Posts

Reishi mushroom – although not technically an “herb”, we use that term loosely in herbal medicine, reishi is certainly a fantastic medicinal mushroom that I use regularly to support a healthy immune system, for its antiviral properties, and its anticancer properties.  Its Latin name is Ganoderma lucidum and various species grow in Asia, Europe, and North America, although now it is primarily cultivated.  It is a prominent mushroom with a glossy, hard red-brown surface (when dry), and a bitter, earthy taste.
Primary properties: anti-inflammatory, immune modulating, hepatoprotective, antiviral, antioxidant, adaptogen, heart tonic, cardiovascular protective.
Based on these properties, reishi mushroom is used to strengthen the immune system, enhancing immune cell activity and helping to down-regulate an autoimmune type response.  It is helpful for people with autoimmune disorders such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and allergies, or for people with a weak immune system that tend to get sick frequently or cannot seem to recover from an illness.  It is also used for keeping the immune system strong during times of stress or when exposed to a virus.  I often put reishi tincture in formulas for preventing illness during the cold and flu season because of its antiviral and immune supportive effects.
It is also often used for cancer treatment and prevention, as it has antitumor properties and stimulates immune cells that fight cancer and acts as an antioxidant.  Because of its liver and heart protective/strengthening effects, reishi is also a good adjunct in cancer treatment to help the body recover when undergoing chemotherapy.
As a cardiovascular support herb, this herb can help lower LDL cholesterol, triglyceride levels, and help prevent arteriosclerosis.  Therefore, it is useful for someone who has high cholesterol/triglyceride levels and would pair well with hawthorne berry because both can help to lower blood pressure and prevent or help treat arteriosclerosis.
A mild adaptogen, this fungus can help to prevent potential symptoms of stress and help to restore vitality to the adrenal glands after periods of stress.
I carry reishi mushroom in bulk powder for adding to foods or smoothies, mushroom slices to add to soups, stews, crockpot meals, and to make decoctions (simmered in water to make a “tea”), liquid extract/tincture form and in capsules at Herban Wellness.
Also, because of its taste, reishi mushroom works well added to chocolate sauces or hot cocoa or sometimes used in place of chocolate in healthy confections, brewed with coffee, and simmered with spices like cardamom and cinnamon for a health “chai” blend.

The beautiful hawthorn tree, with its leaves that look like mini oak leaves and its spiny branches, produces abundant flowers (white or pink) that later create red berries.  Crataegus oxycantha and C. monogyna are the two species used most often medicinally, and these produce dense clusters of white flowers and red edible berries that resemble small crabapples.  As a member of the apple family, this makes sense!
The berries have the longest traditional history of use.
Hawthorn is primarily known and used as a fantastic tonic for the cardiovascular system.  A safe, gentle, effective herbal remedy, this herb has been used to generally strengthen the heart muscle, lower blood pressure (by relaxing the nervous system and opening the corony circulation), normalize heart rhythms, act as an antioxidant to reduce and prevent arthrosclerosis (plaque build-up in the arteries) and weakening of the arteries and veins, to lower blood cholesterol levels (LDL in particular) and to increase circulation to the extremities.  Many of these uses have been born out in clinical studies, where some of hawthorn’s active compounds, mainly flavonoids and oligomeric procyanidins, have strengthened contractions of the heart muscle, increased the amount of blood pumped with each contraction, and promoted a stable, rhythmic heartbeat in study participants.
Aside from being a heart remedy, hawthorn also has a calming effect on the nervous system, is used as a gentle diuretic, increasing fluid flow through the kidneys, and as a lung tonic.  It is used for allergy-related reactions such as sinusitis, bronchitis, and asthmatic conditions, for attention deficit symptoms in adults and children, for insomnia, indigestion, & nervous stomach.
Hawthorn is also used for emotional heart-related pain, such as grief and heartbreak to help protect and support the body, and in particular the heart and lungs which can be affected in times of grief and loss.
Hawthorn berries can be decocted (boiled) to produce a tea, using 1-3 teaspoons of the berries per 12 oz of water and simmering for 15-20 minutes.  The leaf & flower can be steeped in hot water for 15 minutes to make a mild tea.  Both the berry and leaf & flower combinations can be extracted into alcohol and water, or vegetable glycerine, and taken as a tincture or glycerite.  From the berries, syrups and solid extracts are often produced, which is a tasty and easy way to take this wonderful herb.

