Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Plant Medicine: Rosemary-Thanks for the Memories

Continuing with our series on beneficial plants and herbs for cold and flu season, I want to highlight one of the most well known and highly used herbs throughout the world. Rosemary has a rich history both in usage and lore, and is renown even in literature.  It’s name means “Dew of the Sea” due to its nature of flourishing in growth along sea coasts.  According to mythology, it was draped around the Greek goddess Aphrodite when she rose from the sea.  It was also said that while the Virgin Mary was resting during her flight to Egypt from Herod, that her blue cloak covering the white blossoms of this plant turned the flowers blue, which led to the plant being called “the Rose of Mary.”

The aromatic shrub has a long and rich history regarding its use in memorial celebrations to honor the dead in many cultures.  In ancient Egypt, Rosemary was laid on the tombs of love ones who have died.  This custom eventually spread into Europe and the Mediterranean, and beyond, endowing the herb with both universal symbolism and a sacred reputation.  Shakespeare’s Juliet upon her death was adorned with Rosemary, and in his play Hamlet, Ophelia says, “There’s Rosemary, that’s for remembrance. Pray you, love, remember!”  Even today, Rosemary is used in this manner.  On Anzac Day in Australia, people still wear sprigs of Rosemary to remember their ancestors.
Because of its reputation for enhancing and improving memory, scholars in ancient Greece wore wreaths made of Rosemary while they studies or took exams.  In the Middle ages, since it was considered a gift from Aphrodite (The Goddess of Love and beauty) brides would also wear a wreath of rosemary, while the groom would present a sprig to each guest to commemorate the happy occasion.  Rosemary had also attained the reputation of being able to dispel negative energy and keep witches and evil spirits at bay.  Sprigs would be placed under pillows or strategically around a home, while dried plants would be bundled and burned as a smudge for ritualistic cleansing and purification.

From ancient times to the modern kitchen, Rosemary is cherished as a compliment to a wide variety of food.  It is highly aromatic and has a slightly bitter flavor that enhances many dishes.  It is often used in stuffing, roast lamb, pork, chicken, turkey, and is especially prized in Italian cuisine.  Fresh Rosemary is often used in flavoring breads, stews, fish and meat sauces as well.  It is a great source of iron, calcium and vitamin B6.  Rosemary is also used in a variety of health and beauty products such as shampoos, soaps, body washes and perfumes, oftentimes partnered with its close relative Lavender.

Rosemary contains antioxidant, antiviral, and antibacterial properties which make it ideal and effective as a medicinal herb. These properties help boost the immune system as well as improve blood circulation in the body.  Rosemary contains salicylic acid, which is the precursor to aspirin.  When Rosemary oil is rubbed on the skin, its anti inflammatory properties can effectively ease arthritic and rheumatic pain in the joints. It is also used by modern herbalists to treat various skin disorders including dandruff.

Due to its health benefits, Rosemary is currently being researched regarding a number of health issues. Not only is Rosemary good for improving memory, but it contains carnosic acid that fights off free radical damage, and guards against brain aging and degeneration, making it extremely useful for overall brain health.  On another front, meat cooked at high temperatures can release mutagenic compounds that increase the risk of certain types of cancer.  However, scientists discovered that rosemary extract added to ground beef, reduced the formation of these cancer causing agents.  Rosemary’s potential seems endless with studies ongoing toward its use in the treatment Alzheimer’s disease, Macular degeneration, Migraine headaches and much more.

For colds and flu, when eaten or made into a tea, Rosemary’s anti viral and antibacterial properties can help flush “the nasties” out of your system, while improving blood circulation and helping to build up the immune system.  It’s pain relieving properties can assist in easing the discomfort of body aches, and as an aid to relaxation.  When used in aromatherapy, it acts as a natural decongestant, for both nose and chest, to help you breath freely once again.

For Rosemary Tea: Place 2 teaspoons of fresh or dried Rosemary in a cup of boiling water and allow to steep for 15 - 20 minutes.  Add a bit of lemon and/or sweetener if desired.

