Old Ways Herbal, Juliette Abigail Carr

Women & Children's Herbal Clinic, Vermont Herb School, & Ramblings on Family Herbal Wisdom


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Allyship in Herbalism: Ruminations

The Bottom Line is Self-Empowerment

We are each the utmost authority on our own health. We are not the utmost authority on someone else’s health. Even when someone is making an unarguably bad choice (quit smoking already) we are not the expert on what’s inside them. We are experts at our practice, and we can be of most use by providing tools to help them self-empower in their healing process: contextualizing what is happening, potential outcomes, risks and benefits of therapies, setting achievable goals, etc. The modern model of the unquestionable doctor-god is problematic in that it directly disempowers healthcare seekers, which sows a lack of agency and prevents self-actualization, especially in the presence of trauma. When in doubt, try “Tell me more about that” and dive right in.

Folk Medicine Lineages & Differing Norms

Home herbalism, and folk medicine in general, is a nonhierarchical practice that disrupts white supremacy, patriarchy, heteronormativity, and other manifestations of the Supremacy Paradigm Bullshit Parade, simply through virtue of being accessible to and the provenance of normal folk, both currently and historically. In other words, it’s ours because it was always ours and we continue to make it ours, by using folk medicine and teaching others.

There are many different schools of thought in herbalism; they are all right. We accept this basic premise as a gesture of mutual respect across cultures and a rejection of patriarchal white supremacy. Holy Basil

Sometimes, an herbalist or other flavor of folk healer may engage in aggressive criticism or censuring of other practitioners’ perspective; this is a manifestation of internalized supremacy. The way that Western Traditions herbalists use herbs is not more right or less right than how Ayurvedic practitioners work, for instance. We may differ on the language we use, our philosophies of energetics, even our understanding of the role of organs in the body, let alone how long we brew tinctures or whether we call alteratives “tonics.” Debate is essential to further our understanding of herbs and healing, but it must originate from a place of curiosity and collaboration; the practice of cutting each other down in order to promote one’s own world view as the only “correct” one harms the art as a whole. All this is to say: it is a nonhierarchical art. We can all be herbalists, we can all hobble and putter and figure it out, and we can all enthusiastically leap into making our own mistakes. As long as a folk healer is practicing their art ethically (toward people, plants, and everything else), and is not potentially hurting anyone, we all get to be right.

Honor the Past

Another aspect of our work promoting self-empowerment is acknowledging and validating others’ fears of their health status and necessary herbs/medications/procedures, and then to STRIVE ACTIVELY to make sure those fears aren’t realized. Helping others navigate their health status from a place of power is important, and we are given the opportunity to touch on fears when serious health conditions, procedures, or medications are present. From a trauma-prevention model, these fears could be said to stem from a deeply rooted disempowerment around our bodies and health choices, especially in communities that are actively disempowered by the existing power paradigm. Our fears are justified and have been realized over and over throughout our lives, in recent memory, and in ancestral memory. As healers, it is incumbent upon us to not pretend the fear isn’t a valid self-protective mechanism, but to embrace the ways we have all learned to survive, and strive to help folks self-empower to confront them.

[If this is news to you, google “Tuskegee syphilis experiment” and picture your family narrative if that was your mother’s brother; or, next time you fill out a form in a medical office, consider what your responses might be if you were not cis-gendered.]

Featured Image -- 133Beware of Dog(ma)

Often when a question arises about contraindications or herb-drug interactions, someone eventually chimes in with the suggestion to stop the medication in question. The myth that natural medicines are best for all people always is a trap to avoid. This is an ableist white supremacist cisnormative worldview that “others” everyone who has been included in the multifactorial socioeconomic factors that influence health determinants. I run up against this often, as I straddle the home birth and hospital birth communities.  Don’t presume that your life experience and advantages are universalizable; they’re not. There are many reasons why someone might be best served by pharmaceuticals, surgery, etc. Your goal as an herbalist is not to get someone off their meds, unless that is their goal, but to help provide the tools they need to accomplish their goals through their own agency. Herbs can be helpful as adjuncts to conventional treatments, or for a different issue entirely.

