Saturday, October 31, 2009

My New Love Affair with Black Tea

This blog post is part of a blog party hosted by Kristine on Morning Beverage Rituals. Visit her fabulous blog to see the other entries

It is only in the past couple of months that I have fallen head over heels for black tea. I usually avoid caffeinated beverages, but somehow the rich tannic taste of black tea slowly won me over. I have become so enthralled with this indulgence that each morning, while waking from my reverie I am dreaming of which tea I will sip today.

The morning ritual of placing the water kettle on the fire to warm, pulling my favorite cup from the cupboard and gazing at the row of teas on my shelf reminds me of how abundantly the earth offers us special treats to cherish.

Camellia sinensis is a perennial evergreen shrub. It’s leaves are harvested, processed and dried in a variety of ways to produce all black tea, green tea, and oolong tea. Its history goes back at least 5,000 years in areas of China. Today China, Sri Lanka, and India are the biggest producers of black tea. Worldwide black tea is consumed more than any other beverage with the exception of water. With this in mind I see that I am not the only one to be seduced by this rich brew!

With our country’s overt dependence on stimulating nervines like coffee and black tea, it’s easy to demonize these beverages and tout the often cited side effects associated with their overuse. This is something that even I have been guilty of in the past.

As herbalists we know that some herbs work great for some, and horribly for others. As people we know that too much of anything is seldom a good thing.

With this in mind let’s explore the positive benefits of Camellia sinensis.

Green tea is often marveled for its high anti-oxidant content and is frequently suggested for immune enhancement, as an anti-inflammatory as well as a general tonic to improve well-being. Black tea also contains a high level of anti-oxidants and new research has shown it to be just as beneficial as green tea.

Like it’s caffeinated counterpart coffee, black tea has also shown promising results in lowering blood sugar in diabetics and could be used as part of a larger treatment protocol involving a health promoting diet and robust exercise.

I order most of my black tea from Mountain Rose Herbs. I love getting the high quality of whole leaf tea and there is something so REAL about placing leaves in my tea kettle as opposed to a bag that came from a box. Also, whole leaf teas are assuredly higher in quality than the stuff placed in tea bags.

Tea has a long history of trade and has even been used as a form of currency. Like many sought after items, people have been exploited in the harvesting and preparation of black tea. For this reason I always look for organic and Fair Trade teas.

I make my teas in a small cast iron kettle that has a fine metal strainer inside of it. I place a couple teaspoons of whole leaf tea in the holder and possibly a pinch of other herbs for flavor. After letting it sit for 3 – 5 minutes I am ready for the dark brew to be poured into my cup. I add a generous amount of cream and enjoy some quiet moments to myself enjoying the heady steam arising from the leaf flavored water.

Some of my favorite teas from Mountain Rose Herbs include:

Ancient Forest Tea: Harvested from ancient protected tea plants that range from 500 – 2,700 years old, sipping this brew is a reminder of the primeval forces on this earth.

Darjeeling: A complex tea from India with a significantly different taste than most black teas. It’s often described as a flowery flavor and it lends itself well to being combined with lavender.

Assam Tea: This tea is named after the region where it is produced in India. It’s often sold generically as breakfast tea blends. This popular tea will please everyone’s black tea palate.

Spicing it up
While visiting a dear friend in Portland this summer she delightfully reminded me that lavender can be enjoyed in practically everything. Together, on her lovely veranda, we sipped black tea with lavender and cream and I was hooked!

Most days I still enjoy a pinch of lavender flowers along with my black tea. I also enjoy adding some licorice root, or chai spices like cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and all spice.

I am sure many of you have favorite additions to your black tea and I would love to hear them!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Herbal Considerations for Cold Sores ~ an excerpt

Cold sores are a painful condition that is caused by the herpes simplex-1 virus (HSV1). Genital herpes, shingles, and the Epstein Barr virus involve a closely related virus. This article focuses mainly on HSV1.

Once contracted, the herpes virus lives in nerve cells. It can be dormant for long periods of time and then become reactivated through a variety of causes including stress, depression, anxiety, an overabundance of sun exposure, reliance on stimulating nervines such as coffee or tea, fevers, menstruation, possibly food allergies/intolerance and more.

