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Archive for the ‘Teas’ Category

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Goat’s Rue

This week is World Breastfeeding Week which this year is highlighting the importance of peer support for mothers who, all too often, do not receive adequate support to enable them to continue, or even begin, to nurse their child.  Nursing can be a physically and emotionally draining time for some people along with being a wonderful and loving way to connect with your little one.

It is so important to ensure adequate nutrition to support the body through the nursing relationship, whether it lasts for months or years. It is generally recommended for most people to consume 500 extra calories a day and plenty of extra fluids. Often when a new baby arrives however there is little time for focusing on preparing healthy meals and it is all to easy to rely on quick snacks or packaged food. The body will prioritise giving available nutrients to the baby so it is all to easy for the mother to become depleted.

In Chinese medicine there is a saying, ‘one drop of milk equals fifty drops of blood’ referring to the tendency towards blood deficiency in nursing mothers which is exacerbated by lack of sleep and has symptoms such as pallor, dizziness, fatigue, dry skin, anxiety, poor focus and floaters in the eyes. Some also believe it pre-disposes us to post natal depression. Ensuring a healthy nourishing diet is especially important for mothers who tandem breastfeed or have fed more than one child in close succession.

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Fenugreek

Along with a generally healthy diet a few general and easy to implement tips to increase vitality during breastfeeding are:

  1. Take a high quality multi-vitamin. Breastfeeding, pregnancy and other times of physical or emotional stress are times when it is really worth ensuring all your bases are covered with a good multi-vit.
  2. Ensure an adequate intake of protein. When nursing you are supporting the rapid growth of another person as well as sustaining yourself so it is even more important to ensure you include high quality protein with every meal. If you are a vegetarian as I am, then it is even more vital to be aware that you are not just filling up with carbs. I found it really helpful to pack my freezer with meals I made before my baby arrived to help sustain me in the first weeks.
  3. Try to include dark leafy greens every day as they are rich sources of minerals that help to build the blood.
  4. Include herbal blood tonics such as nettle nourishing infusions and other herbs that are rich in iron such as ashwagandha, both of which will boost vitality in a variety of ways. Ashwagandha is nice taken mixed with shatavari – another Ayurvedic herb (1 part ashwagandha to 3 parts shatavari) in powder form in a small glass of milk to aid assimilation. Shatavari has traditionally been used to support breastfeeding.
  5. Add oats to the diet, another traditional method of promoting breast-milk.

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When considering herbal support for breastfeeding we can think of herbs that promote quality and those that promote quantity of milk, though in some cases the same herbs will do both. Nourishing herbs, full of vitamins and minerals will help to improve the quality of the milk where as those that promote the quantity are commonly known as galactagogues.

Nourishing  herbs like nettle, milky oats and oatstraw, raspberry leaf and alfalfa are all wonderful, mineral rich herbs that help will support the whole body when under any kind of stress. They are also gentle galactagogues that are safe to take by most people. Shatavari, mentioned above, also falls into both categories as a general adaptogenic herb that also increases breast-milk.

Galactagogues are herbs that promote breast-milk production. The majority of women will have an adequate flow of milk and many will in fact have an excess until it balances out to meet the baby’s requirements after the first few weeks. Some however do need additional support to get things flowing and many will experience a dip in production at some point in their nursing journey. Many traditional galactagogues are aromatic and these are thought to work in part because of their anethol content, a constituent found widely in essential oil containing plants like fennel, fenugreek, caraway and anise. Other useful galactagogues include goat’s rue, holy thistle, marshmallow and milk thistle.

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Herbal teas are lovely to include when breastfeeding as they can nourish the body. increase hydration and, if necessary, increase milk production. Here is a recipe that can be taken by most nursing mothers. One cup a day is sufficient if you have adequate milk and three is recommended for stimulating production.

Nursing Mother’s Herbal Tea Recipe:

1 part Nettle leaf
1 part Alfalfa leaf
1 part Raspberry leaf
1 part Oatstraw
1 part Fennel seed
1 part Fenugreek seed
1/2 part Holy Thistle

Give the fenugreek a bit of a bash in the pestle and mortar, it is very tough so don’t expect to break it down too much. Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl and then keep as a loose tea to use in a pot or tea ball or spoon a large heaped teaspoon into pre-made bags like those I have used here. I get mine from woodland herbs.

The addition of catnip, lemon balm, chamomile or spearmint to your tea blend can be helpful in soothing stress and tension for both mama and baby as well as helping to ease colic in the newborn. Fennel is also useful for easing wind and colic as when drunk by the mama, the aromatic constituents pass through the milk to the baby and relax spasms in the GI tract.

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Cautions and Considerations:

The herbs mentioned are all very safe but it is worth noting a few considerations if taking them in quantity. As always if you are on any medication please consult a herbalist first. Both goats rue and fenugreek are known to lower blood sugar levels which could be problematic if you are diabetic or taking certain medicines.

Some herbs are fine as culinary additions but would not be recommended in medicinal doses, for example garlic which can cause colic (in some babies even in small quantities) parsley or sage, which is fine in stuffing but in any quantity can actually dry up breast-milk production.

Borage and comfrey are traditional galactagogues and nourishing herbs and would probably be fine for most people but it is considered wise to avoid them these days due to the Pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs) they contain which may contribute to liver damage in susceptible individuals.

I would also avoid any strong essential oils whilst breastfeeding as the aromatic compounds are readily absorbed into the blood stream. I stick to using the same oils that are considered safe in pregnancy and in the same low percentages. Neroli, mandarin, lavender and chamomile are among those that are gentle and safe for most people.

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The May, Whitethorn, Quickthorn, all are country names for this most remarkable of trees that blooms so prolifically throughout much of the month. I believe I have written about hawthorn more than any other plant, yet every season and every year affords me fresh insights into her great worth.

