Thursday, July 14, 2016

Making Comfrey Oil

Making Comfrey oil
Gather comfrey leaves, enough, that when chopped, they will fill a quart-size jar. (roughly 10-15 large leaves)
Pick off all damaged, eaten or browned leaves
Chop coarsely and discard heavy stems
Place in a quart-size jar with a tight-fitting lid
Fill the jar completely with chopped leaves, but do not pack it too tightly.
Take a chopstick (or a similar tool) to poke into, and around, the leaves, to be sure that there is enough room for the oil to reach all of the leaf surfaces (this is why you don’t want the jar to be packed too tightly.)
Cover the chopped leaves completely with organic olive oil (a fully-packed quart-size jar will take about 2 ½ cups of oil – make sure oil covers all of the plant material.)
Close lid tightly.
Leave sitting on a windowsill for 6 weeks. Be sure to label the jar, both with the name of the contents and the date that it will be ready.
After six weeks, strain out the herbs very well, careful to get every possible bit of oil pressed out, before discarding the plant material (that oil is all good medicine!)
Use a small bottle (a recycled dark-glass tincture bottle is excellent) to keep a supply of comfrey oil on hand. Keep the rest of the batch in a clean quart jar, and store in the refrigerator. Oil will keep for about 1 year. When you take more oil from this jar, be careful to have clean hands, and to use clean utensils, so as not to contaminate the main supply.
Uses :
Comfrey’s ability to promote the healing of bruises, sprains, fractures, and broken bones has been known for thousands of years. It encourages ligaments and bones to knit together firmly. A comfrey compress (see below) applied immediately to a sprained ankle can significantly reduce the severity of the injury. The combination of tannins and mucilage help to sooth bruises and scrapes.
Skin Problems
Comfrey oil or ointment is used to treat acne and boils, and to relieve psoriosis. It is also valuable in the treatment of scars.
Key Preparations - Chop leaves, apply as a poultice for boils; Infused oil of leaves, apply to sprains ; Ointment of leaves, apply to bruises; Tincture of root, apply undiluted to acne
Pyrrolizidine alkaloids – Comfrey contains Pyrrolizidine alkaloids and research shows that, as isolated substances,  pyrrolizidine alkaloids are highly toxic to the liver. It is still unclear whether they are toxic in the context of the whole plant, as they are only present in minute amounts, often being completely absent from samples of dried arial parts. The highest concentration is in the root, and until its safety is confirmed (or denied) comfrey root should not be used internally. (The aerial parts are considered safe.)
Making Comfrey Oil
First, find a reliable source for your fresh comfrey, make sure it is free of pesticides and other such contaminants. If you are lucky enough to find it where you can wild harvest, find out who owns the property; ask permission to harvest; and find out if the area is sprayed. Also, make sure that it is at least 5o yards from roads (where the fumes of passing cars will contaminate the plant.) Your very best bet is to grow your own, or to find a local organic grower.
#1.Chop coarsely
#2. Pack leaves well
# 3. Leave about 1/2 " of room at the top
#4.  Pour about 2 -1/2 cups extra virgin organic olive oil over herbs
 #5. Use a Chopstick to create air space
 #6. Let Stand for 6 weeks

Enjoy! And Happy Healing!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Calming, Charming Chickweed