Simple Rosemary infusion: Place several stalks of Rosemary in a pan of water on the stove and allow it to boil.  Once it begins to boil, reduce heat and allow it to simmer while is healing aroma wafts through the room.  Remove from heat and breathe the steam directly, or breathe it indirectly by allowing it to simmer for a long period.  Make sure to keep an eye on water level and replace any water that has boiled off.

***As with any plant or herb used medicinally, there are several precautions that need to be taken regarding Rosemary.  Culinary and small therapeutic doses of Rosemary are generally safe, however due to the small amount of camphor it contains, Epileptics should avoid medicinal and large quantities of it since it could cause seizures. Pregnant women should avoid high dosages as they can lead to miscarriage.   Women with a heavy menstrual cycle should avoid using Rosemary medicinally, as it increases blood flow.  Rosemary can cause adverse reactions if taken in extremely large doses.  Rosemary essential oil should not be ingested.  Rosemary can also effect the activity of certain drugs including, blood thinners, ACE inhibitors, diuretics and Lithium.  Thought the benefits of this wonderful herb outweigh the disadvantages, please be smart and consult with a qualified health practitioner or herbalist before using Rosemary.

Whether used as a food enhancer, an aromatic, or as a medicine, the benefits of Rosemary are truly unforgettable.


*** Information on the traditional uses and properties of herbs and plants are provided on this blog is for educational use only, and is not intended as medical advice. Every attempt has been made for accuracy, but none is guaranteed. Many traditional uses and properties of herbs have not been validated by the FDA. If you have any serious health concerns, you should always check with your health care practitioner before self-administering herbs. ***

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Plant Medicine - The Glint of Peppermint

One of the oldest and most pleasant tasting essences of plant medicine is Peppermint. It is one of hundreds of species of plants in the genus Mentha including spearmint, water mint and forest mint.  Peppermint is believed to be a natural occurring hybrid of spearmint and water mint, and has a long history of cultivation and usage in both cooking and in herbal medicine since about 1500 BC.  Peppermint is thought to have originated in Northern Africa and the Middle East.  In the Ebers Paprus, an ancient Egyptian medical text dating to 1550 BC, mint is listed as a means to calm stomach pains.  In fact, mint was so highly valued by the ancient Egyptians that it was used as a form of currency.

The ancient Greeks and Romans also used Peppermint as a cure for all troubles of the stomach.  Interestingly, mint is a part of Greek Mythology.  Minthe was a river nymph in the Cocytus River (One of the five rivers of Hades).  While Hades was driving his golden chariot, he came across Minthe and attempted to seduce her, when his wife Persephone caught them.  Persephone turned Minthe into a lowly mint plant that people would tread on underfoot.  However, Hades softened the spell, so that when people walked upon his lover, they would smell her sweetness.  That was how mint received its pungent peppery sweet aroma!

Peppermint over time was introduced to Europe, where it gained more popularity as an additive and spice for cooking, as well as for its medicinal uses.  During the Middle Ages, Monks used Peppermint as a tooth polisher, while cheese makers discovered that the strong smell of Peppermint kept mice and rats out of their storerooms.  Eventually European settlers came to America where they found that Native Americans were already well versed in the benefits of mint, albeit to a different species.  The peppermint plants that the settlers brought with them quickly became naturalized and spread throughout the country.

Let’s move on from the history of this wonderful plant, and get down to its many benefits!

While it is well known that Peppermint has been used for nausea and indigestion, the strong menthol it contains is effective for freshening ones breath especially after eating strongly flavored foods.  The chewing of the leaves after a meal was the precursor of our traditional “after dinner mint.”  You don’t have to have a stomach trouble after a meal to benefit from it.  A drop of Peppermint oil on a sugar cube or in a small glass of water can prevent or relieve excess gas as well.

Since Peppermint relaxes the smooth muscles in the stomach and the intestines, it has been researched and used as a treatment for Irritable Bowel Syndrome.  In a 2007 study, 78% of IBS sufferers received relief from cramping, constipation, bloating and diarrhea after taking peppermint oil capsules.  Researchers have also found that Peppermint oil increases the flow of bile, which can offer those suffering from Gall Bladder disease relief after eating a fatty meal. Due to its powerful germ fighting and anti-inflammatory properties, research is also being conducted for using peppermint as a Cancer fighting agent.

