The holidays have come and gone, and I admit I am imperfect. Every year I swear that this will be the year I have it all together, house clean, children scrubbed and smiling, myself scrubbed and smiling (!), gifts wrapped, yummies baked, and decorations strung throughout the house and yard. Every year, and again this year, it was not to be. The house got cleaned, and the yummies were baked, but the smile was a tad forced. Although I love the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season, I am not immune to the stress that comes along with it.
On top of all this, I developed an abscessed gum, which traveled from one side of my mouth to the other. How it managed this, I'm unsure, but there it is. I successfully treated the first abscess with Drastix tincture (topically and internally), but am still working on the second one which seems more severe.
All this to say, stress got the better of me.
In an effort to soothe my frazzled nerves, and also deal with the abscess, I sought herbs that are both calming, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory. I had made Peace Tea before, and felt that it fit the bill perfectly. The chamomile is a gentle herb that is best known for it's calming effect. It's also wonderful for stomach complaints, which often accompany anxiety. What some don't realize is that chamomile is also wonderfully antibacterial, antiviral, and an excellent anti-inflammatory. Lavender has many of the same properties, and is an even stronger calming herb. Last, but certainly not least, comes the lemon balm. With its pleasant minty, lemony flavour, it contributes greatly to the taste of the tea. It is a calming herb, too, and strongly antibacterial and antiviral. It should not be used by those with a hyperactive thyroid, however. In this case, peppermint is a nice substitute!
Give it a try, and let me know what you think!
2 parts chamomile flowers
1 part lavender buds
2 parts lemon balm (or peppermint)
Blend the herbs. Use a spoonful in a cup of just boiled water. If drinking for pleasure, steep covered for 2-3 minutes. Any longer will result in a bitter tea. For a therapeutic tea, steep covered for 10 minutes. Sweeten with honey as desired.
When I think winter herbs, cinnamon immediately comes to mind. An herb that warms the system, I associate it with comfort foods...cinnamon buns, cookies, spice cake, sprinkled in hot chocolate, and oatmeal. Sweet and spicy all at once, it's a delightful addition to savory cooking. Curries and stir fries are amazing with a pinch of cinnamon!
How wonderful, then, that such a delicious herb has a wide array of therapeutic benefits, too! Cinnamon is considered a warming herb, and can be a great help to those who 'run cold' or are dealing with 'cold' afflictions. It is one of the 'anti' herbs. It is antimicrobial, antioxidant, antiseptic, antiviral as well as astringent, carminative, and demulcent. These actions make it perfect for use during cold season. Cinnamon is often included in cough syrups, cold and flu teas, and elderberry syrup.
For those living with diabetes type 2, cinnamon can be a useful tool. The herb does this in two ways - by increasing the body's sensitivity to insulin, and by decreasing the amount of sugar released into the bloodstream. Cinnamon does this by interfering with certain digestive enzymes, slowing down the breakdown of carbohydrates in the digestive system. Cinnamon is also celebrated for its beneficial action on the cardiovascular system, its antioxidant content, anti-inflammatory properties, its positive effects against fungal growth, and its protective action against oral disease and cavities.
There are two basic types of cinnamon to consider. The main difference between the two is the level of cinnamaldehyde in the herb. Cinnamaldehyde is what gives cinnamon its distinctive taste. Though you may think that more is better, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. When using cinnamon therapeutically for chronic ailments, it is best to adopt an 'easy does it' attitude. Ceylon cinnamon is known as 'true' cinnamon. It comes from the inner bark of the Cinnamomum verum tree which grow in Sri Lanka and India. It is lower in cinnamaldehyde, and thus is a safer option for long term therapeutic use. Cassia cinnamon is from the Cinnamomum cassia tree which originates in China. It is higher in cinnamaldehyde. It is also higher in coumarin, which in large amounts can be damaging to the liver. It is the stronger tasting of the two cinnamons, and the cheapest. Thus it is the cinnamon most readily available at the grocery store, and is likely used in baking for this reason. In food amounts, cinnamon is quite safe. It should not be used therapeutically by pregnant ladies, however, as it can cause contractions. It is best to consult an herbalist for dosing specifics.
Perhaps the best thing about cinnamon - or at least, the tastiest - is its effect on the digestive system. Cinnamon is a traditional digestive remedy, and combines especially well with ginger. Warming herbs kindle the body, building 'fire' and getting things moving. This is good news for those with a sluggish digestive system who need to encourage things along. It is normal for many cultures to partake in a digestive drink before and/or after meals, and cinnamon is often included in these teas. Try one for yourself with the recipe below:
Cinnamon Digestive Tea
1 part cinnamon
1 part ginger
1/2 part clove
1 part mint
Blend the first three ingredients together. Place 2 tablespoons of this blend into a pot with 2 cups of water. Simmer 10 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon mint, cover, and let steep for 5-10 minutes. Strain, sweeten with honey as desired, and sip slowly.
