This common field plant, Trifolium pratense, is a member of the legume (Fabaceae) family and grows wild and weedy in meadows and roadsides throughout the U.S., where it has been naturalized from mid-to-northern Europe and Asia. I remember as a child going out in our sheep and cow pastures to collect the purple-pink-reddish blossoms throughout the summer months. My mother would dry them on cloths/towels in the shade and then bag them up when fully dried for use in teas and infusions.

For the soil, this plant fixes nitrogen into the soil, a common benefit of the legume plants. Medicinally, we use red clover tops (6-8″ of the upper plant including the leaves while in blossom) and the blossoms with only their base leaves. I tend to use the red clover upper parts (tops) in blends where I desire the mineral content of the leaves along with the benefits of the flowers which I go into next.

The red clover blossoms are considered the most medicinally-active part of the plant and are used to help move stagnant lymphatic fluid and act as an alterative or blood purifier. Red clover blossoms are commonly used to address chronic skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, and acne. In addition, this plant is used as a lung expectorant and antispasmodic, helping break up and move congestion while calming a spastic cough. I often utilize red clover in heart formulations as well, as it is a mild blood thinner. Red clover plant also contains isoflavones that can help balance hormones in menstruating and menopausal women, specifically helping when estrogen levels are low.

Many herbalist consider red clover to be a “tonic herb,” meaning it can help balance the health of the body over time through its gentle detoxification actions, its isoflavone content, and its blood-thinning properties. It is also considered nutritious and can help to restore mineral balance in the body, especially when prepared from the upper parts of the plant including the leaves and blossoms and steeped in hot water as a long-infusion (generally 4-8 hours or all day or night). It can then be chilled and consumed at 1-3 cups/day.

The tincture is also beneficial and is a stronger extract when addressing respiratory issues and perhaps certain hormonal imbalances. It can also be combined with immune herbs when there is lymph node swelling or congestion along with a cold, flu, or bronchitis.

At Herban Wellness, you will find red clover in our Healthy Skin Tea, Healthy Skin Drops, Healthy Heart Tea, and Mineralizing Tea.

You may also have seen red clover seeds sold for sprouting! A nutritious and tasty sprouted plant to add to salads and sandwiches, this plant is versatile for humans, good for the soil, and for animal health, as it also is used in certain animal feeds.

It’s interesting how in herbal medicine we sometimes refer to the part of the plant we use medicinally when naming it. Here, I am writing about the herb we call red root, which is the root of the plant called many common names such as Snow Bush and New Jersey Tea. The Latin name is Ceanothus, in the Rhamnaceae (Buckthorn) family, and there are a few species that are most commonly used and known. Ceanothus americanus is native to the Eastern part of North America, and it garnered the common name New Jersey tea because of the use of the leaves as a substitute for the tea plant when there was a tea shortage in the early day of the colonies in the U.S. The species that grows in the Cascade and Rocky mountains in the Western U.S. is Ceanothus velutinus, often referred to as Snow Bush due to its abundant white flowers. There is also a species in the Southwestern U.S., Ceanothus gregii.

I hike a lot in the summer and see the hardy snow bush regularly lining the trail and on open sunny slopes, with it’s glossy and slightly sticky mature leaves, and clusters of white flower buds in the summer. The one time I went to harvest was with a local wildcrafter and herbal wizard we call Skeeter, and it was on the eastern slopes of the North Cascade Mountains. The roots close to the surface of the soil or just above (the above-ground stem) are what are harvested, and they are very sturdy and thick, with a dark almost crimson color. It took a lot of digging and sawing to get a few long, thick segments from the gnarled bush and rocky ground. There is a way to harvest that is sustainable to the bush itself, allowing it to keep growing. Because it’s a very woody root, it has to be processed quickly. We took it back to camp, cleaned the roots, and scraped off the root bark with paring knives, and chopped up the rest of the root with pruners. Another thing I remember is the aromatic wintergreen scent the fresh root exuded.

What medicinal properties does red root possess? I primarily use it as a “lymphogogue,” as one of its primary properties is helping to decongest the lymph nodes and lymphatic system, supporting the health of the spleen, and therefore helping the body to detoxify and clear excess fluid from between the cells, and carry away pathogens. The spleen is a vital part of the lymphatic and immune systems, protecting the body by removing worn red blood cells and other toxins from the bloodstream helping to fight infection. I like to put red root in formulas for swollen lymph nodes and to support healing from a variety of infections such as sinusitis, general detoxification, such as our Detox Drops to aid in the support of the liver and colon as well, and in formulas for the immune system, such as our Cold & Flu Away Drops.

It is also thought that red root has some antimicrobial actions and it is astringent in nature, helping to tighten and tone tissues it comes in contact with, including the blood vessels and mucous membrane. It is known as an expectorant, helping to thin and move mucus out of the lungs. Red root is also useful for helping to increase platelet production, a property I learned about from the esteemed herbalist Donnie Yance, who works primarily with cancer patients.

The root can be simmered to make a tea, but most commonly we use the tincture, as it is a concentrated and effecient way to get the benefits of this plant medicine. It can be taken at a dose of 15-30 drops up to 3 times per day, or in a formula.

Homemade gifts are a thoughtful way to share natural products and are fun to make! These are some of my favorite, simple recipes that I’ve shared over the years in classes and to inspire people when they want to make something themselves for friends, family, and coworkers.

