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Herbs for a Healthy Pregnancy (Part 1: Nourishment)

 

Herbs for a Healthy Pregnancy

My pregnancy changed me in ways that I never expected. I hit the sixth week on Thanksgiving Day and naturally, on that day of days when serious feasting - pregnant or not - is more socially acceptable than any other day of the year, the ‘morning’ (aka round-the-clock) sickness hit me like a brick wall of wet diapers (excuse the metaphor if you're currently pregnant and sensitive to smells). Never had the turkey-cranberry combination sounded so vile. Never had I not wanted to eat mashed potatoes and stuffing so intensely that I went to the trouble of hiding said foodstuffs in the dark crevices of the fridge just so I wouldn’t have to acknowledge them. Never had I been so pregnant or so sick.

First trimester, I transformed from stickler and self-professed food snob of the Weston A. Price Foundation variety (hand over the liver and onions, please, and don’t you give me a grain that ain’t soaked) to a girl who woke up at 3 AM to demand her husband get her an Arby’s roast beef sandwich and then fell back asleep while reading the menu in horror that she would eat such a thing, a girl who dreamed of sushi and red wine like some dream of world peace, a girl who veered across four lanes of rush hour traffic to a Taco Bell drive thru in a panic that they wouldn't have the choco-taco that she had the last time she ate there in 1997 (they didn't). Embarrassing, but true as pumpkin pie.

And that was just the beginning. My first trimester - like so many - was a blur of nausea and feeling hungover without having had anything to drink, bad smells and bright lights, clutching my yet nonexistent belly and wondering if the piece of blue cheese I’d accidentally consumed earlier had already permanently maimed my baby or whether the poor little munchkin was instead feeling rather rough after the morning’s third miserable dry heaving session.

I knew that I needed nutrients that went above and beyond whatever trace amounts of calcium might be present in the quart of strawberry ice cream I’d had for second dinner. I just didn’t know how I was going to get nutrition down that was, well, real. Nutrition that didn’t come in a reassuringly packaged prenatal pill or look like a fortified gummy bear. Enter nourishing herbal infusions.

Nourishing Herbal Infusions

For 9 months and 2 weeks, I was the rapidly expanding pregnant lady carrying around mysterious mason jars full of formidable dark-colored liquids (now, a year later, I'm the mom carrying these same mason jars around and sharing the contents with her 7-month-old). Infusing nettles, oatstraw, red clover, comfrey, and linden during my pregnancy allowed me to cope with the 'ugh' of all three trimesters with resilience, energy, and minerals - no excuse for a less-than-ideal diet, of course, but first trimester fast food cravings were a reckoning force I would have never believed in had I not lived through them. I generally infused one of these herbs every day, rotating through these five and drinking a full quart daily as religiously as I tracked my baby's size according to fruits, from bitty blueberry to whopping watermelon and beyond.

Knowing what I know about these herbs, that they are some of the highest sources on earth of trace minerals, rich in protein, and gently immune-stimulating yet totally safe during pregnancy, I felt confident that I was getting so much nutrition from these that I made a personal decision to decide to pass on the (often difficult to absorb) prenatal vitamins. That's how much I trust the power of these traditionally nourishing super-herbs.

A note on folate: you can't get too far into a pregnancy without hearing about folate or folic acid from at least a dozen sources. Folate comes from the latin root that also begins the word 'foliage': folate in its most usable form comes from leaves! The leaves that I used to make my daily nourishing herbal infusion provided me with plenty of folate that I knew was as close to the original source as possible.

Nettles

Often compared to the oh-so-trendy ‘green drinks’ but very different: nettles infusion is deeply nourishing and instantly assimilated and usable by the body because it is pre-digested by the drying and steeping process. Even in that highly sensitive and weirdly put-off state of first trimester, I was able to sip on cold (or even iced, for a real treat) nettle infusion, which felt like drinking in the goodness of the earth itself.

Susun Weed writes on nettles (Urtica dioica) in her classic book Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year:

“Urtica is one of the finest nourishing tonics known. It is reputed to have more chlorophyll than any other herb. The list of vitamins and minerals in this herb includes nearly every one known to be necessary for human health and growth.

Vitamins A, C, D and K, calcium, potassium, phosphorous, iron and sulphur are particularly abundant in nettles. The infusion is a dark green colour approaching black. The taste is deep and rich. If you are blessed with a nettle patch near you, use the fresh plant as pot herb in the spring.

The benefits of drinking nettle infusion before and throughout pregnancy include:

  • Aiding the kidneys. Nettle infusion were instrumental in rebuilding the kidneys of a woman who was told she would have to be put on a dialysis machine. Since the kidneys must cleanse 150 percent of the normal blood supply for most of the pregnancy, nettle's ability to nourish and strengthen them is of major importance. Any accumulation of minerals in the kidneys, such as gravel or stones is gently loosened, dissolved and eliminated by the consistent use of nettle infusions.
  • Increasing fertility in women and men.
  • Nourishing mother and fetus.
  • Easing leg cramps and other spasms.
  • Diminishing pain during and after birth. The high calcium content, which is readily assimilated, helps diminish muscle pains in the uterus, in the legs and elsewhere.
  • Preventing haemorrhage after birth. Nettle is a superb source of vitamin K, and increased available haemoglobin, both of which decrease the likelihood of postpartum haemorrhage. Fresh Nettle Juice, in teaspoon doses, slows postpartum bleeding.
  • Reducing haemorrhoids. Nettle's mild astringency and general nourishing action tightens and strengthens blood vessels, helps maintain arterial elasticity and improves venous resilience.
  • Increasing the richness and amount of breast milk.
  • Nettle infusions supply calcium and phosphorous, vitamin A and the vital vitamin D, in a readily assimilable form."

Nettles Nourishing Herbal Infusion

In my experience, I noticed my lackluster energy spike on the days when I drank nettles. But not in a caffeine-buzz kind of a way, in a much more even keel sort of way that feels as good as it sounds. Nettles certainly contributed to my pregnancy glow, encouraging the growth and healthy sheen of hair, skin, nails, and teeth. The muscle spasms and leg cramps I started to get in my first and second trimester (you don't know what a charley horse is until those killer middle of the night wake up calls in between pee sessions) disappeared when I drank my nettles, probably because of its ability to ease cramps. And perhaps most importantly, nettles is an incredible blood builder and oxygen-rich tonic, preparing the body for birth and its potential trauma in a significant way.

