EASE with Lemongrass
I notice things. You do too. Maybe you haven't given much thought to Lemongrass, eh? That's surely because your mind and heart have other equally necessary things to consider and dance with.
For decades now I've been keeping Lemongrass close. I tuck 2-3 plants in each year in places where I can really see it due the stunning visual presence. Lemongrass looks so different from all the others in my garden and gives more depth and dimension to the space for me. Then I move in close and rustle the leaves around down to the base and the aroma spirals up and drops me to stillness. The effort is small to have this medicinal + nourishing plant close. It takes a small piece of garden space or a medium sized pot, sunlight, water you drink too, and a seedling easily found in spring with all the veggie and herbs AND only costs a few dollars. Once set up and planted, it's all about enjoying the growing season together before harvest time.
Buying Lemongrass bulbs in the store to cook with is great. Growing is easy and so much more vibrant and aromatic for your dishes. Cooking with it means "discarding the outer leaves and only keeping the tender inner core for dishes". I suggest putting all the discarded parts into a mason jar or tea pot with just boiled water, let it steep 20 minutes, and enjoy it as a tea while you enjoy your cooking. It's delicious! And it's a beautiful medicinal too with a broad range of benefits.
We'll drop into some of the medicinal applications here for why it's great to invest a few dollars and a bit of waiting in order to harvest and have hundreds of dollars worth a few plants at your finger tips for cooking AND medicine. Have you noticed the price of one stalk?
One Lemongrass plant provide many bulbs and mid stems that I freeze.
Being A Tropical Plant Means Death in NY
So I watch for the magenta colored stems at the base of the plant that come with the cooling nights of late August to September. I uproot the whole plant giving a fully honored good death that ensures I get all of the bulbous ends that are prized for cooking. If it winters over near you then you slice at ground level with a good sharp blade and you get regeneration stalks. Lucky you!
With this massive clump of Lemongrass uprooted I then tease the stalks apart and begin the gleaning process. Shade or sun, with music, silence or singing, having lemonade or a beer is all up to each as you do the good work. I then separate into 4 working piles:
1. the long leaf blades for making 'tea rings' - dry for tea/infusions
2. the sturdy bulbs with about 10 inches of stalk - freeze for cooking and medicine
3. the mid ribs left about six inches long - freeze for stocks and tea/infusions
4. the loose leaf blades that don't fit in the other piles cut to a workable size for drying for more tea
Why do I freeze it?
Drying the two parts that I choose to freeze would be far more work with an increased chance of spoilage and loss of aromatic and medicinal potency. Have I done it? Yes. Will I again slice each down to drying slivers about 4 inches long? Yes. For now I choose freezing which keeps it fresh with strong aromatic oils that cook easy into food or mashed to a quick pastes or for making a Lemongrass Syrup. YES! (Add fresh ginger root to that too!) It makes an amazing addition to a martini. In fact I don't drink martinis much, or ever, unless it's a Lemongrass martini. This way gives me the best I can get for living where Lemongrass cannot for part of the year. Starting over again and again each growing season is our dance.
Yield from this one plant is impressive here for the whole tray of bulbs and mid stalks frozen above, plus 1/2 pound of loose leaf for tea AND 50+ woven Lemongrass 'tea rings'. Each tea ring makes a pint to a quart of tea, depending on your desire for how strong, by placing in a mason jar, fill with boiled water and cap, steep 20 minutes and sip. So easy and sooo good!
The making of Lemongrass tea rings.
Medicinal Benefits of Keeping Lemongrass Close
Cymbopogon citratus, Lemongrass, is an herb which belongs to the grass family of Poaceae. It has a distinct lemon flavor and citrusy aroma. This tall perennial grass native to India and tropical regions of Asia is a rough and tufted plant with linear leaves that grow in thick bunches. They emerge from a strong base and stand about 3-6 feet for me. They can get 9 feet tall when in the preferred landscape of the tropics.
Here in the northeastern US I grow this as an annual and it is truly an abundant provider when happy. I briefly list for you here the benefits of keeping this beauty close in my garden and apothecary.
Medicinal Preparations I Take:
I dry for tea/infusions and soup stock making. I freeze for cooking and medicine applications. I work with the essential oil for bathing and ointments or infused oil applications. I do not tincture Lemongrass. I may never though it can lend itself as an aromatic healer to this. The nutritive properties are so important to the medicine of this plant and these nutrient dense qualities do not transfer well through the tincturing process. Now an infused apple cider vinegar or oxymel (add a little honey to the finished vinegar)? This sounds worth trying!
Benefits of Lemongrass - The When & Why I turn to Lemongrass tea and infusions, adding to my food and bone stocks, or working with the essential oil (sparingly).
Lemongrass tea rings drying in my office. LOVE!
Making Fresh Lemongrass Tea Rings
'Apothecary Time w/Jen' video - in the garden making Lemongrass tea rings just prior to digging up this beauty.
You may have other ways you love dancing with Lemongrass. Do share. This is how we've learned our dance together each year. Enjoy and may you invite Lemongrass close. Much Love, Jen
"Oak. Silence. Time. I bet it's not a far stretch for you to consider how well Oak, Silence, and Time know one another. It's an easy leap considering Oak can live a thousand years or more and stand in one place, sometimes deep in the obscured mystery of the forest. It is this very thing that strikes me first whenever I walk up to an elderly tree and I instantly, as if it's an innate reflex, enter silence and an altered sense of time.
There is this syncopated rhythmic resonance orchestrated by Nature that still creates a vibrational hum in The-Silent-No-Time-Place-Of-Now. OAK is there. OAK knows the silence and the hum behind the silence. It’s behind the sound of birds, and insects, and animals as they sing with the trees on the wind. The human heart knows this resonance too. It trusts it instinctually and can follow the hum in pilgrimage to a destination unseen, even unknown, and yet like the migration of our genes in order to support life, the heart knows things. Inexplicable things like the silence and hum that OAK knows.
We’re all faced with the challenge of designing a life that integrates making plans and attempting to steer our own personal greatness while navigating by the stars and the planets as we attempt to find comfort within being guided by the mysterious. The modern mind gets distraught as it senses its limits. It relays this discomfort to the body sometimes too. Maybe it's a way to ease the intensity of the mind? But still the heart knows that resonant hum of a universal guidance system. We must slow down to make the leaps. It’s a paradoxical reconciliation that feeds our resiliency, our ability to show again, and again. There will be more on this from OAK on innate and cultivated resiliency..
Let’s consider SILENCE first as a Divine Force.
Are you opposed to it? Do you seek it? What is it actually if truth reigns around the existence of a constant resonant hum behind it? To keep silent and to be in silence takes tremendous strength. We are the keeper and/or the seeker of silence depending on our conditions. What we hold while silent becomes mysteriously hidden and protected, out of sight or ear shot, away from scrutiny or judgement, and even thwarts disintegration and death sometimes which can be a necessary and good medicine. To retreat to silence and sit within the resonant hum brings another set of challenges. The psyche loves it, and yet not. It will test our resolve, our strength, and our ability to remain with silence by throwing iron monkey wrenches into the wind generated turbines of life just to see what happens.
There is this pivotal moment or that still point place at the very bottom of a ship where the sea-sick seek peace from the motions of the waves. That place for the seeker. And there's that place where the keeper of silence is challenged to stay silent too or honor the overwhelming urge to speak, to take a stand, to honor a confrontation, or ignite a worthy argument and even risk death. If we pilgrimage well with our soul in time, will the keeper of silence learn the path of least resistance from the resonant hum of Nature in The-Silent-No-Time Place-Of-Now, and speak well? I pray for this. The seeker of silence and the keeper of silence hold a similar set of challenges that at first appear to be different. I wonder if they are one in the same at the soul level? What do you think?
Now let’s consider TIME as a Divine Force.
To our indigenous soul Time is an essence, an entity, a natural force to be consulted, just as we can consult Silence with its resonant hum. Ancient Egypt measured time through the dance between light and shadow and by today’s artificial measuring of time this ancient way is considered rudimentary. It’s funny really. We have no way to describe ‘real’ time in modern times among our general milieu and so it’s often termed ‘Divine Time’ with the sometimes slapped on label of ‘woo’ and then dismissed by those opposed to such things. But for me soul growth can easily be transposed onto this very ancient and efficient time piece of the relationship to light and shadow in order to navigate. It works.
Time in this sense is ruled by ripeness, readiness, something that’s cooked long enough or well enough to be juicy and delicious, be it sweet or savory or even bitter. Martin Pretchtel writes of such things in his gorgeous series of books that are easy to find AND akin to neuro-surgery for me. I say this quite reverently as a surgical nurse who is in neuro-surgeries for we are in times that require rapid shifts in our neurology and it can be done with more than surgical instruments. Our ancestors saw time as circular in pattern. It repeats, revisits, contracts, bends, stretches, and even disappears. Our scientists and mathematicians have proven this to be true. Time is not linear even with the creation of time clocks that help us artificially measure via productivity.
