Monday, December 8, 2008

Easing My Own Cough

I've had this cough for a week now. It's worse in the morning when I wake up, and at night when I lie down to sleep. For a couple days I had chest pain with it and at times I could even hear a rattling in my lungs when I breathed and/or coughed. So it's been a fairly deep chest cough.

I haven't gotten really sick with it, have even tried to do too much at times--like getting ready for, attending and hosting a neighborhood Christmas party on Saturday, as well as seeing some herbal clients and doing the usual mom things. I think I haven't gotten really sick and I've been on a good path of recovery due to a few things I've done, however. The list follows:

One, I saw my chiropractor earlier in the week before the cough even showed itself. He found a spot on my back, lung area, that needed to be adjusted (he uses one of those metal things that "pop" and release tension). I'm sure his releasing that spot has helped the gunk in my lungs flow better in the first place.

Two, I've been drinking lots of hot water with honey and lemon in it. Maybe three large mugs of this a day, interspersed with my favorite hot black tea a couple of times a day. Honey itself, especially if it's local and minimally processed, is very good for viruses and bacteria. It's anti-biotic and even doctors around here recommend it instead of cold medicine for kids (now that the FDA has banned cold medicines for kids).

Three, I made up and have eaten most days a chicken soup with our 24-hour simmered bone broth, onions, garlic, celery, carrots and a bit of chicken meat. I seasoned only with salt and lots of pepper, and added a scant tablespoon of barley miso paste to the bottom of my soup bowl. Miso is a salty fermented paste common to Asian diets. It's nutritious and added a lot of flavor to the soup. You're not supposed to cook it, just add it to your soup bowl and stir it in the hot soup where it melts.

Fourth, each night before bed I've been drinking a small amount (maybe a shot) of my Elderberry Liqueur. The recipe for that is in my Elderberry post. The liqueur is very warming and soothing to the throat, and it just plain tastes good. It really quieted my cough before bed.

Also, the Elderberry is a premier remedy for treating colds and flu viruses because it prevents viruses from "spiking" on healthy cells, therefore shortening the lifespan of viruses. As I said in my Elderberry post, I was taught by my teacher Matt Wood to think of it as a "tubular remedy", clearing the tubes of the body as in the respiratory and digestive "tubular" systems.

And finally, I've rested every chance I could. This is not easy to do when the lists are long. However, I took at least one or two good naps this week, and yesterday I sat and watched movies, read or knit all day and didn't leave the house or do any chores at all. Of course that leads to feelings of guilt or unworthiness in many of us, but I did my best to overcome those feelings and just say "I'm sick and I must get well!"

And so I am. Those are just some simple, inexpensive ways to protect and better your health this winter. Honey, lemon, hot beverages, chicken soup, Elderberry and rest. If we can just remember to do those things we may not need more intervention much of the time.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Pain From An Herbalist's Perspective

Some notes from a class I took last night, entitled "Pain from an Herbalist's Perspective", lecture by Lise Wolff, Registered Herbalist, M.Sc., in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I haven't really had time to process this, so I am just jotting down notes I'd like to highlight and adding a few thoughts of my own. This is part of my processing, but also a way to share these thoughts with others.

"Pain tells us something is wrong in the body and needs help."

"Herbs don't necessarily kill the pain but help the origin of the pain, by resuming flow in the system."

"Pain blockers (acetiminophen, ibuprofen, acid reducers, etc.) 'shut your body up' and that's not good." There is always an underlying cause that, if addressed, will bring you to better health.

Different people respond differently to pain. Pain always has an emotional component--indeed we FEEL pain. In a way, it is "all in your head", but unlike in conventional medicine that is not said with disrespect here. It is necessary to treat the emotions as well as the physical body when there is pain.

Whereas conventional medicine sees pain as a "malfunction of the nervous system", herbalists believe it's a good thing your body is showing symptoms.

Cancer is one of the only times when there is little or no pain to signal that something is wrong. Cancer is indeed a great scourge of our time. Have we not previously been listening to our bodies? Is cancer the end result of that? (Note: this in now way is said to place blame on any one person for their cancer, or another person's cancer. Cancer looked at in this way is a systemic problem, particular to our current culture. Placing blame, therefore increasing bad feelings and tension, is a terrible thing to do in this instance!)

We don't want pain to be chronic. Oftentimes herbalists give herbal remedies to "relax the body, so it can then repair itself more easily", doing its intended job and relieving the pain.

Paracelsus (1493-1541, whom many feel is the founder of modern medicine, herbal medicine and homeopathy) said "Where nature creates pain, toxic substances have accumulated and want to be eliminated." This is a call to restore flow to the body, to ease its job of ridding itself of toxins.

And get this! We have in our brain receptors for cannabis! That is, pot, marijuana. As Lise said, "what this means is that we (humans) have a long term relationship to pot." Cannabanoid receptors actually shut off our memory, so that we can release stress and our body can heal. For more info. on that, read Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan.

But don't smoke pot! Use herbs and flower essences. They can do the same thing, without the harmful side effects.

