Be Your Own Herbal Expert,
by Susun Weed
Listen to the Plant Spirits
Herbal medicine is the medicine of the people. It is simple, safe, effective, and free…
Our ancestors knew how to use an enormous variety of plants for health and well being. Our neighbors around the world continue to use local plants for healing and health maintenance. You can too.
Learning About Herbs
Information on herbs and their uses has been passed down to us in many ways: through stories, in books, set to music, and incorporated into our everyday speech. Learning about herbs is fun, fascinating, and easy to do no matter where you live or what your circumstances. It is an adventure that makes use of all of your senses. Reading about herbal medicine is fascinating, and a great way to learn how others have used plants. But the real authorities are the plants themselves. They speak to us through their smells, tastes, forms, and colors.
Anyone who is willing to take the time to get to know the plants around them will discover a wealth of health-promoting green allies. What stops us? Fear. We fear that we will use the wrong plant. We fear poisoning ourselves. We fear the plants themselves.
These fears are wise. But they need not keep us from using the abundant remedies of nature. A few simple guidelines can protect you and help you make sense of herbal medicine. This series of short articles will offer you easy-to-remember rules for using herbs simply and safely. When you have completed all eight parts of this series, you will be using herbs confidently and successfully to keep yourself and your loved ones whole/healthy/holy.
Survival is a Matter of Taste
Virtually all plants contain poisons. After all, they don’t want to be eaten! Because we have evolved eating plants, we have the capacity to neutralize or remove (through preparation or digestion) their poisons. Not all poisons kill, and even poisons that are deadly often need to be taken in quantities far larger than can easily be obtained from foods. (Apple seeds contain a lethal poison but it takes a quart of them to cause death.)
Our senses of taste and smell are registered in the part of the brain that maintains respiration and circulation, in other words, the survival center. Plants (but not mushrooms) advertise their poisons by tasting bad or smelling foul. Of the four primary kinds of poisons found in plants — alkaloids, glycosides, resins, and essential oils — the first two always taste bitter or cause a variety of noxious reactions on the oral tissues, and the last two usually do, especially when removed from the plant or concentrated.
Sometimes the taste of the poison in a plant is hidden by large amounts of sweet-tasting starch. Fortunately, human saliva contains an enzyme that breaks down these carbohydrates, exposing the nasty taste of the poison. Since even tiny amounts of some poisons can have large effects, for safety sake, take your time when tasting.
Because our sense of taste protects us against poisonous plants, it is always best to take herbs in a form that allows one to taste them. Consuming just one plant at a time, with as little preparation as possible, gives us the greatest opportunity to taste poisons and is therefore the safest way to use herbs.
One herb at a time is a “simple.” When we ingest a simple herb– raw, cooked as a vegetable, brewed fresh or dried in water as a tea or infusion, steeped in vinegar or honey, dried and used as a condiment — we bring into play several million years of plant wisdom collected in our genes. When we ingest many plants together, or concentrate their natural poisons by tincturing, distilling, or standardizing, we increase the possibility of harm. Powdering herbs and putting them in capsules is one of the most dangerous ways to use them, especially those containing poisons. For ultimate risk, play with essential oils; they are far removed from the plant, very concentrated, and as little as one-quarter ounce can kill.
Safety Second, too
In the next installments we will continue to learn how to use herbs simply and safely. We will explore nourishing and tonifying herbs, the difference between fixing disease and promoting health, how to apply the three traditions of healing, and how to take charge of your own health care with the six steps of healing.
You will need the following plants, all of which contain poisons that you can taste: a head of lettuce (taste the leaves and the core separately), some black or green tea (unbrewed), a fresh dandelion leaf, strong chamomile tea (steep it overnight), a can of asparagus, some fresh mint, a spoonful of mustard seeds, and a bottle of vanilla extract.
Approach tasting a plant as you would tasting a wine. Begin by inhaling the aroma. Release the bouquet by squeezing the plant until your fingers are moist (or chew briefly and spit into your hand). Do you feel enticed, repelled, or neutral? Does your mouth water? Does your throat clench? Observe how you react to the smell. Does it sting your eyes? Irritate your nasal tissues? Do you want to taste it?
We do not gulp our wine, nor do we merely wet our tongues; for best effect, taste and smell a reasonably large piece, but don’t stuff your mouth. As you chew, move the plant material around in your mouth. Roll it around with your tongue. Make contact with it for a full minute but DO NOT SWALLOW. No, no, spit it upon the ground, or into your hand, or the sink, or wherever you can, but do not swallow. SPIT IT OUT.
What do you feel now? In your stomach? your throat? your head and nose?What is your gut feeling? What sensations accompany the taste of this plant?
It is best to wait until the previous taste is completely gone before going on to the next plant. If you are doing advanced work with wild plants, wait at least a day before you use or consume the plant in case you have a delayed reaction to some component.
Taste as in experiment one, but use these inedible (poisonous) parts of common foods: Lemon inner rind, apple seeds, rhubarb leaves, lettuce root, the inner soft pit of a peach.
Taste as in experiment one, these poisonous plants (fresh or dried): wormwood leaf, goldenseal root, yellow dock root, echinacea root, eucalyptus leaf, motherwort leaf.
Aromatic plants are rich in essential oils. We often use them to season and preserve food. In small quantity, these oils are not harmful, but concentrated, they threaten the liver, kidneys, and life itself. Smell and taste, as in experiment one, as many aromatic plants as you can: thyme, rosemary, oregano, lavender, sage, orange peel, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg. Brew strong teas (steep overnight) of these plants and taste. Can you see, smell, or taste more essential oils? Smell or taste one drop of the extracted essential oil of any of these plants.
1. What is an alkaloid (hint here)? Medicinal plants often contain groups of alkaloids. Name seven plants rich in alkaloids (specify the part); then name at least three of the alkaloids in each plant. 2. What are glycosides? Name at least four glycosides and describe the effect each has. Name seven plants rich in glycosides; specify the part of the plant and the kind of glycoside.
3. What are resins? Name four or more plants (specify part) rich in resins.
4. What are essential oils? Name a dozen or more plants rich in essential oils (specify part).
5. What is the difference between a poison and a medicine? Are all drugs poisons?
NOTE: If you can’t find the answer to a q above use Google.com to search, you will find helpful hints.
* Give the botanical name (genus and species) for each plant you named in the further study section.
* Taste a variety of plants that grow around you. Warning: It is possible to experience uncomfortable or harmful effects from this experiment. A book on poisonous plants can reassure you that the plants you are tasting will not kill you. It is best not to put plants such as poison ivy or poison oak in your mouth.
DO NOT TASTE HOUSEPLANTS.
Be Your Own Herbal Expert, part two
by Susun S Weed (copyright 2002-2022)
Herbal Infusions – Herbal medicine is the medicine of the people. It is simple, safe, effective, and free. Our ancestors knew how to use an enormous variety of plants for health and well being. Our neighbors around the world continue to use local plants for healing and health maintenance and you can, too.
In your first lesson, you learned how to “listen” to the messages of plant’s tastes. And you discovered that using plants in water bases (teas, infusions, vinegars, soups) — and as simples — allows you to experiment with and explore herbal medicine safely.
In this lesson, we will learn how to make effective water-based herbal remedies and talk more about using simples.
Tea for You?
Teas are a favorite way to consume herbs. Made by brewing a small amount of herbs (typically a teaspoonful to a cup of water) for a short time (generally 1-2 minutes), teas are flavorful, colorful drinks.
Herbs rich in coloring compounds — such as hibiscus, rose hips, calendula, and black tea — make enticing and tasty teas. They may also contain polyphenols, phytochemicals known to help prevent cancer. Since coloring compounds and polyphenols are fairly stable, dried herbs are considered best for teas rich in these.
Herbs rich in volatile oils — such as ginger, chamomile, cinnamon, catnip, mint, lemon balm, lemon grass, lavender, bergamot, and fennel, anise, and cumin seeds — make lovely teas which are effective in easing spasms, stimulating digestion, eliminating pain, and inducing sleep. Since much of the volatile oils are lost when herbs are dried, fresh herbs are considered best for teas rich in these, but dried herbs can be used with good results.
I enjoy a cup of hot tea with honey. But teas fail to deliver the mineral richness locked into many common herbs. A cup of nettle tea, for instance, contains only 5-10 mg of calcium, while a cup of nettle infusion contains up to 500 mg of calcium. For optimum nutrition, I drink nourishing herbal infusions every day.
Infusion for Me!
An infusion is a large amount of herb brewed for a long time. Typically, one ounce by weight (about a cup by volume) of dried herb is placed in a quart jar which is then filled to the top with boiling water, tightly lidded and allowed to steep for 4-10 hours. After straining, a cup or more is consumed, and the remainder chilled to slow spoilage. Drinking 2-4 cups a day is usual. Since the minerals and other phytochemicals in nourishing herbs are made more accessible by drying, dried herbs are considered best for infusions. (See experiment 2.)
I make my infusions at night before I go to bed and they are ready in the morning. I put my herb in my jar and my water in the pot, and the pot on the fire, then brush my teeth (or sweep the floor) until the kettle whistles. I pour the boiling water up to the rim of the jar, screw on a tight lid, turn off the stove and the light and go to bed. In the morning, I strain the plant material out, squeezing it well, and drink the liquid. I prefer it iced, unless the morning is frosty. I drink the quart of infusion within 36 hours or until it spoils. Then I use it to water my house plants, or pour it over my hair after washing as a final rinse which can be left on.
