The Benefits of Kale & Chlorophyll

Part 1 – In Praise of Kale

 

Isn’t kale the best! What vegetable do we know here in our North Eastern climate that is so hardy, generous and nourishing? Kale deserves an award for its tenacity, nutritional and medicinal value, and quiet beauty in the garden. It, and other members of the Brassicaceae family such as collards, cabbage, broccoli, turnip and Brussels sprouts are easy to grow in our region, and they store well after the fall harvest.

 

Last year I planted more kale than we could possibly eat. I left the plants in the ground after they stopped producing leaves around December, they overwintered and now they are producing tender, sweet new leaves.  Kale is a biennial, it has a two year life cycle; in the first year it produces only leaves, the flowers and seeds appear in year two. My kale stems are growing quickly and are beginning to form flowers, which I will let fulfill their purpose – to produce seeds. I will harvest these seeds, dry them and plant them next spring. Let your kale overwinter this year and enjoy its full potential.

 

In the meantime, I am enjoying the leaves in salads and stir fries; I also made a vinegar extract using apple cider vinegar by simply chopping the leaves and steeping them in apple cider vinegar for 2 weeks.  Kale, like many other green leafy vegetables (and herbs), is rich in calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, manganese and other minerals, which can be drawn from the leaves by the acetic acid in vinegar.

 

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” – Hippocrates

 

Kale is considered a “superfood” because in addition to its nutritional value, kale has medicinal properties due to the presence of various secondary metabolites. Research has revealed it to be therapeutic for managing blood sugar, anti-inflammatory, balancing to the gut microbiome, and cancer prevention.

 

“…kale has beneficial effects on the gut microbiome by increasing the bacterial diversity and proliferation of specific beneficial bacteria, such as Coriobacteriaceae. Furthermore, glycan degradation and vitamin B1 metabolism are enhanced by kale and these have been shown to play an important role in attenuating inflammation.”

Source

 

“The preliminary results suggested that intake of kale reduced postprandial plasma glucose levels (16).”  Source

 

“Sulforaphane, another compound found in kale,17 was proven by studies to deliver a protective effect against certain cancers,18,19,20 and may help enhance the health of your liver21 and gastrointestinal tract.22 “  Source

 

Kale, like other greens, is rich in chlorophyll, which has many known medicinal benefits, which leads me to part two of this article…

 

Part 2 – The Power of Green – Chlorophyll – “stored sunshine”

 

Spring is all about the greens – leafy plants and trees emerge from their winter slumber, appearing and unfurling in a succession of shapes and shades.  As a herbalist, I get very excited by the return of my familiar friends, the early medicinal leaves of spring – dandelions, ground ivy, nettle, comfrey, horsetail, violet, chickweed and false lily of the valley (to name a few). Most of these are edible as well, offering a variety of vitamins, minerals and other compounds that nourish.  

 

The nutritive herbs and leafy food plants such as kale, collards, spinach, and lettuces, are rich in chlorophyll, the pigment that gives plants their green colour. As you may recall from high school biology, chlorophyll allows plants to absorb the energy from sunlight, which they use through the process of photosynthesis to create carbohydrates, which fuels their growth and development.  A byproduct of photosynthesis is the release of oxygen, which enriches our atmosphere, and is essential for our existence – the breath of life. In return, we breathe out carbon dioxide, essential for plant life. It is a true marvel to contemplate this exchange between plants and animals, the exquisite balance of life on Earth.

 

Chlorophyll is nearly identical in molecular structure to haemoglobin, the red blood cell of animal blood. The only difference is the molecule held at the center of the ring structure, as shown in the diagram below:

 

https://patch.com/img/cdn/users/1730190/2012/08/raw/8a9f5f8f1aae9c8a5283c9fe581751de.jpg?width=695

Due to this similarity, chlorophyll has a high bioavailability when ingested, especially when combined with iron rich foods. Plants rich in chlorophyll help to build the blood and remedy anemia and deficiency.  

According to nutritionist, Paul Pitchford,

 

“chlorophyll supports bone mass by directing calcium to deposit in the bone; it can also, like vitamin D, help with cellular renewal because chlorophyll foods all contain “growth regulating factors” that spark proper cell differentiation, growth and development. This healthy cell patterning stands in contrast to the unchecked, undifferentiated, malignant growth of cancer.”

http://healingwithwholefoods.com/author/wpaul1/

I recommend eating green leafy vegetables and herbs daily, either raw, sauteed, or steamed.  Kale and other Brassicaceae family plants should not be consumed raw by those with thyroid disorders.  

The increasing abundance of locally grown vegetables available at our farmer’s markets, in the wild and in our gardens, is all the encouragement we need to load up on greens.

The Herbalist’s Spring

Nothing was more wonderful than waiting for a happiness you could be sure of.

~ Barbara Kingsolver

 

Wonder-full is how I experience spring here in Nova Scotia, Nature’s great regeneration. Although still a week away on the calendar, the seasonal shift is already palpable. I sometimes hear complaints about our spring being “non-existent”, which I assume is in reference to the linger of winter rather than the arrival of spring. Yet, when we shift our sensibilities into subtle mode, we can experience a long, drawn-out spring transition.

Beginning in April with coltsfoot, followed by dandelion, plantain, chickweed, lady’s mantle, nettle, comfrey, mayflower, birch tips, mint, lemon balm, ground ivy, violet, hawthorn, and horsetail, to name a few, spring offers us a three-month parade of medicinal plants. This is more than enough to keep a wildcrafter/ herb grower busy; harvesting, drying and making medicinal preparations.

Even before the plants emerge from the soil, we can study the growth pattern of tree buds; it is fun to learn to identify local tree species by their buds and early growth.  Many of our local trees are medicinal, their buds and sap collected in spring, leaf, flower and barks in summer and fall – maple, birch, oak, linden, mountain ash, alder, fir, spruce.

