Friday, April 11, 2014

Lemon Balm Iced Tea Recipe Card

Do you have kids in your life? 

Herb Fairies is an amazing resource for inspiring children to explore herbalism. 

This book club was creating by my friends and affiliate partners John and Kimberly from LearningHerbs. It's a complete book club with stories, activities, journals and other inspiring ways for your kids to learn about plants and their remedies. 

When I first read the HerbFairies stories I was inspired to create an herbal cookbook to to along with the stories. For the next week only you can download an ebook with 13 recipes that are perfect for making with kids.  

You can download a free herbal cookbook I wrote for a limited time by clicking this link. 

I also have a special recipe card for you to download today. Here's a sneak peak at some of the fun recipes and activities included in the HerbFairies book club. 

Click on the image below to download your recipe card. 

Learn more about HerbFairies and download your free cookbook by clicking the image below. 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Create the best day ever!

The Herb Fairies are here! 

Do you have kids in your life? 

Would you like to share your love of herbs with them? 

Herb Fairies is a magical tale about plants and their remedies that inspires kids to learn about herbs.

These stories were written by my friend Kimberly Gallagher, and are a fun and beautiful way to inspire the kids in your life to be interested in herbs. 

I know how much kids love these because I've seen it with my own eyes. 

While I don't have kids of my own I am an honorary auntie to Pearl who is six and a mentor to Tova who is almost 13. I've been reading these stories to Pearl and Tova for years and they both adore them. 

Last year I was spending some time with Pearl and she was coming down with a bit of a cold. She requested that we make elderberry syrup (happy to oblige!) and then we read Herb Fairies together. 

When her mom returned home that day Pearl exclaimed, "I had the best day ever! We got to make elderberry syrup and read Herb Fairies." 

I am so glad that is what makes for a "best day ever". I was also so proud Pearl knows about elderberry syrup and how much it can help her when she is sick. That is pretty cool! 

I first started reading the HerbFairies series while Kimberly was in the first stages of writing them. I was so impressed with the books that I was personally inspired to write recipes to go along with each of the stories. 

You can now download your own copy of the HerbFairies Cookbook which includes 13 of these recipes here...  


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Violet Herb - A guest post by jim mcdonald

I am very honored to be hosting this guest post from Michigan Herbalist jim mcdonald.

jim is one of my favorite herbalists to learn from. He has a rare gift of sharing his unique herbal insights through wonderful analogies and his eclectic wit. Spending time with jim means a lot of laughing as well as gaining insights into the plant world you don't hear anywhere else. 

jim offers a Four Season Herbal Intensive that gives students a core foundation in herbal energetics in western herbalism with a strong focus on bioregional herbs. 

Participants will learn how to become herbalists who make their own herbal preparations to address the health and wellness of themselves and their friends and family from the plants that grow around them 

If you are interested in expanding your herbal knowledge I highly recommend studying with jim. He has a limited amount of spaces left in his herbal intensive, contact him ASAP if you are interested.

Scientific name: any of numerous Viola species 
Family: Violaceae
Energetics: cooling, moistening
Foundational actions: primarily demulcent; astringent, bitter as indicated by taste.  Some species have aromatic flowers.

Here at my home in southeast Michigan these early March days have gotten warmer, hinting of the coming Spring, but there’s still a few feet of snow covering everything, making the promise of tender green leaves feel farther away than perhaps it is.  Recently, I’ve taken to standing at the top of my ice covered driveway and looking under the 5 feet of plowed up snow, beneath which a multitude of violets are sleeping.  I’m seriously feening those violets.  

There are many species of violet, and as a genus they are prolific… the USDA website indicates Viola species grow in every state and province in North America, though it’s important to note that 33 species are threatened or endangered in at least part of their range.  Fortunately, most species tend to grow in abundant stands, covering the ground with their (often) heart shaped leaves and welcoming spring with their delicate blossoms.  Despite the common name "violet", they flowers range from the palest of blues to white and yellow in addition to the light purple “violet” we imagine.  The heartsease pansy, Viola tricolor, offers three colors in one, but I’ve not yet seen it growing in the wild in the part of Michigan in which I live.  Interestingly, the springtime blossom of the violet isn't a reproductive flower - these appear in late summer and are an inconspicuous green.  The violet's spring blossoms have therefore been seen as a celebration of life and the rebirth of Spring, and are believed to banish despair and "comfort and strengthen the heart."

