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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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Spring is finally in full swing here in Richmond and and I have to say: I am Oh. So. Grateful. Spring seems to make everything better. All day this past Sunday I was outside, planting the rest of my summer garden, potting geraniums, playing with the pup on the porch and catching wafts of fragrant lilacs from the front yard. Our apple trees are blooming. Our garlic and onions are kicking ass in their allium bed. Our windows are open all over the house.  It's a time of year I take a particular fondness to...the air is sweet and cool with a hint of warm. The onslaught of southern mosquitos haven't yet taken over my entire life. And the sun isn't quite so hot to scorch my skin. At this time of year, there is almost nothing about winter that I miss. Except maybe the soups...(just a little bit). 

So I tried a mysterious recipe for Carrot & Chamomile soup that I've had floating in my head for about 5 years. I first had carrot and chamomile soup when I was visiting the United Plant Savers* and Equinox Botanicals during my second year of graduate school. My friend Gaby was cooking for us there, and she served a soup like this that just blew my mind. Seeing as how Chamomile just made her debut, I thought I would give it a whirl, and (three tries later), I think I nailed it. 

This soup of PERFECT for spring and warmer weather. It's so light and frothy and bright and absolutely delicious. The natural sweetness of the carrots and apples balances the aromatic slight bitterness of the chamomile. It's so easy to throw together for a lunch gathering, and I loved eating it with a heaping side of Farmstead Ferments garlicky greens kraut. Not to mention of course this subtle soup is remarkably easy to digest for those with sensitive tummies or folks with a weaker digestive fire. The fennel and chamomile are both excellent carminatives (meaning they help with gas and bloating), and chamomile is an intestinal modulator when it comes to inflammation. It's cooling and soothing to sensitive or inflamed digestive tracts. And, it's delicious...with carrots. So so delicious. 

Carrot & Chamomile Soup

2 cups carrots, chopped (4-5 medium carrots)

 1/2 gala apple, seeded and chopped

 1/4 fennel bulb, chopped

 1/2 teaspoon salt

 1/4 teaspoon roasted garlic powder

 2 tablespoons honey

 1 tablespoon chamomile flowers

 1.5 cups hot water
Serves 2

Place carrots in a small pot and cover with filtered water. Boil for 10 minutes. 
While carrots are boiling, bring 1.5 cups of water to a boil in a kettle, and steep 1 tablespoon of chamomile flowers in the freshly boiled water. Let steep for 10 minutes, and strain. 
Once carrots are boiled, strain, and add to a food processor or vitamix along with the apple, fennel bulb, salt, garlic powder and chamomile tea. 
Blend together until smooth. 
Serve immediately (or chilled on the warmer days!). 


*P.S - If you're a lover of herbs, consider visiting (or donating!) to the United Plant Savers foundation. They truly have a haven of medicinal, wild appalachian western herbs in their beautiful Ohio land. Visiting and spending several days in this beautiful sanctuary was a life changing experience for me, and really brought my love of herbs to a whole new personal and spiritual level. Your support and donation will help the volunteers keep up the land and tend to the cultivation of both abundant and endangered medicinal herbal species <3

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Wednesday, April 08, 2015

If there's one herb that almost everyone knows, it's chamomile. Sweet and dainty, yet powerful and strong, chamomile is a staple in almost everyone's home as a gentle, relaxing remedy that the entire family can use. Safe for babies all the way up to the elderly, chamomile is often a go-to herb when you just need some support or a warm cup of comfort. It's delicate flavor hints at it's wispy structure with an intricate, tiny flower with reaching long stems. Chamomile to me just embodies the whole of herbal medicine, and I make sure to never be without this herbal ally. 

Energetically, Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) is warm to neutral while being slightly drying. It's filled with essential oils,  flavonoids and sesquiterpenes and has a slightly sweet to bitter taste. It has traditionally been used for ulcers and inflammation around the stomach and has proven itself a mighty champion over the years of quelling inflammation all throughout the gastrointestinal tract. I have found chamomile to be my go-to herb for spasms and pain anywhere in the gut (especially the stomach or large intestines). Of course, it is also an excellent relaxant and nervine too! Helping to calm the mind and relax the muscles, chamomile is a classic "sleepy time" herb used in almost every calming herbal tea formula. And with it's anti-inflammatory properties, chamomile it remarkably effective to use topically for eczema and psoriasis itchiness on the skin!

Chamomile can be made into a delicious herbal tea and sipped throughout the day for digestive support and calming stressful lives. It can also be taken as a tincture (hydroalcoholic extract) for really acute symptoms like stomach spasms or large intestine/bowel spasms. As a tincture, it can work it's magic in minutes (versus a tea, which may take 30 minutes to an hour to have an effect on some people). If you get a little anxious or overwhelmed when traveling, keeping a small bottle of chamomile in your bag can be a real life saver. I NEVER travel without some chamomile tincture on me. Ever. 

