Isn't everything, in the dark, too wonderful to be exact, and circumscribed?
For instance, the white pine that stands by the lake. Tall and dense, it's a whistling crest on windy mornings. Otherwise, it's silent. It looks over the lake and looks up the road. I don't mean it has eyes. It has long bunches of needles, five to each bundle. From its crown springs a fragrance, the air sharp with it. Everything is in it. But no single part can be separated from another."
~ Mary Oliver, White Pine
The winter solstice is approaching. The holidays are "upon" us. Whether you are joyful and excitedly preparing for feasts and gatherings or overwhelmed and exhausted by the demands of the season and the dark days you can find inspiration and assistance from the plants (and the poets) of our world.
Over the next few weeks I invite you to take a little time out for some much needed self care. To inspire you I'm sharing with you all some of my favorite winter remedies. The plants have a way of working with our bodies and our spirits. Go to them during this time and they will provide light.
WHITE PINE, Pinus strobus
White pine adorned my home every December as a child. It hung on doors as wreaths with golden ribbons. A few years back I spent many months working with white pine, sitting with the trees in Prospect Park, chewing on fresh needles and ingesting small amounts of the tincture to come to know the tree on a deeper level. White Pine is native to the eastern United States and was known as the great tree of peace to the Iroquois. So deep was this connection to peace that when the Iroquois would seal a peace agreement they would bury their weapons under a white pine tree. When you tincture the plant, you tincture the needles, the bark and the twigs which produces a resinous tincture that is super high in vitamin c. In my experience the tree provides a deep rooted peacefulness that allows you to experience joy. By working on the lungs, it imparts a lightness to the body reminiscent of its thin, feathery evergreen needles. Use it for a lung ailments and winter colds. It is not for daily use as it is emetic but it is the plant I go to when there's a stuck feeling in my chest and heart. As an essential oil it can be used in baths, direct palm inhalation and in oils. It also is a wonderful essential oil to use for cleaning. The essential oil dispels worries and tiredness and deeply purifies.
HOLY BASIL, Ocinum spp.
Known in Ayurveda as Tulsi, Holy Basil is perhaps the most sacred plant of India where it is said to be pure sattva. It strengthens nerve tissues and promotes clarity of mind. It is a mild adaptogen, meaning it aids the whole body and mind in processing and handling stress. Dr. Vasant Lad says it opens the heart and bestows the energy of love and devotion while also strengthening faith and compassion. It is antispasmodic, calming without being sedative and warming. It is also mildly antibacterial and diaphoretic, meaning it helps you to sweat. I drink it all winter long to keep warm, to keep my spirit up and to fight off the flu and colds. Enjoy it as a tea, a rich infusion or a tincture.
JUNIPER, Juniperus communis
Mostly I work with juniper as an essential oil thanks to the amazing work of Lori Regan of Shine Essential Oils who is creating the most divine, local, small batch, wild-harvested essential oils. The essential oil is resinous, sweet and earthy and supports clear breathing, detoxification and cleansing. It will also rejuvenate the nerves, calm the mind and deepen relaxation. My favorite way to work with juniper this time of year is as a massage oil for the belly. Mix just a couple drops into some warming sesame oil and massage in a circular motion over the abdomen to help with detoxification from overindulgence of food and drink.
CARDAMOM, Elettaria cardamomum.
Cardamom is a relative of ginger and one of my all time favorite plants. Native to India, Nepal and Bhutan and traded by the Greeks and Romans, cardamom is one of the most prized spices in the world. The plant strengthens and activates the heart and the lungs and provide mental clarity. Cardamon is also amazing for your gut; it neutralizes the mucous forming properties of dairy and is said to detoxify the caffeine in coffee. Cracking open a fresh pod and chewing on the little black seeds is a fine thing to do after meals as it is digestive and freshens the breath. Yogis use it to improve the flow of prana through the body. Western herbalists say it relieves depression and assists with poor circulation. I add it to nearly every chai I drink, to hot chocolate and I cook with it all winter long. Roast it with your next butternut squash or add it to grains while they are cooking. The essential oil, like juniper, also makes a great massage oil for the belly.