My favorite herbs for infusion are nettle, oatstraw, red clover, and comfrey leaf, but only one at a time. The tannins in red clover and comfrey make me pucker my lips, so I add a little mint, or bergamot, when I infuse them, just enough to flavor the brew slightly. A little salt in your infusion may make it taste better than honey will.
When we use simples (one plant at a time), we allow ourselves an intimacy that deepens and strengthens our connections to plants and their green magic. There are lots of interesting plants, and lots of herbalists who maintain that herbal medicine means formulae and combinations of herbs. But I consider herbs as lovers, preferring to have only one in bed with me at a time.
When I use one plant at a time it is much easier for me to discern to effect of that plant. When I use one plant at a time and someone has a bad reaction to the remedy, it is obvious what the source of the distress is, and usually easy to remedy. When I use one plant at a time, I make it easy for my body to communicate with me and tell me what plants it needs for optimum health.
I even go so far as to ally with one plant at a time, usually for at least a year. By narrowing my focus, I actually find that I learn more.
Make and drink a quart of nourishing herbal infusion made with stinging nettle, oatstraw, red clover, raspberry leaf, or comfrey leaf. If you wish, flavor it with mint. On the same day, make a tea from the same herb, using dried herb. Compare and contrast the colors, flavors, and sensations.
Make an infusion of stinging nettle, oatstraw, red clover, raspberry leaf, or comfrey leaf, using one ounce of dried herb as usual. At the same time, make a quart of “brew” using the same herb, but fresh, not dried. To make it fair, use 4 ounces of fresh herb. After one hour of steeping, look at both jars, taste and compare/contrast. Repeat three more times at hourly intervals. Minerals are released slowly into water. They darken the color of the water and give it a dense, rich taste. Oil-soluble vitamins float to the top and make a thin glaze of swirls.
Buy, or grow a tasty, aromatic herb, like ginger, peppermint, or rosemary. For this experiment you will need one tablespoon of fresh herb, and one teaspoon of the same herb dried. Place the fresh herb in a cup or mug and the dried herb in a another. Fill both to the top with boiling water. After one minute, taste, smell, compare the teas. Wait another minute and compare again. Then wait five minutes and try each one again.
Make a tea with aromatic seeds — anise, caraway, coriander, cumin, fennel, or fenugreek. Use a teaspoon of seeds in a cup of water. At the same time, brew some using a tablespoon of seeds per cup. After a minute, taste, smell, contrast. Repeat in five minutes, then in thirty minutes, then after an hour, then after four hours. Teas and infusions of dried seeds are almost the same.
1. Drink a 2-4 cups of nourishing herbal infusion for a month and see if your health changes in any way. Best if you don’t drink coffee or tea during this month.
2. Choose a green ally to focus on this year.
3. Read Healing Power of Minerals by Paul Bergner.
4. Read about stinging nettle and oatstraw in my book Healing Wise.
5. Write out the botanical names of the herbs you used in making your teas and your infusions.
* Learn more about essential oils in plants. Grow several plants rich in essential oils.
* Learn more about tannins. Make an oakbark infusion.
Be Your Own Herbal Expert,
by Susun S. Weed
Know Your Plants
Herbal medicine is the medicine of the people. It is simple, safe, effective, and free. Our ancestors knew how to use an enormous variety of plants for health and well being. Our neighbors around the world continue to use local plants for healing and health maintenance, and you can too.
In your first lesson, you learned how to “listen” to the messages of plant’s tastes. And you discovered that using plants in water bases (as teas, infusions, vinegars, and soups) — and as simples — allows you to experiment with and explore herbal medicine safely.
In your second lesson, you learned about herbs for teas and how to preserve and use their volatile oils. You leaned about vitamin- and mineral-rich herbal infusions, and how to use them to promote health and longevity. And you continued to think about using herbs simply.
In this lesson you will explore the differences between nourishing, tonifying, stimulating/sedating, and potentially-poisonous plants. You will learn how to prepare and use them for greatest effect and most safety.
All Herbs Are Not Equal
All herbs are not equal: some contain poisons, some don’t; some of the poisons are not so bad; some can kill you – dead. I divide herbs into four categories for ease in remembering how (and how much) to use. Some herbs nourish us, some tonify; some bring us up or ease us down and some are frighteningly strong.
Nourishing herbs are the safest of all herbs. They contain few or no alkaloids, glycosides, resins, or essential oils (poisons).
Nourishing herbs are eaten as foods, cooked into soups, dried and infused, or, occasionally, made into vinegars.. They provide high-level nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, trace minerals, proteins, phytoestrogens and phytosterols, starches, simple and complex sugars, bioflavonoids, carotenes, and essential fatty acids (EFAs).
Nourishing herbs in water bases (infusions, soups, vinegars) may generally be taken in any quantity for any period of time. Side- effects — even from excessive use — are quite rare. Nourishing herbs are rarely used as tinctures (in alcohol), but when they are, their effects may be quite different.
It is generally considered safe to use nourishing herbs in water bases with prescription drugs. They may also be taken even if you are using tonifying, stimulating/sedating, or potentially poisonous herbs.
Some examples of nourishing herbs include:
chickweed herb; tincture dissolves cysts
elder blossoms and berries
nettle leaves and seeds
plantain leaves and seeds
red clover blossoms
violet leaves and blossoms.
Tonifying herbs are generally considered safe when used in moderation. They may contain alkaloids or glycosides or essential oils, but rarely in quantities sufficient to harm us.
Tonifying herbs act slowly in the body and have a cumulative, rather than immediate, effect. They are most beneficial when used for extended periods of time. Tonifying herbs may be used regularly (but usually not daily) for decades if desired.
Tonifying herbs are prepared in water and alcohol bases: tinctures and wines, as well as infusions, vinegars, and soups.
The more bitter the tonic tastes, the less you need to take of it. The more bland the tonic tastes, the more you can use of it.
Side effects from overuse and misuse of tonics is uncommon but quite possible. The dividing line between what is tonifying and what is stimulating differs from person to person. Ginseng is tonifying to my sweetheart, but stimulating to me. Even herbal authorities disagree on which herbs are tonifying and which stimulating.
Take care to counter any tendency to overuse tonifying herbs or you may experience unwanted side effects.
It is generally considered safe to use tonifying herbs in water bases if you are taking prescription drugs. You may also use tonifying herbs while using nourishing, stimulating/sedating, and even potentially poisonous herbs. Tonifying herbs in alcohol bases are considered safe to use with nourishing herbs, but may produce unexpected results if combined with drugs or strong herbs.
Some examples of tonifying herbs include
burdock seeds, especially in an oil base
mug/cronewort herb, especially in vinegar
dandelion leaf, root and flowers
hawthorn berries, leaves, and flowers
motherwort leaves and flowers
yellow dock leaves, roots, and seeds
Stimulating/sedating herbs frequently contain essential oils, alkaloids, glycosides, or resins. Because these substances cause strong physical reactions, stimulating/sedating herbs are known from their rapid and pronounced effects, some of which may be unwanted.
Stimulating/sedating herbs are most often prepared as tinctures (and wines), vinegars, teas, and infusions. Many stimulating/sedating herbs are used as seasonings in cooking as well. Despite my cookbook’s injunction to use only a little, I long ago learned that more aromatic herbs in my soups gave a “livelier” result.
Because long-term use of stimulating/sedating herbs can lead to dependency, dose and duration of use must be carefully watched. A moderate to large dose, taken infrequently will produce better results than a small dose taken over a longer period.
Side effects from the use of stimulating/sedating herbs in water bases are not common but possible. Side effects from use in alcohol bases are frequent. Whenever stimulating/sedating herbs are used regularly, health is compromised.
It is not safe to take prescription drugs with stimulating/sedating herbs, but they may be taken even if you are using nourishing and/or tonifying herbs.
Some examples of stimulating/sedating herbs include:
leaves of aromatic mints such as catnip, lemon balm, lavender, sage, skullcap
kava kava root
uva ursi leaves
willow bark and leaves
Potentially poisonous herbs always contain alkaloids, glycosides, resins, or essential oils. And they contain large quantities of those poisons, or in very potent forms.
Potentially poisonous plants can cause death directly, through the actions of their poisons on their targets (such as cardiac glycosides which stop the heart) or indirectly, by causing the liver and/or the kidneys to fail (as they attempt to cope with and clear the poison from the system).
Potentially poisonous herbs are usually extracted into alcohol (tinctures) and used in minute doses (1-3 drops). For safety sake use potentially poisonous herbs as infrequently as possible and for the shortest possible time.
Powdering and encapsulating increases the risk of side effects from any herb, but when we take stimulating/sedating and potentially poisonous herbs in capsuled, the side effects can be deadly.
Homeopathic pharmacy uses many potentially poisonous plants, but in such dilute doses that death is impossible. Side effects can occur, even with homeopathically tiny doses, however.
Potentially poisonous herbs activate intense effort on the part of the body and spirit and may cause nausea, visual disturbances, digestive woes, and allergic reactions even when used correctly.
Always be extremely cautious when using potentially poisonous herbs. Consult with at least three other knowledgeable herbalists who have used the plant in question before proceeding.
In general it is not considered safe to take potentially poisonous herbs which taking prescription drugs, other potentially poisonous herbs, or stimulating/sedating herbs. It is generally safe to use potentially poisonous herbs while using nourishing and tonifying herbs.
