Elderberry syrup

 I like to make Elderberry syrup in the beginning of every cold and flu season. It is an easy and delicious way to keep my family healthy. I also like this recipe because it is one of the best example of food being used as medicine. Elderberries are very popular in Europe and my grandmother always made syrup in the fall, for the winter months. We never thought of it as medicine since it was something we enjoyed and had on a regular basis; We drank it diluted with sparkling water as a refreshing beverage, but you can also pour it over pancakes and waffles, or take a tablespoon full straight out of the bottle every day.

Elderberry syrup is easy to make and easy to store. I have added some rose hips and  ashwaganda root to this syrup in order to increase its healing power and give it a little extra something to bring our bodies into balance. Rose hips are a vitamin C powerhouse and  ashwaganda is a wonderful adaptogen herb that lowers stress , nourishes the blood and the heart, and increases our ability to deal with the daily exposure to our environment.

 Here is what you need to make this amazing remedy:

 1 cup dried elderberries
 1/2 cup dried rose hips
 1/2 cup dried ashwaganda root                     
 3 cups filtered water
 2 cups raw honey

Put the dried herbs in a pot with the water and bring to a boil.( I use stainless steel or glass pots for all my herbal remedies.) Boil for a few minutes , then turn the heat down and simmer for at least 30-40 min.
 I like to leave the berries/roots to steep for a couple of hours after I turn off the heat. This gives them a chance to cool down .
 Strain the plant matter from the liquid and make sure to squeeze all the juice out of it. Now, you can add the honey. The mixture should be warm enough to melt the honey but not too warm to kill all the wonderful  enzymes in it. If you need to make this vegan , or honey is not in the budget, you can definitely use maple syrup or brown sugar. Proportions will stay the same.
 You can store the syrup in the fridge for up to six months. I keep mine in a mason jar for easy access. Take a tablespoon each day as part of your supplement routine.
This is just a basic recipe which you can modify to your liking. Spice it up by adding cinnamon sticks or cloves to steep with the berries.
 I also use the syrup to make homemade gummies for my nine year old. Make sure you use a good quality grass-fed gelatin for this purpose. It is a nutritious and delicious way to get your little ones to take their supplements. It works on husbands too! ;)

I hope that you are going to give this recipe a try! Be happy and healthy this winter season!

HERBS FOR WOMEN : Relieving menstrual problems - general overview and useful herbs

 What comes to mind when you hear the word menstruation, or period? For most women it is a sign of inconvenience and an overall unpleasant experience.It is something we have to hide and something we've been trying to avoid . There are multiple pills and products that promise to stop this process or make it almost invisible. And still, many women are reminded monthly about their period and experience discomfort, pain, bloating, anxiety and multitude of other symptoms , before and during their menstruation. Research shows that fifty percent of women in the US experience some form of PMS symptoms every month.
 There are no two women alike and what is normal for some is not for others. Some women normally have heavier or lighter periods. If heavier periods are not accompanied by other symptoms like exhaustion, extreme pain, or dark clotted blood, it can be considered normal. The same goes for light periods. If a woman has always had light periods, and has no other symptoms, or fertility problems, then those light periods are considered absolutely normal.
 In my own research on this topic, I found that there are three definite factors which affect our monthly cycles - food, stress, and our perception of what menstruation is.

  FOOD is the number one way in which we can correct any problems in our physical bodies. I am a strong believer in the "food is medicine" philosophy . Our modern Standard American Diet (SAD) is the culprit of many of the ailments that plague us today. Here is a few way that the modern diet can affect how you feel during your period:
   The modern American diet relies heavily on refined sugars and grains. Food is processed and stripped of nutrients. It often lacks enough fiber, phyto chemicals and important micro nutrients. This form of diet is not suitable for our organisms but is the perfect food for some type of bacteria in our bodies, like candida and H.Pylori, that thrive on sugar. Women who have problem menstruation often have gut imbalances and gut problems. How are the two connected you might wonder? Balanced gut flora plays an important role in processing excess estrogen in the body. Excess estrogen is often responsible for symptoms like cramps, pain during menstruation, heavy flow, and even conditions like endometriosis, which causes the tissue that normally lines that uterus to grow in other parts of the body. So, with unbalanced gut flora, our bodies are unable to process this excess estrogen, our liver and our endocrine organs are being overloaded with toxins and unable to do their job right.

