Valerian is a plant with mild sedative properties that is sold as a sleeping aid and to treat anxiety. But does it work? In the United States (U.S.), valerian dietary supplements are usually sold as sleeping aids. In Europe, people more often take them for restlessness and anxiety. There are actually over 250 valerian species, […]
A plant extract used for centuries in traditional medicine in Nigeria could form the basis of a new drug to treat Alzheimer’s disease, researchers at The University of Nottingham have found.
Their study, published in the journal Pharmaceutical Biology, has shown that the extract taken from the leaves, stem, and roots of Carpolobia lutea, could help to protect chemical messengers in the brain which play a vital role in functions including memory and learning.
The tree extract could pave the way for new drugs to tackle patient symptoms but without the unwanted side-effects associated with some current treatments.
The study was led by Dr. Wayne Carter in the University’s Division of Medical Sciences and Graduate Entry Medicine, based at Royal Derby Hospital. He said: “As a population, we are living longer, and the number of people with dementia is growing at an alarming rate. Our findings suggest that…
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There are few things a sprig of thyme won’t make immensely better. This versatile herb blends well with a myriad of flavors and is packed full of health-promoting compounds, vitamins, antioxidants, and other nutrients.
Thyme belongs to the genus Thymus which is part of the mint family and closely related to oregano—another powerful herb. Native to the Southern Mediterranean regions, this perennial herb is now grown around the world for its culinary and therapeutic uses. While this herb will liven up your cooking, thyme may also help expel harmful organisms from your body and support your mental and physical health.
What Is Thyme?
Thyme is an evergreen herb that blooms with small white, pink, and purple flowers. They hybridize easily and grow quickly in sunny areas with well-drained soil. Thanks to its ease of cultivation and growth, there are over 300 varieties of thyme in existence today. Each variety has…
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Cedarwood essential oil has a steady, reassuring strength.
It’s versatile, gentle, and powerful. It offers support in a wide range of blends, from respiratory inhalers to skin care creams, and both adults and children love its warm, woody aroma. Something about Cedarwood reminds me of sitting on a park bench under the shelter of a tall cedar tree.
In the blends below, I’m using three different Cedarwood essential oils: Cedrus atlantica, Cedrus deodara, and Juniperus virginiana. These three Cedarwoods are often good substitutes for each other, but I’ve included the Latin name in each blend so you’ll know exactly which Cedarwood I’m using.
1. Cedarwood connects us with our calm inner strength.
Cedarwood essential oil has the ability to see us through tough times. It can help us move steadily and securely through long projects . . . or through long, cold (sometimes dark) seasons like winter.
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Patchouli has a reputation for being peaceful, even in the face of conflict, and connecting us with the earth.
It’s all about calm, ease, and natural beauty.
In my mind, Patchouli’s mental and emotional effects are reflected in what it can do for our bodies. It calms inflammation, soothes anxiety, reduces bacteria, is astringent, and helps skin to heal.
The recipes in this Spotlight showcase Patchouli’s talents nicely!
Patchouli essential oil a perfect ingredient for natural acne relief blends.
This recipe is popular with boys, who I’ve found don’t often gravitate toward floral fragrances (but girls love this blend, too!).
You can make this in a 1 oz (30 ml) flip-top bottle:
- 1 oz (30 ml) aloe vera gel (Aloe barbadensis)
- 5 drops Patchouli (Pogostemom cablin)
- 5 drops Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
- 3 drops Tea Tree (Melaleuca alternifolia)
- 2 drops Lemon (Citrus…
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|by Lucia Santos|
Dubbed as the “primo-vascular system” by the scientists at Seoul National University, Meridians are a channel system that carries and distributes qi (energy) and blood. These Meridians work as conduit for energy to organs, endocrines, and body parts. Acupuncture, acupressure, and Reiki work with these meridians to remove any sort of blockage or imbalance in the body.
There are 12 primary paired meridians and two single mid meridians; six of them are yang (which is male and active) and the rest are yin (which are female and passive). The yang meridians run down the body while the yin meridians flow up the body. Each meridian is related to the elements of Earth, Metal, Fire, Wood or Water, which gives us the tools for treating imbalances that come from a lack or surplus of certain channels.