CATNIP, Nepeta cataria
Whenever I teach a workshop and talk about catnip I love the confused reaction I get from most folks. Yes, I know it's wild but it is true: the same plant that will make your feline friends roll around on their backs purring can also be consumed by humans and will create a similarly blissful effect. For cats however this plant is a stimulant while for humans it is a gentle but powerful sedative. It will help clear restlessness, tension and irritability and will help you sleep soundly. You can think of it as your winter hibernation herb. It also happens to be carminative, meaning it helps you digest your food so turn to it after holiday feasting. Catnip is a member of the mint family and has a light aromatic flavor that appeals to most palates. It is a good tea to consume before bed and is mild enough and tasty enough to give to children in small doses.
Some places to find these plants:
WHITE PINE: A few years ago while exploring a local waterfall I happened upon a tree that had just fallen down after a big storm. It was still very much alive and so I harvested as much as I could and made a big batch of sappy waterfall fresh white pine tincture. It's by far one of the most amazing wild remedies I've made. Email me if you'd like some.
HOLY BASIL is the base of my Go Tea. It's a tea that gets you going but also deeply nourishes and rejuvenates. Organic India has paired tulsi with just about every herb imaginable and is easily found in most health food stores.
JUNIPER Come to my Holiday Magic Carpet class on 12/18 which will feature juniper and many other calming plants. Look for it in my special Cool & Collected Wildcrafted Eucalyptus Salve or contact Shine Essential Oils as Lori is always distilling evergreens. (If she doesn't have juniper or white pine at present, every oil she has is a gem).
CATNIP is the base of my Calmmunity Tea. Catnip grows locally all throughout the US. Come spring you might just find some growing in your backyard.
"Do not think of yourself as a small, compressed, suffering thing. Think of yourself as graceful and expanding, however unlikely it may seem."
BKS Iyengar, Light on Life
Aches and pains. We all have them. Some of us have them in our head, some of us have them in our spine, some of us have them in our pinky toe.
As an herbalist I look at pain as a signal, a way for the body to communicate that something is out of harmony. In this light pain can be seen as illuminating; it teaches us about ourselves and points us in the direction toward healing and growth.
Not all pain is curable, though some is. Not all pain is definable, though some is. Some pain is muscular, some pain is structural and a great deal of pain is emotional. There is no magic pill for pain ~ herbal or otherwise ~ but there are many plants that we can work with to manage pain and heal the parts of us that are out of balance.
When my yoga mentor and teacher Deborah Wolk asked me to present a workshop on this subject at Samamkaya Yoga where I currently assist, I honestly first felt a bit overwhelmed. Pain is perhaps the most vague and challenging subject to address. But I quickly saw a vision of myself in my early twenties, drinking cupfuls of chamomile tea, purchasing valerian root and tossing pain meds down the toilet. It was very much chronic pain that led me to herbs.
Before I started practicing yoga and studying plant medicines I relied heavily on pharmaceutical drugs for relief of debilitating migraine headaches. To deal with them I started taking prescription painkillers at age 12. At age 22 I found plants and yoga and never returned to that way of living. It wasn't an overnight solution or a quick fix, nor have I been immune to pain since; no one is. Plants taught me that healing is possible but that it is also a holistic journey that is ever evolving and ongoing.
It is with great pleasure that I announce this workshop and share this subject with you all at this amazing back-care collective in NYC.
Herbs for pain management in the musculoskeletal system
I am honored to be presenting this special workshop at Samamkaya Yoga in Manhattan where I am currently assisting senior back care teacher & studio founder Deborah Wolk. During this special workshop, I will present plants and herbal preparations that support the health of the musculoskeletal system and assist with muscular and nerve pain, inflammation and healing. I will discuss the use of internal remedies such as herbal tinctures and infusions as well as the topical use of therapeutic oils, liniments and essential oils. Basic use of herbal preparations and dosage will be reviewed so that attendees leave feeling confident in their ability to incorporate simple herbal remedies into self-care routines. There will be an experiential portion of the workshop where attendees will have the opportunity to see, smell and sample a variety of plant remedies.
Thursday Night Holistic Healing Series
December 3, 2015
$35 in advance/$40 day of
For registration details, please email email@example.com
ABOUT SAMAMKAYA YOGA
Samamkāya Yoga Back Care & Scoliosis Collective is a therapeutic, worker-owned yoga studio that aims to make yoga accessible and healing to students of all ages and abilities who are living with back injuries, chronic/acute pain, differently shaped spines/bodies, scoliosis and spinal fusions.
