger | Zingiber officianalis

This spicy, aromatic root is an excellent remedy for cold, congestive conditions of the respiratory tract and flu symptoms. Ginger’s diaphoretic (induces sweating), antipyretic (reduces fever), anti-spasmodic, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic properties offer welcome relief for the fever, body aches and headaches that often accompany flu. Sipping on a cup of Ginger tea can also quell nausea and vomiting and help you stay hydrated during a bout with the flu. Dried Ginger Root is considered hotter and somewhat more stimulating than the fresh root, though overall the plant is gentle and appropriate for both children and the elderly. Prepare a tea with the dried root by steeping one teaspoon in one cup of water for at least 15 minutes. If you’re making tea with the fresh root, chop up a piece about ¾-1½ inches in length and steep for at least 15 minutes. When you don’t feel up to making tea, the liquid extract of Ginger is a quick and easy alternative.

 

 

Oregon Grape Root

Oregon Grape Root | Berberis aquifolium

Oregon Grape Root is another North American native common throughout the forests and mountains of the western United States. The golden color of the root comes from berberine, a phyto-chemical with significant antibiotic and immune enhancing effects also found in Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis), another familiar cold and flu remedy. Berberine’s primary immune enhancing action comes from the activation of white blood cells responsible for destroying bacteria, viruses, and other foreign invaders. Its ability to defend against a broad range of organisms makes Oregon Grape Root an important remedy to have on hand when colds, flu, digestive complaints and even urinary tract infections make unexpected visits.

As a bitter, Oregon Grape Root also has a pronounced effect on the liver, promoting liver function and stimulating the production and flow of bile. Its ability to promote digestion and elimination make it useful for chronic skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis and as a restorative to an embattled digestive following stomach flu with vomiting and diarrhea. In the latter case, it combines well with Ginger Root. For colds and sinus infection, Oregon Grape Root also combines well with Echinacea Root. For tea, simmer 1 teaspoon of the root in 2 cups water for at least 15 minutes. The liquid extract of Oregon Grape Root is another good way to make use of this bitter remedy.

 

 

Thyme

Thyme | Thymus vulgaris

On this short list of 5 Herbal Defenders for Cold & Flu, Thyme is the most specific herb for lower respiratory congestion with bouts of coughing. This common culinary herb is an expectorant, bronchiodilator, mucolytic, antispasmodic, and anti-bacterial. These properties make it a specific for whooping cough, bronchitis and other infectious conditions that congest and constrict the lungs. Its anti-bacterial action also makes it an effective herb for many urinary tract infections. Thyme makes a lovely tea especially with a little honey and Ginger Root. Steep one teaspoon in one cup of hot water for at least 15 minutes. If you don’t have the herb in your medicine chest, don’t forget to check the spice rack in your kitchen. Thyme tincture is a quick and easy alternative to the tea.

Properly diluted, Thyme Essential Oil makes an effective chest rub. Simply add 1-2 drops to one teaspoon of unscented lotion, salve or carrier oil. You can also prepare a steam inhalation with the loose herb or the essential oil. To make a steam inhalation, simply add ¼ cup of dried Thyme or 2 drops of Thyme Essential Oil to a small pot of steaming hot water. Sit down at a table, cover your head and the steaming pot with a towel forming a tent. Gently inhale the medicinal vapors.

 

 

While there are many other herbs to reach for at the first sign of a cold or flu, these are some of my favorites that share a a long history of traditional use supported by modern clinical research. I hope you experience perfect health during the cold and flu season, but it is always a good idea to be prepared.

If you have questions, be sure to leave a comment below. 

wishing you health and happiness, 
suzannesign
Herbalist & Proprietress
Nectar Apothecary

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Brain Supplies: 5 Herbs to Remember

Brain Supplies: Five Herbs to Remember

I know it’s only August, but here in Prescott, Arizona some of the kids started school this week. It’s been a long time since I climbed on the bus, nervous for the first day of school, but I still remember those early fall days with fondness. Okay, I admit, I got excited about new shoes and new school supplies, but I also started school with a love for learning which continues to this day.

Now, when I think about learning, it’s not school supplies, but rather, brain supplies. What do I need to keep my brain healthy and sharp as I age? In this post I’m going to introduce you to five herbs for brain health—five herbs to remember!

Taking care of your brain is just as important as taking care of the rest of your body. However, too often, we don’t start thinking about brain health until we begin to experience poor memory, difficulty concentrating or mental fog. Fortunately, there is much you can do to promote mental clarity and memory as you age. Medicinal herbs are an important strategy for optimal brain function and are best utilized in the holistic context of a brain-healthy lifestyle. This little infographic shows the key brain power strategies that make up a healthy lifestyle.

Keeping in mind this brain-healthy lifestyle, I’d like to introduce you to five herbs you can employ for optimal brain function. First, I have a new vocabulary word for you: NOOTROPIC (pronounced, noh-ə-TROP-ik). A combination of the Greek “nous” related to mind or intellect and “tropos” for turning, nootropics are substances that enhance cognitive function, including thinking, memory, creativity, and motivation. Though each one is unique, Herbalists consider all of these five herbs, nootropics.

1. BACOPA | Bacopa monnieri

Bacopa comes to us from the Ayurvedic system of India where it is was traditionally used for nervous disorders and as a brain tonic. Now readily available in the west, clinical research has demonstrated its nootropic, relaxant, anti-anxiety, anti-convulsant and anti-oxidant properties.

Bacopa is used to promote memory and focus, to relieve anxiety, and slow aged-related mental decline. It is also helpful for adults and children with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and for recovery from head trauma. In one gold standard (randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled) clinical study involving healthy adults, participants receiving Bacopa for 12 weeks showed significantly better cognitive function than the placebo group, including faster information processing, verbal learning speed, and memory consolidation. Participants receiving Bacopa also experienced a highly significant reduction in anxiety.

Bacopa is traditionally used as a tea (though I find it quite bitter) or as liquid extract (tincture). Know that Bacopa is a water-loving plant that will absorb water-born pollutants, so be sure your source is organically grown. Nectar’s Bacopa Extract is made from pure fresh Bacopa organically grown here in the United States. We also offer dried organic Bacopa in the shop.

2. GINKGO | Ginkgo biloba

Ginkgo, a popular herb for brain function, has been extensively studied for its effects on cognitive function, memory and dementia. Part of its action as a nootropic stems from it ability to increase blood flow to the limbs and brain. It also shows anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties, and helps reduce blood platelet aggregation that can lead to strokes.

In over forty clinical studies in patients with cerebral insufficiency (restricted cerebral blood flow), including dementia and senile memory decline, all but one showed positive results. Ginkgo’s effects on Alzheimer’s disease, reversing or delaying mental deterioration, are most pronounced in the early stages of the disease. In a recent placebo-controlled, randomized study in people with mild to moderate dementia, participants receiving Ginkgo showed significant improvements in mood, sleep and nighttime behavior.

Ginkgo’s memory and mood enhancing effects are not limited to persons with dementia. Ginkgo has also been shown to improve working and long-term memory, abstract reasoning and processing speed in healthy adults, and particularly in older adults. Adults and children with ADHD given Ginkgo show improvements in inattentiveness, hyperactivity, and socialization. In this study on children with ADHD, Ginkgo was combined with American Ginseng.

