May 5

Our Love to Mexico

There will be no sombrero or margaritas for us tonight.   There will be time spent scrolling through images of our recent trip to Mexico to feed the orphans.   Did I tell you about that?  I still cry almost every day.

In February Mr. C and I had the honor of escorting a delivery of Hope Puffs  to the orphanages of Mexico.   We stayed at former President Vicente Fox and Marta Fox’s hacienda.  It was a beautiful trip.   We saw beautiful sites.  We visited amazing cities.  But more importantly, we met the kids in the orphanages.  We met the kids who go to the Fox Center every day, to learn and to build a better life.  And we had the great privilege of hearing about how our donations are changing Mexico.  How we are making a difference.

You see, the people who live there don’t want a wall.  What they want is a country where there is enough to eat, enough to live on, and enough opportunity to want to stay in Mexico.  They want a place to call home where people don’t try to leave to find a better life.

One of the problems–and I know there are others, so don’t feel the need to correct me–is a cycle that starts in childhood.   Many kids there don’t get enough protein.   Without proper protein, brains don’t work well.   So they can’t focus and learn.  When they don’t focus and learn, they grow up lacking ability to create and pursue opportunity.   Without opportunity they lead a life of poverty.  With poverty comes more children.   Who don’t get enough protein.

When you go there and you see these kids, it’s very hard to look at Cinco de Mayo as a party date ever again.   Instead it’s a call to action date.   For us, it’s a day that now means we need to focus on Hope.  Hope Puffs, a protein-fortified cereal, to be exact.

We work with a company called Evolv.   We help people who have lost hope of ever feeling better do just that.   Joint issues, digestive issues, lung issues, anything inflammation-related… we help.  But more importantly, every time we help someone, we feed kids.   It’s a buy one/give one model that propels us forward every day.

Eradicating childhood malnutrition is our mission.  And it started, for us, in Mexico.  We have since started getting good nutrition to the kids in the poorest areas of the USA and we’ll soon move on and make our way all around the world.    7 Million kids a day will get their nutrition.  That’s the plan.   But today, for us, it’s all about the littles in Mexico.   Here’s some photos from our trip.   Enjoy.

Our Love to Mexico.  xoxoxoxo

March 30

Medical Actions of Herbs — Terminology You Need to Know

Part 3 of the Our Healthy Home Series is really just a bit of a dictionary of terms that you will run into and need to know before you start creating remedies, tonics and such.   The Medical actions of herbs are usually mentioned under “Actions” any time you do research on a particular herb.   If you don’t know what the words mean, however, you won’t get very far.   So here are some of the most common ones you will run into.

If you have not already read them please see Part One and Part Two and Part Three for important warnings, disclaimers and helpful getting started information before proceeding.

Following many of these descriptions are examples of herbs that can be used.   These are general guidelines.  You should always fully research every herb before use to be sure of its particular contraindications and warnings which are not listed here.IMG_2239

Alteratives — Typically referred to as blood cleaners or blood purifiers.  They help you liver and body take in nutrients and get rid of waste.   Some common ones:  Burdock Root, Dandelion leaf and root, Echinacea, Oregon Grape Root, Nettles, and Yellow Dock Root

Analgesics/Anodynes — reduce pain.  Some internally, others externally.  May also reduce pain by  providing anti-spasm actions and reducing cramping in muscles.   Examples:  Skullcap, Valerian, Chamomile, Clove

Anaphrodesiac — reduces sexual desire

Antacids — Neutralize excess acids in the stomach and intestines.  Examples:  Slippery Elm, Fennel Seed, Dandelion leaf and root, most seaweeds

Anthelmintic/ Parasiticides — Herbs that destroy or get rid of worms and parasites    Examples:  Aloe, Garlic, Chaparral, Wormwood, Thyme Oil, Tansy

Antiasthmatic —  relieve symptoms of asthma by dilating bronchioles and breaking up mucus.  Examples:  Lobelia, Mullein, Yerba Santa, Pleurisy Root, Comfrey leaf and root

Antibiotic — Stimulate the body’s immune system (and some may have direct germ killing ability).  Examples:  Echinacea, Golden Seal, Thyme

Anticatarrhals — Aid in elimination and prevention of  thick mucus build up.  Examples:  Ginger, Sage, Echinacea, Golden Seal, Garlic, Mullein, Yarrow