I started working with herbs for self-care ten years ago. In the midst of a health crisis, fed up with suffering from migraines and overwhelmed by my early twenties, I started to practice yoga. Yoga revealed to me that I was living in a state of constant stress and so I started to seek out natural ways to calm down and care for my body. The first herb I ever used intentionally for healing was chamomile. That was ten years ago and it’s been a wild and wonderful journey since. I started making tea blends for myself, then for potlucks, gatherings and for my yoga students. Every time I’d share a tea, faces would light up and people would ask me questions about the plants. I felt I was collaborating with the earth and spreading knowledge of this ancient tradition.
It’s taken me years to bring this line to fruition. In celebration of the launch of the line, I'm excited to share with you some of the reasons I felt called to start selling herbal teas.
Drinking a cup a high-quality herbal tea is one of the simplest forms of self-care. Water, high quality herbs and some form of fire. That’s pretty much all you need to make a cup of tea. It takes just a few minutes to do and is enjoyable and nourishing. Herbs such as Nettles and Oats are incredibly mineral and vitamin rich. Many herbs have calming and digestive effects, some are mood-lifting and some support and build our immunity. All that said if you are drinking herbs for their nourishing qualities or even simply for their taste, the quality of the herbs is key. Most commercial teas, spices and herbs are grown with high levels of pesticides that counter the positive effects of the plants. The quality of the soil in which each plant was grown is also important. If the soil has been stripped of nutrients, the plants will not be vital.
I am spice lover, a lover of rich aromatic plants, fragrant blooms and grassy leaves. As I evolved as an herbalist and began crafting my own blends I began to feel disappointed in the herbal teas served at my favorite restaurants and coffee shops. Most tea companies focus on green and black teas and don’t quite understand how to blend herbs to bring out the subtle flavors of each plant. Many commercial herbal blends are overly fruity or flowery. Herbs are my passion and I have been working with them for ten years. I use leaves, flower, spices, peels, roots and berries in my teas and all within a delicate balance so you can experience each plant. In doing so I created a line that redefines the herbal tea experience.
Drinking hot herbal beverages stimulates our digestive fire and metabolism. In Ayurveda, our gut is the seat of our health. Want to live a long, happy, healthy life? Keep your “Agni” up. Agni is the biological fire governing metabolism, the creative inner flame at the core of our existence. Drinking hot herbal beverages kindles Agni. When Agni is strong food is digested, toxins are removed from our gut and we grow stronger. Our body is able to extract nutrition from the foods we eat and turn it into fuel for our cells.
The commercial herbal tea industry is a MESS. We are drinking teas that are “antioxidant” and “calming” in bags that are made out of plastics, treated with pesticides and filled with “natural flavors.”
Have you recently had a cup of tea in a luxuriously “silky sachet”? This new type of tea bag has become incredibly popular. Such mesh bags are made of plastics, generally out of PET (polyethylene terephthalate) and food grade nylon. I personally don’t need science to tell me why this is bad idea. Beyond the issue of environmental responsibility I just don’t want plastic in my tea. That said, I did some research. What I found is that these plastics have both a “melting point” and a “glass transition point.” The “glass transition point” is the temperature at which certain materials in the plastic start to break down. Both PET and food grade nylon have a glass transition point, aka breaking down point, that is lower than the temperature of boiling water. While we don’t know exactly what might be leaching from these plastics yet I personally don’t need to know. There are simply better ways to brew a cup of tea.
I wish I could say that paper bags are a safer option. While there are some responsible companies in existence, a great deal of the bagged teabags on the market are made from paper that has been treated with bleach and a chemical called epichlorohdrin. Epichlorodrin is used in epoxy resins and as a pesticide and has been classified as a probable human carcinogen by the EPA.
Beyond the issues with teabags many of the big commercial tea brands are selling herbs that are covered with pesticides. Published test results of Celestial Seasonings and Teavana teas show an alarming number of pesticides on the plants, levels that exceed U.S. Federal limits. One of the pesticides that was found in Celestial's Sleepytime Kids Goodnight Grape tea is Propachlor, a known carcinogen and reproductive and developmental toxin. While not wanting such pesticides in our teas is an important consideration, I believe a more significant consideration as a consumer is the effect these pesticides are having on the farmworkers who are in the fields harvesting the plants. These are the people most directly affected by these toxins. (For more on this, check out work currently being done by Earth Justice).