I have a process for welcoming the approaching harvest seasons, it is both practical and ritual. First, I take stock of my home and clinic apothecaries – what did I run out of, what will I need for the year ahead?  What remains – and how should they be dealt with?  Dry leaves and flowers lose their potency after a year, roots, barks and fruits are good for two years. I make the extra effort to use the remaining herbs, often in teas, or to give away.  The left overs I include in the ritual I will explain later.

Then I refer to my harvest calendar from the year before as a reminder of when I can expect each herb to appear.  Each plant has a particular window in which it is most medicinally potent or valuable. Most of the spring harvest is of leaves, which are best collected early, before stem and flower begin to form.  

If you are a regular herb harvester, I recommend keeping a harvest journal each year in which you record the onset and completion of each plant’s phase of optimal harvest. This may vary slightly from year to year and in the different regions of the province or across the country, but it gives guidance for planning your busy harvest seasons. You can download a sample of a harvest journal here

And then come the seeds! I order my herb seeds from Richter’s Seeds in Ontario, they specialize in medicinal herb, with over 1000 to choose from.  Local seed companies carry some medicinal herb seeds – Annapolis Seeds, Hope Seeds, Yonder Hill Farm, Revival Seeds.  I start my seeds indoors in April.

Next, I take delight in getting my harvest tools from storage; my gathering baskets and snippers.  I make an altar in honour of spring, on which I place these, and other images and symbols of the season.  On the Spring Equinox I light a candle and give thanks for herbs of harvests past, for winter medicines and for the herbs coming in the seasons ahead.  I then take some of my left-over herbs to a special spot on my property and return them back to the earth, again with expressions of gratitude.

There are spring harvest festivals held all over the world; in India it is called Baisakhi, Jewish people celebrate Shavuot, in Pagan Europe the Spring equinox or Ostara in March and Beltane on May 1, in Madagascar the Santabary festival is celebrated in late April, another name for Chinese New Year is Spring Festival, they acknowledge the start of spring between January 21 and February 20.  The Ute Indians of Colorado celebrate Spring with the Ute Bear Dance.

Symbols of spring appear in popular culture; Kokopelli is recognized in Native American cultures as a bringer of fertility to the land with the spring rains. Pagan symbols include eggs, bunnies, lambs, flowers, and baby chicks, most of which were eventually incorporated into Christian symbology. Animal symbols of spring include Canada Geese, groundhogs, robins, bears, storks and caterpillars, to name a few.  In our part of the world, we celebrate spring with mayflowers, crocuses, daffodils and tulips.

What are your spring rituals?  What ever they may be, may you find much hope and joy in anticipation of spring and all the blessings of the season.

 

Pomegranate

I wrote about cranberries in December given their prevalence during the holiday feasting season. Another fruit that appears in supermarkets at this time of the year is pomegranate. Unlike cranberry, pomegranate does not grow in our region; it is native to Iran and India and is largely cultivated throughout Asia, Africa, the US and the Mediterranean. 

Have you ever wondered why it is featured so prominently at this time of year? It is a popular fruit among many cultures, widely cultivated and currently in season.  It is an ancient and celebrated tree; the fruit is included in spiritual/religious ceremonies in many cultures. 

I was recently chatting with a woman from Iran, Nozhat, who lives and works in Halifax as an acupuncturist; she shared that pomegranate is greatly celebrated in her native land, it is among the fruits included in their winter solstice celebrations.The following is her description of it: First of all, there are two types of pomegranate in Iran, sweet and sour, the sour is wild and you can find it in the woods of the northern part of the country. The sweet pomegranate is the main one used for the winter solstice celebration. The juice is used in many traditional stews. The paste/ molasses is the main ingredient in a side dish made with olive oil, chicken stuffing and special stews. Pomegranate soup is also very popular in winter, especially for winter solstice night. The seeds are a beautiful decoration for many kinds of salads, stews, cooked rice and other dishes.

She also shared some of the medicinal uses: antipyretic for fever, anti inflammatory, fungal infection, boosting immunity, anti cancer: especially recommended for men to prevent prostate cancer, treating worm parasite, the skin is used to treat diarrhea, high blood pressure (especially the sweet pomegranate juice), improves cardiovascular function. Different preparations are available in herbal shops.

Overall, when it is the season of this fruit, it is highly recommended to use it. In the Persian cuisine the pomegranate products are mostly used to balance the taste and temperature of the ingredients. 

Nozhat Momtaz works at Coral Shared-Care Health Center, for acupuncture appointments you can call (902) 420-0033

I am most familiar with the Ayurvedic use of pomegranate; the white inner rind is highly astringent, used to treat diarrhea, sore throat and fever. Try chewing on a piece of the rind to experience the drying sensation of astringency in the mouth, it would be helpful for mouth sores. The seeds are demulcent, used to sooth dryness and irritation in the GIT. 

The part we most often seek is the red, juicy seed lining, called the sarcotesta. The juice is now widely popular, considered a “superfood” due to its high anti-oxidant content. A highlight of my travels in India 20 years ago was fresh pressed pomegranate juice for 0.25 cents a glass.

Most grocery stores seem to be selling pomegranates at half price right now, so stock up and enjoy this ancient medicinal fruit.  My favorite dish is Fesenjan – Persian Pomegranate Chicken stew with walnuts. Pomegranate molasses can be purchased at the Mid East Food Centre in Halifax, I use it as a base for sauces and on porridge. 

 

P is for Prevention – Holistic Disease Prevention

The pandemic provokes me to emphasize my favorite “P” word – PREVENTION.

A preventative approach to health has always been a guiding principle in my herbal practice, it simply makes good sense. Disease prevention is an important part of my lifestyle and practice.

For many years I focused my prevention efforts on cancer prevention by joining the board of Prevent Cancer Now (PCN) – a Canadian non-profit organization dedicated to primary prevention (http://www.preventcancernow.ca/). During that time, I also designed and co-organized the Cancer Prevention Series, an eight-week program that drew together health professionals and other experts from our community to share their approach to cancer prevention. The series ran annually for six years, made free to the public through fundraising.

Both of these experiences highlighted for me the empowerment and sense of purpose that comes through a preventative lifestyle.  Also, that the best outcomes are based on a holistic, multi-factorial approach to health.

