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Herbal Study Group 2007

2007 Herbal Study Group at Luna Farm

“Learning is not the product of teaching. Learning is the product of the activity of learners”.

-John Holt

January 10, 2007 Herbal Spotlight: Sage


Welcome back! It was great to see a new face amongst ourselves last night as well as welcoming back the familiar ones! I really enjoy the community that this group has brought into my life. I hope we can continue to build upon it with more new faces each month.

Our focus this month was on sage. A big thanks to April for loaning us her potted sage plant for this month’s focus.

Sage has many actions: stimulant, astringent, tonic, carminative, spasmodic, anti-catarrhal, anti-microbial, emmenagogue, febrifuge and antiperspirant. It is a classic remdy for inflammation of the mouth, gums, tongue, throat and tonsils and can be used for canker sores. Used as a mouthwash and as a gargle it will treat laryngitis, pharyngitis and tonsillitis. It reduces sweating when taken internally (eaten regularly, it will decrease perspiration by 50% with the maximum effect occurring two hours after ingesting) and will reduce the production of breast milk in lactating mothers.

Sage can taste a bit bitter and is very astringent. It’s flavor reminds me of the scent of eucalyptus.

Medicinally, it is taken as an infusion, tincture/extract or gargled. It can also be used externally as a compress and applied to slow-to-heal wounds.

March 14, 2007 Herbal Spotlight: Basil

This month, our walk down the herbal path stopped at the basil patch. What an amazing and surprisingly wonderful plant it is!

Most will recognize basil as a culinary herb, especially when paired up with tomatoes. However, basil surprisingly has many medicinal values as well. It’s long list of actions include nervine, digestive, anti-depressant, diaphoretic, emmenagogue, analgesic, antiseptic and stimulant to name a few.

Basil is used medicinally for stomach cramps, vomiting, constipation, headaches and anxiety. It has a sedative effect while also being a mood lifter, useful for calming the mind in times of trouble.

The essential oil or fresh crushed leaves rubbed on the body make an excellent insect repellant. It is noted that basil should not be used during pregnancy in medicinal doses as it could cause a miscarriage.

As a tea, basil is surprisingly tasty. Dried, the infusion hot or cold tastes similar to black tea. Fresh, it is more spicy but still subtle and fresh with a slight minty hint. This is because basil is in the mint family.

Fresh leaves can be chewed to freshen the breath and is quite pleasant. The tea or fresh leaf would be a wonderful after dinner treat to settle the stomach and freshen the breath.

Basil is such an easy herb to grow in the garden, it self seeds so once established, there is nothing much to do except harvest the wonderful goodness on a regular basis to keep it from going to seed until the fall. And, when the basil is overflowing, pesto is an easy treat to make and freezes well which allows one to have a treat in the dead of winter when the seeds are safely nestled in the ground waiting for warmer days to come again.

April 11, 2007 Herbal Spotlight: White Willow
What a great turn out this month! Welcome back to everyone and welcome to our newcomer! We hope to see you all back next month. Thank you for your generous donations. Every bit helps to cover costs of paper, ink, herbs, etc. A special thanks to Jennifer for contributing the willow branches for this month’s study.

Willow was our main focus this month. As a lot of people know, aspirin was derived from the salicylic acid found in willow. What a lot of people don’t know is that aspirin’s synthetic or isolated salicylic acid can cause gastric bleeding, while the tannins and mucilage present in the Willow alongside the salicylic acid are actually useful remedies for preventing and combating gastric bleeding! As usual, nature provides a complete package in one plant instead of isolating one component to give us serious side effects unlike the laboratory versions created by man.

Willow is native to Europe, is hardy to zone 2, cannot tolerate shade and will hybridize with other species of salix. All forms of willow have some amount of salicylic acid in them although salix nigra and salix alba are the most commonly used.

Willow can be used for the same ailments aspirin is used for. It is an analgesic, febrifuge, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, diaphoretic, diuretic and sedative. Research states it should not be given to children under the age of 12 for fevers due to the rare risk of developing Reye’s syndrome. Also, as with aspirin, it should be avoided if taking blood thinners.

Willow can be taken either as a decoction or in an extract form. Aince it does have an astringent taste, most would prefer to use it in extract form.

May 9, 2007 Herbal Spotlight: Poke
What a great class last night! May marks our 2 year anniversary of the Study Group here at Luna Farm and of all the classes, I have to say, last night was my favorite.

We welcomed a new friend to the group and saw some familiar faces. It was great to see both!

Our herb of honor was Pokeweed. We walked outside and saw Poke growing in various phases. Because it is early in the growing season for this herb (it only started showing its leaves about 10 days ago here), there were no flowers or berries to view but we did get to see the herb just shooting up through the ground as well as plants well enough formed to see the beginning of the flower buds.

