Holiday Herbal Gifts: Liquors, Infusions and Bitters

IMG_2058One of my favorite activities is researching, experimenting and making alcohol infused liqueurs.  Alcohol has historically been used as medicine throughout the world.  The Romans infused herbs in wine as a regular medicinal therapy due to alcohol’s ability to extract the active compounds of any number of herbs.  The ‘Water of Life’ as alcohol came to be known was refined all over Europe (known as such due to it being safer to drink than disease-ridden water).  Alcohol was used as a way to preserve, extract and even direct the action of the herb in the body.  Alcohol is stimulating and warming, as such it increases blood circulation throughout the body.  In Traditional Chinese Medicine moderate alcohol consumption is said to calm the mind, is relaxing, dispels worry, invigorates blood, eliminates obstructions from the channels, harmonizes and warms the Stomach, and expels cold.  Alcohol infusions, or liqueurs are typically infused with fruit, herbs, spices, flowers and nuts. Liqueurs are usually not aged for long after the ingredients are mixed, but may have resting periods during their production to allow flavors to mix together. Although liqueurs are made with distilled spirits, I also use wine, vermouth, sake or sherry as my base.  One of my favorite infusions was with sherry, the result was rich, complex and warming.

Many of my recipes call for the use of a sweetener.  I tend to use honey, although depending on the type of images1honey it can add an additional flavor to your liqueurs so a simple syrup make with organic sugar can be substituted.  When using honey, I make it into a simple syrup following the recipe below. I tend to make my alcohol infusions slightly sweet to preserve the medicinal aspects of the infusion. When sweetening the herbal infusion it is better to start with less than wait a day or two, taste again and adjust.  If not you can easily end up adding too much sweetener, which of course you can’t undue.  Sugar based simple syrup:  In a saucepan combine 1 cup of sugar or honey with 1 cup water. Heat the mixture and stir until dissolved. Allow to cool.

I have been working with herbs for so long I have a fairly good idea of the flavors that they impart.  If you do not have this experience, I would start by following a recipe until you feel more comfortable experimenting.  Here is a partial list of the herbs that I use:

  • Allspice berries (Pimenta Dioica Merr.)
  • Angelica root and seeds (Angelica Archangelica L.)
  • Anise seeds (Pimpinela Anisum L.)
  • Burdock (arctium lappa)
  • Calendula (Calendula officinalis)
  • Cardamon seeds (Elettaria Cardamomum Maton)
  • Cinnamon bark (Cinnamomum Cassia)
  • Cloves flower buds (Eugenia Carophylata Thunb.)images4
  • Codonopsis (Codonopsis pilosula, Dang Shen)
  • Coriander seeds (Coriandrum Sativum L.)
  • Damiana (Turnera diffusa)
  • Dang Gui (angelica sinensis)
  • Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum)
  • Fennel seeds and tops (Foeniculum Vulgare Mill.)
  • Gentian root (Gentiana Lutea L.)
  • Goji Berries (Lycium barbarum)
  • Hawthorn berries ((Crataegus oxyacantha)
  • He Shu Wu (Polygonum multiflorum)
  • Honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica)
  • Hyssop leaves (Hyssopus Officinalis L.)
  • Juniper berries (Juniperus Communis L.)
  • Lemon Balm leaves (Melissa Officinalis L.)
  • Logan Berries (Euphoria longan)
  • Peppermint leaves (MenthaxPiperata L.)
  • Rose petals
  • Schinsandra (Schisandra chinensis)
  • Star anise seeds (Illicium Verum Hook)
  • Tumeric root (Curcuma Longa L.)
  • Vanilla seeds (Vanilla Planifolia Andr.)

I often use whiskey or brandy as my base distilled spirit in that they tend to impart a warming energy and have a great base flavor.  If the herbs that I am using have a strong flavor, for example infusions with angelica, I would use vodka or grappa as my base.

Angelica Liqueur-Angelica has a long history of use in colds, lung congestion and digestion.

Step #1-2 Tbsp. fresh or dried angelica root (Angelica archangelica)
2 fl oz vodka

In a small glass jar combine the angelica root with 2 fl oz vodka. After two weeks filter through a coffee filter.

Step #2-

1 tsp. dried marjoram
2 green cardamoms
1/16 tsp. ground allspice
1/16 tsp. ground star anise
1/16 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/16 tsp. ground coriander
2 fl oz vodka
In a grinder combine the cardamom seeds, allspice, star anise, cinnamon stick and coriander seeds. Grind just until the herbs are reduced in size, but not a powder. Place in a glass jar or bottle and add 2 fl oz vodka. After one week filter through a coffee filter.

Step #3-

1/2 cup simple syrup
1 cup vodka
Combine with sugar syrup (adjusting to your sweetness level) and 1 cup vodka.

Step #4-Add small portions of the angelica root extract to the liqueur until you get a suitable flavor. Check the flavor after 2 months. If necessary add some more sugar syrup, vodka, or angelica extract.

Longevity Elixir

This infusion is based on tradition Chinese herbs that are taken for strengthening our immunity and overall health.

1 oz, He Shou Wu, (fo ti) dried

1 oz, Eleuthro

1 oz, Hawthorn Berries

1 oz, dried Reshi mushrooms, broken up

1 oz, Goji berries, chopped

1 cinnamon stick, broken

1/2 oz, Angelica Sinensis,(Dang Gui), chopped

5 red dates, pitted and chopped

1/2 of peel of tangerine, chopped

Simple syrup to taste

Combine all ingredients together with 1 liter of brandy.  Let sit for 1 month, strain add simple syrup if needed. Take a swig a day.

Beet, Hawthorn Berry and Rose Petal Liqueur

Rose petals have high tannin content so the infusion needs to sit for a while before it is palatable.

½ cup of rose water

1 ½ cups of filtered water
4 cups of rose petals from a highly scented rose  or 1 cup of dried rose petals

¼ cup of grated beets

¼ cup of hawthorn berries, slightly ground
1 liter of grappa or vodka
Simple syrup to taste
Place the rose petals, grated beets and hawthorn berries in a clean jar, add alcohol, close and keep in a cool dark place for at least 2 weeks. Strain and then add simple syrup to taste, you can always add more later, so less is probably better. Keep it for least 3-6 months before using.

Anise, Lemon Verbena and Rosemary  Liqueur

2 and 1/4 cups dry anise liqueur (raki, ouzo)

2 and 1/4 cups sweet anise liqueur (anisette, sambuca white)

3 sprigs thyme

3 sprigs rosemary

1 Tablespoon dried lemon verbena

6 sage leaves

6 mint leaves

1/4 of peel orange

Combine herbs, orange peel along with dry and sweet liqueurs together and age for 2 months. Strain and bottle.

