May 26th 2011 - Herbal medicine is the medicine of the people. It is simple, safe, effective, and free. Our ancestors used - and our neighbors around the world still use - plant medicines for healing and health maintenance. It's easy. You can do it too, and you don't need a degree or any special training.
Ancient memories arise in you when you begin to use herbal medicine. These lessons are designed to nourish and activate those memories and your inner herbalist so you can be your own herbal expert.
In our first lesson, we learned how to "listen" to the plants by focusing on how they taste. In lesson two, we explored simples and water-based herbal remedies. In the third lesson, we learned how to tell safe (nourishing and tonifying) herbs from more dangerous (stimulating and sedating) herbs. Our fourth lesson dealt with poisons; we learned how to make a tincture and we put together our Herbal Medicine Chest. The fifth lesson found us making herbal vinegars, and the sixth, making herbal oils.
In our last lesson together, we looked at our thoughts about healing; we discussed the Scientific goal of fixing the broken machine, the Heroic intention to cleanse the toxins from our polluted bodies, and the Wise Woman desire to nourish the wholeness of the unique individual.
In this, the eighth lesson, we return to the herbal pharmacy, to make healing sweets: herbal honeys, syrups, and cough drops.
In our next lesson, the ninth and last of this series, we will continue our exploration of the ideas behind healing with a tour of the Seven Medicines.
Honey has been regarded as a healing substance for thousands of years. Greek healers relied on honey water, vinegar water, and honey/vinegar water as their primary cures. An Egyptian medical text dated to about 2600 BCE mentions honey 500 times in 900 remedies. What makes honey so special?
First, honey is antibacterial. It counters infections on the skin, in the intestines, in the respiratory system, or throughout the body.
Second, honey is hydroscopic, a long word meaning "water loving". Honey holds moisture in the place where it is put; it can even draw moisture out of the air. A honey facial leaves skin smooth and deliciously moist. These two qualities - anti-infective and hydroscopic - make honey an ideal healer of wounds of all kinds, including burns, bruises and decubita (skin ulcers), an amazing soother for sore throats, a powerful ally against bacterial diarrhea, and a counter to asthma.
Third, honey may be as high as 35 percent protein. This, along with the readily-available carbohydrate (sugar) content, provides a substantial surge of energy and a counter to depression. Some sources claim that honey is equal, or superior, to ginseng in restoring vitality. Honey's proteins also promote healing, both internally and externally.
And honey is a source of vitamins B, C, D and E, as well as some minerals. It appears to strengthen the immune system and help prevent (some authors claim to cure) cancer.
Honey is gathered from flowers, and individual honeys from specific flowers may be more beneficial than a blended honey. Tupelo honey, from tupelo tree blossoms, is high in levulose, which slows the digestion of the honey making it more appropriate for diabetics. Manuka honey, from New Zealand, is certified as antibacterial. My "house brand" is a rich, black, locally-produced autumn honey gathered by the bees from golden rod, buckwheat, chicory, and other wild flowers.
Raw honey also contains pollen and propolis, bee and flower products that have special healing powers.
Bee pollen, like honey, is a concentrated source of protein and vitamins; unlike honey, it is a good source of minerals, hormonal precursors, and fatty acids. Bee pollen has a reputation for relieving, and with consistent use, curing allergies and asthma. The pollens that cause allergic reactions are from plants that are wind-pollinated, not bee-pollinated, so any bee pollen, or any honey containing pollen, ought to be helpful. One researcher found an 84 percent reduction in symptoms among allergy sufferers who consumed a spoonful of honey a day during the spring, summer, and fall plus three times a week in the winter.
Propolis is made by the bees from resinous tree saps and is a powerful antimicrobial substance. Propolis can be tinctured in pure grain alcohol (resins do not dissolve well in 100 proof vodka, my first choice for tinctures) and used to counter infections such as bronchitis, sinusitis, colds, flus, gum disease, and tooth decay.
WARNING: All honey, but especially raw honey, contains the spores of botulinus. While this is not a problem for adults, children under the age of one year may not have enough stomach acid to prevent these spores from developing into botulism, a deadly poison.
Herbal honeys are made by pouring honey over fresh herbs and allowing them to merge over a period of several days to several months. When herbs are infused into honey, the water-loving honey absorbs all the water-soluble components of the herb, and all the volatile oils too, most of which are anti-infective. Herbal honeys are medicinal and they taste great. When I look at my shelf of herbal honeys I feel like the richest person in the world.
