Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Herbal Monographs

                                                                   Calendula Flowers

Calendula officianlis  L.  (POT MARIGOLD; MARIGOLD)
Originally from southern Europe, the calendula is a very hardy yellow or orange flower that grows easily in lots of sunshine and sandy soil.  It will flower in late summer, and continue to flower until a very hardy frost kills it.  The Romans gave it the name “calends” because it was usually in bloom on the first day, or calends of the month.  From this observation came the Latin generic name Calendula.  
                                                           Roman Calender

In medieval England the monks of the period decided it should be named in honor of the Blessed Virgin, as legend described her as being accustomed to wearing golden blossoms, hence the common name of “Marigold.”  The Latin specific name officianlis was the standard term applied to herbs with official medicinal qualities.  Nicolas Culpeper has the following to say about the Marigold: 
“They strengthen the heart exceedingly, and are very expulsive, and a little less effectual in the smallpox and measles than saffron.  The juice of Marigold leaves mixed with vinegar, and any hot swelling bathed with it, instantly gives ease, and assuages it.  The flowers, either green or dried, are much used in possets, broths, and drink, as a comforter of the heart and spirits and to expel any malignant or pestilential quality which might annoy them.”
                                     Nicolas Culpeper framed by the Moon Signs

MARIGOLDS are full of quercitin, an antioxidant.  Nicolas Culpeper, the noted 17th Century herbalist, said that Marigold is ruled by Jupiter and should only be picked under the sign of the Virgin.  Picking it during the rise of Jupiter, he said, will result in loss of all virtue.  The person assigned to the gathering of the plant must be free of deadly sin and must remember to say three Pater Nosters and three Aves.

HARVESTING MARIGOLD:  This is an aerial herb; remember that all aerial herbs are harvested 1) While in flower; 2) On a sunny day; and 3) When the sun is at its peak, between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. (sometimes I will harvest up to 4 p.m. in high summer).  You can pick just the flowers and dry them in a basket or on a screen that is covered with paper (they’ll stick to the screen) and lifted off the ground (in order that air may circulate all around it), or harvest the whole stem and tie them in bunches.  You will notice that the stems have the medicinal value too, although they are not as strong as the flowers.  However, why waste any of it?  Go from the flower down to the crotch of the stem, from which another stem grows, and pick at the end of the flowering stem.  Calendula is so very fruitful in its flowers, that there is little worry of having to get it all right away.  Leave some flowers now and then to go to seed and you won’t have to plant as much the following year.  They are an annual, which needs re-seeding each year.  You’ll notice that your hands are sticky as you are picking, but this will disappear without you washing it off.  It is an essence of the plant, and wonderful for your skin! 
Hang your plants upside down for a minimum of 2 weeks to dry.  Watch the weather.  You cannot strip the herbs from the stems and store on a humid day; even if the herbs are fully dry, if the air has too much humidity on the day you decide to store your herbs, you’ll be storing moisture from the air that has affected the leaves and flowers of the herb and all your efforts will be wasted, because your end product will be mold in storage.

Uses:  Calendula has a plentitude of uses.  As you can see from its color, it is full of antioxidants, especially Quercitin and Vitamin C, so it should be part of any family health tea combo.  It has strong antibiotic qualities, both internally and externally (maybe as a result of the Quercitin and Vitamin C).  It is an important part of any skin salve you are making, and also is used in my Herbal Antibiotic tincture.  It is anti-fungal, so it can be used in douches for a vaginal yeast infection or used topically (fresh is best) if necessary.  It has been used as an anti-inflammatory.  It’s excellent for slow-healing wounds and Culpeper said it should be used for measles and smallpox. 

Meditation and Prayer

Meditation has been attracting a great deal of attention in the press over the last decade or so as a method of promoting physical, mental, and spiritual wellness.  Meditation has even been found to activate the body’s own stem cells to physically regenerate our systems.  Doris Taylor has done research that begins to shed some scientific light on this fascinating topic. 