Sage, Basil and Bay Liqueur

4 cups of grappa or vodka

6 bay leaves, crumbled

1 sprig of rosemary

10 mint leaves, chopped

1 Tablespoon chamomile flowers

10 basil leaves, chopped

15 fresh sage leaves, chopped or 1 Tablespoon dried

3 cloves

3 saffron filaments

Simple syrup to taste

Combine herbs and alcohol for 20 days. Strain, add sugar syrup to taste. Age for 4 weeks before consuming.

Highland Heather Bitters
“In Scotland bitters were traditionally drunk before meals, especially breakfast, ‘for the purpose of strengthening the stomach, and by that means invigorating the general health’.

1/2 oz gentian root chopped

2 Tablespoon heather flowers

1/2 oz coriander seed, crushed

¼ peel of tangerine

1 Tablespoon chamomile flowers

4 cloves (whole)

1/2 of cinnamon stick

1 Tablespoon glycerin

1 bottle whiskey

Combine all ingredients with whiskey, leave for ten days, then strain and bottle. In this case you do not want to add simple syrup because the bitter taste is what activates your digestive system to work efficiently.

Black Sambucus (Elderberry)

1-liter alcohol, your choice, I prefer brandy for this

4 cups of ripe elderberries or 2 cups of dried berries

2 tsp anise seed

1 tsp licorice root

1 strip of lemon peel

1 tsp glycerin (for smoothness)

Simple syrup to taste

Put the elderberries and alcohol in blender and blend until elderberries are chopped, add anise, licorice and lemon peel. Transfer to Mason jar and then sit for 30 days. Stain and add simple syrup and glycerin.

Damiana Liquor

Damiana leaves have been used as an aphrodisiac and to boost sexual potency by the native peoples of Mexico, including the Mayan Indians and is used for both male and female sexual stimulation, increased energy, asthma, depression, impotence and menstrual problems.

1 oz Damiana leaves

2 Tbsp Saw Palmetto berries

2 Tbsp Angelica Root

1/2 Tbsp Vanilla pods

3/4-1 cup Honey

1 liter Whiskey

Soak all ingredients for one week, and then strain through coffee filter and save. Re-soak herbs in 1 cup distilled water for another week, then strain. Heat water mixture too slightly warm and then add honey to the hot liquid. After honey until dissolved, take off heat and let cool. Now add this to the first whiskey liquid. Age the final liquid for at least a month

Read more:


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-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  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:,_teas_and_spices

For bottles:

For cello bags and other packaging:

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.


Wildcrafting: Developing a bioregional approach to herbalism

Much has been written about the importance of developing a bioregional approach to herbalism particularly in relationship to sustainability.  As anSlide01 herbalist having an understanding of your bioregion allows you to more fully engage with your surroundings and to have an intimate knowledge of its micro environments and plant populations.  Many of the “popular” herbs that we rely on are grown all over the world.   Their energy footprint including transportation costs, etc., as well as, the sometimes unethical practices of harvesting can be mitigated by utilizing herbs “outside your door”.  I believe our challenge as herbalist’s is to discover, utilize and teach others about what grows locally, so we can become more self-reliant and less dependent upon mail order herbs.  This article is an outline of the process that I have used and teach in my bioregional wildcrafting classes.

Slide04Defining a bioregion:  This is a helpful process in trying to understand the various ecosystems that encompass a specific area and to being able to identify various plant populations that grow within in them.  In my case I live in Central Oregon (Crook, Deschutes and Jefferson counties) which comprises a variety of ecosystems.  Using the following link:  which is specific to Oregon I have identified the various ecosystems that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has defined that make up the area that I live.  I assume that these interactive maps are available for all parts of North America.

Plant Identification:  This by far is the most challenging part of the process and I have spent endlessSlide09 hours scouring photo’s and plant descriptions to determine a plants identity. We are fortunate that we live in an era where there are so many resources available to us including on-line plant databases, plant identification apps and books.  Searching for plant lists is another helpful tool.  These lists are often available through native plant societies, university databases, herb schools and various other sites.

Here are a few links for plants specific to Oregon:

Slide06Before you start this process it is vitally important to identify poisonous plants that grow in your area.  Typically I will review plant lists and determine if the plant that is listed has a history of use (see traditional use section below). Having a plant list in hand is a great first step, but you still have to be able to positively identify plants that you find.  Having a basic understanding of botany is particularly helpful in reading through plant descriptions or having the ability to identify plant families at least narrows down the Slide17possibilities.  Having a working knowledge of plant families can be quite helpful in at least narrowing down your search. A great book is Thomas Elpel’s “Botany in a Day: the Patterns Method of Plant Identification” and his website:

In looking for a plant identification book I prefer one that is indexed by the color of the flowers the number and type of leaf pattern.  A rule of thumb is to identify the plant from three different sources before making the final confirmation as to its identification.   There are some excellent websites featuring photos of plants in the Pacific Northwest, Mark Turner’s book and internet site is extremely helpful:

Finally Hitchcock and Cronquist book “Flora of the Pacific Northwest” is an invaluable resource for species identification.  Once you have identified the plant then researching its medicinal value is the next step in the process.

Traditional Uses:  There are numerous books written about the medicinal value of medicinal herbs although they tend toroot digging feature more common or popular herbs.  In my bioregion which is mostly scrub and sagebrush these are not helpful.  Identifying Native American use of plants has been the most helpful path as I have found.  For my area I have identified the following Native American tribes who have used plants specific to my bioregion.

  • Cowlitz-South central Washington
  • Klamath-Southern Central Oregon
  • Okanagon-Colville reservation in Washington and British Columbia border.
  • Warm Springs-North central Oregon
  • Paiute-Great Basin region, Warm Springs reservation*
  • Shuswap-Southern interior plateau of British Columbia
  • Skagit- Upper, Northern Cascade Range, Washington
  • Snohomish-Northeastern side of Puget Sound, Washington
  • Thompson-Southwestern British Columbia
  • Umatilla-along the Umatilla and Columbia Rivers in Oregon
  • Washo-Near Lake Tahoe on the Calif.-Nevada border.

*Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs Indian Reservation comprised of Warm Springs, Paiute and Wasco tribes.

Armored with this information I have done searches and read some of the original ethnographies that are available through inter-library loan.  Additionally I have almost wore out my copy of Daniel Moreman’s amazing book “Native American Medicinal Plants“.   Two other invaluable books in researching traditional uses are Steven Foster and Christopher Hobbs, “Western Medicinal Plants and Herbs” and  “American Medicinal Plants” by Millspaugh.  It is important to recognize that the information we have available is by no means exhaustive and only a reflection of the information that was collected through a colonial framework.


