close-up of my homemade plantain poultice: fresh picked, cut and mashed plantain, raw honey and organic coconut oil

The Power of Plantain


Yesterday, my sweet two-year-old tripped into a nettle patch. I knew this was going to happen sooner or later…he is high energy, curious and into everything! He was really surprised and then really angry at the stinging welts that sprang up on his ankles, a perfect opportunity for mommy to introduce him to the power of plantain.

A friend’s kiddo had spider bites on his neck for months, they were large, red, itchy and would swell and shrink, but they never seemed to go away. Five applications of plantain oil in one day relieved the itching immediately and by the next day, the red marks were completely gone.

A young girl attending my Solstice Wildcrafting party got bit by an ant and started to cry. I picked a fresh plantain leaf, chewed it up and applied the bolus directly to the tiny red bump on her foot. Within seconds she stopped crying, smiled up at her mommy, and went back to picking flowers.

I just counted 37 mosquito bites all over my back, legs and arms. This summers’ mosquitoes are especially prolific with the hot, humid mornings followed by soaking wet afternoon storms. They really like my two year old, too! The itching finally got bad enough for me to break out my emergency plantain rescue (my summer salves won’t be ready for another week) and it worked instantly (see recipe below).

What is plantain, you say?

fresh-picked plantain, top of the leaf

fresh-picked plantain, top of the leaf

underside of a plantain leaf, notice the prominent  waxy ribs

underside of a plantain leaf, notice the prominent waxy ribs

Just look under your feet, or next to your doorstep, or growing in your driveway. Broad, dark green leaves growing close to the earth – deeply veined, slick, rubbery texture. A mature plantain will have one or more tall stalks with seeds attached to the tip growing out of the center and straight into the air. Plantago major (common or broad leafed plantain) grows wild all over North America in disturbed soils between cracks in the sidewalk, roadsides and wastelands. Narrow-leafed plantain (plantago lanceolata) is used in exactly the same ways as common plantain. Take a long, slow walk around your neighborhood and chances are you can find some plantain growing right under your feet.

What is plantain used for? 

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERAFirst and foremost, it is first-aid for bites, burns, stings, scrapes and owies of all kinds. Western Medicinal Plants and Herbs by Christopher Hobbs and Stephen Foster (2002), attributes plantains wound healing powers to:

“…flavanoids, caffeic acid derivatives, polysaccharides, and alcohols present in the wax of the leaf surface. The potent but unstable antimicrobial iridoid glycoside aucubin is found in this and [related species of Plantago]…also contain abundant and soothing mucilage, as well as small amounts of the cell-growth stimulant allantoin.” (p. 224) 

How do I use it?

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERAFor immediate relief from insect stings and bites, scrapes and burns, pick a fresh, clean looking plantain leaf. Chew it with your back molars and form a bolus in your lip, thoroughly moistening the plantain with saliva until you can taste the bitter juice. Place directly on the affected area and experience immediate relief from itching, burning and chafing.

For long-term storage and year-round usefulness, fill a jar with fresh-picked plantain leaves and cover with oil (olive or safflower). Store in a cool, dark and dry place. You can strain out the plantain after one month or allow the leaves to steep indefinitely (check mold by using dry, sterile jars and completely drying plantain leaves before covering with oil).

Since my “Magic Owie Salve” won’t be ready for another week (timing is everything!) this is how I made my instant relief plantain poultice:

3 large plantain leaves, fresh picked

1 Tablespoon organic, solid Coconut Oil

1 Tablespoon local, raw honey

this quick-fix plantain poultice provides instant relief from itchy insect bites and stings

Cut the plantain leaves into small strips and place in a mortar and pestle or a sturdy bowl. Mash the leaves until the juice releases a green stain. Add Coconut Oil and honey, mixing thoroughly. Apply immediately to effective parts for instant relief (aaaaahhhhh)! This mixture will be grainy and sticky, you might want to cover each spot with a band-aid.

close-up of my homemade plantain poultice: fresh picked, cut and mashed plantain, raw honey and organic coconut oil

4 magical mullein recipes


Colorado mullein before flowering

Every year I try to learn more about a few of my favorite herbal allies. This year I’ve been inundated with mullein after a big harvest…and she is teaching me so much about her soft, pliable and absorbent ways. She is so absorbent, in fact, she doesn’t dry well in wet climates – and we’ve been inundated with rain for weeks now. The drying process is taking twice as long as I’d planned for, and taking up twice as much space! She really likes to s p r e a d – o u t !

She hung upside down from the ceilings in my living room, kitchen and cellar from the root. Then I noticed the heart of each mullein plant was a juicy reservoir of moisture, so the next step was to peel off each individual leaf (saving the very best and composting the ones that started to brown or look bug-eaten). The leaves hung from twine and lay out on paper towels until every flat surface in the house was a pillowy green sanctuary of mullein leaves!

mullein in the last stage of curing before it’s ready for long term storage in glass jars

The final step involved cutting the large, broad leaves into thin strips. Even after drying for several weeks she doesn’t crumble or crush easily, hence the scissors. Each strip is then allowed to cure in stacked bamboo baskets until they are crunchy enough to process in an electric mill and store in glass jars.

One harvest yielded over 2 lbs of dried mullein! So, what to do with all this mullein?

 

 

 

Mullein Infusion

ready to use mullein infusion sachets

Steep 1 oz (by weight) of mullein leaves in 1 quart of boiling water, approximately 1 hour. Unadorned, mullein infusion tastes “like hay” (according to one client, who found it unpalatable)! Sweetened by the cup with honey and milk, I found it a delightfully nourishing drink.

