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St. John's Wort

St. John’s wort

It started with his walking. I noticed our 14-month-old son Oscar was a little unsteady on his feet—well, more so than usual—sometimes veering off to one side or the other like he was dizzy.

Occasionally, he would stop whatever he was doing—laughing, talking, playing—and look up at nothing in particular, forehead wrinkled, and touch his cheek, distracted by some sensation.

Then he started to fuss. He clung. He became anxious, melting down if I went out of his sight for even a second. He was hungry but refused to eat his dinner. He ran a little warm now and then, but nothing high enough to classify as a “fever.” He seemed generally uncomfortable in his own skin and altogether not himself. He’s got some pretty daunting chompers coming in, so I kept hoping it was just teething.

Then, Oscar’s child care called me to pick him up because he’d thrown up his whole bottle, projectile style. When I pulled up out front, I could hear him crying. The second he saw me, he reached for me with unhappy desperation, tugging on his ear repeatedly. Hard to miss it at that point.

Ear infection.

Mullein

Mullein

I scheduled a doctor’s appointment to make sure there wasn’t more going on, but in the meantime, I hustled Oscar home. I warmed some ear oil in a cup of hot water, then leaned him over in my lap to put the drops in his ear. He squirmed and fussed at first, but as soon as the drops slid in, he relaxed. The relief just seemed to come that fast. He calmed and breathed easy, letting me massage the area around his ear gently.

There’s nothing worse than seeing your little one in pain. But there’s nothing better than being able to bring him some relief and comfort. The oil I currently use is Gaia Herbs Ear Oil, an herbal oil of garlic, mullein, St.John’s wort, etc. Once this runs out, I will keep on hand a homemade garlic mullein oil from the recipe in Aviva Romm’s book Naturally Healthy Babies and Children.

Pediatricians and parents alike are widely divided on ear infection treatment and prevention. Many doctors claim that there is no way to prevent ear infections, but others say it is entirely preventable with proper diet and care. Many resort immediately to antibiotics, while others prefer to treat herbally and/or with diet.

As with all things, I think it’s a matter of what’s right for your family. I personally found this blog on the subject very helpful.

What are your preferred ear infection remedies/preventions?

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You know how much I like to eat. But right now, where I am in our pregnancy, my relationship with food is ambivalent at best.

But breakfast, at least, I’ve got tucked away. Each evening, I put in a small bowl some rolled (GF) oats, a pinch of sea salt, a drizzle of agave nectar, and a spoonful of astragalus powder. Over this, I spoon a moderate amount of plain whole milk yogurt. After sitting in the fridge overnight, the oats are softened and toothsome, and the astragalus and agave impart a sweet, slightly nutty and buttery flavor to the mix. The yogurt provides good fats and probiotics to help with that touch-and-go pregnancy digestion. The whole mix is highly nutritive and supportive.

oats with yogurt and astragalus

Oats with yogurt and astragalus – an easy breakfast before getting to work.

It occurred to me this morning that this is an herbal remedy for me right now.

For any of you dealing with morning (or all-day) sickness, you might give this a whirl. On really rough mornings, I pair it with some spicy chai to get the digestive tract warmed up. Often this is followed with a hot cup of nutritive herbal tea  mid-morning.

The rest of the day is still touch-and-go, but mornings I’ve got pinned down at least.

As a side note, all astragalus powders are not created equal, so you might try a small amount before committing to a one-pound bag of an unfamiliar brand. I’ve had the best luck with Mountain Rose’s astragalus. I’ve had other astragalus powders that tasted slightly (weirdly) bitter—no idea why, but I know I didn’t like it.

What’s your herbal morning regimen? Favorite morning sickness remedies?

Za'atar seasoning

Za’atar seasoning

If you read this blog, you likely know that my favorite way of taking herbs is to eat them, and za’atar seasoning (or zaatar or zatar) is no exception. I first encountered za’atar several years ago at dinner at my friends Joe and Nan’s home. Joe is of Lebanese descent; as part of the meal, he had taken pita, drizzled it with good quality olive oil, sprinkled it liberally with za’atar, and then toasted it in the oven. It was divine.

That was before I even started studying herbalism—I didn’t even know what sumac was, nor that it had medicinal properties. Now I know, and if it’s possible, I enjoy this spice blend even more now with the understanding. Similar to a gomasio, this spice blend includes sea salt and sesame seeds but hails from the Middle East. We eat it sprinkled on gluten-free toast, on popcorn, and if you eat meat, it’s wonderful to roll a chicken breast in it before cooking. If you try it out (or if you already use it), I’d love to hear how you use this tasty seasoning!