Now, there are many herbs and flower essences that can help with pain. But in the style of herbal medicine that I practice, we look for specifics not generalizations. Because each person has a different response to pain, and because the physical symptoms are a result your entire lifetime of physical and emotional responses, there is no way to generalize the right herb for someone. So, I offer no specific herbs to this discussion. However, I will say that a big goal here is to relax the body. If you can find an herb that will help you relax, and don't overuse it, that will allow your body to start its process of repair.

And not just herbs and flower essences can be used here. As we know there are many ways to relax, from meditation and yoga to journaling to knitting and many more. Take naps more often. Take a walk and blow off steam. Find the best ways for you to relax.

And of course, seek medical attention if your pain is severe and/or chronic and you need help.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

An Award!

Thank you, Mon, for this award and your very kind words about me and my blog. I love this stuff! Every time I think of giving up blogging, I realize I love the community of bloggers that I've found too much to "throw in the towel" completely. I love Mon's blog, Hearth Herbalist, so much and it's cool to converse regularly with someone in the Balkans. The globalization of our world through the internet is truly one of the newest wonders of the world. It's awesome!

The rules of this award are:-

1. Put the award logo on your blog or post (right click on award, save as)
2. Nominate at least 1 blog that you consider to be Uber Amazing!
3. Let them know that they have received this Uber Amazing award by commenting on their blog
4. Share the love and link to this post and to the person you received your award from

Mon, I'd choose you in a second but since you already won this award I'll pick another:

A blog I've recently discovered and fallen head over heels for is These Days in French Life. Riana is an American living in an historic village in France. Her photos are amazing. Her recipes are incredible (I made her chocolate tarte for my writer's group and they were impressed!). Her stories and insights into life are fascinating. And I so admire the things she's doing like butchering a wild boar that her neighbor brought over after he ran into it. And there's prettier stuff, too--like growing and making herbal remedies, which is of course right up my alley.

Monday, November 17, 2008

How Not To Make An Oil

Okay, so here's the reason you don't take your steeped herbal oil and let it sit on your dark kitchen counter for a couple of weeks before you decant it:
Since the mold didn't affect the oil except for on the top, I just scraped it off and strained the rest through cheesecloth (as usual), washed out the jar and put the "clean" oil back in there, to store in the fridge, possibly make a salve with beeswax someday, and use as needed.
This is calendula oil, good for lymphatic drainage, cat-scratch type wounds and muscle pain or wounds in areas with a lot of lymph nodes (i.e. the collarbone area). Read my post about it here. And Maude Grieve has a nice write-up on calendula here in her book A Complete Herbal on . She calls it Marigold but it's different from the Marigold many of us are used to with the strong scent that repels bugs and bunnies from the garden.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

I Have An Intern!

Yes, me! It makes me feel so legitimate as an herbalist. (Why?, I wonder.) A young woman who's a student at our nearby state university found my business card at the local natural foods co-op and sent an email asking to meet me about a possible internship. I was kind of dumbfounded. Follow me? Doing what?

Being a fairly new herbalist I don't yet have a lot of clients (very few so far, in fact). I still have felt engaged in the herbal process, however, as I'm making medicines, attending classes, fielding questions and doing some teaching on a regular basis. But the getting clients to come see me thing, that's eluded me. To be honest, I haven't put much time into it, except for putting a few business cards around town. Part of it is I have a hard time asking people for money! I'm still not 100% sure of my skills and whether I can help people or not, and to charge money for visiting clients seems a bit of a stretch.

However, that perspective of mine needs to change. And I know it. It turns out that having an intern, a young student who wants to learn from me, may be the best thing that's happened to my herb business yet. She's helping me change my perspective.

To get more client time, I've sent out an email to friends and neighbors offering 10 free herbal consulatations with one follow-up each. I got a great response! I think I will end up seeing 15 people and my intern will be able to observe and get in as much as 30 hours for her 80-hour internship. (I just couldn't say no to anyone, so we'll do 15...;-))

So many of the respondees are so excited about coming to see me, and hopefully being helped herbally with any issues they have. That makes me excited! And I always love doing anything that has to do with herbs, a sure sign that this is what I'm meant to do. Also, I have had some good feedback recently from a client who came to see me this summer for symptoms around menopause. She got my free consult email offer and replied back that her problems had completely cleared up and she did believe it was the herbs that helped (for what it's worth, she got lemon balm and nettles based on the pulse testing I did to find the right remedies). I was thrilled! Here I had been worrying about this client because I hadn't had much feedback from her...For the most part I have gotten positive feedback now from everyone I've "treated". That is reassuring, as well.

The other things my intern and I will do together are decant some of the tinctures I have sitting on my kitchen counter from this past spring and summer; make one or two root tinctures since this is the season for that and we can use dried roots; and attend some herb classes together.

I am looking forward to getting to know Ashley, and to seeing many more clients with her learning at my side. And who knows, these "free" appointments may end up bringing many rewards back to me in the form of referrals, etc. It feels like we're on the right track.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Hercules' Club

Hercules' Club (Aralia spinosa) can be mistaken for Elder (Sambucus). The flowers/berries grow in smaller clusters that are not umbrel-shaped, and the trunk is thorny--the clues that this similar-looking plant is not Elder.