The benefits of regularly drinking mullein infusion include strengthening and clearing the lungs – especially in cases of long-standing irritations, coughs that are hot, dry and spasmodic and deep congestion. Mullein will bring up all sorts of colorful expectoration from years of smoking or pollution. As always, mullein’s actions are soft, slow and moisturizing, and takes several months of regular use to see lasting improvement.

John Lust, in The Herb Book, describes the medicinal action of mullein:

“Mullein tea makes a good remedy for coughs, hoarseness, bronchitis, bronchial catarrh, and whooping cough. It can also be used for gastrointestinal catarrh and cramps in the digestive tract. The flower tea will help relieve pain and induce sleep…For nasal congestion or other respiratory problems, breathe the vapor from hot water with a handful of flowers added.” (p. 286)

Mullein Cough Drops

close up of herbal cough drops hardening in powdered sugar molds

close up of herbal cough drops hardening in powdered sugar molds

Mullein is the main ingredient in my popular cough drops followed by mint and horehound. Horehound is the original cough drop and mint lends a relaxing flavor while mullein is there to do most of the work: regenerating, clearing, and strengthening the airways.

I make an infusion by steeping 1 oz (by weight) of 2 parts mullein, and 1 part each mint and horehound in 1 quart of water. Strain out the herbs and pour the infusion into a large pot with 1 pound organic cane sugar and one teaspoon cream of tartar. Heat and stir until sugar is dissolved. Stop stirring and watch the liquid closely (so it doesn’t boil over) until it reaches approximately 280 degrees Fahrenheit on a candy thermometer.

In lieu of using a candy thermometer, you can also do the “drop text” by dropping some of the boiling hot liquid sugar into a small cup of ice water. It should crystallize immediately – then you know it’s ready.

homemade herbal cough drops with mullein, mint and horehound

homemade herbal cough drops with mullein, mint and horehound

While you’re waiting for the syrup to get up to temperature, prepare the cough drop molds by pouring powdered sugar into cake pans, baking pans or Pyrex pie plates – about half an inch deep. Press your thumb into the sugar (or use the back of a baby spoon) to create the mold shapes.

As soon as the liquid sugar is at the “hard crack” stage, immediately (but slowly) pour into molds. It will be messy! It should cool to a hard candy within 15 minutes.

Earache Oil

Mullein flowers are famous for helping with ear infections and earaches. The recipe is so simple and effective everyone should try this at home!

Brigitte Mars and flowering mullein

Harvest mullein flowers by pinching off just the flowering part when in full bloom. Gather enough to fill a small jar. Leave flowers out on a paper towel to dry overnight to prevent molding. The next day, fill a clean, dry and sterile jar with flowers and pour oil over the top. Brigitte Mars likes to add raw garlic to the mix for it’s antiviral and antibacterial properties – what a great idea! Store jar in a cool, dark and dry place for 4 to 6 weeks.

Strain out the flowers and use by dabbing a q-tip in your homemade Earache Oil.

Quitter’s Blend

My latest mullein experiment is in a smoking blend to help alleviate chronic asthma, deep, hacking coughs and to help beat tobacco cravings. I blend three parts mullein with two parts mugwort and one part lobelia in a coffee grinder until it becomes a uniform, fluffy consistency. One pinch in a pipe or a couple grams worth rolled into a joint can be safely enjoyed as an herbal alternative to smoking tobacco. ***While there are no contraindications for long-term use of mullein, ingestion of mugwort and lobelia in any form should be limited to one week at a time taking extended breaks in-between. Inhaling burnt plant material of any kind leaves tar in the lungs and is not recommended as a lifetime theraputic. Rather I use this blend for a limited window of time, long enough to help the transition away from commercial tobacco products.***

What is YOUR favorite way to use mullein?

Simply Ancient Grains – just don’t call it healthy


Click here to read an excerpt and buy directly from Random House

Click here to read an excerpt and buy directly from Random House

The mission of this book is unmistakable: to bring the diversity of flavors, textures and culinary potential of ancient grains back into our modern kitchens. Think about your pantry right now – how many different grains comprise the bulk of your diet? Most American’s will find corn and refined wheat flour, and little else. However, according to the Whole Grains Council, ancient grains like amaranth and teff are in demand. Korshan Wheat is basking in the limelight with a 686% increase in 2014 sales. Demand dictates supply, which (hopefully) means we will be seeing more Ancient Grains on the shelves.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is the mantra of those who don’t care to venture beyond corn chips and Wonder bread. While you may not see any problem with such a myopic approach to nourishment, Maria Speck certainly does.

Why ancient grains?

Her first answer to “why ancient grains?” isn’t about nutrition (even though she does cite the fact that quinoa is a complete protein unto itself) or the environment (preserving biodiversity, and ancient grains are de facto non-GMO and organically grown) but about flavor. In Simply Ancient Grains, Maria Speck brings twenty-one unique grains to your table – many of which are increasingly available to American consumers. While not all the grains in this book are gluten-free, most of them naturally are. A full two-thirds of the recipes in this book are gluten-free, and the remaining recipes have gluten-free options.

“Burgundy bulgur with blueberries and orange blossom water” is the very definition of decadence…and Maria Speck would be serving this for breakfast. Garnished with Greek yogurt and pomegranate seeds not only makes this recipe visually stunning (the full-color close-up photos in this book will make your mouth water) but perhaps the most interesting dish you’ve held on your tongue. A little sour from the plain yogurt and orange zest, bright sweetness from the blueberries and honey, and creamy to the last bite.

