Thursday, September 27, 2012


Calendula officinalis flowers in the morning
Fall has fallen here in West Virginia as evidenced by dry lips from a chilly bike ride to work and a growing pile of sweaters in my office. Calendula flowers are still opening up to the late day warmth, and dried ones will release their stored sunshine into salves, lotions, and, especially, lip balms.

Spearmint (Mentha spicata)

Calendula's warmth can be enhanced by a burst of initial heat from an aromatic mint that will then bring the lips a breath of cool freshness beneath the insulating oils. Spearmint or lemon balm will do but peppermint (Mentha piperita) packs the biggest menthol punch.


A lip balm tube dispenser kit

- dried calendula flowers - half a handful
- dried peppermint - half a handful
- almond oil - 4 oz (1/2 cup)
- bee's wax - 1.6 oz (ratio 1 part bee's wax to 2.5 parts oil)
- vitamin E - 10 drops
- peppermint essential oil - 5 drops
- small jars or lip balm tubes and dispenser

Oil infusion of calendula and peppermint
1) Crumble the dried calendula and peppermint into a small pot with pouring spout and cover with a little more than 4 ounces of oil since some will be lost with straining;
2) Heat uncovered on hotplate set to low or in a 110 degree oven for 3-5 hours;
3) Strain the herbs from the oil and return 4 ounces of oil to the pot;
4) Add the bee's wax and heat on low until melted. Use a little less bee's wax for softer winter balms, a little more for harder summer balms;
5) Stir in vitamin E and peppermint essential oil;
6) Pour into jars or tubes and allow to cool and harden before adding tops;
7) Label with name, date, and ingredients before sharing the love.

Lip Love courtesy of Sensorium Herbals

Tuesday, August 14, 2012


Single remedies are often used for acute problems: Echinacea for a cold, feverfew for a migraine, arnica for a bruise, and etc. Such simples work fast and help the body to heal itself. Chronic problems, on the other hand, often need a deeper herbal approach that includes foods, lifestyle changes, teas, and tincture formulas.

Burdock is an adaptogen and hepatic

Building a tincture formula is as complex as the problem being treated but follows certain steps. Selection of herbs is made by picking an adaptogen for the person, an alterative for the involved organ system, a specific herb for the specific problem(s), and a nervine, hepatic, or lymphatic if needed.

Nettle is a GI alterative

Celiac disease is an autoimmune sensitivity to gluten in foods. The mucous cells lining the intestines respond to gluten with inflammation that causes indigestion and malabsorption of food resulting in diarrhea and malnutrition. Longterm gluten exposure causes muscle and joint pain, insomnia, anemia, and chronic fatigue. The first step in treatment of celiac disease is removal of gluten from the diet: Wheat, rye, barley, and whole oats. Then herbs can be used to calm the intestinal lining, promote nutrient absorption, and relieve the pain and fatigue.

CeliacEase Tincture (4oz)

burdock root (adaptogen, hepatic) - 2 parts (1oz)
nettle (gastrointestinal alterative, nutrient absorption) - 2 part (1oz)
mallow root (intestinal emollient, anti-inflammatory) - 2 parts (1oz)
St. John's wort (nervine tonic, sleep promotion, anti-inflammatory) - 1 part (.5oz)
milk thistle (hepatic, liver regeneration) - 1 part (.5oz)

1) Determine the herbs and the number of parts for each herb (2 for burdock, nettle, and mallow because of their combined actions and tastes);
2) Count the total number of parts for the formula (2+2+2+1+1 = 8 parts);
3) Divide the desired amount of tincture by the total number of parts to get the amount per part (4oz /8 parts = .5oz/part);
4) Add the amount of each herb to a measuring cup with a spout (1 part = .5oz, 2 parts = 1 oz);
5) Stir the mixture and dispense into dropper bottles;
6) Take 20-40 drops four times a day for 1-2 months while strictly avoiding gluten in foods;
7) Also take a nervine sedative at bedtime if needed for improved sleep.

Thursday, July 26, 2012


Plantago lanceolata in late summer

It doen't take plastic surgery to treat those scourges of aging skin, scars and wrinkles. Herbal salves work just fine, if more slowly, and the ingredients are available for free right there in your neighborhood.

Plantago majus in late summer

Both lance- and broad-leafed plantain have the ability to soften, moisten, and tighten skin lesions. The leaves can be picked from the lawn before mowing and dried for oil extraction when needed.