While visiting my mother and father-in-law in Gloucester, Virginia last week, I was very excited to walk down the neighbor's road where I'd seen Elder trees growing the last time we were there in summer, thinking they'd still be blooming in Virginia and I could make some more tincture. Unfortunately, the sides of the road had been mowed! George and I walked the street, with me feeling sadder by the minute, until finally we found a shrub that looked like Elderberry. But alas, as we got closer I felt right away that it looked different.

The berries were ripe and black like elderberries and the stems were the same deep burgundy color, but they hung in smaller clusters that were not quite umbrel-shaped (think, umbrella here) like I'm used to. This right away got my "hackles up" as they say. I became skeptical, which is an extremely healthy thing in a wildcrafter!

Then George noticed that there were thorns on the trunk of the tree/shrub. That was also odd. I decided to taste a berry (something I feel comfortable doing because I know what I'm tasting for, and I know to spit it out as soon as it doesn't taste right, but I would NOT recommend many people do that!). The berry did not taste sweet, it was very "dry" on my tongue, and in short I knew right away that this was not elder.
A search on Google taught me that it was Hercules' Club, often mistaken for Elder. But one way you can always tell it's not: Elder trees/shrubs NEVER have thorns.

Wikipedia's article on Hercules' Club says that "the young leaves can be eaten if gathered before the prickles harden. They are chopped finely and cooked as a potherb." I don't know anything about that, but I also read that the berries are poisonous, and they are definitely not elderberries so I would leave the plant alone.

Anyone know about Hercules' Club? I guess it's also known as Southern Prickly Ash, though it is not the Zanthoxylum (prickly ash) I'm familiar with as a wonderful nerve and tootheache remedy. Maud Grieve's Modern Herbal on calls Hercules' Club "Angelica Tree" and gives some medicinal uses for it. I'm not familiar with Angelica so I will have to do some further research.

Mainly for this post I wanted readers to be aware of this plant that can resemble Elder. This example just brings home the message that it's good to check and double check and be really certain you have the correct plant when wildcrafting. I know it brought that lesson home to me!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Wear A Scarf

I'm on vacation this week in beautiful Gloucester, Virginia, but I thought I'd post this excellent health tip real quick: keep your neck covered when it's cold.

It's getting chillier in the Northern Hemisphere as winter approaches. Kimberly Hart, fabulous massage therapist, herbalist, and owner of Adagio Holistic Therapies in Minneapolis, recently sent out a good email reminder that we should be wearing scarves or finding other ways of keeping our necks warm at this time of year and until the weather is warm again. She noted that if our neck is cold we tend to scrunch up our shoulders and this gets us into bad posture, tension, etc.

Lately I've been having terrible neck tension so this was a great reminder to me. And besides, it's a good excuse to stock up on pretty scarves, whether handmade or store bought. I've been eyeing some at T.J. Maxx for a while now!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

I'm Published! Hen and Harvest Magazine

I'm really thrilled to say I'm a published writer now! I mean, this is really exciting because I was asked to write for something that isn't my own blog--a blog being really just a personal soapbox, right?

The editors at the online magazine, Hen and Harvest, graciously asked me to write an article on herbal medicine. I chose to write an article called Immune Health and the Low Energy Lifestyle and they accepted it. You can read it now at It's even the "Lead Article"! And if that doesn't stoke my ego, what else would?

By the way, Hen and Harvest is a lovely online magazine written mostly by some of my favorite bloggers/writers on the web with the subtitle of "Sustainability. Good cheer. Better Food." Do check it out for all their great articles.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Root-based Iron Tonic

Yellow Dock (Rumex crispus) grows profusely in my yard. It is a prairie plant and is also called curly dock due to its curled leaves. You can see rust spots on the leaves, indicating the plant pulls iron from the soil and thus is a good iron remedy.

Last week I made up some very good Iron Tonic. This recipe is from herbalist Aviva Romm and it's great for people who are anemic or maybe need an iron supplement for other reasons. I have given this to two friends who are chronically anemic and both have said the Iron Tonic has helped their energy levels.

Here's the recipe:

1/2 ounce each dried dandelion root and dried yellow dock root
1/2 cup blackstrap molasses
1/8 cup brandy (optional; to preserve)

First harvest the roots and chop them into small pieces (about 1/4" thick rounds). Dry the pieces on a cookie sheet at the lowest oven temp. for 15-20 minutes. Alternatively, you can purchase them already dried from a good source such as Mountain Rose Herbs.
Put the roots in a quart jar and cover with boiling water. Let sit 4-8 hours or so. Strain into a pot and simmer off until you're left with 1 cup of liquid infusion. Add to this the blackstrap molasses while still heating then remove from heat, and add brandy if using. Preserve this in the refrigerator or very cool place. It should keep 3-4 months especially with brandy--it will mold when it goes bad. One recipe yields 1 and 1/2 to two cups tonic. The dose is 1-2 tablespoons daily. Take it with 250 mg Vitamin C for best absorption.

