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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How to Choose High Quality Herbs and Herbal Remedies

Not all herbal remedies on the shelf are equally effective. Make sure you’re getting the best quality herbs and herbal medicine preparations by looking for these signs. 

 

The potency of herbal medicines depends on many factors, such as growing conditions, proper harvest time, plant parts used, storage, contamination, and freshness. 

high quality herbs coverWhether buying bulk dried herbs, small-batch preparations, or manufactured herbal products, this post will guide you in choosing quality herbal medicines, looking at all factors from the growth of the plant to its preparation in medicine. Some of these criteria may be found on a label, whereas others will be more difficult to determine; talking to your local herbalist or medicine maker is the best source for determining the quality of herbal preparations.

1. Choose the right herb

First, do your homework, or consult with a herbal practitioner. Not all herbs affect everyone the same, and some herbs can be unsafe for people with certain conditions or when taking medications. Before buying herbal preparations, it’s important to choose the right herb, know which parts of the plant have the desired medicine, and which method of preparation is most suitable for your needs. 

 

Different parts of the plant can have different therapeutic uses. For example, the roots and leaves of stinging nettle contain an anti-inflammatory compound, but only the roots contain the steroid-like compounds, so you would need to choose the right plant and the right plant part to get the right medicine. 

Growing Conditions

2. Plants are free from contaminants

Medicinal herbs should be organically grown or sustainably wildcrafted from an area free of contaminants. Wildcrafted herbs should be harvested in a clean environment away from traffic and other sources of pollution. Has the area been sprayed with herbicides such as glyphosate?

 

For plants from North America, look for USDA certified, wildcrafted, or other commitments to chemical-free agriculture. The label might say something like “Grown and cultivated without chemicals” meaning they should be free from pesticides, chemical fertilizers, herbicides, GMO’s, synthetic chemicals and are free from irradiation and chemical sterilization.

Harvest

3. Plants are harvested at their peak.

Different plant parts should be harvested in particular stages of the plant’s growth to get the most potent medicine.

Leaves are generally gathered in spring before the plants flower. If all aerial parts are used, then the whole plant is harvested while the plant is in flower. 

Flowers are harvested when just opened, before the wind or pollinators take the pollen.

Seeds are harvested when ripe, with a few exceptions, notably milky oat seeds, which are harvested when the seed is green and not fully ripe. 

Roots are generally harvested after the aerial parts die down in fall. 

High quality herbs are harvested at their peak to get the most medicinal benefit.

 

4. Only the most potent plant parts are included in the medicine.

Just because a plant is medicinal, it doesn’t mean the entire plant is medicinal, or has the desired therapeutic use. For example, the medicinal part of red clover includes the flower head and the few leaves surrounding the flower, but not all the aerial parts. If the product says “cut and sifted” then the whole plant was used, and the medicine will be less potent. Look for products that say “blossom”.

Preparation

5. The Herbs Come From a Reputable Company

When purchasing herbs, look for well-established companies with a good reputation, and knowledge of their products. The adage “you get what you pay for” is often true. Herbal products may be adulterated, substituting or adding less expensive herbs to a preparation, weakening its effect.

Companies that process imported bulk dried herbs might be using herbs that have been irradiated or fumigated in transport. 

If the herbs are wild-crafted, the company should also proclaim a commitment to a sustainable harvesting policy. 

6. The Preparation and Dose are Appropriate to the Herb

Even with the best ingredients, prepared herbal products are not all equal. Here are some things to look out for in different types of preparations. 

 

Dried Herbs

When choosing dried herbs, trust your senses.

High quality loose or bulk herbs should closely resemble the fresh plant in colour, texture, fragrance, and taste. The larger the pieces, the longer they will stay fresh. 

Tinctures

For tinctures, the alcohol must be strong enough to extract the desired medicinal constituents, and the ratio of plant to alcohol is appropriate to the dose. 

