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Archive for the ‘Herbs’ Category

180801030659The skin is our first line of defense when it comes to keeping pathogens at bay.  Once the barrier of the skin is broken this opens a pathway for infection.   Topical administration of herbs allows for another access route for administering herbs as well as healing the surface and reducing the risk of infection.

Hydrated skin absorbs better than dehydrated skin.   Therefore, by staying hydrated we more readily absorb substances into the skin.  When herbs are added to water and applied to the skin the water not only acts as a carrier for the herbs, but also increases absorption by helping to hydrate the skin.

Synthetic substances such as toxic chemicals and steroidal hormones are also absorbed rather easily by the skin.  These substances can put a strain on the liver as well as disrupt hormonal function.  Because of this fact we should consider using only natural substances on the skin.

Manifestations on the skin such as acne, eczema, psoriasis, lichen planus and other conditions tend to be a bit more complex.  It might be a good idea to address those kind of conditions with an herbalist in order to determine the best approach.

There are numerous topical applications that can be used not only to cleanse a wound and ease muscle tension but also help to reduce irritation, the risk of infection and expedite the healing process.

 

Herbal Washes/Soaks

An herbal wash or soak can be used to cleanse and disinfect a wound or help to stop itching and soothe irritation.  An herbal wash is merely a strong herbal infusion that is poured over the area or applied to a cloth.

For an herbal soak you can add a quart of herbal infusion to a basin of water and soak the area until it looks clean or the irritation has subsided.

To prepare an infusion for an herbal wash or soak:

1 Quart of water

1-2 cups of select herb(s)

Bring the water to a boil and pour it over the herb(s).  Allow the herbs to soak until the water is cool enough to apply to the skin.  Strain off the herbs.

The herbal infusion can be applied as needed to clean the wound or used as a soak several times a day.  Retain any unused infusion in the refrigerator to reuse for up to two days.  Discard any unused infusion after two days.

 

Compress:

A compress is often used with applications of water only.  However, herbs may be used and applied externally to a specific area of the body using a compress. Compresses can be used either warm or cool and can be used to help ease pain, spasms, sore muscles and to reduce inflammation.

Caution:  Warm compresses are never applied to an open wound.

When making an herbal compress you begin by making a strong herbal infusion like the one mentioned above.  Soak the cloth in the herb solution, wring out the excess liquid and apply the compress to the affected area.

Poultices:

Poultices are a paste produced from grinding, crushing, or chewing fresh herbs and applying them to the affected area. A poultice is used for sore muscles, bites and stings and to relieve pain and inflammation.

Making an Herbal Poultice

  1. Grind, crush or chew up fresh or dried herbs.
  2. Apply the poultice to the affected part of the body for one to eight hours. Wrap the area with plastic wrap to hold the poultice in place.
  3. Cover the wrap with flannel and apply heat if applicable.
  4. Change the poultice out frequently preventing it from drying out.
  5. Olive oil or other oils may be applied to the area prior to applying the poultice to ensure that the poultice doesn’t stick to the skin.

 

Some Herbs to Consider for Topical Applications:

 Aloe (Aloe vera)

  • Helps to reduce inflammation, expedite wound healing and is an excellent application for burns and abrasions

Arnica (Arnica montana)

  • Strains, sprains, bruises, traumatic injury; sore muscles, joints, tendons and ligaments (topical)

 Calendula (Calendula officinalis)

  • Expedite wound healing, reduce inflammation and is antiseptic. May be used for skin irritations, rashes, burns and wounds.

Chickweed (Stellaria media)

  • Helps to expedite wound healing and reduce inflammation

Plantain (Plantago spp.)

  • Expedite wound healing, reduce inflammation, soothe irritation, antiseptic, antibacterial and helps draw debris to the surface of the skin

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

  • Antiseptic, antifungal, helps to staunch bleeding, helps to reduce inflammation and mild pain reliever

 

Various Poultice Applications:

Honey or Molasses – may be mixed with flour to make a paste or applied on its own for burns or scalds.