The first thing that came to mind when looking at the recipe for “Freekeh soup with spicy harrisa shrimp and dates” was: what the heck is freekeh?! Luckily, there’s a complete listing in the beginning of the book of every ancient grain used in the recipes, a little history about where the grain came from, how they are best prepared (pre-soaking, washed or unwashed, etc.) and references to Maria’s favorite recipes with each grain.

What’s the big deal about gluten-free, anyway?

I’ve wondered at this most of my life – coming of age during the Atkins fad that made “carbs the enemy”, having to avoid yeast (especially breads and pastries) like the devil when I was fighting Candida, travelling to Europe in 2004 where they truly believed all Americans were stark-raving mad for criminalizing carbohydrates; and now I scratch my head and wonder why all my friends insist on gluten-free lifestyles for their families. Simply Ancient Grains answers the gluten question from both sides.

First, did you know gluten intolerance was nearly unheard-of until the 1950’s? Is it any coincidence that the advent of GMOs and bleached flours coincide with an inability to properly digest these mutated and poisoned grains? Given this hypothesis (which really does make perfect sense to me…) I am so grateful for the wise seed-keepers of the world for continuing to sew and harvest grains the way our ancestors have for centuries – chaff be damned. Maria presents her lucky readers with a smorgasbord of traditional recipes from her Greek and German heritage that are naturally, completely gluten-free.

Just don’t call it healthy

It seems Maria Speck doesn’t have much time to indulge in diet fads, nutritional hype, or scientific data. She trusts her palate and her gut – and the thousands of years that humans have been eating, enjoying and thriving on these dense and delicious grains. Simply ancient grains is the beginner’s book of choice for folks (like myself) who don’t experiment too much in the kitchen, and who would rather eschew grains altogether (blasphemy!) than take the time to cook a pot of rice. In this book, we are reassured again and again: “you can do it!” We are given tips on overnight soaking, what grains cook faster, and making a big pot of grains on the weekend to enjoy in a variety of amazing recipes throughout the week.

My absolute favorite part about this book was her rant against the health fad associated with ancient grains. Why does something have to be labeled as “healthy” to be “good”? She cites an interesting study where participants were given a choice of two snack bars: one was labeled “healthy” the other was a “candy bar”. The participants who indulged in the candy bar reported feeling more satisfied for a longer period of time, whereas the ones who ate the “healthy” bar still felt hungry and often went for a second or third! Of course, it was the same bar with a different label.

This book is not for calorie counters, but it is for everybody else who wants to expand their palate and have a delightful guide into the wide world of ancient grains. I gratefully received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Calling all thistles!


“What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.”

-Ralph Waldo Emerson (quote extracted from this Mother Earth News article)

In a July 2 article “Top myths about noxious weeds” Irene Shonle (the Gilpin County Director of the CSU Extension office) makes a passionate and well-supported attempt to debunk many common misconceptions about noxious weeds in Colorado. I definitely agree that not all weeds are wonderful – I’m still researching any potential benefits of Scentless Chamomile, with no luck. It is certainly true that “scentless chamomile has none of the properties of Roman or German chamomiles.” However, did you know that Pineapple Weed (not classified as a “noxious weed” in Colorado, but prolific enough!) has the same medicinal properties of German Chamomile and can be safely used as a flavoring, a calming tea and even crushed, dried, burned or added to potpourri for it’s delightful fragrance!

Don’t get me wrong: I understand the ecological threat posed by noxious weeds (never mind the fact that noxious weeds like thistles are experts at carbon fixation – pulling carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and converting it into energy): they poison the soil, their roots push out all other native plants, they destroy the natural biodiversity diminishing our native pollinators and rare Colorado wildflower populations (not to mention that every county is mandated by the state to implement and enforce noxious weed controls). All I’m asking is that we give the whole situation a little space in our hearts before we slash, burn and spray a whole field of thistles, mullein, or sage.

“Hi there, Ms. Weed. Isn’t it a beautiful, summer afternoon in the Colorado Rockies? …yes, I think so, too. I understand why you love living here…just like me. Now that you mention it, I’m not native either. My ancestors came from Sweden and Wales, and they probably brought the first seeds of your ancestors with them, too! Your children and grandchildren and cousins and nieces and nephews are all thriving here in this field. In fact, it seems that your species prefer ground that has been disturbed by urban development and lots of traffic – wow! We have so much in common!

“Are you good medicine? Teach me your ways, come home with me. Hang out in my kitchen for a while and we’ll share a cup of tea.”

This is how I approach all plants – especially the one’s I’m still getting to know like thistle. Now, in Colorado we have several kinds of thistles, all of which are considered “noxious” and, according to Ms. Shonle have “no medicinal properties.” Let’s take a closer look at some of the most prolific thistles in Colorado:

Cursed, creeping, Canada thistle (cirsium arvense)

According to this Wikipedia article, the roots, leaves and stems of this thistle are edible (best when well steamed or boiled to soften the spines). Note the bulbous shape to the flowering head and the multiple flowers branching out from a single stem.

No mention of the most sought-after sylimarin, extracted from the seeds of Blessed or Milk thistle for it’s amazing liver-healing and re-generating properties. But that doesn’t make this weed completely useless. The popular health website Livestrong cites some compelling scientific evidence for the medicinal benefits of Canada Thistle:

“North American Indians used infusions and extracts of Canadian thistle root for mouth diseases and infections and considered it to be useful as a health promoting tonic, diuretic and astringent, according to “Medical Herbalism: The Science Principles and Practices of Herbal Medicine.” Its leaves can also be chewed to relieve the pain of toothaches, cancer sores and sore throats, as they have anti-inflammatory properties. If swallowed, the juice of the roots is purportedly effective at killing intestinal parasites and reducing the symptoms of poison ivy and gastritis. Canadian thistle should not be confused with milk thistle, which is a well-known herbal remedy for liver conditions. They look similar, but milk thistle contains different compounds in its leaves and roots.”