Prevention is an interesting concept – with cancer, early detection, with the use of medical technology i.e., mammograms, stool samples, pap tests, PSA tests, is considered as prevention by some, versus primary prevention, as per PCN, which is not getting the illness in the first place. As for Covid19, we are all familiar with public health guidelines to wear a mask, wash hands and keep a physical distance to help prevent the spread of the virus; these measures undoubtably help reduce exposure, but they don’t prevent individuals from becoming sick with infection if they are in contact with the virus. What has largely been missing in the mainstream fight against Covid19 is guidance on how to be healthy and support (and not hinder) our immune health.

I recently watched a video by Bruce Lipton, Ph.D in which he stated that “60% of Americans have one chronic disease and 40% have two chronic diseases.” In Canada, 43.7% reported having at least one of the top ten chronic diseases in 2017 (see references for more detail). When our immune system is bearing the burden of distraction by chronic degenerative disease, it is not available in its full capacity to deal with exposure to an infective organism.  In my view, the big opportunity with this pandemic is to shift our attention on a mass scale to cultivating good health, free from chronic degenerative disease, which has always been the focus of herbalism and other holistic health professions. As I see it, this strategy would improve general health and wellbeing in our communities, generate greater resilience, against flu and other infectious diseases and reduce the burden on our health care system.

My year-long herbal program, which has had over twenty runs here in the Maritimes, condenses holistic principles into a living format, with the goal of living healthfully with resilience against chronic disease. I would like to highlight a few of these principles, and a selection of herbs, that I have been emphasizing during the pandemic. This is by no means a comprehensive plan for Covid prevention, instead I offer the basics with the hope that you are inspired to formulate a plan for cultivating your own best health. If you want to dive deeper into a herbal and nature based approach to health, I encourage you to join me in September for the next round of my year-long herbal program.

Diet and Nutrition for Disease Prevention

Quite simply, eating a variety of fresh, whole foods provides the foundation for good health.This excludes refined sugars, processed foods and synthetic chemical additives.

There is general agreement among health experts on key nutrients that enhance immune health and our ability to prevent and treat the flu; they happen to be the same nutrients I emphasized during the Cancer Prevention Series. They are the primary anti-oxidants – zinc, selenium, vitamins A, C and E.  Other notables are quercetin and vitamin D.

Any research into these nutrients will reveal that they don’t work in isolation; they require co-factors such as other vitamins, minerals or enzymes to activate or facilitate their use by our immune systems. Popular wisdom says that for iron absorption we need vitamin C, and for vitamin C absorption we need bioflavonoids, and the bioflavonoid quercetin is needed for the proper utilization of zinc. Often these nutrients are combined in nutritional supplements, and although supplements are of value, it is important that they be taken within the context of a whole food diet, emphasizing variety, in order to obtain the broad range of nutrients needed to best serve the immune system.

Soups and smoothies are my easiest ways to obtain nutritional variety because I can pack each with many different ingredients. The soup pot and blender are my best kitchen tools.

With the colder weather I am naturally drawn to eating more soup. For each soup recipe I use a bone and vegetable broth as a base along with immune supporting herbs and mushrooms. My current favorites are shiitake, reishi and enoki mushrooms, astragalus, thyme, rosemary, bay, ginger and raw garlic as a garnish. I aim for 5-7 servings of soup per week, ideally one bowl a day.

I am not attracted to fruit and cold food in the winter; smoothies make it easier for me to overcome this aversion, and I add hot water to remove the chill. I include several “superfood” powders known to support immune function; spirulina, rosehip and alfalfa.

Immune Power Smoothie for Disease Prevention

  • 1 banana
  • ¼ cup frozen blueberries (or mixed berries)
  • ½ avocado
  • ¼ cup cranberry juice
  • 1 cup hot water
  • 2 tsp maple syrup
  • 1 tsp cod liver oil (yes, the flavour is hidden by the other ingredients)
  • 1 tsp spirulina powder
  • 1 tsp alfalfa powder
  • 1 tsp rosehip powder

Combine all ingredients in the blender until smooth. Makes 2 cups.


Herbs for Disease Prevention

I appreciate herbs because, like plant foods, many can be used daily to help form the foundation for good health. Since the pandemic started, I have been including the following herbs on a regular basis.  You can access more information on these herbs by downloading my Cold Kicking Tool Kit.

Astragalus – I wrap the chopped root in a muslin sachet and boil it along with marrow  bones and mushrooms when making broth, then remove it when the broth is complete.  I also make a decoction along with the other herbs mentioned below. I include the tincture of astragalus in my winter tincture blend.

Citrus peel – When I purchase organic oranges and lemons, I keep the peel and air dry them in a basket by the wood stove or in the dehydrator.  I add them to tea blends.

Garlic – 1 clove raw, crushed, daily, as a garnish for just about any meal

Ginger – fresh or dry in tea blends, powder added to porridge

Eleuthero, withania – adaptogenic herbs that help reduce the burden of stress, as teas and tinctures

Mental Health

My personal experience, plus 22 years of clinical experience confirms that stress suppresses the immune system. Rest, good sleep, exercise, nature, laughter, human connections and adaptogenic herbs have been my resources for relieving stress during the pandemic.

What are yours?

References

Bruce Lipton: The Human Immune System – What Happens During a COVID Infection?

Canadian Chronic Disease Indicators – Health Canada website

Stress and the Immune System

bunchberry

Medicinal Summer Berries

I’ve been a wild berry picker since I could crawl. I remember sitting in fields while my mother and aunts would forage for fruits, and as I got older, I would do my part to fill the buckets instead of emptying them into my mouth. Wild berry gathering has the benefit of being a free source of food that is nutritiously equivalent to,  if not superior to, cultivated fruits, plus it offers a valuable outing into nature.

Wild fruits add variety to the diet and are easy to prepare. They are great simply eaten fresh from the bush. They may also be transformed into jams, jellies, syrups, sauces, teas and wines, or preserved by freezing, drying and canning.