Anti-fungal — destroys or inhibits fungal growth

Antihistamine — chemical that blocks the action of histamine in the body

Anti-Lithic/Lithotriptics — Herbs that help prevent and eliminate urinary tract or billiard tract stones and gravel.  Examples:  Gravel root, parsley root, marshmallow root, cleavers, cornsilk, Oregon Grape Root

Antiseptics/ anti-microbial — herbs that help prevent the growth of bacteria and resist pathogenic microorganisms. They help the body strengthen its own resistance to infective organisms and throw off illness.   Examples:  Golden Seal, Chaparral, Calendula, Myrrh, Sage, garlic, and some essential oils such as Pine, Clove, and Thyme.

Antiperspirant — reduces sweating

Anti-spasmodics — ease cramps and muscle spasms.  Examples:  Cramp bark, Lobelia, Skullcap, Wild Yam, and Valerian

Antitussive —  relieves coughs

Aperitive — stimulates the appetite

Astringents — constrict tissue and reduce secretions and discharge.  Examples:  Witch Hazel Bark, Bayberry Bark, Oak Gall, Uva Ursi

Bitters — cause a reaction in the taste buds that then stimulates digestion.  Examples:  Gentian, Golden Seal, Horehound

Carminatives–  stimulate the digestive tract and calm the stomach.  Reduces inflammation in the stomach and intestines.  Help to rid the body of excess gas.  Examples:  Angelica, Anise, Cardamon, Ginger, Dill, Cayenne, Peppermint

Cholagogue — promotes the flow of bile

Demulcents — Soothing and healing for irritated and inflamed tissue.  Examples:  Comfrey, Slippery Elm, Licorice, Chickweed, Aloe, Mullein, Oatmeal

Diaphoretics– Induce sweating (when taken hot) to bring down high fevers.  When given cold they act as diuretics instead.  Examples:  Yarrow, Catnip, Ginger, Peppermint

Diuretics–  Increase the flow of urine.  Examples:  Parsley, Cleavers, Bochu, Dandelion, Nettles, Yarrow

Emmenagogues — Promote Menstrual flow and bring on the cycle.  Tonics for the female system.  Examples:  Pennyroyal, Rue, Black Cohash, Angelica, Blessed Thistle, Motherwort, Yarrow

Emolients — Applied externally for softening and soothing skin.  Examples:  Flax seed, Slippery Elm, Comfrey, Chickweed

Expectorants–  help to expel mucus.  Examples:  Eucalyptus, Elecampane, Lobelia, Coltsfoot

Febrifuge — reduces or prevents fever

Galactogogues — Increase mother’s milk secretion.  Examples:  Fennel, Blessed Thistle, Raspberry

Hallucinogenic — causes visions or delusions

Hepatics — Herbs that help the liver.  They tone, strengthen, and increase bile flow.  Examples:  Dandelion, Oregon Grape Root, Golden Seal, Yellow Dock.

Hemostatics– Help Stop Hemorrhaging and internal bleeding.  Can also include astringents.  Examples:  Cayenne, Yarrow, Shepherds Purse, White Oak Bark

Laxatives —  Promote Bowel Movement.  Examples:  Cascara Sagrada, Senna, Flax seed, Rhubarb root

Nervines — calm, strengthen, and tone the nervous system.  Examples:  Catnip, Chamomile, Oat Straw

Pectorals– General healing and strengthening of the respiratory system.  Examples:  Coltsfoot, Elecampane, Mullein, and Licorice

Rubefacients — Stimulates dilation of the capillaries of the skin causing reddening and warming of the skin.  They draw inflammation and congestion from deeper tissue.  Increase circulation.  Examples:  Cayenne, clove, ginger, mustard

Sedatives — Reduce stress and nervous disorders.  Sleep aid.  Examples:  Valerian, Passion Flower, Chamomile, Skullcap

Sialagogues — stimulate salivation.  Aid in digestion.   Examples:  Cayenne, Black Pepper, Ginger

Spasmolytic — relieves spasm of the smooth muscle

Stimulants — Increase energy of the body.  Examples:  Cayenne, Peppermint, Ginseng, Sage, Horseradish

Styptics — Reduce or stop external bleeding.  Examples:  Yarrow, Cobwebs, Shepherd’s Purse

Sudorific — causes sweating

Tonics– strengthen and nourish specific organs of the body.  Usually will have general effect on the entire body however.  Examples:  Ginseng, Nettle, Dandelion, Raspberry Leaf

Vulneraries — Promote cell growth and repair.  Helps stop bleeding and heals wounds. Examples:  Aloe, Comfrey, Golden Seal, Chickweed, Calendula, St. John’s Wort.

