Friday, November 12, 2010

Idea and Remedies for When You're Home Sick

State of Vermont postage stamp, Yarrow pollination, Echinacea blossom, Morning dew on ripening Elderberries, Lavender and Chamomile harvest. All taken in and near my garden, except for the stamp photo.

This blog was born because I am not so good as staying home and doing nothing. I love to be home, and staying home sick makes me just want to cook, clear my space, get crafty, make fun packages to send to people, catch up on work, etc. So this time, in my attempts to sit still, I've created a blog, watched 1/2 a movie, and read up on lionesses. I get a bit whiny when I'm feeling under the weather and I often forget even the most simplest remedies. I called a dear friend and she recommended the same herb that my housemate (who's also under the weather) loves. Red Clover. The state flower of Vermont, the sweet edible flower, the blossom that bees love and that grows abundantly in fields in these parts. It helps to dry up mucus and promotes movement in the lymph system.  I created this blog post to help remind me of how to support my body/myself next time I'm sick and I'm sharing it here with y'all in case any of these ideas resonate for when you're feeling under the weather as well...


*Take Echinacea and/or Spilanthes tinctures to boost the immune system - about 3-5 dropperfulls whenever I think of it, maybe every couple of hours throughout the day.
*Cancel plans so that I can rest.
*Take a hot bath with a few drops Lavender essential oil and/or sea salt.
*Make chicken or vegetable soup and add lots of spices.
*Make loads of tea with fresh Ginger root and a pinch of Cayenne (both are warming and stimulate the immune system), local honey (soothes a sore throat), and fresh squeezed Lemon or Lime juice (vit C). If I need to be out and about for awhile and won't be able to make my own tea (because I live in culture where there aren't tea kettles everywhere) I grate fresh Ginger into local honey and carry it with me to swig like a syrup or add to water. This time I added Lime juice as well.


*Massage a decongestant salve on my chest, being sure to gently rub below my clavicles to stimulate the lymph system. This time I'm using: White Pine Salve made with the sap, needles, and bark infused in olive oil and thickened with beeswax that my friend made, as well as Bud Salve that I made with Balm of Gilead (Balsam Poplar buds harvested from a fallen tree) and fresh St. Johnswort buds infused in sunflower and sesame oils, fair-trade shea butter from Burkina Faso, West Africa, and local beeswax.  If I can lay down, I like to place a hot water bottle (or glass Mason jar filled with hot water) on my chest to help break up congestion and get things moving.

*I also rub in a soothing salve or oil around and inside my nostrils and on my lips to prevent them from drying out, especially when I'm blowing my nose a lot. This time: Calendula salve with Lavender essential oil. (I wouldn't use a muscle rub/decongestant salve on my sensitive mucus membranes, as the essential oils may be irritating)  You can keep it simple and use straight olive, sesame, or other oil, or you can use herb-infused oils or salves. For salve-making instructions, see my (Im)migrantion and Lip Balms for Social Justice?! post.

*Make a big fat pot of turkey vegetable soup. This time I warmed olive oil, added 2-3 chopped onions, 1 head of homegrown garlic crushed and chopped, browned 2 turkey legs on the bone, and then added 2 chopped carrots, 2 sweet potatoes, and enough water to cover. I add more garlic at the end, so that I'm receiving the benefits of nearly-raw garlic, and I add other herbs and spices both at the beginning and end of cooking as well. This time I added Marjoram and Lavender Bee Balm (Monarda fistulosa, which tastes like oregano and cayenne to me) that I dried from my garden. Other times I've added Thyme, Cinnamon, Basil, and/or Coriander (if using whole seeds I add at them at the beginning so that they can warm in the oil like my friends from Southern India showed me).