The Eastern methods of mediation through yoga and Buddhist Dharma meditations have been gaining popularity as people use them to gain peace and tranquility in life.  People who meditate daily find a myriad of positive benefits in their lives.  While most of the current research and focus is on the benefits of Eastern meditation, the practice of daily prayer and meditation has been alive and vibrant in the West for thousands of years.

The oratories of ancient Ireland and France hold a deep fascination for me.  The closeness to nature, and the vivid images of generation after generation of peaceful, holy people engaging in community life and meditation appeal to the soul.
                                                     Gallurus Oratory on the Dingle Peninsula

Western style meditation is more theme-based than its Eastern counterpart and I think there is a deep understanding of human nature in this small difference.  I find meditation much more focused, renewing, and invigorating when I use the Rosary for daily meditation.  It takes about fifteen minutes, which I find is the perfect amount of time to take from my day and devote to meditative prayer. 
                                                        Rosary Painting with Mystery Insets

The word Rosary means "Crown of Roses,” and the meditation itself is almost unique in being traditionally connected with and under the auspices of a woman, the Virgin Mary.  Throughout its history, the Rosary has been banned in many parts of the world for political reasons, and to try to stamp out devotion to the Virgin Mary - which was seen as inappropriate elevation of a woman.  Nevertheless, the Rosary has survived and flourished as a beautiful meditation. 

How to Pray the Rosary:
                                                               Anatomy of Rosary Beads

1) While holding the cross of the Rosary beads, make the sign of the cross and recite the Apostle’s Creed:
I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.  And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended into hell; on the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead. 
I believe in the Holy Ghost; the Holy Catholic Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. AMEN.
2) On the first large bead of the Rosary recite the Our Father:
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.  Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on Earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.  Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.  AMEN.    
3) On each of the three small beads, recite the Hail Mary for an increase of faith, hope, and love in your daily life.
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.  Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.  Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.  AMEN.   
4) Recite the Glory Be:
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost.  As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be; world without end.  AMEN.
5) Meditate on the first Mystery of the Rosary and recite the Our Father on the next large bead, followed by the Hail Mary on each of the following ten smaller beads, and finish the decade with a Glory Be.  (This is a decade of the Rosary). 
6) Repeat step 5 four more times to complete the Rosary.
7) When you have completed the fifth meditation set, conclude with the Hail Holy Queen:
Hail Holy Queen, mother of mercy, out life, our sweetness, and our hope.  To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve, to thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.  Turn, then, most gracious advocate, thine eyes of mercy towards us.  And after this, our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus.  Oh clement, Oh loving, Oh sweet Virgin Mary, pray for us, Oh holy mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.      
The following are the Mysteries of the Rosary; these are sets of five meditational themes to focus on while praying the Rosary. 
The First Joyful Mystery - The Annunciation of the Angel Gabriel to Mary
The Second Joyful Mystery - The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin to her Cousin
The Third Joyful Mystery – The Birth of Christ
The Fourth Joyful Mystery – The Presentation of the Child Jesus in the Temple
The Fifth Joyful Mystery – The Finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple

The First Sorrowful Mystery – The Agony in the Garden
The Second Sorrowful Mystery – The Scourging at the Pillar
The Third Sorrowful Mystery - The Crowning With Thorns
The Fourth Sorrowful Mystery - The Carrying of the Cross
The Fifth Sorrowful Mystery - The Crucifixion

The First Glorious Mystery - The Resurrection of the Crucified Christ
The Second Glorious Mystery - The Ascension of the Risen Christ into Heaven
The Third Glorious Mystery - The Descent Of The Holy Spirit
The Fourth Glorious Mystery - The Assumption of Mary Bodily into Heaven.
The Fifth Glorious Mystery – The Coronation of Mary as Queen of Heaven and Earth

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Growing Medicinal and Culinary Herbs

