Tuesday, August 18, 2015

No other herb screams "Sun bursting summer celebration!" like Calendula does for me. These beautiful, vibrantly orange marigold flowers are nothing short of breathtaking when they're growing in a hot summer field, basking in the heavy heat of mid summer. Calendula is always a treat for me, as it's really only available and in high quality during the summer and early fall months, so I can't bask in it's glory all year long. But when I can get my hands on some fresh or dried calendula flowers, I want to make 'em last as long as I can.

Enter infused oils (and get ready for a truly decadent full body treat). 

A few years ago, I discovered that calendula and apricot kernel oil are practically made for each other. They're like botanical soul mates. The first time I infused dried calendula flowers into apricot oil and put it on my skin I swear I could hear my whole body just giggling with appreciation. The delicate balance of apricot oil and soothing calendula is a straight up lifesaver for those with dry, sensitive skin (and all others too, let's be real). And in this way, I can keep calendula with me through the winter and early spring as a decadent bath oil, body oil, main ingredient in AMAZING salves (that one's coming up next) and even lip balms. And, it's amazingly simple to make to boot. 

(Side note - when I make infused oils, tinctures, topical medicines, tea blends etc...I totally feel like I'm at Hogwarts, blending up magical recipes to store away and keep in my botanical apothecary. Have fun with this! Let your inner magic child come out, and get imaginative and creative with your blends. It's hard to go wrong with infused oils!)

Calendula Benefits:

Calendula is excellent topically due to it's anti-inflammatory and mucilage (polysaccharide) content, making it soothing and cooling for dry or inflamed skin. It has been used topically as a vulnerary (wound healing) treatment for centuries, as well as a syptic (to stop bleeding) when applied to wounds on the skin. It also has some mild anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties as well (and a salve made of this is usually a staple in my backpacking first aid kit). 

Calendula Infused Apricot Oil

Dried Calendula Flowers
Apricot Kernal Seed Oil

Take a pint mason jar and pack it with dried calendula flowers, leaving about 1.5 inches at the neck. 

Cover completely with apricot kernel oil and give it a good shake. Let it solar infuse (sit in the summer sun) for 4 days, shaking once a day.  

(Another faster option is to put it in a pot, 3/4 filled with water on the stove on LOW heat for about 6 hours. Be careful this way, because if it gets too hot the oil will burn, or the glass may crack. A crock put on low heat also works). 

Take a thin bandana, old cloth shirt, or fine cheese cloth and strain all of the oil out into a clean jar and store away for later use. 



Photos by Renee Byrd, on the first of our many herbal+photography collaborations together <3

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Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Starting in 2009, I began working part time in the supplement section of a local health food store in Maryland wherein I was completely submersed in the overwhelming (and often unnecessary) world of dietary and herbal supplements. When I started, I knew absolutely NOTHING. I was just starting my masters degree in herbal medicine and nutrition, and they hired me on the spot because I would "catch on quickly and learn my way around". True that - after about 6 months I felt like I could navigate the in's and out's of all of those CoQ10's and calcium combinations, and after 5 more years I could talk about supplements, brands, products and manufacturing practices all day. At the end of last year, December 2014, was when I finally parted ways with working in the supplement section of health food stores having been a member of three different awesome stores from Maryland to Virginia. 

I still keep close ties with Ellwood Thompsons (I'm their health coach and offer FREE appointments there, as well as consult with them on incoming products) and their supplement section is a big part of their offering. I'm constantly talking with people about how to choose supplements, which ones are necessary and which ones may not be, how to read labels, and how to research product companies to get high quality products. Making educated decisions about supplements, both dietary and herbal, is essential if you plan to continue taking supplements for any long period of time. The supplement world is not really regulated, it's self regulated, so making sure to buy supplements from reputable and clean sources is of utmost importance. Not all supplements are created equal, and as a general rule of thumb, you get what you pay for. 

