5 Simple and Transformative Tips for Mastering Mindset and Reaching Goals

5 Simple and Transformative Tips for Mastering Mindset and Reaching Goals

Rachel Peters is a professional health coach who inspires her clients and students to live their best lives and achieve their goals through proven habit-changing techniques that involve optimizing daily routines. I can tell you from my own experience in Rachel’s Embody Ease program that the techniques are realistic and doable. Rachel is our guest writer in this inspiring blog where she offers her transformative tips to help you master mindset and reach  your health and wellness goals. Visit Rachel’s website for more about her programs to embody ease and come alive with new habits to achieve your dreams. 

Master your mindset

Your mindset is a powerful tool. It can be used in your favor and unconsciously against you. Your personal behaviors and daily actions have a deep cause and effect on your daily lifestyle and on your physical, mental, and emotional health. Today we are living out the ripple effect of decisions we made months, even years ago.

Your daily rhythms and choice points are like an inner compass, constantly making subtle and sometimes not so subtle shifts in the direction of your future and the unfolding of your life and ultimately your health.

Given the cultural norms of western society and the emphasis on body and image, most of us are likely limiting our health and wellness potential by comparison, questioning value, worth or some undercurrent of ‘I’m not good enough.’

  • Have you ever struggled to reach a goal you desired so badly or knew would completely change your life?

  • Do you tend to procrastinate things that are important to you because it’s not the “right” time? Or you tell yourself you don’t have enough time?

  • Have you ever stopped setting specific and measurable goals around your health and your life because in the past you haven’t reached them?

  • Do you put off projects (for example: a writing project, a creative project, a garden, taking up pilates or yoga, etc.) because you are afraid you will be judged or criticized by others?

  • Do you avoid investing in yourself and your own growth and health, because deep down there is a question of your value and real worth?

If you answered yes to any of the above you may be limiting yourself and your potential by the systems you are using to reach your goals. Ayurveda, “the science of everyday living” is  rooted in following the lead of nature. Nature’s fundamental role is to change, pulse and evolve. We are constantly being asked to play the edge, evolve and change if we are in the flow with nature.

Have you heard about Neuroplasticity? It is the proven principle that we can change the structure and function of our brain throughout our lives. Your thoughts, emotions, and behavior are the primary means of making change. Don’t underestimate the power of what you say and think about yourself. Your health depends on it.

5 Simple Tips To Reach Your Goals

If your mindset is getting in the way of reaching your goals, consider practicing and applying these five simple tips and tools to your current health or wellness challenge and  bloom into your potential:

1. Engage Your Edge

It’s scary to change and try new things. But did you know fear and excitement have the same physical sensation in the body? With this in mind, reframe how you define and relate to fear, take a step in the direction of your goals and dreams, and prioritize your growth. What matters most to you and why?

2. Start before you’re ready.

You’ll learn along the way. If there is a desire, hunger or craving for change in your career or health and wellness, begin now. Invest in yourself. You are worth the investment. What do you have to lose?

3. Do the one small thing.

Small steps towards your goal is how you make big change over time. When any part of you freezes up, or you find yourself in overwhelm, you know you’ve taken on too much. Small bites are easier to digest, assimilate and nourish. Make a list of all the things you want to do. Pick one.

4. Your Self Talk Matters.

Practice self-compassion and speak to yourself as you would to your best friend. What you think about yourself and how you describe yourself to others has a ripple effect. Be positive. Create an anchor statement for yourself for when you feel stuck to move you back into the flow of your potential.

5. Embrace the process.

There is no finish line. There are only points on the map. Enjoy the scenery. Life is a laboratory. Let yourself experiment. When we embrace the unexpected twists and turns and see them as teachers along the way, life becomes more fun and playful.

When you look at your health as more than a metric of weight or size and see it more as a state of being established in who you are, there is less room for critique and judgment and more room for experimentation and success. It’s the stuff we do every day (or don’t do) that dramatically determines how we end up feeling. I’m talking super basic stuff like getting enough sleep, how we feed ourselves, how we use our bodies, and how much stimulation we give our minds. When we’ve got these dialed in, we get off the exhausting treadmill of busyness and open up to greater ease, flow and potential.

I’d love to hear about your health and wellness goals and the different  things you do to help achieve them. Leave a comment below to share.

Looking for more herbal inspiration?

Herbs for Detoxification: A Holistic Approach to a Whole Body Cleanse

HERBS FOR DETOXIFICATION: A HOLISTIC APPROACH TO A WHOLE-BODY CLEANSE

Why take a holistic approach?

The human body has a complex and elaborate system for cleansing and detoxification. The skin, lungs, kidneys, lymphatic system, the gut, including the bowels, and liver all play a part in neutralizing toxins and eliminating waste. However, during a cleanse many people make the mistake of focusing only on the bowels. Indeed, the bowels need to work well for the body to eliminate waste, but a holistic approach will promote all the body’s pathways of detoxification. Along with other holistic practices, herbs for detoxification help to ensure that all the body’s natural systems are optimized to support a thorough, balanced cleanse.

But First, Do I Even Need to Do a Cleanse?

Even people who do their best to eat clean, use clean body care products and maintain a toxin-free home are exposed to harmful chemicals that persist in our soil, water and air. Almost everyone carries some level of toxic body burden. The Center for Disease Control has systematically tested people living in the United States to see which environmental chemicals are present in their blood and urine. The CDC first published results in 2009, with an update in 2017; the study showed widespread exposure to environmental chemicals. Most people tested had been exposed to chemicals commonly found in consumer products including personal care products, plastics, flame retardants and non-stick cookware. A chemical known as perchlorate, used to manufacture things like explosives and rocket fuel and to release static in food packaging was found in every person tested! The US Environmental Protection Agency reports that perchlorate is common now in public drinking systems with a frequency and at levels that present a public health concern. A study by the Environmental Working Group found the same chemicals (an average of 200 industrial chemicals and pollutants) in the cord blood of newborn babies in the United States.

Many of the toxins we are exposed to are transformed or neutralized by the body or safely eliminated. However, when the body is overwhelmed with environmental chemicals or its detoxification systems are under performing, toxins accumulate in fat and other body tissue. Physical signs and symptoms of this bioaccumulation may include body odor, constipation, fatigue, weight gain and chronic inflammation. More harmful effects include suppressed immune function, endocrine and reproductive system dysfunction, including decreased male fertility, increased risk for cardiovascular and liver disease, and diabetes. Parabens found in most personal care products (deodorants, moisturizers, shampoos, etc.) mimic estrogen, interfere with other hormones, accumulate in breast tissue and can stimulate proliferation of human breast cancer cells.

So, do I need to do a cleanse? In short, yes, probably. If you are on medication or being treated for a specific condition, be sure to discuss detoxification with your healthcare practitioner first. Also, if you have reason to believe that you may be carrying a high level of accumulated toxins, obtaining the support and guidance of a skilled practitioner is best and safest for you.

 

When is the Best Time to Cleanse?

While you may choose to cleanse or detox any time of year, the science of Ayurveda (which translates as “the knowledge of life”), emphasizes a life in harmony with nature which includes cleansing in the spring and fall. In nature, spring is a time of rebirth and renewal. If we live in harmony with the rhythms of nature, spring is an auspicious time to awaken new energy and vitality with a whole-body cleanse. A  spring cleanse will help your body release the heaviness of winter and attune to the fertile energies of spring. A fall cleanse helps reduce heat and the effects of over-stimulation that tend to accumulate in the body during the summer months. It also helps us slow down and restore balance as we head into cold, blustery weather.

The herbs for detoxification discussed below will help to ensure that all the body’s natural systems for cleansing are working well.

Herbs for Detoxification

Milk Thistle Seed | Silybum marianum

I believe Milk Thistle seed is in THE most important herb to support a cleanse. Though considered a weed in many parts of the world, Milk Thistle’s little brown seeds pack big benefits and have been used medicinally for liver conditions for over 2,000 years. With an estimated 50 clinical trials, modern research has confirmed Milk Thistle’s role in promoting liver function and restoration, assimilation, and detoxification.

When it comes to a cleanse, Milk Thistle could not be more perfect for its support of the liver’s role in whole-body detoxification. Specifically, Milk Thistle increases and helps maintain liver activity critical to  the neutralization of metabolic waste coming from the digestive system, including unwanted chemical compounds from drugs, pesticides and herbicides, toxins produced in the gut (enterotoxins), and exogenous microbial compounds. A natural side effect of your liver’s neutralization of these toxins is the production of free-radicals, which are highly reactive molecules that can cause cell damage. Here too, Milk Thistle plays a role by stimulating the liver’s production of glutathione, a potent anti-oxidant that neutralizes these free-radicals. Glutathione is also necessary to convert fat-soluble toxins to water soluble compounds which are more easily excreted from the body. In addition to increasing glutathione levels, Milk Thistle itself contains powerful anti-oxidant compounds (ten times more effective than Vitamin E) that help protect the body from free-radical damage.

As for its role in liver conditions, Milk Thistle is used for hepatitis, particularly as a liver protectant and for liver damage (alcoholic and non-alcoholic) including abnormal liver function and fatty liver. People who have been exposed to chemical pollutants and pharmaceutical drugs have been shown to benefit from the use of Milk Thistle as do people with skin conditions related to liver dysfunction. Milk Thistle is also helpful for occasional indigestion (dyspepsia) with gas, bloating or heartburn and for gall bladder complaints including the prevention of gall stones.

To incorporate Milk Thistle seeds into a cleanse, I recommend using the powdered seeds (12 - 15 g per day) mixed with soft foods or a good quality capsule. It is important to note that most of the therapeutic compounds in Milk Thistle seeds are not readily soluble water in water; as such, I do not recommend making a tea with Milk Thistle seeds.

Burdock Root | Arctium lappa

This dark fleshy root can sometimes be found in the produce section of your local market and is often used in Japanese cooking, where it is known as Gobo. Burdock root offers a wide range of properties that promote multiple pathways of elimination making it especially useful for herbal detoxification. Many people undertake a cleanse to improve digestive function and promote gut health, areas in which Burdock root excels. Burdock root promotes digestive function, improving the breakdown of food, assimilation of nutrients and elimination through the bowels. It can even have a mild laxative effect due to its ability to stimulate digestive function. During a cleanse, at least one effortless bowel movement per day is required to reduce the potential for toxins to be reabsorbed back into circulation. Burdock root is also rich in a compound called inulin, which is considered a “prebiotic,” that feeds and helps healthy gut flora thrive. Burdock acts on the liver to produce more bile and promotes the flow of bile from the gall bladder, which helps your body digest fats. Burdock also promotes kidney function, an important route for the elimination of water-soluble toxins as well as lymphatic function, which is necessary for the removal of cellular waste. Like Milk Thistle, Burdock root is also an anti-oxidant and helps prevent abnormal cell mutations that can lead to cancer. Even if you’re not doing a cleanse, this nourishing, well rounded bitter root is an excellent choice for chronic gas and bloating caused by weakened digestive fire. Energetically, Burdock Root is cooling, slightly sweet, and of course, bitter. Hot tempered, irritable people tend to benefit from this cooling root.

If you’re using Burdock root to support a cleanse, I recommend preparing it as a decoction  (a simmered tea). Use one tablespoon per cup and drink 2-3 cups per day throughout your cleanse.

Nettle Leaf | Urtica spp.

Nettle leaf, also known as Stinging Nettles is a nourishing spring tonic that supports detoxification and benefits the entire body. It helps improve elimination of metabolic waste and is rich in vitamins (A, C, E, K) and minerals (calcium, magnesium, silica, and iron). Nettle leaf promotes detoxification by improving kidney function and urine output and is considered a urinary tract tonic. It is also alkalizing, meaning it helps promote balanced pH in the body. Balanced pH is important because the opposite, heightened acidity, places excess stress on the body, may negatively impact bone health and is associated with an increased cancer risk.

Nettle leaf is especially helpful for toxicity that manifests as rheumatic conditions like arthritis and gout, helping to eliminate uric acid build-up in the joints. It is also used for skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis that can be aggravated by poor liver function and heightened levels of toxicity within.

Nettle leaf is best prepared as a cold infusion to extract more vitamins and minerals. To prepare a cold infusion, cover the loose herb with cold water and allow to soak overnight at room temperature. In the morning strain and enjoy. Use one heaping tablespoon per cup and drink up to four cups per day during your cleanse.

Ashwagandha Root | Withania somnifera

Some might be surprised to find a plant like Ashwagandha that supports the nervous system on a list of herbs for detoxification. While it’s true that Ashwagandha Root is not specific to the body’s various pathways of elimination, when you undertake a whole-body cleanse, I believe it is also an opportunity to reset the nervous system, reduce the effects of stress on the body, and release negative emotional patterns. This is where Ashwagandha root fits in. Ashwagandha is an adaptogen, which is a shorthand way of describing an herb that helps the body adapt to and respond to stress more favorably. Unlike most other adaptogens that are stimulating, Ashwagandha calms the mind and relieves anxiety. It helps to nourish and rebuild a nervous system depleted by long-term stress or illness and reduces cortisol levels elevated by chronic stress. It promotes thyroid function and is beneficial for people with hypothyroidism or a low functioning thyroid. When it comes to insomnia or restlessness, ashwagandha promotes more restful sleep. Ashwagandha is also used to reduce cravings, especially sugar cravings, which can be aggravated in the early stages of a cleanse.

Ashwagandha can be prepared as a decoction, (1 -2 teaspoons per cup, up to 4 cups per day) or used as a powder (1/2 – 1 tsp, up to 4 times per day).

Beyond the Herbs: Cleansing Holistically

In addition to these herbs for detoxification, adequate hydration, sweating, exercise, deep breathing practices, meditation, journaling and rest are other important components of a holistic approach to a whole-body cleanse. Water—about eight, 8 ounce glasses per day helps both the liver and kidneys flush toxins from the body. Sweating, whether from exercise or a sauna, helps release toxins through the skin. The skin is the body’s largest organ of elimination and aids detoxification  through the release of sweat and oil, including the release of fat-soluble toxins such as pesticides and heavy metals. Exercise is a good choice to make you sweat, but the movement will also stimulate lymphatic uptake of waste.

Deep breathing (known as diaphragmatic breathing) promotes balanced pH  and the elimination of waste through the lungs. So, during your cleanse, breathe and breathe deeply! Plan to take brisk walks or other exercise that promotes deep breathing or learn a deep breathing practice you can do at home. Meditation can be helpful during a cleanse to calm the nervous system and reduce the agitation and cravings some people experience in the first few days of a cleanse. Regular meditation is a good way to release toxic emotions and transform negative thought patterns. When you undertake a cleanse it is also helpful to slow down, do less and notice how your body feels. Journaling is a good tool to help you reflect on the changes you may be experiencing as well as cravings or other thoughts patterns you want to release. Your body needs plenty of good quality rest to repair and restore and especially during a detox.  So, along with slowing down and doing less, plan on going to bed earlier during the duration of your cleanse.

What About Food?

Yes, what you eat (and don’t eat) during a cleanse will have a profound impact. There are many theories, books and programs about what to eat and not eat to help your body detoxify. Some approaches are primarily plant based and some allow organic chicken or turkey, some allow grains, while others are grain free. Choose a plan that seems right for you.

I have had the most success following an elimination diet for 2 - 3 weeks, but there are other approaches. By success, I mean my energy levels increased, my digestion felt balanced and there was greater equanimity in my thoughts and emotions. An elimination diet involves avoiding common food allergens or other foods suspected of causing digestive problems during the course of the cleanse. In general what’s left are simple, whole,  unprocessed foods.  You can find good “elimination diet” guides online. There is a simple printable guide here. You can also find more resources and downloads at the Whole30 website. In addition to these online resources, at Nectar we offer a handful of books that I trust to support you in a whole-body cleanse, including two of my favorites, Clean and Clean Gut, by Alejandro Junger, M.D. Another approach I like is the one discussed in The Prime, by integrative neurologist, Kulreet Chaudhary, M.D.

In evaluating and choosing a program, avoid any approach that sounds dramatic, extreme or promises results that seem unrealistic. Choose one that will allow you to feel balanced and in control. A good  cleanse program will be reasonable and safe and will help you develop a healthier lifestyle.

While a cleanse may seem daunting, the rewards are worth the effort. Increased energy and vitality, healthier-more conscious eating habits, fewer cravings, improved digestion, fewer allergies and sensitivities and less swelling and inflammation are just some of the signs of a successful whole-body cleanse.

I’d love to hear about your approach to cleansing—what’s been most challenging, what herbs for detoxification have worked for you, and how has cleansing improved your health? If you’re considering your first-ever detox, please let us know if you have questions. Come chat with us in the shop or leave us a message in the comments section below.

To your health,
suzanne

References:
Body Burden: The Pollution in New Borns, Environmental Working Group, https://www.ewg.org/research/body-burden-pollution-newborns/detailed-findings#.WpNGB66nGM8, accessed February 6, 2018.

Chaudhary, Kulreet , The Prime, Harmony Books, 2012, New York , New York.

Junger, Alejandro, Clean, Harper Collins, 2012, New York, New York.

Junger, Alejandro, Clean Gut, Harper Collins, 2013, New York, New York.

Murray M, Pizzorno J, The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, 3rd Ed. Atria, 2012.

National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals, Center for Disease Control and Prevention, https://www.cdc.gov/exposurereport/index.html, accessed February 6, 2018.

Perchlorate in Drinking Water, US Environmental; Protection Agency, https://www.epa.gov/dwstandardsregulations/perchlorate-drinking-water, accessed February 6, 2018.

Tilgner, Sharol, Herbal Medcine From the Heart of the Earth, 2d Ed., 2009, Wise Acres, LLC, Pleasant Hill, Oregon.

Vargas-Mendoza N, Madrigal-Santillan E, et al., Hepatoprotective effect of silymarin, World J Hepatol, Published online 2014 Mar 27, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3959115/.

Winston, David, Adaptogens, Herbs for Strength, Stamina and Stress Relief, 2007, Healing Arts Press, Rochester, Vermont.

Looking for more herbal inspiration?

Capsule, Tea, Oil or Extract: A Guide to the Many Forms of Herbal Medicine

Capsule, Tea, Oil or Extract: A Guide to the Many Forms of Herbal Medicine

Understanding the forms of herbal medicine is crucial for helping you make informed decisions when choosing herbal products. Almost daily someone comes into Nectar and gazes with awe and wonder at the extensive array of bottles and jars. Many people think that all the little bottles contain essential oils, but that’s only one type of herbal medicine you have to choose from. There are also bulk herbs and tea, liquid herbal extracts (called tinctures or glycerites), and herbal capsules. You can also choose herb-infused oils and salves or flower essences. Each incarnation of plant medicine has unique advantages and disadvantages. Which form is best for you depends on a variety of factors.

Learning how to evaluate herb QUALITY deserves our full attention too, so I’m going to leave that important issue for another day and another post. That said, I do recommend choosing the highest quality organically grown herbs you can find. Old herbs and poorly dried or poorly processed and prepared herbs will not yield the results you are looking for.

 

Which Form of Herbal Medicine is Best?

First, know that an individual herb can be used in many different forms. Take German Chamomile for example. You could use it in a “loose leaf” or “bulk herb” form, as a liquid extract from a small eyedropper bottle, or as an essential oil. Consider another common medicinal plant like Milk Thistle and you’ll find whole seeds and powdered seeds in bulk, liquid extracts and capsules. When faced with this array of choices, I am frequently asked, “which form is best?” Well, it depends. Different forms of an herb are suitable for different people and different circumstances. To make an informed decision, you need to know the herb and know yourself. By simply acknowledging your likes and dislikes, preferences and predilections, you can choose the form of herbal medicine that is right for you. This is how it works.

