Baby its cold out side....
Time for some Honey, Lemon and Ginger & Clove. If you are really feeling like something sinister is taking hold of your respiratory system you could add a little dram of whiskey to cheer the blues away! Don't worry. The science backs it up!
If all else fails you can try some of our Defense or Wellness Teas. They are wonderful teas designed to heat up the body. I don't like the cold. I long for some heat - and ginger is one of those wonderful little herbs that help me feel like summer is but a few sleeps away!
Herbalists talk about herbs being Warming, Cooling, Drying and Astringent - to name a few. Knowing this separates the great herbalists from the mediocre. A mediocre herbalist might have a client come to them with a disease. Thinking of that disease they remember something about a herb which is meant to be good it. This method however doesn't take into account how the herb acts nor the person it is being used to treat. Knowing the person you are treating and the symptoms expressed leads to a variety of different possibilities. A good herbalist will recognised that a warming herb may be good for a cool person and a cool herb for a cool person. They will want to bring balance to the patient they are treating.
Doing so is an artform and its something that only in practice you begin to realise its full usefulness. I've had a number of conversations with people lately that were suffering from irritating rashes and itches. Medications just were not cutting it and there was nothing really worth looking at from an allopathic perspective.
One visit to a Kineseologist for one client and another to a herbalist led to an easy diagnosis in both cases. They were too hot! They needed to be cooled down with cooling herbs and avoid herbs that were warming. That is really important when then thinking about treating the rash. There are lots of different herbs that can be taken internally and externally but choosing the right ones becomes a really interesting process. You must aim to ensure that you use cooling herbs to detox the kidneys, cleanse the liver, and bloods. Whilst also cool the skin topically. Do it this way and all of a sudden you have a multi-system approach that can be really effective. All because you understand the temperment of the person, the action of the herbs and how the bodily systems function.
Its old medicine. Humoral medicine. It can be and is extremely useful for herbal practicioners and especially when treating chronic conditions.
This may make perfect sense to you - or, you may need a little convincing... So, I wish to make the case with Ginger.
We all know Ginger. It was one of the first oriental speices to arrive in Europe and can appreciate its effect the moment we eat it. It is warming, bitter and aromatic. You can almost instantly feel the heat pulsate through your body and move out to your extremeties. It makes you sweat - but not overly so! It would be impossible to take some ginger and say that you think its cooling; just as no one could ever take a bite of cucumber and convince anyone that it is warm. The foods may have exactly the same core temperature but the action it has on the body is very different.
Some people love ginger. Some can't handle its heat. That can often tell you something about the person. Some people, myself included, need a bit of heat in our lives. I tend to be cold and struggle in the winter. Herbs such as ginger and st. Johns wort encourage me to hold on for spring! Others find taking ginger really difficult. They are hot enough without the need of consuming more heat.
Ginger is great for at helping to warm people up and increase the circulation whilst thinning the blood a little and helping in the absorption of other medicines.
Now, lots of people might know that ginger is good for morning sickness and nausea but completely forget that in the middle of summer a pregnant a women with a hot temperment might find ginger completely unsuitable. Perhaps a cooler herb could be suggested instead; peppermint, spearmint or chamomile should spring to mind instead?
Understanding a herbs actions also brings an understanding as to why that specific herb is useful in certain cases. Ginger is used in instances of osteoarthritis or methabolic syndromes and hyperglycaemia. By stimulating the blood circulation it drives oxygenated blood to the peripheries and clears out the inflammation. You can follow that logic. It makes obvious sense.
That ginger is bitter makes it an unusual combination within the herb world, but this factor aids its carminative, anti-infective and anti-inflmmatory properties; aiding digestion, circulation and assimilation.
That wonderful stinky and flavoursome herb is full of goodness to an ailing body; a fabulous defender of the realm, helping you to stay healthy and one of the most effective and powerful natural anti-biotics you could ever use to fight off infection.
Allium sativum (to give it the botanical name) is a perennial plant widely cultivated as a kitchen herb. 80% of all garlic comes from China yet it is perfectly happy in most soils and hardy to around -10oC. Frankly, nothing tastes better than home grown food and at least this way I can be sure its organic. It also does the amazing job of being a perfect companion plant to roses, carrots, beetroot and chamomile - fending off little unwanted critters.
