Archive for January, 2013

I’m a pepper ….

Posted on January 21, 2013. Filed under: Herb(s) of the Week, Kitchen Herbalism |

Hard to believe there was a time in my life when I didn’t like, or least care much about, Black Pepper (Piper nigrum)  – especially given my impassioned love for it lately.  Of course, given I grew up in the South where Salt and Sugar are less seasonings and more like food groups, it may be understandable.

Lately, I’ve been finding myself drawn to Black Pepper not just as seasoning but also in the herbalism sense and it has been finding its way into my tea blends adding a certain magic to them.  It has fast become my first herbal love of 2013, which is unusual given it is not one of the most talked about plants by herbalists.

Close up of Peppercorn (Image via Wikipedia)

Close up of Peppercorn (Image via Wikipedia)

You know Black Pepper close up looks kind of like an alien world?  Or perhaps like a valuable piece of ore?  Well, considering that Black Pepper (which is the dried fruit of a vine) was so valuable that it was used as money in some places – that’s hardly surprising!

I have to admit that I started getting more into Black Pepper as part of my shifting my tastes away from too much salt.   One great way to move away from one thing when you cook and eat is to stimulate the other primary flavors.  For example, if you wanted to use less salt, then cook with more sweeteners or more pungent seasonings such as curry and/or Black Pepper.  But then I began to appreciate how helpful Black Pepper is as an herbal ally.

Black Pepper, like the majority of classic kitchen herbs, found its way into our cuisines because of its anti-microbial properties.  It has been found that Black Pepper kills about 38% of the bacteria that causes food to spoil   (“Antimicrobial  Functions  Of Spices: Why Some Like It Hot” J. Billing and P. Sherman, Quarterly Review of Biology, March 1998, Volume 73, No. 1. )  But in particular, it is a synergist spice that when combined with other common kitchen herbs would effectively kill almost all said bacteria.   All of which goes a long way toward explaining why it is such a common staple of so many spice blends and part of the reason it is paired especially with meat (more on this, and that, in a moment.)

Some of its commonly used herbal/medicine/health properties include:

  • Antiseptic, anti-parasitic and antimicrobial
  • Antioxidant
  • Helps coughs (Take about a teaspoon of ghee or honey and mix in about a quarter teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper.   Use about a couple of times a day for a few days.)
  • Digestive aid (especially with fatty foods and protein – it works by simulating pancreatic enzymes that help you digest fats and proteins, thus its frequent pairing with meat!) used to help with indigestion, diarrhea, flatulence and nausea
  • Diuretic (with minor kidney problems it can be an aid, but avoid with major kidney disorders – like most diuretics!)
  • Expectorant (just add it to tea to help with hoarseness and chest congestion)
  • Improves blood circulation
  • It’s a warming herb and as such is considered a stimulant as well as mildly analgesic and mildly antidepressant (I think most any warming herb is as well.)

That’s kind of nifty collection of uses but that’s just internally.  Externally the essential oil (never use neat but instead blend in a carrier oil) has been traditionally used for its warming, anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties to aid with arthritis, rheumatism, sore muscles and joints (makes a nifty muscle rub!), itchy skin and for toothaches and dental problems.

One of my favorite emergency uses for Black Pepper is for wounds.  In addition to the analgesic and antiseptic qualities, Black Pepper stops bleeding and stimulates cell healing.  In a pinch, you can put fresh ground pepper on a cut or wound.  It stings for a few seconds, but it works well.

Another nifty gift of Black Pepper, both for herbalism and cooking, is how it helps to bind ingredients and aids in their absorption by the body.  Studies have shown that it increases the body’s absorption of nutrients such as beta-carotene, selenium and B vitamins.  It has also been studied for its ability to increase the helpful health properties of Turmeric.  In Ayurveda it is used to bind herbal formulas and increase their absorption by the body.   This special aspect of Black Pepper  is one that I’ve grown to really appreciate as I make tea blends since I find it is not just warming, but powerful in how it enhances the effects of the blends in small amounts

So go and discover the pepper love, but don’t go wild with it – just a little bit goes a long way.   Grind a little into your food after cooking or thrown in a few peppercorns in your tea blends and that’s all you need for the magic to happen.   And magic it is!

Wouldn’t you like to be a pepper too?

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Opening to Possibilities Throughout the New Year

Posted on January 3, 2013. Filed under: Healing, Herb(s) of the Week, Spiritual Practice |

Happy New Year! Finally it’s time for my first, of hopefully many, posts of 2013. Given it is a new year I’d thought I’d share my New Year’s tea blend and thoughts about the meaning of New Year’s.