Oatstraw

This was by far my favorite nourishing herbal infusion to drink during pregnancy. It’s bland-tasting, totally unoffensive to my picky nose, and even a little sweet and milky tasting due to its oaty nature. Oatstraw infusion is a powerful nervine; it has the ability to just take the edge off so that, no matter where you are in your pregnancy or what bizarre food pair cravings are plaguing your dreams, everything is just a bit more manageable.

During my first trimester, I learned the happy news that oatstraw not only promotes a calm nervous system and peaceful adrenals, which my racing about-to-be-a-first-time-mom-brain appreciated, but it is THE world's highest source of magnesium. You'll find oatstraw in just about every pregnancy tea out there, and standing alone as a strong, long-steeped infusion, oatstraw is not only delicious but replenishing and moistening to the entire body, which can be so easily depleted and made brittle by the fact that it is, in fact, busy growing an entirely new life.

As everyone who's ever been pregnant knows, getting back to sleep after the fourth potty of the night or after tossing and turning for hours trying to carve out a place for that new blossoming belly to rest is key to survival. The magnesium and calcium that oatstraw is so rich in are allies in achieving that restful, restorative sleep that your pregnant body desires.

Oatstraw Nourishing Herbal Infusion

Susun Weed writes about oatstraw:

"A cup of oatstraw infusion contains more than 300 milligrams of calcium plus generous amounts of many other minerals. Its steroidal saponins nourish the pancreas and liver, improving digestion and stabilizing moods.

Oatstraw infusion is another favorite of those who want to feel less anxious... The taste of oatstraw is softer and more mellow; you will enjoy it warm with a little honey. It is especially useful for those whose anxiety is combined with excessive nervous energy.

It restores nervous system integrity, emotional flexibility, and sexual flow. Oats and oatstraw are exceptionally good at nourishing heart health and moderating cholesterol. Oatstraw infusion (not tea, not tincture, not capsules) provides lots of protein, all macro- and trace-mineral in high amounts, and very high amounts of B vitamins - excepting vitamin B12.

Oatstraw infusion builds deep energy for the next day, especially when you have been riding an emotional roller coaster. Oatstraw nourishes the nerves, easing anxiety and improving our ability to live with uncertainty."

The varicose veins and other varicosities that often come up as an unexpected side effect of pregnancy often benefit from drinking oatstraw, which is used to strengthen the capillaries. Drinking oatstraw provides us with dietary and crude fiber, vitamins, A, B complex, C, and E, chromium, and a soothing mucilage with promotes a healthy digestive transit time and a moist, contented gastrointestinal system.

Vinegars

Between the strawberry ice cream nights and the mornings spent eating crackers and pickle juice, I didn't feel much like I was getting my optimum nutrition from my food during my pregnancy, at least not like I had planned to. One way I compensated for this inability to eat a perfect diet (and, let's face it, all of our diets, no matter how 'clean, are somewhat imperfect) is making sure I was getting some mineral-rich vinegar in me each day, whether cooking with it (in greens, soups, sautees etc...), mixing it with olive oil for a marinade or salad dressing, or stirring it with a little water, juice, or infusion and taking as a hearty shot.

Fire Cider Ingredients

From the Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year, we learn that:

"Most wild greens are exceptionally rich in calcium and the factors need for calcium absorption and use. Lamb's Quarters, Mallow, Galinsoga, Shepherd's purse, Knotweed, Bidens, Amaranth
and Dandelion leaves all supply more calcium per 100 grams than does milk."

When we take wild green herbs and steep them in vinegar for several weeks, these nutrients assimilate into the acid base, creating an easy way to get the goodness and minerals of the herbs without much effort and with lots of taste. Susun Weed also adds:

"Bones soaked in apple cider vinegar release their calcium into the acidic vinegar. A tablespoon of this vinegar in a glass of warm water supplies needed calcium and is good for morning sickness too."

I found this to be true; one of the few things that helped my morning sickness (along with a few drops of ginger extract) was a tonifying vinegar (or fire cider) and water shot. The benefits of herbal vinegars also include their ability to balance out the pH of the body, their helpfulness with digestive difficulties (which can be especially wonky during pregnancy), and their friendliness to the health of the gut.

 

Stay tuned for Part 2 in this series of Herbs for a Healthy Pregnancy, which will focus on herbs in specific scenarios in pregnancy.

 

New Site, Still Made the Wise Woman Way

With the beginning of the new year in only a few short weeks, we wanted to celebrate early with the launch of our brand new website. Here at Red Moon, one of our biggest goals is to educate and inspire people to learn more how simple and powerful local herbal remedies can be. Our new site is chock full of features to help you find, learn more about, and use your favorite herbs.

Here are a few features that will help you to get the most out of our new website.

1. Product Descriptions

Check out our new and improved product descriptions that go along with each and every herbal product that we offer. Many of the descriptions include links to informative articles and videos from trusted herbalists that will help you gain a deeper understanding of what these herbs do.

Product Descriptions 

2. Search

It just got a whole lot easier to browse our site for the herbs that you are looking for, even if you might not know what those herbs are yet. You can search by Collections, located in the top menu bar, for herbs that are specific to a certain body system or area of the body.

Collections

Or try using our handy search bar to seek out certain herbs or keywords. For example, a search for 'heart' will bring up hawthorn, an adaptogen for the heart, our Heart Tonic formula, and motherwort, or Leonurus cardiaca, another strong medicine for the heart.

Search

3. Customer Accounts

Tired of typing in your shipping information or tying to remember what herbs you ordered last cold and flu season? Now you can register with Red Moon and we will keep that data safely and securely within your customer account. Registration is optional but only takes about a minute and is one way to make ordering a whole lot simpler!

Customer Accounts

4. Mobile Version

We know that you are busy taking care of yourself, your family, and all the little details of life. So that's why we've made it easy for you to put together an order of herbs to stock your medicine cabinet even when you're out and about. Check out the new mobile version of our site to see how simple it is to use.