The past and the future are woven into the present and we hear this often but we don’t get it until we get it. Having a physical body is much like a grounding wire that supports flow through our lives so that the past and the future can be equally influenced by how we go about our way right now. So yes, the healing you do now affects the past and the future. Just imagine this as a truth and see where your mind wanders. And yet, there’s no new pondering here. The ancient ones have been speaking and echoing this for a long time. My aim is to bring this forward today for review as we find our way in with OAK for more of the story."
Excerpt from Plant Dieting with OAK - Resiliency, Strength & Abundance Teachings from the Grove.
Hug an OAK and lean in close. Much Love, Jen
The Secret Ingredient
After years of making Elderberry syrups and elixirs I find Fresh or Fresh Frozen Elderberries are the 'secret ingredient' for a super charged syrup. Should your good fortune include fresh berries landing into your hands, pluck them from the stems and flash freeze them on cookie sheets (takes about 1 hour) and then fill your labeled freezer containers. If you need a recipe, I got you covered here. If you only have dried, this is good too and noted in the recipe. A simple request to Elder along with some deep honoring and seeking will draw these black beauties to you in good time. And I got you covered should you decide to delegate the making for your home apothecary to me. I'm always honored to provide when Elder is abundant here. Blessed this year with 30 quarts from this beauty I've been walking with for over a decade now. It's a tenuous thing from year to year. No guarantees ever, like any relationship. But I show up no matter what. Listening is probably the most important thing in our plant relationships too. ElderMoon's Bee Blessed Elderberry Elixir is in stock for your winter needs to keep microbial boundaries strong, fluids running clear, and vitality boosted.
Our Current LOVE of a Recipe
Super passionate here about recipe sharing and honoring creating space for our creative input to riff off of a good solid recipe. This recipe has evolved numerous times and is the current working recipe we lean on until change comes and inspires a new twist. It will. Inspiration always comes. Keep it close in your apothecary and enjoy! Please share your riffs too. I LOVE hearing about what plants inspire you, nudge change, and direct your formula.
The bubbles come from a good shake before dosing here. Do give your syrups and elixirs a good shake before pouring and an honorable home in your refrigerator to lengthen shelf life and give respite from direct sunlight which degrades medicines quickly. Label and date well. I suggest making small batches to use up and give this recipe a 3 month shelf life, but they never last that long. Too delicious!
Syrup or Elixir? Herbalist techniques.
Now the determination of whether it's a syrup or elixir is if the recipe has finished tincture in it (with alcohol) or not. Syrups and elixir bases are often double and triple decocted meaning the shelf life is extended by concentrating the herbs with simmering off extra water content. A decoction (herb and water simmered for 30 minutes) further reduced by half is a double decoction, and further reduced again is a triple decoction. Then honey is added to make a syrup. Here we are making a double decoction and adding honey and finished tinctures, hence I call it an 'elixir'. There are many ways to make syrups and elixirs with the ultimate goal being to extend shelf life and concentrate potency. Without these preparation techniques of the herbalist you will barely get a week before fermenting (not bad so just drink some in your water), but mold and spoilage will become issues. Trust your nose. It always knows when something is questionable or needing a trip to the compost.
ElderMoon's Elderberry Elixir Recipe
2 cups fresh/frozen elderberries (1 cup dried if that's all you have)
2 1/2 cups water
1 inch ginger root fresh, sliced thin
1 lime zested and juiced
2 sticks of cinnamon bark
1 cup wildflower honey
4 tablespoons (2oz.) elecampane root tincture (or a lung herb you love)
4 tablespoons (2oz.) elderberry tincture (or immune herb you love)
1. Combine elderberries, water, cinnamon, and ginger root in a pot and bring a gentle simmer uncovered for 35-45 minutes. Remove from heat and cool.
2. Once lukewarm strain through a sieve and press all the juice as best you can from the berries.
3. Stir in honey, tinctures, and lime juice. Label, date, keep refrigerated, and shake well before dosing. Good for 3 months.
Options: A straight good brandy can be added for the tinctures. Herbal infused vinegars or straight apple cider vinegar can be added instead of tinctures but I suggest using up within 1 month.
Dosing: 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon per day. Increase dosing to 1 tablespoon every 4 hours while awake with signs and symptoms of microbial invasions.
Frozen Elderberries, lime zest, cinnamon sticks, and water begin the process. Simple straining, measuring, pouring and stirring make the magic happen more. It's starts with the Elder seed (smile) and Great Grandma Nonna Costa always said, "It's all in how we stir it." Whisper in the healing prayers.
Enjoy! May you be blessed with abundance from Elder in all the magical ways that the medicine comes when we're in need and when we can share the overflow.
Much Love, Jen
psst... and should you feel the call to get closer to Elder, have a peek at our plant diet planned for 2019.
Lady's Mantle ~ Alchemilla vulgaris
Pretty sure I lack memories without Lady’s Mantle as it was among the gardens since before I could speak. It’s hard to describe the feeling too when you sit still near this one. Expansive. Subtle. Redirection. Steady. Persistent. Transformation. Change. Lady's Mantle is easily over looked and was far more popular in the past with an astounding lineage that’s walked with humans for a very long time. Science says it has ‘insignificant green flowers’. This always makes me chuckle. Corn, Nettles and Mugwort are in this group too! Need I say more about how these beauties are far from any embracing of being insignificant! More likely it means they are wind pollinated and so do not need showy flowers for attracting pollinators which is ‘better science language’, eh? Wind pollinated. Let's feel into this. The need to ride on the great winds of Earth in order to recreate. Mmmm.... Let's look deeper into the potent, humble, unassuming presence of Lady's Mantle.
An Old Wound Care Remedy
Traditionally Alchemilla was considered one of the very best wound healing herbs, even for infected wounds and cases of gangrene. We don't often see Lady's Mantle on plant lists for wound care today, but it's worth noting if you have it near already or plan to invite it close. Most likely the wound healing properties are due largely to its rich tannin content. Tannins give plants their astringent or binding qualities that when applied to the skin, make it a valuable remedy for healing skin abrasions. Astringency has an overall drying effect on tissue, drawing it together. Astringency can act also as a styptic too, which works to slow or stop bleeding and can also be beneficial for tissues that are lacking tone, such as in long term festering wound.
Matthew Woods, in his book Healing Wise, speaks to healing ruptured ear drums that remain open by massaging tincture around the ear and taking internally. Please do not drip anything into the ear canal if the drum is ruptured. Matt also shares stories of healing hernias with Lady's Mantle infusions or tincture taken internally. I would consider rubbing the tincture over the hernia as well for the medicine moves through the skin to the membranes that need tone and tightening, thanks to these astringency qualities. Tightening and toning tissue integrity is part of the potency of Lady's Mantle as a medicine. I'd consider this for post surgical care as well where the body has been cut deeply and is in the process of healing this.
A Female Reproductive System Herb
Lady’s Mantle has developed a reputation in current herbal repertories as a “women’s herb” For the purposes of this discussion I'll use the term “female” to refer to organs commonly known as the uterus, ovaries and breasts without assigning gender. Lady’s Mantle supports the well being in many conditions relating to female reproductive organs and issues.
Lady’s Mantle is an ally for an array of menstrual conditions including stanching excessive menstrual flow (menorrhagia), irregular menstrual bleeding at times in between menstruation (metrorrhagia), excessive vaginal discharge like in yeast infections, vaginitis and other issues of discharge, for menstrual cramping when there is a dull achy pain caused by congestion, sometimes called a “boggy” quality to the uterus. Fibroids endometriosis, kidney, ovarian and breast cystic conditions
Lady's Mantle is an emmenogogue (menstrual promoting) and is taken to promote a regular cyclic menstrual flow. This could be seen as counter intuitive due to its astringent actions. Lady’s Mantle, like many other plants, possess these miraculous regulatory abilities due to most likely a profound effect on the endocrine system where such things are organized. Lady's Mantle also has a reputation for easing menopausal symptoms like mood swings, hot flashes, and night sweats. Matthew Wood gives the constitutional indications, meaning the typical picture of the person needing Lady’s Mantle, as “the pale, anemic, sensitive woman with prominent blue veins and moist skin” as well as the indicators of “nervousness, agitation, insomnia and mood swings”
During my time running with the midwives for home-birthing mothers, we found the tea of the leaves and flowers sipped throughout the weeks post-partum also assisted the uterus to regain its natural inherent tone. It's a specific herb when there are prolapsed of organs, like the uterus or bladder, post birth. In this case, I recommend both drinking the tea daily and preparing a sitz bath 1-2x/day a day with just Lady’s Mantle while drinking infusions of the leaf and flower too. There are times when a woman enters a period of disappointment around how her birth process unfolded. Lady’s Mantle not only helps us to heal emotionally from these disappointments, but also from trauma past or present, related to our “female” organs. Women have found emotional support from Lady’s Mantle after abortion, miscarriage and also for working through issues of sexual trauma. Many of these unresolved emotions move for a woman after giving birth. They move in search of healing due to the powerful creative forces that move through the pelvis and breasts as we birth our children, die to the old and birth ourselves to the new version who we are. These become self-healing opportunities for women and Lady's Mantle proves to be a gentle and potent ally for navigation that can be intense sometimes.
