Taking a bath to cleanse your spirit is different from taking a bath to clean away the everyday dirt from your physical body.
Ritual water treatments and limpias have unbroken links to ancestral health care practices in many places in the world today. Near lost here in the states with a fascination for ultra-pasteurized ways, thankfully there is a resurrection and a carrying forth in practice among us as we remember and put it all into practice again. We'll begin with the bath.
With this practice of the ritual bath, we are creating beauty and restoration space for gathering up our soul and spirit pieces that can hide from a hard day or experience. These parts of us know these practices as safe and healing and respond quickly to the healing forces we enlist on behalf of supporting wholeness. Spiritual bathing and the ritual bath are meant to cleanse and protect us spiritually as well as within the other subtle and more physical levels. To create the desired effects, there are a few things to consider. When taking a spiritual, ritual bath, you don’t use soaps, shampoos, or do any leg shaving and such. Once the bath is prepared, you are entering a sacred healing experience and space so you’ll want to really think about separating your regular bathing with your spiritual bathing.
When we immerse ourselves in a spiritual, ritual bath, we engage an initiation process to open ourselves up to spirit, or that which we refer to as our Divine.
Ritual bathing implies that water and prayer wash away any spiritual grime — cleansing, clearing, and purifying our body and energetic field. It suggests that we are willing to listen to our higher self and begin to trust something outside of our rational mind and allow the wise inner knowing to emerge. There's an affirmation within the act of planning and preparing that speaks of our openness to ask the universe to assist and transform what we believe needs to be shifted within.
Although spiritual baths can sometimes help alleviate certain physical ailments, especially skin conditions and muscle soreness, they are meant for spiritual healing through release and restore processes. This ultimately affects our physical healing.
If you have open wounds or have just had surgery, do not immerse the wounded area in the water for several days and if you choose to anyway, which is fine for surface wounds, it's wise to sprinkle a few cups of strong herbal infusions and a handful of epsom salt only.
Consider Calendula flowers, Lavender flowers, White pine, Juniper, Oak leaf and bark, Witch Hazel Bark, Rosemary, Roses, Plantain leaf, or Yarrow leaf and flower as infusion choices for skin care to encourage closing wounds. Sea salt will sting any open skin areas with no harm other than it stings. Epsom salts does not. This with speed physical healing and gather the soul and spirit back after such a traumatic event. I suggest a spiritual foot or hand bath for the in-between situations where a full immersion bath must wait or you don't have a bath tub.
Elder Flower, Lemon, Honey, and Coconut Milk Bath soothes everything and guarantees a deep restorative sleep in the wake of anything disruptive. For some practical logistics, keep a fine mesh strainer handy for skimming the herbs out of the tub for composting later. Clogged drains definitely interrupt our sense of peace.
Preparing For Spiritual Bathing
Elder flower sun-infusing in an earthenware pot sits waiting for us. I love to dip fresh bundled wild Mugwort into this sacred Elder infused water and give myself a limpia. Students have reported immediate relief of ailments they come to class with. Love the big "ah ha's" from beautiful simple care skills with deep roots.
Limpias. So what is a Limpia?
A limpia is a spiritual cleansing that is based in the philosophy and practice of many if not all traditional healing practices of indigenous intact, and lost, cultures of humanity. We all have memory within our bones given through our ancestry of each every bloodline to know these practices and feel deeply drawn to them even in some inexplicable but comforting way.
To perform a limpia, the curandera or shamanic practitioner uses herbs, flowers, prayers and songs, and the sacred sound of drum or rattle to help purify a person's mind, body and spirit.
Traditional healers work from a place of knowing that physical illnesses or 'conditions' are 99% rooted in the spiritual body. Fresh plant material is chosen and bundled together and swept over the body gently, and sometimes with a little more than gentle shaking and tapping (to whacking pretty good if needed) on the surface of the body from head to toe and front and back of the body. The herbs are regularly smudged through the process and prayers are softly spoken through the wafting, aromatic smudge smoke. Once completed, the energies are tapped into the Earth for composting and the spent herbs which can look quite black and dingy at times, are buried in a ceremonially reverent way.
My teacher Rocio, a born and betrothed shamanic healer from Ecuador, has traveled extensively teaching the power of daily limpias as part of one’s care for their body, mind, soul, and spirit. For times when the gardens sleep, there are the aromatic pines and fresh culinary plants which carry profound support for daily limpias. Rosemary and Thyme are favorites of mine.
Daily limpias are considered part of self care in many cultures and it's common to see limpia plants available in markets in other countries who retain this honoring of spiritual healing through profound, simple and sometimes daily practices.
Another essential element of the limpia is the smoke of copal, palo santo, white sage, or other plant you consider deeply clearing and protective for this kind of work. Copal is a dried resinous tree sap, palo santo is an aromatic wood that is burned in many different Central and South American ceremonies, and white sage grows here in the states. Do consider tiny amounts for smudge as each of these plants are experiencing threatened existence due to over harvesting. A little goes a long way.
The Simple Acts of Self Care
So it's winter. How do we enjoy a plant limpia in winter? We can. There's always a way. So you have two components here: a bundle of fresh plants, and a bowl of infused water.
We could Sun or Moon infuse fresh aromatics or any dried plant material that calls to us and place them in a beautiful bowl set in a window for as long as feels complete. With dried herbs, these can be slowly simmered for 10 minutes and stirred with spoken prayers before placing in the sun or moon light for cooling and infusing. Crystals, flower essences, essential oils, or drops of plant tincture can be added to the water. Do a little bit of research on crystals as there are some that are best left next to the bowl of water for infusing. Follow your intuitive knowing. My midwife gathered tiny bottles of ocean water from different places around the world. She added 1/4 of the bottle with vodka to preserve it, labeled them and had they lined up near here bathtub to as add to a ritual bath or certainly here for making your waters for a limpia. For the record, one can just do a limpia without the water as well. So you decide what's needed.
Make a fresh plant wand for the limpia. It's simple. Bundle a handful of fresh plant material together, such as fresh soft needled pines, flowers that call, and aromatics such as any fresh spices or mint trimmings that you're growing or have purchased at a store. It's pretty easy to get organic Rosemary , mints, Oregano, Thyme and more these day. I also love parsley for my Yemaya ritual to honor the Ocean.
Then simply work out your logistics of bringing your infused water and plant bundle with you. You can decide to have infused water as part of this or just sweep the fresh bundle through your smudge smoke or essential oil mist and work the fresh plant material over your body. Bring your fresh plant medicine bundle and bowl of infused water to:
If you've not experienced such things as this that may seem strange, know this practice is ancient and the knowing and memory of administering and receiving of such medicine is within each of us. Many are comforted and take to it quite easily. The aromatic plants release their oils for immediate relief and healing as they waft directly through our sinuses to assist the nervous system that is often atrophied or ramped-up and on edge. When participants studying the medicine plants come to class with me, we do this together each morning. Should intensity arise during sharing we may all move to the Mugwort patch and do another limpia on ourselves or pair up and help each other. There are many giggles among those new to this old medicine way but all take to this quickly and feel shifted near instantly. The plants can do this for us when we arrive in their presence open and receptive. I find my Plant Limpias alone or with Sacred Bathing take my self care just a little bit deeper than a smudge sometimes because sometimes life is that intense and demands a bit more from us to stay well.
This is an excerpt from a lesson in "Birthing an Herbalist in 13 Moons" online herbal course. I hope you found this informative and helpful and do send along questions if you need clarification. The rules are rather simple. Follow your intuitive connection with the plants, trust and enjoy. Thank you for coming into my world for a bit today. Much Love, Jen
Offerings at ElderMoon School of Herbs & Earth Medicine
Thank you for visiting and may your journey be safe and we meet soon. Use Coupon Code: plantjourney10 for a 10% discount off you tuition for 'Birthing an Herbalist in 13 Moons" on-line course AND "Walking the Herbal Path The Earth Medicine Way' live course that begins each year in May. xo-Jen
The ElderMoon Apothecary is slowly and steadily growing like a little carefully tended sapling here. Thank you for supporting creative small business herbalists you love and are drawn to. We are always around, out in the light, in the country and in the city (or hospital like me!), and off the beaten path where we're most comfortable and often sitting with our beloved plants.
We just completed our Monthly Herbal Council for January 2018. Happy New Year to You!
I so love this topic and so did many herbal students at EMS of Herbs that I wanted to offer some of the content here for daily care of our teeth and gums from an herbal healing perspective. Let's talk the plants first!
The Shiny Ones - Oral Care Medicine Plants That Stand Out
This list is not complete but is a good beginning for our time with this topic. Do add your knowledge and more favorites to this list.
Plants To Consider Here Are:
Calendula Flower, Plantain leaf and root, Echinacea Root and Leaf, Orgeon Grape Root, Goldenseal Root, Myrrh resin, Propolis, Oregano, Sage, Thyme, Rosemary, Fennel seed, Caraway seed, Peppermint, Spearmint, Elecampane root, Cinnamon, Blood Root, Chamomile flowers, Comfrey leaf, Yarrow leaf & flower, Eucalyptus, Neem, Clove, Horsetail, Violet leaf, Spilanthes, Oak leaf, Witch Hazel bark,...
General Hygiene & Daily Oral Detox
Most conventional toothbrushes are made with plastic nylon bristles, which scrape our teeth more so than brush. This can weaken enamel and irritate sensitive gums. Natural bristles are softer and gentler – they actually brush teeth rather than scraping them. If staying with nylon then do pick soft bristle ones. Do stay away from medium or firm brushes which harm gums and teeth. Twice a day brushing is enough, then add flossing and/or water pick use, and tongue scraping daily. These are good daily habits to be consistent with.