These culinary herbs have been used for generations all over the world because the volatile oils that give them their incredible taste and aroma are also medicinal. They help to relax the digestive track for better digestion and absorption, and also boost the immune system. I let this soup simmer at least an hour, and then remove the meat from the bone. I saved my garlic skins and simmered them with the bones to make another broth. If you're making soup or bone broth, it's really quite nice to freeze some so that if you or a friend/family member gets sick it's already made. Sometimes I eat the soup as is, sometimes I add a spoonful of miso to my bowl (but not to the big pot or the heat will kill all that good beneficial bacteria that nourishes our system), or some rice or rice noodles.  If the thought of cooking all this makes you want to cry (you're vegetarian/vegan, you're exhausted, you don't cook much, etc.) fear not! You can just stir miso into warm water and call it good. If you have energy for it, you could crush and then chop Garlic, grate Ginger root, and take a pinch of Cayenne and add all this to your miso paste. This keeps in the fridge for a long while and you can add tahini (with or without local honey) to it to make a spread or sauce. Something else you can make to have on hand are herbal ice cubes. The next time you get a bunch of cilantro, parsley, dill, basil, etc from your garden, farmer's market, or grocery store, chop it finely, pack it into ice cube trays, and cover with water. Freezing captures the green vitality of the plant and you can store the cubes in freezer bags to later add to soups, stir fries, and any other recipe that calls for a bit of fresh herbs. Be sure not to eat refined sugars now as they suppress your immune system. If you're craving sweets, you can add honey to your tea or eat straight by the spoonfull. You can roast sweet potato fries, winter squash, beets, carrots. These autumn roots and squashes contain a lot of natural sweetness, and I always crave these foods this time of year, particularly when I'm sick. Also, it's recommended to avoid dairy products as they contribute to gack-yness - as it creates more mucus/phlegm that you have to deal with.

*Do a respiratory steam by pouring steaming hot water into a metal, glass, or ceramic bowl, adding herbs, and leaning over the bowl with a towel draped over your head. Breathe in the steam, which carries the plants' volatile oils, for 10 minutes or so.  The herbal steam helps to break up mucus and moisten dry airways.  This should feel good.  If the steam is too hot and/or herbs too intense, come out from under the towel and wait til the water cools down a bit or some of the oils steam off. You can add aromatic culinary herbs such as Thyme, Oregano, Lavender, Herbs de Provence blend, etc, a couple Peppermint tea bags, or a drop or two of essential oils of these plants. (Remember that essential oils are highly concentrated and may irritate skin and the respiratory tract if you use too much!) Voila, a respiratory steam and facial steam all in one!  I especially like to do this before I go to bed and when I wake up, but it's good to do anytime.

*Use a Neti Pot to thin mucus and clear the nasal passages, especially if you're prone to sinus infections.  Hooray for nasal irrigation!  If you don't have a NetiPot, you can just cup the water in your hand or check out do-it-yourself neti pots online.  Just be sure to clean everything well and keep the water pressure to a gentle flow.

*Tea! By the pot or quart! Yesterday I made tea with Anise Hyssop and Lemon Balm from my garden and Licorice root. Today I made a pot of Tulsi (aka Holy or Sacred Basil) and a blend of Mint family plants (Peppermint, Anise Hyssop, Catnip, Damiana, etc.) Getting plenty of fluids helps to stay hydrated and helps flush the cooties out.

*Take tinctures specific to your constitution and symptoms to support your immune response.  Which herbs are you drawn to? Elecampane, Elderberry, Yarrow, Thyme, and Elderflower all support the respiratory system. Calendula, Red Clover, Echinacea, Spilanthes, and other lymphatic herbs all support good movement in the lymph system, especially when you're clearing an infection and probably not moving/ exercising so much. If you're not so keen on the taste of tinctures, you can add them to your warm tea or mix them with honey.

*Take syrups! I made "All Power To The People! Eldercampane Syrup" on the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton, as I listened to interviews with former members of the Black Panther Party and reflected on the connections between our immune systems and community self-defense.  I made this syrup in honor of all those who’ve organized for community health.  It contains Elecampane root from my family's farm, fresh Elderberries I harvest by hand, local Ginger root, Cinnamon, local Honey, Lime juice, local Apple cider vinegar, and tinctures of Elecampane, Thyme, and Monarda (Lavender Bee Balm). I haven't made a batch yet this season, however I have made Licorice root and Coltsfoot leaf syrup to soothe friends' persistent cough. Licorice is also calming and anti-viral, so even though I don't have a hacking cough, I'm taking this remedy to support my respiratory system. (There are many ways to make syrups. You can simply simmer a handful each of the herbs in a medium pot of water until the liquid is reduced to half, and then stir in 1/2 of the amount of remaining liquid's worth of local honey. Adding a nip of brandy or tincture to this will help prolong it's life. Store in the fridge.) Syrups can be added to warm water for an instant tea. For syrup recipes, see my Elderberry (and other) Syrup Recipe(s) post.

