Women's Herbal Healthcare
Adapted from "Tea-Time at the Masters" August Junior League Cookbook
5 quarts Jerusalem artichokes, cleaned and chopped
2 gallons of water
2 cups of plain salt
3 pounds of white cabbage, chopped
1 and 1/2 pounds of white onions, chopped
6 large green and red bell peppers, chopped
3/4 cup of plain flour
1 24 ounce jar of French's mustard
1/2 gallon of cider vinegar
3 pounds of sugar
2 tablespoons turmeric
2 tablespoons celery seed
3 tablespoons mustard seed
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 tablespoon hot sauce or more to taste
First day: Soak artichokes overnight in 1 gallon of water and 1 cup of salt. In a second container, soak cabbage, onion, and bell peppers in 1 gallon and 1 cup of salt.
Second day: Drain artichokes. Spread on large towel to drain thoroughly. Drain vegetables. Spread a second towel to drain thoroughly. In a mixing bowl, combine flour and mustard carefully. Avoid lumping. Stir until mixture is smooth. In a large (at least 10 quart) kettle, mix vinegar, sugar, tumeric, celery seed, mustard seed, and pepper, Bring to a boil. Add cabbage, onions, and bell peppers. Bring mixture back to a boll and cook for 10 minutes over medium heat. Reduce to low heat. Dip out about a cup of hot liquid and add to the flour mixture. Mix well. Add thinned flour mixture to vinegar and vegetables. Stir thoroughly until well mixed. Add hot sauce (and pimentos if used) and artichokes. Increase heat (do not let it burn on the bottom). Stir until mixture is about to boil (about 5 minutes). Add hot base is about to boil (about 5 minutes). Seal in sterilized jars. Yield 17-18 pints. If red bell peppers are not available, use one 4 ounce jar of chopped pimentos.
This relish is great as a topping on or alongside beans or veggies, as a condiment with meat, or chopped fine and mixed into tuna salad.
Exploring the temperate rainforests of western North Carolina on a misty, damp weekday morning, a blotch of white in the midst of swaths of dark grey tree bark captures my attention out of the periphery of my vision. Closing in on it, foraging backpack in hand, I see that my eyes aren't playing tricks on me this time and turning an unsuspecting leaf or a gap in the woods into a mushroom - forager's goggles, they say. Looking like a clump of stalactites lost from its cave, the oblong shape I'm drawn towards glows in the shady glen. The milky white growth protruding from the side of the white oak is, in fact, what I think it is: lion's mane (Hericium erinaceus).
Approaching the mushroom, I notice how closely it resembles a part of an underwater seascape that's meandered into the woodland ecosystem, out of place from its coral reef. Lion's mane mushroom appears to be a dense cloud of toothed ivory spines, sharp and skinny. True to its name, every spike of the fruiting body could be a thick strand of an albino lion's ruff.
Hedgehog mushroom, monkey's head, pom-pom mushroom, bearded tooth - all of these other monikers for it make sense upon visual inspection of its explosion from the tree's side.
As I reach out and touch it, I am no longer fooled about whether it has sea urchin identities: it feels and smells like a mushroom, dense and rubbery to the hands, earthy and pungent to the nose.
Where Does Lion's Mane Grow?
Hardwood trees like oak, walnut, maple, birch, and beech provide the ideal home environment from which lion's mane mycelium can fruit. While it still grows wild here in the Appalachian mountains, lion's mane can be fairly easily cultivated from the white strands of its mycelium, a method which is preferable considering diminishing habitats and environmental concerns like deforestation. Conscious consumers must be sure to source lion's mane from ethically wildcrafted or sustainably and organically cultivated sources that have a reputation for integrity.
Benefits of Lion's Mane Mushroom
So what's all the hype about lion's mane mushroom? Why did I get so excited upon discovering it bursting from the oak's gut on my morning walk? Is this simply the latest in the parade of super-fungi or is it all its cracked up to be, plus some? Put your thinking caps on (and take your Brain Boost or your lion's mane extract - hint, hint at what body systems it supports) and let's review what we know about this fantastic fungus.