And like all good tenders of the hearth and home, wash your tooth brushes occasionally. Simple Dr. Bronner’s liquid castile soap and water rubbed between your fingers with the bristles for a few minutes, rinse well, and allow to air dry.
The fastest and easiest way to get bacteria out of your mouth is with a tongue scraper. A traditional technique in Ayurveda, tongue scraping cleans bacterial build-up (called a biofilm), food debris, fungi, and dead cells from the surface of the tongue. This helps to not only clean the mouth, freshening the breath, but it also stimulates the metabolism as well for the entire map of our body is on the tongue. So we massage and stimulate healing pathways all through the body through this simple daily act of scraping our tongue. I do it morning and night but once a day is fine too.
A simple swish and swirl or 10-15 minutes a day of your favorite oil is the answer to fresher breath, whiter teeth and a toxin- free body. The practice of oil pulling literally pulls toxins from the oral cavity, which is then spit out and cleared from the body. Many research studies indicate that oil pulling reduces plaque-induced gingivitis, and the bacterium Streptococcus mutans, which is known to cause cavities. So grab a jar of coconut or neem oil from the kitchen counter, and get pulling oil. This is also great for active oral infections if you add a drop or two of essential oil of clove.
NON-TOXIC TOOTHPASTES, POWDERS & MOUTH WASHES
Toothpaste is key to maintaining good oral health, acting as an antibacterial, but what type are you choosing? We’ve chosen to commit ourselves to toxin-free living, which means detoxing our toothpaste as well. Eliminate Fluoride, Sodium Lauryl/Laureth Sulfate, Triclosan, Sodium Hydroxide, and other nasty chemicals. These chemicals are damaging to the body as a whole, many are endocrine disruptors as well, and can even reduce the healthy bacteria (probiotics) in the mouth. Opt for a toothpaste that uses natural antibacterial agents and breathe fresheners such as neem, licorice, eucalyptus, clove, cinnamon, and peppermint instead. Or create your own… see recipes below.
GREEN TEA, BONE BROTHS, NETTLES & SEAWEEDS
Drinking green tea and eating regular seaweeds not only protects against radiation, boosts your re-mineralization and helps you to optimize the best body weight for you while it also can improve your oral health. Research has found that the frequent consumption of green tea may help promote healthy teeth and gums, reducing periodontal disease. It is believed that green tea’s mode of action is through its high levels of the antioxidant, catechin. Previous studies have demonstrated catechin’s ability to reduce inflammation in the body, as well as the indicators of periodontal disease, thereby reducing bad bacteria in the mouth. Seaweeds provide trace minerals often missing from farmed foods in amounts we need, even with good farming practices. A little seaweed as a super food supplement is recommended even with a strict organic diet. This is true for regular consumption of bone broths to supplement deep mineral restoration of our bones from the long slow cooking of animal bones. Vegetarians and vegans can stick to lots of Nettles and seaweeds.
We’ve get beautifully focused on balancing the good bacteria in our gut with fermented foods and Kombucha and this also benefits the mouth through good immune functioning doing repair and maintenance work there too. Keep this up! The mouth needs good bacteria too, which is why taking oral probiotics part of our healthcare can be extremely beneficial, especially if cavities are a frequent occurrence. The more good bacteria you have, the more of a defense you have against the bad bacteria, reducing the incidence of inflammation and infection. I only recommend this with more severe oral disease cases. Check on-line or at your local health food store for resources.
CAMU CAMU OR VITAMIN C
In efforts to not only boost our immune system, but to keep our gums happy too, we keep up with a daily dose of vitamin C. Rather than getting it from a synthetic vitamin tablet, some are using the superfood Camu Camu. Camu Camu contains 250mg of Vitamin C per teaspoon, containing more Vitamin C than any other known botanical source. Vitamin C is needed for healthy gums, reducing the incidence of bleeding gums, gingivitis, and even periodontal disease. Camu Camu goes far beyond a healthy gum line, helping to improve immunity and the texture of the skin, while repairing and maintaining cartilage, bones, and teeth. You get to decide where the Vitamin C comes from but do consider daily doses for repair of soft tissue and bone, which includes the mouth.
TEA TREE OIL (or Peppermint, Cinnamon) FLOSS
There is just no way around it – flossing is an integral part of keeping our mouths fresh and clean, so why not add an extra bonus with plant oils that smell and taste good too. These all have natural disinfectant actions that reduce bad oral bacteria. Research indicates that tea tree oil significantly reduces gingivitis and bleeding of the gums. That white ‘stuff’ we scrape from between the teeth is a biofilm of bacteria having a good time thriving on the surfaces within our mouth. Physical gentle scraping with floss deep between the teeth is part of good oral care. Some dentists argue on whether flossing or water picking is better. We do both here.
BREATHE FRESHENING IDEAS
Chew on herbs and seeds instead of gum. I must admit, I do love a fresh pack of gum, especially when working long hours at the hospital. But most gums contain lots of different nasty chemicals that are certainly not at all good for my body. The solution? Chew on some fresh parsley, mint, fennel, or caraway seeds. These herbs help to fight odor-causing bacteria, leaving your mouth feeling fresh and clean. These also contain antibiotic properties to help fight bad breath. The best part about these spices is that they’re totally portable. Carry a small container in your purse and chew all day long.
APPLE CIDER VINEGAR: Added to you water (1-2 tablespoons per pint) will keep your breath fresh and the bacterial film that covers the tongue and teeth during the time between cleaning to a minimum. Highly recommended for those with severe halitosis (bad breath) history. This is a start but this condition requires deep internal cleansing practices as well.
We go back and forth with a water pick and floss each day. I find that even with good flossing I still wash out food particles with the water pick, and even after using the water pick I still scrape a biofilm from between my teeth with a good floss. So I suggest both, maybe not every day but maybe sometimes. With travel I floss and oil pull because they are easier to travel with, of course. I add my herbal mouth rinse to the water pick water, 2 droppersful, to help get the herbs deeper into pockets between the teeth and around the gums.
COCONUT OIL: Trade in your teeth-whitening gel for coconut oil. If you haven’t tried oil pulling yet, I suggest you do so the first chance you get. Swishing coconut, neem, sesame, or olive oil in your mouth for about 20 minutes each day can help pull toxins from your mouth — and possibly even your whole body. It can help whiten teeth, prevent dryness of the mouth, prevent cavities, strengthen teeth, kill infection, and a whole lot more.
ACTIVATED CHARCOAL: Brush with the powder charcoal – YUP! Sounds scary but this black powder lifts stains and absorbs toxins from the enamel and mouth mucosa. Try working into your recipes for daily care if inspired.
Oral infection brewing. So now what?
Support Immune System function with increased hydration, rest, stress reduction, superfoods (seaweeds, bone broths, spirilina to name a few), and clean simple easy to digest foods, and herbs (see our list above).
Direct drip straight tincture along infected gums once per day of Echinacea root, Bloodroot, Goldenseal root, Propolis, Myrrh, or Oregon Grape Root. Have a loved one help for upper teeth by hanging your head over the edge of the bed and add a few drops along the gum line.
Daily Intensive treatments are required. Consider these:
Work on all levels as the healer.
Two Recipes to Inspire You
ELDERMOON’S HERBAL MOUTH WASH
(FROM LESSON #8 IN BIRTHING AN HERBALIST IN 13 MOONS ON-LINE COURSE - have a read through first)
This can be added you the water pick water, or straight into the mouth. 2 droppersful, which I swish around while I go about my business for 5-10 minutes and then spit out.
This is a strong yet mild tasting, and effective mouth rinse particularly for those with periodontal disease. Also helpful for toning gums tight to the teeth, for cold sores, and sensitive gums and teeth. The festering infections up around the tooth roots that cause periodontal disease have been linked to heart disease and stomach cancers. Insurance companies still won’t pay for the preventative care needed which completely disturbs me. Treating our gums is far more cost effective than treating heart disease and cancer.
I’ve made this and given the recipe out for years with great reports of great results. You begin by making a full strength tincture. When done, it has a few additions to ease the alcohol content but keep it stable and improve taste. Those with alcohol dependency issues cannot use this remedy and so I suggest salt water and baking soda gargles daily for them which work great too. We have to tend more to the openings in our body that are more susceptible to microbes from the outer world.
INGREDIENTS & DIRECTIONS:
You can bottle and use just like this or add 30 drops of Spearmint essential oil and 10 drops of Tea Tree Essential oil. Shake well and shake before each use to keep the oils dispersed well.
Taste and swish! Find the perfect bottle to pour it into and enjoy! Remember to label it.
#2 Recipe Share: HOMEMADE TOOTHPASTE
You can search the web for other recipes too. Find one you love and make it yours with a bit of tweaking. This the one I work with at the moment. This recipe will last a family of 4 for about 1 month.
1. Melt coconut oil over a very low heat until completely melted. DO NOT overheat.
2. Add clay, salt, baking soda, powdered herbs in a small wide mouth glass jar that your tooth paste will be stored in.
3. When the coconut oil is melted, add it to the jar with the rest of the ingredients; mix well, cap quick to keep your essential oils in there, and let cool completely before using.
