Archive for Herbs

Baby boom: pregnancy tips.

Perhaps it really is “Change you can conceive in,” as Newsweek put it.

In any case babies are popping up everywhere these days, and people have been asking me about herbs and healthy pregnancy.

This is what I tell them.

1. The “duh” list: Get enough rest, eat enough (good) food, and stay away from toxic stuff.

Rest: Your body will tell you how much you need. It’s best to listen.

Don’t freak out if you have trouble sleeping — drink a cup of chamomile tea, put a drop of peach leaf tincture on your wrist, or smell your hop pillow. And like I said, don’t freak out. (Remember, Barbara Kingsolver wrote her first novel when she had insomnia during her first pregnancy.)

Food: Don’t eat bad food. Do your best to avoid sketchy food. Do eat plenty of good-quality protein (including fish), all kinds of good fats, and lots of in-season vegetables. (Confused about fish? Check this out. And this.) Oh, and if you know you’re allergic or sensitive to something, just don’t eat it.

Toxic stuff: This is a hard one. There’s toxic stuff everywhere, and once you’ve determined how much you can practically avoid, it’s best not to freak out about it too much. (Sense a theme?) Stress isn’t good for babies. That said, here are some common sources of toxic stuff: cosmetics; cleaning products; plastic food and drink containers; paint and other new building materials; dust in old houses; dirt around old buildings. (The last two are due to lead contamination. And this is something to worry about. Read up on it.)

2. Pay close attention to your blood sugar.

Low blood sugar can cause morning sickness (or anytime sickness). High blood sugar can make your baby grow too big, or give it blood sugar problems later in life. (And you don’t even want to think about gestational diabetes.)

Avoid low blood sugar: Eat protein. Avoid refined carbohydrates (i.e., white flour, white sugar, white rice). Eat protein. Don’t eat carbohydrates by themselves (butter your bread; put cheese on your crackers). Eat protein. And eat fat, lots of good fat.

Avoid high blood sugar: See “avoid low blood sugar.”

3. Take care of your kidneys.

Your kidneys do a lot of extra work when you’re pregnant (they have to filter 50% more blood than usual). Be nice to them. Drink plenty of water. Use a good high-mineral salt in cooking (avoid cheap refined salt). And remember that nettles are your friends. Nettle tea is rich in minerals and also a lovely kidney restorative. Nettle seeds are a good choice too. (If your kidneys are unhappy, you’ll end up with puffy ankles and feet. You don’t want this.)

4. Take care of your nerves.

There’s a lot going on. Give yourself a break. Breathe a lot and stretch a lot and take time to be quiet. Also milky oats. And peach leaf if you’re highly sensitive and irritable. Mint tea is lovely for tired nerves, and so is bee balm tea, especially if those nerves are feeling frayed. Holy basil tea if you’re tense and worried. Rose if you’re sad and scared.

5. Take care of your veins.

Remember all that extra blood? It can be a lot for your veins to deal with, too. Eat lots of purple foods — blueberries, blackberries, beets. If you know you might be prone to varicose veins (did your mother get them? ask her!), you might take hawthorne berries or oak bark (small doses of oak) preemptively.

6. Take care of your belly.

To prevent nausea (especially in the morning), make sure you eat enough protein (especially at supper). Peach leaf and ginger are both great for nausea, but in opposite situations: peach is good for “hot” constitutions, and ginger for “cold” ones. If you don’t know, experiment. Take a little taste and see how you feel. Catnip and mint are also good if you’re feeling gassy and burpish.

As your baby grows, your guts might get a bit sluggish. Make sure you eat enough bulky and mucilaginous food to keep things in order. Flaxseed is great for this, and so are apples.

7. And of course, take care of your uterus.

Remember, the uterus is a muscle. For generations, midwives have reminded us that raspberry leaf tea makes it strong. This is a good thing. A cup of raspberry leaf tea everyday is pleasant, too.