Peppermint oil has analgesic properties as well.  Couple that with its anti-inflammatory action makes it useful as a cooling rub for sports injuries, and aching joints.  Mixed with a carrier oil like Grape seed oil, Peppermint oil can also relieve the pain of a headache when massaged for several minutes at the temples and on the pressure points behind the ears.  Peppermint works well at easing menstrual symptoms during a woman’s monthly cycle.  Not only does it ease nausea and discomfort, but it also works as a natural muscle relaxer to relieve painful cramps.   Peppermint oil can also relieve the itching of insect bites, poison ivy, poison oak, and other troublesome skin issues.  It is often used as an additive to shampoos to relieve an itchy scalp as well.

Peppermint comes in many forms.  The fresh or dried leaves can be eaten or brewed into tea.  It can also be purchased as a tincture, and as an essential oil.  Whether used in aromatherapy or taken internally, Peppermint is quite versatile.  It works as a mood enhancer, whether it’s a drop of oil on the back of the tongue taken as a stimulant or mental booster for sharper focus during the day, or brewed as a tea for a stress reliever to settle the mind before bed.  When inhaled as a vapor, the menthol contained in Peppermint can relieve nasal congestion.  It also works to boost the body’s immune system, and due to its germ killing ability, it can alleviate or lessen the symptoms of the common cold or flu.

***As with all herbal remedies there are a few precautions that you should be aware of.  The menthol in Peppermint essential oil is quite strong, and may be irritating to bare skin if used undiluted in large quantities.  Peppermint should be used in moderation as it can cause indigestion if taken in too large of a dose.  Peppermint oil stimulates menstruation, so large quantities should be avoided by pregnant women, as it could cause a miscarriage. It should only be used in very limited quantities on infants because it can irritate the throat.

One of History’s most used and beloved plants, Peppermint offers a host of beneficial properties just waiting to be experienced.  I encourage you as always to do your own research and find out how well it can work for you.  Approved by the ancients, confirmed by research, how can you go wrong?



*** Information on the traditional uses and properties of herbs and plants are provided on this blog is for educational use only, and is not intended as medical advice. Every attempt has been made for accuracy, but none is guaranteed. Many traditional uses and properties of herbs have not been validated by the FDA. If you have any serious health concerns, you should always check with your health care practitioner before self-administering herbs. ***

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Plant Medicine - Turmeric: Nature’s “Agent Orange” against viruses

We are finally warming up a bit here in Minnesota.  With the blessing of 40 degree temperatures for the last few days, the snow and ice that had locked us into glacial conditions is finally melting and loosening winter’s icy grip upon us.  Even so, we are still in the midst of cold and flu season which can be exacerbated by the constant temperature fluctuations.  This is the perfect time to continue our series on Plant Medicine, by introducing one of the most powerful of all herbs, Turmeric.

Turmeric is often referred to as “the Golden spice of Life” due to its amazing properties which benefit the human body.  It has been cultivated and used as far back as 3000 years ago in India and Indonesia as a dye, a food flavoring and for its Ayurvedic medicinal properties. {The term Ayurveda is a combination of the Sanskrit words ayur (life) and veda (science or knowledge) It is one of the world’s oldest systems of medicine, with concepts including the interconnectedness between people, their health and the universe, and disease, which promotes the use of herbs, herbal compounds, special diets and other unique health practices.}

Those of us in the West know Turmeric as a yellowy orange powder (groundTurmeric root) typically used in Asian and Indian dishes such as curry, but it is much more than that.  The biologically active compound in Turmeric is Curcumin which is purported to contain a wealth of health benefits. It is a most powerful anti-oxidant, and displays antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties.  It is used in the treatment of stomach ailments such as indigestion and colitis.  It stimulates the production of insulin in the body, which is useful for treating type 2 diabetes.