USING YOUR HERBAL HONEYS
Place a tablespoonful of your herbal honey (include herb as well as honey) into a mug; add boiling water; stir and drink. Or, eat herbal honeys by the spoonful right from the jar to soothe and heal sore, infected throats and tonsils. Smear the honey (no herb please) onto wounds and burns.
MAKE AN HERBAL HONEY
Coarsely chop the fresh herb of your choice (leave garlic whole).
Put chopped herb into a wide-mouthed jar, filling almost to the top.
Pour honey into the jar, working it into the herb with a chopstick if needed.
Add a little more honey to fill the jar to the very top.
Cover tightly. Label.
Your herbal honey is ready to use in as little as a day or two, but will be more medicinal if allowed to sit for six weeks.
Herbal honeys made from aromatic herbs make wonderful gifts.
MAKE A RUSSIAN COLD REMEDY
Fill a small jar with unpeeled cloves of garlic.
If desired, add one very small onion, cut in quarters, but not peeled.
Fill the jar with honey.
Label and cover.
This remedy is ready to use the next day. It is taken by the spoonful to ward off both colds and flus. It is sovereign against sore throats, too. And it tastes yummy!
(Garlic may also carry botulinus spores, but no adult has ever gotten botulism from this remedy. A local restaurant poisoned patrons by keeping garlic in olive oil near a hot stove for months before using it, though.)
MAKE AN EGYPTIAN WOUND SALVE
"I thought at first this would be dreadful stuff to put on an open wound . . . Instead, the bacteria in the fat disappeared and when pathogenic bacteria were added . . . they were killed just as fast," commented scientists who tested this formula found in the ancient Smith Papyrus.
Mix one tablespoonful of honey with two tablespoonsful of organic animal fat.
Put in a small jar and label.
Increase the wound-healing ability of this salve by using an herbally-infused fat.
MAKE A REMEDY TO COUNTER DIARRHEA
Fill one glass with eight ounces of orange juice.
Add a pinch of salt and a teaspoonful of honey.
Fill another glass with eight ounces of distilled water.
Add ¼ teaspoonful of baking soda.
Drink alternately from both glasses until empty.
MAKE DR. CHRISTOPHER'S BURN HEALER
He recommends this for burns covering large areas. Keep the burn constantly wet with this healer for best results.
Place chopped fresh comfrey leaves in a blender.
Add aloe vera gel to half cover.
Add honey to cover.
Blend and apply.
Best to make only as much as you can use in a day; store extra in refrigerator.
FRESH PLANTS THAT I USE TO MAKE HERBAL HONEYS
Anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)
Comfrey leaf (Symphytum off.)
Cronewort/mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris)
Fennel seeds (Foeniculum vulgare)
Garlic (Allium sativum)
Ginger root (Zingiber officinalis)
Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana)
Lavender (Lavendula off.)
Lemon Balm (Melissa off.)
Lemon verbena (Aloysia triphylla)
Marjoram (Origanum majorana)
Oregano (Origanum vulgare)
Osha root (Ligusticum porterii)
Peppermint (Mentha pipperata)
Rose petals (Rosa canina and others)
Rose hips (Rosa)
Rosemary (Rosmarinus off.)
Sage (Salvia off.)
Shiso (Perilla frutescens)
Spearmint (Mentha spicata)
Thyme (Thymus species)
Yarrow blossoms (Achillea millefolium)
Herbal syrups are sweetened, condensed herbal infusions. Cough drops are concentrated syrups. Alcohol is frequently added to syrups to help prevent fermentation and stabilize the remedy. Cough drops and lozenges, having less water, keep well without the addition of alcohol.
Bitter herbs, especially when effective in a fairly small dose, are often made into syrups: horehound, yellow dock, dandelion, chicory, and motherwort spring to mind in this regard.
Herbs that are especially effective in relieving throat infections and breathing problems are also frequently made into syrups, especially when honey is used as the sweetener: coltsfoot flowers (not leaves), comfrey leaves (not roots), horehound, elder berries, mullein, osha root, pine, sage, and wild cherry bark are favorites for "cough" syrups.
USING HERBAL SYRUPS
A dose of most herbal syrup is 1-3 teaspoonfuls, taken as needed. Take a spoonful of bitter syrup just before meals for best results. Take cough syrups as often as every hour.