Once activated painful sores erupt most commonly on the lips, but can also affect the skin and other mucosal membranes. Most often an itch or tingle will be the first sensation of a cold sore outbreak. A red bump will shortly appear. This bump will grow and form a blister. These ulcerations can be itchy, painful and swell uncomfortably.

The herpes virus is most contagious during an outbreak, but can be transmitted through viral shedding even when the virus is dormant. Once active it is very contagious and pro-active steps can be taken to avoid transmitting it to others as well as spreading it further on your own body. To reduce chances of spreading the virus it’s important to avoid contact with the ulcerations through direct contact such as kissing or indirect contact such as touching the sores to a towel and then re-using that towel. When you have a current outbreak wash your hands frequently and especially after touching the cold sores themselves.

It is estimated that 75% of the population has the herpes virus, although many of these people are asymptomatic or otherwise do not know they are carriers of the virus.

Herbal remedies for cold sores can be thought of in four different stages.

At the first sign of an outbreak
During an outbreak

Anyone who has had a herpes outbreak will understand the benefits of prevention. Cold sores are often very painful and unsightly.

The first steps of prevention can be avoiding known causes of outbreaks. If you notice that sun exposure results in cold sores take care to wear lip balm with sunscreen in it and/or a sun hat if you are unavoidably going to be in the sun for long periods of time.

Stress is a common cause of cold sores. Minimizing stress through self-nourishment such as taking time to do the things you enjoy, meditation, yoga, spending time in nature, getting restful sleep or whatever you need to do to maintain a stress resistant life can all go a long way in preventing herpes outbreaks.

However, many of us experience stress in our lives, and the reality is that stress is not going to go away. Adaptogen herbs can help strengthen our body’s response to stress and combined with the lifestyle suggestions above can be a powerful way to being more balanced health to our lives.

Adaptogens can be taken as single herbs or formulated by an herbal practitioner for an individual person.

Stimulating nervines such as coffee and tea may trigger cold sore outbreaks. If you suspect this may be causing your outbreaks, adaptogen herbs, along with slowly reducing the frequency of stimulating nervines may help to reduce the dependency on these “pick-me-ups” and reduce the number of outbreaks.

Examples of herbal adaptogens:

Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) is usually added in small amounts to formulas, this sweet herb is commonly used in Chinese medicine especially and has been scientifically proven to be effective against the herpes virus.)
Holy Basil: (Ocimum sanctum) A highly revered herb from India it also has anti-viral capabilties
Ashwagandah (Withania somnifera)
Shatavari (Asparagus racemosus)
Eluethero (Eleutherococcus senticosus)
Codonopsis (Codonopsis pilosula)
Schizandra (Schizandra chinensis)
Holy Basil

Examples of lifestyle adaptogens:
Time spent in nature
Deep breathing
Joyful activities

Relaxing nervines can calm the nerves during acute situations of anxiety or stress.

Chamomile (Matricaria recutita)
California poppy (Eschscholzia californica)
Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata)
Lavender (Lavendula officinalis)
Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora)

Building a strong immune system can also prevent outbreaks. This includes all those things we know we should do for ourselves such as whole fresh foods, a good balance of proteins and healthy oils, plenty of restful sleep, exercise, and joy. Certain nutrients support our immune system and are a beneficial part of the diet. Vitamin C can be found abundantly in rose hips, pine needle leaves and dandelion leaves. In fact, a good amount is found in most leafy green vegetables. Building the immune system may also include optimal vitamin D levels and the support of immunomodulating herbs.

Examples of immunomodulating herbs

Astragalus root (Astragalus membranaceous): One of my most relied upon herbs for maintaining health. We add several handfuls of the roots to large pots of simmering bone broth or small handfuls to herbal chai mixes.

Astragalus roots

Elderberry (Sambucas nigra. S. canadensis) This delicious berry can be prepared as a syrup, elixir, jelly, or tincture and can be taken daily to support the immune system.

Reishi mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum) is an adaptogen as well as immunomodulator that has demonstrated activity against HSV.

Reishi mushroom

Dietary suggestions: Eating lysine rich foods and avoiding foods high in arginine.
The amino acid arginine has been implicated in herpes outbreaks. The virus actually needs arginine to replicate and may even stimulate the virus. Lysine blocks arginine and can help prevent outbreaks.