(This is the food consumption in 2009 in the US according to the USDA Economic Research Service)

   Unfortunately, the Standard American Diet also plays part in bringing some of this extra estrogen and other hormone disruptors into our bodies. Plastics, over-processed soy, pesticide residue in our produce, growth hormones and antibiotics in our meats - all this can play a significant role in the proper function of our organs. Don't forget that our bodies are an interconnected whole systems. No organ runs on its own and everything that we put in our bodies affects all of our systems.
  So how can we correct some of the problems, or maybe all of them, by eating the appropriate foods? I recently listened to a lecture by Dr David Katz , who did some research on the optimal diet for humans, and after looking into all of today's trends and their claims ( like vegan, paleo, Atkins, raw, vegetarian, etc), he got to the conclusion that the optimal diet for us can be defined like this: " Eat real food, not too much, mostly plants." . I love this! It is so straight forward and really can not be simpler than that. So make your sides a main meal, and your meat a side dish, if you want to consume any at all. Eat lots of colorful vegetables, dark leafy greens , vibrant with life, and add some responsibly raised meats, ideally grass fed and pasture raised. Use healthy fats like coconut oil, and foods rich in those precious fats , like avocados, raw walnuts, and seeds.
 Herbalist Rosemary Gladstar, in her fabulous book "Herbal Healing for Women", recommends incorporating seaweed in the diet of any women that experiences problem menstruation. Seaweed can be incorporated in your food or taken as a supplement, and it plays an important role in balancing those tricky hormones.

 STRESS is another factor  which causes imbalance in our bodies. Even though we have more conveniences than our ancestors, the stress in our everyday life has increased dramatically. The self imposed stress to be and look a certain way, to accomplish everything in as little time as possible, the lack of sleep. It all piles up and affects are bodies. Sleep deprivation causes hormonal imbalance and catching up on sleep on the weekend will not make up for stressing our systems the rest of the time. So the best thing you can do is to find your natural rhythm. Get between 7 - 9 hours of sleep each night. Go to bed early and sleep in complete darkness, so your body can have the time to repair and restore itself.
Practice relaxation techniques like meditation and gentle yoga. Journal or use your creative force and do crafts. This is not part of herbalism, but managing our emotional stress is a wonderful medicine that helps us bring our physical bodies back in balance.

THE IMAGE OF MENSTRUATION is the third important factor I think plays a role in how we feel during this time of the month, I really love to use the term "moon time" instead of menstruation or cycle. It brings me back to a more ancient time when women were powerful and revered as mysterious in their ability to create life . We are part of nature and its cycles. Our bodies have the unique ability to cleanse and renew themselves. Moon time is time of renewal and rebirth. It should not be viewed as a burden or as unclean. Nature gives us this chance to rest and recharge. In ancient times, menstruating women will often go to a place outside of their normal lives and homes, during their time of the month. Other women will bring them food and cater to their needs, since this was a time of rest and renewal. We are so busy in our modern lives, trying to be mothers and exceptional professionals, that we often forget we are women above all. We forget about our needs and our strengths, which can also be our biggest weaknesses.

Making lifestyle changes will not remove pain and bloating overnight. It will take at least a couple of months for your body to adjust, detox and re-balance. Fortunately, this is where some useful herbs come in handy. They will support this process of re-calibration of the body and will help ease up the symptoms of PMS , or regulate menstrual flow.
 If you are like me , and have a regular period with moderate flow, and occasionally experience bloating or breast tenderness, or maybe you experience milder PMS symptoms every month, there are a few common herbs that can help you when this time of the month comes around. I like to make a mix of nettles, red raspberry leaf and peppermint. It is a wonderful tonic tea. It supplies the body with easily absorbed calcium, which is important for a regular menstrual flow, and it strengthens the uterus. Peppermint helps relieve any mild cramping or pain. I like to take this tea about a week before my period starts, but if you have consistent symptoms every month, you can consume it on a daily basis as a nourishing infusion. I also like to put some maca  powder in my smoothies anytime I make one. It adds a wonderful caramel flavor and it is very nourishing to a woman's reproductive system.
 There are a couple of wonderful herbs you can add to the mix, if you experience more severe symptoms, or have irregular periods and irregular menstrual flow:

Vitex agnus ( or chaste berry) is becoming more and more popular in American herbalism. It has a stimulating effect on the pituitary gland, which helps to regulate hormone function. It helps produce hormones that enhance the progesterone cycle and thus balance out the estrogen cycle. It is a good herb for acute conditions, which means it will quickly act and help with pain and menstrual irregularities. It is also safe to take for long period of time , and herbalist Rosemary Gladstar suggests that women with endometriosis take this herb for up to a year to relieve their symptoms.