Spear, Bull, Common – cirsium vulgare

Unlike the Canada thistle, Bull Thistle propagates only by seed so it is not necessary to dig up every last taproot to keep it from spreading. The do share a strong bitter taste when the leaves, stems or roots are boiled and eaten. They are a favorite of local bees and butterflies, and ants relish the inner part of the thick stems. Still no definitive mention of any medicinal properties, but this herbalist claims an infusion prepared from fresh or dried thistle leaves helps reduce varicose veins. It is also common knowledge that artichoke is a thistle in it’s own right, boasting antioxidants, folate, fiber and Vitamins C and K.

Cotton and Scotch: onopordum acanthium

This thistle might be one of the hardiest, most drought resistant, fastest spreading and hardest to get rid of thistles of them all. The Wikipedia entry for onopordum acanthium states “an entire colony can ruin a pasture or destroy a park or campsite, sometimes forming tall, dense, impenetrable stands.”

It may also have the most versatile applications of all thistles: the fluffy seeds can be pressed for cooking and burning oil and stuffed into pillows. The leaves, stems and flowers have been boiled, dried, and tinctured for centuries as folk remedies for ulcers, mucous discharges and in treating certain cancers. (Cited from M. Grieve (1971). A Modern Herbal: The Medicinal, Culinary, Cosmetic and Economic Properties, Cultivation and Folk-Lore of Herbs, Grasses, Fungi, Shrubs & Trees with Their Modern Scientific Uses. New York: Dover Publications.)

Carduus nutans aka nodding, plumeless, musk thistle

Aha! Now THIS is what I’ve got growing all over my Homestead on the Front Range of the Colorado Rockies. I trip on it, I stumble through it…I watch the bumblebees dancing on it’s feathery purple plumes, I wonder at the black lines of ants chewing happily away at the leaves and stems, I marvel at the chipmunks delicately dancing their way to the top of a 4 or 5 foot stem to snatch off the large, blossoming flower for lunch!

I have used an infusion of freshly picked leaves to increase my milk supply when I was breastfeeding AND as an effective form of birth control (vis The Childbearing Year by Susun Weed) and I’ve successfully – safely, quickly and with no side-effects – treated gallstones at home with a tincture of the flowering tops. (Read my article “Oh my aching gallbladder!“)

Am I making this up, or is there supportive evidence to illustrate the wonderful, medicinal and nutritional properties of Musk Thistle? “Medicinally, musk thistle leaves and seeds are useful as a bitter tonic to stimulate liver function.” (from Wildflowers and Weeds, article by renowned conservationist, author and educator Thomas J. Elpel).

In fact, all bitter greens are considered good for increasing nutrient absorption, tonifying the liver and gallbladder and strengthening digestion. Wild bitters like thistle, clover, lambsquarter and dandelion have higher levels of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants than cultivated varieties. Using the entire plant preserves the symbiotic energy of the plant giving your body the full-spectrum benefit of roots, leaves, stems and flowers. (Here’s an excellent resource for understanding the difference between “whole herbs” and “standardized extracts” http://info.drclarkstore.com/blog/bid/379579/Whole-Herb-vs-Standardized-Herbal-Extract-Which-is-Better.)

Mother nature knows more than we do, for sure. Whole plant medicine as our (not so distant) ancestors practiced is a well-spring of common sense and wisdom.

Thank you, Irene Shonle, for inspiring deeper research into one of my favorite topics. I am still proud and confident in perpetuating the “myth” that “noxious weeds are medicinal plants”!

What are Dandelion Blossoms good for?


Dandelions galore - delicious AND nutritious!

Dandelions galore – delicious AND nutritious!

Dandelion Blossom Syrup is a tried-and-true, best-selling recipe that I’ve borrowed from my favorite herbalist Susun Weed. In her book, Healing Wise, she mentions the specific ability of dandelion blossoms to freshen tired skin and lift the spirits. When it comes to the time-honored delicacy of dandelion blossom syrup, however, she urges us to “feel the wise woman ways” of using this medicine and food.

No question: my Dandy Syrup is delicious. I take one quart of freshly picked, fully blooming dandelion blossoms and simmer them in one quart of mountain spring water for one hour. Then I let them steep overnight. The next day, I add one pound of organic raw sugar and half of an organic lemon (cut into long slices) and boil it down to the sticky, syrupy consistency that you’d expect from raw honey. YUM!

But the most frequently asked question is: what are dandelion blossoms good for? I can share with you from my own experience that dandelion blossoms will lift the spirits and ease cramping. I use it in my tea, on my toast and yogurt, and by the spoonful for premenstrual symptoms including fatigue, depression, and cramping. It gives me an even keel, it helps me look forward to a centered and joyful day.

If only the dandelions would bloom all year long...

If only the dandelions would bloom all year long…

What else do we know about dandelion blossoms? In pursuit of weed wisdom, I stumbled upon this most excellent study from the University of Maryland Medical Center:

While many people think of the dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) as a pesky weed, it’s chock full of vitamins A, B, C, and D, as well as minerals such as iron, potassium, and zinc. Dandelion leaves are used to add flavor to salads, sandwiches, and teas. The roots are used in some coffee substitutes, and the flowers are used to make wines.

