Health Through Herbs & Natural Healing

Karin C. Uphoff

Herb of the Moment

Rosemary

In winter, when many trees stand bare against a grey sky and most herbs in the garden have gone back into the ground – we turn to the evergreens for both spiritual and nutritional sustenance. Herb rosemary, Rosmarianus officinalis, is one of my favorites in any season, but its qualities are most appreciated this time of year. Not only is this evergreen perennial beautiful to behold (it may even be sporting it’s soft-blue flowers in early winter), but it’s warming and stimulating effects are much needed! The leaves look like one inch long pine needles that are dark green above and paler green to white underneath and when you rub them, the have a strong aromatic odor, that’s almost camphorous – indicating its most medicinal aspect, its volatile oils. Since ancient times this shrub has had a reputation for strengthening the memory, and thus became an emblem of fidelity for lovers. It has been long used at weddings (worn by the bride as a wreath), funerals, for decking churches and banquet halls, as an incense in religious ceremonies and magical spells, and used as smudge for general protection from unwanted influences. It was one of the cordial herbs used to flavor beer and wine and is still a major ingredient in many recipes (see Favorite Recipes). In the winter, dried rosemary can be thrown on the wood fire as a potpurri. If you have a wood-burning stove, you can put sprigs of rosemary in a pot of water and set it on top to provide a lovely aroma. It doesn’t just smell good – it’s aromatherapy is uplifting, anti-microbial,...

Cleavers

Often, when we need a herb, yet are not yet aware of which one we need – it comes to us. That was how I met my friend Cleavers (Galium aparine) or goose grass. I was living in Britain to attend herbal school and one of my housemates was a big beautiful blond – Barney the golden retriever. Barney liked to walk as did I and so we became fast friends. Nearly everyday we spent a couple of hours in the countryside exploring new trails along steams, fields and woods. I stopped along our walks in order to identify plants, specifically medicinal herbs, which were aplenty. I noticed Barney like herbs too. He always seemed interested in nibbling on a bit of this and a bit of that. We lived with smokers – one was a chain smoker in fact, and that was a new experience for me. In fact one of the reasons I like to hit the trail was to clear my lungs. Into nearly the third month of living in a smoker’s household, I started to develop a little smoker’s cough first thing in the morning. Barney had moved into the house around the same time I had, and I think the reduced air quality was new for him too. One morning we were trodding through a partially shaded area that always remained a little damp, and Barney suddenly stopped and began eating a small trailing herb with whorled leaves along it’s lanky branches. He didn’t just eat – he chowed down like it was the yummiest treat in the world. I picked a piece and...

Nettles

One of the loveliest herbal treats of the spring and early summer is fresh nettle leaf (Urtica dioica or U.urens), found in abundant quantities in cool, moist places along rivers and streams. Nettle is such a rich food source that if it didn’t have a strong protection it would be completely eaten before it had a chance to seed. When you touch its mint-like, deep-green leaves, stinging hairs break open to exude formic acid, producing temporary burning and itching (sometimes leaving bumps or welts on the skin that last a day). Cooked or dried nettle doesn’t sting. Interestingly, the sting is part of their medicine. Formerly, thrashing the joints with fresh nettle was done to the legs of horses, and yes, the limbs of consenting adults, to relive arthritis – I have met several people who had complete cure from such external stinging. A more gentle method of capturing that medicine is through the homeopathic remedy Urtica, which is used for joint pain that is improved by movement. This same homeopathic remedy is used for countering the itching of allergies and skin rashes like poison oak. Stinging aside, nettle leaves contain more protein than any other native plant, plus large amounts of iron and trace minerals, fat and chlorophyll. It is a tonic herb that, when eaten or drunk daily, will keep nails and hair strong. It replenishes the thyroid and adrenal glands and nourishes the liver – it has been used for hundreds of years as a remedy for hangovers. It is excellent medicine for those recovering from illness, or pale, anemic types with low blood pressure. A...

Saint John’s Wort

Blooming around the summer solstice is the cheery yellow flower of Saint John’s Wort, Hypericum perforatum, a native herb to Europe but naturalized throughout North America where soils are poor. It grows so prolifically in some areas as to be considered a “noxious weed”, since livestock who graze on it can become photo-sensitive, but herbalist know that this golden flower is true gold! St. John’s Wort can cause some folks contact dermatitis if large quantities are handled without gloves. Occasionally, it causes sensitivity to light for those taking larger, oral doses. This effect resolves itself when dosage is reduced. St. John’s Wort is an herb of protection from bothersome energies and was traditionally hung above the house door, or strewn in the corner of rooms for this purpose. The healing oil of the plant can be viewed when holding the leaves up to light to see the little red dots that indicate pores of the red oil. Healing oils and pigments are also contained in the little yellow flowers with orange streaks, so the entire tops are harvested anytime during bloom for medicine. These tops can then be dried for tea, soaked in vodka, grape alcohol for tincture, or soaked fresh in olive oil for salves. My favorite use of this plant is via the oil, so I chop up the leaves, flowers and stem and place it in a brown glass jar, then cover it with cold-pressed olive oil and/or jojoba and let it sit in a warm place for three or four months. The decanted oil or tincture is a lovely darkish red color. Rub the oil...

Burdock

By the end of the growing season, plants have shuffled most of their remaining resources into their roots to store for the winter months. This is the time of year to harvest root-herbs and my all-time favorite is burdock root. The plant’s leaves are similar to the common dock, but the “bur” in the name alludes to the furry-looking barbed fruits, which spring from thistle-like flowers, that can reach a height of five feet. These clever seeds travel by embracing anything that brushes by them – animal fur, clothing, or bird feathers. The bur in the name might also refer to the sound critters make as they struggle to pull the seeds off them! Burdock grows freely in Europe, Asia and wetter parts of the United States and lucky for those of us in drier areas, it is a popular commercial crop. The root is available year round as a dry herb and only needs to be simmered 20 minutes to make a tea. Burdock (both the root and seeds) is an incredibly useful tonic herb that cleanses the blood via the kidneys and liver. Burdock root is a mineral-rich, downward moving herb that activates the kidneys, reduces fluid retention, helps break up calcium stones, and being rich in silica and iron, helps to strengthen connective tissue. It is an excellent herb for moving stagnant pelvic energy that is the result of standing or sitting in one spot for long periods of time without being able to walk briskly or stretch out the legs. Thus it is useful for treating sciatica, lower backache, stiff or painful hips or muscle...

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