Another wonderful herb ,which is specifically used for the reproductive system, is Viburnum Opulus. Commonly known as Cramp bark, it is a very effective uterine nervine. It is the best herb to take for cramps, as it relaxes the uterine muscle and relieves the pain. It has a high tannin content , which helps with excessive bleeding.
Cramp bark is a good acute herb, but it can be taken for longer periods of time , with no known side effects. It is a good herb for women , who are just starting menopause and have excessive bleeding due to unbalanced hormones.

Have you used any of the herbs mentioned above? How do you deal with any discomforts of your moon time? Share with us! And during your next moon time, if possible, take at least one day of rest, and rejoice in the wonders of being a woman!

Herbs for Kids: FEVERS

 I am a mom of a 3 year old boy. I am part of a community of moms ,as well, whose children range from newborn to 10 years old. This brought me to the realization, that no matter what the diagnosis or the illness, a child having a fever is the one thing that always calls for " the big guns". I mean emergency room, over the counter medication, doctor's visits, and often enough, antibiotics. So. I thought it was appropriate, to start this new series of blogs with the topic of fevers.
 I have expressed my opinion about treating fevers in other posts, but I wanted to go in detail about why we do not treat fevers most of the time, and how I approach fevers as an herbalist.
 The first thing I want to really emphasize and get out there is this: FEVERS CAN BE A GOOD THING!!!! A fever is the body's immune response to viruses, bacteria, or fungi, and, like coughs or runny noses, it is just a symptom. The fever is not a sickness on its own , but most of the parents treat it like one, and focus primarily on treating the fever , without realizing that it is not the actual cause of sickness.
  In our herbal household , we do not treat fevers. We use herbs and homeopathic remedies to help the body during the healing process, which naturally lowers the fever.
 Here are a few simple reasons why I don't give my son an over-the-counter medication when he has a fever:

  1. Most viruses, like the flu, can not survive in the body, if the internal temperature is over 100 F. This means that, if I give my son medication to lower his fever, I will actually be prolonging his sickness, and I will be helping the virus survive longer in his body. 
  2. My son deals well with having a fever. What I mean by this is that he stays alert and playful, even with 104 F. You always have to judge the seriousness of the situation by appearance, more than by the number on the thermometer. No one knows your child better than you do. If your child looks lethargic and weak, even with a low grade fever, it can be a sign of something serious going on in the body. This is the moment, when you should be hurrying to the doctor's office or emergency room. If your child is like mine, and keeps jumping all over the house, even with "high" fever, then just let the body do what it does best, and heal itself. No medications needed in this case. 
  3. Over-the-counter medication can be harmful. I am not talking about the artificial dyes and sweeteners that plague all kids medications, even though more and more studies link allergies and behavioral problems to those ingredients in our food. I am talking about the fact that, by lowering a fever, we are stopping the body's way of fighting viruses, and thus giving them a chance to thrive again. Consistent use of OTC medication can teach the body that certain immune responses are unnecessary, since they are always interrupted. This can lead to more frequents sickness in children, due to the lowered immune response. Our bodies learn and adapt with the environment we provide for them, so let's teach them something good!
  4. There are many myths about the danger of fevers, and most of them are just that, myths. There are some good articles out there, written by doctors, that teach parents about the myths and facts about fevers. The myths I find most parents fear are that high fevers can cause brain damage and seizures. But know this, only fevers of 108 F and above can cause brain damage, and only 4% of children get seizures, when they have high fever. If fevers still seem scary to you, know that, there are multiple homeopathic and herbal remedies you can use to help the body through the healing process , which will also lower the fever response.  ( Read more about the Myths and Facts about Fevers here.)