In America we are beverage obsessed. Whether your on the Kombucha or the Coca Cola side of the spectrum, one thing is clear: we are all sipping away on something besides water a great deal of the time. We have a 42.5 billion dollar beverage industry, an 113.5 billion dollar beer and spirit industry, a 60 billion dollar soft drink industry and a 4 billion dollar coffee industry. Single-use plastic bottles line the walls of most bodegas and a good portion of Whole Foods. Most of these packaged drinks are sweetened with processed sugars. By selling herbal teas I am offering an healthy alternative. Herbal tea is versatile; you can serve it hot, chilled, sweetened, neat or as a frothy chai. You can serve it in beautiful ceramic tea pot at a party or throw a tea ball into a ball jar or thermos and enjoy a high quality beverage on the go.
Brewing organic loose tea connects you to nature. When you ditch the wasteful tea bag and scoop a spoonful of herbs directly into your teapot or cup you get a chance to smell, see and touch the plants. As you brew the tea, you see the herbs expand and open in the water. The whole process is a sensory experience that connects you with the earth.
Herbal tea tastes better when brewed this way because the aromatic oils are properly extracted. I work with many aromatic plants such as spearmint, cardamom, cinnamon, anise and lemon balm. What makes these plants aromatic are these essential oils in them; these oils contain many of the health benefits of the herbs. These oils get released when the tea is steeped. Brewed in a teabag much of this oil gets trapped in the paper or plastic mesh and then thrown into the trash.
Making the transition to loose tea isn’t hard to do. It’s all about getting some simple tea gear. A couple of ball jars and a stainless steel tea ball or strainer is really all you need. (You can find some in my online shop or at your local kitchen supply store).
There are a few companies that do sell good quality paper bags. I use these for the samples I provide with my teas. If you seek them out make sure they are free of epichlorohdrin and bleach. When you are on the go fill up one or two of these bags or a couple of tea balls and stash them in your handbag or backpack. While some bodegas and deli’s charge about 25-50 cents for a cup of hot water, it’s still a fraction of the cost of a cup of non-organic deli tea. For those of you that become loose tea addicts like me, I intentionally choose lightweight packaging so you can have the option of tossing the tea tin into you bag and have it on-hand when traveling the globe.
I hope all this information serves you well. I look forward to sharing my handcrafted brews with you and hope you will join me in the movement to reclaim herbs and our relationship to them.
PHOTO ESSAY BY EARTHJUSTICE.ORG
“The Toxic Secret of California’s Salad Bowl, Dangerous Pesticides a Way of Life for farmworkers”
“Beverage/Drink Industry Statistics.” Adams Business Media Research. February 2, 2015.
“Epichlorohydrin.” United States Environmental Protection Agency. 2000. http://www.epa.gov/ttnatw01/hlthef/epichlor.html.
Frawley, David and Dr. Vasant Lad. The Yoga of Herbs. Twin Lakes: Lotus Press, 2001.
Orci, Taylor. “Are Tea Bags Turning Us into Plastic?” The Atlantic. April 8, 2013.
Ziegler, Roger. “Dangerously High Pesticide Levels Found in Celestial Seasonings Teas.” Examiner.com. http://www.examiner.com/article/dangerously-high-pesticide-levels-found-celestial-seasonings-teas March 22, 2013.
Early spring brings all sorts of wonderful things: cherry blossoms and magnolia blooms, the sounds of children playing in the streets and a slew of fresh young local greens that we were without throughout the long cold winter. Stinging Nettles are perhaps the prized gem of them all. If you’ve read my previous post about this amazing plant, you know I have a deep respect and love for it. Thus when I saw a bounty of young, dark green and purplish nettles at the farmers market this past weekend I filled up my bag to the tippity top and biked home happy.
Nettles can be eaten in the springtime when they first start to come up. They are super high in nutrients this time of year and their leaves and stems are softer and less fibrous. They are covered with stingers so I wouldn’t suggest eating them raw (though some brave souls do). Blanching them in hot water for one minute removes the stingers and turns them to a hyper-color green that shows the high levels of chlorophyll contained in the plant.
