In honor of all the cool stuff going on- classes coming up in January, physical book release later this week, new website, ALL THE COOL THINGS!!!!!- have some happies. :)
The ebook version of The Independent Herbalist: A Beginner's Guide to Herbal Preparedness is available for free download for the next couple days onAmazon. This is the revised, updated version, so if you got the first one you will definitely want to give this one a try. We found some editing errors in the first one that have been fixed this time around.
Also, you can enter for a chance to win the physical version that's coming out this week. You can either go to the Independent Herbalist Facebook page, or check out the raffle below.
Have a great week!
This week, we will take a look at basic first aid for fevers- when to know if you should seek medical assistance, when it is ok to let them run their course, and what kind of thermometer to keep in your first aid kit. Next week, we will take a look at the class of herbs- called diaphoretics- that have traditionally been used to support the body during a fever, and explore the phenomenon of fevers from an herbal perspective.
So, first off- what causes a fever? A fever is a rise in internal body temperature usually triggered by the immune system as a response to bacterial or viral infection. This is different than hyperthermia- which is caused by the body's inability to regulate its temperature when faced with high external temperatures in the environment (like a heat wave in summer).
In a healthy adult, most fevers aren't dangerous. Problematic fevers for normal adults and children are anything over 102 degrees Fahrenheit, or any fever that lasts for more than three days. For children under two, a fever for more than one day is a good time to call the doctor. Serious fevers for babies three months old or younger start much lower, though: if a three month old or younger baby has a temperature of 100 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, it should see a doctor.
Other important signs to look for that indicate that someone should be taken to the doctor include: severe headaches, stiff neck with pain when you bend your head forward, mental confusion, or extreme listlessness, irritability or other extreme emotional states. If diarrhea or vomiting is present along with the fever, the person should be watched carefully to make sure they are getting enough fluids so that dehydration doesn't set in.
Now, what about thermometers? The push over the past several years to phase out mercury thermometers means that the most of the available thermometer options are going to be digital, battery operated models. This is fine when you live close to the store and can run out for another one- because it seems like the battery always goes dead just when you need it- but there are two other options that should be considered as back up. One is a solar powered model, which would be somewhat better than a regular digital. Just be aware that, eventually, that battery will no longer be able to hold a charge, either. The best option to consider is probably a clinical grade, mercury- free glass thermometer. No batteries to fail. They are glass, though- which means care should be taken not to drop them and to store them in their case. These use a non-toxic liquid in the bulb as a substitute for the mercury found in older models. These can be found by reputable manufacturers online for less than ten dollars each, so cost wise they are even competitive with digital thermometers.
Next week, we will take a look at how to help someone with a fever feel more comfortable, and also begin looking at traditional herbal support for fevers.
For more info to help you brush up on your fever first aid, check out the mayo clinic website:
Fever First Aid
All About Fevers
Our new home on the web offers so many more exciting options than our old blog, and I hope you enjoy the changes as much as I do. Many of the old blog posts are being moved over, and all of the old ones will continue to be available at indieherbalist.blogspot.com. We have some really great stuff planned for 2014 and can't wait to get started!
Determining how much of an herb to use is fairly straightforward, especially for acute and first aid uses.
Most of the time, herbs are measured in drops for liquid extracts and cups for teas.Capsules are another popular choice, but I don't cover them here because, although empty capsules can be filled at home, they have to be manufactured elsewhere. Extracts, on the other hand, can be made at home from start to finish with homemade fruit-based alcohol or apple cider vinegar. Herbal teas can also be grown at home from seed to harvest, so we will look at those as well.