The blossoming of the May is one of the highlights of my herbal year. Though many dislike the smell, which is deep, musky and often compared to rotting meat  (I don’t see the resemblance myself!) I find it nothing short of delightful – earthy, sensual and rich.  It ties me to a sense of time and place and fills the countryside with wonder for the few short weeks it is in flower.

If you live in this corner of the world, the South of England, now is the time to harvest hawthorn flowering tops for teas, tinctures, elixirs and anything else you fancy. It is usual to pick a little bunch of the blossom, either just before or just after opening, with the first few leaves attached, as both blossom and leaf have important medicinal constituents. The photo below shows the amount that I usually pick for drying or tincture making.

Do remember when harvesting not to over pick from a single tree and to just take a little from each one as the blossoms will become berries in the autumn which are an important source of food for the birds and other creatures, as well as being food and medicine for us. Hawthorns are pollinated by a variety of insects including solitary bees and, due to dwindling insect populations, there are said to have been declining numbers of berries in recent years. They are still abundant in most parts and we humans, without the benefit of flight, tend to pick from lower branches whilst the birds feast on higher ones but it’s always good to bear in mind how many other creatures rely on exactly the same species that are so beneficial for us.

Hawthorn flowers are often acknowledged for their benefit in treating heart conditions and are typically included in preparations alongside the berries for a range of cadiovascular and circulatory disorders ranging from angina to chilblains. This is in part due to their antioxidant content found in the form of phenolic compounds which are actually even higher in the leaves and blossoms than they are in the berries. We tend to think of antioxidants occurring mainly in highly coloured foods like berries but you can see that the colour of the tea made from the flowering tops is also rich and deeply hued after being left to infuse for fifteen minutes or so.

Though truly enjoyable when drunk as a simple, hawthorn blossom also combines with a variety of other herbs to make any number of delicious teas. Here are some of my favourites:

Spicy – Combine 2-3 flowering tops with a couple of slices of ginger and an inch of cinnamon stick to wake the circulation and protect the heart.

Floral – Hawthorn blossom is both deeply calming and nurturing when combined with rose petals and linden blossom in a beautifully heart opening brew.

Seasonally Sleepy – A few cowslips flowers along with hawthorn blossom make a great bedtime tea as mentioned in my last post.

Sensual – Hawthorn tops, rose petals and half a vanilla bean thinly sliced make for a sweet, earthy and fragrant tea.

Despite being placed firmly in the category of a ‘heart herb’ in Western herbal medicine, hawthorn has a multifaceted personality, just like so many of our herbal allies. I consider the blossoms in particular to be a primary nervine tonic as they are deeply relaxing and calming to states of anxiety and over stimulation. I like to use them alongside other nervine herbs, like avena, for people who are sensitive to everything; loud noises, strong colours, smells and sensations and need to be calmed and comforted. In 19th century France an infusion of the blossoms was used to treat insomnia and herbalist Maurice Messegue writes “I myself make use of the hawthorn for nervous spasms, arteriosclerosis, angina and obesity and it is one of my favourite tranquiliser herbs.” It therefore makes an exceptional choice in problems where the circulatory and nervous systems are both affected such as nervous palpitations, restlessness and arrhythmia.

The powerful combination of antioxidants makes hawthorn blossoms and berries good food for the immune system as well and modern research suggests they have an inhibitory effect on the breakdown of collagen, therefore aiding healing and having an all round rejuvenating effect. Hawthorn is a very safe medicine that is tolerated by almost everyone though it is of course wise to consult with a herbalist before taking it alongside medications. It has been traditionally eaten as food, the young leaves in spring salads and the berries in jams and preserves later in the year so it can be incorporated in our lives in any way that suits us best.

The blossoming of Hawthorn has long been associated with reawakening life; with spring, with fertility and with love and it leaves you with a kind of lightness of spirit that dusts away the very last of the wintery drear. These two holly blue butterflies flew along the hedgerow beside me for a time, flirting in and out of the branches and rejoicing in the return of the sunshine. And I rejoiced along with them, for the return of this most cherished of herbal medicines and dearest of friends.

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It’s that time of year again! It seemed like one day there was hardly anything green and the next the lane was covered in fresh young nettles, assuring me that, despite some cold evenings this week, spring has well and truly sprung.

I have written a few posts on nettles in the past and do excuse me if I repeat myself a little, but this time I wanted to go into a bit more detail on why nettle is so fantastic, as both food and medicine.

This is the time of year when we are both a bit deficient and a bit stagnant as we reach the end of the long winter months. Our bodies slow down during the cold weather, fluids thicken and we are generally less active as well as tending to eat more rich or stodgy meals and less fresh foods. I wrote in my post on January detox recently that often the foods we think of as either ‘cleansing’ or ‘nourishing’ can be just the same thing- and there is no finer example of this than the lovely nettle herself.

For a start nettle is one of the most nutrient dense wild foods that we have readily available to us. High in calcium, chromium, magnesium, zinc, iron, selenium, potassium, trace minerals, protein and many vitamins including A and C, nettle is a very good all round nourishing tonic herb. Nettle has a good reputation as an iron tonic, not just because it contains relatively high levels but because it also contains amino acids and vitamin C which are both required as co-factors for iron absorption. This is the beauty of our nutritive herbs, unlike the average vitamin and mineral supplement, the constituents are presented in a balanced way which allows for greater assimilation and absorption but also prevents excessive build-up. Nettle contains tannins which will tone the mucus membranes of the digestive tract and also prevent too much iron absorption. Nature is so much cleverer than we are.

Nettle is also high in flavonoids, including quercetin and rutin, as well as  chlorophyll, both of which help to improve the health of the blood and circulatory system. All this and more has led to nettles reputation as a blood tonic. In traditional Western herbal medicine nettle was considered specific for pale, tired, anaemic people and has been used by practitioners of Chinese medicine to treat what is called blood deficiency. This is not just what we think of as anaemia but a more complex picture of the health of the blood as a whole. If, like me, you are vegetarian or vegan then nettle is one of the best things you can include in your diet to ensure your blood stays healthy and vital. Nettle has long been used as a hair tonic as it feeds the follicles through increasing the health and nutrient content of the blood and I always notice how quickly and strongly my hair and nails grow when taking it regularly.