The first recipe is for a simple salve (or balm), which is simply a thickened oil or butter, or combination thereof, that can be used to nourish and soften any skin, including the lips. Herbs can be added by infusing them into the oil base (such as calendula flowers into apricot kernel oil) for the additional healing benefits certain herbs provide. Essential oils are another way to enhance the effect of a salve, to make it more therapeutic, and also to add a pleasant aroma.

Next, if you are interested in making your own herb-infused oil, a basic recipe is included below.

Also included is a recipe for a Body Scrub, a Bath Salt, as well of information on good salts for the bath, skin (carrier) oils, and essential oils.

 

Basic Salve/Lip balm Recipe

1 cup oil of your choice [apricot kernel, olive, avocado, etc; herb-infused oils like calendula or St. John’s wort oils work great here; use part cocoa, shea or mango butter to achieve a thicker lip balm]

1 oz (30 g) beeswax (~1/4 cup)

Essential oils (optional: for scent and therapeutic purposes – commonly used are lavender, orange, tea tree, lemon)

Gently heat the oil and beeswax together in a glass measuring cup immersed in hot water in a pot, or in a double boiler over low heat, until the beeswax has melted.  Mix well. Remove from the heat.

Optional: Steep 1 Tbsp. of alkanet root in your oils for 15-20 minutes on low heat and then strain out. This gives a nice pink-purple tint for a lip balm if you so desire. Use the oil as your base.

[Tip: dip a metal spoon into the mixture at this point and put the spoon in the freezer for 1-2 minutes.  Test the consistency at this point.  Add beeswax or oil to reach desired consistency.]

Add essential oils if using (approximately 50-100 drops to the entire mixture).

Pour the mixture into appropriate containers before it cools and hardens – small jars or lip balm tubes.

 

Herb-infused Oil

Stovetop (Quick) Method:

Use a double boiler or a metal bowl sitting over a pot of water or a heat-tolerant measuring cup partially submerged in water in a pot on the stove.

Cover herb of choice with just enough oil to cover and bring the water beneath the container to a slow simmer.  Heat the oil for 30-60 minutes or more, stirring often and not allowing the oil to bubble/boil. Strain out the herbs and use the oil as-is on the skin or use as a base for a salve or skin cream.

Low Heat (Long) Method:

Add ~ 1 – 2 ounces (30 – 60 grams) of dry herb in each cup of fixed/carrier oil in an uncovered container. You can then put in a crockpot/slower cooker at the lowest setting or a dehydrator/by a heat vent, etc. Or place in the oven on the “warm” setting – very low heat.  You may need to leave the door of the oven open.  Turn on while home and turn off while away. Using a cooking thermometer, check that the oil heats to between 110-120 degrees (F), but ideally does not go over 120 degrees to prevent damaging the oil you are using.  Allow to macerate (infuse) for at least 3 hours and up to 3 days at this low heat, checking the temperature and stirring occasionally.  For fresh herbs, the heating method works great to evaporate off the water and discourage spoiling.

You can also macerate the herbs in oil in the Sun.  For fresh herbs, you must allow for evaporation of water, so cover with a screen or cheesecloth in a jar in the sun.

 

 Body Scrubs & Mask Ideas

Effective scrubs and masks can be made simply in your kitchen or bathroom for a myriad of face and body skincare needs. Scrubs can be very gentle or more abrasive/exfoliating depending on the area of the body it is used on or the desired results.  Masks can be hydrating or drying, and are often drawing/detoxifying and are used for general skincare as well as for poultices to actually draw material out of insect/animal bites or deep wounds, etc.

Some recipe ideas follow, but feel free to modify and play as desired!

Miracle Grains (adapted from Rosemary Gladstar’s book “Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health”)

This scrub is gentle, sweet-smelling, and leaves your skin feeling soft. It is a little messy, as you mix into a paste in your hand with water and massage into your skin over the sink or in the shower. Leaving it as a dry mix in the jar keeps the clay mixture from going bad.

1 cup white clay (often called kaolin clay)

1 cup finely ground oats

¼ cup finely ground almonds

¼ cup of finely ground lavender and/or rose petals

Combine in a sealed glass jar. To give as a gift, you could layer each item in the jar and leave unmixed, tie a ribbon on the jar, with a tag that instructs the receiver to mix before using, and other instructions.

To use, mix 1–2 teaspoons of the grains with water and stir into a paste (in your hand or a small container) and gently massage into skin.  Rinse or leave on for a few minutes as a mask and then rinse with warm water.

This mask is gentle and mild.  The white clay is one of the least drying, although it still draws toxins out of the pores.  Oats are soothing, moisturizing and gentle to the skin.

 

Basic Salt or Sugar Scrub

Salt is rougher on the skin so is best used on areas of the body that you don’t mind that, such as the feet, legs, butt, and back/torso. For the face or if your skin is sensitive, sugar is milder and dissolves quickly.

1 cup fine sea salt and/or granulated sugar

1/2 -1 cup oil or mix of oils and butters  (jojoba, apricot, or almond oil work well; cocoa or shea butters you would need to melt on low heat and then mix in)

25 drops (or more) of your choice of essential oil (lemon is refreshing and pH balancing, grapefruit helps break up cellulite, lavender is anti-inflammatory and calming, etc.)

Place the salt or sugar in a wide-mouthed jar and cover with the oil.  Stir in the essential oils.  Use on damp skin and gently scrub in circular motions from the feet up, always toward the heart.