First, Read the Label

You’re probably already accustomed to reading labels on food products. Herb and supplement labels require the same careful scrutiny. First and foremost, the label should tell you what’s actually in the bottle. And, whether you eventually decide on a bulk herb, liquid extract, capsule or other form, make sure what’s in the bottle or jar is really the herb you’re seeking. This may seem obvious, but it’s important to know which part of the plant you want to use. Different parts of a plant may have different medicinal properties. Dandelion is a good example. Both the root and leaf are used medicinally, but they offer somewhat different properties. An experienced herbalist or a good herb book can help you identify the correct plant part. You should also know the botanical or scientific name of the herb and look for that on the bottle, since common names can be misleading and confusing.

Let’s take German Chamomile again as an example. Most people refer to this common herb simply as “Chamomile.” The sweet, delicate flowers of this plant relax the nervous system, calm digestive imbalances, and possess anti-inflammatory and anti-histamine properties. Its scientific name is Matricaria recutita. So, if you’re looking for German Chamomile , look to find this scientific name somewhere on the jar or bottle. If the scientific name reads Anthemis nobilis, guess what? It’s Roman Chamomile, not German Chamomile. You might even encounter a lesser known Chamomile relative, Ormenis multicaulis, commonly referred to as Moroccan Chamomile. Sometimes herbalists use different species of a plant interchangeably if their medicinal properties are very, very similar. While German Chamomile and Roman Chamomile share many of the same properties, each has a unique composition of medicinal compounds. You can read more about the similarities and differences, here. Common names also vary among different countries and cultures. So, even though the common name of the plant may appear front and center on the jar or label, keep reading until you find the scientific name. There’s other important information to be gleaned from herb and supplement labels discussed below, but it all starts with the correct name of the plant and the correct plant part.

Now, once you’ve found the correct plant and realized you could purchase it in many different forms, how do you choose? Let’s look at the different forms, their advantages and disadvantages, and how your plant knowledge and self-knowledge come in to play.

Bulk Herbs, Powders + Teas

In most apothecaries, you’ll find dried herbs in large jars. The plant parts, whether roots, leaves, flowers or some other part, are typically cut up into small pieces sometimes even powdered. Again, make sure the jar label describes the correct plant part and confirm the scientific name. If the herb is available in bulk, you have the option of preparing it as an herbal tea. Most herbs can be prepared as a medicinal tea, though it’s important to prepare the tea correctly in order to optimize the therapeutic benefits. If you’re new to herbal teas, check out this post to learn how to prepare loose leaf herbal tea. If you like to drink tea and the herb makes a pleasant tasting tea, this may be an excellent choice. Dried powdered herbs can also be incorporated into smoothies or stirred into other soft foods like yogurt or applesauce.

Don’t let the simplicity of an herbal tea dissuade you. Herbal teas have been a mainstay in herbal medicine for thousands of years and offer profound health benefits. Making tea does require a greater time commitment than some other forms of plant medicine. But most people, myself included, benefit from slowing down and allowing time in their day for the soothing self-care ritual of making tea. When it comes to preparing bulk herbs as tea or incorporating powdered herbs in smoothies or other foods, know yourself. If you’re finicky about new flavors or unlikely to allow time in your day to brew tea or make a smoothie, choose another form.

In general, while most herbs can be prepared as a tea, there are some exceptions. Let’s look at our Milk Thistle example again. First, the seed is the part used medicinally and the botanical name is Silybum marianum. Milk Thistle seed is a potent liver protectant and restorative, especially useful as part of an occasional cleanse or detox or for various liver conditions. The seed is often sold whole or powdered, in liquid extract and in capsules. Unfortunately, for tea drinkers, the potent medicinal compounds in this little seed do not extract well in water. In fact less than 10% of a key compound known as silymarin is extracted in tea. If you want the benefits of Milk Thistle seeds, you’ll do well buying in bulk, but you’ll need to incorporate the ground seeds in food or smoothies to get the therapeutic effects. You can also choose Milk Thistle in capsules or liquid extract.

When it comes to knowing the plant and preparing it as a tea, water solubility is only one issue. It is also important to understand the difference between the dried plant and a fresh plant preparation. Some plants lose much of their medicinal potency when dried. Milk Oats (Avena sativa), Skullcap (Scutellaria laterifolia) and St. John’s Wort (Hypericum performatum) are good examples. While these plants are often available dried, tea prepared from plants like this will not be as potent as a fresh plant preparation. Fresh plant preparations are available in liquid extracts and sometimes in capsules. Again, know your plant.

Liquid Herbal Extracts

In general, liquid herbal extracts come in two forms—tincture and glycerite. By definition a tincture (pronounced, ˈtiNG(k)(t)SHər) is an extract created using alcohol and water. I recommend using tinctures made with organic alcohol. A glycerite is an extraction made with glycerin and water. Glycerin is a sweet, thick substance typically derived from vegetable oil. Though sweet tasting, it has very little impact on blood sugar. You’ll find tinctures and glycerites in small amber bottles with eyedroppers. They can be ingested under the tongue or added to a small amount of water, tea or other beverage. The dose is of course specific to the herb and individual, but may range from a few drops to upwards of a teaspoon. Like the water used to make a tea, alcohol and glycerin both have unique solvent properties, meaning that they differ in their ability to draw the medicinal compound out of a plant and into solution. Like herbal teas, tincture and glycerites also have unique advantages and disadvantages. For a more in-depth discussion about why you might choose a tincture, check out this post.

Liquid herbal extracts are quick and easy to use. They may be a very convenient choice for you if you’re loathe to prepare several cups of tea per day. The alcohol and glycerin also act as preservatives in the finished product. As such, tinctures and glycerites have a much longer shelf life (2-5 years) than dried herbs. So, if you want to keep herbs on hand that are only used occasionally, like herbs for colds and flu, stocking a cold-curbing tincture or glycerite in your medicine chest may be a better choice than a bulk tea blend. As discussed above, if the plant you desire does not hold its therapeutic properties when dried, a tincture made with the fresh plant is desirable. Likewise, herbs like Milk Thistle seed, with compounds that are more alcohol-soluble than water-soluble, are better prepared and taken in tincture form. The sweet taste of glycerites makes them a natural choice for kids or anyone else with a very sensitive palate. There are also disadvantages to liquid extracts, like the alcohol. Though the alcohol in a standard tincture dose is not enough to be inebriating, for people who abstain from alcohol entirely (whether for health, social, or religious reasons) tinctures are not an option. Herbal teas, glycerites or capsules may be a better choice.

Herb Capsules

When you pick up a bottle of encapsulated herb, read it carefully. Of course, you’re going to confirm the botanical name, but you need to look further. What’s inside those little capsules may be dried powdered herb or a dried, concentrated extract of the dried or fresh plant. Or, it might not be an herb at all. It may be asingle compound that has been extacted from the herb, but not the whole herb. Turmeric is a good example here. Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a popular spice and medicinal herb used to promote a healthy inflammatory response. It contains more than two dozen compounds that promote a healthy inflammatory response , but one compound in particular, called curcumin tends to get top billing. If you’re looking for Turmeric, someone might try to sell you curcumin, the single isolated compound rather than the whole herb we call Turmeric. There are advantages and disadvantages to isolated compounds. However, as an herbalist, I prefer the whole plant with all its therapeutic compounds and the beautiful complexities provided by nature, which we have yet to fully understand or duplicate. This can get confusing, so read carefully and ask an herbalist if you’re unsure.

Some herbalists do not recommend encapsulated herbs. Not only is it hard to assess quality and freshness (unless you grindand encapsulate the herbs yourself), the pills contribute to a greater disconnect between us and the medicinal plants that support us. Nevertheless, I do believe herbs in capsules have a place in our apothecaries. Assuming a quality preparation, encapsulated herbs are simple and easy to use. If you’re not likely to become a tea drinker and cannot ingest the alcohol in a tincture, capsules may be your best choice and the only way you are likely to be consistent in taking your herbs. For people with sensitive palates, or if you travel a lot, capsules may also be a good choice. If you’re taking herbs to address a long-standing imbalance in your body, consistency is critical.
More Tiny Bottles – Herb Infused Oils, Essential Oils & Flower Essences

If you’re still wandering curiously through an apothecary or supplement store, you’ll likely encounter small bottles that are neither tinctures nor glycerites. What are all those tiny bottles? They might be herb infused oils, essential oils or flower essences. Look closely.

An herb infused oil is somewhat similar to a tincture or glycerite. However, to create an infused oil, a fixed oil (like Olive or Almond oil) is used to extract the therapeutic compounds from an herb, instead of alcohol or glycerin. Infused oils are typically prepared with plants used topically for skin conditions and musculoskeletal issues. Herb infused oils are often the base for herbal salves—ointments and thick creams for topical application.

Essential oils are yet another category of tiny bottles filled with plant medicine. Also referred to as “volatile oils,” essential oils are highly concentrated aromatic extracts, most often obtained through a process of steam distillation. Like other forms of plant medicine, essential oils have a wide range of therapeutic properties, from relaxing the nervous system to promoting immune function. Because they are so very potent, essential oils should not be ingested unless you are guided by a professional aromatherapist or other practitioner trained in ingestion. Even used topically, most essential oils should be diluted with a fixed oil. Essential oils can also be used through simple inhalation or environmentally, using a diffuser. As always, know the botanical name of the plant you’re seeking and expect to see that information on the essential oil bottle.

Flower Essences occur at the opposite end of the plant medicine spectrum from essential oils. Flower essences are subtle, vibrational and extremely safe. Flower essences also come in tiny eyedropper bottles and are most often used to address emotional and spiritual imbalances like fear and anxiety, anger, resentment, insecurity and low self-esteem. The typical dosage is four drops four times per day. Though they contain a small amount of alcohol as a preservative, they are extremely safe and can be used by very young children, elderly people, and even dogs, cats and other pets.

Next time you’re faced with rows and rows of little bottles, pick one up. Study the label. What’s inside? How was it prepared? Maybe you can even smell it, taste it, observe the color and texture. The closer you look with all your senses and consider your individual needs, the more you’ll learn and the better decision you’ll make.

When you have questions about which forms of herbal medicine are best for you, we are always here to help. Drop in to see us or leave a comment below, or on our Facebook or Instagram pages.

Blessings,
suzanne

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Reap the Health Benefits of Cacao with Herbal Dark Chocolate Truffles

Reap the Health Benefits of Cacao with Herbal Dark Chocolate Truffles

These herbal chocolate truffles are dark, rich, coated with herbs and so delicious. If you choose the best chocolate, your truffles will also be organic, vegan, fair trade, gluten-free and loaded with the health benefits of cacao! The herbal coating on these dark chocolate truffles gives them an extra boost! How’s that for a guilt-free indulgence?

Health Benefits of Cacao

Used for millennia as food, medicine, and even currency, chocolate comes from the seed of a tropical evergreen tree known as Theobroma cacao. Theo or theo means “god” and broma means “food.”  Chocolate, the common name of this “food of the gods,” comes from the Aztec name, chócolatl. Scientific analysis of ancient pottery shows that chocolate or cacao beverages were being consumed in the Americas before 1000 B.C. The ancient Mayans and Aztecs combined chili peppers and other spices with cacao to make a beverage to improve stamina on long journeys. They also considered this dark rich food a “love tonic.” When cacao was introduced to Europe in the 1500’s sugar and vanilla were added to create what is more often referred to today, as chocolate. Those ancient peoples were on to something; today we have a better understanding of the health benefits of cacao.

Before I say more, keep in mind that to optimize the health benefits of cacao your chocolate should be dark, ideally with a cacao content of 80% or more and low in sugar. Cacao is an antioxidant, heart and cardiovascular tonic and nervous system stimulant. It is also rich in vitamins (B complex and E), trace elements and beneficial amino acids.

As for its effects on the cardiovascular system and heart health, clinical trials and epidemiological studies show that consuming dark chocolate may improve the health of the lining of blood vessels and heart, balance blood pressure, and have a beneficial effect on cholesterol and glucose/insulin. One recent study showed that dark chocolate consumption has a positive effect on brain function and cognition in elderly people with vascular risks.

Cacao’s stimulating effects on the nervous system and it’s mood-lifting effects are due in part to its caffeine content. However, it also contains other stimulants, including one very interesting compound called phenylethylamine or PEA. This compound is also found in the human brain where it acts as a neurotransmitter, releasing the feel-good hormone dopamine and endorphins to produce an anti-depressant effect. Often referred to as the “love-drug,” some scientists believe that PEA is responsible for the euphoric, intoxicated feeling we have when we fall in love. It seems our brains may be hard-wired for a love affair with chocolate!

Herbal Dark Chocolate Truffle Recipe

In this recipe for the optimum in dark chocolate goodness, I used Pascha’s Organic Dark Chocolate Chips, which are 85% cacao, vegan, kosher, paleo-certified, and Non-GMO project certified!

Ingredients:

17 – 18 ounces dark chocolate chips
¾ cup + 1 tbsp full fat coconut milk
½ tsp vanilla extract

Herbal Coating:
Dried rose petals, lavender flowers, dried raspberries, dried blueberries, and one of my favorite aromatic tea blends, White Tea Rose Mélange.

Instructions:
Place the chocolate chips in a mixing bowl and set aside. Gently heat the coconut milk in a small sauce pan until tiny bubbles form. Remove from the heat before it boils and pour over the chocolate chips. Cover the mixing bowl and allow the chocolate and coconut milk to sit undisturbed for approximately 5 minutes. The chocolate will soften and melt from the heat of the coconut milk. Stir gently until with a spoon until the chocolate is fully melted. If any small chunks of chocolate remain, set the mixing bowl in the microwave for short bursts, 15-20 seconds, and stir until the chocolate is smooth and creamy. Stir in the vanilla extract. Cover the mixing bowl and place it in the refrigerator for 1-1.5 hours. To test for readiness, a knife stuck in the middle of the bowl should go in easily but come out clean.

While the chocolate is firming up, prepare your coating. With the truffles you see here, I used three different coatings, dried rose petals crumbled with freeze-dried raspberries, dried lavender flowers crumbled with freeze-dried blueberries, and White Tea Rose Mélange crumbled into small pieces. Place each of your toppings in a small bowl.

Once the chocolate is reasonably firm, scoop out rounded mounds using a one tablespoon cookie scoop or a tablespoon. Dipping the spoon in hot water makes it easier to scoop the firm chocolate. Use your hands to roll the mounds into even balls and place each ball in one of the small bowls. Gently swirl the chocolate ball in the crumbled coating until it is fully covered. Admire your beautiful herbal chocolate truffle.

Store your truffles in an air-tight container in the fridge and remove 10 – 15 minutes before serving so they have time to soften slightly.

These herbal chocolate truffles are outrageously rich and delicious – and because of the health benefits of cacao, they’re good for you too. I highly recommend you share them with your besties and beloveds. Next time you whip up a batch, be sure to snap a picture, tag it #nectarherbandtea and post it to Instagram. We love seeing your herbaceous creations.

With love,
suzanne

 

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Three Herbal Anti-Aging Tonic Recipes for Health & Vitality

Three Herbal Anti-Aging Tonic Recipes for Health & Vitality

Taking herbs is not just something to do when you’re sick. Taken regularly, herbs can enhance well-being, increase energy and vitality, and reduce the risk of age-related conditions. These three herbal anti-aging tonic recipes are all formulated to support radiant health, and contain herbs to strengthen the body and improve resistance to stress and disease. They differ in their concentration of herbs for overall health, cardiovascular function, and brain health.

Herbal tonics are defined in various ways. The American Botanical Council defines tonics as herbs that “increase strength and tone.” Herbalist David Winston, in his book, Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief, describes tonic herbs as those that enhance energy and well-being, alleviate conditions of weakness in the body, and can be taken every day, usually without side effects. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), one of the most ancient and highly evolved systems of herbal medicine, deserves much of the credit for our knowledge of these highly specialized herbs and for laying the foundation for modern pharmacological and clinical research to understand how they work. In TCM, herbal tonics are said to aid in the attainment of a long life, balance mind and emotions, and have broad and profound health-promoting actions. They have no negative side effects when used appropriately and can therefore be taken over a long period of time yielding cumulative long-term benefits. They must also be readily digestible and taste good enough to be consumed easily.

Herbal tonics may sound like some sort of remedy from a bygone era, but their efficacy is validated by modern science. You can read more about many of the herbs in these recipes in this post, 7 Herbs for Your Holistic Anti-Aging Practice.

Total Vitality Anti-Aging Tonic

 

This tonic is especially useful for improving energy and vitality, and increasing resistance to disease. Astragalus and Panax Ginseng are two herbal adaptogens and oxidants that strengthen the body and promote healthy immune function. Turmeric is also an antioxidant and an important anti-inflammatory with compounds that have been shown to have therapeutic benefit in a wide range of age-related conditions from cardiovascular disease and cancer, to osteoarthritis and dementia. In this tonic, Milk Thistle and Burdock Root support the liver, detoxification, assimilation, and elimination. Ginger is an anti-inflammatory and digestive aid that promotes circulation and adds flavor to this tonic.

Ingredients:

3 parts (3 ounces) Astragalus
2 parts (2 ounces) Panax Ginseng
1 parts (1 ounce) Turmeric Root
1 part (1 ounce) Milk Thistle Seed
½ part (½ ounce) Burdock Root
½ part (½ ounce) Ginger

Instructions:

This tonic is best prepared and taken as a liquid extract (also know as a tincture) or as a powder blend added to your daily smoothie. If you are preparing this tonic as a tincture, parts are by fluid volume (e.g., one part equals one fluid ounce). If you are preparing this tonic as a powder, parts are by weight (e.g., one part equals one ounce by weight). Take 1 teaspoon of the liquid extract 2 times per day or 2 tablespoons of the powder per day. Because most of the therapeutic compounds in Milk Thistle are not water soluble, I do not recommend preparing this tonic as a tea.

Healthy Heart Anti-Aging Tonic

 

The anti-aging tonic is formulated for people who want to improve their cardiovascular and heart health, which may include people with a close family history of cardiovascular disease. A heart-healthy diet and lifestyle are critical, but herbal tonics are useful, too. This tonic incorporates two potent antioxidants that promote cardiovascular health. Hawthorn berries, leaf, and flower protect against heart disease, inhibit the build-up of plaque in the arteries, and help maintain healthy blood pressure. Green tea helps protect and maintain the health of blood vessels, inhibiting inflammation and other risk factors that can lead to stroke or heart attack. Green tea also has a positive impact on cholesterol levels, helps lower blood pressure, and reduces the risk of abnormal blood clots. You can find out more about the myriad health benefits of Green tea, here. Schisandra berries are an herbal adaptogen that strengthen the body promote a relaxed, focused calm. Rosemary is an excellent circulatory stimulant that also promotes brain health. Elecampane is a digestive bitter that helps kick this tonic in to high gear by improving absorption in the body.

Ingredients:

3 parts (3 ounces) Hawthorn Berries
1 part (1 ounce) Hawthorn Leaf & Flower
1 part (1 ounce) Green Tea
1 part (1 ounce) Schisandra Berries
1 part (1 ounce) Rosemary
1 part (1 ounce) Elecampane

Instructions:

This tonic can be prepared and taken as a liquid extract (also known as a tincture) or tea. If you are preparing this tonic as a tincture, parts are by fluid volume (e.g., one part equals one fluid ounce). If you are preparing this tonic as a tea, parts are by weight (e.g., one part equals one ounce by weight). Take 1 teaspoon of the liquid extract 2 times per day or prepare tea with 2 tablespoons of the herbal blend steeped for 20-30 minutes in 2-4 cups of boiled water.

Beautiful Mind Anti-Aging Tonic

 

This tonic is focused on brain health, but with herbs like Panax Ginseng and Schisandra berries described above, it is also great for energy and overall vitality. Bacopa, Ginkgo, Gotu Kola, and Rosemary are all considered nootropics—a term that describes herbs that promote cerebral function, memory, focus, and concentration. Ginkgo and Rosemary also promote cerebral circulation.