We harvested the tender shoots of Poke to make Poke Salet and also dug up two good sized roots. Both were about 4-6″ long and 3-4″ in diameter.

pokeroot (phytolacca americana)

While reviewing the lesson, we boiled the tender greens in 3 changes of water and then seasoned them with fresh sautéed garlic in olive oil, balsamic vinegar and tamari sauce. I can see why the South considers Poke Salet to be such a treat. Very tasty indeed! It was similar to cooked spinach but with its own delicate taste. Poke Salet should not be confused with Poke Salad as you should never eat Poke raw.

After our Poke treat, we moved on to trying an infusion of the roots both fresh and dried. The flavor was mild and earthy for fresh and tasteless for dried.

Tracy, the true herbalist she is, set out at chopping up the root and filled all of our jars with the root. We then set about making our Poke oil and Poke extract.

Medicinally, poke is an excellent stimulant for the immune and lymph systems. It is an alterative, anti-rheumatic, purgative and emetic as well as a highly effective antibiotic. It has been used to help with treating cancer, herpes, mumps, tonsillitis, bronchitis and pneumonia. Older generations have long taken a berry a day to help with arthritis.

Those who are not familiar with Poke’s power should not use the herb as it is a very powerful and toxic herb. Dosages are drops instead of droppersful. The seeds are highly toxic as are the roots and stalks. However, when treated with respect, the herb is one of the most powerful herbs that are available locally.

June 13, 2007 Herbal Spotlight: Cleavers
Tonight we studied Cleavers. Our specimen decided to go to seed a week before class so we had to look hard to find some replacements. While not as lush as they could be, we were able to find suitable specimens to observe and taste for our lesson tonight.

Cleavers has many uses, one of them being a coffee substitute. The seeds are roasted and ground for that purpose. Medicinally, cleavers are used for a diuretic, alterative, anti-inflammatory, tonic and astringent.

Cleavers is the best tonic to the lymphatic system available; as a lymphatic tonic with alterative and diuretic actions it may be used safely in a wide range of problems where the lymphatic system is involved, including swollen glands (lymphadenitis) anywhere in the body, especially in tonsillitis and adenoid trouble.
It is helpful in skin conditions, especially the dry kind such as psoriasis, in the treatment of cystitis and other urinary conditions where there is pain and may be combined with urinary demulcents. Cleavers are also used in the treatment of ulcers and tumors.

July 11, 2007 Herbal Spotlight: Self Heal
Also known as All Heal, this herb is native to Europe but has naturalized in America. It is in the mint family and spreads as such although it is not as invasive as most mints are.

The plant is curious looking and blends into the background when it is not in bloom. We hiked down into the woods to identify the plant in its natural habitat. Since it was just starting to bloom, we did not locate a lot but we found enough to study for the night and take cuttings to root.

Self Heal has a long list of healing actions: alterative, antimicrobial, anti-bacterial, anti-viral, antipyretic, antiseptic,antispasmodic, astringent, carminative, diuretic, febrifuge, hypotensive, stomachic, styptic, tonic, vermifuge and vulnerary making it a very versatile herb. It is used both internally and externally to treat everything from fevers to wounds, diarrhea, internal bleeding and has been found that its extract inhibits the HIV virus. Clinical analysis shows it to have an antibacterial action, inhibiting the growth of pseudomonas, Bacillus typhi, E. coli, Mycobacterium tuberculi, which supports its use as an alternative medicine internally and externally as an antibiotic and for hard to heal wounds and diseases. It is showing promise in research for herpes, cancer, AIDS, diabetes, and many other maladies.

As a tea, self heal is delicious. Depending on which form you use (fresh, dried, hot, cold steeped) its flavor resembles green tea or something slightly sweeter.

August 8, 2007 Herbal Spotlight: Chamomile
We are deep in the throws of summer! For the first time this year, temperatures and been in the 100’s. Plants are looking and feeling stressed from all the heat and Chamomile was no exception.

A perennial herb, Chamomile is native to Europe. At Luna Farm, we grow two kinds of Chamomile: German Chamomile and Pineapple weed. The Pineapple weed grows wild and blooms earlier in the summer while the German Chamomile seems to start blooming later but lasts much longer.

Chamomile spreads easily by seed and its fragrant scent can usually be smelled before the actual plant is seen. It is probably the most widely used relaxing nervine herb in the western world. It relaxes and tones the nervous system, and is especially valuable where anxiety and tension produce digestive symptoms such as gas, colic pains or even ulcers. This ability to focus on physical symptoms as well as underlying psychological tension is one of the great benefits of herbal remedies in stress and anxiety problems. Safe in all types of stress and anxiety related problems, it makes a wonderful late night tea to ensure restful sleep. It is helpful with anxious children or teething infants, where it is used as an addition to the bath and in gripe water.