As a nutritionist, my philosophy and practice is to almost always try to get the nutrients we need from actual whole foods and nutrient rich herbs not supplements. The only time I recommend supplements is if, 1) the person cannot eat or does not have access to certain foods for particular nutrients, or 2) they have a legit absorption issue where they cannot absorb the nutrients they need from food. There is a time and place for dietary supplements (and as a culture we're extremely lucky to have them), however I feel that they're often overused, and used as a replacement for good, solid nutrient rich foods. People feel like they can slack off on their diet if they're taking supplements, and it just doesn't work like that. 

There are some products that are designed to enhance nutrients or support digestion that, when still eating a wholesome organic diet, can be nice to have on hand as part of your daily nutrition practice. I keep only a few things around that I take on a daily basis that serve my individual nutrient needs, and this will vary from person to person. 

1. Fish Oil - I don't eat fish (or anything that came out of the water) EVER. I just can't handle it, smell it, touch it or look at it. I can't even go to an aquarium. I absolutely know that I need to supplement with this omega-3 rich oil due to the extreme lack of it in my diet. Omega-3 (and omega-9) are essential fatty acids because they body does not make them - they must be obtained through foods like salmon, cod and anchovies, or through nuts and seeds like chia, flax, walnuts and hemp seeds (which I eat on a daily basis). Make extra sure to find high quality fish oil - here's why

2. Probiotics - If there's one supplement I think almost everyone could benefit from, it's a good quality, comprehensive probiotic. These little bacterial critters play an enormous role in our digestive health, overall immunity, emotional stability, and even help to manufacture mood stabilizing hormones like dopamine, taurine and serotonin. The probiotics in our gut can be influenced by a variety of factors like environmental inputs, chronic stress, anti-biotic or pharmaceutical drug use and of course our daily diet. It's so easy to deplete the probiotic reserves in our body that it's almost always helpful to supplement with extra probiotics to help maintain the balance. Also eating fermented foods like kimchi, kraut, kombucha, kefir, yogurt and miso will help increase probiotics too!

3. Turmeric - I eat this as often as I can with foods, and I also either take a capsule with each meal, or mix about 1/2 teaspoon in some water daily for increased anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory support. Although many supplement companies tout the benefits of only taking curcumin alone, it's my stead fast belief that utilizing the entire root of turmeric works much more efficiently and comprehensively in the body that one single constituent alone. The same can be said for almost any herb that people tend to want standardize. 

4. Triphala - In Ayurveda, this three-fruit blend of amalaki, bibhitaki & hiritaki has been used for generations to support digestion - especially the lower bowel and colon. It is considered tri-dosha and supportive of any constitution to both gently cleanse the lower digestive tract while also being extremely building and nourishing. Ayurvedic philosophy considers the colon to absorb the "prana" or life force from foods, and keeping a healthy and strong digestive, cardiovascular and lymphatic flow is essential for the absorption of prana into our body. 

5. Greens Powder - I only take this during the days or seasons when I can't get "enough" greens on my plate. Although almost every meal I have usually has veggies and fruits of some kind, if a day to two goes by and I just crave some extra greens, I'll mix some organic greens powder in some water or juice for an extra dose of minerals instead of taking a multi-vitamin. I also drink these anytime I would like some freshly made juice in the winter time when I don't have access to my favorite juicing veggies. I usually alternate between Amazing Grass and Health Force

Every now and then, I'll throw in some extra supplements depending on the season or my fluctuating state of health. These are the essentials though and tend to find their way into my daily routine almost 100% of the time. I'll have further posts on how to navigate deciding on, purchasing and researching supplements in the future, too! What have been the essential nourishing items in your medicine chest over the years?

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Wednesday, July 08, 2015

I'm so excited to launch this new "Essentials" series today! Essentials is a series that goes through some of the staples in my home and lifestyle and will cover everything from pantry stock lists and nourishing/supplement items, to body care and backpacking go-to's. Everything included will come from a holistic nutrition foundation, along with several years worth of knowledge from working in the natural products industry. Keeping my daily products as clean and sustainable as possible is always a driving force when I make decisions about what to buy, and from where. I prefer to support local small businesses, artisans and crafters, local growers and farmers and even national companies with a clean, sustainable and holistic ingredient philosophy (along with fair trade guidelines for workers and families). I've realized over the years that sometimes my biggest voice comes from how I choose to spend my money, and who I want to support. 

