Herbal Wake Up Call

Some much needed sunshine has arrived. We just need the temperature to increase :)

Some much needed sunshine has arrived. We just need the temperature to increase ūüôā

Stinging nettles are wonderfully nutritious

Stinging nettles are wonderfully nutritious

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As the days are getting longer and the weather is improving we are taking advantage and getting outdoors more. Its amazing how the seasons affect us – we seem to hibernate in the winter on a diet of rich warming foods, now that spring has FINALLY arrived we are spring cleaning, getting in the garden and going out more.

Winter has made our body quite sluggish so it helps that the type of herbs which are growing around us are the ideal ones to boost our metabolism and help us to detoxify and cleanse our bodies in preperation for the Summer (fingers crossed – I hope I haven’t jinxed us!!). As you walk outdoors you will find cleavers (Galium aperine) and Stinging Nettles (Urticaria dioica) growing abundantly. Both can be made into a Spring tonic to banish away the winter blues and help you to make the most of every day.

I would recommend that you wear thick protective gloves when harvesting nettles – I allow them to grow in my garden as I know that they haven’t been sprayed and are organic. Collect the leaves, you don’t have to dig up the roots, you will get another crop of leaves which you can either eat, drink or use as medicine. Nettle root also has medicinal properties but is best harvested in the autumn. Nettles are rich in vitamins and minerals. If you want to access these delicious nutrients I would recommend that you make a nourishing nettle infusion. I want to make a spring tonic with them so I want to make a fresh herb tincture out of them.

You will need a bottle of vodka which is 40% alcohol, this will create a weaker tincture than the one I make but as a herbalist I purchase ethanol with thanks to a government license. It will still be delicous and will have the same properties and actions as the one which I make. Fresh nettle tincture will help to cleanse the body of any toxins which have built up over the winter months. It also helps to bring about a state of peace. This is because of the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS). Many people are in a state of anxiety/stress, there are numerous digestive, reproductive, urinary and immune problems which come about from being constantly alert and on edge. It severely depletes your adrenal glands which are the seat of your vitality and can lead to low energy/tiredness/exhaustion where you cannot get enough refreshing sleep. Sound like you? Nettle tincture will help when taken regularily over a long time period.

Do you try to get everything done but end up achieving very little? Or are you shattered but unable to sleep properly?

Do you try to get everything done but end up achieving very little? Or are you shattered but unable to sleep properly?

Collect some cleavers too- I have childhood memories of playing with these plants, where I live in Grimsby they were called sticky buds and it used to be a regulary childhood prank to stick them to an unsuspecting friend and giggle like an idiot. Cleavers are an amazing lymphatic tonic. Our lymph system is the other waterworks in our body which deals with all of the extra-cellular fluid in the body (pretty much everything but the blood and the wee). A sluggish lymph system can contribute to cellulite. The lymph system also contains several glands which are hives for our immune system – you will be well aware of the tonsils as they are the main ones for repeat infections. The lymph glands sift through all of the extra-cellular fluid and catch and attack any possible germs which can make us ill.

Harvested cleavers

Harvested cleavers

You don’t want to wear gloves collecting these beauties as they will stick to them and annoy the hell out of you. Instead when harvesting them use their inherant stickiness to your favour to collect more and more.

Once you have both herbs please wash them. I am a lover of nature and believe that a bit of dirt is good for you but both herbs need washing to reduce the risk of Weils Disease which is passed onto us humans from mice and rats weeing everywhere. Both rodents do not have good bladder control, cannot help urinating over everything and it cannot be seen so anything which is harvested from ground level (fruits, vegetables and herbs) need to be washed.

You can them dice up the fresh herbs using a knife – this is because the more surface area there is the better the extraction of active constituents and nutrients.

You have the choice of making an elixir or a tincture. The difference is that an elixir contain half sugar/honey and half alcohol mixture where a tincture is just the alcohol mix.

Place the herbs in a large jar with a lid. Cover with the chosen liquid – I prefer tincture as I feel that sugar is pretty much poison (we have way too much of it in our diet). Honey is amazing and I love it, I recommend it for a multitude of things including face masks, sore throats, skin infections etc – but I like to flavour my honey with herbs or use it to make a herbal cough syrup.

Fresh herb tincture. Ensure the plant material is fully covered with liquid otherwise it can go mouldy!!

Fresh herb tincture. Ensure the plant material is fully covered with liquid otherwise it can go mouldy!!

