Just recently I received this wonderful question on my Outlander Love Affair page from one of my readers.
"Hi! I have become interested in homeopathy since reading the Outlander series. I was wondering if you recommended books for starters? I am wondering what herbs should be staples in my garden, when the best times to harvest and store and their best uses? Any advice would be most appreciated! Thank you!"
In response to this question I've decided to put together a simple series that all who are just learning can benefit from. An herb garden can be planted for many reasons and many who've read the Outlander series become completely inspired by Claire and decide to plant one so that they can create their own healing tinctures, infusions and tonics. The first thing that I need to say is that all students of herbalism need to remember that these plants are powerful medicines, even the ones used simply for culinary reasons. You need to be careful with them and treat them with the respect that they deserve.
It's also important to remember that many herbs placed in the hands of a experienced herbalist are safe, but only because they know exactly what to do with them. Please ask questions first! For example Pokeweed, a gorgeous plant with large aubergine colored berries is quite poisonous at larger doses, but if prepared and used correctly can treat rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory conditions of the bones, joints and intestines. Comfrey , an absolutely wonderful plant has been suggested to cause liver damage when used extensively and in the wrong way. At the same time, poultices of comfrey and infusions of comfrey are used by herbalists to promote healing of fractures, muscle and joint pain, earning it the name of boneset. I use comfrey all of the time but in the way that I've been trained to do so. By the way...If for no other reason ,you should cultivate comfrey for your compost pile. It's one of the finest natural fertilizers that we have! Greater Celandine is another plant that I used when my husband got hit in the liver directly while sparring during Karate. He had shoting pains in his side and he became jaundiced. The doctors weren't sure what to do so we brought him home and began doses of Celandine tincture and olive oil and warmed castor oil packs that I applied to his side. WIthin two days his color had returned to normal. Celandine is a wonderful herb but you must be careful. In high dosages it can damage the liver instead of heal it.
Here's a list of some herbs to start a beginners garden with and all of these are culinary as well as medicinal. The purely medicinal herbs shouldn't be used personally until you've got some real experience under your belt and besides, there's more than enough simple and safe herbs to use to promote healing for almost any malady that you find yourself dealing with. Start with these, grow them and learn to use them well.
Summer/ Winter Savory
(Thyme, Balm & Verbena)
The Mint’s ( including catmint!)
Traditional herbalism (Folk herbalism) has been around for centuries. All of the supplements for sale in plastic bottles are a fairly recent phenomenon and readily available to us in a way the equivalent of a steak or chicken breast purchased wrapped in plastic is, which is to say conveniently. They are effective and I don't mean to suggest otherwise, but they are so removed from their source that their true subtle magic is almost impossible to discern. For that reason when I am asked to teach someone about the healing herbs, the first thing that I recommend is that they choose 3 or 4 at the most per season to become fully acquainted with. Be patient and you will be rewarded for that effort in many ways.
For the sake of this discussion lets say that you will have chosen 4 of my favorite herbs to plant in your garden this year, Lavender, any of the Mints (except pennyroyal which can be very dangerous if used incorrectly), Anise Hyssop and Sage. All of these can be planted in containers if you don't have a patch of land and they'll flourish that way. Their uses are very simple to learn and apply.
Lavender can be used in teas and sleep pillows for relaxation and to help calm a frightful headache or a childs nightmares. Mints are wonderful for the digestion and a principle component of "Tummy Teas". They are also fabulous energizers and great allies to use when trying to break a coffee or nocotine addiction. Catnip (or catmint) is a fabulously relaxing mint and great for the stomach as well! Anise Hyssop can be made into a poultice to treat burns and other wounds and it has an almost narcotic energy that relaxes you without sedating you. Infusions of garden Sages make exceptional mouthwashes and gargles for icky sore throats and I always grab a leaf or two of fresh sage to chew on when I feel myself to be a bit off of the mark. Blend these four together and infuse into a pot of hot water and you'll have a marvelous tea that's relaxing and restorative at the same time!
All herbs like different soils and some want wetter feet than others, so you'll have to really get intimate with them! Watch and listen. I've got 4 different typeas of lavender right now and each wants something a little bit different in the way of sun and nourishment! Read about them, study them, draw them ,watch them, feed them and taste them ...that's how you'll get to know them and getting to know them is the key to using them. I've just scratched the tip of the iceberg! Keep a gardening journal and notice what is happening to your plants day to day. Draw any bugs that you find on them, draw any specks or spots or flowers. That's how you'll learn what you need to know about them.
