Kitchen Herbalism

Surviving Our Winter Snowageddon

Posted on February 27, 2015. Filed under: Kitchen Herbalism, Seasons and Climate, Urban Herbalism |

You may have heard that here in Boston we’ve taken a right turn at winter wonderland and dove straight into more of a nightmarish wintery affair.  This has inspired me to share some of my tips for surviving emotionally and spiritually during our Snowageddon.

Nowadays, we look outside our windows to witness scenes like this:

Snow Bound  (Image by Michael Blackmore - Mad Crow Herbalism)

Snow Bound (Image by Michael Blackmore – Mad Crow Herbalism)

Which don’t exactly inspire hearts filled with gladness and joy.  And then when we head out we navigate walled mazes of snow…

Snowy Wasteland  (Image by Michael Blackmore - Mad Crow Herbalism)

Snowy Wasteland (Image by Michael Blackmore – Mad Crow Herbalism)

Just so icky!

One of the first things many herbalists will run to in these times are various combinations of nervines and adaoptogens to help ease that underlying nervous tension and to support you dealing with stress.   Which is a great start but I’m not going to dwell on this too much except to say there are a lot of them and finding the ones that work best for you as you need them is hugely helpful.

Personally, I sometimes go for  a blend I call “Reset Your Nerves” that I make in various forms and drink a couple of cups a day for the worst weeks of things:

Reset Your Nerves Tea (Image by Michael Blackmore - Mad Crow Herbalism)

Reset Your Nerves Tea (Image by Michael Blackmore – Mad Crow Herbalism)

Which is a combination of Tulsi, Oatstraw, Linden and Skullcap and or Passionflower.  And then I supplement things with homemade mushroom capsules with things like Reishi, Chaga and Cordyceps – which I’ll have a couple of times a days with meals.

Then sometimes I go with adaptogenic teas with things like ginseng, ashwaganda, eleuthero or chaga.  It’s depends on what is wanted or needed.

Beyond that when it is particularly cold and the season is filled with storms resulting in strenuous work like shoveling snow and hiking in the cold to get anywhere – I think that is the best time to break out the hawthorn to support your heart as it has to work even harder than normal.  Brew up some generous portions of hawthorn tea and carry a bit of hawthorn berry tincture with you.  It’s good for your nerves and your emotional heart as well – which is also struggling during the wintery onslaught!

There are a variety of supporting practices that I like doing depending on how things are going.

On the caring for you by caring for your skin note, I’m fond of:

  • Doing weekly home facial steams.  Usually on Friday night to help let go of the week.  Just boil up a pot of water, throw in the herbs, cover and turn off the heat.  Let them steep for a bit.  Then lift the cover and put your face over it a towel covering your head for capturing the steam.  Some great herbs are linden, elder flower (great for the sinus too so it doubles as a sinus steam!) and frankly any of the kitchen herbs that get commonly called Italian seasonings like Basil, Sage, Rosemary, etc. are great here and smelling them is so healing for your mood.
  • Never neglect the awesomeness of a foot bath.  Additions such as the nicer essential oils or herbs are wonderful.  Sometimes, I like going in a different direction and try to deal with winter shoe feet ick of all stripes by cutting up  some fresh garlic (let it sit a bit) and throw it in the hot water along with Epsom salt, Apple Cider Vinegar and sometime Tea Tree oil – it feels cleansing, tingling and warming to the soul and the soles!
  • Don’t forget the value of oiling your skin – in the depths of winter I tend to use sesame oil infused with herbs and warming things like ginger and massage it into my skin in the morning after I shower.  So amazing!
Garlic Foot Bath (Image by Michael Blackmore - Mad Crow Herbalism)

Garlic Foot Bath (Image by Michael Blackmore – Mad Crow Herbalism)

Yes, yes, that fresh chopped garlic floating in my foot bath water! 🙂

As silly as it may sound – go to bed early.  Yes it means you have less time in the evening, but even if you don’t realize it at the time your body and spirits will appreciate any extra sleep you can get this time of year.  It’s not like we aren’t all getting chronically sleep deprived in the US anyway, so it is always good advice.

It’s always a good time to indulge in a little food therapy.  Like the magic hot homemade soup on a wintery day:

Parsnip Ginger Soup (Image by Michael Blackmore - Mad Crow Herbalism)

Parsnip Ginger Soup (Image by Michael Blackmore – Mad Crow Herbalism)

This was a wonderful Parsnip Ginger soup I made.  I grated some fresh ginger (a couple of tablespoons full), chopped up some onions, parsnips and shitake mushrooms and sautéed them for a few minutes in some pastured raised cow butter then added some water, tomatoes and some pepper and sea salt and let it simmer until it was yummy and warming awesomeness!

Provided you’re not snacking on sugary stuff all the time – this is exactly the time where a little chocolate therapy can be called for.

Healing by Chocolate - (Image by Michael Blackmore - Mad Crow Herbalism)

Healing by Chocolate – (Image by Michael Blackmore – Mad Crow Herbalism)

Some of my personal favorites from my emergency chocolate blizzard stockpile!

And last but not least…when there is already too much snow on the ground and there is yet another snowstorm in the forecast – don’t forget the vastly underrated value of just plain running and screaming in the night to release some stress! 😉

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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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He’s back or What’s Happening?

