My journey into alternative medicine began because of my son’s health. As an infant and toddler, he had ear infections, was a restless sleeper. Troublesome, worrisome and perplexing, I felt forced to look at health in general and his in particular from a different angle. How could I create foundational health for him when traditional medicine seemed to be a band-aid? It helped with the crisis but didn’t seem able to get to the root of the problem?
He was born in New Jersey where naturopathic medicine was /is not licensed. When he was three years old we moved back to CT, my home state, where I found out naturopaths are licensed to practice medicine. Remember I was trained as a nurse in western, allopathic medicine so this was a stretch for me. But I was tired, tired of long restless nights with him, cranky daytimes and his ill health. I had to step off the medical model I was trained in, face my fears, ( I was told in nursing school that chiropractors, naturopaths etc were “quacks”) and investigate alternative medicine for myself. I learned a whole lot, became angry that good research was not mainstream though potentially helpful.
Through a series of synchronistic encounters, I met a couple fo N.D.’s, Naturopathic physicians, who were licensed to practice medicine in the state of CT. Through specific testing, we found out my son was very sensitive to certain foods. When I removed them from his diet, the results were miraculous. After three days of removing these suspected culprits from his diet, he slept peacefully. Gradually his ears improved and so did his overall health.
Naturopathy refers to a system of medical practice that combines a mainstream understanding of human physiology and disease with alternative remedies. Naturopathy grew out of taking the
cure from natural mineral springs and spas prevalent in Europe in the 1800’s. This model flourished in the 1800’s and early 1900’s here in the USA. However, hospitals and schools were shut down by the 1920’s by the rise of biomedicines and the Flexner Report. As complementary and alternative medicine experienced a resurgence in the 1970’s, we began to see N.D.’s in our cities here in CT.
This practice chooses natural remedies aimed at stimulating the body’s own healing ability rather than surgery and drugs. These Doc’s have the same medical school training as our allopathic, (western medicine) Doc’s do with a few differences.
First, they cannot perform surgery and cannot prescribe certain classes of drugs. However they are trained in homeopathy, supplements, nutrition, and some are well versed in acupuncture, body therapies, traditional Chinese herbs, Ayurveda herbs, and western herbology.
My podcast guest this week, Dr. Ashley Burkman, highlighted her approach, involving a comprehensive review of a person’s lifestyle, environment, work and study habits, routines, in order to address whatever her patients present. On my first visit to an N.D. with my young son, I was surprised at the extensive interview and the quality time spent with me and my son. And it paid off. Little by little, we made dietary changes along with the addition of herbs and supplements. He improved. I finally felt he was regaining foundational health and vitality. And for the parents out there with small children, you can imagine my relief.
For the holidays: keep in mind bedtimes both your child’s and yours. We all function better with a good night’s sleep. Try different recipes that contain less refined sugars, refined flours and opt for more organic ingredients where you can. Put on relaxing music while doing kitchen chores. Laugh, smile and giggle. This is a wonderful time of year where true heartfelt giving, family, and friends surround us.
From my heart to yours, have wonderful holidays. Judith
Holidays are upon us. We tend to eat more, party more, join family and friends and drink more. And depending on our unique immune system strength, we can open the door to colds and flu. Who among us likes to be sick? Not me and I am sure not you. And it seems that digestion is directly tied to our immune systems which makes building immune strength and resistance a priority.
Digestive issues are prevalent from IBS, heartburn/ GERD, and IBD. I am sure most of you have heard of one if not all of these ailments. But what can we do to aid our digestion during these “off our routine” kind of times?
My podcast guest this week, Dr. Scott Gerson, MD and Ayurvedic physician reminded me how powerful one herb is on its own. One single herb, such as ginger, contains many constituents creating a unique formula all on its own. Highly recommended in Ayurvedic medicine both traditionally and today, ginger is one plant to keep in our kitchen. Besides adding flavor and pungency to a variety of dishes, a simple single tea from ginger root soothes digestion. Ginger, popular in many countries for its culinary flavors, can be pickled, honeyed, as well as added to soups, stews, fish, meat and vegetarian dishes.
Ginger: Zingiber officinale
Where found: thought to originate in the Indian subcontinent to Asia. Brought to East Indies by Spanish explorers and brought to Spain and then Europe.
