Herbal Journey

The other day an acquaintance asked me how long I’d been interested in herbs, and I went into a rambling story of formal and informal studies that were in no way chronological (nor coherent most likely), and it made me realize that I haven’t actually thought through my personal herbal journey, which means I also haven’t shared it here and that just seems wrong. So, the following is my attempt to write down this very organic path that I’ve traveled so far and give some links if anyone else is looking to study herbs and wants to move beyond books and websites.

Although I was the kind of kid who liked to play outside, I was really more of an animal lover than a plant lover, who declared I wanted to be “Caterpillar Queen” when I grew up and was intent on going to ‘dog heaven’ instead of human heaven. (When you grown up Catholic, you think quite a bit about the logistics of heaven.) My favorite thing to do indoors though, was when my sister and I would get out big bowls and mixing spoons and combine all the good smelling products in the house to make ‘perfume.’ This appalled my husband until he understood we weren’t using things like vinegar and baking soda, but instead used all the shampoos, conditioners, liquid soaps, perfumes, after-sun gels, lotions, body sprays, anything scented, and poured them all together. It was great fun to make these concoctions though of course it was all pretend play, and now that I think about it, we probably are indeed lucky we never caused a bad chemical reaction in our reckless mixing. (That would have been one cacophonous-scented blast.)

In high school I was drawn to the local natural foods store and would buy small amounts of herbs from the bulk bins to try as tea, as well as books about natural products and natural living. I honestly don’t remember why or how it all started because it wasn’t something we grew up talking about as a family philosophy or anything. The natural world, and herbs in particular, just resonated with me in a way that was impossible to ignore. It might have had something to do with the fact that I never really felt well, always a headache, constantly tired, always a “nervous stomach”, and the world of herbs and other naturals offered promises of health and well-being while modern medicine seemed stark, rigid, mildly toxic. and lacking creativity. And the natural things did help, especially the cleanses, but it wasn’t until I went off gluten that I got the biggest uptick in health and well-being. With my herbal books I learned to make natural masks and full-on facials with ingredients found in the kitchen, which was very reminiscent of the pretend play my sister and I did as younger children.

Right after college (English major) I worked at the natural foods store where I had once shopped, and started an herbal correspondence course with Wild Rose College. It was a great program that made me study a bit of anatomy, the healing process, iridology, and more (besides the herbs) and it wasn’t easy, so check out their programs if you are interested. At that time the natural foods store also had an employee education program that most people ignored but I dove in and loved it so vocally that I was given it to run when the coordinator couldn’t do it anymore. I felt like the luckiest person ever to have all that great free educational material about vitamins, minerals, oils, herbs, homeopathy, and so much more.

Then I had an herbal internship with herbalist Michael Pilarski who primarily wildcrafted herbs, made medicine with those herbs, and is a well-known authority on permaculture. I enjoyed the medicine-making days the most and also got to attend herbal classes and a conference while interning with him. It was a great learning experience.

I later worked for a natural foods and products distributor which meant more education and insight into the industry as well as the natural products themselves. It definitely helped to already have a strong herbal background as I remember very clearly going into a shop on Whidbey Island where the skeptical owner handed me a cup of herbal tea which I immediately identified as burdock and I won her over. (I was in sales/customer service which sometimes drew people who knew nothing about the actual products.) Plus, if you know what burdock tastes like, it’s kind of an acquired taste. Thank goodness it was an herb I was familiar with because there are so many herbs out there it’s not possible to know them all and that was the quickest way to earn trust ever!

While working for the distributor I went through a year-long herbal certificate program at Bellevue College which was run by Karta Purkh Singh Khalsa. He has moved from the Seattle area now but was the president of the American Herbalists Guild for several years recently and has online courses mainly for people interested in using herbs professionally, but also classes for people just interested in a specific topic, such as Ayurveda. I believe he even still has some in-person programs like the kind I went through, so if you are interested in online or in-person classes, check out his website. I then had an internship with him for a couple of months where again my favorite aspect of it was making Ayurvedic kits to be used for spa-type rituals and panchakarma.

Afterwards, I started making my own herbal bath and body products with the name Dragonlily Herbs as well as giving classes in making herbal products. That did not last long though as first one baby and then quickly two took over all my time and energy. (And going back to school to get my MA in TESOL.) Now that the boys are older, I guess this is really just my second iteration of Dragonlily, with the addition of making my Luddite-soul fully embrace the online world.