Why do I love it so?
It is anti-biotic, anti-septic, Anthelmic (anti-parisitic), Blood cleansing, Expectorant, Diaphoretic, Hypotensive (reduced high blood pressure), anti-thrombotic, hypoglycaemic (reduces blood sugar), antispasmodic, a digestive, carminative and cholagogue. What's not to like? In fact before taking an anti-biotic for an ear infection I strongly suggest putting a clove of garlic behind the ear (finding a way to keep it there) and keep in on during the night. You will be amazed at how effective this little clove is at fighting off infection!
Garlic can be indicated for everything from a cold, bronchitis, diabetes, blood pressure, whooping cough and asthma. It can be used against fungal and bacterial infections, aids digestion; and can be used to fight of intestinal worms or as a vermifuge (its even perfectly shaped as a suppository for such purposes). It will promote detox, help skin problems, reduce cholesterol and can be used against arterioslcerosis. I've some garlic honey on hand for bites and stings which my boys regularly complain of.
There is of course much science to explain why garlic is so effective and such a potent little herb. It helps to know this to ensure you are using it effectively to support your body both stay well and help itself.
Garlic contains sulphur compounds known as alliin. On crushing the cells of garlic the bulb releases two chemicals known as allicin and ajoene. Allicin is very unstable and reacts quickly. It will dissipate over the course of a day and is destroyed when cooking. So it needs added to food just after crushing it. A significant amount of alliinase and alliin can be preserved by freeze drying the garlic; hence the garlic capsules you get in health food shops. A word on this however; Alliinase is inactivated by low Ph (such as that in the stomach) enteric coated capsules are necessary for alliinase to survive in the stomach and make its way further down into the digestive tract. Whilst this isn't essential for respiratory conditions or indeed for using it as a pre-biotic it does become important to know this if using the garlic purposefully against some conditions.
It may be helpful to think of it this way. Plants have chemical properties to help them survive that go above and beyond living and growing. They were created with inbuilt mechanisms to fend of disease, resist drought, fight bacterial or fungal infections. As static organisms. They can't operate on a fight or flight mentality. They must proactively work to defend themselves against the onslaught of preditors and disease. These very self-preserving skills are the very things that herbalists (and pharmaceuticals) are able to use to the benefit of humankind. Garlic relases chemicals once crushed in the same way it would if it was bitten or eaten by an insect or microbe. It makes an excellent companion plant because certain insects recognise the smell and know to stay clear. Those that don't bite into it at their peril.
A word on the stink.... The volitile oil of garlic is excreted through the lungs. Give thought as to how it gets there. It has to be absorbed into the system to be excreted. It must travel through the body, the arteries, veins, and heart before the lungs get to breath out that garlicy aroma. This very fact makes it an excellent remedy against respiratory disorders.
If you find the after-aroma very off-putting you can always eat apples, coffee beans or parsely to diminish the smell.
Garlic has a long history as food and as medicine. It was given to labourers building the pyramids to keep them strong and healthy. According to Pliny it had a semi-divine status and was known to clear the arteries and open up the veins. Turns out he was right!
There is even a 9th century recipe containing a garlic eye salve recipe containing leek, wine and cow bile that was recently tested and found to kill 90 of the MRSA superbug. Eating a clove a day is good prophylaxis (prevention against disease).
There are a few ways to have garlic to hand for when you need it.
Infusion: Put a few cloves in 100ml of cold water for 6-8 hours or as a hot infusion with 3 cloves to a cup of boiling water (remember though that heating the garlic compromises some of its properties).
Freshly grated cloves and mixed with honey or syrup for coughs. You can just press the garlic and drink with water.
Garlic oxymel can be taken by adding 1 bulb to 150ml apple cider vinegar and 150g honey. Macerate in the fridge for a week, shake daily and strain into a clean bottle. It should keep in the fridge for about 6 months and you can take 1tsp daily.
As a hand/foot bath you can take 3 bulbs to a litre of warm water and bathe two times a day or mash fresh cloves and spread onto a thin cloth to make a compress.
