East meets West: Warming Muscle Rub

Recently I came across a recipe from the Herbal Academy that intrigued me, Warming Ginger Cayenne Salve. I wondered if I could improve upon this analgesic recipe by combining it with additional herbs that have been used traditionally used in dit da jow’s.  Dit da jow is an analgesic liniment traditionally used by martial artists to stimulate circulation, reduce pain and swelling, and improve healing of injuries and wounds. Also known as  “hit medicine”, the main function of dit da jow, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), is to unblock blood stagnation and blood stasis. The thought being that when one suffers a trauma type injury, qi is blocked in the meridians causing pain and swelling.

Starting with the Warming Ginger Cayenne Salve recipe as my starting point, I used a combination of arnica and St. John’s wort infused oils as my base.  In the initial recipe it suggested adding turmeric powder which I opted to not include due to its potential for staining.  In brainstorming other herbs to use,  I thought I would kick up the heat by adding dried ginger root, cinnamon bark, black pepper, mustard powder, Thai chilies and wasabi. To this combination I included TCM herbs* which I had pre-soaked in alcohol to help open up the cell walls to increase extraction in the oil. *specific for pain relief see below.

Angelica Pubescens (Chinese: Du Huo) is categorized as an Herb that Dispels Wind-Dampness. These herbs alleviate pain in the muscles, ligaments, tendons, joints and bones. Angelica pubescens expels cold and promotes Qi and Blood flow. It disperses cold and unblocks painful obstruction (bruises, swelling, etc). It can be used for chronic and acute problems.

Angelica Sinensis (Chinese: Dang Gui) is a commonly used herb in Chinese medicine. It’s main purpose is to tonify the blood. But it also invigorates and harmonizes the blood and disperses cold. It is an important herb for stopping pain due to blood stasis.

Psuedoginseng (Chinese: San qi or Tian Qi) belongs to the category of Herbs that Stop Bleeding. This herb stops bleeding without causing blood stagnation, transforms blood stagnation, reduces swelling and stops pain. Because it reduces swelling and alleviates pain this is the herb of choice for traumatic injuries and is used for swelling and pain due to falls, fractures, contusions, and sprains.

Persicae, Peach Kernals (Chinese: Tao Ren) belongs to the category of Herbs that Invigorate the Blood. It invigorates the Blood and is an important herb for dispelling stasis due to traumatic injury. It is used with Angelica sinensis for pain due to trauma.

RECIPE:

Warming Muscle Rub

  • 1 cup of arnica infused oil
  • 1 cup of St. John’s wort infused oil
  • 2 T. of cayenne pepper powder
  • 2 T. ginger root powder
  • 2 T. ground black pepper
  • 1 T. dried mustard powder
  • 1/4 c. of dried ginger root
  • 1/4 c. of cinnamon bark
  • 1 tsp. of Thai chilies
  • 1 T. wasabi paste
  • 1/4 cup of Angelica sinensis
  • 1/4 cup of Psuedoginseng
  • 1/4 cup of Persicae
  • 1/4 cup of Angelica pubescens
  • 1/2 cup of beeswax
  • 180 drops black pepper essential oil
  • 180 drops cinnamon essential oil
  • 180 drops wintergreen essential oil
  • 180 drops ginger essential oil

Day 1:  Combine Angelica sinensis, Psuedoginseng, Persicae, and Angelica pubescens with 1/2 cup of grain alcohol.  Toss to cover and let sit overnight.

Day 2:  Stain any remaining alcohol from herbs and combine the oil with all of the other herbs into a double boiler.  Bring to a simmer, cover and cook for 2 hours. Leave in the double boiler and allow to sit overnight.

Day 3: Bring the double boiler (check the water) up to a simmer and let herbs/oil cook for another hour.  Uncover and cook for another hour to evaporate any remaining water or alcohol. Remove from the heat and strain.  (Note: I would not used powdered herbs in the future, in that they are difficult to strain).  After straining, add the infused oil back to the double boiler adding beeswax.  Bring the heat back up and stir until beeswax is dissolved.  Remove from the heat and cool slightly.  Add essential oils, stir again and pour into glass containers.

The results is an easily applied warming salve to be used for aches and pains.  I used it on my shoulders and knees after a long hike and the next day I woke up pain free. Avoid use on sensitive skin.

Lemon Balm, a Powerhouse of a Medicinal Herb

 “Lemon Balm is sovereign for the brain. It strengthens

the memory and powerfully chases away melancholy”.

John Evelyn, an English herbal physician

Did you know that lemon balm, Melissa officinalis, has been used medicinally for centuries? Lemon balm is native to Southern Europe. Still, with its strong lemony smell and deliciously pleasant flavor, it was so popular that by the middle ages, it was cultivated throughout all of Europe, even making its way to the Middle East. Avicenna, an 11th-century Arab herbalist, said of the herb: “It causeth the mind and heart to become merry.” Melissa means “bee” in Greek, and as the name suggests, bees adore Melissa’s tiny but sweetly scented flowers. Legend has it that medieval beekeepers rubbed the crushed lemon balm in hives to encourage nesting. The Swiss physician and alchemist Paracelsus (1493-1541) believed that lemon balm was an “elixir of life” and claiming that it would increase strength and lengthen life. North America, too, was soon enamored with lemon balm brought over by the colonists who used it for tea and potpourri, as well as for increasing production of honey by honeybees.