 Now let's talk about some natural ways you can treat a fever.  I don't know , if "treat" is the best way to describe what herbs do, because these are actually ways to help the body through the healing process, which results in lowering the fever. So, here are a few ways we do this in our house:
  • The most important thing to remember when your child has a fever is to keep them hydrated. Dehydration is far more dangerous than a number on the thermometer, especially with younger children. Make sure your child drinks plenty of fluids- water, teas, diluted juices. I do not recommend milk here, as I consider milk a food, not a beverage. If you notice any signs of dehydration ( parched lips, dark urine,etc) or you child refuses to drink liquids , while sweating profusely for hours, you definitely need to see a doctor. Dehydration is something that I take very seriously and it is my number one priority to keep myself , and my son, hydrated all the time. Dehydration can prevent our internal organs from functioning properly and keep toxins in our bodies. Just remember this, an average adult's body is made of about 60% water. Infants' bodies are made of about 75-78% water. Water really is life!
  • Do not worry if your child is not eating! It is a natural reaction of the body. When we are sick, our bodies are trying to focus all the energy we have into the healing process. Food often takes away that focus and forces the body to use energy for other processes, like digestion. So when your child is sick ,and refuses food, do not worry. This will not make them weaker, since you can use little tricks to keep the body nourished , without overwhelming the system. Use things like nourishing infusions, homemade broths, or freshly squeezed juices to provide the body with instant nourishment and hydration at the same time. I still do not recommend milk, because most children have a cough or runny/stuffed nose , which accompany the fever. Milk can be mucus forming and can add to the problem when the body is trying to get rid of the phlegm.
  • Use herbs to support the bodies natural processes. We always give our son Echinacea Glycerite to support his immune system and increase the immune response. Often times, this is enough to prevent a more serious illness and fever from appearing, if you catch that runny nose early enough, of course. We also use a lot of herbal infusions. I give my son a variety of herbs, since he is almost four now. If you have to treat an infant with a fever , the best herb is elderberry flower. It is very gentle and will quickly lower a fever. An infusion mixed into breast milk or formula will quickly get in the baby's system. I really like to give nursing mothers the same teas, their children are supposed to be drinking , since their healing power is transferred through the breast milk. Moms and older kids can also add some peppermint and yarrow to the mix.
  • Give your kid a hot bath! It is a wonderful way to lower the body's temperature. I let my little boy play in the tub , filled with hot water. I like to add some Epson salts mixed with a few drops of lavender or peppermint essential oil. Older kids can benefit from just soaking their feet in a hot water bath with sea salt, or again, Epson salts and essential oils. After they are done with the bath, it is best if the kids stay in bed, well covered and don't forget a warm pair of socks on their feet. Let them sleep if they want, and make sure to have a spare set of clothing nearby, as they will start sweating profusely. 
  • Make Apple Cider Vinegar your friend! I use diluted apple cider vinegar for compresses when there is a stubborn fever, when the body has a dry heat, there is no sweating and I need a little something to help jump start the healing process. I soak wash cloths in a mixture of vinegar and water, and put them on my son's ( works on husbands too ) forehead and wrists. I wipe his neck with the cool cloth as well. I usually do this throughout the day and then try the hot bath method at night, if the fever is still going. 

 What home remedies do you have for fevers? Do you treat fevers in your house? Share with us, as I am always curious to learn from others' experience!

Backyard Medicine : YARROW

Botanical Name: Achillea Millefolium

Family: Asteraceae ( Aster )

Parts used: Flowers, Leaves, Roots

 Yarrow is one of my favorite plants. It has been an ally of mine for so many years, that I can not imagine not having it around for medicine. I love the strong smell of the plant, and often, when walking through a field, I rub my hand over its flowers and leaves, just so I can take the scent with me. Yarrow has such potent medicine that you can smell it and taste it. I even love the bitter taste that most people are trying to avoid. :)

 Yarrow's healing powers have been used for thousands of years. It borrows its name from the ancient hero Achilles, who is said to have treated battle wounds with yarrow. The second part of the plant's botanical name is also a guide to identifying it. Millefolium comes from Lating and means "one thousand leaves". Next time you walk by a patch of yarrow , take a look at its feathery leaves , it's like a thousand in one.

 Yarrow grows everywhere, which gives me another reason to love the plant. I grew up in Bulgaria, picking yarrow for medicine, and now I am showing the plants to my little boy, here, in Colorado. It does prefer a dryer spot in the garden or field, so look for it out of the shades and into the sunny open fields.

 As I am writing all this, the scent of yarrow flowers is still lingering with me , after our hike. I actually have to control myself not to pick any more yarrow, when we hike,and it is all around me. A little obsessed maybe? But here is why:

  •  Yarrow is a diaphoretic, which means it will make you sweat. This is a fever's worst enemy. So next time you come down with the flu, make yourself a strong infusion of yarrow flowers, take a hot shower and wrap yourself in a warm blanket. This will make you sweat and bring the fever down in no time. Yarrow is also a mild immune stimulant and great anti-bacterial plant, which aids the healing process even further. 
  •  Yarrow can be used to stop bleeding - external and internal. It is a great first aid herb. It will stop a nosebleed in seconds. I like to carry a tiny container with the powdered herb as part of my herbal first aid kit. You can also bruise the leaves of the fresh herb and apply them directly on the wound. Internally, it can be taken as an infusion, a tincture, or in capsule form. 
  •  I really like using yarrow for feminine problems. I think it is one of the herbs every woman should have in her medicine chest. It does wonders when you need to get rid of stubborn yeast infections, or if you have an abnormal discharge. I would recommend taking capsule of the whole herb in situations like this , so that it can affect the whole body internally, since yarrow has an affinity for the bladder as well and can help in preventing bacterial overgrowth and UTIs.
  Convinced of yarrow's magical powers yet? Here is some more:

  • Yarrow is quite bitter, which gently stimulates and cleanses the liver. I would recommend drinking the infusion, since your taste buds need to taste the bitterness to stimulate the response in your system. 
  •  Yarrow is a mild immune stimulant, so if you used up all your echinacea tincture, try some yarrow instead. I love putting it in my winter herbal infusions. Mixed with herbs like peppermint, elderberry and thyme, its bitter taste is barely detectable.
 I can go on and on about yarrow, but I know by now you are probably eager to go out and pick some for yourself. Some of you are probably eyeing the neighbor's garden patch, full of pink and yellow blossoms of yarrow. Do not pick those. Head for the woods, or the park ( if it is not sprayed) , or an open field outside of town, and look for the white blossoms of the wild yarrow.  Those hold the potent medicine that you want. Pick responsibly and have fun. I like using fresh plants ( stalks, leaves and flowers) for tincture, and I like to dry some to have on hand later. I use the flowers in my herbal teas and powder the stalks and leaves.

 Do you have any other uses for yarrow? Share below!

Backyard Medicine: ROSE

Botanical name : Rosa spp.

Family: Rosaceae

Parts used : petals, leaves, fruit (rose hips)

 It is a wonderful year for the wild roses in our little corner of the world. The long winter and the summer rains provided enough moisture for them to grow green and lush. Pink blossoms in all shades,from dark magenta to pale pink, are everywhere. They feel the air with a dreamy fragrance. The scent of roses, mixed with the smell of moist earth and pine resin, brings my senses into a sort of trance. It is a soul medicine on its own.
 I often use wild roses in my remedies, but I was kind of stuck in this habit of just using the fruit , the rose hips. I put them in my teas and tinctures, and I was praising their great antioxidant qualities. Rose hips are full of vitamin C and are a great part of our winter routine, for keeping our family healthy.
 When I was little, we used to love eating rose hip jam, smeared over butter on a thick slice of sourdough bread. I still dream of making my own jam one day, but I have not gathered the patience to go through hours of removing all the tiny seeds .
 This year I discovered another side of the wild rose. I wanted to connect with this plant at its most bold state. The fragrant petals and the luscious leaves in various shades of pink and green. I've been reading more and more about their uses. The wild energy that they bring, the gentleness of a blossom and the fierceness of the thorns.
 Roses are more often associated with fragrance than herbal healing.But it turns out that wild roses have been part of our craft for thousands of years. They are from the same plant family as hawthorn, apples, almonds, strawberries, raspberries and blackberries ( to mention a few) - Rosaceae, the Rose family. Roses carry a lot of the properties of their brothers and sisters. Like hawthorn, The wild rose will strengthen the heart and will improve blood flow and circulation. It is a great antioxidant . Like raspberry, it will help with feminine problems and will strengthen the uterus. Some herbalists recommend taking rose elixir to help ease cramps and other PMS symptoms. A tincture from the rose petals and young leaves has a very relaxing effect on the body. It will ease the mind and promote healthy sleep.
 I use rose petals in my Blossom Beauty facial mask and in a wonderful tincture I call Brain Tonic. I love to make creams and lotions with the essential oil and I grew up using rose water as part of my beauty routine.
 While I am writing all this, I am looking at the jar of Wild Rose Elixir brewing on my counter and I can't wait to try it. I feel inspired and excited, as if I have found a long lost friend, with many stories to tell and a vast knowledge to share.

 I hope you too feel inspired to discover yet another plant ally with me. And I am sure that a lot of you have already experienced the healing power of the rose.
 The last thing I want to share with you is a very simple and easy recipe for a rose elixir. It is also beautiful and delicious. You will need a mason jar in a size of your choice. I prefer a quart wide mouth jar when I make remedies for myself, as I feel it provides me with enough to enjoy until next season and share with friends. Fill the jar of your choice with rose petals. If you prefer a more medicinal and stronger elixir, use both petals and young green leaves. When you are done playing outside, and your jar is full of fragrant roses, fill it a quarter of the way with raw local honey or vegetable glycerin, and the rest with alcohol of you choice. I used raw honey and 80 proof vodka in mine, as I did not want a high alcohol content for this elixir. Leave it on the counter and admire the color changes for a few weeks. When you are ready, strain it and keep it in a cool dark place. Enjoy it in your tea at night or as part of your moon time routine, or simply when you need to add a little beauty to your being.

 Summer is the time of discovery for us herbalists. Play outside and be adventurous!