Rare pink yarrow in late summer
The white flower clusters of yarrow (Achillea millefolium) plucked from nearby fields complement plaintain by improving circulation to and from scars and wrinkles. Their bitter astringency also helps to tighten up the skin. Add in a little nourishing rose essential oil and voila tout - a return to young and passionate skin!


- plantain leaves (dried) – 1 small handful
- yarrow flowers (dried) - 1 small handful
- almond, safflower, or olive oil – 1 cup
- bee’s wax – 1 ounce
- vitamin E oil – 10 drops
- rose essential oil – 5 drops

1. Crumble plantain and yarrow into a small pot;
2. Completely cover the leaves with the oil;
3. Place the uncovered pot on a hotplate or in the oven and heat on the lowest possible setting for 3-4 hours (no hotter than 150°);
4. Pour through a strainer into another small pot, pressing the plants into the strainer to recover as much oil as possible;

Beeswax beads melting in oil extract

5. Add beeswax (finely chopped, shredded, shaved, or beaded) into the oil and heat on low until dissolved;
6. Add 10 drops of vitamin E oil;
7. Add 5 drops of rose essential oil;
8. Pour into small wide-mouthed jars and allow to cool and harden before sealing the lid;
9. Label with the product name, date, and ingredients;
10. Apply liberally to scars or wrinkles 3-4 times a day.

Monday, July 16, 2012


Holy basil

It's mid-summer and the basils are about to sprout - the perfect time to make and save a bunch as pesto. Ocimum basilicum is a revered medicinal plant in southeast Asia and a ubiquitous ingredient in the healthful Mediterranean diet.

Globe basil
Basil acts as a carminative, diaphoretic, diuretic, nervine, immune tonic, and gastrointestinal and respiratory alterative. Throw in some garlic with it's antibiotic and circulatory alterative effects and there you have it - a gastronomic adaptogen for whatever ails you.


Mince until fine consistency

- basil leaves - 2 large bunches
- garlic - 8-10 cloves
- pine nuts raw - one large handful
- Parmesan cheese - 1.5 cups freshly grated
- olive oil - 4-6 tablespoons (extra virgin, cold pressed, organic if available)

1) On a large cutting board loosely chop the garlic with 1/4 of the basil, adding more basil and finer chopping as the two ingredients mix;
2) Add half the pine nuts and continue to chop until minced;
3) Add the rest of the pine nuts and continue to mince until mixed;
4) Add half the Parmesan and continue mincing until mixed;
5) Add the rest of the Parmesan and mince until able to be formed into a loose cake;
6) Transfer to a medium bowl and stir in the olive oil;
7) Use half for your favorite pesto recipe (we like pesto pasta with ricotta) and dollop the rest in tablespoons onto individual sheets of wax paper folded around the pesto for freezing.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


Spearmint, bee balm, and yarrow sun tea

What better way to lift the spirits and heal what ails you than the warmth of the summer sun? Whether it's an herbal sun tea steeped for a day before poured over ice or an infused oil soaking up flower essences for a week, solar infusions will bring joy and healing to your mid-summer household.

Mullein in mid-summer

Mullein flowers (Verbascum thapsus) contain anti-inflammatory and demulcent (moistening) oils best extracted in another oil. Their gentle healing effects are perfect for soothing swimmer's ear and otitis media in children of all ages. Other options for infused oils include violets from the yard and/or calendula from the garden for skin inflammation or lesions.


- mullein flowers
- olive oil
- vitamin E oil

Releasing air bubbles

1) Gather the opened flowers from several mullein stalks;
2) Place the flowers into a clear glass jar 3/4 full of olive oil;
3) Repeatedly poke a chopstick or skewer into the flowers to submerse and allow air bubbles inside the flowers to escape;
4) Top off the jar with olive oil and tightly seal the lid;
5) Place in full sun for 4-7 days;
6) Strain the oil into a measuring cup;
7) Stir in 10-20 drops of vitamin E oil;
8) Dispense into small dropper bottles and label with date and ingredients;
9) Place 1-3 drops three times a day into the inflamed ear while the child is laying on the other side for several minutes.

Mullein ear oil

Monday, June 25, 2012


Herbal medicines work with the body's intrinsic healing mechanisms and one of them is sweating (diaphoresis) which cools the body and helps to remove metabolic wastes. Plants that promote sweating  (diaphoretics) are an important part of the herbal treatment of fevers and infection.

