Juniper is an evergreen tree that grows wild throughout parts of Europe, Asia, and North America. There are many varieties of juniper, but the most common is Juniperus communis, which grows to 10 feet tall and has needle-like leaves and tiny seed cones. The medicinal parts of the juniper tree are known as berries but are really dark blue-black scales that come from the cones. Berries from the male juniper ripen in 18 months while those from the female juniper ripen within 2-3 years. The berries can be eaten right off the tree or dried as a nice addition to trail mix. You don’t need to eat many as their oils are strong, yet they have been used as a flavoring in foods and drink for centuries. They make an excellent addition to homemade sauerkraut since ingestion of juniper assist with inflammation and balances the production of stomach acid, a common reason for acid reflux. Juniper berry is often a part of bitter formulas to help stimulate and soothe the gastrointestinal system. Combine Juniper with chamomile in a tea as an excellent treatment for conditions such as upset stomach, heartburn, flatulence, bloating, loss of appetite and gastrointestinal infections.
The antiseptic properties in juniper make it cleansing to the urinary tract, thus valuable for treatment of urinary tract infections, urethritis, kidney stones, and bladder stones. Juniper also acts as a diuretic to help with edema related to poor kidney function. This strong action on the kidneys helps rid the body of excess uric acid which can lead to gout or general joint pain and swelling. Since juniper is very warming, it is contraindicated where there is very hot inflammation of the kidneys. Juniper berry along with cedar berry is also high in natural inulin, a sugar that helps the body manage insulin levels. It was traditionally taken to help balance the function of the pancreas, usually in a formula with other healing bitters like artichoke and bitter orange.
Extracts and essential oils from the juniper berries contain terpinen-4-ol, a compound that stimulates the kidneys and acts as a diuretic, along with Amentoflavone, which has strong antiviral properties. Juniper has been found effective in treatment of acute respiratory infection, staph infections and sinus infections. For sinus and bronchial conditions the inhalation of juniper, whether fresh crushed berries in hot water or drops of essential oil in hot water for a steam works well for bronchitis, pneumonia and rhinitis. Taken in a hot bath with Epsom salts it Juniper can help ease sore muscles and joints. The berries can also be infused in witch hazel as a topical treatment for acne. The essential oil of the berry diluted in a carrier oil or lotion is used topically for joint pain, sore back and to treat conditions like acne, athlete’s foot, warts, skin growths, psoriasis, and eczema.
Calendula Flowers (Calendula officinalis) are cheerful and easy to grow, so invariably find a way into the hearts and gardens of all herb lovers. Usually cultivated as an annual, calendula can be easily be grown as a perennial in warmer climates and will reseed naturally. Calendula is sometimes called marigold and pot marigold and this confuses it with members of the genus Tagetes, which go by the same common name. Marigolds in the Tagetes genus are in the same family as Calendula – the Asteraceae (Sunflower family) – but they are not interchangeable with calendula in medicine.
When you pick calendula, your fingers will be sticky from the resinous bracts, which form the green base of the flower head and the leaves. The resin has a distinct smell and is an important part of calendula’s healing power. It has been used medicinally for centuries to heal wounds, burns and rashes, internally and externally. You can use the leaves and flowers as a poultice for sprained ankles or cuts and both leaf and flower can be added to healing salves when you make them. Tests of Calendula oil suggest that it promotes tissue growth and chemically enhances immune response to infection. Crush fresh flowers and upper leaves (extracting the resin) directly on skin to spots you suspect can be staph infection – the essential oil of this plant can also be used in such first aid cases. The flowers are rich in bioflavonoids that aid the eyes and are generally highly anti-oxidant. The whole flowers can be eaten fresh, broken over salads and omelets, or dried, and added to soups and stews in the winter as an immune tonic. Calendula’s bright healing energy ‘brings light to places where the sun don’t shine’, is a folk saying that refers to its ability to help move stagnant lymph and deal with yeast infections as well as brighten one’s outlook during the cold, darker months of winter.
To make a calendula oil that you can use as skin moistener, baby oil (helps with diaper rash) or in salves, just collect fresh calendula flowers and carefully dry them out of direct light for a few days (so they are wilted and nearly dry). Then put them in a jar and cover them completely with olive or jojoba oil (mix well). Store in a warm dark place for 1-3 months (the longer the stronger) and decant/press out the golden oil.
Who isn’t cheered and revitalized at seeing the bouncy orange of California’s state flower along roadsides, field-edge and garden? The vibrancy of color alone is food for the soul. Eschscholzia californica is a native annual that often grows like a perennial in coastal climates. Hundreds of years ago, poppies blanketed the land – an orange that could be spotted from miles offshore. The lanceolate, finely cut, almost blue-green leaves, papery flowers and long deep translucent orange taproot are its medicine.