Other options: add liquid soap (castille soap) to the scrub mixture for a mild foaming, cleansing scrub.  Or add whole or powdered herbs for color and additional exfoliation.  You can also melt a “butter” (like shea, mango, etc.) or coconut oil and pour over sugar.  It will partially solidify and make a great scrub.

 

Aromatherapy Bath Salts

These are easy to make, and greatly appreciated by anyone who likes to bathe, either for relaxation or muscle or other recovery.

Some salt ideas are below, and you can mix and match accordingly.

Simply add salt to your jar of choice, mix in 10-15 drops of essential oil (mix and match to get the scent you want) per 12-16 oz jar, add a sprinkle of flowers such as lavender, rose, or chamomile, and mix well. Usually you need at least a cup of salt to make a decent bath. If you’re working on muscle soreness or recovery, you’ll need 2 cups of Epsom Salts to really have an effect in a typical bath tub.

Some essential oils and their properties are listed below also.

 

Some salts to use in bath blends

Sea salt – Primarily consists of sodium chloride with trace elements of iron, magnesium, calcium, potassium, and other minerals.  Its low moisture content works well for essential oil blending.  It softens and rejuvenates the skin and is a great exfoliant for sloughing away dry skin cells, relaxes muscular aches & pains, and relieves sunburns, rashes, and irritated skin.

Dead sea salt – Very high in minerals with a much higher concentration of salt than salt from the oceans; famous for healing qualities, people come from all over the world for relief of skin problems, joint pain, and wound healing.  It is good for psoriasis and eczema, as well as helping with muscle aches & pains.

Himalayan pink salt – Mined from deep in the Himalayan Mountains, the high iron content gives it its color.  It also contains 84 other trace elements and is known for stimulating circulation, elimination of toxins, and for muscle aches and pains.  Low moisture content works well for essential oil blending.  Internally, this salt is used to for gastric hyperacidity.

Epsom salt – Also known as Magnesium sulfate, this salt is good for muscular aches and pains, and is thought to improve circulation, regulate heartbeat, and reduce arteriosclerosis, blood clots and blood pressure, all of which can be effected by magnesium levels.

 

Carrier (Base) Oils for Skincare

Almond (sweet almond) oil – expeller-pressed & unrefined with a shelf-life of 12-14 months out of heat & light. Emollient, skin softening, soothing, and conditioning. Generally used more on the body than the face, but is used for normal to dry skin as well.

Apricot Kernel oil – expeller-pressed & unrefined with a shelf-life of about 12 months out of heat & light. Similar in its properties to sweet almond oil, but more suitable for sensitive and prematurely aged skin. Used regularly for facial oils and products. Light-weight and generally absorbs well.

Argan oil – pressed from the Moroccan Argan tree kernels, this oil is high in tocopherols (vitamin E), carotenes, squalene, and fatty acids beneficial to the skin.  It is a well-absorbed, light oil that is useful for “normal” and oily skin types, as well as for smoothing and treating hair.

Avocado oil – cold-pressed & unrefined with a shelf-life of about 8 months.

An ultra rich oil containing high amounts of Vitamin A, B1, B2, D, and E, it is highly prized to those with skin problems such as eczema, psoriasis, and other skin conditions, as well as those with sensitive skin and other irritations that require vitamin rich oil.  Can be poorly absorbed, so leaving an oily texture, but is very good for conditioning the skin and hair and great in combination.

Castor oil – expeller-pressed & refined with a shelf life of 2 years.

A viscous, shiny oil found used in cosmetics that act as barrier agents and protect against harsh conditions and extremes. It is soothing and anti-inflammatory to the skin.  Is considered detoxifying and can be mildly drying.  Gives a shine and gloss to products such as lip balms.

Coconut oil – cold-pressed & unrefined (higher fatty acid content) or expeller-pressed & refined with a shelf-life of 2 years.

A general medium moisturizing oil that acts as a protective layer, helping to retain the moisture in your skin. It is a mild oil for those with inflamed and irritated skin, and those with skin sensitivities. Contains caprylic & lauric acids that can inhibit fungus and yeasts.

Evening Primrose Oil –  Cold pressed and partially refined with a shelf life of 8-12 months.

Rich in the essential fatty acid gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) which constitutes an average of 8-10% of Evening primrose oil, and is anti-inflammatory. Gentle and good as a light oil for all skin types.

Jojoba oil – cold-pressed & unrefined with a shelf life of 2-3 years.

Jojoba oil is actually a liquid wax and has properties similar to our own sebum, as has been traditionally used as a scalp cleanser and a general moisturizer for all skin types, combination and acne-prone skin does well with this oil. Does not have a fragrance.

Rosehip seed oil – cold-pressed & winterized with a shelf life of 8-12 months.This unique oil is high in essential fatty acids and is generally considered to be great for dry, weathered, and dehydrated skin, although it absorbs into the skin quickly as well.  It works wonders on scars and is the predominant oil used for treating wrinkles and premature aging.

 

Essential Oils Used in Skincare, Scrubs, & Baths

Blue tansy – anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, cooling, soothing, antipruretic (anti-itch); soothing, relaxing, mood balancing.

Cedarwood – balances oil production from the skin and scalp, astringent, tonifying (normalizing). Grounding, calming, restorative.

Frankincense – considered a good oil for dry/mature skin types, it is used to help reduce wrinkles & promote tissue repair. Grounding, focusing, meditative.