Lemon balm is a powerhouse of a medicinal herb; in fact, it treats so many conditions it could be considered a cure-all. It has been used for treating dyspepsia, IBS, acid reflux, stress and anxiety, herpes simplex, brain health, hyperthyroid, Alzheimer’s, and insomnia, to name a few. Lemon balm long known for its ability to improve digestion contains volatile oils, known as terpenes, which help to relax muscles and relieve symptoms of gas, food stagnant, ease abdominal cramping, and promote the overall digestive health.

Some herbalists consider lemon balm as a nervous system trophorestorative(Hoffmann, 2003), a word which indicates that over time, it tonifies and repairs the nervous system. Part of the reason for this is that lemon balm contains rosmarinic acid, which increases the availability of GABA in the brain, where low levels are believed to be associated with anxiety and other mood disorders. In addition, rosmarinic acid has antioxidant and antimicrobial properties, with studies indicate that using topically on herpes simplex sores has shortened healing time and recurrence (Gaby, 2006). If that wan not enough, recent research has shown that lemon balm is also radioprotective and shields DNA from radiation-induced damage (Zeraatpishe et al., 2011). An extract of lemon balm is one of the treatments, based on research, suggests that it stops the processes that over-activate the thyroid from binding with the thyroid receptor, specifically in patients with Grave’s disease (Auf’mkolk, 1985). Clinical research shows that taking a standardized extract of lemon balm daily for four months reduces agitation and improves symptoms of mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease (Akhondzadeh, 2003). For the first time, chronic Melissa officinalis L. leaf extract treatment has been demonstrated to improve mild-to-moderate anxiety disorders, its associated symptoms and insomnia in humans (Cases, 2011)

Once you realize all the ways you can benefit from the many uses of lemon balm, I’m sure you’ll be itching to grow some in your garden. Lemon balm can be grown from seed, but in Central Oregon with the wind, heat, and its short growing season, I recommend starting lemon balm from established plants, rooted stem cuttings, root divisions, or seedlings from a nursery. It prefers fertile, loamy soil, with mid to full-day sun, but always appreciates a bit of afternoon shade and soils that retain moisture.

As a perennial herb (which means it will come up year after year), it can reach heights of 12-24 inches with equal width of spread. Lemon balm is hardy to zones 3 and 5, making it perfect for Central Oregon’s growing climate. If starting lemon balm from seed, you have several options, including starting seed in the spring, in the fall, or indoors. When starting seed in spring wait until the soils have warmed up and the danger of frost has passed or if planting in fall, plant seed in early fall to late winter. The challenge of fall planting is that with soil movement from ice and snow, the seeds can become too deep to germinate in the spring. To start lemon balm indoors, sow seeds six to eight weeks before the last frost. I sprinkle seeds in small pots filled with a seed starting mixture and barely cover. Seeds generally take seven to fourteen days to germinate at 70°F, but longer if indoor temperatures are cooler. Once seedlings have their second set of true leaves, either thin them or repot individual seedlings into larger containers, after all, the danger of frost has passed, seedlings should be set in the garden twelve to eighteen inches apart. Whichever method you choose, recognize that lemon balm seeds are slow to germinate. Once your lemon balm plant is established, and if left to go to seed, you will have many lemon balm babies the following year.

Lemon balm can always benefit from mulching year-round, but winter mulch is of the utmost importance to insulate the plant from being heaved out of the ground in times of repeated freeze and thaw cycles. To prevent scraggly or spindly growth, divide mature plants every three to five years. Lemon balm also is an excellent companion plant for squash as well as it repels mosquitoes and squash bugs.

Harvesting lemon balm is super easy, you can harvest a handful of fresh leaves to use immediately, or you can collect and dry the leaves for later use. Harvest the leaves just before its flowers open when volatile oils are at their most potent concentration. It is often possible to get two harvests a year, once in mid-summer and another in the fall, just remembering not to remove more than two-thirds of the growth at a time. For lemon balm, I remove the leaves from the stalks by holding the tip (top) of the stem firmly between your left thumb, index, and ring fingers. With the same three fingers of your right hand, pull firmly downwards along the stem. For drying, I either use a dehydrator set on low or spread the leaves on a cookie sheet and set somewhere that does not get direct sun and has good air circulation. Luckily living in Central Oregon herbs dry fast and are typically done in two to three days.

Lemon Balm Cold Sore Salve

  • 1 cup of coconut oil
  • 15 g St John’s wort dried herb
  • 15 g Lemon Balm dried herb

Step #1-Melt coconut oil in a double boiler/in a glass bowl over water that has reached a simmer, add herbs and mix well, infuse for two-four hours. Strain through cheesecloth/nut milk bag. Return oil to the bowl and heat slightly.

Step #2-Melt two tablespoons chopped/grated beeswax and two tablespoons grated cacao butter into the slightly heated lemon balm oil. Remove from heat, let cool slightly and add ten drops of lemon balm essential oil.