In the wizard of Oz Dorothy, the Lion, Tin man and Scarecrow all fall asleep in a field of Technicolor poppies, eluding to the drug-like effects of the oriental poppy, Papaver somniferum. Our native poppy power has similar, but milder effects, however it is non-addictive and won’t depress the central nervous system. Like the Opium Poppy, California poppy contains a variety of isoquinoline alkaloids including very small amounts of morphine and codeine. While these famous alkaloids may contribute to the activity of Eschscholzia the medicinal properties are likely due to over a dozen other compounds along with flavone glycosides (antioxidant, blood-vessel strengtheners).
The flowers have an iridescent sheen and close in dark or wet weather. Petals can be picked and added to foods for flourish and high anti-oxidant content, or made into tea for a mildly relaxing beverage. The foliage contains a watery white sap that is slightly narcotic, and was traditionally used by Native Americans for relieving toothaches, headaches and reducing spasms. The whole plant treats nervous tension, mild anxiety, allergies, insomnia and bed-wetting in children. Poultices can be made for topical treatment of ulcers and sores of the skin.
Chamomile is one of the old favorites in traditional herb gardens and kitchens and is still a popular herbal medicine throughout the world. The name stems from Greek “ground apple” for its lovely apple-like scent. In Spanish the name Manzanilla (“little apple”), describes the same. The two most popular types are German chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla/recutita) and Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile). Though different species, they are used to treat the same common ailments, however German chamomile contains much higher amounts of azulene, an important medicinal oil.
Chamomile flowers resemble the daisy with white petals circling a cone-shaped yellow center and depending on conditions, bloom between May and October. German chamomile leaves are fern-like light green and feathery whereas Roman chamomile has finely divided parsley-like leaves that are thicker and flatter. For growing, German chamomile likes poor, clay soil whereas Roman chamomile prefers well-drained and moderately fertile soil. Although both chamomiles thrive in open, sunny locations, Roman chamomile will not tolerate hot, dry weather. There are other wild chamomiles, common to foragers, for instance, the well-know side-walk variety Matricaria discoidea, commonly known as pineapple weed whose leaves, have the lovely scent and can be used as a tea or in salads in a similar manner (the flowers are more bitter).
Wherever you travel and ask for an herbal tea, you are bound to have two consistent choices: mint and chamomile – and that’s a good thing! Chamomile’s most popular use is to calm upset stomach and nerves. It is combined with fennel and/or dill in baby ‘Gripe Water’ for colic and included in many intestinal soothing formulas as well as parasite formulas. You will also find it a primary ingredient to sleep formulas and one reason is that chamomile has two flavanoids that, like Valium, interact with GABA (gamma amino butyric acid) receptors on nerve cells, slowing them down. These flavanoids are only water soluble in chamomile because they are attached to sugars when you drink the flower tea, then your gut bacteria release the flavanoids for absorption by your body. A strong tea of chamomile can be quite bitter and therein lies its medicine as a powerful yet gentle mover of the liver and bile in the gallbladder. In many countries a strong chamomile tea is drunk after a night of over-indulgence!
The pollen of both chamomiles have molecules that serve as antagonist to pain receptors, thus may lessen the sense of pain in the brain (and our gut which is a nursery for brain neurotransmitters). Chamomile along with California poppy (which has a similar effect on the brain) should be included in chronic pain relief formulas. Chamomile speeds wound healing, and is highly anti-inflammatory so makes an excellent poultice for sunburn or sore muscles. It works by reducing the production of enzyme COX-2 that is associated with chronic inflammation used internally as tea, capsules or tincture. Chamomile’s oil is a deep blue due to the presence of azulene, which is both anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial. It makes a great facial or sinus steam for bacterial acne or sinus infections and combines well for this purpose with yarrow flowers. You can also use a strong fresh chamomile tea in your netti pot for a nasal wash. Long used in Europe for dental issues, tincture of chamomile reduces mouth infections, abscess and complications from periodontal diseases. In such cases, combine with tinctures of Oak bark and sage.
Finally, Chamomile has long been used in body care products because it is cleansing and brightening to hair and skin. Make a strong quart of tea to use as a hair rinse to ‘lighten’ dark blond hair and use as a facial toner to repair sun-damaged skin. Of course you don’t need a reason to use this wonder-herb! There is still nothing so pleasing at the end of a long day, as to enjoy a cup of chamomile tea with your favorite local honey . . .ummmmm .
Mullein has long been one of my favorite tonic herbs and a special winter into early spring companion. This magnificent plant is like the elephant of the garden with its ears of broad, basal, furry leaves and its flowering trunk of nearly six feet tall. It is a native of Europe and temperate Asia, but has been naturalized across the globe. Upon its arrival in America, Native American culture quickly adopted the plant and used it in ceremonial smoke and as medicine.
