My Top 5 Herbs from 2020

BIG HOLIDAY SALE on Herbal Courses

Well y’all, we made it through one hell of a year! It’s been many moons since I’ve written on here, and to say the least…a lot has happened since then. While we’re all living in the reality of a Covid-19 filled world, I’m hopeful that next year will bring about some positive changes. To be totally honest, I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished much this year, but I think living and coping with the new reality has been enough for us all. This year we’ve all found refuge in certain comforts. For me that’s meant taking meditative walks around my neighborhood, reading sci-fi and fantasy mostly as a form of escapism, trail running (people-y-ness permitting), and drinking a nice warm cups of tea. Making tea blends and elixirs gave me some respite from the stresses of these days, and I’ll include some of top herbs of the year here. If you’re interested in learning about herbs, Herbal Academy is offering 25% classes through January 3, click here to learn more. To purchase any herbs mentioned below, please visit Mountain Rose Herbs.

1. Hawthorn

Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.) is one of my favorite herbs, it’s a cardiotonic and also very delicious at that! I love to use hawthorn berries, leaves, and flowers combined together in teas. It also has a history of use in foods and drinks, like jams and wines, so you can explore with it as you would with other berries. Because hawthorn is specifically indicated for heart conditions and heart health–and stress/anxiety over time will weaken the heart–this was an especially helpful herb to have on hand in 2020. We could all use a little hawthorn medicine to replenish our hearts, to recover from the loss of our sense of normalcy, the loss of our loved ones, and the loss of our functioning society as we knew it before the pandemic. Interested in trying a product with hawthorn? I make delicious Elderberry Hawthorn Syrup.

2. Milky Oats

Milky Oats (Avena sativa), oh milky oats. Thank you for existing this year! Phew. Just thinking about milky oats’ medicine brings me a big sigh of relief. You’ll find milky oats as an ingredient in many nerve nourishing tinctures. Milky oats can help us when our nerves are fried, when we’re feeling on edge and tense, to ease on down. With all the fear, anxiety, and uncertainty we’ve experienced this year, milky oats would be a great herbal tonic to use over time to calm and replenish the nervous system. This year, I’ve used a number of tinctures that have included milky oats as well as in tea blends. I like to mix it into a lot of my daily drinks.

3. Elecampane

Elecampane (Inula helenium) is a pungent herb that is typically used for respiratory infections. As someone living in so-called California during Covid-19 and some of the worst fires this year, elecampane felt like a godsend! I received some elecampane infused honey from an herbal mentorship I’ve been participating in through Dr. Jacqui Wilkins, ND of XΓ‘lish Medicines. It’s delicious on its own, but I also love putting it into my morning chai. It makes breathing easier and feels as though it expands your lung capacity. This year, it’s been so hard to feel like I can take a deep breath and elecampane really helped me learn to breathe deeply again. Many of us this year have been walking around trying not to breathe, so I recommend communing and meditating with some elecampane medicine. I also think generally this herb would be an excellent one to have on hand in case you contract Covid-19 as it could help alleviate some of the symptoms commonly associated with the illness.

4. Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is a replenishing and calming adaptogen that helps us deal with long-term stress and exhaustion. Sounds like the perfect herb for this year, right? Additionally, many (including myself) find this herb to help with insomnia and restlessness. When you’re finding it hard to relax and are feeling on edge, a decoction or tincture of ashwagandha could support a restful nights’ sleep, help calm an agitated mind so you can be less emotionally reactive, and also increase your ability to concentrate. For these reasons, ashwagandha has been an indispensable herb for the year.

5. Damiana

Damiana (Turnera diffusa) enhances mood and sensation. Many use this herb as an aphrodisiac (learn more about herbal aphrodisiacs here), which I’d most certainly say that it is! But more than an aphrodisiac, damiana can pull us out of depression. Damiana helps us tune into our body, improving circulation, and our ability to sense the world around us. While it can help boost libido, I think it also helps us to remember what it’s like to find joy in simple sensations like the wind caressing our face, the textures of plants, the taste of a delicious drink, and maybe that touch we’ve been longing for in Covid-19 times. I tend to be in my head and thoughts a lot which can bring me anxiety in social situations and damiana in my experience really helps to ground us and bring us back into our body which in turn can improve our sociability.

