Immune-boosting Yumminess to Fend Off Fall Colds

This is the time of year when people are starting to get colds. It’s also the time of year when many of us begin to participate in more indoor activities that bring large numbers of people into small spaces but can also make it easier for people to catch viruses and other “bugs” from each other. And it’s the season when we may find ourselves still dressed for a warm afternoon as an evening chill sets inImage 3

Fortunately, there are herbs to help us meet these challenges. The sharper  cooking spices, such as garlic and ginger, help warm us physically while activating our immune systems to fight off whatever bugs are surrounding us. Shiitake, maitake, and many other mushrooms help both to stimulate and to strengthen and “train” our immune systems, but please remember to cook your mushrooms before eating them. You can make a wonderful, immune-boosting soup with shiitake mushrooms, seaweed, oodles of ginger, and your favorite vegetables. Astragalus powder helps thicken the broth while adding another immune support. Miso can be a lovely addition after the soup has stopped cooking.

IMG_0089Goldenrod tincture helps treat both colds and allergies, so if you find yourself sneezing, sniffling, or coughing, it’s a great remedy to grab. I also use it when others in my household have colds. For my family, the usual dose is about 3 droppersful, but I have clients who find 2 droppersful effective, and others I have worked with do well on minute doses in the 2-5 drop range.

Fire cider is a wonderful warming beverage popularized by Rosemary Gladstar. It can improve the circulation to help ward off the chills while revving your immune system to stay on guard against whatever bug is going around. There are many recipes for it; one of my favorites follows below.

One last immune-boosting favorite of mine is honey infused with herbs. I like to make ginger honey and ginger elder honey.

Ginger or Ginger Elder Honey

  • 2-6 inches of ginger
  • 1/2-1 cup of elderberries (optional)
  • 1 pint of honey

Chop as much ginger as you dare, and then put it into a pint-sized jar. If available, add a handful or so of elderberries. Pour on the honey and close the jar. Turn the jar upside down at least once a day to help the ginger and elder berries permeate the honey. The ginger juice will rise to the top, mixed with a thinner layer of honey. While this is delicious by itself, the entire jarful of honey will be more potent if you mix it with the thinner syrup that’s on top.

Fire Cider

  • one large onion
  • one head of garlic
  • three inches of ginger
  • one whole hot red pepper, fresh or dried
  • one to three inches of horseradish
  • one cup of pine needles (optional)
  • one quart of apple cider vinegar

Mince the onion, garlic, ginger, pepper, and horseradish, then put them into a quart-sized canning jar. Add the pine needles; these are optional, but they add significant yumminess and vitamin C. Pour in the apple cider vinegar. Cover, preferably with a plastic lid, although you’ll probably use the Fire Cider before the lid corrodes. Set it aside for one month, but give it a good shake every once in a while.

Optional second step:

After a month, strain. Take all the solids and put them into a stainless steel, ceramic, cast iron, or glass pot. Add two quarts of water, and simmer it until it reduces in half. Strain once again. You may now compost the remaining solid part, unless you made it without pine needles, in which case save it to add by the spoonful to soups, stews, and anything else you’d like to spice up.

Combine the liquid from the first two steps.

Some people like to drink their Fire Cider “neat,” i.e. undiluted, by they shot glass. Others mix it with honey, about half and half, and then imbibe as is or diluted further with water. I like to put a tablespoonful or so into a mug, pour on hot water, and then add honey to taste; that way, different people can drink it with different proportions of honey, or without any.



Holistic Ways to Address the Stress of the Election Cycle

The presidential election is coming up soon, and many of us are stressing out about it. There’s a good reason for that, under the circumstances, but the consequences may interfere with our ability to sleep, make sound decisions, or feel comfortable in our bodies. We can address that with herbs, exercise, and lifestyle choices.image

Getting enough sleep helps us to take more in stride. Most people assume we need less sleep than we really need. If you wake up needing caffeine to get going, chances are that you’re not getting enough sleep.

Try going to bed half an hour earlier and see whether your morning gets better. Try using darker curtains over your windows to help yourself sleep late. Before going to bed, try bathing your feet in a footbath with half a cup of Epsom salts and half a cup of linden leaves and flowers before bed to help you fall asleep more easily. You can refrigerate the footbath when you’re done and reheat it again for a week.

