Friday, July 31, 2009

Sweet Herbal Preservations: August Blog Party Hosted by Kiva

I am really looking forward to this month's blog party hosted by Kiva. We'll be delving into sweet herbal preservations. To see all of the participating blogs just visit the link above to Kiva's fabulous blog.

This spring I attended the East West Seminar, the school of Michael and Lesley Tierra. At the closing ceremony Lesley led us all in several visualizations. During one visualization for a plant ally, chamomile strongly came to my mind. “Chamomile?!” I thought. “Simple plain old chamomile?!”

This past month at Herbmentor our herb of the month was chamomile. Yep, plain old chamomile and I just had a fabulous time studying the many uses of this plant. I tried drinking a small cup of tea before dinner to help promote digestion and I read with interest about Kimberly Gallagher using it for a wound.

In fact I became truly intrigued with this happy little Asteraceae plant that seemed to do so much. Chamomile’s gentle but profound affinity for the nervous system proves to us that herbs can be subtle yet still powerful and effective. From babies to elders and from teething to anxiety chamomile can soothe us throughout our entire lives.

In the Herbmentor forums one person shared that he and his wife have used chamomile almost exclusively for their baby from teething to colic to diaper rash.

After a month of exploring chamomile I will certainly never look at it as simple and plain again!

One new thing I learned about chamomile is that the fresh plant preparations seem to have more of an affinity for the nervous system while the dried plant has more of a bitter flavor that lends itself more to the digestive system. I don’t feel like I have enough experience with both the fresh and dried to weigh in on this, but it is an interesting concept.

With questions about fresh preparations running through my head I made two lovely sweet concoctions with fresh chamomile that I received from Ancestree Herbals.

The first was a simple chamomile honey. I filled a jar half full with freshly picked chamomile and then filled it the rest of the way with honey. I then stirred this well to mix it in. Each day for about a week I turned the honey upside down to give it another mixing. The result was a delicately flavored chamomile honey. I didn’t bother to strain the flowers – I just ate them along with the honey. I could see chamomile honey being a great way to flavor teas.

I also tinctured a lot of the fresh chamomile. I used 100 proof vodka and almost instantly the mixture turned a beautiful golden yellow. After a month I strained the tincture. The result was a sweet, slightly bitter dark yellow tincture.

I had been recently inspired by Kiva Rose’s fascination with elixirs so I thought I would try something a little different with some of my chamomile tincture. In a 4 oz amber bottle I added enough chamomile tincture to fill it halfway. I then added an equal amount of agave syrup. (I actually prefer honey to agave syrup, but for whatever reason this is what I had on hand.) The result was beautifully sweet chamomile elixir.

A friend of mine has a daughter who I think could become good friends with chamomile. The alcohol taste of the elixir seemed a little too harsh for an adolescent, so I tried a teaspoon of the chamomile in a cup of tap water. The result was a fantastic instant “tea”. I immediately bottled some up and am awaiting a report from my friend and her daughter.

I don’t normally consume sugar myself, but elixirs can be a fun way to share herbal delights with friends who will probably come back begging for more.

I am attending two weddings this month and will be giving both friends a bottle of rose elixir which I made in the same way as described above for chamomile.

Happy Sweet Summer!

Monday, July 6, 2009

A walk in the forest finding herbs with an affinity for the urinary system

We had a fabulous hike in the woods today and I saw so many beautiful flowers that just happen to be medicinal as well.

After getting home and reviewing the photos I was amazed of how many plants I saw that are commonly used for the urinary system. And so a theme (and motivation) for a blog post was born: A look at the forest’s offering of herbs commonly used for the urinary system.

First up is Pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellata) in the heath family. (I just love the heath family with their beautiful earn-shaped flowers.)

Pipsissewa is astringent, anti-septic and a diuretic making it useful in cases of urinary tract infections and cystitis. Like all of the plants we are exploring today it has cooling and drying tendencies.

I took a lot of photos of Pipsissewa because it was so alluring.

I was surprised to find this flowering patch of Cleavers (Galium aparine) in the deep forest.

We had reached an area closer to a creek that was moist – just the way cleavers likes it.

Like most herbs used for the urinary system, cleavers is cooling and drying. It is a relaxing diuretic, supports lymph flow and is also quite nutritious. Sharol Tilgner says that cleavers has been shown to reduce stones and fibrocystic tissue.

I like using cleavers when they are fresh rather than as a dried herb. I was recently shown a great way of "juicing" cleavers by adding a large amount to a blender along with a little water and then blending on high. After straining off the plant material you are left with a deep green juice that is so fresh and cooling.

A few weeks ago while cooling off by a steam I bumped into American Speedwell or Veronica americana. This is a close relative, Alpine Speedwell which may or may not have been used in the same manner. (Anyone know how about different Veronica spp.?)

I couldn't find any specific listings of Veronica spp. being used for the urinary system, however because they are both astringent and diuretic it could be a possible choice for urinary tract infections.

What would a listing of plants for the urinary system be without Uva Ursi (Arctostaphylos uva ursi)? Uva ursi is hands-down my first choice for urinary tract infections.

Uva ursi is quite astringent (try popping a leaf in your mouth and record how quickly you no longer have saliva) and is also a diuretic.

It's not for everyone however. It can upset stomachs and is no longer recommended during pregnancy. Whenever I use uva ursi I like to blend it with more soothing and mucilagenous herbs like marshmallow root.

I harvest the leathery leaves in the fall which is when the leaves are said to have the highest levels of arbutin. Whether or not you are into fancy chemical constituents you can easily observe this yourself by comparing how the spring leaves compare to the fall leaves, or even the new growth to the old growth.

This certainly isn't an all encompassing look at materia medica for the urinary system, but it was so fascinating to me to find such a grouping in one area. I didn't take photos, but yarrow, is another abundant plant I saw on the walk that I also use extensively for UTIs. I recently did an anatomy and physiology article of the urinary system, so I will post that soon along with a longer piece I've been working on for UTIs.