Ingredients:

2 parts (2 ounces) Panax Ginseng
2 parts (2 ounces) Schisandra
1 part (1 ounce) Bacopa
1 part (1 ounce) Ginkgo
1 part (1 ounce) Gotu Kola
1 part (1 ounce) Rosemary

Instructions:

This tonic can be prepared and taken as a liquid extract (also known as a tincture) or tea. If you are preparing this tonic as a tincture, parts are by fluid volume (e.g., one part equals one fluid ounce). If you are preparing this tonic as a tea, parts are by weight (e.g., one part equals one ounce by weight). Take 1 teaspoon of the liquid extract 2 times per day or prepare tea with 2 tablespoons of the herbal blend steeped for 20-30 minutes in 2-4 cups of boiled.

I’d love to hear about other things you’re doing as part of your healthy aging routine. Is it yoga, meditation, or exercise? A healthy diet, perhaps? Please share your ideas and practices in the comments section below. If you’d like to add one of these tonics to your anti-aging routine, we are happy to blend them for you in the shop or help you formulate a tonic specific to your needs.

to a long and vibrant life,
suzanne

 

References

American Botanical Council, Terminology Page, http://abc.herbalgram.org/site/PageServer?pagename=Terminology, accessed 12.27.17.

Winston, D and Maimes, S, Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief, Healing Arts Press, Rochester, Vermont, 2007.

Teegarden R., The Ancient Wisdom of Chinese Tonics Herbs, Warner Books, Inc., New York, New York, 1998.

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Homemade Herb & Spice Blends to Enrich Everyday Recipes

Homemade Herb & Spice Blends to Enrich Everyday Recipes

As an herbalist and wannabe chef, experimenting in the kitchen with new herb and spice blends is one of my favorite ways to infuse my culinary endeavors with my love of herbs. These homemade concoctions wind up in everything from coffee and cocktails to ice cream and cookies. Though I use these homemade herb and spice blends to flavor my dishes, most of the herbs in these recipes can also be used medicinally – so they’re not only delicious, but healthy too. These blends are easy to prepare and they make any meal feel extra special. I also love giving them as hostess and house warming gifts, or to young people learning to cook for themselves.

My 3 Favorite Herb & Spice Blend Recipes

HOMEMADE RED PEPPER SPICE BLEND

This blend works well to heighten the flavor and add a little heat to any savory dish. Adjust the amount of red pepper flakes for more or less heat. I grind this savory spice blend on everything from eggs to soup, even popcorn.

¼ cup dried rosemary
¼ cup dried thyme
2 tbsp black peppercorns
1-2 tbsp red pepper flakes or smoked red pepper flakes
1 tbsp Himalayan pink salt
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds

Instructions: Simply combine all the herbs and spices in a small bowl and mix well. Place the blend in a pepper or herb grinder and enjoy!

HOMEMADE HERB GARDEN BLEND

If you grow culinary herbs, you may be able to create this entire blend (or one like it) with dried herbs from your own garden. To me, it feels meaningful to use and gift herb blends from ingredients I grew myself. This one pairs well in dishes with Italian, Spanish, or Middle Eastern flavors.

¼ cup dried rosemary
¼ cup dried thyme
1 tbsp dried sage
1 tsp dried fennel seeds
1 tsp dried lavender flowers
Other Options: Basil, Marjoram, Mint, or Savory

Instructions: Simply combine all the herbs and spices in a small bowl and mix well. Place the blend in a pepper or herb grinder and enjoy!

HOMEMADE INDIAN SPICE BLEND

This blend uses spices traditionally found in food and recipes from India. It elicits a sweetness not found in the other two blends, but works well on savory dishes. I love it on roasted vegetables, sweet potatoes, and winter squash. Some of the spices in this blend don’t grind well in a pepper grinder, so I recommend using powdered herbs and spices, or grinding them beforehand with a mortar and pestle or coffee grinder.

2 tbsp decorticated cardamom or ground cardamom
2 tbsp dried fennel seeds
1 tbsp cinnamon chips or powdered cinnamon
1 tbsp dried ginger or powdered ginger
1 tsp coriander seeds, dry roasted for 3-5 minutes in a heavy pan
1 tsp cumin seeds, dry roasted for 3-5 minutes in a heavy pan

Instructions: If you are not using powdered herbs and spices, grind each ingredient with a mortar and pestle or coffee grinder (dedicated to your herbal endeavors). Combine all the powdered herbs and spices in a small bowl and mix well. Place the blend in a small glass jar with a shaker top and enjoy!

I hope you enjoy the simple pleasures of these aromatic,flavor-enhancing homemade herb and spice blends. I’d love to see how you incorporate them into your own culinary adventures! Snap a picture of your favorite dish and tag it with #nectarherbandtea to share and inspire.

Cheers,
suzanne

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A Holistic Approach: 5 Practices for Natural Anxiety Relief

Whether you’re seeking relief for anxiety, the common cold, indigestion or any other health problem, consider a holistic approach. Holistic health takes into account the whole person, body, mind and spirit as well as environmental, social, and lifestyle factors. A holistic approach also means addressing the root cause of the problem, not just the symptoms. No two people suffering from anxiety or stress have the same experience, so the solutions can and should vary accordingly. When it comes to anxiety, there are many herbs that offer safe and effective relief for anxiety. However, because herbal medicine works best in a holistic context, I’d like to share with you five evidence-based practices for natural anxiety relief. In conjunction with the use of herbal medicine, these practices can be especially effective:

  • Reduce or eliminate caffeine
  • Develop a yoga practice
  • Develop a mindfulness-based meditation practice
  • Exercise regularly
  • Improve your sleep

Evidence-based Practices for Natural Anxiety Relief

Reduce or Eliminate Caffeine

Consuming too much caffeine can mimic symptoms of anxiety, causing the heart to race or pound in the chest, sweating, shakiness and irritability. Caffeine also causes an elevation in blood lactic acid levels, a significant biochemical disturbance common in people with anxiety. Research shows that eliminating caffeine can have a significant improvement on anxiety. Also, studies show that some people with anxiety disorders are more sensitive to the effects of caffeine than others, which may be due to a heightened sensitivity to lactic acid. Do you need to eliminate your morning coffee entirely? That depends. If you drink one or more cups of coffee a day, cut back, and see what happens. A holistic approach means listening to your body and doing what works for you.

Develop a Yoga Practice

The blissed out feeling some people get from yoga is real. Research shows that yoga increases levels of a neurotransmitter in the brain called GABA, that is associated with improved mood and decreased anxiety. A study conducted at the Boston University School of Medicine showed a positive correlation between yoga-induced increases in GABA and improvements in mood and anxiety scales.
In addition to being an herbalist, I also teach yoga and have been practicing for about 15 years. I mention this because I recommend yoga a lot, and I’ve heard every excuse imaginable about why someone can’t do yoga. I was almost forty before I went to my first yoga class and I understand why it can be intimidating. If you’ve developed a litany of reasons why you can’t do yoga, I recommend this article, 20 Reasons You Can’t Do Yoga…And Why None of Them Are True. If you seek out a yoga class, look for a yoga teacher and yoga space that feels friendly and supportive.

Exercise Regularly

If you’ve tried yoga and it isn’t right for you, consider other forms of regular physical exercise. Numerous studies reveal the positive effects of exercise on people with anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders. Research methods and recommendations vary, but regular aerobic exercise involving the rhythmic use of large muscle groups (walking, jogging, swimming, cycling) shows significant reductions in anxiety and depression, improvements in self-esteem and an increased sense of well-being. The physiological mechanisms responsible for the anxiety-reducing effects of regular exercise are many, and the health benefits also include reduction in the risk of chronic disease and lower rates of age-related memory problems.

Develop a Mindfulness-based Meditation Practice

I have a well-established meditation practice and can attest to the profound effect meditation has on my mood and mental state. Numerous research studies affirm that meditation is a helpful strategy for people suffering from anxiety. Meditation activates the parasympathetic nervous system which governs the body’s relaxation response. Repeatedly and intentionally activating the relaxation response through meditation counteracts activation of the sympathetic nervous system, also known as the “fight, flight or freeze” system. Frequent and heightened arousal of the fight, flight or freeze response results in an overall feeling state of anxiety and fear. In short, meditation helps balance the nervous system shifting it toward a place of relaxation. In a recent study reported in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, participants who practiced mindfulness-based meditation over an 8-week period showed significant reductions in anxiety, improved responses to stress, and a greater increase in positive self-statements compared to the control group.

Among the many styles of meditation, mindfulness meditation has been subjected to the most research. The practice involves a process of intentionally bringing your attention, in a non-judgmental way, to what is arising in awareness in the present moment, both internally and externally. It may include awareness of thoughts and feelings, bodily sensations, and your environment. In addition to relief for anxiety, research shows that mindfulness practices have a positive impact on depression, pain management, and chronic illness.

Beginning a meditation practice is not complicated, but can seem foreign. Having a supportive teacher helps. Check out your local yoga studios, many of them also offer meditation classes. The Insight Meditation Society is one of the premier teachers of mindfulness-based practices in the US. Their website includes numerous free guided meditations you may find helpful. The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh is a great beginners guide book to meditation and includes many mindfulness-based practices.

Improve Your Sleep

Though anxiety and insomnia sometimes occur together, clinical research shows that sleep deprivation and poor sleep habits can increase anxiety and depression, even in healthy people. When we don’t get enough sleep, we react to challenging life events more negatively and have fewer positive reactions to pleasant events. Maintaining a regular sleep schedule and practicing good sleep habits are important strategies for anyone suffering from anxiety. When anxiety itself makes sleep more difficult, consider taking calming herbs at bedtime to relax the body and quiet the mind.

These simple tools can have a drastic affect on one’s quality of life. If you or someone you know suffers from anxiety, I hope these holistic practices for natural anxiety relief are beneficial and deliver some much-needed peace and calm. Is there something I’ve left off this list? I’d love to hear about other practices that have helped you or your loved ones overcome anxiety – leave me a comment below to share.

Peace and happiness,
suzanne

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References:

Caffeine abstention in the management of anxiety disorders, Bruce MS, et al., Psychol Med,
1989 Feb;19(1):211-4.

Anxiety and caffeine consumption in people with anxiety disorders, Lee MA, et al., Psychiatry Res, 1985 Jul;15(3):211-7.

Caffeine and psychiatric symptoms: a review, Broderick P, et al., J Okla State Med Assoc, 2004 Dec;97(12):538-42.

Yoga Asana sessions increase brain GABA levels: a pilot study, Streeter CC, et al., J Altern Complement Med, 2007 May;13(4):419-26.

Effects of Yoga Versus Walking on Mood, Anxiety, and Brain GABA Levels: A Randomized Controlled MRS Study, Streeter CC, et al., J Altern Complement Med, 2010 Nov;16(11): 1145–1152.

Effects of Exercise and Physical Activity on Anxiety, Anderson E, et al., Front Psychiatry. 2013; 4:27.

Exercise for anxiety disorders: systematic review, Jayakody K, et al., Br J Sports Med, 2014 Feb; 48(3):187-96.

Effects of exercise on anxiety, depression and mood, Guszkowska M, Psychiatr Pol, 2004 Jul-Aug; 38(4):611-20.

Randomized Controlled Trial of Mindfulness Meditation for Generalized Anxiety Disorder: Effects on Anxiety and Stress Reactivity, Hoge E, et al, J Clin Psychiatry, 2013 Aug;74(8): 786–792.

An update on mindfulness meditation as a self-help treatment for anxiety and depression, Edenfield T, et al., Psychol Res Behav Manag, 2012;5:131–141.

A Test of the Effects of Acute Sleep Deprivation on General and Specific Self-Reported Anxiety and Depressive Symptoms: An Experimental Extension, Babson K, et al., J Behav Ther Exp Psychiatry. 2010 Sep; 41(3): 297–303.

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DIY Essential Oil Inhaler Recipes to Ease Anxiety + Promote Health

With these easy to make essential oil inhalers the soothing effects of aromatherapy are just one deep breath away. These little nasal inhalers are perfect for your pocket, purse or backpack, safe and convenient for kids, and an easy, low-cost way to share your essential oils with friends and family.

When you’re feeling anxious or stressed, inhalation is the fastest way to experience the calming effect of essential oils. Essential oils don’t just smell good, they cause a measurable biological reaction in the body. The tiny molecules of essential oil travel up the nose to the olfactory bulb. From there, biochemical signals are sent to regions of the brain responsible for emotions, learning and memory, and regulation of many bodily functions. In response, the brain sends messages throughout the body that may impact mood, muscles, breathe, hormones, organ function and more, depending on the essential oil you’ve inhaled.

Here, I’ve put together three essential oil inhaler recipes for relief from stress and anxiety, support for focus & concentration, and an immune booster to help you fight off common cold and flu bugs.

How to Make an Essential Oil Inhaler

Making the inhalers is simple. If you can’t find the “blank” inhalers at a small, local business where you live, you can buy them here at Nectar.

In addition to the inhaler, you’ll also need a small glass bowl and a pair of tweezers. Your blank inhaler should have four parts:

  1. large outer cover
  2. small inner cylinder
  3. absorbent pad
  4. small plug

Place the absorbent pad in the small bowl and add 10-20 drops of your favorite essential oils, or use one of the essential oil inhaler recipes below. Using the tweezers, roll the absorbent pad in the essential oils until the oils are fully absorbed. You can also add a few drops of carrier oil (like jojoba or grapeseed oil) at this point, which will help the inhaler hold the scent longer. Place the large outer cylinder over the small inner cylinder and screw in tightly. Using the tweezers, insert the absorbent pad into the small inner cylinder. Insert the small plug in the end of the small inner cylinder and press firmly to achieve a tight fit. Be sure to label your inhaler. The therapeutic scent of your inhaler should last 3-6 months, depending on how often it is used.

When it comes to labeling your inhaler, in addition to listing the essential oils, consider including a positive affirmation on the label that will remind you why you are using the inhaler. Keep your inhaler in a convenient place and when you need it, simply unscrew the small cylinder and hold the tip of the inhaler close to your nose. Close your eyes, remember your affirmation and breathe slowly and deeply for 2-3 minutes or until you begin to feel the desired effects.

Essential Oil Inhaler Recipes

I Am Relaxed and Peaceful | To Ease Anxiety + Stress

9 drops Lavender (Lavendula angustifolia)
5 drops Mandarin (Citrus reticulate)
4 drops Frankincense (Boswellia carterii)
2 drops Marjoram (Origanum maiorana)

My Mind is Clear & Focused | For Work, Study, Focus + Concentration

10 drops Rosemary (Rosmarnius officialis)
5 drops Scotch Pine (Pinus sylvestris)
3 drops Holy Basil (Ocimum sanctum)
2 drops Cedarwood (Cedrus atlantica)

My Body is Healthy & Strong | For Immune Support

8 drops Ravintsara (Cinnamomum camphora ct. cineole)
6 drops Thyme (Thymus officinalis ct. linalool)
4 drops Rosewood (Aniba roseodora)
2 drops Lavender (Lavendula angustifolia)

These easy to make nasal inhalers also make thoughtful, inexpensive gifts. And because they are so easy to use, they are a simple and safe way to introduce your friends and loved ones to the many health benefits of essential oils.

If you have friends or family who are interested in exploring essential oils, this would be a fun introductory DIY project to do together! Share a picture of what you create and tag it #nectarherbandtea on Instagram. I’d love to see the positive health affirmations you come up with!

with love,
suzanne

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References:

Aromatherapy: A Complete Guide to the Healing Art, Green, Mindy and Keville, 2008.

Clinical Aromatherapy, Essential Oils in Healthcare, 3d Edition, Buckle, Jane, PhD, RN, 2015

Encyclopedia of Essential Oils, The Complete Guide to the Use of Aromatic Oils in Aromatherapy, Herbalism Health & Well-Being, Lawless, Julia, 2013.

Natural Relief: 7 Safe & Effective Herbs for Anxiety

If you or someone you love is one of the 40 million Americans plagued by anxiety, you know how debilitating anxiety disorders can be. Key to finding peace and emotional comfort is a holistic approach that rules out underlying medical issues, takes in to account the individual’s personal history and response to stress, and includes diet and lifestyle modifications. Within this holistic context, herbs for anxiety and stress related disorders offer safe, effective, and natural relief.

I’ve chosen these seven anxiety-relieving herbs because each one has special properties that may address an individual’s unique experience of anxiety. For some, anxiety goes hand in hand with depression. For others, excessive worry is punctuated by sudden and severe panic attacks. Other unwelcome companions of anxiety can include muscle tension and tension headaches, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, digestive discomfort, fatigue and poor sleep. In this short list of herbs to relieve anxiety you’ll find herbs that also help relieve these many anxiety-related symptoms.

7 Herbs for Anxiety

Lavender | Lavendula angustifolia

When it comes to relieving anxiety, Lavender is both gentle and effective. It is also helpful for nervous tension, irritability, and restlessness associated with stress. Lavender also helps ease symptoms of depression and promotes better sleep. Lavender is appropriate for all ages, from little children to the elderly, and even pregnant women. But don’t underestimate this lovely little flower. A study comparing a lavender preparation known as Silexan to the prescription drug Paxil showed that the lavender product was more effective than Paxil in the treatment of generalized anxiety disorder and with fewer side effects. In another study involving pregnant women, participants showed significant improvements in stress, anxiety, and mild to moderate depression with the use of a topical lavender cream.

Lavender essential oil is one of the easiest ways to take advantage of the soothing properties. Consider a simple inhalation several times per day or topical application in an unscented lotion, salve, or carrier oil. Lavender flowers can also be prepared as a simple tea for an uplifting and calming drink.

Lemon Balm | Melissa officinalis

This citrus-scented plant in the mint family excels at alleviating anxiety, stress, irritability and stress-related heart palpitations. Lemon Balm’s ability to ease gas and bloating and calm the digestive system makes it an excellent choice for people who suffer from digestive problems when they are stressed or anxious. Lemon Balm may also be useful to moderate an over active thyroid, which can be an underlying cause of anxiety. Though generally safe, lemon balm should be avoided in hypothyroidism.

This herb for anxiety also makes a tasty, citrus-like tea. Lemon balm liquid extract or lemon balm in capsule are convenient alternatives for busy people.

Skullcap | Scutellaria lateriflora

Skullcap helps to calm the nervous system and restore a sense of emotional balance and perspective. It also helps to relax sore, tense or aching muscles and soothe tension headaches. It’s especially useful for people who become short-tempered and irritable when overwhelmed or stressed.

Dried skullcap can be used in tea, but a skullcap liquid extract made from the fresh plant is more effective.

Passion Flower | Passiflora incarnata

Passion flower is a stunning flower whose name seems to contradict its calming, sedative properties. It is especially useful to comfort a worried mind and quiet excessive mental chatter. Despite its sedative effect, passion flower may be used in the daytime during heightened anxiety or for people experiencing frequent panic attacks. Like skullcap, it is also an anti-spasmodic that helps ease muscle tension associated with stress or anxiety. Though generally safe, passion flower should not be combined with sedative medications or used in pregnancy.

Passion flower can be prepared as a tea or used as a liquid extract. For insomnia, it is often combined with more sedative herbs like hops and valerian.

California Poppy | Eschscholzia californica

This bright, sunny flower is calming to anxiety and can be used as a mild sedative for sleep disturbances associated with stress and nervous tension. California poppy also helps reduce the muscle tension and nerve pain suffered by many people with anxiety. California poppy should only be used with caution and under the guidance of a healthcare practitioner in pregnancy.

California poppy combines well with other anxiety relieving herbs like lavender and lemon balm for an aromatic, relaxing tea or can be used as a liquid extract.

Ashwagandha | Withania somnifera

Ashwagandha is an adaptogen, which is a shorthand way of describing an herb that helps the body adapt to and respond to stress more favorably. Unlike most other adaptogens that are stimulating, Ashwagandha calms the mind and relieves anxiety. It helps to nourish and rebuild a nervous system depleted by long-term stress or illness and reduces cortisol levels elevated by chronic stress. It promotes thyroid function and is beneficial for people with hypothyroidism, or a low functioning thyroid. When it comes to insomnia or restlessness, ashwagandha promotes more restful sleep. Though safe for children and the elderly, ashwagandha is generally avoided in pregnancy.

Ashwagandha can be prepared as a tea or the powder can be incorporated in smoothies or other soft foods. Ashwagandha liquid extract is also available, but capsules might be favored if you mind the herb’s somewhat earthy flavor.