Looking Closer for Your Apothecary
Lady's Mantle is an easy to grow perennial making it a sustainable and invaluable herb to incorporate into our apothecaries and practices. The tea from the leaves is delicious. It has a rich taste with a delicious and very slight bitter flavor that I find many can quickly learn to love, if not instantly love, because their body knows this is needed. Harvest leaves and flower late morning and they are easy to dry through a dehydrator or hung in bundles, which I might add are incredibly gorgeous to have hanging around!
Flowers bloom here, in the Northeast from June to July and if cut, a second bloom often occurs. Herbalists love 'bumper crops' for they make for tending an apothecary well. Lady's Mantle likes to be well watered, prefers fertile soil, thrives in partial shade to full sun, and is hardy in zones 5 to 9.
Medicinal Parts: Leaf & Flower
Medicinal Actions: Astringent, Mild Bitter, Stomachic, Vulnerary, Emmenogogue (brings on a bleed), Reproductive Tonic (especially for in between menses spotting), Renal System Tonic, Mild Diuretic
Medicinal Preparations Include: dried for infusions and bathing, tinctures, infused vinegars and oxymels, and flower essence.
Dosing Suggestions: 1 quart of infusion daily or 30-60 drops of tincture 3x/day is standard for more acute to long term dosing for months for the more physical conditions. Three drops of tincture 2x/day would be considered a homeopathic dose which proves to have profound effects as well, particularly when we are aware of the symptoms being rooted in our emotional, mental, and spiritual conditions of the more subtle bodies. Addressed here, physical healing can be rather quick but again is very personal and based on your journey through a condition where you would be seeking healing.
Flower Essences can be taken for the same reasons as the low dose tincture. Bathing is simple by creating a yoni steam or sitz bath with a strong infusion or pouring 1-2 cups of infusion into the bath. One can float some leaves and flowers in the bath as well or add 3 drops of tincture or flower essence to your bath.
The Dew Drops: Then there's sipping the dew drops as a magical essence straight from the leaves in the morning. Yes, an ancient practice where the essence of Lady's Mantle beads out at the tips of the leaves as water droplets and slides into the cup like structure of the leaves while mixing with the magical forces of the water in the air that has condensed onto the leaf's surface. This was and is an anointing holy water, a magical holy water for sipping and was gathered by medicine makers in ancient times and combined into physical medicines for healing. Try it.
Spiritual Medicine - The Alchemist
Our time here would fail to be complete for me if shied away from and ignored the spiritual qualities of this blessed beauty, Lady's Mantle.
So as we venture along our plants-as-healers path, we are often asked to revisit (or get newly acquainted) with one that jumps up and enchants. The alchemist within Lady’s Mantle has caught my heart, again. It has medicine in the form of support for the now of where we all are. Let’s listen deeper for the medicine of walking with and embracing change. Lady’s Mantle embodies elegance and strength. This low growing perennial plant has ruffled scalloped bluish green leaves that are finely toothed at the edges and covered with soft fine hairs and a slight waxy coating. It's flowering stalks, or racemes, at first glance appear like three dimensional lace bearing tiny star-like yellow green flowers. It can take part and full sun and grows well tucked near larger plants or as borders along stone. Here Lady's Mantle, at one foot tall, flanks Marshmallow at about eight feet tall. Never let size impress upon us a meaning of lacking potency or strength. This thinking has no footing in the plant world.
Most notable, Lady's mantle has an exquisite ability to funnel and collect morning dew upon its leaves, which persists well into the day when all other dew has long since evaporated. The edges of the leaves show this beading up of transpired water from the internal waters of the plants tissue to mix with the moisture from the air that is settling upon the leaves and the shape of the leaf functions like a bowl or vessel to hold this transformed water. As stated, this substance is woven back in time to a long lineage of medicine making people who knew its potency and so gathered, sipped, anointed, and mixed it with remedies to be taken for healing. It is 'Holy Water' for me. This was gathered by alchemists of old and added to remedies as medicine. It's a personal choice for herbalists today.
Lady's Mantel meets us where we are with a gentle guidance through nurture. It supports transformation or change but without any sort of push or nudge. More of a coaxing is my way of understanding the actions. There is a redirection of forces, energies, even fluids on the physical level, in order to support this. Support through the hang-over or cyclic replay of any sort of trauma is assured. Real change from the deeper levels is where Lady's Mantle works well. There is a balancing and enhancement of the Solar and Lunar aspects of our souls. Solar masculine-feminine relations and Lunar feminine-masculine relations along with how these relationships enter a larger dance with our Solar and Lunar cyclic nature.
We go into deeper discussions with our Monthly Herbal Council dedicated to Lady's Mantle for 7/2018 if interested in further learning on how support is given with the medicine of Lady's Mantle. Send along questions if you have. Thank you for coming through, xo-Jen
Wandering with Elecampane – Inula helenium
Our parallel lives with plants play out in so many ways. Each plant has a big handful of qualities where it can help for nourishment and healing. Then they have a small handful of qualities that really shine and help direct the medicine more deeply. And then, if we look with a more discerning eye, there are those 3-4 qualities where we know them to be true masters for healing. One could hope, as a human, that we do the same through our walk here and hone a few innate qualities that would be our soul gift to the world.
Elecampane is a master of physical medicine for respiratory, skin, and gut support and as a soul and spirit medicine for seeking our way back home. For tapping into what is true for each of us. Abundant, yes, and maybe a little off the beaten path, come wander a little with me as we shine some love on this torch carrier for the soul.
Medicinal Parts & Growth Habit:
Root - dig in fall. Perennial
Elecampane is the richest source of inulin. The amount of inulin varies according to the season, but is more abundant in the autumn which is why I also dig Burdock roots in the fall (biennial) versus 2nd year spring as it too has a good inulin component to it's roots. Inulin is a bulking agent, encourages growth of beneficial gut flora, tones mucosa linings, and helps with the dynamic and complex balancing of blood sugar through good communications between the GI tract, the blood, the pancreas, and the liver.
Diuretic, tonic, diaphoretic, expectorant, alterative, antiseptic, astringent, gently stimulant/blood mover. It was given by the ancients in phthisis (old word for pulmonary tuberculosis), in dropsy (old word for edema/swelling), and in many if not all skin disorders. So we think of the GI tract, lungs and throat, liver, and the skin for internal and external treatments, The name 'scabwort' arose from the fact that a decoction of it is said to cure sheep affected with the scab, and the name 'Horse-heal' was given from its virtues in curing the many skin diseases of horses. We can apply it similarly as humans for skin conditions as a wound wash or compress.
Scabwort. Elf Dock. Wild Sunflower. Horse-heal. Velvet Dock.
Habitat and Description:
It's found wild throughout continental Europe, temperate Asia as far as Southern Siberia and North-West India. As a cultivated plant for medicine, it's wandered to North America, where it's become thoroughly naturalized in the eastern United States. It now resides from Nova Scotia to Northern Carolina and maybe farther south, and westward as far as Missouri, growing abundantly in pastures and along roadsides, preferring wet, rocky ground at or near the base of eastern and southern slopes.
Elecampane is one of our largest herbaceous plants.
The leaves are tropical-like in size and number and sometimes reach three feet long arching out from the central stem that can reach 6-8 feet in height. The root harvest is generous and rather easy if you're skilled at using your body and a good spade fork. They take about three years to get fully established from seed. And they demand space! Sometimes it's hard to imagine in early spring but I continually find myself transplanting loved ones farther away so as to not get lost and shaded in such massive leaves. Chickweed and others that thrive in dappled sun and crawl out to the sun as needed love growing around the base of Elecampane.
More on the Medicine of Elecampane Root
Exerpt from– M. Grieves Book: A Modern Herbal
“In herbal medicine it is chiefly used for coughs, consumption and other pulmonary complaints, being a favorite domestic remedy for bronchitis. It has been employed for many years with good results in chest affections, for which it is a valuable medicine as it is in all chronic diseases of the lungs asthma and bronchitis. It gives relief to the respiratory difficulties and assists expectoration. Its principal employment as a separate remedy is in acute catarrhal affections, and in dyspepsia attended with relaxation and debility, given in small, warm and frequently repeated doses. It is, however, seldom given alone, but most frequently preferred in combination with other medicines of a similar nature. It is best given in the form of decoction, the dose being a small teaspoonful, three times a day.”