The most interesting fact is that each meridian is extremely active at a certain time of the day or night. For example, from 3AM to 5AM the qi (energy) is flowing through the Lung Meridian and later on enters the Large Intestine Meridian from 5-7Am, and then the Stomach Meridian from 7-9AM. The meridian cycle is continuous as the qi or energy flows throughout the body. If you’re curious about finding out more about the Qi Current, check out this interesting post.
Also, since sickness can happen when there’s a blockage of energy or when the ying and yang balance (also known as the male and female balance) in our bodies is disturbed. These meridians can show how an imbalance in an organ can cause symptoms in a completely different area of the body.
The twelve meridians are named according to their corresponding organs, these include:
- Three arm yin meridians which focuses on the lungs, pericardium, and heart
- Three arm yang meridians that focuses on the large intestine, triple burner, and small intestine.
- Three leg yang meridians which focuses on the stomach, gallbladder, and the bladder
- Three leg yin meridians that focuses on the spleen, liver, and kidney.
These twelve meridians make up the majority of the Meridian system and are known as the regular or principal channel. As mentioned before, there are various methods that will help balance the body such as Reiki, Acupuncture, Acupressure, and Yoga.
Meridians show that the human body is connected to the elements, the energetic structure and flow of energy at a cellular and physical level. It’s also said that Earth has energetic pathways or ley lines that are similar to the meridians in our bodies.
Cocklebur – Xanthium spinosum, X. strumarium
Parts used: burrs
Traditional uses: Infusion of root given to induce vomiting. Roots chewed for rattlesnake bite. Plant used for the kidneys. Decoction of seeds used for bladder ailments.
Tea used for rheumatism – “A tea made by boiling cockleburs in water is another remedy for rheumatism.” ~Randolph OMF 108
Used in love divinations – “Another girl picks a cocklebur, names it for her lover, and throws it against her skirt; if it sticks, she knows that her lover is true to her, if it doesn’t stick she thinks he is false.” ~Randolph OMF 172
Tea made for cold – “We always drank cocklebur tea for a cold. Dried burs, boil them in water, put a little sugar in it, strain them and drink it.” ~Carter and Krause HRIO
Used for coughs – “Boil ripe cuckleburrs. Make a tea out of the juice. Add enough sugar to make a syrup.” ~Parler FBA II 1970
For gall bladder – “Drink a quart of cockle-burr…tea each day for gall-bladder trouble.” ~Parler FBA II 2289
For kidney stones – “Take dry kickleburrs and place them in a stone jar. Then fill the jar with water (hot but not boiling) and set on stove next to fire. Let them simmer for 2 to 3 hours and then drain juice into jug. Take 1 tablespoon full 3 times per day for kidney stones.” ~Parler FBA III 2592
For kidney health – “Cucklebur…tea is good for kidneys.” ~Parler FBA III 2593
With alcohol and glycerin for tuberculosis – “To cure tuberculosis take dry cockleburrs, alcohol, and glycerin. Cook down and drink the water of it. You will spit up the T.B.” ~Parler FBA III 3474
Carter, Kay & Bonnie Krause Home Remedies of the Illinois Ozarks (HRIO)
Moerman, Daniel E. Native American Ethnobotany (NAE)
Parler, Mary Celestia Folk Beliefs from Arkansas (FBA)
Randolph, Vance Ozark Magic and Folklore (OMF)
Spicy, lemony shrub with its rich history needs a reintroduction into the kitchens and medicine cabinets of North America.
It can be found from Maine to Florida, as far west as Kansas, and in parts of Texas. It is happiest just inside the edge of the forest but can successfully be grown out in the open with strong attention to its watering. The bush has a long American history that is enjoying a bit of a renaissance.
When European settlers first arrived in the Americas, they would have had to struggle with many elements of homesickness — particularly the loss of familiarity with the plants around them. Seeds were surely transported, and some even thrived in the New World, but many of the plants that colonists depended on for food, medicine, dye, and textiles had to be left behind. This meant that settlers needed to quickly understand which plants could serve as substitutes for lost staples.