I collect leaves and flowers each spring, and have found that if you keep picking them, new leaves (though not flowers) keep growing; therefore, the plant is available for year round consumption.  Lise Wolff, of Minneapolis, prefers to collect older leaves in the summer.  I find violet sensitive to degradation, so be sure to store it in glass away from heat or light.  The demulcent and nutritive qualities are more stable, its lymphatic actions seem less so.  Violet seeds and roots contain a constituent that acts as an emetic, and are not regularly used.  As mentioned above, there are threatened and endangered viola species.  Know the status of what you collecting in your area.  “There’s a lot of them” doesn’t cut it; you can find local abundance amidst regional scarcity.

Medicinally, “violets” (on the whole, members of the genus seem broadly interchangeable) are exemplary in demonstrating that immense benefit needn’t be associated with the dramatic strength and medicinal intensity… something we should all try to keep in mind.  On a foundational level, violets nourish.  First and foremost: eat them.  They’re delicious; when the leaves are young and tender they’re sweet and green tasting; as they get older, some species develop more bitterness, perhaps some astringency.  Add them liberally to salads, and pluck some out of the ground whenever you walk by.  Oddly, for all the popularity of nourishing infusions in the herbal community, violets are still, in my opinion, too rarely prepared as such.  Violet is rich in minerals, and especially abundant in vitamins A & C. They’re a perfect alternative or addition to those who try nettles, and find its diuretic effect too drying for their constitution.  Whereas many will suggest adding marshmallow or licorice (licorice has never sounded even remotely tasty to me), I find violet a much better compliment.  Indeed, it might be the case that those with drier constitutions should think in terms of adding some nettle to their violet infusions.  To most effectively extract the nutrition from violets, add an ounce of dried leaves & flowers to a quart of water just off the boil and steep overnight.  A wondrous sippin’ tea can be made by steeping any arbitrary amount of fresh or dried leaves/flowers in hot water till cool enough to sip.  Although nutrients are probably less efficiently extracted from the fresh plant, the tea just tastes wholesome and healthful.  Mince up the fresh leaves fine to optimize extraction.   

Oh, wait… how do you know if you have a dry constitution?  That’s a good question.  Is your mouth frequently dry?  Your throat?  If you get a head or chest cold, do your mucous membranes tend to feel dry and tight, as opposed to stuffy and congested?  Is your skin dry?  Do you tend to have darker, stronger smelling urine?  Those are good indicators.  Of course, hydration is important, and getting enough good quality fats and oils in the diet.  But violet will help in addition to that, especially for dryness of the mucous membranes.

Violets contain a mucilage that accounts for a substantial portion of its medicinal merit, and this quality can easily be experienced by simply munching on the plant's delicious leaves and flowers, which will release the slippery mucilage... the more mucilaginous, the more potent the medicinal virtues associated with that.  Mucilage coats, soothes and lubricates tissues, which will ease the pain of inflammation and promote the healing of those tissues.  The fresh leaves can be chewed for a sore throat (try keeping a wad in your cheek, the way some people chew tobacco), or a tincture or tea of the plant used.  The mucilage also helps to loosen and expel mucous from the lungs when it’s too dry for coughing to expel.  A mild tea of fresh or dried violet leaves can be made into a nasal rinse by added ¼ teaspoon salt per 8 ounce cup of well strained tea, and it is wonderfully soothing when dryness accompanies inflammation of the sinuses.  This same preparation can be used as an eyewash and is really quite impressive; use it when the eyes are dry and blinking feels like someone’s scratching sandpaper over your cornea.  For both eye and nasal rinses, it combines well with a slew of other herbs, from plantain to strawberry leaves to purple loosestrife (I almost always use plantain).  Violets have a reputation for acting as a laxative; this results from the mucilage helping to lubricate the intestines, helping to ease the passage of stool if it is inhibited by dryness.  Along the way, it will help soothe corollary inflammation.  To really manifest violet’s full potential here, infusions are preferable to tinctures, as they provide a volume of liquid to bathe and coat the tissues of the digestive tract.  Topically, violet oil or salve helps ease the discomfort of hemorrhoids: apply liberally.  Sits in violet infused sitz baths are likewise helpful.  Chewed violet leaves, perhaps with a bit of honey, can be applied to corns and can sometimes soften calluses and tough skin.  They would also make an appropriate poultice for any hot, inflamed swelling, be it bite or boil.  