 Mobile Version

 

 

November 04, 2016 by Heather Wood Buzzard
Tags: seasons
Why We Wildcraft

Why We Wildcraft

Here at Red Moon, we have strived for over 20 years to carry on a rich tradition of locally wildcrafting much of the plant material that goes into our tinctures, tea blends, and dried herbs. While many herb companies may have started out wildcrafting their materials, they have quickly realized the true task of collecting plants from the wild: the wild is unforgiving, it is always in a state of flux, and it is never the same two years in a row. It resists management and it laughs in the face of quality control and harvest minimums.

Therefore, it is often easier to turn to cultivation, which can be dependable, regulated, and predictable. But we have stayed true to our course as wildcrafters, true to the Wise Woman Tradition, and true to those wild plants which can be so much more medicinally potent than their cultivated varieties. But why, when the challenge of the wild is so much steeper?

Wildcrafting dandelions

Wildcrafting for the Planet

When we wildcraft in conscious relationship with the ecosystem, we actually work to improve the robustness of the flora and fauna in that environment even as we boost our own health. By gathering the bounty of the wild around us, we encourage the plants to continue blooming, and bloom prolifically: more, faster, longer than before. When we get a haircut, the fibers of our hair react by growing more vigorously and robustly than before; when we prune a vitex bush or wildcraft the bark of a cherry tree’s limbs for medicine, the plant responds by growing faster and producing more buds, blooms, and those incredible phytochemicals – flavonoids, polysaccharides, and alkaloids – that we call medicine.

As wildcrafters, we strive to always familiarize ourselves with the mini ecosystem around us before a harvest. When I go out to gather red clover or nettles to dry for infusions, I remember that these are food herbs for the bees, deer, and rabbits who live in that field or creekbed. Just as they are food herbs for us, bringing us nourishment in the form of proteins, minerals, and vitamins, they are also a major part of the diet for wildlife foragers.

The one-in-three principle is a good rule of thumb to keep in mind. Harvest one, leave two to grow. Take one out of every three blossoms, buds, or berries. While this rule applies to plant populations that are growing in abundance, the rule shifts to one-in-ten among herbs that are rarer or take longer to grow and establish themselves. In reality, there is no clean this-for-that rule when wildcrafting. It is a matter of knowing your ecosystem, the needs of the flora and fauna in it, and the way those species interact with the plant you are harvesting. Always check with resources like United Plant Savers to tell if a plant is rare, threatened, or endangered before harvesting it.

Wildcrafting for Our Physical Health

The superior nutritional and medicinal properties of wildcrafted plants, versus their cultivated counterparts, are well documented. According to a New York Times article on the subject, we are effectively “breeding the nutrition out of our food” the further our cultivated varieties of produce get from their wild origins. Apples have become progressively sweeter over time, as have most fruits, evolving with our sugar-loving taste buds. Fresh cultivated vegetables, even those that are organically grown, have become less potent due to our manipulation of the bitter medicinal alkaloids out of them.

These bitter constituents that are so prevalent in wild food, however, are one of the primary medicinal tonics for organs like the liver and the gallbladder. Digestion is a process that relies on the body’s creation of food-appropriate enzymes that only occurs when food is properly tasted. The bitter components of wild plants help our digestive organs to recognize these foods and produce these enzymes that help us to maximize the nutrition that we derive from them. It is no wonder that a bunch of wild dandelion greens, bitter as they may be, contain far more nutrition, vitamins, and trace minerals, than even the most beautifully grown organic kale. Frank Cook, renowned naturalist, ethnobotanist, and wild foods educator, told us to ‘Eat something wild every day’. This advice, if carried out, goes straight to the liver.

Harvesting wild cherry bark

Spending time in nature – whether wildcrafting, walking, or simply wandering – also comes with a slew of health benefits that are undeniable. Lifespans are at an all-time high (at least for the modern world) and those who spend more time outdoors are more likely to be able to live that lengthy life to its fullest and longest, according to research done by the Journal of Aging Health. Their study found that the seniors who went outside each day complained less about sleeping issues and aching bones, among other things, than those who did not. This increase in lifespans may be due to several factors of spending time in the natural world, including: reduction in stress, increased feelings of happiness and contentment, improved health of the lungs and bloodstream because of exposure to clean air, vitamin D exposure, or lowered blood pressure because of reduced anxiety.

 
The opposite of spending time outdoors has been termed “nature deprivation” and is linked to massive amounts of screen time in front of TVs and computers. This screen time overload is related to increased risk of death, according to research by the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. On the contrary, people who spend time in nature may live longer than those who do not. Over five years, a Japanese study was conducted among senior citizens which concluded that those who had accessible, walkable green space were more likely to live longer than those who didn’t. Another study showed that hospital patients exposed to plants expressed lower blood pressure and heart rate, lessened pain and reduced anxiety. It has been proven in several studies that the elderly who spend time outside experience reduced blood pressure, allowing them to prolong their life. If this is what happens by just bringing plants into a room, imagine what happens when people are brought into a whole wondrous landscape of plants to wildcraft them for medicine and food!

 
Forest bathing, a term that has been created to reference people spending time in nature and receiving healing benefits from it, is a side effect of wildcrafting. It refers to the act or the art of spending quality time, unplugged, in a forested setting and simply witnessing the beauty of that world. While you are likely to get more dirty than clean, it is the good kind of dirt, the kind of soul-dirt that fills us and satisfies us and permeates our vision. Those who ‘forest bathe’, or whatever your version of that is, have been documented to live longer, have less stress, and are able to fight off cancer more effectively, according to a number of clinical journals.

Wildcrafting for the Soul

 Wildcrafting yellowroot

But does it go to the soul, too?

As we have seen, the evidence says yes, in many ways and in many languages, both scientific and anecdotal. Wildcrafting and basking in the outdoors nourishes our souls in ways that unspeakable, but universally acknowledged. We connect with wild plants in a way that is carried forth to us in our blood, in our genetics, in our fingerprints. Plants have always been our life source and life force, and when we gather them in their natural habitats we are returning, if ever so briefly, to a moment in our ancestry when we needed them for sustenance, when they were our primary form of health care, and when we were helpless without their generous nourishment.