If you’re in a strange place and need to know the landscape, the logical thing to do is to ask the natives. One of the important plants the Cherokee people taught early settlers about was spicebush. Spices have moved humans from place to place, started civilizations, and founded empires. Here on the temperate shores of the U.S., the bright spices cinnamon and ginger don’t grow, but we’ve always had milder and cooler substitutes. Spicebush berries can be used as a replacement for allspice, and the powdered bark makes a serviceable cinnamon.
Spicebush is known as fever bush, Benjamin bush, snap-wood, wild allspice, Appalachian spice, spicewood, and “forsythia of the forest” to name a few. Beyond its culinary use, Native Americans taught the settlers about the ways they used spicebush as a medicine. This native population used the leaves, bark, berries, and sap in various ways. Internally, they prized the plant for its diaphoretic properties, or its ability to induce sweating. Native people used spicebush to ease colds, cough, fever, and measles. Externally, they used oil from the pressed berries to ease the pain of arthritis. They used all parts of the plant interchangeably as compresses (external applications of cloth soaked in tea) for rashes, itching, or bruises, and they also used it to remove internal parasites.
Soon, the colonies began to expand, and many itching to explore the West. As they walked, they deepened their relationship with spicebush. Paul Strauss, in his book The Big Herbs, tells us that chewing on the twigs will quench thirst and moisten the mouth. In this way, spicebush walked with the settlers, many of whom were traveling with their families as they moved toward a farm they’d bought, sight unseen. Spicebush was associated with rich soil and easy access to the water table. If the surveyor said that the shrub was on the land in question, it was a safe bet for a successful farm.
Over time, the Americas’ access to the hot and intense spices of the East became easier. Medical advancements yielded awareness of plants with healing properties, and then modern drugs left the need for many plants behind. Spicebush was left alone in the woods to quietly feed the insects and animals that depend on it for survival. Only now are we coming back to an awareness of its presence?
Spicebush is now a featured member of Slow Food USA’s Ark of Taste. Many are stepping back into the dappled shade of the forest’s edge to become reacquainted with this shrub. Spicebush is fond of moist soils along streams or in rich woods. It grows between 6 and 12 feet high. At its base, one often finds some of the most endangered of our medicinal plants, such as black cohosh, ginseng, false unicorn, goldenseal, and wild yam. In March and April, just before the leaves emerge, it sports pale yellow blooms that are a great early source of nectar for bees. The male and female blooms arise on separate shrubs. When the leaves appear, they are opposite, simple, smooth, and oval to oblong with a spicy, aromatic smell when crushed. In fall, the leaves turn a beautiful yellow that contrasts sharply with the red spicebush fruit. This fruit is an oval-shaped drupe containing one large seed. It’s bright, glossy red, and spicy when ripe in August through September.
In winter, after all the fruit has been eaten, you can identify the spicebush based on the gray to an olive-green color of the stems, which have a spicy smell when broken. The leaf scars are crescent-shaped, and both young stems and old bark are dotted with pale lenticels (raised pores where oxygen and carbon dioxide are exchanged). Spicebush spreads as a colony, by its roots. If you have a friend with an expanding group of spicebush, late fall is a great time to dig up some of the colony and move it to your house.
Growing spicebush is relatively easy, provided you have a good spot. Plants can be grown in full sun if you water them often and provide a rich soil with plenty of leaf compost. After they get established, they require little in the way of pruning or animal-proofing (deer don’t like them). You can just sit and enjoy the constant visual interest and all the other wildlife your spicebush will attract. The real problem will be deciding exactly which recipe you’d like to use with the leaves, twigs, and fruit your shrub will provide.
Uses for Spicebush
As a supplement, almost all parts of spicebush can be used in food and medicinal preparations. Spicebush bark’s antifungal capacities were demonstrated in a 2008 study that showed its activities against both Candida albicans and the fungus that causes athlete’s foot. To use the bark in this way, either make a tincture or simmer (decoct) the root in water for 15 to 20 minutes.
The entire shrub is high in volatile oils, making all parts of the plant likely effective at settling the stomach when made into a tea. The leaves are especially good as a tea and should be picked while glossy and green. The twigs can be picked to add to a tasty medicinal brew at any time of the year. If you’re hoping to have a cleansing sweat or break a fever, brew your tea for 30 minutes (4 ounces twigs to 1-quart water) and serve hot.