 

Tinctures are a preparation of herbs steeped in an alcohol-water mixture called the menstruum.  Most herbal tinctures can be made with an alcohol strength in the range of 25-40%, but some constituents, especially resins, require a higher percentage of alcohol for extraction. For example, usnea requires at least 70 % to extract its anti-bacterial benefits. Calendula can be extracted at lower percentages for some medicinal properties, but must be extracted at 90% to extract the anti-fungal constituents from the resins.

 

The plant material in a tincture is called the marc. A knowledgeable medicine maker will know if a plant should be tinctured fresh or dried.

 

The strength of the tincture is written on the bottle as a ratio of plant to liquid (marc to menstruum).

 

1:1 means that there is an equal ratio of plant and liquid. 

The first number is plant matter, and the second number is liquid, so a 1:5 tincture has 1 part plant matter for every 5 parts liquid, by weight. Therefore, as an example, a 1:2 tincture is much stronger than a 1:5 tincture. This means the dose would be lower, and you would need to buy less to get the same medicine. This should be noted when comparing herbal tinctures prices, the strength of the tincture should be reflected in the price.

 

Glycerites, which are water-glycerine preparations, should also have a ratio on the label, which represents the plant-to-glycerine ratio.

Other Products

Herbal preparations vary widely, so here are some other considerations when purchasing herbal products.

  • Does it list all medicinal and non-medicinal ingredients? 
  • Does it contain fillers? Some products may have a high ratio of benign ingredients or less potent herbs. 
  • What is the expiration date? 
  • Is the plant’s scientific name and plant part used on the label? 

7. The Products are Fresh

Last but not least, even the highest quality herbs and herbal medicines don’t last forever. Tinctures have a very long shelf life due to the alcohol content, but other preparations such as glycerites, salves and dried or powdered herbs have a shorter shelf life. 

 

The shelf life of dried herbs varies. Purchase dried herbs from places that have a high turnover and make orders frequently so you’re not getting herbs that have been on a shelf for a long time. Whole herbs last longer than ground or powdered herbs. Generally, dried leaves and flowers are viable for one year, dried roots, seeds and barks for up to two years.

 

For herbal preparations, the shelf life is dependant on the life of the solvent used to extract the medicine, ie. the oil, vinegar, honey, glycerine, and how readily microbes will grow in the preparation. Oil-based preparations are most likely to go off due to rancidity, or oxidation, whereas honeys and vinegars will go off because of the growth of microbes. Check the expiration date on products. For products without an expiration date, glycerites can last up to 3 years, and syrups and vinegars can last about a year in the fridge.

 

In general, medicines will be strongest from healthy plants, harvested at the right time of year, and getting the right plant parts for the medicine you want. 

Keep these factors in mind the next time you buy herbs and you’ll always get the highest quality herbal medicine. It can be tempting to buy cheaper herbs or medicines, but as you can see, you might not be getting what you pay for by buying lower quality herbs. The best way to buy quality herbs and herbal remedies is to get to know herbalists in your area. Many herbal practitioners also make small batches of remedies, and they’ll be able to answer all your questions about the source, method, and ingredients. It’s always best to support local, but if they don’t make the medicines themselves, they’ll know which brands are best to order from.


If you want to harvest your own high quality herbs in the right season, you can download Bloom’s Harvest & Wildcrafting Calendar. It shows you what you can harvest in every month here in Nova Scotia.

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lemon vegan meringue popsicles featured image

Quadruple Lemon Vegan Meringue Popsicles

These show-stopping lemon vegan meringue herbal popsicles are tangy, icy, and refreshing. They’re a bit of a labour of love, and you’ll have plenty of extra vegan meringue to make meringue cookies or pavlova, so get your brûlée torch ready!

lemon vegan meringue popsicles cover

These are the fifth and final instalment of my herbal popsicle series, and I really wanted to finish with a bang. What better way than to end with a recipe involving fire?