We wildcraft because we must, we wildcraft because it is part and parcel of our genetic heritage, and we wildcraft to further forge our relationship with the gifts of the wild outdoors and the wild within all of us. So when you see the word ‘wildcrafted’ on one of our labels, you will know that herb originated in the remote hills and valleys of Appalachia, was bartered for with bears and wild boars, and comes from a heart place of primitive connection between our hands and the untamed land of our ancestors.

March 08, 2016 by Heather Wood Buzzard
Sustenance vs. Supplements: To Eat Real Food or Pop Pills

Sustenance vs. Supplements: To Eat Real Food or Pop Pills

When bracing myself for a stroll down the aisle of any vitamin shop or supplement center, I am always reminded of the wacky and amazing gum from Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. Remember this gum? It represented a whole meal, as it was chewed transforming from a delicious appetizer to a hearty main course of beef stew to lastly, the glorious fruit pie that turns sweet-toothed youngsters into blooming blueberries. This gum would be so well-received in our fast-food culture, I think, my eyes wandering the shelves from canisters of superfood greens powder that promises 10 servings of vegetables in one teaspoon to bottles of pre-natals that contain every essential nutrient that baby needs in just one grape-flavored gummy bear. This gum would be THE gum. No mess, no muss, just one whole meal’s worth of nutrient-dense food in one sweet stick.

We who hang out regularly in the ever-growing, ever-changing supplement aisles know that more and more, we are being promised perfection in a pill. We are promised freedom from food, the ability to eat whatever we want without being dependent on chopping and cooking and crunching real, live vegetables and grains and proteins. So we are faced with the daily decisions - do I pop a few poptarts, swallow a few spoonfuls of superfood in my green drink, and call it a day? Or do I take the time and effort to make a meal, slow or fast, with foods that bear some resemblance to how they grew in the ground or were formed on a farm?

In the Wise Woman Tradition, we know that our nutrition, our life and breath, our whole-being comes from our food. And though that may occasionally be supplemented by a handful of capsules here or some powders there, the strong foundation of our diet is real, recognizable food. The key word here is supplement. Uncannily, many vitamins are not seen these days so much as ‘supplements’, intended to fill in the gaps and round out the corners of our diets, but as ‘essentials’ that are meant to provide us with basic nutrition. The trouble is that our bodies, for the most part, don’t recognize supplements quite like we imagine. Our bodies recognize and use 60 mg of ascorbic acid (vitamin C) from an apple and 1500 mg of ascorbic acid from a supplement in exactly the same way; the difference is that one speaks the language of the body, interacting with it on an intimate cellular level and going directly to where it is needed, while the other is, to some extent, viewed by the body as an invader, a foreigner, a xeno-substance that speaks a different vocabulary entirely.

Supplements do have their place, and it is a critical one. When an individual is extremely depleted, has leaky gut syndrome, or is suffering from mal-absorption issues, someone can benefit hugely from the intelligent introduction of supplements to bring the body back into a state of health. While supplements are not immediately nourishing and nurturing as food is to the body, they can be vital in helping people move back into well-being. But as a general rule, food is far more useful that even the highest quality supplements simply because our bodies recognize it as food, a familiar and user-friendly source of sustenance. Our bodies have evolved to accept the nutrition from food completely, without the limits or boundaries that they push up against vitamins from synthetic sources, and often, even ‘food-based vitamins’ which are about five times more expensive as the non-food-based variety.

These are the reasons why, in the Wise Woman Tradition, we rely on food and, specifically, food herbs for our nutritional health. The nourishing herbal infusions that we adore are all made from food herbs, like our beloved top five: red clover, nettles, oatstraw, comfrey, and linden. These plants are deeply nutritive food herbs, distinguishing them from being stimulating or sedating herbs, because they are all high in protein and considered some of the most vitamin and mineral-rich plants in the world, holding a heap of nutrition that is immediately available to your body in its natural form. Most importantly, they can be absorbed directly into the body without much digestive work or effort, since the body recognizes them as food or plant matter, and since the nourishing herbal infusions are ‘cooked’, because their cell walls are broken down after the 4-8 hours that they steep in boiled water.

When it comes to supplementation, it is critical that whatever we are putting into our bodies - be it a superfood pill, an orange, or a nettles infusion - speaks a nutritional language that our bodies can recognize, understand, and use. While a powder that promises all the vitamins and nutrients our happy bodies could ever want is as tempting as a gum that takes you through the rigamarole of a five-course-meal, keep in mind that if your body doesn’t recognize it as food, you might as well not be wasting your time chewing on it, swallowing it, or sucking it down. Unless of course, you want to be Willy Wonka’s next Veruca Blueberry.

February 14, 2016 by Heather Wood Buzzard
A New Year of Nourishment: Nutritious Nourishment vs. Dirty Detox

A New Year of Nourishment: Nutritious Nourishment vs. Dirty Detox

January 1st marks Detox D-Day for many who practice the heroic or the scientific traditions of medicine. We all know what this looks like: a holiday season full of fatty richness and unhampered excess followed by a January resolute with green smoothies, lemon water cleanses, and partially used gym memberships. But in the Wise Woman Tradition, the new year marks a new season of nourishment.

We don’t cure or cleanse; instead we enrapture and enrich. Instead of living the ‘out with the bad’ philosophy, we think ‘in with the good’, feeding our bodies and souls and treating them with kindness, compassion, and love. We don’t resolve to persistently scrub our colons and clear our livers, because our guts and our filtration systems are already doing that for us, 24 hours a day, and far better than we could ever do it with all the diets in the world. We don’t detox, because we aren’t dirty.

You’re Not Dirty, and You Don’t Need Cleaning

There is an overarching ethic – which gets its time in the spotlight at this time of the year – that we human bodies are walking dirt bags from years past and in order to start fresh, we must get clean first. But have we forgotten that our bodies are already doing this for us, cleaning, filtering, and ‘detoxing’ in our waking life and our sleep so that we can continue living each day as fresh, whole, human beings? Each hour of each day, the body produces brand new cells and turns the old ones into waste products. Every minute, 1,450 milliliters of blood circulate through the liver after having been ‘cleaned’. Every 11 months, we have a completely new body made up of those brand new cells. We are renewed, replenished, re-nourished. And we didn’t even have to ‘detox’.

