Monday, February 24, 2014

Cramp Bark

     Cramp bark (Viburnum opulus) is an amazing herb. The inner and outer bark of this beautiful shrub is used medicinally. Just as its nickname suggests it is used for relieving cramps. This is due to its antispasmodic actions.  It is used as a muscle relaxer, relieving tense muscles throughout the body.  It could be smooth muscle such as in the intestinal tract relieving constipation, airways for some types of asthma or uterine for cramps due to excessive uterine contraction or striated muscle (attached to the skeleton) in the limbs and back.
photo found at 

     It can be useful for treating arthritis in cases where joint weakness and pain have caused the muscles to contract until they become rigid.  Cramp bark brings relief by relaxing the muscle allowing blood flow to return to the area and remove waste products such as lactic acid.
     What I use it for mostly in our house in menstrual cramping.  A 1/2 tsp of tincture  taken in water  at the first sign of cramps usually does the trick. It can also be taken as a decoction (simmered gently in water for 20 minutes) a half cup two to three times a day.  This is not a very pleasant tasting herb,  it very bitter and astringent tasting but honey can be added to sweeten things up.
     For other muscle tension it can be used externally in a compress or as a lineament. It can also be used as a relief for night cramps in the leg or feet alone or combined with Lobelia inflate.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Snow Day

      Ah, I love New England and the winter storms that brew.  It makes me appreciate spring all the more.  And since I have long since realized that I am not irreplaceable to corporate.  It is not worth my safety, time, energy or frustration to drive to work.  What is an hour drive on a good day is likely to be two to three hours during a Nor'easter. So, I hunker in on days like this.  Snow days for me are a bonus day filled with activities I may not have time for otherwise.  Last week while I was catching up on laundry I made two batches of soap and a batch of lotion all this before lunch.  We enjoyed a roast chicken for dinner followed by Mexican brownies.
I made a fresh batch of lavender & lime soap.  It is my best seller and I make a batch just about every time I make soap.  I also experimented with a new scent; lemon basil with French green clay.  It is a nice clean scent for spring.  I'm interested to see the reaction it gets at the next vendor fair.  I really take note of what people enjoy and ask for.  I then translate that as best I can with new product.
          My face and body lotion is made with a hint of organic patchouli essential oil.  It is great for maturing skin.  I also love the earthy scent.  I have found some people are allergic to it and make batches of unscented lotion as well.  But, I have been asked more than once for lavender lotion so I have that now as well.  It has a touch of organic lavender essential oil.  Lavender is good on the skin as well so a match made for luscious soft skin.

All of my lotions are made with organic avocado oil.  It was an accident that went right.  I had been using sweet almond oil and grabbed the wrong bottle by mistake.  Being impatient I tried it instead and fell head over heals in love with the results.  It was then that I looked up the benefits of avocado oil. Nothing like putting the cart before the horse.  This is what I found:

  • It contains sterolin which studies have shown to facilitate the softening of the skin and to reduce age spots.
  • Avocado oil is rich in antioxidants, making it useful for healing sun-damaged skin.  Antioxidants like vitamin A, D and E in avocado cause the skin to be suppler, and thus particularly good for dry or aged skin.
  • Avocado oil applied topically helps relieve dry and itchy skin. Once applied, avocado oil is deeply absorbed by the skin, thus making it an ideal moisturizer and skin care agent. 
  • In addition to helping clear scaly skin, it can also relieve itchy scalp symptoms. Avocado oil, when regularly applied to the scalp, can stimulate hair growth.
  •  When applied, avocado oil increases the production of collagen, which helps keep the skin plump and decreases the effects of aging.  
  • Avocado oil is useful in the treatment of a variety of skin conditions, including eczema and psoriasis. Avocado oil facilitates the healing of wounds and burns to the skin. It also helps to relieve and heal diaper rash.
From personal experience my skin feels deeply moisturized.  Every now and then I treat myself to a facial. My esthetician is rather exasperated that I make my own products and that they work so well.  She really wants to recommend the products she sells but can't make a justification for it. 
Some people may be allergic to avocado oil so you should do a patch test just in case. 
Today I packaged orders and labeled soap.  I took a quick inventory to see what I need to make before the fair next week.  I played in my art journal, caught up on e-mail and this afternoon I will bake cookies and watch movies with my daughter.  Tonight she is making us a bacon and egg pizza for dinner.  I hope you enjoy your days off just as much as I do.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Fire Cider

This past Sunday an event via Facebook took place - World Wide Fire Cider Making Day.  Over 2,000 people joined the event.  I was one of them.  Fire Cider is an herbal immune tonic that people have been making for decades or longer (I believe centuries).  Rosemary Gladstar wrote about it in her books and has taught the process to countless herbalists. The event is in protest of  Shire City trying to trademark the term Fire Cider.  To the herbalist community it is the equivalent of someone trying to trademark the term pizza. Once you see how easy it is to make you will want to brew a batch of your own.