Turmeric also lowers levels of bad cholesterol in the body, and is useful in the treatment of heart disease.  It is also helpful in treating rheumatoid arthritis by improving mobility and flexibility, and minimizing the pain and swelling associated with arthritis.  In fact, Turmeric  is so powerful that it is currently being studied as both a preventative for  Cancer, and as a preventative for the onset of dementia (inflammation of the brain), including Alzheimer’s disease.

It was discovered that Curcumin stimulates the brain to produce billrubin, a powerful antioxidant. It also has its own antioxidant abilities, and it scavenges free radicals which enhances the body’s immune system and better enables it to handle infections.  Researchers suggest that Turmeric is a viable candidate for treating the flu naturally, because it seems to protect healthy cells from becoming infected, while at the same time it interferes with the replication process of viruses and other microbes

What does this mean regarding colds and the flu?  It means that the use of Turmeric not only protects us from the onset of illness by boosting our immune system, but its therapeutic action can help “kick butt” against cold and flu symptoms once we've contracted them.

***As with all herbal remedies, there are some precautions.  Avoid using Turmeric for prolonged periods, especially in high doses, which can result in liver and stomach distress. Do not consume Turmeric if you are currently suffering from gallstones and bile obstructions, or are on blood thinners.  Avoid Turmeric use in infants, or if you are pregnant and plan to breastfeed. Excessive consumption of Turmeric is known to result in constipation and dehydration, so always drink plenty of water throughout the day.  As always, consult your herbalist or healthcare practitioner if you have any questions or concerns.  By using Turmeric responsibly you can reap all of its wonderful benefits, without worry.

Incorporating small amounts of Turmeric as a spice in your diet is a good way to improve and boost your immune system. I am also including two popular remedies that can be used if you feel a scratchy sensation in your throat, which usually indicate the onset of a cough or cold.  Keep in mind, Turmeric used in this case is a medicine, and not the best tasting one at that.  However, you must push through the taste in order to gain the benefits.  “Slam” it down or gulp it down as best you can.

Turmeric Tonic

1 cup warm milk 
2 teaspoons ground Turmeric 

Stir ground Turmeric into glass of warm milk until thoroughly mixed. Drink it down as fast as possible. Use 2- 3 times a day

You can chase it down with more milk, a bite of lemon wedge, or a bit of juice to clear the taste buds.

Ginger and Turmeric Tea - Lynne Jackson (Raw Curious)

5” piece of fresh ginger root,  chopped 
2 teaspoons ground turmeric            
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper (Optional)             1 lemon, juiced 
32 ounces of water  
Optional: agave nectar (or your preferred sweetener) to taste

Place ginger and water in a sauce pan over high heat, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and add turmeric.  Simmer on low for about 10 minutes.  Remove from heat and steep for 10 minutes more.  Add cayenne, lemon juice and sweetener.  Stir vigorously, strain (or not) and serve immediately. Alternatively, for a cold version, set aside and allow mixture to cool completely.  Refrigerate to chill or serve over ice.  Makes four servings.

Ancient and revered, Turmeric is clearly a most beneficial part of Plant Medicine. As I always suggest, do your own research on the medicinal properties of this wonderful plant spice and decide for yourself.  Perhaps you too may consider using nature’s “Agent Orange” the next time you get a cold or flu.



*** Information on the traditional uses and properties of herbs and plants are provided on this blog is for educational use only, and is not intended as medical advice. Every attempt has been made for accuracy, but none is guaranteed. Many traditional uses and properties of herbs have not been validated by the FDA. If you have any serious health concerns, you should always check with your health care practitioner before self-administering herbs. ***

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Plant Medicine: Cayenne Pepper, Nature's Hottie!

Continuing on with our series on Plant Medicine, I want to talk about my favorite: Cayenne Pepper.  I know we spoke about it in general terms awhile back ago, but I want to talk about the wonderful benefits of this plant as it relates to colds and the flu.

The best way to avoid a cold or flu, is to not get one in the first place, and cayenne can help. It contains a high amount of vitamin A and beta-carotene which act to boost the immune system, and promote healthy tissue growth especially in the mucous membranes that line the inside of the nose, lungs, intestines and our urinary tract.  Cayenne helps to boost our first line of resistance against the nasties that try to invade the body.

