Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Echinacea: Reclaiming this powerful plant

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Please go to http://www.herbalremediesadvice.org/echinacea-benefits.html  
to read about Echinacea Benefits.

The Chinese Medicinal Herb Farm: A Review

The Chinese Medicinal Herb Farm: A Cultivator’s Guide to Small-Scale Organic Herb Production by Peg Schafer

Over the past few years I’ve started to grow some Chinese medicinal herbs. Astragalus, codonopsis and baical skullcap were herbs I just couldn’t imagine being without. This year was my first harvest and I was a little disappointed about the yield. Two years of effort brought forth very little roots. If only I had had this beautifully photographed and incredibly informative book to guide me, I would have easily avoided mistakes! 

This book is written for both the casual home gardener interested in growing a few plants and the farmer interested in entering the market of Chinese Medicinal Herbs. 

Authored by Peg Schafer, who is not only a pioneer and authority on the subject (after having been an organic Chinese medicinal herb farmer for over a decade), but also who has a gift for writing in an engaging and very clear manner. 

Part I of this book starts off by addressing many common concerns about growing Chinese Herbs. Why would someone be interested in growing Chinese herbs? Are they as potent as plants grown in China? Will the grower be introducing invasive species? Is there a market for these herbs? 

In her concise yet thorough manner, Schafer addresses all these concerns. 

Why grow Chinese plants?
As Schafer points out, there are many reasons to grow Chinese herbs. First, there is a lot of concern about the quality of herbs coming from China. Plants in the wild are being over-harvested and all plants coming out of China could potentially be exposed to pesticides and other harmful chemicals. Secondly, there is a growing concern about the availability of herbs from overseas. By learning to grow our own we ensure our access to these plants no matter the political climate. 

Are Chinese plants cultivated in the west medicinally potent?
I often hear from practitioners that the most potent Chinese herbs only come from their native habitat. Peg Schafer has an interesting analogy about this hypothesis in relation to wine. Not too long ago it was thought that the best wines could only be grown in the French terroir. However, after years of experimentation, the western coast of the United States has proven its ability to grow wines just as coveted as the French. 

Moving beyond analogy, Schafer addresses the concern of cultivated vs. wild plants by sharing her specific ways of growing potent plants. (Tip: growing medicinal herbs is nothing like growing vegetable crops!) She backs up her claims with scientific testing (her herbs vs. imports) as well as organoleptic testing by Chinese Medicine Practitioners. 

Covering the basics
Although this book is mainly geared towards Chinese herbs, any herb gardener will find the first part of this book full of interesting tips. From building the soil, to managing the crops, to harvesting, to seed collecting, Schafer expertly covers many areas of organic herbal gardening. 

Fresh codonopsis root

Specific Plants (79 of them!)
In part 2 Schafer delves into specific cultivation techniques for 79 different Chinese plants. This section covers germination requirements, troubleshooting techniques, harvesting methods, processing methods, beautiful photos and even medicinal information for each plant. 

All of the information presented in the book comes from Schafer’s years of direct experience on her own farm and is a treasure for western dwellers who have grown fond of Chinese herbs, although I wouldn’t limit this book to strictly Chinese herb growers as the western herbalist will also find many familiar plants among the pages, such as Angelica sinensis and burdock (Arctium lappa). 

I’ve been pouring over this book for the past couple of weeks and, while the ground is covered in snow, I am already dreaming of my spring garden and the Chinese plants I will grow there. With Schafer’s informative book in hand I know I’ll have a lot more success growing my favorite Chinese herbs. I am looking forward to a garden full of peonies and codonopsis and skullcaps and on and on. 

To purchase this book and support Schafer’s important work (and farm), buy it from her directly at: 


Part One: Cultivating to Conserve Connecting with Quality Asian Botanicals
Chapter One: Farming to Be Part of the Solution
Evolving Herbal Traditions
Risks to the Future of Herbalism
Solutions for Continued Availability

Chapter Two: Herb Quality
Wild Quality
Assessing Herb Quality
Regulating Herbs
Like Fine Wines . . .

Chapter Three: Cultivation in the Nursery, Garden, and Field
Seed Starting and Propagation
Managing Your Soil
Seasonal Care
Managing Invasive Plant Risk

Chapter Four: The Harvest and Marketing
Harvesting Medicine
Drying Herb Crops
Storing Dried Herbs
Shipping Fresh or Dry Herbs
Collecting and Saving Seed for Sowing
Selling What You Grow
Good Agricultural Practices
Make Alliances

Chapter Five: Conservation and Global Trade in Medicinal Plants
Current Status: Factors and Reasons for Concern
Who Needs Protection?
Protective Measures
How Effective Are the Protective Strategies?
Cultivate to Conserve
How to Be Part of the Solution

Part Two: 79 Medicinal Herb Profiles

ISBN: 9781603583305 Year Added to Catalog: 2011
Book Format: Paperback
Book Art: Full Color Throughout
Dimensions: 8 x 10
Number of Pages: 336
Book Publisher: Chelsea Green
Pub Date: December, 2011
Retail Price: U.S. $34.95 / Canada $38.50
Category: Gardening & Agriculture

Baical Skullcap

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Digging a well when you're thirsty...