Schisandra | Schisandra chinensis

Like ashwagandha, this tart, red berry is also an adaptogen that helps relieve anxiety. Schisandra is both calming and stimulating. It calms the mind at the same time as it enhances reflexes, work performance and mental clarity. This combination is especially effective for individuals seeking relief from anxiety who need a high level of mental clarity and focus. As an adaptogen, schisandra also helps strengthen an immune system depleted by chronic stress and is useful for stress-induced asthma. Schisandra should not be combined with barbiturates as it can increase their effects. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, adaptogenic remedies like schisandra are not taken during acute viral or bacterial infections typically associated with colds and flu.

Schisandra berries can be prepared as a tea, but should be allowed to simmer 20-40 minutes to extract their full potency. Schisandra can also be used in the form of a liquid extract.

I hope these herbs for anxiety relief bring you comfort and serenity. In choosing an herb or combination of them, consider when and where anxiety and stress show up for you and how your body is affected. If you have friends or family members suffering from anxiety or panic attacks, be sure to share this post with them – sometimes it’s easier to hear what our friends and family members have been telling us when we hear it from a third-party. Anxiety can be a deeply personal issue, but if you or a loved one has experienced success with natural approaches to anxiety relief, feel free to share about it in the comments below. Maybe you’ll inspire someone else to begin his or her path to a more stress-free lifestyle.

Peace and happiness,
suzanne

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References
Anxiety and Depression Association of America, Facts & Statistics, https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics.

Lavender oil preparation Silexan is effective in generalized anxiety disorder–a randomized, double-blind comparison to placebo and paroxetine, Int J Neuropsychopharmacol. 2014 Jun;17(6):859-69, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24456909.

Effect of lavender cream with or without foot-bath on anxiety, stress and depression in pregnancy: a randomized placebo-controlled trial, J Caring Sci. 2015 Mar; 4(1): 63–73, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4363653/.

Heart palpitation relief with Melissa officinalis leaf extract: double blind, randomized, placebo controlled trial of efficacy and safety, J Ethnopharmacol. 2015;164:378-384, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25680840.

Phytochemical and biological analysis of skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora L.): a medicinal plant with anxiolytic properties, Phytomedicine. 2003 Nov;10(8):640-9, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14692724.

Plant-based medicines for anxiety disorders, part 2: a review of clinical studies with supporting preclinical evidence, CNS Drugs. 2013 Apr;27(4):301-19, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23653088.

Passionflower in the treatment of generalized anxiety: a pilot double-blind randomized controlled trial with oxazepam, J Clin Pharm Ther. 2001 Oct;26(5):363-7, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11679026.

A prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of safety and efficacy of a high-concentration full-spectrum extract of ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in adults, Indian J Psychol Med. 2012 Jul;34(3):255-62, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23439798.

Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina and Stress Relief, Winston, David, RH (AHG), 2007.

Herbal Medicine from the Heart of the Earth, 2d Edition, Tilgner, Sharon, ND, 2009.

A Clinical Guide to Blending Liquid Herbs, Herbal Formulations for the Individual Patient, Boone, Kerry, 2003.

Looking for more herbal inspiration?

Top 5 Health Benefits of Green Tea

Top 5 Health Benefits Of Green Tea

People have been consuming green tea both for its delicious flavor, and positive effect on their health for eons. There are many different varieties of green tea, but all come from the leaves of Camellia sinensis, a small evergreen tree or shrub native to Southeast Asia, including China, India, and Tibet. The distinctions in flavor, aroma, color and texture arise from different growing regions and farming techniques, harvest time, and production or crafting methods. Some of the most popular green teas include Bancha, Sencha, and Matcha, but all of them provide a host of health benefits.

These are the top five reasons I drink green tea every day.

  • Heart health and the prevention of heart disease
  • Improved memory, focused concentration and brain health
  • Cancer prevention
  • Bone health
  • Healthy skin

No wonder green tea is described as an “anti-aging” beverage. While I think the term “anti-aging,” is misleading, I do believe drinking green tea every day is one of the best things you can do for your body and mind if you want to be healthy and age well. Here’s what the research shows.

Green Tea for Heart + Cardiovascular Health

Green tea has a wide range of benefits for the heart and cardiovascular system. Its ability to promote cardiovascular health as we age is derived from important compounds in green tea known as catechins. Tea catechins exert antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-hypertensive, anti-thrombotic and hypo-cholesterolemic effects. In other words, these compounds in green tea help protect and maintain the health of our blood vessels, inhibiting inflammation and other risk factors that can lead to stroke or heart attack. They have a positive impact on cholesterol levels, help lower blood pressure, and reduce the risk of abnormal blood clots.

Some of the most interesting evidence on the heart healthy benefits of green tea comes from population studies in Japan. One study published in JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association, looked at the association between green tea consumption and causes of death in over 40,000 individuals over an eleven-year period. The study found that participants who consumed higher amounts of green tea had a lower risk of death due to all causes and a 26% lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease, including heart attack or stroke.

Green Tea for Memory Loss, Focus + Brain Health

Think of green tea as brain food! Green tea contains compounds that promote focused concentration, and improve memory and brain health. Green tea contains an amino acid known as L-theanine, which stimulates alpha brain waves responsible for mental clarity and focus. L-theanine is also available as a supplement used to relieve anxiety and promote feelings of tranquility and calm. Japanese green tea like Sencha, and especially Matcha, have high concentrations of L-theanine. Compounds in green tea also increase a protein in the body called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which plays a critical role in brain health and even brain growth, or neurogenesis. Research also shows that green tea enhances memory, both by improving connectivity within the brain and increased brain cell production. Green tea’s potential to combat degenerative brain diseases and memory loss continue to be the subject of much research. In the meantime, I’ll continue to drink green tea every day.

Green Tea for Cancer Prevention

Green tea acts as a potent antioxidant to help protect us from cancer. You may be familiar with the terms free radical and antioxidant. Free radicals are very unstable molecules that steal electrons from healthy cells causing cellular damage or cellular death. Free radical (or oxidative) damage is what makes us age. Antioxidants help protect against free radical damage. In addition to a diet rich in high quality, organic fruits and vegetables, drinking green tea every day is a good way to boost your antioxidant intake.

When it comes to specific cancers, research shows that green tea has a positive effect on breast, cervical, prostate and stomach cancer. Population studies suggest that green tea consumption may be one of the reasons cancer rates are lower in Japan where people typically drink about three cups of green tea per day.

Green Tea for Bone Health

Drinking green tea may also offer significant protection against osteoporosis. Osteoporosis literally means “porous bone” and is associated with an increased risk of bone fractures and falls. Women are most at risk for osteoporosis after menopause. Tea catechins as well as vitamin K1  in green tea may account for this protective effect.  Vitamin K1 assists the transport of calcium through the body, improves bone density, reduces bone loss, and decreases the risk of fractures.

Green Tea for Healthy Skin

Green tea’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties provide the same protective effects for the skin as they do for the rest of the body. Skin damage occurs because of free radical damage. Sun is the worst culprit when it comes to skin damage, but poor diet and environmental toxins play a role too.

Green tea is a common ingredient in many skincare products for good reason! Compounds in green tea have been shown to protect the skin from sun damage and inhibit skin cancer cells when applied both topically and taken orally. You can incorporate green tea in your DIY skincare products and reap the rewards. In this recipe for Green Goddess Green Tea lotion, I incorporated a strong green tea. Matcha green tea powder works well combined with cosmetic clay for facial masks and scrubs.

Even if you drink green tea daily, it’s still important to keep your sun exposure to healthy levels and use protection when necessary. Still, it’s comforting to know you’re doing something good for your skin when you start your day with a delicious cup of green tea.

For Maximal Health Benefits, Drink Green Tea Everyday

For the many health benefits of green tea, at least three cups per day is optimal. If you’re not a fan of the flavor, keep at it. For some, it is an acquired taste. Green tea is also available in supplement form in which the therapeutic compounds are concentrated. These concentrated supplements may even be the best option for individuals using green tea to combat specific conditions.

I’d love to hear about your experience with green tea, whether you’re new to green tea or a tea aficionado. Take a picture of yourself with a cup of green tea and tag it #nectarherbandtea on Instagram. I love seeing what you’re up to!

If you have questions, please post in the comment section below.

Wishing you health and happiness,
suzanne

REFERENCES:
Boost Your Brain, The New Art and Science Behind Enhanced Brain Performance, Fotuhi M, MD, Ph.D, Harper Collins, 2013.

Green Tea and Bone Metabolism, Chwan-Li Shen, et al., Nutrition Research, 2009, 29 (7): 437-456.

Green Tea Catechins and Cardiovascular Health: An Update, Velayutham P, et al., Current Medicinal Chemistry, 2008, 15(18): 1840–1850.

Green Tea Consumption and Breast Cancer Risk or Recurrence: A Meta-Analysis. Breast Cancer Research and Treatment, Ogunleye AA, et al., Jan 2010, 119(2): 477-484.

Green Tea Consumption and Mortality Due to Cardiovascular Disease, Cancer, and All Causes in Japan: the Ohsaki Study, Kuriyama S, et al., JAMA, Sep 13 2006, 296(10): 1255-1265.

Green Tea Epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) Promotes Neural Progenitor Cell Proliferation and Sonic Hedgehog Pathway Activation During Adult Hippocampal Neurogenesis, Wang Y, et al., Molecular Nutrition and Food Research, 2012 Aug 56(8):1292-1303.

Green Tea Extract Enhances Parieto-frontal Connectivity During Working Memory Processing, Schmidt A, et al., Psychopharmacology, October 2014, 231(19): 3879–3888.

L-theanine, a Natural Constituent in Tea, and its Effect on Mental State, Nobre AC, et al., Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2008, 17 Suppl 1:167-168.

Practical Uses of Botanicals in Skin Care, Stallings A, MD, et al., Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, Jan 2009, 2(1):36–40.

Protective Effect of Green Tea on the Risks of Chronic Gastritis and Stomach Cancer, Setiwan VW, et al. International Journal of Cancer, 2001, 92:600-604.

Protective Mechanisms of Green Tea Polyphenols in Skin, Tribout H, et al., Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, 2012:560682.

Protective Effects of Green Tea Extracts on Human Cervical Lesions, Ahn WS, et al., European Journal of Cancer, Oct 2003, 12(5):383-390.

Regular Consumption of Green Tea and the Risk of Breast Cancer Recurrence: Follow-up Study from the Hospital-based Epidemiologic Research Program at Aichi Cancer Center, Japan, Inoue M, et al., Cancer Letters, 2001, 167:175-182.

Review: Green Tea Polyphenols in Chemoprevention of Prostate Cancer: Preclinical and Clinical Studies, Khan N, et al., Nutrition and Cancer, 2009, 621(6):836-841.

Looking for more herbal inspiration?

Everyday Herbal Alternatives to Over-The-Counter Drugs

Herbal Alternatives to Over-the-Counter Drugs

Herbs offer a safe and effective alternative to many over-the-counter drugs. With mounting evidence about the adverse consequences of many common medications, think of this as a way to detoxify your medicine chest.

When you choose herbs for common complaints, it’s important not to self-diagnose and to see your medical practitioner when appropriate. Most of us are comfortable taking care of a cold, an occasional headache or simple indigestion on our own, without seeking medical attention. Let your body and common sense guide you.

 

If you do take prescription medications, always be sure to check out the possibility of interactions with over-the counter medications and with herbs. You can start with this online herb & drug interaction checker or talk to your pharmacist or practitioner.

If you happen to stroll the aisles of your local drug store you’ll find non-prescription, over-the-counter (OTC) medications for a seemingly endless variety of symptoms from allergies, to colds and flu, digestive complaints, and poor sleep. Itching, belching, sneezing, coughing, you name it and there’s probably an OTC drug for it.

These drugs may provide temporary relief, but in most cases they do very little to bring the body back in to balance. This is where herbs excel! Not only do they help you feel better, they can speed recovery and promote healthy function and tissue repair.

So, detox your medicine chest and fill it with these herbal alternatives. If you feel a cold coming on late at night or suffer an unexpected bout of indigestion after dinner, you’ll be glad you already have these remedies on hand.

HEARTBURN + INDIGESTION

If you’ve experienced heartburn (acid reflux or gastro esophageal reflux disease (GERD)) you may have used an over-the-counter drug like Prilosec, Prevacid, or Nexium. These drugs are called proton pump inhibitors (PPI’s) and are designed to suppress stomach acid. Even putting aside the fact that most people who suffer from heartburn don’t have excess stomach acid, these drugs have serious side effects. Keep in mind that stomach acid plays a vital role in keeping you healthy. It inhibits bacterial overgrowth in the gut and helps your body break down and absorb critical nutrients. Bacterial overgrowth in the gut can eventually lead to compromised immunity.

Long term use of these drugs can lead to calcium and magnesium imbalance in the body and put you at risk for osteoporosis. These drugs are also associated with an increased risk of kidney disease and may be cause or accelerate dementia. Need I say more?

Herbal alternatives to PPI’s help soothe hot, inflamed irritated tissue, improve tissue health and promote digestive function. Herbal carminatives act to ease gas and bloating without suppressing function. Bringing your body back into balance will also involve looking at your diet, food sensitivities and other lifestyle issues. While you’re making the needed changes consider these herbal allies.

ALLERGIES

Hay fever and seasonal allergy sufferers are likely to reach for over-the counter antihistamines and nasal decongestants. Antihistamines block histamines (produced in an allergic response) from binding to receptor sites. Most antihistamines cause drowsiness because the brain requires histamine function for mental alertness. Now researchers have found a link between long-term use of some antihistamines (those know as anticholinergic medications) and dementia. This includes common over-the-counter drugs like Benadryl and Chlor-Trimeton. Some of the newer antihistamine drugs are less likely to cause drowsiness, but they still come with other common side effects like dry mouth, sore throat, hoarseness and nose bleeds, not to mention other more serious, but less common side effects like heart palpitations, jaundice and seizures.

If you suffer from seasonal allergies, why not switch to something natural, nourishing to the body and without side harmful side effects? There are many herbal options to reduce the allergic response, dry up excess secretions and relieve itching. Look for products that contain the natural antihistamines like Nettles and Quercetin or consider a simple inhalation of German Chamomile essential oil.

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COLDS + FLU

Common over-the-counter remedies for colds and flu are usually some combination of antihistamines (see Allergies, above), decongestants, analgesics (like aspirin or Tylenol), and cough suppressants. Despite wide-spread use, many studies have demonstrated that they offer little beyond a placebo effect. Analgesics do reduce fever but in doing so, they suppress the body’s own healthy immune response. In the case of the common cold, immune suppression can lead to a more serious infection and increase the duration of the cold.

Herbs on the other hand can help the body fight back, offering anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties along with stimulation of the body’s own immune system. Keep these herbs in your home medicine chest if you want to be prepared for cold and flu season.

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PAIN

HEADACHES | JOINT + MUSCLE PAIN | MENSTRUAL CRAMPS

When it comes to pain, the most commonly used over-the-counter drugs are acetaminophen (Tylenol), aspirin and ibuprofen (i.e., Advil and Motrin). These pharmaceuticals are not only toxic, they can make worse many of the conditions they are used to treat. Tylenol alone is responsible for more emergency room visits than any other drug. Drugs like aspirin and ibuprofen, called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs, are responsible for about 16,500 deaths in the US annually and more than 100,000 hospitalizations. They also damage the intestinal tract and are proven to accelerate osteoarthritis, a major cause of joint pain, and one of the reason doctors so often recommend NSAIDs to their patients. Tylenol is associated with frequent unintentional poisoning and Tylenol overdose is the leading cause of liver failure and a common cause of kidney failure in the US.

There are many good herbal alternatives for pain. It helps to focus on the cause of the pain, inflammation, muscular, or otherwise and choose the herbal remedies accordingly. As with any health issue, a holistic approach requires that you also look at and modify any diet and lifestyle factors causing or contributing to the problem.

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SLEEP

Common over-the-counter sleep aids like Unisom and Nytol are actually antihistamines. Remember from the discussion of allergies above, that these drugs cause drowsiness because the brain requires histamine function for mental alertness. This might seem like a good idea for occasional insomnia, but many people rely on these pharmaceutical drugs night after night, putting themselves at greater risk of dementia. These drugs also disrupt normal sleep patterns and the vital repair functions the body performs while we sleep.

Fortunately, there is a wide range of herbal products that promote a good night’s sleep. If you have trouble sleeping, be sure to look at underlying issues (diet and lifestyle) that may be disrupting your sleep. For a more in-depth discussion of good sleep habits and herbal remedies for sleep check out this article, 5 Herbs + Essential Oils for Better Sleep. For occasional sleep problems, stock these herbs in your medicine chest.

Click the image below to view.

Now you know the alternatives. Go take a good look through your medicine cabinet and see what needs to be replaced. If you wind up disposing of some of the over-the-counter drugs in your home, post a picture of the medicine chest detox or better still post a picture of your newly stocked herbal medicine chest and what you’re saying good-bye too, and tag it #nectarherbandtea on Instagram. I love seeing what you’re up to!

If you have questions, please post in the comment section below.

Wishing you health and happiness,
suzanne

References

The Anticholinergic Cognitive Burden, Beyzarov, Elena , PharmD,  http://www.pharmacytimes.com/publications/issue/2012/april2012/the-anticholinergic-cognitive-burden, April 8, 2012; accessed July 18, 2017

Association of Proton Pump Inhibitors With Risk of Dementia, A Pharmacoepidemiological Claims Data Analysis, Gomm, Willy, PhD, et al., AMA Neurol. 2016;73(4):410-416. See also http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamaneurology/fullarticle/2487379.

Common Anticholinergic Drugs Like Benadryl Linked to Increased Dementia Risk, Merz, Beverly, Harvard Women’s Health Watch, http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/common-anticholinergic-drugs-like-benadryl-linked-increased-dementia-risk-201501287667; accessed July 18, 2017.

Is Your Medicine Making You Sick?, Murray, Michael, ND, http://doctormurray.com/is-your-medicine-making-you-sick/; accessed July 8, 2017.

Natural Alternative to Over-the-Counter and Prescription Drugs, Murray, Michael, ND, William Morrow and Company, 1994.

What the Drug Companies Won’t Tell You and Your Doctor Doesn’t Know: The Alternative Treatments That May Change Your Life–and the Prescriptions That Could Harm You, Murray, Michael, ND, Simon & Schuster, Inc. 2009.

Why I Won’t Take These ‘Safe’ Drugs, Northrup, Christine, MD, http://www.drnorthrup.com/three-drugs-that-i-would-not-take/; accessed July 18, 2017.

Looking for more herbal inspiration?

Health Benefits of Lavender

Lavender has a wide range of medicinal properties, a long history of use in cosmetics and perfumes, and offers a distinctive floral note when used as a culinary herb. This post is focused on lavender’s medicinal properties, but you can explore other ways to enjoy lavender in these posts:

Medicinal Uses of Lavender

I recently harvested a beautiful bouquet of lavender. The sun was high and the temperature was approaching 100°F, but the lavender flowers were sweet and tranquil, untroubled by the searing heat. Perhaps this ability to thrive in intense heat gives rise to lavender’s cooling and calming properties. This is certainly where lavender shines.

As for its specific therapeutic properties, lavender’s effects are three-fold. It acts on the nervous system as a calming nervine, anti-depressant, anxiolytic (which means it reduces anxiety), and mild sedative. It supports the digestive system as a carminative, anti-spasmodic, and mild bitter. Lavender is also an important first aid remedy with antiseptic, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. The clinical research on lavender has focused on the essential oil, but you can also use lavender flowers in tea, a liquid extract of lavender (also called a tincture) or a lavender glycerite.

Lavender and Nervous Disorders

Lavender is a gentle yet highly effective remedy for nervous tension, stress and anxiety. I say gentle because it is safe for use with sensitive people—children, the elderly, and even during pregnancy. Numerous studies on the inhalation of lavender essential oil found that lavender alleviated anxiety, elicited feelings of “happiness,” produced a less depressed mood and increased feelings of relaxation. Lavender essential oil is also effective diluted in a cream or oil and applied topically.