Calming, Charming Chickweed
Chickweed, (Stellaria media) the modest little plant that you are more likely to trample upon than notice, is in bloom right now. I am always excited to find some, because, in years gone by, I’ve had trouble locating it. This year, for some reason, I am seeing it in abundance. The reason I am so interested in the plant  (besides the fact that I simply find it quite charming) is that I’ve been wanting to make a chickweed oil to incorporate into a healing salve. You see, this humble little plant is rife with amazing medicinal - and nutritional - virtues.
It has a lovely little white flower with 5 deeply cleft petals (so they appear to be 10) and the hairy stem is long. It can grow up to 15 inches (though I usually find them lower to the ground) and it has slender leaves, which grow opposite on the stem.
The juice of the plant has long been used as a cooling, soothing treatment for the eyes, in fact, Dioscorides, of 1st century Greece, extolled the virtues of the herb, for this purpose. In addition, it is brilliant when it comes to irritations of the skin, and it can soothe and calm itchiness when all other remedies have failed. Eczema, psoriosis, acne, bruises, boils, and hemorrhoids, all respond beautifully to this little plant, and it is not only soothing to the skin, but heals infections, as well.
The plant, itself, can be applied to the problem area as a poultice, or the juice of the plant can be infused into oil, and then made into a healing cream or salve. A poultice of the plant is also very healing and comforting for the aching joints of arthritis, and gout, as well. Also for this purpose, an infusion of the plant can be poured into the bath to help heal skin irritations, as well to help soothe aching joints. Taken internally, as a tincture, it is also well known as a cleanser of the kidneys, gall bladder and liver.
Nutritionally, it is a powerhouse: It contains vitamin C, Vitamin D, B6 and B12, and beta carotene, as well as magnesium, iron, calcium, phosphorous and more! It is easy to incorporate these little plants into your salad, and the stem and leaves are equally good.
To make a healing oil, simply gather up the plant, chop well, place in small jar with a tight-fitting lid. Fill the jar to capacity, but don’t overstuff it (for you want the oil to be able to touch every surface of the plant.) Cover with organic olive oil and leave in a sunny window for 6 weeks, stirring it on occasion. (Be sure to label the jar and write the date that it will be ready.)
When the infusion is done, strain the herbs out, squeezing them to get all the medicinal goodness, and then use the oil directly, or incorporate it into a healing salve by heating the oil gently in a double boiler, and then adding 1 ounce of grated beeswax per 8 ounces of herbal oil. Herbalist Sharol Tilgner recommends testing the consistency of the salve by pouring ½ tsp of salve into your container, Wait ½ a minute, then push on the salve, if it’s too soft, it needs more beeswax; if it’s too hard, simply add more oil. Pour into small containers to cool. The shelf life is about two years.
To make an infusion, gather one cup of the plant, chop well, and then place in a quart-size jar. Fill the jar with boiling water and then close the lid tightly. Let the plant infuse for a minimum of two hours. You can use this for a healing bath, or use it as a cooling wash for the eyes. Do not take during pregnancy.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Plantain to the Rescue