Ginkgo has also shown benefits in depression, menopause, PMS, and menstrual imbalances.  Though some individual may experience changes in less time, in general, Ginkgo must be taken consistently for at least 6-12 weeks before results can be expected. Many of the active compounds in Ginkgo are not water soluble, so it is best used as a tincture rather than a tea. For more significant cerebral deficits, the standardized extract which has been the subject of most clinical trials is preferred. At Nectar you can find Ginkgo in our Brain Boost Extract and as a single Ginkgo Extract.

3. Gotu Kola | Centella asiatica

Gotu kola is another medicinal herb from India and the Ayurvedic system now popular in the North America. When it comes to brain health, Gotu kola is useful for poor memory, mental fatigue and irritability, and recover from head injuries.  In addition to its nootropic properties, Gotu kola is a calming nervine helpful for anxiety and “mental chatter.”

Gotu kola is also an anti-inflammatory that can be used for red, irritated skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis, and to accelerate wound healing. Numerous clinical studies have demonstrated its benefits topically and internally for varicose veins and lower leg edema. This effect is likely due to Gotu kola’s ability to improve microcirculation and decrease capillary permeability. Internally, Gotu kola can be used as a tea or liquid extract and it is often used in combination with Ginkgo.

At Nectar you will find Gotu kola combined with Ginkgo and other nootropics in our Brain Boost Extract and as a single Gotu Kola Extract. We also blend Gotu kola into our Remember Tea. This delicious herbal tea combines organic Tulsi Basil, Gotu Kola, and Rosemary are all considered nootropics, and organic Hawthorn flower and leaf, and organic Schisandra berries help to relax and uplift an agitated mind. The bright taste of organic Peppermint compliments the rich green flavors in this beautiful tea.

4. Lion’s Mane | Hericium erinaceum

Lion’s Mane is gourmet mushroom coveted for its seafood like flavor  as well as its medicinal properties. In addition to its nootropic action, Lion’s Mane is an immune stimulant, anti-microbial, anti-mutagenic, and anti-depressant. Its nootropic action may be due in part to its neuroregenerative effect which has been confirmed in numerous studies.

In one recent clinical study participants receiving Lion’s Mane had significantly increased scores on cognitive function scale compared with the placebo group. This furry, dramatic mushroom may also inhibit the beta amyloid plaque that is considered a primary biomarker associated for Alzheimer’s disease. Like Ginkgo, Lion’s Mane has also been shown to relieve depression and anxiety.

One of these days I hope to experience the gourmet flavor of this mushroom. Until then, I will continue using it in the encapsulated form. In the shop we offer Lion’s Mane products by Host Defense (always 20% below suggested retail).

5. Rosemary | Rosmarinus officinalis

This familiar aromatic, culinary herb, like Ginkgo improves circulation to the limbs and brain. It is stimulating to the mind, memory and to the senses.

In one clinical study using Rosemary essential oil, inhalation for three minutes produced brain wave patterns indicative of increased alertness. Participants also reported feeling more relaxed and alert and were faster (though not more accurate) at mathematical computations than at baseline (without inhalation of the essential oil).

Rosemary’s stimulating action also makes it useful in depressed states, cloudy thinking and menopausal “brain fog.” In addition to its effects on cerebral function and mood, this common herb is also antioxidant, antibacterial, anti-fungal, and helps relieve digestive gas and bloating. Rosemary can be used as a simple tea, as a tincture, or as an inhalation of the essential oil. You can find Rosemary essential oil, here. At Nectar we combine Rosemary with other nootropics in our Brain Boost Extract and you can also enjoy it in our Remember Tea.

It is always a good time to take care of your brain, whether you’re headed off to school, want to improve focus and concentration or are focused on healthy aging. These five nootropics, alone or in combination, are a wise choice and important part of your brain-healthy lifestyle.

If you have questions, be sure to leave a comment below.

wishing you health and happiness,
suzannesign
Herbalist & Proprietress
Nectar Apothecary

Looking for more herbal inspiration?

How to Make Wild Mint Tincture

How to Make Wild Mint Tincture

In this post I’m going to tell you how to make Wild Mint tincture. Making your own herbal medicine is not just fun. It’s an excellent way to save money on healthcare costs and reduce your family’s dependence on large corporations and pharmaceutical products. It is also a beautiful way to appreciate our interdependence on the plant world.

Tinctures are medicinal herbal extracts made with alcohol. The alcohol acts as a natural “solvent” to draw the therapeutic compounds from the plant and later, once the tincture is done, it acts as an effective preservative. You can easily make a tincture with any dried herb using simple tools in your own kitchen. If you want to know more about tinctures, check out this post, What’s A Tincture and Why Would You Want One?

I recently harvested Wild Mint (Mentha spp.) and hung it to dry. It’s now ready for tincturing. If you don’t have Wild Mint or Peppermint in your garden, you can purchase dried Peppermint from your local apothecary or health food store.

diy wild mint tincture

Benefits of Wild Mint & Peppermint

Medicinally, Peppermint is a carminative, anti-spasmodic, anti-emetic and topical analgesic. As a carminative and anti-spasmodic Mint is an excellent and tasty choice for digestive complaints. Carminatives ease gas and bloating, colic, and flatulence. The anti-spasmodic effects of Wild Mint relieve cramping associated with some digestive complaints. Peppermint is often used topically for pain and muscle cramps and to relieve itching from insect bites, stings, and poison oak or poison ivy. Peppermint essential oil is a good choice for topical use, but should always be diluted. (One to five drops per teaspoon of lotion or carrier oil is a good rule of thumb to achieve a 1%-5% dilution. Undiluted Peppermint essential oil can burn the skin.) Wild Mint is also a soothing anti-inflammatory and diaphoretic for colds and flu.

Folk Method and Weight to Volume Method

There are two basic methods for making a tincture. If you want a simple, no math, no measuring approach, use the Folk Method. If you like things to be exact and want to be able to replicate this tincture in the future, use the Weight to Volume Method.

Ingredients // Materials

  • Vodka (at least 80 proof)
  • Dried Wild Mint or Peppermint
  • Coffee Grinder or a Mortar & Pestle
  • Glass Measuring Cup
  • Mesh Strainer
  • Unbleached Cotton Muslin
  • Label
  • Jar with a tight-fitting lid

 

Folk Method Instructions

  • Grind the dried herb to a powder using a coffee grinder or mortar & pestle.
  • Fill the jar about two-thirds full with the powdered herb.
  • Pour in Vodka to over the herb and stir well to saturate the herb. Add more Vodka as needed until there is at least 1/4 inch of Vodka over the herb. Cap the jar tightly and label it with the name of the herb, a description of the Vodka (e.g. 80 proof) and the date.
  • The mixture may absorb more liquid the first day. After 24 hours, add more of Vodka as needed so there is again 1/4 inch of Vodka on top of the herb.
  • Store the jar in a cool, dry place. For the next 14 days (at least) shake the jar several times per day.
  •  After 14 days, allow the mixture to sit undisturbed for one day.  Pour the clear tincture off of the top. Pour the remaining wet herb into a large square of unbleached cotton muslin. Roll up and squeeze to recover as much of the tincture as possible. Combine the two liquids.
  • Filter if desired using an unbleached coffee filter or clean cotton muslin.
  • Bottle, label, and enjoy!