Some potentially poisonous herbs:
tansy leaves and flowers
Spend some time alone quietly breathing. Tune into your body piece by piece (toes, feet, calves, knees, thighs, and so on). Use colors to draw yourself. Don’t worry about making art. For the next month include some nourishing herb in your diet. Example: on Monday include seaweed as a vegetable for dinner, on Tuesday drink a quart of nettle infusion, on Wednesday make a soup with burdock and other roots, on Thursday drink a quart of red clover infusion, on Friday make garlic bread with at least one clove of freshly chopped garlic per slice, on Saturday drink a quart of oatstraw infusion, on Sunday drink a quart of comfrey/mint infusion. And so on. One month later, sit alone and breathe quietly. Tune into your body piece by piece. Use colors to draw yourself. Has anything changed? You can continue this experiment for as long as you like.
Repeat experiment number one, but instead use any one tonic (preferably one that lives where you do) at least four times a week for one month. Again, note any changes in how you feel, how much energy and stamina you have, how much curiosity and delight you experience in life. You can continue this experiment for as long as you like also.
What stimulants and sedatives do you use regularly? What happens if you give up one or more of them for a week? for a month? Try — on different days — at least one herbal stimulant and one herbal sedative and keep notes on your reactions.
Choose one potentially poisonous plant that grows near you and cultivate a relationship with it. Read about it. Talk about it with others who have a relationship with it. Keep a special book for writing about your poisonous ally.
1. Name five more nourishing herbs. Specify part used, preparation, and dosage.
2. Name five more tonifying herbs. Specify part used, preparation, and dosage.
3. Name five more stimulating/sedating herbs. Specify part used, preparation, and dosage.
4. Name five more potentially poisonous herbs. Specify part used, preparation, and dosage. In what case and how would you use each?
5. What is the difference between a tonic and a stimulant?
* Give the botanical name (genus and species) for each plant listed.
* List five nourishing herbs commonly sold in tincture form and describe what they are used for in that form.
* Learn more about homeopathy.
Be Your Own Herbal Expert,
by Susun S. Weed
How to Make Herbal Tinctures
Herbal medicine is the medicine of the people. It is simple, safe, effective, and free. Our ancestors used — and our neighbors around the world still use — plant medicines for healing and health maintenance. It’s easy. You can do it too.
In your first lessons, you learned how to “listen” to the messages of plant’s tastes, how to make effective water-based herbal remedies, and how to distinguish safe nourishing and tonifying herbs from the more dangerous stimulating and sedating herbs.
In this lesson, you will learn how to make herbal tinctures. You will make tinctures from fresh and dried roots as well as from fresh flowers and leaves. Then you will collect your tinctures into an Herbal Medicine Chest and begin to use them. Shall we begin?
Tinctures Act Fast
Tinctures are alcohol-based plant medicines. Alcohol extracts and concentrates many properties from plants, including their poisons. Alcohol does not extract significant amounts of nutrients, so tinctures are used when we want to stimulate, sedate, or make use of a poison. (Remember that nourishing herbs are best used in water bases such as infusions and vinegars.)
The concentrated nature of tinctures allows them to act quickly. It also makes them perfect for a first-aid kit or herbal medicine chest: a little goes a long way.
I have dozens of tinctures in my cabinet. But these are the ones I carry with me when I travel; they are the ones I don’t leave home without. This is my traveling herbal medicine chest.
Dandelion root tincture
St Joan’s Wort tincture
Poke root tincture (danger)
Making Dried Root Tinctures
I strongly prefer to make tinctures from fresh plants. But many people have a hard time getting fresh plants. Most books therefore ignore fresh plant tinctures and focus on making tinctures only from dried plants. The only dried plant parts I use to make tinctures are roots and seeds. All other plant parts I use fresh when making a tincture. And I actually prefer to use fresh roots too.
To make a tincture from dried roots:
Buy an ounce of dried Echinacea augustifolia or Panax ginseng root.
Put the whole ounce in a pint jar.
The dried root should fill the jar about a third full. If not, use a smaller jar.
Fill the jar to the top with the alcohol. Cap tightly and label.
Almost any alcohol can be used to make a tincture. My preference is 100 proof vodka. A lower proof, such as 80 proof, does not work nearly as well. Higher proofs, such as 198 proof or Everclear, can damage the liver and kidneys, so I don’t use them to make medicine.
The tincture is ready in six weeks, but gets stronger the longer it sits. I like to wait about six months before using my ginseng tincture and a year before using my echinacea tincture.
Making Fresh Root Tinctures
Roots generally hold their properties even when dried. But two of my favorite root tinctures must be made from fresh roots are the dried ones have lost much of their effect.
Making a tincture with a fresh root is similar to making one with a dried root.
With great respect for the plant, dig up its root.
Gently rinse mud away. (For more about digging dandelion root, see Healing Wise)
Chop root into small pieces and fill a jar to the top with the chopped root.
Fill jar to the top with alcohol. Cap tightly. Label.
Fresh root tinctures are ready to use in six weeks.
Making Fresh Leaf and Flower Tinctures
I use only fresh flowers and leaves in my tinctures. These delicate plant part lose aroma and medicinal qualities when dried.
Tinctures can be made from dried herbs, but I find them inferior in both effect (how well they work) and energetics (how many fairies are in it), not to mention taste (how many volatile substances remain) and somatics (how something makes you “feel”).
What if the plants you need to make all the tinctures in your medicine chest don’t grow where you live or you can’t find them? Try one or more of these solutions.
Take a vacation to a place where the plant you need does grow. And make sure to go at the best time to gather it.
Find an herbal pen-pal who lives in the area where the plant you want to tincture grows. Have your pen-pal make a tincture of the fresh plant for you. You could make a tincture of something you have lots of to give to her, too.
Even if the plants do grow where you live, it may take a year or longer for you to find them, harvest them and make tinctures. While you are “in limbo,” it’s fine to buy tinctures to use in your herbal medicine chest.
When you finally find the plants you want, don’t be afraid to make several quarts of tincture. Tinctures last for hundreds of years if protected from heat and light.
St. Joan’s wort tincture: Eases muscles spasms, anti-viral, pain-relieving.
Pick yellow Hypericum perforatum flowers in the summer’s heat.
Fill, don’t stuff, a jar with the blossoms and leaves.
Fill jar to the top with alcohol. Cap tightly. Label. (It will turn bright red.)
Your fresh St. Joan’s wort tincture is ready to use in six weeks.
Motherwort tincture: Eases menstrual cramps, mood swings, stress.
Pick Leonurus cardiaca flowering tops (leaves and flowers) in early fall or late summer.
Fill, don’t stuff, a jar with coarsely chopped blossoms and leaves.
Fill jar to the top with alcohol. Cap tightly. Label.
Your fresh motherwort tincture is ready to use in six weeks.
Skullcap tincture: Pain-relief, headache remedy
Pick Scutellaria lateriflora flowering tops when there are seeds as well as flowers. Fill, don’t stuff, a jar with the blossoms and leaves. Fill jar to the top with alcohol. Cap tightly. Label.
Your fresh skullcap tincture is ready to use in six weeks.
Wormwood tincture: Counters food-poisoning and parasites.
Pick Artemisia absinthemum leaves in the late summer or early fall, when mature.
Fill, don’t stuff, a jar, with the coarsely chopped leaves.
Fill jar to the top with alcohol. Cap tightly. Label.
Your fresh wormwood tincture is ready to use in six weeks.
Yarrow tincture: Counters all bacteria internally and externally, repels insects.
Pick Achillea millefolium flowing tops, white ones only, when in bloom.
Fill, don’t stuff, a jar, with the coarsely chopped herb.
Fill jar to the top with alcohol. Cap tightly. Label.
Your fresh yarrow tincture is ready to use in six weeks.
Double and Triple Tinctures
An herbalist in Austin Texas shared her special way of preparing a tincture that helps her keep her cool in stressful situations. She tinctures fresh lemon balm, gathered before it flowers, for six weeks, in 100 proof vodka. She pours that tincture over a new jar of fresh lemon balm leaves.
After that sits for six more weeks, it’s a double tincture. She then pours the double tincture over another new jarful of fresh lemon balm and lets that sit for six weeks.
After which she has a triple tincture. She uses: “A dropperful sublingually works absolute wonders for me when I’m stressed out and ready to scream.”
You remember that there are four types of poisons in plants: alkaloids, glycosides, essential oils, and resins. The first three are fairly easy to move from plants to a tincture.
Resins, because they “fear” water (hydrophobic) are difficult to tincture. When I want to tincture a resin I do use high proof alcohol. Some examples would be: pine resin tincture, balsam bud tincture, calendula flower tincture.
I see many people put herbal tinctures under their tongues. I prefer to protect my oral tissues from the harsh, possibly cancer-causing, effects of the alcohol.
I dilute my tinctures in a little water or juice or even herbal infusion and drink them.
Using Your Tinctures
Here are a few of the ways I use the tinctures in my herbal medicine chest. For more information on using these tincture, see my books and my website.
Acid indigestion: 5-10 drops of Dandelion root or Wormwood tincture every ten minutes until relieved. I use a dose of Dandelion before meals to prevent heartburn.
Bacterial Infections (including boils, carbuncles, insect bites, snake bite, spider bite, staph): 30-50 drops Echinacea or Yarrow tincture up to 5 times daily. For severe infections, add one drop of Poke tincture to each dose.