Common Plantain (Plantago major)
This is an amazing species, so many medicinal uses, and nutritious, as well! Yes, I am talking about humble plantain: parallel veined, oval leaves that grow in a basal rosette. It produces elongated stalks, which bear its humble little white flowers. Its seed is used for many purposes, including as a laxative (psyllium, frequently sold as an over-the-counter drug, and commonly used for this, is a closely related species.)
 Depending on how far back you go in the herbal literature, you will find hundreds of uses for the plant. As far back as the ancient Greeks and Romans, plantain (not related to the banana species by the same name) was widely used as an astringent, as a wound healing agent, for respiratory ailments, and to soothe tired eyes.
Native Americans used the plant for many purposes, including snake bites, wounds, cuts, infections, and blisters. Like the Greeks and Romans, they used the juice, or infusion, of the plant, for sore eyes. Internally, the leaf was taken for diarrhea, intestinal disorders, ulcers, bloody urine and other intestinal problems
The root was used as well. Respiratory infections, as well as constipation, were commonly treated with the root of the plant.
Today’s herbalists use the plant in many of the old ways: it is still used as an astringent, and as such is excellent for skin irritations and wounds. It contains mucilage (a carbohydrate fiber) which soothes irritated mucus membranes, so it is very helpful for digestive upsets.
It is particularly useful in treating insect bites, if  you are out in the field without a first aid kit, and find yourself bitten by a stinging insect, simply take a plantain leaf, chew it sufficiently to release its juice, and then place it on the sting, continuing to rub fresh leaves on the wound for 15 minutes or so, until relief is found. Plantain also has the ability to draw out toxins, and as such, is a good remedy for a tick bite. Once bitten, remove the tick promptly with a tick remover (a tool created for this exact purpose – found at CVS, or Rite-Aide) then chew a leaf, enough to release the juice, and then place it on the site. Leave it there for 24 hours. (It can be secured in place with a bandaid.) Also, a salve can be made of the infusion of the plant, and it is used for cuts, stings, burns, and hemorrhoids.
It packs a punch nutritionally as well, providing beta carotene and calcium. Also, its high in fiber, and the fiber, of the seeds, in particular, have been shown to lower LDL ( the “bad” cholesterol) and triglycerides, lending a hand toward heart health.
 The plant’s leaves can be eaten when young and tender; the older leaves are too tough to enjoy (but these older leaves can be enjoyed in a stew.)
In order to make a plantain salve try this recipe:
Plantain Salve
Collect enough plantain to fill a small jar (4- 6 oz. is good)
Chop the plantain well
Place in a jar and cover with organic olive oil
Poke around in the jar ( a chopstick works well) to make sure the olive oil is  touching all parts of the plant material.
Cover with a tight lid.
Label the jar with the contents and the date prepared, and another date, 6 weeks later.
Place in a sunny location.
Mark on the calendar when the oil will be ready. Once in a while, over the course of the 6 weeks, gently shake the jar.
When the time is up, strain the oil well and discard the plant material.
Add 1 tbl grated beeswax per ounce of oil. Place in a double boiler ( a coffee can in a pot works well) and gently heat until the beeswax is melted.
Pour into 1 oz containers. Cool. Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014


Horsetail ((Equisetum arvense) is up and abundant! It is such an exciting plant to see in the wild. It is exceptionally nutritious, being rich in potassium, magnesium, and iron, and has many medicinal qualities, as well. It is an ancient plant, dating back to the Paleozoic era (600-375 million years ago) and is a descendent of huge trees that lived during that time! In fact, during early spring, when it first appears, it resembles baby pine trees, and for years, I thought it was that. It is a perennial from a creeping rhizome, so it often appears in large colonies.
Resembling baby pine trees makes for a very pretty plant, but on closer examination, it is prettier, still. Just below each set of whorled leaves that climb a green, sterile stalk, are dark etchings on the joints of the plant. When viewed with a hand lens, the dark markings are the shape of arrows, and each one is split in the middle, as though it was burst from within.
Its high levels of silica makes it an excellent abrasive, and one of its common names, ‘bottlebrush’, reveals one of its earlier uses. In addition, the sprigs of the plant were tied to the tails of horses, to help them ward off flies, hence the name, ‘horsetail’.
As stated, it is very rich in silicic acid and silicates; it is also abundant in flavinoids and phenolic acid. But most of the medicinal benefits are due to the high level of silica. It is used for a number of ailments, including cystitis; menopausal complaints such as hot flashes; bloating; and it is even a styptic, commonly used to stop nosebleeds. But for my money, its most exciting quality is that it helps to build strong bones, and according to widely respected herbalist, Susun Weed, the plant can even reverse osteoporosis. Horsetail also speeds the repair of damaged connective tissue, all the while improving its strength and elasticity.
In addition, when added to a bath, horsetail can help speed up the repair of broken bones, and sprains, or skin conditions such as eczema.
The parts of the plants that are used are the aerial parts, and it should be harvested in the first 4-6 weeks of its growth, as too much silica can cause urinary tract irritation.It likes damp ground, so it is commonly found near water. It should be carefully dried, and then the herb can be made into a tea (generally 1 tsp plant material to 1 cup of boiling water.) Steep covered for 20 minutes. Drink 1-2 cups per day.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Terrific Tulsi

