Old Ways Herbal

Vermont Herb School, Clinical Herbalist, Plant Remedies, & Herbal Farmcraft Wisdom.


5 Comments

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.

Advertisements


6 Comments

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.


8 Comments

Cold & Flu Tea Recipe

When all is right in the world, it’s easy to mess around with kitchen witching.  That’s not the case when we can’t sleep, or the kid’s sick and screaming, or whatever the current herbal crisis happens to be.  Over many years of drying herbs to infuse in honey “when I get to it” and not pressing tinctures until I actually have to use them (because farm life is just that kind of busy), I’ve learned that when I need medicine NOW, having to make it is a huge hurdle.  Although I’m not as on top of my home apothecary maintenance as I’d like to be, I’ve made it a point to have a few basics in stock all the time, so I don’t have to make it in a pinch.

Here’s a recipe for a cold and flu tea to have on hand going into winter.  This formula works well as a base, since it’s a general respiratory infection and get-well-soon mix.  If you’ve got other symptoms, it’s a lot easier to add some willow and a sprinkle of angelica than starting from the top when you’re hacking up a lung.  teapot

Although there are lots of great immune herbs from around the world, we’ve got what we need right here in our own backyards.  If bioregionalism is a new concept for you, please see this article, but I’ll spare everyone else the rant repeat.  These herbs are native or naturalized guests that flourish in cold climates, but if they won’t grow where you do, get out your books and talk to your neighbors to find a similar herb that does.  For info on drying your own tea, see this article.

As well as bioregionalism, a couple of other concepts that come into play with formulation are synergy, balance, and energetics; if you’re interested in getting awesome at formulation, read up on those here, here, and here, but it’s too much for right now; hopefully in the future I’ll write an article or several just on formulation, but today is not that day.

Crumble together in a quart jar or airtight bag, 1 cup each of the following:

Monarda: Monarda fistulosa and M. didyma, with their many common names (bee balm, wild bergamot, oswego tea, scarlet monarda etc.) have thousands of years of traditional use in North America for cold, flu, fever, respiratory infection, and other permutations of winter illness.

Monarda didyma

Monarda didyma

I use them together, as I have found them to have a synergistic effect on stimulating the respiratory tract and “burning off” a fever (as Matthew Wood calls it), but you can use whichever species is local to you.  Monarda is very useful as a warming (and later cooling, if you sweat out a fever), drying, stimulating, dispersing agent of change throughout the respiratory tract and sinuses.   It will move out whatever cold garbage is stuck in your lungs, dry up a drippy nose, act as an anti-inflammatory and decongestant to sinuses (postnasal drip, headache with facial soreness, weird ear pressure), and sweat out a fever.  It is antimicrobial, gently immune-boosting, and improves the mood.

Elderberry is one of the best-known immune stimulators and antimicrobials.  It’s used daily to prevent sickness, and is wonderful in higher doses to help you get better, faster; the science is very good on this, numerous studies indicating some very high power T-cell stimulating scary-antigen-annihilating magic.  I put it in almost everything immune-related because it’s so effective and delicious.  Generally, you want to decoct elderberries and add them to the rest of the tea, but making separate batches kind of defeats the purpose of having a lazy sick person blend ready to go, so here’s a little cheat: dry elderberries thoroughly, then grind them in a mortar and pestle or grinder.  They won’t last long, and they won’t be as strong, but they’ll get you through when you need them to, and you can infuse them with everything else if you have to.  The herbal demagogues will frown at this advice, but I’ve found that there are a lot of folks out there infusing roots and berries as a matter of convenience—but at least grind them first so you actually get some medicine out.

Add ½ cup each of the following and mix well:

Hyssop is a warming, drying, stimulating fix-all for respiratory woes, sinus issues, and fevers.  It’s antiviral and has a powerful effect on moving out deep-set, chronic conditions of cold-stuckness, especially accompanied by low-grade fever, thready pulse, and feeling sad or down.  It has a synergistic effect with monarda in terms of flavors, energetics, and physiological effect.  If you can’t grow hyssop, try elder flower. tea

Lemon balm is a delicious antiviral famous for soothing frazzled anxiety, sleeplessness, mild pain, and imparting a feeling of general well-being.  It’s effective against viral infections, soothes dry-behind-the-eyes exhaustion, and improves mood.  It’s cooling, calming, and soothing, helping to ground excess energy to focus on rest and healing.