That’s a quick rundown of my top 5 favorite herbs that I’ve used throughout 2020, I’d love to hear what has helped you through this year in the comments below. 😊

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Elderberry and Hawthorn Syrup

Herbal Courses from beginner to advanced

Here in California, it’s high summer (slowly turning towards autumn). The intensity of the dryness and heat can get to you and not only that, the subtle change in the seasons can often mean falling sick. Especially with the news of the Amazon burning, I thought it best to share my syrup recipe for a healthy heart and immune system. You’ll see that recipe at the bottom of this page. First, please donate to causes supporting the Amazon Rainforest such as Amazon Watch and the Rainforest Alliance if you have the means to do so πŸ™. Now it’s needed more than ever since at least 1,300 square miles of forest have been lost in the Amazon so far this year.

There are a few things you’ll need for good quality syrup. Good quality honey and herbs! πŸ™‚ I recommend getting local, organic honey (or other sugar substitute) if possible. My favorite local honey is Lover’s Lane Honey up in Northern California. Their honey tastes like liquid heaven! It’s caramel-y and just the right consistency. Back when I worked on a farm one summer, I had the pleasure of helping to harvest some honey. What an experience! I’d love to keep bees someday when I have land to do so.  β€Ž πŸ

As for herbs, I typically get them from a local herb farm, if possible. Here in the Bay Area, I love Steadfast Herbs and the Sonoma Herb Exchange. Otherwise, Harmonic Arts, Starwest Botanicals, and Mountain Rose Herbs are also great sustainably sourced options! If there are places you can ethically wildcraft some berries, give thanks to Mother Earth! If you’re unsure of what it means to ethically wildcraft, I’d recommend reading La Abeja Herbs’ Wholehearted Wildcrafting article.

Ingredients

2 cups reverse osmosis filtered water: I always use filtered water for my medicines as tap water can have contaminants and heavy metals.

1/4 cup elderberries (dried, double if fresh)*: Elderberries are a very common berry used in syrups for immune health, especially around flu season. You’ll even see elderberry syrup sold as a common OTC remedy at alternative health stores and groceries. They’re alterative, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiviral, and highly nutritive.

1/4 cup hawthorn berries*: Hawthorn berries may be one of the most well known heart medicines. I love this plant, it has cute little red berries and it’s in the rose family, so it also looks so dainty and sweet with its little white flowers in the spring. It’s an adaptogen and also antioxidant-filled medicine. For anyone with heart ailments or irregularities, this may be a great medicine to use. ❀️

2 tablespoons fresh ginger*: Ginger is typically used to treat upset stomach, but it’s a great support for your immune health as well during cold and flu season. It’s antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiviral, carminative, and helps to stimulate circulation.

1 cinnamon stick*: Some of the many beneficial properties of cinnamon include: alterative, antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, anti-inflammatory. Cinnamon helps to increase circulation and digestion as well as calm menstrual cramps and also supports your recovery from colds.

1/8 cup rosehips*: Rosehips contain a very high amount of vitamin C. This is a very important winter food for many creatures. It’s a tonic and highly nutritive and antioxidant. It’s a wonderful addition to many sweet dishes to add additional vitamins and minerals.

2 tablespoons grapefruit zest (or other citrus zest)*: Similar to oranges, grapefruits are also loaded with vitamin C. They’re also a bitter tonic, nervine, and cardiovascular tonic. I love adding citrus to recipes with berries. Citrus contains pectin which is a prebiotic and will help to aid beneficial gut bacteria.

1 teaspoon vanilla extract*: Vanilla is a soothing and claming nervine. It’s also antioxidant rich and a carminative. I love the flavor of vanilla in sweet dishes, and its scent is definitely a mood-elevator for me personally.

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg*: Like many of the other ingredients, nutmeg is antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, carminative, and expectorant. It’s also not well known that nutmeg is also a nervine similar to skullcap or lemon balm. I think the flavor of nutmeg adds a nice zing to this recipe.

2 tablespoons tulsi (aka holy basil)^: Tulsi is an adaptogen that has a gentle soothing effect while still being stimulating. It’s helpful in stressful times, both mentally and physically. It’s full of antioxidants and helps to normalize blood pressure.