August brings us several wild berries, some familiar like the raspberry, blackberry and blueberry, and others that are not as well known.  In addition to these fruits being yummy and nutritious, they, along with other parts of the plant they come from, offer medicinal properties as well.  Berries are high in anthocyanins, flavonoids, micronutrients and fiber.  These and other compounds contained in berries offer benefits is cases of heart disease, diabetes, inflammation and cancer. They protect blood vessels and help prevent atherosclerosis. 

Most of the berries noted below are native to Nova Scotia and other parts of Canada, and readily available; why purchase expensive, exotic berries from the Amazon with such an abundance of “super foods” in our own backyards!

Bunchberry

Found growing in coniferous forests from July through until September.  Their bright red colour make them hard to miss, they are about the size of a pea and grow in clusters on top of a short stem.  They are juicy and mild tasting, but have a single hard seed inside that makes them hard to eat.  I like them boiled as a tea or sauce.  The leaf and root were used medicinally by first nations people for lung and kidney ailments and aches and pains.

bunchberryWintergreen

Another red berry of the forest, the berry and leaves can be found year -round, even buried under the snow.  Both have a strong flavour, used  toothpaste and chewing gum.  Wintergreen leaves were used traditionally for arthritis, colds, headache and indigestion.

Raspberry

The leaves of wild raspberry bushes have been used as medicine for thousands of years.  They are astringent and thus helpful in cases of diarrhea, bleeding and ulcers.  It is a popular women’s herb during pregnancy and childbirth.  Use 1 tsp. of the dry herb or 2 tsp. fresh per cup of tea.  The leaves contain iron, calcium and other minerals that can be extracted by steeping them in apple cider vinegar for two weeks.  Once strained the mineral rich vinegar can be added to salad dressings or taken as a tonic mixed with water.

Blackberry

The leaves have the same medicinal properties as raspberry leaves, both can also be used externally as a wash for sores and as a gargle for inflamed mouth and throat.  I just made a big batch of blackberry syrup, which is loaded with antioxidant nutrients.  I like to add it to sparkling water. Recipe below.

Staghorn sumac

The berries of this shrubby tree form in dense, cone shaped, upright masses.  The small individual berries are hard, hairy and not very fleshy, and are a deep red or burgundy colour.  They make a tangy red coloured tea.  The berries were used medicinally by first nations people to treat fever, diabetes, lung ailments and as a wash for ringworm.  The leaves, bark and twigs were also used medicinally.

Blueberry

North American First nations people used the leaf tea as a blood purifier, for colic, labour pains, and as a tonic after miscarriage.  The leaf is used in modern herbal medicine to treat diabetes and to balance blood sugar levels.  It is astringent and can be gargled or used as a mouth rinse, and for diarrhea.

The fruits of this genus – blueberries, bilberries, huckleberries – are known to have potent medicinal properties.  They are especially valuable for treating the eyes and to strengthen blood vessels.  They contain antioxidant compounds.  A tea made from the dried berries is helpful for diarrhea.

False Lily of the Valley

This herb carpets forest floors throughout Nova Scotia, producing a sweet-scented blossom in June and tasty berries in late summer.  The berries start off as a translucent white colour with speckles and mature into a wine-red colour when ripe.  They may be small but packed with juice and a distinctive flavour.  First nations peoples used the leaves and flowers as a remedy for headaches, sore throat, and cough.

Black Elderberry

Made popular in recent years as a remedy to prevent and treat common cold and flu, this shrubby tree has been prized for its medicinal properties for many centuries.  All parts of the tree can be used, especially the flower and fruit.  The berries are best cooked before eating, either as a tea, syrup or jelly.  They are ready for harvest between mid-August and mid-September; get them while you can, the birds like them too for strengthening their vision for their migration south.

Cranberry

I classify this as one of our best local “superfoods”, rich in antioxidants and vitamin C.  It can be used to prevent/treat dental and urinary infection by making it difficult for bacteria to adhere to the lining of the bladder and gums.  Try dehydrating them to add to granola or cookies, or make a sauce sweetened with honey.

BLACKBERRY SYRUP

2 cups fresh blackberries

4 cups water

2 cinnamon sticks

1 tsp. cloves

2 cups honey

Gently simmer the berries and spices for about 30 minutes or until the liquid is reduced by half. Strain, pressing all the liquid from the fruit.  While still warm, stir in the honey.  Cap and label. This syrup will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 months.  Add to sparkling water and herbal cocktails, yogurt, smoothies.

Sample studies on the health benefits of berries from Dr. Mercola’s Food Facts https://foodfacts.mercola.com/:

A review published in Molecular Nutrition and Food Research also supported the chemopreventive properties of cranberries, highlighting their ability to help inhibit the growth and spread of several types of tumors, including those in the breast, colon, prostate and lungs, possibly due to the flavonols and anthocyanin glycosides in these fruits.21

Some of the most researched benefits of blueberries are their antioxidant and antiaging properties. Several studies have shown that blueberries may help protect against age-related deficits in memory and motor function, possibly due to the fruit’s polyphenolic compounds having the ability to help lower oxidative stress, fight inflammation and change neuronal signaling.22,23,24,25,26

Another study also found that stomach, prostate, intestinal and breast cancer cells were inhibited when patients were tested with an array of different berry juices, including raspberry, black currant, white currant, gooseberry, velvet leaf blueberry, low-bush blueberry and other lesser-known berry types. While some berries had little or no effect on cancer cells, researchers concluded that including berry juices in the diet might prove chemopreventive.28

Blackberries may also have beneficial effects on your brain health. In another Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry study, high antioxidant levels in blackberries, strawberries and other berries are found to help manage age-related memory loss.51 Study authors further reiterated that:52

johnny jump up flower

Medicinal Herbs in the Garden

The Garden Pharmacy

 

Gardens are a source of beauty, tranquility, and sustenance; they also provide us with medicine. Chances are you have a pharmacy in your back yard that you aren’t aware of. The culinary herbs have medicinal properties, as do many of the common ornamentals, not to mention the weeds. The weeds are another story, but for now I would like to reacquaint you with some of your garden favorites. You may find there are already several medicinal herbs in your garden.