Suggested use for your finished tincture is 30 - 60 drops 2-4 times per day.

Weight to Volume Method

Follow the instructions above for the Folk Method, but use a measured amount of ground herb and Vodka corresponding to a 1:5 ratio of herb weight to Vodka volume. In this ratio 1 part is the powdered herb by weight and 5 parts is the Vodka by volume.  In a 1:1 ratio, 1 ounce of herb by weight corresponds to 1 ounce fluid volume of Vodka. So, for example, in a 1:5 ratio. if you were using 3 ounces (or ~90 gm) by weight of powdered herb, you would use 15 fluid ounces (or ~450 ml) of Vodka.  The ratio of 3 ounces by weight to 15 fluid ounces by volume is the equivalent of a 1:5 ratio. Get it?

Suggested use for your finished tincture is 30 - 60 drops 2-4 times per day.

tincture step 1-1

 

Pouring Vodka over the herb.

Add Vodka and mix well.

Strain the mixture through unbleached cotton muslin.

After 14 days it’s time to strain the mixture.

 

Bottle, label and enjoy.

You can make an effective Wild Mint or Peppermint tincture with either the Folk Method or Weight to Volume Method. Make good notes and label your bottles so you can recreate the same beautiful medicine in the future.

If you have questions, be sure to leave a comment below.

wishing you health and happiness,
suzannesign
Herbalist & Proprietress
Nectar Apothecary

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Bee Balm Infused Honey [ Recipe ]

This Bee Balm Honey recipe uses raw local honey to make a delicious remedy for a wide range of issues. I’ve fallen in love with Bee Balm (Monarda spp.) since moving to northern Arizona three years ago. Here in the highlands of northern Arizona you’ll find this flashy member of the mint family in moist canyons and drainages. There are myriad species and I’ve also seen nursery varieties with dramatic flowers planted as ornamentals. Bee Balm is also known as Wild Oregano and Oregano de la Sierra (Oregano of the Sierras) due its spicy taste and aroma. In cooking, the leaves can be substituted for Mexican or Italian Oregano.

Infused in raw local honey, Bee Balm makes a delicious remedy for a wide range of issues from sore throats, colds and flu to indigestion and menstrual cramps. The leaves and flowers can also be prepared as a simple tea (an infusion), or as a tincture or glycerite. (If you want to know more about tinctures,check out this post, What’s A Tincture and Why Would You Want One?

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Medicinal Properties

Medicinally, Bee Balm is antibacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-viral, antiseptic, and diaphoretic (stimulates sweating). Its strong antimicrobial actions make it a good choice for respiratory infections (upper and lower), sore throats, and flu. Bee Balm is also an anesthetic, which make the infused honey in this post especially soothing to sore throats. I have found the tincture to be a good remedy for sinus congestion and swelling with a feeling of fullness or blockage in the ears. No doubt its anti-inflammatory action coupled with its antimicrobial properties account for this effect. Abundant in the moist places of the southwest, Monarda was widely used by native people as a reproductive tonic, to ease menstrual cramps and to bring on delayed menses. Like other members of the mint family, Bee Balm is an anti-spasmodic and carminative that can be used to ease gas and bloating.

Bee Balm honey is easy to make. Now is the time to harvest the fresh flowers so you can enjoy this delicious remedy all winter long. This recipe calls for raw honey and I highly recommend that you use raw local honey for all of your honey infusions. Raw honey is highly nutritious and possesses potent healing properties of its own. Raw honey has not been pasteurized or filtered and maintains more of the beneficial nutrients and properties than processed honey. Therapeutically, it is an anti-oxidant (the darker the honey, the more so), energizing and useful for recovery from intense exercise, antiseptic, antibacterial, and an effective wound healer.

Let’s make Bee Balm Honey!

Ingredients // Materials

  • Raw Honey
  • Fresh Bee Balm Flowers (Monarda spp.)
  • Jar with a tight-fitting lid

Instructions

  • Gently fill your jar with the flowers. 
  • Pour honey into the jar until the flowers are completely submerged and the jar is full. Gently stir with a small spoon or chopstick (the herbalist’s tool of choice) to remove air bubbles.
  • Cap the jar and label.
  • Allow the honey to sit undisturbed for 4-6 weeks. Gentle heat will encourage the extraction. You can place the jar in a brown paper bag in a sunny place or in a dehydrator set to approximately 100 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Voila! After 4-6 weeks you can strain out the flowers if your like or leave them in the honey. Add the honey to hot water or tea or take it by the spoonful.

I hope you are happy in the garden and forest and that you come to known this potent plant ally where ever you find her. If you have questions, be sure to leave a comment here.

wishing you health and happiness, 

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Native Medicinal Plants

Native Medicinals

In this post I want to introduce you to some of the medicinal plant allies I’ve encountered here in the northern Arizona highlands and hopefully, encourage you to discover your own native plant allies!As an herbalist, my work and livelihood depend on a healthy planet and medicinal plants grown organically or wildcrafted, ethically and sustainably. Nature and the wild places are also my personal refuge and place of renewal. I spend as much time as I can exploring the forests, the mountains and scrambling among the crags and boulders. In the arid climate where I live, I am drawn to meander along small streams and water sheds. In my wandering I feel at home and am constantly delighted by the medicinal plants along the way. 

If your serious about medicinal plants, in addition to spending time in nature, you’ll need to get down to some serious plant study. Here in northern Arizona, the Highlands Center for Natural History offers excellent educational programs on the flora and fauna of our bio-region. Seek out organization and resources where ever you live, like native plant societies, nature centers, and county extension programs. Your local apothecary might even offer medicinal plant walks! I also recommend filling your yard or landscape with native plants adapted to your bio-region. Landscaping with native plants is an excellent way to bring back local fauna lost to development, provide habitat for native birds and other animals, and to reduce water consumption.

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(A Few) Medicinal Plants of Arizona

I have had the honor and privilege to work with medical plants for over twenty years. Some of the plants in this post, I consider dear friends and allies. I have been delighted to find them growing right here in northern Arizona. Should you encounter these plant beings on your own travels, please treat them and the ecosystems in which they live with the deep honor and respect. I recently wrote an article about the harvest and processing of local medicinal plants, available here.  In short, wildcrafting is a delicate practice that requires knowledge and sensitivity. Please do not pick wild medicinals unless you have studied the practice and can do so ethically and sustainably. 

red root

Ceanothus (aka Red Root) in bloom!

Red Root (Ceanothus spp.)