Rosa woodsii

Materia Medica:  Once you have identified the plant’s traditional and/or contemporary uses it is helpful to start to categorize its medicinal properties so that you can incorporate into your materia medica and medicine making, noting which parts of the plant are used.  For example, if a plant is within a certain family such as Rosaceae you already know that it is probably astringent due to the tannins. For example Woods’ Rose (Rosa woodsii) was used by the Paiute tribes as a decoction of the root for diarrhea, a poultice of various parts of the plant as a burn medicine, a decoction of the inner bark of the shrub for colds, a poultice of the mashed fungus galls for open boils, and an infusion of the leaves were taken as a spring tonic.  The Thompson tribe used the hips to help women in labor to hasten delivery and a decoction of the roots were taken by women after childbirth to tonify the uterus.  They also made a decoction of branches of rose, chokecherry and willow for diarrhea and vomiting.  Pioneer women used the hips of wild rose in jelly, pudding and syrups.  Knowing these uses helps you to incorporate it into your arsenal for addressing any number of conditions where you might have used other astringent herbs.

lomatium dissectum

Lomatium dissectum

Another example is Fernleaf Biscuitroot (Lomatium dissectum) which was used by the numerous tribes including the Paiute, Northern Paiute, Thompson and Okanagan-Colville tribes.  It was used as a dermatological aid for sores, for pulmonary issues including tuberculosis, as an analgesic for pain and arthritis, a decoction of the roots was taken for colds and numerous other uses. In looking at contemporary information on this plant, it has been found to have antimicrobial and antiviral potential.   It is fairly easy to see how one could incorporate the roots into oil for salves, cooked roots into cough medicine and roots soaked in alcohol as a liniment.

Astragalus purshii

Astragalus purshii

Research pays off, for example some plants have a documented use of being used internally yet they have emetic potential such as Wooly-pod Milk Vetch (Astragalus purshii).  Astragalus purshii  was  primarily used externally as a wash, although the Kawailsu tribe did use it internally for menstrual pains.  As a dermatological aid a decoction of the whole plant was used as a wash for the head, hair and body.  It was also used in the sweat lodge as a disinfectant, and was poured over hunting equipment, when the hunter was having “bad luck”. Since it does mention that it could be an emetic I would recommend only using this plant externally.  It is important to be stewards of the land therefore ensuring continued abundance of the plants that we harvest.  There are several websites that outline the steps to take to ensure we are properly caretakers of our bioregion.  Explore, learn and share your knowledge.

Ethical Wildcrafting and Stewardship:

  1.  Follow the abundance
  2. Avoid and protect unusual, threatened and endangered plants
  3. Gather in small, thoughtful numbers
Browse, don’t graze
Know where (and where not) to harvest
  6. Be okay with an empty basket
  7. Err on the side of less
  8. Promote abundance
, spread seeds, try to take parts of roots, not the entire plant
  9. Harvest to the plant’s needs
Bring the right tools
  11. Assess for environmental toxins
  12. Share your gratitude-giving thanks



Making Medicinal Herbal Fruit Leather


Herbal Fruit Leather

A few years ago I bought a food dehydrator and started to play around with making a whole host of raw foods, including fruit leather, crackers, granola, taco shells, etc.  At one point I started to add powdered medicinal herbs to some of my fruit leathers.  These included elderberry, astragalus, ashwagandha, shatavari, chlorella and many others.


Around the same time I started experimenting with making concentrated herbal decoctions for clients.  During this time I remembered a lecture I attended when Christopher Hobbs was describing how to make dried decoctions, so I began to experiment with drying my concentrated decoctions.  At that point I stated adding fruit, vegetables and whatever else I could think of. In terms of client compliance, it has been exceptional, people like eating their medicine.  I would encourage you to use your imagination and start experimentation.

IMG_3813The following is the process I use to get five full sheets of herbal fruit leather:

I start with 2 pounds of whole herbs (roots) and add 8 quarts of water. I cook the mixture with the lid off for 2 hours and then remove the lid cooking for an addition 2 hours.  I then strain the herbs out of the liquid and continue to reduce it down until reduced to 10 cups of decoction. At this point I add  aerial herbs, cover and let infuse until cool. I strain it again to remove herbs and add any additional powers that I have on hand, for example maca, acai, beet powder, green foods, etc. If I am adding any additional fresh food, for example blueberries, I will dump the whole thing in a blender. When I have finished adding additional items I add 1 tablespoon of marshmallow root powder and 1 tablespoon chia seeds per cup of liquid. I let it sit for an hour to thicken up, if it isn’t thick enough I add more marshmallow or chia seeds or if too thick, I add liquid.   You want it to be thick enough that it flows like thick pancakeIMG_3814 batter, but not too thick that it doesn’t flow. You can even add tinctures to enhance the action of the decoction. Dry in your dehydrator between 95-100F, for as long as it takes to have it be completely dry.

I am a big proponent of incorporating medicinal herbs into our daily food and think this method is just another option.  Use your imagination but remember not all herbs taste great, so this method isn’t great for all herbs.  Taste the herb and this will tell you whether or not if might lend itself to this methodology.  The sky is the limit so feel free to experiment.

Artemisia Tridentata-Big Sagebrush, a Valuable Medicinal Herb


Sagebrush Country

I live in the big sky country,  the high desert of Central Oregon.  Everywhere I look I see Big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata).  The genus Artemisia comprises hardy herbaceous plants and shrubs, which are known for the powerful chemical constituents in their essential oils. In a  search of artemisia on the USDA plants database in Oregon there are 150 species of artemisia that appear. The name Artemisia comes from Artemis, the Greek name for Diana. There are any number of artemisia species that are popular in our modern herbal materia medica,  from wormwood to mugwort.   The intent of this post is to continue to explore my bio-region and develop herbal protocols based on the use of local plants and to that end, sagebrush (artemisia tridentata) will certainly play a  role.  This is by no means a definitive article but a written documentation of my search through the literature related to traditional uses and potential current applications.

My exploration of plants always starts through the eyes of First Peoples/Native American’s, who have had a long relationship with using artemisia species throughout North America.  The focus of this blog is to explore the use of Artemisia tridentata, which is mostly relegated to the western states. Big sagebrush and other artemisia species are therange dominant plants across large portions of the Great Basin.

Any number of tribes used artemisia tridentata including tribes affiliated with my bio-region, Okanagan-Colville, Paiute, Shuswap and the Thompson.  Many of the tribes used it similarly. These uses include the following:  respiratory and gastrointestinal aids, cold and cough remedy, antirheumatic both internally and externally, antidiarrheal, ferbrifuge, dermatological aid, eye wash, gynecological aid, analgesic, diaphoretic, emetic, pulmonary aid, and antidote for poisoning.  All parts of the plant were used including the leaves, stems, seed pods, branches and roots.