Terrific Tulsi
In Hindi, the word ‘Tulsi’, means, ‘incomparable plant’, and the name is very appropriate, for this humble plant is an incredible multi-tasker!! Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum) is held in the highest regard in India; most homes have one of these plants growing right outside their door, or as a potted plant within the home. In the Hindi religion, it is literally revered; in fact, its species name, sanctum, means ‘holy’. It is used for medicinal, and religious purposes, and is considered to be an elixir of life, one that promotes longevity, and good health.
On closer examination, this reverence is understood more easily. It has scores of medicinal applications, being beneficial to virtually every system in the body, including the immune system, the nervous system, the cardiovascular system, the pulmonary system, and the renal system.
Tulsi, or Holy Basil, as it is also known (a close relative to culinary basil) is well known as an adaptogenic (a plant which is known to help the body adapt to stress.) Having powerful anti-stress properties, it helps the body normalize cortisol levels (the stress hormone) and therefore helps to soothe frayed nerves. In addition, as stress is known to create free radicals (unpaired molecules which wreak havoc with the health of our cells) it is also beneficial that Tulsi is high in antioxidants, which help to stabilize these disease-causing free radicals.
As excessive stress often goes hand-in-hand with high blood pressure, it makes sense that Tulsi would also help to lower blood pressure, and, due to a powerful component called eugenol, it does just that. In addition, it protects the heart; by keeping blood pressure under control, and by lowering cholesterol, it helps to protect against heart disease.
A significant amount of research has been done in regard to the fact that Ocimum sanctum stabilizes blood sugar levels. This is important news for diabetics, for in some types of diabetes, it has been shown to be an effective medicine. This action is also good news for those desiring to lose weight, for in addition to stabilizing blood sugar levels (spiked blood sugar levels are associated with obesity and weight gain) it also increases metabolism.
 Due to its powerful essential oil constituents, camphene, cineol, and eugenol, Tulsi is an amazing immune-booster; it has anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties that help beat a variety of infections. Also, it is an anti-inflammatory, and an analgesic, and is commonly used to help lower fever. Also, it has anti-tussive properties, is an expectorant, and relieves congestion, making it a very effective medicine for respiratory illness, in particular.
Tulsi is also well known to help to detoxify the kidneys; it is a diuretic, and helps to remove excessive uric acid in the blood. As excessive uric acid levels are known to be associated with kidney stones, this plant therefore helps to prevent, and can even help to dissolve, kidney stones. And, as clean blood and healthy kidneys make for healthy skin, Tulsi also helps give us a radiant complexion.
Natives of India often chew leaves directly from the plant, as well as using it as a tea. In addition, juice is extracted, and used medicinally, as well. In the US, it is commonly taken as a tea, a tincture, or as a pill. There are several good quality brands that produce Tulsi teas, making it is easy to incorporate into our daily routine! So do yourself a favor, and drink up!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Rediscovering Medicinal Mushrooms