March 7

How to Prepare Herbal Remedies

Welcome to part three of our Healthy Home series– How to Prepare Herbal Remedies.  Preparing Herbal RemediesIn part one, we talked about herbalism basics and went over some important precautions. In our part two we talked about how to know which herbs to choose.  In this post we will discuss some basic herbal preparation techniques.

There are many different ways to use herbs for your herbal remedies including poultices, sachets, infusions, tinctures, teas, decoctions, and ointments to name a few.  Today we will talk about infusions, teas, and decoctions as those are the basic procedures that many of the other remedies build from.

First a reminder that you should not use copper or aluminum pots or utensils to prepare any herbal, and of course, it goes without saying that you should be very familiar with the herbs you are using and your intensions with them.  Make sure they do what you want them to do and ONLY what you want them to do.  Also be aware of any changes that combining different herbs together can cause with their effects.

Alright, let’s start with teas.  Teas can also be called infusions or Tisanes (pronounced like Tiz-ann with a short i and a short a).  They can also be called “a little cup of heaven” in my humble opinion.  I love a nice cup of tea almost as much as I love a cup of soup.  For many of the same reasons.  They are soothing and relaxing and comforting.  Herbal teas are less popular than they used to be.   People are typically in too much of a rush to prepare a cup of tea much less to actually sit and drink one.  They’d rather use a quicker remedy like a tincture (add a couple of drops to your water bottle and be on your way.)  But it’s too bad because teas can be much more effective for chronic ailments than tinctures.  So don’t forget about them.  Keep them in your arsenal.

How Much Herb to Use and How often to Drink it

The general rule of thumb when preparing teas/infusions is to use 1 teaspoon of dried herb to 1 cup of water.   Or for fresh herbs (always preferred for teas if you can get them!*) use 2 tablespoons of fresh herb to each 1 cup of water.   Having said that, you can always adjust for taste, assuming you are using herbs that have been deemed safe and non toxic.  (As you should always do.)
*there are a few herbs that must be dried before use: Cascara Sagrada and Orris Root, and some believe Elderberries as well.   As always, be sure to research your herbs before use.

If you are making a tea that will require you to drink several cups throughout the day, it is perfectly fine to make a quart of tea in the morning and drink it room temperature or reheat it throughout the day (2-3 tablespoons per quart water.)  Teas should ideally be prepared fresh daily but they will keep for a few days if refrigerated.  If it tastes flat or different, it’s too old.  Throw it away.

Tea made just for enjoyment has no set dosage.  Make and enjoy as you see fit.  Medicinal teas, however, should be used with consistency.  For a chronic health problem, for example, you may want to make a quart every day and have 3 or 4 cups throughout the day, five or six days a week for up to four months at a time.  It is a good idea to take breaks between 4-month courses to insure that your body doesn’t get immune to the effects.    It is fine to try a different herb that has the same effect during those in-between times.

For acute health problems (recent onset, of a more serious nature, reaching crisis level), you will want to sip teas in smaller, more frequent doses such as 1/4 cup every half hour until you feel like the symptoms are subsiding.  (Fever or asthma flare, for example.)

INFUSIONS– typically used to prepare leaf and flower herbs (but sometimes also roots and barks that contain high amounts of volatile oils such as in Valerian and Golden Seal).

There are three methods for preparing an infusion:

(1) Place the herbs in a container that has a tight-fitting lid available (like a mason jar).  Pour boiling water over them then cover.  Allow to steep for 10 – 20 minutes.   Strain.IMG_2219

(2) If you need a stronger infusion, place the herb in a pan of cold water.  Very very slowly bring water to just before the boiling point.  You will see lots of tiny bubbles starting to form and rise up.  Remove from heat.  Let stand 5-20 minutes depending on how strong you want your brew.   Strain.

(3)  Use either method above but allow to steep over night.  This will make the strongest infusion possible.

DECOCTIONS– Typically used to prepare non leaf or flower part herbs that can be more difficult to break down.   Roots, barks, nuts, non-aromatic seeds, etc.  Except as noted above for herbs with high levels of volatile oils.

