3 Health Benefits of Herb Teas


 

Today I would like to begin a discussion on the health benefits of using herb teas in everyday life. If we can grow them ourselves or know how to forage mindfully and with respect to the environment all the better.  In general, I find my garden choices or foraged choices more potent.

Homeostasis: this is the quality or state of being where our body constantly strives for a steady internal environment.  Our body’s internal regulating mechanisms are complex and ever functioning in its minute adjustments to our blood pressure, blood sugar, temperature regulation all for the purpose of our efficient functioning in daily life. Herbs, plants wild or cultivated that are edible from our external world help us maintain the internal world of our biology. Our society seems intent on instant this or that including healing. The use of herbs in a tea form can provide us with nourishing brews that contain some of the plants key components.  Chamomile, for example, can sooth us after a hectic day. Chamomile not only soothes the spirit but soothes the digestion.  However, in general, the key components in herbs provide nourishment to key systems in our bodies that in turn keeps us going in a good way. Subtle, yet healing non the less, herbs help to keep all systems go, contributes to the homeostatic function of our bodies, psyches and our spirit. If chamomile soothes our digestion we relax. If chamomile soothes our spirit we relax more easily. We know from breath work studies and meditation studies that turning down the hecticness of a day turns down the chemical contributors to stress which hastens the aging process and causes wear and tear in the long run.

Chamomile contains an oil, blue in color thought to  contain  ingredients that reduce swelling and may limit the growth of bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Many of these microscopic species live in our body. When foreign or populations naturally found within our body get out of balance, this herb in particular may be helpful in restoring balance. The oil is found in the crushed flowers and is used in aromatherapy often to help with skin issues and as an anti-inflammatory.

Chamomile is an annual and a favorite in cottage type gardens. Seeds of Change carries organic seed.

Subtle? Yes. contributor to homeostasis? Yes. Winter persists here in New England. Yet on warmer days spring clean up is under way. Do you have chamomile?  Chamomile tea, soft and pleasant brew, is a wonderful addition to the kitchen supply of teas. Small white daisy like flowers can fill a pot or fill a spot with color and scent.

Enjoy. Judith

 

Fall Foraging: Wild Blueberry Leaves and Vinegar

wild-blueberries

Blueberries are one of the most delicious and nutritious foods in our landscapes. Highbush and lowbush are found throughout New England by roadsides in Maine, around marsh lands here in my neck of the woods in Connecticut. Free for the taking, they are not as juicy as the cultivated varieties but just as tasty. They can easily be put into jams, pies, muffins etc. Euell Gibbons, in Stalking the Wild Asparagus, shares many recipes.

Blueberries are usually picked in mid to late summer. Once harvested by hand or eaten by wildlife, then, the leaves can be plucked, washed and dried. Blueberries are deciduous shrubs and will lose their leaves anyway. No harm comes to the plant by harvesting some leaves for tea making. I randomly pick leaves from several bushes looking for the greenest leaves.

In doing research for this article I learned that the leaves pack more antioxidants than the fruit! That’s a plus for so many reasons. Ongoing research is demonstrating blueberry leaves effect on lowering blood sugar levels, reducing inflammation, and various cancers. Gallic acid, one of the leaves chemical constituents, is an antioxidant which decreases pain, swelling associated with inflammation.

Usually 1 tsp of dried leaves is added to one cup of boiling water. With Blueberry leaves 2 tsp are okay. Let steep for 20 -30 minutes.

Caution: For more serious conditions it is best to check with a Naturopathic physician or practitioner who has experience in herbal medicine for proper dosage and management of diseases such as diabetes.

Vinegars packed with herbs are considered a tonic food, defined as one that strengthens and invigorates. Herbs soaked in vinegar are a great way to get some of the food benefits of plants. Some herbalists do not strain the vinegar as noted below. Instead they add the soaked herbs maybe a tablespoon or two onto salads or mixed in soups.

Due to its high antioxidant value, I added blueberry leaf into my tonic vinegar. (see recipe below) the other herbs in the formula are packed with nutrients, especially minerals. Trace amounts of various nutrients may work synergistically and research is ongoing.

Vinegar Tonic Recipe:
2 parts dulse
2 parts red raspberry leaves
2 parts blueberry leaves (wild preferred)
1 part dandelion leaves
1 part oatstraw
1 part alfalfa
1/2 part horsetail
1/2 part borage

Parts are determined by the size jar you choose. I recommend you use an 8 oz jar.