Friday, September 19, 2008


Blurry calendula flowers in my garden; they self-sow prolifically

This is a busy time of year for an herbalist. There are so many herbs just ready to be "put up" into tinctures and oils. It's the time to gather roots, especially. In the next couple of days I hope to harvest some of the yellow dock that has "taken root", literally, all over my yard. I will make an iron tonic with the dock roots and do a post on that when I get it done.

I'm also trying to get the last of the flowers and herb leaves preserved in some way before frost. The chamomile long ago stopped blooming and from one plant I didn't get much to dry for winter teas, so I've ordered 8 ounces more from Mountain Rose Herbs, the favorite herbal company of herbalists I know. I'm drying sage, thinking of that turkey stuffing, and lavender, parsley, thyme, and so much more.
Calendula flowers wilting for 24 hours before I steep them in olive oil

The one thing I've got steeping yet is Calendula flowers in olive oil to make a nice oil to use as a rub. Calendula is great for the lymphatic system. It's a very sunny-looking plant and has a particular affinity for "places where the sun don't shine". This includes the armpit area, full of lymph nodes, and the underwear lines in the pelvic area. You know you have lymphatic stagnation if you feel tenderness in those areas. I get tenderness in my armpits and around my breasts so this oil is for me to use when that happens.
My calendula oil steeping 6 weeks, and putting out "sun rays" to remind us of its sunny disposition (or is that just bad photography?)

The Victorians called Calendula "liquid sunshine" and put the fresh or dried flowers in soups to add nutrients and work as an anti-depressant. It's particularly suited for Seasonal Affective Disorder, known as S.A.D. and occuring in winter when the days are dark. The nutrients in Calendula are good for the immune system and because it helps the flow of lymph that helps to maintain health in general.

You can also make or purchase a Calendula wash which is basically a strong tea. This is particularly good for "cat scratch" type of cuts that are puffy and oozing signifying, again, poor lymphatic draining. Calendula wash is also generally helpful for skin irritations, rashes, bites, dryness, and it helps cool and calm a sunburn.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Lemon Balm Instead of Valium?

Melissa officinalis, aka Lemon Balm, in my garden

I thought that title might get some attention! Just the other day a friend and--now former--co-worker and I were joking about needing some valium to get us through the stresses of life. The two of us, Buyers for the Health and Body Care department at a natural foods co-op, got a laugh out of the irony of us wanting some valium. It's really no joke, though.

Valium (good history at this page), immortalized by the Rolling Stones as Mother's Little Helper, was introduced by Roche Labs in 1963 as the first "lifestyle drug". The company was later accused of not warning the public or doctors of the addictiveness of Valium. Of course, more money can be made if you get the public addicted first! In its first ten years, Valium had been prescribed to 59.3 million patients, bringing in a new era of blockbuster medicines and "turning to a little pill" for help in getting through your day.

Herbs don't work this way. They are not "your little pill" and they never should be thought of as a quick fix or crutch. That said, there are many herbs and flower essences that can help with anxiety and stress. An herb can be taken in tea or tincture form as a help to relax, but you won't get addicted and you will be doing your whole body a favor if you find the right herb for you as it will work systemically. That is, throughout your whole system--body, mind, spirit--to bring balance back to your life.

Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) is one of my favorite herbs for this purpose. (There are others of note: agrimony and prickly lettuce were my constitutional remedies when I first started taking herbs, and favorites of my herbalist Lise Wolff; blue vervain is another; most of the mints tend to be cooling and calming, as well as members of the Rose family like peach leaf and wild cherry; chaomomile; lavender; and I'm sure many more not on the top of my head at the moment.)

Lemon balm is a member of the mint family. It makes a delicious tea both hot or iced, and a tincture of the fresh herb is handy and tasty as well. Lemon Balm works best as a fresh herb--you can dry it for tea-making in winter but its medicinal value will be lessened. It's better to tincture the fresh herb for medicine, and use the dried tea as little more than a tasty beverage.

Now might be just the time to make that fresh herb tincture, before the frost. Earlier in the summer would be better, though. If your lemon balm has gone to flower the most potent remedy cannot be made, though I'd make it anyway if you want some for this year. Include the flowers if they're there. In my somewhat shady/part sun spot, my lemon balm has not flowered so I can make a tincture of just the leaves and a bit of stem. That is best.

I once made myself a pot of lemon balm tea and proceeded to drink three cups of it. Beware! You can drink too much of this sedative herb at once. However, this was just what I needed that day. I'm a bit of an insomniac, especially in summer, and on that summer afternoon after my tea time, I lay down on my hard porch floor with just a little pillow under my head and fell fast asleep for three hours. After not sleeping much for days, that sleep was restorative.

Lemon balm is known for its cooling properties, valued in hot climates. It has a sour, lemon flavor which is rare in the mint family, and very thirst-refreshing. It helps in fevers by helping to open the pores so the feverish person can sweat out the heat. I have also given lemon balm tincture to a client for hot flashes during menopause. She had a background of some tension along with depression, and a red pointed tongue indicating heat throughout the body (in Chinese medicine) which is a specific for lemon balm.