Geranium (rose geranium) –  astringent & tonifying, anti-inflammatory, oil-reducing and balancing, insect-repellent  – good for skin inflammation, bruising, broken/weak capillaries. Balancing for female hormones, relaxing, mood stabilizing.

German chamomile – anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, analgesic (pain reducing) – good for generally irritated or sensitive skin, inflamed skin conditions.

Helichrysum – vulnerary (wound healing), tissue regenerative, anti-inflammatory – good for any number of inflamed skin conditions and scarring, as well as muscular aches/pains, strains, & rheumatic pains. Soothing and healing.

Lavender – anti-inflammatory, vulnerary, antimicrobial, antispasmodic, relaxing –  a good general skin-healing herb for all skin types and inflamed skin conditions.

Lemon – astringent, acid-mantle balancing, oil balancing, antimicrobial. Uplifting and energizing.

Marjoram – antispasmodic; useful for all kinds of muscle spasms and tension; calming to the nervous system.

Melissa (Lemon balm)  – antiviral, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, insect-repellent, calming

Palmarosa – soothing to all skin types; detoxifying and regenerating; useful for dry, irritated, or lifeless skin.

Rose – astringent, soothing, anti-inflammatory – good for tonifying skin and strengthening capillaries; good for mature skin. Nurturing, soothing, and calming.

Tea tree – incredibly antimicrobial and antifungal.  Great for acne, fungal infections (athlete’s foot, ringworm), head lice, etc. Uplifting.

Wintergreen – this plant has the classic scent and action many people associate with Icy Hot/other muscle rubs.  It is useful for inflammation and muscle & joint aches and pains.

Ylang ylang – oil-balancing, antimicrobial, promotes healthy hair growth, general skincare. Euphoric.

When looking at herbal approaches to stress relief, the adrenal glands and the nervous system are the primary systems to support.


The adrenal glands are located on top of the kidneys and produce some hormones, including the “fight or flight” hormones epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine (noradrenaline), and the stress hormone cortisol. The adrenal glands become overworked (this is a simplified explanation, of course) when we are under prolonged periods of stress because, evolutionarily speaking, these hormones are only supposed to be produced for short periods in response to a threat.


Adaptogens – a category of herbs that help with stress adaptation and recovery.


These herbs act to help the body “adapt to stress”, of all kinds. They work generally in some way by supporting the adrenal glands and acting on the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (H-P-A) pathway from the brain. They need to be taken over a period of time for the best effect, and can support energy levels, physical and mental stamina, athletic performance, and much more.

Here are some of my favorites and some unique features of each:


Eleuthero (Siberian ginseng)- used as a general “adaptogen” to help with stress, help with energy and stamina, and strengthen the immune system.
Schisandra – called the “five flavor herb” in Chinese medicine, this berry is used for helping the body adapt to stress, supporting thyroid, liver, and heart function, helping with increasing energy and stamina, and balancing the mood.
Ashwagandha– used as a general “adaptogen” to help with stress, relax the body, calm the nervous system, and also can help with energy, hormone balance, libido, and thyroid function.
Rhodiola– used to help uplift the mood, increase energy and stamina, and to help fight mental fatigue and increase focus and retention of information.
Licorice – helps “spare” cortisol in the body, so can be helpful for low cortisol levels and fatigue. Also is a good anti-inflammatory and liver protective.
Holy basil – helpful for mood balance, anxiety that effects the digestive tract, and overall supporting calm and well-being.
Reishi mushroom– used long-term for stress and a feeling of well-being, strengthening the immune system, acting as an antiviral and anti-tumor.

*There are many options of blends of these herbs, including our Stress Drops, Stress Adaptation Tea, Energy & Metabolism Drops, and capsule blends. We also have single herb powders of many of these to add to smoothies, food, chocolate, etc., as well as single cut herbs for tea, single tinctures or glycerites, and single capsules. Take whatever form you will take consistently!

These herbs are generally very safe to use and need to be taken consistently for 1-3 months to notice a lasting effect. I always remind people that it took months or years to get them to the fatigued, stressed, low-immune state they are in today, so to give these herbs some time to work.


Nervines – herb that support the nervous system.


These herbs are used to calm or uplift the nervous system. Stress often leaves us feeling depleted or anxious, so the nervous system needs strengthening and nourishing, and often calming or soothing. If you feel “on edge,” many herbs can help.


Nourishing nervines include lemon balm, skullcap, oat pods, chamomile, linden flowers, St. John’s wort, motherwort, and passionflower.
*Herban Wellness makes a Chill Out Tea and Chill Out Drops to calm and help with anxiety and tension.


Uplifting nervines include holy basil, lemon balm, damiana, St. John’s wort, and mimosa bark. Take one or a blend of herbs in a tea form to have the added benefit of enjoying a hot beverage to soothe your frayed nerves.
*Herban Wellness makes a Happy Tea and Happy Drops to help uplift the nervous system. We also make a blend called Heart Mender Drops for more situational depression and grief.


More sedative herbs for help with sleep include valerian root, hops, passionflower (in higher amounts), California poppy, nutmeg, and skullcap (in higher amounts).
*Herban Wellness makes a Get Sleepy Tea and a Sleep Well Drops with these herbs. We also carry a capsule blend called Sleep Thru that helps calm excess cortisol at night to help with deeper, longer sleep.


Essential Oils


Because the tiny little volatile compounds from aromatic plants cross so easily into the brain, inhaling or applying them can have a profound impact on our nervous system – calming, uplifting, and balancing.


