Sunday, November 11, 2018

Adventures with Shingles

As is often the case, we managed to slip a week of something intense into the schedule, with almost no visible disruption.  My sister stepped right up to the plate and covered for me on the magazine while also running her soap business and some other less pleasant responsibilities.  I know that I am extremely lucky to be able to just relax.  That is rare.  I want to share how many different modalities were used together.  In my mind, there is a place for all manner of healing, and they can help each other work better. 
One day a couple of weeks ago, I was working on the index for 2018 magazines (still need to work on that!), and felt as if I'd pulled a muscle around the right, rear rib cage.  Probably slouching in the desk chair.  It didn't go away, and by the third night it hurt so badly that I couldn't sleep.  Middle of the night Google had me on the phone first thing the next morning, sure that we were dealing with a ruptured gallbladder.  That may sound alarmist, but I've (just barely) survived a ruptured organ in the past, and the pain was similar.

The skin was becoming very tender along that side, but it was probably from my touching it, right? 

We get to the doctor, who does NOT mock me (much) for Googling in the middle of the night.  She asks how long I've had this rash.  WHAT??? 3 tiny little pinheads.  Not even blistered yet.
Once again, I am very fortunate.  It is very early in the course of this outbreak, meaning that anti-viral medication will help shorten the duration and severity.  I shudder to think how bad it could have been.  She sends me on my way with a prescription for Valtrex and for 5% lidocaine patches with instructions to use tylenol as needed.  The   patches are denied by my insurance, so the pharmacist suggests Aspercreme 4% patches.  Later insurance allowed the 5%, and that 1% made a huge difference.  Still, the Aspercreme patches were better than nothing.

When I got home, I posted on social media about it.  My friends didn't let me down.  I'd already planned to get Ravensara essential oil blended in Calophyllum from Nature's Gift, and Marge mentioned that it could be overnighted.  I foolishly passed on that, and wound up waiting a few days.
In the meantime I put some lemon balm hydrosol in a spray bottle, and mixed St John's wort and Lemon Balm tincture in a dropper bottle.  They were all very helpful.  Sometimes just spraying the lemon balm hydrosol stopped the pain briefly.  Maryanne bottled up some SJW infused oil for me.

Several people mentioned Vitamin B-12 and L-Lysine.  These both make perfect sense.  A couple people recommended an antihistamine for sleep.  Ah sleep, you elusive tease!

Sleep was the hardest thing.  I tried breathing exercises as well as Reiki, with moderate success, but it didn't allow sleep.  My rash was around my waist on one side, spine to navel.  It was impossible to get comfortable.  The same was true during the day, but night time brought a sense of eternal dread.  The doctor prescribed Gabapentin at a low dose.  It made me sleep, but first I had to spend a couple of hours retching. 
NOTE:  The first night, I'd also tried everything at once.  Everything.  At once.  That meant that I didn't know what caused the retching.  The next night I found out it was indeed the gabapentin, so no more of that.  She then prescribed a low dose of elavil.  That worked perfectly.  Don't try everything at one time.

Slowly but surely, the rash receded.  It never got oozy or scabby.  I believe that probably has a lot to do with the anti-viral medication, but the topicals were probably very valuable too.  10 days in, I'm only using a patch and an elavil at night, and that's probably only because of a fear of pain, more than the reality. 

I hope this helps someone.  As miserable as you might think this ailment is, it's much worse.  I hesitated to write this up because I know many purists who shun OTC and pharmaceuticals.  That's fine.  Generally speaking, I always reach for herbal and energetic medicines first, but there are times when we need to combine everything in the arsenol. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

November December 2018 Issue, The Essential Herbal Magazine

The new issue is out.  Lots of great ideas for holiday gifting and entertaining, as well as winter wellness and herbal information.

Order gift subscriptions easily from our website.  Just give the recipient's name and address in the shipping address, and yours in the billing address.  Leave any message for the giftee in the comments section, and we'll include it on a gift card.
Get a subscription for yourself!