Artemisia tridentata

It was used both externally and internally.*   Externally it had many uses including: as a poultice of fresh and dried leaves for chest colds, as a wash made of the leaves and stems for cuts and wounds, as a leaf decoction for an eye wash, the leaves were packed into the nose for headaches, the ground leaves were used as a poultice along with tobacco for fever and headaches, the leaves were powdered and used for diaper rash or packed into shoes for athlete’s infection, a decoction of the leaves were mixed with salt and gargle for sore throat, mashed leaves were used for toothaches, a leaf decoction was used in a bath for muscular ailments. *  There are many references to it being used internally as an infusion or decoction, but as one informant indicated it was too strong and powerful to drink, “you wouldn’t have any more kids, no children”.  Internal use is not recommended due to some chemical constituents found in the plant.  There are many references to artemisia being inhaled for headaches, for spiritual cleansing, to produce sweat and rid the body of colds, respiratory infections and pulmonary issues.

Artemesia annua

Artemisia annua

An interesting fact is that the Paiute’s and Okanagan-Colville indicated that they used a decoction of leaves for malarial fever, which is also similar to the use of other artemisias around the world.  Most of artemisia’s research as an antimalarial is focused on Artemisia annua (sweet annie).   Artemisia annua is a very interesting plant and is the source of the most powerful antimalarial drug ever discovered, artemisinin.  It is also being investigated in treatment of breast cancer.

Many of its traditional uses can be attributed to artemisia’s active medicinal constituents including camphor, terpenoids, and tannins. Sagebrush essential oil contains approximately 40% l-camphor; 20% pinene; 7% cineole; 5% methacrolein; and 12% a-terpinene, d-camphor, and sesqiterpenoids.  The essential oils present account for its use in inhalation.  Sesquiterpene lactones are among the prominent natural products found in Artemisia species and are largely responsible for the importance of these plants in medicine and pharmacy.

For my own purposes I can definitely see incorporating it into liniments, antiseptic washes, chest poultice, fumigation, powdered for use as foot powder.  Although there is tremendous oral history of its internal use I personally would be hesitant and look to other herbal options.

A few of my references:

Adams, James D., Garcia, Cecilia.,  Healing with Medicinal Plants of the West. Abedus Press, 2009.

Moreman, Daniel E., Native American Medicinal Plants.  Timber Press, 2009.

Parks, Willard Z.  Notes of the Northern Paiute of Western Nevada, 1933-1944.  Compiled and edited by Catherine S. Fowler.  University of Utah, Anthropological Papers, Number 114, 1989.


Calamus-Smart Soup, Brain Protectant and Traditional Uses

Calamus, Sweet Flag, Acorns calamus, Vacha, Shi Chang Pu, rhizoma acori tatarinowii(石菖蒲)

Recent research from the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of c4f6301f8e8504f05b68c1b5d558dacdBiochemistry and Cell Biology in Shanghai found a traditional Chinese medicine known as smart soup (聰明湯) could help in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease, of which calamus was one of the ingredients.  The soup, which is a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) formula used for many centuries and is still prescribed by Chinese medical physicians to patients with aging-related cognitive impairment.  Smart Soup is officially documented in Gu Jin Yi Jian, a book published in 1576.  It is composed of Rhizoma Acori Tatarinowii (calamus), Poria cum Radix Pini and Radix Polygalae.  Calamus has been shown to exhibit a neuroprotective action and attenuate learning and memory deficits.  According to the research the scientists found the smart soup, or more specifically radix polygalae, could significantly reduce the generation of amyloid beta, with the levels in treated mice more than 18 per cent lower than in those untreated.  They found that the other two herbs – rhizoma acori tatarinowii (calamus) and poria cum radix pini – appeared to protect the neurons against the damaging effect of ama.

index1According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) calamus is aromatic, acrid, bitter and warm. It belongs to the category of aromatic substances that open the orifices and enters the Heart and Stomach channels. It strengthens the Spleen and Stomach, opens the sensory orifices, dislodge phlegm, transforms dampness, calms the spirit, enhances digestion, and promotes blood flow and movement of Qi. It is often used in the treatment of dizziness, dulled senses, stupor and coma.  It has been combined in many other formulas including:

1) Di Tan Tang from Ji Sheng Fang (Life-saving prescriptions). It is combined with Ban Xia (Pinellia), Tian Nan Xing (Arisaema), Ju Hong (Exocarpium Citri Erythrocarpae), etc. to treat stoke due to phlegm confusing heart, unconsciousness, and a hardened or stiff body of the tongue impeding speech.

2) Chang Pu Yu Jin Tang from Wen Bing Quan Shu (Complete Compendium of Warm Disease). It is formulated with Yu Jin (Tumeric Tuber), Pinellia, Zhu Li (Succus Bambusae), etc. to cure blocking of phlegm-heat, high fever, coma, and delirium.

3) Qing Xin Wen Dan Tang from Gu Jin Yi Jian (Mirror of Ancient and Contemporary Medicine). It is coupled with Zhi Shi (Citrus Aurantium), Zhu Ru (Bamboo Shavings), Huang Lian (Coptis Root), etc. to heal epileptic seizures caused by phlegm-heat.

4) Ru Lian Po Yin from Huo Huan Lun (Treatise on Cholera). It is matched with Coptis, Hou Po (Magnolia Bark), etc. to treat dampness forming with heat, retention of damp-heat, vomiting and diarrhea accompanied with fever, chest and epigastric fullness and distress, and yellowish glossy coating of the tongue.

5) Kai Jin San from Yi Xue Xin Wu (Medical Revelations). It works with Coptis, Fu Ling (Poria), Shi Lian Zi (Sinocrassula indica seed), etc. to cure no desire to eat and rectal tenesmus after dysentery due to the accumulation of damp turbidity and heat toxic in colon.

6) Bu Wang San from Zheng Zhi Zhun Sheng (The Level-line of Patterns and Treatment) and Kai Xin San from Qian Jin Fang (Thousand golden essential prescriptions). Both of them are equipped with Ren Shen (Ginseng), Poria, Chang Pu (Acorus calamus), etc. to heal forgetfulness.

The article on smart soup peaked my interest, in that I knew that calamus also played an extensive role in Ayurveda herbal traditions, as well as, in Native American use.

Calamus, is a tall perennial, wetland monocot in the Acoraceae family.  It index4is a strongly aromatic, semi-aquatic perennial herb with a ginger-like stem which spreads into the ground. Originating in Asia it was widely exported across the globe.  The leaves and rhizomes have been used medicinally and as a substitute for ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg.  The aroma of calamus essential oil is valued in the perfume industry while its, crystallized form, is called “German ginger”.

index6In Native American traditions calamus has been extensively used for a variety of conditions and is considered by some tribes as a panacea herb or cure-all.  Used by Canadian, northern and mid western tribes, its use ranged from treatment of digestive issues to blood medicine and everything in between.  The Cherokee, from which I descend, used it for headaches, diarrhea, gas, colic, colds, kidney disease, worms and urinary infections.  It was ground up and mixed with tobacco and smoked for headaches by the Blackfoot. An infusion of the roots along with chokecherry was taken for coughs by the Algonquin tribe from Quebec.  Not only used internally calamus was used in charms for keeping spirits away, to protect warriors, keep children safe and as hunting medicine by the many of these tribes.  The most common use of calamus throughout all tribes was as a carminative, tooth aches, cold remedies, and sore throats.  In a review of ethnographic records, it had limited use as a herb for improving clarity of thought , although the Rappahannock specifically used the fresh juice as a tonic for older people and several other tribes considered it a beneficial tonic.

