Herb(s) of the Week

Zing went the strings of my heart (Oh, Ginger!)

Posted on September 16, 2014. Filed under: Herb(s) of the Week, Kitchen Herbalism |

Yes, the title of this post is a pun upon an old Judy Garland song and the official name of Ginger (Zingiber officinale); Family: Zingiberaceae.   So shoot me!  But “Zing” is right because not only does it it zing, but how can you help but sing with fresh ginger about!

Ginger and friends (Image by Michael Blackmore, Mad Crow Herbalism)

Ginger and friends (Image by Michael Blackmore, Mad Crow Herbalism)

Ginger is something that goes so well with so many herbal remedies, like the photo above where it was part of the Cider which can’t be named (which I talked about a while back…)

Ginger is offered in many forms including powdered, pickled, etc. – but nothing beats the joy of fresh ginger root which thankfully you can find pretty readily in most stores.  So you have no excuse not be making things from fresh!

Ginger is great classically for digestive issues and as a carminative and I consider it a go to for such issues and I make a pretty yummy fresh Ginger glyceride for the occasional stomach upset and often carry it with me for after meals out or at potlucks where you never know how you’re going to react the food.

I also pressed out a Ginger- Angelica tincture which I made recently.

Ginger meets Ginger Tom (Image by Michael Blackmore, Mad Crow Herbalism)

Ginger meets Ginger Tom (Image by Michael Blackmore, Mad Crow Herbalism)

which while a powerful anti-gas remedy (especially since Angelica is also a potent carminative by itself and I often keep a tincture of it about for the occasional mild gas) – it is sort of the thing only a herbalist can love.  And as you see above Herbal Kitty is so not impressed – even if he is a ginger tom himself.

Because of it’s powerful digestive powers, I also use it before meals in the form of ginger based bitters (infuse some fresh ginger, lemon/orange peel, burdock and yellowdock root with at least 40% alcohol for several week and you have a great pre-meal digestive bitter.)

Beyond it’s digestive magic, Ginger is a great anti-inflammatory and stimulates circulation.  I’ve infused it into sesame oil along with fresh Ashwagandha root to make a great oil for sore joints and muscles.

I also just plain love, love Ginger when it’s cold and flu season.  Its antiseptic properties and affinity for respiratory issues make Ginger tea magic in the fall and winter!

Ginger - Mint Tea (Image by Michael Blackmore, Mad Crow Herbalism)

Ginger – Mint Tea (Image by Michael Blackmore, Mad Crow Herbalism)

Ginger tea is also great for nausea and motion sickness – yummy and healing!

If tea is not your thing infuse ginger and lemon together in honey for a yummy cold aid.

With so much good to it – you should be singing its praises too – Zing, zing, zing – Zingiber officianale!

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My Little Chickweed

Posted on December 5, 2013. Filed under: Herb(s) of the Week, Uncategorized | Tags: |

Chickweed and me have been having this crazy little affair going on.


Chickweed (Stellaria media) ; Family Caryophyllaceae

Chickweed is just wonderful in the many ways you can use it – how it molds itself to be so very helpful in so many forms is just part of its special magic.

You can eat it in salad, cook it with foods, make it into tea, juice it, make vinegars with it, make salves, oils and just about anything you imagine you do with it.  But before we get into some of that, how about if I get the herby facts out of the way…

It has lots of useful phytochemicals – as well as vitamins and minerals in it such as:  flavonoids, triterpenoid saponins, coumarins, mucilage, vitamins A, B, C, D; calcium copper, iron, magnesium, potassium and zinc.

In herby speak its actions are considered:   antiarthritic, emollient, diuretic, anti-inflammatory, demulcent, astringent, febrifuge, expectorant, antitussive

In words we may actually know, it is historically used for things like: gastritis, colitis, peptic ulcers, IBS, constipation, asthma, dry coughs, bronchitis and sort throats.   Or in other words it is great for soothing the irritations in the respiratory and digestive systems.