Elderberry - sometimes referred to as the 'medicine chest of country people' - is a big time favourite during cold and flu season. Although the entire plant can be used in some capacity for remedy purposes, the berries and the flowers are most commonly used.
Harvesting berries involves the watch and pounce method. The berries must turn to a dark, almost black colour before they are ready to pick. At this point, one must be quicker than the local birds who are also eager for their share of elderberries. Although birds might eat the berries fresh, it's important for we humans to carefully process the berries before consuming them. Eating fresh berries can quickly turn into a bad case of stomach upset. Drying and/or cooking them is the best way to avoid this. Elderberries can be turned into delicious jellies, juices, wines, and into remedies such as syrups, gummies and teas. In terms of health remedies, the berries are mostly used to aid in respiratory tract ailments - colds, bronchitis, sinusitis, scratchy throats, and especially influenza. In fact, in a double blind study with people afflicted with influenza, it was determined that using Sambucol (an elderberry syrup) vs a placebo resulted in a significant improvement in symptoms and a quicker recovery!
Elder flowers may not be as widely used in our area, but they definitely deserve a mention. They are beautiful, fragrant star shaped flowers. They also have an affinity for respiratory conditions, and are known for their diaphoretic properties - that is, their ability to encourage 'sweating out a fever'. Gargles can be made from the flower to ease sore throats. Elder flower salves and ointments are also used for skin conditions.
If you want the goodness of elderberries, but want something a little different from elderberry syrup, try your hand at an elixir.
Fill a quart jar half full with elderberries. Add in enough alcohol to fill the jar ¾ full and then top with honey. Mix well. You may find you have space at the top of the jar. Add more honey to fill. Seal the jar and label with the date the name of your concoction (nothing worse than staring blankly at a jar with no idea what is in it!). Let sit for 3 weeks, shaking daily. Strain after 3 weeks . Take 1 -3 teaspoons daily to help keep the flu at bay.
Find something you love, and love it hard. Sometimes we have this crazy idea that we need to push push push, and that relaxing means we are lazy or selfish. Don't fall for that. Take care of you. You can't pour into others if your own vessel is empty. Love everyone....even yourself.
Dandelion - not just for wishes! Lawn enthousiasts spend a lot of money and energy getting rid of dandelions, but it wasn't that long ago that home owners were planting dandelions on their lawns. It's no wonder. Dandelion is a fantastic herb.
The first herbs to pop up in spring tend to be bitter, perfectly timed to cleanse the body from winter's heavy diet and sedentary lifestyle. Dandelion, or Pissa-bed (ancient English), is a fantastic tonic. It supports the kidneys, encourages elimination, and relieves anxiety. Unlike pharmaceutical diuretics, it is very high in potassium and replaces this mineral as it flushes the urinary tract, hence avoiding dangerous electrolyte imbalances.
Dandelion is high in nutrients, and can be eaten in its entirety. The leaf is bitter, so young tender leaves are best for salads. The roots can be roasted and used as a coffee substitute. Even the yellow flower heads can be eaten. Try them battered and fried - yum!
When you have a boy and his sister and a van and a pencil, well, you get to expect strange injuries. For scratched up uvulas (or gums, tongues, and other such things), my go-to uses the most basic of herbs. A strong infusion of chamomile and calendula, with a couple drops of clove essential oil brings quick relief and healing of swelling and scrapes. The clove is an old remedy for toothaches, though it is very strong and must be diluted, especially for kids. Store the infusion in a glass Mason jar, shake well before using, gargle, spit, and carry on!
Have you thanked your heart today...your real one? We tend not to think about this very important organ until we find ourselves with a broken one - literally or figuratively. Keeping our tickers in good shape is key to living a long, healthy life. Nutrition and exercise are big factors here, but so is herbal care.
The following is a simple heart healthy tea that includes hawthorn, rose petals, and cinnamon. Hawthorn is a widely celebrated heart tonic that improves the amount of blood pumped by the heart, widens blood vessels, improves nerve response, and lowers fat in the aorta and liver. Rose petals open the heart, and lift the spirits, thus easing stress. Cinnamon is a warming herb and increases blood flow through the body (wonderful for those with cold hands and feet!).
Hawthorn Rose Cinnamon Tea
1 generous tablespoon of hawthorn berries, crushed
1-2 tablespoons dried, organic rose petals
1/4 stick of cinnamon, crushed
Place 1.5 to 2 cups of water to boil. Meanwhile, crush the berries with the help of a mortar and pestle. Add the berries to the pot and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Add the rose and cinnamon to the pot, remove from heat, and steep for 10 minutes. Strain, serve, and enjoy!
*It must be said that for those with heart conditions requiring pharmaceuticals, it is best to speak with your doctor or pharmacist before beginning any herbal regimen.*
I love writing almost as much as I love herbs. Click on the link below to enjoy the following article I wrote for Christian Herbal.