Lemon balm
Like other aromatic mints, lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is a mild and sweet-tasting diaphoretic especially good in tea formulas for colds and flu (see Fresh Plant Medicines). It also has antiviral properties as well as being soothing for a sore throat, calming for an upset stomach, and sleep promoting - just what the doctor ordered for a child with a fever.

Yarrow in early summer

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is a stronger diaphoretic and anti-microbial with added diuretic properties. A tea or tincture of the dried flowers is especially helpful for fever with elevated blood pressure, cystitis (bladder infection), or gastrointestinal bleeding. Boneset aerial parts (Eupatorium perfoliatum) are an alternative to yarrow but with a propensity for helping fevers with musculoskeletal aches and pains.

Gravel root (joe pye weed)

Stronger still is a diaphoretic tincture made from the root of joe pye weed (Eupatorium purpureum, E.fistulosum). It's also known as gravel root since it grows in rocky stream beds and is especially good at treating kidney infections and preventing stones. Substitute pleurisy root (Asclepias tuberosa) when the fever is related to lung infections with stabbing pain upon inhalation.

Pleurisy root (butterfly weed)

DOCTOR'S NOTE: Pleurisy root should not be used when taking digitalis containing heart medicines which can more easily become toxic.

Monday, June 18, 2012


Poison ivy

... let it be! But not so for three of poison ivy's companion plants which can be used to wash off the irritating oils and relieve the itching.

Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis, I. pallida) is a succulent plant that grows in low moist areas beside roads and trails. A handful of the leaves can be rolled between the hands (or made into ice-cubes) and rubbed over exposed skin to decrease the hypersensitivity reaction to poison ivy's barbed oils.

Yellow jewelweed
Spotted touch-me-not

Virginia creeper

If there's no jewelweed near the poison ivy patch, look for leaves of five. Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) is a vine that grows in the same habitat as poison ivy. The leaves have been used similarly to those of jewelweed as a rub for cleaning exposed skin.

1st and 2nd year burdocks

The barbs are long gone once those itchy vesicles appear but you can still calm down a poison ivy rash with a fresh burdock leaf (Arctium lappa, A. minus) draped or taped over the inflamed area. Fortunately for us, these pre-made poultices come in all sizes from your friendly neighborhood burdock patch. But watch out for the P. ivy often lurking nearby!


HERBALIST'S NOTE: Keep a tray of jewelweed ice-cubes over the winter for those spring poison ivy exposures before fresh jewelweed is available.

1) Gather a half dozen jewelweed plants by grasping the stem and pulling directly upwards;
2) Snip off the roots and coursely chop the stems, leaves, and flowers into a pot;
3) Pour boiling water to cover the plant matter and steep for 10-15 minutes;
4) Strain off the plants and pour the orange liquid into ice-cube trays;
5) When frozen, pop out a cube and rub it over exposed skin for removal of oils or over the itchy rash for relief. For oil removal, rinse with cold water after rubbing with a jewelweed ice-cube.

DOCTOR'S NOTE: Severe cases of poison ivy with eye, genital, or internal exposure should be evaluated by a health care professional for possible steroid treatment.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


It's fortuitous for learning herbal medicine that plant names often reveal some aspect of their identification or use, witness the worts, balms, and seals. 

Mugwort in early summer
Wort is Germanic for plant so the word preceding it is what counts. We learned in Alteratives in Herbal Formulas that motherwort is a circulatory alterative especially good for menopausal symptoms. Another wort, mugwort (Artemesia vulgaris), was once used instead of hops as a bitter for brewing mugs of beer. It's mild nervine effects combined with an ability to stimulate menses (emmenogogue) make mugwort leaf tea or tincture a good choice for overstressed women with irregular periods.

Bee balm (M. fistulosa)

A balm is a plant with a soothing or restorative effect. You might recall from Herbs for Insomnia that lemon balm can be used as a mild nervine sedative with carminative and antispasmodic properties. The aerial parts of another similarly acting mint, bee balm or wild bergamot (Monarda didyma, M. fistulosa), make a sweet tea that soothes the digestive tract for excess flatulence and the uterus for premenstrual syndrome.

To seal is to join two things, as does the wax stamp once used to seal letters and envelopes. Solomon's seal (see Joint Relief in the Backyard) is named for having such a seal on the root - a round flat spot with markings inside. The bright yellow root of the endangered Appalachian plant goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) was once used to bind wounds. It's more current usage is as a nutritive hepatic with antibiotic properties for chronic digestive problems, especially when accompanied by bacterial or fungal overgrowth. You can help to repopulate this formerly overharvested herb by planting it in a shady spot in the yard and limiting harvest to a few rhizomes after several years of growth, replanting the top third and leaf stem of each one.  