It can help to calm a spastic cough. It eases heart palpitations and general anxiety. Being a mint, it is also a carminitive, which means it helps with digestion. It will ease gas and nausea and especially helps for nervous indigestion. For this the hot tea after a meal is best.

My teacher Matt Wood says at his website page on lemon balm:

The dosage can be as small as 1-3 drops (when it's a specific and for that you probably need to see an herbalist) or as large as 10-30 drops. I generally recommend 5-10 drops twice a day, morning and evening for a chronic condition, more often in an acute situation such as when trying to calm heart palpitations or cooling a fever. Too much of any herb, however, and the remedy will no longer work. Don't overdo. It is considered a very safe herb.

Friday, August 22, 2008

September 13 Minnesota Herb Fest

I had said in my last post that I was next going to write about Echinacea. Well, for two reasons I'm going to postpone that one. Number one, because it's not quite time to harvest roots yet. For that we'll wait till the flowers die back, later in the fall. You want to make a root medicine when the energy of the plant is strongest in the root. This is in the fall when its energy is going to the root and not the upper body of the plant. Then the root's "sugars" and therefore, its medicine, are strongest.

The second reason I'm going to wait is because of an herbal conference/festival I'm attending here in Minnesota in September. I think I will have an even better understanding of Echinacea after I take the following workshop class:

The Immune System: Not What you Think it is...with Lise
If you think "fighting off" a cold is the role of the immune system, think again! ( The immune system reflects our response to the world, both physically and emotionally). This provocative class will shake up your understanding of how the immune system functions and what foods, herbs and flower essences make it healthy. Away with Echinacea!

Lise Wolff was my herb teacher for the full year of 2005. From her, I already have a different understanding of Echinacea than the current popular notion of it as an "immune booster" or "virus fighter". But I think waiting for this class and brushing up on my understanding of the plant and its uses, as well as the immune system's role in our bodies, will help me present Echinacea in a more useful light.

In the meantime, if you want to nourish your body and help it to "fight off" (ha ha, not a kosher way to put it in Lise's book--I've got to figure out how to get my language right, obviously) viruses and flus, see my post on Elderberry.

And if you live near Minnesota and want to spend a day on a beautiful farm in Cannon Falls (SE Minn.) taking classes from a variety of top-notch herbalists, do come to the 3rd Annual Holistic Health and Herbal Education Festival. Click on the link for more information. The HerbFest is September 13, so hurry and register soon!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Testing...Testing...Is This Microphone Working?

That's how I'm feeling about this blog at the moment. It's apparent from you, my dear readers, leaving me comments that you are eagerly awaiting more posts by me on herbal remedies. I so, so appreciate your comments and I feel terrible being slow about this and letting you down! I fully intend to do more posts on these great plants, but let me explain a bit about my current slowness.

One, writing up each herb is a lot like writing a paper for school. It's a lot of work, with some research and a lot of thought on my part on how to best teach you about an herb. A lot of it I'm writing from my own head and personal experience, but I have to be careful on what I write. I take it so seriously because I take herbal medicine seriously. Herbs are potent medicine and if I screw up I run the risk of endangering someone's health. This is probably the main reason why I (and other herbal students I know) am/are slow at starting an herbal practice.

You see, there is very little in the way of herbal "degrees" or certification out there, and even if there is something like that, a student of herbal medicine can never know "enough". There's always room for study, for learning and experimenting and spending more time with the plants to know them better. I am trying to give some very basic information here, and to keep it fairly seasonal at least for now, but even into that basic information there enters a lot of thought and study.

Okay, for another reason, I've been working at my job at a natural foods co-op a lot this last part of the summer, and it's wearing me out. However, in two weeks I will be done with that job. Then it's time to take my herbalist practice even more seriuosly (along with homeschooling my kids). Expect more from me at that time!

In the meantime, I hope to write a short blurb about Echinacea in the next couple of days. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Elder: Sambucus canadensis

This is a post I wrote for my other blog, The Zahn Zone, last winter. It is almost time to harvest Elderberries in Minnesota (in September) and it may be even closer for you, so I thought I'd post it on this site for your "reading pleasure".

Reprinted from February 2, 2008:

George has been sick with a terrible cold this week. Due to having no voice, he actually missed three days of school, a record for him. Last night as he lay in bed, keeping us both awake with his coughing, I thought of my elderberry cordial. Fortunately, he was thinking the same thing as he went downstairs at about 12:30 a.m. to drink some. It definitely calmed his cough and we both slept better after that. (Okay, it also helped that he slept on the couch for the next four hours…he did say his cough calmed down, though.)

Elder (Sambucus canadensis here in N. America; S. nigra in Europe) is my favorite herbal remedy, and one of my favorite plants ever. The Elder tree or bush grows wild all over Minnesota, on our farmlands near damp places, along roadsides and on the edges of woods. I’ve also seen it near my in-laws’ place on the Ware River in the Tidewater region of Virginia--a damp, low place very different from Minnesota but still providing the conditions just right for wild Elder.