-An extract from Elecampane demonstrated ulcer healing properties, relieving symptoms and improved gastric mucosal circulation in a clinical trial with 102 patients with peptic ulcer disease. Identifying the stress which causes such ulcers is more important work but Elecampane with help when combined with Marshmallow root and a adaptive nervine such as Tulsi.
-Experiments with extracts of Elecampane in the laboratory showed it to have potent antibacterial activity against an array of infectious organisms. European scientists have shown that Elecampane contains a substance (alantolactone) that helps rid the body of intestinal parasites. Again this would be part of a treatment plan for such conditions.
-The root was long ago candied and eaten as a sweetmeat or made into lozenges for sore, infected throats. It's often called upon for acute and long term treatment of whooping-cough, pneumonia, and chronic bronchitis. It's fast acting for acute conditions with more frequent doses but also helps chronic conditions with lower, long term dosing.
Elecampane is generally a safe and well-tolerated herb so long as it's taken in moderation, especially for the young or elderly. Excess doses will likely cause significant gastric upset fairly quickly so it would be difficult to overdose on this herb. I love this built-in safety mechanism. If you feel nauseated, back up your dose to half and see how you feel. Resisting the 'more is better mentality' is wise here. Elecampane is not recommended to take during breastfeeding (the sesquiterpene lactones will pass into the milk and upset the baby's stomach - I repeat again if the dose is too high - read on). It's unlikely to be of any direct danger but it's still 'recommended to avoid it during pregnancy'. This being said, when I was pregnant and breast feeding I did take Elecampane in very low 3-5 drop doses three times a day if I was sick or baby was sick and needed this support. My milk provided the medicine in minute doses to my baby. I always suggest dosing for baby's comfort even if the medicine is for Mama. I'm sharing my experience here is all.
Mouth Washes with Elecampane Root:
Yes, I love this fresh root tincture added to a tincture blend for sensitive or infected gums and where lots of dental work is underway. It tones and tightens the gums and disinfects the mucosa while supporting rapid healing. The drawback here? Taste. It's pungent and I love it but many complain, unless they are threatened with loosing teeth! The priority list changes in this situation. Comfort is not always the priority when healing is asked for. So I formulate a gentle easy-tasting mouth rinse for general care and for children that can be added to water for swishing, to put into a water-pick, or applied straight on the gums if needed. I offer the Elecampane root addition when the condition and situation calls for a bit more.
Fresh or dried root tincture can be taken in water 3-5 drops to 60 drops 3 times per day or every four hours for acute intense conditions. Decoctions of dried root are made by simmering 1 tablespoon of dried root in 1 1/2 cups water for 20 minutes. Keep covered and allow to cool another 20 minutes and drink 2 tablespoons to 1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) every four hours for acute situations. It's deliciously strong but an acquired taste for some. Learn to at least like it is what i would say next. I don't bother with pills or capsules.
Consider the lower dosing for chronic long term conditions and for those of you that know your system needs less medicine to respond. Being more sensitive is a strength and it's also economical. We need less medicine.
The Spirit and Soul Medicine of Elecampane
I LOVE this plant like a deeply trusted friend that just might know me better. As always the knowings between us are unfolding with time and these things will not be rushed. Slow cooked is the way with the plants and the souls of humans. I add my two cents here from this long walk that started when I was in my mid twenties and continues with me damn near close to my mid 50s. Phew. It really does happen if we're lucky and maybe a little cleaver!
Plant dieting on Elecampane is in the plans for a future group experience and I do look forward to what Elecampane will reveal to us in such a setting. Elecampane will inform me as to when, where and how. This I trust. I'm sure there will be some juicy things to chew on as we step closer for a listen in shared space. Stay tuned... hands to heart here.
So what I know of Elecampane so far as a soul medicine it that it works like the torch of the Hermit in the tarot, heralding a way to see through the mist in a time where discerning can be challenging. There's an anchoring to the indigenous soul that is always wanting to rise and express itself in these times. Maybe we shy away from this? Some do and it's fine. But once aware of this, we can call on Elecampane to anchor and support flow from this soul space that carries a healing we long for and also thrive within. So 'finding and seeking home' is the key phrase Elecampane gave to me long ago about how to do this. To be this. To find a way no matter what. And to also find comfort, acceptance and healing in finding this place within us that is always present and available. Elecampane stands at the portal shining this light for us.
Suggested 'Dosing' to Work with Elecampane Spirit and Soul Medicine:
Excerpt from Felter & Lloyd's Kings Dispensatory from 1898
“Elecampane is an aromatic stimulant and tonic, and is much used in chronic pulmonary affections and weakness of the digestive organs.
Night-sweats are relieved by Inula, as are some cases of humid asthma, and, by its tonic properties, it tends to sustain the strength of the patient in chronic disorders of the respiratory tract. Inula is somewhat slow in action, and should be used for quite a time to get its full action.
That it is an important remedy in irritation of the trachea and bronchia is now well established. It is adapted to cases with free and abundant expectoration, teasing cough, and pain beneath the sternum, conditions frequent in the grippe (old fashioned term for the flu), and the severer forms of colds.”
"grippe" ... "severer"... Just love the old writings!
Elecampane Cough Syrup
You can make this in less than one hour.
Hint Hint: YES! This syrup can be made with just Elecampane root as a spirit medicine for dosing over time. Seek your medicine. Walking with you, Jen
Use Discount Code: ELECAMPANE15 for a 15% discount on 'Birthing and Herbalist in 13 Moons on-line Course for the Summer of 2018. Good through 8/31/2018 Enjoy! Jen
Welcome Herbalist - Herbalist In The Works - Plant Lover - Fierce Beauty Walker Anyway in an Intense World that Calls To and Needs Us...
This month in our Monthly Herbal Council at EMS of Herbs, we'll sit together to peek deeper into the practice of 'Plant Dieting', also called 'Sacred Plant Initiations'. Deepening our practice in relationship with the plants and Earth by drawing wisdom from ancient tools such as 'Plant Dieting' is the goal. These coined phrases encompass the paradoxical simple and profound act of working with or dedicating one's practice to one plant deeply by ingesting only that one plant for period of time. Consider 12 hours to 4 days as the window of time often considered.
We'll explore in council the why's and how's of this practice and how it embodies a feminine form of a 'Questing' in it's deepest expression based on how we prepare and move through it as a practice to deepen consciousness. Dedicated nourishment is woven into the practice here versus intense deprivation. So we'll speak to the elements of a 'Quest' through connecting, preparing, and retreating for self healing and growth.
Preparation is everything (wink wink) meaning you get out of it what you put into it. It's all connected to how we show up. And yes, 'dieting' means we ingest small amounts of just that one plant for a predetermined amount of time while engaging our supportive consciousness shifting tools.
My desire is for this to be informative and inspiring to deepening your practice of walking strong with the plants and to raise awareness around this ancient way that indigenous cultures put into practice as part of their sacred tending to life. It's worded as 'fasting on one plant'. It can be that, but it's so much more.
As an herbalist, or plant lover who turns to plants for healing support where possible, (the same thing), our work with the plants as medicine requires a dedication practice and creative fire to be tended regularly within us. Plant Initiations ~ Plant Dieting can be that bit of lighter fuel to make this fire within jump up for us.
While it may not be for everyone in this moment, I do believe eventually it is for all plant lovers seeking deeper connections and relationships with the plants and Earth. (Jen's take. Leave it at the door if it doesn't feel true for you.) Plus, the benefits of fasting are beautifully researched and gaining awareness and practice for healing all levels of our being. Yes, ancient practices consider spiritual are now proving to heal the physical. Imagine that!
Consider these as some of the reasons why you might consider embarking on plant dieting. Add your voice to this:
As stated, preparation is the key. There can be a longer, steady preparatory movement into retreat and return. There can also be a more narrow window with a deep drop and return. Either way can be an incredibly informative experiential ride into unknown terrain where developing our unique skills will be called into action. You know you. Being guided by a space holder seasoned in Plant Initiations is available and resources will be shared for this. But there are those who know this a solo journey and trust their skill set to begin on their own. We'll speak to the creation of this as well.
What is plant dieting actually? To give the simplest explanation we partner with one plant that calls to us. It begins with the 'yes' in your heart. We then prepare. This includes exploring intentions for healing. Consider one circumstance you know you are seeking support with. Another way is to come to this from a place of deep trust that what comes up is what is needed.
An elixir or syrup is curated from this one plant you're called to and made in a sacred way. It can include and combination of honey, liquor, tinctures, vinegars, juices, infusions, decoctions, flower essences and even edible honey pastes. A little math to calculate how much you will need based on how long you plan to diet needs to be done (we'll cover this). Space and time are consulted, altars and sacred space worked, journey, meditation, artistic expression, song and sound, writing, dreaming, bathing, limpias, pilgrimages to sacred places, and much more can be woven in.