Violets also seem to act notably upon the lymphatics, and are quite useful in acute congested states.  If you’re just getting sick, your glands are swollen, tender and hot to the touch, violet internally and topically can be immensely helpful.  I have a tendency to use a tincture of the fresh plant for internal use, though I may add this to a tea of the dried leaves and flowers, especially if the tonsils are swollen and inflamed.  The topical applications usually feel immediately soothing.  Violet can address older, chronic, “stuck” lymphatics as well, as it “softens” hardnesses to resolve blockage.  So, those swollen, tender and hot-to-the-touch glands?  They’re not tender and hot to the touch anymore, but they are still swollen, and they feel hard when you press on them.  In such cases, I feel violet combines well with a small amount of poke; like violet, internally as tincture (1-3 drops of poke mixed into squirt of violet) and topically infused violet oil with no more than ¼  part fresh poke root oil.  Poke on its own is irritating and instigating and not infrequently causes inflammation; violet balances and buffers that effect while assisting in the resolution of the congested lymph gland.  

Violet is especially well noted for its ability to resolve swellings and hardnesses in the breasts.  Being abundant in lymphatic tissue, this makes sense, and I’ve used violet oil topically for fibrosyctic breast conditions, plugged milk ducts and mastitis.  Occasionally, if it needs something more active, I’ll add poke root oil, as above, but not as a rule… I often find violet is fine on its own and doesn’t need to be pushed to immediate action with stronger herbs.  I feel it’s important to massage the oil in, and not just rub it on, as the massage itself will assist in clearing congested lymphatics. 

There are numerous references in herbal medicine to the use of violets to treat cancer.  Hildegard von Bingen stated that it "dissolves hardnesses" within the body, possibly referring to tumors, but also possibly to fibrocystic breast conditions.  Hildegard made an ointment of violets with olive oil and billy goat tallow... this would no doubt be an excellent preparation (animal fats are as good as and sometimes better than plant fats and oils in extracting and delivering an herbs virtues), but as billy goat tallow is somewhat hard to come by nowadays, beeswax can also be used, though lard or tallow from other sources is an excellent option (look for ethical sources on Local Harvest.  Tobyn, Denham and Whitelegg state in “The Western Herbal Tradition” that the earliest reference to explicitly refer to cancer is from 1902.  Maude Grieve’s “A Modern Herbal”, in 1931, makes reference to the use of violets in treating cancer of the throat and tongue through consistent use of the strong infusion, and a salve or poultice applied externally to tumors.  From there, references abound, but frequently without any specifics or citation.  I think it need to be understood that cancer is a complex systemic disease, and we would be naive to assume that violets, or any other treatment, would be a "cure" for any or everybody’s particular case.  The “______ cures cancer” mindset is a perilous one to fall into.  Cancer isn’t one thing; there’s a huge difference between a lymphoma and breast cancer, both in the nature of the illness and in how it’s treated.  Also, we need to remember that if we’re practicing holistically, we should be focusing on individual people, not the names of illnesses.  This doesn’t mean violet might not be appropriate.  It doesn’t suggest you shouldn’t try it, if a situation indicates the use of violet.  In fact, the toll of cancer (and its treatment) often presents a state that does indicate the use of violet.  Let’s just remember to beware of the perils of name-association herbalism, and of simplifying complex conditions which necessitate nuanced and personalized care.

Violets, like meadowsweet, wintergreen and birch, contain methyl salicylate, from which aspirin is derived, though this it seems to exist in lower levels than these other herbs.  Nicholas Culpeper declared that violets "easeth pains in the head caused through want of sleep."  Johann Christopher Sauer, a colonial herbalist, suggested applying an infused oil of violet and rose for a “feverish headache”.  Freshly crushed leaves were applied similarly, as was the use of teas and syrups of the flowers, to various body parts to relieve all manners of pain and discomfort.   But to simplify this down to “Oh, you can use violet a headache instead of taking an aspirin/acetaminophen/ibuprofen” is too reductionist… you simply can’t reduce the action of a plant down to the actions of an individual constituent.  Violet does contain methyl salicylate, yes, and so will possess some pain relieving and anti-inflammatory action on account of it.  But violets use as a food staple suggests that this is not a predominant action; also pure methyl salicylate smells strongly or wintergreen: is that a predominant scent in your violets?  I’ve noted that it’s more likely to be present in older leaves, but even then it’s subtle.   If we consider traditional accounts of pain relief using violet, they are always connected to heat, and while its salicylic acid content likely plays a role in this, it’s not the beginning and end of it.  If addressing a headache, perhaps tinctures of wood betony (for tension in the head/mind) or passion flower (for relentless brain chatter) in violet tea would be a better course of action than in thinking of violet as “nature’s aspirin”.