It’s so satisfying to grow your own medicinal and culinary herbs!  I, for one, hate paying exorbitant rates for second-class dried herbs at the grocery store.  When I see my culinary and medicinal herbs drying at harvest time in my kitchen I get an immense satisfaction (alright, it MIGHT be slightly smug) from the picture.  Nothing says home and hearth to me like bunches of dried herbs and peppers hanging from the kitchen beams.
                                                                    My herb Garden
A like to really pack my herb gardens full of as many varieties as I possibly have room for.  I have my perennials, like the Oregano, Sage, Mint, and Tarragon interspersed with the annuals.  As a side note: if anyone has successfully over-wintered Rosemary outdoors in New England please let me in on the secret!  I’m thinking I may try bell jars this year; I’ll let you all know how it goes.

An herb garden in high summer, full bloom is a natural aromatherapy experience.  I like to take my morning cup of coffee out to the herb garden and just sit and breathe in the herb garden for a few minutes every morning.  It’s a mini-meditation that really helps me enter my day refreshed and ready.

Medicinal herbs are fairly “user-friendly” so to speak.  These herbs, so anxious, willing, and able to assist us in our daily needs with regard to healthy eating and also differing maladies, often grow naturally in the most unusual places; gravelly soil, craggy woods and infertile, unused meadows.  I like to seek out these little pockets, grab a few of the hearty little guys, and try to naturalize them in my herb garden.
Consider the lowly Chamomile:  it’s a gentle digestive aid, a calmative herb and a delicious sleeping aid when used in a tea.  It will grow in amazingly odd places with almost no encouragement whatsoever.  It is almost as if it is so anxious to give us aid that it’ll pop up wherever it’s needed.  There are two basic species of chamomile, Roman and German.  Both are tough varieties of plants named for tough peoples!  Once established in an area, these plants plan to stay.  They willingly re-seed and propagate themselves, without much assistance.  Even here in New England can be found a wild species of Chamomile — a cousin — called “Pineapple Weed”.
                                                                   Pineapple Weed
It has much the same properties of cultivated German and Roman Chamomile.  (This is the weed that my grandmother used to collect for winter tummy woes and probably what Peter Rabbit’s mother made her Chamomile Tea from when he returned, after over-eating, from Farmer McGregor’s garden.)  This “weed” is often found growing in between sidewalk cracks, unbidden, it waits for us to recognize its willingness and ability to calm our stomachs after over-indulging in food or drink or calming our nerves when for some reason we are unable to sleep at night.

Another pleasant aromatic herb not typically found in a culinary herb garden is Lemon Balm (Melissa officanlis).
                                                                       Lemon Balm
Once established, this lovely-scented herb is aromatherapy personified!  Be careful where you plant it, as it is quite prolific and will take over any area that it is planted in.  Also, I have seen this herb and others, like mint, begin to insinuate themselves into other herbs planted nearby.  One of my friends has a Greek Oregano plant right next to her mint and the oregano always has a faint minty flavor to it. 

Garden Mint

Greek Oregano

Ater Lemon Balm (and mint, for that matter) sets down roots and established itself well, don’t be afraid to heartlessly dig up around the outside rim to keep it under control.  Call your friends and offer them some roots; it’s a well-known relaxing and soothing herb and your friends will love you for it.  It’s also the most effective thing that I’ve ever encountered for eradicating “Herpes Simplex” … better known as “Cold Sores“.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Planting by the Moon

In days of old, when folks were more connected with the earth from which we came, planting according to the phases of the moon was common.  In fact, the knowledge of gardening in sync with the signs of the Moon and the Zodiac is still used in the “old” countries and interest in it is making a resurrection of sorts in this country as well.

  My Italian grandparents always had gorgeous and bountiful gardens — and apparently my grandfather did most things according to the signs of the moon.  He would never even let my grandmother cut his daughters’ hair unless it was the right phase of the moon.  (To this day, my mother, 80 years of age this summer, has beautiful, thick hair, as did my grandfather until the day he died, in his late 80’s!).