It can be a community experience (I've been with 25 people sometimes). It can be created with a partner, a sister circle, or on your own. The rules are loose in these many choices meaning the alchemist within rules here in weaving a ceremonial plant diet that supports you.
Yes, they come up. Considering all the choices above, and there are more, one can get overwhelmed and easily think 'I can't' but I will ask you to hold that in your right hand and set it down over there, by the side of the road. Thank you for considering coming to infuse with something new and different, or considering a new way to this, if you're already a seasoned plant dieter.
Then there's the idea of no food for a period of time. No coffee or tea. No Sugar. Yes, plenty of water and a supportive infusion can be taken in freely. What comes up when you close your eyes and feel into this? Mmmmm.... there's good medicine there. Light fare for those who medically cannot fast are often provided or outlined. This would be a good place to start to ease the apprehension of those who have never fasted before. It's like working a new muscle. It takes time.
Cautions? You bet with stronger herbs or poisonous plants but there are ways to work these beauties. We'll speak to this too.
Saying 'No' is completely fine. Remember, you know you best. As you feel into this idea of embarking on a plant dieting experience consider journaling to get behind the "no" and see if there's some medicine there for you sequestered in the shadow. How does your body feel and how can you partner with this from a place of just honestly looking for a place of loving self versus judging self. Maybe there's no more to the discussion. Maybe there is. Only you know you here.
I also consider stepping behind the 'Yes' too for mining the medicine we are seeking in saying yes. If you're sitting with curious intrigue laced with a little nervousness, this is a 'yes' for me. What say you?
I would love to see you in Council. These Monthly Herbal Councils are intimate, informal, easy talks with a 'small commitment and big return' kind of investment in growth. Yes, 60-90 minutes of monthly 'plant talk' with like minded ones. This Friday, 11am EST 5/4/2018. Always recorded and archived for later viewing for you. Enjoy!
Much Love, Jen
Join us in council here:
The Monthly Herbal Councils are free if you're enrolled in other courses at
ElderMoon School of Herbs
Mullein ~ Verbascum thapsus
Medicinal Plant Part: Leaf, Flower
Demulcent, emollient, astringent, antimicrobial, antispasmodic, pectoralis, expectorant, and relaxant properties, which makes it beautifully helpful in pectoral/respiratory complaints and bleeding of the lungs and bowels. The whole plant seems to possess slightly sedative, mild narcotic properties.
White Mullein. Torches. Mullein Dock. Our Lady's Flannel. Velvet Dock. Blanket Herb. Velvet Plant. Woollen. Rag Paper. Candlewick Plant.
Habitat, Description, Harvest:
Mullein is a widely distributed plant, being found all over Europe and in temperate Asia as far as the Himalayas, and in North America is exceedingly abundant as a naturalized weed in the eastern States. This plant is biennial and there are many species too. I stay with the ones that have a white mid vein and white hairs along the flower stalk. The leave can get huge, up to 2 feet long when happy, but the plant starts as a small and fuzzy rosette each spring that grows larger and larger the first year. The second year rosette emerges large and the flower stalk quickly rises from the center by late spring of the second year. Leaves are harvest through the summer of the first year to spring of the second. Flowers are harvest in the summer of the second and final year.
Herbalists seek these easily found abundant medicine plants for they provide through efficiency and potency for the relevant conditions of our times, and also provide teachings of the power of simplicity and ease through their actions.
Traditional Medicine Preparations:
For year I’ve harvested fresh Mullein leaf for tincture, dried Mullein leaves for infusions, teas and for smoke blends, freshly wilted flowers (leave out on a towel for a day so some of the water evaporates off) for Mullein Flower Infused Olive Oil.
Mullein Leaves for Respiratory and GI Complaints
Carefully examine each leaf to check for mold or decay on the leaf undersides as these should not be harvested for medicine making. Once harvested, I either dry them whole in bundles of 4-6 stalks, or I cut the leaves cross-wise and dry in 3-5 days and store away from moisture and light. When harvesting both first and second year mullein leaves. The hairs are prominent so have a good straining method before ingesting to prevent irritation in the throat.
Mullein is found in all formulas addressing the lungs for any respiratory ailments from coughs due to colds and flus to management of asthma. Less often noted but just as potent are the GI Tract benefits of toning and supporting digestion while soothing irritation to mucous lining. Taken as infusion, homemade syrup, or tincture, many feel the expansion of the entire chest cavity and a lengthening of the spine as breathing muscles of the diaphragm and between the ribs are relaxed so they can work more efficiently in a regular healing breath rhythm that improves air flow, oxygenation, and expectoration of excessive mucous and/or infection lodged and festering in our lung tissue. Coughing is good. But we want efficient deep coughs to clear the lungs well. The calming and expansiveness of these actions is specific for easing the spasms associated with asthma. Mullein is safe for long term dosing for such chronic conditions as this. Recover from irritated and inflamed GI tract conditions is hastened in the presence of the demulcent and astringent properties of Mullein that encourage toned well-functioning mucosa to get back on tract.
Mullein Flowers for the Ears
These delicate yet potent flowers are harvested for making oil for the ears for impacted ear wax mobilization and for inflammation and infection, though I tend to combine with garlic to enhance the antiseptic properties. I suggest just Mullein flower oil for impacted ear wax, any visible lesions, or abscesses in the ear canal. Please drop NOTHING in the ear canal if the ear drum is ruptured, draining mucous with a bit of blood, and already in a healing process. Before rupture, the pain is of course excruciating, but is relieved instantly with the pressure release of rupturing. The ear drum is designed to do this, and quickly, and needs no help other than keeping the outer ear clean and dry with warm soapy cloth as it drains. I encourage the person to lay affected ear down and allow the ear to naturally drain with the help of gravity onto a towel. It looks much like blowing your nose through your ear with a little blood show. Nasty, yes… but so good it’s draining away and they have found comfort from the pain! You will do more harm than good putting anything into the ear at this time. Treat the immune system internally instead, along with rest, ample hydration, and simple nourishing soups.
It is easy to find traveling otoscopes (to look inside the ear canal) for less than 15$ today and it’s a great simple tool for the practice of visualizing the ear canal when healthy and sick. It’s the only way to truly learn what an infection looks like. We must know the tissue when well for comparison so I encourage regular peeks inside the ear canal to learn. It's not hard and one can get quite good at it quickly with a little practice. Inner ear infections versus outer ear infections of the canal are easily discerned as well, though treatment is the same with localized instilling of an oil, pain management, and immune support with herbs, rest hydration and simple nourishing soups.
Pain is managed best with nervine herbs such as Chamomile, Skullcap, or Valerian root (there are others too), and hot salt packs I learned years ago from Rosemary Gladstar. Simply warm 2 cups of dry salt in a dry pan until warm to the wrist, but not too hot to touch. Pour into a bowl lined with a clean hand towel, gather up the corners and tie closed and place over the infected painful ear. Sometimes I add a few drops of Eucalyptus or Lavender essential oil. This stops pain almost instantly while other therapies are kicking in, increases circulation to the area and speeds drainage of the infection through opening the Eustachian tubes and sinuses. So simple and works great.
Interesting Historical Notes:
"The flower stalk oozes a brown protective, self-healing resin for the plant that was once used in baking like Vanilla is today for it has a faint vanilla aroma and has also a great history in fermentation of stouts and liqueurs.
Rotenone is a fish poison and very effective insecticide originally of plant origin but now synthetically produced by our government. It occurs in mullein seeds and seed capsules, and leaves. Mullein seeds and seed capsules have been used as fish poison in the past. Mullein seeds and flowering stalks were also used to get rid of lice and scabies. Rotenone is water insoluble, but readily soluble in ethanol, acetone, and other organic solvents such as olive oil. Fatal rotenone poisoning causes respiratory failure, ironic, huh? Mild rotenone poisoning from inhaled mullein smoke may be spasmolytic (reduces spasms) for asthmatics and chronic bronchitis. It may suppress the cough reflex, and, act as a local anodyne (pain killer) for inflamed ear canals. Rotenone is more toxic when inhaled than when ingested. Once again, the poisonous substances of plants in low doses produce some of our strongest medicines." – Thank you to Ryan Drum.