Za’atar

  • 4 parts dried thyme leaves (if the pieces are large, you might want to grind it a little for optimal mixing)
  • 4 parts sumac powder
  • 4 parts toasted sesame seeds
  • 1 part sea salt

Mix all ingredients together. Store in a glass jar.

What are some of your favorite medicinal-and-tasty herbal seasoning blends?

I love oats (gluten free oats, of course). It is probably my number one comfort food. Even if I’m sick with low appetite, I can eat oats, but they’re also my breakfast of choice—they just soothe the soul, you know? I love them cooked, especially on weekends when time isn’t as much of an issue, but I also love to eat them uncooked, just mixed with some yogurt or water, a pinch of sea salt, some fresh fruit or agave syrup, a dash or two of cinnamon, let it sit overnight or for an hour and enjoy at room temperature. Oats are unique in that they can be eaten raw, with no special preparation necessary for our bodies to be able to digest them. You get the picture: I am awfully fond of oats.

Meanwhile, there’s this lovely set of herbs called adaptogens of which I’m a big fan. Adaptogens are wonderful because they are tonic to the adrenals (which is to say that they help our bodies to cope with stress), they can be taken daily and indefinitely, and they have no undesired, harmful effects. They are simply, deeply nourishing, and I don’t know about you, but my adrenals are very grateful for the help some days.

Usually in the past I’ve eaten my adaptogens in paste form, which is lovely, but recently I made a fabulous discovery. Astragalus, probably my favorite herb in this group, is not only “not bad” or “tolerable,” it’s downright delicious! I ran out of paste last week and didn’t have time to whip up another bowl before heading off to work, so I mixed half a tablespoon of powdered astragalus into my bowl of oats (soaked overnight) along with the cinnamon and agave nectar. I figured I could stomach the result in the interest of getting my herbal goodness in. I didn’t expect to never want to eat oats any other way! Astragalus gives a nutty, almost buttery or creamy flavor… you just have to try it.

I’ve also heard a few people say that they like to put larger chunks of dried astragalus in soup for herbal benefit and additional flavor. I haven’t tried this yet, but oh, I will be trying it very soon…

My name is Anna, and I am thoroughly and irrevocably addicted to chai. Traditionally an infusion of herbs in hot milk and water, chai is actually the word for tea in Hindi and throughout much of Asia. Here in the West, what we call chai actually more closely refers to “masala chai,” which consists of black tea, some form of sweetener, milk, and herbs such as cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and pepper. You can use whole or powdered herbs, mix up the combinations/ratios, add a little sea salt, make it your own. Oh! but it is creamy, spicy, sweet, bitter, and a little salty, all at once, and it leaves me sighing and blissfully rubbing my belly.

Usually chai is simmered for a long time for a good strong brew, but it’s summer, and I like to “cook” passively as much as possible to keep the kitchen from getting too hot, else my pitta self tends to overheat. So for this summertime version, I decided to try to do it as a concentrated sun tea, which you can then mix with milk for a cool chai treat! Also, though I wouldn’t recommend anything but real dairy for hot chai, for a cold chai, nut milks or oat milk are also quite tasty. Oat milk = yum.

Sun-Brewed Summer Chai

  • 4 c. water
  • 5 black tea bags
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 1/2 t. cardamom
  • 1 t. cinnamon
  • 1 t. ginger
  • 6 cloves
  • 1 t. pepper
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • 3 T. honey (or to taste)
  • Milk

Place all herbs and tea in a quart (4-cup) mason jar. Add water to the top. Securely put the lid on and shake it all about. Put it in a sunny spot and let it steep all day. That’s what it’s all about!

I knew my “sunny spot” would only get sun for four or six hours and we want this tea strong, so I actually started it the night before and let it steep a full 24 hours. When it’s done, strain the liquid into a bottle or jar, add honey, and once more shake it up to dissolve the honey. The amount I used above is mildly sweet, but adjust to your taste. Store in the refrigerator, and when ready to use, mix with milk or oat milk or almond milk or whatever milk you prefer, usually a 1:1 or 1:2 ratio of chai syrup to milk. Enjoy cold as a summer morning treat, and pat yourself on the back for never turning on the stove!

My friend Robbie and I spent last Friday afternoon having a high time making lotion, body scrub, and body wash. The one thing we didn’t get to was this sun lotion—I was still waiting for cocoa butter to arrive from Mountain Rose. I promised her however that I would save her a jar. We’re both fair-skinned, and speaking for myself, I need all the help I can get.

I really enjoyed Meghan Telpner’s blog on sun and sun protection, and had been wanting to make my own sun lotion. Using her recipe and a couple others as guidelines, here’s the recipe I came up with.