Cover art by Laura McCarley.  See more:

Table of Contents

Field Notes from the Editor,
Tina Sams
Some rough seas in the herb world, but we can always count on the plants to show the way.
Oh, and keep an eye out for my next book!  

Celebrating the 12 Days of Christmas, Marcy Lautanen-Raleigh
Some ideas for enjoying the holidays with family, and a couple of recipes too.              

Advent Wreath, Susanna Reppert/Brill
Herbs add their meanings to the Advent wreath.                                                            

The Lost Gardens of Heligan, Rebekah Bailey
Travel along to the Tremayne Estate in Cornwall, England and learn the fascinating history of
these gardens.       

Glorious Goldenrod, Kristine Brown
Goldenrod is such a generous, loving plant.  Learn how to experience the benefits it has to offer.           

Sesame/Scallion Strudel, Rita Richardson
A lovely, savory treat, perfect for holiday entertaining.                                                  

The Season of Giving, Jenny Flores
Fabulous ideas for putting together gift baskets for loved ones.                                   

Your Fresh Christmas Tree, Maryanne Schwartz
You’ve got it in the house… Now what?                                                                        

Horticulture Therapy, Jackie Johnson
Gardens, working with plants, getting our hands dirty, and all aspects of being around plants is
something we need now more than ever. 

Botanical Nomenclature, Kathy Musser
Did you miss out on Latin classes in school?  Here are some tips to help.                     

Old Favorites, New Favorites, Molly Sams
Learning new plants to love across the continent.                                                          

Distilling Hydrosols, Tina Sams
We’ve been demonstrating the still a lot lately, and had requests for an article to explain how
it works, so I finally wrote it down.   

Sweet & Savory Treats, Marci Tsohonis
As much as I would like to be Marci’s neighbor, I know that it would be a very dangerous thing
for any semblance of “figure.”      

Holiday Herbs, Carol Ann Harlos
A quick primer on some of the herbs we use over the holidays                                      

Meet Our Writers
A new thing – we’re including a page about the writers included in the magazine.            
Hyssop, Sandy Michelsen
A plant with many uses, hyssop is an asset to any garden.  Find out why!

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Gather some of those nasturtiums!

Tina Sams
Sept/Oct '18 issue The Essential Herbal

First, we’ll clear up some confusion. Watercress is an aquatic plant species with the botanical name Nasturtium officinale.

Nasturtium officinale
We’ve tried growing it in the creek here, but it keeps washing downstream. It looks nothing like the plant we are talking about today, but also has a very peppery taste which is probably the root of the issue.  In fact, in England during the 1600’s, nasturtiums cultivated in the gardens, and called “Indian Cress” due to the similar peppery taste.
Today, we’re talking about Tropaeolum majus, an easy-to-grow annual whose leaves and flowers are edible. 
In fact the whole plant is edible, including the seeds!  It comes in a range of colors, from the buttery-est yellow to the most blazing scarlet.  Creamy apricot, and variegated shades of bright orange are among the shades often available, but most often they are deep orange and yellow. 
When we visited the kids in California, nasturtiums were everywhere – wild!  We first spotted them while crossing a little hollow on a foot bridge.  Looking down, the jewel tones shone up at us on what were apparently vining (in a search for light) nasturtiums.  They will grow anywhere, apparently, although for areas that freeze in winter, they are annuals.  They often, but not always, self-seed.  The phrase, “Be nasty to nasturtiums“, is sometimes used for how to care for them.  Give them lousy soil, intermittent moisture, and a little light, and they are happy.
The nasturtium plant is surprisingly useful medicinally.  The leaves, in particular, and especially before the flowers appear!  That’s good, because the flowers make a great garnish, salad ingredient (so do the leaves) or stuff them with guacamole and sit them on a nacho chip!  The whole plant is high in vitamin C, beta carotene and also contains vitamins B1, B2 and B3, as well as iron, calcium, phosphorus and manganese.  There are also an abundance of  carotenoids and flavionoids - compounds that boost the immune system and protect against carcinogens.
Nasturtium combats fungus, infection, viruses, and bacteria. Providing expectorant, and sedative, benefits. In a tincture or vinegar it provides good disinfectant properties.  In Germany, Angocin Anti-Infekt N is a prescribed antibiotic having only nasturtium and horseradish root as ingredients.  Be sure to make some tincture or vinegar this year.  Or, make and freeze some pesto.  Enjoy the many ways we’ve gathered to use them!