Thyme is a vigorous antimicrobial immune stimulant.  It’s full of volatile oils that evaporate when dried, so it’s most powerful infused fresh into honey or syrup.  That said, it’s still a very useful addition to tea in its gentler dried form.  Thyme is very warming and moving to stuck secretions as an expectorant and decongestant, will help break a fever, and brings the antiviral magic right where it needs to be by stimulating circulation.

Add ½ cup of ONE of the following:

If you tend towards cold, stuck, inflamed, phlegmy (productive or nonproductive) congestion, especially with loss of appetite, facial pain, or sore throat that needs to be cleared:

Elecampane is a warming, stimulating respiratory decongestant, a mover and shaker that brings blood flow to the lungs, throat, and face and puts lots of power behind ejecting any disgusting slimy business stuck in there.  This is strong medicine.  It’s a root, so like elderberry it’s normally decocted.  Keep it separate and decoct with the elderberry, or use this lazy sick person cheat: chop it up as fine as you can when it’s fresh, dry thoroughly, then grind and add to your tea blend.  It doesn’t need to be powder, tiny shards of root will infuse if necessary.

If you tend towards dry, spasmy congestion, especially with painfully dry hacking cough, blood when you blow your nose, dry sore throat, eye soreness, and unequal ear pressure:

Mullein or violet leaf: These are both moistening herbs that cool, soothe, and heal dry inflamed tissues, especially the lungs, nose, and sinuses.  Make sure to accompany them with honey.

gardening weeds

Mullein, borage, and holy basil are all wonderful water-soluble herbs

If you always get sick this way, consider using a full cup (you can take out the thyme, if you need space in the jar).

Make your tea by adding 1-2 tablespoons per cup of boiled water, cover, and steep for 10-20 minutes.

Based on symptoms, add appropriate things to your tea like:

Honey is antimicrobial, immune stimulating, anti-inflammatory, and very soothing.  It should be added to all tea made for someone who isn’t feeling well.

Immune-boosting tinctures like Echinacea, spilanthes, Oregon grape, yellow root, Japanese barberry (this is invasive so use a ton!) help you get better faster.  Some Tinctures BrewingHowever, don’t add these herbs dried to your tea, use them as tinctures: their magic is primarily alcohol-soluble, so the medicine is found in tincture, not tea.

Fever tinctures like willow, boneset, meadowsweet, catnip for kids, especially when accompanied by sore muscles and headache.  These herbs don’t have to be in tincture form, but it’s easier in the moment—however, feel free to decoct/infuse to your heart’s content.

Cherry tincture (or decoction, syrup, honey) as a cough suppressant, for hacking coughs accompanied by muscle pain, when you just need it to stop.bark

Mushroom ice cubes: medicinal mushrooms are wonderful for the immune system, but they really lose their oomph when dried.  My favorite way to prepare them is to make a 3-day decoction, freeze in ice cube trays, and add cubes to tea and soup when we’re sick.  There’s a recipe for this on its way this week.

There are a million other awesome immune herbs local to your area, so have fun playing around with this and let me know how it goes.  Have a nice winter!


24 Comments

The Battle Over Fire Cider

I challenge you to sign the petition, honor the boycott, and make your own fire cider: keep your family and our herbal & local food community healthy!

At the end of December, I wrote this summary of the battle between the herbal community as a whole and one selfish, short-sighted national company as a little aside in a full-length magazine article on infused vinegars.  They declined this section–it was off topic–so I’m publishing it here with some additions (anything that seems angry, because I am).

Fire cider is a spicy, immune-boosting infused vinegar that is traditionally taken in the winter as a cold and flu remedy. The concept is old, but the name “fire cider” was made up by herbal pioneer Rosemary Gladstar in the 1970’s, and published in a copyrighted book in 1994. Rosemary has been a pillar of the herbal community for decades and has taught so many herbalists that her ideas have become part of the common parlance. Fire cider is now a generic term with many recipe variations, produced in kitchens around the world.

However, a heated debate has arisen over the use of the term fire cider.  A Massachusetts-based company, Shire City Herbals, has started manufacturing wholesale fire cider for national distribution and has trademarked the name, claiming it as their own invention–despite it being a well-known traditional, generic term, previously published in books and produced by hundreds of small companies.  As Tradition Not Trademark says, it’s like trademarking “pizza.”