 

Thyme

The pungently potent little leaves of this hardy herb contain over 75 known phytochemicals, 25% of them have been identified as having anti-oxidant properties.  This makes thyme a valuable protection remedy against oxidative damage at the cellular level.  It has a special affinity for the respiratory system and can be used to treat bronchitis, asthma, cough due to colds and sinus congestion.  It helps to ease indigestion, colic, flatulence and diarrhea.  Extracts of thyme have demonstrated significant inhibition of Helicobacter pylori, a bacteria that infects gastric ulcers.  

Thyme can be used as a steam inhalation for respiratory disorders, or as a tea or tincture.  

 

Parsley

This pleasant green is packed with nutrition – it is one of the richest food sources of vitamin C and contains high amounts of calcium, magnesium, iron and chlorophyll.  

For nutritional benefit, it is best eaten fresh as a salad green or as a base for a green sauce “recipe below”.  Its minerals can be extracted by steeping the fresh leaves in apple cider vinegar for two weeks, then strained and used to make salad dressing.  Medicinally it is used to treat kidney and bladder conditions such as infection and urinary stones. Its diuretic action can be applied to arthritic conditions such as gout and rheumatism to facilitate the removal of uric acid from the joints.  For these uses it is best taken as a tea.

 

Sage

There are hundreds of species of this savory herb and its medicinal use dates back to ancient times in many parts of the world.  Its traditional uses hold true today and in modern herbal medicine it is used to treat indigestion, throat inflammation, and to reduce sweating, particularly the hot flashes of menopause.  It is a valuable remedy for the nervous system and can help to ease anxiety and nervous tension, and recent studies show its value in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and memory loss.

Sage can be taken as a tea or tincture.

sage medicinal herbNasturtium

This orange/yellow flowered beauty brings vibrancy to the garden, pungency to the salad, healing to the skin, and medicine to the teapot.  The juice squeezed from the fresh leaf and flower can be applied directly to wounds for healing and to treat or prevent infection.  It has a reputation for improving hair growth when rubbed into the scalp.  The tea and tincture can be used for dry cough, pneumonia and bronchitis, and for urinary tract infections.

nasturtium medicinal herbJohnny Jump Ups 

These tri-coloured little beauties are found in many a garden.  It is primarily a skin remedy that can be used internally and externally as an infusion to treat conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, and acne.  It is also a remedy for arthritis and respiratory disorders.  The fresh flowers add colour to salads, they contain a substance called rutin, which strengthens blood vessels.  In folk medicine a cup of tea made from this herb was reputed to ease a broken heart – hence another of its common names, heartsease.

The flowers and leaves can be used fresh or dried as a tea or tincture.

johnny jump up flowerBasil  

Contains high levels of vitamins A and C. Used for nervous irritability and has anti-depressant effects.  It eases indigestion, stomach upset and nausea.  Stimulates milk flow for nursing mothers.  The fresh juice has been used to treat warts and bug stings.  Makes a yummy tea or green sauce.

 

Mint

Mint is a summer herb; it is cooling for the body, internally and externally.  It can be used in a lotion or as a compress to reduce inflammation and pain from sunburn, and it is soothing on the itch from bug bites. As a digestive aid it will ease, gas, cramps and nausea. Peppermint is an old- time remedy for colds and flu with fever.  For this, it is typically combined with yarrow and elder flowers.  It brings symptomatic relief to asthma and bronchitis, and when inhaled clears nasal congestion.

To enjoy the cool delights of mint try adding the chopped fresh herb to salads, ice cream, dips, yogurt (recipe below), sauces and pasta.

 

Lady’s mantle 

As its common name implies, this herb is used to treat women’s health concerns.  It is a uterine tonic and can be used to normalize menstruation, and is astringent and helps to stop excessive bleeding both internally and externally.  Use it as a gargle for sore throat.  Its Latin name, Alchemilla, comes from ancient alchemists who held this plant in high esteem due to its many healing properties. The dew that collects in the flower cup was believed to hold magical, alchemic powers.

Its young leaves and flowering shoots can be dried and used as a tea, or made into a tincture.

 

Herbs are a potent source of preventative medicine – small daily doses added to food or teas help to enhance vitality and protection from dis-ease.  If herbal medicine is new to you, a good place to start is with the familiar culinary herbs which likely already have a place in your garden. 

 

Brewing a Medicinal Infusion

Gather the herbs fresh from the garden and rub off the dirt, then chop and bruise them with a mortar and pestle, or rolling pin.  For each cup of freshly boiled water use 2-3 tsp. fresh or 1-2 tsp. dry herb.  Cover the infusion while it steeps to retain the volatile oils, which offer aroma, flavour and medicine to the tea.  Let it steep for ten minutes, then strain and drink hot, or add ice for a cool summer drink.  

Recipes with Medicinal Herbs from the Garden

Green Sauce

1 cup olive oil

½ cup fresh green herb, one or a combination of (parsley, basil, lovage)

3 cloves fresh garlic

¼ cup pumpkin seeds

½ tsp. salt

¼-1/2 cup fresh lemon juice

Combine all ingredients in the blender or food processor.

Use as sauce for fish, steamed or roast veggies, salads, pasta or as a dip for bread or crackers.

 

Raspberry & Mint Yogurt Drink

1 cup plain yogurt

1/2 cup mineral water

3 tbsp. honey  

3 oz raspberries

¼ cup fresh mint leaves.

 

Puree all ingredients in the blender.  Pour into glasses and decorate with a sprig of mint.  Serve chilled.

 

Introduction to Planting by the Moon

My two favourite things about nature are gardening and astrology. It feels like I have always been interested in both. If you are new to astrology, the easiest things to start with are the cycles of the sun and the moon.


Most of us of us are aware of the annual solar cycle, with quarterly equinoxes or solstices that mark the change of the seasons, caused by the tilting of the Earth’s rotational axis.  In the northern hemisphere, we plant in the spring for a summer growing season, harvest in the fall, and the earth rests over the winter.  The seasons are opposite in the southern hemisphere.