Oils such as Bergamot, Spruce, Frankincense, Vetiver, Sandalwood, Lavender, and Roman chamomile, can relax the body, calm the mind and nervous system, and generally lead to a greater sense of well-being, even if temporarily.


Bergamot – balancing to mood and the right and left hemispheres of the brain. Apply in the upper divet of your ear and inhale deeply for a stress-relieving and balancing effect (shen men point in Chinese medicine).
Vetiver – extremely grounding and earthy, so can help you feel more rooted and helps calm your nervous system. Apply to the bottoms/arch of your feet for helping relax and promote restful sleep.
Roman chamomile – very calming to your nervous system, this oil is also antispasmodic so is useful for headaches, muscle tension, and general stress.
Oils such as Spruce & Frankincense can also strengthen weakness in the body and heighten energy levels. In fact, many of the conifers, such as Black Spruce and Siberian Fir are considered adrenal support oils that balance the H-P-A axis and increase energy reserves.
*Blends we carry that can be helpful and incorporate these essential oils include Stress Release, Calm Spirit, Adrenal Support, and Meditation.


Flower Essences


Because of how these energetic formulations are prepared intentionally from fresh flower buds, they capture the more subtle energies of the plant. These remedies are taken in drop doses under the tongue or in water to help support our more subtle systems – emotions and spirit. I have found these work best when you set an intention with them.


Five Flower Formula (also called Rescue Remedy by another brand) – acute stress or trauma
Pink Yarrow – for emotional boundaries when you’re overly absorbent of others’ energies and emotions
Aspen – fear of the unknown, vague anxiety and apprehension, nightmares
Mimulus – fear of known things, apprehension toward new experiences
White chestnut – overactive mind, circling thoughts, insomnia as a result
Mustard – depression or despair due to fluctuating life events; bouts of mania followed by depression.

When wandering through the parks and gardens around Kirkland and the whole Seattle area, you will likely see these plants in the early spring onward, if you know what to look for. Maybe you are fortunate enough to have them growing in your own yard or garden. Make sure to properly identify the plants, find a relatively clean patch and rinse the plants well before eating fresh/raw if they’re not from your own garden. With Nettle (aka Stinging Nettle), you’ll need to use gloves to harvest.
Chickweed – the whole upper parts are used of this low-growing plant that loves moist, cool weather. High in minerals like iron and calcium, chickweed is also high in purifying chlorophyll. Chop and add to salads, juice it, or make a long infusion by soaking in cold water for 4-8 hours and drinking as a tea. Topically, this plant is a soothing, anti-inflammatory, and antipruretic (anti-itch) skin herb.  It can be applied as cooling poultice, or infused in oil (such as olive oil) and applied or made into a salve. Internally, the fresh plant tincture can help with water retention and weight loss as the minerals and chlorophyll can help with boosting metabolism.

Cleavers – the upper parts are used before flowering of this sprawling, sticky plant with its unique whorled leaf pattern. This plant is mineral rich, high in chlorophyll, and acts as a diuretic (increases urinary flow through the kidneys) and lymphagogue (helps move lymphatic fluid). This makes it a great spring tonic, good for skin and kidney health, and for supporting the lymphatic system and lessening water retention.

Dandelion leaf – The young leaves are used in the spring as a great spring tonic. They are bitter in taste and are a classic liver tonic and detoxifier, as well as a bitter digestive tonic to stimulate the flow of digestive juices. The leaves are also a strong diuretic, helping to move fluid through the kidneys and reduce water retention and swelling.  The leaves are great eaten fresh in the spring in salads and are high in potassium among other minerals, so doesn’t deplete the body of this important mineral when used as a diuretic.

 

 

Nettle leaf – Urtica dioica, commonly called nettle or stinging nettle grows naturally in the Pacific Northwest. The leaves and stem are covered in tiny hairs that contain formic acid, which is irritating to the skin if touched. This uncomfortable property dissipates when the plant is dried and crushed, and disappears when cooked. The leaf is high in minerals like iron, calcium, and magnesium, as well as chlorophyll. The leaf is most commonly used, but the root and seed both have medicinal properties. The leaf helps reduce allergy symptoms by lowering histamine release, so is great to consume this time of year. I like to recommend its consumption as an herbal tea, ideally made into a long infusion by steeping cold or hot for 4-8 hours. It can also be added to food or smoothies as a powder. When harvested fresh, it can be added to any cooked dish that calls for spinach or other leafy green.

 

The Kidneys – We have two of these important organs, sitting up just under the rib cage in the back. They filter the blood, inorganic salts, and toxic waste products of metabolism, maintain mineral and pH balance in the blood, and help control blood pressure by regulating the volume of water in the blood. They also release hormones to control blood pressure and control the production of red blood cells. Thus, these organs play an important role in detoxification of the body among other things. In addition, the important stress-response glands, our Adrenal Glands, sit atop the kidneys.

The Urinary Tract – this system consists of the kidneys, ureters (tubes that travel to the bladder), the bladder, and the urethra (tube that moves urine out of the bladder).

Tonic Herbs for this system, include herbs that over time support the health of the urinary tract, reducing inflammation, soothing, and even helping with regeneration of cells and healing tissue. Herbs such as Nettle (leaf and seed), Pellitory-of-the-Wall, Astragalus root, Milk thistle seed, Dan Shen (Red Sage or Salvia miltiorrhiza), Goldenrod, and Couchgrass are tonic, restorative herbs for the kidneys specifically, and the urinary tract generally.