Parts Used: Rhizome: a Rhizome is an underground stem: a thick underground horizontal stem that produces roots and has shoots that develop into new plants; from Greek rhizoma “mass of tree roots,” Rhizomes are underground stems that grow horizontally that produce a number of plants and are known to spread rapidly.
Nutritional Value: Contains macronutrients and many micronutrients. And as Dr. Gerson explained, a single herb, known for a primary constituent has many more trace constituents that aid, and compliment, and help us utilize the very component we seek. In a sense, a single herb is a compound formula. This is a great reminder and illustrates the value of drinking herb teas. How about adding ginger to your routine?
3 tips for purchasing and using ginger today:
- When buying ginger root, snap off a small knob which should be crisp. Do not buy with any mold.
- Ginger can stay out of the refrigerator for about a week. Place in paper towels and they will keep much longer in the refrigerator.
- Unpeeled ginger root will last longer. Peel the skin off as mentioned above when you are ready to use it in tea or in a recipe. Keep what you need in the refrigerator. Freeze the rest for later use.
A little sharp, pungent flavor mixed with the oils in lemon goes well with the addition of maple syrup, honey to soothe irritated or dry throats as winter keeps us indoors. Here’s an example of a ginger tea recipe, easy to make.
Ginger Tea Recipe
- water, 4 cups
- 2-inch piece of fresh ginger root
- optional: honey and lemon slice
- Peel the ginger root and slice it into thin slices. Bring the water to a boil in a saucepan. Once it is boiling, add the ginger. Cover it and reduce to simmer for 15-20 minutes. Strain the tea. Add honey and lemon to taste.
Pungent and spicy with a little kick in taste soothes stomachs. When our digestive organs are soothed we are soothed. It’s fascinating to me that an herb to calm the stomach actually soothes our mind. When we are calm so is our digestion. Everything is connected and single herb teas provide so many tasty solutions to what ails us. What’s your favorite? Be well this holiday season.
Can a plant give us a clue by its structure, its form? Can the color of a flower or root be an indication of some of its properties or the organ system it helps?
Apparently, that’s not new information. In herb classes, the Doctrine of Signatures is a well-known reference to these correlations. Stemming from the ancients and passed down through the ages, often referred to as folklore, gave herbalists, the village healers, doctors, a reference point for which ones to use in healing various conditions, disorders, organ systems.
“The doctrine of signatures, dating from the time of Dioscorides and Galen, states that herbs resembling various parts of the body can be used by herbalists to treat ailments of those body parts.” (Wikipedia)
“Paracelsus was a physician and alchemist (early 1500’s) who believed that medicine should be simple and straightforward. He was greatly inspired by the Doctrine of Signatures, which maintained that the outward appearance of a plant gave an indication of the problems it would cure. This theory is sometimes surprisingly accurate.” (USDA forest service)
Today we have advanced equipment, labs to test the validity of some of these claims and guess what? Science is proving what the oral traditions, the folklore traditions knew: clues from the plant, their structure, their form, colors that seem to help heal, can, in fact, help heal specific organ systems. Nature reflects back to us what we are and offers help. Many successful healers looked at the plant world in this way. They were connected to the sun and moon cycles, very aware of the weather, knew their landscapes well.
Centuries ago and not that long ago, we did not have the knowledge of bacteria, viruses that we can see with super microscopes. Evil spirits were the names of the stuff that gets you, brings in illness etc. That was the lingo of the times. There was a deeper more colloquial connection to the Creator, to God, by whatever religion you followed. There was a recognition that the Divine in nature provided clues, assistance. My Native elders said that we have all that we need for healing if we pay attention to what’s beneath our feet, what’s near us. Observe.
My guests this week, Andrea and Matthias Reisen, have over 25 years experience as growers deeply connected to the plants and their land. They are caretakers in the true sense of the word, offering prayers of thanks, gratitude, and acknowledgment for the gifts the land provides. In our discussion, we touched upon invasives, Japanese knotweed in particular. My curiosity piqued. I decided to look into this plant more carefully because the Reisen’s harvest it, for use in the medical community for Lyme’s disease.
Name: Japanese Knotweed: Polygonum cuspidatum var. Japonica or Japanese bamboo; bamboo-like stems with somewhat heart-shaped leaves, herbaceous perennial shrub-like.