Through its nutritive action on the blood and body fluids, its cleansing action via the organs of elimination and its tonifying action on the mucus membranes, nettle will have an effect on the whole body and this is one of the reasons that, like so many of our herbs, it is hard to put into rigid categories. The effects of having well nourished blood will include more energy, better circulation, improved mental clarity and better sleep. Effects on the mucus membranes might include improved digestion, increased kidney function or relief from chronic lung symptoms such as coughing wheezing and phlegm. It can be very tempting in today’s climate to look for a more reductionist explanation of how herbs work – the ‘this chemical constituent has this action’- approach to treatment, but herbs are, by their very nature, holistic in the way the act and that is part of their wonder.

Nettle is a prime remedy for treating fatigue and blood sugar balancing. Nettle can help to regulate body metabolism and has been used for the entire endocrine system, from balancing the thyroid, strengthening adrenal function and restoring the reproductive organs. According to Chinese herbalist Peter Holmes, ” Nettle herb provides excellent support for complex metabolic disorders, especially when they involve the connective tissue and/or endocrine glands and metabolic toxicosis – insufficient breakdown of metabolic wastes.” I think it works on blood sugar levels both directly and also indirectly as, by energising us and increasing vitality, it reduces cravings for artificially stimuating foods like sugar and caffieine.

Nettle has astringent, toning and cleansing properties that enable the liver, kidneys, skin and lungs to all work more effectively, thus increasing natural detoxification. It helps to drain damp, or excessive and stagnant fluids in the body, and has been used to help oedema, resolve problems of chronic phlegm and reduce accumulations in conditions such as arthritis and gout. It is a herb we commonly turn to for atopic conditions such as eczema, asthma, allergies and hayfever. Though it is useful for most people with these conditions, in a very few others it can actually cause allergies. Because of its astringent nature it is considered a haemostatic and can help to check excessive bleeding in the body when taken internally.

The energetics of nettles have been somewhat disputed over the centuries. Because of it’s stimulating and moving qualities it was once considered hot, notably by Culpepper who considered it a herb of Mars- hot and dry. Most modern herbalists however consider it cooling and drying. At the risk of being a non-committal fence sitter, I tend to think of it as fairly neutral in temperature, mostly because of it’s nutritive and balancing properties. Being astringent, it is certainly towards the drier end of things but again, how much so will depend on numerous other factors such as environment and climate. In Ayurvedic medicine nettle is considered to increase Vata, because it is cooling and drying, and decrease pitta and kapha. However in the Western tradition it would have been considered mostly quite specific for Vata type people who are often thin, pale, emotionally scattered and dreamy, though it would have been used with more moistening herbs if the person was overly dry. I often think that these kinds of discrepancies are to do with the climate in different areas. For example in northern Europe the climate tends to be very damp so the drying aspects of nettle would not be so problematic but some parts of India may be much drier so people with dry conditions would be more easily aggravated.

There are many ways to include nettle in your diet and here are just a few ideas:

  • Raw from the hedgerow – just like this.
  • Juiced – mixed with other fruits and veggies such as apples, celery, fennel. ginger, lemon or other greens.
  • Tea – One teaspoon of dried nettle herb or two teaspoons of fresh per cup of boiling water makes a nice refreshing and nutrient rich tea.
  • Nourishing infusion- Like a very strong tea, this utilises 25g of herb to about a pint of boiling water. Allow it to steep over night in a cafetierre then strain out in the morning and drink throughout the day, providing an abundance of vitamins and minerals. Teas made in this way used to be known as ‘standard infusions’ and were considered both more nutritive and more therapeutic than normal teas. In recent years they have been popularised by Susun Weed as ‘nourishing infusions’ which I think is a lovely way to describe them. After drinking I always use the spent plant material from my nettle infusions as a mulch around my roses.
  • Infused vinegar- Loosely fill a jar with fresh nettle tops, cover in apple cider vinegar, cap with a plastic lid and leave to infuse for a month to six weeks. Strain and bottle then add to salads and other dishes. We add a few mls of nettle infused cider vinegar to our hens drinking water to increase their nutrient intake.
  • Soup- See my recipes for nettle soup here and here. You can also add powdered nettle or nettle infusions to the stocks of other soups.
  • Stir fries, bakes and curries – Slice the nettle tops finely and cook them up just like you would spinach.
  • Hair washes and baths- make a strong tea as above and use as a final hair rinse after washing or add to bath water.
Here’s a photo of the nourishing infusion, looks pretty packed with nutrients doesn’t it!

“Our doctors and pharmacists are ashamed of fetching such a common weed from behind the fences to include in their formulas, even though in both cookery and medicine it has proven its mightily impressive effects.” Hieronymus Bock, 1532.

“Nettle is one of the most widely applicable plants in the materia medica. The herb strengthens and supports the whole body.” David Hoffman, 2003.

References:
Medical Herbalism – David Hoffman
The Energetics of Western Herbs – Peter Holmes
The Book of Herbal Wisdom – Matthew Wood
The Yoga of Herbs – D.Frawley and V.Lad

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Valentine’s Delights

Three of my all time favourite herbs are most definitely herbs of love and, with Valentine’s day just around the corner, I thought it an auspicious time to share a little more about them.

They are Avena, Rose and Cardamom, all famed for their aphrodisiac properties, but all quite different, though they do work in some similar ways.

Avena – Oats are one of the best remedies we have for building and restoring the nervous system and this makes them a wonderful love tonic as they strengthen our reserves helping to make us more resilient and energised. Although we tend to think of aphrodisiac herbs as stimulating rather than relaxing, these kind of nerve tonic herbs act to energise us in a more roundabout way, by releasing the stresses that caused our problems in the first place and getting us strong and vital once more. So many arguments are caused by being frazzled and over-sensitive, making regular doses of Avena a great relationship soother.