Step #3-Pour the oil into lip containers or small pots, let cool and harden.

Optional ingredients:

  • Two drops of clove oil pain relief
  • Four drops peppermint essential oil anti-viral, cooling, pleasant scent
  • Two drops tea tree essential oil anti-viral

So now that your garden is full of lemon balm, how do you use it? Lemon balm is quite versatile as either a culinary or medicinal herb. As a medicinal herb, the most obvious preparation is to infuse the leaves in hot water for tea. Typically, a therapeutic dose of an herb is one ounce of herb to 2-3 cups of water. Put the lemon balm leaves in a mason jar, pour in hot water, cover with a lid and let sit for 10-15 minutes, strain and drink throughout the day. One example of a tea formula that includes lemon balm for addressing digestive issues is to combine, one heaping teaspoon of chamomile flowers, lemon balm leaves, and catnip leaves, along with a half teaspoon of fennel or dill seeds. Pour boiling water over herbs and steep for ten minutes.

Fresh lemon balm can be used in drinks or added to steamed vegetables and fruit salads. A great way to use fresh lemon balm leaves is to make a lemon balm pesto. Just mix one-part new lemon balm to one-part fresh basil leaf along with olive oil and garlic (if desired), and you have yourself a delicious pesto, that is ready to add to pasta, chicken or fish. If that was not enough, lemon balm could be used as a base for making a liqueur. Add four tablespoons of chopped lemon balm, a scraped peel of a fourth of a lemon, one-quarter teaspoon of coriander seed, and one-third of a cinnamon stick, four leaves of peppermint, and one cup of vodka. Place all the ingredients in a bottle, shake vigorously, and steep for three weeks. Shake the jar daily during the steeping period. Strain and filter into a dark bottle, adding sweetener to taste, let sit for two months, and then enjoy it.

Lemon Balm Martini

A favorite of mine is a lemon balm martini. Combine one ounce of lemon juice, four ounces of vodka, two to three teaspoons of simple sugar, along with a handful of lemon balm leaves. Pulse ingredients in blender and strain into a shaker filled with ice. Stir, then strain into martini glasses with a spring of lemon balm as a garnish.

When taking any herb, it is essential to determine if it might interfere with any medications or health issues you have. This website has detailed information on dosing and interactions https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-437/lemon-balm.

Holly Hutton, Herbal Goddess Medicinals

References:

Akhondzadeh, S., et al. (2003). Melissa officinalis extract in the treatment of patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial. Journal of Neurosurgery Psychiatry, Jul; 74(7): 863–866. doi: 10.1136/jnnp.74.7.863

Auf’mkolk, M., et. al. (1985). Extracts and auto-oxidized constituents of certain plants inhibit the receptor-binding and the biological activity of Graves’ immunoglobulins. Endocrinology, May; 116(5):1687-93

Cases, J., et. al. (2003). Pilot trial of Melissa officinalis L. leaf extract in the treatment of volunteers suffering from mild-to-moderate anxiety disorders and sleep disturbances. Medical Journal Nutrition Metabolism, Dec; 4(3): 211–218. Published online 2010 Dec 17. doi: 10.1007/s12349-010-0045-4

Hoffman, David. Medical Herbalism. (2003).

Gaby, A. R. (2006). Natural remedies for Herpes simplex. Alternative Medical Review, Jun;11(2):93-101.

A Planetary Approach to Making Herbal Pain Relieving Patches

Picture1A few years ago I had the opportunity to go to China and study at Longhua Hospital Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine.  During our training we toured different departments at the hospital.  In the Traumatology department they had several crock pots full of herbal plasters or gaos which they painted on muslin.  They were unwilling to discuss the contents of the crock pots but this challenged me to devise my own methods for making medicated plasters.

In Chinese medicine, gaos are a suspensiIMG_1523on of ground herbs in a paste like medium that allows it to be spread on the skin. Sometimes this is a cream, salve or patch.  Patches are convenient I have had great success using them afor the temporary relief of minor aches and pains of muscles and joints.

This post is a documentation of the process that I used for making the patches including lessons learned.  To begin with, I had to figure out what type of medium to suspended the herbs in.  After a lot of rumination, I decided to use a oil and beeswax base, which I thought would be thick enough to be painted onto the muslin or in my case pre-made bandages.  When mixed properly, the beeswax also acts as a preservative, allowing the gao to keep for an extended period of time without spoiling.

For this experiment I started with myrrh and dragon’s blood resins.  After using a hammer to break up the large pieces into small grains, I covered the ground resins with organic, pharmaceutical grade 190-proof neutral corn, alcohol.  The use of alcohol for extraction is based on its ability to extract chemical constituents which are not water soluble.  I let this sit for one month, shaking daily.  When I started this process I was not sure what base I would eventually use but as stated above I settled on using a oil/beeswax medium.

At this point I had a alcohol tincture that needed to be to converted into oil. I used an Ayurvedic oil making process to do this conversion.  I strained the resins from the alcohol and combined the mixture with 16 parts water in a stainless steel saucepan.  I cooked this uncovered on low until the water  evaporated.  Comment:  I particularly like the process for making medicinal oils with this technique, which I believe provides a clarity that is not achieved through other methods.