(You’re right, I didn’t mention supplements. I’m not a big supplements person, and I don’t know a lot about them. But if you take a prenatal vitamin, make sure it’s good quality. And if you don’t eat fish, you might consider fish oil or cod liver oil.)

Comments (28)

Eat your herbs: nettle salt.

Nettle seeds are amazing for people who are seriously exhausted and drained of energy (tired to the bone, dry skin, brittle nails and hair). I love to preach the gospel of nettle seeds, but people sometimes complain that they’re too gritty and “strange” to chew.

Enter nettle salt. It tastes green and salty, and it’s not gritty. You can sprinkle it on all kinds of food (I really like it on bread and butter), or just eat a bit now and then. (Quite a few people who need nettle seeds also need salt — think low blood pressure, generalized dryness.)

Just take some nettle seeds and grind them up with some good-quality salt (unrefined gray sea salt or another high mineral salt). You can play with the proportions until you get a taste you like. I generally use somewhere in the range of one part coarse salt to four or five parts nettle seed (by volume).

Grind them until they’re nice and powdery — I use a little electric coffee grinder that I save for herbs and spices — and sprinkle them wherever you like!

If you want to learn more about the many virtues of nettle seeds, there’s an exhaustive discussion between herbalists on the herbwifery forum.

UPDATE: Fall is the time to harvest nettle seeds. Pick them when they’re fully ripe, and dry them in a well-ventilated place out of direct sun.

Comments (35)

Drink your lawn: blender juice.

blenderjuice.JPGThere was a nasty, hot, lung-drying bug going around these parts this spring. Turns out the perfect thing for it is one of your lawn’s best-kept secrets: blender juice.

Specifically, blender juice made of cooling, soothing, mucilaginous plants. Plantains (Plantago spp.), chickweed (Stellaria media), violets (Viola spp.), and mallows (Malva spp.) are especially nice.

(This combination is also wonderful for hot, irritated digestive systems — think ulcers, “Irritable Bowel Syndrome” / IBS, and other inflammatory conditions.)

Making blender juice is a great way to get the fresh, green, cooling properties from just about any plant.

Here’s how to do it:

Pick your plants.

Rinse them off if you need to.

Toss them in the blender with a bit of water.

Blend.

I like to let them sit for a while to infuse, then blend a little more and strain. But you can just go ahead and strain after the first blending if you need to.

Drink.

(Hot tip: mallow/plantain/chickweed/violet blender juice is wonderful sponged on a sunburn.)

Comments (16)

Eat your lawn: wild greens salad.

yardsalad.JPG

Why mow it when you can eat it?

Today I wandered around our yard with a basket and came back with a salad.

It had chickweed greens and flowers, dandelion greens, bittercress greens and flowers, creasy greens, violet leaves, and sorrel in it. Chickweed and violet are mild and moist, peppergrass and creasy greens are spicy with a hint of bitterness, dandelion leaves (before the flowers bloom) are pleasantly bitter, and sorrel is distinctly sour.

The boy thought it was too many flavors in one salad, but to me it just tasted like today: riotous spring!

Hint: If you want to encourage more edible (and medicinal) weeds in your yard, dig up a bit here and there. Lots of tasty plants like to grow on disturbed ground.

Comments (11)

Spring greens: peppergrass.

peppercress.JPGWild greens, anyone?

Early spring is the time to switch from sweet roots and spices to bittersharp new shoots and leaves. Time for cool air and new light after warm dark hibernation.

Peppergrass is one of my favorite spring greens. It’s also called “pepper cress” and “poor man’s pepper,” and it’s sprouting up all over my yard right now.

Young peppergrass leaves can be used anywhere you might use watercress. I like them mixed in scrambled eggs with a few wild onions. The flowers are tasty too (I saw one little plant blooming already) and the seeds can be sprinkled on food as a sharp, mustardy seasoning (“poor man’s pepper”).