On a spring hike near Sedona, my nose was alerted to this shrub long before I actually saw it. This blooming Red Root filled the air with the fragrance of lilac and was covered with beautiful butterflies drinking its sweet nectar. There are many inter-breeding species of Ceanothus in the western states, all have similar medicinal properties. The root bark is indeed red, hence its common name, and is also the part of the plant used as medicine. Red Root is a lymphagogue and astringent. Herbalists employ it for congestion in the lymphatic system, liver and spleen. It can be helpful to reduce pelvic congestion, fluid filled-cysts, tonsillitis, sore throats and inflamed lymph nodes. Red Root is sometimes called California Lilac due to its beautiful purple blossoms and lilac fragrance, and makes a beautiful native landscape plant.

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Horsetail (Equisetum spp.)

Horsetail Young

Young Horsetail shoots in northern Arizona

In early spring I encountered this wee forest of Horsetail in one of our local creeks. More recently I visited this watershed and found the Horsetail at least a foot or so high. The aerial parts of Horsetail are nutritive, rich in silica needed by our bodies to support bone health and all collagen containing structures like cartilage, hair, skin and nails. Horsetail is also a diuretic, astringent, vulnerary and styptic. Horsetail likes to have its feet in water and will absorb any toxins (herbicides, pesticides and other urban runoff) in the water system. Before harvesting Horsetail in the wild the skilled wildcrafter will  make certain the water source is free of contaminants.

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Oregon Grape Root (Mahonia Aquifolium)

An old friend from the Pacific Northwest, I was surprised to encounter Oregon Grape Root in Arizona, but have to come to understand that its range is quite broad. The bright yellow flowers will eventually produce purple berries, sour, but edible. The golden roots are used medicinally as an antimicrobial, bitter (to stimulate secretion of digestive juices), and for liver and digestive complaints. Containing berberines, Oregon Grape Root is a good substitute Goldenseal, (which has been over-harvested in the wild and is expensive to cultivate). Like Red Root, Oregon Grape Root, with its bright yellow flowers, shiny green foliage, and Fall berries makes an excellent landscape medicinal for much of the west, including the Arizona highlands. 

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Valerian in Bloom Prescott 2016

Valerian in bloom!

 Valerian (Valeriana spp.)

I encountered a small stand  of Valerian in the same creek system where the Horsetail was thriving. This sweet purple-pink flower provides cover to the somewhat smelly root that is used medicinally. Some people think Valerian Root smells like dirty socks and I have to agree–there is some truth to that. Nevertheless, Valerian Root serves as an effective sedative for many people who suffer from insomnia. It is also a strong nervous system and muscle relaxant and as such is sometimes used for anxiety and muscle tension.

 

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When I meet medicinal plants in the wild, most often I am happy simply to greet them, take in their beauty, and perhaps a photo. Only rarely and under very specific circumstances do I take any of them home with me. Wildcrafting is the practice of gathering medicinal plants in the wild, in their natural environments. Ethical, sustainable wildcrafting is part art, part science and part spiritual practice. In its highest form, wildcrafting is performed with intimate knowledge and deep respect for the ecosystem and plant community. Permission is essential and something must always be given in return. Many medicinal plants have been harvested solely for profit and nearly to extinction. So please, when you encounter medicinal plants, greet them, enjoy them, respect them, and leave them. Be nourished by their wild presence and by your love and respect for the Earth.

To close, I want to share with you this beautiful poem by one of my favorite poets, Wendell Berry.

The Peace of Wild Things 

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

For the Earth,
Suzanne Teachey
Herbalist & Proprietress
Nectar Apothecary

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Radiant Skin Part 2: Herbs for Topical Skincare

Herbs for Topical Skincare

Maintaining healthy skin at anytime of year and at any age is both an inside and an outside job. For tips to keep your skin healthy from the inside, out, check out our recent post, Tips for Radiant Skin from the Inside, Out.

In today’s post, however, we’re going outside. I’d like to introduce you to herbs you can use on the outside, that is, topically for radiant skin. These nourishing herbs can be easily incorporated in your own DIY skincare products. You can make these safe, natural, organic skincare products at home to optimize all the other good things you’re doing to take care of your body and skin from the inside, out.

HERBS FOR TOPICAL SKINCARE

When it comes to topical skincare, medicinal plants offer a wide range of properties that promote healthy skin. In this post I’m going to introduce you to four unique herbal actions for your skin and four plants that I frequently incorporate into my skincare products.

Calendula: An Herbal Vulnerary

An herbal vulnerary describes a medicinal plant that promotes healing of wounds and soothes irritated tissue, including the skin. Calendula (Calendula officinalis) is one of my favorite vulneraries. This bright orange-gold flower reminds me of a warm summer day. If sunshine has a fragrance, it’s Calendula. These medicinal flowers aid in healing wounds, burns, boils, rashes, and support normal connective tissue, making Calendula an excellent topical remedy for most skin conditions and all skin types. It also relieves itching and can reduce the swelling and pain of bee stings. For daily skin care, Calendula helps to soften and smooth skin, reduce pore size, and clear acne.

For topical use, Calendula is typically infused in oil, which is then applied to the skin or incorporated in a salve, lotion, or cream. A strong tea made with Calendula flowers can also be incorporated in a cream or lotion or used in the bath tub. You can make your own Calendula Oil with this recipe and then use it to make a Calendula Salve with these instructions. Calendula Oil can also be incorporated in DIY lotions and creams—another recipe coming your way soon. We sell beautiful organic Calendula flowers in the shop and you can purchase organic Calendula Oil in the shop or online.

Keep in mind that Calendula is just one of many herbal vulneraries. Others that work well in skin care include Aloe Vera juice or gel (Aloe spp.), Comfrey leaf and root (Symphytum officinalis),Chickweed (Stellaria media), and Plantain (Plantago spp.). 

German Chamomile: An Herbal Anti-Inflammatory

Herbal anti-inflammatories reduce inflammation in various ways. Some reduce inflammation because their mucilaginous content is directly soothing. Others contain salicylates (like aspirin) or steroid precursors. Many essential oils are also anti-inflammatory, including the essential oil found in the familiar herb and cheerful little flower we call German Chamomile (Matricaria recutita).

Better known for its relaxing effects and for its ability to easy indigestion, German Chamomile is actually one of my favorite anti-inflammatories for topical use.  Its antispasmodic effects also make it a good choice for topical use on sore muscles. Diluted, German Chamomile essential oil can also be applied to  sprains and sore tendons and joints.  Its relaxing and anti-inflammatory effects also help ease headaches and soothe allergies. Incorporated in skincare products, Chamomile is good for all skin types and especially for sensitive skin, puffiness or inflamed conditions.

You can find organic German Chamomile essential oil and German Chamomile Hydrosol in the shop and online. Hydrosols, sometimes called flower waters are created during the steam distillation of essential oils. They possess many of the same qualities as the essential oil, but are much less concentrated, making them well suited for topical use. Hydrosols make great skin toners, alone, or in combination with other ingredients.

German Chamomile essential oil is easily incorporated in your DIY skincare products. You can also use Chamomile Hydrosol or a strong Chamomile tea in creams and lotions. The tea also makes for a relaxing, skin-soothing bath. Other herbal anti-inflammatories for topical skincare include Calendula, discussed above, Comfrey leaf and root (Symphytum officinalis),Chickweed (Stellaria media), Lavender (Lavendula angustifolia), Licorice Root (Gylcyrrhiza glabra), which is also used to lighten dark skin spots, and Plantain (Plantago spp.).