Colds: to prevent them I use Yarrow tincture 5-10 drops daily; to treat them, I rely on Yarrow, but in larger quantity, say a dropperful every 3-4 hours at the worst of the cold and tapering off.
Cramps during menstruation: 10 drops Motherwort every 20 minutes or as needed. Used also as a tonic, 10 drops daily, for the week before.
Cramps in muscle: 25 drops St Joan’s every 25-30 minutes for as long as needed.
Cramps in gut: 5-10 drops Wormwood, once.
Diarrhea: 3 drops Wormwood hourly for up to four hours.
Energy lack: 10 drops of Dandelion or Ginseng tincture in the morning.
Fever: 1 drop Echinacea for every 2 pounds of body weight; taken every two hours to begin, decreasing as symptoms remiss. Or a dropperful of Yarrow tincture every four hours.
Headache: 25 drops St Joan’s plus 3-5 drops Skullcap every 10-15 minutes for up to two hours. 5 drops of Skullcap may prevent some headaches.
High blood pressure: 25 drops of Motherwort or Ginseng tincture 2-4 times a day.
Hot Flashes: 20-30 drops Motherwort as flash begins and/or 10-20 drops once or twice daily.
Insect: prevent bites from black flies, mosquitoes, and ticks with a spray of Yarrow tincture; treat bites you do get with Yarrow tincture to prevent infection.
Nervousness, hysteria, hyper behavior: 15 drops Motherwort every 15-20 minutes.
Premenstrual distress: 10 drops Motherwort twice a day for 7-10 days preceding menstruation or 10 drops daily all month.
Sore throat: Gargle with Yarrow tincture.
Swollen glands: 1 drop Poke root tincture each 12 hours for 2-5 days.
Viral infections (including colds and the flu): 25 drops of St. Joan’s wort tincture every two hours. Add one drop of poke root tincture 2-4 times a day for severe cases.
Wounds: I wash with Yarrow tincture, then wet the dressing with Yarrow tincture, too.
Choose one plant and make several small tinctures of it using different types of alcohol. Taste and smell each tincture every week or so for 6 – 8 weeks.
Buy or make different tinctures of the same plant: dried herb, fresh herb, timed with the moon, in different menstrums, made by different people, harvested in different places. Can you taste differences? Are the effects different? What else do you notice?
Make a double or triple tincture of motherwort, skullcap, or lemon balm. See if it relieves anxiety , hyperactivity, emotional distress, headaches. I use a dose of 5 – 30 drops. Remember skullcap can induce sleepiness.
In the next installment of Be Your Own Herbalist, you will learn about herbal oils, inlcuding infused and essential oils. Future lessons will explore the difference between fixing disease and promoting health, applications of the three traditions of healing, and using the six steps of healing to take charge of your own health and make sense of medicine.
Tincture four plants that are common to your area. Learn at least three things they can each be used for and if at all possible, use them.
1. What is osmosis? Why is 100 proof vodka make stronger tinctures than 80 proof?
2. What is a menstrum? What other menstrums are used to make tinctures?
3. Of the four plant poisons, which are present in each of plants used in the medicine chest?
4. Why don’t I consider vinegars tinctures?
5. How is a glyceride different from a tincture?
* Make a tincture from a resinous plant.
* Make a glyceride.
* How is a standardized tincture made?
Be Your Own Herbal Expert,
by Susun S. Weed
Herbal medicine is the medicine of the people. It is simple, safe, effective, and free. Our ancestors used — and our neighbors around the world still use — plant medicines for healing and health maintenance. It’s easy. You can do it too, and you don’t need a degree or any special training. Ancient memories arise in you when you begin to use herbal medicine — memories which keep you safe and fill you with delight. These lessons are designed to nourish and activate your inner herbalist so you can be your own herbal expert.
In our first session, we learned how to “listen” to the messages of plant’s tastes. In session two, we learned about simples and how to make effective water-based herbal remedies. The third session helped us distinguish safe nourishing and tonifying herbs from the more dangerous stimulating and sedating herbs. Our fourth session focused on poisons in herbs and herbal tinctures, which we made and then collected into an Herbal Medicine Chest.
In this, our fifth session, we will find out how to help ourselves and our families with herbal vinegars, one of the green blessings of the Wise Woman Way.
Why Use Herbal Vinegars?
Herbal vinegars are an unstoppable combination: they marry the healing and nutritional properties of apple cider vinegar with the mineral- and antioxidant- richness of health-protective green herbs and wild roots. Herbal vinegars are tasty medicine, enriching and enlivening our food, while building health from the inside out.
Herbal vinegars are far better for the bones and the heart than soy beverages. They have a reputation for banishing grey hair and wrinkles. Sprayed in the armpits, herbal vinegars are highly effective deodorants. As a hair rinse (try rosemary or lavender vinegar) they add luster and eliminate split ends.
Anything vinegar can do, including clean the kitchen, herbal vinegars can do better.
Vinegars Seek Minerals
Minerals are important for the health and proper functioning of our bones, our heart and blood vessels, our nerves, our brain (especially memory), our immune system, and our hormonal glands. No wonder lack of minerals can lead to chronic problems and getting more can make a big different in health in a few weeks. One of the best way to get more minerals — besides drinking nourishing herbal infusions and eating well-cooked leafy greens — is to use herbal vinegars.
Vinegar and Your Bones
It is not true that ingesting vinegar will erode your bones. Adding vinegar to your food actually helps build bones because it frees up minerals from the vegetables you eat and increases the ability of the stomach to digest minerals. Adding a splash of vinegar to cooked greens is a classic trick of old ladies who want to be spry and flexible when they’re ancient old ladies. (Maybe your granny already taught you this?) In fact, a spoonful of vinegar on your broccoli or kale or dandelion greens increases the calcium you get by one-third. All by itself, apple cider vinegar is said to help build bones; when enriched with minerals from herbs, I think of it as better than calcium pills.
Vinegar and Candida
Some people worry that eating vinegar will upset the balance of gut flora and contribute to an overgrowth of candida yeast in the intestines. Some people have been told to avoid vinegar altogether. My experience has led me to believe that herbal vinegars help health those with candida overgrowth, perhaps because they’re so mineral rich. I’ve worked with women who have suffered for years and kept to a strict “anti-candida” diet with little improvement and seen them get better fast when they add nourishing herbal vinegars (and fermented foods such as sauerkraut, miso, and yogurt) to their diets.
Making Herbal Vinegars
Fill any size jar with fresh-cut aromatic herbs: leaves, stalks, flowers, fruits, roots, and even nuts can be used. For best results and highest mineral content, be sure the jar is well filled and chop the herb finely.
Pour room-temperature vinegar into the jar until it is full. Cover jar: A plastic screw-on lid, several layers of plastic or wax paper held on with a rubber band, or a cork are the best covers. Avoid metal lids — or protect them well with plastic — as vinegar will corrode them.
Label the jar with the name of the herb and the date. Put it some place away from direct sunlight, though it doesn’t have to be in the dark, and someplace that isn’t too hot, but not too cold either. A kitchen cupboard is fine, but choose one that you open a lot so you remember to use your vinegar, which will be ready in six weeks.
You can decant your vinegar into a beautiful serving container, or use it right from the jar you made it in.
I use regular pasteurized apple cider vinegar from the supermarket as the menstrum for my herbal vinegars. I avoid white vinegar. Malt vinegar, rice vinegar, and wine vinegar can be used but they are more expensive and may overpower the flavor of the herbs.
Apple cider vinegar has been used as a health-giving agent for centuries. Hippocrates, father of medicine, is said to have used only two remedies: honey and apple cider vinegar. Some of the many benefits of apple cider vinegar include: better digestion, reduction of cholesterol, improvements in blood pressure, prevention/care of osteoporosis, normalization of thyroid/metabolic functioning, possible reduction of cancer risk, and lessening of wrinkles and grey hair.
Notes for Herbal Vinegar Makers
* Collect jars of different sizes for your vinegars. I especially like babyfood jars, mustard jars, olive jars, peanut butter jars and individual juice jars. Look for plastic lids.
* The wider the mouth of the jar, the easier it will be to remove the plant material when you’re done.
* Always fill jar to the top with plant material and vinegar; never fill a jar only part way.
*Really fill the jar. This will take far more herb or root than you would think. How much? With leaves and stems, make a comfortable mattress for a fairy: not too tight; and not too loose. With roots, fill your jar to within a thumb’s width of the top.
* After decanting your vinegar into a beautiful jar, add a spring of whole herb. Pretty.
My Favorite Herbal Vinegar
Pick the needles of white pine on a sunny day. Make herbal vinegar with them. Inhale deeply the scent of the forest. I call this my “homemade balsamic vinegar.”
Using Your Vinegars
Herbal vinegars taste so good, you’ll want to use them frequently. Regular use boosts the nutrient level of your diet with very little effort and virtually no expense.
* Pour a spoonful or more on beans and grains as a condiment.
* Use them in salad dressings.
* Add them to cooked greens.
* Season stir-frys with them.
* Look for soups that are vinegar friendly, like borscht.
* Substitute herbal vinegar for plain vinegar in any recipe.
* Put a big spoonful in a glass of water and drink it. Try it sweetened with blackstrap molasses for a real mineral jolt. Many older women swear this “coffee substitute” prevents and eases their arthritic pains.
In our next sessions we will learn more about herbal medicine making, with a focus on oils, explore the difference between fixing disease and promoting health, learn how to apply the three traditions of healing, and how to take charge of our own health care with the six steps of healing.