This article will focus on the efficacy of lion's mane in three areas: the brain, the mood, and the immune system. But rather than pigeon-holing this mushroom into "that brain herb", we will briefly explore its other benefits, too. No herb acts in a vacuum, and the reality is that this multi-tasking mushroom influences many other body systems beyond the brain. Lion's mane is also prized for its ability to support hormonal health, inspire cellular and nerve growth, and support optimal liver health.
Lion's Mane for the Brain
If lion's mane had a 1960s advertising jingle written about it, it would go: "Need to beef up the brain? Consume lion's mane!" If this sing-song helps you remember what to do with this herb, fantastic. If you'd rather be briefed on what the studies have to say, read on.
Delving into the early research on lion's mane -and of course there remains so much to be expanded upon in this department - we learn that lion's mane lives up to its reputation as 'the smart mushroom'. Possessing a rich bank of antioxidants and polysaccharides in each fruiting body, lion's mane rescues and restores the brain suffering from damage or deficiency. (1)
The two areas of the brain that lion's mane provides the most support for are cognition and memory. Lion's mane is thought to support mental clarity and dispel brain fog, whether it comes as a result of postpartum hormonal changes, natural processes of aging, or after a traumatic event.
Lion's mane mushroom is well established as a booster of overall brain and nervous system health through its ability to regenerate nerves and improve nerve growth, even after enduring trauma or events that have affected brain function and cognitive or nervous system health.
Lion's mane staves off brain drain. It increases capacity for a well-oiled memory machine and creating expansion and spaciousness in the face of shut down or dimming of the old lucid lightbulb.
Lion's mane has well-documented neuroprotective and neuroregenerative qualities that give it its reputation for protecting the brain from stress, damage, and decline and maintaining a sharp mental state. (2) Lion's mane is generally recognized as safe for those of all ages and stages, though it has a particular affinity for those in their wisdom years who want to maintain and improve healthy cognition.
The literature indicates that cognition of the elderly improves when lion's mane mushroom is incorporated into their daily consumption. (3) Taken regularly on a daily and long-term basis, lion's mane is believed to interrupt a path of cognitive decline while simultaneously sharpening the thought and memory centers of the brain.
Mood Support and Lion's Mane
Through its mechanism of action on neurotransmitters and cognitive function, lion's mane has much to offer in terms of promoting a stable, happy, and balanced state of mind. Mental health is everything, especially when you find yourself in the midst of a mental challenge such as feelings of "the blues", the inability to think with clarity, or simply struggling with feelings of low energy or haziness. When you have support in your ability to think clearly, remember, and use critical thought, happiness, balance, and a sense of general well-being can follow.
This is where lion's mane comes in. Sought after for its ability to help maintain a sunny disposition, lion's mane gives a leg up to the individual who finds themselves in the mental trenches and is looking for a well-researched natural solution. Lion's mane makes an excellent addition to a full-fledged mood supportive herbal regimen, which might include St. John's wort, motherwort, and lemon balm (or a high quality blend of these like Sunny Days), along with lion's mane.
Fully aware, alert, alive, adept, and adaptable - these are all words that can be used to pinpoint the sensations that lion's mane offers those who use the extract daily.
The Immune System and Lion's Mane
Lion's mane supports sound brain and body function by supporting and stimulating the immune system, as well as the brain and nervous systems. A well-known immunomodulator, lion's mane helps to support and maintain a balanced, nourished system of defense and offense in the face of immune challenges throughout the seasons.
Lion's mane is known, like many beneficial mushrooms including chaga, turkey tail, and reishi, as an adaptogen. This means that its constituents assist the body non-specifically in adapting to the stressors of life in a healthy way. Systemically helping to modulate the immune and nervous systems via neurotransmitters, hormones, and cellular health, lion's mane normalizes and supports every organ system. Simply put, lion's mane is an adaptogen that helps your body to be its best self and live its best life - in as stress-free a way as possible.
Lion's Mane as an Edible Mushroom
While lion's mane is best known as a mushroom hosting a wealth of body and brain benefits, it also shows up on gourmet dinner plates and in lucky forager's feasts. Tender and delicious with that signature 'umami' flavor which is uniquely mushroom-y, lion's mane is a spectacular treat for the adventurous tastebuds when cooked.