2-1 ratio honey to tea: We’ve all heard “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” While this tea is tasty alone and doesn’t necessarily taste like medicine, the honey will add sweetness as well help to preserve the tea for a much longer period of time. Honey is antibacterial and also full of nutrients and antioxidants.

*Information from Kami McBride’s book The Herbal Kitchen (affiliate link).

^Information from Richo Cech’s book Making Plant Medicine (affiliate link).

Instructions for Herbal Syrup

  1. Decoction of hard herbs (roots, twigs, berries). Add ginger, cinnamon stick, rosehips, hawthorn berries, and elderberries to pot. Bring just below boiling and simmer for 20-30 minutes until liquid is reduced to about half. Cover pot.
  2. Once you’ve decocted the tougher herbs, turn off the heat and add in more delicate herbs (citrus zest, vanilla extract, nutmeg, and tulsi) and let them steep 10-15 minutes with lid on. 
  3. Strain liquid into measuring cup (take note of the amount), then pour into jar for storage. Add 2-1 ratio of honey to tea into the liquid in the jar and stir to dissolve. If your honey is a thicker consistency, you may want to combine in a double boiler at a gentle simmer to combine. Now, you have your syrup!
  4. Store for up to 1 year in the refrigerator.

This highly medicinal and nutritive syrup is delicious on its own or in sparkling water, tea, kombucha, salad dressing, pancakes, etc. Get creative! I’d love to hear what you add your syrup to in the comments below. If you’d prefer to purchase some, visit my Etsy shop! If you have any other favorite syrups, I’d love to hear about them in the comments. πŸ™‚

The Herbarium by the Herbal Academy

7 Tips to Maintain a Healthy Gut (includes recipe for herbal sauerkraut)

The Craft of Herbal Fermentation Course by Herbal Academy

Creating a healthy gut microbiome

There is so much research coming out right now about the importance of your gut microbiome. In fact, there was a recent discovery published regarding gut bacteria’s creation of tiny, previously unknown, proteins which could lead to new innovation in drug development. One key insight over the years is that having healthy gut bacteria can actually affect your mental state of mind. I’ve experienced this first hand as I have a slight gluten intolerance, and I’ve noticed after cutting most gluten out that my mood has been more stable (gluten makes me grumpy). If you’re interested in this research, I highly recommend checking out the book The Mind Gut Connection. I haven’t actually read this one yet, but I’ve heard so many good things about it and it’s on reading list! If you’ve read it, please leave a comment below on what you thought about the topics discussed in the book. πŸ™‚

From my interest in this research, I’ve learned some key takeaways about maintaining a healthy gut:

  1. Eat lots of fiber: Choose fiber rich vegetables and fruits and incorporate a lot of these into your diet. I think one key piece of advice that has helped me is to drink smoothies instead of juices. Juices will spike your blood-sugar levels and filter out all the gut-healthy fibers that act as prebiotics. When choosing fruits and vegetables, always go for local, sustainable (organically produced and/or certified) produce when possible.
  2. Do some intermittent fasting: Overloading your system with food all the time isn’t natural, so giving your digestive system a break will help to keep the gut healthy. There is research showing that practicing circadian rhythmicity may increase your lifespan.Β Many people employ the 16:8 method of fasting, eating for 8 hours of the day (think 12-8pm) and then fasting for 16 hours. Melotonin production begins a few hours before your normal bedtime and eating around this time may suppress insulin production which could lead to diabetes later down the line. I recommend taking a look at some of Dr. Rhonda Patrick’s articles and videos around this topic.
  3. Avoid antibiotics: Antibiotics actually kill beneficial gut bacteria as well as any bacterial infections you’re trying to fight off. Taking them can also lead to antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria which is a public health concern. It can take a long time to help build your beneficial bacteria back up after taking antibiotics, so it’s best to avoid them when possible.
  4. Incorporate collagen into your diet (sorry vegans!): It’s common knowledge that collagen helps you to maintain healthy skin and nails, but something I didn’t know until this past year is that it helps to protect organs in your body, including your gut lining. I try to incorporate bone broth into my diet as well as adding some collagen into my smoothies. I really enjoy vital proteins collagen (affiliate link).
  5. Choose foods high in polyphenols: Polyphenols help to balance out the gut microbiome and increase the growth of beneficial bacteria while inhibiting the growth of pathogens. They act similarly to prebiotics. Because of the gut-brain connection, this may help to prevent neurodegeneration. Read here for more information about these findings. Foods high in polyphenols include: berries, artichokes, red onion, spinach, cocoa, cloves, and tea.
  6. Use herbs/foods that support a healthy gut: There are so many herbs that support gut health. First, I would recommend mucilaginous/demulcent herbs such as marshmallow root, plantain, slippery elm (but check to make sure it’s a sustainable source as this tree is over harvested), licorice root, aloe vera, and oats. Chia also is great to help lubricate the gut lining. I recently listened to an Herb Rally podcast with Lindsay Kolasa regarding mental health and she says that peach (fruit, leaves, flower) and rose hips and petals can also support gut health.
  7. Lastly, eat fermented foods (hence this post!): Fermented foods contain a multitude of beneficial bacteria and probiotics. This is why when you do take an antibiotic, you’re often told to eat yogurt as that will help to repopulate your gut microbiome. The bacteria grow during the fermentation process. Fermented foods and beverages include: yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh, kombucha, kefir, jun, and many others!