A Word About Polypharmacy

For people with complex medical conditions, a helpful act of allyship is to examine polypharmacy. Polypharmacy refers to taking many medications at once, and the problems that can arise from drug-drug interactions, dosage errors, and over-medication. We can help clarify why they’re taking each drug, ensure the dose is correct, and that there are no interactions causing more problems. Sometimes, worsening conditions are actually drug interactions, especially with elders because many conditions affect them differently. For instance, confusion is a clinical sign of a urinary tract infection that can be mistaken for dementia. Have the person request a polypharmacy evaluation from the nurse at the primary prescriber’s office, and offer to help interpret. If one dose is adjusted, one drug is found to be a duplicate, or an alternative medication is found that doesn’t require treating side effects, then our clients are healthier, happier, active agents of change in their health (and suddenly it gets a lot less complicated to provide herbal adjuncts). Do not fall prey to tunnel-vision: interdisciplinary collaboration with prescribers is essential in promoting self-empowerment and autonomy.

 

More to come on this extremely fertile soil, I promise!

 

This is an excerpt from Heart & Hearth, my radical family herbalism column in the glorious Plant Healer Magazine.  If you don’t already subscribe to the best magazine in herbalism, you can click the link in the sidebar to learn more (and subscribing through that link supports my work, so thank you!)


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Thoughts on Family Herbalism

Home herbalism is a way of life as well as being a healing practice. It permeates our lives in myriad ways, far beyond transforming the garden yield into next year’s medicines: turning a chicken carcass into bone broth, tucking a light sleeper in with a lavender pillow, convincing three teenagers to spend Saturday afternoon harvesting elderberries (and enjoy it!), and generally endeavoring to have on hand the remedies your loved ones might need next year—

Home herbalism is who we are and how our families work, healing practiced around the kitchen table around the world and across the centuries.

I’m a practitioner of what we call the Vermont Hustle: diversification is how to make it work in a seasonal tourist economy out in the pucker-brush of these far northern climes. Between farming, clinical practice, the herb school, writing, and my jobby job at our local birthing center, the day-to-day of it all can feel very full, never mind the part where I’m doing most of it with a toddler strapped to my back, and the kimchi won’t ferment itself.

Thank the Good Green Earth that home herbalism happens as a reflex:

There are moments when I am surprised by a forgotten jar of wild ginger-thyme oxymel in my Narnia-like pantry right when I need it, because I’m like a squirrel hoarding nuts when it comes to the bounty of forest and field. Instinct guides me along as I muddle and putter, but a strong foundation of herbal fluency is deeply rooted in the soil of my practice.

Let us explore the creation of family remedies, including children’s health, nursing parents and their babes, pregnancy & postpartum from a radical perspective, and

Generally hexing the patriarchy from the comfort of your own home.

Here is an article on Principles of Home Herbalism to get started!

This is an excerpt from Heart & Hearth, my radical family herbalism column in the glorious Plant Healer Magazine.  If you don’t already subscribe to the best magazine in herbalism, you can click the link in the sidebar to learn more (and subscribing through that link supports my work, so thank you!)


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Principles of Home Herbalism

Instinct and intuition make the art of home herbalism, but they should be rooted in a strong foundation to be successful. Before we dive into formulas and recipes and parenting hacks to get remedies into toddlers, let’s establish a common foundation of principles.

Herbal Lineages

Home herbalism, and folk medicine in general, is a nonhierarchical practice that disrupts white supremacy, patriarchy, heteronormativity, and other manifestations of the Supremacy Paradigm Bullshit Parade, simply through virtue of being accessible to and the provenance of normal folk, both currently and historically. In other words, it’s ours because it was always ours and we continue to make it ours, by using folk medicine and teaching others.

There are many different schools of thought in herbalism; they are all right. We accept this basic premise as a gesture of mutual respect across cultures and a rejection of patriarchal white supremacy.

Mimosa

Sometimes, an herbalist or other flavor of folk healer may engage in aggressive criticism or censuring of other practitioners’ perspective; this is a manifestation of internalized supremacy. The way that Western Traditions herbalists use herbs is not more right or less right than how Ayurvedic practitioners work, for instance. We may differ on the language we use, our philosophies of energetics, even our understanding of the role of organs in the body, let alone how long we brew tinctures or whether we call alteratives “tonics.” Debate is essential to further our understanding of herbs and healing, but it must originate from a place of curiosity and collaboration; the practice of cutting each other down in order to promote one’s own world view as the only “correct” one harms the art as a whole.