A recent study in pregnant women experiencing mild to moderate anxiety and depression used a cream containing 1.25% lavender essential oil. The lavender group showed a significant improvement in stress, anxiety and depression compared to placebo.

Another studying compared a proprietary lavender essential oil product known as “Silexan” to the prescription drug paroxetine (aka Paxil) in people diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). The oral essential oil of lavender product was effective in treating GAD and more effective than the conventional drug, paroxetine. Adverse events were also lower in those taking lavender making it a much more appealing choice given the side effects associated with many prescription anti-depressants, anxiolytics and barbiturates.

Lavender as tea or an essential oil inhalation is also an excellent choice to promote restful sleep and reduce difficulty falling asleep. Bathing with lavender essential oil or an herbal bath with lavender is an especially comforting way to use lavender to promote sleep.

Lavender and Digestive Disorders

As a carminative, mild bitter and anti-spasmodic, lavender is an excellent choice for functional complaints like gas, belching, colic, and cramping. When nervous tension or anxiety disrupts digestive function, causing irritability, gas or bloating, lavender does double duty, easing tension in the mind/body and relieving the digestive discomfort. A simple cup of lavender tea or essential diluted and massaged on the belly work wonders.

To make a lavender tea, steep one teaspoon of dried lavender flowers in 1 cup boiled water, covered, for 15 minutes. A simple rule of thumb for dilution of lavender oil for topical use is 1 – 5 drops off essential oil per teaspoon of unscented lotion or carrier oil. This results in a 1% to 5% concentration of the essential oil.

Lavender and First Aid

When it comes to first aid remedies, lavender essential oil is extremely versatile. Topically, in proper dilution, lavender is a cooling anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic, pain-reliever and antiseptic. Small cuts and scrapes respond well to lavender’s antiseptic and wound healing properties. Lavender essential oil combines well with peppermint essential oil in a carrier oil or spray to ease the itching of mosquito and spider bites. The pain of minor burns and sunburn can be relieved with a blend of lavender essential oil and aloe vera juice. This cooling combination will also speed healing and reduce scarring.

Tension headaches respond well to inhalation of lavender essential oil or a drop of the oil in a carrier, applied to the temples or nape of the neck. For ear aches, place one drop of lavender essential oil on small cotton ball and insert it gently into the outer ear.

Lavender, with it’s lovely, calming aroma is both gentle and effective. Its safety and versatility make it a “must have” for the home medicine chest.

blessings,

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References

Adaptogens, Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief, Winston, D., et al. 2007, Healing Arts Press

Aromatherapy Positively Affects Mood, EEG Patterns of Alertness and Math Computations, Diego, M.A., et al., International Journal of Neuroscience, 1998; 96(3-4):217-224.

Basic Emotions Induced by Odorants: A New Approach Based on Autonomic Pattern Results,

Vernet-Maury, E., et al., Journal of the Autonomic Nervous System, 1999 Feb; 75(2-3): 176-183.

Complete Illustrated Guide to Aromatherapy, A Practical Approach to the Use of Essential Oils for Health and Well-Being, Lawless, J., 1997, Elements Books Limited.

Psychological Effects of Aromatherapy on Chronic Hemodialysis Patients, Itai, T. et al., Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences Journal, 2000; 54(4): 393-397.

Silexan is Effective in Generalized Anxiety Disorder, A Randomized Double-blind Comparison to Placebo and Paroxetine, Kasper, S., et al., International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology, 2014 June; 17(6): 859-69.

Topical Lavender Cream Alleviates Anxiety, Stress and Depression in Pregnant Women, Effati-Daryani, F., et al., Journal of Caring Sciences 2015; 4(1): 63-73.

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Cooling Herbs for Hot Days [ Bonus Sun Tea Recipe ]

Cooling Herbs for Hot Days

I’d like to introduce you to cooling herbs for hot summer days. I love summer! I love the sun and I love summer time activities, swimming, hiking, outdoor parties, barbeques and picnics. When it’s hot, I use cooling herbs to extend the fun and stay hydrated.

Cooling herbs work in a number of different ways to cool the body and are sometimes referred to as refrigerants. Some cooling herbs also have what might be described as a cooling effect on the nervous system, helping to reduce anger or irritability. Others might be described as “cooling” to inflammation, helping soothe hot, irritated tissue. Some cooling herbs promote sweating, which is one of the body’s own mechanisms for regulating temperature and cooling off.

My favorite cooling herbs for hot days are Hibiscus, Lavender, Chamomile and Marshmallow. You can turn them into delicious, cooling herbal teas, herbal popsicles and other heat-beating treats!

Hibiscus | Hibiscus spp.

This beautiful, tropical flower makes the most stunning, ruby red tea. Its slightly sour taste combines well with citrus and other fruits. Hibiscus flower’s “cooling” effect extends to the cardiovascular system where it helps maintain healthy blood pressure and reduce other risks associated with cardiovascular disease. To make a cooling hibiscus tea, steep 1-2 tablespoons of dried hibiscus flowers in 4 cups of hot water. Strain, chill, pour over ice and enjoy!

Lavender | Lavendula angustifolia

When it comes to cooling the skin on a hot day or relieving sunburn pain, lavender is my first choice. It’s also a great first-aid remedy for itchy bug bites. For topical use, brew a simple tea with lavender flowers (about one teaspoon per cup, steeped 15 minutes), chill the tea, put it in a spray bottle and mist it on the skin. Lavender essential oil and lavender hydrosol also work well topically in an easy to make aromatherapy spritzer. When I’m going hiking on a hot summer day, attending an outdoor concert or art festival, I always take along a small misting bottle with cooling essential oils or hydrosol.  Lavender flowers also make lemonade more cooling and delicious. Check out this recipe for lavender mint lemonade. Lavender is also “cooling” to the nervous system, easing anxiety and irritability and promoting a good night’s sleep. The sweet floral scent of lavender just says “ahhh . . . relax, chill out.”

Chamomile | Matricaria recutita

This sweet little flower is cooling and calming. Like lavender, is can be used to soothe irritability and promote a good night’s sleep. Chamomile essential oil diluted in a spray bottle and Chamomile Hydrosol both work well to cool hot, red inflamed skin. A strong chamomile tea added to bath water is another way to get an “all over” skin cooling effect. How about creamy chamomile mint popsicles on a hot summer day? Chamomile also possesses anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic, and analgesic properties making it useful for pain, menstrual cramps and fevers. A cup of Chamomile tea after dinner will also ease indigestion, gas and bloating. Prepare a cup of tea by steeping one heaping teaspoon of chamomile in one cup of hot water for 15 minutes.

Marshmallow | Althea officinalis

Marshmallow root is soothing, cooling and moistening to dry, hot inflamed tissue. The Ruby Red Tea Cooler recipe below, with marshmallow root and hibiscus, is a perfectly delightful way to stay cool and hydrated in the summer heat. Marshmallow root tea can also be used topically in the bath or as a cool compress to calm hot, irritated skin. Internally, marshmallow root tea can be used to soothe irritation in the digestive, respiratory, and urinary tract systems. Prepare a cup of tea by steeping one heaping teaspoon of marshmallow root in one cup of cold water for four hours or overnight.

Ruby Red Summer Cooler

A stunningly beautiful drink to keep you cool and hydrated on hot summer days.

Ingredients:

  • 1 ounce (30 gm) dried marshmallow root
  • 2/3 ounce (20 gm) dried hibiscus flowers
  • 1/3 ounce (10 gm) rose petals
  • 4 vanilla beans, chopped in to ¼” pieces

Instructions:

Total Yield: 15-16 cups
Blend herbs until well mixed and store in a small jar. To prepare cooler, combine the herb blend with 16 cups filtered water in a large jar with a tight fitting lid. Shake gently to incorporate the herbs in the water. Allow to steep for at least four hours or overnight. Strain and enjoy this delicious hydrating cooler.

Have fun, keep cool and stay hydrated. If you have any questions about these herbs, please leave a message in the comments below.

with love,

Looking for more herbal inspiration?

Looking for more herbal inspiration?

3 Herbs to Unleash Feminine Power

unleash feminine power

 

Three Herbs to Unleash Your Feminine Power

In this post I’m going to introduce you to three herbs to unleash your feminine power. Feminine power is on the rise. Thank Goddess. Feminine power shows up as strength, endurance, fierce love and deep compassion, self-sacrifice, creativity, intelligence and intuition. After millennia of patriarchal systems, a shift in the balance of power and a revaluing of the fierce feminine is unfolding. We have a tremendous amount of work to do, within and without. We can and we will do this work. As women, we are not strangers to hard work, long hours, the pain of child birth, defending our families and communities, reclaiming our freedom and reinventing our lives in the face of illness and oppression. 

Some days I feel this feminine potency coursing within me like a great river. At other times the flow feels weak, anemic, barely a trickle. When my energy is low, I know more attention to self-care is in order. I also turn to herbal remedies that strengthen the nervous system and alleviate the effects of stress and hard work. These herbs are classified as adaptogens.

figures of feminine power

“Feminine power shows up as strength, endurance, fierce love and deep compassion, self-sacrifice, creativity, intelligence and intuition.”


Adaptogens help the body adapt to stress and restore balance. They increase the body’s resistance to physical, biological, emotional and environmental stressors. They will also strengthen a weakened immune system reducing the chances of you catching the common cold or flu bug. Adaptogens have been used by athletes to increase stamina and reduce recovery times after strenuous exercise. Many adaptogens improve mental focus and clarity. Some adapotgens have an affinity for specific body systems which includes those that promote fertility and reproductive health.

Are you starting to see how these medicinal plants might be the prefect remedy for a modern day feminine warrior, a single mom attending school at night or a grandmother working and raising her own grandchildren? Consider the energy needs of a busy executive or small business working long hours to prove her worth in a competitive environment. Adaptogens would support all of these women and others like them asserting their feminine power in every more powerful and creative ways. While there are many adaptogens in the modern herbal apothecary, in this post I’m going to introduce you to three powerful adaptogens uniquely suited for a woman’s health and vitality, Ginseng, Maca and Rhodiola

The roots of these plants are have been utilized as medicine for thousands of years. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that it is the roots of Ginseng, Maca and Rhodiola that offer us their strength and nourishment at the deepest level. A plants roots reach down into Mother Earth providing the strength that anchors the plant in place. At the same time, the roots draw nourishment in the form or nutrients and water upward, giving life to the leaves, flowers and fruit. The process of unleashing our feminine power is like this. It often begins with going deep, turning within and discovering the anchor that is our most authentic self. This inner wisdom becomes the source place for the expression of our feminine power, the power to manifest change, to be strong, openhearted and vulnerable. It is the power to bring forth something that did not previously exist, whether that is a child, an idea, a book, a garden, a form of service or a work of art. The roots of these adaptogens assist us in this deep and challenging work, nourishing and sustaining us as we struggle and grow.  

Ginseng Root | Panax Ginseng

Panax Ginseng root has been used for thousands of years. It is one of the most studied herbs in the modern herbal apothecary with a significant body of modern scientific research confirms traditional uses. Panax Ginseng is available in different forms and varieties and is also sometimes called Asian Ginseng, Kirin Ginseng, Korean Ginseng, Red Ginseng or White Ginseng, depending on the its origin, the age of the root and how it has been processed after harvesting.

panax ginseng for feminine power

For women of any age who are juggling family, work, self-care and the demands of living in a complex world, Ginseng improves stamina and helps reduce mental and physical fatigue. Considered the most stimulating of adapotgens, Ginseng is used for adrenal fatigue and depletion of the endocrine system, general weakness, to reduce cortisol levels elevated by stress and as an immune tonic. This power plant made the short list of herbs for feminine power because it also supports the female reproductive system at all stages of a woman’s life–maiden, mother and crone. In young women experiencing infertility of indeterminate cause, Ginseng can help by improving overall health and vitality. For women of all ages Ginseng is known as an aphrodisiac promoting sexual desire and response.

Ginseng is also a source of phytoestrogens which are naturally occurring plant nutrients that exert and an estrogen-like effect on the body. Ginseng’s phytoestrogens may assist a woman who is not menstruating due to low estrogen levels and can be especially helpful for low estrogen related to menopause. Ginseng can provide relief for many menopausal symptoms from mental fatigue to hot flashes, vaginal dryness and depression. In one randomized, controlled clinical trial using 3 grams of Red Panax Ginseng the Ginseng group had significant improvements in all menopausal symptoms, including hot flashes, using two of the most common research tools for evaluating menopausal symptoms. Participants in the ginseng group also saw a reduction in total cholesterol and LDL levels compared to the placebo group. 

Energetically, Panax Ginseng is sweet, bitter, warm moist and stimulating. Some people may feel over stimulated by Ginseng. Others may feel a strong kindling of inner fire and drive. Choose accordingly and listen to your body. You may want to avoid Ginseng is you suffer from anxiety, insomnia, or hypertension. Ginseng can be used as a tea, liquid extract, or in capsules. 

maca for feminine power

Maca  Root | Lepidium peruvianum

High in the Andes mountains of Peru, Maca root has been used as a food for thousands of years. It’s popularity as a “super food” for energy, stamina and sexual health is much more recent. While pharmacological research and clinical trials are still few compared to Ginseng, the results are promising and support the historical and anecdotal record. We do know that Maca is a nutrient-dense root, rich in amino acids, essential fatty acids, vitmins and minerals. This alone would tend to explain its ability to increase energy, strength and stamina.

Maca appears to have important benefits for women in their reproductive years, reportedly relieving menstrural irregularities including moods swings, irritability and depression. Women of all ages also report improvements in libido and sexual responsiveness when using Maca. In a recent study with older, women, Maca relieved depression and sexual dysfunction in post-menopausal women. In another recent clinical trial Maca also helped relieve anti-depressant (SSRI) induced sexual dysfunction in post-menopausal women.

Like Ginseng, different varieties of Maca, red, black and yellow are reported to have slightly different properties. Energetically, Maca is warming and stimulating.  You can use Maca root in its powdered form in smoothies or in food, simmer the powdered root for tea, or as a liquid extract. Personally, I find Maca helpful for my busy life as a small business owner. I incorporate the powdered root in smoothies and I love to have these Maca-rich Mental Energy Balls for a quick pick-me-up. For you and your beloved, I highly recommend these Raw Chocolate Bliss Balls made with Maca, Chocolate and Coconut!

Rhodiola Root | Rhodiola rosea

Rhodiola is native to the harsh, cold sub-arctic regions of North America, Europe and Asia. Vikings reportedly used the root for strength and stamina before epic battles and long voyages. In parts of northern Europe recently married couples once received gifts of Rhodiola to promote fertility and the birth of healthy children. Today there exists a large body of published research on the medicinal properties of Rhodiola root that corroborates thousands of years of traditional use.

rhodiola for feminine power

For women who need to remain cool and collected under pressure, Rhodiola relieves fatigue and promotes mental clarity and alertness, even improving memory and the ability for prolonged concentration when used regularly.  Rhodiola supports muscle building and improves the energy available to muscles during strenuous activity. It also improves muscle strength and endurance.

Rhodiola is also a good choice for women with menstrual irregularities who are having trouble conceiving. In one clinical trial 40 women who had ceased menstruating were given Rhodiola. Normal menses were restored in over 60% of the women and 11 became pregnant. Physicians have also reported women becoming pregnant after using Rhodiola for several months where standard fertility drugs had failed. In post-menopausal women, Rhodiola can help relieve menopause related depression and brain fog.

Energetically Rhodiola is sweet, slightly bitter, spicy, cool and dry. It is consider more cooling than Ginseng and is less likely to cause anxiety or over-stimulation. The root can be prepared as tea by simmering the roots or taken as a liquid extract or in capsules.

Dear sisters, the time to cultivate your warrior heart is now. Feminine power is on the rise and the Goddess is calling you to offer your highest and best. The planet, the waters and all the living creature needs you to show up and lead. So, take good care brave ones, support one another and when the going gets tough, reach for the strong hands and hearts of your loved ones, and don’t forget your favorite adaptogen.

With love,

 

References:

Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief, Winston D, Maimes S, Healing Art Press, 2007.

Women’s Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, Alternative Therapies and Integrative Medicine for total Health and Wellness, Hudson T, McGraw-Hill, 2008.

Effects of Red Ginseng Supplementation on Menopausal Symptoms and Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Postmenopausal Women: A Double-blind Randomized Controlled Trial, Young Kim S., et al. Menopause 2012; 19(4) 461-466.

Beneficial Effects of Lepidium meyenii (Maca) on Psychological Symptoms and Measures of Sexual dysfunction in Postmenopausal Women are Not Related to Estrogen or Androgen Content.  Brooks NA, et al., Menopause, 2008 Nov-Dec, 15:1157-62.

A Double-blind Placebo-controlled Trial of Maca Root as Treatment for Antidepressant-induced Sexual Dysfunction in Women, Dording C, Schettler P, Dalton E, et al.  Evidence Based Complimentary Alternative Medicine, 2015; Article ID 949036.

Rhodiola Rosea: A Phytomedicinal Overview, Brown R, et al., American Botanical Council,  HerbalGram, 2002, Issue 56:40-52.

Effect of Rhodiola Rosea extract on Ovarian Function, Proceedings of the Scientific Conference on Endocrinology and Gynecology, Russian Academy of Sciences, 1970 Sept 15-16; 46-48.

Kitchen Remedies: Herbs & Spices for Common Aliments

Kitchen Remedies: Herbs & Spices for Common Aliments

If you have a drawer or cupboard full of culinary herbs and spices, you also have an abundance of herbal medicine right under your nose. Did you know that almost all of the herbs and spices we use to make our food more delicious also have medicinal properties? In this post, I’m going to take you on a whirlwind tour through my spice drawer. I think you’ll be amazed at the many kitchen remedies for colds, flu, digestive complaints and other common aliments in those little spice bottles. And that’s not all!

In addition to adding flavor and complexity to our food and offering relief for common ailments, culinary herbs and spices can play a really important role in maintaining optimal health and vitality. So, spice it up! In addition to improving flavor, cooking with herbs and spices offers many collateral benefits. Using more herbs and spices is a good way to reduce salt in your food without sacrificing flavor. Excessive salt is a risk factor for high blood pressure. Eating food that is well seasoned with herbs and spices also expands the palate and increases satisfaction, that is to say, satiation, without the addition of more calories in the form of fat and sugar. And, when food is tastier and more satisfying to the palate, we tend to eat less, which helps maintain healthy weight.

My spice drawer is also loaded with herbs and spices that are protective against many of the common diseases of western culture—conditions like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, arthritis, cancer, and dementia. And these are not exotic spices. If you like to cook even a little, I bet you have them in your kitchen too. Basil, Oregano, Rosemary and Turmeric all possess anti-oxidant properties. Turmeric and Ginger are effective anti-inflammatories. Cinnamon can help balance blood sugar. Basil, Garlic, and Turmeric all support a healthy cardiovascular system, helping to maintain healthy cholesterol and blood pressure.

Even a single serving of spice-rich curry can dilate your arteries and help prevent the negative cardiovascular effects associated with eating common foods. A study reported in Nutrition Journal compared consumption of a traditional curry dish made with Coriander, Cumin, Garlic, Ginger, Onion, Red pepper, and Turmeric with consumption of a spice-free control meal. Both meals included cooked rice and the same calorie count. The consumption of the curry meal improved blood flow through the blood vessels, whereas the control meal resulted in decreased blood flow. Specifically, spice-rich curry prevented the negative effects of the meal on post-meal ‘endothelial function,’ that is, it prevented the inner lining (endothelium) of the blood vessels from contracting and inhibiting normal blood flow through the cardiovascular system. The researchers concluded that the activity of the spices in the curry meal may be beneficial for preventing cardiovascular events and may help fight against lifestyle related diseases like atherosclerosis (aka hardening of the arteries) and type 2 diabetes (sometimes referred to as adult onset diabetes, though if occurs in young people as well).