Since the trademark went into effect, Shire City Herbals has pursued many individuals and small, local companies with threats of legal action and bullying on social media and sites like Etsy, despite claims that they have no intention of “persecut[ing] folks making home remedies and selling their remedies on a small scale” (from the Shire City Herbals blog).

Despite their name, Shire City Herbals is not a local herbal company; they have national distribution of their only product, fire cider, and have been called “a small national company working to corner an industry with a single product” by Free Fire Cider.  In other words, they are not one of the thousands of companies run by community herbalists trying to make a living doing what they love; instead, they’re doing what they can to destroy the livelihoods of others.

The herbal community has risen up in resistance to the dangerous precedent this trademark sets, along with local food aficionados and do-it-yourself enthusiasts, as the trademark forbids the use of a long-standing generic term and recipe, and violates the principles of a community based on cooperation and shared knowledge.  Beyond the lack of ethics here, the long-term dangers to the herbal community are significant, as Free Fire Cider explains:

“[T]his could set the precedent for the trademarking of generic, traditional terms by national companies and could lead to a huge change in the grassroots herbal product industry, nationally and internationally. With national companies potentially bullying smaller herbal producers with the legal system, forcing them to stop using generic, cultural, historical herbal terms, so that they can capitalize off of the term, and monopolize the industry with the standardized product. A scenario like this could lead to restricted access to quality, small batch, herbal remedies made locally and distributed locally.”

There is legal action pending against Shire City Herbals to revoke the trademark as well as a boycott, an online petition to the US Patent and Trademark Office to get the trademark revoked with over 9,000 signatures (please add yours), and many free and fabulous recipes available all over the internet.  I really love Mountain Rose’s recipe, and these charming variations from Rosemary Gladstar.

The herbal community urges everyone who cares about small-scale local production and an economy of cooperation to make their own fire cider this year!  There are as many recipe variations as there are cooks and it’s likely to change based on what you have in the kitchen, but here’s a place to start.

If you’d rather buy top-quality fire cider instead of making it, consider supporting one of these small, hand-crafted herbal companies: Herbal Revolution, LaLa Earth, & Good Fight Herb Co.

Juliette’s “Winter is Coming” Fire Cider Recipe

Based on Rosemary Gladstar’s original, Juliet Blankespoor’s guidance, my family’s taste buds, and the availability of ingredients in December in Vermont.

1.  Chop or grate, and combine in a quart jar:

  • ½ cup fresh ginger
  • ¼ cup fresh horseradish or a ½ cup prepared horseradish
  • 1 onion
  • 1 bulb garlic
  • 2-4 cayenne peppers
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 orange
  • 2 Tbsp each: rosemary and thyme
  • 1 Tbsp cinnamon
  • 1 quart raw apple cider vinegar (or whatever will fit)

2.  Cover the mouth of the jar with waxed paper or cloth before putting on the lid. This prevents the lining of the lid from corroding due to the acidity of the vinegar.  Label with the date and ingredients, and store in a cool, dark place.

3.  Shake the jar daily (or as often as you remember). The motion helps extract the medicinal properties more thoroughly.  The longer your vinegar infuses, the stronger it will be.

4.  Strain in 1-3 months.  Pour through a fine strainer or cheesecloth into a clean jar. Squeeze out the last, strongest goodness before discarding.

5.  Add ¼ cup raw honey, or more to taste.

Take 1-2 tablespoons per day to keep your immune system strong, or 2-4 tablespoons a few times daily as a remedy for colds and flus.  It’s very strong-flavored, so dilute in water or honey as needed.


3 Comments

Echinacea Tinctures From Your Garden

This article appeared in the fall issue of Green Living Journal.  It is a very basic explanation of tincture making.  For a more in-depth exploration, please see the article Making Weight-to-Volume Tinctures.

Throughout New England, gardeners treat themselves to the charming long-season blooms of echinacea, or purple coneflower as the ornamental cultivars are sometimes known. Folks often wonder if the echinacea in their garden bed is the same as the famous immune-boosting herb. The answer is simple: probably! Most echinacea cultivars contain the same medicinal properties as the official medicinal variety; tasting the flower will tell you for sure.