Photo by Ananda Wilson
Curing a disease once someone is already ill is like digging a well when you are thirsty.
- Chinese saying

The poignant quote above illustrates our common cultural disillusionment with health. Many of us are only motivated to change our daily habits once illness has arrived. When instead our quest for vibrant health can be sought in every action we take and well before disease sets in. 

For some people preventive health may mean forcing unpleasant activities upon themselves in the name of good health (restrictive diets and harsh detoxes to name a couple). 

But what if instead our daily search for vibrant health was filled with joy, pleasure and empowerment?

I recently signed up for this new course from herbalist Ananda Wilson which accentuates pleasure and self-care as a means of more holistic journey towards health. 

I have absolutely LOVED Ananda's course so far. Her herbal products are beyond what I have ever seen in the herbal world and her content has already created many positive shifts in my life. 

You can read more about this course below or by visiting Ananda's site here

Ready to awaken your thinking body and feeling mind? 
Ready to heal through pleasure instead of dark shadows? 
Ready for herbal luxury that is non-toxic, hand crafted and utterly divine?  
Ready to Fill your tool bag with powerful agents of feminine creativity?
Then YOU, my sweet, are ready for the Lady's Slipper Ring.
-Ananda Wilson 

Lady’s Slipper Ring                              
Herbal Healing - Pleasure Medicine - Empowerment

11 Month Complete Sacred Self-Care Membership

In the Tradition of Women's Empowerment, Amrita Apothecary Herbal Collections, and our deep need to take good care of our bodies and hearts............

......the Lady's Slipper Ring will pamper you silly with the most sensual products; handcrafted potions using wildcrafted and organic herbs, the finest aromatics like blends that include pure rose attar and neroli blossom, in exquisite, themed collections each month. 

If you are:

Needing a support framework for your self care regime

Ready to heal through joy and pleasure (instead of pain and struggle)

Full of the beauty of life and ready to activate your own personal practices

Needing clear reflections of your worth and value to keep you inspired

Tired of "calgon" - toxic ways to relieve stress and desire natural care

Tired of the workaholic dogma and restricting cultural paradigms

Calling in simple, powerful, deeply nourishing self-care activities and habits 

Desiring a consistent anchor for your process

Calling in a deeper connection to your intuitive, informative senses

Ready to embrace your Divine Feminine strength and intuitive wisdom

Ready to affirm that you are totally worthy of claiming your beauty and individual power


Then the Lady's Slipper Ring is exactly what you've called into your life. Together we will weave a journey for you that achieves all of the above - plus blessings just waiting for you to say a cosmic "YES" so they can show up! Showing up for yourSelf first, sets the inertia in the right direction.

This membership/gentle mentorship provides deep self care, sensory delight, and beautiful healing herbals. It's perfect for busy women, healers who need a reminder to take care of themselves, and women with discerning taste in fine botanical products. Athletes, Dancers, Moms, and Teachers alike will find deep solace. 

How does the Lady's Slipper Ring work?

It's a monthly spiral, combining a dynamic synergy of herbal medicines, written components, and active self care processes that inquire and speak to your deep Self. 

I sew together my years of work in Wilderness training, Red Tent Temple leading, Herbal Medicine, and Movement instruction, to bring you the distilled and powerful essences of self care and creative health. My immense joy in life is to help others awaken their thinking body, feeling mind and intelligent heart

You will receive personally written content to compliment each herbal collection. The content is meaningful and action based, simple yet profound, malleable and achievable even for busy women. 

The written content comes in 6 sections:

1) Invitations ~ A set of Invitaitons for the month: activities for self care, journal exercises, and a co-created or prompted daily practice for you, seasonally aligned. 

2) Potions ~ An herbal recipe or two to suit the month's theme.

3) Tasks/Checklist ~ To help you feel organized

4) Supplemental Resources ~ Suggested Books and Websites in support of the month's theme

5) Collection Descriptions ~ Explanations for each Collection with Intentions/Suggestions for uses.

6) Adornments ~ A random surprise extra - inspirations, playful ideas, and miscellaneous wisdom. 

You will receive a three-piece herbal collection every month, handcrafted by yours truly. With over 20 years experience in herbal medicine making and formula blending, and a lifetime of herbal healing experience as a second generation herbalist. I bring you decadent, fine botanical potions created with wildcrafted and organic plants, exquisite essential oils, and absolute lusciousness for your healing wholeness. 