The few times that I've been fortunate enough to enjoy a few buttery, salty shards of shaggy lion's mane on my plate have been some of the best meals of my life. If you're lucky enough to have fresh lion's mane be a part of your next wild foods dinner, be sure to accurately identify it (with the help of a seasoned mycologist), harvest it while keeping the precious mycelium intact, and cook it lightly with organic butter, coconut oil, or olive oil.
Lion's Mane Dual Extract
No other mushroom has near the neurological effects of lion's mane. The preferred method of assimilating all the benefits of lion's mane mushroom - and also the most convenient - is a dual extract.
Why dual extract mushrooms? A dual extract synergizes a rainbow of beneficial compounds, including beta-glucans and tritrepenes. We prize quality and sustainability and are proud to offer lion's mane on its own as a potent dual extract made using our special double extraction process.
We organically cultivate our lion's mane, which is harvested by hand during the seasons of its peak freshness and potency. The extract is made by double extracting the mushroom in both water and alcohol to concentrate both the water and alcohol soluble constituents of this valuable fungus.
Want to learn more? Check out our IG video on lion's mane.
Looking for an even broader spectrum of mushroom benefits? Our beloved Mushroom Elixir is a great alternative to a simple lion's mane extract, synergizing beneficial mushrooms reishi, maitake, chaga, and turkey tail together to bring the power of the fungus among us to you.
Our ancestors used what they could reach or what grew right outside their back door. So do/did the granny and grandpa healers who are still alive today. Who had time, resources, or the ability to buy from afar or transport goods along great distances? Exotic Amazonian (as in the jungle, not the retail mogul) antioxidant-rich superfoods were accessible only to those who lived in the Amazon. The name of the game out of necessity was “hyperlocal", and not because it was a buzzword, but because it was life.
The substances we use as medicine shift from region to region and may even change among microclimates within one community. A homestead up in a shady holler might use broad-leaf plantain to pack a wound, while those near the sunny meadow down the way might use the lance-leaved variety of the same plant. There is a magic simplicity in knowing the weeds or wild plants which grow closest to your home and touch your bare feet. Gathering abundant medicinal species and making them into tinctures, oils, dried herbs, vinegars, and salves for your own personal apothecary or herbal first aid kit can be done even with scarce monetary resources, as long as the intention, solid identification skills, and willing desire is present.
Harvesting according to the lunar cycle and clipping the aerial parts of plants during the full moon while saving underground roots for the dark of the moon/the new moon is another ritual practice that dates back many centuries. Both our ancestors and modern herbalists understand that they must get to know a plant intimately in order to come into relationship with it and to properly harvest plants at different seasons, therefore gleaning varying nutrients that manifest differently from seed to root and summer to winter. The cycles of the plant-body, human-body, and earth-body align and the synergy of this collision makes for the best medicine.
Another traditional southern folk medicine way to ingest poke is to swallow the ripe berries, which stain magenta in the wildest way and are often used as a natural dye. There is an immunity-optimizing spring cleanse protocol which involves swallowing one whole (fresh or frozen) poke berry on day one, two on day two, and so on, up until the tipping point where someone experiences symptoms associated with a strong cathartic dose of the herb (dizziness, nausea), and then stopping.
Is it Detox You're After? Or Depth?
Only you know the answer to the question posed above. But don't rush into answering it without letting the relevant organ systems of your body have a say. Culturally, we are in a moment where it is often easier to reach for a heroic seven-day cleansing program of elimination and pleasure denial than it is to peer into the root cause of an issue as something deeper, many-pronged, and not necessarily detox-able. Are those types of cleanses ever necessary? Sure. Sometimes. But what are they avoiding?
Socially, we have gathered around the now greenwashed ideas of 'clean' eating and 'whole' living as the ultimate good. Are these ideologies bad? No. But they can chip away at the picture of the self as an entity of fully embodied wisdom and paint a picture of the detoxing body pitted against the dirty, chemical-ridden world as bad, unworthy, unclean, or not enough. Which is an idea just as dangerous and demanding as untempered detox itself can be.
Detox has become something of a dirty word in the wise woman tradition, which prefers nourishment over cleansing and supportive sustenance and toning over deprivation and purging (for more on this, see my article Nutritious Nourishment vs. Dirty Detox). This thought follows the model of the body as a sort of self-cleaning oven. And let's be honest, no metaphor for the body (other than perhaps a garden! says the herbalist) is complex or nuanced enough to capture the full reality of the thousands of physiological processes that occur while we sleep and breathe, flow and flounder, consume and excrete.