This needs to be placed in a dark cupboard and shook daily. You will notice that the alcoholic mixture will have changed colour instantly – but the whol;e thing is best in four weeks (but you can help yourself to some in two weeks).

Once the time is up you can decant the liquid into a bottle (preferably an amber bottle to reduce the damaging effect the sun has on herbal medicines/essential oils etc) making sure that you wring out the moisture from the herbs to get the best bits of it all. Always shake well before use. If you made the tincture it will last for several years and therefore can be used each Spring to kick start your immune system and metabolism. It can also be taken whenever you feel that you have overdone it and need a cleanse.

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Spring into action and grow

The raspberry leaves are starting to bud this year :)

The raspberry leaves are starting to bud this year ūüôā

There is nothing quite as connecting as getting your hands in some mud, in a world where we walk about with shoes on all the time (rubber soles are insulators) we can become quite disconnected to our planet. If we each planted a tree would there really be an issue with global warming? Why not plant five? Or one a year at least on Earth Day (April 22nd). A pip from an apple will grow into a massive tree which will supply our children, our future generations with delicious food. As we are near the end of Gardening Week I wanted to discuss ways in which you can grow fruit/veg and herbs without it costing the earth.If money is an issue please do not give up before you have started, if you buy fruits and vegetables to eat then you already have access to free seeds… save the inside of peppers when you cut them up and allow them to dry out. The seeds can now be planted to grow pepper plants which will taste so much better than the ones you bought in the supermarket originally…. and they will be organic (if you don’t spray them with horrible chemicals that is). Seeds can be harvested from apples, oranges, lemons, tomatoes, peppers, passion fruit, melons, strawberries and raspberries.

I can hear you shouting at the screen saying “They are food plants not herbs!!” You are right, but in the famous words of Hippocrates “Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food”. Our diet has a huge impact to our health. We literally are what we eat.

Growing raspberries is an excellent example of getting delicious food AND herbal medicine from one plant. Raspberry is a native plant to the UK although it isn’t found in the wild any more ūüė¶ (I hope you can prove me wrong on this one!!). It is a delicious fruit which is quite pricey to purchase from the supermarket but easy to grow in your garden or in a pot. The fruit tastes ten times better and as a bonus the leaves are medicinal. Herbalists use the raspberry leaves in herbal tea blends. They have an affinity with females and help to tone and tighten the womb and uterus – great if you have experienced a miscarriage and would like to ensure it doesn’t happen again. You can drink a tea of the leaves in the lead up to you trying to concieve another baby – preferably 1-3 times a day for three months. You can add delicious tasting herbs to the tea to suit your taste if required.

You can even go to poundshops and pick up raspberry canes for £1!!  Poundshops even stock vegetable seeds, herb starter kits, strawberry root stocks, blueberry, gooseberry and current canes too!!

Grow your own blueberries? I don't mind if I do!!

Grow your own blueberries? I don’t mind if I do!!

Seeds are quite cheap and offer the opportunity to grow your own herbs. If you get bored staring at a pot and waiting for it to sprout you could always set aside a small plate or bowel with moistened cotton wool pads. Place your seeds a space apart on the cotton wool pads and keep dry, you will then get to see the seeds sprouting, once this occurs you should pot them into compost so that they can continue to grow. This technique is a bit like the cress egg heads that were completed in junior school.Supermarkets offer packets of fresh herbs – these are plants which have been forced to grow quickly, you can always separate the packet into several pots of soil and allow them to develop into maturity. Once they have established they can be planted outdoors. Parsley is classed as an annual herbs but several of the plants I have grown have lasted for two years instead of one, which is an added bonus.

You don’t have to spend money on expensive plant food either! A plants food source is cellulose – or starch. Potatoes and rice are full of starch. If you have cut up potatoes to make a meal for yourself/friends or family – save the water that you used as it will extract starch and be an excellent plant food to both water and feed your plants with. Same with rice – soak rice before boiling and save the white water from soaking. If you drink herbal teas, use the tea bag again to make a weak brew, dilute till it is a similar colouration as wee and pour over your plants. They will love you for it.

