St John’s Wort is a tricky one.
It is so beautiful with its sunny yellow flowers, perforated leaves and unique purpley-red dye that stains your fingers when the buds are squished.
We use St John’s Wort as an anti-anxiety/anti-depressant remedy “sunshine in a bottle”, as a powerful wound healer in our Herbal Healing Salve, as a sunscreen and currently, I am working on a new face cream recipe with St John’s Wort-infused almond oil as an SPF component.
For years, my St John’s Wort oils and tinctures never had the red hue that they should have had.
I was either using my own harvest from our local forest or quality sourced St John’s Wort from a local herb shop. All of these were used dried.
My oils and tinctures were very often amber or slightly brownish. I didn’t understand why.
After doing some research, it was made clear to me that the drying process degrades the medicinal action of St John’s Wort, therefore, for St John’s Wort to be as effective as possible, it must be processed while fresh. The buds and flowers hold the bulk of the medicinal constituents. This makes harvesting a bit trickier.
In our area, St John’s Wort grows everywhere, but blooms for only two short weeks at the end of June/early July according to the weather and elevation. This gives me two weeks of harvest near my house and an additional week (if I’m lucky) in the hills at a higher elevation.
I use St John’s Wort all year in oil and tincture form. It is highly prized here and if it can only be processed fresh for best results, then I have to get myself out harvesting and harvest often during this couple of week window that I have.
I harvest the tops of the plants, gathering as many buds as possible. Leaving them for a couple of days to wilt, I then chop just the buds and flower heads up as finely as possible and infuse them in oil or alcohol. I leave stems and leaves to add to my Keep Calm Tea.
Using this method, my oils and tinctures have been a deep red colour and I feel their potency has markedly improved.
While none of these tools in my Herbalist’s Tool Box are necessary, there are many (all of them, really) that make a big difference to the quality of processing and the efficiency/convenience when having to make bigger batches or process a bulk of herbs.
The Vacuum Sealer
I have boxes and boxes of dried herbs which I store in alphabetised plastic crates. Until recently, I stored them in paper bags. This worked well, except for the issues of opened bags, space limitations, contamination of one herb to another and spillage.
My husband heard my concerns and brought home for me this vacuum sealer. It’s pretty decent, does the job and was inexpensive.
I like to be organised and efficient. It helps me to accomplish more in the limited time that I have.
Next to my dehydrator, I keep my vacuum sealer, extra rolls of vacuum seal bags, scissors and a permanent marker.
I prepare for vacuum sealing by cutting some strips off the roll and vacuum sealing an end.
As soon as the plant material has made its way out of the dehydrator, I pop it into the vacuum seal bag. This is horsetail (Equisetum).
It then gets vacuumed sealed. This takes about 30 seconds.
I label and date it and then pop it into its appropriate bin.
I am able to store so much more now, in a cleaner and fresher environment. As I use the herbs, if I don’t need all of what is in the bag, I just re-seal it and re-label it.
Since I have it set up right next to my dehydrator, it has become a part of this routine and has added only a couple of minutes to my processing procedure.
Update: The company that my husband works for, eujuicers and Sana products, is making a prototype vacuum sealer. I am very excited to test it and let you know the results. Until then, I am satisfied with my Razorri.
This year, after a year of dedicated bio gardening, the ladybugs have returned with a vengeance. It’s like Nature is helping me out; I don’t poison, and she sends me the bugs I need instead.
The ladybugs have taken up residence in my tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) plants.
They spend their days eating aphids…and getting it on…I have never seen such obscene behaviour, even on a nature documentary. If you are of the ilk with more delicate sensibilities, hide your eyes….
My first Nature Walk was a great success. My fellow Herbal Warriors and I had a great time together identifying medicinal plants and then making infused oils.
After spraying ourselves with Leave Me Alone! Insect Repellent (and some tick spray on our shoes, just to be safe), we headed out armed with plant identification cards that I made specific to this forest, bottled water, gloves and bags fro carrying our harvest.