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Before (alcohol/herb) and After (oil)

The next step in the process I added additional herbs to the oil mixture.  I chose to add Chi Shao and Tian San Qi, both herbs that are used internally and externally for addressing pain in Traditional Chinese Medicine.  This is where I made a mistake. I used IMG_5905herbs that had I had on hand that had already been processed and included a binder.  The binder congealed together turning into a glob ball.  Had I just used ground herbs then everything would have worked fine.

After starting over again, I ground the safflower and tian san qi, into powder and added it to the oil,  (covered) cooking over low heat overnight in the crook pot.  The next step in the process was to determine how much beeswax to add.  I used 1/3 cup of beeswax to 1/2 cup of oil, based on wanting it to be thick enough to be able to paint, but not thin enough to rub off on the skin.  This seemed like the perfect amount of beeswax.  After the beeswax melted I removed the herb/oil mixture from the heat, adding 1/2 tsp of menthol crystals, stirring until dissolved (do this in a well ventilated room).  To this I added 15 drops of ginger and black pepper essential oils.

IMG_5904Using a paint brush I applied the mixture to ready made bandages, applying several coats.  Hint:  I kept the mixture liqIMG_5907uid by keeping it on low heat until I was done.

The results are perfect.  I used one of the bandages on a sore wrist and it worked like a charm.  Painting the mixture on muslin would work as well, using gaze to hold the muslin in place.

There are any number of herbs that can be used topically, the following is a list of mainly Chinese herbs.

Er Cha

Black Catechu (Chinese: Er cha, Acacia catechu) belongs to the category of Substances for topical application. It moderates pain, stops bleeding due to external trauma

Da HuangChinese Rhubarb (Chinese: Da Huang, Rheum palmatum L ) belongs to the category of Downward Draining Herbs. These herbs are commonly used to stimulate or lubricate the gastrointestinal tract and facilitate the expulsion of stool. According to our East Earth Trade Winds herbalist Da Huang whose main purpose is to drain heat and purge accumulations also has the effect of invigorating the blood and dispelling blood stasis and it is used for blood stasis due to traumatic injury. It is used with Angelicae sinensis (dang gui), Semen Persicae (tao ren) and Carthami (hong hua) for blood stasis.

Pu Gong YingDandelion (Chinese: Pu gong Ying, Taraxaci Mongolici) belong to the herbal category Herbs that Clear Heat and Resolve Toxicity. This herb can disperse Qi stagnation and reduce swelling.

dragons_blood-product_1x-1403631315Dragon’s Blood (Chinese: Xue Jie; Botanical name: Sanguis Draconis) is a resinous secretion of the fruit of Daemonorops draco. Our East Earth Trade Winds herbalist says that it gets its name because of its resemblance to dried blood. It belongs to the category of Herbs that Circulate the Blood. It dispels blood stasis and alleviates pain and is used for symptoms related to injury from falls, fractures, bruises, and sprains. It is used with Olibanum and Myrrh for bruising, swelling, and pain from trauma. It can stop bleeding when applied topically to an external injury. It invigorates the blood, disperse stasis, and stops pain. Sanguis Draconis is often combined with Olibanum and Myrrh. All three of these herbs have similar functions but Sanguis Draconis is most able to promote the regeneration of tissue, help sores heal, and stop bleeding.

Gu Sui buDrynaria (Chinese: Gu sui bu, Drynaria roosii) is a Yang Tonifying Herb. It tonifies the Kidneys and strengthens bones. It promotes the mending of the sinews and bones and is used for traumatic injuries such as falls,fractures, contusions, and sprains. It is especially useful for ligament injuries and simple fractures.

long guFossilized bone (Botanical name: Os Draconis; Chinese: Long gu) belongs to the category of Substances that Calm the Spirit. It is used topically for chronic, non-healing sores and ulcers.

Zhi Zi

Gardenia (Chinese: Zhi zi, Gardeniae jasminoidis) belongs to the Category Herbs that Clear Heat and Drain Fire. It can reduce swelling and move blood stagnation due to trauma.

Jin yin huaHoneysuckle (Botanical name: Lonicera; Chinese: Jin yin hua) belongs to the category of Herbs that Clear Heat and Resolve Toxicity. It disperses heat, resolves toxicity, cools the blood, and stops bleeding. It can be used for hot painful sores and swellings.

saflowerSafflower (Botanical: Carthami; Chinese: Hong Hua) belongs to the category of Herbs that Circulate the Blood. It invigorates the blood, dispels stasis, and stops pain. Because it is light in weight it is said to have a rapid effect on the movement of blood and the transformation of stasis and stopping pain.

xu duanTeasel (Botanical name: Radix Dipsaci; Chinese: Xu duan) is a Yang Tonifying Herb. It tonifies the Liver and Kidneys, strengthens the sinews and bones and is used for sore and painful lower back and knees, and stiffness in the joints. Our East Earth Trade Winds herbalist says that it also promotes the movement of blood, alleviates pain, and reconnects the sinews and bones. It is often used for trauma especially for pain and swelling in the lower back and limbs from trauma.