Hate weeding the garden? Do you know that alot of the plants you dig up may actually be medicinal? Dock roots, dandelion herb and root, nettle herb and root, plantain, chickweed, shephards purse, bramble leaf, bark and root… all can be turned into cosmetic and medicinal products. Don’t see it as weeding, look at it as harvesting ūüôā

Gardening is an excellent form of therapy – its doesn’t have to cost alot and as well as the emotional, mental and physical benefits of nurturing a plant into maturity you also get to either eat it or make cosmetics or medicine out of it too!! Free therapy but you get tomatoes!! Walks in the outdoors (generally in the Autumn) will give you the opportunity to harvest seeds – yarrow grows in the middle of Grimsby town centre and also along Cleethorpes coastline. The seeds can be collected in the autumn.

Can’t wait till them? Sage and Rosemary are excellent plants which grow together very well, they are also both great plants for vegetative propagation – this is taking a cutting (roughly 2″ long), planting it in a pot of compost and watering it for several weeks to create a new plant. If you know someone who has either (or both) of these plants in their garden already the majority of the time if you ask nicely they will not mind if you take a cutting (especially if it is established and large) and you can grow your own plant ūüôā Both smell divine, are great to use in cooking, can be added to baths, made into a tea and used to support your health and wellbeing.

Great eh? I think so ūüôā Happy Gardening Week everyone

National Liquorice Day

Glycyrrhiza or Licorice is a wonderful adaptogenic herb

Happy National Liquorice Day… what was that? You didn’t realise that it was! No neither did I until I read a wonderful article from Knapsack Spirit.¬† Serendipity really as I was planning to write about this wonderful plant and finding out that today is deemed National Liquorice Day somewhere in the world just cemented that fact.

Liquorice… love it or hate it, this plant is amazing.¬† A member of the pea family (fabiaceae) it is 50 times sweeter than sugar.¬† It tastes sweet and slightly bitter and is moistening and warming.¬† It is the root which is used in herbal medicine.¬† How many of you pick up a root from the health food shop and have a good chew on it?¬† Releasing all of the flavours and helping to clean your teeth naturally too!!

This herb is one to be used with caution though, people with high blood pressure, diabetes, health issues with your liver or possible low potassium levels or cardiac disease shouldn’t take this medicine without the guidance of your doctor or a health professional such as myself.¬† You should also be cautious taking this herb if you are on cardiac glycosides, corticoids or hydrocortisone medications.¬† Herbal safety is important – most people think that herbs are safe because they are natural but they are the original medicines and contain active constituents which can affect a persons health positively or negatively which is why you should always consult a professional.

Now onto the fun and interesting bit… liquorice has been classed as an adaptogenic herb.¬† Adaptogens are important herbs used by herbalists as they help the body to adapt to stress and support normal functioning, they can instigate a change in hormone status and also boost the immune system and digestive ability.¬† When you think of all the health issues of yourself and the people around you a large majority of them are caused by stress or stress is a significant factor which aggravated health problems further.

Liquorice is contraindicated when a person is taking steroid medications because the herb itself stimulates immune function and lessens the stress response.¬† The purpose of steroids is to suppress the immune system, stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol are natural supressors of the immune system which is why we are more suceptible to illness when we are stressed and run down.¬† Pharmaceuticals have harnessed that fact in the production of steroid drugs such as hydrocortisol creams to suppress an overactive immune fuction.¬† Liquorice contains saponins called glycrrhizin which the body used to create hormones including steriod hormones.¬† It all starts to make sense once you become aware of the body and how it works ūüôā

Liquorice has been used as a food and medicine throughout the centuries.  It is a tonic restorative for the adrenal glands (which is where the stress hormones are produced).  It has been used in several different herbal traditions for the treatment of coughs, colds and other respiratory diseases.  There is a link between the adrenals and the lungs Рduring foetal development they both develop in the womb at the same time.  The link continues through adulthood as people who have experienced a lot of stress (and therefore have depleted their adrenals, something called adrenal fatigue) tend to have lots of upper respiratory infectiosn such as coughs and colds.  I have seen this personally through clinic observation of patients.  As the adrenals are supported and energy levels restored (as much as possible) so the number of chest infections drops.

Liquorice is also very beneficial to the digestive system, it can strengthen the stomach, reduce diarrhoea, clear heat, dispel toxins and support the repair of ulcerated tissue.¬† It is anti-inflammatory¬†and hepato-protective.¬† This means that it can reduce inflammation and protects the liver.¬† The liver is an important organ as it processes all the hormones that circulate in the body as well as all of the medicines which we take.¬† When you go out on a bender it is the liver which has to process the alcohol and the reason why you suffer a hang over the next day.¬† So supporting and protecting the liver has a beneficial impact on your health and wellbeing (and may reduce the suffering the day after the night before!!).¬† People who have inflammatory bowel diseases will benefit from liquorice’s amazing restorative ability, conditions include: Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, gastritis, gastric ulcers, duodenal ulcers, ileitis and leaky gut syndrome.