What is the Lunar Cycle? 

The lunar cycle is approximately 29.5 days, and travels through different lunar phases.  The most obvious influence of the moon in our lives is, of course, the ocean tides. The gravitational pull of the moon is so strong that the oceans actually bulge when they are closest to the moon.  Considering that the human body is made up of mostly water, it’s easy to see how the moon can influence us.  And in regards to gardening, the moon most certainly influences the water in the soil.


The beginning of the cycle, called the new moon, which is the dark circle on the calendar, represents that there is no moon out at night so it is very dark.  During this time, the moon is out during the day in the same position in the sky as the sun, which is much brighter, so we don’t see the moon. 

How do I plant by the moon?

The period of time from the new moon until the full moon is called the waxing moon, and includes the crescent moon a few days after the new moon, and the first quarter moon high in the sky just after the sun sets.  During the waxing moon, there is an upward pull of energy, and moisture rises in the soil.  This is a great time to plant for things that produce food above the ground, like tomatoes, peppers, peas and beans.  For herbs it would be things that we harvest for leaf, flower and fruit.

At the full moon, the white circle on the calendar, the moon is on the opposite side of the earth as the sun.  As the sun sets in the west, we get a full reflection of the moon rising in the east, and this time represents fullness.


The time from the full moon until the new moon is called the waning moon.  During the waning moon, the energy is releasing down into the earth.  This is the time to plant (or harvest) things that produce food/medicine under the soil, like carrots, onions, garlic.  The 4th quarter especially (the week before the new moon) is a great time to harvest roots, either in early spring or in the fall before frost.  I recently harvested dandelion and nettle root before the new moon, while the plants were still very young and the energy hadn’t drawn up above the ground yet.


If you’re having fun with this, you can also explore getting to know the astrological signs of the moon.  The moon changes signs approximately every 2.5 days. And moves through the elements of fire, earth, air and water.  I recommend to everyone that gardens, if you haven’t already, that you start a gardening journal and track what you plant and when,  If we take the take the time to set some intentions, it is also a great way to slow down and get to know our plants better.  They each have their own nature, or personality. Many of us garden because we love it.  It can be very meditative.  When we are open feeling the rhythms of both the earth and the sky, it is absolutely divine!

Lynn Marie Mattie

I am Lynn Marie Mattie – daughter, sister, mother, yoga teacher, astrologer, herbalist, and peacemaker.

 

 

Medicinal Herbs to Grow During Quarantine

My 2020 Pandemic Herb Garden

I moved last September and am starting a garden at my new home. I was planning to grow my favourite perennial herbs and lots of veggies, and when shopping online for seeds last month, I broadened my selection to include herbs that may be useful during this pandemic.  Here are my pandemic-specific choices for my quarantine herb garden.

Garlic
Allium sativum

This food/medicine would have been found in gardens centuries ago, and is documented as one of the primary remedies during the black plague and Spanish flu.  It is a must as part of the daily diet, 1 clove daily, raw, for prevention and more as needed when there are signs of infection (of any kind). I have stopped sore throats and colds from worsening on many occasions with the help of garlic. It helps to loosen phlegm and cough it up.  It contains organosulfur compounds which have been shown to assist with liver detoxification, inflammation, cancer prevention, anti-oxidant. Allicin, a sulfuric compound, is expelled by the body via the lungs, which helps to explain its use as a respiratory remedy. If garlic is too hot (pungent) a tincture or vinegar extract can be used. Other members of the Allium family share many of these benefits (onions, shallots, leeks).

Baikal skullcap
Scutellaria baicalensis

This is one of the herbs I stocked up on early, when the pandemic was beginning to spread from China.  It is an ancient remedy in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for treating a wide variety of ailments, including infections, cancer, liver disease and arthritis. It is currently being used by TCM practitioners in China to treat Covid19.  A beautiful, purple flowered perennial herb; its roots are harvested in the fall.  

Boneset
Eupatorium perfoliatum

Perennial, native to N. America, traditionally used by first nations peoples and introduced to early settlers. There is documented evidence of this herb being used in the US during the Spanish flu. It’s name is derived from its use to treat “breakbone fever”, the extreme aches and pains that accompany flu.  The aerial parts, taken as hot tea, are used to manage fever. It is also a bitter, used to stimulate liver and digestive function.  There are many other Native and traditional uses for this local “weed”.

medicinal herb elecampaneElecampane
Inula helenium 

I use this herb as a lung tonic and expectorant, to clear excess mucus from the lungs. It also contains volatile and bitter compounds, which stimulate digestion. The roots, harvested in the fall, are quite large; one to two plants yield enough root to make 3-5 litres of tincture. It is best to wait 2-3 years before harvesting; in the meantime it will add beauty, with its tall stem and yellow flowers that attract pollinators.

 

Horehound
Marrubium vulgare

This is a classic lung remedy, used for many centuries throughout the UK and Europe, to ease cough and congestion. The leaf is used, as an infusion, cough syrup or lozenge – it is one of the main ingredients in the Ricola cough candies.  As a member of the mint family, it is easy to grow, and will come back each year, producing a flower after the 3rd or 4th year.  It is an aromatic bitter, thus also helpful for indigestion and to enhance metabolism.  

Marshmallow
Althaea officinalis

I intend to grow this as a centre point in my garden, due to its beauty, and its medicinal and nutritional properties. It is a beautiful, bushy plant with edible leaves and flowers. The root and leaves contain a type of carbohydrate that is mucilaginous, especially when extracted with water.  This is a reliable remedy for irritated mucous membranes and dryness, thus helpful for treating sore throat, dry cough, ulcers and inflammation.  I appreciate it immensely due to the rapid relief it brings to these conditions.