To determine how much of an herb to give, first determine whether or not it is considered safe for normal use or if it is a low dose botanical. A low dose botanical is an herb that has a traditional record of use in small quantities, but may or may not be considered safe according to modern research. Lobelia is one example. It is potentially toxic and can induce vomiting in large doses, but in small doses was traditionally used as an effective lung support herb for asthma. Normal herbs are given in 15-30 drop quantities, while the dose for lobelia was traditionally started at 5 drops. This is where it is important to have several good books on hand when you are becoming acquainted with a new herb, and it also pays to look up the herb in a more historical work as well. At least one of your reference books should be written by a fairly technical herbalist who likes to go into nitty gritty details such as dosage rather than simply leaving it to be implied. One excellent resource for this is Michael Tierra's book, Planetary Herbology, which briefly covers hundreds of herbs from several traditions around the world.
As stated above, most herbal extracts are given in 15-30 drop quantities. This is usually assuming a body weight of 150 lbs, or one to two drops per ten lbs of body weight. One drop per ten lbs is a good place to start for children, and it can be increased to two if needed.
It's been my experience that homemade extracts can have higher levels of sediment than store bought ones, so I'm not really a fan of storing my extracts with dropper top bottles. I use screw on caps but keep clean droppers stored separately- the droppers are convenient, just not when they clog repeatedly. Which they will do, especially on extracts you don't use everyday.
So, either store the dropper separately, or learn to use a quarter teaspoon measuring spoon. 1/4 teaspoon of extract equals roughly 30 drops. By adding the extract to a small amount of water and dividing the water in half, you will have approximately 15 drops, and in half again will yield about seven.
Teas are just as straightforward as extracts. One cup (8oz) of tea is enough for one serving for a person weighing approximately 150 pounds. Since there are 16 tablespoons in a cup, estimate one tablespoon of tea for every ten pounds of body weight, and adjust upward as needed
Frequency of use is another consideration. If you know that the herb you are planning to use falls under the category of normal use, next consider what type of problem you are addressing.
If it is an acute imbalance, such as a cold or something else that comes on suddenly, herbs can be taken every hour as needed for a few days. If the imbalance is chronic- something that has been around for months or years, it is generally best to use the herbs two or three times a day, and expect that they will need to be continued for one month to every year the imbalance has been experienced.
Cuts and scrapes aren't much to worry about in today's relatively sterile environments. Clean water and soap are readily available for washing, tetanus shots are usually kept up to date. Well, barring any shortages- I distinctly remember being a teenager and going for my physical, only to have the doctor wring her hands and say she would have to check if they had tetanus vaccines available, because I was long overdue for a booster shot but there was a shortage. And that's in a very affluent, suburban area of the US, mind you.
Anyway, it's very easy for us to take it for granted that our cuts and scrapes are just minor inconveniences, and not the major health threat they can morph into under less than sanitary conditions!
In a bad situation, even a tiny cut can lead to dangerous infections if it comes into contact with another person's blood or body fluids, animal saliva, fecal matter, germs from the soil, or in germs in unsantized lake, river or well water. Germs that enter through a cut can cause all sorts of complications in an extreme setting: tetanus, rabies, gangrene, systemic infections that lead to organ failure and death. . . Yeah, none of that sounds fun. I think I'll pass, thanks.
So, keep those cuts clean and dry, and seek medical attention at the first sign that things might be going south! Stay healthy and keep those immune systems up to speed, too.
In a less than ideal situation, or one with limited access to medical care, here's what to remember:
- Keep it clean and dry.
- Only use water that has been sanitized.
- Keep it covered to keep stuff out.
- Respect the scab: it's there for a reason.
For more technical information on how to keep cuts and scrapes thoroughly clean, take a look at a good first aid manual; for now, let's focus on how to use herbs once the basic first aid is out of the way.