 There are also three methods to prepare decoctions:

(1) Bring the water to a boil then add the herb.  Gently simmer for 15 or more minutes, keeping tightly covered at all times to retain the nutrients that could escape with the steam.  Remove from heat and strain.

(2) Put herb(s) in cold water, then slowly bring to boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for 15 – 20 minutes, keeping covered.  Strain.IMG_2221

(3) Brew as above in either 1 or 2, but allow to steep overnight before straining.  This will, of course, result in the strongest type of decoction.

NOTE!  You can often use the same batch of roots, barks, nuts, or seed to make a few batches of remedy.  Each batch will get a little less strong, but can still be useful.    I like to make Elderberry tea with my leftover herbs after making my winter elixirs.  So good!

COMBINATION METHOD

Sometimes you will need to prepare a remedy that contains both leaves/flowers and roots/barks.  If you have purchased a pre-blended kit and you can’t separate leaves from roots, decoct the blend as described above and then when you are done, add a little more of the fresh herbal blend to the pot.  Allow it to infuse as described above in infusion section.

If it is not pre-blended, decoct roots first.  Turn off heat.  Add leaves and infuse.

Next post we will begin to discuss some herbs that are good for headaches, tension, and the nervous system.  Those herbs are called nervines.  If you would like to get a jump on preparing your Materia Medica for those, begin with these varieties:   Skullcap (Scullcap), Valerian, Chamomile, Lobelia, Wood Betony, Catnip, Hops, and St. John’s Wort.  See you then!

March 3

This Herb? That Herb? Which Herb is a Good Herb?

Welcome back to part 2 of the Our Heathy Home Series.   ChooseHerbsToday we are talking about where to find those herbs that you need and how to know which to pick. This Herb? That Herb? Which Herb is a good herb?  Just like not all apples are the same, not all herbs are the same.  There are different kinds, mass produced, organic, wildcrafted, home grown, yada yada yada.   It was all gibberish to me.  Thankfully it’s one of the first things we went over in our class.

Let me begin with this.   You know how you can get a giant bag of herbs on those internet shopping sites for cheap money?  Yeah.  Let’s talk about those.  It turns out that almost all commercial quality herbs that come into the United States come through just a few tonnage warehouses located on our coasts.  While in storage awaiting FDA inspection they are sprayed repeatedly with insecticide to keep the insects away.  That’s after being grown in other countries where they were sprayed with heavy doses of toxic sprays (which, by the way have been banned in the US because they are so toxic). Oh but that’s not all.

They are harvested all at the same time.  Even if some of them aren’t at peak harvest time.  They are dried in excessively high heat to speed up the drying process, breaking down some of the beneficial oils and such that make them useful in the first place.  Then, by the time they make it to our ports they sit in warehouses for months on end, further losing their effectiveness.

Long story short, avoid those.  They are no good.

IMG_2240The very best way to get great quality herbs is to grow your own or find them growing in the wild and harvest them there. (Get a field guide or two for your area.  Peterson makes great ones.)  If that isn’t an option for you, then use your discretion.  Find a local apothecary who carries organic and/or wildcrafted herbs.  Go ahead.  Do an internet search.  You may be surprised to find that you have one nearby.  Buy from small businesses run by herbalists, and buy as local as you can.   Or, if you are unable to find what you need in your own area, purchase from a high-quality seller like one of these:

Avena Botanicals
http://www.avenabotanicals.com

Ryan Drum herbs
http://www.ryandrum.com

Native Herb & Honey Co.
http://www.nativeherbsandhoney.com

Gaia Herbs
http://www.gaiaherbs.com

No matter where you get your herbs though, you want to make sure they are of good quality.   Typically if someone complains that an herbal remedy didn’t work well it is because of expired or low-quality herbs. So how can you tell if an herb is good or not?  Simple.  They should look, smell, and taste almost exactly as they did when they were fresh.   If it was green when it was first picked, it should be green when dry.  If it was a yellow flower, it should still be a yellow flower.   Your herbs should not all be brown.

And they should be effective.   Here are you basic guidelines for choosing this herb or that herb:

COLOR:  Vivid, bright colors.   Your greens should be bright green.   Comfrey, mints, etc. should have the color of the plants growing in the ground.   Flowers–chamomile, calendula, rose buds should all have the same colors as when they were in bloom.  Even roots should retain their original colors.  Golden seal should be bright green.  Echinacea should be grey/brown.  Yellow Dock root should be yellowish brown.