Now, on to that first aid essential:
Crush the galric well with a mortar and pestle until the garlic becomes transparent adding honey little by little as you go. After the garlic becomes transparent it is ready. Store in sterilised jars.
This is a great way to take garlic. To stop a cold getting into the lungs take a teaspoon every 2 hours as soon as you notice the symptoms. To prevent a cold or cough during the winter take 2-3 tsp daily but don't do this for children - it is much better to use onion syrup for them. It can however be used on bee stings, insect bites and grazes as required.
We were out yesterday with a number of friends celebrating May Day Bank Holiday on the beach. Prepared for some sea vegetable foraging (it was just too chilly to think of swimming) I had a bucket filled with bladderwrack in a matter of minutes. Bladderwrack isn't difficult to find. It is ubiquitous to the coastline around Ireland and available all year but early summer is the best time to forage Bladderwrack if you are collecting it for medicinal use. May day offered perfect timing. For culinary use it could be arugued that early summer is the least appropriate time to eat bladderwrack due to the iodine content (but more on that in a second).
My family is no different to most in that we tend to have a "Uggh!" approach to all things sea veg which is a shame as seaweed is possibly the most abundant, most nutritious food source for those seeking to be self-sufficient. We may have used it previously as a source of fertiliser but incorporating it into our regular diet has been a little more difficult. I have manged to convince people to consume soups and stews made with a stock rich in seaweed and occasionally offered the odd portion of seaweed salted chips but beyond that has proven unfruitful.
Bladderwack (Fucus vesiculosus) is not classified as a plant, but as a seaweed and Heterocont (a large group of eukaryotic organisims many of which include algae and plankton). It features paired air-bladders on either side of the mid-rib and whilst easy to identify might be confused a little with Fucus spiralis which tends to be a bit smaller without air-bladders along the frond but swollen tips on the branches.
It can be eaten fresh or dried and used as medicine. Bladderwack is a specific herb for hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) due to its high iodine content. Taking it medicinally however should be monitored by a healthcare professional and prescriptions should be reviewed every 3-4 weeks if taking it as an iodine supplement. The iodine content is more concentrated in the new growth at the ends of the fronds in early summer - hence the reccommendation to perhaps eat less of it at this time (unless using it medicinally) as the iodine content may cause hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid). Its metabolic promoting activity means use of bladderwrack is often associated iwth weight loss.
This little sea veg has been been used to relieve symptoms of rheumatic complaints, both taken internally and applied externally to sore inflammed joints. It improves blood vessle walls and skin elasticity. Seaweed baths are an excellent way to tread skin problems and used internally it can help lower cholesterol and prevent strokes. Bladderwrack has also been known to stimulate the immune system in the treatement of both bacterial and fungal infections as well as reduce the growth and proliferation of oestrogen dependant cancer cells, as well as sarcoma, colon adenocarcinoma, and non-small-cell bronchopulmonary carcinoma.
Harvesting Bladderwrack couldn't be simpler. Wait for the tide to go out and harvest the fronds at low tide. Do not try to pick up decomposing seaweed unattached to the rock or the sea-bed as it will have already begun decomposing. Once picked you rinse off any grit, impurities or little critters and hand the seaweed on a line or dehydrate. The weather hasn't been kind to us this week so I've opted for the dehydrator. Once it is dry and brittle it can be stored in a sealed container, either whole, crushed or powdered.
Bladderwrack also contains calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium, phosphorous, sulphur, iron, manganese, chromium, zinc and copper.
Heal those Blisters!
Any hill-walker worth listening to will already be well aware of the vitues of plantain. There wasn't much of it today on my little forage but you can see the leaves of Plantago major L. in the top left hand corner of the basket. For botanists amongst us you might note that my basket contains Plantago lanceolata L., and not Plantago major L. There are obvious differences between the two herbs for those interested and to be honest, familiarising yourself with the two is a pretty good idea if you are out and about alot. That said the properties for the plant are the same regardless of which of the two species you use - so it really is just a matter of knowing what they both look like in case one of them isn't readily available.
