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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Ayurveda – Initial Explorations

Posted on July 11, 2012. Filed under: Healing, Path of the Healer | Tags: |

A few weeks back I met with an Ayurvedic health counselor and it started me on a bit on an exploration of Ayurveda which inspired some thoughts.

One of the reasons I went was because I was interested in its take on my weather sensitivity. I’ve always been extraordinarily in tune with the weather and its changes and moods. When I was younger it was simply an uprush of energy as storms came in and general mood connections to the weather patterns. As I grew older it morphed into more elaborate and annoying trends. Difficulty sleeping during big weather shifts, lightheaded feelings during increasing temperatures, etc. And, in general, things that in an early time would have earned me an honored place as the weather shaman.

Just to share a classic example that happened recently. I was having lunch with a friend on a sunny spring day. There was no rain in the forecast, yet I told her it was going to rain soon. She laughed and said I crazy. Then while the sun was still out it started raining for about 10 minutes lightly before stopping again. (I decided to not perform my “I’m Right and You’re Wrong Dance” then….)

Now what was interesting to me was the recommended treatment was not herbs but adjusting my diet according to my constitution which is Vata-Pitta. I’m not going to go into the details here of doshas because there are plenty of resources on line about it but you can think about it as wind and fire. I was told that both my Vata was very unbalanced and my Pitta was as well, but we’d start on working on balancing the Vata. And I was given a list of foods to favor and foods to avoid and told to experiment for a month.

In my first couple of weeks, I’ve actually noticed some interesting changes. My dreams kicked into overdrive, my sleep changed for the better and most interestingly I was surprised by two rainstorms. I haven’t been surprised by a rainstorm EVER. I’m not saying everything is perfect given that I’m only a couple of weeks into this and merely by favoring certain vegetables, grains, etc. over other ones I’m noticing such a change is completely fascinating and something that should be and obvious extension from my herbalism studies but somehow seems to be ignored.

When diet is wrong medicine is of no use.
When diet is correct medicine is of no need.
~Ayurvedic Proverb

In herbalism, we often talk about energetics of people and energetics of medicinal plants. (Is it cooling, heating, etc.) But rarely diet and when I’ve seen dietary discussion it is often around the axis of Paleos, Raw food and/or Vegetarian/Vegans. But not in terms of the energetics of food plants – which is interesting because given the relative quantities of food plants we ingest weekly versus any amount of medicinal tinctures, teas, etc. – thus the effects of their energetics would be profound.

On one level it is a tribute to medicinal plants that they can have such a powerful effect despite that. On another level I believe we do a disservice to people in ignoring diet and the energetics of food plants in terms of how they affect health.

I’m not necessarily implying a strict adoption of the systems of Ayurveda, or Traditional Chinese Medicine, in looking at foods. And even within those systems (just as in Western Herbalism assessments of medicinal plants) there are different schools and interpretations of how things get categorized energetically. But it is worth thinking about more and exploring how to include thinking about food, diet and attitudes about food as well.

Food for thought so to speak…

References of Note:

    • Prakriti: Your Ayurvedic Constitution by Robert Svoboda. Which made for an excellent overview and I particularly liked how it looks at emotional, physical, psychological and energetics of you and food and how they work together. What it lacks is how to truly put it into practice but it is really not intended for that purpose but more of a philosophic overview and it does that well enough.
    • Ayurveda: A Life of Balance by Maya Tiwari. A more substantial examination of the theory, foods and includes recipes. Much of her discussions of food, preparation of food and how to maintain your kitchen and your life for harmonious health are incredibly beautiful and inspirational. And overall, most of it is highly unlikely to be incorporated into most people’s daily lives – certainly not mine. But it can be a nice touchstone to remind you when your inner compass has gone askew because of the pulls of normal Western living. One of the things I really liked about the book was how the charts looking at the energetics of food according to your Dosha were broken down into the categories of Major (most helpful), Minor (less helpful but still helpful) and Regressive. Which I think works better than the chart I was initially given saying merely favor or avoid – a little too binary for me.
    • The Ayurvedic Cookbook by Amadea Morningstar. Briefer theory section than the other two because it is primarily a cookbook (in case the title didn’t clue you in.) I found the charts and symbol system less useful and less intuitive than Tiwari’s book but still a good resource as well.