I find chamomile to be most helpful in people with IBS or other stress induced digestive troubles. They may be a little jittery or run cold to the touch. They hold their nerves in their stomach and can be kind of wound up most of the time. I've also used it often for babies while they're teething by making chamomile ice cubes for them to suck on (works like a charm). It's usually the first herb I think of for folks with dull, achy menstrual cramps as it's a fantastic anti-spasmodic (and really safe to take in high doses as often as needed). Below is a delicious chamomile based tea formula that I love for spring!

Calming Chamomile Tea
2 teaspoons chamomile
1/2 teaspoon lemon balm
1/2 teaspoon peppermint
1/2 teaspoon lavender
Blend together and steep in 2 cups of hot water for 7-10 minutes, covered. Sip consciously and in a peaceful place. 

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Wednesday, April 01, 2015

This month has been a pretty happy/depressing with my book endeavors. I finally finished the Harry Potter series which was both exhilarating and utterly depressing once I actually finished. I haven't been so emotionally invested in a series for years, so when it's all over there's certainly a void that needed to be desperately filled. I always love to have some kind of lengthy adventure/fiction/fantasy/epic story going on in my background life while I'm also invested in a small pile of other readings or research...just to keep the balance. I'm still on the hunt for the next epic adventure story, so in the meantime, I've been really loving my small pile of "others":

For the Body:
Simply In Season | This is my first go-to cookbook at the turn of the seasons to get in the groove for a shift in seasonal eating. It's segmented by season with a variety of delicious, fresh and seasonal recipes that celebrate the individuality of every season. Colorful salads, vegetable rich main dishes and just-sweet-enough desserts make it easy to get into the feel of spring, and with the lengthy lists of new vegetables and fruits to expect, it makes your grocery shopping that much easier. Their zucchini brownie recipe is a staple in my house and has been for years. 

The Drunken Botanist | This might be one of the most fun herbal resources I've acquired in the past few years. This pretty little book centers around herbal cocktails and spiked herbal teas while giving the (sometimes long) and complex history of some of our favorite flavorful herbs. Now, I'm not that much into liquors or cocktails, but all of these unique (and, dare I say it - "medicinal") recipes do resonate with me, and I've initiated a lengthy list of things to try when the weather gets warmer and we host some spring garden parties....

For the Mind:
Textbook of Ayurveda: Fundamental Principles (Vol. I) | This is also a "for the body" book for sure, but the depth of Dr. Lad's knowledge fills my cerebral space to the brim with every page. I was recommended this book by my ayurvedic practitioner, Vijaya Stallings who was also my ayurvedic instructor at the time. Dr. Lad has such a tangible grasp of ayurveda that is perfect to implement into clinical (and personal) practice. As with any topic that is so in depth, I'm usually having to read everything twice...or three times to really get it all to sink in. And then come back to it later, too. 

Tao & Dharma : Chinese Medicine & Ayurveda | So basically anything by Robert Svoboda has my attention. I really love his works on Ayurveda and have several of his books in my handy arsenal of resources. But Chinese medicine is totally mysterious to me. I work with Western herbs 90% of the time, and the concepts, theories and practice of Chinese medicine is a discipline I have not dived into. I'm really loving how this book bends the two disciplines, and it's not to advanced that I can't understand the focus on Chinese herbs. It also pulls at my heart strings when two experts blend together their practices to make it work in tandem. Medicine should do that more often...

For the Soul:
Space Trilogy: Out of the Silent Planet | I'm really trying on this one. Once Harry Potter ended, I was so desperate to fill the void I was grabbing anything in my house that I hadn't already read, and this was about the only thing I had left. I'll be honest - it's a struggle getting into this one, but I'm going to power through. I'm feeling so distracted every time i pick it up, like it's just not hooking me into the epic adventure that it actually is. But maybe I'm just not devoting the time and head space that it needs. Regardless though, I need some extra subconscious adventure happening in the background and suggestions are welcome! 

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Friday, February 27, 2015

It's one thing to get caught up in the physiological, phytochemical, and biological side of herbal medicines. If you work with herbs long enough and study hard enough, all of those things are eventually very tangible, trackable and predictable. Western medicine really likes trackable and predictable medicines, as do most people; it gives a sense of security and comfort to know how and why something works because, obviously, when you're ill and want to feel better, you want to know what you're taking actually works. 