My Pantry Essentials is a general list of the things that are ALWAYS in my pantry stock room. Lots of dried goods, whole grains, dried beans, herbs, spices and oils. These ingredients are things I use in circulation every day, and I feel so fortunate to live in a city where all of these staples are available (thanks Ellwood Thompsons!). 
Details on a few:

  • I get most of my dried beans from Purcell Mountain Farms. They offer a great variety of delicious organic, heirloom beans!
  • Yellow Mung Dal & Kitchari Spice Mix I always source from Banyan Botanicals. This is my go-to resource for most Ayurvedic spices, herbs and dietary info. I love them to death. 
  • Herbs & Spices I often source from Mountain Rose Herbs for the things I use tons of (like ginger, sage, cinnamon or fennel). 
  • Whole grains I always buy in bulk and store in re-usable recycled glass jars with an air tight lid. 
  • Hemp seeds I source from Manitoba Harvest
This is by no means a complete list, however it's an excellent place to pull ideas if you're looking to overhaul your pantry and then make adjustments to make it your own. I love to try new sources of foods, too! If you have suggestions of great companies or farms that you like please share in the comments. 

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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

At the beginning of every summer, Mullein is usually the first sign that the season is about to hit full swing here in the south. I can't drive down the highway without seeing mullein leaves basking in the sun every mile to two, and eventually those tall, beautiful spikes come shooting up, filled with bright yellow flowers reaching taller than me towards the sky. This is Mullein - summer basking glory that is every thru-hiker's dream to come across. It's one of the most identifiable plants out there, and also one of the most fun to play with and make medicine from. 

Two parts of mullein are most commonly used: the leaves and the flowers (and roots, occasionally). 

The leaves are harvested fresh, and may be dried in the sun to make tea (they're nice and fuzzy soft!). They have a great affinity for the lungs, and are an ideal remedy for dry, nervous coughs. Mullein is inherently moistening, so if you've got that dry, unproductive cough mullein is great at moistening up the mucus membranes to loosen things up by quieting the sensory irritation in the throat mucosa. It works well as primary herb, and even better when combine with marshmallow, wild cherry bark or coltsfoot for a fan-freakin'-tastic cough remedy. The leaves are also very high in mucilages (made from sugars and ironic acid units) which can trap water and swell to form a gel consistency. This mucilage is nice and soothing to membranes internally and also topically when applied to the skin, and have been traditional remedies for ulcers, burns, gastrointestinal inflammation (in the lower GI especially) and topical wounds. It's been shown to even have some antimicrobial and antiviral actions from both water extracts and alcoholic extracts. If you're out in the woods and need some emergency first aid, a mullein plant is a great ally.

To make a quick mullein leaf cough remedy: Combine 1 heaping tbsp dried mullein leaves with 1/2 tsp each cherry bark, marshmallow root & licorice. Simmer in 2 cups water for 15 minutes, covered with a tight fitting lid. Remove from heat and strain. Sip with a little honey to coat and soothe the throat. 

The flowers are harvested when they're in full bloom, bright yellow and covering that long stalk that sprouts up from the middle of the mullein plant. They're infused into an oil (olive oil works amazingly well) for topical anti-inflammatory, demulcent or analgesic magic. As a doctrine of signatures poster child, the stalk of the mullein plant resembles a spine, and traditionally the flowers harvested from the mullein "spine" were used to support lower back pain. This simple mullein flower oil is an all over excellent pain relieving oil that helps to reduce swelling topically. Today, the flowers are most commonly infused into an oil (along with garlic) to make an ear oil for ear infections. I've tried that remedy numerous times (especially when I was little kid, chronically plagued with ear infections) and it works wonderfully well, and usually within 1-2 days. 

To make mullein flower oil (ridiculously simple) Loosely pack a small glass jar with mullein flowers. Cover completely with a carrier oil (I like to use olive oil). Seal with a right fitting lid, and let sit out in the sun for 3 days. Strain out all of the oil using a fine cloth or thin t-shirt or bandana. Discard flowers, and save the oil in am amber glass jar for upcoming outdoor adventure. (If you don't have 3 days for the solar infusion, put the jar in a crock pot, covered 2/3 with water on LOW for about 7-8 hours. Check often as too high heat will crack the glass.)