4. To use: do NOT put your tooth brush in this jar or you will introduce bacteria and it will be most counterproductive! Instead keep a small spoon handy or a wooden popsicle stick in there so you can scoop a small amount out to your hand and then wipe your moist toothbrush into this and brush gently as usual.
Cranberries as Medicine
Today many people rely on cranberry’s antioxidant power, thanks to a high level of proanthocyanidins, a class of polyphenols that gives the berry it's red color and are also associated with helping to prevent just about every chronic disease we can think of. In fact, cranberry has one of the most powerful antioxidant loads of any food and our busy scientists are creating units of measure for such things: so "1750 ORAC units per 100 grams of cranberry" is considered "off the chart". The anticancer activities of cranberry proanthocyanidins are currently under study and recent reports suggest that apoptosis (programmed cell death) may play a key role in cranberry’s ability to limit tumor cell growth. This is so interesting to me because the 'programmed cell death' of apoptosis, which is in the functioning of all of our healthy cells, is often shifted in cancer cells so they don't die. Could it be that cranberries help our cells (yes even our cancer cells for they are 'ours' too) get back on line as part of the whole? Is it possible, and that simple, for plants to remind our cells of such things when things are going awry? I actually believe this to be true and that it happens all the time. And you?
Yes, it's also true that when you go to the ER or many doctor's offices today with a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) it's becoming routine to be asked when you started taking cranberry. This is what progress looks like! However, they're usually unaware of the best ways to work this sour red jewel into our bladder healing dose wise and sweetener wise too. It has to be sour my friends, and this is not a favorite taste among many. Our kidneys love sour. The medicine travels to them via our blood stream through the sour components that are anti-inflammatory, astringent, and antimicrobial. This deters bacteria from staying attached to the mucous linings and making their way deeper up to the kidneys where we can court urosepsis (bacteria entering the blood through the urinary tract) if allowed to fester even further.
So in speaking to cranberry as a medicine, finding ways to get cranberry into the body in a sour form begins with dropping the need for comfort through taste as the top priority. Too much sugar or corn syrup is added to many cranberry products. Read labels. My children were schooled early on this over-rated flavor thing when it comes to 'medicine'. Chug it down with a water and grape juice chaser if need be. Capsules are an option but yes, it's expensive. You need at lease twelve 500mg caps per day for a week or more. They work. Tinctures are an option too but many nutrients do not translate through the extraction process like they do with apple cider vinegar, and I do believe this is part of the medicinal qualities.
The good news is cranberry doesn't always have to be taken in medicinal doses. Of course you already know this with all the ways it's woven into holiday seasonal foods. It all comes back to the beauty way of Nature here too. Intense antioxidant power offered ripe at a time of year when needed most. Perfect, eh? One year I made a cranberry gin, which is basically a cranberry tincture, and we enjoyed it with spicy ginger beer and fresh lime. So delicious! Period. Even gin haters tried it and loved this one.
So we created a holiday oxymel recipe (oxymels are apple cider vinegar and honey based herbal elixirs) this year that can be taken in small sips or diluted in sparking or warm water as a way to support restoration at the end of the year while we enter deeper hibernation ways of the mind, the body, and the soul. This is potent too in higher doses if needed for something like a UTI or adrenal and kidney fatigue. Yes, I know it's too late to drink this now if you haven't made it for the Solstice, but when you follow the old calendars set to Nature's rhythms, you celebrate a holiday every 6 weeks! It seems the soul needs this as a good medicine way to off set the harsh realities we weather in life and to stay entrained with the cycles of Nature. So the next holiday is Imbolc on February 1st or 2nd and this would be great for that night of true intention setting for the year. New Year's eve, and all of January for that matter, are to help us get clear on what we really want to say, create, and commit to at Imbolc. So I say start a batch of this as part of the Winter Solstice celebration and it will be ready for then at Imbolc. Just a thought on how to keep it simple. Drink a newly created one each holiday while putting up a fresh new one for the next holiday sounds good.
Cranberry & Juniper Oxymel - The Recipe
Intention: Restoration and rejuvenation of all adrenals and kidneys within our home this winter. Yes, we're more than these parts but we're honoring then upfront today by speaking kindly, honoring rest, adjusting what we 'do', and making medicine for them. It's been a busy, long, turbulent year here, and for many this calls for some good easy restorative medicine that can fall into 'tasting good' too.
Yield: Makes just shy of one quart and you can easily double it to get your whole household supported to spring time.
INGREDIENTS: (helpful properties)
So Easy! Takes 15 minutes to put together and most of that is some wait time. Read through before starting so it's super clear.
Enjoy! Our third son Cyrus was born today 14 years ago. Sweet memories with tangy sweet notes all along the way to now infuse this tribe with the real essence of who he is. We're sipping this one together like the good old times. I love him forever.
May your Solstice be tangy and sweet with a bit of something extra you love. xo-Jen
Making Your Own Medicine
With millions of articles and books on how to tincture and all the different nuances of this form of medicine making, I completely overlooked actually adding my two cents to this well covered topic. Seems fitting to have a post and an herbal council this month dedicated to keeping this kind of medicine making in the home apothecaries I so want to see all of you have at your fingertips. Thank you for venturing in for a bit to take in some medicine tending.
So, the oldest and best way in my experience to make medicine from plants is to add them to water. Yup. So gorgeously simple! And you already know some or all of this I bet. These would be called teas (steep 5-10 minutes), infusions (steeped 1-8 hours), and decoctions (simmered 20 minutes or more). Cooking the plants in water is my first and favorite way of medicine making and links me up to my ancestral path for we all have a great auntie or grandparent who knew the plants for medicine and were most likely a well known healer in their time. The smell and taste takes me there.
There are times, however, when a later form of medicine, called a tincture, or plant extract, really shines. These are concentrated plants extracts taken by the drop using a menstruum (vinegar, glycerin, or alcohol) to extract the medicine and sometimes some of the nutrients too, depending on the menstruum chosen. Here's why tincture making skills jumped into the healer's medicine bag as we traveled through time:
1- Longevity and Stability:
An herb, once tinctured, will retain its medicinal qualities far longer than in most other preparations. Alcohol tinctures will last for many years. I do make smaller batches and use them up, and make new. Plus they're heavy to move and we moved twice with a ridiculous number of jars! I suggest making small batches for home apothecary tending. This way you can increase your variety of plants at your finger tips.
2- Easy to Administer and Travel With:
Once prepared in tincture form, the herb is ready to administer with no further preparation. The tinctures are dispensed directly under the tongue or mixed with warm water, tea, or juice and can be tucked into travel bags easy. Just be sure you know the rules for flying with liquids or they'll confiscate your precious medicines.
3- Ease of Preparation:
Anyone is capable of making high quality tinctures. All one needs is good quality herbs, a high quality solvent or menstruum (your solvents are alcohol, vinegar, or glycerin), a measuring cup, jar, labels, a dark place to store them, and a little time with lots of love for the process. You're making medicine. It's truly amazing when you step back and look at it all.
Easy if you contain your excitement and make small batches! Tinctures store compactly and conveniently in a small space, always ready to use. They're excellent for first aid kits too.
5- Cost Effective:
Tinctures are becoming extremely expensive to purchase today making it prohibitive for people to afford their medicine. This is “the people's medicine" – our original medicine and is a birthright to have access to it. So I teach how. Period. It's not hard and so much better to make yourself if you can. What you're paying for is more about the person’s time to make it for you. If this may be what you need, I make for people too. But know you can do it too anytime you want to.
6- Personalized Formulas:
As you learn to work with various herbs, you'll develop favorite ones that just call to you. Your needs will change over time and making your own gives you the creative freedom to design tincture combinations and formulas from your home apothecary.
7- Selecting the Herbs:
Almost all herbs tincture well with the correct solvent. Herbs can be tinctured as a ready-made formula or tinctured as single herbs and combined later into formulas. Most herbalists prefer to tincture herbs as single extracts. This gives them greater control of the water/alcohol ratio for individual herbs and their constituents. It also allows greater flexibility and creativity when crafting formulas. I do make formulas this way professionally but for my family I make smaller jars of the herbs mixed together fresh and they tincture all together. It’s easier and keeps me humbly rooted in tending to my loved ones. I love, love, love the way they turn out. You get to decide what works for you.
8- Selecting the Menstruum:
The menstruum is the solvent used to extract the biochemical constituents (yes, fancy lingo for the medicine and nutrients) of the plant, and to preserve the resulting solution. There are basically three menstruums used in tincture preparations: alcohol, vinegar, and glycerin. Like anything, there are pros and cons to each (more below on this); and like anything, everyone has their personal favorite and considers it the best. There are some intricate things to consider for each. Alcohol sensitivity (means vinegar and glycerin options only), after the nutritional properties (these extract better in vinegar and glycerin), when to utilize heat for better extraction (I warm glycerites), longest shelf life and extraction stronger compounds without heat (alcohol shines here), and dosing considerations (I increase doses with vinegar and glycerin tinctures).
Steps to Tincturing the Traditional Folk Medicine Way
Menstruum (Solvent) Choices
(Here's a little excerpt from "Birthing an Herbalist in 13 Moons" at ElderMoon School of Herbs on-line herbalist training journey with the medicine plants.)