There is a history of liquorice being cultivated in England which interests me greatly as I try to source my herbs as locally as possible and cultivate the ones which I cannot source.¬† I will be looking to cultivate this in my garden in Grimsby once I have sourced some seeds.¬† Love it or hate it, I prescribe this herb alot because of its beneficial and nourishing actions.¬† So here’s to Liquorice… a herb which has a day dedictated to itself.

Related articles: http://knapsackspirit.wordpress.com/2013/04/11/licorice-root/

References:

Grieve, M (1977) “A Modern Herbal” Great Britain Peregrine Books

Wilson, J (2011) “Adrenal Fatigue. The 21st Century Stress Syndrome” United States Smart Publications

Winston, D and Maimes, S (2007) “Adaptogens. Herbs for Strength, Stamina and Stress Relief” United States Healing Arts Press

Natural Relief of Headaches

Headaches can be caused by stress and tension

Headaches can be caused by stress and tension

Don’t you just hate it when you get a headache? Whether it is a dull ache or a pounding head it really stops you from concentrating properly and detracts from your happiness. It can feel like our brain is screaming out but actually the bones of the skull and the brain itself do not hurt as they do not contain the nerve fibres to sense pain – headaches are felt in the scalp, face and in the tissues which surround the brain.

Most headaches are caused by ‘non-organic’ factors with only 2% of headaches being to result of something serious such as a tumour, high blood pressure or another disease/pathology. It is always worth investigating the cause of your headaches if you experience them on a regular basis or for long periods of time to determine if they are caused by illness/imbalances or not. It is always better to be safe than sorry – I lost my step-dad as he put off the fact that he was experiencing headaches for ages until finally the doctor diagnosed a brain tumour which was beyond trratment!! Most headaches are caused by tiredness, emotional issues, allergies or dehydration. When a headache is caused by muscle spasms it is classed as a tension headache and when it is due to dilation of blood vessels it can be called a vascular headache.

As a herbalist in order to resolve a persons headaches I have to determine the cause of the headache. headaches can be subdivided into the following groups:

Environmental – such as pollution, lighting, noise etc.
Stress – physical, mental or emotional stress in a persons life.
Dietary – some foods or additives can trigger allergic response headaches.
Organic – the 2% of people who experience headaches due to an underlying disease/illness/imbalance.

As a herbalist there are pain-relieving herbs which can be used but this is quite a symptomatic approach. Remember pain releif without resolving the cause is like there being a fire in a house and just opening the window to get rid of the smoke!  Therefore by determining the cause of the headache then the appropriate herbs can be given to resolve them for example giving anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic herbs to alleviate the underlying muscles contractions in tension headaches or offering herbs which balance the contraction and dilation of blood vessels in vascular headaches.

Luscious lavenderI recommend lavender oil for tension headaches – the aromatherapy oil can be purchased and is easy to use – if you find relief from this then you should look at the stress in your life and see if you can reduce any of it. I also recommend rosemary oil – this essential oil should be diluted in a carrier oil (I recommend hemp oil as it is quickly absorbed into the skin). If rosemary oil improves the headaches then you know that the cause is due to cerebral circulation (how the blood moves around the head). If you would like to purchase some from me then just email myself on: ewarrenerherbal@gmail.com (I have paypal facilities). Chamomile or peppermint tea are both delicious ways of taking herbs which can help to improve and hopefully resolve headaches. There are several herbs which can act like natural aspirin as they contain salacyclic acid – the key point is that as a whole herb they also tend to be anti-inflammatory and help to stop bleeding (although they do not thin the blood to prevent clots).

If you attend a herbal consultation to discover the cause of your headaches possible triggers would be explored which include: stress, emotions, muscle tension, a change in the weather/seasons.altitude or time zones, changes in your sleeping patterns or meal times, smoking, polluted air or stuffy rooms, blood clotting, caffiene and food. There are multiple foods which can trigger headaches in sensitive people including: nuts, chocolate, vinegar, bananas, anything fermented, citrus fruits etc. Once the cause has been determined then a herbal prescription is designed to suit your unique health issues to help resolve the cause as well as alleviate the symptoms.

