Archive for March, 2013
Book Review (Herbal): Backyard Medicine – Harvest and Make your Own Herbal Remedies by Julie Bruton-Seal and Matthew Seal
While I’ve used it as one of my references for years, only recently did I sit down and read Backyard Medicine – Harvest and Make your Own Herbal Remedies by Julie Bruton-Seal and Matthew Seal cover to cover – and what a rewarding experience it is.
What can I say but this is one of my favorite general herbal books. It doesn’t cover everything, but the 50 plants that it covers it covers well.
You might think, oh I know my herbs and I don’t really need a book that appears to be aimed at a general audience, but you’d be wrong. 😉
I suspect almost any plant lover will find something to love about the book and probably learn something new to boot. It is a wonderful blend of facts, folklore, history, uses, botany and how-tos. And it is filled with some of the best pictures of any herbal books I’ve seen. Heck, I think the photos are frame-able bits of beauty for any plant friend.
I particularly like how they blend in bits of fun real life like this one about Meadowsweet:
Everybody says the smell is full of summer echoes, but some do find it rather overpowering. Matthew is one of these, and says: “I owe a lifelong debt to meadowsweet as this was the very first long word I uttered. At about three years old, according to my mother, when I was saying almost nothing else, out pops this word I’d heard on family walks in the Trent marshes. These days I’m more likely to swear, though, as I get hay fever if I’m too close to the flower.”
or one of my favorite folklore bits from the book about Blackberries:
But folklore dictates that you should not gather the berries after Michaelmas, because that is when the Devil spits or urinates on them. Or, we’d say, the frost has got to them.
There are many ideas for preparations and uses of the plants discussed – not all of them work for me as my first choice of how to work with them – but there was always some use, preparation or combination that caught my interest pretty regularly. Offering nifty things to explore in the future.
It’s not a treatment oriented herbal with a dedicated section organized by conditions , but it does have a fair index at the back with many conditions listed. Instead it is a wonderful exploration of the plants you would find most commonly around you and is filled with love for them.
Definitely worth getting. ( And it may change, but as I write this it appears to be almost half off at Amazon.com – I linked to their listing in the title of the book at the start of the post.)
I had a shift in my perspective about my home yoga practice that really opened up something amazing for me. You could say everything I knew was wrong!
For a long while I did my daily home practice in the morning. But since I work for a living this involved getting up way, way too early. Tragically early in fact, so I would have time practice get ready for work and get to work on time. Partly this was because my then new practice felt still fragile and I believed at the time I wouldn’t be able to keep it going if I did it when I got home after the struggles of the day.
Then with time as I both felt more confident in my practice’s stability and growing annoyance with getting up so blasted early – I shifted my practice to when I got home from work, but pretty much right when I got home then went on with my evening – eat, work, prep for the next day and bed, etc.
But in time that began to feel off and vaguely unsatisfying. It gnawed at me how I seemed to be running from task to task. Like an overly caffeinated ferret running about – not very yogic or even fun at all.
At first, I thought I needed to pause a bit by having a bit of herbal tea when I got home before I dived into practice. Which helped but it felt like I was getting closer while still not quite there.
Then I realized there’s a rhythm to my time home and I was working against that and creating unnecessary disharmony.
A good yoga practice is opening and helps to shift one’s energies and self profoundly. So it was great that I was practicing when I got home and removing all that running about frenetic energy. But then I was re-building that energy as I going about my work at home. Instead I needed to shift it and have my yoga practice complement my day.
So starting last week I changed it all about:
- I come home and change, cook, eat and do the work I need to do.
- Then when I’m done with that working energy, I do my yoga practice to release and shift out of my working day.
- My time after yoga is spent strictly relaxing, unwinding and easing to my time of sleep.
I’ve found that profoundly changed my practice. I stopped treating my yoga practice as another task of the work day and instead made it the pivot point of change from that frantic, rushing self to the calmer, restive open self.