So, in case you thought your grandmother was passing on “old wives tales,” think again. There is an ever growing body of research on the therapeutic benefits of herbs. There’s real wisdom in some of those so-called “wives’ tales,” and there’s good medicine in your kitchen!

Next time you feel a cold coming on, can’t sleep, or have a belly ache, take a look in your spice rack. I hope you discover some of these kitchen remedies.

Herbs & Spices for Common Ailments

Anise or Aniseed (Pimpinella anisum):

This sweet, aromatic seed is useful for simple indigestion with gas and bloating. It is also an excellent remedy for dry coughs or bronchitis. Steep the seeds in hot water for a simple tea, or use the crushed seeds in honey.

Actions: Carminative, expectorant, antispasmodic.

Basil (Ocimum basilicum)

This familiar culinary herb helps fight infection with its antibacterial, antifungal, and anti-candida properties. It is also useful for colds, flu, and fevers. Uplifting to mood, it also improves memory, concentration, and metal clarity. Steep the dried herb in hot water to make a simple tea. A strong tea can also be added to a bath for colds, flu, and fever.

Actions: Antimicrobial, antispasmodic, carminative, anti-depressant, gentle stimulant.

Cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum)

This delicious spice is relieves gas, bloating, cramping, and improves sluggish digestion. Steep the seeds in hot water for a simple tea, or use the crushed seeds in honey. I also love to grind the seeds with coffee beans for a more nuanced ‘cup of joe.’

Actions: Carminative, calming digestive bitter, antispasmodic, mucolytic, and aphrodisiac.  

Cayenne (Capsicum spp.)

In small doses, this hot spicy remedy aids digestion, improves appetite and supports circulation. (Be careful not to overdo it with Cayenne—large doses can have the opposite effect, causing stomach irritation and acidity.) It can be used topically (in oil or creams) for joint and nerve pain and to stop bleeding. If you have a cold and flu, a pinch of Cayenne in tea or food will help open congested nasal passages. I always include a bit of Cayenne in my Fire Cider to make this winter health tonic more warming. You can find my Fire Cider recipe, here. Use a pinch in tea or food. For topically use add a pinch to olive oil or coconut oil and massage in to the affected area, being careful not to touch your eyes or face.

Actions: Anodyne, warming stimulant, circulatory aid, antispasmodic, carminative.

Cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum)

This is another delicious spice that useful for gas, bloating vomiting, and weak digestion. It acts as an astringent to mucus membranes throughout the body—making it helpful for diarrhea, sore throat and excessive bleeding. It will even inhibit bacterial growth and helps normalize blood sugar levels. For healthy blood sugar use 1.5 teaspoons per day in food. I prefer using chipped Cinnamon when making tea rather than powdered cinnamon which makes a clumpy mess. Steep chipped cinnamon in hot water up to 30 minutes to make a tea.

Actions: Astringent, warming carminative, antispasmodic, and antimicrobial, blood sugar balancing.

Clove (Eugenia caryophylus)

This winter spice is useful for toothache and can be used topically as a local anesthetic. It combines well with other carminative spices like anise and cardamom for gas, bloating, indigestion, and digestive cramps.  Chewing on a clove bud will help to clear mucus in colds and flus and relieve sore throat pain.

Actions: Warming carminative, analgesic, stimulant, antispasmodic, antiseptic.

Fennel Seed (Foeniculum vulgare)

Chewing these sweet, aromatic seeds after meals helps settle the stomach and ease digestion, gas and bloating. Fennel also promotes lactation, and nursing mothers and small children can drink the tea to relieve colic. Spasmodic coughs, chest congestion, and bronchitis are also relieved by fennel. Steep tea seeds to make a simple tea.

Actions: Cooling carminative, antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory, expectorant, galactagogue.

Garlic (Allium sativum)

Garlic is powerful medicine! The health promoting compounds are absorbed into bloodstream from the digestive tract and excreted via the lungs, bowels, skin, and urinary system, acting as a disinfectant. Its antimicrobial properties make garlic an excellent remedy for colds, flu, bronchitis, and pneumonia. Raw is best! Chop a couple cloves of raw garlic; add honey, and a squeeze of fresh lemon to make a potent cold buster. Garlic also features prominently in Fire Cider.

Actions: Antimicrobial (antiviral, antiseptic, anti-parasitic), antispasmodic, immune-enhancing, blood-vessel strengthening, antioxidant.

Ginger (Zingiber officinale)

There are so many spice cupboard remedies for common ailments. Like garlic, ginger also works well fresh, but dried ginger is good medicine, too. Ginger relieves coughs, congestion and fever during colds and flu. It is an effective remedy for motion-sickness and nausea as well as colic, gas, and indigestion. Promotes blood flow to the peripheries and as such has a warming effect. Steep fresh or dried ginger for tea. You can gargle with ginger tea for a sore throat. For fevers, steep 2–3 inches of chopped ginger root in 2 cups water for 15-20 minutes, add juice of one lemon, a spoonful of raw honey, and pinch of cayenne pepper; drink immediately. Topically ginger can be used for sore inflamed joints or sprains. Simply grate the fresh ginger root and apply as a warm compress. An infused oil of grated ginger (optional pinch of cayenne pepper; avoid contact with eyes/mucous membranes) can be used to massage sore muscles.

Actions: Anti-inflammatory, carminative, anti-emetic, antispasmodic, expectorant, circulatory stimulant, vasodilator, anti-coagulant.

Oregano (Origanum vulgare)

This common Italian herb is useful for indigestion, colds, flu, fever, and bronchitis. Externally it can be applied as a poultice for coughs, arthritic, and muscular pain. Gargle with oregano tea for inflammation and infection in the mouth and throat. The tea is also an excellent remedy for coughs and menstrual cramps. Steep the herb in hot water for a simple tea, add a strong tea to your bath, or use the herb in a steam inhalation.

Actions: Antimicrobial (antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, and antiparasitic), antioxidant, antispasmodic, expectorant, carminative, hypoglycemic.

Sage (Salvia officinalis)

Another common Italian herb, sage is toning and calming to digestion and diarrhea. It acts to soothes and tone mucus membranes and reduce inflammation making it a specific for congested respiratory infections. Add sea salt to sage tea for an excellent gargle for strep and sore throat. The cool tea is a great mouthwash for inflamed and bleeding gums, tongue, or mouth ulcers. Sage can also be used to reduce sweating, making it helpful with hot flashes. When nursing mothers and their small children are ready to wean, sage can be used to reduce milk production. As its name implies, sage also promotes wisdom, mental calm and mental clarity.

Actions: Carminative, astringent, antimicrobial (antifungal and anti-bacterial), antioxidant

Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)

I have thyme in my spice drawer and I do use it in the kitchen, but I use it way more frequently as a medicinal herb. It is most helpful for bronchitis, whooping cough, and asthma. The tea makes an excellent gargle for laryngitis, tonsillitis, sore throats, and irritable coughs. It is also helpful for any infectious condition including gastro-intestinal and urinary system infections. Steep the herb in hot water for a simple tea or add a strong tea to bath. It can also be use in a steam inhalation and combines well with oregano for this purpose.

Actions: Antimicrobial (antiviral and antibacterial), expectorant, bronchodilator, antispasmodic, carminative, antioxidant.

Turmeric (Curcuma longa)

Volumes have been written about the many health benefits of turmeric, but let’s keep it short. Turmeric is useful for indigestion, gas, ulcerations of the digestive tract, and gall stones. It possesses potent anti-inflammatory compounds and is useful for chronic joint pain. Used regularly this pungent spice can help you stay healthy warding off conditions like cardiovascular disease, dementia, and cancer.  Use turmeric liberally in your diet, at least one tablespoon per day. Golden Milk is a delicious warming drink and one of my favorite ways to get turmeric into the diet. You can find the recipe here.

Actions: Anti-inflammatory, digestive aid and liver stimulant, hypolipidemic, hypotensive, anticoagulant, anti-mutagenic, antioxidant.

Surprised by all the good medicine in my spice drawer? Go take a look at your own spice rack, now. What do you see? Next time you experience indigestion, feel a cold or flu coming on, or have a headache, reach for one of these simple effective remedies. Your body will thank you.

Stay well and be happy,
suzannesign
Herbalist & Proprietress
Nectar Herb and Tea

References:
A single consumption of curry improved postprandial endothelial function in healthy male subjects: a randomized, controlled crossover trial, Nutrition Journal 2014 13:67; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4082484/

5 Herbs for Cold and Flu Season

5 Herbs for Cold and Flu Season

In this post I’m going to introduce you to five herbs for cold and flu season. These herbs are a must for your herbal medicine chest, especially at this time of year.

Here in northern Arizona we’ve been having the most delicious cool nights and chilly mornings. I love the four seasons in this beautiful place, but no matter how much I’m enjoying the season of the moment, I’m always excited to feel a change in the air. Alas, I’m not the only one. Did you know that common cold and flu viruses thrive in cold dry weather? Yep! Now is the time to make sure your herbal medicine chest is stocked with herbs to defend yourself and your loved ones from colds and flu. Wondering what you should have on hand? In this post I’m going to introduce you to Five Herbs to Defend ‘You & Yours’ Against Colds & Flu. You might even have some of these herbs in your kitchen spice cupboard.

Maintaining a strong immune system is always the first and most important defense against colds and flu. A healthy diet (low in sugar and rich in vitamins and other nutrients), adequate rest and a balanced approach to stress all contribute to the health of your immune system. For people who still suffer from frequent colds or flu, immune strengthening herbs may be in order. If you seem to catch everything that’s going around, this article, Winter Health & Herbal Immune Tonics will help you evaluate and choose herbs to strengthen your immune system. Now is the time to get started.

Despite a healthy immune system our best efforts, sometimes our defenses fail. When that pesky cold or flu bug strikes, use these five herbs to fight back and return quickly to your normal state of vibrant health.

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Echinacea | Echinacea purpurea or angustifolia

Native to North American, Echinacea was used by native people for a wide range of ailments from sore throat, swollen glands and toothache to snake bite, venomous stings and poisoning. The wisdom of Native American healers has been corroborated in a plethora of pharmacological research, scientific trials and the experience of clinical herbalists using Echinacea to combat the common colds, enhance immune activity and relieve glandular inflammation. Echinacea produces an unmistakable, hearty purple flower with a spiny orange center. Though the entire plant from root to flower can be use medicinally, the roots are somewhat stronger.

If you are preparing your herbal medicine chest for the coming cold and flu season, make Echinacea your first line of defense for the common cold and infectious conditions in general. Echinacea has been shown in numerous studies to reduce the severity and duration of acute upper respiratory infections so it is best to reach for Echinacea at the first sign of a cold—sneezing, sniffles, scratchy throat or that hot, full-sinus feeling. In addition to immune stimulating properties, compounds in Echinacea show anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and anti-fungal activity. To prepare an Echinacea tea, simmer one heaping teaspoon of dried root in 1-2 cups of water for at least 20 minutes. The liquid extract or tincture of Echinacea is a quick and easy way to take Echinacea and it will last for many years in your medicine chest. The dosage for any tincture is dependent on the strength of the extract and should always appear on the bottle.

Elder Berry | Sambucus nigra

Also known as Black Elder Berry, this delicious dark blue berry is an immune stimulant with anti-viral properties traditionally used for cold and flu symptoms, including aches and pains, coughing, nasal congestion, mucous discharge and fever. Like Echinacea, consider Elder Berry in the front line of defense for on-coming colds or flu. Elder Berry can also be used in lower dose as a preventive during cold and flu season or when you are exposed to a higher risk of infection in air travel or large crowds. Dried Elder berries can be prepared as a tea by simmering one tablespoon in 1-2 cups of water for at least 15 minutes. You can also find Elder Berry as a tincture or alcohol-free glycerite. If you want to really feel empowered when it comes to care of yourself and your love ones, you can make our own Elder Berry Syrup with this simple recipe. Kids tend to be much more receptive to the sweet, rich berry flavor of this Elder Berry Syrup than they are to other cold remedies.

Ginger | Zingiber officianalis

This spicy, aromatic root is an excellent remedy for cold, congestive conditions of the respiratory tract and flu symptoms. Ginger’s diaphoretic (induces sweating), antipyretic (reduces fever), anti-spasmodic, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic properties offer welcome relief for the fever, body aches and headaches that often accompany flu. Sipping on a cup of Ginger tea can also quell nausea and vomiting and help you stay hydrated during a bout with the flu. Dried Ginger Root is considered hotter and somewhat more stimulating than the fresh root, though overall the plant is gentle and appropriate for both children and the elderly. Prepare a tea with the dried root by steeping one teaspoon in one cup of water for at least 15 minutes. If you’re making tea with the fresh root, chop up a piece about ¾-1½ inches in length and steep for at least 15 minutes. When you don’t feel up to making tea, the liquid extract of Ginger is a quick and easy alternative.

Oregon Grape Root | Berberis aquifolium

Oregon Grape Root is another North American native common throughout the forests and mountains of the western United States. The golden color of the root comes from berberine, a phyto-chemical with significant antibiotic and immune enhancing effects also found in Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis), another familiar cold and flu remedy. Berberine’s primary immune enhancing action comes from the activation of white blood cells responsible for destroying bacteria, viruses, and other foreign invaders. Its ability to defend against a broad range of organisms makes Oregon Grape Root an important remedy to have on hand when colds, flu, digestive complaints and even urinary tract infections make unexpected visits.

As a bitter, Oregon Grape Root also has a pronounced effect on the liver, promoting liver function and stimulating the production and flow of bile. Its ability to promote digestion and elimination make it useful for chronic skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis and as a restorative to an embattled digestive following stomach flu with vomiting and diarrhea. In the latter case, it combines well with Ginger Root. For colds and sinus infection, Oregon Grape Root also combines well with Echinacea Root. For tea, simmer 1 teaspoon of the root in 2 cups water for at least 15 minutes. The liquid extract of Oregon Grape Root is another good way to make use of this bitter remedy.

Thyme | Thymus vulgaris

On this short list of 5 Herbal Defenders for Cold & Flu, Thyme is the most specific herb for lower respiratory congestion with bouts of coughing. This common culinary herb is an expectorant, bronchiodilator, mucolytic, antispasmodic, and anti-bacterial. These properties make it a specific for whooping cough, bronchitis and other infectious conditions that congest and constrict the lungs. Its anti-bacterial action also makes it an effective herb for many urinary tract infections. Thyme makes a lovely tea especially with a little honey and Ginger Root. Steep one teaspoon in one cup of hot water for at least 15 minutes. If you don’t have the herb in your medicine chest, don’t forget to check the spice rack in your kitchen. Thyme tincture is a quick and easy alternative to the tea.

Properly diluted, Thyme Essential Oil makes an effective chest rub. Simply add 1-2 drops to one teaspoon of unscented lotion, salve or carrier oil. You can also prepare a steam inhalation with the loose herb or the essential oil. To make a steam inhalation, simply add ¼ cup of dried Thyme or 2 drops of Thyme Essential Oil to a small pot of steaming hot water. Sit down at a table, cover your head and the steaming pot with a towel forming a tent. Gently inhale the medicinal vapors.

While there are many other herbs to reach for at the first sign of a cold or flu, these are some of my favorites that share a a long history of traditional use supported by modern clinical research. I hope you experience perfect health during the cold and flu season, but it is always a good idea to be prepared.

If you have questions, be sure to leave a comment below.

wishing you health and happiness,
suzannesign
Herbalist & Proprietress

How to Make Wild Mint Tincture

How to Make Wild Mint Tincture

In this post I’m going to tell you how to make Wild Mint tincture. Making your own herbal medicine is not just fun. It’s an excellent way to save money on healthcare costs and reduce your family’s dependence on large corporations and pharmaceutical products. It is also a beautiful way to appreciate our interdependence on the plant world.

Tinctures are medicinal herbal extracts made with alcohol. The alcohol acts as a natural “solvent” to draw the therapeutic compounds from the plant and later, once the tincture is done, it acts as an effective preservative. You can easily make a tincture with any dried herb using simple tools in your own kitchen. If you want to know more about tinctures, check out this post, What’s A Tincture and Why Would You Want One?

I recently harvested Wild Mint (Mentha spp.) and hung it to dry. It’s now ready for tincturing. If you don’t have Wild Mint or Peppermint in your garden, you can purchase dried Peppermint from your local apothecary or health food store.

diy wild mint tincture

Benefits of Wild Mint & Peppermint

Medicinally, Peppermint is a carminative, anti-spasmodic, anti-emetic and topical analgesic. As a carminative and anti-spasmodic Mint is an excellent and tasty choice for digestive complaints. Carminatives ease gas and bloating, colic, and flatulence. The anti-spasmodic effects of Wild Mint relieve cramping associated with some digestive complaints. Peppermint is often used topically for pain and muscle cramps and to relieve itching from insect bites, stings, and poison oak or poison ivy. Peppermint essential oil is a good choice for topical use, but should always be diluted. (One to five drops per teaspoon of lotion or carrier oil is a good rule of thumb to achieve a 1%-5% dilution. Undiluted Peppermint essential oil can burn the skin.) Wild Mint is also a soothing anti-inflammatory and diaphoretic for colds and flu.

Folk Method and Weight to Volume Method

There are two basic methods for making a tincture. If you want a simple, no math, no measuring approach, use the Folk Method. If you like things to be exact and want to be able to replicate this tincture in the future, use the Weight to Volume Method.

Ingredients // Materials

  • Vodka (at least 80 proof)
  • Dried Wild Mint or Peppermint
  • Coffee Grinder or a Mortar & Pestle
  • Glass Measuring Cup
  • Mesh Strainer
  • Unbleached Cotton Muslin
  • Label
  • Jar with a tight-fitting lid

 

Folk Method Instructions

  • Grind the dried herb to a powder using a coffee grinder or mortar & pestle.
  • Fill the jar about two-thirds full with the powdered herb.
  • Pour in Vodka to over the herb and stir well to saturate the herb. Add more Vodka as needed until there is at least 1/4 inch of Vodka over the herb. Cap the jar tightly and label it with the name of the herb, a description of the Vodka (e.g. 80 proof) and the date.
  • The mixture may absorb more liquid the first day. After 24 hours, add more of Vodka as needed so there is again 1/4 inch of Vodka on top of the herb.
  • Store the jar in a cool, dry place. For the next 14 days (at least) shake the jar several times per day.
  •  After 14 days, allow the mixture to sit undisturbed for one day.  Pour the clear tincture off of the top. Pour the remaining wet herb into a large square of unbleached cotton muslin. Roll up and squeeze to recover as much of the tincture as possible. Combine the two liquids.
  • Filter if desired using an unbleached coffee filter or clean cotton muslin.
  • Bottle, label, and enjoy!

Suggested use for your finished tincture is 30 - 60 drops 2-4 times per day.

Weight to Volume Method

Follow the instructions above for the Folk Method, but use a measured amount of ground herb and Vodka corresponding to a 1:5 ratio of herb weight to Vodka volume. In this ratio 1 part is the powdered herb by weight and 5 parts is the Vodka by volume.  In a 1:1 ratio, 1 ounce of herb by weight corresponds to 1 ounce fluid volume of Vodka. So, for example, in a 1:5 ratio. if you were using 3 ounces (or ~90 gm) by weight of powdered herb, you would use 15 fluid ounces (or ~450 ml) of Vodka.  The ratio of 3 ounces by weight to 15 fluid ounces by volume is the equivalent of a 1:5 ratio. Get it?

Suggested use for your finished tincture is 30 - 60 drops 2-4 times per day.

tincture step 1-1

 

Pouring Vodka over the herb.

Add Vodka and mix well.

Strain the mixture through unbleached cotton muslin.

After 14 days it’s time to strain the mixture.

 

Bottle, label and enjoy.

You can make an effective Wild Mint or Peppermint tincture with either the Folk Method or Weight to Volume Method. Make good notes and label your bottles so you can recreate the same beautiful medicine in the future.