Rose – What need I say about the rose, the ultimate symbol of love? It is gently moving, gently stimulating, relaxing, aromatic and uplifting. It also opens the heart to allow greater self love and acceptance, something which enables us to partake more fully in any relationship, romantic or otherwise.

Cardamom – Cardamom is one of the most balanced of the spices and for me this makes it the true spice of love. It is both slightly stimulating, like most spices, as well as calming and centring. As I mentioned above, it is often a combination of stress and resulting fatigue that stops us from giving time and attention to our beloveds, so balancing herbs, like all those mentioned here, are exactly what the love doctor ordered.

All these herbs help us to feel loved in order to feel loving. They work at the meeting point of relaxation and stimulation, of uplifting and of soothing. Essentially they work from a place of balance from which all things can flower, not just love for a partner, but love for ourselves, for the wider context of people and other sentient beings and in the knowledge that there is no real difference anyway. After all, love is just love and when it is in our hearts, all will benefit from its radiance.

Here are just a few of the ways you can combine these herbs to make some deliciously delectable treats, for Valentine’s or any other day.

Tea – A simple tea of cardamom (gently crushed in a pestle and mortar), rose petals and oatstraw makes a lovely soothing and heart opening blend for drinking anytime. To make an extra special tea, add some Ashwagandha root which is a traditional adaptogen and aphrodisiac of Ayurvedic medicine. To make the tea gently simmer about half a tablespoon of ashwagandha root in a pan for about 15 mins. Turn off the heat and add the other 3 herbs leaving to steep for another 15 mins before straining and serving with a little honey. Ashwagandha can be a little bitter in flavour so the addition of the honey makes it more deliciously balanced.

Ashwagandha root and rose buds

Bath – A lovely romantic bath can be made by mixing rose petals and rolled oats with a drop or two of cardamom essential oil and tying up in a small square of muslin. Tie this around the taps as the bath is running, making sure you squeeze out all the creaminess of the oats as you go.

Honey – Infuse rose petals and cardamon seeds in honey for a delicious aromatic treat.

Massage Oil – Cardamom and rose are both divine as essential oils and a beautifully romantic massage oil can be made by combining them both with a base oil such as almond, olive or jojoba. To 50 ml base oil add 5 -10 drops each of rose and cardamom oils.

And last but not least…

The Flapjacks of Love - 
Combining oats, rose, cardamom and other delicious ingredients into a sticky sweet treat that is sure to delight anyone you serve them to.

Ingredients:
250 g rolled oats
125 g coconut oil
75 g muscovado sugar
3 tablespoons maple syrup
Small handful of broken up walnut or pecan pieces
1 tsp rose petals (dried is fine)
1 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp ground ashwagandha root (optional)
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
Pinch salt

Preheat the oven to 180C and grease a baking tray ready. Mix all the ingredients well in a mixing bowl, I find it easier to melt the coconut oil first. Transfer to the baking tray and spread evenly. Cook for about 25 minutes until golden brown then remove from the oven and score into rectangles. Allow to cool thoroughly giving the coconut plenty of time to set. Enjoy with some cardamom, rose and avena tea and a small smile of satisfaction.

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Calendula – aka Superherb

Calendula officinalis, also known as pot marigold (different from the African marigold or Tagetes) is one of those herbs that is constantly surprising. The more you use it, the more you love it. I used to be guilty of that most heinous of crimes, categorising it as a herb for external use only, but now I use it for a wide variety of ailments, and find it to be mostly exceptional at whatever it turns its hand to. Calendula is best known for treating external complaints but it’s a shame to relegate it to such narrow confines when it has a whole host of benefits to offer us.

Having said all that, as an external remedy it’s one of the best. Being vulnerary (wound healing), haemostatic (stops bleeding), anti-inflammatory (calms redness and inflammation), bacteriostatic (stops bacteria multiplying), anti-fungal (retards fungal infection), rich in antioxidants (healing, anti-aging), astringent (tones and tightens) and demulcent (soothes and protects) its easy to see why it has the reputation is does for treating all kinds of skin ailments, minor wounds, ulcers and the like. David Hoffman says, “The value of this exceptional herb cannot be exaggerated when it comes to treating skin problems like wounds, bruises or burns. Its properties make it a healing plant that reduces soreness and inflammation whilst also acting as an anti-microbial, which makes it a primary first aid herb for any problem.”

Calendula welcomes visitors along my garden path.

I use Calendula in all preparations for sensitive, red and dry skin as its thick resinous consistency not only heals but also protects the skin. It’s often seen in baby care products to gently guard against and heal nappy rash. Its astringency makes it wonderful for wounds and slow healing ailments like ulcers as well as varicose veins for which it is a primary herbal treatment, both internally and externally.

It’s often prepared as an oil by infusing the flowers in a base oil like sunflower or sweet almond, preferably twice in the same oil. You can read about how to make an infused oil here which can then be made into a salve or cream such as this one here. I also like to use calendula flowers in a wash, compress or poultice, especially for weeping sores where using a salve may keep the area too moist and thus encourage infection, even when using anti-microbial herbs.

Infusing Calendula oil on a bright windowsill

If we think about how Calendula works externally however, we can see that it might well have some powerful actions inside the body too, especially on the mucus membranes which are a bit like the skin inside our bodies’ passageways. Being anti-inflammatory, astringent and demulcent makes it ideal for many gut problems such as ulcers and inflammations where it can help to soothe, heal and protect the stomach and intestines. Add to this the fact that it is anti-fungal and bacteriostatic and you have a great remedy for treating gut dysbiosis and leaky gut type issues where it can simultaneously help balance intestinal flora and heal the gut wall.  And it doesn’t stop there. Problems such as these are thought to exacerbate immune function as larger particles of food waste escape into the lymphatics and cause heightened immune response. How incredibly convenient then that Calendula is also a powerful lymphatic and immune supporting herb. Do you ever get the impression nature knows what she’s doing?