Violet also exemplifies a quality that we simply don’t have a good term for.  Here are a few phrases you’ll find in old herbals “soothes/lifts the spirit”; “strengthens/gladdens the heart”… it’s tempting to try an insert the term nervine.  But violets aren’t really nervine.  Not quite.  Or (and I’ll preface this with an “edag!”) antidepressant.  But that’s not right either, and on the whole that’s not a helpful “action” to apply in herbalism.  What violets do for the “spirit” or “heart” is what they do for the rest of the body; they nourish, strengthen and soothe.  And, I find the physical indications for violet play out here as well.  Hot, dry temperaments (like the humoural choleric temperament) that tend to get frustrated and angry (we say “hot headed”) are particularly soothed by it.  Kids who respond to stress with screaming and yelling till they’re red in the face.  That.  Oh, and it’s not only kids who do that.  Here, violet isn’t the best acute remedy (though it does compliment skullcap well), but is better suited to a brew when you can see an outburst looming, or have noticed such events increasing in frequency… maybe as a deadline nears?  Violet is also good for people who react to stress (or perhaps life in general) with rigidity.  Violet softens.  It inspires flexibility.  Some “give”.  If the person needing it is cool by constitution (cold and dry as opposed to hot), simply add something warming (spicy or aromatic) to offset its cooling nature.

Reviewing the virtues of violet, the degree to which it is undervalued seems apparent.  William Cook, the Physio-Medicalist didn’t mention violet in his Physio-Medical Dispensatory.  Nor did the eclectic Finely Ellingwood in his American Materia Medica.  Felter and Lloyd, in King’s American Dispensatory, do address it, but offer very little information, and seem to apply the emetic properties of the seeds and roots to the plant as a whole.  So perhaps these omission played a role.  It’s not like there’s a lack of conditions characterized by heat and dryness.  It’s not like violets are obscure or difficult to find.  It’s not like tradition didn’t laud their virtues.  It’s not like there aren’t a whole lot of frustrated angry cholerics that could use some softening and gladdening.  Maybe the humble viola are just too gentle, maybe they don’t act quickly or forcefully enough?  It’s a question not only to ponder when thinking about the population at large, but also for the herbal community, where we rely on our nutritive staples but also seem increasing fascinated by the strong medicine drop dosage plants.  Paul Bergner shares that "In medieval Baghdad, the “license” to practice medicine was given as permission to practice in the marketplace… One of the rules was that an individual would be disqualified from the practice of medicine if they were observed to 'use a strong herb when a mild herb would suffice, used an herb when a food would suffice, or use a food when simple advice about lifestyle would suffice.”

I put forth violet as a mild herb and food that will more than suffice.

an assortment of admirable preparations…
Poultice: crush fresh violets and apply topically; dried violet can be blanched in hot water to reconstitute 
Fresh violet tea: mince an arbitrary quantity of fresh violet leaves and/or flowers in hot water and steep till drinkable.  Yum.
Dried violet tea: do the same as above, but with crushed dried violet
Cold infusion (to extract mucilage most efficiently): steep 1 ounce of dried violet in 1 quart cool water for 3+ hours.  Strain and drink..
Nourishing violet infusion: pour a quart of boiling water over 1 ounce of dried violet.  Steep 4-8 hours, strain, and drink (you’ll get mucilage from this preparation as well, as it will be extracted after the water cools).
Nasal/eyewash: infuse violet in water (cool water will extract more mucilage), and strain through a coffee filter to ensure no floaties (which are fine for drinking but not so fine for pouring onto your eyeball).  To each 8 fluid ounce cup, add roughly ¼ teaspoon salt.  Stir till the salt is dissolved.  Use as an eyewash, in an eye cup, in a nasal spray bottle or neti pot.
Violet flower syrup: “To 1 lb. of Sweet Violet flowers freshly picked, add 2 1/2 pints of boiling water, infuse these for twenty-four hours in a glazed china vessel, then pour off the liquid and strain it gently through muslin; afterwards add double its weight of the finest loaf sugar and make it into a syrup, but without letting it boil” (from Grieve).  You can also use honey; Tobyn, Denham and Whitelegg state “Honey of violets is more cleansing and less cooling; sugar of violets works the other way around.”
Violet oil: wilt fresh violet leaves/flowers, and infused in your choice of oil or fat for a few hours to a dayish over low heat.  Violets frequently spoil when infused in mason jars in the sun because of their high water content, and even stovetop extractions can go off if any residual water isn’t removed before bottling.  Check out Henriette Kress’s “Troubleshooting Herbal Oils tips here for tricks and tips to avoid this potential bummer.  Many tradition sources laud a combination of violet and rose flower infused oils… try it.
Tincture: make a simpler’s tincture by mincing fresh violet leaves and/or flowers and covering with 100 proof vodka in a mason jar.  Macerate at least two weeks.  Or, if you prefer, add 2 ounces of grain alcohol to every one ounce of minced fresh violet in a mason jar.  Macerate as before.  I probably wouldn’t tincture dried violets, though I imagine very recently dried violet might be fine.