A hawthorn tree ripe with red berries

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/).

Slim Down Tea contains: Pu-erh tea, Cinnamon bark, Cleavers, Eleuthero, and Stevia leaves.
Ah, weight loss.  It’s one of the biggest issues people face that has no easy answer.  Once you’ve put on weight, it takes awhile to get it off, and there’s no way around dietary adjustments and exercise (calories in need to be less than calories out).  However, if you are focusing on these things, and preferably getting some guidance (afterall, most people I talk to think they eat and exercise JUST FINE, thank you very much), then there are things that can help support a person in their weight-loss goals.  Namely, herbs and nutrients that can support healthy metabolism and encourage fat burning.  There’s that word – metabolism.  What does it mean anyway?
Metabolism means change or transformation, and in the way we talk about it here, is referring to the processes in our body that convert food and other substances into energy and other metabolites used by the body.  Metabolism aids in digestive function as well as absorption of nutrients.  It is most affected by nutrition, hydration and physical activity, but is also regulated by the thyroid hormones and is affected by the adrenal and reproductive hormones systems as well.  Metabolism in the sense we refer to in weight control, is the regulator of our body’s fuel, in the form of calories derived from fat & carbohydrates primarily.  Therefore, when I refer to herbs that “increase metabolism”, these are herbs that are known to help speed up the rate at which you burn calories.
I know I went off on a bit of a tangent there, but I felt it was important to explain metabolism before I talked about TEA and how it can help with speeding up your metabolism and therefore help you get that edge over more calories out than are going in, so fat can be burned.  Green tea has had its praises sung for this effect, as has oolong tea, and now I will talk about pu-erh tea – another of the tea-plant forms of tea that is in my own Slim Down Tea blend.
Look at my article/post on pu-erh tea for more information, but suffice it to say that this herb is the foundation of this particular tea blend, designed to help increase metabolism (& therefore fat reduction), improve digestion & nutrient absorption, reduce fluid retention by increasing the flow of fluid through the kidneys (due to Cleavers), support the adrenal glands & their function and generally increase energy levels (due to Eleuthero) and help balance blood sugar (Eleuthero & Cinnamon bark both help here).  An excellent “side effect” of this tea?  It could help you lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels and help you better digest fats, primarily due to the fermented pu-erh tea.

This tea is a blend of herbs that can help increase insulin sensitivity of cells and therefore increase uptake of glucose (blood sugar) from the blood and into cells.  This is the primary action and intention of this blend, but other herbs – such as Devil’s club in this tea blend – also help with adrenal and immune function, while Eyebright and Bilberry leaves also can help prevent venous and eye issues that can result from hyperglycemic conditions by strengthening and toning the blood vessel walls.  The herbs Fenugreek, Cinnamon, and Devil’s club are the primary blood sugar regulators, helping to balance blood sugar levels in those with high blood sugar conditions, such as those with Diabetes mellitus, both insulin-dependent and non-insulin-dependent.  Fenugreek has perhaps the most research on it, showing a hypoglycemic effect, as well as helping to reduce cholesterol levels.  Cinnamon can also be a helpful herb for those wanting or needing to avoid high glucose spikes after meals.  This blend can also have a beneficial effect on digestion and help support the healthy digestion of fats in particular.  This tea is beneficial for those who suspect or know they are “pre-diabetic” and for those who have well-controlled diabetes, as well as those who know they could be headed that way if they don’t change course with dietary changes.
Contains: Fenugreek seeds (Trigonella foenum-graecum), Cinnamon bark (Cinnamomum cassia), Eyebright (Euphrasia officinalis), Bilberry leaf (Vaccinium myrtillus), and Devil’s club (Oplopanax horridus).
Enjoy this tasty tea daily for best results!
See my post on Fenugreek as well for more information.