Baking Soda or Clay – prepare as mentioned above for bug bites and stings.

Cabbage Leaves (raw) – Crushed or mashed and applied for inflammations, ulcers, boils, arthritis and infections.

Potato (raw/grated) – apply to inflammations and boils.

Bread and Milk – combine the bread and milk and apply to boils and abscesses.

Corn Meal – mixed with boiling water to make a paste an applied to the chest for pleural inflammation.

Onion – lightly sauté a chopped onion until it is soft and warm and place between a gauze or other cloth.  Grease the chest and apply the poultice to the area.  Onion poultices are very effective for respiratory conditions.

Elm (Ulmus fulva, U. spp.) – Mix the powdered elm bark with warm water and apply to inflammations, swellings and ulcerations.

Mallow or Malva spp. – Chew or crush the leaves and apply to the skin to help soothe irritations.

Plantain (P. lancealota, P. major) – Chew or crush leaves and apply to area.  Plantain is fabulous for helping to draw things out of the skin such as stingers, splinters or glass.

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violet-wreathSpending time outside is something I often crave, especially during the winter months.  Today, the weather was gorgeous so I went out to harvest the most beautiful little violets from under a big oak tree that grows on our property. As I was picking the delicate little heart shaped leaves, I was joined by a bumble bee who excitedly buzzed from flower to flower gathering nectar.  What crossed my mind while sitting under that big oak tree. surrounded by those violets growing in the rich black soil, is how important it is for me to take care of this land that I harvest from.  I made sure that I left plenty of flowers so that the bees had their share and picked the leaves and not the whole plant so that the plant continues to flourish.

There are roughly 500 species of Violets (Viola spp.) that grow throughout the United States.  In my area of North Florida, I know of five different species, but only use two of those medicinally and as a food source (V. sororia, V. villosa).  It is important if you are going to harvest any plant that you make sure you have properly identified the correct genus and species.

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Another thing that occurred to me as I picked and nibbled on the flowers (leaves and flowers are edible), is how fortunate I am to have Violets growing this time of year.  During the winter, I get really dried out from the indoor heat and violet is a moistening plant which helps to counter that dryness.  Violets are a “mucilaginous” plant, which basically means when crushed or infused in cool water, it becomes slimy and gooey.   Since I’ve written about mucilaginous herbs before, I’ll just quote myself here;

“When used externally a mucilaginous herb is called an emollient and helps to soothe inflamed and irritated tissue.  When taken internally a mucilaginous herb is called a demulcent.  Either internally or externally that gooey substance will soothe irritation, help to reduce inflammation and help to stimulate the innate immune response.

If you think about conditions that are hot, inflamed, irritated and dry you can apply this action just by knowing about the benefits of mucilaginous plants.  Some examples of plants with this mucilaginous quality include Plantain, Mallow’s, some Elm species, Cinnamon (to some extent), Violets, Mullein, Okra and Comfrey.”

viola-spp-feb-2011-mb-flaViolet is a wonderful herb to use to help reduce inflammation and to soothe irritation in a host of different conditions such as constipation (lubricates the bowels), sore throats, dry coughs, red and angry looking skin conditions, etc.  As a lymphatic herb, it can help to reduce swollen glands, abscesses and has also been used topically for mastitis and fibrocystic breasts. (though I’ve not tried it for the latter two conditions).

As I mentioned, the leaves and flowers are edible and can be added to salads, vinegar, as a thickener, candied, etc.  Steeping the leaves and flowers over night helps to extract the vitamins and minerals from the plant as well as creating a tea rich in soluble fiber.  Soluble fiber has numerous benefits to include:

  • bulking up stool, increasing peristalsis and helping to ease constipation
  • slows the absorption of sugar which may benefit those with diabetes
  • creates a sense of fullness which may aid in weight loss
  • is a prebiotic food source which helps to balance out friendly flora in the gut
  • traps lipids (fats) and therefore may help to improve cholesterol levels and lipid metabolism

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One of my favorite winter tea’s is a recipe I like to call, “Violet Immersion Tea”.  Not only is this tea moistening, but it really has a great flavor which makes me enjoy drinking it throughout the winter.