If you wish to use the berries, the possibilities for food as medicine are endless. Berries are ripe around the same time as apples, so think of the potential combinations! Dry berries in a dehydrator, and store them on a shelf or immediately freeze them. Some people cut the seed out of the middle before freezing, but I think that’s unnecessary and potentially removes some of the flavors. You’ll need to run unblanched, frozen berries through the food processor before adding them to a dish. Dried spicebush berries can be ground with a spice-dedicated coffee grinder. Try adding the resulting powder or pulp to coffee, cookies, chai tea, cobblers, curries, and more.
Spicebush is a strong part of our country’s past — but why keep it there? With so much to offer our landscape and even more to bring to our pantry and apothecary shelves, it deserves another look by all who enjoy a little history in the garden.
Spicebush Seed and Plant Sources
Fever Chai with Spicebush
Relieve typical fever symptoms, or make without milk to soothe fever caused by respiratory illnesses.
Fever Chai can bring some relief to fever symptoms, but you may make it without the milk for someone who’s experiencing a fever related to a respiratory illness, as milk can exacerbate symptoms of congestion.
• 8 whole cloves
• 8 spicebush berries
• 7 twigs spicebush (broken to equal about 2 ounces)
• 2 sticks cinnamon (smashed)
• 1 cardamom pod
• 1 tablespoon fresh sliced ginger
• 1/2 star anise
• 2 cups water
• 4 to 6 cups milk (or almond milk)
• 2 tablespoons black tea
• Sugar or honey to taste
1. Crush all the spices lightly with a mortar and pestle and place them into a saucepan.
2. Cover the spices with water and bring to a boil.
3. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes or until the water has reduced by half.
4. Add the milk to the saucepan and bring back almost to a boil.
5. Remove from heat. Add the black tea, cover, and steep for 5 minutes before straining.
6. While still warm, add sugar or honey to taste, and then use a milk frother to whip your chai.
7. Serve immediately.
Wild Allspice Java Rub with Spicebush
This sweet and spicy rub is the perfect addition to steak, brisket, or pork.
This rub is best on a grilled steak or brisket but also works well with pork.
• 5 tablespoons ground coffee
• 2 tablespoons coarse salt
• 2 tablespoons brown sugar
• 2 tablespoons paprika
• 2 teaspoons freshly ground pink peppercorns
• 2 teaspoons garlic powder
• 2 teaspoons ground spicebush berries
• 1 teaspoon ground cumin
• 1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1. Combine all ingredients and place in an airtight container.
2. This mix is shelf-stable but should be used within 6 months.
Chestnut – Castanea dentata, C. pumila
Parts used: bark, leaf, nut
Traditional uses: Compound decoction of leaves used as cough syrup. Leaves from young sprouts dipped in hot water and put on sores. Cold, compound infusion of bark used to stop bleeding after childbirth. Infusion of year old leaves taken for heart trouble.
“In some places Chestnut leaves are used as a popular remedy in fever and ague, for their tonic and astringent properties. Their reputation rests, however, upon their efficacy in paroxysmal and convulsive coughs, such as whooping-cough, and in other irritable and excitable conditions of the respiratory organs. The infusion of 1 OZ. of the dried leaves in a pint of boiling water is administered in tablespoonful to wine glassful doses, three or four times daily.” ~Grieve MH
Leaves used for coughs – “Chestnut leaves syrup is good for cough when seeped as tea.” ~Parler FBA II 1951
Bark tea for hives – “Chinquepin bark tea sweetened with honey will cure hives.” ~Parler FBA II 2466
Bad luck to burn – “If you burn chinquapin wood, it will cause bad luck or a death in the family.” ~Parler FBA XIV 11262
Grieve, Margaret A Modern Herbal (MH)
Moerman, Daniel E. Native American Ethnobotany (NAE)
Parler, Mary Celestia Folk Beliefs from Arkansas (FBA)
Guide to make your own simple, effective herbal remedies
Making our own herbal medicines and body care products can save money and improve our health, and it’s much easier than you may think. If you already make herbal teas, then making infusions, decoctions, tinctures, salves and poultices can quickly become part of your repertoire, too. Don’t worry if they sound confusing; you’ll soon discover how to prepare a variety of plants to make a range of simple but effective herbal medicines.