In the heroic tradition, which encompasses much of the alternative health world, pain is gain. Detoxing is purifying. The body is polluted, toxic, and sick, and only by hard work and careful cleansing can we get it clean again. We are filthy and must be controlled by regular detox rituals. Healing is the removal of everything bad from the body, and the addition of nothing.

In the scientific tradition of medicine, which represents much of western medicine as we know it, bodies are machines and herbs can be standardized into drugs, which fix machines. Health and sickness are always at opposite ends of the spectrum, and sickness is never a gift, never an opportunity, only a state that demands fixing. Healing the body through drugs and medicines helps the ‘machine’ to get back to a normal state of healthy function.

In the Wise Woman tradition, the world’s oldest system of healing and the one still practiced by the majority of indigenous cultures in the world today, good health is vibrancy, change, flexibility, and possibility. Health is an integrated both/and situation, rather than a black-and-white either/or dichotomy. Wholeness is ever-changing, unique, abnormal, and doesn’t involve eliminating the bad so much as including and honoring the whole. Nourishment is as simple and innocent as a steaming bowl of soup, as grounded as the powerful earth, as all-encompassing as the universal garden of healing, and as beautiful and perfect as you.

Resolve to Love Your Body for Its Pre-Existing Perfection

Trusting the body to provide you with your own optimum level of in-house cleanliness is part of trusting the body to do its job perfectly, provided that we offer it enough nourishment in terms of food, medicine, and emotional and physical engagement. It is like trusting the body to breathe, pump, and circulate the appropriate substances for those precious few hours of sleep you get each night.

This new year, consider resolving to love your body in its own perfect wisdom, rather than trying to scour every corner of it for bacteria and muck. The energy that you desire to put into detoxing is so valuable, but it would be so much better used in carefully choosing and preparing the foods that nourish your body, rather than trying to clear out any unwanted, invisible toxicity.

Those bacteria that we loathe are the same ones that grow the garden of our gut flora, those microbes that we want to purge are the same things that build up our immunity to viruses, and there is a good chance those toxins that we perceive are long gone, having being evacuated by our body’s own miraculous built-in detoxification system. Loving and nourishing yourself is a commitment to self-acceptance and self-awareness. Trust that your daily nourishing habits, like drinking nourishing herbal infusions, consuming nutrient-dense food, and using herbal medicine when appropriate, are enough.

How Can You Nourish this New Year?

Deep nourishment, soul-level, bone-level nourishment, comes from myriad different places. In the food world, we may grasp it from savory, warming winter broths and stews. We may suss it out of roasted root vegetables and lacto-fermented vegetables that are brimming with probiotics and the makings of good gut flora. And we definitely derive it from our daily nourishing herbal infusions, using the dense nutritional load of nettles, oatstraw, linden, comfrey, and red clover to get our everyday doses of fully absorbable vitamins, minerals, and nutrients.

In the emotional world, we find nourishment from rewarding relationships, personal time spent with the spiritual self, and the wonderful hibernation period that only winter allows for. Nourishment is all around us, nestled in the tree buds sleeping silently until spring, tucked under the first layer of snow in the chickweed that still blooms white beneath the January ice. This year is new, this year is nourishment, and this year, you can choose to nourish yourself in your personal perfection and in your own perfectly messy, perfectly clean soul and body.

January 08, 2016 by Heather Wood Buzzard
Ginseng’s Best Kept Secret: Missing the Leaf for the Root

Ginseng’s Best Kept Secret: Missing the Leaf for the Root

November marks the tail end of ‘sang season, but relics of the harvest time remain: small town signs scrawled with ‘Will Buy Ginseng – No License Needed’ and reports of poachings on private land or national park felonies over the last two months. Ginseng hunters and buyers have been everywhere this autumn. But where is the ginseng?

 

Statistically speaking, approximately 95% of it is getting shipped to Hong Kong and Singapore, a region which has now exhausted their resources of the root and relies almost exclusively on the Appalachian mountains to supply their steady demand. In 2012, the U.S. exported 45,000 pounds of wild ginseng and 342,000 pounds of the cultivated woodland crop. But what many consumers and cultivators alike don’t know is that ginseng has a secret, and it’s hiding in plain sight.

 

The Down and Dirty on Ginseng in North Carolina

 

We’ve all seen the hokey reality tv episodes where life depends not on modern commerce as we know it but on rebel flags, bear hunting, and huge sackfuls of ‘sang harvest. But what is the deal with ginseng in North Carolina, really? Is there a way to harvest it legally without risk of jail-time? Is that even sustainable? How is poaching different from stealing? Let’s get rooted – no pun intended – in the regulations here and take a look at the rules of the game of Appalachian ginseng.

 

As one of six states that permits a very limited amount of ginseng to be wild harvested from its national forests, North Carolina has struggled to get that number of permits just right. This system has scaled back considerably in the last two years to make room for the growing threat of poachers and thieves. Offering only 136 permits per year (a 75% reduction), the state agency is attempting to limit the destruction of ginseng as much as possible. But Forest Service botanist Gary Kauffman has noted that despite having the lottery restricting the ginseng harvest for the last couple of years, it’s not certain whether the ginseng plants are bouncing back with any vigor.[1]

 

If you’re fortunate enough to win the lottery, the ginseng ‘lottery’, that is, in which you enter your information at the Nantahala or Pisgah U.S. Forest Service district office and get (or don’t) randomly granted a permit to dig, you may harvest between September 1 and 15th. There is some semblance of accountability for future generations; NC state law requires that you sow the seeds from the ginseng you are harvesting within 100 feet of the plant.

 

Considered ‘green’ when it is freshly dug, ginseng roots must by fully dry before selling to most dealers. The drying process takes about a month when done naturally. The dried root sells for between $500-$2000 per pound to hungry and steady Asian markets. Before exporting it off to any international buyers, dealer permits must be obtained from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

 

But this isn’t ginseng unlimited: you may dig only 1-3 pounds fresh with this type of permit, and any harvesting outside these bounds is considered poaching and likely to garner you a $5,000 fine, 6 months in federal prison, or both.