I’ve had nettle pesto out in the world but never one that fully satisfied both the foodie and the herbalist in me so I decided to give it a whirl on my own this year. I created a vegan version using toasted sunflower seeds and raw hemp seeds for both their richness and their super-food properties. The nuttiness of these seeds compliments the earthy green flavor of the nettles and made for a creamy but firm consistency. I added a little Meyer lemon for a splash of citrus and a dash of cayenne for some heat.
Roughly 3/4 of a lb fresh nettles (or 1 1/2 cups blanched)
1 cup of sunflower seeds, freshly toasted
1/3 cup of raw hemp seeds
1/4 cup organic extra virgin olive oil
Juice of one Meyer lemon and its zest
2 large cloves of garlic, chopped
Himalayan pink salt or high quality sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Trim the nettle leaves from their stems. Keep the stems aside.
Fill a large pot with water, bring to a boil and add the nettle leaves. Blanch in the hot water for just 1 minute to remove the stingers and soften the leaves. Immediately remove from the heat. Place the blanched leaves in a high-powered blender or food processor.
Toast the raw sunflower seeds with a dash of salt in a pan until they are a rich golden brown. Stir frequently. Remove from the pan and let the seeds cool in a ceramic or glass bowl.
Add the olive oil and hemp seeds to the blanched nettles and begin to blend. When cool add the sunflower seeds and blend until you reach a creamy consistency. Then add the fresh garlic, salt, spices, the lemon juice and the zest. Blend again until thoroughly mixed and creamy. Salt to flavor.
Garnish with a nettle leaf, hemp seeds, sunflower seed or sesame seeds.
Refrigerate and serve cold or room temperature.
Add to toast, potatoes, pasta or vegetables. Mix into warm food or serve as a dip.
If you love nettles like me you might just find yourself eating it by the spoonful.
(PS. Save the water you used to blanch the nettles and give it to your plants. They will thank you for it! You can also infuse the stems and do the same thing.)
THE TEA SHOP IS OFFICIALLY OPEN!!!!!
Clover and Timothy tea is handcrafted in brooklyn in small batches from the finest ingredients available. Every leaf, flower, berry and spice has been carefully selected for its vitality and mindfully resourced. In doing so Clover and Timothy supports the work of local, organic, bio-dynamic, fair trade and family-run farms and the preservation of nutrient rich soil and seeds.
Each unique tea has been formulated to rejuvenate and nourish the body. With each sip you take of these rich sensory brews, you are providing fuel for your cells and activating your body's ability to self-heal.
Committed to sustainable business practices, Clover and Timothy's tea tins are lightweight, reusable & recyclable and our gift boxes and shipping materials are made from recycled paper.
Ginger is perhaps our most versatile and well-known herb. We drink ginger tea and ginger beer and eat ginger candies, pickled ginger and ginger chicken. We find ginger in curries, in fancy cocktails and in cookies. Queen Elizabeth apparently liked the herb so much that she had gingerbread men made in the likeness of her guests at court.
In Ayurveda ginger was called Vishwabhesaj, or “the universal medicine” and was said to be the most sattvic of all spices. During these cold winter days, we can use ginger to keep warm, well and vital.
Known in Latin as Zingiber officinale, ginger is part of the Zingiberaceae family, which also includes its rhizome cousins turmeric and galangal. Pungent, sweet and heating in nature, some sources say ginger originated in southern China; others say India. The truth is no one is exactly sure just how old ginger is and where it came from. This is because no one has ever found the plant growing in the wild. We do know it has been around for roughly 3000 - 4000 years and was exported to Europe from India as early as the first century AD. Today you can find it the world over. Here in New York City you can find it in almost any supermarket, sidewalk fruit stand and on the shelves of most bodegas.
While we call it ginger root, the knobby roots are actually rhizomes. Also known as creeping rootstalks, rhizomes are more like horizontal underground stems. They produce shoots and root systems of new plants and function much like a network. This system allows them to propagate asexually. Rhizomes are the worms of the plant world; cut a rhizome into pieces and each piece may just give rise to a new plant.
In my home ginger is as much a staple as bread and butter. I slice it and add it to soups and broths. I mince and sauté it with greens and vegetables. I blend it into juices, curries and daals. And of course I drink it as tea. Matthew Wood calls ginger the indispensable warming remedy and tells us that it “warms the stomach and improves digestion.” In Ayurvedic terms we would say it kindles Agni, meaning it builds our digestive fire, which is the seat of our vitality.