The cards were really useful in aiding our identification of medicinal plants…even some toxic ones.
These lovely girls have found cleavers (Gallium aparine). Super fun!
It was lovely to be out in nature with like-minded people. We shared our personal experiences with these plants and enjoyed being among our fellow creation, humans and plants in synergy.
Afterwards, we were treated to Dan’s fresh-baked strawberry-rhubarb cobbler, all picked freshly that morning, complete with oat flakes he had specially ground for the crumble topping. Thanks, Dan!
Everyone got to choose herbs that we had seen on our walk to make an infused oil to take home. The herbs were ground up in our juicer and then olive oil was added.
Here are the identification cards I made for our Nature Walk. I should have put them in alphabetical order…this is on my to do list.
My next Nature Walk will highlight late summer plants.
A tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) leaf, chive (Allium schoenoprasum) blossom and a flower stalk from Salvia caradonna…
I took a brief walk in my garden to think, relax and meditate before my Herbal Workshop last Sunday. I cut a few leaves here, a few flowers there and popped them into some old Coke bottles. They look lovely on my simple wooden table.
After arriving at my house, each participant was offered freshly made sun tea and herbal citrus water. While they enjoyed the refreshment, we went over the recipes for that day’s herbal remedies. Spa Recipes 20.5
The goal of this workshop was to demystify the metamorphosis that happens when water and oil are emulsified into a cream. I remember the first time I made a cream, it was like I had become a wizard or an alchemist. To blend a host of waters with a mixture of oils into a smooth cream was magical.
First, the oils and wax are melted in a double boiler on low heat.
This is then left to cool. We treated ourselves to a delicious cherry and chocolate coffee cake (brought by one of the participants. Thanks, Pamela!) while we waited for the oil mixture to cool. It was a lovely sunny day in the garden, perfect for chatting and chilling while we waited.
After about 20 minutes, the oils had partially solidified and we were ready for stage two. The oils were scraped into a blender and set to high speed.
We added the water mixture into the vortex of the blending oils and…VOILA!
A beautiful sight, this is. A perfectly blended face cream. It smells and feels so good and is super healing for your skin.
Everyone filled their jar with the cream, they could choose either Chamomile or Calendula, and affixed super cute labels on (all designed and hand-drawn by my daughter, Rebekah). The rest of the cream was scraped out meticulously and soon everyone was applying it to their faces, arms, legs…it was pretty funny.
All the workshop participants left with their cream of choice, some salve samples and a magazine from my friend Marek who runs a juicer company, mipam.cz. He provided for us that day a Vitamix blender (so I could have more than one blender running) and even coupons for products that he sells. Thanks, Marek!
I am really looking forward to our next workshops!
Photo credit: Zeinep Yessenbekova
Most herbs are effectively drying. The combined actions of the overwhelming majority of herbs lead to some driving out of fluids from the body. These actions can be in the form of increasing urination or sweating through diuresis and diaphoresis, drying up swelling through astringency, draining fluids from the GI tract through tonic bitterness, and expectorating mucous from the lungs. These would be seen as physiological effects of action from plants with predominantly drying characteristics. Many other plants have drying effects stemming from their overall energetic qualities, such as being warming. Most herbs that are warming tend to be at least somewhat drying as heat has a tendency to increase dryness.
Astringency is one of, if not the most, important drying characteristc. This action directly effects the tissues themselves. Astringents contract and tighten tissues, prevent liquids from being lost and remedy fluid accumulation and stagnancy. Astringents can express either cooling or warming energetics and it is good form to understand their unique characteristics when combining them in astringent formulas.
It is imperative to know the list of moistening herbs when making formulas, as it is essential to add herbs with some moistening characteristics in order to balance out the drying effects of most herbs within the formula.
