Marshmallow – a plant that grows well in wet, marshy areas and is native to salt marshes along the ocean in Europe and western Asia, its Latin name is Althea officinalis and it is a member of the Malvaceae (Mallow) family.  The leaf and root are both used medicinally.  It is highly likely that the name of the store-bought marshmallows you are familiar with was derived from this plant.  The root is high in mucilaginous carbohydrates that can be soaked, whipped into a froth, and then sweetened – probably the origin of the marshmallow as we know it today.

Primary properties: demulcent, emollient, diuretic, anti-inflammatory

Based on the above primary properties of marshmallow, this plant can be used in to soothe and cool inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract, including a sore throat, acid reflux, and in cases of gastritis or colitis in the stomach or intestines.  Both the root and leaf can be used for this purpose, although the root is more mucilaginous (slippery, mucus-forming) than the leaf.  The root and leaf both stimulate a reflex action whereby the lungs and urinary tract can also be soothed and cooled.  Therefore, marshmallow is useful in cases of dry coughs and to help soothe the burning pain of urinary tract infections.  Topically, the root or leaf can both act as an emollient, moisturizing and protecting the skin, as well as soothing and cooling a dry, hot skin condition such as a rash or burn.

The root can be taken in powder form, in which case you are consuming the whole root, by shaking in water or juice and swallowing, or by taking as a capsule.  Shaken in water, it will also soothe the throat and esophagus as it makes its way down. The root and leaf can also both be used in a tea.  A “cold infusion” will get more of the cooling mucilage/carbohydrate in the tea, so you can soak the root or leaf in cold water for several hours to overnight and drink the fluid.  Tincture is the least-preferred method for using this plant because you will not get as much of the soothing and coating properties, although as a diuretic and anti-inflammatory the tincture is still useful.

One of my absolute favorite herbs, this flavorful berry has been a lifesaver for me personally, as it excellent for the adrenal glands and the stress response, helping to increase resiliency and stabilizing energy levels. As an herbal “adaptogen,” schisandra berry is in a category dominated mostly by the roots of plants, such as ginseng, rhodiola, and ashwagandha. It is a berry that possesses all five flavors – sour, sweet, salty, pungent, and bitter. I like to describe biting into one of the dried berries as a “party in your mouth.” I often encourage people to try it in my classes, as it’s interesting to see who wants to spit it out immediately, who finds it complex and interesting but scrunch up their faces anyway, and who actually really likes the taste! In Chinese medicine, there is a lot of significance to the flavor/taste profile of an herb. Because schisandra berry has all the tastes, it is considered beneficial to the five yin organs: the liver, kidneys, heart, lungs, and spleen, as well as activating all the meridians.

Schisandra is used as a balancing adaptogen, helping the body adapt better to stress via its effect on the HPA axis (Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal axis). Taken morning and evening, this herb can help balance the daytime flow of energy in the body, helping to increase energy through the day and helping to calm down the body for restful sleep at night. If this rhythm is out of whack, then this herb can be your ally when taken morning and evening consistently for 2-3 months. If you’re a fan of the dried berries, a small palmful (about 1 tsp) of the berries can be chewed. But, for those of us who are not so tough, I recommend the tincture (alcohol extract) or the glycerite (vegetable glycerin extract) which is my personal favorite. I can take this directly in my mouth or in some water and enjoy the sweet-sour flavor. We have also made tea formulations with the dried berry, but it is really best when crushed and simmered to extract the most medicine, so can be blended with herbs like ginger, licorice, and/or cinnamon to improve the sour-bitter flavor.

Schisandra berries are also hepatoprotective, showing protective effects on liver cells and even regenerative benefits as an effective antioxidant. This is partially due to constituents of schisandra extracts stimulating liver cells to make the enzyme glutathione peroxidase, helping deactivate several kinds of free radicals. This and other actions make this herbal medicine beneficial for protecting the liver in cases of chemical exposure, drug/pharmaceutical use, and certain infections that can harm the liver, as well as helping to restore healthy liver function after damage. Since we live in a world where we have much for our liver’s to process and contend with, this herb can be so beneficial.

Schisandra has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-asthmatic effects also, helping with lung health and asthma that includes wheezing and a wet cough. It is also a useful remedy for balancing the nervous system, helping with stress-induced heart palpitations, anxiety, and insomnia, while also helping with alertness and mental focus/performance. It is also one of the herbs used to address attention deficit disorders, especially when combined with other nervine stimulants, like bacopa and rhodiola.

As an endocrine-balancing herb, with some drying effects, it is useful for decreasing hot flashes, night sweats, and heart palpitations in menopausal women. It is also thought to regulate ovarian and testicular function based on animal studies, so may be helpful for fertility for both males and females. Schisandra is also used to nourish and balance the thyroid gland, so can be useful for someone with a low-functioning thyroid and/or experiencing symptoms such as low energy and hair loss.