 

Stealing, on the other hand, is even more sinister than poaching. Ginseng thieves seem to grow in numbers as quickly as viewers of shows like Appalachian Outlaws boom. An $8,000 patch of personal ginseng cultivated by a retired physician recently disappeared outside of Asheville – and all because of a hole in a barbed wire fence. Diggers attempting to harvest on private land must have written permission from the land owner on their person, or risk a felony charge.

 

In the Smokey Mountain National Park, the ginseng situation has gotten so serious that the park rangers have now micro-chipped and dyed over 13,000 ginseng roots, many of which were recovered from thieves, moved back to the park land, and replanted. The dye enables the law-abiding dealer to examine the root and tell immediately whether or not it is stolen property.

 

This plant is one of the few valiantly protected at both the state and the federal level. With a volatile market combined with the unpredictability of mother nature, the collapse of this multi-million dollar ginseng industry never seems too far outside the realm of possibility. People reach for ginseng because of its acclaimed longevity powers and tonic health benefits…but even if we’re all ginseng-high and living for 120 years, don’t we still want our children to be able to experience the wonders of the root as well?

 

To Harvest Is to Kill…Or Is It?

 

Harvesting the root kills the ginseng plant. What many people don’t realize is that these standard practices of killing ginseng during harvest weren’t always like this. Earlier in the game, before ginseng cultivation was getting started and most of the harvest was wild-crafted, ginseng could be harvested and grow back.

 

The ginseng root must have three ‘prongs’ or four buds when harvested, meaning that it’s at least five years old and typically around seven or eight. In the old days, the root, shaped like a little man with a taproot torso and two scrawny legs, was dug up and the harvester typically broke off one leg (the shorter of the two) and replanted it. Almost all the ginseng that was sold in those days was just so, the main larger root with one ‘leg’, not two. One day, that all changed. Dealers decided they would only accept the whole root in its pure, unadulterated form. This was when ginseng harvests took a turn; from then on, to harvest would mean to kill.

 

“I grow ginseng as a perennial. I harvest the roots but I don’t kill the plants. When it gets to be 8-10 years old, it frequently starts making new roots around the neck.” Joe Hollis, a god amongst herb cultivators who specializes in Chinese herbs, recommends harvesting the existing roots and leaving the new rootlets in the ground, which would then produce a new root in the next couple years. Unfortunately, because of regulations as they stand, you can’t sell ginseng root without the neck. But for value-added products (and perhaps eventually a new wave of more sustainable regulations), the perennially cultivated ginseng is a largely untapped market.

 

We export between 94% and 97% of our organically wild-harvested ginseng to the Eastern markets, while we simultaneously import their highly sprayed, chemical-laden Asian ginseng to be used in our adaptogen formulas and Traditional Chinese Medicine clinics. Buyers pay nearly 90% more for the wild-harvested root as opposed to the cultivated, and it is thought to be about twice as effective as the cultivated. But no amount of effectiveness is worthwhile if we’re eliminating the ginseng from the woods.

 

As Below So Above: A Vote for the Leaf

 

The Wise Woman tradition values whole plant extracts in which all the synergistic constituents of a plant are included. This way of making medicine is holistic, inclusive, and broad. It is the direct opposite of pharmaceuticals, which isolate one chemical compound and extract, manipulate, and concentrate it.

 

With our feet firmly grounded in the fertile soil of the Wise Woman tradition, we want to make a case for the leaf of ginseng as an undervalued aspect of the whole plant’s medicine. Worshipping at the feet of the root of this ‘king (or queen) of the forest’ and ignoring the rest of the plant has done us no good. That said, what if there were more to ginseng than just its root? It turns out that there is.

 

According to clinical research done by a group of scientists on the bioactive compounds and pharmacology of ginseng leaf and stem, “Extracts from ginseng root and leaf-stem have similar multifaceted pharmacological activities.”[2] This covers all of the properties we know and love about ginseng - its anti-fatigue, anti-hyperglycemic, anti-obesity, anti-cancer, anti-oxidant and anti-aging properties. They are all present and accounted for in the ginseng leaf. What’s considered the active ingredient in ginseng, the magic bullet, the ginsenosides, are fully present and active in the leaf. All those delightful polysaccharides, antioxidants, flavonoids, volatile oils, peptides, and amino and fatty acids that we love about the root? You better believe they’re active in the leaf, too.

 

Studies have shown that ginseng leaf extract improves learning and memory capabilities, preserves the cardiac and vascular systems, and exhibits anti-diabetes effects…just like the root. In one particular study, the leaf was shown to have significant hypoglycemic effects and prove extremely beneficial in the treatment of type 2 diabetes.[3]

 

It’s in terms of costs and sourcing, though, that ginseng leaf and stem presents the greatest advantages to the exclusive use of ginseng root. Henriette Kress, a wonderful and vastly knowledgeable herbalist in Finland, tells it like it is: “The leaf of American ginseng is as good as the root. It's also much cheaper, but next to nobody sells it because next to nobody knows about it.”[4] She explains that the tradition of using only the roots of ginseng is a relic of the storage limitations of the old-fashioned herb trade. Dried root kept in burlap bags would last in barns for years, whereas the leaf would not. Now that we’ve moved beyond the limitations of that era, isn’t it time to move onto a new era of ginseng leaf as truly sustainable medicine that grows back year after year?

 

Another answer to the maze of questions that is ginseng sustainability was introduced by Joe Hollis, who brought gynostemma or ‘southern ginseng’ into the US and touts this weedy plant as a similarly five-leafed curiosity comparable to ginseng. Gynostemma, which chemically contains the same active compounds as ginseng, is, “The most valuable plant you can grow for your own health,” according to Hollis.[5] The entire plant is used medicinally, but particularly the aerial part.

 

If Sustainable Medicine Is Our Goal, Why Are We Devastating Our Ginseng Root?

 

It’s not uncommon that we here at Red Moon Herbs get a request for ginseng. We are, after all, an herb supplier, so why shouldn’t we carry this most sought after herb? On the large scale, we hope to soon nationally pioneer a tincture of the leaf and stem, an effective, well-studied, underdog adaptogen of the herbal world that is truly sustainable. Locally, we will begin be offering a limited edition ginseng leaf and local honey elixir at the Ginseng Expo coming to UNCA this December. We are choosing to take a stance on behalf of the plant – the whole plant, leaf included. We are choosing to stand up for the complexities of ginseng as a living, growing botanical, as well as a valuable medicine that deserves to remain a growing part of our Appalachian heritage.