*A note on cough suppression: it isn't good. Coughing is a natural process to get gunk out of our lungs. However, if coughing is keeping you from sleeping and getting much-needed rest, you may choose to temporarily suppress your cough when you want to sleep. When a non-productive cough was keeping me up all hours I tried soothing, mucilaginous herbs such as Coltsfoot, Plantain, Wild Lettuce, Chamomile, Wild Cherry bark. The sleepless-nights situation was starting to get desperate and I was ready to go to the pharmacy for some very non-herbal cough-suppressing concoctions when my friend from Ireland suggested Carrageen, aka Irish Moss - a seaweed. I soaked a small handful of Carrageen (pronounced care-ah-GHEEn) in 2 cups of water for 10 minutes, simmered it for 20, and then added the juice of half a Lime, a spoonful of my friends' local Honey, and a nip of Whiskey (not necessary, but I added it for extra respiratory relaxation). Finally, a full nights sleep. Hooray for slimy seaweed! After the first night of full sleep I continued taking this bedtime tea, adding a few drops of respiratory-supporting tinctures as well.

*REST: Watch movies, read, draw, nap, etc. Note to self (and maybe you, too) : Staying home and doing tons of work doesn't count as resting!

*Keep warm! In various traditions it's really important to keep yourself - especially your core - warm and to protect your body from sources of cold - be it drinking cold drinks, going barefoot, being outside without a scarf, etc. The nape of the neck and kidney areas are especially susceptible to "pernicious winds," a concept in Traditional Chinese Medicine where external wind can enter the body and cause dis-ease.

*Let your friends know! Many of them will be happy to come by and drop off some food, herbs, movies, etc, or just to call and check in on you!

*Remember that, like a new moon, season, and year, getting sick can be an opportunity to re-set and integrate some changes you've been wanting in your life. Is there something that's been sapping your energy? Conversations that need to be had? Something important to you that you're not tending to? Self-care practices that you're wanting to make some time for? Use this change-in-routine opportunity to make good things happen!  Don't feel you have to do it all now, but sometime getting sick is a good time to dream and brainstorm.

*When you start feeling well, keep on with the remedies! After being sick, it's easy to launch back into life full-speed once we get our energy back. This could be bad news if we stop supporting our immune system while it's still recovering. Keep making teas, avoiding sugar, taking time to rest, etc. so that you can keep feeling better and hopefully prevent getting sick again soon.  Remedies such as Elderberry elixirs and syrup and Fire Cider are tonics that can be taken regularly to support you as you're feeling better.  You can make these remedies yourself or support your local herbalists.

Many of the remedies listed above are available on my DandelionessHerbals Etsy Shop and I would be happy to send along a particular remedy or put together a Get Well Soon kit for you or a loved one. For my more detailed instructions on making your own teas, infused oils, salves (chest rubs), and tinctures, click on the Numen Medicine-Making Resource Guide link to the right or see: 

*Elderberry (and other) Syrup Recipe(s)
*(Im)migrantion and Lip Balms for Social Justice?
*Winter Immune Health: Tonic Not Toxic
*Ginger Lovers Unite!: Medicinal and Culinary Uses of Ginger

*Free Fire Cider 

(Blog post updated on 2/16 and 1/17)

Thursday, November 11, 2010


An old botanical illustration of Hawthorn, Rosa Rugosa blossoms in Maine, Hawthorn in bloom Co. Clare, Ireland, and pouring Heart Elixir.