Ginger is also one of the best herbs for our circulatory system, another reason I love to use the plant during the winter. Our muscles tend to be tighter and more constricted this time of year. Drinking hot ginger tea increases blood flow to muscles and tendons and keeps us limber. It has also been used widely to ease joint pain and arthritis. It specifically increases peripheral circulation, making it an excellent remedy for people who suffer with chronically cold hands and feet. As a result of its effect on the circulatory system it is also a wonderful aphrodisiac.
I drink lots of ginger tea at the first sign of a cold. Ginger increases both circulation and perspiration. Both of these processes help the immune system remove the cold virus from the body. I also use ginger during my cycle to help with menstrual cramps associated with stagnant blood flow. I find it also gives me energy during this time.
My favorite way to prepare a cup of ginger tea is to grate the ginger and then steep it. (So long as it’s organic there’s no need to remove the skin). While we usually boil roots to extract their nutrients, remember ginger isn’t a true root. You only need about one teaspoon of grated ginger to make a cup of tea. A thick chunk about 1-1.5” wide will easily make 4 cups of tea. Grating and steeping the ginger creates a light and fresh flavor tea and preserves the rich volatile oils in the plant. When brewed in this way the tea becomes a beautiful pale yellow hue.
I generally use the fresh herb for tea. The dried herb is considerably hotter in its action and if over-consumed can be too heating for most people. When I am crafting herbal blends I do use the dried herb as a warming catalyst to balance out cooler brews and to gently move other plant through the body. The dried herb is also more pungent but wonderful for baking and as a food spice.
* I suggest steering clear of commercial ginger ale. It’s an imposter. While there was once a time when real ginger ale was in fashion what is on the market these days usually doesn’t involve ginger at all. Like most soft drinks it is generally a mix of high fructose corn syrup and artificial flavorings. Instead try making your own ginger ale. Brew a strong ginger tea and let it infuse for at least an hour. And honey to the infusion while it is still hot. Then add a shot of the ginger infusion to a glass of chilled sparkling water.
* Many powdered or crystallized instant ginger and honey teas on the market also contain processed sugar so read your labels well.
* As always, I suggest using organic ginger or ginger grown by a farmer whose practices you know and trust.
* While Ginger is recognized to be generally safe for regular consumption care should be taken always when using herbs while also taking pharmaceutical drugs and during pregnancy. Ginger may lower blood pressure and blood sugar; as a result people who take blood thinners, anticoagulant drugs and drugs for high blood pressure or diabetes should not use ginger without first speaking to a health care provider.
Sources: Frawley, David and Lad, The Yoga of Herbs, Twin Lakes: Lotus Press 2001
Wood, Matthew, “The Indispensable Warming Remedy”, The Earthwise Herbal. North Atlantic Books, 2008.
Khalsa, Karta Purk Singh and Tierra. The Way of Ayurvedic Herbs. Twin Lakes: Lotus Press, 2008.
Wikipeida, 2015. “Ginger”, “Gingerbread” & “Gingerale”
The University of Maryland Medical Center, “Ginger”. http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/ginger. Februray 26, 2015.
I’m a big fan of bees. I think we all should be. They pollinate so many of our fine foods; blueberries, onions, coconuts, cucumbers & cashews would not grace our tables if it weren’t for these amazing little creatures.
And then of course there is honey. Sweet and silky, golden and rich. Before apiary, or beekeeping, came into existence honey was rare and prized, a luxury of the wealthy, a celebration food.
Honey production goes a little like this: bees feast on flowers and collect nectar in their mouths. The nectar mixes with enzymes in their saliva, and voila: honey. Well almost. The final magic touch happens back at the hive, when the bees flutter their wings over the nectar enzyme cocktail reducing the moisture content in the mixture. Who knew wings weren’t just for flying?
I don’t think anyone can argue with the notion that honey is holy; we have accounts of honey in nearly every religion. In Hinduism, honey or madhu, is known to be one the five elixirs of immortality. It is considered a sattvic food in Ayurveda and has a long history of being revered. During Rosh Hashanah, Jews dip apples in honey to mark the New Year, while John the Baptist is said to have lived in the wild for quite some time on the unique combination of locusts and honey. (Brooklyn dinner party anyone?)