In western pharmacology it is classified as a stimulant, emetic, nauseant, stomachic, aromatic, expectorant, carminative, antispasmodic and nervine sedative, antioxidant and antimicrobial.

acorus%20calamus%20(2)In Ayurveda calamus is known as Vacha.  It has been used in nervous system issues and for mental and emotional disorders.  It has been used to quite the mind especially in the case of disorders characterized by an impairment of concentration such as ADD and ADHD.  As in other herbal traditions it is used in digestive disturbances.  Todd Caldecott, an esteemed herbalist specializing in Ayurveda, wrote an extensive monograph about its use.  In Ayurvedic tradition, Vacha is a ‘sattvic’ herb in its action as a stimulating nerve tonic that helps support brain functioning. It is also used as a rejuvenate for the brain and nervous system, it is used to promote cerebral circulation and to help support overall brain health and functioning. It has long been used to counter the effects of drug use, as in the case of heavy marijuana use, from fatty tissues within the liver, nervous system and brain. It is often used in post-Stroke (CVA) recovery protocols in the treatment of aphasia.

There has been some concerns regarding its safety. Calamus and products derived from it (such as its oil) were banned in 1968 as food additives and medicines by the United States Food and Drug Administration. Per the FDA’s website “Food containing any added calamus, oil of calamus, or extract of calamus is deemed to be adulterated in violation of the act based upon an order published in the Federal Register of May 9, 1968 (33 FR 6967)”. 

Jim McDonald a highly respected herbalist wrote extensively on calamus and is excellent reading.  According to information from his website and through info gleaned various other internet searches the ban was the result of a laboratory study that involved supplementing the diets of rodents over a prolonged period of time with massive doses of isolated chemicals (?-asarone).  The subject animals developed malignant tumors, and the plant was thereafter labeled procarcinogenic, although it  is not clear whether the observed carcinogenic effect in rats was relevant to the human organism, particularly given the large dosages and protracted duration of the regimen. Most authorities advise against ingesting the Indian Jammu strain. (Four varieties of Acorus calamus strains exist in nature; diploid, triploid, tetraploid and hexaploid. Acorus calamus americanus is widely used and believed completely safe in appropriate therapeutic dosages). No health hazards or side effects are known in conjunction with the proper administration of designated therapeutic dosages of Calamus of European or American origin (triploid strain, up to 15% beta- asarone in volatile oil)  but long-term use of this herb should be avoided and use should be intermittent.

Other sites with extensive information on calamus:

use as essential oil-

Information on Smart Soup Research

Seeds available through Horizon Herbs


Insomnia and Natural Strategies to Sleeping, Part 1

I teach a variety of classes and the class that is the most well attended is my class on naturalsleeping strategies for sleep and insomnia.  As a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) herbalist, I cover this topic from both a TCM and Western viewpoint, as I will in this blog.  When I first started putting together the research for the class a quick search on the internet reveals enumerable sites devoted to sleep issues.  According to some estimates, 30% of the population experiences trouble sleeping.

Although there have been studies linking lack of sleep to long-term clockhealth issues it is important to not get too stressed out.  My experience in working with clients has been that anxiety about not getting enough sleep is a vicious self perpetuating cycle. If you are anxious about your sleep it may effect your ability to fall asleep or remain asleep. When this happens for many nights (or many months), you might start to feel anxiousness, dread, or panic at just the prospect of not sleeping. This is how anxiety and insomnia can feed each other and become a cycle that  may benefit from cognitive and mind body techniques.

For starters if you suspect that you have insomnia do any of these describe you?

  • Need an alarm clock in order to wake up on time
  • Rely on the snooze button
  • Have a hard time getting out of bed in the morning
  • Feel sluggish in the afternoon
  • Get sleepy in meetings, lectures, or warm rooms
  • Get drowsy after heavy meals or when driving
  • Need to nap to get through the day
  • Fall asleep while watching TV or relaxing in the evening
  • Feel the need to sleep in on weekends

If any of these seem familiar, then I would keep reading.  Lets take a look at some indicators that might help you determine whether or not you have insomnia and what type of insomnia it is is classified as.

  • Do you wake up during the night and find that you cannot fall back asleep?
  • Do you lie in bed, tossing and turning for hours each night?
  • Do you dread going to bed because you feel like you never get a good night’s sleep?
  • Do you wake up feeling unrefreshed after sleeping?
  • Does the problem occur even though you have the opportunity and the time to get a good night’s sleep?

The persistence of insomnia is how it is classified according to sleep specialists.

Types of insomnia
Transient Short term 1 or 2 nights a week
Intermittent On and off, from time to time
Chronic Constant, most nights for a month or more

Understanding the mechanics of sleep can help us to understand some strategies of treatment. Current information on sleep indicates that we past through several cycles of sleep, some indicate 4 stages and others 5I1047stages_thumb stages.   These stages progress cyclically from 1 through REM and then begin all over again. A complete sleep cycle takes an average of 90 to 110 minutes. Over the course of the night, the amount of time we spend in a particular stage of sleep begins to shift.  Typically you tend to experience more REM sleep in the earlier hours of the night (e.g., 11p – 3a) and more REM sleep in the later hours of the night (e.g., 3a – 7 a).

Going to bed and increasing your sleep efficiency can be the first step in developing an individualized sleep strategy.  The goal of getting enough sleep is to wake up naturally before the alarm, or when you want to get up.  Below is a calculation you can use to determine your appropriate bed time.

Determining an ideal bed time
 Sleep cycle  90 minutes
 Average sleep cycles per night  5 cycles
 Multiply 90 x 5 450 minutes (7.5 hours)

Then count backwards from the time you want to wake-up time 7.5 hours and you have a starting point for your bedtime.

Now that you know when you should be going to bed the next step is to determine how efficient your sleep is.  This can be done through a simple calculation or there are several excellent sleep apps on the app imagesmarket that track your sleep based on movement and let you see the percentage of time you spend in various sleep states along with determining our sleep efficiency.  Although these are can not substitute for a formal sleep study, they do give you an idea of your sleep patterns.  To determine your sleep efficiency without a sleep app, take the amount of time you spend in bed asleep (minus all the awakenings you may have and how long it takes you to fall asleep), and divide it by the total time you spend in bed, you will get an estimate of the overall percentage of how efficiently you sleep.   In sleep science they like to see this number above 85%. 85% is considered normal and really good sleep efficiency is above 90%.