Posted on November 4, 2013. Filed under: Kitchen Herbalism, Site News, Trees, Uncategorized |

My overly long hiatus from the blogging world is over.  I had intended to take a little break because things were just so busy, but it ended up a tad longer than I thought.  But I’m back to regular posting and I’ve had lots of exciting things happening.  So pull up  a seat…

Shocked Cat (Image by Michael Blackmore - Mad Crow Herbalism

Shocked Cat (Image by Michael Blackmore – Mad Crow Herbalism

And try not to look so darned shocked that I’m back.

I’ve been mainly working on two things in my herbal life lately.  One is finding a nice location to teach monthly herbal workshops in my neighborhood in Boston.  After a long search, I finally found one and am starting up a mostly monthly series of herbal workshops.

The first two of which are coming up shortly.  The first one is on one of my favorite topics TREES! Cause trees are the bees knees!

10 Trees to Know and Love
(Herbal Healing Circle – Boston)
Sunday – November 17, 2013 from 1 – 3 PM;
Spontaneous Celebrations, 45 Danforth St, 1st Floor, Jamaica Plain, MA (google maps)
(Just a two minute walk from Stony Brook on the Orange line!)
Cost: $25

Trees make for great medicine, but there is more to trees in herbal medicine than just Elder, Hawthorn and Linden.  This workshop is an introduction to some of the herbal uses of our friends the trees – starting with just  ten of the many trees  available to us.  Hear about the varieties of common local trees, as well as some of the not so common ones.    Learn harvesting tips, where to buy and how best to work with them. 

Come and learn so you won’t end up “barking” up the wrong tree.

And in December I’m tackling another favorite topic – things you can do with what you most likely have in your kitchen:

Herbal Magic in Your Kitchen
Sunday – December 15, 2013 from 1 – 3 PM
Spontaneous Celebrations,  45 Danforth St,  1st Floor, Jamaica Plain, MA (google maps)
(Just a two minute walk from Stony Brook on the Orange line!)
Cost:   $25

You don’t need to order things from specialized stores or even hunt for them in the wild – you can make magic with herbs and foods you commonly have in your kitchen.  Come to this workshop and share the fun as we explore the wonders hidden in your spice rack and lurking in your fridge that you never suspected you had!

Or what I sometime call MacGyver herbalism.  😉   I was so tempted to call it that too. But I did just barely restrain myself.

In 2014 I’ll be lining up some more workshops that I’ll be teaching as well as bringing out some guest speakers from amongst the many gifted herbalists in the Boston area – many of which are part of my circle of herby friends.

The other project is something I call the Boston Herbal Salon:

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

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

which was partly inspired by the last couple of Herbstalk Festivals here in the Boston area. One of the things that we all loved was catching up with folks that we hadn’t seen in a while.

It was then I decided we needed a semi-regular social gathering for herbal folks and the Boston Herbal Salon was born.   I had a first, kind of testing the waters, one at the end of August where ten of us met one Sunday afternoon in the garden yard of my place.  We had so much fun just talking and connecting that I knew magic was being born.

Now the next Boston Herbal Salon is coming up:

Boston Herbal Salon
Tuesday, November 19 from 7 – 8:30 PM
Hosted at the Commonwealth Center for Herbal Medicine, 25 Saint Mary’s Court, Brookline, MA.    Directions at link – (directions)

We herbalists all love spending time with our plants friends, but it can be just as much fun sharing that love with others. So come on out to the Boston Herbal Salon where you get that chance to meet and share that joyful celebration of our plant pals with those who feel just the same way. The Boston Herbal Salon is an informal discussion/get together for herbalists (both current herbalists as well as those on that path) in the Boston area. It’s a chance to socialize and network a bit with other herbalists.

Bring a favorite herbal recipe to share with the group or a good herbal story!

We’ll talk, laugh, share bodice ripping tales of forbidden plant love (well maybe not so true….) There will be teas, snacks, tinctures and more. But most of all fun!

And it promises to be even better!

So that’s what I’ve been doing during my blogging vacation. 😉

Now that you’re caught up it’s time to go back to my usual collection of silly and inspiring tales of herbs, yoga and spirituality.

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Summertime Fun – When Life Gives You…

Posted on July 24, 2013. Filed under: Food and Cooking, Kitchen Herbalism, Urban Herbalism |

Sometimes you just have to remember to have stop taking herbs so seriously and have fun with them – and luckily that is what this post is kind of about. 🙂

Fun with Lemonade (Image by Michael Blackmore - Mad Crow Herbalism)

Fun with Lemonade (Image by Michael Blackmore – Mad Crow Herbalism)

The other week Boston was suffering under a heat wave and in a nice bit of serendipity the medicinal herbal CSA I belong to included some Staghorn Sumac berries that week.  Thus Staghorn Sumac lemonade was totally on the agenda.

But, of course, being who I am – I didn’t stop there.   I went all herbal lemonade crazy including making:

  • Lavender
  • Basil
  • Jasmine
  • Rose

and more.   I also used blueberries, raspberries and strawberries and limes instead of lemons in my mad experiments.    In the picture above the lavender is on the left and jasmine on the right.

It was all good and so much fun.

The basics are embarrassingly easy.  Make a tea of your favorite herb that you think would be fun, add some lemon/lime juice and the sweetener of your choice (honey, maple syrup, succanat, etc.)  – stir and chill.  You can also add the juice of other fruits – berries especially are awesome.

I did overnight infusions of the herbs in a quart mason jar myself.  And for that size I preferred the juice of a whole lemon/lime and used either honey or succanat.

But that’s me.

Why don’t you go, play and make some for yourself.

Herbs are meant to be fun and are fun to play with.

You won’t be sorry. 🙂

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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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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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