Here are some simple harvesting rules for you:
Harvest Herbs after the morning dew has dried but before the hot afternoon sun
(approximately 11:00 am)
Harvest before the plant flowers or after flowering when new growth appears
Wash every herb that you plan to eat in cool water until no dirt remains
Most herbs can be dried for later use
Most leafy herbs need to be stripped off their stems before using
Store dried herbs in glass containers away from heat and sunlight. Do not store them in plastic.
Freeze all herbs that you plan to store for at least three days, then thaw , strip and dry. This insures that you'll have no creepy, crawly visitors
Label and date all dried product. Don’t hesitate to toss aging herbs as they can become flavorless! If you can't bear to toss them, use them in potpourri
Generally do not mulch them as they don't need it. When feeding, less is more. Remember that you're going to eat the end result. Please stay away from any chemical based fertilizers and herbicides. Fish emulsion, chicken poop and a container full of ladybugs and several praying mantis cases are all you'll need!
Here are some great books to start your journey with, I've got hundreds in my library but these will get you well started!
Next post we'll talk about my personal favorites....The wild allies! ( Some people call them weeds!)
I am not a registered nutritionist , dietician or personal trainer. I am a Board Certified Holistic Health practitioner. Any advice that is given is based upon my own personal observations, opinions or experiences I've had in life and the training that I've accrued.
Many don't realize this but the herbalism is not regulated nor licensed by any governing body in the US. There are no real legal title designations for American herbalism. To maintain personal standards and relay the degree of learning obtained, herbalists in America typically use the title their school or teacher gave them . Use your own instincts to determine the level of expertise posessed by any practitioner that you consider using to help you enhance your health and well being. I am of the opinion myself that this places the onus on us to be teachers who will help you in your quest for wellness and that if we do our job right you'll be able to understand and utilize these plants, foods and extracts yourself for your overall wellbeing.
" I should have warned you before that we'd likely end up sleeping in haystacks, wi' naught but healther ale and drammch for food. " "I don't mind" , I said. He nodded toward an opening in the trees, not taking his eyes off of me. "I havena got a haystack about me, but there's a fair patch of fresh bracken yonder. If ye'd care to practice just to get the way of it...?"
Diana Gabaldon - Outlander
I want you to meet one of my favorite allies; the lovely Linden tree or you may know it by it's other names, Lime tree or American Basswood. It's an easily identifiable tree with lovely boxy leaves, long pod shaped leaves and pretty seed pods. It's also the easiest tree in the world to identify when it's in bloom. All that you need are your ears and your nose! A Linden tree is also called a "bee tree" and for awfully good reason. Walk underneath one and look up. If it's covered with flowers it will undoubtably be covered with honeybees. I have been obsessed with it's fragrance for many years. It's gorgeous, clean yet floral, a Linden in full crown is the scent of warmed raw floral honey and freshly mown hay. If you'd like to smell that heady smell but don't have a Linden tree nearby , let me introduce you to one of my favorite perfumes, the lovely Jo Malone French Lime Blossom which quite frankly is heaven in a bottle combining French Linden blossoms with a touch a tarragon and bergomot...
The leaves and flowers of the lovely Linden make a truly relaxing tea that can be enjoyed at anytime and is one of the best natural nervines that I know of. A few handfuls of the fresh or dried leaves and flowers steeped or infused into a quart of water and then sweetened with raw honey is truly ambrosia. Enjoyed with a nougat cookie or a fine piece of shortbread elevates it to a truly remarkable experience. Apologies to Marcel Proust, but most of the time I'm not crazy about Madeleines:)
For me the real strength of the Linden was found when I began struggling with the moody sweaty symptoms of perimenopause. If you're anything like me, at age 54 it can be a little bit tricky to get a good nights sleep. My husband puts his head on the pillow and sleeps like a baby but oh no...not me. Menopause by itself can have me sweating , tossing and turning and if you add a bit of stress to the mix, I'm bound to be up for most of the night. Removing caffeine and alcohol before bed is very helpful, but I also have found that 2 dropperfuls of my favorite Linden tonic in a cup of warm water with some honey about an hour before bed works wonders! Then just slide under the covers, enjoy a book for a bit and doze off. You should wake up refreshed and ready to start your day!