All this is to say: it is a nonhierarchical art. We can all be herbalists, we can all hobble and putter and figure it out, and we can all enthusiastically leap into making our own mistakes. As long as a folk healer is practicing their art ethically (toward people, plants, and everything else), and is not potentially hurting anyone, we all get to be right.

Holism

Holism is the central pillar of holistic medicine. This principle states that everything is connected and affects everything else. The idea that you could be walking around with heartburn, trouble sleeping, a stressful job, and a crush on your barista, but none of it is connected: that is a fallacy we resoundingly reject. All things are connected, from the communities of cells in our microbiome and our busy little mitochondrial RNA to our relationships with our families and communities, and to the larger natural world of which we are a small part: our lives directly impact the lives of all other creatures and all aspects of the world around us. We are but a Russian nesting doll.

Balance

The goal of all schools of holistic medicine is to reestablish or maintain balance. It is a practice of nurturing our existing strengths and restoring areas that have eroded. The focus is generally on health maintenance and maximization, not heroic medicine. If you cut off your hand, please go to the hospital. We use herbs to maintain or return our bodies to balance by compensating when we are out of balance, without overcompensating in the other direction. Ideally, we start with gentle, nurturing remedies and increase in strength as needed, to promote a reestablishment of balance instead of overcompensation. This is especially important when using herbs with children, pregnancy, and the elderly, as these life stages tend to be more receptive and sensitive. IMG_4109

Synergy

The principle of synergy states that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. My favorite metaphor for this is from an old student. I explained (at great length, and with many hand gestures and probably some pacing), and ended with any questions? and she yells out GUACAMOLE and in that moment I was in the presence of genius. Because yes: synergy is the difference between tomatoes, onions, and avocados, and guacamole. Synergy is important both in terms of understanding how herbs work and how to use them effectively.

Whole plant medicine is when remedies are made from actual plant parts, like root tincture, not isolated or standardized compounds. It is often more effective than isolated compounds because many compounds combine synergistically within the plant, working together to accomplish change, whether that’s protection from bacterial infections, warding off insects, or protection from sun damage; plants don’t have legs, after all; instead, they have anthocyanins. This is part of why herbs often have deeper, more long term benefits than pharmaceuticals: herbal medicine is a collaborative effort of phytochemicals working to promote the life of the plant, not an isolated chemical compound affecting a single site.

Additionally, some plant medicines have a synergistic effect when we use numerous parts from the same plant: I tincture echinacea leaves, flowers, seeds, and roots separately as the seasons progress, then combine them all for a stronger, more complex remedy; this is also sometimes called “whole plant medicine,” which is understandably confusing.

Synergy can be enhanced by the route of administration. Nutritive herbs yield more minerals into a vinegary bone-broth soup, and the love and care in cooking increases the healing properties. In general, the practice of food as medicine increases synergy: there is very little that can’t be improved by lactofermentation and essential fatty acids. The bright resiliency of wild-crafted St Johns Wort, thriving on wind and neglect and dry soil, comes out best in a high alcohol tincture: no succor for the thirsty. Honey is a remedy in its own right, and will impart anti-inflammatory anti-infective probiotic healing awesomeness to whatever you put in it, but picture honeyed tea when you have a sore throat: the sticky soothing slide of the honey relieves pain even as it helps the herbs stick where they need to be, making the herbs more powerful.

Solubility

Something is soluble if it dissolves in a particular liquid: picture stirring sugar into hot tea (soluble) versus cold water (not). Plant compounds that we use for medicine have to dissolve in the water/alcohol/honey/oil/etc. All plants contain both water-soluble and alcohol-soluble constituents. The question is how the medicinal compounds that you want extract best. The plants have a preference for the ideal balance to get the most well rounded medicine; make water-preferential or alcohol-preferential medicine based on what results you want (i.e. burdock tincture versus burdock vinegar). Most plant medicine is best with a balance of both: dandelion, nettles, holy basil. Some really extract best in one or the other: slippery elm, echinacea. Remember that vinegar extracts water-soluble (polar) compounds (and in the case of minerals, is better than water at it). This is not the place for a long exploration of solubility in medicine-making, so please see this article for a more in-depth discussion, and here as it applies specifically to tincture-making in 301 easy steps.