One very important note before you begin making herbal medicines: Always make sure you are using the correct plant (check the Latin name) and the correct part of the plant (flower, leaf, roots), as some parts may be toxic if used internally.
Making herbal tea may seem fairly straightforward, but to reap the greatest medicinal value from herbs, we need to do more than dunk a tea bag in hot water. There are two main forms of herbal tea: infusions and decoctions.
Infusions: Infusions are the commonly known form of herbal tea, in which herbs are literally infused in hot water, usually one heaping teaspoon of dried herb (or one teabag) per cup of hot water for 10 to 20 minutes. This is the ideal method for extracting the medicinal compounds in most berries, flowers, and leaves. You can also use fresh herbs, but because of their higher water content, you usually need to double the amount of herbal matter per cup of water (two teaspoons per cup of water instead of one).
Decoctions: To extract the medicinal compounds from seeds, roots or stems, you’ll want to make a decoction, which involves boiling the herbs and allowing them to simmer for about an hour, usually allowing one heaping teaspoon of dried herb per cup of water. Note that this method is less suitable for berries, flowers, and leaves because it tends to destroy many of the delicate medicinal compounds they contain. As with infusions, you can use fresh herbs, but you typically need to double the amount of herb matter per cup of water.
What if you want to make a tea from some combination of roots, berries, seeds, stems, flowers and leaves? Start by making a decoction with the roots, seeds or stems. Bring it to a boil, then reduce to a simmer to continue brewing for an hour. Turn off the heat and add any berries, flowers, and leaves. Allow the mixture to steep for an additional 10 to 20 minutes. Now you’ve extracted the best medicinal compounds from all of the herbal components you’re using.
Tinctures are alcohol extracts of fresh or dried herbs. They’re highly effective at preserving a plant’s active constituents. You can make a tincture from roots, leaves, seeds, stems or flowers.
To make an herbal tincture, finely chop the fresh, clean herb you are using. You can also use dried herbs. Either way, the idea is to chop the herb as much as possible, to give the alcohol as much surface area to act upon as you can. Some herbalists recommend grinding dried herbs in a coffee/spice grinder before making a tincture.
Place the chopped or ground herb in a half-quart or quart-sized glass jar. Fill the jar with as much plant matter as possible to ensure the medicinal value of your tincture, keeping in mind that you’ll need enough alcohol to completely submerge the herbal matter. Top with vodka or pure grain alcohol, making sure all of the plant matter is submerged in the alcohol to prevent mold growth. Note that different kinds of alcohol will produce different kinds of tinctures. Visit Mountain Rose Herbs for more information. Date and label the jar, and allow the mixture to sit for two weeks, shaking daily to encourage extraction. After two weeks, strain the contents through a cheesecloth-lined sieve. After most of the liquid has gone through the sieve, pull up the corners of the cheesecloth and, using clean hands, carefully wring out any remaining liquid. Store the herbal tincture in a dark glass jar or dropper bottle away from heat or sunlight to preserve its healing properties. Tinctures will usually keep for a few years. You can make an herbal tincture out of any medicinal or culinary herb that can be used internally. A typical tincture dose is 30 drops (about one dropper full) three times daily, but we recommend looking up specific dosage recommendations for the herbs you use. Avoid tinctures if you are pregnant or nursing, or if you have liver disease, diabetes or alcoholism.
Infused oils are made by infusing herbs in oil, rather than alcohol as in tinctures. The infusion technique works to transfer the healing properties of herbs to oils. Infused oils are excellent for massage; as skin or bath oils; or as a basis for balms and salves, which I’ll explain in the next section. Never ingest these oils.
Infused oils are easy to make. Choose any type of vegetable or carrier oil, other than petrochemical-based oils such as baby oil or mineral oil. It is also best to avoid oils that break down quickly when exposed to heat, such as flaxseed oil. I prefer olive oil or sweet almond oil, which can be warmed to encourage the transfer of healing compounds from the herb matter to the oil.