According to Materia Medica Monthly:
“From an Ayurvedic perspective, herbs which are drying would be said to aggravate the vata dosha, which is the constitutional type associated with dryness- whereas kapha is associated with moisture in the form of water and pitta is associated with moisture in the form of oils. This shows that administering moistening demulcent plants is critical for treating vata, especially if there are other remedies you wish to give them, such as nervines and antispasmodics for their nervousness, stress and tension. The vata dosha is considered one of the more difficult constitutions to treat because it is associated with the Ether Element (wind) and is thus constantly changing. “
Having a dry constitution (yin deficiency) is an increasing pattern in our western culture and it is important to recognise the symptoms of a dry tissue state and administer appropriate moistening herbs and refrain from drying herbs in order to bring about balance. Unfortunately, a dry tissue state inhibits the functionality of herbs administered as the dryness does not allow for proper absorption of the plant’s medicinal constituents thus rendering the remedy ineffectual.
According to Materia Medica Monthly:
“Signs of an excess of dryness includes: dry eyes, skin, hair, cracked nails, dry mucous in the nose, dry stool/constipation, nervousness, fatigue, tension, anxiety, insomnia, musculoskeletal tension, cracking/popping joints, and a dry tongue. If you see these signs and symptoms, it is critical that either you do not administer any drying herbs, or if you do, that you are giving an adequate amount of moistening, demulcent, yin supplementing herbs and foods to balance the drying effects of the other herbs.”
Bayberry (Myrica cerifera)
Calendula (Calendula officinalis)
Cinnamon (Cinnamomum spp.)
Elecampane (Inula helenium)
Horehound (Marrubium vulgare)
Horse Chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum)
Pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellata)
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
Sage (Salvia officinalis)
Schizandra (Schisandra chinensis)
Turmeric (Curcuma longa)
Yerba Mansa (Anemopsis californica)
Agrimony (Agrimonia eupatoria)
Blackberry root (Rubus spp.)
Cranesbill (Geranium maculatum)
Eyebright (Euphrasia officinalis)
Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis)
Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis)
Gotu Kola (Centella asiatica)
Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna)
Horsetail (Equisetum arvense)
Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla vulgaris)
Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria)
Nettle (Urtica dioica)
Oak bark (Quercus alba)
Plantain (Plantago major)
Red Root (Ceanothus americanus)
Shepherd’s Purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris)
Uva-Ursi (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi)
Willow (Salix alba)
Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana)
Wood Betony (Stachys betonica)
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
Thank you Materia Medica Monthly for this list
Right now, Chickweed (Stellaria media) is growing all around us. In decent, moist soil, and partly in the shade, chickweed thrives. It has beautiful five-petaled flowers (the petals are so deeply lobed that they appear to have ten petals). A discerning characteristic is a line of fine hairs on the stem that alternate sides at each node.
I encourage chickweed to grow in my garden and harvest it as I happen upon it at every opportunity. Chickweed is at its most medicinally potent fresh, so dried chickweed isn’t really an option for me. I have to be a busy bee and gather as much as I can right now to put up immediately for tinctures and oils. Chickweed is an important ingredient in my Detox Tea and Detox Tea:Warm and Moist, as well as in my Lovely Liver Herbal Extract and You Go, Girl! Women’s Remedy.
Today’s recipe is for a really special skin salve that helps itchy skin, relieves rashes and is a great all-around skin soother.
(Special infusion instructions for Chickweed: Harvest fresh chickweed. Cut or chop into fine pieces. Allow to wilt in a dry place for at least a day, but no more than two. Put in a clean, sterilised jar, filling the jar to the top. Pour in oil until the plant material is fully covered. Put it on a sunny warm windowsill for 6-8 weeks or put in a bread maker on the lowest heat setting for 24 hours. Shake often.)
In a double boiler (or a pot nestled in a larger pot filled with a bit of water) over medium heat, add the oils and beeswax.
Stir until the beeswax melts and is fully incorporated.