Nasturtium Pesto

2 c nasturtium leaves
1/2 c walnuts
4 cloves garlic
3/4 c olive oil
1/2 c freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Blanch the leaves in boiling water for 10 – 15 seconds. Drain and plunge into ice water to cool.  Dry on tea towels.  Place leaves, walnuts, cheese, garlic, and oil in the jar of a blender; blend until smooth. If desired, add a few drops of hot sauce.  Goes great on pasta or baked potato.  Garnish with a flower!
Perhaps a hair rinse: Mix equal parts lavender, nettle, nasturtium and rosemary into double the amount of  water by volume – if you use a cup of herbs total, use 2 cups water. Bring to boil, then turn off the heat and steep in a closed pot for 15 minutes. Allow it to cool and then strain for use. Massage into your scalp before rinsing out. Refrigerate any leftovers.
From some of our friends on the Yahoo! Group:

I make a variety of vinegars and Nasturtium Vinegar is my favorite.  It seems to go with anything.
Gather Nasturtium leaves, pretty well packed, with an occasional blossom, if desired.  Pack into a jar, add white vinegar, cover, and let set in the sun or other bright place for at least 3 weeks.  Then strain and decant into your favorite vinegar cruet.

And a dear memory:  Several years ago a friend came to visit me in the hospital.  She brought me a bouquet of Nasturtiums from her garden.  The scent lingered for a long time and I was even able to bring that scent home.  I'll always remember that incident and my friend's kindness. 

More than a few years ago, my husband and I stayed in a B & B on the Oregon coast.
When we came in the dining room for breakfast, there was a beautiful nasturtium flower set over the side of our orange juice glasses. Just a very simple thing but it was a highlight of our trip. I still try and do this in the summer when we have orange juice drinks.   Sharon Broderick

Nasturtium Raspberry Salad
Dressing:  1 T. raspberry jam or jelly
           1/4 c  white wine vinegar
           1/3 c olive oil
           salt and pepper to taste
   Whisk jam, vinegar and oil together.  Add salt and pepper, to taste

Salad:   Red and green leaf lettuces
              Thinly sliced red onion
              Fresh raspberries
              Freshly gathered Nasturtium blossoms
   Combine the lettuces, red onion slices, and some raspberries.  Gently toss.  Top with more raspberries and the nasturtium blossoms.  Serve with the dressing on the side.
Note:  Blueberry Jam for the dressing, and fresh blueberries also make a delicious salad!
Mary Ellen Wilcox

Nasturtium Cheese Blend
1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup chopped nasturtium flowers
1/4 cup prepared horseradish
Crackers or snack rye bread
In a bowl, beat the cream cheese, nasturtium flowers and horseradish until well blended. Serve with crackers or bread. Yield: 1-1/2 cups.

Egg Salad with Herbs
For a beautiful presentation, serve this on a plate lined with nasturtium leaves, garnished with whole flowers, fresh snipped chives and/or dill sprigs. A fresh loaf of crusty, country-style bread is the best accompaniment; however rye or pumpernickel bread, pitas or thinly sliced bagels are good, too. Makes 6 servings.
 12 hard-cooked eggs
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 teaspoons Dijon-style mustard
2 tablespoons chopped sweet pickles
2 tablespoons sweet pickle juice
1/4 cup thinly sliced green onions or minced onion
1/3 cup finely diced celery
2 tablespoons snipped chives, divided
2 tablespoons snipped dill leaves, divided
1/2  teaspoon sweet paprika
Salt and freshly ground pepper
10 to 12 nasturtium flowers, julienned
10 to 12 nasturtium leaves, julienned
12 large whole nasturtium leaves
6 to 12 whole nasturtium flowers
Dice eggs and place in a bowl. Add mayonnaise, mustard, chopped pickles, pickle juice, onions, celery, 1 tablespoon chives, 1 tablespoon dill leaves, paprika, salt and pepper. Toss well to blend. Stir in shredded nasturtium leaves and flowers. Refrigerate 30 minutes before serving.