The following is a list of the solvents (mentsruums) commonly utilized in making herbal tinctures and some guidelines for what plant constituents they most effectively dissolve:
Alcohol has both prolonged keeping power and serves as a powerful solvent or extractor. It has the ability to break down, absorb, and preserve much of the plant material. There are many varieties of alcohol used, though every herbalist has their favorite: brandy, rum, vodka, gin, Everclear, and 190 proof grain or potato. Alcohol that has a natural water constituent (such as those listed above) is called 'Aqueous Ethanol' and generally has a water to alcohol ratio of 40-95% alcohol. Aqueous Ethanol dissolves: alkaloids (limited), organic salts, organic acids, most glucosides, sugars, vitamins, minerals, enzymes, tannins, bitter compounds. Absolute Alcohol, or Pure Grain Alcohol, is more effective for dissolving resinous and waxy material. It is used to dissolve: wax, resin, fat, balsam, oleoresin, glycosides, some alkaloids, sugars, vitamins, volatile oils.
Easy Starting Point: Begin tincturing with 100 proof potato vodka. (50% alcohol and 50% water).
Glycerine is a chemical constituent of all the fatty oils from both animals and vegetables. An excellent nutritive solvent, glycerin does not have quite the versatility of either water or alcohol, but its advantages are that it tastes good because it’s sweet, is safe and effective for children, and is in and of itself very nourishing and soothing. It dissolves: sugars, enzymes (dilute), glucosides, bitter compounds, saponins (dilute), tannins, minerals, vitamins. Glycerine also has excellent preservative qualities. It’s great for children’s preparations and for those refraining from alcohol where the use of alcohol in tinctures would be prohibitive. Be sure to request Vegetable Glycerin when buying; it is of a much higher quality. Vegetable Glycerin is available at many natural food stores and herb stores. These tinctures require a period of warming and a slight dilution with water in making them. Quick note for the curious: we dilute 4:1 with distilled (mineral hungry) water, chop herbs small using the same proportions given above, and warm the closed jar in a water bath for a few days at the start and again at the finish (we use a crock pot on lowest setting) with a total of 6-8 weeks of sitting and shaking occasionally. These are also light sensitive so tend well to preserve the medicine.
I used to teach a FOUR hour class on vinegar and herbs! Water is the first and made by the Divine which is why it's the best solvent to start with as a budding herbalist. Vinegar, especially apple cider vinegar, is one of the oldest solvents used. However, it's not highly regarded today by many herbalists or medicine making companies and is considered secondary to alcohol as a solvent due to the greater strength of and shelf life of alcohol. Though not as strong as alcohol, it has other definite advantages and should not be ignored. Apple Cider Vinegar contains minute quantities of trace minerals our bodies crave and has a mild acidity that balances and aids digestion. The acetic acid and potassium content help to activate the friendly bacteria in the digestive track. I highly recommend Vinegar as a solvent for tonifying/nutritious herbs and for preparations that are taken over a long period of time for health maintenance, such as in high vitamin mineral formulas and tonic formulas. Vinegar is an excellent solvent for children’s formulas and for alcohol sensitive folks too. Vinegar tinctures are excellent for extracting some plant alkaloids (such as lobeline from Lobelia), but are not as good for extracting the more acidic biochemical ingredients and so doses are usually doubled as a general rule for making sure one gets the proper amount of the more medicinal compounds.
A commonly taught thing about Vinegar Tinctures is that they “will not last very long”. Most say 6 months. I disagree and have not had one spoil yet and many herbalists I know agree. What I teach is make enough to get to the next harvest (plus a little extra is my practice). When a vinegar tincture goes bad (and you WILL know) it's usually the quality of the vinegar and it will smell sour and have fermentation bubbles forming around the edges. Non-pasteurized live vinegar will sometimes form a mother and this is fine. It means it's alive, not spoiled, and you just have to remove “the mother” at the surface – which can be used to make more vinegar. Using the rule of one season to the next keeps your stock moving and freshness then remains at the top of your practice too.
Happy Tincturing and Apothecary Tending
This month we are deepening our tincturing skills at ElderMoon School in our Monthly Herbal Councils. We'll cover weight-to-volume tincturing as another step beyond this traditional way. While the traditional folk way is absolutely enough, some want to deepen their practice with medicine making. We'll cover the climate within the herbal circles as they attempt to justify and legitimize their existence by standardizing. There is a place for this as herbalism evolves. In the end we all usually come back around to water based preparations made from plants we tended and stored in our own apothecary (smile) but it's so good to travel the road anyway and come back to that and be in community too all along the way, eh? We'll speak to all of this in council.
Do check out the recorded and archived herbal councils each month (BTW free if you're already a student in other courses here at ElderMoon School). It's so worth the low commitment simple hour a month to plug in and enjoy 'talking plant' in community. Much Love, Jen
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Wild Bee Balm ~ Monarda fistulosa
The time is now around here as Wild Bee Balm (Monarda fistulosa) waves in the heat of summer with full blooms and is beginning to initiate her petal fall season. This wild species continues to teach me after over 20 years of walking together, and even naming my first herbal business, Monarda Herbal Apothecary, in honor of the vast medicine that continues to be whispered from this beauty. In herbal school here we tease out the topic of 'What is medicine?' with those coming to learn in-person about our original plant medicine system. Often each student carries a vital piece to this complex topic and we all walk away deeper in thought and understanding of just exactly what medicine is. What might it be to you?
When it comes to Bee Balm, also called Monarda by many, the medicine is more than just physical. Yes this can be a challenging concept for some, but I know many of you comfortably speak this language with me and I'm grateful you're all here visiting my world a bit. May I explain a bit of what I've learned from Bee Balm in short form? Yes, a huge challenge for me, but I try anyway! I share the wild food recipe below for it's an outrageous meal changer every single time we whip some up.
Wild Bee Balm Medicine
Such a huge, gorgeous, and potent topic here and surely this was woven into the business aspect of my learning from Bee Balm, shared below. On the physical level Bee Balm is masterful with microbial boundaries. While not the first plant to think of for immune support, it is up there on the list for boosting the immune response while creating favorable internal environments for maintaining and repairing areas that have been hit hard. Bee Balm remains at the top of my list of plants to support recovery from surgeries and invasive medical procedures where tissues need antibiotic and anti-inflammatory actions to bring things back to our original or new baseline of function.
Honoring our unsaid 'NOs'
Here is where Bee Balm shines bright as a force to be reckoned with. Many who suffer from chronic candida often come around to the aspect of truth on harboring unsaid 'NO-s' somewhere in their life. It's a personal path to this negotiation table and one no healer can give or force on the one seeking healing. Each person gets there in their own time. Bee Balm often looks covered with a powdery mildew appearance late in the season that tells the story of it's medicine within the 'Doctrine of Signatures' to the strong anti-fungal properties it carries as well. Yes, consider Bee Balm if you are walking with chronic systemic or localized fungal recurrent candida infections. While not the total answer, Bee Balm supports all levels of walking towards re-calibration with this microbial imbalance.
Channeling Excess Fire
Have you ever felt the temple of a loved one who doesn't register a fever on a thermometer yet, but you instinctively know it's coming and can feel it brewing at the temples and see it in the eyes? We can hone these assessment skills with time while learning the fine art of managing fever. I LOVE teaching this topic to my herb students! So many people fear fever and the best way to quell the fear is to learn the art of managing and understanding it. Fever is such a masterful healing agent. Modern medicine is quite intent on squashing fever anytime it shows up though I have met a few docs that embrace the process as a healing phenomena and not a personal failure. Bee Balm helps to bring this fire to the surface and works so well for the person who even moves to high temperatures rapidly with reddened face and body, rigors (violent shaking to make temperatures rise high and fast), with no sweating. This internal heat or fire is looking for a way out and the body knows it will kill and drag the detritus with it. Bee Balm opens the channels, re-sets the person's thermostat to what I call a 'therapeutic bake', or supports a peak of high temperature for a few hours and then induces sweats for release, thus being called a diaphoretic. The general rule for fever is 'not too long and not too hot'.
Business Partner Plant Ally
The training of an Herbalist is different depending on where one studies. Partnering with one plant for an extended period is my training and while you learn of many plants, you go deep one plant at a time and sometimes for years with just one. Only then can one stand truly confident in the medicine the plant carries. Contrary to popular belief, it's not about knowing many with encyclopedic memory but knowing one's handful of plants deeply that makes one truly knowledgeable for each plant has so many areas of application for the artful practice of herbal healing.
I learned early to ask for an ally plant, one that would guide my practice of business along with the art of healing for my budding first herbal business that went on to thrive for 15 years as a community apothecary. This is part of how I teach my students 'the business of herbs' still who choose to enter any business aspect of herbalism. It works. Not all great herbalists are great at business and not all herbalists who are great at business are great at herbalism either. We work on both aspects needed to thrive and while I do not have all the answers, I walk candidly with my students through the many facets that unfurl in both areas.
So Bee Balm/Monarda stepped up for me. The details of why and how are shared with my current herb students with the understanding that it's not Bee Balm for all who head into business. It's about each calling in support from a plant and that it's different for each of us. Any plant can and will present itself should one call for such a relationship and it's completely dependent on the situation. What I can share is that each 5 year business plan manifested in 4 years and when a fork in the growth appeared which can present in many ways, such as do I attract more wholesale or retail, teaching, or consulting business, why am I frustrated with how things are happening and what solutions are available, and even financial decisions such as paying myself more even when it looked non-logical and it created a sort of vacuum effect that pulled more income forth. These leaps of faith and logical next steps were navigated by regular check-ins (engage intuition with meditations, dream, and journey work tools) with Monarda and remained my first course of action always. Each fork was navigated well and I believe were based on my true gifts being part of the equation versus molding a business from some outside force of what one thinks should happen. I believe it's coined today as 'creative, intuitive entrepreneurialism'. I would say for me that Bee Balm supported my walk to self-reliance through respectful partnering with many forces.