If you have questions, be sure to leave a comment below.

wishing you health and happiness,
suzannesign
Herbalist & Proprietress

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Bee Balm Infused Honey [ Recipe ]

This Bee Balm Honey recipe uses raw local honey to make a delicious remedy for a wide range of issues. I’ve fallen in love with Bee Balm (Monarda spp.) since moving to northern Arizona three years ago. Here in the highlands of northern Arizona you’ll find this flashy member of the mint family in moist canyons and drainages. There are myriad species and I’ve also seen nursery varieties with dramatic flowers planted as ornamentals. Bee Balm is also known as Wild Oregano and Oregano de la Sierra (Oregano of the Sierras) due its spicy taste and aroma. In cooking, the leaves can be substituted for Mexican or Italian Oregano.

Infused in raw local honey, Bee Balm makes a delicious remedy for a wide range of issues from sore throats, colds and flu to indigestion and menstrual cramps. The leaves and flowers can also be prepared as a simple tea (an infusion), or as a tincture or glycerite. (If you want to know more about tinctures,check out this post, What’s A Tincture and Why Would You Want One?

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Medicinal Properties

Medicinally, Bee Balm is antibacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-viral, antiseptic, and diaphoretic (stimulates sweating). Its strong antimicrobial actions make it a good choice for respiratory infections (upper and lower), sore throats, and flu. Bee Balm is also an anesthetic, which make the infused honey in this post especially soothing to sore throats. I have found the tincture to be a good remedy for sinus congestion and swelling with a feeling of fullness or blockage in the ears. No doubt its anti-inflammatory action coupled with its antimicrobial properties account for this effect. Abundant in the moist places of the southwest, Monarda was widely used by native people as a reproductive tonic, to ease menstrual cramps and to bring on delayed menses. Like other members of the mint family, Bee Balm is an anti-spasmodic and carminative that can be used to ease gas and bloating.

Bee Balm honey is easy to make. Now is the time to harvest the fresh flowers so you can enjoy this delicious remedy all winter long. This recipe calls for raw honey and I highly recommend that you use raw local honey for all of your honey infusions. Raw honey is highly nutritious and possesses potent healing properties of its own. Raw honey has not been pasteurized or filtered and maintains more of the beneficial nutrients and properties than processed honey. Therapeutically, it is an anti-oxidant (the darker the honey, the more so), energizing and useful for recovery from intense exercise, antiseptic, antibacterial, and an effective wound healer.

Let’s make Bee Balm Honey!

Ingredients // Materials

  • Raw Honey
  • Fresh Bee Balm Flowers (Monarda spp.)
  • Jar with a tight-fitting lid

Instructions

  • Gently fill your jar with the flowers. 
  • Pour honey into the jar until the flowers are completely submerged and the jar is full. Gently stir with a small spoon or chopstick (the herbalist’s tool of choice) to remove air bubbles.
  • Cap the jar and label.
  • Allow the honey to sit undisturbed for 4-6 weeks. Gentle heat will encourage the extraction. You can place the jar in a brown paper bag in a sunny place or in a dehydrator set to approximately 100 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Voila! After 4-6 weeks you can strain out the flowers if your like or leave them in the honey. Add the honey to hot water or tea or take it by the spoonful.

I hope you are happy in the garden and forest and that you come to known this potent plant ally where ever you find her. If you have questions, be sure to leave a comment here.

wishing you health and happiness, 

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Native Medicinal Plants

Native Medicinals

In this post I want to introduce you to some of the medicinal plant allies I’ve encountered here in the northern Arizona highlands and hopefully, encourage you to discover your own native plant allies!As an herbalist, my work and livelihood depend on a healthy planet and medicinal plants grown organically or wildcrafted, ethically and sustainably. Nature and the wild places are also my personal refuge and place of renewal. I spend as much time as I can exploring the forests, the mountains and scrambling among the crags and boulders. In the arid climate where I live, I am drawn to meander along small streams and water sheds. In my wandering I feel at home and am constantly delighted by the medicinal plants along the way. 

If your serious about medicinal plants, in addition to spending time in nature, you’ll need to get down to some serious plant study. Here in northern Arizona, the Highlands Center for Natural History offers excellent educational programs on the flora and fauna of our bio-region. Seek out organization and resources where ever you live, like native plant societies, nature centers, and county extension programs. Your local apothecary might even offer medicinal plant walks! I also recommend filling your yard or landscape with native plants adapted to your bio-region. Landscaping with native plants is an excellent way to bring back local fauna lost to development, provide habitat for native birds and other animals, and to reduce water consumption.

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(A Few) Medicinal Plants of Arizona

I have had the honor and privilege to work with medical plants for over twenty years. Some of the plants in this post, I consider dear friends and allies. I have been delighted to find them growing right here in northern Arizona. Should you encounter these plant beings on your own travels, please treat them and the ecosystems in which they live with the deep honor and respect. I recently wrote an article about the harvest and processing of local medicinal plants, available here.  In short, wildcrafting is a delicate practice that requires knowledge and sensitivity. Please do not pick wild medicinals unless you have studied the practice and can do so ethically and sustainably. 

red root

Ceanothus (aka Red Root) in bloom!

Red Root (Ceanothus spp.)

On a spring hike near Sedona, my nose was alerted to this shrub long before I actually saw it. This blooming Red Root filled the air with the fragrance of lilac and was covered with beautiful butterflies drinking its sweet nectar. There are many inter-breeding species of Ceanothus in the western states, all have similar medicinal properties. The root bark is indeed red, hence its common name, and is also the part of the plant used as medicine. Red Root is a lymphagogue and astringent. Herbalists employ it for congestion in the lymphatic system, liver and spleen. It can be helpful to reduce pelvic congestion, fluid filled-cysts, tonsillitis, sore throats and inflamed lymph nodes. Red Root is sometimes called California Lilac due to its beautiful purple blossoms and lilac fragrance, and makes a beautiful native landscape plant.

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Horsetail (Equisetum spp.)

Horsetail Young

Young Horsetail shoots in northern Arizona

In early spring I encountered this wee forest of Horsetail in one of our local creeks. More recently I visited this watershed and found the Horsetail at least a foot or so high. The aerial parts of Horsetail are nutritive, rich in silica needed by our bodies to support bone health and all collagen containing structures like cartilage, hair, skin and nails. Horsetail is also a diuretic, astringent, vulnerary and styptic. Horsetail likes to have its feet in water and will absorb any toxins (herbicides, pesticides and other urban runoff) in the water system. Before harvesting Horsetail in the wild the skilled wildcrafter will  make certain the water source is free of contaminants.

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Oregon Grape Root (Mahonia Aquifolium)

An old friend from the Pacific Northwest, I was surprised to encounter Oregon Grape Root in Arizona, but have to come to understand that its range is quite broad. The bright yellow flowers will eventually produce purple berries, sour, but edible. The golden roots are used medicinally as an antimicrobial, bitter (to stimulate secretion of digestive juices), and for liver and digestive complaints. Containing berberines, Oregon Grape Root is a good substitute Goldenseal, (which has been over-harvested in the wild and is expensive to cultivate). Like Red Root, Oregon Grape Root, with its bright yellow flowers, shiny green foliage, and Fall berries makes an excellent landscape medicinal for much of the west, including the Arizona highlands. 

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Valerian in Bloom Prescott 2016

Valerian in bloom!

 Valerian (Valeriana spp.)

I encountered a small stand  of Valerian in the same creek system where the Horsetail was thriving. This sweet purple-pink flower provides cover to the somewhat smelly root that is used medicinally. Some people think Valerian Root smells like dirty socks and I have to agree–there is some truth to that. Nevertheless, Valerian Root serves as an effective sedative for many people who suffer from insomnia. It is also a strong nervous system and muscle relaxant and as such is sometimes used for anxiety and muscle tension.

 

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When I meet medicinal plants in the wild, most often I am happy simply to greet them, take in their beauty, and perhaps a photo. Only rarely and under very specific circumstances do I take any of them home with me. Wildcrafting is the practice of gathering medicinal plants in the wild, in their natural environments. Ethical, sustainable wildcrafting is part art, part science and part spiritual practice. In its highest form, wildcrafting is performed with intimate knowledge and deep respect for the ecosystem and plant community. Permission is essential and something must always be given in return. Many medicinal plants have been harvested solely for profit and nearly to extinction. So please, when you encounter medicinal plants, greet them, enjoy them, respect them, and leave them. Be nourished by their wild presence and by your love and respect for the Earth.

To close, I want to share with you this beautiful poem by one of my favorite poets, Wendell Berry.

The Peace of Wild Things 

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

For the Earth,
Suzanne Teachey
Herbalist & Proprietress

Radiant Skin Part 2: Herbs for Topical Skincare

Herbs for Topical Skincare

Maintaining healthy skin at anytime of year and at any age is both an inside and an outside job. For tips to keep your skin healthy from the inside, out, check out our recent post, Tips for Radiant Skin from the Inside, Out.

In today’s post, however, we’re going outside. I’d like to introduce you to herbs you can use on the outside, that is, topically for radiant skin. These nourishing herbs can be easily incorporated in your own DIY skincare products. You can make these safe, natural, organic skincare products at home to optimize all the other good things you’re doing to take care of your body and skin from the inside, out.

HERBS FOR TOPICAL SKINCARE

When it comes to topical skincare, medicinal plants offer a wide range of properties that promote healthy skin. In this post I’m going to introduce you to four unique herbal actions for your skin and four plants that I frequently incorporate into my skincare products.

Calendula: An Herbal Vulnerary

An herbal vulnerary describes a medicinal plant that promotes healing of wounds and soothes irritated tissue, including the skin. Calendula (Calendula officinalis) is one of my favorite vulneraries. This bright orange-gold flower reminds me of a warm summer day. If sunshine has a fragrance, it’s Calendula. These medicinal flowers aid in healing wounds, burns, boils, rashes, and support normal connective tissue, making Calendula an excellent topical remedy for most skin conditions and all skin types. It also relieves itching and can reduce the swelling and pain of bee stings. For daily skin care, Calendula helps to soften and smooth skin, reduce pore size, and clear acne.

For topical use, Calendula is typically infused in oil, which is then applied to the skin or incorporated in a salve, lotion, or cream. A strong tea made with Calendula flowers can also be incorporated in a cream or lotion or used in the bath tub. You can make your own Calendula Oil with this recipe and then use it to make a Calendula Salve with these instructions. Calendula Oil can also be incorporated in DIY lotions and creams—another recipe coming your way soon. We sell beautiful organic Calendula flowers in the shop and you can purchase organic Calendula Oil in the shop or online.

Keep in mind that Calendula is just one of many herbal vulneraries. Others that work well in skin care include Aloe Vera juice or gel (Aloe spp.), Comfrey leaf and root (Symphytum officinalis),Chickweed (Stellaria media), and Plantain (Plantago spp.). 

German Chamomile: An Herbal Anti-Inflammatory

Herbal anti-inflammatories reduce inflammation in various ways. Some reduce inflammation because their mucilaginous content is directly soothing. Others contain salicylates (like aspirin) or steroid precursors. Many essential oils are also anti-inflammatory, including the essential oil found in the familiar herb and cheerful little flower we call German Chamomile (Matricaria recutita).

Better known for its relaxing effects and for its ability to easy indigestion, German Chamomile is actually one of my favorite anti-inflammatories for topical use.  Its antispasmodic effects also make it a good choice for topical use on sore muscles. Diluted, German Chamomile essential oil can also be applied to  sprains and sore tendons and joints.  Its relaxing and anti-inflammatory effects also help ease headaches and soothe allergies. Incorporated in skincare products, Chamomile is good for all skin types and especially for sensitive skin, puffiness or inflamed conditions.

You can find organic German Chamomile essential oil and German Chamomile Hydrosol in the shop and online. Hydrosols, sometimes called flower waters are created during the steam distillation of essential oils. They possess many of the same qualities as the essential oil, but are much less concentrated, making them well suited for topical use. Hydrosols make great skin toners, alone, or in combination with other ingredients.

German Chamomile essential oil is easily incorporated in your DIY skincare products. You can also use Chamomile Hydrosol or a strong Chamomile tea in creams and lotions. The tea also makes for a relaxing, skin-soothing bath. Other herbal anti-inflammatories for topical skincare include Calendula, discussed above, Comfrey leaf and root (Symphytum officinalis),Chickweed (Stellaria media), Lavender (Lavendula angustifolia), Licorice Root (Gylcyrrhiza glabra), which is also used to lighten dark skin spots, and Plantain (Plantago spp.).

Green Tea: An Herbal Antioxidant

Skin damage occurs as a result of oxidation, a chemical process in which unstable molecules called free radicals steal electrons from healthy cells. On the skin, oxidative stress may show up us as wrinkles, thickening, discoloration and loss of elasticity. Antioxidants are the best defense against free radical damage or oxidative stress.  As the name suggests, antioxidants combat oxidative damage by sacrificing their own electrons to feed free radicals, but without turning into free radicals themselves. A diet rich in high quality, organic fruits and vegetables will give your body a daily dose of antioxidants. Personally, I like to up my daily antioxidant intake with the regular consumption of Green Tea (Camellia sinensis), truly my favorite antioxidant!

Drinking Green Tea daily is not only great for your skin, also improves mental clarity and promotes an increased sense of well-being. It contains more than 50 anti-inflammatory compounds and possesses anti-carcinogenic properties that may help explain why cancer rates are much lower in Japan where Green Tea consumption is high. Green Tea also has a pronounced effect on the cardiovascular system, helping to lower blood pressure, lowering cholesterol levels, specifically “bad cholesterols” (LDL) and serum triglycerides, while raising “good cholesterols” (HDL). It also acts as a blood thinner or anti-coagulant and has been shown to inhibit abnormal blood clot formation as effectively as aspirin. Whew! I think I need a cup of Green Tea.

Green Tea is a common ingredient in many skincare products and it can also be incorporated in DIY skincare. Consider using powdered  Green Tea in a mask in combination  with a French Green or White Kaolin Clay. A strong tea can be incorporated in lotions or creams and I’ll be posting a recipe for that very lotion later this month.

There are many varieties of Green Tea and we have offer many organic choices online and in the shop. Green Tea also features prominently in many of Super Salve/Sister Creations Power Repair skincare products including Skin Serum, Vitamin C Solution, Skin Therapy Oil, Lighten & Brighten, Nourishsing Face Cream, and Eye Cream, all 20% off in the shop during the month of June.

In addition to Green Tea, most green leafy herbs contain significant levels of anti-oxidants. Among these, Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis), Sage (Salvia officinalis), and Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) offer other unique benefits for the skin and can be also be incorporated in DIY skincare products from masks and toners to cleansers and lotions.

Helichrysum: An Herbal Skin Regenerative

Rare are compounds that promote regeneration of healthy connective tissue immediately following an injury and restoration of healthy skin even after scarring has developed. Sometimes referred to as Everlast or Immortelle, the small flowers of Helichrysum italicum (syn. angustifolium) produce an essential oil with these rare and potent skin regenerative effects. This essential oil also possesses vulnerary, anti-inflammatory, anti-bruising, and analgesic properties. Topically, the essential oil is a great first aid remedy for sprains, strains, bruising, swelling, cuts, open wounds, and radiation burns.  Applied immediately after injury, it can help prevent swelling and bruising.

In skincare products Helichrysum essential oil helps reduce and prevent scars (including keloid scars and stretch marks), old or new, resulting from surgery or injury. The essential oil is easily incorporated in DIY skincare products to reduce inflammation and to soothe chronic dermatitis, eczema, psoriasis, acne and acne scarring. It is an ideal choice for repair of mature, sun damaged, or couperose skin.  Helichrysum hydrosol makes an excellent toner and can also be used to incorporate the amazing properties of Helichrysum in a lotion or cream.  You can purchase Helichrysum essential oil (in a base of Jojoba Oil) and the Hydrosol in the shop or online.

An alternative to Helichrysum is an herb called Gotu Kola (Centella asiatica). Gotu Kola lacks the beautiful fragrance of Helichrysum, but offers many of the same benefits when it comes to wound repair and tissue regeneration. Gotu Kola also has the advantage of being safe for internal use and promotes wound healing and tissue regeneration when used internally. It’s even helpful for varicose veins and cellulitis. A strong tea of Gotu Kola can also be incorporated in your DIY skincare products.  For more about Gotu Kola visit our blog, Tips for Radiant Skin from the Inside, Out.

There are many excellent herbs for radiant skin. Consider your age, skin type, and the current health of your skin. Visit this blog throughout the month for DIY skincare recipes incorporating a variety of herbs and essential oils, including those discussed here. If you’re eating a skin-healthy diet, getting plenty of rest and water, then incorporating herbs in your topical skincare routine is like icing on the cake!

Thanks so much for visiting us online. Our mission is to support you in making informed decisions about the use of herbs for a healthier, happier lifestyle. Please let us know how we can support you and serve you better.

Wishing you a beautiful summer and radiant health inside an out,
suzanne

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Tips for Radiant Skin from the Inside, Out

Tips for Radiant Skin from the Inside Out

Are you spending a lot on pricey skincare products? Do you have a cabinet in your home loaded with half-used exfoliants, expensive moisturizers and anti-aging products that never delivered the promised results? Could it be that these topical approaches to healthy skin are, well, just that, topical, superficial? Only “skin deep”? While I love to treat my skin with coconut oil, essential oils, and other topical products, the fact is, healthy skin begins within. Radiant skin happens from the inside, not just the outside. Good nutrition, hormonal balance, immune function, adequate sleep, and stress all affect the health and appearance of your skin.

In this post I want to introduce you to some of the herbs that can be used internally to promote healthy skin. Whether you simply want more vibrant, youthful looking skin or are suffering from a skin condition like eczema, psoriasis, acne, or rosacea, an approach that focuses on health from the inside, especially optimal functioning of your digestive, detoxification, and immune systems will improve the health of your skin.

Why Does Skin Age?

As you age, substances that keep the skin firm and elastic like collagen and elastin, gradually decrease. Genetics play a role, but so do diet and lifestyle. Skin damage occurs as a result of oxidation, a chemical process in which unstable molecules called free radicals steal electrons from healthy cells. On the skin, oxidative stress may show up us as wrinkles, thickening, discoloration and loss of elasticity. By the way, free radical damage is not just limited to the skin cells. Free radicals degrade healthy cells throughout the body, can impact functioning of your DNA, and are a factor in most chronic diseases including cardiovascular disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease.

When it comes to skin, sun exposure and smoking are two of the most damaging causes of oxidative stress. If you smoke, stop. (and there are, of course, herbs to support you.) Sunlight, as enjoyable as it can be and important for Vitamin D production, is a form of radiation, specifically ultraviolet (UV) radiation. UV radiation leads to free radical damage and it can cause cells to mutate and turn cancerous.

So, what can you do to combat oxidative damage and help your skin stay firm and elastic? In short, a healthy diet, lots of water, rest, and herbs, of course!

A Skin-Healthy Diet

Given the basic science of skin health, one of the best things you can do for radiant skin is eat a skin-healthy diet. Skin is built from the inside out and draws its healthy glow from good nutrition. The best defense against free radical damage or oxidative stress is a diet rich in antioxidants. As the name makes clear, antioxidants combat oxidative damage by sacrificing their own electrons to feed free radicals, but without turning into free radicals themselves.

A diet rich in antioxidants is a balanced diet with lots of fresh high-quality, organic foods, especially fruits and vegetables. Fresh green leafy vegetables, carrots, squash, peppers, oranges, grapes and berries (blueberries, blackberries, raspberries) are all great sources of antioxidants as well as other essential vitamins and nutrients. Pecan and walnuts are also good choices. Wild Salmon is a good source of the antioxidant astaxanthin as well as Omega-3, an essential fatty acid that helps protect the skin from sun damage. Grass-fed meat and eggs are good sources of the important antioxidant known as glutathione.

And then there’s Water! Though it seems obvious, it bears repeating. A recent Center for Disease Control study found that 43% of Americans do not drink enough water. Water helps the body flush out toxins, supports the flow of vital nutrients into cells, and helps your organs function well. Plus, a well hydrated skin cell is plump and full, which will help your skin appear firm and clear. Though recommendations vary, the Institute of Medicine recommends at least 9 cups per day for women and 13 for men. (Keep in mind, caffeinated and alcoholic beverages don’t count because they increase urination.)