Over the years I’ve also taken several other herbal classes about things I was specifically interested in such as the digestive system, thyroid, essential oils, skin herbs, and herbal crafting. Now that I’ve written all that down, I feel like I really should know a lot more than I do but there’s so much herbal knowledge out there from all different traditions and cultures that it’s hard not to constantly feel like what is left to learn is a vast ocean compared to what I already know. I’ve got a studious streak though so that endless learning aspect suits me just fine.

The links above to KP Khalsa’s site and the AHG will help if you happen to be looking for classes. Also Bastyr University and the American Botanical Council are good places to visit as well. I’ve got some herbal classes in the works myself, both in-person and online, that will focus on my favorite part of herbalism~ medicine-making and bath and body crafting. If you are interested, let me know what you most want covered. The focus will be on simplicity, beauty, and health, with an emphasis on the kinds of products that used to be part of everyone’s daily life before mass-market, chemical-laden commercialization became the norm. We deserve to hang on to our roots and customize our own health and body care as only our own selves possibly could. (Now that’s self-care!)

More on that soon, but in the meantime, could you do me a quick favor? I’ve made a short survey and I’d really appreciate your feedback~ it is just three short questions and I promise it’ll take less than one minute.

Survey here

Thank you so much! I would love to hear what drew you to herbs and where you are on your own herbal journey. Looking forward to hearing from you and best health to you and yours.

Wheat: Is it the Gluten or the FODMAPs?

When I first went to a gastroenterology doctor to discuss my blood tests that were positive for gluten reactions, his advice to me was not to go through the scope for celiac testing because, and I quote, “Lots of people have trouble digesting wheat. You just don’t eat wheat. That’s all you could do if you were diagnosed celiac anyway.” This struck me as mighty unconventional in an industry that loves to order as many tests as possible, but I followed his advice and I think I now understand that he must have seen people with wheat issues day in and day for decades to form that view. (And this was over ten years ago, before the gluten awareness explosion.) It isn’t just the gluten though, people can have trouble with wheat because of the FODMAPs, which makes wheat a particularly hard food for a lot of people since the protein and/or the carb can be the problem. It’s no wonder so many people find some relief when taking it out of their diet, but it might not be the cure-all they were hoping for. If that sounds like you, don’t get discouraged, there’s more you can do.

While gluten, which is a protein in wheat, rye, and barley, is the issue for celiacs and other people with gluten sensitivity, for others it might be the carbs of wheat, which fall under the FODMAPs acronym. FODMAPs stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols, which are molecules in certain carbohydrates that some people have trouble digesting. Wheat is one of the culprits but other items which fall under the FODMAPs category are beans, many dairy products, some fruits like apples and apricots, and a variety of vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower. For a complete list, check out Fodmaplife.com but before checking it out you should know two things: 1. the list is extensive and can be overwhelming at first glance, but don’t let it deter you because 2. not everyone reacts to all the items the same. When you start to explore if you are one of the people whose digestive issues stem from FODMAPs, you will need to limit all foods high in FODMAPs, but you then can start adding some back into your diet and experiment with what really bothers your personal system and what can actually be tolerated and at what doses. So, in other words, the list is not a list of foods you can never eat again, think of it merely as a starting point.

An easy way to experiment with this and take the guess work out of your meal planning is to try Delicious Living’s Low FODMAP Menus for a Week. They have put together meals that avoid all the high FODMAP foods and instead focus on healthy foods that are easy on the digestive tract. Here’s a preview of what you’ll find:

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If you have gone gluten-free and have found some relief but not total relief, it is worth a week of effort to try low-FODMAP eating to see if you can’t be healthier (and therefore happier). Time to go shopping~

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The low-Fodmap diet is often encouraged for people who suffer with IBS. It is worth trying if you have consistent digestive issues that do not fully respond to other diets or remedies as many people find it to be just what they needed. You deserve to feel your best so don’t give up searching for ways to make you feel great on a daily basis. Best health to you and yours.

How to Make Your Own Toner

Toner is one of those things that I kind of hate buying but I can’t live without. It is used between cleansing the skin and putting on a serum and/or moisturizer, and it balances the pH of the skin as well as helps the serum/moisturizer spread evenly so you get the most out of those more expensive products. Since it is the first layer on your skin after washing it, it has the potential to really help your skin be its healthiest and therefore its glow-iest, but it’s a light product so there shouldn’t be too much in it. Leave it to the serums and moisturizers to pack in the heavier oils and such, but that doesn’t mean toner can’t have some amazing ingredients too. Making your own means you can tweak it for your specific skin needs and even add in ingredients that might be missing from your other skin care products. For example, if you know your skin could benefit from more Vitamin C but you happen to love your current serum which is Vitamin A based, you can make sure your toner is strong Vitamin C by using Hibiscus tea, Vitamin C powder, and/or orange peel.

