Herbal Medicine Making

2014: The Great Fire Cider Rebellion

Posted on February 2, 2014. Filed under: Herbal Medicine Making, Influences |

You might not know it, but today is a special day.  It’s World Fire Cider Day!  A day to make and celebrate this most awesome of creations in Herbalism.  It dates back generations and was popularized by the most gracious Rosemary Gladstar starting back in the 1970s.

This event was inspired in response to a certain company who makes their own version, a cider that…

The Cider that Shall Not Be Named

The Cider that Shall Not Be Named

Must Not Be Named!  😉

But recently trademarked it and has been trying to block others from using this decades old name!

This is pretty well documented in blogs like these:

So I won’t go over all that again – since they cover it so very well.  But in the spirit of the day I’m sharing the Fire(d) Cider I made today.

Essentially, this awesome brew is a vinegar, or Oxymel (vinegar/honey blend) infused with powerful antimicrobial herbs (often onions, garlic, horseradish and peppers) so it is a pungent, spicy, sweet dose of awesome cold/flu fighting power.

  • Vinegar (16 ounce)
  • Honey (about a cup)
  • Ginger (a good stalk or so)
  • Garlic (nice head)
  • Onion – 2 onions
  • Cinnamon chips (spicy)
  • Black peppercorns – couple of tablespoons
  • Lemon (1 whole)

Fired Cider - Honey, Vinegar and Black Pepper (image by Michael Blackmore, Mad Crow Herbalism)

Fired Cider – Honey, Vinegar and Black Pepper (image by Michael Blackmore, Mad Crow Herbalism)

Instead of the usual Apple Cider Vinegar I sometimes use a Coconut vinegar (which is nifty and doesn’t actually taste like coconut) like I did today.  And instead of just run of a mill honey, I use a Brazilian Pepper Honey which is a peppery and awesome honey made by bees gathering pepper nectars!    Instead of jalapenos, or other peppers, I use black peppercorns.

Fired Cider - Garlic, Ginger, Lemon and Onion (image by Michael Blackmore, Mad Crow Herbalism)

Fired Cider – Garlic, Ginger, Lemon and Onion (image by Michael Blackmore, Mad Crow Herbalism)

Of course there is the usual crew of Garlic, Ginger and Onions.  But while most folks use horseradish. I usually skip it since I rarely find fresh, organic horseradish around here.  Plus I’m not a big fan of it.    I also throw in a lemon, and some spicy cinnamon chips!

I chop up the fresh stuff and mix it together with the other herbs and throw them in a quart mason jar.  Then I mix the vinegar and honey well in a measuring cup and pour it in the jar as well.

Top with some wax paper (to protect the lid from the vinegar and protect the mixture from the lid!), cover and ta – da!

Fired Cider - brewing, brewing, brewing (image by Michael Blackmore, Mad Crow Herbalism)

Fired Cider – brewing, brewing, brewing (image by Michael Blackmore, Mad Crow Herbalism)

Magic has begun.

Ignore the Orange on the left.  It’s just photobombing the picture.  Oranges – so desperate for attention sometimes.   Don’t worry Orange, I’ll be making some bitters later and you’ll get to play then.

Depending how patient you are and whether it feels right to you – shake it regularly for a few weeks (some go for two to three, while I tend to be a four to six week man myself) and then filter out the solid bits and enjoy!

I know what you’re thinking – hey that isn’t the way I learned it or make it.  Nope it isn’t.  That’s kind of the point.

The path of true Herbalism, IMO, is all about experimentation, change and growth.  We all do our own thing.  Some is similar to the ways we learned from those who have gone before and taught us and some is what we bring to the table.   We all have our own fire ciders, etc. and they are all fire cider – like there are many chocolate cakes out there.

I think that is what Rosemary brought to the table in her teachings.  Open Source Herbalism, where we all learn, grow and participate – building on a heritage(s) and history in our unique ways.

It’s one of the reasons I use this picture I took a while back for the Boston Herbal Salons I run in Boston:

Community of Plants (Image by Michael Blackmore - Mad Crow Herbalism)

Community of Plants (Image by Michael Blackmore – Mad Crow Herbalism)

Lots of different things all together and building a vibrant whole.   It’s a beautiful path.

That other “vision” which this day was inspired in reaction to – is one of separation, stifling and stagnation – the opposite of healing, growth and a joyous life.

So learn from others, experiment yourself, make your own magic and support others in theirs. 🙂

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True Heart Tea

Posted on August 23, 2013. Filed under: Herb(s) of the Week, Herbal Medicine Making, Plant Friends, Trees | Tags: , |

Sometimes in the flurry of daily life your heart can take a beating and become hidden away.   That’s when that happens,  I try to re-connect to my true heart via the magic of Hawthorn, Linden and Rose as a tea (with just a touch of Licorice root.)