 

Uses

Echinacea is one of the most heavily studied medicinal herbs, with dozens of scientific studies exploring its therapeutic uses. Although its exact mechanism of action is not fully understood, research indicates that echinacea preparations decrease the occurrence, duration and severity of acute infective illnesses by stimulating our bodies’ immune function. Most studies have examined echinacea’s use against colds, the flu, and upper respiratory infections; however, it is also commonly used to boost the immune system against many other types of infection, including urinary tract infection, ear infection, sinusitis, and more. Echinacea is also useful as a topical antimicrobial against infected wounds, athlete’s foot, etc.

Echinacea won’t make you feel better right away—there are other herbs to help alleviate that stuffy nose—but it may help you get better, faster. Start taking it when you feel the first tickle in the back of your throat, and you may shorten or even avoid a spell of illness. For greater success, combine echinacea with another immune-boosting herb like elderberry, or with herbs to help relieve individual symptoms such as hyssop or bee balm.

 

Safety

People with a rare allergy to chamomile or other plants in the Aster family should avoid using echinacea.

 

How to Use Tinctures

Tinctures are medicinal herbs extracted and preserved in alcohol, which draws out alcohol-soluble medicinal compounds. Echinacea is high in alcohol-soluble compounds, so echinacea tinctures pack a powerful medicinal punch.

Tinctures are typically diluted in water, juice, or tea to make them easier to swallow, although this is not strictly necessary. Take less if you’re trying to prevent coming down with something, if you are generally sensitive to medicines, or if you are underweight. Take more if you’re already sick, if you are generally impervious to medicines, or if you are overweight.

Adults, give ½ to 1 teaspoon, every 4 to 6 hours.

Children, give ¼ to ½ teaspoon, 3 to 4 times per day. Decrease frequency as they get better.

 

Harvesting Echinacea

Species Several species of echinacea are used medicinally, but Echinacea purpurea is the most commonly found species (this is the “purple coneflower” ornamental). The research on E. purpurea is extensive and indicates a high medicinal benefit, and the plant is easy to grow at home. Other species (E. pallida and E. angustifolia) are threatened in the wild and difficult to grow, so please avoid wild-harvested products to help preserve the biodiversity of our native plants.

Taste it Almost all echinacea cultivars are medicinal. To make sure, simply taste a flower or a bit of the root. If your mouth goes tingly and floods with saliva, it’s medicinal. If not, that plant lacks important medicinal compounds and should not be tinctured.

Plant Part An echinacea root tincture is a good place to start your practice as a tincture-maker, as it is simple to make and contains the plant’s strongest medicine. In time you may decide to try your hand at a whole plant echinacea tincture, which provides a more thorough, complex set of medicinal compounds. Whole plant tinctures require advanced planning, however: tincture young leaves in the spring, flowers and buds in the summer, and roots in the fall, then combine the tinctures.

Harvest Dig echinacea roots in the fall when the nights are chilly, the leaves are starting to turn, and the plant is going dormant. Gently loosen crowns from the soil. Divide crown into several sections to replant, making sure each section has roots and small dormant buds at the base of the stem. You can put aside a section of roots to tincture or cut pieces off the sections you will replant. Replant all sections except what you will tincture so your plants will come back next year.

 

Recipe for Fresh Echinacea Root Tincture

This is a weight-to-volume tincture, which means the ingredients are carefully measured and put together in a specific ratio. This allows us to predict the strength and decide on an appropriate dose.

 

The best tinctures are made with watered down grain alcohol, not vodka; however, grain alcohol is harder to find, so this recipe calls for ubiquitous 80-proof vodka. If you manage to get grain alcohol, do not use it at its full concentration. Instructions on tincturing with grain alcohol can be found here.

 

You will need:

For tincturing:

  • 80-proof vodka
  • Glass jar
  • Kitchen scale
  • Measuring cup
  • Wax paper

 

For straining:

  • Mesh strainer or colander lined with cheesecloth
  • Potato ricer (recommended)

Instructions

  1. Wash roots gently. Chop finely and weigh in ounces.

 

  1. Multiply the weight of the roots by 4; this will give you the volume of vodka you need. For example, if I have 2 ounces (weight) of echinacea, I need 8 ounces (volume) of vodka.