But there's more to the body than just health or illness, and more to the person than just physiology. With every person comes a health story, and often deeply engrained in ones health story (not to mention every day life) there is quite a bit of emotional ups and downs. Every day we have an underlying sense of emotion - for our jobs, families, partners, seasons, friends, hobbies, diet, circumstances and even body image. Quite often, we get stuck in a rut with our lives, and emotional habits are hard to break. Now granted, some emotions that are considered "unpleasant" like guilt, depression, grief or anger can be a perfectly natural reaction to a particular life circumstance and not something that really needs to be "fixed", but rather just allowed to let it pass. Once we acknowledge what emotion is lingering, (and if we even want to adjust it at all), that's when herbs can play a supportive role in being strong allies for our emotional health. 

Along with their therapeutic role in supporting overall health and disease imbalance, herbs have this awesome underlying "energetic" aspect that touches on emotional states that is much less tangible than, say, xyz herb's effect on hypothyroidism. This is something that you get to know in a plant after you've been friends/allies for a while. Or have a close relationship with while growing up. Or have sat with in their natural habitat for some time. Or, in my case, used in a clinical capacity with lots of people over time. I've noticed that several herbs have a profound ability to not only be supportive for an imbalance, but affect the person's emotional health so positively that it is a clear factor in helping them overcome an illness completely. Here are a few of my favorites:

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium): Yarrow derives it's name from the Greek hero, Achilles. Legend has it that when Achilles was a baby, his mother bathed him in yarrow bath water to cover him in strength, however she missed his ankles (where she was holding him) and thus his heel was his weakness forever. True to the legend, Yarrow has always been an herb that instills strength and vibrancy, and when used daily as a tea or tincture (and even still, if you like to believe, as part of a bath ritual) it instills a sense of physical and emotional strength to the consumer. I often use this if someone is presenting as hopeless, desperate or depleted in physical and emotional vigor.

Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca): This is typically an herb that is used for issues surrounding the nervous system or the uterus, however as its botanical name (cardiaca) suggests, it also has affinity for the heart space. It's a perfect remedy for people who get really really nervous before performing or speaking in public (when the heart starts racing so fast you feel like people can see it bouncing out of your chest). Or for people who carry a general sense of anxiety or nervousness that presents as a fluttery or skipped heart beat. I've also seen it work it's heart magic on people who carry a lot of grief or sadness (for family or loved ones, specifically) in their heart to lighten the load. 

Holy Basil (Ocimum sanctum): This is like my ultimate Hug-In-A-Cup. Holy Basil is naturally uplifting, moving and warm, and ideal for when I feel my inner Eeyore raging. Holy Basil (also knows as Tulsi) is perfect for celebratory occasions as it is so uplifting to the spirit, as well as being adaptogenic (and a gentle energy tonic). The entire plant is highly honored in India and used in countless rituals and ceremonies. This is my ideal herb for despondent folks who just can't get motivated into things that make them happy (like Eeyore, remember that 'ol grump?) Feeling spiritually murky, lost and disconnected? Try Tulsi! Perfect for the lingering winter blues, too. And tea, I think, is the best way to take this spiritual herb (I love the Tulsi from Organic India).

Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora): I may talk about Skullcap with the same affection that I talk about my puppy. Or my partner. Or my mom. I love Skullcap. I think it saved my life in grad school. Originally I started taking it for debilitating anxiety induced IBS symptoms (which it's also amazingly effective for), but I found that it not only provided an anxiolytic effect on the gastrointestinal tract, it also was an emotional lifesaver for when I was feeling overwhelmed, overworked and just plain unhappy and scared. I've used it dozens of times with people in similar situations, and most especially for people who feel overexposed in a big and busy world - like the world is too bright, too loud and too busy for them and they're feeling very vulnerable. This is especially useful for the person with sensitive skin and is hypersensitive to pain/physical stimuli on the surface and sensitive to the emotions of their environment. If you're seeking a warm, dark hideaway, skullcap is for you (and while you're at it, grab your mom and a teddy bear, too). 

Lavender (Lavandula spp): Sweet and aromatic, lavender. These light and colorful little buds are just so joyful and, like Motherwort, have a special affinity for the heart, but for different reasons. There's loads of things that go on with the heart - jealousy, love, longing, fear of abandonment and, most notably for lavender: Grief. Grief is usually an emotion that our culture does not allow time to explore and sit with. And some people I've seen have been literally grieving for years. Lavender is the perfect remedy for those who grieve the loss of something: the death of a loved one, a child going off to college, a relationship that has ended, a house that is being left behind. This supports the process of the loss and softens the grief without getting rid of it. 

It's best, I think, to find your herbal allies for emotional health by just trying things over and over again and getting a sense for how they sit in your body. And, as an extra jolt of excitement, I will be adding some speciality tea blends to my online shop here very soon which utilize most of these herbs! Be sure to check back in a few days when they make their online debut!

I would love to hear your experience with emotional support using herbs. What have you used that I didn't mention?

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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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