Where Found: Originated in Eastern Asia, member of the buckwheat family. It was introduced in the US in late 1800’s. Thrives in disturbed areas, forms dense thickets; little grows with it so it crowds out vegetation. Unfortunately, the soil remains bare between the stems which can be susceptible to erosion. This plant decreases species diversity, alters ecosystems. Can grow to 3-15′ tall. Its stems are easy to identify, notched like bamboo and have purple-red speckles.
Properties: very high in resveratrol, an antioxidant found in grapes, peanuts, mulberries, red wine
Uses: Leaves, young shoots: spring vegetable in Asian cultures, Used extensively in Traditional Chinese Medicine with other herbs for gastrointestinal issues, cardiovascular issues as well as cognitive function. Resveratrol continues to be studied for its effect on decreasing cancer and helping combat Lyme’s Disease. In the plant, resveratrol acts to stop microbial infections. It’s this observation that links the way Japanese knotweed may work in Lyme’s disease.
I came across this article, from the forager chef, on how to cook and use it. I am not familiar with foraging this plant but the recipe I link you too looks delicious. It’s too early here but I know of a patch and will keep an eye on it. Young stems 12″ or less need to be cut in the early spring. Otherwise, as the season and growth progresses, the stems become too fibrous and not very palatable. You can make a refreshing tea from its roots.
Let’s look at the root, known as ‘tiger root’ in the orient..
Healing Spirits Herb Farm has been selling the root for many years. It’s been difficult for me to find a picture of its roots due to royalty rights. However, from the ones I found, I can see Matthias’ description very well. There’s a knot, then root, then knot, then root and the root can go down 10′! No wonder once you got it, it won’t go away. It’s the root that he harvests and because he does so, he contributes to managing the land space where this plant is located by his ‘neck of the woods’ in western NY. Will it go away? No. but by harvesting in large quantities he helps control its spread.
Now, tying in the Doctrine of Signatures, the root system seems to have notches, like steps, Maybe this pattern gives a clue as to how the plant works. Studies are showing that the root in tincture or capsule form helps kill the bacteria found in Lyme’s Disease. The resveratrol may work on the bacteria in steps. Can we prove this? Not yet. But observations from nature have validity and patient healing offers hope for healing Lyme’s disease.
Today, its too early to gather the young shoots and leaves but I want to try. I also want to make a tea this summer from its root. How about you? We have plants in our backyards we have forgotten how to use. How about looking into an invasive such as Japanese knotweed and use it. Get your neighbors involved. Make a recipe and bring to a block party, a family picnic. Remember it’s a cherished food in Asian cultures.
Send me your recipe, a short story on how you use Japanese knotweed. I look forward to hearing from you.
My podcast guest this week, Gail Reynolds, spoke about her love of bogs and marshland ecosystems. She gave us a variety of plants that live in these types of areas which I include here.
She also mentioned witch hazel, an unusual shrub, native to North America that puts out its blossoms in late fall.
Name: Hamamelis virginiana, Witch hazel, sometimes known as winterbloom; tall flowering shrub, blooms in late fall, yellow star-like blossoms are seen on bare twigs; blooms after leaves fall off. After flower blooms, a seed is formed which is explosively released giving the shrub the nickname of snapping hazelnut. It can grow tall about 10-12′. This shrub puts up several trunks that cluster together.
Where Found: dry or moist woods
Parts Used: bark, dried and leaves can be fresh or dried
Uses: astringent, tonic, used for centuries for treating hemorrhoids, bruises, inflammation, varicose veins, bags under the eyes, burns, and scalds earning a place in many a home medicine chest. Witch hazel contains tannins which give it its astringent qualities. Applying witch hazel water to acne, pores helps reduce inflammation, a very popular remedy. Witch hazel’s most popular use is to reduce the swelling from hemorrhoids.
Witch hazel, a native, shown to early settlers by Native Americans found its way into the settler’s home and into our pharmacopeia as an effective remedy. Some sites researched claim there is a low number of studies performed today on its effectiveness though some sources claim it is safe to use topically.
Iroquois Indians used a tea made from bark and twigs, made into a poultice to reduce swelling and inflammation from bruises, sprains. It worked. Euell Gibbons, one of my favorite authors on the use of edible plants in our local environments, supported by the University of Pennsylvania’s agricultural department, made teas, distilled leaves for a poultice. He acknowledges witch hazel as one of the most commonly used folk remedies.