Green Tea: An Herbal Antioxidant

Skin damage occurs as a result of oxidation, a chemical process in which unstable molecules called free radicals steal electrons from healthy cells. On the skin, oxidative stress may show up us as wrinkles, thickening, discoloration and loss of elasticity. Antioxidants are the best defense against free radical damage or oxidative stress.  As the name suggests, antioxidants combat oxidative damage by sacrificing their own electrons to feed free radicals, but without turning into free radicals themselves. A diet rich in high quality, organic fruits and vegetables will give your body a daily dose of antioxidants. Personally, I like to up my daily antioxidant intake with the regular consumption of Green Tea (Camellia sinensis), truly my favorite antioxidant!

Drinking Green Tea daily is not only great for your skin, also improves mental clarity and promotes an increased sense of well-being. It contains more than 50 anti-inflammatory compounds and possesses anti-carcinogenic properties that may help explain why cancer rates are much lower in Japan where Green Tea consumption is high. Green Tea also has a pronounced effect on the cardiovascular system, helping to lower blood pressure, lowering cholesterol levels, specifically “bad cholesterols” (LDL) and serum triglycerides, while raising “good cholesterols” (HDL). It also acts as a blood thinner or anti-coagulant and has been shown to inhibit abnormal blood clot formation as effectively as aspirin. Whew! I think I need a cup of Green Tea.

Green Tea is a common ingredient in many skincare products and it can also be incorporated in DIY skincare. Consider using powdered  Green Tea in a mask in combination  with a French Green or White Kaolin Clay. A strong tea can be incorporated in lotions or creams and I’ll be posting a recipe for that very lotion later this month.

There are many varieties of Green Tea and we have offer many organic choices online and in the shop. Green Tea also features prominently in many of Super Salve/Sister Creations Power Repair skincare products including Skin Serum, Vitamin C Solution, Skin Therapy Oil, Lighten & Brighten, Nourishsing Face Cream, and Eye Cream, all 20% off in the shop during the month of June.

In addition to Green Tea, most green leafy herbs contain significant levels of anti-oxidants. Among these, Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis), Sage (Salvia officinalis), and Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) offer other unique benefits for the skin and can be also be incorporated in DIY skincare products from masks and toners to cleansers and lotions.

Helichrysum: An Herbal Skin Regenerative

Rare are compounds that promote regeneration of healthy connective tissue immediately following an injury and restoration of healthy skin even after scarring has developed. Sometimes referred to as Everlast or Immortelle, the small flowers of Helichrysum italicum (syn. angustifolium) produce an essential oil with these rare and potent skin regenerative effects. This essential oil also possesses vulnerary, anti-inflammatory, anti-bruising, and analgesic properties. Topically, the essential oil is a great first aid remedy for sprains, strains, bruising, swelling, cuts, open wounds, and radiation burns.  Applied immediately after injury, it can help prevent swelling and bruising.

In skincare products Helichrysum essential oil helps reduce and prevent scars (including keloid scars and stretch marks), old or new, resulting from surgery or injury. The essential oil is easily incorporated in DIY skincare products to reduce inflammation and to soothe chronic dermatitis, eczema, psoriasis, acne and acne scarring. It is an ideal choice for repair of mature, sun damaged, or couperose skin.  Helichrysum hydrosol makes an excellent toner and can also be used to incorporate the amazing properties of Helichrysum in a lotion or cream.  You can purchase Helichrysum essential oil (in a base of Jojoba Oil) and the Hydrosol in the shop or online.

An alternative to Helichrysum is an herb called Gotu Kola (Centella asiatica). Gotu Kola lacks the beautiful fragrance of Helichrysum, but offers many of the same benefits when it comes to wound repair and tissue regeneration. Gotu Kola also has the advantage of being safe for internal use and promotes wound healing and tissue regeneration when used internally. It’s even helpful for varicose veins and cellulitis. A strong tea of Gotu Kola can also be incorporated in your DIY skincare products.  For more about Gotu Kola visit our blog, Tips for Radiant Skin from the Inside, Out.

There are many excellent herbs for radiant skin. Consider your age, skin type, and the current health of your skin. Visit this blog throughout the month for DIY skincare recipes incorporating a variety of herbs and essential oils, including those discussed here. If you’re eating a skin-healthy diet, getting plenty of rest and water, then incorporating herbs in your topical skincare routine is like icing on the cake!

Thanks so much for visiting us online. Our mission is to support you in making informed decisions about the use of herbs for a healthier, happier lifestyle. Please let us know how we can support you and serve you better.

Wishing you a beautiful summer and radiant health inside an out,
suzanne

Looking for more herbal inspiration?

Tips for Radiant Skin from the Inside, Out

Tips for Radiant Skin from the Inside Out

Are you spending a lot on pricey skincare products? Do you have a cabinet in your home loaded with half-used exfoliants, expensive moisturizers and anti-aging products that never delivered the promised results? Could it be that these topical approaches to healthy skin are, well, just that, topical, superficial? Only “skin deep”? While I love to treat my skin with coconut oil, essential oils, and other topical products, the fact is, healthy skin begins within. Radiant skin happens from the inside, not just the outside. Good nutrition, hormonal balance, immune function, adequate sleep, and stress all affect the health and appearance of your skin.

In this post I want to introduce you to some of the herbs that can be used internally to promote healthy skin. Whether you simply want more vibrant, youthful looking skin or are suffering from a skin condition like eczema, psoriasis, acne, or rosacea, an approach that focuses on health from the inside, especially optimal functioning of your digestive, detoxification, and immune systems will improve the health of your skin.

Why Does Skin Age?

As you age, substances that keep the skin firm and elastic like collagen and elastin, gradually decrease. Genetics play a role, but so do diet and lifestyle. Skin damage occurs as a result of oxidation, a chemical process in which unstable molecules called free radicals steal electrons from healthy cells. On the skin, oxidative stress may show up us as wrinkles, thickening, discoloration and loss of elasticity. By the way, free radical damage is not just limited to the skin cells. Free radicals degrade healthy cells throughout the body, can impact functioning of your DNA, and are a factor in most chronic diseases including cardiovascular disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease.

When it comes to skin, sun exposure and smoking are two of the most damaging causes of oxidative stress. If you smoke, stop. (and there are, of course, herbs to support you.) Sunlight, as enjoyable as it can be and important for Vitamin D production, is a form of radiation, specifically ultraviolet (UV) radiation. UV radiation leads to free radical damage and it can cause cells to mutate and turn cancerous.

So, what can you do to combat oxidative damage and help your skin stay firm and elastic? In short, a healthy diet, lots of water, rest, and herbs, of course!

A Skin-Healthy Diet

Given the basic science of skin health, one of the best things you can do for radiant skin is eat a skin-healthy diet. Skin is built from the inside out and draws its healthy glow from good nutrition. The best defense against free radical damage or oxidative stress is a diet rich in antioxidants. As the name makes clear, antioxidants combat oxidative damage by sacrificing their own electrons to feed free radicals, but without turning into free radicals themselves.