Backyard Medicine: USNEA

 All my friend are posting pictures of sprouting herbs and spring landscapes, the occasional blossoming tree. But I live in Colorado and spring is long way away for us still. It is 14 degrees in the mornings and we still get some flurries in the air. I have to say that I am a little jealous of all the nettle picking herb people right now, but a walk in the woods reminds me why I love Colorado. Herbal medicine is never further than my back yard, even in the winter time. So, today I want to talk to you about a wonderful plant , which you can find even when snow is still covering the earth. Join me for some winter medicine making!

USNEA is a lichen , which means it is a symbiosis between a fungus and an algae. This alone makes it extraordinary to me. But nature didn't stop there and added some extra ordinary health benefits to the mix.
  Usnea can be found almost anywhere in the United States but it really thrives in the wet environment of the Pacific Northwest. I have no problem finding it where I live in Colorado at 8000ft altitude. Here it grows up to a couple of inches long and it loves the dying pine trees and junipers.
 Usnea can be easily identified. The outer green-grey layer is the algae and if it is usnea, when you pull that apart, it exposes an inner, slightly elastic, white layer, which is the fungus.If it does not have the inner white layer , it is not usnea.
 Usnea is also called Old Man's Beard , so you might be familiar with it this way. It is a cooling and drying plant , so it is very useful when there is a condition accompanied by fever or dry cough. It has an affinity for the mucus membranes in the body, and it is often used for lung congestion or urinary tract infections. 
 According to herbalist Ryan Drum, usnea is the best plant antibiotic we have to treat any gram positive bacterial infection. It is especially effective against Staph and Strep, two of he most common bacterial infections we know. Use of usnea can often eliminate the need for pharmaceutical antibiotics, which can not only kill the bacterial infection but often disrupt our gut environment and thus disrupt the function of our immune system. Usnea's antibacterial action doesn not kill all of the bacteria living in our bodies which means there is a chance of a quicker re-population of the gut with good bacteria and re-balancing of the immune system.
 Herbalist Paul Bergner recommends combining usnea with echinacea or osha root, when there is a cold, flu , or throat inflammation with suspected bacterial infection.

Usnea is best used in powder, tincture or salve form. If you are treating an internal bacterial infection ,it is best to take the tincture. When you have a wound that might seem infected , you can apply a salve topically, or usnea in powdered form , in order to heal or prevent infection. A lot of people are afraid to use powdered herbs in wounds because it looks like they are contaminating the area instead of keeping it sterile. But I like using powdered herbs to stop bleeding (yarrow), to prevent infection ( usnea or bee propolis , which is not really an herb, but it does a wonderful job), and to speed healing ( comfrey or plantain). I think powdered herbs are easy to carry around and complement the use of salves and tinctures in healing topical problems like cuts, scrapes, or deeper wounds that bleed and stay open longer, increasing the chance of infection.

What do you think? Isn't usnea amazing? I think it is wonderful that as "herby" people we can keep up with our craft in any season. Usnea is easy to find in the winter time and it will give its medicine to anyone who appreciates it. Have in mind that usnea is a pretty slow growing lichen in the drier parts of the country and don't over harvest it. You can often find it on fallen branches after a storm. I do not consider usnea a parasitic plant since it does not harm the trees that it lives on. Some herbalists say it even acts as "lungs" for the dying trees and the forest.
 I hope you are inspired to go outside and find this wonderful lichen. Creating backyard medicine is possible even with feet of snow outside our doors. And if you live where spring is in the air and the plants are poking heir green shoots through the wet earth, then enjoy your time outside even more, and look up every once in a while to discover the wonderful ally usnea can be.

Eat Your Colors

 We've all heard the phrase "Eat your colors!"  but do most of us know what it means?
A lot of people think that Mother Nature is into pretty things and that is why she makes such a variety of colors and flavors. I've come to learn that everything we see in Nature has it's purpose. It's like a huge educational jigsaw puzzle and I don't claim to have all the pieces but here is what I have gathered during my years of exploring.
 When it comes to healthy food, a lot of us focus on things like Protein, Fat , Fiber, Omega-3 Fatty acid, Carbohydrates, but we never talk about Purple, Orange, Green, or Yellow. We sometimes even talk about Vitamins and Minerals, and how adding them to our daily regimen will make us healthier, but again we never talk about White or Red ( well, maybe sometimes, and it's always about wine with those two).
 It turns out that there is a lot to learn about colors, and colors are not colors at all, they are tiny miracle workers, called phytonutrients, created by Nature to heal and protect.
 There are thousands of phytonutrients identified by scientists. They are only found in plants ("phyto" = plant in Greek) and work together with the vitamin, mineral and fiber content of those plants to protect them from damage or heal any damage that is already done. They have the same effect on the human body and that is why a rainbow on your plate every day will definitely keep the doctor away.