Ru XiangFrankincense (Chinese: Ru Xiang, Resina Olibani) is a sap that comes from the Boswellia tree. This herb belongs to the category of  Herbs that Circulate Blood.  It is said to invigorate the blood, promote the movement of Qi, stop pain, and promote the healing and regeneration of damaged tissue. It is often used for traumatic pain due to blood stasis (e.g., bruising). Gummi Olibanum can also relax the tendons and reduce swelling.

Myrrh_Gum_Resin_OG_2019-04-16-product_1x-1555445293Myrrh (Chinese: Mo Yao) is a fragrant gum resin that also belongs to the belongs to the category of  Herbs that Circulate the Blood. It in said to break up blood stagnation to stop pain, reduce swelling, and generate flesh. It promotes healing. When used in conjunction with Olibanum both the Qi and Blood are addressed. Our East Earth Trade Winds Herbalist says that while Olibanum invigorates the blood, Myrrh disperses blood. Myrrh is said to be better for stagnation. Both of these herbs can stop pain, reduce swelling and promote regeneration of damaged tissue. For this reason the two herbs are often used together.

Du HuoAngelica Pubescens (Chinese: Du Huo) is categorized as an Herb that Dispels Wind-Dampness. These herbs alleviate pain in the muscles, ligaments, tendons, joints and bones. Angelica pubescens expels cold and promotes Qi and Blood flow. It disperses cold and unblocks painful obstruction (bruises, swelling, etc). It can be used for chronic and acute problems.

Chuan XiongLigustici Wallichi (Chinese: Chuan Xiong) belongs to the category of Herbs that Circulate the Blood. It warms and unblocks the blood vessels invigorating the blood, promoting the movement of qi, expelling wind, and stopping pain. It can be used for any blood stagnation pattern. It is often combined with Angelica Sinensis for pain and numbness from stagnant Qi blocking the Blood channels.

Tao RenPersicae, Peach Kernals (Chinese: Tao Ren) belongs to the category of Herbs that Invigorate the Blood. It invigorates the Blood and is an important herb for dispelling stasis due to traumatic injury. It is used with Angelica sinensis for pain due to trauma. It is also used with Carthami for invigorating the blood as both herbs promote the flow of blood and dispel stagnation.

Dang GuiAngelica Sinensis (Chinese: Dang Gui) is a commonly used herb in Chinese medicine. It’s main purpose is to tonify the blood. But it also invigorates and harmonizes the blood and disperses cold. It is an important herb for stopping pain due to blood stasis. It is commonly used for traumatic injury. It is combined with Olibanum and Myrrh for strains and fractures.

Pu HuangCattail Pollen Typhae (Chinese: Pu Huang) belongs to the subcategory of Herbs that Stop Bleeding. Pollen Typhae is the yellow colored pollen from cattail or bulrush. It is known to stop bleeding and is used for external bleeding associated with traumatic injury. It also invigorates the blood and dispels blood stasis. Using this herb can relieve pain from blood stagnation.

tian san qiPsuedoginseng (Chinese: San qi or Tian Qi) belongs to the category of Herbs that Stop Bleeding. This herb stops bleeding without causing blood stagnation, transforms blood stagnation, reduces swelling and stops pain. Because it reduces swelling and alleviates pain this is the herb of choice for traumatic injuries and is used for swelling and pain due to falls, fractures, contusions, and sprains. According to our East Earth Trade Winds Herbalist in Chinese medicine Blood stagnation causes pain and when the stagnation is removed then the blood can resume its normal circulation which helps eliminate pain and swelling.Other herbs:  African basil (Ocimum gratissimum L) herb oil, Cinnamon oil, fang feng root, Formosan sweet gum (Liquidambar formosana Hance) Resin, Fragrant angelica root extract, Greater galangal root extract, Ginger root extract, Huo xue dan [Glechoma longituba (Nakai) Kuprian] aerial part, Natural latex rubber, Nux vomica (Strychnos nux-vomica L) seed, Rosin, Safflower flower, Schizonepeta (Schizonepeta tenuifolia Briq.) flowering aerial part on a cotton pad.

Happy Medicine Making

Herbal Tinctures: Getting or Giving the Right Dose

tincturesHerbal tinctures are the backbone of Western herbalism.  Generally, herbal tinctures are made from herbs extracted with a combination of alcohol and water, although glycerine and vinegar can also be used.  They are widely available, economical to produce and use, compact enough to stock in considerable variety and have a good shelf life. They can be combined and are convenient to take.   Dried herbs start to loose their potency after 6 months yet tinctures can last up to 10 years or more.  As a primarily Traditional Chinese Medicine herbalist, I mostly rely on concentrated decoctions, but in some cases when I am working with aerial parts of  plants, or herbs that could benefit from the effects of alcohol, increasing circulation, tinctures are more appropriate.

This posting is based on tinctures made using the weight to volume method.

Understanding dosage rates are important in achieving therapeutic outcomes.  I find that if someone isn’t responding to an herbal formula then analyzing their dosages can be helpful.

As a starting point most commercially available herbal tinctures indicate the weight to volume ratio.  For example, if the label states that it is a 1:5 extraction, this indicates that 1 gram (weight) of herb is equivalent to 5 milliliters (volume) of liquid.