Each goldenseal has one large and one smaller leaf

DOCTOR'S NOTE: Goldenseal can raise blood pressure and trigger menses so it shouldn't be used with uncontrolled hypertension or during pregnancy.

Monday, June 4, 2012


Herbs that stimulate the liver and gall bladder (hepatics) also help chronic joint pain (arthritis) and skin conditions (eczema, psoriasis) by promoting digestion and absorption of nutrients as well as elimination of waste.

Dried dandelion roots
One mild hepatic right outside your door is dandelion root (Taraxacum officinale). Dry the leaves for a diuretic tea but clean and chop those taproots for tincturing. Dandelion root tincture tastes sweeter than the leaf and can be used similarly to burdock or licorice to harmonize an herbal tincture formula.  

Curly dock

To step it up a notch, look for yellow dock (Rumex crispus, R.obtusifolius) at unmowed edges of yards, fields, and woods. A tincture of the yellow root of this buckwheat is a cooling hepatic for colitis, diarrhea, or constipation. Dig the taproot after the plant goes to seed in mid-summer. Regional alternative hepatics include yellowroot (Xanthorhiza simplicissima) and goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis).

Milk thistle in early summer
Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) is the ultimate hepatic, regenerating a damaged liver as well as helping to restore function. Like other thistles, this one will gladly colonize the garden but that's a good thing: It takes several milk thistle plants to provide enough of the oily seeds for tincturing.

HERBALIST'S NOTE: Seeds, barks, and roots that have a high oil or resin content usually require a higher percentage of alcohol for effective extraction


1) Gather milk thistle seeds in late summer or early fall when the flowers go to fluff;
2) Remove the hairs and place the seeds in a mortar and pestle;
3) Coarsely grind them to crack the shells and expose the seed flesh;
4) Spoon the crushed seeds into a jar with a tight fitting lid;
5) Cover the seeds with the highest proof alcohol available in your area, usually 75% grain;
6) Seal the lid and place the jar in a warm dark place for two weeks, swirling daily;
7) Strain off the tincture into another jar and label it with herb, date, method (folk), and alcohol percent and type.

DOCTOR'S NOTE: Ground seeds eaten in smoothies or made into capsules are better for people with hepatitis or cirrhosis because the alcohol in this high percentage tincture can be hepatotoxic for those with already compromised livers.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012



The abundance of summer is upon us and with it will come the ripening of mulberries, wild grapes, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries. While all are fabulously delicious, the latter two have traditional medicinal applications, albeit not from the berries.

Wild raspberry in early summer

An infusion of raspberry leaves (Rubus idaeus) acts as an astringent tonic for the bladder and uterus, strengthening contractions and stopping bleeding with cystitis or during delivery.

Fresh or dried leaves are equally effective for raspberry tea but avoid them when partially desiccated due to mild toxic effects while drying.

Raspberry leaves drying


The more robust blackberry (Rubus villosus) also packs a more powerful astringent punch that is specific for the stomach and intestines. 

An infusion of fresh or dried leaves works for mild cases but blackberry root tincture will stop bleeding ulcers, acute diarrhea, or hemorrhoids. Just be sure to don some stout leather gloves when pulling up a root!

Wild blackberry in early summer

Morus rubra in early summer

But back to those fabulously delicious berries, and the first out in early summer is mulberry (Morus species).


- white wine: 1/2 to 1 bottle (left from yesterday's dinner)
- fresh mulberries: two handfuls
- orange spritzer

1) Half fill a beautiful large decanter with wine and add the mulberries;
2) Place the decanter in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight;
3) Add ice cubes until the decanter is 3/4 or more full;
4) Top-off the decanter with orange spritzer and give three cheers to the abundance of summer.

Thursday, May 24, 2012


All cultivated plants originally came from wild stock and our salad greens are no exception. The garden varieties of lettuce and endive have been selected for taste but the wild kind retain more of the medicinal effects.

Wild lettuce in late spring

Wild lettuce (Lactuca species) may look and taste bitter like  dandelion leaves but it packs a much greater nervine wallup. The milky juice of fresh leaves picked in late spring or early summer before the yellow flowers bloom can be tinctured in high proof alcohol to make a strong sedative and analgesic, particularly for those with insomnia due to back or chest pain or to feeling cold at night.