I love making, sharing, and taking Heart Elixir. I love that both Rose and Hawthorn have an affinity with the heart, soft & delicate five petaled flowers, nourishing red berries, and thorns for fierce protection. Sometimes our hearts need support so that it can open, sometimes it needs some protection so that we can heal.  Sometimes we need both.  I pass Heart Elixir around the circle when I teach menstrual and sexual health workshops *to bring sweetness to the circle,* when exploring potentially difficult/triggering/painful/ transformative topics and emotions, as I was taught by a fellow health justice community organizer.

Lebanese poet Khalil Gibran wrote in The Prophet, "The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain." Our heart holds so many emotions - the fluttering of new love, the comfort of connection, the heartbreak of the ending of a relationship, the deep grief of losing a loved one, the shock and trauma of violation and war. Though it's simple enough to understand how someone can respond to pain by closing our heart off to feeling any emotion at all, doing so negatively impacts us physically, emotionally, spiritually. I like to think of my heart, now that it's know the pain of losing ones I had held dear, as a bit battered and scarred. I find tremendous beauty in this, a heart that seeks to remain open while fully knowing the loss that opening again could bring.

I have much gratitude for those in my life that intimately know grief and its many expressions, who are present and allow space for tears, laughter, numbness, anger, and escape. Unfortunately, much of the rich traditions of remembrance and honoring our ancestors have been lost in order to assimilate into being "white" and/or "(U.S.) American." Even still, in times of death, people go to the kitchen to create comfort food for those left behind, send sympathy cards, call, and visit. And as an herbalist, I'm particularly blessed with a circle of friends who gather with candles, photographs of ancestors, offerings of food, and bundles of herbs to celebrate and observe. For those who understand that death is necessary for life, and that it still really sucks, and who can sit with the range of emotions this all brings, I say *thank you.*

This year, in addition to honoring Grammy and Pop-pop and the rest of my ancestors, I grieve the loss of Miss Beatrice Waight (traditional Mayan healer from Belize, teacher, and friend), Marilyn Jean Buck (U.S. Political Prisoner, poet, and white anti-racist activist), the many people who died in the earthquake in Haiti, and queer youth who have taken their own lives.

Let us return to the Heart Elixir, with instructions in case you'd like to make some yourself. In the summer, I visit our family farm and gather petals from the Rosa Rugosa rose bushes there. You can harvest the petals and still leave what will grow into the rosehip, for another harvest come autumn. You can find Rosa Rugosas growing wild, in gardens, and by the sea. Just be sure that you're not harvesting from a place that has a lot of cars driving by (exhaust, salt, etc.), big power lines overhead, etc. Once I gather the most vital petals into a basket, and stopping when the plant says "okay, that's enough," I thank the plant and place the petals into a clean glass Mason jar and pour in brandy. I use Christian Brothers Brandy, aka Pagan Sisters, though one day I'd love there to be an abundant and affordable local brandy that I could use. I'm more of a pinches and handfulls cook/herbalist, rather than measuring everything to the T, but in general I suppose I fill the jar around 3/4 full and then pour the Brandy almost to the top of the jar. I usually place the jar in the sunshine for the first day, and then put it in a spot where it is both protected from direct sunlight and accessible enough so that I remember to shake it every now and then. I let this tincture macerate (infuse) for at least a month. Truly, the petals are so gorgeous, even after the first day or so when the color drains out into the brandy, I often leave them in much longer than a month. Whenever you are ready, you can strain out the petals with a metal strainer or cloth (loose muslin or cheesecloth), composting - or nibbling - the petals and re-bottling the Rose-infused brandy. Be sure to label your creation with the ingredients, date, place you harvested it from, moon phase, whatever you'd like to include.