Took me long enough to realize that. But really I think it was my developing yoga practice that helped me to understand what my yoga practice truly was and let go of what I thought it was.
Now it’s time for some yoga….
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I have to admit Oak was never one of my OMG herbs. Setting aside the fact it’s a tree and not and herb, it just never resonated me for healing magic. Other magic, oh my yes. They are wonderful trees with a great spiritual power and resonance. But as teas, tinctures, etc. it was never on solidly on my radar.
Then once I found a special magic to it where it worked so much better than traditional herbs you might use that I grew fascinated.
Before we rush there how about the basics of Oak?
Oak (Quercus spp.) Family: Fagaceae (Beech)
The classic species used by herbalists are Q. rober (English) – a mainstay of UK herbalism and Q. alba (White) – a mainstay of US herbalism. But frankly most of the common Oak species have similar medicinal properties. Northern Red Oak (Q. rubra) is one of the most common around species around my area in Boston and is a pretty popular urban tree in the US in general.
A couple of ID tips: Oaks are broadleaf trees with distinct lobes and sinuses which are alternately placed rather than side to side. Leaves are longer than wide and asymmetrical (distinct from Maple for example which is symmetrical and shorter.) Only Oaks have acorns. Black/Red Oaks have pointed lobes while White Oaks have rounded ones.
Generally you use the bark (and preferably from young twigs) to make medicine – be it teas or tincture because that is where the main medicinal magical element tannins lay. In fact the bark can be 15 – 20 % tannins!
Whenever you see tannins think astringent actions (like the action of really strong tea in your mouth), thus toning of tissues and fluid leakage. Because the primary action of Oaks is based around Tannins which the majority of Oaks have prominently, you can use Oaks reasonably interchangeably, but in the US you’re more like to find White Oak offered by herbal stores.
Because of that wonderful toning aspect you can use a decoction or tincture internally for diarrhea or dysentery. While externally you can use decoctions or tinctures for hemorrhoids (in salve form would be way easier and more pleasant) and wounds while using it as a mouthwash or gargle for sore throats, nasal polyps and oral inflammation. The Cherokee just chewed the bark for mouth sores, which works pretty well too, but will never be a taste sensation.
One caveat, since tannins interfere with the absorption of nutrients (one of their functions for plants is to impair the ability to absorb nutrients in the herbivores that attack them) and can interfere with the actions of other herbs, please do use Oak internally by itself and for limited times (a few days.)
That’s the basics. Nice, good and useful but there are plenty of plants you can use that way.
Here’s what caught my interest though….
Several herbalists I know swore that White Oak bark tincture is the best thing for Poison Ivy which I’ve read nowhere. And being the type who loves to check things out, I made a bunch of tincture and gave out some bottles of it at a talk I did on tree medicine as well as giving them to some herby friends. Then I got reports back that yes it worked really well.
I thought that’s interesting and kind of useful since a tincture is way easier to carry around than some of the other ways to deal with Poison Ivy. And it makes sense it would work given the alcohol would help deal with the oils and while the tannins would help calm the rash reaction.
Then I decided to try it on a rash that I sometimes get in the depths of winter. Last year when I got it the more traditional herbs worked okay but nothing spectacular (Aloe Vera worked the best) but it still took a week or so to get rid of it. But with the Oak bark tincture I saw it decreasing in hours and was gone in a day or two. Now that’s nifty and put Oak on my healing map.
In a pinch, given you might not have Oak bark about and tannins are part of the magic, a really strong black tea would help as well since it is high in tannins. Either make a strong infusion or a poultice with it. Hey remember tea is just as much herbal medicine as more mainstream “herbal” teas!
Keep in mind not all rashes are alike – some are irritant based (chemical or physical), some are infection/fungal and some come from more internal issues. So try it first on a small area and see if it helps.
In other words don’t make any rash judgments… 😉
Sorry I couldn’t resist.
Well, I could have resisted but I didn’t really want to okay?
So Oak and I now…well….:
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We go together like
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remembered for ever like
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