There are many issues that might cause insomnia including unhealthysleep and aging sleep habits, anxiety or depression, certain foods and medical conditions. As we age we have we have changes in sleep cycles and needs. Ultimately if you feel as if your judgement and energy levels are diminished by your lack of sleep it is time to do something about it.

We are what we eat, so the first line of defense is to reduce our intake of foods that contribute to insomnia.

  • Refined Carbs can drain the body of vitamin B, which the body needs to release serotonin.
  • Bacon  contains tyramine, which increases the release of norepinephrine, a brain stimulant that keeps you up. Others foods that contain tyramine include chocolate, eggplant, ham, potatoes, sauerkraut, sugar, sausage, tomatoes, and wine.
  • Alcohol  can make you tired in the short run but you’re likely to awaken in the middle of the night. Red wine in particular effects sleep in that it contains more substances that people are sometimes allergic to, such as tannins, prostaglandins, and histamines.  If you do have alcohol, timing and the amount is everything.  One drink at least a couple of hours before sleep can have the least effect.
  • Chocolate can elevate your energy levels with bioactive compounds like tyramine and phenylethylamine. Chocolate also contains sugar which wakes you up as well as the other obvious culprit, caffeine.

Foods to incorporate into your diet that contribute to sleep include:

  • Walnuts-Walnuts are a good source of tryptophan, a sleep-enhancing amino acid that helps make serotonin and melatonin.
  • Almonds are rich in magnesium
  • Dairy products, Calcium (found in cheese, yogurt, milk) helps the brain use the tryptophan found in dairy to manufacture melatonin.
  •  Cherries, particularly tart cherries, naturally boost levels of melatonin.
  • Chickpeas are also a good source of tryptophan.

Supplements (all supplements and herbs need to be researched for possible medication interaction):

  • 5HTP-is a popular compound derived from the amino acid L-tryptophan. It is also produced commercially from the seeds of an African plant (Griffonia simplicifolia). 5-HTP acts as a precursor to serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter that is essential for a good night’s sleep. 5HTP has side effects and has not had long term studies, so it is important to research this supplement before using.
  • Magnesium contributes to a good night’s sleepResearch has shown that even a marginal lack of it can prevent the brain from settling down at night. You can get magnesium from food including green leafy vegetables, wheat germ, pumpkin seeds, and almonds.   Lack of magnesium inhibits nerve cell communication, which leads to cell excitability. Magnesium glycinate is a form of magnesium that avoids the side effects of loose bowel.
  • Calcium is directly related to our cycles of sleep.  In a study published in the European Neurology Journal, researchers found that calcium is directly related to our cycles of sleep.  The study concluded that disturbances in sleep especially the absence of REM sleep are related to calcium deficiency.  Calcium helps the brain use the amino acid tryptophan to manufacture the sleep inducing melatonin.  
  • GABA-An amino acid derivative found in green tea, theanine has long been known to trigger the release in the brain of gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA activates the major calming neurotransmitters, promoting relaxation and reducing anxiety, but the body has difficulty absorbing supplements containing synthesized GABA.
  • Melatonin-A hormone that regulates the normal sleep/wake cycle. According to research, the body naturally produces melatonin after the sun goes down, letting us know it’s time to fall asleep.  An effective way to take melatonin is to 1 sublingual and a time-released melatonin tablet. Take the time release tablet first and then place the sublingual tablet under your tongue.
  • Theanine-An amino acid derivative found in green tea, theanine has long been known to trigger the release in the brain of gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA. Experts recommend theanine, which the body can easily absorb and, ultimately, use to boost levels of GABA. Does above 600 mg without physician oversight.
  • L-tryptophan-Some people take L-tryptophan to try to help them sleep. But research does not show that L-tryptophan supplements are a good or safe treatment for long-term insomnia.  L-tryptophan has been linked to a dangerous, even deadly condition called eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome (EMS). Furthermore they have myriad interactions with medication, so caution is advised.

Coming soon:

Part 2, an overview of herbal protocols and development of individual sleep strategies.

Part 3, an overview of how perimenopause and menopause effect sleep.


Herbal Remedies for Cold and Flu Season

coldsEvery fall I teach a class at the local community college on herbal remedies for cold and flu season.  I teach from a primarily Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) point of view, that contends that we are surrounded by pathogens and the way to prevent “catching” them is to ensure a healthy immune system.  In other words, prevention is the first order of defense.  I would suggest you read my blog post at Changing of the Seasons. to get a better idea of some ways you can increase your immunity.

To get started there are several Westerns categories of herbs that are particularly useful for addressing cold and flu symptoms including:

  • Alterative-Alters or improves functioning
  • Antibacterial
  • Antiviral
  • Antibiotic
  • Antipyretic-lowers fever
  • Diaphoretic-induces sweating
  • Expectorant-expels mucus

The good news is that there are numerous herbs that are helpful for colds and flu, although in this article we are only going to cover a few,  I would encourage you to continue to read and learn.  Many herbs have several properties and in Western Herbalism they would use them according to what symptoms are being presented. Many herbs cover several categories, so it is important to know their individual actions.comparison It is helpful to know all of the properties of herbs, for example Goldenseal, which is antibacterial is also very astringent, drying up mucous, yet with colds mucous is a natural and necessary body defense, mucus should not be stopped, it is better to thin the mucus, using expectorants rather than a drying antibacterial.

Wearing a scarf can help reduce exposure to cold

Wearing a scarf can help reduce exposure to cold

Prevention:  Hand washing, hand washing, hand washing, enough said.  There are several tactics that I recommend for increasing immunity as we go into the fall season.  Although not a herb, adequate supplies of Vitamin D, which contain calcitriol are a must. Recent research indicates that calcitriol enhances innate immunity by prompting cells to produce a large numbers of antimicrobial peptides that are like broad spectrum antibiotics. Fatty fish is the only natural source of vitamin D. A 3.5 oz serving of cooked salmon, for example, has 360 IU; 3 oz. of canned tuna has 200; and 13.4 oz. of canned sardines has 250.  Most experts now believe 1,000 to 2,000 IU per day from all sources—sun, diet, supplements—may be what we need for optimum health.  Look for supplements that contain vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol), which is three to four times more potent than vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol).

Mushrooms are another go-to in terms of building immunity.  In Japan and China, medicinal mushrooms, such as shiitake, maitake and reishi, have long been regarded as longevity tonics. Research indicates that all these fungi are powerful allies for strengthening the immune system.  Shitake and maitake can both be incorporated into our meal preparation, reishi needs to be taken as a supplement.  Here is a web site that has much more detailed information on using reishi medicinally.