Planting your gardens according to the signs of the moon is really quite simple.  You see, the moon affects more than just the tides.  The whole earth is a gravitational field and the moon pulls from one side of the earth to the other.  When it is in its “new” phase, waxing, it’s pulling moisture up, thus you would want to plant crops that grow above the ground from the NEW moon to the Full moon.  When the moon is going “down” (waning), it is pulling moisture down.  Plant crops that are root crops which grow under the ground on the OLD moon (after the full Moon), when the moon is “waning”.

The signs of the Zodiac are also guides for planting, as some signs are more fertile than others.  This is not stuff that only “wierdos” know!  It’s very scientific, and renewed study has begun on it lately.  As the moon travels around the earth, she travels through the 12 different signs of the Zodiac, beginning with Aries, then Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius and Pisces.  Some of these signs are more moisture-laden than others, and, hence, the soil affected by the moon’s travel through the differing signs is more or less receptive to the seeds being planted.  They can be actually considered “barren”, as are Gemini, Leo, Virgo, Sagittarius, Aquarius and Aries.  Taurus, Libra and Capricorn are considered “semi-fruitful” and Cancer, Scorpio and Pisces are considered the most fruitful of all signs to plant under.
For more information, check out They produce a beautiful Moon Calendar, which makes it very easy to know when to plant which crops.

Adding Compost to Enrich the Soil


Bed Ready for Potatoes            Fertile Home-Grown Potato

Making Herbal Medicine

On a glorious spring day what better thing to do when one has a moment than to gather Coltsfoot (Tussilago farara).

Coltsfoot is a powerful anti-tussive and can be gathered, its properties extracted and then preserved for future use when one is suffering from a cough.  It is simple to make either a cough syrup or an extraction in alcohol.

HARVESTING:  Choose a nice, sunny day to harvest herbs.  Give the sun time to warm the flowers and draw the healing oils from the roots, where they rest during the night, to the petals, where they are most potent.  Harvesting before 10:00 a.m. is too early harvesting between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. is best.  In the spring I wait until afternoon to do my harvesting.

HARVESTING TOOLS:  Get your sharp, clean scissors, grab a basket from the beams in the kitchen (if that’s where you keep them), tap the winter dust out of it (or any dried herbs that you didn’t use during the winter!) and you’re ready to go.  Throw on a pair of wellies because springtime ground can be wet.  Got your herb guide with you?  Off you go.

You’ll find that Coltsfoot grows in patches.  Use your fingers as “rakes” and pick a bunch of flower heads at a time.  You can use the stems also; a good general rule to remember if you want to use the stems of a plant is that if the stems are “juicy” they are full of the properties of the plant, too.  So, enjoy yourself!  Smell the spring air, listen to the spring sounds the water babbling and gurgling as it tumbles over the rocks, so happy to be out from under that restrictive ice that’s kept it prisoner all winter!  Fill your basket as full as you need it.  If you are gathering herbs for a family of four, two cups will be about enough flowers.

Bring home your harvested flowers and wash them twice in your salad spinner or colander to rinse off any dust or loam.

 Put your flowers in a mason jar that has a tight-fitting lid.  Cover the flowers with a 25% solution of vodka (use a cheap vodka – this isn’t about the flavor, it’s about the ability to extract and “hold” the properties of the herbs.)

The alcohol content is half of the proof.  In other words, if you have 80 proof vodka, you have 40% alcohol.  Since we are not a science lab, this is FOLK MEDICINE that has worked for centuries, you do NOT have to worry about being perfectly exact with your measurements.  Your remedy will be quite effective.

Cover your rinsed flowers with 2/3 vodka and the rest of the way with distilled water.  That will be about a 25% solution.  Put a piece of plastic wrap doubled over for thickness over the top of the jar, then screw the top on tightly.

Label it with the contents, the % solution, the day you put it together and then the date that is 3 weeks from the put-together day.  Shake your mixture a few times a day.  There are differing schools of thought as to whether it should be kept in the sun or the dark, so do whatever seems right to you.  It seems to me that if you put it in the sun, the sun will pull the properties out of the herb into the vodka, but there are others who think it should be extracted in the dark.  Either way you will have a powerful extract!