A tincture formula will state the herb and the ratio of herb (by weight) to solvent (by volume), and the % alcohol (ethanol) in water.

Having this information is crucial in understanding the amount of herb that you are recommending or taking per dose.  Furthermore, this information is required by law to appear on the label. along with the serving size suggestion, which we will discuss further on.

In trying to communicate dosage equivalencies I have developed the following chart based on weight to volume ratios.  The side column indicates the common ratios and the top row indicates the volume of tincture consumed (in milliliters).  For example, if you took 1 milliliter of liquid made at a ratio of 1:2 then you would be ingesting a half of a gram of herb.

Tincture Dosage Equivalencydosage ratioSuggested Use:  Different companies have different suggested dosage rates.   Some companies suggest taking a dropper full and others recommended taking a range of drops as a serving size, for example, 20-60 drops.  When a dropper full is suggested the amount consumed depends on the size of the bottle and dropper.  When the suggested dosage on the bottle indicates a number of drops per dose, the amount consumed depends on the viscosity of the liquid.  Since this can change from one company to the next the best we can do is to have an understanding of some equivalents  recognizing that this is an approximation:

  • 20 drops = 1 ml
  • Dropperful from a one-ounce bottle—30 drops
  • Dropperful from a two-ounce bottle—40 drops
  • 5 ml = 1 teaspoon
  • A one-ounce bottle holds approximately 30 ml, 6 teaspoons, 30 dropper full, and 900 drops.

For example if using the suggested serving of 40 drops, and 20 drops = 1 milliliter, then you are taking approximately 2 milliliters of a 1:5 tincture and getting approximately .4 grams of herb per dose.  Most commonly it is recommended to take the tincture two to three times a day, so using this same example you  would be consuming between .8 and 1.2 grams of herb per day. Knowing the actual amount of herb that is recommended on a daily basis will help with putting the this into context.  Below is a partial list of recommended daily dosage of some common herbs.

Examples of dosages of some common herbs*:

Herb Daily Dosage
Angelica archangelica 3-9 grams
Ashwagandha 3-12 grams
Astragalus 6-15 grams
Black Cohosh 3-9 grams
Burdock 3-10 grams
Codonopsis 9-30 grams
Dandelion 9-30 grams
Dang Gui 3-15 grams
Echinacea 3-9 grams
Grindelia 3-6 grams
Hawthorn Berry 6-12 grams
Lemon Balm ½-6 grams
Motherwort 10-30 grams
Oregon Grape Root 3-9 grams
Passion flower 3-9 grams
Skullcap 3-9 grams
St. Johns Wort 3-9 grams
Uva Ursi 3-6 grams
Valerian 3-6 grams

* Planetary Herbology, Michael Tierra

In some circles there has been a discussion that the use of alcohol potentizes the action of the herbs, therefore less herb is needed.  Furthermore, the synergistic action of herbal combinations or formulas also increases effectiveness requring less herb.  These are great discussions but I work with aspiring herbalists who are often confused as to how to determine or convert tinctures to actual grams of herbs.  I hope that this helps and would encourage you to take a moment to actually consider that you might not be taking enough herbs to be effective.

Related blog post:  https://herbalgoddessmedicinals.wordpress.com/category/herbal-preparations/

Up coming blog:  How to make tinctures using the weight to volume method.

 

 

Making Holiday Herbal Goodies: Soaks, Sprays, Scrubs and Masks

It is that time of year again when I teach a series of herbal gift-making workshops.  Since many of you following this blog are not local I thought I would share some of my favorite recipes, along with, some ideas for packaging. Feel free to experiment with any of these recipes, if you don’t have the exact ingredients or can think of something else that would enhance the action of the formulas.

cello bagSoaks:  The first set of recipes are for a variety of herbal soaks.  For packaging,  the ingredients in these recipes can be divided into large press n’ brew tea bags or  jars with an attached cotton muslin tea bag, which can then can be reused.  Mountain Rose Herbs has several of types of bags available.  I prefer the press n’ brew bags.  I divide the recipe into 4 bags, iron them shut and then combine these bags into transparent cello bags tied with ribbon and labeled with kraft paper tags.

Bright Eyes Herbal Tea Soakseye bags

4 Tablespoons Chamomile flowers

3 Tablespoons Chrysanthemum flowers

2 Tablespoons Peppermint Leaf

3 Tablespoons Sage Leaf

4 drops lavender oil

Measure everything into glass jar, shake and divide between three large press n’ tea bags.

Instructions:  Cover tea bags with boiling water, let cool until slightly warm then apply.

foot soaksDetoxing and Warming Foot Soak

1/4 cup dead sea salts

1/4 cup Epsom salts

2 Tablespoons dry mustard

2 Tablespoons dried ginger root

2 Tablespoon cinnamon stick, broken up

2 T. of Dong Quai root (angelica sinensis)

1/4 cup of Mugwort leaf

1 Teaspoon Cayenne power

4 Tablespoons of dried Dandelion Root

Put herbs into mason jar, cap and shake.  Package in jar with muslin bag or divide into 5 press n’ brew bags.