You can buy Elder bushes at the nursery, too, and they’ll grow well in most yards. I have planted two (for pollination you need at least two) in the corner of my front yard, on our city lot, and they’re growing beautifully. My herb teacher, Matthew Wood, in his Book of Herbal Wisdom: Using Plants as Medicines, writes that “planting an elder in the corner of an herb garden is considered to be beneficial to the medicinal plants growing there because the Elder serves as a sort of tutelary spirit to the herbs”. So of course, I decided to plant a couple near my garden!
I have two favorite things I love about Elder: one, it is steeped in legend and lore, something that thrills me in general and two, it is hands-down the best remedy for coughs, colds, flus, fevers, digestive upsets, colic, and more.

Matt Wood writes: “In northern Europe the Elder was associated with a powerful female being called the Elder Mother…It was considered a potentially fatal mistake to pick the plant without making an offering. The most common practice was to ask for some of the plant in exchange for notifying the Elder Mother that one‘s body would eventually be returned to the earth. In England, Elder wood crosses were placed on the new grave in hopes that it would bring the departed person peace.” (ibid.)

Elder was considered a door to the Underworld. It is featured in many fairy tales. “When Christianity appeared, Elder came to be associated with Jesus…After his crucifixion, Jesus went down into the Underworld to free the souls of the dead…The Elder, as tree-doorway to that realm was a natural addition when the story of Jesus reached Europe.” (ibid.)

Elder branches are tubular and tubular plants suggest open communication, even with other worlds. I always think of Elder as a “tubular remedy”, meaning it clears out the tubes of the body whether respiratory, digestive, circulatory, etc.

One of my Elder bushes in flower, in mid-July.
Everything is a bit late this year (2008) so their
flowering and berrying may be later than usual.

Elder flower tea is my first line of defense when we have a fever. The flowers made into a tea are good for sweating out a fever, and when I’ve drunk it I’ve experienced instant relief and a shortened duration to my fever. I can actually feel my skin “sweating” a bit, and tingling. I’ve had similar luck giving it to my kids. One teaspoon of dried flowers to one cup of boiling water, covered and steeped ten minutes, strained then sweetened with honey, is really tasty too. If my daughter will drink it, anyone can! You can buy dried flowers at any co-op or herb shop, which is what I do because I prefer to let my elder flowers turn into berries on my still-small plants.
Here is my Elder today, August 4. The berries are still green. In a month or so they'll be blackish-purple and drooping luxuriously from their branches. The flowers and berries form an "umbrel-type" flower, like an umbrella. Note the reddish-purple stems. When the berries are ripe, the umbrel part will just "pop off" the larger stem/branch at your touch.

The berries are super-nutritious. They’re not very sweet when fresh, but you can dry them for a sweeter flavor and put them in your cereal all winter. You can also make jam, chutney or cordial with them. I make an herbal tincture of them steeped with brandy or vodka for six weeks, then give my family members a dropper-full at the first sign of any illness. Some people take the a dropper-full of tincture every day during the winter. You can certainly buy the tincture at a health food store, too, and use that. I recommend everyone keep some Elderberry tincture in their home; it is more useful and better than the popular Echinacea, as I was taught by my herb teachers, and in my own experience as an herbalist. When the bird flu hits, this is one remedy you’ll want to use!

My husband in particular loves the Elderberry Cordial I made a couple of years ago. He’ll drink a shot glass full at night whenever he has a cold or flu. Here is the recipe:

4 c. fresh elderberries
2 c. sugar
1 t. lemon zest
2 T. fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 c. water
3 c. 100 proof vodka (I think I used 80 proof)

Crush elderberries and sugar together in a bowl. Let stand for about an hour. Add lemon zest and lemon juice. Transfer to clean 2-quart container and add water and vodka. Cover and let stand in a cool dark place for one month, shaking occasionally.

Use a fine-mesh strainer to strain out the solids. Discard into your compost (and please do compost any herbal “waste”; find a way to return it to the earth and the plant will be happier to help you out). Transfer liqueur to a clean container. Cover and age for at least one month before serving. Yields about 1½ quarts.

This recipe came from my teacher, Lise Wolff, RH AHG, who got it from Cordials From Your Kitchen by P. Vargas and R. Gulling.

There are many other recipes out there using Elderberry. You can make an Elderberry Syrup which would be better for your children. Herbalists like Rosemary Gladstar have wonderful recipes for this.

I am so grateful to the Elder Mother plant for her contributions to my family’s health. If you’re interested in natural, herbal remedies, I can’t recommend this plant highly enough. Find some in the wild if you’re lucky, or plant your own as I have. And always give thanks for nature’s gifts!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Let Me Introduce You To My Friend Plantain

Plantain (Plantago major) growing robustly on my garden path

Today I have the perfect moment to write about a common weed that is an uncommonly great herbal remedy: plantain.

Earlier this morning I was moving a compost pile from the spot where our chicken coop is going to go when all of a sudden a swarm of honey bees flew at me. Fortunately, I was stung only two or three times, and fortunately I'm not allergic, but the whole incident had me almost hyperventilating and the bee stings hurt like he**!