Calendula is one of my favourite herbs for treating the lymphatic system. If there are swollen glands, a feeling of low grade infection that never really manifests into anything and tiredness and fatigue, it is a great remedy to choose. I use it more as a support for chronic issues, where as I might use echinacea or other herbs for acute issues. Maria Treben used it as both a preventative and healing agent in cancer treatment and it was traditionally considered a gentle but powerful blood cleanser.

It also contains some bitter principles which make it useful for gallbladder and liver support and it has been used traditionally for gallbladder inflammations, jaundice and chronic hepatitis. The liver and gallbladder are generally considered to reflect the emotions of anger, irritability and frustration and I always think a herb as cheerful as calendula can’t help but dispel our wrath!

Bartram calls it  “one of the most versatile and important herbal medicines” and recommends it is taken after all surgical operations. This makes a lot of sense when we consider it is healing, immune supportive and gently cleansing.

Though I use Calendula as a tincture, I like it best for internal treatment when taken as a tea. If I feel a bit under the weather I like it with self heal, lime blossom and monarda and if I feel like something cheering to dispel frustrations, it’s lovely with rose and chamomile. Below it’s combined with orange peel and monarda to make a tasty and warming ‘sunshine tea’ that will aid digestion, support the immune system and promote feelings of wellbeing.

Sunshine tea.

A Calendula tea or infusion also makes a great treatment for red, tired eyes due to its soothing and astringent properties as well as its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Calendula contains carotenoids like carrots, though I can’t promise it will help you see in the dark!

Try Calendula infusions as footbaths for treating athletes foot or in a sitz bath for thrush or cystitis (though of course lifestyle adjustments will also be needed in any condition like this). Calendula sitz baths are also often recommended for women after giving birth to help heal the tissues and prevent infections.

This incredible herb has also been used to treat menstrual irregularities and other women’s health issues, though I have little experience of using it this way. Maurice Messegue says, “I would suggest taking a cure of marigold a week before the period is due, and that will ensure it will come and go without any difficulty.” Elizabeth Brooke also says, “Marigold is one of the remedies I use for any problems with the cervix.”

Finally, Calendula is gentle and nourishing enough to add to our foods as well as our medicine and the petals look beautiful sprinkled on salads, soups and stews.

Calendula petals adorn a summer salad.

Gather Calendula in the morning sun and dry somewhere warm and airy, away from bright lights. I have always found home dried Calendula to be much more vibrantly orange than anything I have bought, even from well respected suppliers.

Tradition says you should gather Calendula when the sun is in Leo or Virgo (August and most of September) but practically it can be collected any time it’s in flower, which luckily for us, is nearly all the summer long.

Herb of the Sun

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This post is part of the July Blog Party hosted by Danielle over at The Teacup Chronicles. Check her blog tomorrow for links to the other entries.

The idea for this blog party was ‘cooling drinks for the dog days of summer’ so it may come as a surprise to some that I have chosen to write about herbal teas (well, I am English after all). I drink teas come rain or shine and there are many lovely cooling herbs that make fine summer teas. Now I know the UK isn’t famous for its scorching weather but folk from hotter climates also enjoy teas on even the warmest days of summer. In India I drank chai, in Morocco it was fresh mint tea and in Mexico we used to have a lovely cinnamon infusion. Some of these drinks, as well as being taken hot, also contain warming spices which we associate more with winter drinks but these can actually open up the pores enabling you to cool down more effectively. Such is the magic of herbs.

To make the perfect cup of tea it’s ideal to use filtered water as the taste will be purer. Warm the pot with a little hot water first, discard then add about a tablespoon per pint of your chosen herbal mix. Pour over hot water that has just boiled but ceased to bubble and leave to infuse for 10/15 mins to extract as much benefit from the herbs as possible. If you need a sweetener then add a little honey after pouring when the tea will have cooled enough to avoid destroying its beneficial qualities. Ayurvedic medicine warns strongly against heating honey. Sip slowly and with gratitude for the multitude of wonderful herbs available to us.

Some of my favourite summer herbs include:

Chamomile - Soothing to the digestion and the nerves, chamomile is a lovely after dinner summer tea and helps calm overheated, irritable children (and adults).

Rose - Cooling, toning, calming and full of love, rose is lovely mixed with gently moistening herbs like Lime blossom and mallow or cooling diaphorectics like elderflower for a harmonising summer treat.

Sweet Woodruff – Cooling, mildly cleansing, good for the digestion and relaxing, this herb is a lovely addition to many summer tea blends with its mild and pleasant taste.

Sweet Woodruff

Elderflower - Cooling, diaphoretic and soothing to the upper respiratory tract, elderflower also has a light and pleasant flavour which is ideal for summer teas.

Hawthorn Blossom - Calms the nerves and opens the heart, if you like the taste, which I do, then this one is a winner.

Lemon Verbena - One of my favourite herbal teas, alone or in combination, not only for the delightful, refreshing taste but for its ability to calm digestion, fevers and nervous tension or anxiety.

Lemon Verbena

Borage - Demulcent, cooling and anti-inflammatory as well as strengthening to the adrenal glands, borage makes a nice addition to blends of summer teas as it doesn’t have much of a flavour by itself.

Lemon Balm - The perfect summer cup of tea! Delicious by itself or with other herbs like rose, other mints and lavender, it uplifts the spirit and cools the body and mind.

Mints - Spearmint, garden mint, peppermint, apple mint, ginger mint, chocolate mint… the choice of mints is endless! My favourites for tea are Moroccan mint and spearmint but I use various others too. What could be more refreshing than a cup of fresh mint tea? It’s also delicious as iced tea, chilled in the fridge with a little ice added before drinking.

Spearmint

Fennel - A great digestive tea, fennel has many uses, from boosting milk flow in nursing mothers to respiratory congestion and lifting low libido. It’s a tasty addition to tea blends and works well with other digestive herbs like chamomile.