Violet Immersion Tea

3 cups water

3 – 5 tbsp Violet leaves (Viola spp.) dried

1 tbsp Plantain leaves (Plantago spp.) dried

1 tbsp Hibiscus flowers (Hibiscus sabdariffa) dried

½ tbsp. Spearmint leaves (Mentha spicata) dried

Combine all herbs and pour boiling water on top.  Steep covered for 20 – 30 minutes.  You may leave this to steep longer to develop more of the mucilage which makes it even more moistening. You could also leave this until it cools completely to drink it cool or warm it back up.  Strain and enjoy.  May add a little honey for sweetness.

Another thing is that you can adjust the amount of the herbs to suit your taste. Experiment with this recipe and make it your own.

References and Additional Info:

Blankespoor, J. – http://chestnutherbs.com/violets-edible-and-medicinal-uses/

Mcdonald, J. – http://www.herbalremediesadvice.org/violet-herb.html

Vaughn, K. –  http://www.henriettes-herb.com/articles/viola.html

Vickery, N. – https://thefamilyherbalist.wordpress.com/2011/03/11/celebrating-spring-with-violets/

A Modern Herbal – http://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/v/vioswe12.html#med

Edible Recipes using Violets:

Violet Jelly – http://www.healthygreenkitchen.com/violet-jelly.html

Candied Violets – http://userealbutter.com/2014/05/04/candied-violets-recipe/

Violet Lemonade – http://kitchenlane.com/2014/05/wild-violets-make-violet-lemonade.html

Old Fashioned Sweet Violet Syrup – http://www.lavenderandlovage.com/2012/02/old-fashioned-sweet-violet-syrup-for-easter-mothering-sunday-cakes-bakes.html

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Lemongrass 1Because of our temperate climate here in the Southeast we are fortunate to be able to garden almost year round.  One plant that grows extremely well in the South is Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citrates).  This hardy perennial grass thrives on neglect yet adds beauty and contrast to any garden.

Known mostly as a culinary herb in Asian cooking, Lemongrass is also a wonderful addition to any medicinal herb garden.  If you have ever had the opportunity to smell Lemongrass you will have noticed that it is quite aromatic.  Aromatic herbs get their scent from their high content of volatile oils.  Lemongrass essential oil is derived from the plant by distillation and is used extensively in Aromatherapy.

Aromatic herbs like Lemongrass are warming and dispersive which means they spread out through the system, warming things up and getting things moving.  Because aromatic herbs get things moving they are considered stimulating.  If you think about an area that has been bound up and where very little is moving (stagnation) you can imagine that area will feel tense.  A good example would be in the first stages of a cold when the body is tense.  However, once the tension is dispelled or dispersed the area once again feels relaxed.  Therefore, aromatic herbs are also considered to be relaxing.

When one is suffering with accumulated gas aromatic herbs like Lemongrass help dispel the gas and relax the area; this action which occurs is referred to as Carminative.  Aromatic herbs also help to reduce spasms or are “antispasmodic”.

Aromatic herbs are both antiseptic and antimicrobial (inhibits the growth of organisms such as bacteria and viruses).  Because aromatics contain volatile oils which irritate tissues the body wants to flush them out to prevent further irritation.  This flushing of oils occurs through urination or exhalation making aromatic herbs like Lemongrass extremely beneficial for conditions associated with the respiratory or urinary systems.  Aromatics also tend to draw energy upward and outward which would also explain their affinity for the respiratory system.