We contain multitudes. The levels of environmental stressors and the ways in which we experience trauma and stress as inflammation are...dare we say it - unprecedented? And even though we are not (thankfully) entirely responsible for regularly cleaning the gunk of environmental, stress-induced, and food-based toxins out of our system since our body in its wisdom does that largely on its own with appropriate support, there are ways that we can ease and contribute to this process. While it might seem a bit counterintuitive if you've adhered to the model of consistent cleansing, perhaps the best effort we can make towards supporting the body's own detox processes is providing it with richly saturated nutrition so that it has the resources it needs to perform phase I and II detox as effortlessly and beautifully as it was designed to.
Our biological imperative towards cleansing and purifying the body follows a cyclical, seasonal path. Early spring is traditionally a time for consuming the newly sprouted growth of slightly bitter, chlorophyll-laden herbs which serve to purify and thin the blood and kickstart the sluggish digestion of winter into a new era: clover, cress, chickweed, and wild mustard. Throughout the growing season, these plants become more bitter, chewy, and fibrous, losing their appeal somewhat as other food sources come into fruition. "In the spring, impurities the body has been harboring over the winter can rise. Pathogens dormant within the body during the winter can also rise, causing illness. Spring cleansing of the body forms an important aspect of Southern Folk Medicine, helping thin the blood and ready it for the travails of summer," notes my mentor herbalist Phyllis D. Light.
She speaks of the relationship between herbal medicine and the blood, which is one element we often think of as needing regular cleansing or detoxification. "Blood flows in tune with nature, ebbing and flowing with the seasons. There is a direct correlation between the flow of blood in the body and the flow of sap in trees. In the fall, blood begins to sweeten and get thicker (increase in viscosity) as the weather grows cooler. It sinks downward and pulls inward. Hands and feet endure reduced circulation as the weather chills and blood moves increasingly to the internal organs to keep them warm and nourished. In the spring, blood thins (becomes sour) and begins to rise, moving upward and outward in order to keep the internal organs cooler."
Although new year's day or midwinter is generally a time when many of us with resolutions find ourselves purging all sugar for 30 days or eliminating certain 'cheat' foods that we indulged in over the holidays, midwinter would be a very nontraditional time for cleansing the body as the slow elimination system of the cold season requires deep nourishment and has little access to those new spring greens or warming roots like sassafras and burdock which are considered post-winter purifiers.
Fasting, heroic cleanses, and detox programs may have their place in certain situations where there is severe environmental toxin exposure, the presence of autoimmunity, or certain food sensitivities or allergies (in which case Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride's bone broth-heavy GAPS protocol is my go-to). But often what is needed is less a 'hard reset' and more of a solidification of the nutrient and mineral platform the body has to draw from in the first place.
Phase I and Phase II Detox
The dual phases of liver detox are multi-faceted. Everything we eat, drink, breathe, or put on our bodies is either water or fat soluble. If it's water soluble, it is excreted by kidneys in phase I detox. If it's fat soluble, it is excreted by feces or kidneys in phase II detox. The goal of the healthy liver is to slow down phase I and speed up phase II and there are many ways to boost the body's ability to do this.
Phase I detox is supported by many nutritive herbs and foods, particularly those which are good sources of B vitamins, antioxidants, vitamins A, C, and E, and trace mineral selenium (ACES). These constituents help combat free radicals which are generated when the liver breaks down toxic substances. Foods from the brassicaceae plant family - think dark leafy greens like kale and chard as well as broccoli and brussels sprouts - support this transformative process. The herbs that catalyze and support the liver's phase I breakdown process are garlic, onions, turmeric with black pepper, St. John's wort (it does this so well, in fact, that it is this quality of St. John's wort which makes it contraindicated with some pharmaceutical drugs because it clears them out of the liver too quickly), and power-hub ginseng (root/whole plant or leaf).
Looking to support your liver's take-out-the-trash/recycling-day one? Look to formulas like fire cider or a tonic like Garlic Elixir or Ginseng Elixir. St John's wort or blends which include it, like Sunny Days or Viral Spiral, would also be in this family.