Source: Dandelion | University of Maryland Medical Centerhttp://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/dandelion#ixzz3fVR0mBky
University of Maryland Medical Center
Follow us: @UMMC on Twitter | MedCenter on Facebook

The article also cites definitive antioxidant properties to the flower itself. Strangely enough, most scientific data on the nutritional and medicinal benefits of dandelions do not isolate the root from the stem, leaves or blossoms. So why use just the blossoms?

One of my clients recently clued me into a hidden (and as yet unproven) benefit of incorporating dandelion blossom syrup into your diet: it may act as a subtle anti-histamine helping those with seasonal allergies. Perhaps the alchemically transmuted dandelion pollen from the blossoms will catalyze a subtle immune response slowly acclimating the body to pollen exposure without the immune overreaction we experience as allergies. While this is the proven theory behind allergy therapy, no conclusive link has yet been found with my Dandy Syrup.

The University of Maryland‘s dandelion study did cite measurable benefits to the immune system from consuming dandelions (again, no specification on which part of the plant or how it is taken). The only contra-indication for dandelion use would be latex allergies, since the entire plant (especially the milky white substance inside the stem) contains latex.

Conclusion? Dandelion Blossom syrup is proven to strengthen the immune system, is rich in antioxidants and definitely helps us feel brighter and lighter. The lemon peels add a dash of bioflavinoids and I’ve started throwing in some roots and leaves for good measure. Try some Dandy Syrup at home or e-mail theholistichomestead@gmail.com to order some today (this is a seasonal product with limited supply during the summer months)!

 

Shoulder injuries: a holistic approach


I have always had immense sympathy for anyone with a shoulder injury. These seem to be the slowest to heal, and the most debilitating in the meantime. Dislocations in particular wreak havoc on the body’s most inefficient joint – ten pounds (or more) of arm dangling from a tiny socket held in place by a handful of tiny, thin rubber bands. I never fully appreciated the intricate delicacy of my shoulders until fully dislocating my left shoulder two months ago…and it still hurts.

Strength vs. flexibility

The hip joint may be one of the strongest in our body, while the shoulder joint is definitely the most flexible. A healthy should has over 180 degrees of rotation in three planes of motion – front/back, side to side, and transverse. Most shoulder injuries result from overloading the leverage capacity of this delicate joint – relying totally on our shoulder muscles to lift heavy objects over our heads (like a suitcase in an overhead compartment, for example).

Dr. Steve Gangemi, in his article “How to crawl your way back to shoulder health” describes shoulder anatomy in detail:

“If you trace your collarbone (clavicle) to the outside toward your arm, you’re going to hit a little bump. This is the acromion of your scapula (shoulder blade). Now, if you come down and in a bit here at a 45-degree angle, you’ll find a dip. There you have what’s called your coracoid process. This coracoid process, along with the acromion, helps to stabilize your shoulder…”

Ouch…yeah, I’m really feeling my coracoid process today. It seems nearly impossible to allow such an important and fragile joint the time and space it needs to heal from a severe injury like dislocation. Especially when I’m chasing after a two year old and trying to run my own business (ps, to my devoted readers, this is why I haven’t been posting for a while! Typing with a shoulder injury is more painful than it looks…)!

But I wanted nothing to do with the heavy-duty pain killers they gave me at the ER. And for most people who suddenly find themselves with moderate shoulder injuries (severe enough to stretch the ligaments, and hopefully not requiring surgery), that’s pretty much all you get. “Take these, try and give it some rest.” Yeah, right. I was totally loopy on that stuff for a few days and then I flushed the rest down the toilet. “There has to be a better way.”

Arnica to the rescue!

Any event traumatic enough to result in a shoulder injury should be treated with Arnica right off the bat. Homeopathic Arnica 1M as needed will not only ease the pain but help to release the trauma in body and mind.

I was so grateful to have a stash of last years Arnica Salve that I made with the fresh, blooming Arnica harvested right here on our Homestead in the Colorado Rockies. A gentle massage over the coracoid process and right under the bottom edge of my scapula (where it hurts the most) right before bed helps me sleep at night.

Arnica grows in large patches on well-drained high-altitude mountain slopes and open fields

Arnica grows in large patches on well-drained high-altitude mountain slopes and open fields

Any OTC preparation with Arnica (only homeopathic doses are safe to take internally) will prove of immense benefit without the nasty side effects of prescription pain-killers like liver damage and dependency.

Admittedly, my injury was on the mend until a recent trip to Arches National Park in Utah where I (stupidly) packed my 2 year old and a few water bottles (adding up to 50 pounds) on my back for a three mile hike in 100+ degree weather. Now I’m paying for it, but finding better ways to cope by:

  • Asking for help!
  • Topical Arnica salves
  • Homeopathic Arnica for pain and trauma
  • Limited physical activity
  • Ice packs alternating with hot tubs and gentle massage

Other therapies that are helping me to 1. Re-align the shoulder joint for long-term shoulder health and 2. Release deep trauma from neighboring muscle groups in my neck and back and from the emotional/psychological impact of my shoulder injury:

  • Reiki – my Reiki therapist uses energetic vibrations, vocalizations/intonation, crystal energies and spiritual monograms to channel healing energy into the shoulder joint, inspiring a recovery that is faster and gentler.
  • Craniosacral Therapy – moves the cerebro-spinal fluid past blockages that hinder the bodies natural ability to heal itself. I also notice it opens the spaces between my cervical vertibrae allowing associated muscle groups to relax rather than being locked in permanent stress patterns.
  • Meditation techniques – taking deep breathes, visualizing a cooling blue-white ball of light surrounding my shoulder joint. I focus on the idea of floating – my arm is floating freely in the shoulder, the inner ligaments are whole and surrounded by white light, floating like a fishing net floats on top of the water, connected and functional yet completely supple and totally relaxed.