But by far my favorite ritual that involves honey is the Buddhist festival of Madhu Purhima. During this festival monks are given honey to commemorate the story of Buddha’s peace making retreat to the wilderness, where a monkey, kind soul that he was, brought the fasting Buddha, yes you guessed it, honey.
Now why might a monkey bring a fasting Buddha honey? Good question. I’ll be so bold as to offer up a few ideas.
Perhaps monkeys were privy to the fact that raw honey is antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal and antioxidant, that it contains a large amount of friendly bacteria and is thus, a powerhouse for the immune system.
Perhaps knowing the mechanics of fasting the monkey wanted to help the Buddha with his blood sugar. Ancient Olympians were said to eat honey and figs to help with endurance. Recent research has shown that honey consumed during or before training can indeed help an athlete’s performance by maintaining optimal blood sugar levels. The simple sugars in honey are released gradually into the bloodstream, which provides prolonged and sustained energy. Consumption of refined white sugar on the other hand (and it’s even more evil twin high fructose corn syrup) gives a quick high followed by a quick crash that leaves you tired and craving more sugar.
And then there’s always the chance the Buddha could’ve gotten a little rambunctious and busted his knee. Ok probably unlikely, but in the event he did honey could’ve come to his rescue. Honey possesses incredible wound and burn healing properties. Clinical observations have shown that honey rapidly clears infection, inflammation, swelling and pain.
Today honey quality is an issue, as is the health and longevity of our bees. Not all beekeeping practices are equal that’s for sure and pollutants in the environment of the bees surely make their way into the honey the bees make. This can include things such as road tar and pesticides so choose your honey well. I also suggest buying your honey in glass. Besides being a more earth friendly container, I prefer glass because plastic bottles can leach harmful chemicals such as BPA’s into your honey.
I also think it is important to remember that honey was once incredibly precious and that it is our modern technologies that have made it so plentiful. As with all sweets moderate consumption is best. It takes about 12 worker bees their entire life to make just one teaspoon of honey so I also suggest giving a little thanks with each spoonful you consume.
When selecting honey for its health benefits – be it for eating, drinking or by applying through the skin – it is raw honey that you are after. Raw honey is honey just as it exists in the beehive. When raw honey is extensively processed, heated, or cooked, the benefits of the phytonutrients are largely eliminated.
* TO FIND QUALITY RAW HONEY:
Go to your local greenmarket and meet your beekeeper! If you reside in NYC you can find a list of the greenmarkets in your area here: http://www.grownyc.org/ourmarkets
Visit The Honey Locator, provided by the National Honey Board, and search for local beekeepers by state: http://www.honeylocator.com/
* THE CURIOUS CAN SEE THE FULL LIST OF CROPS THAT BEES POLLINATE HERE: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_crop_plants_pollinated_by_bees
* FOR MORE ON WOUND HEALING & HONEY : http://bio.waikato.ac.nz/honey/evidence.shtml
There is nothing quite like an onion. Red, white, yellow, green, sauteed, raw, roasted, caramelized, baked, or boiled…I’ll take a serving of one of these glorious bulbs anyhow any way any day. In fact, I can’t think of a smell I love more than a freshly chopped onion being sauteed in some olive oil; it is a smell that reminds me of all the woman of my family and one that certainly wets my appetite.
Onions, or Allium cepa, belong to the lily family. They are native to Asia and the Middle East and have been cultivated for over five thousand years.
We have accounts of the onion as far back as the days of the ancient Egyptians when the onion was not only eaten and used as currency, but also worshiped. The spherical shape and concentric rings were known to be a symbol of eternal life so much to the Egyptians that they’d placed them in the tombs of kings. Yes, Tutankhamen himself left this world with onions at his side.
As with most things, the Egyptians knew what was up. Modern science tells us that Onions are a major source of polyphenols and flavonoids. Flavonoids, most commonly known for their antioxidant activity, also seem to work within the body to modify pesky nuisances such as allergens, viruses and carcinogens. Red onions, which are a bit sweet and might I say just darn beautiful, are particularly high in flavonoids.
And if flavonoids aren’t enough to inspire you to start eating a big beautiful bulb daily, I can add that this tasty plant is a wonderful source of vitamin C, blood-sugar-balancing chromium, Vitamin B6, folate, potassium, heart-healthy dietary fiber, energy-producing phosphorus and bone-supportive copper. They are also anti-inflammatory and a known cold fighter.