All green plants contain chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is one of the great detoxifiers of the body. It helps the liver produce enzymes which help the body get rid of potentially carcinogenic substances. Chlorophyll also delivers oxygen in your blood and it will help a great deal if you are anemic. It builds the blood,as we herbalists like to say. Midwives often recommend some form of chlorophyll to women who lose a lot of blood during labor in order to heal their system and build back their strength. The darker the green color of a plant, the more chlorophyll it contains.
Green plants are also full of Vitamin K, folic acid, potassium, and Omega-3 fatty acid. So if you are worried about blood clots, high blood preasure, or if you want a healthy baby , eat your greens.

When it comes to reds,there are three main things to remember : resveratrol, lycopene, and capsacin. You want all those as your friends. Resveratrol is found in red grapes and red wine ( yes, I said wine, you can open that bottle for dinner). It helps inhibit inflamation in the body. Capsacin is found in hot red peppers, like cayenne or chillis. If you ask Dr. John Christopher, founder of the School of Natural Healing, cayenne is a heal-all. It will bring blood to parts of the body that need it most in order to start the healing of those parts. It will help with poor blood circulation and can save you from a heart attack,. It will also heal your sore muscles and stop a bleeding ulcer.
Lycopene is a phytonutrient that has become more known in the later years. It is a carotenoid that has proven cancer preventing and heart strengthening benefits. Your best source of lycopene is cooked tomatoes. Cooking makes this phytonutrient more accessible for the body.

We've all heard that purple foods contain a lot of antioxidants and that is why we should eat blueberries in our oatmeal/yoghurt every morning. The color purple ( and some hues of red and blue) in fruits, veggies and flowers, comes from a compound called anthocyanin. It gives the plant a potent cancer fighting power, it can lower blood pressure and "bad" cholesterol, and since in Nature it is all about balance, it also increases "good" cholesterol. Purple plants and foods have been a part of almost every culture and healing system around the world. Think of Elderberry, and it's potent anti-viral and anti-microbial properties; or enjoy a bowl of Forbidden rice with it's beautiful purple/almost black color, it contains more anthocyanins per serving than blueberries. Purple foods also have the ability to heal and improve the function of the liver.

Yellow fruits and vegetables are full of carotenoids and flavonoids, as well as Vitamin C. As children we were told that eating our carrots will help keep our eyes healthy and our vision good. Guess what? Mom wasn't joking.  Beta-carotene is one of the most active compounds in yellow and orange colored fruits and vegetables. It gives them their distinctive sunshine color and helps keep our eyes happy and healthy.
Vitamin C rich foods help boost our immune system, help our body rebuild collagen supplies, keep your artheries clean and your blood preesure where it needs to be. Think about that : there is even a disease , called scurvy, which is caused by defficiency of Vitamin C in the body. It is that important!

 So, next time you are in the supermarket, or the farmers market, or even better, your own garden, try a new color. You don't even have to explore the exotic foods stand. If you like carrots, try them in purple or yellow! Purple potato salad , anyone? Or maybe, try some yellow and purple beans, instead of their green cousins, this spring! And most important, have fun with your food! Anyone can be an artist!

What is the best herbal remedy for you?