MAKE AN HERBAL SYRUP
To make an herbal syrup you will need the following supplies:
One ounce of dried herb (weight, not volume)
A clean dry quart/liter jar with a tight lid
A heavy-bottomed medium-sized saucepan
2 cups sugar or 1½ cups honey
A sterilized jar with a small neck and a good lid (a cork stopper is ideal)
A little vodka (optional)
A label and pen
Place the full ounce of dried herb into the quart jar and fill it to the top with boiling water. Cap tightly. After 4-10 hours, decant your infusion, saving the liquid and squeezing the herb to get the last of the goodness out of it.
Measure the amount of liquid you have (usually about 3½ cups). Pour this into the saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat until the infusion is just barely simmering. Continue to simmer until the liquid is reduced by half (pour it out of the pan and into the measuring cup now and then to check). This step can take several hours; the decoction is not spoiled if it is reduced to less than half, but it is ruined if it boils hard or if it burns. Keep a close eye on it.
When you have reduced the infusion to less then two cups, add the sugar or honey (or sweetener of your choice) and bring to a rolling boil. Pour, boiling hot, into your jar. (Sterilize the jar by boiling it in plain water for a few minutes just before filling it.) If desired, add some vodka to preserve the syrup.
Allow the bottle of syrup to come to room temperature. Label it. Store it in the refrigerator or keep it in a cool place.
MAKE HERBAL COUGH DROPS
You must make a syrup with sugar, not honey to make cough drops, but you can use raw sugar or brown sugar instead of white sugar and it will work just as well.
Instead of pouring your boiling hot syrup into a bottle, keep boiling it. Every minute or so, drop a bit into cold water. When it forms a hard ball in the cold water, immediately turn off the fire. Pour your very thick syrup into a buttered flat dish. Cool, then cut into small squares.
A dusting of powdered sugar will keep them from sticking. Store airtight in a cool place.
MAKE THROAT-SOOTHING LOZENGES
Put an ounce of marshmallow root powder or slippery elm bark powder in a bowl.
Slowly add honey, stirring constantly, until you have a thick paste
Roll your slippery elm paste into small balls
Roll the balls in more slippery elm powder
Store in a tightly-closed tin. These will keep for up to ten years.
PLANTS THAT I USE TO MAKE HERBAL SYRUPS
Comfrey leaves (Symphytum uplandica x)
Chicory roots (Cichorium intybus)
Dandelion flowers or roots (Taraxacum off.)
Elder berries (Sambucus canadensis)
Horehound leaves and stems (Marrubium vulgare)
Motherwort leaves (Leonurus cardiaca) pick before flowering
Plantain leaves or roots (Plantago majus)
Osha root (Ligusticum porterii)
Pine needles or inner bark (Pinus)
Sage (Salvia off.)
Wild cherry bark (Prunus serotina)
Yellow dock roots (Rumex crispus)
In our last lesson of this series, we will examine the Seven Medicines: Serenity Medicine, Story Medicine, Energy Medicine, LifeStyle Medicine, Herbal and Alternative Medicine, Pharmaceutical Medicine, and Hi-Tech Medicine.
EXPERIMENT NUMBER ONE
Make a simple syrup, using only one plant. Make it once with honey, once with white sugar, and once with a sweetener of your choice, such as barley malt, agave syrup, molasses, sorghum syrup, or maple syrup. (See list for suggestions of plants to use.)
EXPERIMENT NUMBER TWO
Make a syrup with three or more plants. Choose plants that are local to your area, or ones that you can most easily buy.
EXPERIMENT NUMBER THREE
Make three or more simple herbal honeys using different parts of plants, such as flowers, leaves, roots, or seeds. (See list for suggestions of plants to use.)
EXPERIMENT NUMBER FOUR
Make an herbal honey with a plant rich in essential oils (such as sage, rosemary, lavender, or mint). Try it as a wound treatment. Try it on minor burns. Try it as a facial masque. Record your observations.
EXPERIMENT NUMBER FIVE
Make one or more of the recipes in this lesson.
1. Make a yellow dock iron tonic syrup following the recipe in my book Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year.
2. Make "Peel Power" following the recipe in my book New Menopausal Years the Wise Woman Way.
• Compare the effects of honey from the supermarket, organic honey, raw honey, and herbal honey by using each one to treat the same problems and carefully recording your observations.
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