Externally it is most often used for anything where there is inflammation and heat involved such as  eczema, itching, heat rashes, sunburns, oils and acne.   Fresh leaves can be helpful for burns as well as for  insect bites where their drawing action is great as well as to help in drawing splinters.

Kind of a nifty list, huh?

In general, Chickweed has a great affinity for fluids helping to release them when blocked and to aid their movement within the body.  It’s easy to think of it as dissolving blockages in the body – physical as well as emotional.   Culpepper thought of it as being under the domain of the Moon with its connection to water and flow.

Part of its magic as a cooling and soothing herb is that it helps with excess pitta and makes for a great ally in Spring when those of us with occasional Pitta imbalances can feel it most.

Beyond just the usual teas/infusions here are some of the fun ways I like to spend time with Chickweed:

  • Infuse it in wine – a great traditional remedy for rebuilding strength after a prolonged illness
  • Make flower essence which helps you be in the present and let go of the past – who knew Chickweed had such a strong Buddha nature!
  • Make a Chickweed infused vinegar which is wonderful nutritive (throw it on salads!) and great for baths and the skin in general
  • Throw some fresh Chickweed in with some water a blend it for a refreshing juice
  • Take that juice and freeze it in ice cube form to have around to sooth dry skin, rashes or just throw in your drinks year round

And just plain eating Chickweed and drinking Chickweed tea to is pretty awesome.  I can’t count the times I didn’t know what I wanted and it turned out some Chickweed tea was the answer!

Somehow it’s like a song (with apologies to Barnes and Barnes and their song Fish Heads!):

Chickweed, Chickweed,
Rolly-polly Chickweed,
Chickweed, Chickweed,
Eat them up, yum!

In the morning,
Laughing happy Chickweed,
In the evening,
Floating in the soup!

(BTW – here’s the original song…)

Now, while I will never get that song out of my head, I always welcome Chickweed in my heart. 😉

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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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Tulsi, I just have to sing about it…

Posted on August 9, 2013. Filed under: Herb(s) of the Week | Tags: |

Ah yes, I’ve been enjoying me some fresh Tulsi tea a whole lot lately and it’s been something to sing about.

Tulsi Flower

Tulsi Flower (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tulsi, aka Holy Basil, (Ocimum sanctum/Ocimum tenuiflorum)  Family:  Lamiaceae

I have to say the time I’ve spent with Tulsi has been eye opening.   Sometimes you can know about a plant but haven’t quite discovered its real magic yet.    Like the difference between knowledge and the beginning of true wisdom.

Typical Information

Here are some of the bits of Tulsi information….

In typical  herby speak it is considered to be: diaphoretic, febrifuge, nervine, antispasmodic, antibacterial,  analgesic, adaptogenic and antioxidant

Toning down the polysyllabic addiction problem some herbalists have you can think of it as by what it has been seen as traditionally:

  • Helping with stress
  • Improving memory and concentration
  • Good for respiratory problems
  • Aiding with balancing blood sugar levels and cholesterol
  • Easing IBS and gastrointestinal issues
  • Soothing minor aches and pains including headaches
  • Helping fight infections and such
  • Potentially lowering blood pressure

You can also use the juice externally for insect stings and skin diseases as well as rashes and fungal problems.    And as ear drops for ear infections.

(Which is actually pretty similar to a lot of the Mint family and especially many of the herbs we think of as culinary, or Italian seasonings, like Basil proper, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme for some examples.)

But Tulsi special magic is something more complex…

The Spiritual Side of Tulsi

In Ayurveda, it is not just thought of as an herb aimed at improving physical health and vitality but also valued for aura cleaning and helping to balance the chakras.  It is said to be sacred to Vishnu and often used in daily prayers.

As well as considered to be a potent dream herb to increase the vividness of dreams as well as your recall of them.   Which is not often mentioned as such but I’d consider it a nice shamanistic dreaming aid myself.

