Hal's Hat

Hal's Hat

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Herbal medicine cabinet?

This week's blog is going to be a bit of a ramble.... Ready?
I'm planning out my herbal market garden. I've found a lovely north Lawrence plot on which to grow a larger selection and quantity of herbs. And they will be for sale! I'm going to make my tinctures, herbal vinegars, cut herbs (both culinary and medicinal), teas/ infusions and infusion blends, salves/ infused oils available for sale.
  • I'll be growing more burdock, echinacea and yarrow for tincture. For the herbal vinegars, I'll grow nasturtium, dill, motherwort, lemon balm. 
  • I'm growing basil, dill, rosemary, lavender, lovage, cilantro/ parsley for culinary use (maybe thyme, sage too).
  • I'm growing st. john's wort- but it won't be available for use until next year. 
  • I'm growing calendula, rosemary and comfrey for infused oils as well. 
  • For herbal infusions, I'll cultivate some nettles, red clover and mint assortments... the rest TBD. 
  • Sage and garlic will be grown for honey syrup.
  • I'm also trying to locate some reliable elderberry- so that I can syrup it!! Leads? Who has leads on this?
So my question to those of you who read this blog: How important are these herbs to you? Are they part of the weekly/ monthly budget?
I'm really excited to bring this out finally. As most of you know, I grow lots of vegetables (usually), and lots of herbs for my own consumption. But to actually commit to growing herbs for other people... it's new for me! I have been giving away my bottle of tinctures and infusions for awhile. This is a new challenge that I feel totally up for.

Here are two herbs I'm studying and feeling called towards: Osha root and Elecampane. 

Parts used- Root
Recommended preparation: tincture or honey tincture (could do glycerin/ glycerite)

Many older herbalists or people who take herbs and make herbals know about this root. It is, right now, over harvested and under grown. It is hard to grow cultivate and only grows wild in the mountains. Osha root is also know as Bear root or by our native First Nations folks, Bear medicine. Bear apparently, in folk tales, love it like a cat loves catnip! They roll in it, rub it on their fur and before hibernation eat loads of it. I've read a story that purported that a male bear would offer this during "courtship"/ mating rituals to females. Whoa nelly- do you get that this is a powerful plant? I surely do. 
Long nosed herbalists, the crones and oldie-goldies among us caution us to NOT buy Osha. Or to buy a tiny bottle and use a tiny amount. It is a superb ally for the chest and coughs, the lungs and lung issues. It is also amazing, I've read, at acting as an anti-venom for stings and bites (the tincture). I have a bottle of Osha root in honey for my smalls. It is for rooting out the cough and includes mullein in there too. It is great to loosen the mucus and allow the cough to be more  fruitful.

Water hemlock/ poison hemlock
A wordy aside (and a word to the wise): Osha is grown only at high elevations (where bears would live, folks). But it is a relative of the carrot (Queen Anne's Lace is a wild carrot) and also the cooking herb lovage. It is also very close to poison hemlock or water hemlock. It's leaves, to my eye, are very very similar! Now, you may or may not be aware of this poisonous herbaceous weed. But it is everywhere, in parks, in alleys, by your car. It looks like parsley (feathery leaves) or wild carrot or common carrot. But it is taller and has a thick stalk that is tinged with purple. I absolutely loathe and stay away from this as if it was poison ivy. It can give a rash and transfer its poison when a curious person crushes the leaves to do a smell test. It smells rank, musky, weird. Osha smells fresh, herbaceous, spicy, deep. Here is a picture of water hemlock:

Parts used- Root
Preparation: make a honey of this root. Root can also be candied and eaten. Great substitute for Osha root. 
Now, I'm loving the elfish herb. She has a mini sunflower look (is a Helenium, related to sunflowers and ragweed), loves WET soil and has powerful herbal medicines for relieving congestion and bronchitis. Perfect for this season, no?
Elecampane can be cultivated on your well drained but moist garden soils, with partial shade accepted. How great is that?? Add her to your cottage garden in the shady areas. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Apple Cider Vinegar, Burdock and tinctures

Good morning to you all,
I've taken a long time to get to this next post. Why? It's complicated.
I'm working on this right now: anxiety. How to deal with this holistically? What can I do to minimize my anxiety and transferring to those around me? I will accept any advice on this whole anxiety matter. I'm trying very hard to veer away from pharmaceuticals. While I really believe that there are SO many people who are helped by these, I believe that my emotional state is situational (child induced) and changing. Therefore, a whole biological upheaval of SSRI is not my idea of a good time. Also, my kids are making me bonkers. Martini time anyone?