Personal Journeys with Mullein
My first year in herbal school I received visions from Mullein as the tall flower stalk superimposed as the spine within our human form. Mullein had me see and feel this in my body so I could truly know this expansion and lengthening as my cells, tissues, and bones as they made more space within my body for movement both physical and energetic. Grief work, which was in my lap back then, I learned would be a healer and teacher who would be present all through life, not just for me, but we all have this work in our lap. While I sat with these gentle giants, I learned how Mullein deeply assists us with re-patterning our stance in the presence of the grief we attempt to carry. It allows the protective heart posture of collapsing our shoulders forward with a rounded back as we pull our heart away from the world to open, to expand. Mullein supports movement, flow, and the release of the tears behind the rage, which is often one of the many masks of grief, as we re-learn a new posture, a new stance, in the presence of our grief as teacher. Solidified and held grief makes us sick. It must move. Mullein is often communal in how it grows and this mirrors the medicine of grief that also needs community. We are learning still.
Asthma, respiratory, ear and GI tract lessons have all been learned on the job as a mom of three sons who each gave me the lessons I needed on how to assess and treat such conditions as I nudged their bodies back to health. And yes, our children carry their own grief too, sometimes lineage, personal, or collectively rooted. Mullein has always been in my home apothecary since my very first creation of an apothecary. It’s easily found in herb and health food stores for reasonable prices due to abundance and ease of harvest, or found when away from home in wild places where newly disturbed soil encourages the seeds to germinate as one of the first plants to do so in such places. Each mother plant in seed makes thousands of tiny black round seed on the huge stalks that can get up to 10 feet tall. If you find yourself on new land without Mullein there are two ways I love to entice Mullein closer. One is to call to Mullein deep within. Make an offering too. It will always come to those who wait and our work is to remain poised and ready to receive. Many are surprised at how Mullein shows up too. The other way is to find stalks in seed and carefully transport to your land in some creative way. Then wave and whack these as massive wands over areas you think Mullein will love, partly to full sun is preferred. I sing softly and speak praise to this beauty too. I imagine I’m quite a sight and it makes for great conversation from non-gardening or non-herbalist neighbor folk!
Thank you for wandering through here. Much love, Jen
COMMON NAME: Usnea
Other Names: usnea lichen, old man's beard
BOTANICAL NAME: Usnea barbata, Usnea longissima, Usnea hirta. Usnea plicata, Usnea fillipendula, (there are 600 known species but these are the most commonly studied and utilized species for medicine).
Plant Family: Usneaceae
CONSTITUENTS: Usnic acid, essential fatty acids, mucilage, sterols, and many more not being listed here at this time.
PARTS USED: dried thallus, also called lichen strands.
PREPARATIONS: Tincture, liniment, compress/fomentation, poultice, cough syrups, cold lozenges, decoctions, wound washes, wound packing & powder, douches, sitz baths. Taken internally and applied externally. Tincture can be applied as liniment to skin full strength or added to mister bottles with water and essential oils for skin fungus and infections. To bathe sinuses add 2-3 drops of tincture to netty pot washes.
MEDICINAL ACTIONS: Analgesic, Antimicrobial, (Antifungal, Antibacterial, Antiviral, Antiparasitic, Antiprotozoan), Antiseptic, Antiproliferative (cancer), Immunostimmulant, Anti-inflammatory, Antineoplastic (cancer), Antioxidant
PRECAUTIONS: Not for use during pregnancy is often reported by many. No other known precautions exist. I will share that with flu and pregnant, I did enlist the support of Usnea with great results. My rule with plants where we just don't know the effects during pregnancy and yet there seems to be good reason for it to be fine is to take 1/4 the dose to start. The pregnant body is very sensitive and requires very small doses and can work with this well because of the heightened state we are in when pregnant. You get to decide for you and your baby. This is not based in any research nor is it a suggestion. I only share what I've experienced.
Walking through the forest is where one will encounter Usnea. Did you know know that the inconspicuous gray-green fuzzy plant covering many of the trees is one of the gentlest yet strongest immune tonics and antimicrobials in the herb world?
Usnea is a lichen; a combination of an algae and a fungi growing together symbiotically on the surface of the tree. Also known as Old Man's beard, it grows in little hair-like tufts, with the green algae covering the white string like fungi. The best way to identify Usnea is to pull a string apart and look for this white thread. No white thread means it's not Usnea. I do recommend showing a sample to a knowledgeable person to confirm you've got the right plant. Some people say that the Usnea lichen likes to grow in old growth forests. It must be true but I've seen it on younger trees too. Stephen Buhner has suggested that Usnea serves as the lungs of the forests they grow within, and in some way supports the overall health of the ecosystem. I believe this to be true. It carries the energy of a wise elder, maybe a grandfather for me.
This plant grows profusely in wet climates, like the Pacific Northwest, where tufts can be up to a foot long. The species that grow here in the northeast tend to be smaller, which can make gathering it a tedious task. I find gathering after a big wind storm good because the wind will blow down the Usnea from the higher branches. I grew up in orchards and the old abandoned apple trees had lots of Usnea growing on them.
Usnea is an immune system tonic that can be used in acute situations as well as for long term immune enhancement and general prevention. It has no side effects or contraindications, and is safe for children and animals. It can be taken along with or instead of Echinacea. Usnea is more specific for strep and staph infections than Echinacea, and the antibiotic properties are most specific to the respiratory and urinary systems. We take to help heal respiratory and sinus infections, bronchitis, pneumonia, strep throat, colds, flus, as well as urinary tract, kidney, and bladder infections. Usnea is also beneficial for women with yeast infections, trichonomosas, bacterial vaginosis, and chlamydia. It can be helpful as part of the plant-based remedies taken for people with chronic fatigue, HIV, herpes, and other chronic conditions related to depressed immunity, especially when taken in a pulsed fashion for acute flare-ups within the chronic condition expression.
Usnea can also be used externally for outbreaks of staph, cellulitis, or infected wounds. I generally use the powdered herb, strong decoctions applied with a cloth, or the diluted tincture for open skin and straight tincture for closed skin. The moistened herb also makes an excellent bandage to be used directly on the wound or affected area. Should you have the great fortune of being near this one fresh when an injury happens, packing the wound with fresh plants after bleeding has been addressed is perfect for keeping the wound tended until you can get to a better situation for cleaning the wound.
This tough yet delicate looking little plant (not plant, lichen) doesn't make much of a tea due to having so little water soluble properties, so I recommend using it as a tincture. The heat required to make many medicines will however take the place of the alcohol so you may stay water-based in your preparation if alcohol is a concern. Increase your dose by 1/4-1/2. I've made a throat spray by diluting the tincture with water, Essential Oil of Eucalyptus, and Honey. It was a spontaneous creation that works great and seems to have the ability to kill microbes on contact. I also, as stated above, place 2 drops of tincture into a full netty pot for sinus irrigation. I do this when I know I've been around the flu or have started active symptoms. I also take it internally 30 drops 3-5x/day and add to cough syrups too.
I've found it to be quite effective with serious cases of bronchitis and pneumonia. Dosing will be increases from 2-3x/day to every 4 hours 30-60 drops to 1/2 teaspoon of tincture with convalescence and bone or medicinal mushroom broth based soups for a few days. Let’s be wise my friends. If someone can no longer walk well or maintain their oxygen levels so they look pale and grey (awful), seek medical attention. These are advanced distress signs of a very weak system so unless you are comfortable with what this looks like and what to do, seek help and learn. Watch closely so you can learn well from the experience. And yes, one can treat with plant medicines and modern medicines together. Seek guidance on how if you are inexperienced.
Herbalists were ordered with threats to be silent by the FDA during the Anthrax scare. This was the first plant turned to for protection from inhaled life threatening situations; second to quarantine. Hypothetically speaking, dilute the tincture in a spray bottle with Eucalyptus essential oil and mist in front of the face for inhaling. I add 60 drops of Usnea tincture to 2oz. of water with 20 drops of the Eucalyptus essential oil. It could be called, hypothetically speaking, an "air purifying spray". Also use the netty pot with 2-3 drops of tincture only (more than this burns the sinuses).
For Weight Loss? NO.
It was reported to help with this by isolating Usnic acid and concentrating it and people were hurt most likely due to toxicity from receiving the plant in compound isolated form. Work with the full spectrum of whole plant preparations for safety reasons. The FDA was considering banning the plant due to this but it has fallen away a bit thankfully. Do educate that this is not a way to work with Usnea.
TINCTURE MAKING CONSIDERATIONS
Usnea has water soluble and non-water soluble compounds and so there are suggestions by herbalists to provide a two part preparation for making the tincture in order to extract the full spectrum of the medicine offered. For alcohol sensitive people, a syrup or glycerite made with heat will provide a good option but I would suggest larger dosing (double the dose).
The polysaccharides are found in the fungi portion of Usnea (white inner core) and are part of the water soluble medicine. The alkaloids and acids found in the outer green algae part of Usnea are extractable in 90-95% alcohol, this being the non-water soluble parts. There are other compounds identified and unidentified but by making your tincture in this two part process you will be getting the full spectrum of what Usnea has to offer for healing.