Wild Food for the Soul
Yes, and to support this I share the recipe below with you. Bringing wild foods to the table is such a loving act of kindness through supporting every level of who we are. Foraging feeds the ancient soul knowing in our bones as we travel to patches we know our ancestors or the ancestors of this land traveled to for nourishment. We all have a wild side that needs to be nourished and this is one way to coax it forth. Nutritionally packed with goodness means we don't need much in volume to bring the nourishment deep into the body. These are original foods and the body remembers, processes and assimilates these foods quickly and efficiently to build our multi-leveled strength. So yes, invite Bee Balm to your table.
Connection to the Ancestors of this Land
Being of Native decent is by no means a prerequisite to knowing the plants native to this land. While many of us are, knowing the native plants where you live is truly a key to connecting to Nature. Matt Woods, Herbalist, shares a beautiful teaching he received from his Native American teacher about how there are actually four sub species of Wild Bee Balm that they distinguish between depending on the medicine needed. Each is identifiable by taste differences that scientists still refuse to acknowledge and document as such. Listen closely to these teachings. They came about from a medicine person listening closely to Bee Balm and observing keenly how it works in the body (psst... scientists do this intuitive, 'I had a hunch' work too but many choose to take all the credit personally). Remember that the plants are evolving and changing just as we are and so it still remains our unfolding joy to step into this responsibility within the work to listen deeply. In deed it is how we've learn everything about these magnificent beings who walk along with us through time.
How about some Wild Bee Balm in your belly...
Chimichurri is the classic Argentinian condiment for grilled meat, but I serve with vegetables, on bread, or stirred into rice dishes, soups and stews too. It's typically made with parsley, oregano, garlic, oil, chili, vinegar, and a few other additions depending on who you ask. Being deeply partnered with Wild Bee Balm for years, I was playing one day with new ways to get my plant ally into my body and so added it to a favorite chimichurri recipe with a handful of onion grass leaves and loved it! It has oregano-ish hints to it's taste and is a wild edible too so the leap was easy.
‘Wild-ing’ your recipes as Nature provides is an ebb and flow practice. It’s a dance with the plants as they jump up and are with us. So if I want chimichurri sauce in winter I still make this but with available fresh or dried ingredients, and work with dried Wild Bee Balm (crumble and remove any stems). It freezes decently if you add a little lemon juice to help hold the color but it's always best made fresh and eaten straight away.
Seeing Wild Bee Balm waving on the breeze always inspires me to make a batch (or three). Condiments like this within a meal bring vital nutrients into the body and intense flavor bursts that not only spice up a simple meal but also stimulate our digestive enzyme production which begins in the mouth. Immune responses become sharp and efficient with this chimichurri in the belly too! Remember the immune system does our daily house cleaning of maintenance and repair, but also steps up fast for the intense calls to make deep or swift changes, some of which can take time. We choose our medicine in support of what the body is already trying to do. We just nursed grandpa back from a serious viral invasion by feeding him this each day once he arrived and near collapsed all pale, dizzy, coughing, and nauseated. First we put him to bed early with a healthy dose of homemade bitters and then started feeding him this in the morning with fresh bread, greens and eggs. He loved it, rallied fast, and went home well as if nothing happened.
THE RECIPE: Wild Bee Balm & Onion Chimichurri Sauce
Optional Additions: Sprinkle in the bee balm flower petals if available with the last stir and serve with fresh ones on top. Yes, Wild Bee Balm flowers are edible, easy to eat right in the field, and gorgeous in salads or as edible garnish.
Could it be the blinding light of this high solar time of summer, or the winter shadow time of our opposite season that makes it hard to see? One can easily say it has nothing to do with it at all, but for decades now I see in my people that I'm called to tend to infected eyes the most at these polar opposite times of the year. Thinking in metaphors is an option but it does help the minds of healers who work close to the earth and what ails us among the living. There's less memorizing when thinking in cycles and metaphors. Recall is a process you can 'feel into', instead of it being a 'doing' action. And for me, my recall is so much sharper this way. The need for books or running to google falls away. This steamy beautiful summer brings eye ailments forward and I've been spurred to write on the heels of the surging eye infections common during summertime which also prompt us to prepare for winter too.
While there are so many plants we can lean on here for infected eyes and affected vision on many levels, I speak to two that have not failed me in over two decades for getting right down into the physical of it all, such as with conjunctivitis (the catch-all term for you got something even though we don't know what it is') or pink eye of sorts. There is an easy bit of planning that happens now so one is prepared at all times. Depending on where you live, there may be other plants that fill the actions these two provide and I do encourage you to work with what grows close to you. Learn the technique here.
Chickweed & Calendula Succus for the Eyes
These two plants are abundantly present this time of year. Calendula (C. officinalis) basks in full sun. Chickweed (Stellaria media) likes the sun but prefers cooler weather and so travels under larger plants where the medicine can be made within the leaves and flowers but it's in the more shadowy places of the garden. Light and shadow working together to make the medicine needed, catch me here? I like to make a succus you can drip straight into the eyes. But what is a succus?
Official Definition: succus
succus suc·cus (sŭk'əs)
n. pl. suc·ci (sŭk'ī, -sī)
A fluid, such as gastric juice (ignore this part of the definition) or vegetable/plant juice (we're going for this one), contained in or secreted by living tissue. Yes, an old term not in technical use much anymore, though herbalists from time to time will toss the term on the table to honor the old ways we are discovering to be quite relevant today.
Yes, good for any weepy eye infections, conjunctivitis, styes, or irritated redness. We often hear 'yes, good for eyes infections' but many need the walk from the garden to the actual drops in the eyes. Below are pics to walk you through how to actually make this succus. A beautiful side note, make larger amounts for oral infections and gum disease and swish twice a day for great results too.
Things to Remember When Treating the Eyes
- A small handful of fresh Chickweed leaf and flower and a few Calendula flowers makes about one ounce of succus, which could treat a small neighborhood! You only need 1-3 drops in each eye 2-3x/day or every 4 hours for intense situations. One can treat less frequently, such as morning and night, as things begin to shift well.
- This is good for 1 week in the refrigerator. Then make fresh again, but rarely is a second batch ever needed.
- Always treat both eyes even if only one looks like it's ailing. Chances are, being so close together, they will both get 'it'.
- Cleanliness matters and is actually imperative so the one who is treating doesn't get infected. Hand wash before and after with a good castile soap. It's that easy.
- The eyes are not a sterile environment. It is one reason why we make tears loaded with enzymes to keep them clean and flushed frequently. They are also not a place the immune system can get too easily which is why these infections can be persistent. Our eye ball is in a bony socket. Our tears wash this cave-like socket to keep it lubricated, wash dust and debris out, kill potential invaders, and of course cleanse the heart and soul.
- Children usually hate this. Adults often do too. I treat my eyes in front of the child if toddler age and up, even have them help, so they can see what it's like. Lay flat and place a few drops at the inner corner of the closed eye. It pools perfectly there (called the inner canthus of the eye). Now simply take a deep breath and blink several times to allow it to wash into the eye. This is the easiest way always. Have tissue ready for tearing will be stimulated. This is a good wash out with medicine present. There can be initial stinging but only with some people who once acclimated to the process find it is quite minimal. Give the eyes a rest by remaining flat for a bit and warm compresses of Chamomile tea help immensely.
- Nasty pink eye infections can be gone in 24-48 hours with the infection pooling and crusting at the corners of the eyes. Simply wipe with a most paper towel, tissue or gauze. Wipe from the center outward, one swipe along the eye, and throw paper away. Repeat as needed with clean gauze each time if needed. Do keep treating for several more days after symptoms are gone. Meticulous hand washing helps halt the spread so be diligent.
-Yes, at first it stings a tiny bit. Anything in the eye will do this a little at first but within less than a minute it eases.
-Think immune support for a few days to a week. Include herbs, a light nutritious diet, plenty of water, and more rest than you think.
How to Make an Herbal Eye Succus for Tending Our Eyes
How to Prepare for Winter?
Ah yes, this is also easy and I take apothecary tending quite serious because it can be frustrating to have a loved one in distress and you have the skills but no supplies. We avoid this by thinking ahead and seeing each condition that comes along as a teaching moment for how to prepare. During the summer, harvest for winter by placing fresh Chickweed (Stellaria media) and Calendula (C. officinalis) flowers in a freezer container, enough for 2-3 batches or more if you have a large household or are treating through a clinic setting.
Other Options Exist: If you forget, no worries. Make a strong Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla) infusion with 10 drops fresh Calendula tincture added to each 1 ounce batch will do the trick well too. I've also added 3 drops of Goldenseal root tincture (Hydratis canadensis) to this for particularly persistent infection. The berberine content of Goldenseal works well for resistant bacterial strains. And no, the alcohol in this 10-13 drops added to one ounce (30ml) of Chamomile tea is so small that it does not hurt the eye. These herbs actually reduce pain.
-Consider investing in an eye cup. These are great for filling 1/2 full and cupping over the eye and blink it in for a good minute or two. Use fresh medicine for each eye. I love this for scratched corneas as Chickweed, Calendula, and Chamomile will all speed this healing.
- Fresh Aloe - I once rubbed my eye while chopping hot peppers and the moment I did it I knew I was in for pain. It took about a minute to set in and WOW! My quick thinking husband Jay said 'aloe' as he went to our plant to harvest a leaf. The gel was scooped straight into my eye and the relief was instantaneous. so yes, aloe for the eyes has proved amazing again and again since then.