Instructions: Put herbs in large pot with 2 quarts of water. Bring to boil, and simmer for 15 minutes. Add to foot basin with enough cold water to allow feet to soak. Soak until cool.

Skin Soothing Milk Bath Soaks

¼ cup of goat milk powder

1 cup of powdered dry milk

½ cup of non-GMO corn starch

1 cup of oatmeal ground finelybath bags

¼ cup of dead sea salt

2 Tablespoons of rose petals

2 Tablespoons of lavender flowers

10 drops of rosemary essential oil

10 drops of carrot seed essential oil

10 drops of neroli essential oil

20 drops of rose hips extract

Combine oatmeal in blender and grind until powder, then combine the ingredients in blender and blend until essential oils are incorporated. Package in jar with muslin bag or divide into 8 press n’ brew bags.

Instructions: Put bag into bath and then fill with hot bath water, let cool until comfortable temp to enter bath.

bottleSprays:  The next set of recipes are facial and aftershave sprays.  I use bottles with spay atomizers from Specialty Bottle.  Their two ounce bottles are ideal for this use.  I also use kraft paper tags for labeling these as well.

Healing Facial Toner

1 Tablespoon comfrey leaf

1 Tablespoon chamomile flowers

1 Tablespoon Calendula petals

1 Tablespoon Rose petals

2 oz of witch hazelfacial spray

2 oz of vodka in jar

10 drops of carrot seed essential oil

5 drops of lavender essential oil

5 drops clary sage essential oil

5 drops of cedarwood essential oil

Combine herbs with witch hazel and vodka in jar, shake well and let sit in warm space for 1 week. Strain herbs and combine remaining essential oils, shake well and bottle.

Anti-aging Facial Spray

2 Tablespoon of aloe gel

1 Tablespoon of witch hazel

3 oz of cucumber hydrosol

6 drops of carrot essential oil

4 drops of clary sage essential oil

2 drops of geranium essential oil

3 drops of frankincense essential oil

Combine all ingredients together in jar, shake and then fill bottles.

imagesBay West Indies Aftershave Splash

This essential oil is distilled from the Bay Rum Tree (Pimenta racemosa). It is a common scent in men’s aftershave products.

1 cups of witch hazel extract

1 ounce of rum

zest from half organic orange

1/2 cinnamon stick

6 peppercorns

1 sprig of rosemary

1 tsp of corianderafter_shave

1 bay leaf

3-cloves

3-whole allspice

1 tsp teaspoon aloe vera gel

1 tsp of glycerin

15-25 drops of Bay West Indies Essential Oil, depending on preference

Combine all ingredients in 1 quart mason jar, cover and shake well.  Let sit for 2 weeks, shaking daily.  Strain and fill bottles.

jarsScrubs:  The internet is filled with recipes for scrubs but I wanted to offer up a few of my favorites.  In terms of packaging I use a 4 ounce jar with swing-top lid, which is convenient when using in a shower.  There are many places to download printable labels, but this is one site I often use http://putitinajar.com/crafts/printables/  I use full sheet shipping labels and then print out my labels.  There are numerous examples of labels available at craft supply stores for this purpose if you don’t want to trouble yourself with downloading and printing.

Seaweed Detox Salt Scrub

2 tablespoons comfrey root

2 tablespoons Calendula flower

1 ½ cup of sesame oil

scrubs¼ cup of bladderwack seaweed powder

½ cup of kelp powder

2 cups of dead sea salt

½ cup of Rhassoul clay

¼ cup of castor oil

10 drops of rosemary essential oil

10 drops of lavender essential oil

Combine the comfrey and calendula herbs with the sesame oil, heat on low for 20 minutes.  Remove from heat, let cool and strain out herbs.  Combine remaining ingredients, mixing well.  Add more clay if necessary to make it the consistency of peanut butter.

Chocolicious Body Scrub

1/4 cup of Epsom salt

1/4 cup of Dead Sea Salt

2 Tablespoons of cocoa powder

½ tsp of cinnamon

1 Teaspoon of vanilla

3 Tablespoon of melted coconut oil

Combine all ingredients together mixing well, then fill jars.

facial masksMocha Facial Scrub

1 cup sugar

2 Tablespoon of cocoa powder

2 Tablespoon of finely ground coffee

1/3 cup of oatmeal powder*

5-7 Tablespoons of sesame oil

2 Tablespoon of Aloe Vera Gel

1 teaspoon of Vit. E oil

Combine all ingredients together mixing well, then fill jars.  * put oatmeal in blend and grind finely

blue jarMasks:  Ever since I was a young girl I loved using facial masks.  Over the years I have enjoyed exploring the full range of masks from fresh fruits to honey to clay.  Here are two of my favorites. For packaging I use hexagon shaped jars, along with kraft paper tags.

Goat Milk and Clay Pore Refining Masque

1/2 cup of French Clay

4 Tablespoon of slippery elm powder

4 Tablespoon of dried goat’s milk powder

2 Tablespoon of comfrey root powder

2 Tablespoon of rose powder

1 Tablespoon of sandalwood powder

20 drops of carrot seed essential oil

10 drops of clary sage essential oil

10 drops of lavender essential oil

5 drops of cedarwood essential oil

Combine all in blender and blend until well mixed.  Fill jars

Instructions: Moisten 1 Tablespoon of the masque with milk, yogurt or water. Apply to face and leave on until dry, rinse and pat dry.