I was going to post this on New Year’s Day for the symbolism, but I realized that, paradoxically (bonus points for actually using the word properly!), doing it afterward has much greater symbolic value. Because here’s where the work really begins.

Most of us have made resolutions or have thought about goals/hopes/dreams for the new year. Some have done rituals, prayers and/or meditations.

New Year's Altar (Image by Michael Blackmore - Mad Crow Herbals)

New Year’s Altar (Image by Michael Blackmore – Mad Crow Herbals)

While others chose just to have pie and forget about the whole darn thing! Mind you I’m never dismissive of the value of pie in one’s life -but pie in lieu of making the changes in your life that you want to make, not so much. 🙂

New Year’s is a classic marker time (like birthdays and anniversaries) to pause, reflect and dream. I think it is very valuable to do something at these times, whether it be:

  • Write in a Journal
  • Perform a ritual
  • Pray
  • Meditate
  • Doing a Tarot, I Ching or other divinatory reading
  • Journeying
  • Make resolutions

No matter what, the point is to pause, reflect, make clear and focus your intentions. All of which is valuable any time of year.

Part of it also is opening yourself up emotionally, spiritually as well as just opening your metaphorical heart to the possibilities of positive change.

Here’s a tea blend I like to drink during these times to aid that:

  •  Damiana (Tunera diffusa): I have periods where I’m inordinately fond of Damiana because of its many wonderful abilities. It’s a bit of Nervine as well as anti-depressant, stimulating as well as restoring for the nervous system. Just a great tonic in general for long term stress and folks weighed down with worries. While traditionally seen as a men’s herb for support with sexual problems it is equally supportive for women since its real magic is in its nerve and stress support. Damiana is also known for its spiritual support and is helpful in journeying and guided meditation. The down side is it is a bit bitter. When I don’t use it in tea blends I make a smashing Damiana infused blackberry brandy.
  •  Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.): Not only a bit of Nervine but a classic heart tonic helpful for the spiritual, emotion and physical heart. Useful for heartbreak, sadness and grief. It helps with insomnia and works best cumulatively. You can use the berries but in this case I prefer the flowers and leaves in mixes that are mostly flowers and leaves because I like the synergy of it. It combines well with ginkgo as an aid to memory and concentration so you can remember your resolutions.
  •  Jasmine (Jasminum grandiflorum): Not only does Jasmine smell wonderful it is calming, relieves tension and is a bit of an anti-depressant. I use it as a gentle lift to the spirits. You could use Rose or Lavender for the same effect.
  •  Linden (Tilia spp.): Linden is another classic Nervine like plant with its calming and emotionally supportive talents. It helps with stress and panic as well as relieving tension and helping you sleep. Think of it as a hug in a cup.
  •  Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca): You know what the Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz needed? I mean other than a good ab workout. Motherwort. It’s herbal courage and helps drive melancholy away and learn there is no place like home (sorry couldn’t resist that one.) As well as a classic anti-anxiety herb helping with frustration and stress it is a cardiac tonic and aid for insomnia.
  •  Cinnamon & Licorice: Both have some pretty nifty properties which I talked about before (B.O.B. Blend) but frankly they are mainly here to help moderate the bitterness of Damiana and Motherwort. If you don’t want them you can simply add some honey to the tea as desired after it brews.

If you must have a name for the blend, let’s call it Opening to Change…

I find the combination of these herbs helpful in that opening up process and drinking the tea is part of that process as well. I’ve said it before and it deserves to be said again and again. It’s always best to brew your herbal teas for a while (covered preferably) and spend the time while it brews meditatively and calmly. Then drink the tea slowly and with full presence. It’s part of the healing and opening process. Really and truly.

This blend is potent for alleviating stress, worry and negative emotions – all of which tend to shut you down when you think of, and try to, change your life for the better. Them helping to you to open your heart, mind, spirit (and heck sexually) – makes focusing on the future and change in a positive way far easier.

But just a gentle reminder – it’s one thing to focus your intentions this time of year, it’s another to actually take action about them throughout the year in the face of the ups, downs and grind of everyday life.

While, hopefully, you’re starting off strongly now – it always gets harder. So I’d recommend making some dates in your calendar to regularly pause and drink this tea blend and go back to what you started here and now. Look at your list, pray, meditate, etc.

In other words plan scheduled rest stops during the year to recharge, renew and reorient yourself for when life tries to drag you off track. Whether it be weekly or monthly doesn’t matter. Schedule it now to remind yourself then.

Now go and make 2013 amazing!


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