  1. Fill jar with herbs: 1 part =  1 tsp
  2. Fill jar with organic apple cider vinegar
  3. Cover and shake
  4. Place on sunny windowsill and shake every day or so
  5. Let sit for 4-6 weeks, strain, add honey if preferred to taste.
  6. Take 1 tbs per day

Vinegar’s sharpness can be cut with honey. A tablespoon a day can be added to apple juice, taken plain or added to salad dressing. I find this type of recipe nourishing and even energizing. But, don’t take my work for it. Make some of your own and share how you like it. I would enjoy hearing from you.

Enjoy, Judith

3 Health Benefits of Herbal Teas

 

Most of us are fascinated with rainbows, are we not? Thunder, lightning, swirling storms clean the air. When conditions are right a rainbow forms giving us a spectacular show of color that can simply be enchanting even magical. Of course legends abound about the significance of this phenomena perhaps a gift from the gods. Beautiful and majestic a rainbow feels like a gift.

In the field of nutrition and herbs rainbows have an interesting place. The rainbow is an arc of light whose colors are sunlight refracted by water molecules. When we look at the world of herbs, keeping with this theme, we see the same colors reflected in the edibles and medicinals in nature. We know from nutrition studies that each color in foods signifies a variety of nutrients but especially an array of anti- oxidants. From purple to red and all colors in between we have a compliment of  substances that have the unique ability of scooping up harmful byproducts which leads to a healthier environment within our cells, our biology. Oxidants contribute to the aging process. Whether flowers, leaves or roots we see antioxidant vitamins such as vitamin A, C, E represented, sometimes in trace amounts sometimes in significant amounts. For example, dandelion leaves, 1 cup chopped, have 112% RDA of Vitamin A not to mention 19 mg of Vitamin C.

These leaves also have a wide variety of B vitamins and minerals. This compliment of nutrients is recognized by our biology and though dandelion may have an affinity for the liver, gallbladder and kidney systems it does contribute its nutrients and support to the whole body.

When we eat a variety of foods from the color spectrum we support foundational health and vitality. When we choose different herbs varying our choices the same thing happens: we ingest a variety of nutrients in various amounts that supports our biology. Homeostasis is maintained, synergy occurs in a holistic way.  Holism, the third concept I wish to highlight, is a concept I will repeat over and over in that we are a part of the whole. The macrocosm, the universe, is in the microcosm, the individual,  and all that that implies.  A holistic approach to health means we choose those modalities that support us on a mind, body, spirit level.

In the not so distant past, herbalists chose some herbs for their effect on the psyche, to enhance romance and chase away the blues. With our mechanization of the herbal industry we take away some of the spirit, the energy of  the plant that goes beyond the science. My teachers have taught me to give thanks for everything I pick, harvest and use, for my food and my medicine. It is said that when we acknowledge this plant kingdom in this way they can work more holistically within us. Holism is about relationship.

Homeostasis, synergy, holism, three broad concepts incredibly relevant in the understanding and application of herbs in our healing and in our kitchens.

My Native American elders often referred to the merging of cultures here in North America as the place of the rainbow people. Isn’t fitting that science is meeting the legends and confirming that when we eat a rainbow of colors we are supported on all levels of our being. As above so below, comes to mind.

Maybe rainbows are the gift of the gods.

Autumn is here. Many plant cycles of bloom have ended. Yet our eyes will feast on the vast array of colors in the natural world around us as autumn dazzles us with her dance. . I ask you to give thanks today for the food and medicines you need.

Enjoy your day. Judith

 

 

 

Summertime Meadow Plants: Wild Bergamot

 

When I think of bergamot I think red. Bright red flowers add a punch of color, attract bees and butterflies and are a garden favorite. Wild bergamot, also known as purple bee-balm, brings color to late summer meadows too. Native to the US it can be found across the country favoring woodlands, thickets and prairies. It is an aromatic herbaceous perennial with square stems that spreads by seeds and rhizomes. Delicate purple flowers bloom from June to September. In the managed meadow near where I live, wild bergamot with dainty lavender flowers sway in summertime breezes and addrsz_1rsz_1rsz_wild_bergamot[1] to the meadow land palette as summer moves along.