UPDATE: I originally posted that this peppergrass was a Lepidium species. AnneTanne and Tammy pointed out that it looks a lot like Cardamine hirsuta. Now that I look at it, I’m convinced it’s a Cardamine, but I’m not sure which one (cresses are notoriously hard to identify). Calling it Lepidium was just lazy and spaced-out on my part — I do have a lot of Lepidiums in my yard, and I call them peppergrass too. So I had peppergrass = Lepidium in my head, and I didn’t bother to look it up. Live and learn.

(I grew up calling all peppery little cresses “peppergrass.” Perhaps I should teach myself some new common names to alleviate the species confusion? Alright. Cardamines are “bittercress” and Lepidiums are “peppercress.” Maybe I’ll try that. In any case, they’re all tasty in salad.)

Comments (35)

Spring aphrodisiac: nettles.

No, I’m not suggesting you swat your sweetie with a stinging nettle switch. (Though no doubt some of you might enjoy that.) I’m suggesting that nettle is an often-overlooked aphrodisiac plant, as tincture, brew or just plain food.

See, I pretty much missed last month’s aphrodisiac blog party (unless you count my last flax post), so I thought I’d do a combination February/March blog party post. And it’s perfect, because March’s theme is stinging nettle and, really, nettle is one of the best aphrodisiacs out there.

So you’re scratching your head now. “None of my books say it’s an aphrodisiac. And how could something so prickly…”

Well, that’s exactly it. Nettle keeps you separate.

Separate, you say? What in the world is she talking about? Isn’t an aphrodisiac all about, um, togetherness?

Well, see, for an aphrodisiac to work, you have to want to get together. Which means you have to start out separate.

Think of those couples that do everything together. They can hardly turn around without consulting each other. People start to think of them as one person. No surprise, then, that these people often lose interest in each other on a physical level.

Nettle helps you remember where you begin and where you end. (You already know this if you’ve ever come across a nettle patch where you didn’t expect it.)

Nettle is incredibly strengthening and revitalizing — perfect for spring. It’s the best thing I know for that late-winter-blob feeling. (Think of maple sap rising — nettle gets the sap rising in your body!)

We don’t quite have nettles coming up where I live yet, but if you have some where you are, I’d suggest picking them young and sauteeing them with butter and garlic (or ramps if you can get them). So rich and so tasty.

A bit of zing for spring!

Comments (14)

Flax in the bedroom.

No, I don’t mean linen sheets, though those are nice too.

Remember the mucilaginous flax seed tea? The slippery-slimy flax hair gel?

What does that stuff remind you of?

Come on, now. Don’t be shy.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, gooey flax tea makes a great personal lubricant!

Homemade lube. How cool is that?

I really should have thought of this before. The lovely Vermont herbalist Dana Woodruff mentioned it to me the other day, and I just about smacked myself in the forehead, cartoon-style. Of course! (It’s exactly the texture of . . . well . . . ovulation!)

Dana got the idea from Sheri Winston, sex-ed teacher / retired midwife (and sister to herbalist David Winston). Sheri’s recipe calls for 1 cup of flaxseeds and 6 cups of water, simmered for 6 minutes and left to infuse for 6 more before straining.

My first response to that recipe is that the quantities are way too large (unless you plan to give some away to all your friends). We’re talking about a perishable product here, so I’d suggest making only a cup or two at a time.

And I don’t think you need such a high concentration of flax seeds in the mix, either. A little goes a long way, especially if you simmer it for longer.

Here’s my recipe:

Simmer 1 tablespoon of flax seeds in 1 cup of water until it’s reduced by half (maybe 20 minutes). Strain immediately. (If you let it cool, it’ll be too thick to strain.)

Store it in the fridge when you don’t need it — it’ll only keep for a couple of days unrefrigerated.

You could experiment with scents and flavors — just add herbs or spices to the simmering pot! (Start with small amounts, though — too much of a strong herb or spice could cause burning in sensitive areas. I’d avoid essential oils for the same reason. And though it might be tempting, I’d stay away from sugar, as it can lead to infections.)