Test vinegar’s ability to absorb minerals. Put a fresh bone in a jar and completely cover it with vinegar. What happens? Does the bone becomes pliable and rubbery? How long does it take? Will eating vinegar dissolve your bones? Only if you take off your skin and sit in it for weeks!
Make egg shell vinegar. Fill a jar one-quarter full of vinegar. Drop crushed egg shell into it. What happens? Does the vinegar foam? How long does it take? Egg shells are exceptionally rich in bone-building minerals. Can you taste the calcium in this vinegar? Add some egg shell to your other vinegars if you wish to increase their ability to keep your bones strong.
Make four or more vinegars with the same plant, using different types of vinegar, including both pasteurized and unpasteurized apple cider vinegar. (For the others, use rice vinegar, malt vinegar, wine vinegar, or even white vinegar, but not umeboshi vinegar.)
Taste your vinegars daily for a week, then weekly for five more weeks. You may, if you wish, decant some of your vinegars for use after six weeks. But you may also wish to keep observing them as they age (for years, if you wish). I have some vinegars which are more than thirty years old and still in good shape. Note which stay edible the longest, and what happens to those that become inedible.
Buy a quart or more of unpasteurized apple cider vinegar. Use two cups to make several small herbal vinegars: one with roots, one with leaves, and one with flowers. Boil the other two cups. Make one herbal vinegar with the boiling hot vinegar. Make another with the boiled vinegar after it has cooled. Continue as in experiment number three.
* Redo experiment number two using different kinds of egg shells — white ones and brown ones, store-bought and farm-bought, from caged birds and free-range birds. Can you see any differences? Taste or smell any differences?
* Make vinegars at different times of the year and compare them.
* Unpasteurized vinegar can form a “mother.” In a jar filled with herb and vinegar, the vinegar mother usually grows across the top of the herb, and looking rather like a damp, thin pancake. Kombucha is a vinegar mother. Does your local health food store sell mothers? kombucha? What is a vinegar mother? Is it harmful?
* What is an ionic form of a mineral?
* What is a mineral salt?
* How do our bodies uptake and utilize minerals?
Plants That Make Exceptionally Good-Tasting Herbal Vinegars
Apple mint (Mentha sp.) leaves, stalks
Bee balm (Monarda didyma) flowers, leaves, stalks
Bergamot (Monarda sp.) flowers, leaves, stalks
Burdock (Arctium lappa) roots
Catnip (Nepeta cataria) leaves, stalks
Chicory (Cichorium intybus) leaves, roots
Chives and especially chive blossoms
Dandelion (Taraxacum off.) flower buds, leaves, roots
Dill (Anethum graveolens) herb, seeds
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) herb, seeds
Garlic (Allium sativum) bulbs, greens, flowers
Garlic mustard (Alliaria officinalis) leaves and roots
Goldenrod (Solidago sp.) flowers
Ginger (Zingiber off.) and Wild ginger (Asarum canadensis) roots
Lavender (Lavendula sp.) flowers, leaves
Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) new growth leaves and roots
Orange mint (Mentha sp.) leaves, stalks
Orange peel, organic only
Peppermint (Mentha piperata and etc.) leaves, stalks
Perilla (Shiso) (Agastache) leaves, stalks
Rosemary (Rosmarinus off.) leaves, stalks
Spearmint (Mentha spicata) leaves, stalks
Thyme (Thymus sp.) leaves, stalks
White pine (Pinus strobus) needles
Yarrow (Achilllea millifolium) flowers and leaves
Weedy Herbal Calcium Supplement
Use one or more of the following plants to make an herbal vinegar that can reverse and counter osteoporosis, 2-4 tablespoons daily.
Amaranth (Amaranthus retroflexus) leaves
Chickweed (Stellaria media) whole herb
Comfrey (Symphytum officinalis) leaves
Cronewort/Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) young leaves
Dandelion (Taraxacum off.) leaves and root
Lambsquarter (Chenopodium album) leaves
Mallow (Malva neglecta) leaves
Mint leaves of all sorts, especially sage, motherwort, lemon balm, lavender, peppermint
Nettle (Urtica dioica) leaves
Parsley (Petroselinum sativum) leaves
Plantain (Plantago majus) leaves
Raspberry (Rubus species) leaves
Red clover (Trifolium pratense) blossoms
Violet (Viola odorata) leaves
Yellow dock (Rumex crispus and other species) roots
Herbal Vinegars Where You Eat the Pickled Plants, too
part six by Susun S. Weed (copyright 2002-2022)
HERBAL OILS: INFUSED VS. ESSENTIAL
Herbal medicine is the medicine of the people. It is simple, safe, effective, and free. Our ancestors used – and our neighbors around the world still use – plant medicines for healing and health maintenance. It’s easy. You can do it too, and you don’t need a degree or any special training. Ancient memories arise in you when you begin to use herbal medicine – memories which keep you safe and fill you with delight. These lessons are designed to nourish and activate your inner herbalist so you can be your own herbal expert.
In our first session we learned how to “listen” to the messages of plant’s tastes. In session two we learned about simples and how to make effective water-based herbal remedies. The third session helped us distinguish safe nourishing and tonifying herbs from the more dangerous stimulating and sedating herbs. Our fourth session focused on poisons in herbs and entered the herbal pharmacy to herbal tinctures, which we collected into an Herbal Medicine Chest. Our fifth session found us still in the pharmacy, learning how to make and use herbal vinegars for strong bones and healthy hearts.
In this, our sixth session, we remain in the herbal pharmacy and turn our attention to herbs in fat bases. We’ll explore fresh infused oils, ointments, salves, and lip balms, essential oils, and even herbal pestos.
I make and use many infused herbal oils. I use little or no essential oils. Why?
Infused herbal oils use a small amount of plant material; essential oils require tons of plant material. Infused herbal oils are safe to use internally or externally; essential oils are poisonous internally and problematic externally. Infused herbal oils are good for the skin; essential oils can cause rashes, burns, and other skin reactions. Infused oils are used full strength; essential oils are diluted before use. Infused herbal oils have subtle scents; essential oils have powerful scents.
The scent of an essential oil can kill gut flora just like antibiotics do, according to Paul Bergner, director of the clinical studies program at the Rocky Mountain Center for Botanical Studies. He told me that breathing the oils puts them into the blood stream very quickly and can be a major disturber of intestinal health and contributor to poor immune functioning.
Massage therapists are embracing Natural Scent Therapies such as growing live aromatic plants in their treatment rooms and using pillows of dried aromatic herbs instead of essential oils. Their skin and their immune systems are thanking them for the switch.
MAKING INFUSED HERBAL OILS
To make an infused herbal oil you will need the following supplies:
• Fresh plant material
• Scissors or a knife
• A clean dry jar with a tight lid
• Some olive oil
• A label and pen; a small bowl
Harvest your plant material in the heat of the day, after the sun has dried the dew. It is best to wait at least 36 hours after the last rain before harvesting plants for infused oils. Wet plant materials will make moldy oils. To prevent this, some people dry their herbs and then put them in oil. I find this gives an inferior quality product in most cases.
Coarsely chop the roots, leaves, or flowers of your chosen plant. Fill your jar completely full of the chopped plant material. Add olive oil until the jar is completely full. (Patience and a chopstick are useful tools at this point.)
Tightly lid the jar. Label it. Put it in a small bowl (to collect seepage and over-runs). Your infused oil is ready to use in six weeks.
Fresh Plants That I Use to Make Infused Oils
Arnica flowers (Arnica montana)
Burdock seeds (Arctium lappa)
Calendula flowers (Calendula off.)
Comfrey leaves or roots (Symphytum uplandica)
Dandelion flowers (Taraxacum off.)
Plantain leaves (Plantago majus)
Poke roots (Phytolacca americana)
St. Joan’s wort flowers (Hypericum perforatum)
Yarrow blossoms (Achillea millefolium)
Yellow dock roots (Rumex crispus)
USING YOUR INFUSED HERBAL OILS
I use my infused herbal oils to heal and ease the pain of wounds, bruises, scrapes, sprains, burns, rashes, sore muscles, insect bites, and aching joints. I make my infused oils into ointments, salves, and lip balms. I use my infused oils in rituals, to anoint. I use my infused oils after bathing, to moisturize. I use my infused oils as stunning salad dressings. I use my infused oils as sexual lubricants. I use my infused oils to nourish my scalp and hair.
I apply my infused herbal oils directly to the body. I rarely take infused herbal oils as internal medicines although it would be safe to do so. I use my infused oils to make salves, ointments, and lip balms.
MAKING SALVES, OINTMENTS AND LIP BALMS
When herbs are infused into animal fat, they form a natural salve, without need of thickening. But herbs infused into oils are drippy and leaky and messy. They need a little beeswax melted into them to make them solid. The more beeswax added, the firmer the oil will be. A little beeswax will make a soft salve. A medium amount will make a firm ointment. And a lot will make a stiff lip balm.
• Pour one or more ounces of infused herbal oil into a saucepan or double boiler.
• Grate several ounces of beeswax.
• Put a small fire under your oil.
• When it is slightly warm, add one tablespoon (more or less) of grated beeswax.
• Stir, preferably with your finger, until the beeswax melts.
• Test the firmness by dropping a drop on a china plate. It will solidify instantly.
– Too soft? Add more beeswax, a little at a time.
– Too hard? Add more infused oil (if possible) or plain oil.
• Pour your finished salve or ointment into wide-mouthed jar.