 

Want to learn more? Come speak ‘sang this December at the International American Ginseng Expo on December 4th and 5th on the UNC Asheville campus. A rare gathering of the global leaders in all things ginseng, the expo is well stocked with classes, panels, networking opportunities, and round tables. Join buyers, growers, dealers, researchers, herbalists, and marketers from far and wide to delve into the world of the most famous medicinal root in the world.

 

 

[1] http://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/nfsnc/home/?cid=STELPRDB5387328

[2] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2770043/

[3] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14643691

[4] http://www.henriettes-herb.com/blog/ginseng-leaf.html

[5] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NlL1ZiaruAc

November 29, 2015 by Heather Wood Buzzard
A Day in the Life of a Wildcrafter: Hawthorne

A Day in the Life of a Wildcrafter: Hawthorne

My hawthorne berries are growing plump and ruby at the top of this 5000 foot mountain, and I am still in the bottom lowlands, a mere 3000 feet or so in elevation, strapping thick hiking boots to my feet and pulling on canvas gloves in the pre-dawn dew.

The day for harvest has finally come, and Burdock the Bernese mountain dog knows it as much as I do. Last year around the hawthorne harvest time, I caught him sneaking low-hanging fruit from the tree as I was harvesting. I thought, “What an excellent example of zoopharmacognosy!” because firstly, it’s a wonderful word to think aloud to oneself, and secondly, because truly, he as an animal has this vital canine instinct about what’s good for him. With a purebred mountain dog father, he has a genetic predisposition to heart troubles, the very thing that hawthorne remedies so reliably. And did he know this, when poking his long furry snout unperturbed into the brambly thicket and nibbling on the berries? I think so.

Hawthorne berries

We climb steadily up towards the ridge where the hawthornes reign, Burdock with his backpack and me with mine, both of us stopping to drink from one of the seven springs we cross along the way. Both of us in various states of bedragglement the higher we climb, accumulating hundreds of tickseeds and agrimony burrs, he in his tail and me in my mane, both of us avoiding the falling buckeyes and sweating a bit in the cool September climate.

We have been watching the hawthornes all year. The tree of May, they bloom bursts of white delight in the late spring, beneath which fairies are said to dream in the old Gaelic traditions. When they were in full blossom I gently cut away some of the rosy flowers and leaves, which would be made into sweet, flavonoid-rich tincture for needy capillaries and wanting vessels.

Hawthorne is in the rose and apple family, and it’s obvious: the flowers mimic creamy mini ornamental roses while the seeds hold the same toxic Snow-White compound as their fruity cousins: cyanide. In my understanding, it’s about as big of a deal to consume a hawthorne as it is to eat an apple. Strain out or spit out the seeds, and you’re fine.

Hawthorne berries

Their medicine is sweet, tonic, and red, astringent and life-filled, bioavailable to the cardiovascular system and generous in antioxidants. Compounds from hawthorne are used to create some pharmaceutical heart medicines and have been touted for their safety, effectiveness and lack of herb-drug contraindications. They are considered an adaptogen for the heart, with that mystical phyto-ability to lower blood pressure or raise it as needed, and to aid the cardiac area of the body to do its best job pumping, distributing, and nourishing the blood.

Hawthorne heart

The berries are early this year, and so I must be, too. Hawthorne does not wait around for insignificant wildcrafters to come and take their pick, and neither do the black bears that roam this acreage, and neither do the dark-eyed juncos fluttering to nab the topmost berries that gleam scarlet in the light. Hawthorne does not mind if I have orders to fill and eager berry buyers 3000 feet below its roots and a city and a world away.

Hawthorne lives here, actually lives here, has been born and watered and winded and pollinated and grown up and old and gnarly and reproduced one million berry children here. And hawthorne will continue to live here so long as the mountain keeps kind to it, and the harvesters pluck only what their baskets can carry, and never more.

Hawthorne wildcrafting

We pick for hours in that close, high-elevation September sun, so much nearer than than normal, and the basket begins to fold and creak beneath its slowly growing weight. Or, I pick, and Burdock sturdily guards us from bears, or, more likely, sinister chipmunks and dragonflies. The thorns guarding the haws are nothing less than formidable and no match for tender human hands, some of them growing more than two inches in length, jagged reminders that this is the wild of blood-red berries, not merely pricked fingers from a fairytale.

Hawthorne berries

We tumble down the mountain, sliding through rocky creeks and dodging leafy banks, 10 pounds heavier at least, laden but far from burdened. The bears can return to their sweet feast in privacy, now, and I can return to the ear-popping lowlands from whence I came.

But not before a deluge of black Jerseys decides to take interest in our cause. Burdock and I descend upon a pleasantly mooing field of Madison County cows, who turned quickly into an aggressively stomping and MOOING field of Madison County cows as we trundled through their territory. They seemed to be showing far too much interest in my wildcrafted goods than I deemed appropriate for cows, dodging towards either me or the oddly cow-colored dog and then leering backwards with a noise like a tortured primate.

I wonder at this point if cows have some obscure fondness for hawthorne berries that perhaps I wasn’t aware of, and begin to hold my precious bag of loot a bit further away from my side, just in case I needed to toss it to my bovine predators and run like the wind. Surely none of these were bulls, were they? The grab-the-bull-by-the-horns expression came to mind and I was conveniently reminded that none of these cows indeed had horns, so surely they wouldn’t be in hot pursuit of a redhead with a red bag full to the brim with bright red…no! Surely not!

Nevertheless, we weren’t going to risk it. We dart around the herd, running and scattering a few berries in our wake, Hansel and Gretel breadcrumbs style, under barbed wire fences and over fallen hemlocks and safely clattering three miles down the mountain.

The day for harvest is over for another year. We will keep watching the hawthornes through the winter, we will go and visit them again when their branches are bare and they look dead and grey, and we will approach them in the spring again, asking once more what heart fruits they will hold for us come autumn.

September 27, 2015 by Heather Wood Buzzard
Can Plants Predict the Future?

Can Plants Predict the Future?