And what remedy came to my rescue? Why, the "lowly" plantain of course! Plantain is THE remedy for bee stings, bug and snake bites. Oh, there are others but plantain is so easy and so readily available everywhere. Its nickname is "white man's walk" because it grows where people walk, or on old trails (horse, deer, or man's). And also because the white man brought plantain over from Europe, along with dandelions and many other of our noxious weeds/invaluable herbal remedies and food. If plantain is growing in your yard as it is ours, it's a sign of compacted earth and it's often advised to aerate your lawn to get rid of it. You might find plantain growing along your sidewalk, as it is along mine in the photo below (next to thyme on the patio).
My favorite way to use plantain in the summer during prime bee sting season is to just take a leaf and make a lot of bite marks in it to get the juices going. Then hold the leaf on the sting like a band-aid and it will provide relief in a short time. I have impressed so many bee-stung kids with my "green medicine" this way! I also have plantain salve which works great if you put a band-aid or compress on top of it--you need something be it leaf, band-aid or piece of cloth, to which the stinger can attach itself. Today in my moment of panic I first grabbed some leaves and started biting, then ran into the house for salve, then had George get some band-aids, then I grabbed some compresses. The combination of it all did manage to calm me down and provide relief. I think in the end the whole leaves with bite marks in them and held on by a compress provided the best relief, but plantain salve is still a great ally for times when you can't find plantain growing.

Other uses for plantain leaves or salve: bites of all kinds, puncture wounds, slivers, dirty cuts and scrapes, or any abrasions. Plantain will draw out pus, dirt, shards of glass, slivers, etc. Then it will promote healing cell growth (class notes, Herbalist Lise Wolff lecture). You can also pack plantain leaves into your mouth for a toothache and it may draw out infectious materials and relieve the pain. It relieves canker sores as well. Plantain leaves or salve could be of great use to you during a dental emergency such as a root canal situation, but obviously see your dentist too!

I gave a client both plantain and white oak bark (quercus alba) tinctures for a series of dental problems she had. She still needed lots of oral surgery, but its possible the herbal remedies helped speed the healing. She didn't need as much antibiotics as usual.

Plantain tincture is an excellent general sore throat remedy. If you eat plantain when it's a little bit too big, you get some of its threads stuck in your throat so this can remind you that plantain tincture can heal sore throats when it feels like there's something stuck in there. (This is based on one herbal medicine/homeopathic principle--that herbs cause what they cure and cure what they cause--called the Law of Similars). For sore throats of any kind, take one drop under the tongue twice a day.

According to my teacher Lise Wolff, RH (AHG), Plantain is anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, analgesic and astringent. The tincture may also work for gastritis and cystitis where it cools inflammation. It may be indicated in cases where the kidneys and liver have been stressed by use of pharmaceutical drugs or heavy metal toxicity. I have less experience with these uses but if given the chance I would try plantain in these types of cases since its such a readily available local herb.

One last "signature" for Plantain is of the sole of the foot. Plantain/Plantago:Plantar have the same latin root word and plantar is the word for foot. Plantain can be used for relief of plantar fascitis and in this case you can use it in any form, tincture, leaf or salve.

One can look for these reminders for the uses of herbal remedies in the latin terms, the nicknames and even sometimes in the way a plant looks. In the case of plantain, the leaves have strings that one can see when you pull the leaf from its stem. Those strings remind me of plantain's ability to draw out toxins and bind up injuries--like a needle and thread.

The seeds of plantain are psyllium seed, the same stuff you can buy for a fiber supplement. Psyllium seeds are not only a good source of fiber for bulk in your diet, but they can pull parasites out of the intestines and pass them through the bowels. All parts of plantain are edible, the leaves and the seed pods. You'll want to eat the plantain leaves very early in the season when they are small and tender. They like all greens are very high in vitamins and minerals.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Yarrow Oil, Salve and Tincture: How To Make and Uses

Achillea millefolium: Yarrow

This is the season for Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) in Minnesota and probably many parts of the country. It's blooming on the prairies, in the ditches, in vacant unmown lots and everywhere. The wild yarrow has white, sometimes even pinkish, flowers. You can grow yarrow in your garden, and the colors range from yellow to orange to red to pink and white. It's a beautiful wild prairie plant, with lacy green leaves all up and down the rather woody stems.

Here's a photo of cultivated yarrow that I planted in my boulevard:
And here's a closer-up photo where you can really see the lacy leaves (well, sort of, if I had a better camera):

The leaves point to one of Yarrow's signature uses in that they look a bit like saw blades. Yarrow has various nicknames including "carpenter's weed" and "knight's milfoil" and is useful for the type of wound one might get from a saw or sword, a deep cut "down to the bone" with gushing blood. Yarrow can stop the bleeding and heal the wound quickly. You can use the fresh plant for this--if you happen to be injured in a place where yarrow is growing, you can stuff the cut with yarrow leaves. More conveniently at home, you can also use the oil or salve of yarrow and a compress pad of gauze or fabric.