Three are One

Recently, I saw some folks online discussing how they had used Tulsi to aid with emotional issues but how they hadn’t really appreciated it for the ability to help with more physical problems (like insomnia in that case) until recently and how impressed they were by it.

That is one of the interesting things about herbalism is how different plants have different strengths and affinities.  Not only for particular physical aspects but in a more broader philosophic sense of  physically, emotionally and/or spiritually supportive and healing.

And that is where I had the realization of what it is that made Tulsi special once I truly got it and connected to it.   There may be many herbs better at any one of those aspects, but I find Tulsi to be very evenly balanced and supportive across all three.  The physical, spiritual and emotional aspects are all connected powerfully in this plant.

For example, it is an important part of a blend I use in retuning my nervous system.  You know how when life seeming gets out of way and you react too strongly to simple things?  I see that as times when you need to re-tune a bit and I use a blend of Passionflower (classic Nervine), Tulsi (to harmonize and apply cross the three aspects of physical, emotional and spiritual self), Eleuthero (classic Adaptogen)  and Licorice (another Adaptogen and formula harmonize) that call Harmonizer Blend.   Then I have  a cup a couple of times of day, each day until I feel more settled.

It’s that subtle cross support of three aspects in one herb which makes Tulsi such a marvel.

And, of course, something to sing about…. 😉

“Tulsi” (to the tune of Maria from West Side Story and with apologies to Stephen Sondheim, Leonard Bernstein, et. al.)

“I’ve just drank a tea made from Tulsi,
And suddenly I’ve found
How wonderful a sound
Can be!
Say it loud and there’s music playing,
Say it soft and it’s almost like praying. “

Tulsi, love ya babe!

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Herb(s) of the Week – Marshmallow Loves Me

Posted on July 9, 2013. Filed under: Herb(s) of the Week | Tags: |

I’ve started what I thought was a summer affair but instead it has become something so much more substantial. How did I never notice the full wonders of Marshmallow before?

Marshmallow (Althaea officinalis)

(Image via Wikipedia Commons)
Marshmallow (Althea officinalis); Family: Malvaceae

I think on more than one occasion I’ve heard herbal teachers do the usual herbalist litany of how it is considered sweet, cooling, moist and bland with lots of mucilage that makes it helpful  for gastrointestinal problems and soothing to the whole digestive system.   Then move on as if wanting to discuss something more exciting.  So over the years I built the same dismissive shorthand of digestive issues = consider Marshmallow.

With the onset of Spring/Summer in Boston I began to feel a little heat imbalance in my system (or in Ayurvedic terms my Pitta was getting unbalanced) and this was showing itself in odd rashes here and there.    So I was looking at my herbs thinking of what would be a cooling counterbalance and Marshmallow winked at me….

It’s probably a bit of hyperbole on his part but according to Pliny:  “Whosoever shall take a spoonful of the Mallows shall that day be free from all diseases that may come to him.”

Even beyond that the very Latin name for it and its plant family speaks volumes – Althea is from the Greek altho (to cure)  while the family name Malvaceae comes from malake (soft) for the softening/healing qualities of the whole plant family (which also includes Cacao; Okra; Durian fruit and Hibiscus.)

In the usual herbal speak it’s considered to have many general actions such as being  demulcent, nutritive tonic, alternative, anti-inflammatory, expectorant, antitussive, analgesic, diuretic, antilithic, mild immune stimulant, galactogogue and antihistamine.

Which is all very long winded and filled with herbal buzz words instead – just look at some of its general historic uses to get a better idea of its magic:

  • inflammation in the digestive system
  • diarrhea
  • IBS
  • ulcers
  • constipation
  • heartburn
  • dry coughs
  • UTI
  • irritable bladder
  • skin problems
  • kidney stones

Matthew Wood talks about it having a special affinity for the kidneys which I wouldn’t disagree with, but I particularly like it’s cooling anti-inflammatory nature. And it is thought of as having the special ability to bind and remove toxins to help the body to cleanse itself.  It’s plain nutritive aspects can’t be ignored either since it has impressive amounts of calcium, in a readily absorbable form, as well as magnesium.