Citrus fruits can trigger headaches in sensitive people.

There are several home remedies for headaches such as using a warm cabbage leaf as a compress, eating garlic regularily (to reduce blood pressure), making steam inhalations of eucalyptus, rosemary and thyme to resolve sinus headaches, feverfew tea for migraines and a raw potato on the forehead to relieve a headache caused by too much sun!

Does our environment afffect our metabolism?

I was asked on twitter whether our external environment has an impact on our metabolism.  I feel that the answer is YES.  Our health and wellbeing is made up of numerous factors which includes physical.  Physical not only includes our internal environment and the numerous biochemical reactions which are occurring every second of every day but also our external environment, the ecosystem, altitude, weather etc.

I live in a quaint little county of England called North East Lincolnshire Рour weather is usually wet and cold, last year there was no real summer but it rained and rained.  I am aware of a number of people within the area who experience chronic otitis media (water trapped behind the ear drums), colds, coughs, sinusitis, irritable bowel syndrome and many other health issues which can all be described as wet and cold in nature.

Let me explain, as a herbalist I was trained to understand the six tissue states. I was taught about the body from a biochemical level upwards but in order to offer holistic health care¬†you have¬†to understand and identify the different patterns that the body presents to you in order to reveal the underlying imbalances.¬† One of the reasons why it is fantastic to become more in tune with your own body!! Peope can be so disconnected from what their body is signalling to them…. are you one of these?

From the historical origins of Greek humoral medicine four qualities were identified: hot, cold, dry and wet, these qualities can be used to describe the tissues within the body.

Hot, excited tissue states benefit from sedatives which can cool the tissue and restore balance.  Heat disperses and makes things lighter, thinner and more porous.

Dry, atrophic tissues within the body require moisture.  Dryness hardens things reducing pliability and preventing things from passing through them.

Too much moisture in tissues can cause a damp congested state which need the fluids to be reduced to restore balance.  Dampness and moisture can soften things making them more pliable; water also flows which can take up substances.

Cold tissues can show depressed activity and may need stimulant herbs to restore heat. Cold aggravates, condenses and packs things together.

People can be understood by their qualities, personality traits in relation to the four qualities have been developed any include: Powerful Choleric (dry and hot), Phlegmatic (moist and cold), Popular Sanguine (hot and moist) and Melancholy (cold and dry).  From the micro to the macro everything can be looked at having different degrees of these qualities.

These qualities can even be used to study inert objects, a new dimension is therefore introduced when looking at living beings such as ourselves.  The four states are complicated by the degree of tension ranging from constricted to relaxed.

If tissue is over-relaxed, astringents can be utilised to constrict and tone the flaccid tissue.

Constricted tissues show a lack of movement, relaxants can release the tension in the tissues and restore the flow of fluids around them.

When we think of our metabolism we think of how well we burn up our food and whether or not it is easy or hard for us to lose/gain weight.  Metabolism actually relates to the biochemical transformation of one substance into another form.  Most transformations within the body are helped by enzymes which are produced within the body and are specific molecules which work like a lock and key to support metabolism.

Factors which can affect our metabolism include the quantities of enzymes present, our body is maintained at a certain temperature through a process called homeostasis.  Without this many cells would die and the enzymes in our body would not work well.  There is an optimum range of pH and temperature in order to ensure that the enzymes are efficient in their role within the body.  Both have a minimal range without having drastic consequences on our health but our pH levels can vary depending on the foods which we eat (preferably they should be in season) and our organs.  The stomach is more acidic but the intestines function better in an alkaline environment.

Certain food additives, dyes, herbicides, insecticides, alcohol and cigarette smoking all affect metabolism.  Depending on where you source your food your could be contributing to a change in your metabolic rate.

When a herbalist looks at the body, it is as a whole; how the patient relates to the environment around them is taken into account, this includes the tissue states.  Our health is the culminative result of our actions and our environment.  Cold foods such as salad which are in season in the summer cool our bodies when it is required (depending on where you live) due to the hot nature of summer. In the winter our instinct to warming hearty dishes helps to heat our body and is supportive of the season.  Hot steaming stews, mulled wine, cinnamon and spices meals and puddings are prefered in the winter.  Eating out of season puts added stress on your body Рeating salads in the winter is only going to make the body work harder (requiring more nutrients) to heat the body (because of the season) and also because of eating food which naturally depresses activity.

What do you think about this subject?