Rediscovering Medicinal Mushrooms
I have been interested in medicinal herbs for ten years, but only recently have become interested in the fungi kingdom, and all of the amazing health benefits that many of the mushrooms included in this group, have to offer. Awareness of this treasure trove of information started trinkling into my consciousness as more and more herbalists began mentioning the health benefits of one mushroom, or another, and began including them on their immune-booster lists. These inventories of known plants, which help build the immune system, either by playing a preventative role, or a curative one, were now more often including mushrooms. As a result, little, by little, I became more interested in them, and began doing my own research; what I have found has been very exciting.
It is well documented that mushrooms have been used for nutritional, medicinal and ritualistic purposes, all over the world, for thousands of years. A cave painting exists in Algeria depicting a shaman dancing amongst mushrooms, which dates back 7,000 years. The Greeks and the Romans treasured the benefits of mushrooms, and several documents on the subject exist from the first century AD, and earlier. The earliest known document on the health benefits of mushrooms comes from India, written in 3,000 B.C.
China, too, has long treasured mushrooms, and records exist of their use, that go back 7,000 years. This is especially true because mushrooms have been a central focus in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for thousands of years.
Paul Stamets, D.Sc, owner, developer, and leading visionary of the Host Defense Company, has been a dedicated mycologist for over 30 years. He has discovered and co-authored 4 new species of mushrooms and pioneered countless techniques in the field of edible and functional mushroom cultivation. He is the winner of many awards, including Utne Magazine’s naming him one of the “Fifty Visionaries Who Are Changing the World.”
Paul works in the forests of the Pacific Northwest, and sees them as a resource of incalculable value. His vision is to preserve and protect these incredibly diverse and rich old-growth forests, especially in regard to the fungal genome. His dream, and life goal, is to preserve and protect as many of these ancestral strains of mushrooms as possible.
Largely thanks to him, we have seen medicinal mushrooms become readily available on the alternative medicine market. The interest in these medicinal mushrooms has been largely sparked by research that has been carried out in Russia, Europe, China, Japan and the U.S and Canada. Here are some highlights of just a few of these mushrooms:
Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor)
One of these multiyear studies, carried out on the Turkey Tail mushroom (Trametes versicolor) in the United States, by National Institute of Health, was very promising. It showed that turkey tail was very effective in boosting the immune systems of breast cancer patients who had ended their radiation therapy treatments. It was found that the natural killer cell activity and lymphocytes (natural immunity boosters which dramatically decline during radiation therapy) are significantly increased in these patients, thereby helping them to gain strength as their new proliferation of killer cells attack remaining cancer cells. In addition, turkey tail has been widely studied in China and Japan for its immune – stimulating properties (more than 400 studies published in Japan show the benefits to the immune system.)
Further research has shown it to be anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antioxidant, antiviral, and an anti-cancer agent.
Chaga (Inonotus ibliquus)
Chaga mushrooms are one of the highest food antioxidants on the planet. Antioxidants are substances that stabilize free radicals  (maurading unpaired electrons, which are known to damage cells, protein, and DNA, and have been associated with cancer.) A substance’s ability to stabilize these reactive atoms (thereby rendering them harmless) are measured by ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbent Capacity) units. There are many foods which are natural antioxidants; blueberries, for instance have long been recognized as a great antioxidant food, have an average rating of about of 24.5 ORAC units per gram. Almost unbelievably, chaga has a rating of 1104 ORAC units per gram! Chaga’s high rates of Superoxide dismutase (SOD) the body’s most powerful natural antioxidant, is responsible for this extremely high rating, and it also plays a critical role in reducing internal inflammation.
In addition, extensive research in Russia, China and Japan, as well as the United States, has long associated the mushroom with anti-cancer activity; this is due to a number of properties of the mushroom: some boost the immune system, while other properties destroy cancer cells, and still others, prevent cancer cells from replicating.
The mushroom is also nutrient dense with significant amounts of vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. In addition, it is purported to be: anti-tumor, anti-cancer, immune stimulating, and anti-viral.
To use as a tea, take 3 tbl of chaga mushroom powder and add to 16 cups of water. Bring to a boil for 5 minutes, then, allow the tea to come to room temperature. For extra medicinal value, you may repeat the entire process; then bottle and refrigerate; drink hot or cold.
Reishi (ganoderma lucidum)
Immune enhancing
Anti viral
Cholesterol reducing
Stimulates macrophage, killer cells, and T-cell production in host (natural killer cells Non-B and non-T lymphocytes that bind to diseased cells
Relief from bronchitis, asthma and allergies (enhances respiration – helps oxygen-absorbing capacity of alveoli)