In Ayurveda,  it is considered good for all three doshas but particularly calms high pitta thus reducing heat and inflammation (Pitta is always there when there is inflammation!)  This is where I really began to appreciate its magic.

Where you can use it:

  •  As a poultice for burns, bruises and wounds
  • Just use the leaves on insect stings and bites; or mix with lavender essential oil, in a carrier oil, for skin inflammation
  • Use as  wash for eczema

Or simply drink a nice tea of it to calm the savage Pitta.  I’ve begun to truly love the cooling almost nervine like aspects of a cold infusion of Marshmallow tea in my life.  It seems to to help not only physical inflammation but emotional and nervous “inflammation” as well.

Sometimes I like making the cold infusion with a bit of Licorice as well.  And James Green’s book The Male Herbal introduced me to the lovely notion of adding Chamomile and Cinnamon to it too.  So yummy and calming in all the right ways.

While you can use flowers, leaves and roots, I’m particularly fond of the roots for tea.  Generally it  better as a cold infusion to extract the mucilage.  There is a long tradition of decocting it – as well as boiling it in wine as a cough aid.

Finally, there’s a old folk saying that if you rub your hands in the sap of plant – you won’t be stung by bees.  I have yet to try that one myself…. 😉

All this made me realize that not only do I really love Marshmallow but maybe it loves me too.

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Skullcap, so happy together

Posted on April 15, 2013. Filed under: Herb(s) of the Week, Plant Friends, Yoga |

In a way, I’m shocked that I haven’t written about Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora; Family: Lamiaceae, Mint) yet. Seriously one of my favorite herbs and my special nervine partner.

I just love it.

So much so that I can’t think of it, see it or hear about it without the Turtles song “Happy Together” running through my head.


Heck, I think my herby friends have a lottery going to see how long before I start humming the tune after someone says Skullcap.

Some of the other commons names for it are: Blue Skullcap, Hoodwort, Virginian Skullcap, Mad-dog Skullcap. Mad-dog Skullcap being the most amusing for its dubious use in the past for rabies.

Skullcap is a classic nervine, sedative, a bit of a bitter and mild antispasmodic. It is high in minerals useful for the nervous system, so it nourishes and supports it to help calm stress and anxiety. It’s a very commonly used for insomnia and pairs particularly well with Chamomile for sleeping issues in general.

Different nervines have different affinities and are better suited for some folks than others depending on their nature and the nature of the issue they are working on.   I tend to think of Skullcap as best for when you’re finding your nervous system is over stimulated and needs help to tone down.

My first flush of love for Skullcap was when used to have a dreadful time sleeping at night and it was a regular part of a tea blend to help me sleep. Nowadays that isn’t so much an issue for me and my regular use of Skullcap fell by the wayside, then I re-discovered it in another way.

Skullcap ties nicely with releasing tension in skeletal muscles, and helps ease muscle tension in general – especially related to stress as well as general physical or emotional exhaustion. It’s not a full on muscle relaxant, you’d look to something like Kava for that, but I’ve been finding it particularly adept in supporting my after yoga practice issues.

Sometimes when I’m working in new asanas or beginning to really have conversations with muscles long dormant and make demands on them they’ve never felt before. They get cranky and carry a bit of specific nervous tension to them for a while.

During those times I will often drink more Skullcap tea generally paired with Nettles for the extra minerals punch which cranky muscles love. Or eat more seaweed for the same mineral awesomeness. (And, of course, extra quality protein in building those muscles!) I’ve been finding the combination incredibly supportive in my yoga work.