 

These are fun to make, but difficult to store, so I suggest taking the popsicles out of the freezer and topping them with meringue right when you’re ready to serve them. You’ll just squish the meringue if you try to put them in a container. Freeze the popsicles and prepare the meringue separately, and gather your popsicle-loving family and friends when you’re ready to assemble them. 

 

I call it “quadruple lemon” because the popsicle is made with a strong infusion of three lemon-scented herbs, plus fresh lemon juice. 

 

The vegan meringue is optional, but the sweetness is really nice to balance the tart popsicles. It’s made with aquafaba, which means “water of the beans” because it is made from the liquid from a can of chickpeas. Someone discovered that this liquid behaves like egg whites when whipped, and now it’s a popular vegan alternative to many dishes requiring that special fluff. There’s a Facebook group dedicated to sharing recipes and tips for using this wonderful new vegan egg replacer.

Yeild: 4 popsicles and way more meringue than you need

Base Ingredients

Handful of lemon-scented herbs: lemon balm, lemon verbena, lemon thyme + more for garnish if desired

3-4 stevia leaves

½ cup lemon juice (approx. juice of 2 large lemons)

3 tbsp maple syrup (or more to taste)

Vegan Meringue Ingredients

Liquid from a can of chickpeas

½ tsp cream of tartar

1” vanilla bean

1 cup organic cane sugar

 

Make the Lemon Popsicles

  1. Make a strong infusion with the lemony herbs and stevia by steeping them in about a cup of boiling water for 10 minutes.
  2. In a measuring cup, mix ½ cup lemon juice, ¾ cup of the lemon herbal infusion and 3 tbsp maple syrup. Whisk. Taste for sweetness, add more maple syrup to taste if you like. Don’t forget that if you are doing the meringue, it’s basically sugary air so you won’t need to make the popsicle base as sweet as you might if you’re eating the base without the meringue.
  3. Optional – place thyme sprigs or herb leaves in the molds before pouring in the liquid. 
  4. The maple syrup will settle, so whisk thoroughly and quickly pour into molds immediately.
  5. Freeze

 

The Vegan Meringue made with Aquafaba

Because you need to open a can of chickpeas and use the liquid for this recipe, you might as well use all of the liquid. This makes WAY more meringue than you need so you might want to also plan to make pavlova or meringue cookies. 

Strain a can of chickpeas and reserve the liquid.

 

Cut the vanilla bean in half and scrape the seeds out into a medium bowl. Add the sugar. Mix the sugar and the vanilla seeds.You’ll still have some vanilla clumps at this point, but they’ll blend out in the mixer.

 

In a stand mixer, beat the chickpea liquid for 1 minute. Add the cream of tartar. Beat until incorporated. 

 

Start adding the sugar-vanilla mix 1 tbsp at a time. Wait until it’s mixed in before adding the next tablespoon.

 

The vegan meringue will get thick and glossy as you add more sugar. When all the sugar is added, beat until you can’t feel any granules when you pinch a bit of meringue between your fingers. If the meringue still feels grainy, continue beating it. 

 

Now for the fun part!

Get everything you’ll need ready: the prepared meringue, a brûlée torch, herb leaves or sprigs for garnish, and people ready to eat popsicles, because as I mentioned, they don’t store well once they’re decorated. Oh, and get your camera because you’ll want to Instagram these ones!

all the lemon vegan meringue popsicles

Loosen the popsicles from the mold. One at a time, take a big spoonful of meringue and make a dollop on top on each popsicle, that goes covers it about ¼ of the way down the popsicle. Swirl it around until you’re happy with the shape. You want to have some texture for scorching, so don’t make it too smooth. I imagined I was trying to get it to look like a soft serve ice cream cone with swirly ridges spiralling upwards. It was less possible in reality than in my imagination, but swirling the spoon around gave some texture to the blob. 