One of the easiest ways to use herbs to help care for cuts and scrapes is as a wash or compress: make an herbal tea and allow it to cool, then apply with gauze or a clean cloth to the desired area. Allow to air dry. Another great way is as a salve that can be applied after the area is cleaned. Here's a look at five herbs that can be used either as washes or as salves, and one herb that can be used as an extract or powder:Yarrow:
was traditionally used help stop bleeding, and an alcohol extract has the added benefit of containing, well, alcohol! Some herbalists use it as a styptic in its dried, powdered form. Bee Balm:
the leaves and flowers were used in the past as a wound wash, especially if the area was red and hot to the touch (in modern parlance, we know that this indicates that an infections may be setting in) but leaves aren't generally available at the stores, so that only helps if you are growing your own.Rose petals:
also make a good wound wash, or ingredient in salves. Plantain and Chickweed:
make really great salves for cuts and scrapes, especially when made with the fresh herbs. Elder:
the flowers and leaves of elder both have traditional skin care applications. They can be used as a wash, or made into a salve. Elder was believed to promote fast healing.
So many herbs can be used for support during and after short term stressful events that trying to choose between them can be overwhelming even on a good day. So it's best to decide what you will want to have on hand ahead of time. Herbs are also excellent at supporting the body through long term stressful situations, but the approach for that also requires lifestyle adjustments for best results. For now, let's focus on regaining equilibrium after a sudden shock or event.
Essentially, herbs for both types of situation all come from the same class of herbs called nervines. Lavender, linden, rose, skullcap, motherwort, valerian, passionflower, and lemon balm are all examples. Herbs that are often used for more long term care can also be used as needed in a short term setting, but a few really stand out for short term support.
Rose- for it's uplifting influence, and it's ability to support a sense of being soothed and nurtured.
Hawthorn- for it's grounding influence, and it's ability to support a sense of calmness and courage (or at least make things feel less insurmountable!)
Angelica-for it's expanding influence (where shock is seen as a type of emotional contraction) and it's traditional uses in soothing anxiety and pains (such as headaches and stomach aches) related to anxiety.
Albizia - for it's ability to calm and settle the spirit and lift the mood. Known as "The Tree of Happiness" or "Happiness Bark" in Traditional Chinese Medicine, this herb has been valued for centuries for it's ability to help support emotional equilibrium. Albizia is also very beneficial for emotional upheaval associated with grief.
I prefer to use albizia by itself (it also gets used a lot for physical bumps and bruises around here), but the other three work very well together in a combination.
One of my favorite extracts to keep on hand for life's sudden shocks and setbacks is a combination (or compound, as herbalists are found of calling them) of Rose+Hawthorn+Angelica. I favor a ratio of 2 parts rose, 1 part hawthorn, and 1 part angelica, but this can be changed to equal parts, or to only 1/2 part angelica (some people may find the angelica makes them feel too spacey). I use like any standard extract, 15-30 drops at a time, either mixed in a little water or added to a glass of warm milk.
Next week, we will look at something that's all to easy to take for granted in our relatively sterile society of tetanus shots, triple antibiotic ointment, and sanitary living conditions. Stay tuned for an article about herbal care for cuts and scrapes!
First off, emergencies usually fall into one of two categories: short term, and long term. Short term is the easiest: basic first aid supplies, any herbs you use on a daily basis, and whatever forms you prefer. These can be kept in smaller quantities, because they are replenished often, and there's not really any danger of shortages. There are many approaches to being prepared for both short term and long term, but in my mind, if I'm prepared for the long term I'm automatically prepared for the short term. So, let's look at long term herbal emergency preparedness.
As an herbalist I keep a lot of herbs on hand. I have an entire cabinet as tall as myself full of homemade extracts, dried herbs, and other goodies. This gets used by friends and families on an as needed basis. That in and of itself is pretty good preparedness, but there are twelve herbs that I consider my "core" emergency preparedness herbs. I've talked about them in other posts, but they are: angelica, bee balm, catnip, dandelion, elder, hawthorn, lemon balm, mullein, peppermint, rose, valerian, and yarrow.
For each of these twelve herbs, I keep "everyday" stock that's part of my day to day uses, and "reserve" stock, which is for long term preparedness. I make sure to re-order or resupply that reserve stock as the "everyday" stock begins to get low, so that I can simply rotate "reserve" into "everyday" and have fresh stock in reserve.