This tonic is an infusion of some of my favorite green allies. I'm a bad candidate for any sort of sleeping pill and I'm naturally very intense, so I made friends with all of these plants quite some time ago out of absolute necessity. Everyone of them is cooling, soothing and promote a lovely restfulness without drowsiness. Hops and valerian are well known relaxants but you won't wake up feeling as if you've taken a sleeping pill. Linden is one of the loveliest nervines that I know and is used all over the world to promote rest and relaxation. Oatstraw helps to keep all of your lady parts content, cool and juicy while the chamomile and lavender are natural sleep enhancers, slowing the activity of the nervous system while promoting lovely dreams. Anise Hyssop is a delightfully licorice tasting anti-anxiety herb and the catnip speaks for itself. All you need to see is your favorite kitty rolling around on a catnip pillow to know why I included it in the mix and then there's the Rose Absolute. Rose Absolute is just such a beautifully evocative scent and is in my opinion the ultimate aphrodisiac, nervine and antidepressant. Its magical presence in this elixir provides the alchemy that ties it all together and makes it work so well.
I make this tonic in large mason jars so my measurements are for one of those!
In each mason jar layer:
2 tablespoons of raw honey
1 and a half cups of tart cherry juice
1 and a half cups of frozen (more antioxidents!) blueberries, raspberries and blackberries
3 tablespoons each of:
10 drops of organic, culinary rose absolute ( My favorite culinary essential oils are the Chef's Essences by Mandy Aftel)
Vodka (or blackberry brandy)
Layer all of the ingredients into the mason jar and top with vodka. Close the top of the jar and shake until blended. In about three weeks, strain and funnel into dropper bottles. To use, add two dropperfuls of this tincture to a cup of warm water or herbal tea. Add honey if you'd like and sip, preferably in a warm bath or wrapped in a soft robe.
NOW JUST FOR FUN!
A lavender and hops filled sleeping pillow is the perfect sidekick to this tonic and so easy to make. Just get two pieces of rectangular shaped soft flannel ( How about Tartan!) and sew them together , leaving one side open. Fill the pillow with arborio rice or buckwheat hulls, lavender and hops flowers and then add about 20 drops of lavender essential oil. Sew up the open side and roll the pillow back and forth to distribute the lavender oil. Either take it to bed as it is or heat it in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 3 minutes. You'll be dreaming sweet dreams in no time flat!
For reasons that would be considered "Spoilers" until 90 percent of the world is done reading Diana Gabaldon's brilliant "In my own Hearts Blood"...I will not disclose the why's, when's and wherefores of this particular little bit of writing. Just read the new book...you will love it. It's absolutely brilliant in the way that only DG can be and you will know in due time why I wrote this...
I am still such a happy, silly old hippy. I just can’t help myself…. I seriously take great joy in living part time in a state where Marijuana is barely criminalized, and definitely enjoyed by a huge percentage of the local population openly and without fear on a fairly regular basis. Indeed , Cannabis needs absolutely no introduction to anyone who came of age in the 60’s and 70’s and I don’t think that it’s popularity has ever dwindled, regardless of the mass prohibition and vilification that this incredibly helpful herb has had to tolerate for the at least last 70 years. Its remarkably fragrant qualities and euphoria producing tendencies make it a very attractive and comforting intoxicant for those who really don’t like to drink but want to enjoy a relaxing state of being that really doesn’t produce a nasty hangover in the morning or leave you wondering if you said or did anything that you shouldn’t have!
My own history with marijuana goes way back to the early 1970’s when I was coming of age as a teenager. Quite frankly I loved it and I found smoking a joint or two with my friends around a bonfire to be a fair relaxing way to pass an evening. We weren’t causing much trouble at all, unless you can call a bunch of pretty intelligent kids sitting around listening to Genesis, Yes and discussing politics, existentialism and quasi pagan philosophies well into the night trouble. Who needs complications of alcohol when you can have a a delicious brownie or two? I loved the smell of it..burning maple leaves and just a bit of illicit spice. I loved the fact that when I smoked it, I could simply relax and wax poetic for awhile.