Schisandra berry is also an immune amphoteric, meaning it can help regulate the immune response, whether immune depletion (low-functioning immune system, cancer) or hyperactive immune response (such as allergies or allergic asthma).

In summary, this herb has a broad spectrum of actions that are incredibly beneficial for the human body, and is a classic example of an adaptogenic herb. In general, you want to use this herb over a period of time to achieve beneficial results, especially for chronic conditions and stress states. Cycling off of it every 3-6 months for a couple of months is a good idea also simply because the body may stop responding as well over time, but it can be used safely long-term.

The vine of passionflower is used for its sedative, antispasmodic, and muscle-relaxing properties.  Passionflower is often used in tea blends, tinctures, or capsules for anxiety, nervous tension, insomnia, heart palpitations and high blood pressure (especially when related to stress and anxiety), and painful menstruation.  For promoting deep sleep, this herb is often combined with Valerian or Hops, because these are both more sedative, while Passionflower can help with insomnia that is anxiety or stress related.
One of the advantages of using Passionflower or a variety of other herbs for anxiety or sleep is that they don’t tend to produce a sense of dullness, grogginess, or otherwise impair mental function.  In research on the anti-anxiety effects of Passionflower, it was as effective as anti-anxiety medication, including benzodiazepine drugs, plus it had the added benefit of not impairing daytime performance and is not habit-forming.
Passionflower is in our Get Sleepy Tea (a great bedtime tea to send you off to a restful slumber) and in our Sleep Well Drops, a tincture blend of herbs including Passionflower, Hops, and Valerian.  We also have numerous capsule combinations for sleep and anxiety that contain Passionflower and often include it in our custom blends for stress, sleep, nervousness, restlessness, and pain.

A classic and familiar herb in many culinary and medicinal traditions, ginger is a good example of the confluence of medicine and food.  The benefits of ginger have long been known in Indian and Chinese systems of medicine.  In India, it was even known as a “universal medicine”.  A digestive aid that calms nausea, warms, and promotes digestion, ginger is also known for its overall anti-inflammatory effects.  Ginger root acts as an anti-inflammatory (or, more appropriately, an inflammation regulator) partly by to normalizing prostaglandin action, and therefore helping to regulate the inflammatory cascades of the body.  It also acts to inhibit the enzyme COX-2 (cycloxygenase-2) which when overactive/overstimulated in people can lead to multiple inflammatory issues including arthritis.  Ginger root also has compounds that inhibit the formation of thromboxanes and therefore can reduce platelet formation helping to keep a healthy blood viscosity.  Ginger can also reduce pain by reducing prostaglandins that sensitize pain receptors.
Therefore, ginger root taken in therapeutic doses, can be a useful alternative to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin and acetaminophen, without the side effects such as gastritis/ulcers.  In fact, ginger root contains at least 17 compounds that have an anti-ulcer action.
Of the 477 compounds that have so far been identified in ginger root, many have varied desirable effects on inflammation.  It is the whole root that seems to work, as much as some would like to find the “active compounds”.
Primary actions of ginger: anti-inflammatory, anti-nausea, circulatory stimulant, warming, digestive, blood thinner (inhibits platelet aggregation), diaphoretic
Primary uses: sluggish or weak digestion, nausea, motion sickness, joint inflammation, arthritis, head aches, gastritis (inflammation of the stomach), high cholesterol and triglyceride levels, colds & flu to help break a fever and induce sweating