In all, Lady's Slipper Members receive:

One complete three piece masterfully handcrafted herbal collection, Monthly, Valued at over $75.00 ea

~ Rich and Engaging Support Content Monthly (as described above, via PDF) 

~ One Q&A Support email exchange Monthly **ONLY available to 3 more members **

~ Accountability through mirroring:  intention exercises which will be returned/mirrored to you periodically during the year, reflecting to you your beauty and purposes, and reminding you of your deeper self. 

~ Pre-public notice of all offerings from Plant Journeys/Amrita Apothecary and special discount codes 

BONUS PLUS ~ One jar of decadent face cream each season especially designed for the Lady's Slipper Ring!! That's four jars per year - enough to keep you well hydrated and pampered! Valued at over $30.00 ea

I already have an incredible *Linden blossom - Neroli Cream and Facial Therapy Oil set* ready to be delivered to your doorstep for paying the full registration today!! Valued at over $50.00

A Welcome Gift :)

You can learn more about the Lady Slipper Ring by clicking here. 

December's lovely herbal selection. 
As a side note: Every week I get several requests from people and companies wanting me to do a blog post about their product or service. If you're a frequent reader of my blog you'll know that none of these requests are ever realized on my blog. I am posting this more "advertising" post because I feel so strongly about this course. I am receiving no financial compensation for this support. 

Friday, December 2, 2011

Valerian on Photo Friday

Valeriana officinalis growing
on a volcano in Central France

Today's Photo Friday is one of my favorite plants, the notorious valerian. 

I rely on valerian often in my life to help with muscle pain and spasms in my back, for menstrual cramping and for relaxation and sleep. I am a valerian girl. 

While valerian is a relaxing nervine, sedative and anti-spasmodic to the majority of people, a significant amount of people react in the opposite way to valerian. Instead of settling in for a deep sleep they find themselves agitated and very awake. 

I recommend starting out with low doses of valerian to figure out which category you're in. 

I use valerian tincture in fairly large doses for myself. Two dropperfuls at night will konk me out almost immediately. 

I also use it as a fomentation for back pain and muscle spasms. I generally combine it with ginger. 

One of the best uses of valerian is for those dry spastic coughs that often accompany the end stages of a cold or flu. You know those annoying coughs that often become worse when lying down, preventing sleep. 

To address these debilitating coughs I do two things. I take marshmallow root and/or linden leaf/flower infusions during the day to address the dryness. Then valerian root tincture at night to stop any residual coughing. For myself,  I just keep dosing the tincture until I pass out. This generally means two dropperfuls initially and then a dropperful as necessary. 

Various species of valerian can be used with similar results. I'd love to hear what species of valerian you're using. 
Valeriana sitchensis growing on Mt. Hood
in Oregon. 

Valerian sitchensis grows wild in the mountains above my home, but since I also grow Valeriana officinalis in my garden, I rely on that for most of my medicine. 

I planted this Valeriana officinalis a couple years ago. I purchased the sprout from Crimson-Sage Nursery and then planted it without really knowing what to expect. 

At the time it was about 12 inches tall. 

By the second year this valerian was easily 8 feet tall in my garden. 

The valerian is the tall green stuff at the
back of the planting box. 

Besides offering fragrant and beautiful blooms it also supported some great wildlife viewing opportunities. Here's a goldenrod spider having a little snack. 

The goldenrod spider can change it's color from yellow to white depending on it's
current flower home. (As you might imagine it is yellow when found on goldenrod flowers.)

I've tinctured the flowers of valerian but haven't had a chance to use them yet as medicine - have any of you? Please share in the comments below. 

Valeriana officinalis leaves

This fall I dug the roots of the valerian I had planted two years ago. It was easy to split the plant in two and then replant the second half. 

If you don't do this occasionally with the valerian in your garden the roots will become more woody and have less essential oils. 

Depending on who you ask, valerian roots can smell deeply earthy or like gym socks.   

When harvesting and preparing the roots for medicine  we want to process them minimally to avoid damaging the volatile oils in the plant. 

To make a tincture I put the roots in a bowl of coldish water and gently swished the roots around. This was to get most of the dirt from the roots. I didn't scrub the roots. 

The result was mostly clean roots. I chopped these finely and then tinctured at 1:2 at 75%. 

When this is done macerating I'll filter this really well to capture any stray pieces of dirt that made it to the batch. 

Valerian is easy to grow, can also be wildcrafted and provides effective relief for pain and sleeplessness for most people. I've relied on valerian so many times for aches and pains and periods of insomnia that I have a strong love affair with this potent smelling creature. 

Further resources: 
Mini-monograph on valerian (with a story about cats)
Another small monograph on valerian

Very thorough monograph on Valerian (by ABC) pdf