To understand the politics of Marijuana in America , you truly have to look no farther than the corporate interests that widespread use of Hemp and Cannabis would impact. Hemp, one of the Cannabis cousins is an incredibly useful plant with nary a fraction of the “enlivening” components of Cannabis Sativa. It also makes fabulous paper, cloth, food, oil, and can be converted into energy. By now everyone knows that the original Declaration of Independence was written on hemp paper and that Jefferson , Washington et al. were hemp farmers. One doesn’t need to read between the lines to see that the reintroduction of legal hemp farming across the United States would completely impact the timber, cotton and paper industries.
The reasoning behind the prohibition of Hemp is that simple and it’s the powerful impact of industrial Hemp farming on other industries that keep it from widespread legalization here in the United States. In 1938 the Dupont Corporation had already patented the processes for creating paper from wood pulp and many of the powerful industry captains of that time were heavily invested in the factories that would be creating paper products. There were studies done at the time showing that paper made from hemp instead of wood pulp was not only a better and more stable product, but was easier on the environment. The processes used to produce hemp products are much less toxic than the ones used to produce paper and it was widely known that hemp was incredibly useful. However the enormous wealth of men like William Randolph Hearst enabled them to persuade our government to outlaw it because of the vast amounts of money that they stood to lose at the time.
Henry Ford on the other hand....
“Why use up the forests which were centuries in the making and the mines which required ages to lay down, if we can get the equivalent of forest and mineral products in the annual growth of the hemp fields?”
The many incredible health benefits of using Cannabis Sativa wisely as medicine are well documented. There are studies now that show the ability of marijuana to help children and adults with Attention Deficit Disorder gain focus in their lives and the effects of Cannabis on Glaucoma have been well understood for years. People with deadly asthma no it as a bronchiodilator and many with cancer and fibromyalgia use it to find relief from pain without the horrendous side effects and addictive tendencies of traditional pain medications. Cannabis is also an appetite stimulant as many who suffer from the loss of appetite as a result of traditional treatment can attest. Crohns patients and those with IBS and other inflammatory bowel diseases who are fortunate enough to live in states where Cannabis has been decriminalized can find easy relief from the painful and completely debilitating pain and intestinal spasms that they experience daily as part of their disease . There are even new groundbreaking studies that show that breast cancer can be put into remission by a daily dose of cannabis and patients suffering from the horrific side effects that chemotherapy produces can easily and safely find relief by ingesting a simple THC med strip, a sublingual delivery system that dissolves under your tongue and has the pain relieving properties of two Vicodins without the terrible side effects.
Personally I look forward to the day when marijuana is as legal and as easy to purchase as a bottle of vodka, which I consider to be far more damaging. Living in San Diego part of the time, I experience daily many terrifying stories of the murderous drug wars that are raging on approximately 45 minutes from my lovely coastal home. At a dinner party last year I met a government agent who had been brought into San Diego specifically to help secure the Tijuana border. His made his feelings very clear, that Americans need to insist upon the legalization of marijuana immediately in this country. Regulate it like alcohol, tax it (it’s California’s largest cash crop!) and shut down the need for the illegal trade that results in so much horrific bloodshed along our Mexican borders.
Perhaps I’ve said enough of the reasons that I believe that Cannabis should be decriminalized in this country. It’s never made sense to me that I could go out and legally drink myself silly, potentially leaving myself open to reeking some real havoc on some unsuspecting souls life forever yet if I wanted to indulge myself by smoking a bit of pot and relaxing in my living room I could really get into some serious trouble for it. That finally seems to be changing in this country and perhaps it is as simple as all the boomers are coming of age. The last staggering statistic that I heard on National Public radio was that approximately 54 percent of American seniors still admitting to smoking it and perhaps that is why we are many steps closer to finally demanding its total decriminalization. In Colorado it's completely legal and I am told that although there are definite difficulties with the law that close to 70 percent of the residents do not wish for the law to be revoked, only reworked. At this point in California and many other states, medical marijuana is available in all forms to the lucky residents and all you would need to procure it without risk to life and limb is a qualifying diagnosis from your physician . There are strictly enforced dispensaries where those lucky enough to enjoy the privilege will find all sorts of ways to indulge themselves. There are fancy edibles like lollipops, ice cream and brownies and even sodas made with cannabis for those who wish not to smoke their medicines.
Personally, I don't think that there's anything lovelier then a pot of Cannabis, Bee Balm , Catmint, Rose and Lemon Thyme tea with honey when I'm in a state where I can legally drink it.
Relaxing, Romantic and simply one of the Sexiest sips ever......
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