According to Sheri, the basic lube is condom-safe (it’s completely water-based). But if you do plan to use it with condoms, be sure not to add any ingredients that might damage the latex — i.e., nothing oily or caustic.

Have fun!

Comments (36)

Guest Post: Passion Honey from Robin Rose

Robin RoseWelcome to the first ever guest post in the Herbwife’s Kitchen!

Robin Rose Bennett is a lovely plant person, herbalist, and teacher from the New York / New Jersey area. This post is her contribution to the Aphrodisiac Blog Party. (My own contribution should be up this evening.)

Here’s Robin Rose:

I’ve been teaching a class every February for years now called Herbal Love Medicine for Valentine’s Day. Each year I cook up a brand new Passion Honey, inspired by my own favorite aphrodisiac or sensually pleasing herbs, along with the input of the students after we’ve spent nearly 2 hours looking at, talking about, sniffing, and tasting the herbs and preparations I’ve brought in.

I’m always a tiny bit nervous that this new and different honey may not come out right — but it’s exciting, too, not to know what it will be like. It always comes out somewhere between really good and truly wonderful and delicious. The Passion Honey we made last week was off the charts!! I don’t actually measure anything as I’m creating, but these are my best guesses as to the amounts. As I go along, I stir and sniff, and stir and sniff. Highly recommended technique for cooking!

Robin Rose’s Passion Honey – February 2008

(All the herbs are organic and all are dried, unless otherwise noted.)

To 1 quart of organic dark buckwheat honey add approximately:

1/2 cup Orange blossoms*
3/4 teaspoon grated Nutmeg
2 tablespoons Damiana
3-4 tablespoons Vanilla extract
1 teaspoon Jasmine
2-3 tablespoons Maca root powder
3/4 ounce Rose glycerite**
1 teaspoon crushed up Cinnamon sticks***

We all tasted it and declared it amazing (as our knees grew weak). Normally I cook it on low for 30-45 minutes. We didn’t even do that as I’d run out of time. Now I have the pint that’s left steeping/infusing at room temperature at home, looking forward to what will happen to it as the flavors meld. Of course my sweetheart and I are sneaking in for tastes now and then because it’s simply irresistible.

Enjoy!

(For those who prefer things simpler — that’s usually me — one of my favorite past Passion Honeys was Roses and Vanilla beans in Linden Honey. It’s a yummy one, too!)

* Orange blossoms can be hard to get. You could put in crumbled or powdered sweet orange or tangerine peels instead — it won’t be the same, but still delicious.

** This rose glycerite was made with red (Rosa gallica), pink (Rosa centifolia), and Moroccan roses.

*** Cinnamon powder would be easier — I had sticks with me.

Comments (21)

Kitchen spices: cinnamon.

This month’s herbal blog party theme is “Kitchen Spices.” Our host is Dancing in a Field of Tansy.

These days, cinnamon is my favorite kitchen spice medicine.

Here are a few cinnamons from my spice shelf:

cinnamon

On the left, cassia or Chinese cinnamon. This is the most common cinnamon in the US—the one you can find in the grocery store, .

On the right, the “true” or Ceylon cinnamon, . It has a more subtle aroma than cassia, and it’s not so sharp.

The powder is Vietnamese / Saigon cinnamon, . It’s intensely sweet, very spicy, and much redder than the other two.

(Confused about the botanical names? Been reading old-time herbals? Here’s a clue: C. cassia = C. aromaticum; C. zeylanicum = C. verum.)

All the cinnamons have a lovely balance of warming and stimulating and soothing qualities — they’re wonderful for people with cold constitutions. The classic indication for cinnamon is a tendency to cold hands and feet, a reminder of cinnamon’s powerful stimulating effect on blood circulation.