SMELL:  Have you ever smelled a good valerian root?   Oh, you’ll know.   It smells exactly like dirty feet. VERY dirty feet.  That’s how you know it’s fresh.  Yeah.  Not all herbs smell good.  The world of natural medicine is not all lavender and peppermint, my friends.   For our class we were given samples of many herbs and that Valerian stunk up my entire car.  Anyway…. moving on…  Your herbs should smell strongly of their natural smell.  Not faded.  Not moldy.  Good peppermint will make your eyes water.  All good herbs should have a distinctive aroma.  Some will just smell like grass or leaves.  That’s okay as long as it’s strong and fresh.

TASTE:  Just like smell, not all herbs taste wonderful, but all herbs should taste distinctive.  They should taste potent.  If it tastes like old straw, it’s probably expired.

EFFECT:  They should work effectively.  If you make a remedy and it doesn’t work, be suspect of quality first.  Don’t discount your remedy.  It is likely that the herb was too old.

IMG_2239Herbs will rapidly lose their potency if not stored properly.  Herbs don’t like heat, air, moisture, or light.   They prefer to be stored in tightly sealed glass jars, dark glass if you can find them.   Some folks also store them in tins, paper bags, or boxes, but those are not the best options.  If you are going to store them in tins or boxes, at least line them with wax paper, I’m told.  Paper bags are fine for short term storage or travel.  The worst options are in plastic or plastic bags.  Bad things leach out of plastic and it’s terrible for the environment.  Avoid it if you can.  (Having said that, if you buy in bulk, it will likely arrive in big plastic bags.  Just transfer it asap.)

As pretty as they are, don’t store your herbs near your stove or on open shelving near a window.  Heat and light will deteriorate them quickly.   If you don’t think this is true, think about how different a recipe tastes when you use a fresh herb compared to one of those mass produced dry herbs.   Right?  right.  Closet.  Find a closet.   I am keeping mine in a hutch but I am tinting the hutch windows with an indigo blue window tint.  I could have used amber too, but my kitchen is blue.

Labels

Once you find your herbs and transfer them to their storage jars, you will want to label them.   On the back of each of my jars is a label that contains:

Name of Herb
Botanical Name
Date Purchased or harvested
Wildcrafted?  Organic?
Cautions (what shouldn’t you use this for/with)

Don’t skip this step.  Ever ever.  Ever.

SHELF LIFE

The general rule of thumb that nobody knows where it came from because it seldom applies is (a) leaves and flowers can keep for a year and (b) roots and barks can keep for up to 2-3 years.  But having said that, always use your Color, Scent, Taste, Effect tests to be sure your herbs are good.  If you check some flowers after a year and they still seem to be good, they are.  Don’t throw them away.

YOUR REFERENCE GUIDES

I love making lists and organizing things, so this is my 2nd favorite part.  I love looking at the jars and next I love writing about and keeping track of what’s in them.  For this you will need two things.

You will compile a Materia Medica Reference.  (Sounds so Harry Potter, right?)
This is a reference binder with info about your herbs.   Each page of your reference file should contain this info:

Herb Common Name
Herb Latin Name
Family

Description:  (Plant description)
Habitat:  (Where is it found?)
Parts Used:  (Leaves? Flowers? roots? Bark?)
Actions:  (Sedative? Stimulant? What does it do?)
Medicinal Uses:  (Headache? Stomach upset? what?)
Applications/Dosages: (decoctions? Infusion? Tincture? poultice?
Warnings/Contraindications:
Photo/Picture

Here is a photo of one of my pages.  You may need to click on it to enlarge.

IMG_2241   IMG_2242

You will also want to keep a card file box as sort of a cross reference.  Your card file box will be arranged by Medical Need.  For example, you will have a file marked “Headache” or “Upset Stomach” for example.    You will build this file as you go along.  In each file you will include the recipe for what you used and notes on how it worked.    So for example, under “Common Cold” I might have my Elderberry Elixir Recipe and notations about the results of using it.

Only after you have built up a nice Materia Medica and a Herbal Remedies Reference box will you begin to have a very good idea about which herbs to use for which illnesses.    It takes time and research and practice.   Consider this a life-long hobby.

 

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