To serve, let salad stand at room temperature for 5 to 10 minutes. Arrange nasturtium leaves on a platter and heap egg salad on top. Garnish with whole nasturtium flowers and remaining chives and dill, and serve immediately.
Marcy Lautanen Raleigh

Friday, October 05, 2018

Herban Legends

Sept/Oct '12 Essential Herbal
by Rita Richardson

Take all these with a grain of salt!
-Thyme, in any form will cure gout,shyness and hangovers.

-A raw onion, eaten one hour before bedtime, will cure insomnia.
-Fennel and dill seeds were chewed by some Colonial church goers to quell the smell of alcohol-these “meeting seeds” also helped keep them awake during long services.

-Tansy was used as an insect repellent; as was pennyroyal and the leaves of lemon verbena.
-Chewing cumin seed prevents gas- take before eating beans of any kind.

-Where rosemary grows, the woman heads the household.
-Plant fennel by the kennel- it keeps the fleas away.

-A sprig of sage in the groom’s pocket  promises fidelity.

-A sprig of lavender in the bride’s bouquet insures devotion.
-In ancient times tables were scrubbed with mint to cleanse, disinfect and polish.

-Chew a sprig of parsley to prevent drunkenness.

-Soak golden raisins in gin; take 7 per day to ward off arthritis.

-A pot of bayleaf on the porch protects against lightning.

-Chew on a tarragon leaf to get rid of hiccups.

-Necklaces of savory were once worn to prevent drowsiness.

-Rinse hair with rosemary water to improve memory.

-Sage tea, with lemon and sugar will cure the common cold.
No one knows if these “old wives’ tales” really work but it can’t hurt to try.

Happy Herbal Harvest!

Monday, September 24, 2018

Hops Ice Cream

Excerpt (How About Hops) from the Sept/Oct 2016 issue The Essential Herbal

Rebekah Bailey

I planted my first hops more than 20 years ago.  At the time, I was a young, budding herb enthusiast, not entirely aware of the plant’s place in the herb garden. I planted it for the ignominious reason of covering an old rusty fuel tank sitting right in the middle of the farmyard.  The only thing I knew about it was that it was used in beer.  That was the beginning of a long relationship with the bitter herb.
Hops (Humulus Lupulus), a hardy climbing perennial, produces annual bines (yes – bines not vines) reaching up to 25 feet a season.  Each fall the plant dies back to a crown of rhizomes, from which the plant can be propagated.  Hops are dioecious, male and female, the female plant producing the flowers, also referred to as cones.
Hops is a relative newcomer to the world of traditional medicine, Historic references to its medicinal use aren’t found until around the fifteenth century. After that time, we begin to see it referenced for use as a digestive aid, diuretic, cleansing the blood, liver, and spleen.  As history progresses into the nineteenth century, we also see it used as an antibacterial, a tonic for digestion, for inflammation, restlessness, as a sleep aid, and for a whole host of other minor complaints.   
From a personal standpoint, I’ve had good results using hops as a mild sleep aid, along with passionflower.  I prefer to use it in tincture form, but many herbalists make dream pillows, stuffing small pillows with hops.

Use a light hand when cooking with hops flowers.  The flavor can be incredibly strong and bitter, so think of it as a spice or a seasoning.  The point is to enhance, but not overpower. Also, the alpha acids in hops flowers are hydrophobic and bond with fat molecules, so the flavor is easier to manage in fats.

Hops Ice Cream

3 cups half and half (or 1 ½ cup cream and 1 ½ cup milk)
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
Handful of fresh hop cones

Combine half and half, sugar, eggs, and vanilla in a heavy bottomed pan.  Gently heat the mixture over medium, stirring constantly to prevent scorching. Heat until mixture thickens slightly, but don’t bring to a full boil.  
The cream mixture pictured took about 30 seconds to \ attain an herbal hoppy flavor without any significant bitterness. The exact time is going to depend on personal preference and the variety of hops being used.