Apple Cider Vinegar
Well beyond that, you all have asked that I talk about Apple Cider Vinegar! I need to talk about Burdock and nourishing strategies for your winter body. Maybe you are dry, tired and overwrought? Oh, that's just me.
Firstly, let me say that I don't "take" cider vinegar. I don't want to down a spoonful with water. Just don't want to. Many of you do... good work. However, I use cider vinegar for herbal infusions or herbal tinctures. Many herbs that work well in vinegar include edible, culinary herbs. Do you see where I'm going with this? Vinegar is another substance that can act as a tincture medium. It sucks the juices and good stuff out of your magic plant and saves it for a nice bowl of beans! I use vinegars anytime I make beans, meat soups, veggies stir-fry, salads, etc. Apple cider vinegar is famous for releasing calcium in everything.... you heard that right. It makes calcium available. That is miraculous since calcium is a tricky thing to absorb from most foods. Though I love green food, I do not love cooked greens (mustard, chard, kale). I need it mixed and not as it's own dish. It's just... not for me. And it is the primo source for absorb-able calcium!! So I do vinegars instead.
I use culinary herbs- thyme, rosemary, dill with edible flowers for zing! I use calendula flowers and nasturtium most frequently.
Motherwort, wot.
I use motherwort in vinegar. Leonurus cardiaca...Ever use it? It is a superb mood ally for the stressed out mothers among us. It does not harm men to take it- it has no hormonal effect but is calming. I LOVE IT. It is a "weed" that grows in alleys. It has a toothed leaf and appeared in my alley in KCKS. [Miss you, 'Dotte! But not really.] It's another in the large, in charge mint family. Laminaceae. Seems to be annual- but self sows seriously and will just keep setting itself out. But the whole plant seems to do a Borage and bloom itself unto death.

I use echinacea vinegar. I don't want to belabor the benefits of echinacea but it is a tried-and-true immune booster. Not for daily use, but for instances where you feel compromised and about to get sick, it will help you out. Take a break after 7 days or so. Listen to it- put echinacea tincture on your countertop. When you feel it calling you, take it. If you're getting sick and you know it, a dropperful every hour for a day. See if it helps.
Other herbal vinegars I enjoy: Melissa officinalis (Lemon Balm)- yummy and lifts the spirit! Pepper vinegar- lots of good capsicum for the internals. Dandelion- oh my yes. I eat the greens in the spring when tender, always making sure to pick from a totally unsprayed section of land. I dig and use the root and leaves in fall for vinegar. It is a stomach tonic- keeping your hydrochloric acid in good shape (this is digestive juice folks). [Note: If you're taking antacids, please stop! This kills your digestive juices.] So dandelion helps fix ulcers and other stomach owies. And is an incredible source of minerals- vitamin A, C, potassium, iron and more. Research it if you have a delicate stomach!

Please note that I found burdock leaf vinegar inedible. Too bitter for me! I really have a relationship with burdock root and am taking the tincture daily right now. I love it- it is a deep, dark healer or ally for the liver and kidneys. But I use the root only. The leaf is just... WOOF. I use it in floral arrangements. :)
So Burdock: It has huge, huge hairy coarse leaves and an enormously long taproot. It loves to grow near rocky ledges, walls and disturbed areas. It loves old foundations and will be very hard to dig out. I have a whole trip on getting burdock root out of the ground--- want to hear it?

To dig Burdock:
** I wait for the first few freezes in the fall.
** I go out on a nice sunny, frosty morning with my narrow shovel and choose big second year plants. (I think other burdock aficionados have a different take on this... I could be doin' it wrong!) Burdock has a two year life span. Second year plants are meatier and larger and produce more bang for your sweating, digging buck.
** I dig in a circle around the base, not too wide but three inches out from it.  Then I keep going deeper around, pushing soil up with my shovel. If you are too quick, you will just break the root and have nothing to show for it. If you are patient and listen to your plant charge, you will see what is happening. It will come loose. Points that you will not like: most Burdock grows in rocky places. It's gonna be a bit precarious. You'll need to dig up a few plants to get the right amount- I'm talking 5-8 plants. I want to gather a whole quart jar full of this root. It will be very muddy (don't dig when it's too dry- impossible). I soak them in a bucket outside- I've learned that mucking up the sink sucks. Scrub these roots- they hold dirt particles. I then cut up the roots into pieces and cover the whole jar in vodka. I tincture in a special way- it is the Hal Sears method!

Taking burdock:
To get the medicinal support from burdock root, choose your medium. Vinegar, if you don't want alcohol: tincture, if you don't mind the alcohol flavor or the root itself as a food. The Chinese use this in soups and stews (see Gobo root). I use tincture and I take it three times a day for 6 weeks. The I take a break. I usually switch to a root vinegar to continue to get the healing effects. Burdock works slowly and methodically. It will not bowl you over with quick changes. But my skin shows a noticeable improvement whenever I choose to holistically support my liver. I choose not to take a handful of pills to help my liver- the liver sees through this!! It knows you're wanting a fast fix and will probably give you the stink eye. Your liver is one of the most important organs in your body and, along with your kidneys, will let you know when it is exhausted from your bad lifestyle choices (or from whatever else, medication, children, career= stress). Yep I said bad. Judging!

To tincture:
How Hal tinctured: he didn't use grain alcohol and ratios to figure it out. He just used vodka- local cheap stuff from Weston, MO in plastic jug (McCormick, locavore). This produces a tincture that is strong but not too strong. Make sure your jar is packed full with plant material. He and I cover all the plant material with vodka, no open space at the top of the jar. Seal it with a jar lid (you may use wax paper to prevent corrosion; vinegar is the worst!) and let it sit for 6 weeks in a dark place. Shake it as often as you think of it. Label it with the date you harvested and made the tincture. Decant it when it is done; rinse and squeeze the plant material to get all the *stuff* out of it. Add the pummy back into the vodka tincture. Label accordingly.