Pu-erh (pronounced poo-air) is a uniquely fermented tea, made using an old, broad-leafed variety of the tea plant (Camellia sinensis), withered and then pan-fried to remove excess moisture like the processing of green tea.  Unlike green tea, however, the heat processing part is shortened so oxidation can occur to the tea leaves.  The tea is allowed to ferment using methods meant to mimic the way it originally was discovered while tea leaves were traveling on the backs of horse or yaks on the Silk Road from Yunnan to the Tibetan Plateau for trade.  The flavor, caffeine, nutrients, & probiotic characteristics of this unique tea made it an indispensible beverage for many in China and in many indigenous communities throughout the Upper Mekong River Region of China, Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar, and India.
Modern-day pu-erh tea is either fermented packed in clay jars, baskets, or buried in the floor of caves and allowed to oxidize and age, some for as long as 60 years. Like fine wine, certain pu-erh are considered more valuable and the flavor more desirable than others. Another method used to make pu-erh is to heap-ferment the loose tea leaves for hours to days to allow interaction with fungi, yeast, and bacteria that ferment the tea.  Some pu-erh is also intentionally inoculated with desirable microorganisms.
Pu-erh tea has many reported health benefits, including acting as an antioxidant, helping to stimulate metabolic processes (thereby increasing calories used), helping with fat digestion (therefore beneficial taken with a fatty meal), increasing mental clarity & energy, improving lipid profiles, & reducing cholesterol levels.  It is a source of polyphenols, like other teas, which are phytochemicals that can protect the body from free radical damage and degenerative processes & diseases.  Other compounds include: caffeine-producing methylxanthines (theobromine & theophylline), amino acids, & amino acid-derivatives including theanine, proanthocyanadins, gallic acid, coumaric & caffeic acids.  Theanine has been shown to help reduce mental and physical stress and improve mental function.
The fat metabolism, and general metabolism-boosting properties, have been the primary focuses of its use in the West, as well as its cholesterol-lowering effect, which has largely been explained by the discovery that pu-erh tea contains natural statins produced by the probiotic activity.  Polyphenols in the tea leaves are oxidized to create fermentation-derived compounds known as statins (a group of hydroxymethylglutaryl-coenzyme A reductase inhibitors), which have been shown to reduce low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels & prevent cardiovascular disease.
Generally speaking, you’d need to brew this tea at about 1 tsp/cup hot water for 5 minutes and drink 3 cups/day to achieve some of these desired effects.
There is a lot of interesting information out there on the internet about tea in general, and some on pu-erh.  I learned a lot about pu-erh and its ethnobotanical origins and use from an article in Herbal Gram, published by the American Botanical Council, entitled “Pu-erh Tea and the Southwest Silk Road” by Selena Ahmed, PhD and Michael Freeman.  There are also some research studies that are summarized on Pub Med, a database part of the National Institutes of Health (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/).

The general herbal approach to maladies of the skin, such as eczema, psoriasis, and acne,  is to detoxify the other primary organs of detoxification – the liver, kidneys, and colon – along with the lymphatic system, so that the skin can function better.  The idea is that the skin manifests imbalances from within the body and is not acting on its own but rather as part of a system.  Other herbs are used to help reduce inflammation, since many skin disorders are inflammation-based.
The herbs in the Healthy Skin Tea are herbs that detoxify, reduce inflammation, and also help support healthy skin in general by adding minerals and other nutrients that help support the function of the skin and the body in general, while promoting repair and regeneration.
The primary liver herbs in this formula are burdock root, yellow dock root, and Oregon grape root.  These herbs all help detoxify the liver, while the Oregon grape root also helps reduce inflammation and has some antibacterial actions.  Yellow dock also is a mild laxative and can help support healthy colon function.  Detoxifying the liver can also help balance hormones, as the liver metabolizes many of the hormones in our body.
Red clover blossoms act as an alterative, or blood purifier, helping to “open the channels of elimination” and clear the skin through doing so.  They act as a mild lymphagogue (lymph mover) as well as adding minerals and nutrients that nourish skin.
Calendula flowers act as an anti-inflammatory and lymphagogue, making them very beneficial for skin health.
Nettle leaf is mineral-rich, a mild kidney tonic and detoxifier, anti-inflammatory, and antihistamine.
Horsetail adds minerals, such as silica, that nourish skin, hair, and nails.
Gotu kola is very mineral-rich as well, while adding anti-inflammatory properties and supporting collagen synthesis and skin repair.
Contains: red clover blossoms, Oregon grape root, burdock root, yellow dock root, nettle leaf, calendula flowers, horsetail, and gotu kola.

Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) is a member of the legume family and the seed Trigonella foenum-graecumand leaves have long been used in food and medicine.  Fenugreek seed powder is a component of curry powder and is used to flavor marinades, chutney, and pickles.  The sprouted seeds are a nourishing food and a good way to get some of the therapeutic actions from this herb as well.  Fenugreek has also been used in agriculture as a feed for animals, to increase egg & milk production, and to help animals gain weight.
Medicinally, fenugreek has been used throughout history by various cultures for many things, including as an anti-inflammatory for the digestive tract, for helping heal peptic ulcers and colitis for example, and the skin, for helping heal abscesses for example, due to its healing mucilaginous components.  It is also helpful for thinning mucus in the lungs and helping to clear congestion and can be useful for sore throats, bronchitis, and allergies.  Fenugreek is also considered a digestive aid, helping to increase appetite, better digest fats, and generally help purify stagnant digestion with bloating and gas, bad breath, etc.
Fenugreek may be best known by customers coming into my shop, Herban Wellness, as a galactagogue.  It is known to promote milk production in lactating women and is known for its maple syrup-like odor which when taken in adequate amounts can produce that odor in those taking it in large enough quantities.
Fenugreek has been studied mostly for its ability to help better regulate blood sugar levels in those with insulin and non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus.  It appears to help increase insulin sensitivity of the cells, therefore decreasing glucose levels in the blood.  The fiber content of the seed, when consumed as a powder or extracted in water for the mucilaginous/carbohydrate components, may be responsible for the improved glucose tolerance in those taking Fenugreek seed.
Fenugreek also has been shown to decrease cholesterol levels and to help prevent atherosclerosis (plaque formation and hardening in the arteries).  This hypocholesterolemic activity has been primarily attributed to saponins and the mucilage (gum fiber/carbohydrates) in the fenugreek seed, and is mainly attributed to a reduction in the reabsorption of cholesterol and bile acids in the intestines.
Fenugreek is known as a nutritive and anabolic food, promoting hair growth, semen production, and milk production.
Primary therapeutic actions: hypoglycemic, galactagogue, anti-inflammatory, hypocholesterolemic, demulcent, appetite stimulant, digestive aid, and diaphoretic.
Check out this link for information on sprouting and eating the Fenugreek seeds:
http://www.herbsarespecial.com.au/free-sprout-information/fenugreek.html