• Pour lip balms into little pots or twist tubes.
The simplest pesto is green leaves pounded with salt and garlic. I don’t put cheese or nuts into my pestos when I make them, as these ingredients spoil rapidly.
I use a mini-size food prep machine for the “pounding”. A blender will work too, but watch that you don’t burn out the motor.
The oil in a pesto both preserves the antioxidant vitamins in the fresh green herbs and also softens the cell walls so minerals become more available. With the added health-benefits of garlic, herbal pestos are great medicine as well as superb eating.
Basic Herbal Pesto – Stays good for up to two years in a cool refrigerator; up to five years in the freezer.
• Start with half a cup of extra virgin olive oil.
• Add 2-4 coarsely chopped cloves of garlic.
• Add a good sprinkle of sea salt.
• Add a large handful of prepared herb leaves and blend.
• Continue adding leaves and oil as needed. Perhaps more garlic and salt? Blend.
• When all is blended to a fare thee well, pack your pesto into a skinny jar.
• Leave some space between the pesto and the top of the jar and fill this with olive oil.
• Cap, label, and refrigerate.
Green Herbs for Pesto
Catnip (Nepeta cataria)
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
Garlic mustard (Alliaria officinalis)
Sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella)
Violet (Viola species)
Yellow dock (Rumex crispus)
In our next sessions we will learn how to make herbal honeys and syrups, how to apply the three traditions of healing, and how to take charge of our own health care with the six steps of healing.
Make three or more infused herbal oils from different plant parts, such as leaves, roots, and flowering tops. (See list for suggestions of plants to use.)
Make several infused oils from the same plant at the same time using at least three different kinds of oils and animal fats, including ghee. Label carefully. After six weeks, decant and compare.
Make a salve, ointment, or lip balm. Beeswax is sold at farmer’s markets, health food stores, and craft shops.
Treat at least three injuries with an herbal oil or ointment that you have made. Record your observations. Plantain, yarrow, calendula, or comfrey are good choices for this experiment.
Make an herbal pesto. (See list for suggestions.)
1. Buy a small bottle of essential oil. Also buy the plant the oil is made from. Lavender and mint are good choices for this experiment. Smell the plant, then smell the essential oil. How do you feel afterwards? Taste the plant, then taste a drop of the essential oil? What do you perceive? Put a drop of the essential oil on your skin; rub the plant vigorously on your skin. Are there differences?
Extra credit: Make an infused oil of the same plant and repeat this experiment using your infused oil in addition to the essential oil and the plant.
2. Use organic animal fat to make an herbal preparation. Keep the fat barely warm – in the sun or by a pilot light – until it is infused. No need to add beeswax. The fat will solidify at room temperature.
• Read about the production of essential oils.
• How is a hydrosol different from an essential oil?
• Can you make a hydrosol? (Jeanne Rose is a good resource on this.)
Be Your Own Herbal Expert,
by Susun S. Weed
Herbal medicine is the medicine of the people. It is simple, safe, effective, and free.
Our ancestors used – and our neighbors around the world still use – plant medicines for healing and health maintenance. It’s easy. You can do it too, and you don’t need a degree or any special training. Ancient memories arise in you when you begin to use herbal medicine – memories which keep you safe and fill you with delight. These lessons are designed to nourish and activate your inner herbalist so you can be your own herbal expert.
In our first session, we learned how to “listen” to the messages of plant’s tastes. In lesson two, about simples and water-based herbal remedies. In the third, I distinguished safe (nourishing and tonifying) herbs from more dangerous (stimulating and sedating) herbs. Our fourth lesson focused on poisons; we made tinctures and an Herbal Medicine Chest. Our fifth dealt with herbal vinegars, and the sixth with herbal oils.
In this, our seventh session, we will think about how we think about healing.
THE THREE TRADITIONS OF HEALING
There are many ways to use herbs to improve and maintain health. Modern medicine uses highly refined herbal products known as drugs. Many alternative or holistic practitioners recommend herbs, usually in less-refined (and less dangerous) forms such as tinctures or homeopathic remedies. And then there are the yarb women, the wise women, such as myself, who integrate herbs into their daily diet and claim far-reaching results for simple remedies.
I call these three different approaches the Scientific, Heroic and Wise Woman traditions.
These three traditions are ways of thinking, not ways of acting. And they are not limited to herbs. Any technique, any substance can be used by a healer in the Scientific, Heroic, and Wise Woman traditions. There are, for instance, naturopaths, midwives, and MDs in each tradition, as well as herbalists, educators, therapists, even politicians.
Each of these traditions lives within you, too.
As I define the characteristics of each tradition, identify the part of yourself that thinks that way.
Modern, western medicine is an excellent example of the Scientific tradition, where healing is fixing. The line is its symbol: linear thought, linear time. Truth is fixed and measurable. Truth is that which repeats. Good and bad, health and sickness are put at opposite ends of the line, where they do battle with each other. Food and medicine are quite different.
Newton’s universal laws and the mechanization of nature are the foundation of the Scientific tradition. Bodies are understood to be like machines. When machines run well (stay healthy) they don’t deviate. Anything that deviates from normal needs to be fixed or repaired. The Scientific tradition is excellent for fixing broken things. Measurements must be taken to determine deviation and insure normalcy. Regular diagnostic tests are critical to maintaining proper functioning and ensuring utmost longevity in the body/machine.
In the Scientific tradition the whole is the same as its most active part, and machines are more trustworthy than people.
There is not one unified Heroic tradition, but many similar traditions collectively called the Heroic tradition. Alternative health care practitioners generally represent the Heroic thought pattern, symbolized by a circle.
This circle defines the rules, which, we are told, must be followed in order to save ourselves from disease and death. Healing in the Heroic tradition focuses on cleansing. According to this tradition, disease arises when toxins (dirt, filth, anger, negativity) accumulate. When we are bad, when we eat the wrong food, think the wrong thought, commit a sin, we sicken and the healer is the savior, offering purification, punishment, and redemption.
In the Heroic traditions, the whole is the sum of its parts. We are body, mind, and spirit. The spirit is high and worthy; the body is low and gross; the mind is in between. In the Heroic traditions, we are personally responsible for everything that happens to us. Religious beliefs frequently accompany herb use in the Heroic tradition. The Heroic healer uses rare substances, exotic herbs, and complicated formulae. Drug-like herbs in capsules are the favored in this tradition. Most books on herbal medicine are written by men whose thought patterns are those of the Heroic tradition.
WISE WOMAN TRADITION
The Wise Woman tradition is the world’s oldest healing tradition. It envisions good health as openness to change, flexibility, availability to transformation, and groundedness. Its symbol is the spiral. In the Wise Woman tradition we do not seek to cure, but focus instead on integrating and nourishing the unique individual’s wholeness/holiness. The Wise Woman tradition relies on compassion, simple ritual, and common dooryard herbs and garden weeds as primary nourishers, but appreciates (and uses) any treatment appropriate to the specific self-healing in process.
The Wise Woman tradition sees each life as a spiraling, ever-changing completeness. Disease and injury are seen as doorways of transformation, and each person is recognized as a self-healer, earth healer: inherently whole, resonant to the whole, and vital to the whole. Substance, thought, feeling, and spirit are inseparable in the Wise Woman tradition. The whole is more than the sum of its parts.
Spiralic and amazing, the Wise Woman tradition offers self-healing options as diverse as the human imagination and as complex as the human psyche. The Wise Woman tradition has no rules, no texts, no rites; it is constantly changing, constantly being re-invented. It is mostly invisible, hard to see, but easier and easier to find. It is a give-away dance of nourishment, change, and self-love. An invitation to honor yourself and the earth. An admonishment to trust yourself.
The next time you start to feel unwell, ask yourself what each one of the three traditions would advise you to do – e.g. You feel a headache coming on. The Scientific tradition says take a pain killer. The Heroic tradition says give yourself an enema. The Wise Woman tradition says take a nap. (For more information on the three traditions, see the chart in my book Healing Wise.)
Instead of doing what you usually do for some problem (e.g. headache), do something different. Choose something from the same tradition you usually use, or from a different tradition.
Become more aware of the “nourishment of your senses” as Gurdieff put it. What do you look at? Listen to? Smell? Touch with your skin? Taste?
Nourish yourself in a new or different way. You might: eat something – or eat somewhere – that you’ve wanted to try but never dared. Go to a museum, or the opera, or the ballet, or a Broadway show. Visit with a cherished friend. Listen to music that touches your soul. Sit in meditation and burn subtle incense.
Make a list of ten things that nourish you that are now in your life. Make a list of ten things that could nourish you if they were in your life.
1. Become more familiar with the Scientific tradition: Read one or more issues of Scientific American and/or Science News.
2. Become more familiar with the Heroic tradition: Skim through Back to Eden or any current book on detoxification.
3. Become more familiar with the Wise Woman tradition.
- Healing Wise, the Wise Woman Herbal. Susun Weed. 1987, Ash Tree Publishing.
- Herbal Rituals. Judith Berger. 1998, St. Martin’s Press.
- Healing Magic, A Green Witch Guidebook. Robin Rose Bennett. 2004, Sterling.
- The Secret Teachings of Plants. Stephen Buhner. 2004, Inner Traditions.
- The Village Herbalist, Sharing Plant Medicines with Family and Community. Nancy and Michael Phillips. 2001, Chelsea Green Publishing.