You can make many types of infused oils, but two of the most common are St. John’s wort and calendula oils. St. John’s wort oil, made from the flowers of the plant, can be used for treating bruises, swellings, hemorrhoids, scars and sprains. It is also recommended as a topical treatment for eczema. Avoid sun exposure for a few hours after using this oil on your skin as it can cause photosensitivity. Calendula oil, also made from the flowers of the plant, aids wound healing and alleviate various skin conditions.
Making herbal infused oils is particularly suited for the delicate flowers and leaves of plants. Simply add fresh flowers or leaves to a jar and fill it with oil, such as sweet almond oil, apricot kernel oil, almond oil or olive oil. You’ll want enough plant matter to ensure the medicinal value of the infused oil, but not packed so tightly that the oil cannot penetrate the plant material. The plant material must be completely submerged in the oil to prevent mold from forming. Label and date the jar, including the herb and the oil used. Allow the infusion to rest for two weeks, shaking the bottle periodically to encourage the infusion process. After two weeks, strain the herbs from the oil, squeezing out any remaining oil with clean hands. Cap and label the jar, and store away from light and heat.
Salves are basically herbal balms or ointments made by thickening herbal oil infusions with melted beeswax. Most health-food stores sell plain beeswax, which can be shaved with a potato peeler or grated with a cheese grater and then melted over low heat. You can also buy beeswax pastilles, which are ready to melt. Be sure to avoid other types of wax, as they are made of petroleum byproducts.
Allow two tablespoons of shaved, melted beeswax to one cup of infused oil after the herbal material has been strained off. Melt the oil and beeswax over low heat, preferably in a double-boiler, to prevent overheating. Stir regularly. Remove from the heat as soon as the beeswax is melted and well-incorporated into the oil. Immediately pour into small, shallow jars, tins or lip balm containers. Let cool undisturbed to allow the ointment to set. Use for skin irritations and other skin conditions, and for dry or chapped lips. Similar to herbal infusions, calendula, and St. John’s wort is excellent choices to use in salves.
A poultice is a paste made with herbs that are applied to the skin. It is typically applied while hot or warm, except when made with herbs that are naturally chemically hot, such as chilies or ginger. To make a poultice, fill a natural-fiber cloth bag with powdered or chopped fresh herb matter. Tie it closed, and then place it in a bowl of hot water just long enough to soak and heat the herb. Remove it from the water, and apply to the affected area until the poultice has cooled and until you experience some relief. Reheat and reapply the poultice. It is best to use a fresh poultice each day.
Poultices are particularly effective in soothing aching or painful joints or muscles, as is the case with ginger. Calendula helps bruises and damaged skin, while echinacea boosts the immune system to help heal long-lasting wounds.
Some of My Favorite Healing Herbs
All of the herbs listed here are safe and effective. However, before making specific remedies of your own, make sure to research the herb you plan to use to ensure you’re using the right parts and amounts, as well as contraindications that may apply specifically to you and your circumstances.
• Calendula (Flowers): Skin healer extraordinaire
• Chamomile (Flowers): Relaxant and dental antimicrobial (use tea as a mouthwash)
• Dandelion (Roots or Leaves): Osteoporosis preventer and anticancer powerhouse
• Echinacea (Roots): Immune booster
• Feverfew (Flowers and Leaves): A headache and migraine alleviator
• Garlic (Cloves) Amazing germ buster
• Ginger: (Root): Muscle and joint pain healer
• Horsetail (Leaves): Nail, teeth and bone builder
• Juniper (Berries): Urinary tract antimicrobial
• Lavender (Flowers): Anxiety and depression alleviator
• Licorice (Root): Chronic fatigue syndrome solution
• Nettles (Leaves): Allergy remedy
• Oregano (Leaves): Antimicrobial antidote
• Peppermint (Leaves): Headache remedy and sinusitis aid
• Red Clover (Flowers): Relieves menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes
• Rosemary (Leaves): Memory booster
• St. John’s Wort (Flowers): Anxiety antidote and anticancer therapy; skin healer
• Thyme (Leaves): Cough and antibacterial medicine