When my herb teacher, a fourth or fifth generation herbalist, was still a young child in the foothills of the Alabama Appalachians, she learned to use plants to predict the patterns of human disease. As far back as she can remember, she’d always been taught that the particularly dominating plants of that growing season were there to treat the people that lived nearby. And when one plant dominated the landscape for a particular spring or summer, she knew what to expect that fall.

So she put her students to the test. “What have y’all been seeing really growing prolifically, really taking over this year?” she asked us, her second year class at the Appalachian Center for Natural Health, where we study traditional southern folk medicine. “Sumac,” says somebody, and, “Elderberry,” says another. One student pipes up, “I’ve never seen more St. John’s wort than I have this year. It’s everywhere,” and another butted in, “The Queen Anne’s lace is unbelievable right now…it’s always there, but this is different…"

“What do y’all think that means? The sumac, the elderberry, the St. John’s wort, the Queen Anne’s lace? Why are we seeing those more this year than in the past? Is there a reason?” We pondered, stumped. Surely it wouldn’t be because of a climate change or a farmer’s almanac type thing or a planetary alignment. We students were coming from all over the southeast and had seen these plants’ unprecedented takeover from several different states. I wondered if it was just a, “Well, just seems to be a darned good year for that yeller weed,” sort of farmer talk.

But our teacher cracked the subject open: “As far as I can see, it looks like we’re going to be seeing an awful lot of viruses and flus this year.” St. John’s wort, Queen Anne’s lace, and elderberry are of course well-known herbal cold, flu, and virus remedies. All three are excellent anti-virals and the elder combined with the Queen Anne’s lace is a powerful herbal flu and bug support. Sumac berries can also be used to support the body during a viral infection.

Sumac Berries in the Fall

This prediction of the illnesses that we have to look forward to in the coming fall raised quite a conversation: do plants exist just to help humans? How do plants communicate with us? What kind of intelligence do plants have? Why do they want to help us? Can plants really predict what people and even ultra-intelligent computer programs cannot?

When our teacher was being trained in herbal medicine, her grandparents were practicing herbalists and would make house calls to their patients, rarely bringing much more with them than a couple of dried roots in their bags. They knew that at least during the growing season, most anything they might use to cure someone could be found in their backyard. So this way of predicting an epidemic based on the botanical life of the area is really rooted in necessity and habit – the herbalist used what they had, and they noticed if they had a lot of something and were using, say, elderberry, more than any other plant that season.

This belief imbues in plants a certain divine intelligence, very like the ‘minds’ or ‘spirits’ of plants that Stephen Harrod Buhner refers to in his books Plant Spirit Healing or The Secret Teachings of Plants: The Intelligence of the Heart in the Direct Perception of Nature. The idea is connected to a very Native American view of all things belonging, everything in its place, every plant with its purpose. It connects us with the plant world in a way that is very real, a way in which we are interdependent on each other, a way in which we need plants for more than just their pretty perfumes and idyllic symbolism. We need them to get through the next season.

Goldenrod on the Roadsides

As I drive the goldenrod and ironweed sided hillsides of the Blue Ridge Mountains, I begin to wonder what this massive field of yellow and purple means. What’s its purpose, besides being a brilliantly stunning crockpot of wildflowers? I know that I’d rather look out and see a roadside lined with Joe Pye Weed than a roadside predicting epic numbers of kidney stone sufferers to come, but still, it is easy to believe in the language of the plants to guide us from disease into nourishment. What could be glowingly more obvious, and yet somehow more subtle to us humans, than the dandelions growing in every lawn in America that cry out to our livers, the vast majority of which could use at least a little love.

Keep your eyes on the plants this autumn. Do you see a correspondence between the proliferation of that patch of plantain and the number of bug bites your family gets? Do you notice a connection between the wild cherry trees and the coughs or sore throats that may pop up this winter?

Let us know! There are no wrong answers, and no nasty weeds.

September 12, 2015 by Heather Wood Buzzard
Vibrant Violet Soup

Vibrant Violet Soup

Looking for something to do with all those violet greens you just weeded out of your garden bed? Try this creamy summer soup, equally good hot as it is cold. The mucilage of the violet greens compliments the creaminess of the soup base so delightfully.

Violets

Creamy Violet Green Soup
(adapted from Healing Wise by Susun S. Weed)

Serves 6

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 cup sliced leeks or wild leeks
4 cups violet leaves
4 cups water
Salt to taste
4 cups fresh milk
Violet blossoms
Dusting of nutmeg

Sauté leeks and onion in oil for three minutes. Add chopped violet leaves, stir for a minute. Add water and salt and bring to a simmer. Cook about 15 minutes, then puree in blender or through a sieve. Reheat, adding milk. Garnish with a few violet blossoms and a dust of nutmeg before serving. Also nice served cold.

Violet Soup

 

July 30, 2015 by Heather Wood Buzzard
Cordially Yours: Elderflower Cordial

Cordially Yours: Elderflower Cordial

In early summer, when the roadsides are covered in masses of this plumy whiteness…oh, what’s an herbalist to do? Make elderflower cordial, of course! This sweet, citrusy, and very floral syrup serves as an insanely delightful cocktail blend, pancake drizzle, ice cream topping, yogurt add-on, or cake glaze. This recipe is truly incredibly easy, and a perfect lazy summer activity. The bulk of the work, really, is waiting (which you may find difficult once you smell it for the first time!). You will need:

~45 elderflower heads

9 cups water

3 1/3 lbs sugar

3 organic lemons

3 organic oranges

3 oz citric acid

a large pot, a cloth, a spoon, and two days time

Clip about 45 fully open heads of elderflower (Sambucus nigra or Sambucus canadensis…not Sambucus racemosa!) and use them immediately or refrigerate them until you can get around to making the cordial. They will last for a day or two in the fridge, but not much longer.

Bring the water and sugar to a boil in a large pot, and cool down. Grate the lemon peel and add to the water, and then cut the lemons into slices and stir those in. Do the same thing with the oranges. Stir in your citric acid, and then finally stir in the elderflower heads (stem and all is just fine).

Cover the pot with a cloth and let sit for 24-48 hours. Strain, use, and refrigerate. Delish!

 

 

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