Tea (dried leaves) up to 24 grams daily, typical dose is 5 grams at a time.

Tincture (alcoholic extract) 7-10ml up to twice daily. 

I'd love to hear your experiences with mullein (and see your self portraits with your #mulleinally) this summer! 

References (for more nerd brain reads on Mullein/Verbascum thapsus)

Turker AU, Camper ND. Biological activity of common mullein, a medicinal plant. J Ethnopharmacol 82.2-3 (2002) 117-25

Serkedjieva J. Combined antiinfluenza virus activity of Flos verbasci infusion and amantadine derivatives. Phytother Res 14.7 (2000) 571-4

Braun & Cohen. (2007). herbs & natural supplements; An evidence based guide. Second Edition. Elsevier Press. 

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Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Before we get all caught up in the nitty gritty details that is formulating herbal teas, take a peek back at my previous post about the Ritual of Herbal Tea (to get you in the mood). This post is designed for the super nerdy herbal enthusiast who wants to take their tea blending a step past their "shot in the dark" kitchen formulations and get a little bit more targeted with their teas. Now there's a lot to be said for those wild and weedy concoctions from your backyard doing a lot of good for the common ailments and I'll always have a special place in my heart for those summer time foraging tea parties. And when it comes to the more clinical applications of herbal teas, we can get super specific and pretty darn effective when we know how to blend herbs to maximize their therapeutic potential. 

When I'm putting together a specialized blend for someone, I've usually spent at least an hour with them (or know them pretty well already) so I have a sense of who they are and what their constitution is. Determining which dosha is currently dominant will greatly enhance the formulation. It's important for me to not only formulate for their primary health concerns, but to match the herbs with that person (herbal allies). As I've heard my teachers say, "There is no herb for arthritis. But there are great herbs for your Aunt who has arthritis". Get to know the person you're formulating for, how they think, how they speak, what emotions are underlying, and of course what's going on physiologically/what might be a little imbalanced. "It's more important to know the person who has a disease than what disease a person has". -Hippocrates 

I'm going to primarily focus on tea blending, but the same guidelines hold true for tinctures and powder formulations too. 

Herbal Tea Formulating:

1. Monarch - Principle acting herb. Targets energetic ailment and also primary health concern (ex. Anti-inflammatory, carminative, demulcent, astringent, nevine etc). 

2. Minister - Strengthens the curative effect of the monarch (secondary acting herb). 

3. Adjuvant - Neutralizes adverse effects of the monarch + minister (balancing the energetics of the formula here. If the first two herbs are warm/hot, add a cooling herb to balance). 

4. Guide - Harmonizes the action of other herbs. Enhances absorption or uptake into specific organs. Synergist to tie the other herbs together. 

There are different schools of thought as to how many herbs should be in a formula. Chinese and Ayurvedic formulas can have upwards of 20+ herbs, western formulas may have 3-7.  I usually use between 3-6. I find that when I go beyond 6 or 7 the formula/my train of thought is too convoluted and not targeted enough. Try to focus on 1 (occasionally 2) main areas of focus, like calming their digestion (with anti-spasmodic herbs, cooling carminitves) and supporting their stress response (with calming adaptogens and adrenal supporting herbs). Then, take note of the energetic of your formula - are they cold/cooling herbs? Balance it out with a hint of heat like holy basil or ginger. Using the Guide I think comes into play once you get to know herbs well - you'll get a sense of what herbs play well together and which ones just don't jive. If you've got a formula with a bunch of misfit herbs, try adding a "guide' or synergist like licorice to unite them all together. 

Finally, there's the enjoyment factor. Whatever you put together, ideally you'll want to enjoy it while drinking. Medicinal herbs aren't really known for their delicious taste (with a few exceptions) and some can be just plain disgusting. Too bitter, too astringent, too "earthy", too aromatic...everyone has their own tastes. Once you blend a bunch of herbs together it's good to know what the dominant flavor will be. For example, if it's bitter, add a little sweetness to it like lavender. Or if it's too 'earthy", add a little aromatic action with peppermint. 