Lysine rich foods include:
Meat (turkey, beef, chicken, turkey)
Milk and cheese

Foods high in arginine include:
Brown rice

Anti-viral herbs
St. John's Wort
Taken preventively as well as during an outbreak anti-viral herbs can help to minimize the virus from replicating and stop it from attaching to cells.

Garlic (Allium sativum.)
St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum)
Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis)
Cedar (Thuja occidentalis)
Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra)
Aloe (Aloe vera)
Elderberry (Sambucus spp.)
Echinacea (Echinacea spp.)

Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum)
Echinacea purpurea

At the first sign of an outbreak:
If preventive steps fail and you feel the onset of an outbreak there are several things you can do to help either stop the outbreak or lessen the symptoms.

Internal Treatments:
Take regular teas and tinctures of anti-viral and immunomodulating herbs as listed above.

Large doses of lysine supplements at the first sign have been helpful for me in stopping an impending outbreak. I may take as much as 4,000 mg every half hour until the outbreak has abated. This can make one nauseas on an empty stomach. If you take too much lysine loose stools will develop. 

St. John's Wort Oil
Topical Treatments:
St. John’s Wort oil or tincture can be applied liberally and frequently. If applied often enough one can stop an outbreak entirely. 

A freshly sliced clove of garlic apply directly to the sore can stop it from growing, but beware garlic is spicy even when used topically and can cause burning and moderate discomfort.

Essential oils:
Many people successfully stop cold sore outbreaks by applying essential oils to the sores themselves. They may be diluted in a carrier oil to avoid irritation. Essential oils often used include tea tree oil, lavender, lemon balm, and thuja. Please keep in mind that essential oils are not for internal use and can cause irritation when applied externally.

Through all this remember to rest. Your body is not fighting a viral infection and can use rest and support of immune system functions.

Herbal options for a cold sore outbreak

If the above suggestions still result in an outbreak there are multiple herbs and other resources to lessen the pain and speed healing.

St. John’s Wort continues to be helpful during an outbreak. It can be taken internally and used externally. 
Calendula is an effective wound healer. It can be applied as an oil or tincture.
Aloe Vera is anti-viral and a fabulous vulnerary. The gel from the inside of the leaves can provide instant cooling relief to the pain and discomfort of cold sores.
Plantain (Plantago major) can be applied as a poultice, salve, or tincture to speed healing time.

If there is significant swelling ice can be applied to the wounds. You can also make tea and freeze the tea in ice cube trays for an added kick. I especially like to do this with licorice root, but many anti-viral and vulnerary herbs could be used such as lemon balm, calendula, St. John’s Wort, etc.

If there is pus weeping from the wound you can make a clay poultice and apply that to the sores.

Clay poultice for cold sores:
1 tsp French green clay
½ tsp powdered licorice root
½ tsp powdered rose petals

To this add enough St. John’s Wort tincture to create a clay plaster. You can add a little St. John’s Wort oil to this mix to avoid the mixture from drying too quickly. (Water can also be substituted) Once it reaches a good consistency it can be slathered over the sores. I’ll warn you that this clay poultice is not a pretty sight but is a good option when sores are weeping especially at night in order to sleep more comfortably.

Astringent herbs can also be helpful topically for weeping sores. A simple remedy for this is to briefly wet a black tea bag with hot warm, let cool slightly and then apply that topically to the sore.

Again, during an outbreak remember to rest. Your immune system can use the help.

Cold sore outbreaks can last anywhere from a couple of days to a full week. As the sores heal and new skin is formed take the time to fully recover. Review the recommendations for prevention and adopt them into your life as you can.

Milky oats tincture
A fresh milky oats (Avena sativa A. fatua) tincture can be taken three times a day following a cold sore outbreak to help nourish and heal the nerves. A strong infusion of the milky oats can be taken over long periods as a nourishing relaxing nervine.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

October Blog Party: Bio-regional herbs for Colds and Flu

In this month's herbal blog party, herbalists all over the United States stepped out their front doors to find powerful bio-regional plants that can support us through the cold and flu season.

Thanks to all who participated - I've really enjoyed these posts.


Sean Donahue looks at Swampy Medicine for Swampy Lungs

Cory Trusty with Aquarian Bath shares her experience with elderberry and the H1N1 virus.

Tina Sams from the Essential Herbal Magazine gives us her perspectives from a PA German heritage.