One of the easiest ways to make toner is by using Witch Hazel as the base. In fact, you can just use Witch Hazel for a toner by itself or by adding essential oils to it. Witch Hazel balances skin, soothes irritations, tightens, firms, and refreshes the skin. You can use it to cleanse your skin by pouring some onto a cotton ball and wiping your face clean. To use as a toner, it’s nice to cut it a bit with distilled water, floral water, a hydrosol, or a glycerin extract of an herb such as rose or orange peels as mentioned above. You can also just use floral waters and hydrosols alone as a toner in which case Rose water is a popular choice.

I happen to be out of toner so I am making some with what I have on hand which is: Witch Hazel, distilled water, and essential oils of Carrot Seed and Geranium. Both of those essential oils have a plethora of beneficial properties for the skin from moisture-balancing to wrinkle-fighting, and are good for dry, oily, mature, and/or combination skin. Their wide-ranging benefits for all different kinds of skin types make them similar to Rose essential oil, but a lot less expensive.

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Toner Recipe:

1/8 C Witch Hazel

1/8 C Distilled Water (a floral water or hydrosol would work beautifully too)

4 Drops Geranium Essential Oil

3 Drops Carrot Seed Essential Oil

2 oz. glass bottle with a spray top

Be sure to label your product and to shake your toner before each use.

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Speaking of different skin types, here’s an infographic from Delicious Living on best natural ingredient for different types of skin. Some of these could be added to a toner, while others work better in a mask, serum, or moisturizer. Borlind_infographic_3

Happy creating and beautifying everyone! You deserve to shine with optimal health.

Cold and Flu Season

A few posts back I wrote about some great immune boosters that had recently been sent my way in the new hope blogger box. Now that we are in the thick of cold and flu season, I thought I’d also post some other natural products that help us fight the good fight against those nasty viruses and bacteria that like to get social this time of year.

Essential Oils:

Essential oils are great germ fighters and immune helpers with some more potent than others in their anti-bacterial and/or anti-viral properties. If you just want to have one go-to blend for fighting all the winter sicknesses that get around, then Thieves oil is what you want. Thieves oil has a great story to it, though whether it is more history or mythology is anyone’s guess. I like to think the story had to start somewhere, so why not in an actual event? The story has several variations, but basically they all say something along the lines of this: During the Middle Ages there were four thieves in France who used to rob the graves (or the houses) of those who had died of the Plague and managed to not get ill themselves. When they were eventually caught, they were given a lighter punishment in return for telling how they did it. The four thieves admitted they used herbs (most likely soaked in vinegar at that time) to keep themselves from getting the disease. They knew how to do this because among them were perfumers and spice traders who at the time understood the anti-biotic and anti-viral properties of their goods. Their blend has passed down to us through all these centuries, though the actual recipes vary depending on who’s making it. Usually the blends include: clove, lemon, eucalyptus, cinnamon and rosemary, and then different makers add in their own special favorites. You can find it as Thieves Oil, Medieval Mix Oil, Bandits Oil, and I’m sure other names as well.

Thyme oil is another great anti-germ essential oil. You can make a room spray for wiping down surfaces or use it in an diffuser for infusing the air with its strong anti-viral properties. Thyme also repels insects and combines particularly well with Lavender and Eucalyptus essential oils to kill any bacteria or viruses around, which makes it a great blend to have along for classrooms, workplaces, and travel.

If you have congestion in your nose or chest, nothing beats Eucalyptus Oil for loosening it up and helping you breathe. Putting it in a diffuser or flicking some on the back of a shower before starting the water are great ways to get the Eucalyptus into the air. If needed, I’ll put a drop right on the front of a shirt or on a pillow if it’s bedtime.