Last but not least Astragalus, (Astragalus membranaceus) is considered an adaptogen, providing deep immune-system support.  There have been many clinical studies showing how astragalus not only boosts the immune system, but also encourages an increase in immune cell (T-cells, natural killer cells, macrophages, immunoglobulin) activity, production, and function.  Both astragalus and mushrooms contain polysaccharides, which have been found to improve immune function by increasing the activity of macrophages, which have a voracious appetite for harmful microorganisms and cancerous cells. Since astragalus is a mild tonic herb, 1 oz a day is the suggested dosage, for chronic

Taking action: We can take several steps to try to mitigate or reduce the symptoms of colds and flu by tuning into our bodies.  At the first sign of an imbalance, sneezing, runny nose, or sore throat, take immediate action.  One of the remedies that I swear by, is Fire Cider Vinegar.  In fact I just received a call a local actress, who had used my Cold and Flu Kicker (fire cider vinegar) and was desperate to get some more before her play started.

Fire Cider Vinegarfire cider

Fill a mason jar with:

  • 1 part minced garlic
  • 1 part grated horseradish (let it sit for three minutes in a bowl before adding it to the mix.)
  • 1/2 part grated ginger (no need to peel)
  • 2 parts minced onion
  • 2 rhizomes of grated turmeric (optional)
  • ¼ -1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

Cover with organic apple cider vinegar and let sit for 4-6 weeks. Strain off. At this point you can add ¼ -1/2 cup of honey and take by the tablespoon full as a daily tonic or when you feel a cold coming on, although I usually just add some to water and drink straight. Warning it can be quite potent.

Scallions:  The record shows that the Chinese started use scallions in the late Han dynasty (25-220AD). This remedy is for the very early stages of wind cold.  It induces sweating by warming and unblocking the yang and can treat both abdominal pain and distention or nasal congestion when the blockage is from “cold”.

Cinnamon and Scallion Cure: Finely chop the white part of one scallion. Put it into a teacup and add two slices of raw ginger and a dash of powdered cinnamon. Fill the cup with hot water, let the herbs steep for 10 minutes, then drink. The cinnamon and ginger induce sweating, and the scallion clears the sinus.

garlicGarlic:  Cultures around the world have embraced garlic as a cure for everything from colds to cancer. Prior to the discovery of penicillin, garlic was the treatment of choice for infections, such as pneumonia, bronchitis, tuberculosis and dysentery.    It is believe that the sulfur compounds that imbue garlic with its characteristic odor and flavor that are responsible for the herb’s health benefits. Most of the research has focused on the sulfur compound allicin, which has antimicrobial properties. Allicin is created when alliin, a sulfur-containing amino acid in garlic, comes into contact with another garlic compound, the enzyme allinase. This enzymatic reaction takes place when garlic is chopped, crushed or chewed, but it is destroyed during cooking.  Eating raw garlic, or better yet, combining it with olive oil and spreading it on bread is a great way to get lots of garlic into your system.  Suggested dose is 3-5 cloves a day, at the first sign of symptoms.

Echinacea (ssp): Echinacea has been used for as a natural antibiotic in that it activates leukocytes and T-cell formation to assist your body ability to fight off infections.  Echinacea is considered an alterative, a class of herbs that alters your body ability to function.  The trick with using Echinacea is to take it every two hours, due to our livers filtering system.  Furthermore according to several leading herbalists, it becomes ineffective after 10 days.  Again it is one of those herbs that one should use immediately when one starts to experience symptoms.

Elderberries (Sambucus nigra): All parts of the elder tree are medicinal but for this elderberriesblog we are going to concentrate on the berries and flowers.  The berries are not only delicious but they are antiviral and effective for dispelling colds. In research conducted in Israel, Hasassah’s Oncology Lab, determined that elderberry stimulates the body’s immune system and they are using it therapeutically. My preferred method of preparation is making a decoction of elderberries and then preserving it with 30% alcohol.  For every cup of water I add one oz of elderberries, simmering this covered for 1 to 2 hours (crook pots work well).  Straining the mixture, I measure and add 30% alcohol which acts as a preservative.  There are

Is it a Cold or the Flu:  Although a seemingly simple question it can make a big difference in an herbal treatment protocol.  This is a simple chart that help to distinguish whether you are dealing with a cold or flu.

Cold or Flu Chart

Cold or Flu Chart

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) a cold is considered wind cold and the flu is considered wind heat.  Wind is considered one of several pernicious influences in TCM.  Why this is important is that the herbs that are used to address a cold or the flu are based on the energy or nature of the illness.  A simple way of looking at this is that stimulating or heating herbs are used to address wind cold and cooling or cold energy herbs are used to address wind heat.  Furthermore if we know the constitution of the person experiencing the illness, we can then include herbs to strengthen the person’s response.

A Wind-Cold pattern may include a slight fever with more chills than fever, aversion to wind coldcold, sudden onset and the throat is itchy and slightly sore. Herbal strategies for this type of sickness include releasing the exterior with stimulating diaphoretic herbs. Some Examples of stimulating diaphoretic herbs scallions, cinnamon, cayenne and ginger, or Fire Cider.

Cold be Gone Tea: 1 Tablespoon cinnamon cassia stick, broken up and  simmered in 1 pint of water for 20 minutes.  After I remove from heat, I add  1 Tablespoon of grated ginger and 1/8 tsp of cayenne.  I then sweeten with honey and sip throughout the day.

wind heatA Wind-Heat pattern may include a high fever with slight chills, sweating, aversion to heat, yellow secretions (through coughing, nasal discharge or even a yellow coating on the tongue) and a swollen sore throat. Herbal strategies for this type of sickness includes releasing the exterior through relaxing diaphoretics and using bitter, cooling herbs.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium):  Yarrow is one of my favorite herbs in that it grows all around my house and has enough uses that it deserves its own chapter, but in this case it can be very specific for fever.  It works as a diaphoretic by opening up the pores and letting trapped internal heat escape.   It causes sweating relieving the first signs of flu, fevers, chicken pox and measles (it helps eruptions come out faster). and is extremely effective for breaking a fever.

  • Create an infusion by covering one ounce of dried yarrow with a quart of boiling water. After 4 hours, strain the infusion. For small children, add the infusion to a tepid bath (ask your doctor first.) For older children and adults, the infusion may be sipped as tea.
  • Alternatively, yarrow tea may be made by steeping 1-2 teaspoons of the dried herb in one cup boiling water. Drink three times daily. In capsule form, 2-4 grams may be taken three times daily.

Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum): is in the aster family. Boneset is a fabulous herb for fevers, colds and flu. It does not taste good, but it does the job, although it needs to be taken when warm to be effective. It was considered a miracle herb in the 1918 epidemic influenza. It should only be used for a short time, for acute conditions. Infusion of 1 T in cup of water, or 10-40 drops of tincture.