My Yarrow Oil steeping for six weeks in the sunny window of my porch. I used cold-pressed olive oil and dried the yarrow for a day or so before cutting it into one inch pieces, packing it tightly into the jar and then filling the jar with oil.

Another name for yarrow is "Nosebleed" because it can both stop the gushing blood of a nosebleed as well as bring on a nosebleed in a person who may need to bleed (an old-fashioned medical concept). You can stop the nosebleed with yarrow oil or salve on a piece of tissue or a handkerchief inserted into the nostril, being careful not too stick it in too far for all the usual reasons. A friend's son who was having frequent nosebleeds used yarrow oil with great success. It stopped the bleed right away and helped in healing the spot that kept opening up.

In the same vein, yarrow is good for fevers and headaches with fevers. Once when my son was sick with a high fever and a headache with bright red cheeks, suggesting heat and excess blood in his facial capillaries, I gave him a couple drops of yarrow tincture. Not much later his nose began to bleed. This took some pressure off his forehead and he felt relieved. Yarrow tea would work well in this situation, as does the tincture.

Since yarrow is a blood remedy (both starts and stops bleeding) it is also good for bruises, varicose veins, hemorrhoids and other "stagnant blood" situations. Yarrow is a local version of Arnica for us. Arnica is used widely and is much praised by many for its wound-healing properties. Put Arnica on a bump or lump with a bruise and it immediately brings the swelling down. Yarrow does the same thing. I use Yarrow over Arnica always, because I can make the yarrow salves and tinctures myself. It, like Arnica, helps the wounded person with the feelings of shock and trauma as well.

Yarrow salve or oil can be rubbed on varicose veins to provide relief and hopefully healing of these stagnant, protruding blood vessels. An infusion of yarrow can be poured into a bath to soak the legs and/or bottom for either varicose veins or hemorrhoids, respectively. One could also soak just the feet in a yarrow infusion poured into a basin of water for bruised and swollen feet. I know of someone trying this now; we'll see if it works for her.

If you have a dirty wound, however, like a sidewalk scrape or wood sliver, the herb you want is not yarrow but plantain. Yarrow will bind up a wound too quickly and will leave the sliver or infectious dirt, etc. in there. Not good!

I highly encourage you to read what my teacher Matthew Wood writes about Yarrow, An Indispensable Herb on the linked web page; a quote:

In order to effectively treat disease we have to be able to decongest blood
associated with inflammation, thin stagnant, congealed blood, tone the veins,
stimulant the capillaries and arteries, and move the blood to or from the
surface. Yarrow, the great ‘normalizer’ of the blood does all these

The classic work, Maud Grieve's A Modern Herbal, has a page on Yarrow here. And if you want to read the old Master himself, Nicolas Culpeper, has his page on yarrow here. And here's an excellent page on using yarrow flower essences: Developing Positive Sympathy by Kyra Mesich. Those are all excellent resources online. If you can get the original sources, Culpeper's Complete Herbal, Grieve's A Modern Herbal, and Matthew Wood's The Book of Herbal Wisdom, I encourage you to do so. All are filled with wonderful herbal information.

Refer to the sidebar of my blog page where I have instructions for making herbal oils, salves, tinctures, teas and infusions. And let me know if Yarrow has helped you!

Okay, I'll try to do more...

I just came over to this blog finally and realized there are two comments, both of them wanting me to do more with this site. Okay, okay! I really want to. I just keep forgetting that I even have this blog, except as a tool to advertise my practice. I now have business cards with this website on it so folks can read about me!

Well, I'm going to start working on some posts. Yarrow Oil to start, later today.


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

MidAmerica Herbal Symposium in June

I wanted to post information on a conference I'm hoping to attend this June in Winona, Minnesota. I'm so excited about it! Some of my favorite herbalists will be there presenting workshops, and many of my favorite fellow herb students will be attending.

Famous herbalists like Susun Weed, Matthew Wood, Margi Flint, David Hoffman, Phyllis Light and many others will be there. This is Minnesota's chance to shine in the herb world! And I'm so excited they're all coming *practically* to my doorstep. I will certainly learn a lot from them.

I have made it my goal to see five new herbal consultation clients in the next month so I can raise the money to go to the conference. Please come see me soon if you've been thinking about it! I can help you out and you can help me. Win-win.

It's called the Inaugural MidAmerica Herbal Symposium (as this is its first year). Click on the link to find out more.

Friday, March 21, 2008


Come sit awhile and talk herbs with me...

Welcome to my first blog post as Herbalist Lisa Zahn. I am hoping to use this blog to keep clients and others interested in my practice up-to-date on what I'm doing in the world of Herbal Medicine, classes I'm teaching and/or attending and other interesting stuff about herbs and the world of natural health.

I have chosen to name my blog and business Falling Stars Herbal. I have recently seen two falling stars (I know they're meteorites, yes, but falling star sounds better), and I'm choosing to see them as signs to follow my dreams. To finally open up my herb practice!

Stay tuned for more on this blog as I get things going...