Purple Herbal Sauerkraut Recipe

If you’re interested, Herbal Academy has an online class titled: The Craft of Herbal Fermentation.

DIY ferments can be a great way to boost your beneficial gut bacteria. I personally have been one to buy sauerkraut from the grocery or farmer’s market, but it’s really simple to make batches at home. I recently took a class on Herbal Sauerkrauts with Bonnie Rose Weaver, an herbalist of Scarlet Sage, in San Francisco.

The great thing about making ferments at home is that you can decide what goes into them. While there’s a basic formula for sauerkraut specifically (cabbage+salt) there are so many vegetables and herbs you can incorporate into the mix! Have fun with it and experiment, be a “kitchen witch” as I like to say. Try adding some of your favorite herbs and vegetables to your cabbage. Let me know your favorites combinations in the comments below!

The salt creates a brine (the liquid you see here)

Without further ado, let’s get into this purple kraut recipe!

Ingredients (makes about one 16 oz jar)Instructions
1 small head Purple cabbage, finely chopped

1 carrot, grated

1 beet, grated

1/4 a bulb of fennel, finely
chopped

~1 TBS grated ginger, peeled

~1-3 TBS salt (not table salt)
In a large bowl, add all the ingredients and sprinkle salt on top. Mash Together with your hands (or any tool your heart desires if you don’t like getting your hands dirty) until the liquid, or brine, forms enough to cover the kraut in a jar. Once you feel like you have a good amount of brine, grab your jar and pack it in. You want it to be filled pretty much to the top, so if it isn’t full enough you’ll want to find a smaller jar and transfer it.

Once the ingredients are in a jar filled to the top, you’ll want to add some sort of weight on top to keep the kraut below the liquid (this will prevent mold). A trick that was taught in the class I attended is to save the cabbage core and use that to weigh down the kraut. I’ve also seen people use glass or rocks as weights. Then screw on your lid, should use a non-metal lid. If metal is all you have, you’ll want to add some wax paper on before screwing on the lid to prevent the metal from corroding.

Then viola! You have a jar of kraut. You’ll want to let it ferment for 1-2 weeks. If it’s warmer, it won’t take as long to ferment since heat speeds up the process. You will want to “burp” the jar every few days. You can also start tasting it after the first few days until it’s soured to your liking. Enjoy!
Finished kraut, voila!

Resistance takes place on many planes. Occasionally it can be dramatic and public, but most of the decisions we are faced with are mundane and private. What to eat is a choice that we make several times a day, if we are lucky. The cumulative choices we make about food have profound implications. Food offers us many opportunities to resist the culture of mass marketing and commodification. Though consumer action can take many creative and powerful forms, we do not have to be reduced to the role of consumers selecting from seductive convenience items. We can merge appetite with activism and choose to involve ourselves in food as co-creators.

β€” Sandor Katz
The Craft of Herbal Fermentation Course by Herbal Academy