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About a year ago I had the good fortune to visit Dr. James Duke’s garden in Maryland—my lovely friend Pamela is studying acupuncture at Tai Sophia, and the school’s herbalism program has a close relationship with Dr. Duke. Needless to say, I was tickled, intrigued, and inspired by the experience.

I was very pleased this week when I found out that the Piedmont Herb Festival in North Carolina will be featuring Jim Duke as its keynote speaker at its opening, Friday, June 4. The second day of the festival also boasts a plethora of different herbal classes from which to choose—choosing is the hard part.

Hope to see you there!

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A good friend of mine has rheumatoid arthritis. She’s been having a heckuva time, to say the least, taking the pill form of chemotherapy and hence dealing not only with the pain of R.A., but also the pretty nasty effects of her chemo treatment.

Rheumatoid Arthritis Tea

Last week was a rough patch for her, and she asked if I would put together an anti-inflammatory tea to help relieve some of her symptoms. Having gotten permission from her doctor to do so (I don’t want to interfere with anything he’s trying to do), I set about preparing this infusion for her. My goals were not only to relieve her symptoms, but also to make it tasty for her so she’d actually want to drink it. For instance, although dandelion root is excellent for removing uric acid from joints, I opted for the tastier analog of celery seed. The proportions are below, followed by simple instructions and the purpose of each herb in the blend. If you have any insights or suggestions of your own, please feel free to share in comment form – I’d love to hear from you.

Rheumatoid Arthritis Tea

1 part sarsaparilla
1 part celery seed
1 part licorice root
1/2 part ginger root

Each part refers to a volume measurement in proportion. For one serving of tea infusion, use about a level tablespoon of herb (or less). Add boiling hot water, cover, and steep for at least 12 to 15 minutes. You can re-steep this same batch two or three times for additional servings, if desired.

Actions:
Sarsaparilla: anti-inflammatory (feverfew would also be good)
Celery seed: clears uric acid from the joints (or dandelion root)
Licorice root: has a cortisone-like effect in the body
Ginger root: promotes blood flow, relieving pain and swelling

The best and worst thing about the Web is the wealth of information available on any given topic, some of it good, some of it bad, and often just plain daunting in the sheer volume of it.

So as I encounter blogs or articles that I find particularly illuminating, I’ll share them here with you. Feel free to share your favorites as well. I encountered two wonderful blog entries today that just begged to be shared…

First, Fat of the Land blogger Langdon Cook of Seattle, WA, posted a wonderful entry this week on burdock root, also known as gobo. I’m a big fan of cooking my medicines (what can I say? I love to eat!), and gobo is a prime example of how fine medicinal food can be. Fat of the Land focuses on foraging wild foods and herbs, as well as (recently) hunting—always an interesting and inspiring read.

Second, in honor of our brave spring flowers, a lovely blog entry on violets from British herbalist Sarah Head, who writes the Tales of a Kitchen Herbwife blog. Her writing is both evocative and straightforward and always makes me itch to run outside and get my hands dirty.

Happy spring everyone!

The schedule for Gaia Gathering 2010 is finally posted, and registrations are currently being accepted. For women from all walks of life who have a love for the earth and all that is wholesome crunchy granola goodness, come and join us! Classes cover a variety of topics, from herbalism (of course) to drumming, dance, natural beauty treatments, yoga, and so much more. Visit Sacred Plant Traditions’ Gaia Gathering Web page for registration, information, and the weekend schedule. Hope to see you there!

Other names:
Motherwort

Family:
Labiatae—Mint family

Motherwort

Actions:
As its Latin name cardiaca indicates, Motherwort is primarily used for cardiac issues, but as its common name indicates, it has also been used widely for women’s health. “Chinese research shows that it promotes a better volume of blood throughout the body and can slow a rapid heart rate,” (Duke II, 152), while other scientists “have found extracts to have antispasmodic, hypotensive, sedative, cardiotonic, diuretic, antioxidant, immuno-stimulating, and cancer-preventative activity,” (Foster, 182). Motherwort is also widely known as a sedative, nervine, emmenagogue, and hepatic. Specifically regarding its cardiotonic qualities, Leonurus cardiaca is “strengthening without straining. It is specific for over-rapid heart beat where this is brought about by anxiety…” (Hoffman, 108).

And that’s really the key: to aid in healing diseases caused by anxiety, tension and fear. As my teacher Kathleen Maier shared with me (and here I’ll paraphrase while mixing in my own interpretations), think “lion heart”—a sense of courage, an easing of fear and anxiety, the stalwart strength of a mother’s embrace, comforting when you need it, but never clinging, always urging you forward.

Indications:
Motherwort is used in treatment of delayed or absent menses, anxiety, tension, transition into menopause, to aid in childbirth, heart and circulatory disorders, heart palpitations, insomnia, stroke, asthma, especially when these ailments are caused or exacerbated by anxiety. Furthermore, “Extracts approved in Germany for nervous heart conditions and in the supportive treatment of hyperthyroidism,” (Foster, 182).