Usnea spp. Tincture – A Two Part Process
Yield: 10oz. of Usnea Tincture at 1:5 45% alcohol
I also do this cook process for other healing herbs such as Astragalus root, all medicinal mushrooms, Ginger root, and a few other tinctures to honor their water soluble compounds as well as their converted-by-heat compounds they have. Cannabis is proving to fit into this category of healing plants/lichens/fungi as well. Some now do this with all dried roots and barks to be tinctured. I’m grateful to Stephen, Ryan Drum, and Christopher Hobbs (for medicinal mushroom tincturing skills), for pioneering these simple techniques of a two part process to make a more potent tincture.
Unsea is also an indicator plant to the health of an area as far as pollutants are concerned. Christopher Hobbs has shared many a time on how Usnea will recede from highly contaminated places because it absorbs such toxins easily due to the nature of it's growth pattern. We would not want to make medicine from this and this wise medicine lichen will not allow it either. This is surely another way the wise protection held in the medicine reaches through. And so to find it is a great reason for ceremony and rejoicing for me.
When in Ecuador high in the Andes Mountains hiking in the forest, tufts of Usnea floated down into my hands one morning. It was one of those moments that stops you for it's undeniable how plants can come to us in seen and unseen ways, calling our attention deep in our heart and soul to connect. To make and honor that bond deeper than before. Thank you so much for wandering through here with me. Much Love, Jen
I've been working with Cacao in a new way of late and wanted to share what Cacao is teaching me to support your discovery of Cacao as a healing addition to your world in a ceremonial way that can remain among your more private practices. Yes, Cacao supports bonding in groups. While there are many heading to Cacao Ceremonies these days, and I for one have hosted them and attended them too, I find the deepest and most meaningful way for me to work with a plant closely is to bring this work to the personal and intimate level by inviting ceremonial work through out my life in increments of dedicated time that are so very private. Let me explain.
Where and When Did Cacao Ceremonies Start?
It’s thought cacao was first taken as a health elixir and ceremonial medicine as far back as 1900 BC by the ancestors of Central America, the Olmec people, before becoming a ritualistic medicine used by the Aztec and Mayan cultures. Signifying both life and fertility, it was ingested by Royalty in ceremonial God worship and in sacrificial ritual. Of course it depends on where you go in Central and South America for the true beginning stories change from place to place (wink wink).
Cacao Ceremony in Practice
As with many things that involve practice, we only get better with time. I suggest enjoying opening to this practice by choosing a week and drinking it daily to start. Some are drinking it daily and I do hope with much intention for something that requires such tending. For me I feel seasonal changes are a good time to engage cacao's healing for a week, or more if called, within the container of being a dedicated practice. Your experience of cacao in ceremony will likely evolve over time as you do. This is a natural and integral part of the process. The important thing is to make sure you set enough time aside to really allow yourself to dive in. I suggest anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours each day. But only you will know what time frame works best for you.
Here's the rhythm that unfolded organically for me with Ceremonial Cacao in my everyday.
My commitment is often for one week and Cacao teaches me to visit each chakra each day for this practice. I drink my Ceremonial Cacao Dose (we'll cover this below) first thing in the morning on an empty stomach. This is traditional with Cacao, first thing in the morning with an empty belly. I love the seasonal pulsing to help me shift more smoothly. For me it's likened to meeting an honest lover for a beautiful romp from time to time (wink wink). So once taken in slowly, then I sit quiet for 20-30 minutes and just allow my feelings and mind to wander to see where I'm taken along with checking in with my physical state of being. Review of the previous day can filter in since I take for many days in a row. Spontaneous knowings come up usually within two hours. Visions and dreams through awake and asleep time drift in as the cumulative effect takes hold, and this begins usually by day three. I journal cryptically when taking my morning dose for the in-the-moment feelings but also for a review of the unfolding of the previous day and night that have happened. It's like reviewing a movie with a deeper seeing clearer lens. Here's the honest part. The first two to three days can, but NOT always, be really hard to bordering on down right sucking sometimes. But if you stay with the practice it shifts. Our sequestered residual emotional debris can be unearthed. But only if we want this and are willing to work with it. Pull up, and dust off if need be, your self care skills here too. I retreat to paint, drum, go to Nature, build altars and work them, medicine make, adjust my diet and sleeping, spiritual bathe, yoni steam, sauna, take other plants in as directed intuitively, and basically follow Cacao's inspiration through this process.
Are you following me on this? I hope so. It's a personal and intimate quest of sorts. Do send me questions if they arise.
A Heart-Opening Experience
Oh I laugh my friend. It IS this and more. This is so individual based on right where we are. Ceremonial cacao works almost magically at opening up the heart. For some people this will mean FEELING YOUR FEELS. So this looks different for each of us depending on where we are. Maybe what surfaces is your deep and intimate connection to Mother Earth, your guides, or what you hold as Divine. The Spirit of Cacao may present strongly from the plant world. For others, it may mean connecting with your inner-child, or with sabotaging archetypes you've created for survival that need integration, or for grief work around loss of beloveds or more, and feeling emotions that have been suppressed, avoided, or misunderstood for years. And still for others, this may mean tapping into a level of gratitude and abundance beyond that which you have ever experience before. You may make sudden decisions and abrupt life changes with precision and clarity too.
This Cacao Ceremony round that I'm just completing has brought up some of the deepest grief around the death of sweet and dear sister, more than 20 years ago, and Cacao is sweeping the cracks from that time in my life when the perceived loss of her stimulated a tsunami that changed the course of my life and all my relations on every level. Cacao is our ally for deep transformation core work. Calling in the medicine for support is our natural course of action. Cacao is there whenever I ask. We need only ask.
Whatever comes up for you to feel during your time with cacao, it's important to remember that the Spirit of Cacao is your personal partner on this journey, and being your partner, Cacao will assist you in processing your emotions when and where you invite this. Bliss can happen. And it does. But sometimes painful growth comes too in the form of grief work, release work, and expansion of our understanding. Then the bliss can rise. I have to be straight with you on this. Cacao meets us where we are and supports growth. Know you are supported even if it might seem hard at first.
These are the fermented, dried,, roasted, and peeled Cacao seeds ready for grinding into the Cacao paste we ingest for ceremony. The cacao nibs you see in health food stores are this stage and are quite therapeutic as well to nibble on. These retain all of the cacao butter (fat) and the resulting paste is better for ceremony than using cacao powder where the cacao butter is removed and sold separately. We need the full spectrum of what is offered from intact, less processed seeds for ceremonial experiences. It matters.
Setting Intentions - The Nuts & Bolts
Sometimes we do need the sort-of mundane, practical side of things spelled out for us. Drinking cacao for ceremonial purposes invites us to slow down and to intentionally set time aside for ourselves. This means stepping out of the daily 'to do' as much as you can and stepping into our self in a more expansive way. So often we rush from one experience to the next without even understanding why we're doing what we're doing. Cacao ceremony invites us to tune in to our inner-knowing, our inner-self, our inner-guidance system, and to take action from a place of inspiration rather than by habit or unconscious, even manic 'doing' places we all can fall into. Set your intentions and begin with baby steps. Choose the number of days you'll drink your Cacao (I like 7 days). Source good Cacao paste, which means you'll want 7-14oz. of cacao paste to cover this time for yourself. Make sure you have a scale to weigh your paste, a natural sweetener, and spices that resonate with you. Consider why you're wanting to do this. Make an altar dedicated to this practice, even if just a tiny one near your bed. Engage determination no matter what to see it through. Have a journal ready too and just a little retreat space of 30 minutes to two hours is good per day. Closely watch or observe yourself throughout your day to see what comes up and what needs attention. Trust Cacao has a process for you that is uniquely yours and within your own personal synchronous healing. Watch for magic to jump up too. So amazing how it truly does.
For the scope of this article I'm avoiding analyzing the individual chemicals in detail that we know of in Cacao. It's fascinating! It's well-studied thus far too and continuing to be further studied as well. Do follow this research if you're intrigued. But reducing Cacao to chemical parts is not my favorite way to introduce or speak of a beloved. Plant or human. Cacao contains a whole host of natural "feel good" chemicals known to influence the body and brain in subtle ways, so don't be surprised if you start to feel the effects of this too. You may notice feelings of warmth rise up the trunk of your body, and have feelings of calm, tranquility, peace, bliss, or others rise up. Maybe your face is hot, you feel flushed, your heart flutters a little. Relax into this. Find comfort in your body through moving to positions of comfort. Twinges and such happen. Trust and move to comfort and breathe deeply. Cacao is a great partner for journey and meditation practice too.
Here's a one pound (gorgeous hunk) of raw cacao paste I brought back from Ecuador that was made by the gorgeous, powerful Indigenous Women of the Amazon region near Coco City. Sometimes it's coined 'Ceremonial Cacao Paste' and I break this up into chunks that are kept in a jar and weighed out for dosing in ceremonial preparations.