Interested in learning more herbal insights from jim mcdonald? 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Black Pepper: A Powerful Medicinal Spice

Scientific namePiper nigrum

Family: Piperaceae

Parts used: berries

Energetics: heating, acrid

Plant Properties: stimulant, diaphoretic, expectorant, carminative, antispasmodic, antioxidant, antimicrobial

Plant Uses: food seasoning, fevers, mucus congestion, slow or stagnant circulation, increase bioavailability of other herbs, hemorrhoids, gentle laxative, arthritis

Plant Preparations: food spice, tea, tincture, electuary

I am black on the outside, clad in a wrinkled cover,Yet within I bear a burning marrow.I season delicacies, the banquets of kings, and the luxuries of the table,Both the sauces and the tenderized meats of the kitchen.But you will find in me no quality of any worth,Unless your bowels have been rattled by my gleaming marrow.

A riddle authored by Saint Aldhelm, a 7th-century Bishop of Sherborne

Pepper has been in common use for thousands of years in the old world and is the most popular spice of our modern day. It accounts for 1/5 of the total spice trade in the world. 

The history of pepper begins in prehistoric India and south east asia where the pepper vine grows naturally. It then spreads to the ancient Egyptians and Romans and later takes a spotlight during the height of the early European spice trade routes. 

A little history of “Black Gold”

Black pepper is native to India and southeast Asia. It appears to have been in use in India for at least the past 4,000 years, but presumably much longer. 

Our scant knowledge of peppercorns in ancient Egypt is limited to one of the greatest pharaohs of ancient Egypt, Ramesses II, who was found to have black peppercorns stuffed in his nostrils as part of the mummification process following his death in 1213 BCE. 

Flash forward a few hundred years later and we have a Roman cookbook from the 3rd century that contains peppercorn in many of its recipes although it was probably a very expensive spice at the time. 

When Rome was attacked by Attila the Hun and King Alaric I in the 5th century they demanded, amongst other things, 3,000 pounds of peppercorns each. Although Rome quickly complied with their demands they attacked the city anyway, which is thought of as the fall of Rome. 

During the middle ages peppercorns were considered an important trade good. They were referred to as “black gold” and were even used like money to pay taxes and dowries. 

What’s in a pepper? Long Pepper vs. Black Pepper vs. White Pepper vs. Green Pepper

Historically, long pepper (Piper longum) was used interchangeably with black peppercorns (Piper nigrum). Although they are in the same genus, they look dramatically different and, if you do a taste test, you’ll find that long pepper is dramatically hotter than the black peppercorns. The monograph is specifically about Piper nigrum

When buying whole peppercorns you might notice that there are red, white and green peppercorns in addition to the black peppercorns. 

All of these come from the same plant but are prepared differently to achieve the different look and slightly different taste. 

Black peppercorns are harvested when unripe, boiled briefly and then dried in the sun. 

White peppercorns are harvested when fully ripe and then have the outer flesh removed so that only the seed remains. 

Green peppercorns are harvested when unripe and then treated in a way to preserve the green coloring either through freeze drying, pickling or other means. 

Red peppercorns are harvested when fully ripe and then treated in a way to preserve the red coloring. 

You can buy rainbow pepper at Mountain Rose Herbs. By using this affiliate link you help support this blog. Thanks!

Galen, in treating of the pepper in his work on Simples, merely says of its medicinal powers, that it is strongly calefacient [warming] and desiccative [drying].