    Breathe deeply, imagine light surrounding the shoulder joint inside and out

    Breathe deeply, imagine light surrounding the shoulder joint inside and out

 

Conversations with a mullein plant


Colorado mullein before flowering

Colorado mullein before flowering

Overlooked, undervalued and even criminalized – is that any way to treat such a soft, unassuming and generous plant? Mullein grows everywhere along the Peak to Peak: along highways, railroads and in everybody’s back yard. Mullein is officially classified as a noxious weed in Colorado, so mountain residents are getting out their torches and pitchforks to hunt down and uproot this prolific pest.

But there’s a quiet, powerful and healing side to almost every weed that we dig up and throw out. It seems I’ve garnered a reputation as a champion of the down-trodden and disrespected among our Front Range fauna – I can only hope the local dandelions, thistles and mullein plants feel somewhat more appreciated. Ironically, however, my passion for weeds has manifested some opportunities for weed-removal of the gentle, ethical and spiritual kind.

One person’s weed-removal service is an herbalist’s dream day-job. It’s an opportunity to wildcraft some of my favorite edible and medicinal herbs on a large scale. It’s a chance to be invited to some of the most beautiful views in our area – Magnolia, Big Springs, Ridge Road, Pactolus Lake – and to meet the happiest, cleanest and healthiest weeds in the world. Why does this matter? Because so much of our natural habitat is polluted with chemicals from highways and road maintenance. Even our rustic dirt roads get a thick coating of “dust control” on a regular basis making the nearby plants unusable for wild animals, insects and humans alike. However, many folks who enjoy an acre or more of pristine mountain living prefer to leave the land as they found it – wild and free, un-tampered with, naturally diverse and teeming with unimaginable abundance. Chemical and pesticide-free, wildcrafted edible and medicinal plants from the Colorado Rockies are actually a rare and precious resource.

While enjoying a sunny mullein-filled hillside with my gloves and trowel, I asked the mullein to talk to me, to tell me her story. As usual, she was a bit shy. I started singing, I broke off a leaf as big as my palm and touched it to my cheek. Her large, soft leaves are better than the softest blanket against your skin. Her bright yellow flowers open your ears to ancient songs of wisdom and tales of long-forgotten knowledge. Our ancestors appreciated mullein for her absorbency when applied to open, bleeding wounds, and used as 100% bio-degradable back-country toilet paper.

Finally, after a few blissful hours of silently digging up huge mullein plants by the root, I heard a soft whisper: “ahem” she said. “Excuse me? Who said that?”

“Ahem…ahem…ahem…” she cleared her throat most contritely.

“Ohhhhhh….mullein! Is that you?”

“Uh-huh. Ahem…” a brief pause. “Aaaahhhh. Much better.”

“Mullein, what do you have to teach me? What do I have to learn?”

“Take a deep breath.” She said.

Mullein, besides the desirable quality of softness, is highly reputed for helping lung conditions of every kind. An infusion of mullein leaves, either fresh-picked or dried, can be taken regularly to heal chronic lung irritations and will act as a mild expectorant. When the lung complaints are hot and dry, mullein is there to cool and soften the airways, bringing deeply lodged mucus up and out and calming spasmodic coughs.

I love my job!

I love my job!

My favorite mullein blend includes sage and mint to inspire deeper breathing. Prepare a “Deep Breath” infusion by adding a heaping tablespoon of the blended herbs to one quart of cold water. Slowly bring to a boil. As soon as steam begins to rise, remove from heat. Stand over the steam and take many long, slow, deep breaths allowing the essential oils in the steam to clear and open the airways. Allow the herbs to steep for about an hour, strain and enjoy with a little honey (or Dandelion Blossom Syrup – yum!). Some herbalists recommend including milk (dairy or non-dairy as preferred) with an infusion of mullein to speed recovery from asthma, bronchitis and even tuberculosis.

Dried mullein leaves can be crushed and smoked to help alleviate “smokers-cough” and curb tobacco cravings. I also use mullein liberally in my herbal cough drops alongside locally sourced and organically grown spearmint and horehound. Mullein cough syrup is a tried-and-true folk remedy that our grandparents definitely used to soothe sore throats and heal a stubborn, dry, hacking cough.

If you must get rid of all those beautiful mullein plants that are crowding out other things in your yard or garden, consider calling your friendly neighborhood herbalist first. She will definitely know how to put every part to good use!

Self-care on summer vacation: Just do it


self care with a 2 year old on vacation? yeah right! #coffee&donuts

self care with a 2 year old on vacation? yeah right! #coffee&donuts

A client of mine recently traveled to South-east Asia with her husband and two kiddos. Before she left, we packed a holistic self-care kit that included:

  • Homeopathic Nux Vomica for nausea and vertigo
  • Homeopathic Cocculus for jet lag and travel related malaise
  • Homeopathic Aconite for anxiety while travelling
  • Homeopathic Gelsemium for cold/flu with weakness

There are literally hundreds of homeopathic remedies that would have worked well for her family on a long international trip – but I selected the few that matched her constitution (and her description of family susceptibilities) the best. What does that mean?