Scorching the Meringue

 

If you haven’t used a brûlée torch before, I recommend practicing. Smear some meringue on a heat-proof plate and try scorching that first. You’ll find you want the flame parallel to the surface of the meringue or it will deform the meringue. Slowly move the flame toward the ridges of the meringue and you’ll see it will get tiny bubbles and quickly toast and then burn so keep moving the flame around. 

 

With your brûlée torch in one hand and a meringued popsicle in the other hand, light the torch. Point both the flame and the pop away from you so they’re roughly parallel. Slowly move the flame toward the meringue, and scorch the ridges of the meringue. 

 

Garnish with a leaf or sprig of lemony herbs. The tiny leaves off the top of a lemon verbena or lemon balm make a cute garnish. Take photos for Instagram.

Using the Rest of the Vegan Meringue

Here’s a detailed tutorial about making this vegan meringue, and how to flavour and bake meringue cookies. 

There are also lots of delicious pavlova recipes out there that you could make with the rest of the meringue.

In case you missed Herbal Popsicle Month, here’s a roundup of my previous herbal popsicles:

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golden milk popsicles

Golden Milk Popsicles with Ginger

These delicious layered golden milk popsicles have two different liquids in the base that are frozen separately in layers. The yellow layer is golden milk made with ginger and other spices, and the other is homemade pistachio milk.

golden milk popsicles coverIf you haven’t heard of golden milk yet, it’s a popular anti-inflammatory drink featuring turmeric. It has become so popular that many coffee shops are now offering golden milk lattes – steamed milk with turmeric and other spices instead of coffee. 

Of course, you can just make the whole popsicles from the golden milk recipe.

The Anti-Inflammatory and Antioxidant Health Benefits of the  Ingredients

Turmeric

Turmeric contains curcumin, known to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.

Curcumin is fat soluble, so you’ll want to take it with some kind of oil or fat. Coconut milk is an ideal vehicle, as well as a good base ingredient for vegan popsicles. To get the most benefit from the turmeric, it’s also good to add a little black pepper. 

Curcumin in turmeric is poorly absorbed into the bloodstream, so eating turmeric on its own is unlikely to give you the anti-inflammatory benefits, however, adding black pepper can help. Research supports that combining the piperine in black pepper with the curcumin in turmeric enhances curcumin absorption by up to 2,000% 

Cardamom

Cardamom can also help fight chronic inflammation from its high antioxidant content. Antioxidants protect cells from damage and stop inflammation from occurring.

Pistachios

Pistachios are high in healthy fats, fibre, protein, antioxidants and other nutrients, including vitamin B6 and potassium, and may contribute to a healthier gut, and improved metabolism.

 

Golden Milk Popsicle Ingredients

Golden Milk Base

1 can coconut milk
½ + ⅛ tsp cardamom powder
2“ ginger, finely chopped
1 ½ tsp turmeric
3 tbsp maple syrup
Pinch black pepper

 

Pistachio Base

1 c pistachios
1 c water
maple syrup to taste

 

Chocolate Magic Shell

2 tbsp coconut oil
2 tbsp cocoa powder
1 ½ tsp maple syrup
Pinch of salt

Optional Garnish 

shredded coconut
cinnamon

Golden Milk Popsicle Base

Finely chop the ginger. Pour the coconut milk in a small pot and add the ginger, cardamom, turmeric, and pepper. Bring to a boil, turn heat to low and simmer 5 minutes. Stir in the maple syrup.

 

Strain the liquid. Cool and set aside while you make the pistachio layer.

Pistachio Layer

Blend 1 cup of pistachios and 1 cup of water in a high-powered blender. Using cheesecloth or a jelly bag, strain the liquid. Sweeten with maple syrup to taste.

Fill molds ⅓ with golden milk, freeze. Add pistachio milk to ⅔ full, freeze. Top up with golden milk. Freeze.