 

Elder
Sambucus nigra/canadensis 

This was the first medicinal plant that I installed in my garden last fall; I have six elder trees, hoping they will produce an abundance of fruits and flowers for various medicinal preparations. Elderflower makes a sweet tasting tea, I use it in blends for managing fever, and as a gentle nerve and tummy relaxant.  The berries are effective against common cold and flu viruses; it is too soon to know if they are equally effective against Covid19, but I have and will use them as an immune stimulant at early signs of infection.

 

This pandemic herb garden will be a great start to my garden that will continue to be useful in post-pandemic times.

These are but a few of the medicines available for use during the pandemic.  I will grow others such as thyme, sage, yarrow, peppermint, hyssop, calendula, nettle and mullein, knowing they too will be supportive, when needed, for dealing with viral infections and possible ongoing manifestations of this pandemic.  

 

My garden will also include nerve tonics, my favorites being skullcap, lemon balm, oatseed and wood betony, for those stressful moments along the way.

 

The act of creating this medicine garden brings me peace of mind and hope, both important for optimal immune and mental health during these unprecedented times. I hope you have spaces to grow herbal remedies. Some of these herbs are growing at the Bloom garden, you are welcome to go on a self-guided tour. I look forward to inviting you to my garden once the distancing restrictions are lifted.  

 

the author in a meadow of California poppies

Medicine in Plants for the Earth and for Us

We use plants as a source of food and medicine, to revel in its beauty, to use as fuel, forage, fodder and fiber, and we select for genes, whether intentional or not, that help us meet our wants and needs. We often do not consider that plants have their own goals, and that they work together with soil life, other plants, and other organisms to create a fine-tuned, mutually beneficial, holistic ecosystem. We must be intentional to support this fine-tuned system, because the efficacy and abundance of plant medicine is dependent on the resilience of the inter-connected natural world.

people in a food forest garden

Plant Communication

Plants are supported and communicate with each other through the underground network of special fungi called mycorrhizal fungi. The mycelium of these fungi have a symbiotic relationship with plants, trading mushroom immunity for plant foods. Mushrooms offer immune benefits to people as well, and we see again and again that what is good for people is good for the Earth too.

Volatile Oils

Plants also communicate through chemical messages via volatile oils that circulate in the air. We use volatile oils in herbal medicine for their carminative and antiseptic effects, to calm our stomach or heal our lungs, and plants use these essential oils too. Phytoncides, produced in abundance in forest ecosystems, are a type of volatile oil that are used by plants to communicate threat or infection to their allies and neighbours. The phytoncides produced in the forest also have a beneficial affect on us, as we walk through the woods and breathe them in, our white blood cells increase, our blood pressure decreases, and our cortisol levels are reduced, and all of this supports and enhances immune function. [1]

Plant Constituents

Plants also produce many other constituents such as flavonoids for colour to attract pollinating insects and sugars, or nectars, that are used by pollinators and are also traded with the mycelial network below for immunity and protection. Many plants produce specialized chemical compounds such as alleochemicals and phytoalexins to reduce competition or deter predators. [2] When plants are threatened, near-by plants start creating these compounds to help protect themselves. The network of mycelium, intertwined with plant roots, help move plant compounds to eliminate the threat or transmit messages to other plants. [3]

the author in a meadow of California poppies

 

The antimicrobial, bitter, mucilaginous, and antioxidant benefits we seek from plants, are the constituents that plants have made for their own benefit and for the benefit of many other plants and animals. Each time we take medicine for ourselves, we should remember we take medicine from the Earth. We can give back by contributing to nature’s resilience, whether we own land or not. The backyard garden or tree we plant, or the flowering potted herb we grow on our deck, gives back to what we have taken from, and we create something useful for future generations to benefit from as well. 

 

Estelle Drisdelle

I’m Estelle, a long-time herbal medicine student and nature lover! I have been learning about plants for many years and I’m so happy the journey never ends. When I first learned about Permaculture and began dreaming of my homestead and farm, the love for plants and their medicine grew from there! I I spend my time studying herbal medicine and running my small business; Understory Farm & Design.

 References:

1 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20074458  Effect of phytoncide from trees on human natural killer cell function

2 Herbal Constituents, Lisa Ganora

3  http://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20141111-plants-have-a-hidden-internet

 

 

When to see a professional herbalist feature

When to See a Professional Herbalist

When is it okay to employ herbal self-care and when should someone seek professional consultation from a qualified, registered herbalist? There is a long and short answer to this question.  Let’s explore the former, with a historical lead up to this question.

professional herbalist cover

Herbal Medicine in History

Herbs are our most ancient source of medicine, recorded as far back as at least Hippocrates in c. 370 BC.  Healing with plants is a part of every culture; herbal healing traditions are documented around the globe, notably from India, China, Europe and Persia. In other regions such as North and South America, Africa and Polynesia, herbal healing shares the same long history, yet was not as extensively documented.

 

For the past several centuries in Europe, medicinal plants were a normal part of daily life, both out of necessity and because it was a widespread cultural norm. It was common for homes to have medicinal plants growing alongside the vegetable garden.  It was typically the role of the wife and mother to tend to the basic health needs of her family, and herbs were her tools. In some cases, when she was especially good at herbal healing, her care would extend into the community when no other care was available.  Within each community there was commonly a herbalist who specialized in more advanced health care and who made it their devotion to tend to the sick as a professional herbalist, equivalent to modern doctors, only using plants and other natural remedies in place of pharmaceutical drugs.

 

Plant remedies were called upon to cure the range from minor to life threatening situations. Herbal medicines were respected as reliable and effective healing agents.  Extensive herbals were written, documenting the clinical use of medicinal plants, handled by specialists in the care of the sick – herbalists. The long standing tradition of herbal healing became an advanced art and science, the most ancient healing profession. It rightfully gained widespread acceptance as the predominant medical system of the day.

 

During the early 1900’s, the Industrial Age brought the modernization and mechanization of many facets of society, including medicine. Advances in plant research created the pharmaceutical industry and a plethora of drugs were created from plant molecules. Doctors and the general public have since favoured drugs over herbs, and plant medicines gradually faded out of medical fashion.