Rose, Frankincense and Sandalwood Facial Mask

2 Tablespoons Rose powder

2 Teaspoons Sandalwood powder

2 Tablespoons Frankincense powder

1/2 cup of sugarfacial mask

3 Tablespoons cosmetic white clay

½ cup of sesame seed oil

5 drops of black pepper essential oil

6 drops of coriander essential oil

2 Teaspoons of Vit E.

Mix all ingredients together in bowl and mix well.  Mixture should be thick adding more clay if necessary. Fill jars.

Happy Holidays

Resources for herbs and Tea Bags:

https://www.mountainroseherbs.com/

http://www.oregonswildharvest.com/owh/browse/bulk_herbs,_teas_and_spices

For bottles:

http://www.specialtybottle.com/

For cello bags and other packaging:

http://www.papermart.com/HOME

Happy Holidays to you and yours

 

 

 

Consumer Beware: The Rampant Under Dosing of Herbal Products

The world of herbal supplements is often confusing and making heads or infusiontails out of dosages, etc. takes time, research and a bit of math. Many folks buy herbs from their local health food stores, through the Internet or from alternative care providers. More often than not, they follow the instructions that appear on the bottle. I have analyzed many formulas that clients have brought to me and I am always struck by the fact that what they are taking is far below the recommended daily therapeutic dosage. As an herbalist, I contend that if folks are not seeing the intended effects it is either due to under dosing or not addressing the root cause of their condition. For the purposes of this article I am going to concentrate on the issue of under dosing and although I know that this topic is potentially controversial, it nonetheless needs to be examined.

I believe that under dosing is rampant due to the following: the true cost of taking herbs therapeutically, herbal profit margins and the risk adverse nature of supplement manufactures. To illustrate my point we will look at several forms of existing herbal products in relationship to recommended daily therapeutic dosages.

Let’s start by picking an herb. An average recommended dose of Vitex (Chaste Tree) berry is 3-6 grams a day of dried ground herb, as stated in several prominent books on herbalism. For this analysis I will use this as my baseline for establishing a daily therapeutic dose. When we look at using tinctures several leading tincturesbrands provide Vitex tinctured at a 1:5 ratio (a standard ratio that many manufactures use, I believe based on profit margins). This measurement is an herb to liquid ratio, meaning that 5 milliliters of liquid equals one gram of herb. If you want to take the therapeutic dose of 3 grams of Vitex a day, you would need to take 1 teaspoon of tincture, three times a day (1 tsp is approximately 5 milliliters). When we look at the cost of this dose, a standard 1-ounce tincture bottle would last two days (1 oz equals 6 teaspoons). At an average cost of $10 a day this would cost $40 a week. If you take the upper range of the recommended dose – 6 grams, you would need to double the amount of tincture equaling an ounce of tincture a day at $10 a day this would be approximately $70 per week.

Most tincture bottles provide recommendations based on a drop dosage. In the case of Vitex a review of several manufacturers suggest an average of 30 drops (30 drops equals approximately 1 ml although this depends on the viscosity) three times a day. There are several ways to look at this, but the simplest is to remember that 5 milliliters of a 1:5 ratio equals one gram of Vitex. If this amount is taken 3 times a day you would be taking 3 milliliters of Vitex or less than 1 gram of herb which is far below the low range of the 3-6 grams a day. Some herbalists would make the case that tinctures are a more concentrated form of herbal preparation due to their bio-availability of chemical constituents thereby lower dosages are appropriate. This might indeed be true and depends on your frame of reference. Either way it behooves us to take the time to do the research and math to figure out the actual dosage that you are taking or recommending.

When we look at the comparison of therapeutic dosage in relationship to herbal capsules under dosing becomes even more apparent. For examplecapsules many leading manufactures supply Vitex at 400 mg per capsule (400 mg equals .4 gram) with a recommend daily dose of 2 to 3 capsules a day. In doing the math this translates to consuming .8 gram of Vitex at 2 capsules a day and 1.2 gram of Vitex at 3 capsules a day, far below the recommended daily therapeutic dose. In fact to get to 3 grams you would have to consume 8 capsules a day and at 6 grams a day you would have to consume 16 capsules a day.

I have done similar analysis of Traditional Chinese Medicine, medicinal mushrooms and standardized herbal supplement formulas only to find that the dosages on the bottle fall far below therapeutic recommendations. So what is the answer?

  1. Invest in a comprehensive book on herbs that lists therapeutic dosages in grams for example Planetary Herbology by Michael Tierra.
  2. Determine the therapeutic dose for a given herb.
  3. Read the information in the box (Supplement Facts panel). What is the recommended serving size? What is the suggested dosage?
  4. Do the math. Compare the supplements recommended daily dose to the therapeutic dose.
  5. Look for fluid extracts which are tinctured at 1:1 or 1:2 ratio or other concentrated forms of herbal preparations.