A diet rich in antioxidants is a balanced diet with lots of fresh high-quality, organic foods, especially fruits and vegetables. Fresh green leafy vegetables, carrots, squash, peppers, oranges, grapes and berries (blueberries, blackberries, raspberries) are all great sources of antioxidants as well as other essential vitamins and nutrients. Pecan and walnuts are also good choices. Wild Salmon is a good source of the antioxidant astaxanthin as well as Omega-3, an essential fatty acid that helps protect the skin from sun damage. Grass-fed meat and eggs are good sources of the important antioxidant known as glutathione.

And then there’s Water! Though it seems obvious, it bears repeating. A recent Center for Disease Control study found that 43% of Americans do not drink enough water. Water helps the body flush out toxins, supports the flow of vital nutrients into cells, and helps your organs function well. Plus, a well hydrated skin cell is plump and full, which will help your skin appear firm and clear. Though recommendations vary, the Institute of Medicine recommends at least 9 cups per day for women and 13 for men. (Keep in mind, caffeinated and alcoholic beverages don’t count because they increase urination.)

Herbs for Radiant Skin

When it comes to healthy skin, herbs offer multiple benefits. Herbs like Green Tea and Turmeric Root provide an excellent source of antioxidants. Other herbal antioxidants that also support healthy immune function include Astragalus Root, Panax Ginseng and Holy Basil.

Milk Thistle Seed supports your body’s detoxificationsystem and promotes your body’s production and utilization of the important antioxidant, glutathione. Milk Thistle is also of value for people with psoriasis due to its ability to promote healthy liver function (thereby reducing the load of circulating toxins) and inhibit inflammatory compounds that are one of the causes of the excessive skin cell replication seen in psoriasis. Sarsaparilla is also known to improve psoriasis and has a long history of use for chronic skin disorders. Burdock, Dandelion, Yellow Dock and Red Clover also support detoxification and are used for chronic skin conditions like acne, psoriasis, and eczema. You can find many of these herbs that support detoxification in our Balanced Detox Tea and Herbal Detox Extract

Gotu Kola A Special Herb for Healthy Radiant Skin

There are many herbs that will help you achieve radiant skin, but I want to give a special shout out to Gotu Kola (Centella asiatica) which offers something very special. Native to India, China, Australia and the South Pacific, Gotu Kola flourishes in and around water. Historically, the entire plant was used medicinally for wound healing, eczema, psoriasis and even leprosy. Pharmacological studies have demonstrated that Gotu Kola stimulates hair and nail growth, increases the integrity of the dermis (the inner layer of the skin), exerts a balancing effect on connective tissue, and promotes formation of hyaluronic acid.

What’s hyaluronic acid, you say? Well, from the recent media hype (and price), you might think hyaluronic acid is the latest and most important man-made invention. In fact, it is a naturally occurring compound present in large amounts in the spaces between skin cells, where it provides moisture, plumpness, firmness and suppleness to the skin. It is also present in the eyes and in the joint spaces, where it acts as a natural lubricant and ‘shock absorber.’ We are born with high levels of hyaluronic acid, which accounts for babies’ plump and smooth skin, but unfortunately, the body produces less and less hyaluronic acid over time.

In addition to promotion of hyaluronic acid, Gotu Kola also supportd production of collagen and elastin. It’s pharmacological activity makes it is a valuable agent for the skin and its documented clinical uses include support for burns, dermatitis, skin ulcers, and would healing. Used internally, extracts of Gotu Kola have demonstrated good results on cellulite and keloid scarring. Gotu Kola has also demonstrated positive effects on varicose veins, an effect attributed to its ability to enhance connective tissue structure surrounding the veins.

Gotu Kola’s ability to promote your body’s production of collagen, elastin, and hyaluronic acid make it a great choice for everyday support for radiant skin, combined of course with a skin healthy diet and lots of water. Gotu Kola can be used in tea, as a tincture, or in capsule form.

At Nectar, we incorporate Gotu Kola in our Radiant Skin Tea along with herbs that are gently detoxifying (Red Clover Blossoms, Nettles, and Dandelion Leaf), and herbs that provide the skin with vital nutrients (Horsetail and Nettles). We also offer Gotu Kola extract.

While we all love to put rich, natural, moisturizing products on our skin, keep in mind that healthy skin is largely an inside job. Eating a skin-healthy diet, drinking plenty of water, and supporting your body with herbs helps to create not only radiant skin, but radiant health. But whatever the appearance of your skin or the state of your health, remember that your true beauty is on the inside. My Mother who was a college beauty queen taught me that “beauty is on the inside.” She meant that kindness, generosity, and a loving heart make one beautiful. For me, this will be always the essence of beauty.
Thanks Mom ♡

To learn more about herbs for radiant skin, visit Part 2 of this series, Herbs for Topical Skincare.

Well Wishes,
suzanne

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Are You Brewing Your Loose Leaf Tea Properly?

You would be surprised how often I hear people say “I don’t like tea.” Seriously—that’s like saying “I don’t like food.”  But, I get it. If you’ve only experienced tea that came in tiny tea bags from a cardboard box, it probably tasted a lot like cardboard.

I love it when I can offer a brilliant cup of loose leaf tea to someone who says “I don’t like tea.”  I love to see the surprise and sense of wonder on their face as they experience the rich and complex flavors. That said, if you’ve only ever encountered tea in tea bags that came from a box, you may be unsure what to do with a loose leaf tea.

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Brewing a delicious cup of loose leaf tea starts with fresh, vibrant dried tea leaves or herbs and a little bit of “know how.” It’s really quite simple. Yes—it takes a little more time and intention, but the result is well worth it. Allowing yourself time to prepare your tea properly is an act of self-care and a practice of mindfulness and presence.

Tea is an act complete in its simplicity.
When I drink tea, there is only me and the tea.
The rest of the world dissolves.
There are no worries about the future.
No dwelling on past mistakes.
Tea is simple: loose-leaf tea, hot pure water, a cup.
I inhale the scent, tiny delicate pieces of the tea floating above the cup.
I drink the tea, the essence of the leaves becoming a part of me.
I am informed by the tea, changed.
This is the act of life, in one pure moment, and in this act the truth
of the world suddenly becomes revealed: 
all the complexity, pain, drama of life is a pretense, 
invented in our minds for no good purpose.  
There is only the tea, and me, converging.
Thích Nhất Hạnh

First, before we get in to brewing, let me clear up a little confusion around the term “tea.”

Is It Tea or Tisane?

Technically and officially the term “tea” refers to hot infused beverages made from the leaves of a plant known as Camellia sinensis or its closely related cousins. There are at least six unique types of tea from this one plant, including Green, Black, White, Oolong, Yellow, and Dark (or Pu-erh tea), all possessing caffeine in varying amounts. The distinctions in flavor, aroma, color and texture arise from different growing regions and farming techniques, harvest time, and production or crafting methods.

Then there are so-called “herbal teas,” technically not tea at all since they are made from herbs, spices, and berries, and barks rather than the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. Technically an “herbal tea” is a tisane (pronounced ti-ˈzan).  However, tisane is a word most people have never heard of. So, rather than geting all bound up in the nomenclature, I confess to using the term tea to refer to both the Camellia sinensis variety and tisanes. Please don’t turn me into the grammar police.