Soothing herbs such as Corn silk, Couch grass, and Marshmallow root, can be used when there is any sort of irritation of the urinary system, and to help reduce inflammation in the case of urinary stones, infection, or chemical damage (certain pharmaceutical medications or heavy metals, for example). These herbs contain compounds that get excreted via the urinary tract, soothing and healing while passing through.

Herbs to help with water retention and flow through the kidneys and urinary system are known as diuretics. One of the strongest is Dandelion leaf, which is also naturally high in potassium, so can offset excess loss of potassium as some pharmaceutical diuretics can promote. Others include Goldenrod, Hibiscus, Cleavers, Buchu, Parsley leaf and root, Celery seed, and Uva ursi. These herbs can help with lowering pressure in the blood vessels so are often included in formulas for high blood pressure.

Other herbs can help treat and prevent kidney stones, such as Hydrangea root, Gravel root, and Chanca piedra (Phyllanthus spp.). The first step in preventing kidney stones is drinking enough water preventing dehydration, particularly in hot weather where there is increased sweating. The vast majority of kidney stones contain calcium – calcium oxalate and calcium phosphate, while sometimes uric acid stones can form. For calcium-based stones, people should avoid oxalate-rich foods such as spinach, rhubarb, beets, and chocolate. Magnesium can help keep calcium soluble in the urine so it doesn’t react with oxalic acids and form stones, so taking a Magnesium supplement can be helpful. For uric acid-based stones, alkalinizing water and foods such as green vegetables need to be increased and animal protein should be minimized since protein tends to increase levels of uric acid.

There are also some effective herbs to prevent infection by preventing bacteria from adhering to the mucosal lining, such as the well-known cranberry, uva ursi leaves (in the same family), and buchu. Other herbs are effective at inhibiting bacteria and fungus and can take care of an infection if caught early on. These herbs contains compounds that are highly antimicrobial that excrete through the urinary tract. Juniper berry is one of the best in this regard, as it is also diuretic and anti-inflammatory. Buchu, uva ursi, Echinacea, and Goldenseal are others that have antimicrobial properties specific to the urinary tract and support the immune system.

The Emotion: Fear & Element: Water associated with the kidneys and bladder from the Five Element Theory in Traditional Chinese Medicine. “The Kidney is the repository of energy for the body, supplying needed Qi to all the organs when necessary. Getting enough rest is essential for helping to maintain Kidney energy balance. The Five Element emotion associated with the Kidney is fear. Fear is a deep-seated emotion, central (realized or not) to much of existence as it is dictated through thought and action. Fear, when welcomed and addressed with discernment, can become a strength in the affairs of your daily life. Be aware. Be calm. Rest.” (from the Arizona School or Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine, ASAOM).

The Adrenal Glands and the Kidneys – How you care for yourself, and manage stress and fear, have an impact on both the kidneys (nourishment, water, rest) and your adrenal glands (the stress response, fight or flight). Some herbs and mushrooms support both, and the HPA Axis (Hypothalamus-Pituitary Gland-Adrenal Gland Axis), such as Astragalus root and Cordyceps mushroom. Other adaptogens (herbs that support the HPA Axis and adrenal glands) can be combined with kidney tonic herbs for helping the body respond differently to life and fear, including Codonopsis, American ginseng, and Eleuthero.

It’s that time of year, when the flowers are opening all around us, spring greens sprout up in our woods and gardens, the weather gets more mild, and for some, the allergy symptoms begin, or come on full force. Fortunately there are some great tools in the natural world for helping alleviate these uncomfortable symptoms so you can enjoy springtime more. Below, you’ll find my recipe for a ginger-nettle-lemon spring tonic that can be made hot, or cold with sparkling water.

Ginger tea or fresh juice – approximately 1 Tbsp finely chopped fresh ginger (or 1 heaping tsp dry) or approximately 1 Tbsp of fresh juice.
Lemon juice, preferably freshly-squeezed – approximately 1/2 lemon or more to taste.

Raw local honey – approx 1-2 tsp to taste
Nettle Glycerite – 2 dropperfuls (approximately 50 drops)
Oregon grape Glycerite – 1 dropperful (approximately 25 drops)

If making tea, gently simmer fresh or dry ginger root in 2 cups of water with lid on for 10 mins, then strain. Add honey, lemon juice, and herbal glycerites to a mug of the ginger tea and drink warm. Or, the tea can be cooled to room temperature and other ingredients added. A large batch can be made and stored in the refrigerator for daily consumption also.

If using ginger juice, you can add all ingredients to 8-12 oz of hot or sparkling water and mix well.

Drink 2-3 cups daily to help stave off allergy symptoms.

Helpful benefits of these ingredients:

Ginger root – anti-inflammatory and supportive for the immune system as the oils in the root contain some antimicrobial benefits. Also a wonderful digestive system support herb.

Raw local honey – high in minerals and some flower pollens that can help the body not be so reactive to pollen that is inhaled.

Lemon juice – high in vitamin C, flavonoids, and supports gentle liver detoxifcation.

Nettle leaf – alkaline, high in minerals, and has antihistamine properties that can help prevent and ease allergy symptoms.

Oregon grape root – bitter digestive aid, containing berberine that can help reduce inflammation and swelling in the sinuses and mucosal membranes.

Liquid extracts, often called “tinctures,” are a convenient and effective way to take herbal remedies.