Dark Chocolate Dip or Drizzle

Place parchment paper on a cold plate and set aside. Working quickly, remove the pops from the mold one at a time. Hold over a clean bowl while you spoon or pour the chocolate dip over the pops. Rotate the pops so the chocolate coats evenly and drips down into the bowl. The dip will harden very quickly.

Place the finished pop on the parchment and return to the freezer immediately. Repeat with remaining pops, and put them back in the freezer as you finish dipping them.

Another option instead of dipping is to lay all the pops on parchment and drizzle the chocolate in lines across them. 

Optionally garnish with grated coconut or cinnamon.

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Plant-Based Rose Tahini Herbal Popsicles

These delicious freezer pops are inspired by flavours of Middle Eastern desserts, and enhanced by the fragrant herb, sweet woodruff. 

Rose Tahini Herbal Popsicles | bloominstitute.ca

While we were experimenting with herbal iced teas at Bloom, I discovered that rose and sweet woodruff make a great combination, so I wanted to create a delicious popsicle based on that combination. Since rose is often used in Middle Eastern desserts, I looked to that cuisine for flavour inspiration. The result is a creamy popsicle with a subtle floral flavour. And they’re beautiful!

Energetically, rose is good for the heart, and sweet woodruff was traditionally used as a medicinal tea that is beneficial to the heart, regulating its activity.

These herbs in these herbal popsicles may have some minor heart benefit, but I think indulging in these luxurious pops is a soothing treat for your heart in and of itself!

The base is coconut milk infused with the rose and sweet woodruff, and a bit of tahini makes the texture extra creamy. I normally sweeten my freezer pops with maple syrup, but these are sweetened with honey with a nod to baklava. 

I took them to the next level with a vegan white chocolate magic shell and a sprinkle of chopped pistachios. 

Yield: This recipe is for 3 ice pops made with a Zoku. Increase the recipe to suit your number of molds. 

For the Herbal Popsicle Base

220 ml coconut milk

Rose petals

½ tsp rose water

Sweet woodruff leaves

1 ½  tbsp tahini

2 tbsp honey

2 tbsp water

 

For the White Chocolate Magic Shell

adapted from Will Frolic For Food

¼ cup cacao butter

2 tbsp coconut oil

1 tsp tahini

1” vanilla bean

2 tbsp icing sugar

 

Make the Base

Rose Tahini Herbal Popsicle base | bloominstitute.ca

Rose Tahini Herbal Popsicles before dipping | bloominstitute.ca

Place coconut milk, water, sweet woodruff, and rose petals in a small pot and bring to a boil. Stir well. Remove from heat, steep 10 minutes. Strain out the petals and leaves. Stir in tahini and honey. Let cool completely. Pour into freezer pop molds. Freeze.

Finely chop the pistachios and set aside.

Dip the Pops

Over medium low heat, melt the cacao butter and coconut oil together. Remove from heat. Scrape out seeds from 1” of vanilla bean pod and add to the oil mix. Stir in tahini. Sift in icing sugar and stir until smooth. 

Note: Vanilla extract won’t work in this recipe — fat and water don’t mix. 

rose tahini herbal popsicles | bloominstitute.caPlace parchment paper on a cold plate and set aside. Working quickly, remove the frozen pops from the mold one at a time. Hold over a clean bowl while you spoon or pour the chocolate dip over the pops. Rotate the pops so the chocolate coats evenly and drips down into the bowl. Immediately dip the pops in the chopped pistachios. The dip will harden very quickly.

 

Place the finished pop on the parchment and return to the freezer immediately. Repeat with remaining pops, and put them back in the freezer as you finish dipping them.

Rose Tahini Herbal Popsicles | bloominstitute.caAnother option instead of dipping is to lay all the pops on parchment and drizzle the chocolate in lines across them and sprinkle the pistachios on.

Rose Tahini Herbal Popsicles | bloominstitute.ca

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Plant-Based Rose Tahini Herbal Popsicles | bloominstitute.ca