Archive for Valerian

Simmering: winter fun with stockpot and teapot.

This month’s herbal blog party is “Winter Recipes,” hosted by Dreamseeds.

Most of my winter herbal recipes involve long-simmering pots on the back of my woodstove. Tasty broths and teas that warm a person from the inside out, and make the house smell good too.

Winter is a time for concentrated, warm foods. Put away the leafy summer herbs, and get out the roots, seeds and spices. Valerian, licorice, sarsaparilla. Flaxseeds, cardamom, nutmeg. Cinnamon, ginger, cloves.

The best way to stay healthy in the winter is not to fight the fact that it’s winter. In winter, things move more slowly. We need to sleep more. We need richer, fattier foods. In winter, as mammals, we need to stay warm. (It’s quite common for people to forget to dress warmly enough for the season. It’s not unreasonable to wear a scarf indoors if you live in a drafty house.)

Good long-simmered bone broth is the best winter food I know. It’s rich in protein (gelatin) and minerals, and it warms you “to the bone.” Add some vegetables and call it soup. Use it to cook rice or beans. Or just drink it straight with a pinch of salt.

Here’s how to keep a stockpot:

1. Always save bones. (Yes, even bones that people have gnawed on. All that simmering will take care of any contamination.) Keep them in a jar or a bag in your freezer. You can separate them by animal if you like, or lump them all together for “mixed stock.”

2. When you’ve collected a good pile of bones, put them in a pot and cover them with cold water. (You can add a dash of vinegar if you like, to help draw minerals from the bones.) Put the pot over low heat. Let it come to a gentle simmer. If you’re using a gas or electric stove, turn the heat down as far as it will go. If you’ve got the stock on a woodstove, move it to a cool corner or put it up on a trivet. (I’m told you can make stock in a crockpot, too. But I’ve never used a crockpot, so I don’t know how that works.)

3. Leave the stock on gentle, low heat for 12-48 hours. (Yes, I know that’s a long time. It really does make the best stock, though.) Check on the stock every once in a while and add water if it needs it. If you’re using raw bones, there will likely be quite a bit of foamy scum that comes to the surface. Just skim it off — a little tea strainer works well for this. Try not to let the stock boil. Low heat is best for extracting gelatin. (Don’t kick yourself if it accidentally boils, though. Just turn it down. Your stock may be a little cloudy, but it will taste fine.)

4. When you can’t stand it any longer, strain out the bones. If there is a lot of fat on top, skim it off and save it for cooking (a little jar of fat in the fridge is a lovely thing). Now you have stock to play with! What will you make?

You can add warming winter spices to your stock if you like. But my favorite way to take warming spices is in tea. In winter, my “teas” are usually decoctions, simmered on the stove until they perfume the house.

Here are some of my favorite winter teas.

For people who get dry and cold in the winter: flaxseeds (Linum usitatissimum), cassia / cinnamon (Cinnamomum aromaticum), ginger (Zingiber officinale), cloves (Syzygium aromaticum), cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum) and nutmeg (Myristica fragrans).

For people who get a lot of sore throats and swollen lymph nodes in the winter: echinacea root (Echinacea angustifolia or Echinacea purpurea), red root (Ceanothus americanus), marshmallow root (Althaea officinalis).

For people who feel drained in the winter: wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis), licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra), ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) (use only organic ginseng, “woods-grown” if possible).

For people who get cold hands and feet in the winter: valerian (Valeriana officinalis), cramp bark (Viburnum opulus), wild ginger (Asarum canadense) (harvest wild ginger only if it’s locally abundant; “regular” ginger can be used instead).

Oh, yes, and for everyone, because it’s so tasty: pink ginger tea. (This is, of course, one of the best things to drink when you’re down with the flu.)

Happy simmering!

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Insomnia is not insomnia is not insomnia.

Difficulty sleeping comes in many forms.

Trouble Falling Asleep can be associated with tension, excess nervous energy (“heat”) or a depleted nervous system (“cold”). My favorite herbs for falling asleep are kava (Piper methysticum) for tension, hops (Humulus lupulus) for heat and valerian (Valeriana officinalis) for cold. (Detailed indications for these herbs.)

Trouble Staying Asleep is usually associated with tension or excess nervous energy (heat), but it can sometimes be related to depletion (cold) as well. My favorite herbs for staying asleep are passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) for tension, peach leaf (Prunus persica) for heat and holy basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum) for cold. (Detailed indications for these herbs.)