Peppercorns as Medicine

Besides adding a pleasant taste to our food there’s another reason that black pepper is found on practically every table in US restaurants. Black pepper is a warming stimulant that is especially used for supporting digestion. 

Black Pepper is a remedy I value very highly. As a gastric stimulant it certainly has no superior, and for this purpose we use it in congestive chills, in cholera morbus, and other cases of a similar character.

John Scudder 1870

As a gastric stimulant it is a useful addition to difficultly-digestible foods, as fatty and mucilaginous matters, especially in persons subject to stomach complaints from a torpid or atonic condition of this viscus.

Jonathan Pereira 
The Elements of Materia Medica and Therapeutics, Vol. II, 3th American ed., 1853

Most of our pepper today is used as a food condiment, and often people think of it as a simple food seasoning, but historically it has a broader range of use. 

Its hot and stimulating characteristics make it useful for a variety of cold and flu symptoms such as for fevers with chills (stimulating diaphoretic) and for mucus congestion (stimulating expectorant).

A remedy from New England that also appears in Chinese folk medicine is pepper (Piper nigrum). The irritating properties of pepper stimulate circulation and the flow of mucous. It is most appropriate for a cough with thick mucous, but inappropriate for a dry, irritable cough with little expectoration. Directions: Place a teaspoon of black pepper and a tablespoon of honey in the bottom of a cup, and fill it with boiling water. Let it steep for 10-15 minutes. Take small sips as needed.

Paul Bergner
Folk Remedies Database

Black pepper quickens the circulation by increasing blood vessel size and was used for signs of stagnant circulation (such as cold hands and feet) and for arthritic pain. 

Eclectic herbalist Harvey Felter recommended it as a corrigent (companion) for herbs that cause griping or cramping (such as cold laxatives). 

Pepper promotes digestion and is said to have a gentle laxative effect especially for those with signs of cold or stagnant digestion. 

However, if someone has diarrhea, especially with symptoms of coldness or due to an infection, black pepper has been shown to be effective. 

Peppercorns Increase Bioavailability

For me, the most amazing ability of black pepper is its ability to increase the bioavailability of our herbs and foods. 

Adding a bit of black pepper to herbal formulas or to our dinner plate means that we have potentiated the qualities and nutrients. This can be crudely translated as getting the biggest bang for your buck.

This potentiating factor is most famously known for turmeric. When adding black pepper to turmeric preparations the turmeric’s bioavailability dramatically increases. This is also seen to be helpful with goldenseal and juniper berries (Buhner). 

Many of the studies done on increased bioavailability have focused on Piperine, an isolated constituent of black pepper. Besides increasing the bioavailability of herbs, it has been shown that piperine can dramatically increase absorption of selenium, vitamin B, beta-carotene and other nutrients.

Pungent herbs have been shown to generally enhance the absorption of drugs in humans andanimals due to increased blood perfusion of the gastrointestinal mucosa with increased local circulation and enhanced digestive secretions. For example, the pungent alkaloid piperine found in the two peppers of the trikatu combination (black pepper (Piper nigrum) fruit, long pepper (Piper longum) fruit, and ginger (Zingiber officinale) root) increases absorption of curcumin, phenytoin, propranolol, theophylline.

Francis Brinker
2010 AHG Proceedings 

Long Pepper (Piper nigrum)

Trikatu - A Famous Ayurveda Formula

Black pepper originally comes from India, where it has been in use for at least four thousand years.

Trikatu is a popular formula in Ayurveda that is comprised of equal parts of black pepper (Piper nigrum), long pepper (Piper longum), and Ginger (Zingiber officinale). 

Trikatu is used to increase warmth, increase circulation and break up congested mucus.  It is also commonly added in small amounts to other formulas. Not only does this help to increase bioavailability of the herbal formula, it also acts as an activator or diffusive herb similar to Samuel Thompson’s use of cayenne. 

What we’re just beginning to figure out about black pepper’s ability to increase the bioavailability of nutrients has long been known and practiced in Ayurveda.

Botanically Speaking

Black pepper is a perennial woody vine that grows in the tropics. It reaches up to 13 feet in height and grows on supports such as trees, poles or trellises. 

The leaves are alternate and heart shaped. 

The flowers are small and grow on spikes. 

The fruits develop after a plant reaches 3-4 years in maturity. The fruits grow in what is botanically referred to as a drupe (same as raspberries). They are most often harvested when unripe (green). 