Place hops into the hot mixture to infuse.  This next step is important.  At about 15 or 20 seconds, taste the mixture.  Continue tasting until it reaches the desired flavor, and then immediately remove the hops.  

Cool mixture in refrigerator until 40°F or below.  Churn according to ice cream machine directions.  Ripen ice cream in freezer overnight for best texture. 

Monday, September 17, 2018

Natural Calendula Soap

TEH Sept/Oct '17
by Marci Tsohonis

The wheel turns and autumn beckons.  The herbs of summer are starting to lag a bit, and the evenings are a bit chilly.   My Calendula flowers are going to seed almost faster than I can gather them.  Calendula mostly self-sows, but for reasons unknown, that process has twice gone awry.   I freeze some seeds in a small canning jar; just to be sure I have them.  If this is the first year you have grown Calendula you may be surprised by the appearance of the seeds.  The seeds are very hard and shaped like little crescent moons or worm larvae.   Be assured, they are only seeds!
 If I could only grow one herb, it would have to be Calendula.  A more soothing, useful plant is hard to imagine.  Oil infusions of the sweet, spicy, resinous flowers lend a special magic to soap and other body-care formulas.   Herbalists and grannies through the centuries used Calendula as a healing remedy for wounds and other skin conditions. I often use Calendula tea, also.  It is anti-inflammatory, a wound wash, soothing to conjunctivitis as an eye-wash, fights infection, hastens healing and is soothing to minor burns or scalds.  
Calendula oil softens the skin, soothes eczema and helps to keep the skin nourished and supple.  Calendula makes a beautiful, soothing salve for chapped hands, nicks or scrapes.
You should have plenty of time to make infused Calendula oil for this soap recipe, using one of the following methods. 
Fill any size jar half full of dried or semi-dry Calendula petals or chopped flower heads. Fill the jar with olive oil to within 2 inches of the top of the jar.  The flowers can expand once they become saturated with the oil, so leave a little headspace and give it a good stir.  Cover the top of the jar with a double layer square of cheesecloth or a piece of an old t-shirt, and apply the screw band (or a rubber band) over that.  Place in a sunny, south-facing windowsill for at least 6 weeks.  Stir daily.  
Place dried Calendula flower heads or petals in a crock-pot and cover them with olive oil.  I suggest you use the lowest heat setting on your crock-pot and keep a close eye on it.  I prefer keeping the temperature in a range of 110-120 degrees for about 10 hours.  If the oil gets too hot the flowers will get crispy.  That seems to me to work against the idea of preserving their wonderful, delicate properties.
Annatto Seed (Achiote Seed) is a natural colorant that can give your soap a gorgeous yellow-orange color, just like cheese or butter. You can probably find it in the Latino foods section of your supermarket.  For a light to medium yellow soap, heat 2 TBSP. Annatto Seed in 1 ½ oz Olive oil on stove or in microwave.  Add to fats and oils when melting them, or add at trace.  For some reason, Annatto oil turns darker in soap that has gelled than in soap that hasn’t.   See attached photo examples.   The soap cubes did not gel.  They are a really pretty, clear yellow, but not as dark or intense as the log mold.  Keep in mind that using too much Annatto will cause the color of the soap to bleed out into the lather as the soap is used.

TO FURTHER INTENSIFY COLOR:  Add 2 TBSP. Annatto seed to the lye solution just after dissolving lye crystals to water.   (Do this in addition to adding Annatto infused oil ) Allow lye solution to cool as usual, and try not to panic when you see how murky and brown the solution looks.  It will be fine.  Strain the annatto seeds off as you are adding the lye solution to the fats and oils.  Using both the oil and the lye water infusion will make your soap a rich orange-yellow. 
This cold process soap recipe makes approximately 66 ounces of soap.
You should have a basic understanding of soap making safety precautions and procedures before attempting this or any other soap recipe.  If you do not, please visit The Essential Herbal Magazine page.  You will find a link to Basic Soap Making safety by Alicia Grosso, posted on the bottom of the page.  Or Click HERE

