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.

Thursday, May 10, 2012


Our stock of dried herbs

Providing herbal remedies to your family and friends, like cooking, is simpler when you have the necessary ingredients and supplies on hand.

Dried plants remain potent for several seasons for combining into tea formulas. Since volume of plant material varies greatly with density, herbs are best combined by weight (1/2 ounce per cup). A kitchen scale is needed to determine the right proportions. A canning funnel helps to dispense the combined and crumbled or cut herbs into jars or tea bags. Infusions are made simpler by a tea pot with built-in strainer.

Tea making equipment and supplies

Our stock of tinctures
Tinctures extracted in 25% or greater alcohol remain potent for at least ten years. Be sure to label each tincture single with the specific herb (genus/species), date of extraction, strength (folk method or 1:2 fresh/1:5 dried), alcohol percentage, and alcohol type. Some people may react to grain alcohol but be fine with vodka, or vice-versa.

Tincture formulating equipment and supplies

Tinctures are combined by volume so glass measuring cups with both metric and ounce gradations are helpful. A small funnel will make dispensing into dropper bottles quicker and cleaner. And don't forget to record the formulas! You don't want to forget how to make the cure for what ails your family or friends.

Tea and tincture formulas in our medicine chest

Monday, May 7, 2012


Lemon balm in late spring

I couldn't get to sleep at all last night... but instead of tossing, I turned up a little sleep tincture - lemon balm, passionflower, hops, St. John's wort - and it did something to me for the rest of that night.

Motherwort in late spring

Like most mints, lemon balm (Melissa officinalis, see Fresh Plant Medicines) is a mild nervine sedative, and it tastes good to boot. Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) is a less aromatic mint but it works better for perimenopausal and anxiety induced insomnia, especially with heart palpitations.

Passionflower in early summer

Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) is a perennial vine of the American southeast and Central America. An infusion or tincture of the leaves and stunning flowers acts a sedative with a special affinity for calming mental over-stimulation. Since tea at bedtime also provides an unwanted early morning wake-up call, the tincture is better for insomnia in most cases.

Hops in late spring

You're familiar, no doubt, with the bitter flavor of hops (Humulus lupus). You might also have experienced it's sedative effects which are stronger than the alcohol after a single beer. Hops tincture is especially helpful for insomnia with indigestion, heartburn, or irritable colon because of it's smooth muscle relaxant properties. Valerian root (Valeriana officinalis) has similar effects and could be a short-term substitute for hops.

St. John's wort in summer

St. John's wort (Hypericum perforatum) is overused for depression when it may be even more effective for anxiety-related insomnia. Like some other antidepressants, it also helps to keep one from awakening in the night by promoting deeper sleep. This effect is not present in all St. John's worts. If the flower releases a yellow-orange pigment when pinched, an extract from the dried flower buds and flowers of that plant will contain the medicinal effects.

HERBALIST'S NOTE: Avoid excessive direct sun exposure when taking St. John's wort because it can increase risk of sunburn.


St. John's wort - 2 parts
lemonbalm - 1 part
hops - 1 part
passionflower - 1 part

1) From your stock of tincture singles, add .8oz of St. John's wort and .4oz of the other herbs into a 2 ounce dropper bottle;
2) Label the bottle with ingredients, date, and, if desired, dosage;
3) Take 1-2 droppers at bedtime for insomnia.

DOCTOR'S NOTE: Seek evaluation by a health professional for chronic insomnia which may be a symptom of an underlying illness.