Constitutional remedies treat the whole person

A person’s constitution is their ability to cope with stress – physical, mental and spiritual. Some people are naturally more emotionally resilient than others, while others always suffer from anxiety when travelling (I’m one of them)! On the physical plane, some people’s bodies will always develop a cough while others can count on a bout of constipation when travelling. Even within the same family, travelling together, eating the same foods and sleeping in the same hotel room – baby will get diarrhea, mom will feel “out of sorts” and dad’s sinuses will go haywire.

Susceptibility is unique from one person to another

Consulting with your local holistic health practitioner before leaving for that long, overseas trip will give you the advantage of a few, simple remedies to treat each individual susceptibility (or tendency to develop certain symptoms) and to cover the most common travel-related illnesses.

 

“Put the oxygen mask on yourself first”

This is a maxim I picked up from one of my mentors in Chinese Medicine and Homeopathy. She reminded me again and again of the importance to care for yourself first before caring for others. This is as true for those in the healing profession as it is for parents, teachers or caretakers in any situation.

Full disclosure: I am the very worst when it comes to self-care. (Talk to most any health care professional and they may well tell you the same…) Why is that? I dunno, maybe it’s my Virgo rising. So much to do, so little time. Maybe it’s my Sun in Pisces – take care of everybody else first. Self-care is not my strong suit, so I have to fabricate ways to incorporate this invaluable bit of wisdom into my vacation routine. Here are my top self-care strategies:

Take 1 extra minute in the bathroom

That 3×4 stall (or smaller) may be the only place you truly have to yourself on vacation. So I use it to the fullest extent by doing a bit of yoga before running back into the fray. No down-dog, of course – but a heel over the toilet, a side bend toward the door, a forward bend leaning on the sink. Three big deep breathes, a splash of cold water in the face, and you’re re-energized!

Shoes off

Every chance I get the shoes are coming off. Long rides are the best time to indulge yourself in a luxurious foot massage. Start by squeezing and twisting each individual toe. Weaving your fingers in-between your toes flex them back and fourth. Then starting at the distal (toward the toes) end of your foot, press the thumbs into the foot-pad in deep, circular motions. Work your thumbs all the way to the heel. Supporting the ankle with one hand, hold onto the heel and gently rotate, up and down, inward and outward and circles in both directions. Do this on both feet.

Close your eyes

No time for a nap? Take mini-naps by adjusting your alignment and closing your eyes. Imagine the top of your head is being pulled up and out by a hook, opening the atlas axis at the base of the skull where the first cervical vertebrae supports the weight of your head. Keeping your eyes closed, imagine this space is clear and fluid, and that the head is truly floating on air. Breathing deeply, practice tiny, invisible movements from this space gently nodding yes and shaking no, and reaching your ear toward your shoulder. Simple, renewing, clarifying.

That is why I was so impressed when my client stopped by my house – running ragged tying up lose ends and last minute details – hours before she had to drive to the airport for the first leg of a long trip. She was clearly at wits end, tired kiddos, her allergies were acting up, not finished packing, etc. I met her in my driveway and immediately gave her a dose of homeopathic Spongia Tosta for her dry, dry, dry hacking cough and hot, dry sinuses. She took a deep breath, “I needed that” she said smiling.

“I am amazed that with everything else you have to take care of, you are taking time to take care of yourself first. Kudos for making your health and wellness a priority when so many other things are shouting loudly for your attention!”

my travel remedy kit is a converted tackle box - ready to go!

my travel remedy kit is a converted tackle box – ready to go!

We spent a few minutes making sure she had all the remedies she needed in her travel kit – including some arnica and plantain salves and some Dr. B’s herbal cough syrup. Bon Voyage, breathe deep and safe travels! How do you take care of yourself on vacation?

100% natural first aid kit for your family vacation


I get it – summer vacations are a whirlwind of activity, planning, packing, unpacking, managing schedules, coordinating kiddos and then…a glass of wine before you pass out at the end of the day. The last thing on my mind when I was packing for a week long stay at a family resort in the Colorado Rockies was a first aid kit!

Inevitably – someone’s gonna get sick. New environs, new bugs, new schedules, new foods…just about anything can set off a rampant cold, a knock-out flu, or a nasty bump/scrape/bite! A well-considered first-aid kit can save the parents a lot of heartache (and money) and get the kiddos back in vacation-mode without skipping a beat.

The trick is: how to pack light AND be prepared for the most common vacation mishaps? Here are FOUR simple, homemade remedies that I always pack and use for myself and my whole family (and sometimes the family down the hall at the hotel…):

ARNICA

Arnica grows in large patches on well-drained high-altitude mountain slopes and open fields

Arnica grows in large patches on well-drained high-altitude mountain slopes and open fields

Arnica everything – salve, ointment, and homeopathic preparations are the number one bump, bruise, or just not feeling right, achy, tired, cranky remedy of choice. Arnica salve can be made by macerating freshly cut arnica flowers in olive oil for one month, strain and melt down with equal parts beeswax. A faster method would be to pour Safflower Oil over a jar filled with coarsely chopped arnica, turn the lid tightly and use as a poultice applying the oil soaked flowers directly on sore spots (but NOT broken skin!) with a cotton bandage.