So, in a nutshell, that's the basic framework of 90% of my formulations. Herbs are SO much fun to play with and experiment with when formulating. If you're just getting started and want to learn the basics about the actions of herbs or their energetics, check out some of my favorite resources like Rosemary Gladstar, James Duke, Henriettes Herbal and Banyan Botanicals. Take a stroll through your local health food store and pick up a few boxes of herbal tea. Check out their formulas and start to notice patterns or commonly used herbs for specific ailments. Drink a bunch of one tea and notice how it's effecting your body. Taking herbs yourself is the best way to get to know them. Just like people, they can be unpredictable sometimes, but ultimately can be consistent if you know your allies well. 

Sip Consciously :)


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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

I drink a lot of herbal tea. 

I have since I was a child. In my younger, more flippant years, it was mainly when I had a cold, or needed some calming sleepy time tea, or just felt like doing something "old-timey"that I would drink herbal tea. As I got older, I would reach for herbal tea to feel more nurtured (because what mom would do is always the right thing). I couldn't help but notice that herbal tea actually did things to my body that other things couldn't - like calm me down, or wake me up, or help me out with stress, or soothe my throat when it was sore. My awareness progressed leaps and bounds when I went to graduate school, and we really had to develop relationships with not only the herbs we used compounding for others, but how they affected us individually. The art of blending tea and ingesting it became intoxicating and magical. As my apothecary grew and my experience widened, I found that blending and drinking tea was something I craved; Something that really grounded me spiritually and physically and emotionally. The ritual surrounding herbal tea is so engrained in my daily life now that I can't help but feel even more connected to my ancestors and unacquainted cultures who also share this love and ritual when I partake myself.

There is something deeply empowering about tea blending and tea drinking. When I think of the traditional Japanese tea ceremony my heart just fills with joy knowing that so many people find peace and ritual with others around such a medicinal plant source. When I think of a traditional cocoa ceremony, I think of the connectedness of friends and strangers that ingest the same potent plants to bridge foreign minds. Nothing comes between the Brits and their tea time. This is essential chit chat, catching up on the world friend time. In America, though, we don't really have this ritual, and if we do "meet for tea" its usually in a to-go cup so we can rush back to work. American's...we get it so backwards. 

Here's the bottom line about the magic of tea blending and tea drinking: When you take the time to become aware and notice what your body needs, you prioritize your time to make your body a better place. Herbs are so powerful and medicinal. Once you get to know a few herbs here and there, you'll find that when your body speaks to you in whispers (a headache here, a little stomach ache there, etc), you'll know what herbs will be your ally to support you during that upset. You can whip together a special tea blend to suit just what your body needs, and you'll take the time blend it consciously, smelling and feeling the texture of every herb. You'll measure out a fragrant, colorful scoop and let it steep in the freshly brewed water and let the sweet aromas of herbal goodness wash over you while it's steeping by your favorite chair. You'll practically be forced to sit down and enjoy a cup of your delicious tea while it nourishes and supports your body's organ systems. 

For now, start with making herbal tea a ritualistic part of your day. Try an herbal tea of your choice (I really love Traditional Medicinals, Gaia herbs or Mountain Rose herbal teas) and find a sacred and peaceful spot to enjoy it. Maybe in your favorite chair curled up with a book or your cat, or sip while taking a long, relaxing bath, or even while you're up in bed, about to drift off to sleep. I usually enjoy my herbal tea during my morning ritual (after breakfast or before my yoga practice). Sip consciously and slowly, and really start to get to know these new flavors. Notice how you're feeling before and after drinking. What has changed or shifted? Do you feel less tense or less foggy-brained? Has your digestion gotten better or your productivity increased? This is how you start to find your herbal allies! 

If you've never blended your own tea before, not to worry! You can purchase loose/bulk herbs from your local health food store or order them from Mountain Rose HerbsFrontier Co-op, or Banyan Botanicals. I will be posting more detailed tea blending information in future posts very soon, so stay tuned for extra herbal tea blending info!


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Herbal medicine and nutrition is my expertise. Understanding plants, their properties, and their powers is my passion.


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