The Recipe - Ceremonial Cacao Preparation
There are many sources for organic cacao paste so do your homework and feel into the integrity of the company. Central and South America have many beautiful suppliers and then some who are questionable but you will see this with a few questions. One good question is where are the trees from and are the people passionate about their cacao and forthcoming on how they work and tend the land around the trees? If not, move on.
A Ceremonial Cacao Dose is 1oz. per person per day.
No more than 2oz. per day if you're moved to have more but do space the doses out a bit until you understand how Cacao works with you and your body. These are adult doses so offering to children means smaller amounts please. Sometimes just a spoonful is plenty.
How do you know if you're too sensitive, at least for today, and need to slow your dose down?
Simple. Read the language of your body. I am super sensitive to meds, herbs and just about anything. It's just how I am. Know you and adjust accordingly. This is not a competition and has nothing to do with body size either. Besides, isn't it fabulous to get there with less?! I find the overdose symptom picture looks like this: shaky, sweaty, antisocial, racing pulse, racing thoughts, disconnected feeling (we are), slow moving, heart palpitations, anxious, nauseated to mild and intense vomiting. Not fun! If these symptoms begin to appear during drinking your first dose slowly, then stop for now, drink plenty of water, and lay down. I keep stronger sedating nervine plants as companions on hand such as Skullcap, Chamomile, or Kava Kava root to sip as a tea or take in tincture doses of 10-20 drops with plenty of water and rest. I've not felt these effects with 1oz. but I have with a second 1oz. dose close to the first. And this can happen to anyone and anytime for it's dependent on you and Cacao and the work together in the time you are together. One session can have you feeling this come on half way through your first dose and another session you drink the whole dose with no symptoms at all. Listen to your body as it speaks and adjust your practice. Start low and go slow is my take for safety as these compounds in Cacao are quite powerful, stimulating, bitter, and have potent detoxifying compounds. These symptoms are a strong liver and heart response and we can work with this gently, with care and awareness.
Contraindications to Consider
If you take anti-depressant medications or cardiac medications of any kind, are pregnant or breast feeding then I ask that you prepare 1/4 of the dose 1/4 oz in 2oz. or more of water will do). Take with extra water and no more Cacao for the day. Some say none at all. I have seen this very low dose to be very safe time and again. The connection is made with a very small amount to none at all and just holding the seeds will do. You decide. Pure cacao can be fatal to dogs, and possibly horses and parrots, so be sure to keep it away from all pets to be safe.
Cacao is a powerful heart-opener, increasing blood flow significantly with these small ceremonial doses. It increases focus so that meditation, yoga, and therapeutic work are more accessible. It’s gentle, supportive energy allows me to expand and experience heightened states as well as drop safely into the shadows to clear out some murky heaviness my soul just does not want to carry any longer. We always smile after some good tears fall. Thank you for witnessing what I'm exploring which is a deeper, private, ceremonial way with Cacao. I hope this inspires you to weave Cacao medicine into your medicine bag and apothecary as a healer of self who continues to be medicine for Earth too. So much love to you, Jen
Decisions are Beginnings.
Self-observation and self-reflection are definitely forms of self care that I'm finding absolutely require we keep our humor about us. For one, it's not as painful as the self-judgments we toss around so easily. I often laugh more these days as I catch myself in any form of sabotage mode. Then I adopt a third person conversation which delivers quite the therapeutic effects of kind self-talk, even if stern, that has that element of humor. "Oh, look what you're doing now, Jen!", is my chat with a curious and inquisitive laugh. With Valentine's Day here and all the social media and commercialization that surfaces, it's easy to get lost or lulled to sleep in the lousy chocolate, mass produced over priced roses that die in days, moving blood diamonds around more, and yeah, some seriously bad cards with ridiculous prices. I walked away years ago from this. Sorry but it's true. Now visiting flowers and trees wherever they're alive, visiting sacred waters of the Earth and other landscapes that heal us, making handmade gifts, and sourcing cacao from kind stewards of the land, plus other ways that really feel true, well that's another story all together (smile).
The truth is this time of year is triggering for many. Many struggle this month around the heart. What's heavy in the heart for you? Are tears trying to move in that self-cleansing way? Is there a struggle to find the space or language to actually feel into it all and therapeutically convey in some creative way what is happening on the inside? Addictions of all sorts are included in a mass of coping skills we've masterfully honed over the years as avoidance tactics and they rear their head often this time of year in place of embracing dropping deeper into the heart to do some dusting and cleaning. Growth hurts. But the truth is holding on takes far more energy than letting go of heart pain.
As spring walks closer and stirs our subtler bodies, I know for me I feel this as either as a scattered way or a sluggish can't get focused way. Obsessive behaviors, irritation, anxiety, and poor timing crop up among my people too. Complaining and whining are at an all time high. So how do you clock this unique way in yourself and own that there's some simple good medicine for this? The number one medicine for this for me is to get outside, anyway, no matter what the weather is doing to re-calibrate with the natural forces. Bundling up for us cold weather dwellers means pulling out the hardy weather garb, again, but let's face it, 40 degrees feels like spring after this much winter and most of us don a thick sweater instead!
"Go to the Water" is the mantra of my ancestors and I seek this inside and out with hikes to natural water places and also through more spiritual bathing in the tub, and sauna. I also sit with my drum and rattle more, journey and make sounds that carry what I cannot find words for. And I paint for visual release and inquiry. Of late I've turn to our food choices too for my body is giving subtle clues to lighten it up. Salads, raw foods, and fruit look more appealing now. Here's another way that I like to re-calibrate on the inside. Jay and I are starting a Kitchari Cleanse this week, Cyrus is not so game for this yet but he's watching as we prepare for a short 3-4 day one to start. We'll go longer if we want to at the end.
This simple, soupy Ayurvedic cleansing dish is made primarily of rice, split mung beans, seasonal veggies and spices. Sometimes I have to start at the physical and walk step by step. This satisfies that in me. It changed my whole outlook on cleansing and transformed my relationship with food and my body. Instead of feeling deprived, it made me feel nourished. Instead of frazzled and delirious with a headache or nausea, I felt grounded, safe, and secure. Coming off it I feel clear and connected. The idea is to stimulate your natural cleansing processes in a slow, sub-radar like cleanse that doesn't stimulate chelation toxicity (releasing too much too fast for our elimination systems). This is hard for the body and a stress that is not good for us. Seasoned fasting lovers know that this is a muscle that must be exercised slowly or one pays dearly.
The beauty of this dish and cleanse is that you can eat. You can eat Kitchari for a single meal to give your digestion a break or do a full cleanse of 3-7 days where you really begin to release stored toxins and accumulation for safe release from the body. It’s a great introductory or seasonal cleanse because you still get to eat something throughout the day but at the same time it's the most effective tool I've found for healing and soothing the digestive system, increasing digestive fire, reducing bloating, clearing the mind, healing attachments to food, sleeping deeper, and kick starting the body’s natural ability to heal itself. While weight lose is not the goal, that just might happen too.
I follow this cleansing diet for days before the plant diet initiations I go to with my teacher where we sustain ourselves on a few ounces of a single plant elixir every four hours for three days and vision quest with one plant. Eating kitchari from one pot prepared each morning reduces our focus and energy demands on food. Think about how much time we spend on food alone from making the money to getting it or growing it, to planning meals, preparing, eating, and cleaning up. It's all good and communal supporting, yes, but a break to focus elsewhere is also so good for us. This eliminates much and frees up so much time. This is also a great diet for a day or two upon returning from questing or fasting of any kind to support integration and landing back in well.
Creating Your Kitchari Cleanse - Keeping It Simple Is The Medicine
Determine the number of days you will cleanse for with 3-7 days being a good place to start. You can always go longer if you feel you want to. Trust yourself on this.
I love adding the ghee and salt later in the process because it makes the flavor jump up more for me. I do this with simple tomato sauce too by infusing olive oil with garlic, basil, salt and pepper, and pinch of rosemary and stir in just before serving. It's amazing how these late additions retain and pull forth the essential oils in the dish.
This makes about 4-6 servings. Double it if there's more people in your home joining you or to eat throughout the week, though I do recommend making it daily if that's a possibility for you. To accommodate my work schedule I I make enough for 2 days at a time.
My Favorite Kitchari Recipe
Enjoy! Thank you for coming in for a read and may your day be blessed and your re-calibration plans be underway as Spring approaches.
Much Love, Jen
Are you ready to gently infuse your heathcare with simple green plants for healing? It truly is easier than many think because we hold this knowing through our ancestral lines. Beginning anyway is a beautiful way. xo-Jen
Jennifer Costa, Herbalist, Teacher, BS, RN, CST, and Founder of ElderMoon School of Herbs & Earth Medicine