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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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I found myself under the weather about a month ago intially dealing with a sore throat and then having it move into my chest presenting with an irritable dry cough.  Depsite the fact that I try to keep my immune system strong there are occassions when even herbalists become their own patients.

When I encounter a dry and irritable cough I know that its time to reach for a demulcent.  A demulcent helps to soothe irritated tissue and moisten the mucus membranes.   A demulcent is indicated when there is a dry irritable cough with little expectoration.  I was also looking for an herbal expectorant.  Expectorants  increase the flow of mucus and help expel thick excess mucus from the lungs.   The last thing I want to do is suppress a cough and have it move into a more severe condition. 

I love using remedies that are inexpensive and readily available.  A wonderful demulcent that quite a few people might already have at the house are flaxseeds.  Flaxseeds not only fit the bill as a wonderful demulcent, but they are also an expectorant.  So for my cough I prepared myself a tea using 2 tbsp of flaxseed to one cup of water.  I boiled the water and poured it over the flax and let it sit for about 10-15 mins or until it got real slimy and thick.  I then strained off the seeds and for an extra boost I added some elderberry syrup.  The elderberry syrup added a nice flavor as well as an immune boost.  If you don’t have elderberry syrup around you can add some fresh lemon juice and honey.  I took a tablespoon of the mixture as often as I felt like I needed.  It really helped with both the sore throat and the irritable cough.  By helping to relax and soothe the underlying reflex without completely suppressing the cough it allowed my body to get some rest from the irritation of the cough.

Demulcents help to lubricate or moisten all mucus membranes to include those of the bowels.  Because of their moistening effect Flaxseeds can also be a wonderful aid for constipation and Irritable bowel conditions.    Some other benefits of Flaxseeds is that they are high in the good Omega-3 fatty acids, high in fiber and manganese.  Flaxseeds are also a good source of magnesium as well as antioxidants and other vitamins and minerals.  

Besides making them into a tea Flaxseeds can be ground up and sprinkled on food or used when cooking muffins or breads.  Flax seeds can be found at most grocery stores or health foods stores and are an inexpensive and a beneficial addition to any medicine/kitchen cabinet.

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Blackstrap Molasses is the liquid byproduct in the production of refined sugar and was once used as the primary sweetener in foods.  What is so wonderful about Blackstrap Molasses is that it is loaded with minerals and is an easily assimilated form of energy for the body.

People have known for ages of the health benefits of Blackstrap Molasses.  Numerous home remedies have included molasses in the treatment of anemia due to its high iron content.  Along with iron, molasses is also an excellent source of calcium, potassium, manganese, copper and magnesium and a good source of vitamin B6 and selenium.

Two teaspoons of Blackstrap molasses provides your body with 11.8% of your daily need for calcium, 13.3% of your iron, 14% of your cooper, 18% of your manganese, 9.7% of your potassium and 7.3% of daily need for magnesium.  (1)

Traditional folk remedies tout Blackstrap molasses as a panacea or a “cure-all”.  Although, it might not actually be a “cure-all”, blackstrap molasses has been traditionally indicated for the following health conditions:

  • Arthritis
  • Ulcers
  • Dermatitis and eczema
  • High blood pressure
  • Constipation and colitis
  • Varicose veins
  • Anemia
  • Bladder troubles such as difficult urination
  • Nerve damage

Here are a couple of traditional remedies once used for anemia:

Mix 2 teaspoons each of apple cider vinegar and blackstrap molasses with water to strengthen the blood (2)

Another remedy called for using 1/3 of a cup blackstrap molasses mixed with milk or as a sweetener (2)

If you don’t like the taste of Black Strap Molasses you can add two tablespoons to your soups.  I have been adding it to my beef stew and find that it adds just a hint of sweetness which actually improves the flavor of the soup or stew.

When selecting blackstrap molasses choose one that is organic and unsulphured as it contains no chemicals which are often used in processing and has a much better taste.

References:

(1) The George Mateljan Foundation

(2)  Todd, J.C., Herbal home remedies.  (2005), Llewellyn Publications, St. Paul, MN.

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It’s the first day of the new year and it is raining here in the sunshine state.  While watching the rain this morning it made me think of all the benefits of water.  Not only do the plants in my garden and the deer that graze in my yard need water, but we humans need water as well.  We cook with it, we bath in it, we water our yards with it and we nourish our bodies with it.  Our bodies are made up of about 60% to 75% water.  Isn’t that fascinating to think about.  Over half of our body is made up of water.

With that said it is obvious that water is essential to our well-being.  Not only does water carry nutrients and oxygen to our cells but it also has numerous other benefits to include:

  • Suppresses the appetite to help you lose weight
  • Helps to metabolize fat
  • Helps to relieve water retention (the body will retain water when dehydrated)
  • Helps to rid the body of waste byproducts
  • Can help reduce pain by as much as 70%
  • Increases energy
  • Helps to regulate body temperature
  • Lubricates joints
  • Moistens body tissues
  • Helps prevent constipation

Since a large percentage of the water in our body is eliminated through respiration, urination, perspiration and defecation it would only make since that we would need to replenish our stores quite frequently.  Although food intake accounts for 20% of our daily intake of water we still must replace the other 80% by drinking water. 

Dehydration or a lack of water can be a serious condition leading to dry mouth, cessation of tears and urine, fatigue, heart palpitations, muscle cramps, light-headedness, nausea and vomiting.  Extreme dehydration can lead to mental confusion, weakness and possibly coma and organ failure as blood vessels begin to constrict.

It is possible to drink too much water.  When we consume water in excess it can disturb our electrolyte or mineral balance while diluting our blood.  This dilution can lead to lower levels of sodium leading to a condition known as hyponatremia.   So how much water should you drink each day?  A standard rule of thumb has been to drink 8 (8 oz) glasses of water per day.  However, this does not account for our size variations and may be too much for some and not enough for others.  An easy way to determine how much water you should drink is to consume 1/2 oz of water per pound of body weight.  This equation will account for variations in weight and should supply your body with its adequate daily intake of water.  So in other words instead of feeding a 40 pound child the same amount of water as a 300 pound man you are determining what intake is appropriate for that person.  The child weighing 40 pounds would consume 20 ounces of water while the 300 pound man would consume 150 ounces.

There are times when you may need to drink more water than your daily requirements.  Always increase your water intake if you are perspiring during exercise, breast-feeding or pregnant, with diarrhea and vomiting and when at altitudes of above 8200 feet.

So on this, the first day of the new year, make it one of your resolutions to drink your water.  Your body will thank you.  Cheers!

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