Melting waxes and oils together in my version of a double boiler

NOTES: If you don’t have a double boiler (I don’t), you can make your own easily enough by putting a canning ring or two inside a large saucepan, filling it partway with water, and resting a smaller saucepan inside of it, as shown in the picture above. The canning ring(s) will allow the water to flow around the smaller saucepan, just like in a double boiler. Also, I love using my immersion blender for the emulsifying process, but a powerful blender would do the job too, I imagine.

Also, use the purest ingredients that you can find—the borax is not your average store-bought borax, I get it from Mountain Rose and it’s cosmetic grade with no additional additives or surfactants. The oils are organic and unrefined whenever possible. And, should you happen to think, “Oh hey, cocoa butter wafers! Those’ll be easy to measure!”, you might want to order them in cooler weather, so you don’t get home to a melted bag of cocoa butter, which will become a brick once it cools from sitting in the sun on one’s front porch. Just saying. 🙂

Homemade Sun Lotion

  • 1/3 c. sesame oil
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp. jojoba oil
  • 2 Tbsp. sweet almond oil
  • 1/3 c. cocoa butter
  • 2 tsp. vegetable based emulsifying wax
  • 1/8 tsp. citric acid
  • 1/4 c. distilled water
  • 1/4 c. aloe vera gel
  • 1 tsp. borax powder (pure cosmetic grade)
  • 10 drops lemon balm essential oil (or other lemony or minty oils, for insect repellant actions)

Place the first seven ingredients in a double boiler and turn heat to Medium. Meanwhile, combine in a bowl or wide-mouth quart jar (my preference for the immersion blender) the distilled water, aloe vera gel, and borax powder. Stir or shake well to mix and set aside. Continue stirring the oils in the double boiler constantly while it melts. Once all oils have melted together, removed from heat.

Place your immersion blender into the jar or bowl with the aloe mixture, and begin blending. Slowly pour the oils from the double boiler into the jar or bowl while blending—this will emulsify the lotion. Be sure to scrape all the oil out of the double boiler, as the citric acid granules tend to stick in the bottom of the pan. Continue blending the mixture, thoroughly aerating/emulsifying it until it is quite frothy and light, at least a minute. Add your essential oils and mix in.

Pour lotion into jars and allow to cool—it will thicken as it cools to room temperature.

Makes about 2 cups/1 pint.

Do you have any favorite sun lotion recipes or tips?

As an aside, make sure that when blogging you don’t forget that you’re heating milk in the next room to make yogurt, else big boiling milky mess will ensue. Ask me how I know. 🙂

I just recently completed my first year apprenticeship with Sacred Plant Traditions, and we were fortunate enough to be exposed to a variety of herbal/healing traditions. Of these, Ayurveda in particular resonated with me.

Now I’m not going to go into a whole huge discussion here of Ayurveda—I feel like I’ve only just gotten my toes wet—so I suggest finding a teacher such as Mary Michaud and taking a class, or Perfect Health by Deepak Chopra is a very easy-to-read book that explains simply this very complex subject. There are also some great resources online for learning about the forces that make up our constitutions—check out ayurveda.com or chopra.com.

These forces are called doshas, and there are three of them: Kapha, Pitta, and Vata. Everyone holds in his or her constitution all three of these doshas, but different doshas may be dominant in certain people, and your dominant dosha may change depending on whether you are in a state of balance or imbalance.

Your original state, your state of perfect balance, is called your prakruti. Your current or changing state (the result of outside forces, weather, experience, emotion, etc.) is called vikruti. Often in our lives, our balance will be thrown when one or more of our doshas are aggravated. For instance, my prakruti is Pitta-dominant, and one of its many traits is a hot constitution. Long hours in the sunshine on hot and humid summer days tend to aggravate my Pitta dosha, my already warm nature.

According to Ayurveda, when this happens, you can use diet, certain kinds of exercise, meditation, etc., to restore balance to the aggravated dosha. Again, this is much more complex than I’m making it for illustration purposes, but I have also found it to be very common-sense and intuitive.

One of the many ways of helping restore balance is through use of churnas, spice blends specifically chosen to balance the different doshas. There are a number of recipes for churnas available, but below are the ones Mary Michaud shared with us from the AyurBalance Web site. I love using them as you would a curry powder, sprinkling it over salad, mixing it with lentils and rice, pretty much anything. I’ve broken it down into a table for you, showing how many parts of an ingredient to use for each respective dosha’s churna. All the herbs and spices are powdered.