True Heart Blend (Image by Michael Blackmore - Mad Crow Herbalism)

True Heart Blend (Image by Michael Blackmore – Mad Crow Herbalism)

Linden -aka Lime, Basswood, Bee Tree (Tilia spp.)  Family: Linden

Linden is a pretty magical tree in of itself.  One of my favorite bits of folklore says that if you fall asleep under a Linden tree you will be whisked off to fairyland.  To be honest, as much as I’ve tried to replicate that, I still always awake where I started.  Dangnabit!

Although not classified as a Nervine, in its heart Linden is a Nervine. I think of it as particularly helpful for generally calming and relaxing the emotional nervous system and addressing a host of physical ailments whose underlying cause is emotional. Insomnia, IBS, headaches, indigestion and high blood pressure whose basis is more emotional are often best dealt with by Linden.

In this blend I think of it as having a special affinity for the emotional heart – soothing and gently unwinding the emotional knotting of it.

Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.) Family: Rosaceae

One of its other names in England is the May tree because it tends to flower in May.  I like to think of it as adding “Spring/spring” to the heart.   It is also known as the “father of the heart” which speaks to its profound affinity to the heart.

It is the classic herbalist heart remedy and is great for almost every heart and circulatory issue. It strengthens the heart and its antioxidants components help protect the heart from damage. It relaxes the blood vessels and thus improves the blood circulation and circulation to the heart. It generally works in a fairly gentle and supportive way. Its full effect builds slowly so it works best over long periods of time. While not only a classic physical heart tonic it can be a great balm for the emotional heart as well and is almost nervine like in its ability to support in cases of nervous tension and stress.

So I place it in this blend for its healing of the physical heart but also for its ability to align in a healing way to the emotional heart as well.

Rose Family Rosaceae

There’s a saying that “Roses are good for the skin and the soul” and I think that is powerfully true.   While herbally they have been used for their anti-inflammatory properties and ability to help with everything from headaches to sore throat as well as in skin care.  Which is just a way to show off their ability to soothe in general.

There is a particular uplifting quality to ones spirit with Rose is involved, which makes it a great addition to this blend for the more spiritual aspects of the heart.

Finally, I usually add a touch of Licorice root to the blend to harmonize the formula as well as for the touch of sweetness it adds which always help sweeten not only the tea but one’s mood and life.

That’s my favorite True Heart Blend for keeping you “young at heart.”

Young at Heart – Jimmy Durante

Yes, I’ve been on a bit of Jimmy Durante kick lately.  🙂

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Salve Our Souls (and Skin!)

Posted on November 14, 2012. Filed under: Healing, Herbal Medicine Making |

Salves and me haven’t always seen eye to eye, partly because they don’t come as naturally to me as teas and tincture making.  So last weekend I decided to spend some time salve making with them with an eye toward thinking about the nature of salves and the making of them.

Many like making their herbal infused oils in the sun over a month or so, but I’m a classic double boiler man where you infuse the oil with the herbs for several hours:

Double Boiler of Herby Love (Image by Michael Blackmore – Mad Crow Herbals)

Some are hesitant about doing that – fretting about the water boiling off while they aren’t paying attention or the oil burning, etc.  I just use a cooking thermometer and check it regularly to see the temperature is good and if you think you might forget to check just set a timer to remind you every 20 – 30 minutes depending how paranoid you feel on any given day.   (Generally you want the water in the bottom pot on a low boil and to not push the temperature of the oil past the low to mid 100 F point too much but don’t obsess about it!)  BTW, IMO, digital cooking thermometer is one of my favorite tools for alleviating needless worry in cooking and medicine making.  🙂

While we’re at it here are some of the other tools I use:

Tools of the Trade – (Image by Michael Blackmore – Mad Crow Herbals)

While I keep a separate set of everything for working with my herbs as I do from my food cooking, I keep the same rule with both – NO PLASTIC!  I use just glass, wood and stainless steel (or cast iron.)    But really it is all pretty much the same equipment, especially since my approach to herbal medicine making is a lot like cooking.  I’m more a kitchen herbalist than a faux-chemist herbalist – because that’s where the art and magic lays.

That is also one of the reasons salves had always been more problematic for me.    It was like my long struggle learning to make omelets right.   I had always wanted to check it more, be more involved in the process and it would always collapse because of it.   It took me a while to learn to let go and leave the omelet be to set and cook just right.   And the same goes with salves as well where patience is key.

I think part of the process that has always bugged me is the lack of feedback and interaction.  With teas you can see the color change, smell the infusing herbs and taste the result.  With tinctures you get the wonderful color change and can taste the end product.  With infused oils and salves you get a lack of strong feedback.  When you infuse with olive oil (especially extra virgin) it is already pretty deeply colored and the scent of the oil is fairly strong to begin with.