Plant Preparations

Since black pepper dramatically increases the bioavailability of many nutrients, I like to have it freshly ground onto every meal I eat. As a result pepper is probably my most used herb. 

To get the most out of your pepper only buy whole peppercorns and then grind them as needed. Once they are ground the aromatics evaporate quickly, making old ground pepper of little benefit. 

I buy my pepper from Mountain Rose Herbs. If you use this affiliate link to buy your own black pepper you'll be helping to support this blog. Thank you! 

Looking for a quality pepper grinder?  Here's the pepper grinder we use. It even works for grinding the really hard long pepper. 

The dosage of pepper is anywhere from 1-15 grams. 

Peppercorns can be extracted well in alcohol. Michael Moore recommends the tincture at 1:5 with 65% alcohol. The recommended dosage is 5-15 drops. 

Special Considerations

Large doses could cause nausea and digestive upset. 

Piperine, the extract of black pepper, has been studied extensively and is readily available for purchase. This preparation has far more special considerations than the whole herb. The use and considerations of this extract are beyond the scope of this monograph. 

Further Resources
Herbal Antibiotics by Steven Buhner


CRC Handbook of Medicinal Spices by James Duke

This article originally appeared on 

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Licorice Herb - Our Sweet Tonic

Scientific Name: Glycyrrhiza glabra, G. uralensis
Family: Pea (Fabacaea)
Taste: Sweet
Plant Properties: demulcent, antiviral, pectoral, anti-tussive, anti-inflammatory, laxative, immunomodulator, immunostimulant, hepatoprotective
Used for: coughs, viral infections, eczema, constipation, inflamed mucus membranes, heartburn, ulcers, stress, fatigue, sore throat, “peacemaker” in formulas, hepatitis, asthma
Plant Preparations: pastille, tea, syrup, tincture, candy, capsules, toothbrush

Licorice is one of the most-used herbs in Traditional Chinese Medicine. It is frequently used in small amounts in formulas and is considered to be a synergist or peacemaker in that it helps herbs work together more effectively. 

Licorice has a strong sweet taste (50 times sweeter than sugar) and shines as a demulcent herb, but licorice has numerous powerful uses that go beyond being a simple demulcent. 

In ancient China, licorice was considered a principle drug among all drugs. It is perhaps the most commonly used herb in classical prescriptions. [The Shennong Herbal] states that licorice is used to balance the five viscera (organs) and six bowels. It also reports that licorice strengthens the sinews and bones, enhances muscle growth and strength, and is used topically to heal wounds. 
Winston and Maimes

Soothing Inflammation (Demulcent) 

Licorice is a sweet demulcent that soothes mucous membranes. 

If you only ever used licorice for its demulcent qualities you would still find an amazing array of uses for it. 

When I have a scratchy sore throat licorice root teas are the first thing I reach for. The sweet taste and thick consistency of licorice seem to magically erase dry and irritated sore throats. When I have a cold I’ll even keep licorice tea in a thermos on my bed stand to easily reach when I wake up dry and parched. 

Besides soothing sore throats, licorice is famously used as a pectoral herb. It soothes coughs, especially those dry and irritating coughs that can keep you up all night. Since sore throats and coughs tend to come together this is a wonderful herb to reach for. Add to that its antiviral and antibacterial properties and you’ve got one heck of a useful herb for common upper respiratory infections. It has been used against both pneumonia and tuberculosis. 

Licorice can also soothe mucous membranes further down the line. It is commonly used for all types of ulcers and other types of inflammation in the digestive tract. I commonly use it for people who have irritated bowels such as those diagnosed with IBS. 

Licorice has been shown to be effective against Heliobacter pylori. This means it can not only soothe digestive ulcers but can also be effective against the bacteria that often causes these internal wounds. 

It can be specific for people who have constipation with dry and hard stools. The demulcent qualities of the root can soothe the irritated tissues and it is also gently stool loosening. 

Liquorice root is emollient, demulcent, and nutritive. It acts upon mucous surfaces, lessening irritation, and is consequently useful in coughs, catarrhs, irritation of the urinary organs, and pain of the intestines in diarrhoea. 
King’s American Dispensatory

Glycyrrhiza uralensis

Antiviral and Antibacterial

Licorice is a multifaceted antiviral herb that is used for a variety of viruses, including hepatitis, herpes, pneumonia and the common rhino virus (colds). 

Licorice can be taken internally for viral infections and used externally on viral sores such as herpes lesions. Besides inhibiting viral replication, licorice also can stimulate the immune system response to more effectively kill viruses. 