 

  1. Combine chopped root and vodka in a glass jar. Mash echinacea down to help the alcohol get inside the roots. Cover the mouth of the jar with wax paper (to prevent the alcohol from deteriorating the lid), then screw on the lid.

 

  1. Clearly label with the plant name, date, location harvested etc. and store for 6 weeks or more, shaking daily. If you need it sooner, you can start dipping into the jar after about a week, but it won’t have reached its true strength yet. If you forget to shake it every day, give it extra time to steep before you strain it.

 

  1. When the tincture is strong and dark, pour it through a mesh strainer, then squeeze strained roots in a potato ricer to extract the last, strongest part of the tincture. Store in a labeled glass jar or bottle in a cool, dark place.

 

 

Give it a whirl and let me know how it goes for you!  I love hearing your kitchen-witching successes and failures.

 


2 Comments

Make Your Own Herbal Allergy Syrup

This article was originally published in The Country Grind Quaterly, an excellent rag full of fabulous articles. Check it out.

Seasonal allergies can destroy an otherwise beautiful day, especially among those of us who have done a lot of travelling or have moved from one bioregion to another. Many folks turn to Benadryl in desperation, then waste the rest of what would otherwise be a lovely, productive day sacked out on the porch with a medicine-head high. While I understand the desperation behind reaching for the magical decongestants, I urge you to reach for homemade allergy syrup instead. You can make it yourself, and you can still drive the tractor without fear of passing out and rolling the thing. If you take it every day the intensity of your allergies may lessen over time. Seriously, the pharmaceutical companies will not take as good care of you as you can take of yourself.

Allergies Attack! Allergies are essentially your immune system overreacting and slaughtering innocent bystanders. Your immune cells have to tell the difference between things that belong in your body and things that don’t, and then annihilate the intruders to protect the fortress. If your immune cells are lazy or drunk on the job, they could miss an intruder—and then you get sick—or they could overreact and attack cells that aren’t really a threat. Pollen, dog hair, dust, and small children are not threats to your wellbeing, and yet some people develop allergies.

It’s not clear what causes folks to develop allergies, but it’s probably connected to an inappropriate inflammatory response related to chronic physical stress, especially from eating unhealthy fats, having chronic vitamin and mineral deficiencies, and being exposed to significant pollution. There’s a reason allergies and asthma affect the urban poor more than other populations: if your body is in a constant state of hypervigilance (from pollution, junk food etc.), your immune cells are more likely to overreact because they’re halfway to red alert already.

How to Eat Right, in 15 Seconds or Less: Eat real food. Immune cells are made out of fat and need vitamins and minerals to work. If you’re plagued by allergies, quit eating that processed garbage and focus on anti-inflammatory foods, especially omega-3 fatty acids (“good fats”) like in avocados, nuts, and fish. Vitamins and minerals are found in fruits, vegetables, nuts, and animal products—in other words, actual food. If you eat like crap your cells will be made out of crap. Don’t be a dumbass and buy into the myth that the FDA or big pharma has your back because they don’t, fool—they directly benefit from your poor health choices.

Honey, Nectar of the Gods/Bees: Honey is a famous seasonal allergy tonic (something you take for a long time to reduce a chronic problem). I also use it as a formula base for other kinds of allergies and chronic inflammation including inflammatory autoimmune disorders. Promoting healthy immune function reduces inappropriate responses like allergies, so honey probably works because it’s an anti-inflammatory and a probiotic nutritive. Honey contains vitamins, minerals, amino acids, bioavailable enzymes that aid digestion, and healthy bacteria that enhance the function of your body. These nutritive aspects of honey are anabolic, meaning honey builds the body’s reserves of strength and nutrition, enhancing overall structure and function. Honey is especially appropriate for folks who tend towards deficiency and are chronically frazzled or worn out.

Only use raw honey because pasteurization kills the probiotic critters and denatures many of the proteins that give honey its medicine. Use local honey exclusively; yes, honey from Brazil is cheaper than the fancy local stuff, but the fancy local stuff contains trace amounts of the pollen that’s actually making you feel sick, and exposure to tiny amounts of pollen over time desensitizes your immune system. My favorite is wildflower honey, which is dark and rich with all that wild plant magic, but blueberry or tupelo or whatever is made in your area will do just fine.  More about honey here.