Phase II detox takes care of any leftovers from the first phase and also processes through most hormones. If there is matter that the liver was unable to breakdown in phase I, it moves it onto phase II. Foods which support phase II detox are rich in healthy proteins, such as beans, lean meats, fish, nuts and seeds, eggs, and milk. Sulfur-rich herbs like garlic and onions play a big part in phase II processing, as does turmeric (with bioavailability enhanced by black pepper). Conversely, the elements and states which slow down phase II processing which we want to avoid include chemical dyes (think red 40 and yellow no. 5), aspirin, mineral deficiencies, and constant exposure to environmental hazards or long-term medication use.
The herbs that are classically considered blood cleansers actually do improve phase II liver detox by cleaning or purifying the blood: burdock, yellow dock, dandelion, and red clover dried blossom (or extract, available by special request), for example. Beneficial to the liver's second phase of detox are formulas like Deep Roots, an absorbable turmeric and black pepper blend, and blood-detoxifiers like red clover or a formula like Lymph Love (including red clover).
Both phases of liver detox are deeply supported with minerals like zinc, selenium, and manganese and greatly hindered by mineral deficiency. The primary mineral-rich herbs are one of the most recognizable and immediate ways to support the detox phases. Think nourishing herbal infusions of nettles, oatstraw, red clover, and linden, plus fire cider or mineral-dense vinegars like Three Sisters Vinegar or Zesty Three Sisters Vinegar (which adds garlic to further assist with phase I and II detox).
Connecting With Your Roots: Herbs and the Liver
If we take a step back and look at the human body and the plant body as two sides of the same holograph, we can find elements of the human digestion and elimination pathways that sync up with the plant's root system. In traditional Chinese medicine, there is a principle of consuming the organ with which one is challenged. For example, those with a troubled heart would eat the heart of an animal in order to strengthen their physical and emotional heart chakra or qi. In southern folk medicine,
This holy trinity of roots is what we chose to formulate our Deep Roots liver phase I and II elimination support blend: burdock, dandelion, and yellow dock. There is something beyond synergy in the way these three plants (which happen to often grow in the same landscape and sometimes right next to each other) complement each other.
Burdock is specific for aiding the body in digesting those fat soluble elements which are broken down in phase II as well as acting as a prebiotic which enhances beneficial bacteria activity and spurs the whole nutrient assimilation process. Dandelion root is quite possibly the most abundant and full-spectrum liver nourisher on earth. And if we look into its presence on the planet as an indication of its potential use, we can see a relationship between the dandelions furrowing through the grass of almost every country on every continent and the pervasive presence of liver stagnation which has become so unfortunately universal. Yellow dock not only beefs up iron absorption but smooths and benefits intestinal and colon health; its bitter components also act as the liver's greatest catalyst and asset.
The roots of these cherished field herbs go a long way in helping us humans forge a relationship with our tangled mass of roots, from the stomach to the intestine and the kidneys to the liver and throughout all the phases of our digestion and elimination process. Coming into relationship with roots which have such a pulse on the heart of the earth as they do - quite literally reaching their tendrils down into the depths in search of minerals and nutrients and pulling them up to the surface where we humans can enjoy their benefits when we consume them - can be profound. Love and appreciation for the liver goes a long way in the healing and care for this tireless organ. Listen to the needs of your liver: is it detox that it needs? Or support of its depth, from the depth of the earth?
2. What's in a name? Many of the most historically valued herbs have common nicknames which point to some of their properties and possible uses. Take, for example, one old moniker for ground ivy (Glechoma hederaceae): 'ale hoof', which refers to its historical use in beer brewing (nowadays, hops is used). A common name for lobelia (Lobelia inflata - pictured in this post) is pukeweed, which indicates that it must be taken in very small drop doses (1-10 drops at a time), otherwise it may lead to nausea and vomiting.
3. Get off the internet. This might seem a little counterintuitive considering where you're reading this little nugget of advice, but the truth is that the online sphere is one of the worst (though at times, also the best) place to learn about herbs. SO much of the information about herbs online is copied and pasted in various forms from questionable material, written by ghostwriters who have no actual familiarity with herbs, or either simply scare tactics or marketing ploys with only the most basic understanding/misunderstanding of an herb's actual characteristics. Pull out your trusty herb books and use the indexes to look up reliable information or head to your library and swoop up some good botanical references.