Herbs:

There are plenty of immune boosting herbs to help you avoid getting sick that also help you get well faster if you do get sick since sometimes it is just unavoidable, but there are two that almost always get center stage in any immune blend~ Echinacea and Astragalus. Tinctures and teas are a great way to take immune boosting herbs if you are already sick, and you can also add Astragalus to soup and you might be lucky enough to find it fresh in your local produce section. (It’s a root.) Herb Pharm makes quite a few immune support blends in tincture form, from a daily builder to use before getting sick, to a rapid defense once you are sick, one specifically for viruses, and one for kids. Yogi Teas has an assortment of immune boosting teas such as this one and this one. I put the powdered root of Astragalus into my adaptogen blend during the winter for daily immune system support and because it also has adaptogenic properties.

Elderberry is another cold season herb that is a must have in your personal natural medicine cabinet. It is in a lot of cold formulas and syrups so it is an easy herb to add. Besides this kind of formula there are lozenges that one of my son sucks on all school year long, though it’s more about the yummy taste in his mind.

A few other herbs to aid the immune system are medicinal mushrooms like Reishi, Oregon Grape Root, Lomatium, and Garlic. Any time you can add any of these to your teas, daily supplement regime, and/or diet help keep your immune system in top form.

Homeopathy:

There are a couple of homeopathic medicines that can really help shorten a cold or flu and lessen the symptoms. As soon as you start to feel flu-type aches and pains, fever, and such, your best bet is to take Oscillococcinum as soon as possible. This means having it on hand at all times, just in case, because it really only works if you get it in you before the flu really takes hold. Follow the directions on the box for how much/often to take it.

Another homeopathic medicine that really should be taken at the first sign of a cold or flu is Umcka, but with this one even if you don’t get it going immediately, it’ll still lessen the duration and intensity of the cold or flu when you do start taking it. I keep a cold formula and a cold/flu formula on hand all winter long because it always seems to be nighttime when one of us starts to feel bad. There are many versions of this medicine from a hot drink to an over-the-counter-style liquid, and it’s tasty enough for kids. (Mine love it.)

Vitamins, Minerals, and Others:

Vitamin C is of course the go-to vitamin for helping the immune system fight little invaders. Be mindful that our bodies get used to the amount of vitamin C we normally take so a large, sudden increase can result in diarrhea. Vitamin D has become more well-known lately for its role in immune system support so it can be found in some wellness formulas such as this Emergen-C fizzy drink, and if you are lucky, in the sunshine. Zinc is also recognized as an important component in immune boosting and can be found in the Zand Elderberry lozenges above as well as other wellness formulas.

Probiotics are an integral part of the immune system. Taking them regularly helps keep you well, and if you go through a round of antibiotics, hit the probiotics hard afterwards, and even during the antibiotic treatment. Just make sure to take them at least two hours after taking the antibiotics.

One more thing I feel compelled to mention is drinking anywhere from a teaspoon to a tablespoon of organic apple cider vinegar in a glass of water. The bottle must say “with the mother” in order for it to be actively healing. If you feel something coming on, then drinking this three times a day will help your immune system fight it. It is strong tasting at first so starting with as small of an amount that you can get down is fine. I promise it grows on you and you can increase the amount you put in water for greater health boosting. Apple cider vinegar does a host of  good and I drink it every morning all year long (1 tablespoon in a glass of water) to prepare my digestive system for the day.

Keep well everyone and please share this with anyone who needs some immune support this winter.

How to Make an Herbal Oil Part 1

Making an herbal oil using the ‘cold method’ is very similar to making an herbal tincture. For the base oil you can use olive oil, almond oil, or grapeseed oil, but olive oil is the one most commonly used. Herbal oils are a great way to get the healing benefits of the herbs onto the skin where they can work on skin issues (Calendula or Rose), and also be absorbed into the body through the skin to work on things like sore muscles (St. John’s Wort). Herbal oils can also be added to baths or made into a healing  balm or butter, and essential oils can be added to herbal oils for added benefits as well.

The skin benefits of roses from their nutritious rose hips to the highly prized essential oil are well known. Making an herbal oil of roses is another way to make use of the healing and beauty-imparting benefits of roses. It is far more economical than the essential oil, and also less potent, but it makes a great base for any perfume blending or body butter creations. Rose oil itself is skin healing and beautifully scented enough to make a lovely gift just as is, even without added essential oils. After the oil has cured and been strained, simply add a few new rose buds or petals back into the strained oil for a luxurious look. How to video below:

Plants Heal Places too

Now that it’s winter I find myself daydreaming more and more about adding indoor plants to our home. Living in the Pacific Northwest though makes it hard to always pick plants that will survive with little sunlight.