 I have been busy lately and missing from this virtual space. I've been focusing my creative energy on making herbal magic. Beautiful and delicious herbal remedies that will nourish body and soul. We all need to focus on our creativity from time to time and take care of our mind as well as our bodies.
 I wanted to share with you the projects I've been working on and to talk about ways to get most out of your herbal remedies.  I am convinced that a lot of the times when people claim herbs don't work for them , it is because they do not use the proper method of preparation. I always say, that if  I managed to convince my husband in choosing an herbal regimen over traditional blood pressure medication, then anyone can successfully find plants that will work for their specific problem. We are all unique and we can not be treated in the same way. This is one of the mistakes of modern medicine. Herbal remedies are as individual as the person who takes them. I know it sounds like a lot of work , and like we all should be herbalists in order to find our way around the massive amount of information out there. Believe me , it is actually a lot simpler than this. Everybody can benefit from the same herbal infusions, or tinctures, or herbal capsules, it's just a matter of choosing the right method of preparation.
 Here are a few tips on how to choose the most beneficial herbal preparation for (almost) any given situation:
  • Are you trying to treat an acute or a chronic condition? - This is very important since an acute condition requires immediate action , like when you have the flu, or are experiencing gastrointestinal discomfort and diarrhea. I really like using tinctures for acute conditions since they bring the right concentrated amount of the herb's beneficial compound in a small dose.  For example, when I notice my 3 year old getting sick , I often give him Echinacea Glycerite. It is much easier to give him a dropperful of liquid than to make him drink enormous amounts of tea. It is quick and simple to administer , and I can be sure that he gets the right amount of medicine to prevent the upcoming cold. A chronic condition on the other hand often requires a long term protocol of herbal medicine complemented by diet, exercise and other alternative healing methods like acupuncture, massage , etc. This may require smaller doses of herbal medicine that builds up in the system in order to nourish and balance, rather than promote an immune reaction. For example, my husband manages his high blood pressure with a combination of herbs which he takes as an infusion daily , as well as some herbal capsules, proper diet and exercise. He drinks a little over a quart of a wonderful tea , called Brave Heart, which I created for him. It helps to gently detoxify his body by supporting gut function and has some herbs that strengthen the heart muscle and manage his body's ability to handle stress. He also takes a great herbal formula with cayenne to stimulate proper blood circulation in his body. His diet is made of real food, no "low fat" or "low carb", or other labels that might make it look healthier. Just home made. We eat pastured eggs and bacon, and wonderful sourdough bread, tons of fermented veggies, and antibiotic and hormone free meats, as well as tons of veggies and fruits. This is something he can follow for a long time and it helps to bring his body to balance. Do not forget that everything in nature is created with the ability to protect and heal itself. Our bodies just need a little reminder of how to do it.
  • Are you taking the right dose for you? - I think this is the second most important thing that we should focus on. Often, people purchase an herbal supplement and they look at the label in order to determine how much to take. It is a good general guideline but you have to know that it might not work for you. We all have different age and weight and different tolerance to the plants. Some people might need just a few drops of a tincture and some might need a whole dropperful to feel the effect. So, the general rule is to start small , maybe 5 drops of a tincture or one capsule of an herbal formula , and then build up to the amount that gives you the desired effect. Do not forget that your body might not tolerate the same herbs as my body does. But don't worry , Mother Nature has something for all of us. There are many plants which might seem similar in their function, but can be tolerated differently by different people. For example, if you need a nervine,something to calm you down, but not put you to sleep, you might want to try a cup of chamomile tea at night, or add some lemon balm, or tincture of skullcap. Just listen to your body!
  • Is this the latest marketing trick? - I think people often ignore backyard medicine over the latest "discovery" on the news. My general rule is: Do your research. Take the time to get to know what grows around you, especially if you still live in the climate where you grew up. If you are an outdoors person it is good to know the plants that are available to you in the wild , so you can have medicine when you need it. A dandelion can be more healing than a plant you can not pronounce. It is a lot cheaper as well. Backyard medicine is often free and it can actually connect you to a wonderful crowd of people that cherish the Earth and its treasures. community can be therapeutic as well. :)
  • Are you taking a whole herb preparation? - I am a strong believer in the amazing properties of plants as nature created them. I don't like to take single constituents derived from even the safest plant. Things can go very wrong. Think about the fact that many of the conventional medications come from plants and they still tag an enormous list of side effects. Isn't this what we want to avoid? On the other hand, nature has created plants with such a diverse number of constituents, that even modern science hasn't been able to catch up yet. Usually plants contain an active compound ( often more than one) and additional compounds which allow our bodies to properly utilize its main function and which protect us from harmful effects and overdosing. Taking only isolated active compounds in pill form is what gives some herbs, like comfrey and ephedra, their bad reputation. Choose herbal infusions, syrups, tinctures, or whole plant capsules for your herbal needs. I want to add that I do recommend essential oils in some cases and they can be a miracle worker when you are on the go, even though they are not whole plant product. But it will take another blog post to dive into such a vast subject like essential oils. 
I hope this short list of questions might help you choose the right herbal preparation for your needs. Trying new things is the best way to figure out what works best for you. If you purchase a tincture , or a syrup, or an infusion, and it doesn't work for you, do not throw it away. Just pass it along to a friend or a family member, or save it for another time when your body might need it.  

What herbal preparations are your favorite?

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year everyone! I hope it is filled with joy and dreams come true! I wish you successful journeys to health and positive thinking! In the spirit of new beginnings I wanted to share my New Year's resolution with you.

LOVE YOUR BODY IN ANY SHAPE OR SIZE! It is the only one you have! It is the only way you can enjoy every moment of every day and live life fully! Take care of your body, give it nourishing food and love every curve!

MEET PEOPLE WHO INSPIRE YOU! Do not allow anyone to put you down! Listen to people's stories and share your own. We are not alone in our journey! Thank you for the support and inspiration!

THINK POSITIVE THOUGHTS! This is the first step to achieving any goal! It attracts more positive events in your life! This is the mindset of happy people. Be happy!

What is on your list in 2014?