So to make a really great formula against allergies, start with honey. You can keep it simple and just eat a tablespoon of raw, local honey every morning (darn), or you can add herbs to make it work better. Honey will help allergies eventually, but if you feel sick today you want something that will help right now—and that’s where the herbs come in.

The Herbs

As always, I strongly recommend choosing herbs that grow in your bioregion. These examples have a wide range, but you’re better off using a local substitute than ordering this or that miracle wonder herb from wherever. The land around you provides; figure out what categories (herbal actions) you need, and then find a local version. No sense in ordering something from Siberia when a fresher, cleaner version is growing in your neighbor’s hedgerow. Remember to look up any herb you’re planning to use to make sure its precautions are safe for you.

Goldenrod: High summer is the ideal time to make your allergy syrup because it’s goldenrod’s heyday. Goldenrod is a strong astringent, so it sucks up extra moisture and tightens mucous membranes (mouth, sinuses, GI tract, etc.), giving an anti-inflammatory effect. When you take the gooey wetness and inflammation out of mucous membranes, most allergy symptoms disappear (also great for UTI’s, but that’s another topic). The beauty of goldenrod is that it kicks in right away: you feel sick, you take goldenrod, you feel better. If you don’t feel better, take more goldenrod, and then you feel better. It’s safe for your kids, too.  Goldenrod

Poor goldenrod has a false reputation for being a major allergen. We can be allergic to pollen that floats through the air from wind-pollinated plants. Although goldenrod is blooming when folks are sneezing, it’s pollinated by bees. Goldenrod pollen isn’t floating through the air, hoping to land on a flower and make little goldenrod babies to continue the genetic line—the bees do that. The culprit is ragweed, a wide spread wind-pollinated plant that blooms at the same time as goldenrod. Looking at the two plants side by side, it’s easy to see that ragweed is wind pollinated, with its little green flowers hanging down from its armpits and swaying in the breeze, whereas goldenrod is covered in bees, who are in turn covered in its pollen.

There’s a staggering number of species of goldenrod (Solidago spp.), and you can use any species for medicine as long as chewing on the leaf dries your mouth out unpleasantly right away. Harvest goldenrod by cutting the stem with pruners. Choose flowers that are about to open; they will continue to open as they dry. Chop goldenrod up and tincture it fresh at 1:2 75%, or hang the stems in a dark, cool place to dry for tea.

Nettles: I’m sorry to repeat myself, but nettle is so wonderful against allergies that it would be herbal sacrilege not to mention it here. Nettle is a cooling anti-inflammatory strength-builder (like honey!) that is a famous tonic against seasonal allergies and allergies that manifest themselves in skin and mucous membranes. Using nettles in your allergy syrup requires some planning ahead, since we harvest nettles in the spring. I use spring nettles tincture in allergy formula, or you can use dried nettles. It’s important not to harvest nettle leaf once it blooms, as it can have weird effects on your hormones and irritate the kidneys. Please see the article in Issue #2 for more about harvesting nettles.

Holy Basil: Holy Basil, also called Tulsi, Tulasi, or Sacred Basil, is an adaptogen, an herb that balances different body systems by changing how our endocrine system (hormones) reacts to stress. Different adaptogens work best on different body systems, called having an affinity. Holy basil has an affinity for the immune system: if the immune system is overreacting, like with allergies, holy basil will calm it down; if it’s underreacting and you’re sick all the time, holy basil will jumpstart it. It also has an affinity for the nervous system (stress, anxiety, depression, memory) and digestive issues related to stress or immune function, among other uses. You should feel something immediately, but its real effects take time to kick in. Taken daily, holy basil can help retrain your immune system’s lousy response to allergens.Holy Basil

Harvest holy basil when it’s in full bloom by cutting it part of the way up the stem, at an angle above a leaf node, to give it a chance to come back this season. Hang dry for tea, or tincture fresh at 1:2 75%.