*Never take Arnica internally unless in a homeopathic dose.*

PLANTAIN

Plantain (unlike arnica) grows just about anywhere, and once you’ve positively identified it, you’ll never go without this wonderful remedy. Plantain is mother nature’s band-aid (alongside comfrey, in my book…) for srapes and bites. A hard fall down a gravel-laden hiking trail can leave a swath of debris inside a bleeding knee. First, clean the wound thoroughly (using a syringe, also handy to pack in your kit!). Next, find some fresh plantain leaves or pull some whole leaves out of your kit. Chew up a leaf (don’t worry, plantain leaves are edible) and place the leaf directly on the wound. Plantain is great for healing cuts and scrapes, you can tape the leaf directly onto the wound for several hours and change as needed. As with all first-aid, it is most important to keep all wounds as clean as possible. Plantain leaves will also provide immediate relief from itching and burning insect stings and bites.

PEPPERMINT

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perfect hot or iced, fresh brewed peppermint tea

Peppermint tea is soothing to the stomach and can be prepared in a pinch when nausea, upset stomach or abdominal cramping arises on long car trips. I always start a trip with several water bottles of sweet, iced peppermint tea to sip throughout the trip. Peppermint will also soothe a sore throat and provide relief for tired, puffy eyes. (Soak a washcloth in a strong cup of cool peppermint tea and place directly on the eyes, or remove peppermint tea bags after brewing, allow to cool and place bags directly over the eyes.)

CHAMOMILE

barefoot in the chamomileAs an herbal tea as well as a homeopathic, Chamomile is an indispensable ally when travelling with small children. Give your kiddos some chamomile tea to sip before bed to help them ease into sleeping in a new location, to calm their nerves from travelling and give them some comfort when their routine is interrupted.

Homeopathic Chamomile is a godsend for the travel-weary parent with the extremely irritable child. The child may be teething, or have diarrhea, or just be extra fussy. One dose of Chamomilla 30c will put your child at ease (and most often put them to sleep) within minutes. I’ve seen it work again and again. One time in a hotel a child started crying around 2 am, and the crying just got louder and louder. I walked down the hall and knocked on the door to see if I could help. The mother looked so tired, the baby in her arms was wriggling and crying. I offered one small homeopathic pillule which the mother accepted gratefully and put straight into a bottle of milk. A few minutes later, the baby calmed down and the whole floor was able to get back to sleep. Of course, the next morning the mother knocked on my door asking for more of “those magic little pills!”

YOUR BARE NECESSITIES KIT:

  • Arnica salve (homemade if you live in the mountains or purchased in 1 oz tins from your friendly neighborhood herbalist) AND homeopathic Arnica 200c
  • Plantain leaves picked fresh and packed in a plastic sandwich baggie. Fold a paper towel around the leaves to decrease spoilage; or plantain oil prepared ahead of time or purchased.
  • A few tea bags of Peppermint and Chamomile AND homeopathic Chamomilla.
  • A plastic syringe for easy wound cleaning (also handy for cleaning peanut butter and jelly out from between sticky fingers)
  • Gauze, cotton balls, q-tips, a few band-aids.

Pack your kit well ahead of time so you can just grab it and go! If you decide to travel with oils and salves, keep them in the cooler and in a separate plastic bag as they will most definitely, inevitably leak.

What else is in YOUR kit?

 

Bringing stinging nettle to the dinner table


Believe it or not, Quill grows, harvests and handles all her own nettle bare handed!

Believe it or not, Quill grows, harvests and handles all her own nettle bare handed!

Nettles are a tricky food to get to know – most folks either love ’em or hate ’em. If you’re truly hard-core, you harvest by hand, eat fresh nettle pesto or use fresh young tops in a stir-fry (click here for more tantalizing nettle recipes), or even practice “urtication” (reputed arthritis cure involving self-flagellation with stingy nettle stalks)!

I am a “middle-of-the-road” nettle lover. She grows lavishly all around my front door, I consider her tall, proud stalks and broad, dark blue-green leaves my protection, my shield, my ally. Inspired by a local eight year old, I’ve even started harvesting by hand (patting myself on the back, here). My best-selling nettle product so far is my all-purpose Nettle-Me seasoning adapted from my favorite herbalist Susun Weed. It resembles Gomasio, and can be used similarly in a stir-fry or rice bowl. I love a healthy sprinkle of Nettle-Me on top of my homemade hummus.

my best selling NettleMe seasoning, available locally for $5 a jar

my best selling NettleMe seasoning, available locally for $5 a jar

My latest adventure with nettle was inspired by a trip to France way back in 2004. I learned how to make traditional French vinaigrette exactly the way they make just enough for the evening’s meal, fresh every day. And, of course it is beautifully simple:

  • 3 parts organic Olive Oil
  • 1 part your very best Balsamic
  • 1 part super creamy Dijon
  • plenty of sea salt and fresh-cracked pepper to taste

Whisk together with a fork et voila! I’ve been making and sharing this vinaigrette for years without any variations. Last winter I started adding fresh, raw garlic and parsley for a super immune boost (and then I started eating it by the spoonful, nevermind the salad). And the the Nettle Faeries came to me in a dream and sang a song…

“When the blue-green goddess blooms

she dances in the light of the moon

her summery leaves give plenty food

for healthy meals old and new…”

…er, well, it went something like that. I sat up in bed full of inspiration and ran out to the yard to start picking nettle tops. Into the blender with a little olive oil (no blanching or drying or toasting, just fresh and juicy picked at the peak of potency under the full moonlight) and the bright green oil mixed into my favorite Vinaigrette a la Provence recipe became “Nettle-ette”!

Nettle-ette dressing next to my famous Homestead Hummus

Nettle-ette dressing next to my famous Homestead Hummus

Taken by the spoonful Nettle-ette salad dressing does sting. My tongue and throat did swell, slightly. After a couple days, however, the flavors melded and the sting mellowed into the most delightful and truly provincal nettle creation to date. Enjoy!