Chicory flower in late summer

The soft blue flowers of chicory (Cichorium intybus) blossoming along summer roadsides belie the digestive power of wild Belgian endive, also known as radicchio. It's ability to promote food digestion, absorption, metabolism, and elimination (bowel function) is enhanced by slow roasting of the chopped roots.

Young chicory and wild lettuce look alike with a basal rosette of toothed leaves similar to dandelion. The flowering stems of chicory branch wildly in late summer without the spiky stems and regular foliage of wild lettuce.  

HERBALIST'S NOTE: Pull up chicory roots after a soaking rain when the deep taproots let go of the earth easier.


1) Use a vegetable brush to scrub about a dozen fresh chicory roots;
2) Chop the roots into coffee bean sized pieces and place them on a roasting pan;
3) Roast in a 350 degree oven until a nutty aroma is released and they are dark brown but not burnt, about 30-45 minutes;
4) Allow them to cool and store them in a jar with a sealed lid;
5) Grind and brew like coffee or combine with equal parts coffee for the stimulant effect or roasted dandelion root for the diuretic effect.

Thursday, May 17, 2012


Solomon's seal in early spring

Joint pain from arthritis can spoil your day and night both. While many medicinal plants can help (see Herbal Analgesics), a couple are particularly useful for acute exacerbations of chronic joint pain - Solomon's seal (Polygonatum biflorum) and cayenne (Capsicum annuum).

Solomon's seal is declining along with the eastern North American forests. Fortunately, a plant or two from a healthy native patch can be transplanted to a shady spot in the yard where it's rhizomes will readily replicate. The young plants look alot like the non-medicinal false Solomon's seal (Smilacina racemosa) but can be distinguished by flowers hanging down from the stem. The roots are considered a nutritive tonic (alterative) for the respiratory and musculoskeletal systems, helping joint pain by providing lubrication and easing tendon and ligament strain.

True or false Solomon's seal?

False (left) and true Solomon's seal

Ripe cayenne peppers in late summer
You can find cayenne peppers (Capsicum annuum) for drying in the nearby grocery or farmer's market. The seedlings can also be grown in your garden where they'll produce a late summer crop with enough sun and not too much water. We all know how peppers make us feel - hot, flushed, sweaty - and they do this by stimulating circulation as a cardiovascular alterative. But cayenne also blocks pain by inhibiting substance P, a chemical initiator of pain, making it an effective topical treatment for arthralgia (joint pain) and neuralgia (nerve pain).

HERBALIST'S NOTE: Chronic joint pain is best treated as a systemic condition with possible gastrointestinal, renal, cardiovascular, or immune influences.


Solomon's seal tincture - .5oz
burdock root tincture - .5oz (substitute black cohosh or yellow dock)
willow bark tincture - .5oz (substitute cayenne or wild yam)
boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) tincture - .5oz (substitute goldenrod)

Solomon's seal roots

1) Clean and chop Solomon's seal roots and place in a jar with a tight fitting lid;
2) Cover with high-proof alcohol (50% or greater), seal the lid, and place in a warm dark room for 2-4 weeks, swirling the jar whenever you pass through;
3) Strain the tincture into an apothecary jar and label with plant name, date, tincture method (folk or 1:2), and alcohol percentage and type;
4) Combine .5oz each of tinctures of Solomon's seal (alterative), burdock (adaptogen), willow bark (analgesic), and boneset (joint specific) into a 2oz dropper bottle;
5) Take 1-2 droppers three times a day for joint pain.

JointEase Roll-On

cayenne tincture - .5oz
willow bark tincture - .5oz

1) Chop dried cayenne peppers and place in a jar with a tight fitting lid;
2) Cover with apple cider vinegar or vodka, seal the lid, and place in a warm dark room for 2-4 weeks, swirling the jar whenever you pass through;
3) Strain the tincture into an apothecary jar and label with plant name, date, tincture method (folk or 1:5), and alcohol percentage and type;
4) Combine .5oz each of cayenne and willow bark tinctures into a 1oz bottle with roller-ball top;
5) Apply to painful joints every two hours, avoiding contact with eyes or mucous membranes.

DOCTOR'S NOTE: Acute joint pain with swelling, heat, or redness can be caused by an injury, infection, or inflammatory disease and is best evaluated by a health care professional if unresolved after one week.