The three traditions of healing are not restricted to healing of course. You might have recognized these three attitudes in your profession. Wonderful articles have been written on the “Three Traditions of Teaching” (the Scientific relies on tests, the Heroic on punishment and reward, the Wise Woman on freedom to experience and express) and the “Three Traditions of Therapy” (the Scientific refers to manuals and prescribes drugs, the Heroic blames the unconscious, the Wise Woman nourishes the spirit and builds wholeness) and even the “Three Traditions of Cooking” (the Scientific uses a thermometer and a recipe, the Heroic blackens and heavily spices everything, and the Wise Woman uses what is in season where she lives).
Apply the three traditions to your profession.
Be Your Own Herbal Expert, part eight
by Susun S. Weed (copyright 2002-2022)
Healing sweets: herbal honeys, syrups, and cough drops
Herbal medicine is the medicine of the people. It is simple, safe, effective, and free. Our ancestors used – and our neighbors around the world still use – plant medicines for healing and health maintenance. It’s easy. You can do it too, and you don’t need a degree or any special training.
Ancient memories arise in you when you begin to use herbal medicine. These lessons are designed to nourish and activate those memories and your inner herbalist so you can be your own herbal expert.
In our first lesson, we learned how to “listen” to the plants by focusing on how they taste. In lesson two, we explored simples and water-based herbal remedies. In the third lesson, we learned how to tell safe (nourishing and tonifying) herbs from more dangerous (stimulating and sedating) herbs. Our fourth lesson dealt with poisons; we learned how to make a tincture and we put together our Herbal Medicine Chest. The fifth lesson found us making herbal vinegars, and the sixth, making herbal oils.
In our last lesson together, we looked at our thoughts about healing; we discussed the Scientific goal of fixing the broken machine, the Heroic intention to cleanse the toxins from our polluted bodies, and the Wise Woman desire to nourish the wholeness of the unique individual.
In this, the eighth lesson, we return to the herbal pharmacy, to make healing sweets: herbal honeys, syrups, and cough drops.
In our next lesson, the ninth and last of this series, we will continue our exploration of the ideas behind healing with a tour of the Seven Medicines.
(editor’s note: this segment is missing)
Honey has been regarded as a healing substance for thousands of years. Greek healers relied on honey water, vinegar water, and honey/vinegar water as their primary cures. An Egyptian medical text dated to about 2600 BCE mentions honey 500 times in 900 remedies. What makes honey so special?
First, honey is antibacterial. It counters infections on the skin, in the intestines, in the respiratory system, or throughout the body.
Second, honey is hydroscopic, a long word meaning “water loving”. Honey holds moisture in the place where it is put; it can even draw moisture out of the air. A honey facial leaves skin smooth and deliciously moist. These two qualities – anti-infective and hydroscopic – make honey an ideal healer of wounds of all kinds, including burns, bruises and decubita (skin ulcers), an amazing soother for sore throats, a powerful ally against bacterial diarrhea, and a counter to asthma.
Third, honey may be as high as 35 percent protein. This, along with the readily-available carbohydrate (sugar) content, provides a substantial surge of energy and a counter to depression. Some sources claim that honey is equal, or superior, to ginseng in restoring vitality. Honey’s proteins also promote healing, both internally and externally.
And honey is a source of vitamins B, C, D and E, as well as some minerals. It appears to strengthen the immune system and help prevent (some authors claim to cure) cancer.
Honey is gathered from flowers, and individual honeys from specific flowers may be more beneficial than a blended honey. Tupelo honey, from tupelo tree blossoms, is high in levulose, which slows the digestion of the honey making it more appropriate for diabetics. Manuka honey, from New Zealand, is certified as antibacterial. My “house brand” is a rich, black, locally-produced autumn honey gathered by the bees from golden rod, buckwheat, chicory, and other wild flowers.
Raw honey also contains pollen and propolis, bee and flower products that have special healing powers.
Bee pollen, like honey, is a concentrated source of protein and vitamins; unlike honey, it is a good source of minerals, hormonal precursors, and fatty acids. Bee pollen has a reputation for relieving, and with consistent use, curing allergies and asthma. The pollens that cause allergic reactions are from plants that are wind-pollinated, not bee-pollinated, so any bee pollen, or any honey containing pollen, ought to be helpful. One researcher found an 84 percent reduction in symptoms among allergy sufferers who consumed a spoonful of honey a day during the spring, summer, and fall plus three times a week in the winter.
Propolis is made by the bees from resinous tree saps and is a powerful antimicrobial substance. Propolis can be tinctured in pure grain alcohol (resins do not dissolve well in 100 proof vodka, my first choice for tinctures) and used to counter infections such as bronchitis, sinusitis, colds, flus, gum disease, and tooth decay.
WARNING: All honey, but especially raw honey, contains the spores of botulinus. While this is not a problem for adults, children under the age of one year may not have enough stomach acid to prevent these spores from developing into botulism, a deadly poison.
Herbal honeys are made by pouring honey over fresh herbs and allowing them to merge over a period of several days to several months. When herbs are infused into honey, the water-loving honey absorbs all the water-soluble components of the herb, and all the volatile oils too, most of which are anti-infective. Herbal honeys are medicinal and they taste great. When I look at my shelf of herbal honeys I feel like the richest person in the world.
USING YOUR HERBAL HONEYS
Place a tablespoonful of your herbal honey (include herb as well as honey) into a mug; add boiling water; stir and drink. Or, eat herbal honeys by the spoonful right from the jar to soothe and heal sore, infected throats and tonsils. Smear the honey (no herb please) onto wounds and burns.
MAKE AN HERBAL HONEY
Coarsely chop the fresh herb of your choice (leave garlic whole).
Put chopped herb into a wide-mouthed jar, filling almost to the top.
Pour honey into the jar, working it into the herb with a chopstick if needed.
Add a little more honey to fill the jar to the very top.
Cover tightly. Label.
Your herbal honey is ready to use in as little as a day or two, but will be more medicinal if allowed to sit for six weeks.
Herbal honeys made from aromatic herbs make wonderful gifts.
MAKE A RUSSIAN COLD REMEDY
Fill a small jar with unpeeled cloves of garlic.
If desired, add one very small onion, cut in quarters, but not peeled.
Fill the jar with honey.
Label and cover.
This remedy is ready to use the next day. It is taken by the spoonful to ward off both colds and flus. It is sovereign against sore throats, too. And it tastes yummy!
(Garlic may also carry botulinus spores, but no adult has ever gotten botulism from this remedy. A local restaurant poisoned patrons by keeping garlic in olive oil near a hot stove for months before using it, though.)
MAKE AN EGYPTIAN WOUND SALVE
“I thought at first this would be dreadful stuff to put on an open wound . . . Instead, the bacteria in the fat disappeared and when pathogenic bacteria were added . . . they were killed just as fast,” commented scientists who tested this formula found in the ancient Smith Papyrus.
Mix one tablespoonful of honey with two tablespoonsful of organic animal fat.
Put in a small jar and label.
Increase the wound-healing ability of this salve by using an herbally-infused fat.
MAKE A REMEDY TO COUNTER DIARRHEA
Fill one glass with eight ounces of orange juice.
Add a pinch of salt and a teaspoonful of honey.
Fill another glass with eight ounces of distilled water.
Add 1⁄4 teaspoonful of baking soda.
Drink alternately from both glasses until empty.
MAKE DR. CHRISTOPHER’S BURN HEALER
He recommends this for burns covering large areas. Keep the burn constantly wet with this healer for best results.
Place chopped fresh comfrey leaves in a blender.
Add aloe vera gel to half cover.
Add honey to cover.
Blend and apply.
Best to make only as much as you can use in a day; store extra in refrigerator.
FRESH PLANTS THAT I USE TO MAKE HERBAL HONEYS
Anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)
Comfrey leaf (Symphytum off.)
Cronewort/mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris)
Fennel seeds (Foeniculum vulgare)
Garlic (Allium sativum)
Ginger root (Zingiber officinalis)
Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana)
Lavender (Lavendula off.)
Lemon Balm (Melissa off.)
Lemon verbena (Aloysia triphylla)
Marjoram (Origanum majorana)
Oregano (Origanum vulgare)
Osha root (Ligusticum porterii)
Peppermint (Mentha pipperata)
Rose petals (Rosa canina and others)
Rose hips (Rosa)
Rosemary (Rosmarinus off.)
Sage (Salvia off.)
Shiso (Perilla frutescens)
Spearmint (Mentha spicata)
Thyme (Thymus species)
Yarrow blossoms (Achillea millefolium)
In the Scientific tradition, plants are valued as repositories of poisons/alkaloids. They are seen as potential drugs, and capable of killing you in their unpredictable crude states. They are helpful and safe only when refined into drugs and used by highly-trained experts.
Herbal syrups are sweetened, condensed herbal infusions. Cough drops are concentrated syrups. Alcohol is frequently added to syrups to help prevent fermentation and stabilize the remedy. Cough drops and lozenges, having less water, keep well without the addition of alcohol.
Bitter herbs, especially when effective in a fairly small dose, are often made into syrups: horehound, yellow dock, dandelion, chicory, and motherwort spring to mind in this regard.
Herbs that are especially effective in relieving throat infections and breathing problems are also frequently made into syrups, especially when honey is used as the sweetener: coltsfoot flowers (not leaves), comfrey leaves (not roots), horehound, elder berries, mullein, osha root, pine, sage, and wild cherry bark are favorites for “cough” syrups.