In addition to adding zest and zing to foods, cayenne acts as both a catalyst and booster. Not only does it helps the body to absorb nutrients, but it increases the absorption of the other foods that are served with it.  In other words, by mixing cayenne in with ginger for example, both are absorbed more efficiently and completely, allowing the body to benefit even more.  A little later on, I will mention a remedy where this is employed.

It is helpful to know that if you do get a cold or the flu, cayenne can also help to shorten its duration.  Cayenne contains capsaicin which is similar to chemicals used in a number of cold remedies. Capsaicin is what causes you to sweat after eating food with hot peppers like cayenne.  It warms the body and stimulates the release of mucous from the nose, throat and lungs, clears the sinuses, and increases blood circulation.   This sweating action helps to reduce fever and relieve the congestion that accompanies the cold or flu.  It also acts as a pain reliever (sore throat, body aches) by causing irritated nerve endings to release their store of a chemical called Substance P, that transmits pain signals from the body to the brain. Once Substance P is released where it can be swept out of the system, the sensation of pain is greatly reduced.

On a side note, yes, cayenne is a hot spice.  However it has a bad and undeserved rap for contributing to stomach ulcers. Nothing can be further from the truth.  In fact, hot peppers like cayenne actually help prevent ulcers by killing the bacteria that may be present from food you have already eaten, and stimulating the cells that line the stomach wall into producing juices that protect the stomach, and prevent ulcers from actually forming.

As with any plant used as a remedy there are certain precautions you need to take. Cayenne pepper should be handled with care, especially ground cayenne or oil. Do not touch your eyes (or contact lenses) or sensitive areas of the body during or immediately after handling it.  (wash your hands) Do not place it on open wounds or sores.  Do not use it if you experience a fever over 103 degrees Fahrenheit. The use of cayenne is not recommended for folks who have rapid heartbeat or who sweat or overheat easily.  Internal use of cayenne in cases of Asthma, or Gastrointestinal inflammation or irritation should only be done under the supervision of an experienced herbalist or other health care professional.

If you are inexperienced or not used to spicy foods, I would suggest starting with small quantities of cayenne first (Say a pinch or so) to see what your body can tolerate.  You can always increase the amount you use later.  Cayenne, when used responsibly, can be taken several times a day without harm to the body. Clearly the multitude of benefits it contains outweighs any negative concerns.

Here is a recipe for a wonderful feel good drink to fight colds and flu.

Lizzy Fuhr's Apple Cider Vinegar Brew:

1/4 cup boiled water
1/4 cup unfiltered apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper (ground)
1 lemon wedge

1) Combine hot water and apple cider vinegar in a small mug
2) Add honey and cayenne pepper.  Stir well.  Top off with a squeeze of lemon.
3) inhale the mixture several times,  then sip and enjoy!

For the more adventurous (or more desperate Ha!), here is my own personal remedy that kicks the flu out of my system after 3-4 days. That's definitely better than being saddled with it for 7 - 10 days for sure!

Nehemiah's Kick Butt Flu Remedy:

Add 1/4 - 1 full teaspoon of cayenne pepper to a small bowl of your favorite hot soup.  Stir and eat.

Immediately take a shower.  The water should be as hot as you can tolerate for about 10 minutes.  Towel off.

Clothe yourself in sweats, or flannel pajamas.  Cover your head with a hat and relax in your favorite chair or in bed. Relax.

Your body will begin to sweat profusely.  This is normal and good for you.

Feel free to enjoy water and any hot beverages that you prefer (like our own Muy Loco Coco with organic cayenne!)

If you really feel the need, you can add an over the counter cold/flu medicine for comfort.

Do this twice a day.  You will notice improvement of your condition after day 2.  By day 4, you should feel well enough to return to your normal activities.

I certainly hope that this spicy bit of Plant Medicine is of great benefit to you.



*** Information on the traditional uses and properties of herbs and plants are provided on this blog is for educational use only, and is not intended as medical advice. Every attempt has been made for accuracy, but none is guaranteed. Many traditional uses and properties of herbs have not been validated by the FDA. If you have any serious health concerns, you should always check with your health care practitioner before self-administering herbs. ***