I’ll certainly be reading, studying and learning more over time…

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Random Musings: Explorations of Different Healing Arts

Posted on June 19, 2012. Filed under: Healing, Random Musings | Tags: , , , |

Herbs don’t work for everyone, for everything, all of the time.

Got your attention? 🙂

I know, I know – aren’t I suppose to be all non-stop herbal magic talk?

  • Eyebright cured my need for glasses!
  • Comfrey fixed my broken leg in one day!
  • Etc.

It’s really easy to be caught up in the magic of working with plants and treat them as an almost magical cure all instead of a healing ally that might not be suited for all occasions. Hey, they are magic and powerful. But some plants work better with some folks and not others.

Yet there’s a more important point I’m thinking of. The old hammer story.

If all you know how to do is to hammer with nails, then every problem you encounter you’ll try to fix with a hammer and nails. Even though that is not always the best solution. I tend to think all healing arts can lapse pretty easily into thinking that way. You’ve studied it, practiced it and it works for you so it must be the one!

I tend to think that depending on the person and the condition you’re working on you can often need more than one different player on your healing team. In addition to working with herbs, I incorporate life coaching, meditation, acupuncture, massage and yoga into my own health (I consider health to be more than just physical but to include mental, emotional and spiritual aspects as well) maintenance routine. And in the past I’ve had Reiki, Polarity and other energy work as part of it too.

I love exploring different things not just by reading them or taking an occasional workshop (although I do those too) but experiencing them as client. I tend to find it exciting as you learn new things about yourself and your body by looking through the eyes of that practice and perhaps news ways to look at healing and health in general.

One of the things coming up this week is I have an appointment with an Ayurvedic health counselor. I know a little bit about it and have read a few introductory books and encountered it via yoga (hey and some odd bits in Bollywood movies, but let’s not go there.) Yet working with an actual trained practitioner in Ayurvedic medicine will be a brand new thing and very exciting. Who knows what I will learn and what better ways to take care of myself and improve my life might come from it. (And also a great excuse to finally delve into the book The Yoga of Herbs: An Ayurvedic Guide to Herbal Medicine, which I’ll review after I read it.)

I strongly encourage everyone to, when you have the chance, try out a different healing practice you’ve never done before. It’s a great way to broaden your horizons as a healer or as a person. Who knows what healing tools you’ve been missing. I think that different healing arts modalities work really well together even if you might not think of them together and you can be surprised which ones you know, or haven’t thought of, work best for you.

But that’s just my insane .02

(Future one I’m checking out that I’ve never done include Tibetan, Craniosacral and Chiropractic….

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Book Review: two books on honey

Posted on December 8, 2011. Filed under: Book Reviews | Tags: , , , |

This time around not one but two books that I loved!

I’ve been on a passionate kick of making lots of herbal honeys lately, and from that I’ve expanded to reading more about honey and the wondrous bees that produce it. These two books are the beginning of this mini-research project, but most definitely not the end.

Yes, you’re thinking that’s swell but isn’t this an herbalism blog and honey/bees aren’t exactly plants? Well, this blog also talks about healing arts (and sometimes will talk yoga!), but even without that honey and bees are a most worthwhile topic.

Here’s some reasons in no particular order:

  • Honey is amazingly medicinal by itself – good for treating infections, congestion, wound healing, burns, sore throats, insomnia and a host of other things.
  • You can make amazing herbal medicines with honey (like I’ve been doing lately.)
  • When used in combination with herbal remedies honey can enhance the healing property of herbs according to the Ayurvedic tradition (and there is some evidence on that point it seems.)
  • Honey is yummy and bees are cool!

Now on to the books.

Honey Bees: Letters from the Hive by Stephen Buchmann

Buchmann’s the shorter overview of the two books. It focuses more on the bees, beekeeping and the history of humans, bees and honey. It does talk about the medicinal uses of honey including historical ones, but that is not its main goal. The book is more of an informative first person narrative with lots of interesting stories giving you insights into the information it presents. It makes for a reasonably useful first overview of the topic. It has more of an appeal to a broader age group as well, set up so it is readable for adults while being a great first reference for kids 11 and up – not a mean feat when you think about it.

