Women's Health and Herbal Medicine
How to Make an Herbal Eyewash
I purchased this little vintage ceramic eyecup a few months ago for doing eyewashes and just recently got the chance to use it. I love making up little batches of herbal eyewash for those mornings when you wake up with eyes that are red and crusty, inflamed, dry, or sore. There are a couple of different methods I use when making an herbal eyewash:
Method 1. Make a strong base of an herbal tea or infusion and add herbal tinctures into it to make your eyewash. A cooled tea of yarrow, horsetail, calendula, green tea, or chamomile makes a fantastic base for an eye formula. Our Vita-Min tea blend works well, too.
Method 2. Make a saline solution and add your herbal tinctures into that. I make fresh homemade saline with one cup of boiled, filtered water to 1/2 teaspoon salt, stirred together so that the salt dissolves. Let that cool and then add in your herbal extracts.
Method 3. Use a premade saline solution or sterilized eye solution as your base and add your drops of herbal tinctures into that. You can also just use water if you don't have salt on hand (though it may irritate the eye more than saltwater will).
With any of these methods, it's best to use distilled, filtered, or sterilized and boiled water to eliminate any opportunity for bacteria to get into the eye area.
There are a few herbs with affinities for and a long-standing tradition of treating the eye area. Some of my favorite herbal extracts for eyewashes that we have in the apothecary are:
- Chickweed (pictured below) for moistening and clearing
- Calendula for overall health and as an anti-inflammatory (extract available by special request - order Lymph Love and in the notes at checkout state 'please bottle calendula only')
- Plantain as a drawing, anti-inflammatory, and clarifying agent
- Goldenrod for drying and relieving itch and redness
- Ground ivy as a very traditional remedy for a range of eye issues, including soreness and weakness
- Yarrow as a catch-all for all of the reasons listed above
- I’ve used a drop or so of echinacea, too. It's a little tingly but a very effective anti-infective.
I simply add a few drops of these herbal tinctures (I was taught no more than 10-20 drops of total tinctures per oz) to one oz or two of boiled, distilled water, or saltwater, or straight saline solution (and let it cool if you did the boiled water, obviously). I have never had any issues with the very small amount of alcohol in the extracts irritating sensitive eyes. With any of these remedies, you want to be sure your herbal extracts or teas are well-strained of particulate matter which could further irritate the eye.
Running low on kitchen/apothecary supplies? No problem. Kitchen cupboard medicine to the rescue. In a pinch, I've also used a green tea bag (chamomile also works well) as a warm herbal eye compress. Simply make a cup of tea as you normally would, but when you take the tea bag out don't wring it out all the way: leave it a little soggy and apply it to your closed eye for a few minutes, allowing the tea to soak into your eye area as best you can. Got a cucumber? It's a cliche, but not one without its basis in truth. Even slices of cooling cucumber will do something to help draw inflammation out of the eye area - and you get a bonus spa moment.
Making a fresh herb poultice to reduce inflammation and support the eye area is a great option if you have any of these herbs growing around you: chickweed, plantain, calendula, or violet (all leaves or leaf/flower). Simply chop up or crush the fresh plant until it's moist and juicy enough to be clumped into a ball or paste and apply this to the eye area, covering it with a moist cloth if desired.
Back to the herbal eyewashes made via the three main methods described above, if you're using a clean, sanitized dropper then simply drop the solution into the affected eye, blinking to help it fully absorb and reach everywhere. If using an eye cup like the one pictured, pour enough into your eye cup to fill it up halfway, hold it up to your eye (head down) to create a seal, then tip your head up and let the solution permeate your eye area, blinking and opening your eye, for 30 seconds to a minute. Use the mixture applied to the eyes 2-6 times daily until the desired outcome is achieved.
This does *wonders* for tender eyes and I have never had soreness or redness last for more than a day after using an herbal eyewash made with the herbs above.
Herbs for Eye Health and Optimal Vision
We get a lot of inquiries about herbs for overall eye health and optimal vision, and I'll summarize our typical recommendations below. This is not an all-encompassing deep dive whatsoever as eye health is a complex and nuanced issue. Lifestyle and diet (a deficiency in vitamin A leads to night-blindness, for example, and is relatively common) is all-important here, including everything from getting enough sleep to reducing your exposure to blue light and increasing your exposure to natural light to getting plenty of antioxidants in your food (especially blueberries).