-Mama's Breast Milk - Yes, this is an old, old remedy and babes where treated often in the first days with colostrum and mama's milk once in on day three. This may be... the. most. effective. care... for infected eyes. I've seen this work with 1-2 treatments. While is raises many feelings for some, I suggest we remember that we are mammals and nature provides in unique, efficient, and magical ways.
- Why do I shy away from Eyebright (Euphrasia spp.)? Simple. It's on the 'at risk' list at United Plant Savers due to being over-harvested for medicine and more difficult to grow. Let's take the strain off of Eyebright and lean into more abundant and easy to grow wild and cultivated medicine plants.
Honey, yes HONEY!
Yes, dilute with distilled water 1:1 (that's equal parts) and drip into eyes. You can re-purpose a saline eye dropper container by popping the tip off and washing well, or just get a 1oz amber glass dropper bottle (better) at the health food store. There are many who report after months of treatment twice a day that there is a reversal of advanced eye disease. Research is under way for glaucoma and cataracts. Do keep this in your bag of tricks for those middle of night 'I can't sleep because my eyes hurt.' complaints.
Honey Compress is also an easy one for tired, exhausted, strained, or infected eyes - simply apply a fingertip full of good raw local honey or herb infused honey to both closed eyelids and massage the lids and into the eyelashes gently. Rest with a warm wash cloth compress for 15 minutes before rinsing with clean warm water.
Thank you for coming into my world for a bit today. I do hope I planted a seed deep within you so this may help you one day. Do check out our Monthly Herbal Councils (completely beginner friendly) where we go even deeper into the world of eyes and clear vision and draw medicine from more than the plants. xo-Jen
Ready to build an apothecary for yourself and loved ones? It's my primary health care system and gives so much support. Let's work together to get yours up and running. It's easier than you think and so much fun too. See course details:
Nettles and Dandelion Flower Beltane Blessed Home Brew Beer
Happy Beltane Beautiful! Awoke feeling the need to create and thinking why not celebrate Beltane by making something new to embrace the deeply rooted symbolism of fertility long honored at this holiday time? We're wearing our bee keeping gloves, perfect with their long sleeves, to harvest this prickly one or I just can't get any help around here due to her stings!
Nettles (Urtica dioica) is absolutely an amazing superfood and a tonic for all ages and conditions. Keep your eyes open for it growing wild. I 'sort of' cultivate it as well by planting in wild places on our property. Be warned, it has mint-like tendencies toward being invasive so take a moment to think about where she can run wild and will it affect your neighbors? Not all people love Nettles but I do believe if they get to know this one, most cannot help but fall in love!
Nettles is so mineral rich that it benefits from a long steeping period (8 to 12 hours) before straining to extract all the goodness. Think of it this way, we move rocks out of the garden beds. It takes a bit more time for 'minerals' to move out of plant material too. Fresh nettles provides the best flavor for fermentation, although you can definitely make beer from dried nettles. However, be careful. While it is pretty much impossible to make a too-strong herbal infusion from the fresh herb due to the water contributed by being fresh, you can overdo it with the dried. Measure well. Fermentation, like baking and cheese and bread making, asks this of us. As we practice we get that intuitive knowing more developed.
I'm coming from the perspective that you have either fermented before or are of the jump in to try new things anyway type and will do a bit of research first. Cleanliness is very important. I usually re-cycling flip top Grolsch beer bottles from any beer supply stores. You can get them for the deposit of 5 cents each. Or any beer bottle cleaned well of labels and residues will do but you need to invest in metal caps and a capping device if you don't have the flip top kind. Do not use wine bottles as they explode like bombs and we lost them all, but the champagne bottles worked great! We had a dirt flow basement and began cheering each time one exploded for the Earth as we learned the hard way.
To sanitize bottle and working equiment, I prefer to rinse all bottles and lids with a strong antimicrobial Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) infusion which has a rich history in beer making a well, Some use a bleach solution but this has many environmental issues around it washing into our Earth and residues making it into our bodies. I shy away from the commercial cleaners they offer too. Not sure what it is. Stephen Buhner offered this tip in his great book, Sacred Herbal Healing Beers, which offers an anthropological walk through time with humans and our fermentation practices.
1 pound fresh nettle (Urtica dioica) leaf or up to 8 ounces dried nettles
1 good handful of dandelion flowers - (gives some added hypnotic loveliness)
1 gallon water
1-2 ounces fresh grated ginger root (Zingiber officinale)
2 organic limes (what i have) but lemons work great too - get organic
1 pound brown sugar or quality imported brown cane sugar you can find
Beer Yeast per package instructions for 1 gallon*
*we small batch here in 1 gallon glass fermenting jugs. Gives me more variety over time. They're easy to find on-line with beer yeasts unless you have a local fermenting supplier shop.
We'll be loading the fermenting jug tonight and then 'waking up' the yeast in that sacred honoring sort of way. More pics to come as we progress through. See below for some helpful tips we follow. Fermentation is a dance with the forces of the moment and if lucky we can catch a bit of the magic in each bottle. Enjoy and may your day be blessed, worries few, and may you create something beautiful in honor of Beltane. xo- Jen
On-going Herbal Journeys at ElderMoon School
15% Class Discount until midnight tonight is still in place!! Use Code: ELDERMOON15
Live class begins this month, May 27, 2017. On-line classes, councils, and lodges are start anytime.
Afterthoughts: Tips for Success with Fermenting in our small batch way ...
Coltsfoot - Tussilago farfara
Coltsfoot has a bit of a different rhythm than most spring beauties around here and gives us some visual depth and relief from the varying shades of winter's predominant shades of grey. Love grey but so welcome other colors! It's a low-growing perennial with fleshy, woolly leaves and is a member of the Asteraceae (daisy) family, Coltsfoot produces a single golden-yellow flower head with no surrounding leaves. It's among some of first blooms in spring, before much greenery has jumped up. You'll find it among rocky moist places and rises only about 6-8 inches in height, though once the leaves emerge, it can get a bit taller. As the flowering stem dies, the hoof-shaped green leaves begin to appear. Yes, a different way than most plants.
Yes, there's some good strong medicine here but did you know there's edible parts? Coltsfoot flowers can be eaten and tossed into salads to add a wonderful aromatic flavor and color. These nibbles help us get in rhythm with the season as we march forth to our busier time of year. Shy away from road side harvesting for all the obvious reasons of nasty runoff. While it grows roadside frequently, the best way to seek it is to consider rocky stream bed edges. When I lived in Phoenica, NY we had none on our side of the Esopus creek but you would find me wading across the stream, always cold and sometimes waist deep, with a basket held on top of my head to gather from a massive patch directly across the water. I couldn't resist their waving little faces in the sun, even with painful water temperatures! Definitely makes one hardy.
Medicinal Parts & Preparations
"Recovery from orthopedic injury, and to increase flexibility.
Coltsfoot offers a road map for repair and recovery from any orthopedic injury or challenge as it holds much helpful information about our bones, muscles and the realm of movement in our physical bodies. It also helps us with flexibility in the physical body as well as in our attitude towards all change. Coltsfoot also helps us more easily revise and expand our definition of reality as new truths come to us." - Green Hope Farm
Watch for 'Common Name' Confusion: The common name is Coltsfoot, latin name Tussilago farfara, and these pics will help you seek the right plant. There is also a 'Coltsfoot' known as Western Coltsfoot or Butterbur, latin name Petasites palmatus which looks very different and is a completely different plant. Just a heads up to clear any confusion if you're searching the web for information and live where both grow.
Dosing is Everything
When researching Coltsfoot you will see many warnings due to the (pyrrolizidine alkaloid) compounds that give this plant its healing edge when things are serious in the respiratory system. It's usually worded something like this, "Despite serious safety concerns, people take Coltsfoot for lung problems such as bronchitis, asthma, and whooping cough (pertussis). They also take it for upper respiratory tract complaints including sore mouth and throat, cough, and hoarseness." This compound is found in Comfrey leaf as well and you may be aware of all the concerns surrounding Comfrey? Ease your concerns and avoidance tactics with the stronger medicine plants and come learn the wise medicine ways. We need the stronger plants but we also need to know how to dose safely. Most of the bad media is from improper dosing. The same is true for improper dosing of acetaminophen, as you will go into an unstoppable liver failure with what many see as a safe medication when taken incorrectly. Here at ElderMoon School we covered Comfrey in depth to eliminate confusion and walk strong with our stronger medicines in our Monthly Herbalists Councils, open to all so do check them out, For now let's speak of wise ways with Coltsfoot.
First thing to remember, Coltsfoot is not a tonic designed for long term dosing. We take this plant for acute health situation of the lungs, as mentioned and quoted correctly above. This means we take an infusion, tincture, or syrup/elixir for a couple of weeks to get through an acute situation with the respiratory system. You would not take this regularly for chronic lungs issues, such as COPD, asthma, sarcoidosis of the lungs, lung cancer, and emphysema, to name a few. So let's choose one to break this down a bit. Let's look at the epidemic we have around asthma. Listed above as a condition to take Coltsfoot, it would be wise to take for a few weeks for an acute flareup of the chronic condition. So think of it this way, such as with hyper-reactivity of the lungs (which looks like increased asthmatic episodes) in response to a flu. This happens for my son. I know when a virus has landed in his body because the asthma symptoms flare sometimes two days prior to any other symptoms and I start to treat for the flu preemptively. Should it come and settle deeper into his lungs then I treat directly with Coltsfoot a week or two. Make sense?