Shiitake (Lentinula edodes)
*Increase stamina and circulation
* Helps to alleviate arthritis, high blood cholesterol, helpful in the treatment of diabetes
*Immune stimulant
*Activates killer cells to fight cancer
Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus)
* Brain food that increases intellect and nourishes the nervous system (Paul Stamets)
* Used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for digestion and curing gastric ulcers
*Immune stimulation
*Nerve growth regeneration
* Anti-Microbial
*Stimulates neurons to re-grow (possible treatment for senility and Alzheimer’s disease)
* Promotes growth of Natural Killer (NK) cells
Immunity Soup
Makes 12 cups - 6 servings
1 ½ tsp extra virgin olive oil
2 large onions, thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, mashed
1 tbl minced fresh ginger
4 oz shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and thinly sliced (about 2 cups)
2 large carrots, thinly sliced on the bias
2-½ pieces astragalus root (about 15 inches total)
10 cups mushroom stock
2-tbl tamari
Salt to taste (optional)
2 cups broccoli florets
½ cup chopped scallions
In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions, garlic and ginger and sauté until soft and translucent. Add the shiitakes, carrots, astragalus root, and mushroom stock. Bring to a low boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 45 minutes.
Add the tamari and adjust the seasoning with salt if needed. Add the broccoli florets and cook until tender, about 2 minutes
Remove the astragalus root pieces. Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with scallions before serving.
Borrowed from True Food, by Andrew Weil, M.D.
One caution: be sure you are aware of the source of your mushrooms; it is essential that they are organic, and that you know they come from a reliable source. Not all suppliers are reputable, either the quality of the mushroom is poor, or, they have not used sustainable practices in  harvesting. Also, if mushrooms are imported, be sure that country’s health and handling standards are of the highest quality.


Friday, September 13, 2013

Jewels on the Hill

(Echinacea purpurea) 

Jewels on the Hill

If you were to ask the average person on the street, who’d had no prior knowledge about medicinal plants, about Echinacea, they would most likely have heard about this plant and its immune-boosting properties. Echinacea purpurea, more commonly known as purple coneflower, is that well known. In fact, the successful use of Echinacea, in no small part, helped to inspire the renaissance of interest in herbal medicine, which is currently occurring in our country. While, during the approach of the 1960’s, folk medicine wisdom was being lost at an alarming rate, it was during that decade that a resurgence of interest occurred. This was largely related to the natural birth movement, initiated by the ‘back-to-nature’ philosophy of that time, and a lot of nearly forgotten crucial medicinal wisdom was unearthed. Through the efforts of many deeply inspired individuals, a movement was born. The pouring over of antiquated texts, diaries, and the seeking out of elderly herbalists (still practicing in small, isolated rural pockets across the country) brought long-forgotten medicinal wisdom back into public access.
Once, it was common for each rural family to have an herb garden, in which they grew plants to meet their common ailment needs: boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) regarded as a virtual cure-all, but especially as strong medicine against fever; Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium purpureum) used for urinary tract infections, and for kidney stones; dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) used as a detoxifying agent, and a diuretic, as well as a bitter for digestive problems; Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) a stauncher of bleeding; and Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) was greatly relied upon for the healing of bruises, sprains, and fractures – hence its other common name: Knitbone - were but a few of the plants commonly relied upon by families of the day. Many of these settlers had brought their own seeds from plants long-trusted in Europe, and so, naturalized many plants we have come to think of as our own, including the ubiquitous dandelion.
In addition, plants native to the United States, were introduced to these immigrants by Native Americans. Plants like Black Cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa) a plant long-used for women’s ailments; and other now-common plants such as corn, sunflower, and cayenne were all used medicinally by Native Americans, and this knowledge was generously shared with our founding peoples.
Since the resurgence of this knowledge in the 1960’s, interest in the field has grown significantly, with herbalist schools growing in number every year. As such, knowledge about the benefits and uses of medicinal plants has become more commonplace. Along with it  (no doubt as a result of the information age) is the growing fascination with, and, an acceptance of, alternate types of medicine. This offers alternatives to many who, for many reasons, traditional medicine has failed to work, giving them broader opportunities for a more gentle and often safer, route to healing.
Though conventional medicine is often referred to as ‘traditional’ medicine, this is truly a misnomer, for herbal medicine is the true traditional method. With its rich, thousand-year history (well-documented by historians, archeologists and anthropologists) herbal medicine is here to stay!

 Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
 Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum)
Comfrey (Symphytum officinale)