Brewing loose leaf teas can be a simple or complex as you want to make it. You can use a tea ball, or a simple strainer, a fancy teapots, or even a French-press (especially if you’re holding onto a retired French-Press from your coffee drinking days). Regardless of the tools you choose to use, what’s important is good circulation of the hot water around the tea leaves or herbs. Since most teas expand when they are immersed in hot water, be sure not to pack the herbs in too tightly, especially if you’re using a tea ball. This is one of the most common mistakes I hear about. I prefer to let the herbs roam freely in the pot or French-press and strain before drinking. More about that that below.

Now when it comes to brewing a delicious cup of loose leaf tea there is a big difference between Green, Black, Oolong and other true teas on the one hand and herbal teas on the other. Volumes could be written about the many subtle methods to brew the perfect cup of tea.  Proper water temperature and short steeping times from one to five minute are critical for Green, Black, Oolong and other true teas.  For this article however, I want to focus on the best way to brew loose leaf herbal teas since I find that many people are not doing it correctly and are missing out—not only on the rich and subtle flavors, but also on the therapeutic benefits of herbal teas.

 Is It an Infusion or a Decoction?

There are two basic methods for brewing loose leaf herbal teas—a third, if you combine the two.  The method you choose will have a major impact on flavor and the medicinal properties of the finished tea. In general, if your loose leaf tea is made up of the soft aerial parts of the plants—leaves and flowers, an infusion is the preferred method.  If your loose leaf tea is a blend of hard woody parts, roots, bark, berries, or seeds, a decoction is the preferred method. Of course there are exceptions to every rule, but more about that later.

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How to Make an Herbal Infusion

If you’ve ever dropped a tea bag in a cup of hot water and let it sit for a few minutes, you’ve made an infusion. That said, not all infusions result in a delicious cup of tea (remember all those people who say they don’t like tea), so there may be some room for improvement in your method. First, keep in mind that this method is best for loose leaf teas made up of the soft aerial parts of the plants—the leaves and flowers. Good examples of teas to be infused include Nectar’s Quiet Belly, Free & Easy, and Fit & Trim Green Tea. To prepare an infusion,

  1. Measure Your Herbal Blend: One tablespoon per cup (8 ounces) will generally make a full-flavored medicinal tea. If your blend was prepared by your herbalist or other practitioner, be sure to follow their instructions.
  2. Cover the loose herbs with just boiled water and place a cover on the cup or teapot.
  3. Allow to steep for at least 15 minutes! Yes—15 minutes—this will allow for a more thorough extraction of the flavor and therapeutic compounds.
  4. Strain and enjoy!

 How to Make an Herbal Decoction

The hard woody parts of plants generally need more heat to extract all of the flavor and active constituents. Herbal blends made up if roots, barks, seeds, and berries should be prepared as a decoction. Nectar Teas to prepare as a decoction include Stamina Builder, Immune Tonic, and Inner Calm teas. To prepare a decoction,

  1. Measure Your Herbal Blend: One tablespoon for two cups of water is generally a good measure. If your blend was prepared by your herbalist or other practitioner, be sure to follow their instructions.
  2. Place the loose herbal blend in a small sauce pan and add the water.
  3. Slowly bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover, and allow to simmer 15-20 minutes.
  4. Strain and enjoy!

There’s Always an Exception

There are some roots that don’t follow the general rule. These are roots that either contain a lot of mucilage or a lot of volatile oils—more commonly known as essential oils. Herbs that contain a lot of mucilage get thick and gummy when they get wet. Marshmallow Root and Slippery Elm are good examples. You can prepare these either as a decoction or infusion, but allowing them to steep overnight in cold water will extract the greatest amount of mucilaginous content which gives these medicinal plants their soothing properties.

Roots that contain essential oil are another exception. If you prepare them as a decoction, the simmering will cause more of the therapeutic essential oils to escape the tea.  Essential oils are great for the air, but when you prepare a tea with aromatic plants you’d like to capture as much of the volatile oils in the cup as possible. So, for roots like Ginger, Elecampane, and Valerian, I prefer to prepare them as an infusion, with a long steep time (20-30 minutes), being sure to keep a lid on the cup or teapot.

Any good medicinal tea should include instructions for preparation. If the cardboard box says to steep the tea bag in hot water for 3-5 minutes, skip it and find a good quality loose leaf tea.  Allow yourself time to prepare your tea well. Savor the warmth, the flavor and aromas.

Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis 
on which the world earth revolves--slowly, evenly,
without rushing toward the future.
― Thích Nhất Hạnh

What’s A Tincture And Why Would You Want One?

What is a Tincture?

You’ve seen all those little amber bottles with eyedroppers, right? Some people walk in to an herbal apothecary and wonder what they are. Others mistake them for essential oils.

Well, most of those little bottles are filled with tinctures. Tinctures are concentrated herbal extracts—a traditional and effective form of herbal medicine that holds its own in a world of hi-tech, highly processed supplements.

Tinctures are by definition alcohol based extracts. Alcohol acts as the solvent that draws the therapeutic compounds out of the plants, just as water is the solvent in an herbal tea. The alcohol also acts as a preservative, so most tinctures have a long shelf life. Most tinctures use a blend of alcohol, distilled water, and sometimes glycerin.

Today, the best tinctures use organic alcohol. When I first started making my own tinctures twenty years ago, organic alcohol was simply unavailable unless you where distilling it yourself. Times have changed, but the efficacy of tinctures has not.

The tincture bottle you see on the apothecary shelf may contain the extract of a single herb or a blend of herbs. Some practitioners, including Herbalists and Naturopathic Doctors, custom blend tinctures to meet the unique needs and healthcare goals of the individual.

Tinctures are usually taken two to three times daily in a small amount of water. They can also be added to a cup of tea or prepared as a tea simply by adding hot water. The hot water will also evaporate some of the alcohol.

Some people are concerned about the high percentage of alcohol in some tinctures. However, the total amount of alcohol consumed in a single use is very, very small. Consider that a single dose is usually less than a single teaspoon, and more often quantities for a single dose range from a few drops to ½ teaspoon. That said, some people abstain from alcohol completely—those in recovery, and others for religious, health, or personal reasons. For these individuals, tinctures are not the form of choice.

Glycerites are liquid herbal extracts made with glycerin, that share many of the same properties as tinctures. Glycerites can be an effective alternative for alcohol intolerant individuals. Their sweet taste also makes them a good choice for children.

Why Choose A Tincture?

 When it comes to using herbal medicine, there are many choices—teas, powders, capsules, essential oils, flower essences, and tinctures. I am often asked, “which is best?” Well the answer, is “it depends.” All forms have their purpose and place. In general, the best form is usually the one you are most likely to use consistently. Still, you might choose a tincture over another form for its convenience, taste, shelf life, or because it really is the most effective form for the herb you want to use.

whiskey row tincture

Convenience

Some people are not likely to make investment of time it takes to make a tea—think busy Moms who are home schooling their children, or people in their 50’s juggling work, teens, and caring for aging parents. For people who don’t have time to make a tea, tinctures can be an excellent choice. In other words, tinctures are more convenient for some people. I also like the convenience when I’m travelling and don’t have ready access to my hot water or my teapot.