Calamint - Sweet, aromatic and warmer in nature than some of the other mints, Calamint is also a good diaphoretic, digestive and expectorant herb.

Marshmallow - One of the best herbal demulcents, Marshmallow is lovely to include in blends for people who get dry in the summer.

Marshmallow

Lime/ Linden Blossom – Calming, cooling and moistening, this is a delicious tea for those who are stressed out and over worked or are having trouble getting off to sleep.

Calendula - Healing, anti-inflammatory and useful to the immune system, Calendula petals add a splash of colour and many benefits to any tea formula.

Lavender - Another great nerve soother and digestive herb, Lavender can help headaches from the heat and is lovely taken just before bed to help ensure a relaxing night’s sleep.

Lavender

Some summer tea combinations I particularly enjoy include:

* Lemon Verbena, Sweet Woodruff and Spearmint.

* Fennel, Calamint and Lemon Balm.

* Elderflower, Rose and Borage.

* Linden, Chamomile and Hawthorn Blossom.

* Apple mint, Monarda and Calendula petals.

And to finish, for those who know the old ditty…

I like a nice cup of tea in the morning,
I like a nice cup of tea with my tea,
And when it’s time for bed,
There’s a lot to be said,
For a nice cup of tea!

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This spring the hills around my home have been literally carpeted with delightful and cheery cowslips. Usually I am very restrained in my cowslip harvest, gathering just a few flowers here and there for adding to tea blends, because this beautiful wild flower is not as abundant as once it was and needs protecting. If you had been out walking on this part of the South Downs recently however, you might be forgiven for thinking cowslips were as common as nettles.

Also known as Heaven’s Keys or Fairy Cup, Primula officinalis/ veris, is a wonderful soothing nervine herb with sedative and anti-spasmodic properties. The flowers contain flavonoids which are anti-inlammatory and for the best medicinal action should be collected without any of the green parts. I usually dry the whole head though as I am only really after a nice soothing addition to my teas.

Cowslip makes a lovely tea with chamomile for soothing anxiety and irritation and is ideal drunk before bed for it’s sedative and sleep enhancing properties. I wrote another post about the benefits of cowslip this time last year which you can read here.

The roots contain saponins which make them useful as a stimulating expectorant in coughs and bronchitis though care must be taken as large doses could cause vomiting. I have never worked with the roots before so would be interested to hear from anyone who has. I would caution against collecting cowslip roots from the wild however in order to preserve the plants as much as possible.

The main way I use cowslip  flowers personally is in tea blends. It combines nicely with chamomile, oatstraw and other relaxing herbs. We have been enjoying an infusion of cowslip, rose and lemon verbena before bed which is both delicious and relaxing.

I also really like cowslip infused in oil for cosmetic use. This one was infused on a sunny windowsill for 10 days, plenty of time for delicate flowers like these. I strained it this evening and will be whipping it up into a batch of face cream along with cowslip infusion later in the week.

I mentioned in my post last year that Culpepper wrote of cowslips affiliation for the complexion saying ‘Our city dames know well enough the ointment or distilled water of it adds to beauty or at least restores it when lost.’ Mrs Grieve also shares this wonderful quote by Turner in her Modern Herbal, ‘Some weomen we find, sprinkle ye floures of cowslip wt whyte wine and after still it and wash their faces wt that water to drive wrinkles away and to make them fayre in the eyes of the worlde rather than in the eyes of God, Whom they are not afrayd to offend.’

Cowslip wine is a country favourite which Maria Treben recommends for strengthening the heart and nervous system. This lovely image of making cowslip wine is from Cecily Parsley’s Nursery Rhymes by Beatrix Potter and is available here.

In my recent post on spring flowers I quoted Ariel’s song from Shakespeare’s The Tempest and this time I shall leave you with these lovely lines from A Midsummer Night’ Dream, the words of a young fairy in conversation with that mischievous rogue Puck.

And I serve the Fairy Queen
To dew her orbs upon the green.
The cowslips tall her pensioners be.
In their coats spots you’ll see;
Those be rubies, fairy favours;
In those freckles live their savours.
I must go seek some dewdrops here,
And hang a pearl in every cowslip’s ear.

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‘Tis the season to be jolly, though it can be a challenge to bear this in mind when trailing round the shops, delirious from the sensory overload and fluorescent lighting and sore from having your feet run over by stressed out mums with hi-tech, double-decker buggies balancing 10 shopping bags off each handle. Sometimes it’s hard to remember quite what you’re supposed to be doing, or even your own name. I have mostly managed to avoid this particular stressor by making all my presents or buying them on line but still this time of year is inevitably hectic. So it was a wise choice by Brigitte to give this month’s blog party the title of “No Time For Stress.’ Everyone’s submissions will be posted on her blog on the 20th so do make sure you take a few moments to make yourself a cup of relaxing herbal tea and peruse the pearls of wisdom that my fellow herby bloggers will undoubtedly share.

Stress can be defined as the body’s response to the demands life places on us. It can be both positive or negative as any heightened emotional state from euphoria to despair can cause stress to the body and mind. This time of year can include a lot of potential stressors, from the excitement of social gatherings and seeing relatives, to many people’s increased intake of alcohol and sugary or rich foods, to the pressure of buying presents and creating the perfect atmosphere or the increased stress placed on the immune system by cold weather and germs.

I wanted to share a few of the ways that I find plant medicine helpful in calming stress and anxiety, at any time of year, and bringing balance to the over-adrenalised jittery feeling that results when my to-do list begins to extend too far down the page.

Calming Tea Blends:

Danielle has written a list of some lovely relaxing herbs for teas in her post for the blog party which you can read here and, like her, making a nice cuppa is my default response to anything even remotely stressful. I thought I’d share some of my favourite tea blends with you here, some of which I have also made up as little extra presents for people.

Many herbs that help to relax us are considered cooling in nature. This doesn’t necessarily mean they make you feel cold but that they calm and cool body processes rather than exciting them. Still it can be useful to add some more warmth to our teas at this time of year so each of these blend contains at least one warming herb or spice to balance the cooler ones.