Magic Pills

Herbs are not substitute pharmaceuticals, and they aren’t intended to be. A common fallacy is the idea that an herb can be used instead of a pharmaceutical in exactly the same manner. There are some cases where this may work reasonably well, like taking valerian instead of ambien, but the vast majority of the time this is not the case; herbs often take longer to work, work more thoroughly, and work best as part of a formula or protocol. Pharmaceuticals are made up of one or several isolated, concentrated compounds, whereas herbs are made up of hundreds of complex, interacting, synergistic magical things and sunlight and the dreams of raindrops and unicorn flatulence and also phytochemicals.

IMG_2653Herbs and drugs are not the same, so let’s accept the premise that we will not be replacing a pharmaceutical with an herb. An example I see frustratingly often is the birthing couple who wants to avoid getting induced with pitocin (an IV medication that causes uterine contractions to induce labor), so buys evening primrose oil (EPO), but doesn’t start taking it until the midwife has given an induction deadline. EPO works well as a cervical ripener, to make the body receptive and juicy and ready to labor, but it’s not plug and play like pitocin: waiting to the last minute usually doesn’t work. The EPO protocol involves weeks of vaginal suppositories and is most effective combined with acupuncture and a partus preparator formula. Many people have just enough herbal information to know EPO without the fluency to use it effectively, which can be extraordinarily disappointing to birthing families. No magic pills in herbalism.

Self-Empowerment

We are each the utmost authority on our own health. We are not the utmost authority on someone else’s health. Even when someone is making an unarguably bad choice (quit smoking already) we are not the expert on what’s inside them. We are experts at our practice, and we can be of most use by providing tools to help them self-empower in their healing process: contextualizing what is happening, potential outcomes, risks and benefits of therapies, setting achievable goals, etc. The modern model of the unquestionable doctor-god is problematic in that it directly disempowers healthcare seekers, which sows a lack of agency and prevents self-actualization, especially in the presence of trauma. When in doubt, try “Tell me more about that” and dive right in.

Farewell

Building a basic fluency in herbal concepts takes time, and is definitely less fun than learning individual herbs, but the harvest you reap is a well-developed instinct for how to amass and apply your home apothecary.

May your kitchen witching bloom as you mull it over.

 

This is an excerpt from Heart & Hearth, my radical family herbalism column in the glorious Plant Healer Magazine.  If you don’t already subscribe to the best magazine in herbalism, you can click the link in the sidebar to learn more (and subscribing through that link supports my work, so thank you!)


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Solubility in Medicine Making

Solubility: The Basics

Something is soluble if it dissolves in a particular liquid: picture stirring sugar into hot tea (soluble) versus cold water (not). Plant compounds that we use for medicine have to dissolve in the water/alcohol/honey/oil/etc. for medicine to be a thing.

Many plant constituents are polar, meaning they have a positive side and a negative side.  The different sides are attracted to their opposites, so they can be pulled apart (dissolved) in a liquid that is also polar.  The cliche chemistry rule is “opposites attract, like dissolves like.”  Polarity is a continuum of different strengths: water is extremely polar; alcohol has both polar and nonpolar bonds (so call it “medium”), oil and wax are nonpolar.  There is a lot more to this, but this is enough fluency for medicine-making. (Please don’t write me hate mail full of ionic and covalent bonds!  If you do I will dip it in alcohol and it will dissolve!)

All plants contain both water-soluble and alcohol-soluble constituents. The question is how the medicinal compounds that you want extract best. The plants have a preference for the ideal balance to get the most well rounded medicine; make water-preferential or alcohol-preferential medicine based on what results you want (i.e. burdock tincture versus burdock vinegar).

Most plant medicine is best with a balance of both: dandelion, nettles, holy basil. Some really extract best in one or the other: slippery elm, marshmallow, echinacea. Remember that vinegar extracts water-soluble compounds (and in the case of minerals, is better than water at it) and oil extracts alcohol-soluble compounds.

How to Tell

Intuition, observation, and practice!

Where it’s growing, how it’s growing, when it flourishes: intuition from experience.  Does is grow on the banks of a river?  On a wind-swept prairie?  Does it bloom only when it’s very hot and sunny?

What worked last time? How does that season compare to this one? Is there a drought, or a late snow storm, or did the river jump its banks last fall and deposit fertile silt in your garden?