Alcohol is the most oft-used medium to extract, as it is effective in various percentages in pulling out a variety of water-soluble and fat-soluble constituents from the plant, as well as being a powerful preservative. However, there are instances where alcohol is not desirable, either because of its pungent taste or not being appropriate for a certain population. For that, we do have the option for some herbs to be consumed as a “glycerite,” a vegetable-glycerine extracted tincture.

Vegetable glycerine is the clear, sweet, viscous liquid that is a bi-product of the soap-making industry, and due to its chemical make-up does extract an array of water-soluble constituents, and some fat-soluble constituents as well. Because of their sweet taste, these glycerites can be administered straight to pets by squeezing into their mouth, or given to children either straight or in a bit of liquid. It is often a way to add sweetness to an herbal blend, and some herbs taste quite delicious as a glycerite.

For example, in the pictures above, the pink liquid is Rose Glycerite, and it captures the floral nature of rose petals perfectly. Mixed in blends to add a floral note, or for supporting the emotional heart in times of grief or sadness, this glycerite is a favorite of our herbalists here at Herban Wellness. The bottle with the dark red liquid contains Schisandra Glycerite, which is one of my absolute favorite herbs in this form. Schisandra berry is called the “five flavor fruit” because of its complex flavor profile of sour, pungent, bitter, salty, and sweet, and it has an adaptogenic effect on the adrenal glands and the stress response, making it a valuable ally for stress relief, recovery, and for energy levels. The sweetness of the vegetable glycerine makes this berry much more palatable, and downright tasty, even when consumed by itself directly in the mouth.

Other herbs pictured in their glycerite form above are Lemon balm, which makes a sweet, slightly lemony, slightly herbaceous liquid for calming the nervous system and is often used in formulas for children to help calm or relax. Nettle Glycerite is a green, herbaceous extract that can help soothe allergy symptoms due to its anti-inflammatory and antihistamine effects. So this glycerite is nice added to tea, juice, a tonic, or smoothie for its effects. Ginger Glycerite is the golden-yellow liquid above, and is delicious added to sparkling water or lemon water while on the go for its anti-nausea, stomach calming, and anti-inflammatory properties.

We have created a couple glycerite blends that are entirely alcohol-free for children, that can also be used by adults that don’t want to take alcohol. We can also customize fully alcohol-free blends, even though our selection of glycerites is lower than that of alcohol-tinctures. The reason for this is that many plants do not extract as well in vegetable glycerine. However, we can work with you to find what will work best if it is your desire to avoid alcohol entirely. We also regularly create herbal blends for a specific reason using a combination of glycerites and tinctures, for flavor and potency.

Abby the Shop Dog at Herban Wellness

Many of you know my dog Abby or have seen her when you’ve come into Herban Wellness. I have taken her to a holistic/natural veterinarian since day one, because I apply the same principles to my animal companion as I do to myself. Start with the foundations: healthy diet, exercise, minimal exposure to toxins. Then I move to support from nutritional and herbal additions when needed. Finally, I only use pharmaceutical or surgical interventions when absolutely necessary.

I have incorporated herbal remedies into Abby’s routine as needed for flea treatment and prevention, for minerals and skin health, for calming her (or attempting to) when she’s anxious during a storm or fireworks, and in the last few years, anti-inflammatory and joint support as she gets up in years. I have also helped other dog and cat parents (and horse caregivers also!) find appropriate herbal remedies for supporting organs such as the liver, kidneys, and adrenal glands. Herbs can help greatly with seasonal and skin allergies, skin inflammation and irritations, and other chronic issues you may find your pet facing.

Now, I often do say how I am more comfortable in using herbs with dogs because they have less sensitive systems overall than cats, and also they are easier in general to administer natural remedies to. I have no qualms forcing a couple of milliliters of herbal tincture/glycerite into Abby’s mouth for acute situation, like when she somehow contracted kennel cough one winter. She was completely healthy in one week, which even her holistic vet was quite impressed with. I gave her lung, cough, and immune herbs that I would use for humans, and I got them in her several times a day. I also can easily disguise herbal and nutritional powders and tinctures in her food.

When choosing herbs for dogs, cats, and horses, I always check my herbal pet resources to make sure the herbs I’m considering can be safely used. My favorite quick-reference guides are by a holistic veterinarian who practiced for decades and wrote two books: Herbal Cat Care and Herbal Dog Care, respectively, by Dr. Randy Kidd, and The Encyclopedia of Natural Pet Care by CJ Puotinen. These generally give guidance on dosing as well, since that’s important and is generally determined by the weight of the animal when it comes to dogs and cats. Liquid extracts are easy to dose by the drop, where powders can be added by the part of a teaspoon. Some people also make herbal teas and mix them with the food.

Some of my favorite herbs for pets:

Turmeric – yep, a good anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, and antioxidant, just like for humans. Quantity ranges from 1/8 – 1 tsp per day for the powder and 10-30 drops for the tincture.

Kelp – mineral-rich and nutritive, this sea plant is beneficial for skin and fur health, and is generally added to food anywhere from 1/8 – ½ tsp of powder.

Alfalfa – high in minerals and chlorophyll, this herb is also used for reducing overall inflammation in dogs and cats, 1/8 – 1 tsp/day of powder.

Nettle leaf – high in minerals and chlorophyll and supportive to kidney and urinary tract health, ¼-1 tsp/day or 5-30 drops for the tincture or glycerite.