Later in the growing season the Hawthorn berries will be ripe enough to harvest. I remember first meeting Hawthorn when I was living at the Victory Gardens Project - a group based on the Black Panther Party's Community Programs and co-founded by U.S. Political Prisoners and Maine activists to grow food with donated land, seed, and labor, and distribute it for free in the rural Maine community where it was based and in urban areas through community organizations that had traveled to Maine to participate with the planting and/or harvesting. The Hawthorn berries were much appreciated by the little critters that ate them where I'd placed them to dry. Hawthorns are very sacred trees in Ireland. You don't cut them down - which is why a major roadway on the west side of the island goes far out of its course, because the road crew knew enough not to touch the Hawthorn tree that lay in its path! In May the hedgerows there are aglow with the vibrant white Hawthorn trees in bloom. In northern New England (United States), I've harvested Hawthorn berries mostly in September and early October. I find the berries that have a good red color and harvest gently, avoiding the large thorns. As with the Rose petals, I place the Hawthorn berries in a clean glass Mason jar, cover them with brandy, and let them infuse for at least a month. In general you don't want to harvest herbs in the rain, especially if you're drying them!, as their volatile oils that you're usually wanting to capture can be washed away. But with berries (and the roots of other plants), you can give them a rinse if they need it.

When I'm ready to create a small batch of Heart Elixir, I pour into 1 or 2 oz glass amber tincture bottles equal parts of: the Rose petal-infused brandy, Hawthorn berry-infused brandy, and delicious Maple syrup that my friends make from trees they tap on their land. Then I add flower essences that I've made.

Flower essences are different from tinctures, they capture the essence, the lesson of the plant. The effects can be subtle, and also quite transformative. Each flower essence has a story - about the particular plant, the day it was make, etc. - but let me share just a bit about each. The Heartsease pansy (aka Johnny-jump-up) is the five petaled edible flower cousin of Violets that grow in moist woods and yards. During an herbal class that involved a plant spirit activity (deep listening to the plants, listening with your heart instead of your brain) I was told really simply, and matter-of-factly that violets make your heart green. This message was in sync with my above vision of a battered, scarred up, healed/healing heart.

As a very emotional and sensitive person from small, I feel a strong affinity with Yarrow. This plant was the first to teach me that herbs don't necessarily need to be ingested in order to be a remedy. I carry this plant in my first aid kit (chew up the dried flowers and leaves and apply to a cut, even a deep one, to stop the bleeding and disinfect the wound), rub Yarrow-infused sesame oil onto my abdomen to relieve menstrual cramps, and when I'm driving I visualize a shield of Yarrow around my car to protect me and others, including critters crossing the road. Yarrow flower essence helps those of us that are really sensitive to our environments and the emotions of others to learn healthy boundaries. While empathy and sensitivity is a blessing, it can also be draining for those who tend to "sponge" up the stress around us, and Yarrow teaches us to maintain ourselves.

I made a Hawthorn flower essence from the luminous tree at the bottom of my friend's garden in Ireland. I love the nourishing, heart tonic-ness of the Hawthorn berries and was happy to also add the flower's medicine to the elixir.

This year I've added Magenta Lotus to the Heart Elixir. This flower essence was made in Sandra Lory's Local Healers class on a magical day at the Garden of Seven Gables. There are quotations about the lotus growing up out of the muck, but I also think of the lotus' stem as a cord, connecting the blossom to its source. I find this concept of transformation really liberating, that through past experiences that may feel heavy and murky, we can still grow, thrive, and radiate, without losing that connection to where we come from.

I take Heart Elixir 1-3 drops as needed, or 1 dropperfull 3 times a day.  If you have questions about making your own heart remedy, let me know.  If you'd like to purchase Heart Elixir, you can do so here on my DandelionessHerbals online etsy shop

Update 12/14:  I've reformulated Heart Elixir, replacing Hawthorn berries with Tulsi leaf and flower.  Tulsi, aka Holy Basil, is an amazing medicinal plant that not only has an affinity with the heart, but is also an adaptogenic herb, helping our bodies adapt to change and stress.  It has a multitude of other healing properties and I highly recommend folks getting to know this plant by growing it, drinking Tulsi tea, taking Tulsi Elixir, researching the plant, etc. Hawthorn is still contained in the Heart Elixir, in the form of hand-made flower essence.

Also, Heart Elixir is part of Dandelioness Herbals' Self Care Kit: For Emotional First Aid, which won 1st place in the "Purely Medicinal ~ Tinctures & Extracts" category! *and* Grand Prize in the 2013 International Herb Symposium Herbal Products Contest.