Taste, smell, & feel

Mucilage, berberine, tannin, resin: plants often directly tell you how to make medicine with them.  Gooey demulcent mucilage is water-soluble, but sharp tingling berberine is alcohol-soluble.

Precipitate

The goop at the bottom of a tincture is the plant matter that didn’t dissolve in the tincture.  Think about the goop at the bottom of a burdock or elecampane tincture–that’s the stuff that can’t dissolve in alcohol.  Actually, it’s mostly fiber, which does for plants what bones and fat do for people (structure & food storage).  Burdock and elecampane are both examples of herbs that tincture best at lower alcohol concentrations so their water-soluble compounds can play too.  If there’s way more precipitate than there should be, it often means your tincture had too much or too little alcohol in it.  That said, most high alcohol tinctures, especially of roots, will have precipitate, since plant matter always contains water-soluble constituents (see up, second paragraph).

Look it up in a good herbal reference

I recommend the works of Michael Moore and Lisa Ganora

Energetics of Solubility

These are generalizations meant to give you a place to start, not definitive truths for all plants.  I’m developing a graphic for this but it’s not ready for the internet yet!

Plants that have very water-soluble medicine are often extremes on the wet-dry continuum:

Marshmallow                                                        Willow

Slippery elm                                                      Witch Hazel

Plants that do well with high alcohol tinctures are usually more in the middle of wet-dry, but on an extreme of hot or cold:

Echinacea                                                    California Poppy

Cayenne                                                                Skullcap

Remember, most plants make good medicine in both water- and alcohol-based preparations, but the individual effects still follow these basic guidelines.

For example:

Burdock tea: water-soluble medicine, benefits are dramatic on the wet-dry continuum with kidney & lymphatic actions
Burdock tincture: alcohol-soluble medicine, benefits are dramatic on the hot-cold continuum with liver & digestive actions

 

But wait!  How do I apply this extremely interesting nerdiness to medicine-making?

Now that you understand the background, here is a full, in-depth exploration of tincture-making that includes applied solubility!


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January’s Garden Tip: Now is the time to plan!

Spread out on the rug in front of the fire with your gardening notebook, last year’s leftover seeds, your favorite seed catalogs (mine are Fedco, Richters, and Horizon Herbs), and a mug of tea of course.  Ideally, you wrote down what went where and how it did last year, and can now look through those notes and find ways to improve your rotation, soil fertility, use of microclimate, etc.  Eliot Coleman’s books are a useful resource for this.  If you didn’t take notes, turn over a new leaf this season so your skills can build as your garden grows!

Sort your seeds into annuals and perennials, time of year they’re planted, soil needs (rich vs. poor), microclimate needs (sun/shade/wet/dry/wind etc.), transplants vs. direct seeds, etc.  Do you see any promising combinations?  Perhaps your Arnica may like to grow together with St Johns Wort and Bee Balm, instead of in with the Marshmallows.

Make some lists:  What do you have?  What do you need to buy for next season?  What plants will you start indoors, and what will you direct seed?

Draw some diagrams: where was everything last year, and where are you planting each new friend?  How can you rotate your annuals around your perennials?  Some people like to use index cards or scraps of paper to do this so they can move them around easily.  I use a pencil in my notebook, that way I can refer back to my thoughts later.

This year, as you putter and tend and mulch and hoe and coax, draw pictures of your work.  The better your records, the easier it is to find ways to improve your garden’s vitality.

IMG_2653


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Preserving Mushroom Medicine

Medicinal mushrooms are often overlooked when we talk about solubility and the best ways to preserve things.  We talk a lot about mucilage, berberine and the like, but not so much about considering solubility to make the most effective mushroom medicine.  I personally think that’s because

a. folks get intimidated by the complexity (and weirdness) or mushrooms, or

b. folks are scared to experiment with something that comes around so rarely through the year–which makes sense, as you might only get one shot with the precious precious fungi this year.

The basic concept is this: most mushrooms contain both alcohol- and water-soluble constituents, like other organisms we use for medicine.  When they’re simply dried, we lose much of the water-soluble and all the alcohol-soluble medicinal compounds.  When they’re tinctured, we lose the water-soluble compounds.