Some Other Adaptogens: Adaptogens are one of the main types of herbs that people order from far away because of their supposed miraculous properties. Again, there’s something in your area that will work, you just have to figure out what it is. I love holy basil for allergy syrup because it’s delicious, effective, and it’s insect-pollinated (meaning you’re not allergic to it and it’s got trace pollen). That said, there are a lot of other adaptogens that work well on the immune system, so if your growing season is too short for holy basil, try something else. Nice cold climate adaptogens include artist’s conk (Northern reishi, Ganoderma applanatum or tsugae, which is milder), chaga fungus (Inonotus obliquus), licorice (Glycyrrhiza lepidota or G. glabra), and schisandra (S. chinensis). If you can’t grow holy basil, maybe one of these will be your herb.  Ganoderma

 

Seasonal Allergy Syrup Recipe

In its simplest form, syrup is medicinal tea mixed with sweetener. This one is made to work well and last for a long time. It contains tea, honey, and tincture, yielding a delicious, potent medicine.  It tastes like medicinal candy and is safe for kids. You can substitute dried herbs for fresh if you’re making it out of season, but then also try to make a fresh one next summer–it’s very potent.  Yields about 15 ounces.

You will need:

6 oz raw local honey

Herbs:

  • Goldenrod, 2 T fresh
  • Holy Basil, 2 T fresh
  • Nettles, 1-2 T dried
  • Your 4th herb, ½ T dried or 1 T fresh

1 oz each of the following tinctures:

  • Goldenrod
  • Holy Basil
  • Nettles

Follow the syrup-making instructions here, way down at the bottom.  Put about half of each herb in the honey and half in the tea. 

Happy kitchen witching.  Let me know how it goes for you.


7 Comments

Nettles, Burdock, & How to Make Tinctures That Actually Work and Don’t Taste Like Death

This is an excerpt of a longer article originally published in Country Grind Quarterly about spring tonics and tincture-making.  Much more info here about making weight-to-volume tinctures, and some gems here on troubleshooting tinctures.  If you’re in Vermont, come to the tincture-making class in June!  Info here.

Spring is the time to start making your own herbal medicine, or get way better at it, because you have the whole growing season ahead of you to screw up and try again. Almost over night, medicine is popping up out of the ground all over the yard and the woods and the roadsides—and at the same time, we’re antsy to get outside without the coveralls, snow boots, and wool we’ve been sweating in for the last 4-6 months.

Weedy spring medicines called spring tonics get a lot of attention this time of year. Their medicine is gentle and cleansing, helping us shed the sluggishness of fireside hibernation, too much sleep and too much booze and not enough fresh vegetables. These herbs stimulate and rejuvenate the liver, kidneys, digestion, blood and lymph system, energizing us for the growing season. Tonics should be taken every day for best effect. Common examples include dandelion, burdock, yellow dock, cleavers, chickweed, nettles, and many other early weeds, depending on where you live. We’ll cover nettles and burdock as examples and talk about how to preserve them in alcohol (tincture), because digging up a bunch of burdock doesn’t do you any good if you can’t use it.

One thing to note is that many spring tonics have high mineral & soluble fiber content, neither of which dissolves in alcohol. If you want the fiber or minerals, make tea, food, or tincture them in vinegar.

Like always, look up any herb you’re thinking of using to make sure it’s safe for you if you have health concerns, and make sure you’re harvesting the right plants.

Burdock is a cool, moist, calming anti-inflammatory rejuvenator. Use the tinctured root to stimulate sluggish digestion; cleanse the liver, gall bladder, kidneys, and blood; and relieve hot, congested skin conditions like acne and boils. It’s soothing to PMS symptoms with liver involvement, like acne and constipation, combined with a woman’s herb like black haw. Use it to cleanse the liver during recovery from substance abuse. Root tea (decoction) is used to relieve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, or as a gentle every day medicine against chronic urinary tract infections and kidney stones. The root is high in minerals and soluble fiber, so the tea is useful against anemia, to help recover from antibiotic use with probiotic foods, and to help neutralize high cholesterol and reproductive hormone imbalances with a woman’s herb. The root is good in soups and you get the effects of the tea. Seeds can be collected for a strong diuretic medicine, but in the fall so we’ll skip it.

Harvesting burdock Look for the 2nd year’s growth: the leaves will be larger, usually in an area that went weedy last year. Dig roots in the early morning during the new moon, within a day or 2 of rain for the best medicine.

Nettle is a cooling anti-inflammatory strength-builder that stimulates kidney function and cleanses the blood (alterative). It’s used in tincture, tea, or food for a wide range of conditions of deficiency. Use it for any deficient depression or exhaustion, when you feel dragged down, frazzled, and overwhelmed, with herbs for the nervous system (nervines). Nettle is a tonic against seasonal allergies and allergies that manifest in skin and mucous membranes (like sinuses). Use it for skin conditions related to stress, fatigue, or dryness. Nettles stimulate milk production in nursing mamas and protect against postpartum depression and exhaustion.