When using licorice for its antiviral properties the whole root must be used, not DGL products. 

Licorice is also mildly antibacterial. It has been shown to be effective against helicobacter pylori and various bacteria commonly found in the mouth. 

Licorice is broadly antiviral. It is active against a wide range of viruses through multiple mechanisms. It strongly inhibits the ability of many viruses to create the membrane pores through which the viruses then enter cells. This slows or even ends the viral infection right there. For other viruses, it is directly virucidal, and for others it stimulates the host immune system specifically to attack the invading virus. 
Steven Buhner
Herbal Antivirals


Licorice has adaptogen qualities and is specific for people with adrenal insufficiency and low cortisol levels. It spares cortisol by inhibiting its conversion to cortisone. It is commonly used in adaptogen formulas. 

As an adaptogen, licorice benefits the HPA axis function and the sympathoadrenal system (SAS). I frequently use it for people with adrenal insufficiency who have symptoms of fatigue, tiredness upon waking up in the morning, elevated cortisol and blood sugar levels, and frequent colds. 
Winston and Maimes

Botanically speaking... 

Licorice is a part of the pea family (Fabaceae). 

Its leaves are the classic pinnately divided leaves of the pea family. They are 3-6 inches long and have 9-17 leaflets. 

Its flowers have a classic pea flower shape and are blue to purple in color. 

We use the roots primarily for medicine (I hear the leaves can be used too but I’ve never used them myself). The roots are ideally harvested when the plant is at least three years old. 

Plant Preparations... 

Licorice can be used in a variety of ways. It is important to note that it is most often used in combination with other herbs and probably should not be used in large dosages for long periods of time (see the special considerations section for more information). 

Tincture: Steven Buhner recommends 1:5 at 50%.  

Tea: Decoction of the roots or the powder mixed with water. 

Pastilles: Commonly mixed with slippery elm to make sore throat lozenges. 

Capsules: Works fine as a capsule. 

DGL Tablets: This is a processed product that has the glycyrrhizin removed. It is commonly used for ulcers (see special considerations for more information). 

Peacemaker: Many classical Chinese formulas contain small amounts (5%-10%) of licorice. The theory is that licorice increases the effectiveness of other herbs and gets them to “play together nicely,” thus being a peacemaker of herbs. 

Toothbrush: Licorice is a wonderful herb for healthy gums. See this article on how to use the whole root as a toothbrush. 

Most of the licorice produced today is used as a tobacco flavoring agent. 

Licorice is used in Ayurveda to improve eyesight, strength, sexual potency and libido. Licorice is considered, as adaptogens generally do, to enhance the effects of other herbs in a formula,so it is widely used.
-KP Khalsa
Culinary Herbalism Course

Special Considerations... 

Licorice has gotten some bad press. Like any herbal special consideration it is best to know the details rather than label an herb as being bad or good or claiming that it always does such and such. 

Licorice, especially when taken in large amounts for long periods of time, can increase blood pressure and cause water retention. Some people seem to be more susceptible to this than others. 

To avoid this, here are some suggestions. 

Take licorice in smaller dosages and as part of a larger herbal formula. 
Avoid taking more than 10 grams of licorice per day for an extended period of time. 

If you decide to take larger dosages of licorice, have your blood pressure checked regularly and discontinue use if you notice any unusual water retention in your body. 
Avoid use of licorice if you currently have high blood pressure and/or edema. 

Licorice may also interact with corticosteroid medications by increasing their effect. If you are on corticosteroid medication then it would be best to work with someone experienced in using these two substances together. 

Interestingly, many of the case studies involving unwanted effects of licorice happened in people consuming large amounts of licorice candy. 

Licorice root is not recommended during pregnancy and its safety has not been established for lactation. 


Licorice is probably one of the most-used herbs of all time. Interesting that this designation goes to an herb that is so incredibly sweet! It can be used for a wide range of benefits, from addressing acute situations like a cold or flu to addressing chronic infections and inflammatory states. As long as you take care in using licorice it is a powerful medicinal ally. 

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HerbMentor Resources... 

Wintertime Formulas Featuring Licorice

Cited Resources
AHPA Botanical Safety Handbook, Second Edition
AHG Symposium 2012 Class Notes, Jillian Bar-av
King’s American Dispensatory
Adaptogens by Winston and Maimes
Herbal Antivirals by Steven Harrod Buhner