If you are using a wooden flat or log mold, line it with freezer paper and cut an extra sheet of freezer paper to fit the inside dimensions of your flat mold.  You’ll apply it shiny side down onto the surface of the poured soap before you place the wooden lid on it.  Locate an old towel or blanket you can use to insulate the mold. 
If using a silicone mold lightly spray it with Pam spray and set aside.  Place all tools and ingredients in your soap making area.  Cut freezer paper to place on top of the filled, silicone mold to prevent the accumulation of white soap ash on top of the poured soaps. 
Wearing chemical proof gloves and face protection, weigh the Sodium Hydroxide granules.  Also weigh the distilled water.  Using a long handled stainless spoon, slowly add the Sodium Hydroxide granules to the distilled water, and give it a few quick stirs.  Vapors will rise briefly as the water heats up.  (I leave the area for a few minutes to allow the vapors to clear) Carefully secure the lid to the pitcher.  Allow the Lye solution to stand an hour or two to cool down before using it. 
15.00 oz water
6.25 oz sodium hydroxide
2 TBS. Annatto seed (optional, added after lye dissolved in water)

OPTIONAL:  If using a silicone mold, stir 1 T. of Sodium Lactate into lye solution.

24 oz Calendulated Olive oil (solar or crock pot method) Plus 1 oz oil, see below!
15 oz Coconut oil
3 oz Mango butter
1 oz Palm Kernel oil

Place the fats and oils into the soap kettle. 

2 TBSP. Annatto seed
1 oz olive oil

Heat in microwave in 25-second intervals. It will get quite dark.  Add to melting fats or at trace.

½ cup of semi-dry Calendula petals pulled off the flower heads and set aside.   


Wearing face and neck protection, and chemical proof rubber gloves, carefully remove the lid of the lye solution pitcher.   I place the pitcher on a damp washcloth to stabilize the base as I pry off the lid to avoid lye spills.

You will use the stick mixer as a manual-stirring tool, first, while adding the lye solution to the fats and oils (Don’t plug it in, yet!).  Rest the top of the pitcher of lye solution lightly on the edge of the crock-pot.  Add the lye solution in a steady, thin stream, stirring manually in a constant, gentle, circular motion with your stick mixer until all the Lye solution has been added. 

Plug in the stick mixer and turn it on, using the low speed setting.  Keeping the stick mixer in contact with the bottom of the crock-pot, begin to mix in a figure 8 or circular motion. 
After about 2 minutes, take your finger off the power button to stop the motor again on the stick mixer.  Lift the mixer blade above the surface of the fats and oils, and wave the stick mixer lightly over the surface, testing for “trace” by dragging a drip line through the air just above the surface of the soap.  If the drip trail falls back in to the soap, turn the mixer on and continue mixing another minute.  Repeat until the drip trail is clearly visible on the surface of the soap batter. 
The trail will be thin and flat at light “trace,” and will quickly melt back into the liquid soap.  Full trace is when the contents of the soap pot thicken to resemble pudding and a very definite, raised glop or trail stays on the surface of the liquid soap, without falling back in) Full trace will work great for this recipe.

Stir the ½ cup of Calendula petals into the traced soap.
Pour soap mixture into your mold.  
Apply a sheet of freezer paper cut to the exact measurements of the mold, shiny side down, on the surface of the poured soap. The easiest way to do it is to line up one edge of the freezer paper with a short end of the mold, and lower it gradually across the surface of the poured soap, lengthwise, while pressing gently away from you with the straight edge of a ruler or other tool.  The purpose is to achieve full surface contact with the freezer paper, which helps to prevent air pockets or that powdery white soap ash from forming on the surface of your soap. 
Insulate the mold and/or place mold on electric heating pad to keep soap warm and force gel if you want maximum color in your soap.  Gel begins in the center of the soap, and moves outwards to the edges.  The process can take about 40-60 minutes once gel begins.  A soap that gels will usually be firm enough to slice once it has cooled to room temperature.  

Happy autumn!  Marci

Now that you know how wonderful this soap is, if you'd like some but don't want to make it, visit our site and pick some up - CLICK HERE


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