Kristina Bentley beautifully shares her Wintergreen Experiments

Darcey Blue gives us a fresh perspective on Butterfly Weed

Kiva Rose categorically explores many southwest native plants and weeds in the Elder Mother's Pantry

Julie Charette Nunn expands upon herbal relationships and the immune system

Amanda gives us very important prevention strategies for the approaching season

Kristine Brown beautifully illustrates some of her favorite local herbs

I meander out my front door to photograph harvesting and preparing Balsamorhiza sagittata

Gabriel shares how she will be caring for her family during the cold months

Gail discusses two plants for colds and flu in Wyoming

Stephany shares her experiences with Growing you Own Medicine

Balsamorhiza sagittata: a local emblem and ally for clearing dampness

Cold and flu season is upon us once again. Tonight I’ll be teaching a 3 hour class on prevention and staying healthy during these cold months. Taking pro-active steps for health by eating whole fresh foods, getting appropriate rest, maintaining optimal vitamin D levels and supporting our bodies with nourishing herbs are some of the most important steps we can take in our daily lives.

But what happens when we do get sick? Sometimes it’s appropriate to visit your family doctor. Sometimes it’s appropriate to visit your local health food store, but many times the support we are searching for can be found right outside our front door.

I live in the epic Methow Valley in the Northeastern Cascades of Washington State. While I live in the heart of a Ponderosa pine and Douglas fir forest, a short distance from my house exist many other ecosystems including the dry shrub step rich in sage brush, alpine meadows covered in edible and medicinal wildflowers, and even agricultural land full of beneficial weeds.

This varied landscape offers a myriad of plants both historically and scientifically proven to help with a variety of cold and flu symptoms. The “Big Medicine” of Lomatium dissectum is the strongest medicinal plant of the Northwest according to Michael “Skeeter” Pilarski. It has a strong history of being use specifically for influenza and is even being studied for effectiveness against the HIV virus.

Osha (Ligusticum canbyi) can be found in our alpine meadows. With a strong affinity for the respiratory tract this warming and drying root can open airways and clear dampness from the lungs.

This list of plants could continue on and on, (Sagebrush, yarrow, chokecherry, mullein...) but instead I chose to focus on the emblem of my home, Arrow leaf balsam root, (Balsamorrhiza saggitatta).

In Late April through May the large sunflowers blaze across the valley transforming dull hillsides into radiant yellow meadows. Besides being an important medicine, this plant offers us nourishment as food. I’ve written more about that here.

It’s during this time of year however, that I am searching out the roots for medicine. The vibrant foliage of the balsam root has long since died away, but the plethora of crispy brown leaves and flowers stalks radiate from the center root leading to the resinous root beneath the surface.

The amount of foliage indicates how big the root will be. I search for one that is big enough to fill my jars with their strong roots, but small enough that I can easily work with it.

Digging balsam root is an arduous activity that can take a long time.

We use a traditional style digging stick called a cupins. Instead of fire hardened wood, the curved stick portion is iron. Specially designed for harvesting roots, it works by loosening the soil around the root without risking cutting into the root itself. For dry, rocky soil this tool is indispensable.

The root consists of a fibery center and a hard outer bark. Depending on the age of the balsamroot it can be a small as a pencil to even as large as seven feet. My preferred sized to harvest is about the size of a large carrot. Much bigger than that and I don’t have the appropriate tools to cut it down in size.

Cutting into the root you will find it oozing with resins. The scent is reminiscent of the sap that oozes from pine trees. Aromatic and sticky this makes for potent plant medicine. I like to tincture it fresh in 95% alcohol.

Balsamroot is warming and drying making it suitable for damp coughs. As an anti-microbial it works fabulously as a sore throat spray that combines well with cottonwood buds.

Michael Moore in his book Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West says it makes really good cough syrup. Simply warm a cup of the root with 3 cups of honey in a saucepan, allow to cool, gently reheat again, allow to cool, and then reheat gently again, strain while still warm and runny.

Many herbalists describe balsamroot as being an analogue to echinacea’s immunomodulating effects. I like to include it in an alcohol extract of elderberries and osha to be taken at the first sign of illness.

Balsam root seems to be very effective for people with lingering productive coughs that last beyond the illness itself.

Without fail these types of coughs have cleared within a day or two of regular dosings.