Constituents:
Leonurus cardiaca most notably contains volatile oils, tannins, the bitter glycosides leonurine and leonuridine, and the alkaloids leonuinine and stachydrene. “Experimentally, leonurine… is a uterine tonic,” (Foster, 182).

Motherwort flowers

Parts used:
Aerial parts—stems, leaves, flowers

Growing information:
Motherwort is a perennial with whitish-pink flower clusters close to the stem, similar to basil or mint. It is “native to Europe but naturalized across much of North America, features a tall single stem from which grow three-fingered leaves in an arrangement said to resemble a lion’s tale,” (Duke II, 152).

Collection:
Collect aerial parts when in flower, May—August.

Preparation:
Tincture or infusion

Historical:
Motherwort has been used for centuries in both Europe and China for cardiac and circulatory ailments (Duke II, 152).

Warning:
Motherwort is contra-indicated while a woman is pregnant or lactating. Very rarely, persons with extremely sensitive skin may experience contact dermatitis. Regarding dosage precautions, “Dosages larger than 3 grams might cause diarrhea, indigestion, or uterine bleeding,” (Duke II, 152).

One of my favorite ways of taking daily tonic herbs is in the form of a paste, which is generally one or more powdered herbs combined with a wet ingredient of some kind to make—you guessed it—a paste!

My morning treat - yum!

Why a paste? First, it’s convenient, every so often you mix it up, store it in the fridge, and grab it every day or so for a healthful spoonful on the fly. Which brings me to the next reason for pastes—they can be quite delicious, even made into truffles of herbal goodness! You can get pretty creative. Also, keeping few ounces of tonic herbs around can be much more practical space-wise for the home apothecary. Granted, powdered herbs don’t have a terribly long shelf life, but if your using them in daily tonic, you’ll easily use up a couple ounces long before the herbs’ activity comes into question.

As for how to make your paste, anything wet is fair game. Rosemary Gladstar suggests fruit concentrate or rose water in her book Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health (a wonderful sourcebook for do-it-yourself herbal recipes). Some other options are various juices, nut butters and pastes, ghee, apple sauce, yogurt, tahini, nutella…you get the idea. I also strongly recommend adding some honey to the mix as well because it’s inherent antimicrobial action will help the blend to last longer in the fridge. And of course, it’s durn tasty. For myself, I prefer to use a really good nut butter, such as Maranatha, and a bit of honey. Yum.

So choose your herbs, mix them with your wet ingredient(s) until you achieve the desired pasty consistency, and store in the refrigerator. Yep, it’s that simple.

Spring. The pushy season :)

Coming out of Winter and into Spring, you are in one moment marveling and giddy at the upward spokes of thrusting crocus, tiny fragile leaves huddling together on the muddy ground, and even (!!) some miraculous delicate blue and white blossoms no bigger than the tip of your pinky… and a moment later belligerently grumbling, dragging yourself out of the dark womb of home and hearth, hungry from a long winter, ready to eat, ready to be warm, ready to be ready already! I always am reminded that spring is that pushy season of rebirth—we are all infants again, once more learning to walk in the world, for the first time all over again, with all the ecstatic moments of bliss and crankiness of re-finding our feet.

Winter is not only a time of shorter days and longer nights, of huddling under layers of warm wool, wrapping your hands around warm mugs and bowls of savory rooty stews—it’s also a time of digesting mentally, sorting through the lessons of the year prior, mending and washing and folding our emotional laundry, which has been well-worn by hard work and good fun, and sometimes soiled with sadness, tinged by anger.

There’s a cathartic courage in stepping into spring, having done one’s dark-time homework, and facing bravely the wide world once more, inviting new experiences. With inspiration and input from my teacher and classmates at Sacred Plant Traditions, here is the infusion that I’ve put together—heartening, encourage-ing, nourishing, and soothing for the springing self.

Tea - a heartening spring blend

A heartening spring tea blend

1 rose petals
1 chamomile blossoms
1 motherwort
1 skullcap
1 1/2 nettle leaf
1/2 orange peel

Use the above proportions to make whatever amount you so desire. Steep tea for at least 10 minutes. Inhale. Enjoy.

Happy spring, everyone.

Tea blend for spring

Phase three of launching the Earth Kind Herbal learning blog is finally complete! Here’s a little introduction on how to use the site.

The site posts are each categorized for easy browsing. To jump to posts from a specific category, simply select the desired category from the drop-down on the left side of the screen. The categories will include preparation techniques, recipes, materia medica (specific information/research of different medicinals), and notes from me. Furthermore, all posts have tags which are more specific topics touched on by that specific post – so a posting on Echinacea purpurea would be in the category “Materia medica,” but it would have a more specific tag of “Echinacea.” You can click on tags anywhere in the site to pull up all posts containing that specific tag.

There is a reference Bibliography that tracks all my reference books. Especially in Materia medica posts, I use a lot of research and provide citations of the source. Clicking on the citation within the post will take you to that specific listing on the Bibliography page, in case you’d like to pick up a copy of that book for yourself.

I’ve also put together a Glossary for quick reference of some of the less common vocabulary terms.

And lastly, there is a Links page, providing online resources, herbal schools, herb suppliers, etc.

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