The Honey Prescription: The Amazing Power of Honey as Medicine by Nathaniel Altman

Altman’s book is far more extensive in most every respect. The title indicates its main goal of discussing the healing aspects of honey, but the book covers substantially all other aspects about bees, honey, history, etc. It makes for an excellent start to the topic.

What is especially nice is the substantive discussion about studies of honey including ones that offer more mixed results in terms of supporting his points. One of my favorite parts of the book is the extensive footnoting of studies and list of books, journals and on-line resources that gives me a lot to go through for my next steps of research.

One interesting point Altman discusses, that many herbalists should be quite familiar with, is how much of the research in honey’s medicinal applications is not done in the United States because of the inability US pharmaceuticals to patent and profit off of it, thus a lack of funding to research it.

Overall, both books are worth reading. The first is better if you want a simpler, briefer, more readable overview. The second if you’re looking for something a tad more substantial but still not remotely overwhelming as an introduction with lots of touch points for further reading.

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Book Review: Healing from the Source: The Science and Lore of Tibetan Medicine by Yeshi Dhonden

Posted on December 1, 2011. Filed under: Book Reviews | Tags: , , , , |

Boy, I wanted to appreciate this book more than I actually did. I bought it thinking, I know next to nothing about Tibetan Medicine. Yes, technically I know a bit more than I did before I read it but the book left me with more questions than answers. Just not necessarily in a good way.

Part of the problem is the book is a collection of interviews/lectures rather than a coherent exploration of the topic. Another was that the systems and diagnosis in Tibetan Medicine is so complex and fluid (which is a pun as you’ll see shortly) that the book is more of a teaser than anything else.

I liked seeing some of the roots of Tibetan Medicine including Buddhism, Ayurveda, Traditional Chinese Medicine (in this book he implies that the borrowing was more the other direction) and while not discussed here there are definitely elements of the Tibetan Bon religion.

At its most base level, Tibetan Medicine lays the foundation of all illness to imbalances to the bodies three principle functions caused by the “three poisons”:

“Attachment is the primary cause of imbalances of the wind, hatred produces imbalances of the bile, and delusion is the primary cause of phlegm imbalances.”

From that point on the complexity grows because like in quite a bit of the Buddhist canon, and especially in the writings that form the foundation for Tibetan Buddhism, there’s a huge love of large numbered lists voluminous types of things in Tibetan Medicine. I’ve long joked that somewhere buried in the canon is a treatise about the 346 types/stages of your foot falling to sleep while sitting in meditation. (Really I’ve been scared to look but what if it is true?!?) To the point that it can get mind numbing.

I found it sometimes frustrating because occasionally there would be hints of something interesting that I’d love to see more discussion about. For example,

“In Tibet it is very cold, especially in the winter, so some of the tonics prescribed there consist largely of butter. But if these were taken in a warm climate, they would be unhealthy. So a medication that acts as a tonic in one climate may be detrimental in another.”

I was very intrigued with the whole notion of climate and seasonal targeting of treatments. I would have loved to have heard more, but alas there wasn’t any. Just more levels of numbers lists and vague “some kinds of this illness are caused by this imbalance while other types are actually a different imbalance” talk. So I’ll have to look into that and think about it. As someone who is historically very in tune with weather patterns and changes, it’s a topic that warrants more exploration. (Maybe I’ll put together a post about that some time.)

Not really an introductory book to the topic but not a more advanced one to be read after such. More a bit disjointed mis-mash, with tiny glimmers of interesting things. So I can’t really recommend it, but it did introduce me to things I do want to learn more about.

Oh, yes. One slight warning (here’s where that pun above is paid off.) If you do decide to read it you might not want to do so while eating or drinking if you’re squeamish. Because one of the qualities a healer is supposed to have is to “Exhibit no revulsion when seeing bodily fluids.” Well, make that more like be kind of obsessed with bodily fluids and gases.

In this relatively short book I read more discussion of that than entire big thick introductory medical books. Which admittedly they had almost none of – so balance or a “middle way” between them would be a whole lot more appealing to me.

I’m not squeamish, still the volume of references was kind of amusing. There’s a whole section of advice on vomiting, passing wind and more that can be summed up as “If you have to go, let it flow.”

Wait one more, “When it doubt, let it out.”

Okay I’m done, but the book wasn’t.

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