Here's another example: If someone has sarcoidosis of the lungs (an inflammatory disease that affects multiple organs in the body, but mostly the lungs and lymph glands), then they would take Coltsfoot for a few weeks for an acute flareup or complication that started because they have an underlying chronic condition. Let's say they got pneumonia. The Coltsfoots is meant to address the acute situation of pneumonia with strong medicine for short term dosing. The person with the chronic lung condition can take other tonifying respiratory plants on a long term basis to address the underlying chronic condition and this tactic strengthens their resistance over all.
Much of the lousy media around certain plants happens when people are desperate for a cure of a chronic condition, think "Hey, it's a plant so it has to be safe no matter what.", and then diagnose, dose and treat themselves incorrectly with a medicine plant that traditionally treats acute conditions.
Does this makes sense? Do send questions so we can dispel the lousy media and walk with solid wise choices for when we are sick by knowing the strong medicine plants well, along with safe dosing.
Dosing with Coltsfoot is Simple:
For Adults take the Infusion 1 cup 3-4x/day; Tincture 1/4-1/2 teaspoon 3-4x/day; Honeys, Syrups, Elixirs, Vinegars, and Oxymels are taken by the tablespoonful every 2-4 hours or as needed. These doses can be taken for up to 2-3 weeks but most will many will barely need two weeks of treatment for lung ailments of the acute type like respiratory flu or cold, bronchitis, pneumonia, and chelation of something inhaled that is noxious leaving congestion and coughing. Whooping cough (pertussis) will need a full three weeks as it tends to be quite persistent. Then switch to others such as Mulein leaf and Elecampane root for longer treatment. Do not exceed three weeks with Coltsfoot on these doses. Always consider other therapies, lifestyle changes, and diet to support respiratory health.
I have given Coltsfoot to all three of my children, as well as guided mothers and fathers in my community for decades now on when and how to take this plant so please ignore the exaggerated warnings - 'never give to children' that are made by people who do not know this plant well. Consider the child's weight and reduce the dose accordingly and give to children older than one that need respiratory help. It is safe for short term dosing as described. Children under one, I love to treat with Chamomile always. Bathe them in it and watch miracles happen!
Coltsfoot is also found in many well made herbal cough drops so once a child is able to manage a cough drop they can have these too.
Coltsfoot Smoke Blends
Inhaling burning plants is nothing new to humans, You will find some people who enjoy blends that have Coltsfoot added, and some people waft the smoke in a home where there are colds and flus to help settle the lungs much the way White Sage and Mullein leaf are burned. A small amount of gently wafted smoke near someone who is sick provides antimicrobial and antispasmodic properties quickly and efficiently to the lungs. Seems counter-intuitive, yes, if your thinking of it like a cigarette. Rolling and smoking when sick is not the best or intended way. Think gentle wafting of the smudge-like burned smoke for quick assistance. While this is not my favorite way to work with Coltsfoot, I do have the leaf in smudging blends for clearing the air, particularly when airborne microbes are attempting to survive in my home.
Coltsfoot & Thyme Cough Syrup
May your explorations of Coltsfoot be rich and beautiful as we lean into our wild plants for walking strong these days. xo- Jen
Hello Beautiful One. Happy Spring Equinox to you. I delivered a turkey carcass to the wild animals last night and stood in my garden, that has two feet of snow. Thank you for the water! It's my time to whisper to the sleeping but stirring roots and seeds of plants I'm longing pretty deeply for this time of year. Our beloved wood stove, considered a family member here, is still blazing away and such a blessing. My beautiful southern friends are posting Magnolia and daffodil flowers and my whole body wants to crawl through the pic to just peer into the flowers and sit in the sun with them in receptive pose. It's coming, I know. Our bodies know this too and stir as the roots and seeds do. Tiny shimmies and shakes are happening. Can you feel it?
So what is your body saying?
Maybe all is great. Or maybe you've noticed yourself struggling with frequent colds or flus this late in the season, digestive discomfort and GI system trouble, skin outbreaks or mysterious rashes, deep fatigue that comes over you rapidly, cobra dancing with feeling depressed, anxious, or angry with mood swings, sleep trouble, or maybe menstrual irregularity for us women? Our bodies begin the spring cleaning now on the metabolic level and we can join in and help with a few simple remedies from your new or expanding home apothecary. Here's a few herbal and food-as-medicine ideas to support the full swing of Spring.
Medicinal Roots Still Rule
While we need the roots to prepare for winter, we also lean on them for leaving winter and preparing for spring. The following formula is an old favorite of mine but working with any one of these root medicines will do. The body needs a medicine that can dig down deeper into not only our tissues, but also our complicated physiology and psyche, which may also be a bit complicated these days. Taking this 'Hepatic Holy Trinity' formula is a beautiful yet simple master plan for us folks learning to slow down more so we can work and play our lives in a different way. Finding a new rhythm, yes, can look like listening to the cycles of Nature. We all welcome the grounding medicine of the roots too as we release what is no longer needed and strengthen our readiness for the increased activity of the season ahead. Preparation and deep rest with supportive plants is part of the medicine. There are many activities in life that require similar care 'before and after'. Working with winter on many levels and the medicine of the North on the medicine wheel is included in this. Keep this formula in your medicine bag for support down the road.
Hepatic Holy Trinity Formula
This simple formula supports eliminations, digestion, liver and gall bladder health, renal function, and the recycling of hormones for the endocrine system to support sleep and hormonal shifts that are synchronized and smooth. I have found this to be particularly helpful with eliminating excessive systemic estrogen as well, an epidemic in our culture due to many causes that are more than 'menopause'. It's not just for women anymore.
1 part each of Dandelion root, Yellowdock Root, and Burdock root.
-Tincture fresh or died fall dug roots are perfect and these three are usually found growing near each other. Dried root is fine to tincture as well if that is all you have access to. Since a tincture takes at least 2 months to get ready, see the next option.
- If you don't have these in house then purchase a 1 ounce tincture of each and mix them together and take until the bottle is gone.
- Making a decoction with dried roots is easy and may be more cost effective. Purchase 2 ounces of each and mix together in a glass jar and label. Add 2-3 tablespoons to a quart of simmering water and simmer with lid ajar for 20 minutes. Cool a bit and enjoy. Continue for a few weeks until the herbs are gone. Store the decoction in the refrigerator and warm on stove each day for your dosing.
- Try making a spring tonic syrup with the dried herbs. (link below on how)
Dosages: as a tonic take two droppersful (60 drops or ¼ tsp) tincture 1-3x/day; 6-8oz. root decoction per day; 1-2 tablespoons syrup per day. I take the higher doses. Take at night a few hours after food intake. Go to bed early.
Food as Medicine
This formula and variations of it are well known and very easy and efficient for supporting the Liver and Gall Bladder, particularly during seasonal shifts. The recipe is basically a delicious salad dressing and has a wonderful refreshing effect upon the Liver and Gall Bladder. One can drink it periodically as a Liver/Gall Bladder tonic or taken every day for a week as part of a Liver & Gall Bladder flush prior to or after fasting or for tuning up through the seasonal changes. When I prepare for plant dieting and spiritual retreat I will enjoy this for about a week prior. Plan to drink it in the evening or when you’re settling in for the night as this is “rest and digest” food. I make sure I have an empty stomach or haven’t eaten in at least 4 hours. I absolutely love this formula and have enjoyed this for decades now. Not all medicine has to be horrible tasting.
Liver & Gall Bladder Flush
A Short Laundry List
Other supportive ideas for embracing what 'appears' to be a slow spring:
Now lists are just that, lists. This one does not require that we do everything, which could be quite enjoyable but yes, hard to execute. Choose one edible support idea and one pleasurable external idea if that seems easier to embark upon. You can always pick more as long as the stress factor is reduced. You get it.
What else works for you? I love hearing about other delicious ways to support this seasonal shift we crave. We're in this together. Thank you for sharing.
May your journey be safe and beautiful. xo-Jen
Is this your year to engage your inner herbalist?
Take a leap just for you. I did and I'm venturing into a new part of the music world and it's hard and sometimes I find myself shying away from my study time. Getting back on path is a regular practice for us all, right? Here's to trusting you and putting your whole self into it!
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The Great Mother Plant
Let's visit White Sage, or Sacred Sage, Bee Sage, Ceremonial Sage, or Salvia apiana. These are the most common ways to address her by name. She is akin to the 'Great Mother' and has that quality of clearing, protecting, healing, and nourishing that we often associate with mothering.
She has the most delicious smelling, aromatic, silvery-green, soft yet firm leaves. Her leaves are widely recognized as a cleansing herb, to purify the mind, body, and sacred space by dispelling negativity and unwanted, unsettled energies. She also supports purifying sacred items and tools, can be carried in a small medicine pouch or even a pocket to ensure personal and spiritual safety, and brought into ritual and ceremony for manifestation, healing and connection to the divine.
Did I lose you with the 'she'? Yes, being a scientist, herbalist, and medical professional that willingly, openly, even ecstatically, anthropomorphizes Nature, happens. It’s actually how I connect for the deeper lessons Nature has for me. Science can become a barrier sometimes with its dependency on only that which can be measured. Each has it’s place in supporting learning is how I see it. Besides, where do the scientists get their 'hunches' anyway? So bear with me on this if it offends or challenges in any way.