Some of the many medicinal benefits of Lemongrass include:

  • Antimicrobial (kills or inhibits microorganisms such as viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites)
  • Mildly diuretic
  • Promotes the digestion of fats
  • Effective insect repellent
  • Antioxidant
  • Contains various vitamins and minerals to include Vitamin A and C, Calcium, Potassium and Magnesium
  • Urinary and Respiratory conditions

Spicy Lemongrass Cold and Flu Tea:

COLD AND FLU TEA

16 oz water

1 tbsp dried (2 tbsp fresh) Lemongrass

3 thin slices of fresh ginger

6 cloves

3 pepper corns

6 Cardamom seeds

1 tsp fennel

Honey (optional)

Place the herbs into cool water and bring to a boil.  Turn down the heat and simmer the herbs with the lid on for approximately 20 minutes or until the liquid is reduced by half.  Strain off herbs. Experiment with other herbs and spices such as mint, basil and allspice for variations. Add a smidge of honey, sit back and enjoy.

Note:  If you find this tea a bit drying you can add moistening herbs such as Licorice or Marshmallow Root.

 Storage:

  • May be dried and used later in tea preparations
  • Refrigerated fresh in a sealed container for up to 3 weeks
  • Fresh stalks may be frozen for up to 6 months and then thawed when ready to use

Cooking:   Lemongrass combines well with peaches, pears and other fruits, ginger, chillies, cucumber, cinnamon, other aromatic herbs and coconut milk.

For those of you in the Southeast perhaps consider growing yourself some Lemongrass.  Although we don’t hear or see much on the medicinal benefits of Lemongrass, it is certainly a wonderful addition to your medicine cabinet and herb garden.

© Natalie Vickery 2012

Disclaimer:  In order to continue posting quality content I must rely on your support.  Some of the links found in this post contain affiliate links which I do receive a small compensation for when purchased through my website.

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Chamomile 1Life is stressful to say the least.  Consider the burden placed on the body when we are exposed to constant stress.  When under stress the body releases chemicals that trigger physiological reactions such as increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, constriction of blood vessels, and release of glucose into the blood stream for energy.

Imagine what happens if these physiological reactions occur over and over again and what kind of strain that places on vital organs and the body as a whole.  This kind of constant stress can lead to headaches, digestive problems, sleep disturbances, fatigue, weight gain and a host of other health problems.

Not all of us have the luxury of dashing off to some remote and exotic vacation spot where we can lounge on the beach and watch the sun set.  However, there are a number of things that we can and should do to help reduce stress in our lives in order to promote better overall health: (more…)

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Thymus x citriodorus, (Lemon Thyme) , labeled

 One of my favorite herbs to grow in the garden is Thyme. Thyme is a beautiful perennial herb that adds a lot of beauty to the garden, is very aromatic and extremely versatile.

Botanical Name: Thymus vulgaris

Parts Used: Aerial parts

Energetics: Warming, Drying, Pungent(Spicy), Aromatic, VK-P+

Common name: Garden Thyme; Common Thyme

The common Garden Thyme is not an herb to underestimate; it is a powerful healing plant. Thyme is a very Aromatic herb which is Pungent/Spicy in taste. By just brushing your hand across the top of the herb you get a whiff of the distinct aroma right away.

Aromatic herbs like Thyme are stimulating which allow them to get things moving or increase function. Increased function in the digestive system helps (more…)

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Spiced EggsOne of my passions has always been cooking.  As an herbalist I love looking for creative ways to get herbs into each and every meal.  Herbs not only convey their wonderful aroma and flavor, but also allow us the opportunity to incorporate their medicinal virtues into our daily lives.

Although, the quantity of the herbs we use in cooking are usually not enough to be considered for over coming chronic illnesses, their daily use is certainly beneficial for maintaining or improving overall health and preventing more chronic illnesses from arising.

Here is a wonderfully tasty dish (more…)

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Courtesy: Centers for Disease Control

Courtesy: Centers for Disease Control

The amount of sleep we get and the quality of that sleep is crucial to overall health. While we sleep our bodies are repairing and rebuilding. If we are not getting adequate amounts of sleep we may feel sluggish upon rising and fatigued during the day.

Sleep deprivation is associated with a host of health conditions to include diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease (more…)

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