5. While our beloved bestselling herbs like echinacea, elderberry, and arnica are always in style and at this point almost household names in certain circles, a good herbal apothecary is stocked with so much more than these old favorites. Some of our lesser known but highly valued medicinal herbs include treasures like ground ivy, liferoot, cleavers, spilanthes, feverfew, kudzu root, lobelia, pedicularis, poke, Solomon's seal, usnea, wild lettuce, and yellow dock. As a challenge to yourself, pick one lesser known herb per week or month and use the methods above to learn more about it and incorporate into you and your family's medicinal materia medica. You may be surprised at how integral an herb like poke or lobelia becomes to your first aid/self-care kit once you learn how multifaceted and versatile it is.
Within our materia medica of common 'weedy' medicinal plants native to the Appalachian mountains where we are based, you will also find a sprinkling of so-called invasive plants which are not native to this area and at times are seen as resource hogs, taking water, sunlight, and nutrients from our native plants and sometimes depleting their populations or even choking them out. One individual, a professional whose work is to control the populations of non-native plants in our woodlands, recently posed a question to us about the harvesting and use of invasive species such as autumn olive, multiflora rose, and mimosa and how this affects their presence amidst our native plants. It's such a fascinating inquiry and important topic that we wanted to address it here. After all, we eat, sleep, and breathe plants: their future is our future and their health is our health.
Does the Use of Abundant Herbal Remedies Include Invasive Species?
Increasingly, we are finding the plants in our yards are 'foreigners', invasive species which are sometimes stigmatized and snubbed by native plant lovers. What does the presence of these exotic botanicals mean and how do we deal with their infiltration of populations of other plants that we want to see thrive?
Mimosa tree flowers (Alibizia julibrissin)
Certain invasive herbs have become quite popular in modern herbal medicine: Japanese knotweed is commonly included in protocols for chronic lyme and immune support, kudzu leaves are edible, spinach-like, and certainly abundant, the plant provides an incredibly tough fiber for basket-weaving, and its nutritive, starchy root is an invaluable remedy for a number of physical issues, and mimosa flower goes into many mood-boosting formulas for its reputation as the serotonin-boosting 'happiness tree'.
Beyond the Idea of Good Natives vs. Bad Invasives
The framing of the invasive plant issue can be as varied as "All non-natives are bad," (see this National Geographic article on the subject) to "...The blame for damage done by so-called invasive species lies with us, when we have created an imbalance that opens opportunities for new species to move in," (Toby Hemenway on Timothy Scott's fascinating book Invasive Plant Medicine, which I recommend).
Autumn/Russian Olive berries (Eleagnus spp.)
The discussion on invasives vs. natives in the realm of modern herbal medicine gets complicated and nuanced quickly, with issues of sustainable wildcrafting and plant population control coming to the forefront. The average herbalist wouldn't dare refer to beloved plantain (which was known as 'English-man's foot' to indigenous Americans) or dandelion as invasive or consider eliminating them from the apothecary because they had origins somewhere other than North America.
To the contrary, the two weeds are present in some form in almost every materia medica and in the majority of apothecaries, mirroring their prevalence throughout the planet. The complexities of invasives vs. natives in the ecosystem are immense and this doesn't even touch on the philosophical lessons that invasive plants might hold for humanity: resilience, adaptability, and thriving under difficult circumstances, to name a few. Invasive plants are scrappy and tenacious to the core - qualities that will become more and more prized as we deal with a changing planet. One thing is becoming clear, though: the hard line between the invasives and the native plans is becoming blurred.
Conventional wisdom tells us that invasive species are unwanted and insidious. But the landscape is changing; in a warming world, it is becoming increasingly challenging to define what is native and what is not. There is even an area of study within integration biology which looks at the relationship invasive and native plants have with each other. Opportunistic plants offer us the chance to respect them for what they are, appreciate the role they play, receive what they offer, and reimagine how to do this while also preserving and sustaining our native plants. This is their own unique medicine, whether you make it into an herbal tincture (as in Japanese knotweed or kudzu) or not (check out this NY Times article 'Invasives Aren't Always Unwanted' for more).