Eriodictyon californicum

This is an herb that grows primarily in California, dipping up into Oregon and east into Nevada and northern Arizona.  Its Latin name is Eriodictyon californicum, the most common species of this herb used in commerce.  Its thin, narrow leaves are what are used medicinally.  Used primarily as  a decongestant, Yerba santa is used for any wet, mucus-y lung or sinus condition, such as a head cold, seasonal allergies, or bronchitis.  It acts as an anti-inflammatory as well, so the two properties of decongestant and anti-inflammatory together are good reasons to add to an allergy formula, such as my Allergy Ease formulas.  It is also may have some antihistamine effects, therefore helping to prevent allergy symptoms.  Yerba santa is also used for chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract (gastritis) and urinary tract inflammation or irritation.

Rose hips

It seemed appropriate to choose an herb from the rose family, as Valentine’s Day approaches and rose has long been a symbolic plant for the heart and love.
Rose hips are the outer, fleshy portion of the seed pod (ovary) where the rose develops its seeds, at the base of where the spent rose flower.
The seeds are discarded (or perhaps are pressed to yield a delightful skin oil called rosehip seed oil) and the sweet, tart, mealy flesh can be eaten fresh, preserved in jams, jellies, honeys, and the like, or is dried, cut & sifted, and is used in teas around the world.
Its red/orange color give indication that it is high in antioxidant flavonoids, the most famous being vitamin C, of which rose hips are a rich source.   Rose hips are antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and can help strengthen and tone arteries and veins, therefore becoming useful for preventing things such as easy bruising, varicose veins, and hemorrhoids.  Due to their anti-inflammatory properties, rose hips are also used over a period of several months to help reduce symptoms of arthritis, such as pain and stiffness.  Good results have been shown, particularly in a study in Denmark where patients consumed powdered rose hips for several months and felt less stiffness and pain in their joints.

A plant that grows abundantly and well in the Pacific Northwest, many people are familiar with it only because of its sting (its other name is Stinging Nettle).  This “sting” comes from little hairs that cover the stem and much of the leaves of this plant and when brushed against or grabbed will impart formic acid to the skin, which causes a mild burning/stinging sensation that can last for hours.  When dried, it loses much or all of this property, and when cooked or made into a tea or extract, it loses this effect entirely, which is why we can use it in food and medicine.
I like to describe nettle as a “dark, leafy green.”  It can be added to soups, stir fries, baked into lasagna, made into pesto, etc. when collected (carefully) fresh.  It is very high in minerals, including calcium, iron, and magnesium, which when consumed in food or as a “long infusion”, which means soaked in either hot or cold water overnight or at least 4 hours, strained, and drank, the many minerals are in the liquid and can be readily absorbed and utilized by the body in this form.
Traditionally, the leaf has been used as a kidney tonic and diuretic, helping to move fluid, lessen edema, to break up stones, and ease discomfort in the kidneys or bladder.  It has also been used as an anti-inflammatory, by inhibiting prostaglandin formation , for helping with the pains of arthritis and other joint inflammation or injuries to tendons, ligaments, or muscle.  Nettle leaf also has an antihistamine effect, particularly when it is freeze-dried, so can help with the effects of seasonal and other air-born allergies, helping with hives and other allergic skin reactions.
Nettle leaf is considered a “tonic” herb in herbal medicine, meaning that it is strengthening and beneficial for the body over time.  It is a nutritionally-rich herb and a useful medicine.
The nettle root also has an affinity for the urinary tract, and is particularly used for its positive effect on prostate health.  It helps reduce inflammation, inhibits the growth of prostate cells, and can help with urine flow and comfort.   Nettle root appears to interfere with the formation of the stronger-acting testosterone, which is linked to prostate inflammation, such as benign prostatic hyperplasia.