Lavender, Vanilla and Oatstraw – This my evening time tea of choice at the moment and my husband is also a big fan. It’s calming, comforting, restorative and helps to pacify the restless mind. I add a teaspoon each of oatstraw and lavender to the pot along with half a vanilla bean, finely chopped.

Chamomile, Rose and Vanilla – This makes a lovely soothing after dinner tea and is delightfully fragrant and aromatic helping to disperse tension and anxiety.

Tilia, Oatsraw, Rose and Cinnamon – A little more spicy, this tea is great at work or during a busy afternoon as the calming herbs are somewhat balanced by the warmth and revitalising action of the cinnamon.

Orange peel, Cardamom and Rose – Another lovely balancing brew, I adore this combination of flavours which is like a big loving hug.

Lemon Balm and Rosemary –  A perfect balance of heart lifting herbs, I have written about this tea before… more than once me thinks!

Chamomile, Tilia and Oatsraw –  A very gentle tea to aid a peaceful nights sleep. More powerful herbs can be useful if insomnia is a problem but generally these would need to be selected with the individual’s constitution in mind.

Footbaths and Massage:

I’ve been meaning to write about the magic that are footbaths since I first started this blog last winter but I thought they’d be worth a mention here for their wonderful ability to calm and ground the nervous system and promote better circulation and a good night’s sleep. Most of us are far too ‘in our heads’ at this time of year and there’s nothing like payng attention to your feet to bring you back down to earth. I particularly like a strong infusion of Tilia, lavender and chamomile in a footbath. Great for children and adults alike, you absorb the healing qualities of the herbs through the soles of the feet and also get to breathe in the wonderful, calming aromas of these volatile oil rich plants. Followed up with a foot massage of lavender or chamomile infused oil you are almost guaranteed to have forgotten your cares and enjoy a deep and restorative night’s sleep.

Herbal Tinctures:

Tinctures are really best formulated on an individual basis as different herbs will have an affinity with different people. However I do like to make a very general Autumn/Winter Tonic with seasonal plants from my local area. This year it includes elderberry, hawthorn berry, rose hips and nettle seeds, all collected within a few meters of my garden gate. This medicine helps guard against winter stresses by nourishing my immune system, adrenals and cardiovascular system, all of which come under pressure at this time of year. The formula is also packed with antioxidants from the berries which help to protect every cell of the body. It also connects me to the land in which I live, bringing with it the subtle medicine of inter-dependence and belonging.

Flower Remedies;

Flower remedies can be wonderful allies in helping us to regain our sense of centre. Again they are best chosen with an individual in mind  but the following remedies from the Bach system are particularly useful in times of stress.
White Chestnut – When there is excessive mental chatter or preoccupation with certain worries that get in the way of relaxation.
Aspen – For vague, non-specific fears of unknown origin or anxiety with a sense of apprehension or foreboding.
Cherry Plum – For when you’ve reached the end of your tether and fear mental collapse or loss of control.
Elm – For normally capable people who are overwhelmed with responsibility.
Impatiens – For impatience and stress with irritability.
Mimulus – For fear of ‘known things’ such as flying, spiders (or Christmas!).
Olive – For complete exhaustion and when everything becomes an effort.
Red Chestnut – For excessive concern with the well being of others.
Rock Rose – For states of extreme fear and panic attacks.
If in doubt Rescue Remedy, a blend of 5 remedies which is now widely available, is helpful in a huge range of stress related problems.

Essential Oils:

Lovely in baths or massage oils, there is a wide range of relaxing essential oils which can help with stress such as lavender, chamomile, rose, sandalwood, frankincense, bergamot, neroli, patchouli, benzoin, geranium and mandarin. I particularly like making up a 2% blend of my favourite relaxing oils in a carrier such as sweet almond oil and adding to a 10ml rollette bottle that I carry in my bag and roll onto my temples, collar bone, neck and wrists whenever I start feeling stressed. I make a different one each time but a blend of lavender, chamomile and frankincense is a particular favourite.

Hydrolats and Floral Waters:

I love adding a good swig of lavender, neroli, rose or lemon balm hydrolat to my water and sipping throughout the day to calm and centre my nervous system. Neroli is my absolute favourite though nothing feels as decadent as rose. I have been known to have them in a shot glass when the going gets really tough.

Nourishing Infusions:

Susun Weed style nourishing infusions are great at this time of year for adding extra vitamins and minerals to our diets and supporting our nervous systems. We use up many more nutrients in times of stress so it’s important that we replenish them regularly. I love oatstraw best for its affinity with the nerves. Look here for Susun’s instructions on how to make them.

Staying centred in yourself when the pressure is on can be a challenge. Sometimes the hardest thing can be actually taking the time out to have a relaxing foot bath, mix some calming teas or choose a flower remedy. But, as one of my teachers once said, ‘herbal medicine works, you just have to take it.’ Just as stress begets more stress, in ourselves and others, a moment’s relaxation creates the space for a deeper relaxation to occur.

Luckily for me I have a shining example in my three cats, who have made relaxation and comfort into an art form. Take a leaf out of their book and make sure you take time out this Christmas to chill!

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Rosemary is one of the first herbs I grew to love as a child as well as one of the first herbs I grew as a plant as an adult. My parents had a magnificent rosemary bush outside their bedroom window and though at that time I only knew it as a culinary herb, I always admired its vitality and endurance, qualities which this beautiful plant lends us in abundance when we start to work with her regularly. Despite being native to the Mediterranean it grows well here, given a sunny, freely draining soil and it particularly enjoys coastal areas, the first word of its botanical, Rosmarinus officinalis, means dew of the sea.

Beautiful Rosemary

In my mind rosemary is primarily a rejuvenating herb. It is famous for stimulating memory and concentration, it promotes hair growth when used internally or externally, it contains powerful antioxidants which protect the whole body from ageing, it strengthens capillaries, improves digestion and is thought to ignite the passions. According to Bankes, ‘Even to smell the scent of the leaves keeps one youngly.’