Churnas

Ingredient Kapha Pitta Vata
Fennel 6 3
Turmeric 2 1 1
Cumin 1 2 1
Ginger 2 1
Black pepper 2 1
Cardamom 1 1
Sea salt 1 1 1
Turbinado sugar 1 1 1
Fenugreek 1
Mango powder 1 1 1
Paprika 1

Actually, “salt free” isn’t entirely true. More accurate would be to say that this seasoning blend only contains the naturally-occurring salts found in the herbs—no salt is added.

A gomasio is a traditional Japanese seasoning blend made of unhulled sesame seeds and salt. My challenge was to come up with an herbal gomasio that was “salt free” and highly nutritive. Many of us eat far too much salt in our diets, but we still crave the flavor, and especially now in the grand season of a fresh food bounty—farmer’s booths at the market overflowing with greens and reds and yellows and purples—it’s simply divine to be able to put raw greens and veggies on a platter, drizzle on some oil and a sprinkling of this gomasio. I don’t know about you, but this time of year I have trouble keeping salad dressing around, we go through it so fast.

My other challenge is that I don’t particularly like the taste of seaweeds, which are a major component in most other saltless seasonings.

You may also be aware that much of the salt we get at the store is “iodized,” that is to say iodine is added as a supplement to ensure that we get enough of it in our diet. Well, both sesame seeds and nettles are good natural sources of iodine. On the whole, this blend boasts myriad beneficial vitamins, minerals, and proteins. It’s good medicine for the whole body.

And my favorite way of taking my medicine is always by eating it in ridiculously tasty dishes. Hands down. Food is good.

Salt-free Herbal Gomasio

1 part nettle leaf
1 part celery seed
1 part sesame seed
1/2 part milk thistle seed
1/2 part fennel seed
1/2 part onion or garlic

Mix all the above in a small bowl. Place in an herb mill (or an empty salt or pepper grinder).

Other variations: try some dry citrus rind, pepper, or a small amount of mustard seeds. If you like seaweed, give it a whirl.

Feel free to post your own variations and ideas in the comments!

Dandelions

We’ve been a bit dandelion crazy around here, and working on a couple posts celebrating the willful golden “weeds.” For starters, I’d like to share the process of making t’ej, an Ethiopian honey wine that is so simple to make and such a delightful way to celebrate your in-season herbs, soon your countertops will be as cluttered with bottles and jugs as mine are!

This is the process as I was taught by Suzanna Stone, a wonderful guest teacher at Sacred Plant Traditions, with my own notes added in.

Equipment:
2 quart jar
2 quart jug with airlock (or balloon)
Long wooden spoon
Cheesecloth / fine mesh sieve / coffee filters
Funnel

Ingredients:
Distilled or boiled water (to ensure no chlorine or other contaminants
1 1/2 c. raw local honey
Several handfuls fresh herb(s)

  1. If using tap water, bring 2 quarts of it to a rolling boil, then allow it to cool to room temperature.
  2. Collect fresh herbs. Wash gently or brush off dirt etc. Chop and place several handfuls in the 2-quart jar (most recently we made a batch each—dandelion blossoms and violet blossoms).
  3. Pour honey into the jar.
  4. Add water (room temperature) to fill the jar the rest of the way, leaving an inch or two of space at the top for easy stirring.
  5. Stir this mixture well with a wooden spoon until the honey is dissolved, and then some more. Traditionally, an Ethiopian household has their own tej spoon which is not washed between uses so it accumulates it’s own “good” fermenting bacteria and particular flavor. Between stirrings, the spoon is laid across the top of the jar or crock.
  6. Cover the top of the jar with cheesecloth and allow to sit on the counter, out of direct sunlight, stirring 2 or 3 times daily until a froth starts to appear on the top of the liquid. Generally this will take a week or so, but my dandelion batch was frothing abundantly after only three days.Dandelion t'ej with froth, before straining out the herb and putting in the jug with airlock.
  7. Using a funnel with cheesecloth, sieve, or coffee filters, strain the herb out of the t’ej, pouring the remaining liquid into the jug—seal the jug with the airlock. Airlocks can be purchased for 1 or 2 dollars at specialty kitchen or brewing stores, and make sure to follow the directions and use the requisite amount of brandy or vodka in the airlock. If you opt to use a balloon instead of an airlock, remember to “burp” the balloon occasionally.Two kinds of airlocks (filled with brandy) - I personally prefer the one on the right.
  8. Allow the t’ej to continue fermenting in the jug until the airlock stops bubbling—this means that the naturally-occurring yeasts are no longer consuming sugars and producing gases. At this point, your tej is ready—bottle it, label it, and enjoy!

Note: These are the proportions I used, but if you want to make a larger amount, just be sure to keep the proportions the same. Doubling all the portions would make a gallon batch.

Dandelion t'ej - enjoy!

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

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