Because of its effect on kidney function, the tea is protective against chronic urinary tract infections and helps relieve symptoms of arthritis and gout with anti-inflammatory herbs like willow, and high blood pressure with a heart tonic like hawthorn. Tea and food are high in minerals, so nettle helps protect against iron-deficiency anemia, osteoporosis, and electrolyte deficiencies. It combines beautifully with other spring tonics like burdock for diuretic and mineral benefits. Cook the leaves like kale for springtime joy. Fresh seeds & roots are also collected for very strong medicine (not a tonic), as a diuretic and adrenal rejuvenator.

Harvesting nettle Harvest on a sunny day during the full moon. Wear gloves to cut young nettles off at an angle ½ inch above a leaf node (so you can cut again this season). Never harvest nettles after they bloom with tiny hanging green flowers from their armpits, they can have major effects on hormones. Hold the end of the stem in one hand and strip the leaves off away from you. Only harvest nettles from good clean soil, they uptake heavy metals.

Making Fresh Herb Tinctures

So in the original Country Grind article, this is where I talk about all the nitty gritty tincture-making details of ratios, concentrations, fresh vs. dried plant matter, solubility, and the rest.  If you want those details, please read this much more detailed article on how to make tinctures.  Otherwise, read on for the specific recipes.

To illustrate how to follow a recipe to make genuinely good tinctures, and in honor of spring: the nettle leaf tincture represents higher alcohol tinctures of delicate plant parts, and burdock root tincture represents lower alcohol tinctures of dense plant parts. This recipe can be applied to any herb you would tincture. I’m using fluid and solid ounces, but if you’re a metric user it works just as well in ml and gm.

You will need Grain alcohol; scale; measuring cup; knife and cutting board; clean canning jars; waxed paper or clean muslin; labels or scrap paper; packing tape. Eventually, a potato ricer or press.

1. Pick the ratio, 1:2 to 1:6.

Nettles: 1:3

Burdock 1:4

2.  Pick the liquid concentration, 40% to 95%.

Nettles: 75%

Burdock 60%

3. Chop and weigh the herbs using ounces.  This number is the 1st number in the ratio (the 1); let’s say the herbs weigh 4 oz.

4. Multiply the weight of herbs by the second number in the ratio.  This number is the total volume of liquid.

Nettles: 4 oz nettles, 1:3 ratio, 4×3=12 oz liquid

Burdock: 4 oz burdock, 1:4 ratio, 4×4=16 oz liquid

5. Multiply liquid volume (the number you got in step 4) by the alcohol concentration you want.  This is the volume of alcohol. We’re pretending grain alcohol is 100% instead of 95% for our sanity.

Nettles: 12 oz liquid x75%=9 oz alcohol

Burdock: 16 oz liquid x60%=9.6, let’s say 10 oz alcohol

6. Subtract the alcohol volume from the total volume of liquid.  This is how much water you need.

Nettles: 12 oz liquid–9 oz alcohol=3 oz water

Burdock: 16 oz liquid–10 oz alcohol=6 oz water

7. Put herbs in jar, then pour alcohol and water over herbs. Mash the herbs down to keep them under the liquid.

Nettles: 4 oz herbs, 9 oz grain alcohol, 3 oz water

Burdock: 4 oz herbs, 10 oz grain alcohol, 6 oz water

8.  Line the lid with waxed paper or muslin so alcohol doesn’t eat away the lining of the lid and put metal and BPA’s in your tincture. Label with plant, date, moon phase, harvest location, etc.  Cover label with packing tape so it doesn’t disappear.

9.  Let sit 6 weeks or more in a cool, dark place, shaking occasionally.

10.  Strain, then squeeze the herbs in a potato ricer to extract the last, strongest part of the tincture.  If you don’t have a potato ricer you can use 2 plates but the potato ricer works better.  Feed the herbs to your chickens or the compost.

11.  Store in a glass jar or bottle in a cool, dark place. Dosage is different for different herbs, but for these 2 recipes try 1-3 droppers (1-3 ml) daily. Tinctures last for years.