Where else does one start a blog about herbs but with the almighty Urtica dioca, a.k.a the one and only, stingingly special Nettle. Most herbalists I’ve met get a goofy smile on their face whenever they speak of Nettles, and there is good reason – a plethora of them actually.
The first time I harvested Nettles it was early in the Spring a couple years back. They were still low to the ground, soft and young. The patch we harvested from was incredibly prolific. From afar, it looked like a big green cloud sitting on the earth. It truly is plain to the eye how abundant this plant is in chlorophyll – it is just that green. It also happens to contain more vitamins and minerals than almost any other plant that grows. To quote Susun Weed, “The list of vitamins and minerals in this herb includes nearly every one known to be necessary for human health and growth. Particularly we find Vitamins A, C, D and K, calcium, potassium, phosphorous, iron and sulphur.”
Aside from their super vitamin content, Nettles have been used for centuries as a gentle diuretic and nourisher of the kidneys. They have a long history in the treatment of arthritis. They are an ally for anyone who suffers from anemia and for expecting moms, a wonderful source of much needed iron and calcium.
My favorite way to consume Nettles is as tea or an infusion (a strong tea brewed for ten minutes to several hours). Prepared in this way the herb is basically a liquid multivitamin. Steep for a couple hours and the infusion will become a dark green to black color, which one of my teachers calls Nettle-milk, as the brew becomes so nutrient rich it almost feels thick going down. For times I like a lighter tea, I steep for ten minutes with other vitamin rich teas such as Tulsi, Oatstraw or Red Clover. During allergy season I like to use it with local Goldenrod, and when I am premenstrual there is nothing like a little Nettle and Raspberry leaf love.
Often when I tell folks of my affairs with Nettles, they look at me a bit perplexed. This is because if you know the plant out of the context of Herbalism, you probably know it best for its sting. The leaves and stems of Nettles are lined with hollow stinging hairs. The tips of these hairs come off when touched, producing a sting in the process. I actually enjoy the sting and the tingling sensation it creates; it delivers a shot of histamine and a slew of other neurotransmitters, including the happiness helper serotonin.
Ok, salad might not boost so well at the dinner table, but blanching or drying the leaves will remove the sting and make it safe for ingestion. However, if you ever get brave enough to eat the plant raw, you could prance on over to the UK and take part in the Stinging Nettle Eating Championship. I’m not kidding. Apparently this yearly competition dates back to 1986 when two neighboring farmers attempted to settle a dispute as to who had the worst infestation of nettles. While I am quite a fan of stinging my hands and arms when harvesting the plant, I’m not quite sure I’m ready to take it to the tongue – maybe soon. I’ll keep you posted if I get that nettleventurous. In the meantime, I say drink up.
“Above the people, my head in freedom, like the cypress, I uplift…” — Hafiz, Persian lyric poet
I recently spent some time in coastal northern California, graced by the presence of some majestic Cypress trees. Cypress trees are conifers, or cone bearing trees (and sometimes, shrubs), that can live for thousands of years. In Iran, where they are a favorite of gardeners, there lives one Cypress tree estimated to be 4000 years old.
Ok, call me granola, but I’d like to hug that tree, or better yet, sit and listen to it. I’m pretty certain our Cypress grandfathers might have a life lesson or two up their long limbs. Used extensively in ancient Roman funerary rites and still used today as the principal cemetery tree in both Western and Muslim cultures, this tree has long been associated with death. Interestingly enough the essential oil is known to ease grief. It is said to increase emotional stamina, helping one carry on after great trauma or crisis. This applies not only to the emotional body, but can also apply to physical trauma as well. This makes it a beautiful oil to gift to someone who has sustained severe injury or suffered loss.
No need to wait for such trauma of course, Cypress is lovely oil for daily use. It is antiseptic and deodorant, helpful for poor circulation, coughs, lung congestion, cellulite & varicose veins. Try adding a couple drops of the essential oil to some olive or jojoba oil and massage into the skin anywhere you wish to improve circulation. For coughs, head colds or after a good cry, make yourself a steam: add a couple drops of the oil and some chamomile flowers to a pot of water after it has boiled, cover your head with a towel and breathe a little clearing comfort on in.