It takes two years for mullein to produce a stalk of its lovely yellow flowers, which like the leaves and the root, can be used medicinally. The stalks themselves can be made into torches by dipping them in beeswax or suet, and were traditionally used in religious ceremonies. The leaves of mullein can be picked in the first year and into the second spring, before the flowering stalk is formed. Their broad nature and tiny hairs remind us of the microvilli (little hairs) that live on the inside of our mucus membranes in the lungs and intestines, which serve to sweep mucus out of the body. Therefore mullein is a specific remedy for moving excess mucus out of the respiratory passages and digestive tract. It works for acute respiratory illness, congestion and dryness of the tissues, including; coughs, hoarseness or irritated throat, asthma, and bronchitis. I discovered its virtues while living in Britain with cigarette smokers. I included mullein in my daily herbal tea blend to keep away a ‘smokers cough’ and soothe my irritated throat. I highly recommend it when traveling to places with high levels of air pollution.
The leaves of mullein also help soothe and mend tissue in the case of hemorrhoids, ulcers, acid re-flux, dysentery, inflammation of the eyes and gout. It works well as a poultice – one large leaf can be softened in hot water and placed over wounds including herniated discs and broken ribs. I have used it for easing scoliosis and Mathew Wood suggests that “Mullein has the intelligence to set bones.” For a winter sore throat with swollen glands and fever, try making a strong tea of mullein leaves and use that to saturate a flannel or soft towel that you wring out and wrap around your neck. Wrap a plastic bag around that, then a scarf and let it do its magic for at least a half hour. It will bring down the swelling, relax the tissues and pull out excess heat.
Mullein has long been used for nerve pain. A decoction or tincture of its roots can be used for toothache and cramps. Where the leaves are cooling and can be applied externally to the skin to relieve sunburn, the root is warming and can be used for cold mucus conditions of the kidneys and bladder. Mullein root is used for treating mild cases of incontinence as caused by heavy lifting, coughing too hard, temporary stress conditions and weakening of muscles. The flower oil is excellent for earache. Pick the flowers and infuse in olive oil for a month to collect the flower oil. The oil of mullein flower can be dropped in the ear for pain and congestion of the Eustachian tubes, and is often combined with garlic oil for infection.
While I can write on and on about mullein, I will stop here and simply suggest that you try this gentle yet persistent healing plant.
Boneset herb (Eupatoria perfoliatum) is a perennial native of northeastern America and was commonly used by the Native Americans living there. It likes to ‘keep its feet wet’ by growing in the margins of swamps, marshlands and streams. The leaves are slightly rough and serrated and grow alternately, joining at the stem as if one leaf. It can grow up to 5 feet and then has clumps of small bone-white flowers that are coveted by bees. The leaves and tops are used and gathered at the beginning of flowering. If harvested earlier or later, then only the leaves are gathered.
European settlers were taught by Native Americans, how to use boneset for influenza with strong chills and aching bones. It became widely popular as treatment for malaria and was brought back to Northern Europe where it naturalized. Boneset may have gotten its common name from being able to relieve “bone-breaking” fever (that which causes severe bone-pain), but it has also been traditionally used to help set and heal broken bones. As a bitter, it is also used to heal intestinal lining and appetite, post illness.
I like to keep some on-hand during the winter months to add to a tonic tea when there is the first sign of chill that could be due to cold of flu. As a diaphoretic, it will help to increase heat and move it to the periphery of the body, helping to drive the pathogen out. Drinking it in a warm tea with other diaphoretic herbs like elderflower, yarrow and ginger can help ward off potential illness. If one does come down with feverish chills, use it in a tea with one of the above herbs and a little peppermint.
Boneset herb can be added to any formula for mending bones, whether fractured, broken or worn as in osteoporosis. It stimulates circulation and may aid the liver, which plays a big part in connective tissue healing. To do this, make it a smaller part to a formula with comfrey, mullein and horsetail. Homeopathic Eupatorium can be used in higher potencies (30c to 200c) in bone healing where you don’t have the herb.
Intermittent fevers affect the pore-size of the intestinal lining and can compromise digestion over time (antibiotics do this even more so). Boneset can help restore the integrity of the mucosal lining and help reboot the digestive process. This herb may also be of value in moving mucus that has gotten stuck and dried in the lungs. It is helpful with secondary respiratory infections that can result from having the flu. Boneset’s bitter quality makes it a liver and gallbladder stimulant and thus restores appetite. In this case the infusion is drunk at room temperature or cooler.
Please Note: This herb is safe to use as needed for acute illness and recovery, however it is not for long-term continuous use as it does contain pyrrolizidine alkaloids, which can be toxic. Do not use in pregnancy.