In reserve, I make sure I have a bottle of homemade alcohol extract of each, and an unopened bag of each herb in dried form. That way I have a quick, already prepared go-to extract, and the versatility of the dried herb so that I can make whatever preparations I might need or want.
How Much to Store?
I chose 4oz as the default size for my emergency preparedness stocks because 1 oz of herbal extract will typically last for a full month at a standard serving of 15 drops, three times a day. Because these herbs are being kept on hand for acute rather than chronic needs (so they shouldn't be needed for more than a few days at a stretch), even 1oz is a fairly good supply. Especially if you are making your own extracts at home, however, it's just as easy to make 4oz as 1oz, and actually cheaper than buying a single 1 oz bottle at the store. So, why not?
The smallest bag of dried bulk herbs usually is a also a 4oz size. One oz of dried herb will usually make 5 oz or so of extract, so as long as you also have plenty of vodka or other extracting medium on hand, you are all set to make more extract as needed, and can also make teas, oils, or salves as required.
The twelve herbs are also easy to grow, so I have many of them in my garden. Because of that, I feel comfortable keeping only those amounts on hand for both myself and my significant other. It would only take one growing season for me to realistically replenish my stores from my garden. I also have plenty of other herbs on hand in smaller quantities, so can pick and chose what I need from a wider selection of stored herbs anyway. Otherwise, if I were in a situation where replenishment would mean foraging because of a fledgling or non-existent garden (such as in the event of a long term emergency that included shortages from retail sources), I would bump that amount up to one 4oz bottle of extract and a 4oz bag of dried herb per person that I expected to be in my household during such an event. It makes much more sense, though, to put in that herb garden you've always wanted- even if it's just a container garden on the patio. Herbs don't need much attention and give good yields even in a small space, so it's a good investment and won't take up much room or much of your time once they are planted.
Next week, we will take a look at using herbs for emotional support during a short term emergency.
Sweet violets are in full swing here on the farm! So far, I have made sweet violet tea, attempted to make sweet violet syrup, and have made two types of violet blossom vinegar. The success with the projects has varied somewhat; the sweet violet tea was surprisingly beautiful, and the vinegars are flavorful and visually stunning, but the syrup accidentally crystallized so I will have to revisit that project later.
The blossoms of purple violets do wonderful things when added to water or vinegar. Here's what they look like in hot water (top) and white vinegar (bottom):
I think that the violet infusion would be a lovely menu item for a brunch or tea party (everyone should have tea parties, don't laugh!), and the white vinegar would be very nice for salad dressings or maybe even pickled eggs. Pink like beets, but floral instead of earthy? Yes, please.
But I think the real gem of my violet experiments thus far is Violet Oxymel.
Oxymel is a complicated word for a simple concept: vinegar + honey = oxymel. As a general rule, oxymels are soothing for coughs and sore throats, and a lovely digestive tonic before or after a meal. They can either be enjoyed by the spoonful without dilution (deliciously sweet and sour), or stirred into a glass of warm or cold water. By infusing the vinegar with different herbs, a rather lively assortment of oxymels can be created. In this case, I used apple cider vinegar, violet blossoms, and local honey.
To make the infused vinegar, use a 1:1 ratio of violets and vinegar. In this case, I used a cup of each. After allowing the blossoms to steep in the vinegar for a week, strain the vinegar through a fine mesh sieve to remove the flowers. The apple cider vinegar won't display as much of a shocking color change, but it definitely takes on a reddish hue.
The ratio of honey to infused vinegar is up to you, but a quarter cup of honey for every cup of vinegar is a good place to start. More honey can always be added if you would prefer that it be sweeter.
Stir the honey into the vinegar. It will usually take a minute or two for the ingredients to mix, so don't worry if the honey seems to clump together at the bottom.
Once the honey has dissolved completely into the vinegar, the oxymel is ready to use! As a beverage, violet oxymel is especially refreshing over ice, but it makes a nice flavored water at room temperature, too.