Trouble Waking Up (aka waking up with that run-over-by-a-truck feeling) is common in people whose bodies are sluggish or depleted overall. Lymphatic and liver-supporting herbs are the thing to use here. Some of my favorites are cleavers (Galium aparine) and all heal (Prunella vulgaris) for sluggishness and rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) and oats (Avena sativa) for depletion. (I haven’t posted detailed indications for these herbs yet. Some of them are in Matt Wood’s book, listed below.)

Basic sleep hygiene applies in every case of sleep trouble: Dark and quiet bedroom (no TV), no caffeine/stimulants in the afternoon (or at all), good exercise (but not in the evening), good relaxing and good food.

Important: It is always best to choose herbs carefully, based on an individual’s constitution. Don’t think “valerian is good for insomnia.” Ask “Is valerian good for this person?” There is no insomnia, only a person. (If you give valerian to someone who has a hot constitution, it can have a stimulant effect; if you give hops to someone with a cold constitution, it can be depressing.) I never like to recommend herbs for anyone without seeing them and talking to them first. Again: herbs are for people, not for conditions.

N.B.: Heat/Cold and Tension/Sluggishness are part of a system of “energetics” that many herbalists use to understand human bodies and match them with appropriate herbs. Someday I will blog about energetics, but in the meantime the best introductory discussion of western-style herbal energetics that I know of is in Matthew Wood’s book The Practice of Traditional Western Herbalism.

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Comforting herbs.

Most of us are ready for some comfort right about now. Holiday chaos is behind us, we’ve more or less survived, and it’s time to get quiet and cozy and rebuild our reserves.

Here are indications or “symptom pictures” for some calming and comforting herbs. A symptom picture is a great way to get to know an herb better—it describes the characteristics of a person who fits a particular herb. All of these herbs could be considered nervines that are good for “stress,” but you get the best results with plants if you pay close attention to details.

Bee Balm (Monarda didyma or M. fistulosa): Nervous stomach, “Irritable Bowel Syndrome,” someone who is passionate and intense but holding back. [Tincture or tea.]

California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica): Agitation and insomnia with pain. [Tincture or tea.]

Catnip (Nepeta cataria): Stress stomachaches, cold headaches, overstimulation and colic in children. [Tincture or tea.]

Chamomile (Matricaria recutita or Chamaemelum nobile): Irritability, petulance, complaining, impatience, “acting like a baby.” [Tea.]

Holy Basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum and O. gratissimum): Tension with fear underneath, running on adrenaline, trying to control things. [Tincture or tea.]

Hops (Humulus lupulus): Anxiety, muscle twitching, muscle and digestive tension, insomnia. [Tincture or tea.]

Kava (Piper methysticum): Muscle pain and tension, worry, “wrapped up in knots.” [Tincture.]

Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia): Nervous excitement, giddiness, headache. Culpeper says: “tremblings and passions of the heart.” [Tea.]

Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis): Speedy feeling, racing heart, can’t calm down. [Tincture or tea.]

Linden (Tilia x europaea or T. americana): Heartache, sadness, palpitations, nervous nausea and vomiting. [Tea.]

Milky Oats (Avena sativa): Run down and weak, drained nerves and body. Hildegard suggests oat water in a sauna for “a divided mind and crazy thoughts.” [Tincture or tea.]

Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca): Heartbreak, grief, emotions feel out of control. [Tincture or tea.]

Mullein (Verbascum thapsus): Raw, in need of soothing. Hildegard: “one whose heart is weak and sad.” [Tincture or tea.]

Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata): Racing thoughts, tremors, irritation. Tommie Bass used it to restore peace in relationships where people get irritated with each other over little things. [Tincture or tea.]

Peach Leaf (Prunus persica): Sensitivity, overstimulation, overheated, nervous nausea and vomiting. [Tincture or tea.]

Scullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora): Fear, anger, nightmares, physical spasms. [Tincture or tea.]

Sweet Violet (Viola odorata): Anger, headache from heat. Hildegard: “a discontented mind.” [Tincture.]

Valerian (Valeriana officinalis): Pale, cold, weak, spacy, agitated, can’t sleep, can’t catch breath. [Tincture.]

Vervain (Verbena officinalis and V. hastata): Driven, perfectionist, striving, tense neck muscles. [Tincture.]

Wild Lettuce (Lactuca virosa and L. canadensis): Been through trauma, deadened, cold, feel numb, stiff muscles. [Tincture.]

If you’re interested in learning to relate to herbs in terms of symptom pictures, Matthew Wood’s books are a great place to start. But really it’s just a question of getting to know the plants personally.

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