In three weeks (you can even use it after two weeks), strain it through a cloth.  Be sure you squeeze it really well to get all the properties that are lingering in the petals!

DOSAGE:  30 drops = 1 dropperful = the equivalent of one cup of tea.  Take your medicine 3 to 5 times a day.  No more than that.
If you’d like to make a syrup, just put 1 Tbs. +/- into 1/2 cup of honey +/- and mix well.  Take 1-2 tsp. to alleviate a cough.  You will be so happy and heal so quickly with medicine made from nature and the work of your own hands!

Finished Coltsfoot Extraction

Foraging for Wild Medicinal Herbs

Spring is the time of year when plants begin to poke their little leaves and shoots up above the ground to absorb the sun’s warming rays.  Unseen to us, as we’ve been cooped up inside during the last cold days of late winter and the rainy days of early spring,  there’s been a lot going on under the ground already!
                                                    Yarrow                                      Wild Ginger
The ground has been thawing and warming, allowing the roots to ever-so-gently be awakened as they respond to the warming soil around them.  Energy from the sun has permeated the earth’s surface and stirred the slumber of the plants and they readily absorb this energy.
                                                                        Young Ground Ivy
The cycle of life is renewed and as the roots fill to bursting with new life, they must express their fullness by sending forth new signs of the life that is within.  New little sprouts of differing shades of green can be seen poking their leaves up to renew this world that has been waiting for their appearance.
                                                         Lemon Balm                           Herb Robert
While we have been inside, longing for the clouds to clear, the sun to come out and the rain to stop, the plants have been long awakening and when we finally emerge from our warm homes on that long-awaited first day of balmy spring weather, we can see signs of the plant life that has preceded us in our foray into the warmth, for them it has been warm for weeks.

             Speedwell                                Maidenfern

 Early April is the perfect time to take a walk to explore the plant life that’s been busy for the past month or so.  You’ll be able to spot clumps of day-lilies, which are edible from their first sprouting leaves to the buds & flowers.  

You might also see “Cleavers” (Galium aparine).
This plant emerges nice and early and has been used since time immemorial for a myriad of specifics, including early spring fresh cleansing tea or as an addition to a fresh-picked, wild salad (for images of this and other herbs, visit; they usually have wonderful descriptions and pictures).  Cleavers herb was known in ancient times as a “strewing herb”.  Because it helped repel insects, it was used in mattresses, in thatched roofs and strewn on the floors of homes.  Valued for its multitude of uses, it was brought to America by early settlers.  Medicinally it is considered an “alterative” herb, meaning that it brings cleansing to the body and an over-all strengthening to the system.  It is a specific for cleansing the glands.

“Coltsfoot” (Tussilago farfara) is one of the earliest flowers to appear in spring.  A specific, long used to alleviate coughs (hence the Latin name “Tussilago”, which means “cough”), the little, low-growing yellow flower is often mistaken for a dandelion.  Both the flowers (which appear before the leaves) and the leaves can be used to make herbal medicine.
Wild Garlic, also called Wild Leeks or Ramps, are in abundance in the Berkshire woodlands and a wonderful cleansing herb.
We would be remiss not to mention the humble violet, emerging in her own quietness, soon to cover our lawns with her simple, aromatic blooms.  Gather a few of these leaves and make them into a fresh tea.  The leaves and flowers of violets have been known to reduce cysts, especially of the ovarian type.
On The Gathering of Wild Herbs: 
Please always be very cautious when using wild herbs.  It is of the utmost importance to be sure the plant is really what you think it is.  Double-check your sources by having a book with numerous colored pictures with you.  Peterson’s Field Guides are easy to use and contain fairly good pictures for most of the species they cover.  If you can obtain a copy of the Reader’s Digest Guide to Plants and Flowers, that is even better, although it is in hardcover, which is cumbersome to carry along on a walk in the wild!