Gail Reynolds, Master Gardener, plant scientist, and Middlesex County Coordinator for that program here in CT stresses proper ID before using any plant from the wild. I agree. However, we have folkloric traditional use of our plants. They were effective at a time when there were no antibiotics, no words for bacteria and viruses. They used these plants effectively and passed down that knowledge generationally. We have many uses both edible and topical from our native plants, many right in our backyards or visible on our local trails.
Before taking plant material, research the plant well, know the parts used. Also look into its habitat, pay attention to how many plants exist in one area and if sparse, leave alone. All contribute to sustainable wildcrafting practices.
What are your family’s plant stories? So many of our families stories and use of local remedies is lost. I recently appeared on a radio show and someone called in and spoke of a plant remedy for removing a splinter when he was a young boy. Today he remembers the story but doesn’t remember the plant. Many of my university students came from different countries and were quite familiar with successful local remedies. I encouraged to listen more carefully to the stories, be the one who passes the knowledge down.
Do you have any local plant stories? Please send me a note as I would value hearing them.
There’s nothing prettier than a glass jug filled with cool refreshing water where some of our garden beauties have center stage.
Sun tea is just that, a pitcher of water filled with summer flowers that are known to be edible.
Get a gallon glass jug, fill with pure water and place any of the following for their subtle and not so subtle flavors and colors: Experiment for the flavors you like best. Let sit in the sun 2-4 hours and serve over ice.
Remember to use only flowers you know are not treated, preferably ones you have grown without chemicals which makes flower shop flowers unacceptable. Please research any flower not on the list to make sure it is safe to eat. For ex. Daffodils are not safe to eat.
bouquet of bright wildflowers
Red clover blossoms
Ground ivy blossoms
Scented geranium leaves
Rose purple coneflower (Echinacea)
Flowers: make a beautiful garnish to many dishes. Also, flowers can be placed in ice cube trays and then placed in ice tea, lemonades, even cool refreshing water for a hot summer day treat. Violas, woodland violets which make their debut in spring, can be gathered in the spring time and frozen for summer’s use.
Salads: use as a garnish; remember that culinary herb blossoms can be added such as marjoram, or sage, even basil. I suggest that for salads that use wild greens and flowers start in small amounts in order to get used to and savor the different textures and flavors. Greens when cut up fine and mixed with traditional greens such as arugula, bib lettuces etc. blend in nicely. Place the flowers and/or the petals on top.
Recipe: Quiche: I often place flower petals on the top of quiches before cooking. Flower petals can be stripped and placed in a decorative pattern. My guests positively remark when served these wild food treats.
Book: Kitty Morse has a delightful book of flower recipes titled: “Edible Flowers, a Kitchen Companion With Kitchen Recipes”.
Many herb books also contain recipes e.g. Colonial and monastery type cookbooks, that demonstrate many ways to use edible parts of wild and cultivated plants.
Summer is well under way. As we ramble down highways and quieter roads we can see many plants in bloom. What are your favorites? Do you have any favorite edible flower recipes? I would love to hear from you.
Summer gardening chores are in full swing. We have rain barrels around our garden. While that helps us harvest rain water, it does mean a bit more work watering. Weeding puts us on our knees or bending our backs. Produce is producing strong right now and that means gathering and putting them “up”. Whether canning or freezing, garden chores are in the intense mode during this part of summer.
Got a few aches? Maybe a sore muscle or two? Here’s a great muscle rub recipe that uses quality essential oils.
Recipe: Essential oil: Soothing Muscle Rub
In aromatherapy, pine is used in saunas, steam baths and massage blends for sore muscles. The natural evergreen aroma of pine essential oil is a sweet alternative to harshly medicinal pharmaceutical preparations. Here’s a recipe that combines the oils of several plants used to add, therapeutic fragrance to steams and saunas or to apply to sore muscles at the end of a gardening day.
30 drops pine essential oil
30 drops juniper berry essential oil
30 drops peppermint essential oil
10 drops lemon essential oil
To make a penetrating massage oil for overworked muscles, dilute 12 drops of this concentrated blend in 3 ounces of vegetable oil, such as sweet almond. This fragrant muscle rub is especially nice after a strenuous workout when muscles may be tight and sore.
Never apply concentrated essential oil blends directly to skin without diluting them first as irritation may develop.