Dried turkey tail and powdered chaga are familiar formulations, but do they really pack the most medicinal punch?  During the drying process, as the water evaporates, the lovely fruiting bodies that last week were shiny (or dull) and colorful (or not) as you cupped them lovingly in your hands in awe at the majesty of this creation are now hollow bits of corrugated cardboard just begging for a shallow grave in the compost pile.  That’s hyperbole, but still–why make anything other than the strongest, most effective, most delicious and uplifting and inspiring medicine possible?  Why settle for slightly medicinal cardboard when you can achieve an ambrosia of a panacea?  (That was a fun sentence to write.) Ganoderma

Is it possible to dry mushrooms and extract some measure of medicine from them?  Yes, obviously, or chaga chai would not be a thing.  Mushrooms are incredibly complex, the hard-won fruiting bodies of a vast mycelial network, and some of the medicine will stick around in the dried form.

That being said, drying is not the best way to preserve medicine from these incredibly powerful, slow-growing, central investments on behalf of a gigantic microscopic system of synergy and mutualism.  Wasting something that precious is downright…wasteful.  And also, why bother traipsing all over the mountain searching for maitake and reishi if you’re just going to let 3/4 of the medicine evaporate off?

The best way to extract the strongest, most complex water-soluble mushroom medicine is to preserve them fresh.  This is generally true of water-soluble medicinal herbs, too.  The recipe below for Immune Magic Mushroom-Herbal Heaven Ice Cubes (or mushroom ice cubes, if you want to be specific about it) will get you there.

But wait!  The true best, most complete, crazy amazing mushroom medicine is made by combining both water- and alcohol-soluble constituents, instead of choosing one or the other.  You can taste the difference, too: dried mushroom tea is lovely, tincture is fabulous, but a fresh mushroom concoction makes my whole body sigh with relief as my T-cells sing on their way into battle, in time with the war drums of the macrophages and the storming of the lymph and the gentle humming of my very very calm nervous system.  I like it, you could say.  Combine tincture and decoction into a concoction (really: double, double, toil & trouble).  The classic recipe is adapted below for maximum awesomeness, but there’s still just the three steps: tincture, decoct, then concoct.  Instructions below.

Immune Magic Mushroom-Herbal Heaven Ice Cubes

You can tell this is popular around here by the name.

If you’re planning to concoct some of your mushroom decoction, consider tincturing some–maybe a half-pint or a pint–at something water-friendly, like 1:4 60% (info here if you’re like, what?) and putting it aside until it’s ready.

1. Combine equal parts by weight of the following fresh mushrooms in a slow cooker (best) or large stock pot (not as good):

  • Reishi/Ganoderma
  • Maitake
  • Turkey Tail
  • Chaga (not technically a mushroom, as it’s not a fruiting body–it’s actually mycelium!  So cool!!!)
  • Or whatever you have, really.  But these are what I use, and I usually do 10 oz of each, but I have an truly enormous slow cooker so do what works for you.

2. Add these herbs for extra oomph and tastiness; use half as much of each herb as you used of the mushrooms (I use 5 oz of each):  IMG_2785

  • Elderberry
  • Cinnamon
  • Astragalus
  • Rosehips

3. Fill the rest of the way with water.

4. Gently simmer (covered!  Always!) for 2-3 days, the longer the better.  I go the full 72 hours.  It should be a terrible looking brownish blackish brackish color and quite fragrant, in an appealing swamp-creature kind of way.

5. Cool to room temperature, covered, a matter of up to 6 hours or so.

6. Strain through a wire mesh strainer into a large pitcher or batter bowl, something with a pour spout.

7. Pour into ice cube trays and freeze.  When completely frozen, pack cubes into freezer bags or jars, label, and store in freezer.  You will probably have to do numerous rounds of freezing ice cube trays to get all the liquid frozen.

Immune Magic Mushroom-Herbal Heaven Ice Cubes can be added to tea, soup (simply the greatest addition to miso since the discovery of wakame), or just thawed and drank throughout the year as needed, any time you would use dried mushrooms or mushroom tea.  I use cubes as fresh decocted mushrooms in the concoction recipe below.

Perfection Mushroom Concoction

1. Tincture FRESH mushrooms at something water-friendly, like 1:4 60% (info here if you’re like, what?), as noted in the intro for the recipe above.  When the tincture is ready, strain it into a clean jar, with at least twice the volume as the tincture (i.e. put a pint of tincture in a quart jar).