Flavor

Another reason you might choose a tincture over a tea is flavor. Some herbs simply don’t taste good. Drinking a cup of foul tasting tea three times a day means some people are not likely to take their herbs as frequently as needed. If you don’t take them, they don’t work. Right! On the other hand, it’s much easier to swallow a dropperful of tincture in a small amount of water, even if it doesn’t taste good, than to down a whole cup of tea.

Shelf Life

You might also choose a tincture because it has a long shelf life, meaning it won’t go bad or lose its potency for a long time—at least three years and probably longer if properly stored. If you’re buying a tincture for your cold symptoms, odds are you’re not going to use it all up this cold season. The tincture however, should still be good next cold season. So, for herbs that you want to have on hand in your home medicine chest, but only use occasionally, the tinctured form is a good choice.

Efficacy

Finally, and this gets a little more technical here, you might choose a tincture over a tea, powder, or capsules because the tincture is more effective. Some herbs lose their potency when dried. For these plants, Herbalists prefer to prepare a tincture using the fresh plant. Good examples are Milky Oat Pods, Skullcap, and Feverfew. The tincture of the fresh plant is best for herbs like this. There are other medicinal herbs, Milk Thistle Seed for example, with therapeutic compounds that are not water soluble. For herbs like this the tincture will be more effective than a tea. (Another option is to ingest the whole powdered herb in a smoothie or added to food.) If you’re not sure, ask an Herbalist.

The next time you visit an apothecary and see all those little eyedropper bottles on the shelf—they’re TINCTURES—an convenient, stable, efficacious, and traditional form of herbal medicine.

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Simple Elder Berry Syrup Recipe for Immune Health

DELICIOUS + EFFECTIVE IMMUNE SUPPORT

Elder Berry (Sambucus nigra) also know as Black Elder Berry, is an immune stimulant with antiviral properties, traditionally used for cold and flu symptoms, including aches and pains, coughing, nasal congestion, mucous discharge and fever. This tasty berry makes a delicious syrup even your kids will like.  Though I love honey, in this recipe I prefer to use glycerin as excess sugar (even in the form of honey) has a negative impact on immune function.

This is a great syrup for cold and flu season.  It can be taken daily to ward off those pesky cold and flu viruses or in higher quantities at the first sign of a cold or flu.

Elder Berry for Immune Health

Simple Elder Berry Syrup Recipe:

Ingredients:

1 cup dried Elder berries
2.5 cups water
3/4 cup raw honey or glycerin to taste

Directions: Place the berries in a saucepan and cover with the water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer over low heat for 30-45 minutes. Remove from heat. Crush the berries as much as possible using a small jar or other tool. Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer (smashing and mashing as you go to get out all the juice). Add honey or glycerin, to taste. Bottle the syrup and store in the refrigerator, where it will keep for 2-3 months.

Recommended Use:

Acute:  Adults: 2 teaspoons 4 times daily; Children: 1 teaspoon 4 times daily
Prevention: Adults: 2 teaspoons daily; Children: 1 teaspoon daily

Simple and delicious.

be well, be happy, and and take your elder berry,
Suzanne Teachey
Herbalist & Proprietress
Nectar, A Modern Herbal Apothecary      

Herbal Immune Support for Winter Health

Prepping for the Winter?

While winter invites us to enjoy warm soup, hot tea, and quiet time in front of the fireplace, it also invites cold and flu viruses into our lives.

Research shows that many cold and flu viruses thrive in the cold dry winter air. Spending more time indoors may also foster the spread of these unwelcome guests. What to do? Herbs, of course, in addition to a healthy diet, exercise, plenty of rest, and frequent hand washing.

With tonic herbs that support the immune system and other herbs that offer natural relief from common cold and flu symptoms, you can enjoy the winter season without those unwelcome guests.

This week we will consider the herbal immune tonics that strengthen the body’s defense system and next week, those herbs that offer natural relief when cold or flu symptoms arise.

teaspoon of herbal adaptogens for immune support on wooden background

HERBAL IMMUNE SUPPORT WITH TONICS + ADAPTOGENS

The immune system is a complex network of specialized cells, tissues, and organs that protect the body from pathogens and rogue cells. Healthy functioning of the immune system is critical to our health, resistance to infection, and defense against certain diseases. As you may have discovered through personal experience, chronic stress suppresses the immune system’s ability to do its job, and increases our susceptibility to disease. This is where the herbal adaptogen comes into play.

Adaptogens are a remarkable and important category of herbs whose actions are unparalleled in medical science. Adaptogens help the body adapt to stress and restore balance. They increase the body’s resistance to physical, biological, emotional, and environmental stressors and modulate the immune system. They are considered tonics because they act in a generalized way to alleviate conditions of weakness in the body.

So, if you are under some unavoidable stress this winter, suffer from frequent colds, or are around people who are often sick, consider adding an herbal adaptogen to your daily self-care regime.

One important note about adaptogens–though they build strength in the body and can assist in the recovery from chronic illness, they are not recommended for use in the acute phase of a cold or flu. Consider their action more tonic and preventive.

4 HERBAL ADAPTOGENS FOR IMMUNE SUPPORT

Astragalus Root // This root is for people who are run-down and need an overall immune boost. Used for long term strengthening of the immune system, its antimicrobial activity may improve resistance to colds, flus, and bronchitis. In Chinese medicine, Astragalus is aid to strengthen the Lung qi, which is a protective energy that helps prevent illness caused by external forces. Astragalus is also used to counter the immune suppressive effects of chemotherapy treatment and possesses anti-tumor activity.


Eleuthero Root // Like Astragalus, Eleuthero is safe for long term use. It strengthens the immune system and research shows that regular use may reduce the incidence of colds and other common infectious diseases. Athletes also benefit from Eleuthero with increased endurance and stamina, shortened recovery time, and the prevention of immune-depletion from excessive training. Single parents and other people who work long hours, without adequate sleep are likely to feel better and perform better with Eleuthero.


Holy Basil //  Also known as Tulsi Basil, this adaptogen has been used for thousands of years in India and it’s benefits have now become the subject of modern clinical research. Today we know that this plant is stress reducing, anti-oxidant, modulates inflammation and has antiviral properties.


Licorice Root // This familiar, tasty root is used in small quantities to nourish the adrenals and combat fatigue. It also possesses immune-modulating, anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, and liver-protective properties. A note of caution-excessive quantities can elevate blood pressure.



And more…as I said these are just a few of my favorites of the diverse and versatile adaptogens.

Others adaptogens are American and Asian Ginseng, Ashwagandha, Reishi Mushroom, Schisandra, and Goji Berries.

There are many different forms in which you might choose to use these adaptogens-in teas, as tinctures (concentrated liquid extracts), capsules, and even as powders added to your morning smoothie. Choose the form that works best for you and your lifestyle.

Be well, be happy, and take your adaptogens!

Suzanne Teachey
Herbalist & Proprietress

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