We are lucky that we have a wall of big windows in our living room but the angle of the sun in the wintertime makes it nearly impossible to get direct light for long in the house, and that is when there is actual sun to be seen. Most winter days here are 8CAC41BA-B986-461E-BAC1-B87B5309F6AA[1]overcast or rainy or both.  We’ve managed to keep alive a few little plant-babies in the house but I want some bigger ones to really fill the space. I saw this article on New Hope Network’s website and it made me more determined than ever to  get myself to a plant store. The thing that struck me the most, other than the fact I have our aloe in the wrong place (kitchen, not bedroom) was that specific plants clean certain toxins. I mean everyone knows that plants are good for the air quality, but they have their specialties like proper healers do. That makes perfect sense but it just never occurred to me to look into which plants are best for what needs to be cleansed. Below is the article from New Hope Network, including the pics. The ones above are my own.

Article by Jenny Ivy: The winter months are upon us, and it’s time to focus on how to stay healthy as we spend most of our time indoors. Ever since it released its Clean Air study in 1989, NASA has touted the air-filtering benefits of plants, which help cleanse our indoor environments of pollutants and common toxic chemicals such as benzene and ammonia.

Here are seven indoor plants to stock around the house this winter. 

Aloe vera

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The aloe vera plant releases oxygen throughout the night, making it ideal for bedroom spaces. It also helps clear the air of benzene, a chemical found in detergents and plastics, and formaldehyde, which can be present in varnishes and floor finishes.

Toxic to pets? Yes

Peace lily

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The peace lily cleanses benzene, formaldehyde, ammonia and trichloroethylene, a chemical commonly found in paints, varnishes, lacquers and adhesives. This is a great plant to have in your home if you love buying flowers but don’t want to buy bouquets that will die after a few days.

Toxic to pets? Yes

Bamboo palm

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Bamboo palm is the third most powerful plant at removing formaldehyde in the air, according to NASA. It also helps filter out xylene, a chemical found in rubber and tobacco smoke. Give this plant plenty of room to grow, as mature height varies between 4 and 12 feet with a span of 3 to 5 feet.

Toxic to pets? No

Boston fern

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A common indoor plant, the Boston fern ranks ninth on NASA’s list of 50 air-purifying plants. It also is the most effective plant at removing formaldehyde. Additional research found this fern can eliminate heavy metals, such as mercury and arsenic from soil.

Toxic to pets? No

Areca palm

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The Areca Palm is considered the most efficient air-purifying plant, according to NASA. It also makes for an excellent air humidifier, transpiring 1 liter of water per 24 hours—this is the process by which moisture is carried through plants from roots to small pores on the underside of leaves, where it changes to vapor and is released into the air. This tropical plant from Madagascar eliminates benzene, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, xylene and other toxins from the air.

Toxic to pets? No

Weeping fig

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According to NASA’s Clean Air Study, Ficus benjamina was effective at cleansing airborne formaldehyde, xylene and toluene, which is the solvent in some types of paint thinner. The weeping fig grows best in bright, indirect light.

Toxic to pets? Yes

English ivy

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English ivy is helpful to treat inflammation problems in the body—issues such as arthritis, gout or rheumatism. You can either consume it in the form of tea or apply the leaves directly to the spot of inflammation, according to organicfacts.net. English ivy can also help reduce the amount of mold in the air in your home, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.

Toxic to pets? Yes

(Me again) I hope you are inspired to add more botanical beauty to your life too! I am definitely making it a priority this month to find some hearty, shade-loving, toxin-busting plants for our home. Thanks for reading and best health to you and yours.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Make an Herbal Tincture Part 1

Making your own herbal tinctures is one way to really connect to herbs, make exactly what you want, and save money. If you want to make extracts without using alcohol for example, you can use apple cider vinegar or vegetable glycerine instead. You can blend several different herbs together in the tincture, or just extract one herb at a time. In the video below I just use St. John’s Wort in alcohol for the demo. For more information about natural anti-depressants and anti-anxiety herbs, check out this previous post on nervines. Be sure to label your jars with as much information as possible and maybe even write in a notebook or on a calendar what you did and when you need to do the next part. There are different schools of thought about how long a tincture needs to cure, but most medicine-makers agree that a moon cycle is an appropriate amount of time, so about 4 weeks. (That is why I have the moon information on my label.) The next step will be straining the herbs out of the liquid into dark glass dropper bottles at which point the tincture will be ready to be used. That will be in part 2, in about in a month from now, so stay tuned, and while you are at it, why not make an herbal oil as well

 

 

 

 

 

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