Best known as a warming circulatory stimulant, rosemary’s diffusive nature is lovely for getting the blood moving to the peripheries and hence is great for those with cold hands and feet like myself. It can be used internally as tincture or tea for this purpose or externally as an infused oil, bath or footbath herb or an essential oil rub. It can also be of benefit for those suffering from headaches where the cause is constriction in the muscles or the blood vessels supplying the head. Its ability to stimulate blood flow make it first rate in the treatment and prevention of chilblains, I especially like it combined with black pepper for this purpose.

It is helpful for the digestion in several ways. Being aromatic it helps to stimulate the appetite and its warming nature helps stoke the digestive fires, known as the ‘Agni’ in Ayurveda, helping people who suffer with poor assimilation, bloating, gas and undigested food in their stools. Being slightly bitter it’s also beneficial for the liver, a property more closely associated with cooling rather than warming herbs, however rosemary’s warmth helps move stuck energy, particularly in patterns where there is ‘heat’ in the liver but within a cold constitution and where there is also poor digestion.

Rosemary is also useful as a wash for minor wounds as it contains antimicrobial volatile oils and tannins, which help check bleeding.  According to Anne McIntyre, nurses used to brew rosemary tea as an antiseptic to sterilise instruments, clean the delivery room and protect both mother and child from infections.

Most will be able to tolerate it well as a tea in the winter months but care must be taken in summer or in tincture form for those with a hot constitution. It is lovely for those floaty, ungrounded, thin, cold and anxious types but a little care must also be taken where these qualities manifest in a person who also suffers from dryness (dry skin, dry cough, constipation etc) as rosemary is both warming and drying in its action. In these cases I would usually teem it with something more moistening. It is equally fabulous for people who are cold, damp, stodgy and overweight and who need a bit of a kick to get moving. It benefits many cold, damp conditions like a phlegmy cough, catarrh and blocked sinuses too.

For those hotter people it combines beautifully with lemon balm, especially where depression or low moods are a factor. Being a stimulating, solar herb rosemary can lift the spirits and encourage motivation and joie de vivre and being strengthening and grounding it helps dispel stress and anxiety.

Rosemary helps us fully embody who we are, lends us strength and endurance, both emotionally and physically, and helps us attain a clarity of mind and lightness of heart which many could benefit from in these stressful times.

A quick sketch and some dried rosemary from the garden.

I love rosemary in teas, my favourite being the rosemary and lemon balm combination which I drink regularly at this time of year and in early spring before the days have started warming and when my spirits need a lift. In the coldest months of winter I like my rosemary with orange peel and ginger and at the end of a long day I enjoy it with either chamomile or lemon verbena which makes a beautiful relaxing yet clarifying blend.

Rosemary infused oil is one of my favourites for tired aching muscles or joints. I make a lovely massage oil of rosemary, chamomile and St. John’s wort infused oils for back aches.

I love rosemary essential  oil too and use it in my aches and pains balm and in the bath with other suitable oils. I’m making some lovely bath oils for christmas presents this year which contain rosemary essential oil among other things. Pop back in a few days when I’ll be sharing the recipe in another post on herbal christmas presents for the November blog party hosted by Brigitte.

References:
The Complete Floral Healer – Anne McIntyre
The Practice of Traditional Western Herbalism – Matthew Wood
Medical Herbalism – David Hoffman

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I’m not sure if the rose hips are particularly lovely this year, or if it’s just that we now live in an area so full of wild roses that I’m spoiled for choice, but I seem to find myself exclaiming over their beauty every time I leave the house.

Rose hips are sweetest after the first frost but I usually pick some as soon as they are bright red, with no orangey colour left, and continue picking in small batches until they are finished.

 

Beautiful Rose hips

 

I don’t do a huge amount with rose hips I must say. I’ve added them to my hawthorn vinegar and a tincture and made a couple of batches of syrup so far and I love to add a few to decoctions and nettle nourishing infusions. A nourishing infusion is like a really strong tea of a particularly nourishing herb which is full of vitamins and minerals. The inimitable Susan Weed has written a lot about them and you can see how she does it over at her website here. I just add a few rose hips to the nettle at this time of year as the high vitamin C content helps with absorption of the iron that nettle is so rich in.

I don’t tend to make jellies and such,  just because the high sugar levels don’t particularly agree with me, but I make my rosehip syrup with raw honey using much the same method that I used for my elderberry syrup which I described here. This basically involves simmering the roughly chopped hips in enough water to cover for about half an hour, then straining through a jelly bag to get rid of all the pesky and irritating hairs. You can return the hips to the pan with fresh water once or twice more and get a lot more juice from them so don’t throw them away after the first go. When the liquid is cool I mix in about half the quantity of raw honey. You can add more, up to equal amounts to make it last longer but this can over power the delightful sweet and sour taste of the rose hips.

 

Plump and ripe

 

Another syrup I made this year used dates and a couple of fresh chillis from a plant on my windowsill to make a lovely warming, earthy and sweet treat that hasn’t lasted long at all in our house! I made it by simmering and straining the rose hips with the chillis as above, then making a paste from several fresh dates and a little of the rose hip juice over a low heat adding a little more juice at a time until it is all well mixed. At the end I added a little brandy to help preserve it as it wouldn’t keep long otherwise. This has definitely been my favourite rose hip recipe of the season!

 

Rose hips in late afternoon autumn sun

 

Rose hips are rich in Vitamin C and other antioxidants including flavonoids which have been shown in some studies to have anti-inflammatory properties. The flower of the rose is also known for its cooling and soothing properties when dealing with inflammatory conditions. These properties and other constituents like plant sterols also make rose hips beneficial for protecting the cardiovascular system.

All the more reason to enjoy some lovely rose hip syrup in our tea or any other way that takes your fancy.

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