Herbs for Radiant Skin

When it comes to healthy skin, herbs offer multiple benefits. Herbs like Green Tea and Turmeric Root provide an excellent source of antioxidants. Other herbal antioxidants that also support healthy immune function include Astragalus Root, Panax Ginseng and Holy Basil.

Milk Thistle Seed supports your body’s detoxificationsystem and promotes your body’s production and utilization of the important antioxidant, glutathione. Milk Thistle is also of value for people with psoriasis due to its ability to promote healthy liver function (thereby reducing the load of circulating toxins) and inhibit inflammatory compounds that are one of the causes of the excessive skin cell replication seen in psoriasis. Sarsaparilla is also known to improve psoriasis and has a long history of use for chronic skin disorders. Burdock, Dandelion, Yellow Dock and Red Clover also support detoxification and are used for chronic skin conditions like acne, psoriasis, and eczema. You can find many of these herbs that support detoxification in our Balanced Detox Tea and Herbal Detox Extract

Gotu Kola A Special Herb for Healthy Radiant Skin

There are many herbs that will help you achieve radiant skin, but I want to give a special shout out to Gotu Kola (Centella asiatica) which offers something very special. Native to India, China, Australia and the South Pacific, Gotu Kola flourishes in and around water. Historically, the entire plant was used medicinally for wound healing, eczema, psoriasis and even leprosy. Pharmacological studies have demonstrated that Gotu Kola stimulates hair and nail growth, increases the integrity of the dermis (the inner layer of the skin), exerts a balancing effect on connective tissue, and promotes formation of hyaluronic acid.

What’s hyaluronic acid, you say? Well, from the recent media hype (and price), you might think hyaluronic acid is the latest and most important man-made invention. In fact, it is a naturally occurring compound present in large amounts in the spaces between skin cells, where it provides moisture, plumpness, firmness and suppleness to the skin. It is also present in the eyes and in the joint spaces, where it acts as a natural lubricant and ‘shock absorber.’ We are born with high levels of hyaluronic acid, which accounts for babies’ plump and smooth skin, but unfortunately, the body produces less and less hyaluronic acid over time.

In addition to promotion of hyaluronic acid, Gotu Kola also supportd production of collagen and elastin. It’s pharmacological activity makes it is a valuable agent for the skin and its documented clinical uses include support for burns, dermatitis, skin ulcers, and would healing. Used internally, extracts of Gotu Kola have demonstrated good results on cellulite and keloid scarring. Gotu Kola has also demonstrated positive effects on varicose veins, an effect attributed to its ability to enhance connective tissue structure surrounding the veins.

Gotu Kola’s ability to promote your body’s production of collagen, elastin, and hyaluronic acid make it a great choice for everyday support for radiant skin, combined of course with a skin healthy diet and lots of water. Gotu Kola can be used in tea, as a tincture, or in capsule form.

At Nectar, we incorporate Gotu Kola in our Radiant Skin Tea along with herbs that are gently detoxifying (Red Clover Blossoms, Nettles, and Dandelion Leaf), and herbs that provide the skin with vital nutrients (Horsetail and Nettles). We also offer Gotu Kola extract.

While we all love to put rich, natural, moisturizing products on our skin, keep in mind that healthy skin is largely an inside job. Eating a skin-healthy diet, drinking plenty of water, and supporting your body with herbs helps to create not only radiant skin, but radiant health. But whatever the appearance of your skin or the state of your health, remember that your true beauty is on the inside. My Mother who was a college beauty queen taught me that “beauty is on the inside.” She meant that kindness, generosity, and a loving heart make one beautiful. For me, this will be always the essence of beauty.
Thanks Mom ♡

To learn more about herbs for radiant skin, visit Part 2 of this series, Herbs for Topical Skincare.

Well Wishes,
suzanne

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Are You Brewing Your Loose Leaf Tea Properly?

You would be surprised how often I hear people say “I don’t like tea.” Seriously—that’s like saying “I don’t like food.”  But, I get it. If you’ve only experienced tea that came in tiny tea bags from a cardboard box, it probably tasted a lot like cardboard.

I love it when I can offer a brilliant cup of loose leaf tea to someone who says “I don’t like tea.”  I love to see the surprise and sense of wonder on their face as they experience the rich and complex flavors. That said, if you’ve only ever encountered tea in tea bags that came from a box, you may be unsure what to do with a loose leaf tea.

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Brewing a delicious cup of loose leaf tea starts with fresh, vibrant dried tea leaves or herbs and a little bit of “know how.” It’s really quite simple. Yes—it takes a little more time and intention, but the result is well worth it. Allowing yourself time to prepare your tea properly is an act of self-care and a practice of mindfulness and presence.

Tea is an act complete in its simplicity.
When I drink tea, there is only me and the tea.
The rest of the world dissolves.
There are no worries about the future.
No dwelling on past mistakes.
Tea is simple: loose-leaf tea, hot pure water, a cup.
I inhale the scent, tiny delicate pieces of the tea floating above the cup.
I drink the tea, the essence of the leaves becoming a part of me.
I am informed by the tea, changed.
This is the act of life, in one pure moment, and in this act the truth
of the world suddenly becomes revealed: 
all the complexity, pain, drama of life is a pretense, 
invented in our minds for no good purpose.  
There is only the tea, and me, converging.
Thích Nhất Hạnh

First, before we get in to brewing, let me clear up a little confusion around the term “tea.”

Is It Tea or Tisane?

Technically and officially the term “tea” refers to hot infused beverages made from the leaves of a plant known as Camellia sinensis or its closely related cousins. There are at least six unique types of tea from this one plant, including Green, Black, White, Oolong, Yellow, and Dark (or Pu-erh tea), all possessing caffeine in varying amounts. The distinctions in flavor, aroma, color and texture arise from different growing regions and farming techniques, harvest time, and production or crafting methods.

Then there are so-called “herbal teas,” technically not tea at all since they are made from herbs, spices, and berries, and barks rather than the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. Technically an “herbal tea” is a tisane (pronounced ti-ˈzan).  However, tisane is a word most people have never heard of. So, rather than geting all bound up in the nomenclature, I confess to using the term tea to refer to both the Camellia sinensis variety and tisanes. Please don’t turn me into the grammar police.

Brewing loose leaf teas can be a simple or complex as you want to make it. You can use a tea ball, or a simple strainer, a fancy teapots, or even a French-press (especially if you’re holding onto a retired French-Press from your coffee drinking days). Regardless of the tools you choose to use, what’s important is good circulation of the hot water around the tea leaves or herbs. Since most teas expand when they are immersed in hot water, be sure not to pack the herbs in too tightly, especially if you’re using a tea ball. This is one of the most common mistakes I hear about. I prefer to let the herbs roam freely in the pot or French-press and strain before drinking. More about that that below.

Now when it comes to brewing a delicious cup of loose leaf tea there is a big difference between Green, Black, Oolong and other true teas on the one hand and herbal teas on the other. Volumes could be written about the many subtle methods to brew the perfect cup of tea.  Proper water temperature and short steeping times from one to five minute are critical for Green, Black, Oolong and other true teas.  For this article however, I want to focus on the best way to brew loose leaf herbal teas since I find that many people are not doing it correctly and are missing out—not only on the rich and subtle flavors, but also on the therapeutic benefits of herbal teas.

 Is It an Infusion or a Decoction?

There are two basic methods for brewing loose leaf herbal teas—a third, if you combine the two.  The method you choose will have a major impact on flavor and the medicinal properties of the finished tea. In general, if your loose leaf tea is made up of the soft aerial parts of the plants—leaves and flowers, an infusion is the preferred method.  If your loose leaf tea is a blend of hard woody parts, roots, bark, berries, or seeds, a decoction is the preferred method. Of course there are exceptions to every rule, but more about that later.

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How to Make an Herbal Infusion

If you’ve ever dropped a tea bag in a cup of hot water and let it sit for a few minutes, you’ve made an infusion. That said, not all infusions result in a delicious cup of tea (remember all those people who say they don’t like tea), so there may be some room for improvement in your method. First, keep in mind that this method is best for loose leaf teas made up of the soft aerial parts of the plants—the leaves and flowers. Good examples of teas to be infused include Nectar’s Quiet Belly, Free & Easy, and Fit & Trim Green Tea. To prepare an infusion,

  1. Measure Your Herbal Blend: One tablespoon per cup (8 ounces) will generally make a full-flavored medicinal tea. If your blend was prepared by your herbalist or other practitioner, be sure to follow their instructions.
  2. Cover the loose herbs with just boiled water and place a cover on the cup or teapot.
  3. Allow to steep for at least 15 minutes! Yes—15 minutes—this will allow for a more thorough extraction of the flavor and therapeutic compounds.
  4. Strain and enjoy!

 How to Make an Herbal Decoction

The hard woody parts of plants generally need more heat to extract all of the flavor and active constituents. Herbal blends made up if roots, barks, seeds, and berries should be prepared as a decoction. Nectar Teas to prepare as a decoction include Stamina Builder, Immune Tonic, and Inner Calm teas. To prepare a decoction,

  1. Measure Your Herbal Blend: One tablespoon for two cups of water is generally a good measure. If your blend was prepared by your herbalist or other practitioner, be sure to follow their instructions.
  2. Place the loose herbal blend in a small sauce pan and add the water.
  3. Slowly bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover, and allow to simmer 15-20 minutes.
  4. Strain and enjoy!

There’s Always an Exception

There are some roots that don’t follow the general rule. These are roots that either contain a lot of mucilage or a lot of volatile oils—more commonly known as essential oils. Herbs that contain a lot of mucilage get thick and gummy when they get wet. Marshmallow Root and Slippery Elm are good examples. You can prepare these either as a decoction or infusion, but allowing them to steep overnight in cold water will extract the greatest amount of mucilaginous content which gives these medicinal plants their soothing properties.

Roots that contain essential oil are another exception. If you prepare them as a decoction, the simmering will cause more of the therapeutic essential oils to escape the tea.  Essential oils are great for the air, but when you prepare a tea with aromatic plants you’d like to capture as much of the volatile oils in the cup as possible. So, for roots like Ginger, Elecampane, and Valerian, I prefer to prepare them as an infusion, with a long steep time (20-30 minutes), being sure to keep a lid on the cup or teapot.

Any good medicinal tea should include instructions for preparation. If the cardboard box says to steep the tea bag in hot water for 3-5 minutes, skip it and find a good quality loose leaf tea.  Allow yourself time to prepare your tea well. Savor the warmth, the flavor and aromas.

Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis 
on which the world earth revolves--slowly, evenly,
without rushing toward the future.
― Thích Nhất Hạnh

What’s A Tincture And Why Would You Want One?

What is a Tincture?

You’ve seen all those little amber bottles with eyedroppers, right? Some people walk in to an herbal apothecary and wonder what they are. Others mistake them for essential oils.

Well, most of those little bottles are filled with tinctures. Tinctures are concentrated herbal extracts—a traditional and effective form of herbal medicine that holds its own in a world of hi-tech, highly processed supplements.

Tinctures are by definition alcohol based extracts. Alcohol acts as the solvent that draws the therapeutic compounds out of the plants, just as water is the solvent in an herbal tea. The alcohol also acts as a preservative, so most tinctures have a long shelf life. Most tinctures use a blend of alcohol, distilled water, and sometimes glycerin.

Today, the best tinctures use organic alcohol. When I first started making my own tinctures twenty years ago, organic alcohol was simply unavailable unless you where distilling it yourself. Times have changed, but the efficacy of tinctures has not.

The tincture bottle you see on the apothecary shelf may contain the extract of a single herb or a blend of herbs. Some practitioners, including Herbalists and Naturopathic Doctors, custom blend tinctures to meet the unique needs and healthcare goals of the individual.

Tinctures are usually taken two to three times daily in a small amount of water. They can also be added to a cup of tea or prepared as a tea simply by adding hot water. The hot water will also evaporate some of the alcohol.

Some people are concerned about the high percentage of alcohol in some tinctures. However, the total amount of alcohol consumed in a single use is very, very small. Consider that a single dose is usually less than a single teaspoon, and more often quantities for a single dose range from a few drops to ½ teaspoon. That said, some people abstain from alcohol completely—those in recovery, and others for religious, health, or personal reasons. For these individuals, tinctures are not the form of choice.

Glycerites are liquid herbal extracts made with glycerin, that share many of the same properties as tinctures. Glycerites can be an effective alternative for alcohol intolerant individuals. Their sweet taste also makes them a good choice for children.

Why Choose A Tincture?

 When it comes to using herbal medicine, there are many choices—teas, powders, capsules, essential oils, flower essences, and tinctures. I am often asked, “which is best?” Well the answer, is “it depends.” All forms have their purpose and place. In general, the best form is usually the one you are most likely to use consistently. Still, you might choose a tincture over another form for its convenience, taste, shelf life, or because it really is the most effective form for the herb you want to use.

whiskey row tincture

Convenience

Some people are not likely to make investment of time it takes to make a tea—think busy Moms who are home schooling their children, or people in their 50’s juggling work, teens, and caring for aging parents. For people who don’t have time to make a tea, tinctures can be an excellent choice. In other words, tinctures are more convenient for some people. I also like the convenience when I’m travelling and don’t have ready access to my hot water or my teapot.

Flavor

Another reason you might choose a tincture over a tea is flavor. Some herbs simply don’t taste good. Drinking a cup of foul tasting tea three times a day means some people are not likely to take their herbs as frequently as needed. If you don’t take them, they don’t work. Right! On the other hand, it’s much easier to swallow a dropperful of tincture in a small amount of water, even if it doesn’t taste good, than to down a whole cup of tea.

Shelf Life

You might also choose a tincture because it has a long shelf life, meaning it won’t go bad or lose its potency for a long time—at least three years and probably longer if properly stored. If you’re buying a tincture for your cold symptoms, odds are you’re not going to use it all up this cold season. The tincture however, should still be good next cold season. So, for herbs that you want to have on hand in your home medicine chest, but only use occasionally, the tinctured form is a good choice.

Efficacy

Finally, and this gets a little more technical here, you might choose a tincture over a tea, powder, or capsules because the tincture is more effective. Some herbs lose their potency when dried. For these plants, Herbalists prefer to prepare a tincture using the fresh plant. Good examples are Milky Oat Pods, Skullcap, and Feverfew. The tincture of the fresh plant is best for herbs like this. There are other medicinal herbs, Milk Thistle Seed for example, with therapeutic compounds that are not water soluble. For herbs like this the tincture will be more effective than a tea. (Another option is to ingest the whole powdered herb in a smoothie or added to food.) If you’re not sure, ask an Herbalist.

The next time you visit an apothecary and see all those little eyedropper bottles on the shelf—they’re TINCTURES—an convenient, stable, efficacious, and traditional form of herbal medicine.

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Simple Elder Berry Syrup Recipe for Immune Health

DELICIOUS + EFFECTIVE IMMUNE SUPPORT

Elder Berry (Sambucus nigra) also know as Black Elder Berry, is an immune stimulant with antiviral properties, traditionally used for cold and flu symptoms, including aches and pains, coughing, nasal congestion, mucous discharge and fever. This tasty berry makes a delicious syrup even your kids will like.  Though I love honey, in this recipe I prefer to use glycerin as excess sugar (even in the form of honey) has a negative impact on immune function.

This is a great syrup for cold and flu season.  It can be taken daily to ward off those pesky cold and flu viruses or in higher quantities at the first sign of a cold or flu.

Elder Berry for Immune Health

Simple Elder Berry Syrup Recipe:

Ingredients:

1 cup dried Elder berries
2.5 cups water
3/4 cup raw honey or glycerin to taste

Directions: Place the berries in a saucepan and cover with the water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer over low heat for 30-45 minutes. Remove from heat. Crush the berries as much as possible using a small jar or other tool. Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer (smashing and mashing as you go to get out all the juice). Add honey or glycerin, to taste. Bottle the syrup and store in the refrigerator, where it will keep for 2-3 months.

Recommended Use:

Acute:  Adults: 2 teaspoons 4 times daily; Children: 1 teaspoon 4 times daily
Prevention: Adults: 2 teaspoons daily; Children: 1 teaspoon daily

Simple and delicious.

be well, be happy, and and take your elder berry,
Suzanne Teachey
Herbalist & Proprietress

Herbal Immune Support for Winter Health

Prepping for the Winter?

While winter invites us to enjoy warm soup, hot tea, and quiet time in front of the fireplace, it also invites cold and flu viruses into our lives.

Research shows that many cold and flu viruses thrive in the cold dry winter air. Spending more time indoors may also foster the spread of these unwelcome guests. What to do? Herbs, of course, in addition to a healthy diet, exercise, plenty of rest, and frequent hand washing.

With tonic herbs that support the immune system and other herbs that offer natural relief from common cold and flu symptoms, you can enjoy the winter season without those unwelcome guests.

This week we will consider the herbal immune tonics that strengthen the body’s defense system and next week, those herbs that offer natural relief when cold or flu symptoms arise.

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HERBAL IMMUNE SUPPORT WITH TONICS + ADAPTOGENS

The immune system is a complex network of specialized cells, tissues, and organs that protect the body from pathogens and rogue cells. Healthy functioning of the immune system is critical to our health, resistance to infection, and defense against certain diseases. As you may have discovered through personal experience, chronic stress suppresses the immune system’s ability to do its job, and increases our susceptibility to disease. This is where the herbal adaptogen comes into play.

Adaptogens are a remarkable and important category of herbs whose actions are unparalleled in medical science. Adaptogens help the body adapt to stress and restore balance. They increase the body’s resistance to physical, biological, emotional, and environmental stressors and modulate the immune system. They are considered tonics because they act in a generalized way to alleviate conditions of weakness in the body.

So, if you are under some unavoidable stress this winter, suffer from frequent colds, or are around people who are often sick, consider adding an herbal adaptogen to your daily self-care regime.

One important note about adaptogens–though they build strength in the body and can assist in the recovery from chronic illness, they are not recommended for use in the acute phase of a cold or flu. Consider their action more tonic and preventive.

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4 HERBAL ADAPTOGENS FOR IMMUNE SUPPORT

Astragalus Root

This root is for people who are run-down and need an overall immune boost. Used for long term strengthening of the immune system, its antimicrobial activity may improve resistance to colds, flus, and bronchitis. In Chinese medicine, Astragalus is aid to strengthen the Lung qi, which is a protective energy that helps prevent illness caused by external forces. Astragalus is also used to counter the immune suppressive effects of chemotherapy treatment and possesses anti-tumor activity.

Eleuthero Root

Like Astragalus, Eleuthero is safe for long term use. It strengthens the immune system and research shows that regular use may reduce the incidence of colds and other common infectious diseases. Athletes also benefit from Eleuthero with increased endurance and stamina, shortened recovery time, and the prevention of immune-depletion from excessive training. Single parents and other people who work long hours, without adequate sleep are likely to feel better and perform better with Eleuthero.

Holy Basil

Also known as Tulsi Basil, this adaptogen has been used for thousands of years in India and it’s benefits have now become the subject of modern clinical research. Today we know that this plant is stress reducing, anti-oxidant, modulates inflammation and has antiviral properties.

Licorice Root

This familiar, tasty root is used in small quantities to nourish the adrenals and combat fatigue. It also possesses immune-modulating, anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, and liver-protective properties. A note of caution-excessive quantities can elevate blood pressure.


And more…as I said these are just a few of my favorites of the diverse and versatile adaptogens.

Others adaptogens are American and Asian Ginseng, Ashwagandha, Reishi Mushroom, Schisandra, and Goji Berries.

There are many different forms in which you might choose to use these adaptogens-in teas, as tinctures (concentrated liquid extracts), capsules, and even as powders added to your morning smoothie. Choose the form that works best for you and your lifestyle.

Be well, be happy, and take your adaptogens!
suzanne

 

 

Suzanne Teachey
Herbalist & Proprietress

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