Plantain, also known as "Ribwort" have valuable healing properties. I mentioned hill-walkers before because plantain can be a very valuable plant for those suffering from blisters due to the chaffing of their skin within the sock and walking boot. All one has to do is chew on a leaf for a few seconds to break up the cell walls and then place the plantain directly on the red skin and secure it in place with the sock. It is good at soothing inflamed and sore skin and is one of the main topical healing agents used by herbalists, whether it be in a lotion, compress, ointment or poutice for cuts or bruises. Similarly it can be used on heamorrhoids and ulcers.
Used internally Plantain will have a similar impact on internal membranes but it also acts as a gentle expectorant making it very useful for coughs or bronchitis. These same properties make it a useful addition to medicines prescribed for diarrhea, cystitis and hemorrhoids when accompanied by bleeding.
Making a tincture couldn't be easier but the ratios can vary a lot depending on what herbalist you follow. Some use a ratio of 1:5 w:v in 40% alcohol; others will use a ratio of 1:2 fresh herb. Those that do will suggest a 25% alcohol concentration. Considering Plantain is readily available throughout most of the year I'd absolutely recommend going for the fresh version with one caveat. Sometimes making ointments from fresh herbs can produce water, which molds easily. In such cases you might want to consider making an ointment with platain infused in oil and in this instance dried plantain may well be benificial if concerned about spoiling.
Today's little foraging spree brought some childhood memories to mind. I was on the hunt of everyone's favourite childhood herb. What child can ever fail to be amused by a herb known as "Sticky Willy"? What adult ever thought it appropriate to convey the name of such a herb to children? Most of us have memories of running around through parks and playgrounds throwing this plant at friends and family in the hope of getting it to stick to their clothing without them noticing, or as twist on the game, "tig". The rather bland tasting Galium Aperine (Cleavers) is a bit of a traditional wonder. It evokes childhood memories of me walking up Cavehill in Belfast with my grandfather who was rather taken with the idea of educating his grandchildren of Belfast's many weeds - be it horse-tail, cleavers (he would never have said the word "willy"!), nettle or primrose.
It is ubiquitous; typically found in hedgerows all around the country. This little wonder arrives in early spring. It grows up to 2m tall in the midst of the hedges and it is all edible but you probably want to go over it pretty well first to make sure you get the greenest and freshest parts of the plant. Things have a tendency to stick to cleavers and whilst a bit of dirt may well do your gut microbiome some good you don't want too much of a good thing to spoil your tinctures or smoothies. More about those in a minute.
It is more than just a childhood novelty herb though. Cleavers is an extremely useful herb to the herbalist. It has been used for generations to help people suffering from low grade chronic infection and as a specific for the lymphatic system. Cleavers is also a diuretic and this essentially means it is a great herb to help detoxify the body or rid the body of excess water (otherwise known as lymphatic drainage). For anyone keen on fasting or trying the 5:2 fasting currently in vogue you might particularly like cleavers. It has been used over the years as a means to allieviate that nasty headache you might get when going through detox. These same functions have an incredibly important use on skin conditons such as eczema and psoriasis by working from the inside out. Traditionally it is used as an anti-inflammatory herb to help allieviate mastitis and cystitis. More recently it has been used to support people suffering from cancer due to its anti-neoplastic properties.
Its best used when fresh. When making a tincture I tend to go for a 1:2 w:v ratio in a 25% alcohol. However cleavers can be used fresh in a tea, popularly used with nettle as a spring time detox. It can also be easily juiced into a smoothie of your choosing and is bland enough not to affect the taste. One thing to note about cleavers infusions however is that they don't last long and will quickly ferment. If you aren't going to drink it I highly suggest you freeze it and use the ice-cubes in the days to follow.
As for the other herbs in my basket today: We forgot to set out some chicken fillets from the freezer to defrost overnight so I decided to go out and gather some nettles. The result was a mish-mash of some left over pasta and chicken, some onion, garlic, olives, pepper and turkey bacon along with some nettles (instead of spinach) and herbs for a lovely little nettle stir-fry. The yellow petals going into the mix was that of gorse, adding a lovely hint of coconut to the dish. I'd offer you the recipe but its pasta - what could go wrong? Just feel free to experiment.