Why Harvesting and Using Invasive Plants as Herbal Remedies Helps Balance the Ecosystem
We promote the harvesting and use of medicinally and nutritionally valuable plants and herbs, regardless of where they originate from. Often, the appropriate use of invasives such as multiflora rose blossoms or hips or autumn olive berries can help to control, deter, and diminish their populations by preventing them from seeding or spreading further (since these hips/berries are their reproductive organs). When we harvest wild multiflora rosehips for tea, preserves, or for our award-winning Carolina Bitters digestive formula, or pick autumn olive berries as an antioxidant-rich wild snack or pie filling, we effectively reduce their chances of reseeding themselves with those particular fruits, which may give native botanicals in the area a better chance to hold their own and resist the invasive takeover.
Despite their poor reputation amongst gardeners, invasives do have value when considered part of the larger ecological web. The Albizia julibrissin tree was originally introduced to the US as an ornamental from Asia and adapts well to most soils. When we harvest the stunningly gorgeous mimosa flower and bark to make our grief-supportive and mood-optimizing Mimosa Elixir, we will often drop a branch - which may help reign in the growth of the tree - or gather blooms from a specimen that is about to be cut down or trimmed anyway. Sustainably wildcrafting the blossoms - while, of course, leaving some for pollinators and other people to enjoy - means that we are reducing the self-seeding ability of the tree and therefore future populations of mimosa, while increasing the ability of native trees to thrive.
What can be done to control the widespread growth of exotic invasives while also helping our precious native (often woodland growing) herbal remedies such as lobelia, yellowroot, Solomon's seal, and black cohosh to thrive? Eating the weeds is a good start. We never promote the cultivation or spreading of invasive plants because their vigor and growth speed has the potential to destroy the native species that make our region of western North Carolina so special and among the most botanically diverse bioregions in the world. But we are long-time purveyors of the Frank Cook (Plants and Healers International) mantra, "Eat something wild everyday," and many of the most sought-after greens in our foraged salads are wild mustard, dandelion, plantain, and garlic mustard. Top that with some blackberries and you have yourself a fully invasive salad.
Another practice we can all do is essentially 'find and replace'. If on your outdoor adventures you see young multiflora rose, Japanese honeysuckle, oriental bittersweet, privet, Japanese barberry, or Russian olive species which are going to choke out the native botanicals at the woods' edge or in the deep forest, pull out a few of these invasives and plant a seedling of goldenseal, ginseng, bloodroot, or black cohosh in their place. Jeannie loves to do this while giving her goats the opportunity to walk with her and munch down some of these exotic invasives as they will eat whatever she pulls for them.
Weaving traditional kudzu baskets at Red Moon Herbs with the incredible teacher Nancy Basket
True Sustainability Through Education, Plant Saves, and Seed Spreading
Perhaps the deepest thread that runs through our 26-year history as a small herb company is that of protecting and spreading seeds of native plant populations. We do plant rescues and saves in which we transplant native medicinals from areas where they would otherwise be eradicated by development. We promote the awareness and use of ginseng leaf which is undervalued yet as or more potent than ginseng root. We share traditional wild-tending strategies such as re-planting pieces ginseng and Solomon's seal roots and planting the berries/seeds before harvesting. We pride ourselves on being leaders in the seed-spreading revolution.
Intrigued with the subject and looking for more? For further reading, check out the thoroughly researched book Invasive Plant Medicine: The Ecological Benefits and Healing Abilities of Invasives. Look into Ann Armbrecht's work on the Sustainable Herbs Project. Support your hyper-local or as-local-as-possible organic and biodynamic farmers, wildcrafters, and herbalists and know your herb sources and #whomakesyourmedicine. And as always, join us in supporting the work of United Plant Savers to conserve and protect our precious native medicinal plants.
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.
Making pine needle cough syrup is super easy and essentially no more work than making a very strong pine tea and then 'holding' it with good quality, preferably raw, local honey. Pine is an expectorant for thinning and moving mucous in the lungs. It's warming, somewhat drying, and has a sweet and sour flavor blend that can only be described as piney.