Botanical Name: Monarda fistulosa

Parts Used: leaves and flowers

Uses: this plant has been widely used by the Native culture across North America. Leaves were placed in water baths for infants. Tea from the leaves was a remedy for colds and lung congestions. The aromatic compounds in the mint family make this one a flavorful tea, by itself or in combination with other herbs, served hot or cold. Oswego tea, made from wild bergamot, is named after the Oswego Indians in upstate New York.

Flowers make a colorful edition to salads, as a garnish, also used in sun teas. The leaves have a stronger flavor and were and are used to flavor meat and poultry dishes.

Recipe: Sun Tea

Place bee-balm flowers in glass jar, cover with water and place in the sun at least 2 or more hours. Strain if desired, pour over ice and serve. Many flowers in our gardens are edible. Chives blossoms, viola, violet, wild daisies, yarrow, wild strawberry leaves and berries, chamomile, lavender, thyme and marjoram blossoms can be used too depending on preferred taste.

Nutritional Value: the colorful flowers contain flavanoids, powerful antioxidants that are health promoting. Quercetin, an antioxidant identified in bergamot, seems to help relieve  late summer allergy season symptoms. Native Americans also used a tea of the leaves to treat parasites and worms.  Science is now proving these claims to be true.

The leaves contain thymol which has antibacterial and anti- fungal effects and seem to have the ability to inhibit the growth of E. coli.

Wild bergamot is waning. The dried flowers still have a rich minty scent. Gather a few if you can and make a refreshing summer tea over ice. Though many flowers are waning, ice tea sounds good as it’s another hot day here in New England.

Enjoy. Judith

Judith Dreyer, MS, BSN, Writer, Speaker, Holistic Health Consultant and Workshop Presenter, Master Gardener. © all rights reserved. 

 

Summertime Meadow Plants: Jerusalem Artichokes

rsz_belden_meadow_artichokes

 

 

 

One of the tallest plants in an established meadow is the Jerusalem artichoke. Tall stems bear small yellow flowers that sway in summer breezes, their faces turned to the sun. A meadow filled with these plants is breath taking. I had an opportunity to walk in a meadow preserve on Long Island when many plants were in full bloom. It was late July and the fields were filled with Jerusalem artichokes, purple coneflower, monarda, bedstraws, grasses and was simply stunning. I went back about two week later and the blossoming time for the artichokes was over. I was stunned to see how different the landscape looked and felt, as if some magic had left the scene. Though the artichoke blossom showtime was over, I walked away with a smile. Hidden, out of our sight, within the soil, tasty tubers lie. Obviously, managed meadows are off limits to foraging. But it brought back memories of digging for artichokes in my back yard. Once dug and cleaned, they are delicious, like a water chestnut in texture and slightly sweet due to its inulin content which turns into fructose after harvesting. Today I live near a managed meadow and these flowers continue to delight on my summer walks.

Botanical Name: Helianthus tuberosus (tuberous sunflower)

Parts Used: tubers, stalks, flowers

Native to North America and not from Jerusalem; it is not a potato but related to the sunflower and daisy families.

The Native Americans during the 1600’s showed the early settler this plant and how to use it. There existed quite a plant exchange as the early settlers began their colonies and trade went back and forth from here to Europe. Many of our common meadow weeds, and culinary herbs were brought over. But the colonists brought specimens from this land to Europe too.

It is thought the Spanish name for sunflower, girasol, was interpreted as Jerusalem, and for some reason the name stuck. It seems girasole is the Italian word for sunflower, too. Today we have the botanical family and can safely say it is a sunflower relative.  Jerusalem artichokes can be weedy so there is some concern about growing it as a food crop.

Uses: tubers, small and narrow but potato like, contain inulin, which is often recommended for diabetics as it does not seem to spike blood sugar levels. Euell Gibbons, in Stalking the Wild Asparagus, mentions several recipes that include:

1. digging and washing dug tubers and adding to salad,

2. eating them raw, dried, easy to snack on,

3. pickled,

4. added to gravy with a meat dish and he has a recipe for chiffon pie.

They are a favorite of foragers too.

The Native Americans here in the NE used artichoke tubers as their primary carbohydrate source. Once corn, maize was introduced from Mexico, artichokes were still maintained as a food crop because it was hardy and disease resistant unlike corn.