 I learned the basic recipe when I was first learning about herbs.  I have been making it ever since. Each time I make it, it slightly is different.  I have different ingredients on hand.  I talked to someone who puts a new spin on it.  I see a picture, video, recipe and adopt it as I go along. There are as many fire cider recipes as there are herbalists.
This is one of the first recipes I was given (Gladstar, 2001, p. 37):
½ Cup ginseng root, chopped
¼ Cup ginger root, chopped
¼ Cup horseradish, grated
1/8 Cup garlic, chopped
Cayenne to taste
Apple Cider Vinegar

Place herbs in a glass jar. Pour vinegar over to cover. Seal tightly. Let sit 4 weeks.  Strain the herbs.  Sweeten with honey to taste.
Putting the ingredients together

I have to say I never used ginseng. My latest batch was as follows:
In a quart mason jar I placed the following organic ingredients:

1 onion, cut in wedges
1 head garlic, peeled and rough chopped
3 heaping spoon fulls of horseradish and vinegar (I grate my own and cover it with ACV)
2 inch chunk of ginger root, pealed and sliced
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
pinch red pepper flakes
1 tsp turmeric
2 slivers astragalus root
1 slice reishi mushroom
I covered it with apple cider vinegar (ACV), organic unpasteurized

I put a lid on the jar and shook some love into it.
I will leave this on the counter where I can gently shake and pour love and intention into it.
In 4 to 6 weeks (more like 6) I will strain this and use the vinegar for salad dressing, drizzle on steamed vegetables or grains, finish off a meat dish or to flavor my water.  A teaspoon a day is my motto.
The newest batch of fire cider next to the fall batch
The fall batch was made with hot peppers fresh out of my in-laws' garden.  It was combined with a batch  Guido Mase demonstrated in a workshop for the Connecticut Herb Association.  We each left with a pint size jar.

You can sign the petition to FREE "Fire Cider" from trademark restriction here

Gladstar, Rosemary. Rosemary Gladstar’s Family Herbal: A Guide toLiving Life with Energy, Health, and Vitality.  North Adams, MA: Storey Books, 2001. (Note, the title was changed after the first addition and the link takes you to that)

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Holy Basil

     Last week I wrote about stress.  I mentioned a few herbs that come to mind and after I posted I remembered a few more including one of my teas of choice at the moment Holy Basil.  She goes by many names Sacred Basil, Tulsi (Hindi), tulasi (Hindi), surasa (Sanskrit) and Ocimum sanctum. She is a cousin to the basil you may be familiar with in pesto.  I was first introduced to her at the New England Women's Herbal Conference.  I was picking out a tea to try and went with something new.  I continued drinking her after the conference for the flavor, warming properties and the energies she brought.
Holy Basil has long been revered in India for its ability to purify the body, mind and spirit.  She is thought to provide divine protection to the household and is used to open the heart and mind and enhance the feelings of love and devotion.  Many Indian households keep a Holy Basil plant in a special clay pot in their courtyard for its purification influence.  Hindu worshippers of the God Vishnu often place a Holy Basil leaf on their tongue during morning prayers to insure personal health, spiritual purity, and family well-being. The daily use of the herb is believed to balance the chakras or energy centers of the body.[1][2]
          Holy basil reduces levels of stress hormones including cortisol.  It helps build resiliency and enhances a feeling of balance.  Herbalist and Ayurvedic practitioner Anne McIntyre uses Holy Basil for easing anxiety, depression, insomnia, and other stress related conditions such as headaches and irritable bowel syndrome.  It can be combined with other herbs such as milky oat seeds, oat straw and lemon balm to rebuild the nervous system and uplift the spirit. It enhances cerebral circulation and memory and helps people with cloudy thinking, poor memory and lethargy.[3]
Besides helping with stress Holy Basil is good to drink throughout the year for good digestion.  It helps move gas, lessens heartburn, and lowers blood sugar levels, cholesterol and triglyceride levels. She can reduce fevers and flu symptoms, sore throats, coughs and histamine-induced allergies.
To make Holy Basil tea, cover a handful of fresh flowers and leaves with cool water and gently bring to a simmer.  Remove from the heat and steep covered for 10 to 30 minutes.  For dried leaves and flowers add 1 tablespoon to 8 ounces of hot water and steep cover 5 to 15 minutes.  Enjoy 2 to 3 cups a day.

[1] Winson, David and Steven Maimes. Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Reliief. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 2007. page 167.
[2] Soule, Deb. How to Move Like a Gardener. Rockport, Maine: Under the Willow Press, 2013. page 177.
[3] (soule , p. 178)