2. A. If you’re concocting on the same day you made the decoction:

Allow the decoction from the recipe above to cool to room temperature, then ladle through a fine strainer into a measuring cup until you have equal parts tincture and decoction.

2. B. If time has passed since you made the decoction: Pressed tincture

Remove Immune Magic Mushroom-Herbal Heaven Ice Cubes from the freezer and thaw them at room temperature in a measuring cup, until you have equal parts tincture and decoction.

3. Combine equal parts tincture and decoction.  Some people also choose to ad raw honey at this stage.

4. Label and store in a cool, dark place, and use instead of mushroom tea or tincture.

There you have it, delicious and effective.  Not the easiest way of making mushroom medicine, but it sure works great. Enjoy.


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Preserving Water-Soluble Magic Beyond the Growing Season: Herbal Ice Cubes

This thing happens kind of a lot when you live in a place with significant seasons: you harvest some wonderful medicine, enough to last you a while–maybe all year–but then you have to actually do something with it while it’s still good, knowing you can’t get more until next year.  Most people’s gut reaction is to either dry or tincture the wonderful medicine, and generally speaking that works great for most things.

Except when it doesn’t.

If you’re familiar with solubility, you know that some medicines extract best (or in some cases only extract) in water-based preparations, so tinctures aren’t an option.  (If I lost you, try this article and scroll down to the section on solubility.)

Some (actually, many) herbs with significant water-soluble medicinal constituents, and generally herbs with high volatile oil content, tend to dry as weak medicine.  Obviously this isn’t true across the board–otherwise tea wouldn’t be a thing–but think of the difference between fresh basil and dried basil and I think you’ll get what I mean: there’s a real difference, and fresh is better.

And sometimes the medicinal properties evaporate straight out with the water when the plant dries, making it essentially useless in its dried form–think of borage, or jewelweed: wonderful fresh but downright lousy when dried.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to preserve water-soluble constituents without drying the herbs.

No, just kidding.  Here’s an easy & fun solution that allows us to preserve water-soluble medicine at the peak of its medicinal awesomeness.  This is the sort of fun kitchen witching that yields instant gratification: you might find yourself passing around your latest success at a dinner party, and any kids in your life are likely to think you’re a genius.

Herbal Ice Cube Recipe

1. Choose herbs that make sense together.  Keep in mind:

  • Solubility
  • Freshness (things that are harvested at the same time are ideal)
  • Flavor
  • Formulation purpose
  • Energetics & synergy

2. Harvest the herbs properly, at the appropriate time of day & moon phase, on a day when you have time to deal with them.

3. Immediately infuse or decoct as appropriate (instructions here).  Infuse or decoct at double strength.  Infuse for at least 6 hours, decoct for at least 2 hours.  You want super strong, fragrant awesomeness.  It should be decadent in that kitchen.

4. Cool to room temperature, covered, a matter of hours.

5. Strain through a wire mesh strainer into a large pitcher or batter bowl, something with a pour spout.

6. Pour into ice cube trays and freeze.  When completely frozen, pack cubes into freezer bags or jars, label, and store in freezer.  You will probably have to do numerous rounds of freezing ice cube trays to get all the liquid frozen.

Herbal Ice Cubes can be added to tea, juice, soup, or just thawed and drank throughout the year as needed.

Sample Herbal Ice Cube Formulas

To beat wintery blues in these cold, dark climes, I make ice cubes with:

  • Borage
  • Lemon Balm
  • Holy Basil
  • Calendula

And they’re there and easy when the days are short and cold and difficult and my family is grouchy in the deepest part of winter–pop it into a cup of tea with some honey and boom!  Cheerful people everywhere.

My husband’s poison ivy?  Yes, he still gets it in the winter.  How about:

  • Jewelweed
  • Plantain
  • Mullein Flower
  • Oatstraw
  • Nettles

Bam!  Take that itchy rash.

Winter cocktail parties?  Something like:

  • Rosemary
  • Lemon balm
  • Anise-hyssop
  • Ginger

And everyone thinks I’m special.

You get the idea.  Experiment & have fun.

Oh!  And also check out this article about the same concept, but for the amazing Immune Magic Mushroom-Herbal Heaven Ice Cubes.  They’re only so-so.