Cinnamon strengthens the circulatory system and gets blood moving out to the surface of the body. (David Winston uses cinnamon for Raynaud’s phenomenon, a condition in which circulation is severely restricted in the hands.) But cinnamon’s more than a circulatory stimulant. Remember this: cinnamon brings energy where energy has been drained. So while it’s classic for weak circulation with cold hands and feet, it’s also one of the most valuable old-time remedies for passive hemorrhage, including hemorrhage after childbirth.* Juliette de Bairacli Levy recommends a cinnamon-spiced wine to give strength to women in labor. Cinnamon strengthens basic vitality.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the indication for cinnamon is “deficient kidney yang.” Some symptoms: fatigue, aversion to cold, low back pain, cold hands and feet, abdominal pain, diarrhea /constipation, pale urine, white-coated tongue. Guess what? Most of these are indications of “cold” in European and American style herbalism. (I’ve also found that this list can be a pretty clear picture of some people diagnosed with “Irritable Bowel Syndrome” (IBS). And indeed, cinnamon is a classic remedy for digestive upset.)

Cinnamon is revitalizing for people who are cold and tired, drained of energy (think chronic fatigue). Now, don’t get any funny ideas: cinnamon is no substitute for rest. It is a supreme aid to convalescence, though: it’s capable of energizing tissue and getting tired or weak organs moving again. It’s also perfect for people who tend to “catch” every bug that comes along: increased vitality means increased immunity.

Cinnamon’s revitalizing power comes in handy these days, with so many people run down and drained by modern industrial “food.” Cinnamon helps the body use energy: it’s a specific for insulin resistance / metabolic syndrome. Consistent long-term use of cinnamon brings down blood sugar and triglycerides, those danger-signs of impending diabetes and heart disease.**

So, in case you didn’t get it yet, cinnamon revitalizes what is drained. It brings life to the pale, cold and weak. Not bad for your average kitchen spice, is it?

My favorite cinnamon tea (this week, anyway):

3 parts Cinnamon sticks

1 part Orange peel

1 part valerian, blackhaw or crampbark

1/2 part flaxseeds

Simmer as for flaxseed tea.

This tea is wonderful for increasing circulation, for “irritable bowel” and for menstrual cramps in people who tend to cold. (You can increase the valerian / blackhaw / crampbark for a stronger relaxing effect, but it won’t taste quite as good.)

An herbalist’s cheat-sheet for cinnamon:

Parts used: dried bark or twigs.

Actions: stimulant, carminative, diaphoretic, hemostatic, antiseptic.

Affinities: circulation, digestion, metabolism, uterus.

Taste: sweet, spicy, aromatic.

Vitalist energetics: warming, slightly mucilaginous but also slightly drying. Hildegard said it best in 1150: “Cinnamon is very hot and its power is great. It holds a bit of moisture, but its heat is so strong that it suppresses that dampness” (trans. Throop 1998).

Michael Moore energetics: skin, CNS, upper GI, renal, reproductive stimulant; lower GI, mucosa sedative.

Tongue indications: pale, coated.

Specific indications: insulin resistance, bleeding ulcers (Michael Moore), passive uterine hemorrhage, menstrual cramps associated with heavy flow and a feeling of cold.

Homeopathic mental indications: “Sleepy. No desire for anything” (Boericke).

*King: “For post-partum and other uterine hemorrhages, it is one of the most prompt and efficient remedies in the Materia Medica.” Ellingwood: “Cinnamon . . . is a hemostatic of much power and is positively reliable in all passive hemorrhages.”

**In one study, researchers gave people with type II diabetes 1, 3, or 6 grams of cinnamon per day. “After 40 days, all three levels of cinnamon reduced the mean fasting serum glucose (18–29%), triglyceride (23–30%), LDL cholesterol (7–27%), and total cholesterol (12–26%) levels; no significant changes were noted in the placebo groups. Changes in HDL cholesterol were not significant” (Diabetes Care 2003). And here’s a study for the extra-geeky.

Comments (17)

« Previous entries Next Page » Next Page »