Chamomile – calming and soothing to the nervous system, while anti-inflammatory to the GI. Give 5-30 drops of the tincture or glycerite. Or ¼-1/2 cup chamomile tea.

Burdock root – helps gently detoxify the system and is particularly useful for skin issues and for healthy digestive and liver function. 1/8 – 1/2 tsp of the powder or 5-30 drops of the tincture.

Neem leaf – excellent for the health of the skin, as well as being an antifungal and antibacterial, and a flea preventive internally as well as topically. 1/8 – 1/2 tsp of the powder twice/day.

Sustainable. Sustainability. These words have become synonymous with a descriptor for someone (a person) or something (a business) that is actively striving to be sensitive to the needs of the environment, although the word is clearly used in other contexts as well. Dictionary.com defines the word as an adjective in its secondary definition as: “the quality of not being harmful to the environment or depleting natural resources, and thereby supporting long-term ecological balance.” Sustainability, as an adverb, is defined the same.

Personally, the concept of environmental stewardship and striving to incorporate environmentally sustainable practices into my life and business is an important value and action in my life. Professionally, as an Herbalist and someone who uses herbal medicine and healthful food to support my body’s health, sustainable farming practices and sustainable harvesting of wild plants, is of critical importance. In fact, I was originally drawn to herbal medicine, because of my deep love and respect for this planet Earth and her wondrous and abundant plant life and landscapes. Much of this has arisen from the feeling I get when I am immersed in nature, and how much joy and calm I experience when in nature, whether it be a city park, sitting in my yard, or deep in the wilderness where not a human-made sound can be heard. Inherently, by consuming plants for their healing properties, we are connecting to the Earth herself.

Many people do not consider how trends and popularity of certain herbs and plants can dramatically effect the harvesting of them in the wild, potentially wiping out native populations, or dramatically reducing their numbers. Examples include Echinacea, which is a prairie plant and whose population has been dramatically reduced in the wild. Goldenseal root is a major one, because it is more difficult to grow in cultivation, and its price as a result is quite high. Many herbs are also not grown in an environmentally aware manner, and just like food crops, can be grown in poor or contaminated soils, watered with contaminated water (heavy metals and the like), and grown using chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides. These practices are not sustainable, because the soil and chemicals can be drawn up into the plant and taken up by the consumer’s body, not to mention further adding to the chemical load in ground water and streams.

As a result of my commitment to sustainability in my own life and in my business, I choose to only purchase “organically-grown” or “sustainably wild-harvested” dried whole and powdered herbs, tinctured herbs, essential oils, hydrosols, and carrier oils from my vendors. It goes beyond that, of course, because quality of the plant material matters significantly as well, but that is for another article. I am working on buying more of my herbs from growers/farmers I personally know and can see for myself the practices they are using, and of course, I see the quality of the dried herb material that I receive.

In other vendor practices, I choose to purchase from suppliers that are local (less shipping) as much as I can, use sustainable and/or organic growing or sourcing practices themselves, and I have brought in products that promote re-use and can replace disposable products, like sustainably-grown bamboo utensils, stainless steel tea ware (to promote loose-leaf instead of tea bags and boxes which are just that much extra packaging), glass smoothie jars, to-go tea mugs, and bamboo essential oil wipes that are not individually wrapped.

In addition, I also package our tea blends in cellophane bags made from plant cellulose rather than plastic, and tie them with raffia ribbon, both of which will break down when composted in a city compost and will eventually break down (hopefully) in a landfill. We offer paper bags for packaging up your bulk herbs, and are happy to fill your own glass or metal containers that you bring in with you. I choose to use natural cleaners in my shop and home, those that will not negatively impact my health or my dog’s (many of you know Abby!), my staff, and of course my customers when they breathe the air. These products are safe to rinse down the drain and also do not do harm when inhaled, or when absorbed through Abby’s paws or human bare feet at home. I also purchase paper products that are made from post-consumer recycled paper (including our printing paper, paper towels, and even toilet paper). I use long-lasted LED light bulbs at Herban Wellness to reduce power use, and recycle these light bulbs and any batteries we use. We almost exclusively re-use packaging for our own direct shipments to customers, pass on our packing peanuts to other shipping businesses so they get used at least once more, and most of our vendors use the corn-derived packing peanuts that will dissolve when exposed to water. We also collect any used and clean plastic bags, plastic packing bubble mailers, and styrofoam packaging we receive and take it every other month to a special recycling event in Kirkland (“Styrofest”).

I am always looking for more ways to contribute less to waste, especially of plastic. Recently, I saw Office Depot was offering Scotch tape rolls that were made partially from post-consumer plastic. Hey, that’s a small step, but appreciated! We also use any scrap paper exclusively to take notes, outside of our own personal notebooks for formulas or communication between staff members, instead of sticky notes or other “new” paper products. And of course, we separate and clean our recycling, and I also personally take buckets of composted food and tea waste home to put in my Yard Waste bin. I have requested a compost bin at my commercial building, and the city of Kirkland complied for free, but people kept putting trash in it, so it ended up not working well.

Hopefully this list will help you better understand how we strive to be environmentally sustainable in our practices at Herban Wellness. I am always striving to do more! If you have any suggestions, please do let me know and if it is feasible, I would love to uplevel our practices. I also hope that perhaps you will be inspired by this list of our practices, that occur behind the scene, but are a small part of the way we contribute to a healthier planet, that at this point, needs every little bit it can get.