Our favorite herbs to use internally to support an overall lifestyle and nutritional effort toward eye health are:
- Ginkgo biloba
- Gotu kola
- Vitex berry
- Hawthorn berry
- Ground ivy
- Nourishing herbal infusions, particularly of oatstraw, nettles, and red clover (or extract of red clover - available by special request only)
These are all herbs known to support healthy vision through their effects on the cardiovascular system and circulation, the blood, and the pineal gland, or because of their nutrient density. A well-rounded eye health formula might include any or all of the above depending on your constitution, your diet and lifestyle approaches, and the big picture of your overall health.
And don't forget what's perhaps the most important aspect of modern eye health: regulating your screen time and making sure to use your long-range vision so that it doesn't atrophy. Go outside and fix your eyes on a tree on the horizon or a natural element as far away as possible to strengthen your ocular muscles in this way.
For the holidays this year, Michael made his favorite Christmas apple strudel with a few local spicebush berries thrown in for a wildcrafted Appalachian twist in a dish in which the new world meets the old...via strudel!
If I told you that I'd found a delightful summer sipping beverage that could make you live forever, would you believe me?
Reishi: The Immune-Enhancing Mushroom of Longevity
Perhaps immortality is a stretch - though reishi (Ganoderma tsugae/lucidum) is well known as the 'mushroom of immortality' in Chinese medicine - but it has performed well in many studies indicating that it is an effective longevity promoting tonic herb that increases the human lifespan (this study, for example). To enjoy the many benefits of reishi mushroom decoction or tea, I usually cook the dried mushroom in broths, soups, or stews, or boil it into a strong tea. While these are fantastic ways to access the medicine, none of them sounds particularly appealing in the heat of summer. That's where Long Life Lemonade - a cooling, nourishing, sweet, and nutritive beverage - comes in. It takes less than five minutes to make a batch and will last in the refrigerator for a few days.
Everything about this recipe is in-exact, as any good kitchen witch knows, so play around with it. Throw in some cardamom pods or cloves, use limes instead of lemons...experiment!
Long Life Reishi Lemonade Recipe
1/2 - 1 oz dried reishi slices
6 cups water
1 - 2 cinnamon sticks
2 - 4 tbsp lemon juice
stevia, sugar, maple syrup, or honey to taste
Place your dried reishi slices and cinnamon sticks in the water and bring to a boil. Simmer this mixture on low heat for one hour to even up to half a day or longer. The longer you simmer the mixture, the stronger the reishi will become and the more of its medicinal components will be imparted to the water.
Strain the liquid off from the herbs, and mix in your lemon juice and sweetener while it is still warm. Refrigerate several hours or until cold. Serve over ice with a lemon or lime wedge to garnish.
This Long Life Lemonade was a hit with my 10-month-old (I only let him have a few sips because it was quite sweet, but he would have happily chugged it all down).
Not into the lemonade idea? We also offer reishi as a simple, potent dual extract, as part of our Long Life formula (along with astragalus and burdock), and in our Mushroom Elixir (along with chaga, turkey tail, and maitake).
Here's to endless summers, long life, and good health!
Susun Weed, author of Healing Wise - the book with more dandelion flower, leaf, and root recipes than I've ever seen - tells us that dandelion is one of the most generous plants, for any part of her is harvestable at any time of the year. Therefore, anytime is a great time for a bowl of this easy-to-whip-up dandelion dip, served with some crackers, fresh veg, or chips. And it's a dish wild enough to impress your friends, kids, or nosy neighbors with its foraged flavor of a hint of bitter balanced with garlic and salt.
We start by collecting bunches of dandelion greens fresh from the lawn, garden, farmer's market, or any other place you trust for your wild foods. If you have a little one to help you at this task, so much the better!
In the springtime, dandelion leaves tend to be a little less bitter and they continue to rev up that bitterness as summer gives way to fall. This dish helps us remember that bitter tastebuds are ones we have for a reason: bitters stimulate our digestive juices, kicking our GI system into high gear and encouraging salivary and metabolic actions. Although coffee is really one of the only 'bitters' we find in our food culture, bitter tasting plant foods are important and even essential for a healthy gut and digestive fire.
After dicing up the dandy leaves, and tasting a few for good measure (and giving a few to the baby to make him pucker with surprise!), we simply combine this green loveliness with cottage cheese, plain yogurt (preferably organic and full-fat, for the optimal nutrition), garlic powder, and salt (see exact measurements in the recipe above). Easy! The dip is now ready to be feasted on, with fingers, crackers, or whatever bread you have on hand.
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.