USING HERBAL SYRUPS
A dose of most herbal syrup is 1-3 teaspoonfuls, taken as needed. Take a spoonful of bitter syrup just before meals for best results. Take cough syrups as often as every hour.
MAKE AN HERBAL SYRUP
To make an herbal syrup you will need the following supplies:
One ounce of dried herb (weight, not volume)
A clean dry quart/liter jar with a tight lid
A heavy-bottomed medium-sized saucepan
2 cups sugar or 11⁄2 cups honey
A sterilized jar with a small neck and a good lid (a cork stopper is ideal)
A little vodka (optional)
A label and pen
Place the full ounce of dried herb into the quart jar and fill it to the top with boiling water. Cap tightly. After 4-10 hours, decant your infusion, saving the liquid and squeezing the herb to get the last of the goodness out of it.
Measure the amount of liquid you have (usually about 31⁄2 cups). Pour this into the saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat until the infusion is just barely simmering. Continue to simmer until the liquid is reduced by half (pour it out of the pan and into the measuring cup now and then to check). This step can take several hours; the decoction is not spoiled if it is reduced to less than half, but it is ruined if it boils hard or if it burns. Keep a close eye on it.
When you have reduced the infusion to less then two cups, add the sugar or honey (or sweetener of your choice) and bring to a rolling boil. Pour, boiling hot, into your jar. (Sterilize the jar by boiling it in plain water for a few minutes just before filling it.) If desired, add some vodka to preserve the syrup.
Allow the bottle of syrup to come to room temperature. Label it. Store it in the refrigerator or keep it in a cool place.
MAKE HERBAL COUGH DROPS
You must make a syrup with sugar, not honey to make cough drops, but you can use raw sugar or brown sugar instead of white sugar and it will work just as well.
Instead of pouring your boiling hot syrup into a bottle, keep boiling it. Every minute or so, drop a bit into cold water. When it forms a hard ball in the cold water, immediately turn off the fire. Pour your very thick syrup into a buttered flat dish. Cool, then cut into small squares.
A dusting of powdered sugar will keep them from sticking. Store airtight in a cool place.
MAKE THROAT-SOOTHING LOZENGES
Put an ounce of marshmallow root powder or slippery elm bark powder in a bowl.
Slowly add honey, stirring constantly, until you have a thick paste
Roll your slippery elm paste into small balls
Roll the balls in more slippery elm powder
Store in a tightly-closed tin. These will keep for up to ten years.
PLANTS THAT I USE TO MAKE HERBAL SYRUPS
Comfrey leaves (Symphytum uplandica x)
Chicory roots (Cichorium intybus)
Dandelion flowers or roots (Taraxacum off.)
Elder berries (Sambucus canadensis)
Horehound leaves and stems (Marrubium vulgare)
Motherwort leaves (Leonurus cardiaca) pick before flowering
Plantain leaves or roots (Plantago majus)
Osha root (Ligusticum porterii)
Pine needles or inner bark (Pinus)
Sage (Salvia off.)
Wild cherry bark (Prunus serotina)
Yellow dock roots (Rumex crispus)
Make a simple syrup, using only one plant. Make it once with honey, once with white sugar, and once with a sweetener of your choice, such as barley malt, agave syrup, molasses, sorghum syrup, or maple syrup. (See list for suggestions of plants to use.)
Make a syrup with three or more plants. Choose plants that are local to your area, or ones that you can most easily buy.
Make three or more simple herbal honeys using different parts of plants, such as flowers, leaves, roots, or seeds. (See list for suggestions of plants to use.)
Make an herbal honey with a plant rich in essential oils (such as sage, rosemary, lavender, or mint). Try it as a wound treatment. Try it on minor burns. Try it as a facial masque. Record your observations.
Make one or more of the recipes in this lesson.
1. Make a yellow dock iron tonic syrup following the recipe in my book Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year.
2. Make “Peel Power” following the recipe in my book New Menopausal Years the Wise Woman Way.
• Compare the effects of honey from the supermarket, organic honey, raw honey, and herbal honey by using each one to treat the same problems and carefully recording your observations.
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Susun Weed, http://www.susunweed.com and http://www.ashtreepublishing.com
permission to reprint this article MUST be obtained, contact Susun S Weed at: email@example.com
PO Box 64
Woodstock, NY 12498
ABOUT SUSUN S. WEED
Vibrant, passionate, and involved, Susun Weed has garnered an international reputation for her groundbreaking lectures, teachings, and writings on health and nutrition. She challenges conventional medical approaches with humor, insight, and her vast encyclopedic knowledge of herbal medicine. Unabashedly pro-woman, her animated and enthusiastic lectures are engaging and often profoundly provocative.
Susun Weed encourages women to work towards good health from the inside out. Her close-to-the-earth approach continues to break new ground in old ways, helping to make natural non-invasive solutions available to women from every walk of life.
Herbalist, wise woman, and teacher for over two decades, she is the founder of the Wise Woman Center in upstate New York and the author of four highly acclaimed books on alternative/complementary healthcare for women. Honored as a Peace Elder in 1996, Ms. Weed is respected worldwide as the voice of the Wise Woman tradition, the oldest tradition of healthcare on the planet.
The Wise Woman tradition maintains that health is flexibility and that deviations from normal (that is, problems) offer us an opportunity to reintegrate those parts of ourselves that we have cast out. This reintegration is accomplished through nourishment and the person emerges healed/wholed/holy. The Wise Woman tradition is compassionate and heart-centered. It honors the Earth and the special mysteries of women. It is simple, local, ecological, and invisible, choosing to use common plants, such as dooryard weeds, rather than exotic herbs from far away.
The Wise Woman Center, founded in 1984, is a safe place for women around the world to gather together to celebrate the wise woman within and to study herbal medicine and spirit healing with Susun and notable teachers such as Brooke Medicine Eagle, Z Buda pest, Vicki Noble, and Merlin Stone.
Ms. Weed has been called a backwards pioneer. She agrees: “I’ve gone backwards into prehistory, into herstory, to rediscover and rename something as ancient as humanity, but something which is perfectly relevant, indeed critical to our survival, today.” That “some thing” is the Wise Woman tradition; a unique viewpoint from the distant past that she be lieves will help us find answers for our collective future.
The Wise Woman viewpoint that we are all connected and that a health crisis is symbolic as well as physical — characterized by some as shamanic, by others as superstitious — still exists in our society today, both in lay healing and in professions such as midwifery and psycho-therapy, but it usually goes unnamed. “One of the characteristics of this tradition is its integration into everyday life. By healing through nourishment, whether it is a hug or a special dinner, the wise woman acts invisibly whenever possible.”
This is in marked contrast to other traditions of healing, according to Weed, who differ entiates three major healing traditions: the Scientific, the Heroic, and the Wise Woman. In the Scientific tradition the doctor is highly visible and the patient is reduced to a body part or a disease designation. In the Heroic or Holistic tradition, the healer is the one who knows the right way to do things and the patient must follow the rules in order to get well. In the Wise Woman tradition, illness is understood as an integral part of life and self-growth, with healer, patient and nature as co-participants in the healing process.
Much of today’s alternative medicine comes from Heroic traditions, which traditionally emphasize fasting, purification, colonic cleansing, rigid dietary rules, and the use of rare botanicals in complicated formulae. Even much of metaphysical healing is applied this way: It views illness as a failure rather than a natural and potentially constructive process.
Susun Weed sees herself as a teacher, not a healer. “A healer is someone who does for you, while a teacher shows you how to do for yourself. When I work with a correspon dence course student or an apprentice, for instance, I’m working with the intention of helping her to know herself better, to learn how to listen to and nourish all parts of her self, which will allow her to become more healthy/whole/holy.”
Susun reminds us that wellness and illness are not polarities. They are part of the contin uum of life. “We are constantly renewing ourselves, cell by cell, second by second, every minute of our lives. Problems, by their very nature, can facilitate deep spiritual and symnolic renewal, leading us naturally into expanded, more complete ways of thinking about and experiencing ourselves.”
Ms. Weed maintains an active teaching/lecture schedule, with bookings throughout the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Germany (where she also trains apprentices). She has taught at many prestigious schools including the National College of Naturopathic Medicine, Yale Nursing School, South Florida Midwifery School, Rocky Mountain Center for Botanical Studies, and the Waikato College of Herbal Studies. She currently sits on advisory boards for the California Institute of Integral Studies and the National Institute of Health’s Rosenthal Center for Alternative/Complementary Medicines at Columbia University.
Ms.Weed is most well-known for her many best-selling books – recommended by expert herbalists and well-known naturally oriented physicians and used and cherished by millions of women and herbalists around the world.
Susun Weed’s many books include:
Superb herbal in the feminine-intuitive mode. Complete instructions for using common plants for food, beauty, medicine, and longevity. Introduction by Jean Houston. 312 pages, index, illustrations.
Retails for $12.95
Order at: http://www.ashtreepublishing.com/bookshop/
NEW Menopausal Years the Wise Woman Way
The best book on menopause is now better. Completely revised with 100 new pages. All the remedies women know and trust plus hundreds of new ones. New sections on thyroid health, fibromyalgia, hairy problems, male menopause, and herbs for women taking hormones. Recommended by Susan Love MD and Christiane Northrup MD. Introduction by Juliette de Bairacli Levy. 304 pages, index, illustrations.
Retails for $12.95
Order at: http://www.ashtreepublishing.com/bookshop/
For excerpts visit: http://www.menopause-metamorphosis.com