Here are some more thoughts about this plant that is struggling to survive our thirst for these properties she gives so easily along with safe tips for taking her into your body.
This writing can be considered a “plant profile’ for those of you building an apothecary and are currently in herbal studies with me or elsewhere. My hope is it's just a good read to keep us all at the same table with how to support ourselves in finding our medicine but to also support the continued existence of White Sage. Yes it's being challenged with over-harvesting by humans.
So let's begin with the leaves of this plant which as I said are a silvery-green, and if you rub the fresh leaves between your palms, a refreshing, hypnotic, deeply cleansing, and relaxing scent is released. Now cup your hands over your nose and mouth and inhale deeply. You can do with dried leaves as well by just rubbing on gently. There’s nothing like it and I think maybe time pauses when we do this! At least it feels that way and I would definitely agree that this is one plant that can bend our perception of time.
Our Native People of this land began the tradition of burning Sacred White Sage to ward off unwanted spirits and energies, and so it is a steady and true element in ceremonies and rituals for seeking blessings of health, prosperity and protection.
Sacred Sage can amplify any clearing and protective techniques that you already practice. As a plant, and a living being, White Sage also has a Spirit. The Spirit of this plant is dedicated to offering these blessings of protection, clearing and health and also supports the unraveling of DNA rooted diseases within lineages, be they physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual. Their walk with White Sage did not stay with just burning for these reasons. As you will see there are many medicinal and nutritional benefits to taking this plant internally or applying externally that support health and healing.
White Sage - Getting To Know Her
Common Names: White Sage, Ceremonial Sage, Bee Sage, Sacred Sage
Latin Name: Laminacea Salvia apiana
Height: 3-4 Feet – but it can take 3 years to reach maturity. White Sage flower stalks will add two to five feet to the height and will have tiny ‘insignificant’ flowers that are dotted with lavender. Strict botanists actually label flowers as ‘insignificant’. It just means small but by no means are they insignificant to the herbalist (or the bees).
Hardiness: Perennial in Zones 7-11
Flower Color: Pale lavender
Other Characteristics: full sun, evergreen, silvery-colored, soft, slightly sticky when picked (resins) water conserving, hollow stemmed
Uses: Aromatherapy, Incense, Medicinal, Ornamental
Growing tips for the adventurous:
Native to the Southwest, White Sage loves dry conditions, especially in the winter. Over winter, whole stems may turn black and die if the ground becomes too water saturated. If the condition is prolonged the whole plant will die, and it can do so quite quickly. In its native southwest it's hard to water White Sage too much in the summer due to the dry conditions of the region, which is why it thrives there. But, in other areas where summer humidity is high, White Sage may be impossible to grow successfully. Try keeping it in a pot and know to water lightly and ONLY when dry.
Another option is to grow it as an annual.
I do this with Rosemary as well which is quite particular about temperature, moisture, light, and being moved around. During the blooming season, late April to early June, the bees flock to the plant and provide a gorgeous, vibrational-symphony for the garden. The stems break quite easily so plant in places away from areas where it might be bumped or have the hose dragged across it accidentally. It can recover but in her own time, maybe.
Growing it in a large container that is moved in and outside will help with high levels of humidity. Let it be dry. When moving the plant it's best to move from outside to a cooler place like a garage with light before moving inside. Drastic temperature changes with movement make this one very unhappy. The smell and aromatics will not be as potent in potted plants. I've tried and tried and notice that being in Earth is the best. Makes sense.
Let’s Talk Smudge Sticks
Some have long rants about smudge sticks. Disrespectful accusations of ‘new age’ and 'woo-woo’ fly around, as some partake in ridicule of ancient ways. If I were to walk back along the thread of DNA of each person’s lineage that behaved this way, I would find a grandmother that burned plants for spiritual connection and physical and emotional well being. Disrespecting where we are from is never my way. Finding ways to remain reverent in the face of disrespect is important work and a skill that we all must practice, yes.
Dropping deeply into the study of the incense world is a journey through time with plants and people together and I love this richly woven path we share. Burning plants for gentle inhalation is nothing new.
We humans have receptor patches deep in our sinuses that can deliver medicinal molecules that travel on the inhaled smoke or steam directly into our brains and through our capillary beds deep within our lungs (the slower route). This is one way to get the medicine in. I make my own loose incense and cones for much of what is out there is adulterated with toxic chemicals today and will make you truly sick since we have such direct routes into the body. Incense burning, or the burning of plants of any kind is rooted farther back than any written records of plants healing people. Through ancient writings we do have testimony of ‘positive changes in behavior, mood, and wellness’ when inhaling different plants that are burned. Maybe it began simple as prehistoric people threw cedar or juniper logs and twigs on a fire and then noticed how enjoyable the smoke was and they felt better?
Have you noticed that White Sage smudge sticks have been getting larger and larger over the years, as if bigger is better?
Here's what it looks like in my life around smudging tools: I have one small working White Sage at all times, along with a stick of Palo santo, another sacred and protected tree from South America, a stick of Osha root from our southwest, and my homemade smudge sticks with local aromatics I love to burn. This is plenty for my work and personal needs. Oh yes, and Rose and Neroli hydrosols for aromatic mists, currently. So know what you need. Gather your tools, even if only one, for this can be all you need. Please think about conservation of resources when honoring your medicine. Most of all, enjoy your work with these powerful plants.
If you feel the need to enjoy the smudge smoke, try burning a single leaf while in prayer or clearing energy. Burn White Sage thoughtfully for it is one our most sacred plants. I have a small jar of single leaves that have dropped here and there that I save for this way of simple smudging. I also offer as gifts to Nature, the elements, when I harvest medicine, tucked into prayer bundles, or whenever I’m inspired.
Safe Suggestions for Accepting The Medicine
It is one of my everyday plants, be it single leaf smudge, rubbing fresh leaves or follow below for other ways.
It’s a spirit plant deeply honored by our Native Americans. I love to drink it by putting a leaf in my cool water daily. There’s a calming effect that's not sedating like other plants. Better decisions come from us remaining calm in the process. It enhances any medicine you take and can protect you from the toxicity of many medicines too.
White Sage contains a compound called miltirone which scientists are finding to act like Valium to relieve anxiety. Eucalyptol is also present and is what we know comes from Eucalyptus and may give us hints into why White Sage is so antimicrobial.
There are many more that have been identified but I shy away from so much dissecting of a plant in an attempt to know it. So yes, we can all benefit from the support of these compounds taken in, especially these days, and this is available through the smudge inhaled gently or taken orally in very small doses. Why do we take it in? To keep calm. To stay reverent and in the moment. To honor our healing path which is multi-leveled. To bless our way and our space and tools. To repair our souls and coax it forth for a better expression of ourselves in our walk here on this Earth.
White sage is very powerful, so if you wish to brew a hot cup of tea to address a cold, or other condition, be it physical or soul level, prepare it this way:
Some believe that the essential oil of White Sage is too strong and so too dangerous and discourage use strongly in this form–not only for internal use, but external use as well, mixed into massage oils or spray mists. Others disagree. I love plant people with they're passionate opinions! Let respect rule among us. Here’s my take for decades now: Producing essential oil takes massive quantities of plant material and this plant is already becoming endangered due to over harvesting. Couple this with the fact that it's hard to grow. There are other options here too and other plants for smudge through mists that work well and are easier to grow. I do not support White Sage essential oil use because it's not sustainable.
This holds for any of the native plants, particularly with a threatened existence. Their properties do not need to be consolidated. I suggest stay with my favorite standard dosage is 1 leaf per day or less and only when truly needed.
Many sources say it should not be used 'medicinally' at all. I disagree. First we would need to define the word 'medicine'. My understanding is much broader than some. Many who know this plant well will adopt the ways of the ancients and learn how to be safe with conservation of the plant tended to as well. So yes, I do agree with being reverent and aware of your medicine. Find and know your medicine. Study a bit and keep the plant close in dried form for tea for drink or bathing or take as a tincture as you study. We learn far more by cultivating that closeness to a plant than keeping our knowledge of it only coming from a book or the internet. If a plant is threatened due to many factors, how will you act with this knowledge? What will you choose so you can be a part of the solution within the sustainable movement around a threatened medicine plant? And please release the ‘more is better’ mindset and dispel this where you can.
The Benefits When White Sage Is In Your Apothecary
All salvias have medicinal qualities. Culinary Sage, Salvia officinalis, makes fantastic medicine and is easy to walk with, especially if you’re just starting out with herbs. If you have access to White Sage, I’d encourage you to try the White Sage leaf in your water bottle, just to experience where that sort of relationship with a plant might lead you.
Here’s a quick overview of the medicinal properties of White Sage, Salvia apiana:
Yes, Now The Warnings:
When OVERUSED, meaning too frequent or in too high of a dose, there is a strong alkaloid compound known as thujone that could irritate the body. Strong medicine must have strong compounds in order to be considered strong. So there should be no surprises when the scientists find such compounds in a plant. In fact let's welcome this. So, too much of this compound will increase heart rate, cause mental confusion, lead to vomiting, restlessness, and kidney complaints.
Instead of feeding fear here, I am asking us to see the wisdom in knowing strong medicine so we can call on it when needed. Be wise. Keep your medicine close. Take it in and take it safely. Know it well in your mind AND your body and walk strong with it. Honoring White Sage....
Jennifer Costa, Herbalist, Teacher, BS, RN, CST, and Founder of ElderMoon School of Herbs & Earth Medicine