So Skullcap has become a big part of my life again in my yoga practice.
In general, in Western herbalism we use the aerial parts (leaves, stems, flowers) which is an interesting contrast because it is originally a Native American herb (used mainly by the Cherokee) and they tended to use the roots and in somewhat different ways – more as a women’s herb. Where it was used in purification ceremonies associated with menstruation. Decoctions of the root were used to stimulate menstruation and ease breast pain. And it was also used to flush the kidneys as well as for diarrhea. None of which are uses we follow with in contemporary Western herbalism. But sound like interesting areas to explore….

Anyway, Skullcap has proven a twice blessed herb in my life first for aid in for sleeping problems I used to have and now again it support of my yoga practice.

Who knows what the future holds for us…

“Me and you and you and me
No matter how they toss the dice, it has to be
The only one for me is you, and you for me
So happy together…”

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Oak is the word

Posted on March 11, 2013. Filed under: Herb(s) of the Week, Trees |

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?

"Tell me more, tell me more..." (From the movie Grease)

“Tell me more, tell me more…” (From the movie Grease)

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….:

We go together like
rama lama lama
ke ding a de dinga a dong
remembered for ever like
shoo bop shoo wadda wadda yipitty boom de boom

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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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Herb of the Week: Basil, I am what I am!

Posted on November 28, 2012. Filed under: Herb(s) of the Week, Kitchen Herbalism | Tags: |

I recently pressed out a batch of Basil Glycerite (from fresh Basil I grew myself in containers in my room’s window seat) that I had made a while back and it is AWESOME!

New Born Herbal medicine (Image by Michael Blackmore – Mad Crow Herbals)

So to welcome this amazing brew to the world, I thought I’d talk a little bit about the ever amazing Basil – but since there are over a 150 varieties I’ll be focusing on what I grew the classic culinary, herbal Sweet Basil (Ocimum basilicum.)

The Basil I grow has always had a bit of an attitude.  Kind of like those old Popeye cartoons where he mutters under his breath and you know he’s swearing like a sailor.

Portrait of Basil pondering the world (Image by Michael Blackmore – Mad Crow Herbals)

My Basil has been haranguing the Plantain (Plantago major) out in the front of the house.  (“Hey $%$#% Plantain get off my lawn…”)  but I can sympathize with it though because so many herbalists go all Manchurian Candidate about Plantain and using it for insect bites (“Plantain is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful plant I’ve ever known in my life…”), but they so neglect the fact that not only is Basil great for insect bites (just use the juice from the leaves) but it is also a pretty nifty insect repellent (just apply it externally to repel insects.) Can Plantain do that?  NOOOO.

And that’s just the start of the Basily fun:

  • Basil has nice antimicrobial actions including a particularly nice respiratory cleansing affinity.   Consider using a steam of the leaves (fresh or dried) or essential oil for helping with colds, flu and sinus issues where its volatile oils such as linalool and eugenol can work wonders.
  •  It is also a pleasing digestive aid helping with nausea, indigestion, gas and cramps.  As well as just generally stimulating and supporting digestion in pleasant way.  Either as a tea, tincture or amazing Glycerite!
  • Although not technically considered a nervine in herbalist’s general definition, the difference between it and one isn’t that great.  It’s considered to aid with nervous tension, insomnia (have some tea just before bed or heck anytime – I love Basil tea!) and anxiety.  It is as helpful in this way as a tea or as an essential oil.  Heck just shaking up the Basil plants releases such a powerfully uplifting smell by itself.
  • And it was traditionally used as a galactagogue (stimulating lactation in women.)

It’s cleansing, supporting, nurturing and more – yet so doesn’t get the respect it deserves.  Then when you consider that the ancient Greeks and Romans thought it grew best when being abused and mistreated!

No wonder it sometimes has a chip on its metaphorical shoulder.

So isn’t it about time to love Basil for its wonderful medicinal gifts too and not just treat it like a co-dependent to pesto? 🙂

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