 

The 1960’s in America initiated the revival of traditional wisdom; people began to question social norms and to seek alternatives, leaning into time-tested, natural approaches to agriculture, nutrition and healing. The “back to the land” movement brought back organic agriculture and herb gardens, featuring a notable favourite of the time, alongside medicinal and culinary plants.  The re-discovery of plant medicines supported the self-reliance values of the day; individuals and families were able to live a nature based lifestyle, supporting their every need on the homestead. The hippies can be credited for bringing herbs back into our modern cultural awareness.

Contemporary Herbal Medicine

With the herbal revival gaining momentum over these past seventy years, people are discovering the many ways to incorporate herbs into their lives. Herbs have a broad appeal due to their accessibility, general safety and reliable historical and modern evidence supporting their use in health. Plus they are beautiful, interesting and have diverse applications beyond medicine.

 

Herbs are many things to many people – they are a source of medicine, research, health product manufacturing, gardening, spirituality, home-made kitchen remedies, personal self care and crafts. There is a growing “hobby herbalism” movement sweeping North America.

 

Modern literature is rife with self-help, top ten herb lists for every possible ailment.  Popular herbalism tends to treat herbs as drug substitutes, naming single herbs as the remedy for such and such a condition. For instance, ginkgo for memory, St. John’s wort for depression, garlic for high blood pressure, echinacea for colds, ginseng for stamina, turmeric for arthritis, valerian for insomnia and so on. While there may be some accuracy to such claims, it is a shallow dive into herbal medicine.  

 

Plus, these claims and their associated products are promoted largely by the natural health product (NHP) industry, driven by profit.  NHPs are treated like over-the-counter drug substitutes, often with overly exaggerated health claims and dosing strategies that are not effective. 

 

It is from here that we can begin to make the first distinctions between herbal self-help and professional herbal care.

When to Seek Care from a Professional Herbalist

Firstly, the above named symptoms require deeper investigation to achieve lasting resolution. Chronic and degenerative diseases have many causative factors, complications and considerations to be made to accurately assess and address the root causes and achieve effective treatment. There are no quick fixes.

 

Secondly, a herb performs more than one action in the body. Due to their biochemical complexity, herbs will have far reaching reactions which need to be factored into any herb choice e.g. St. John’s wort is well known to alleviate depression, it is also anti-viral, anti-inflammatory, enhances liver metabolism, effective for burns and skin diseases, nerve relaxant, nerve restorative, urinary disorders, lung ailments, IBS, diarrhea and hemorrhage, to name a few.  It is contraindicated in some conditions and when taking several drugs.

 

Thirdly, one size does not fit all. Unlike pharmaceutical drugs which target specific diseases, there are many possible herbs and approaches available, treating the person rather than their disease. Pulling valerian from the shelf for insomnia is far from the bullseye when we consider the many causes of sleeplessness and that there may be a more effective choice.  In some cases, valerian can act as a stimulant, and if not prepared properly, may have very little potency.

 

You would seek a professional herbalist when you have a chronic illness, with or without a diagnosis. Professional herbalists are medically and clinically trained to offer holistic health care.They will address possible drug interactions, safety issues and determine the cause of your illness rather than just treat the symptoms.

 

An herbal practitioner has extensive knowledge of medicinal plants.She has studied in detail, every aspect of the herbs in her dispensary – their biochemical make-up, actions, uses, preparations, pharmacology, psycho-spiritual uses, safety, drug interactions, contraindications, energetics, and how to combine multiple herbs. Additionally, she has spent time with the plants, often growing, harvesting and processing them herself, guaranteeing their quality and effectiveness.

 

An herbal practitioner will customize an herbal, dietary and lifestyle protocol for you. There may be the additional expense of a consultation fee, but in the long run your herbal protocol will be more effective, rather than wasting money on herbs that miss the target. 

 

An herbal practitioner may be your primary care provider or may work in tandem with your doctor and other health professionals. Registered herbal practitioners in Nova Scotia are governed by the Herbalist Association of Nova Scotia, which is aligned with the Canadian Council of Herbalist Associations, which established standards of education and practice for herbalists in Canada.

Herbal Self-Care

As for herbal self-care, let’s go back to where we left off with the hippies.  There is tremendous value in living connected to the foods and herbs we consume.  When made a part of our daily routine, herbs improve well being and help to prevent illness.  As outlined in my preamble, people have been engaged in herbal self care globally, for centuries.  

 

As a society, we are not trained to preserve our health, instead we are overly reliant on a single medical authority, chemical drugs and quick fixes.  Cultivating an interest in our own health and understanding basic body functions gives a strong foundation from which to practice effective self-care. Given our failing medical system, we really have no better option.

 

In addition to using herbs for prevention, individuals can manage certain acute, self limiting conditions with herbs. For example, cold and flu can be treated with herbs, preventing unnecessary trips to the doctor. Herbs reduce the severity and duration of cold and flu, limiting time lost from work, school and family.

 

Minor injuries, first aid, and temporary states such as nausea and indigestion can all be handled with herbs. When digestive upset becomes chronic or when someone succumbs to a cold or other infections often, then the herbal practitioner should be consulted for support in resolving the larger pattern of illness that has set in.

  

I have been in clinical practice for 20 years and can attest to the value of professional herbal support. My deep faith in the power of medicinal plants is proven time and again in my own practice, and backed up by the work of other herbal practitioners, both ancient and modern.

 

I am also a strong promoter of herbal self-care; in fact, I designed a year-long program just for this purpose – to train individuals in basic health awareness and herbal medicine.  My Holistic Herbal Wellness program begins every year in September. Each year, with each new group of herb enthusiasts, I am gratified to witness the self-empowerment that results from the program, and the joy and better health that plant connection brings to people.

 

Details and enrolment information can be found on the website:

https://bloominstitute.ca/holistic-herbal-wellness/

If you would like professional herbal health care, I invite you to visit me in the clinic, or to attend the Bloom student clinic where you will receive care from a registered herbal practitioner along with second year herbal students.

https://bloominstitute.ca/clinic/private-consultation/

https://bloominstitute.ca/clinic/student-clinic-2/

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