Leaves and flowers: it seems the leaves and flowers of its close relative, the sunflower, were used and noted in the Cherokee herbal, by J.T. Garrett. However, Peterson’s Medicinal Plant Guide states that they made a tea from the leaves, stalks and flowers and used it to treat rheumatism, aches and pains in joints.

Tall yellow flowers capture the sun and our hearts during summertime and provide food. What’s your favorite recipe? Let’s share.

Enjoy. Judith

Judith Dreyer, MS, BSN, Writer, Speaker, Holistic Health Consultant and Workshop Presenter, Master Gardener. © all rights reserved. Including photos.

Summertime Meadow Plants: Red Raspberry

some berry over Wood. Strawberries Raspberries Blueberry

some berry over Wood. Strawberries Raspberries Blueberry

Brambles, thorny understory woody shrubs, are found at many a forest or meadow edge.  These shrubs, when left untended, can take over land and challenge our home landscapes. Our black and red raspberries fall into this  category and like apples, pears, quinces and many other fruits, they are related to roses.

Whether blackberries, or the red and black raspberry, both producing fruit right now as summer meanders along, can create a thicket of prickly shrubs either welcome for their fruit or cursed because they are nearly impossible to get rid of.

Michael Pollan reminds us in his book, “Second Nature “nothing (in nature) sits still, well, maybe for just a brief moment.”

I think of the brambles that insist on filling in any space unused and once in the yard can be cut back but rarely are they gone for good. Brambles are also a wild life habitat providing food and refuge for many species.

Berries are one of my favorite summertime treats. Red raspberry farms are open for pick it yourself options. Black raspberries (see previous post) are out too and prevalent in the CT woodland and meadow areas. Blueberries are also ripe and ready for picking.

Typically I look for the raspberry family by checking the underside of leaves to ID correct berry. I gather leaves from younger canes of the red raspberry shrub as they make a great soothing tea. I dry some of the berries I harvest for winter use. I also place fresh berries on a cookie sheet,  put in the freezer. Once frozen I put them in freezer bags and then take out for a breakfast treat on a cold winters morning when the chill reminds me that spring is far away.

If you have brambles at the edges of your property you can easily distinguish the red raspberry from the blackberry: look at the underside of the leaves. Red raspberry leaves have a silver green underside whereas blackberries do not.

For this post I would like to share and remind us of the benefits of raspberries and some of the new research.

The Details:

Name: Red Raspberry: Rubus idaeus (Rosaceae family)
Parts Used: leaves and fruit, perennial
Varieties: Rubus idaeus is considered the cultivated variety; Rubus strigosus is considered the wild variety.
Where found: temperate climates as these berries need a period of cold in order to flower

How to maintain:

“Raspberry plants produce biennial canes, which means that the first year they are vegetative only and don’t produce fruit. The second year, they flower and produce fruit, but then die. The plants that fruited for you last year can be removed because they are dead anyway. Those that were vegetative last year will or should produce fruit this season. It is best to get the old canes removed as soon as possible. Most people get around to it in the fall after a couple of hard frosts.” 

Heath benefits:

1. Obesity: raspberries contain antioxidants and other nutrients such as rheosmin (also called raspberry ketone). The theory is the metabolism in our fat cells can be increased by certain plant constituents. One, rheosmin for instance, seems to increase enzyme activity, increase O2 consumption, increase heat production  all which may contribute to lowering the risk of obesity.

2. Organic raspberries when tested against non organic raspberries out perform in terms of their antioxidant activity.

3. Cancer: what makes a cell turn cancerous? Why some and not others?  This is ongoing research and what role do the plant constituents in raspberries play? Research is showing antioxidants, when given to lab animals with various tumors, show a decrease in oxidative stress (means they help diminish the damage from free radicals) decreases inflammation or reduces cancer cell promotion. This is not new research. What is new is that the unique plant constituents in raspberries may be able to change the signal, specifically, signal a cancer cell to begin a death cycle. A cell that is cancerous overrides its death instruction. This is a very important understanding of plant constituents and the roles they play in keeping us healthy. Pretty amazing isn’t it and the antioxidant effects are greater in organically grown berries.

Enjoy all the fresh organic berries you can find. Dry, freeze for winter use.

Today is beautiful here. Gotta get outside and talk a walk I hope you can enjoy the outdoors too.

Enjoy. Judith

Judith Dreyer, MS, BSN, Writer, Speaker, Holistic Health Consultant and Workshop Presenter, Master Gardener. © all rights reserved. Including photos.