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.