Fever Reducing Teatea

2 parts catnip

2 parts yarrow

1 part peppermint

1 part echinacea root

In parting, a Traditional Chinese Patent formula that I always include when talking about Wind Heat is Yin Chiao. Yin Chiao is known to remove excess heat in the blood which, in yin chaotraditional Chinese medicine could become a health hazard for many body systems. It also helps remove harmful toxins in the body through expelling heat.

The most interesting thing about this formula is the comparison between it and the best-selling cold and flu medicine “Airborne”.  Planetary Herbs Yin Chiao contains Forsythia Fruit, Japanese Honeysuckle Flower, Platycodon Root, Chinese Mint Aerial Parts, airboneLophatherum Leaf, Chinese Licorice Root and Rhizome, Schizonepeta Whole Plant Parts, Prepared Soy Bean, Burdock Fruit and Phragmites Rhizome. Notice the small print on the label of “Airborne”, many of the herbs are the same, begging the question of whether “Airborne”  is effective due to its vitamin content or the Chinese Traditional herbs that are specific to reducing fever and having antiviral properties.





Changing Of The Seasons, Herbal Tune-Up

In Chinese medicine, autumn is the season of the element Metal (or air). Grief is the emotion of the Metal element-missing, separation, and “letting go.” metal How many of you feel a bit of grief as summer turns to fall and the leaves start falling from the trees?  Healthy letting go is important as we make this transition.  If the energy of Metal is blocked or imbalanced within us, our expression of grief can become imbalanced and inappropriate. Furthermore our emotions are tied to our emotional health.

Metal is associated with the “lungs” and as many of you have experienced it is also the time of the year that we often find ourselves catching a cold.  In TCM, the transition from Summer to Fall is a time when our ability to fight off pathogens is most unstable.  Now is the time to prepare for winter by  “tuning-up”  or strengthening your immune system.

In Chinese Traditional Medicine a healthy immune systems helps us to fight pathogens that invade our body manifesting with colds, flu and fevers.  There are many things that we can do to strengthen our systems including changing activities, food and starting an herbal regimen.  Now is the time to start to eat cooked foods, avoiding ice cream, iced drinks, raw foods (particularly if you have a weak digestion, since we know the link between healthy digestion and a healthy immune system), or at least cutting back on the above.  Sometimes we try to keep summer alive by eating certain foods, but again, that isn’t “healthy letting go”.  Having chai , cinnamon or ginger tea is an excellent way to add some warming herbs and spices to your routine that help to heat up your metabolism and combat pathogens.

This is the time of year I start to cook with herbs.  I have found that if I incorporate herbs into my food, I am often more successful at addressing ongoing issues.  There are several herbs that I always use; astragalus and codonopsis, along with a handful of others.  This is a dish I made that from pork steaks, with tomatoes from my garden IMG_3419and adding astragalus, red dates, codonopsis, lily flowers, black and shitake mushrooms.  I cooked this for several hours on 300 in the oven. I ate the pork chops and the next day, I took all of the remaining items and made a broth out of it.  During the fall I basically clean out my refrigerator at the end of the week, throw in a handful of herbs and cook it all in a crock-pot overnight.  I use this broth in soups, for cooking grains, etc.  Here is a slightly more complicated recipe that I use in my classes.

Changing of the Seasons Soup


You will need equal parts (1.5 oz each) of the following herbs.

  • Codonopsis root-This herb will help to tonify and strengthen “Qi” energy. It helps to build blood and nourish body fluids.
  • Astragalus root– Astragalus is a root that helps to strengthen protective defenses, strengthen Qi energy, nourish the spleen, and tonify the blood and lungs.
  • Red Dates-restores vitality and enrich blood
  • Lycii berries (wolfberries)-Lycii berries help to strengthen the liver and the kidneys.

 Additional ingredients:

  • One Organic whole chicken
  • ½ cup Shiitake mushrooms, chopped-tonifies blood and enhances immunity
  • 1 cup Carrots, sliced-high in Vit. A
  • 1 cup Potatoes, cubed-Tonifies Qi
  • 1 cup of Winter Squash, cubed-Tonifies Qi and blood
  • 1cup of Onions, chopped-tonifies and regulates Qi
  • 1 cup of Kale, chopped –vit. K and detoxifying
  • 3 cloves of Garlic, minced-promotes Qi and blood
  • ½ cup of brown rice-Tonifies Qi
  • 3 T. Toasted Sesame seed oil


  • Fill a large stockpot with water 2/3 full. Add the above herbs to the pot and place the lid on. Bring to a boil and simmer for 4 hours. If the water level boils down, add water to refill if necessary.
  • Strain herbs and add broth back into pot and then add whole chicken. Bring to a full boil over high heat. Skim off any foam that may develop and discard. Slowly boil all this for as long as you can bear it. Three hours is ideal. Two will do. Add extra water as needed to keep the pot around two-thirds full.
  • Strain and set chicken aside until cool enough to handle. Put broth in refrigerator, skim off fat.
  • In the mean time in a fry pan add a 3 Tablespoons of sesame seed oil. Sauté onions and garlic until soft. Then add carrots, winter squash, and potatoes. When vegetables are soft set aside.
  • By this time the chicken should be cool enough to handle, remove meat and add to broth.
  • Combine sautéed vegetables into stock pot and bring to a simmer.
  • Add brown rice, (more if you want it thick).
  • When rice is cooked, add Kale and cook until wilted. Soup is ready.

Have a cup or bowl twice a day for 12 days, then once a week throughout the fall and winter.

IMG_3421Another important household standard during the fall and winter is fire cider. You can find recipes and examples of this all over the internet.  It is often called master tonic, cyclone cider, etc, but it is all based on a similar recipe, which you will see below.   At the very first indication of a cold I always take a jigger of this 3 times a day.  In TCM herbs that warm up the metabolism help to disperse the cold and repel the pathogens. In the case of fire cider, the ingredients help to heat up our metabolism (sweat-inducing) to fight off pathogens, this along with lots of antiviral and anti bacterial properties it can literally kick a cold away.

Fill a mason jar with 

  • 1 part minced garlic
  • 1 part grated horseradish (let it sit for three minutes in a bowl before adding it to the mix.)
  • 1 part grated ginger (no need to peel)
  • 1 part minced onion
  • 1 dried cayenne pepper

Cover with organic apple cider vinegar and let sit for 4-6 weeks or months if possible. Strain and bottle.  I often use this recipe as a base and add other ingredients including turmeric, long pepper and a bit of prickly ash.

yellow-orange-mapleFall is the time to start to readjust our biological clocks, clean out our closest, establish an exercise routine, wear a scarf around your neck, enjoy the fall colors, learn a new skill and most importantly get outside to breathe the fresh crisp air.


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