Other Tips for making Violet Oxymel:
- Use a layer of parchment paper under the lid if you are infusing the violets and vinegar in a canning jar. The vinegar will have a reaction with the metal in the lids and could drip nasty black oxidation into the infusing vinegar. Not tasty! Glass containers with non-reactive lids are definitely better if you have them.
- Pick violets around noon on a dry, sunny day. The fragrance of the flowers will be at its strongest under these conditions.
- Don't feel bad about picking all the blossoms you need. The purple flowers are just for show- they almost never set seeds! Violets grow a second set of tiny, green flowers in the fall that set seed prolifically. The violets will usually respond to harvesting by producing a second crop of purple flowers, so there will be plenty more in a few days anyway.
- Use just the blossoms- you don't need the stems.
Historical Background of Viola odorata
Sweet Violet, Viola odorata
, is native to Europe but is very common through out much of the united states. It often grows in lawns and along woodland edges, although it can be hard to spot at first because of its small size. Violet has several properties that merit consideration for household use, especially because it is found so widely in backyards and vacant lots.
There are several culinary uses for Viola odorata
. First, the above ground parts are edible. The young leaves can be used as a salad green or lightly steamed much like spinach, while the flowers can be candied, enjoyed as a fragrant tea, or used as a beautiful addition to salads. Violet syrup, also made from the blossoms, is a unique flavoring for desserts and beverages.
Beyond culinary uses, violet has a historical reputation for being expectorant, ant-inflammatory, diuretic, and alterative.The underground portions of violet should be used with caution if at all, as they have a reputation for being a a very strong purgative and emetic. The leaves and flowers, however, are gentle and mild enough that they were commonly given to children. As a children's herb, Violet was often used to encourage regular bowel movements or to soothe fevers.
Spring greens are in full swing here on the farmstead. We enjoyed chickweed salads last week, and the purple dead nettle is blooming everywhere. The dandelions have been tempting me for the last few days, and after thinking it over I began entertaining the idea of dandelion flower jelly.
There are other recipes for dandelion jelly floating around the interwebs, but I worked this one out because it uses a homemade pectin stock, which is pretty cool. The recipe is based on the Tea Jelly recipe in Canning for a New Generation, by Lianna Krissoff. It uses homemade fruit pectin made from granny smith apples.
For the sake of brevity, I will cut right to the recipe, and save a treatise on preparing the flowers for another post. Just know in advance that you need to separate the flower petals from the small green leaves on the back side of the flower. It's tedious, but not quite as bad as it sounds.
This is a pretty simple recipe. The last time I made jams and jellies was when I was nine or ten and "helping" my mom. Mostly by getting underfoot. So I was delighted that this went as well as it did and came together so easily.
The taste of the finished jelly reminds me of honey. I think the light apple flavor of the stock goes really well in this case. It isn't overpowering and it adds a nice dimension to the jelly.
2 or 3 cups fresh dandelion petals
2 1/4 cups boiling water
3 cups of homemade green apple pectin
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (strained)
3 1/4 cups sugar
Makes 3 half pint jars, and can be water bath canned.
Have sterilized jars, lids, and rings ready to go.
To make the jelly:
Put the petals into a heat proof bowl and pour the boiling water over them. Cover the bowl with a plate and steep for ten minutes, or until the petals have lost most of their color.
Pour the dandelion petal brew through a strainer into a six to eight quart pan. Add the green apple pectin, lemon juice and sugar to the petal water, and bring to a boil over high heat. Keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn't boil over and make a mess.
Cook until the temp reaches 220 degrees Fahrenheit (use a candy thermometer to check).
Ladle into sterilized jars, lid up, and water bath process for five minutes. Also, enjoy the jelly left in the bottom of the pot that the ladle couldn't get- bread or crackers not required, but a large serving spoon is recommended because the pot will probably still be very hot. :)