All that said, let’s look at a salve I made recently focusing on Horse Chestnuts since I had a ready supply.

Herby Line Up of the Usual (and Unusual) Suspects (Image by Michael Blackmore – Mad Crow Herbals)

I gathered up my herbs with a plan to focus on two of my favorite aspects of Horse Chestnut – that it is great for skin tone and healing bruises as well so I decided to add in some herbs as supporting players for each of those to make an interesting general skin salve including Comfrey, Chickweed and Calendula.

Ignore the Lavender on the right, I didn’t actually use it.  Lavender just likes to try to force its way into every formula, it’s a bit of an attention hound.  Yes, yes Lavender you smell wonderful, make people feel better and have some pretty nifty healing properties (none better than using neat Lavender essential oil for burns!) –  but not every formula is about you!

I don’t know if it is just because of the feedback problem I mentioned above but I’ve noticed a number of herbalists who are vague when talking about amounts for teas and tinctures get amusingly exact with milliliters and ounces, etc. for salves and oils.    Which I think makes it sound way scarier than it needs to be.  I like ratios because they help you scale things and think more flexibility.

For the infused oil part I go with 4 parts oil to 1 part herbs if dried or 2 parts if fresh.   But I violate that at whim.

Never Exact (Image by Michael Blackmore – Mad Crow Herbals)

Definitely more than a cup

Once again not so exact (Image by Michael Blackmore – Mad Crow Herbals)

Does that look like 2 ounces of dried herbs to you?  Nope, and it turned out fine.

While the herbs and the oil were going for a couple of hours with me checking to make sure the water was fine in the lower pot and spot checking the oil temperature with my trusty thermometer – I grated me some beeswax!

None of Your Beeswax (Image by Michael Blackmore – Mad Crow Herbals)

You can buy smaller thing of beeswax but there is something satisfying about going all out with a big old block and a cheese grater.  Admittedly that is not for everyone.

When the oil is done I filter out the herbs (a nice tight mesh strainer and a bit of cheesecloth do the job splendidly) then put the oil back to be heated.   Then I add a pile of grated beeswax to the oil and stir until it melts in.

Rather than worrying about the proper amount of beeswax to help the oil set into a salve, I use the spoon method-plus.   I put a metal spoon in to gather a bit of the mixture, pull it out and blow on it until it is cooled down and check the resulting consistency.    If it is not where I want it, then I repeat adding beeswax and testing until it is.  Then just for the heck of it I add some more just in case.   And with rare exceptions, I think adding a bit more than you think almost always works out just fine with cooking and herbalism. 🙂

But let me pause a second (I know I’m indulging in an overused rhetorical device, but bear with me…), and circle back to a point earlier on feedback and salves.

One of the key elements of healing to me is how you approach it.  I tend to believe that just taking an herb is missing the point if you do it in the same pop and go way you do with a pill.  I find it valuable to shift and envelope in the experience of the moment to prepare for it and as you take it.  It’s one of the reasons I like herbal teas.

When I use an herbal tea, or when I give it to someone else to take, I recommend taking the time off from other tasks while the tea is brewing.  Don’t be fussing with your neighbor, partner, watching the news, working, etc.  Pause.  Sit calmly as you can.  Listen to relaxing or fun music.  Smell the tea brewing.  Watch the water change colors.  Experience it and shift yourself and prepare for it.  Then drink it calmly and slowly.     I believe it prepares you for healing as well as being healing unto itself.

With salves you don’t have all that but you help it a bit in the making of them and how you approach using them.   So there are a couple of things I added it the salve (and others often do too) to help.   I had also put in some Turmeric and Sandalwood powders in the oil while it was infusing.   Yes they both have some lovely healing properties but really they are there to shift the color naturally a bit so the end product doesn’t have the same petroleum jelly or beeswax appearance a lot of salves too.  And while the end product had cooled sufficiently I added some Peppermint Essential oil then quickly poured and capped the end product.    So between the two you have a nice visual and scent to help prepare the senses a bit.

When you are applying a salve, don’t just slap it on in anger and haste like an anxious teen covering a blemish before a date.    Take a moment and massage the area gently you are applying it too.  Spread it across your fingers a moment and feel the texture and apply it with care and awareness.  Then gently massage it in.   Your sense of touch is such a powerful thing so be with it in service of your healing.

For the record here’s the end product:

Is that Pangea in that Salve? (Image by Michael Blackmore – Mad Crow Herbals)

Which is what it is all about.

And never neglect having fun making the label…

Label fun (Image by Michael Blackmore – Mad Crow Herbals)

Aw, welcome to the world salve!

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