Remove from the heat and allow to cool for a moment.
Add the essential oils. Stir.
Pour into clean and sterilised jars.
Chickweed: astringent, carminative, demulcent, diuretic, expectorant, laxative, refrigerant, vulnerary, antihistamine, affinity for skin conditions: relieves any kind of roseola and is effective wherever there are fragile superficial veins or itching skin conditions.
Chamomile: analgesic, anodyne, anti-inflammatory, nervine, sedative, vasoconstrictor, vulnerary, anti-fungal, antibacterial, antiseptic, and contains essential oils and antioxidants.
Lavender: affinity for skin disorders such as acne, wrinkles, psoriasis, and other inflammatory conditions, synergy with chamomile in treating eczema. Vulnerary, anti-inflammatory, nervine.
Want to buy it directly from me? Shop here.
In my last post about Detox Teas, I talked about a detox tea that has really worked for our family and many of my clients. Given the information about plant energetics and how plants and people should be matched according to compatible or opposite energetics to support balance, we know that there is not one solution to every problem.
One of my friends, Adolf Jana, tried my detox tea and found it too cooling and drying. His normal constitution is already cool/dry and this tea exacerbated this and put him out of balance.
Adolf works with clients using nutritional therapy. He sometimes prescribes my teas for clients needing herbal support.
He asked me to reformulate my Detox Tea for one of his clients so that it would be more warming and moistening. Here is the result of that challenge:
Listed next to the herbs are the systems, organs or actions which they influence.
3 parts Chamomile (nervous, digestive, excretory, cardiovascular, integumentary)
2 parts Hyssop (liver, blood, respiratory)
2 parts fennel seed (diuretic, digestive, respiratory, cardiovascular)
2 parts Plantain (integumentary, blood, excretory)
1 part Burdock (integumentary, blood, diuretic, lymphatic)
1 part Angelica (liver, digestive, tonic)
1 part Licorice (adrenal, digestive, tonic, respiratory)
1 part Chickweed (blood, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant)
1 part Cinnamon (blood, antioxidant, cardiovascular)
Allergy season is upon us…it feels like my head is filled with fluff, my eyes are swimming in sand and my lungs coated in pollen grains. I can’t stop coughing or sneezing and my nose is running like a sieve.
Today, I went on a nature hike with my 5th and 6th grade class. There was a ton of pollen in the air, I couldn’t stop coughing and I was completely fatigued trying to breathe. It’s pretty bad for everyone this season. I must have looked AMAZING because one of my 5th grade boys said, ” Miss Krista, you look like you have green under your eyes. You look really unwell.” Imagine that said by a little kid with a British accent. I thought to myself that this little guy has about 10 years to figure out how to talk to women.
We live in a beautiful swathe of nature in South Bohemia. The forest is right behind our house, bordered by farmland. This year, on all the farms surrounding us, beautiful yellow beauties are being grown. Rapeseed…
This is leaving a fine coating of yellow pollen on every surface, including the insides on noses, throats and lungs. Oh, and eyeballs. Ugh….
This time of year, we reach for certain herbs to help support our body’s immune system and hormone system to fight the allergic reaction.
Echinacea: is an immunostimulant and immunomodulator, antiviral, antifungal and antibacterial. It has an affinity for bronchial and respiratory infections as well as throat and overall oral infections. It has a full complement of polysaccharides, which help protect cells against invasion by viruses and bacteria. Other key constituents are: sesquiterpenes, linoleic acid, tannins, beta-carotene and Vitamin C.
Eyebright: anti-catarrhal, astringent, and anti-inflammatory. Eyebright is an excellent remedy for many of the problems of the mucous membranes. Used internally, it is a powerful anti-catarrhal, and thus may be used in nasal catarrh, sinusitis and other congestive states, such as hay fever, acute coryza, irritable sneezing and lachrymation.
Want to buy it directly from me? Shop here.