Chamomile’s main actions are nervine, anti-spasmotic, carminative, anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, bitter and vulnerary. It is also used for irritable bowel syndrome, poor appetite and indigestion, taken to relieve insomnia, anxiety and stress and when applied externally, it will relieve insect bites, wounds and itching eczema.

While chamomile is most widely known as a popular tea, it is also used as an ointment and tincture. Tonight, we made an ointment for everyone to take home and try out.

September 12, 2007 Herbal Spotlight: Golden Rod
As summer winds down, we start turning to herbs that will help us through the winter. A great respiratory herb is Golden Rod. This month, we learned all about it.

Golden Rod is great for the treatment of influenza, especially for treating respiratory catarrh. It is helpful for treating laryngitis and pharyngitis as well. Other uses include treating flatulent dyspepsia, cystitis and urethritis.

It is best harvested right when the flowers begin to bloom in early fall before they are in full bloom. Golden rod can be dried to be used in teas or can be tinctured as well. The tea used as a gargle is helpful for sore throats.

Golden rod’s main actions are anti-catarrhal, anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, astringent, diaphoretic, carminative and diuretic.

October 10, 2007 Herbal Spotlight: Calendula
Calendula is the herbal cosmetic Queen. It makes a wonderful astringent and is used in numerous lotions, creams and other beauty products.

Calendula has great healing power as well and will keep an open wound free of bacteria. It is an anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic, lymphatic, astringent, vulnerary, emmenagogue, anti-microbial, cholagogue, antifungal and is detoxifying when taken internally.

It is one of the best herbs for treating local skin problems, used safely for inflammation on the skin whether due to infection or physical damage and is used for external bleeding. It is an excellent addition for the first aid kit.

Internally, it helps treat digestive inflammation including gastric and duodenal ulcers, it will help relieve gall-bladder problems and indigestion.

Calendula can be used both internally and externally to treat fungal infections.

A lovely sunshiny flower, calendula can be found blooming in the garden very late into the season and if protected, can be over wintered in our part of the country. It readily self seeds and if left to its own devices will ensure that you have a non-stop supply of golden sunshine year after year.

November 14, 2007 Herbal Spotlight: Burdock
The plant gets its name of “dock” from its large leaves; the “bur” is supposed to be a contraction of the French bourre, from the Latin burra, a lock of wool, such is often found entangled with it when sheep have passed by the growing plants.

Burdock grows like crazy once it is established in a garden and like any taproot, it is hard to eradicate once it is growing. It spreads by both seeds and roots.

The root is one of the most nutritious vegetables. Asians eat it on a regular basis and take advantage of all the vitamins and minerals it has to offer: vitamins A, B1, B2, B6, B12, C, E and iron, magnesium, manganese, silicon, thiamine, potassium, sulfur and biotin. In class tonight, I made a soup with burdock root in it which was delicious! As long as the root is soaked first, it makes a wonderfully tender addition to any soup.

Burdock tends to be a bit chewy or fibrous and so many recipes use some kind of tenderizing agent to try to soften it. There are 3 main methods of tenderizing:

Method One:

1. Soak sliced roots in water with a Tbsp of vinegar per pint of water for 15 minutes.

2. Drain.

3. Cover with water, bring to a boil and gently simmer for 20-30 minutes to tenderize.

4. Drain, saving the precious cooking liquid.

5. Spread roots on a towel to dry excess water. (This is so the oil in a stir-fry won’t pop and spit).

Method Two:

1. Simmer in water with 1 tsp baking soda per pint of water for 15 minutes.

Note: This method gets the Burdock root nice and tender but only use if you plan to cook and serve the root immediately. If allowed to sit for several hours it turns the roots an interesting but unappetizing blue-green color.

Method Three:

1. Soak Burdock in a salt water solution for 30 minutes (2 tsp per pint water)

2. Drain.

3. Simmer in water to cover for 20 minutes.

Parboiling is key to tenderizing Burdock root. Sautéing it without preparing it properly will actually make it tougher and less appealing.

Medicinally, burdock is an excellent alterative, diuretic, bitter and diaphoretic. It makes a wonderful tonic.

It is a valuable remedy for the treatment of skin conditions which result in dry and scaly skin and is most effective for psoriasis if used over a long period of time. It is useful as part of a wider treatment for rheumatic complaints, especially where they are associated with psoriasis.

Burdock causes bitter stimulation of the digestive juices and especially of bile secretion and aids digestion and the appetite. It has been used in anorexia nervosa and similar conditions and also to aid kidney function and to heal cystitis.

Burdock has the ability to move the body to a state of integration and health, removing such indicators of systemic imbalance as skin problems and dandruff and is a well known blood purifier.

With all these wonderful ‘side effects’, it is well worth it to add this culinary delight to as many meals as possible!

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