If you still can’t fall asleep, try taking half a dropperful of valerian tincture before bed. If that doesn’t work for you, try taking some skullcap tincture instead; first try a few drops to make sure you don’t have a strange reaction, and then increase to a dropperful. You may need up to three droppersful, and you may even need to combine that with the valerian. If you find yourself waking up earlier than feels good for you, try using a dropperful of ashwaghanda tincture before bed, or try taping a lentil or a grain of rice to the center of your heel before you head for bed.

Exercise can help to release stress. When we feel anxious or worried, we go into the fight or flight mode and our bodies produce the adrenaline we would need to run from a hungry grizzly. When we flee, we use up the adrenaline, and then feel better. When we do relatively hard or fast forms of exercise, we release the adrenaline also. When we do more meditative forms of exercise, such as qigong, yoga, or tai chi, we reset the body from the sympathetic, adrenaline-producing mode to calmer parasympathetic mode. Both forms of exercise help us handle stress, as do meditation and shiatsu. While many advocate for a regular practice, which helps to build skills and endurance, it’s also fine to practice meditation one day, do yoga the next, have a shiatsu session the following day, and the day after that, go for a run the next. Qigong, of course, helps most when you do it daily, but once you know a few forms, you may rotate them on days when you  don’t have time to do them all. (Daily meditation and yoga help too,  of course.)

If you wind up missing a day, forgive yourself. Self-forgiveness also helps to reduce stress, and serves as an important model for our relationships with other people, too.

Adequate nutrition is also essential for handling stress well. Certain nutrients, such as B vitamins and vitamin D (which is rarely adequate among northerners), help us handle stress directly, while we need others to maintain wellness more generally. A deficiency that causes physical stress will also ultimately add to our emotional stress. Exactly how much we need of what and what diet works best is fairly personal, but we all need an abundance of vitamins and minerals, a significant amount of protein, and healthy fat. For most people, a plant-based diet with copious cooked vegetables will be the best way to achieve this.

While there may be many variations on a plant-based diet, some more suitable for any given person than others, nobody benefits from a diet featuring mostly fast foods, junk foods, or sugar, and very few people will benefit from a diet consisting primarily of grains. Most people will also benefit greatly from including seaweed and cooked mushrooms in the diet. (N.b. Always cook mushrooms before eating them.) More about nutrition, diet, seaweed, and mushrooms will have to await another post.

Most people enjoy warm tasty beverages, and herbal teas easily meet the bill. A strong cup of catnip tea with a little honey can work wonders for one’s state of mind. I have seen a toddler go from throwing sticks at his brother while screaming his little lungs out to cuddling with his mother on entering a kitchen where catnip was brewing; his drink helped preserve the calmer state. I have yet to see anyone dislike this delightful drink, and many of my students demand it whenever we meet.

Chamomile also helps, of course, and for people without hypothyroidism, lemon balm is another excellent choice, also improved by a little honey.

If your stress continues unabated even after a few cups of strong catnip or lemon balm, then you may want to try a stronger nervine herb, such as motherwort or skullcap, both of which I find easiest to take in tincture form.

Doses are highly individual; some people respond to only a few drops, while others may require a few droppersful. Both are safe herbs with a broad spectrum of use, but any time you try anything for the first time, it’s best to use only a minute amount and make sure that you don’t have any adverse reactions. People can be allergic to just about anything, so it’s always best to test first.

Wild Herb Days Coming Soon

This summer, when we were planning our two Wild Herb Weeks, many people asked for more one-day programs. We listened, and now we’re planning several Wild Herb Days for the coming year. Wild Herb Days will include plant walks and various other herbal activities, such as tincture making, salve making, syrup making, spa treatments and product making, making and eating wild herbal salads and soups, and making and drinking wild herbal beverages, and herbal gift making.


Many hands preparing sumacade.

We’ll start off the season on Sept. 18 with a weed walk and tincture making. Exactly what we’ll do depends on the plants, but likely activities include making and drinking sumacade, making goldenrod tincture, and making burdock tincture.  If we have time, we may also make a salad.

In November, we’ll do herbal gift making. You’ll go home with four or five lovely herbal gifts, including at least one herbal vinegar, herbal shampoo and soap, and an herbal dream pillow.


Everyone loves the herbal beverages.

One of our traditions at both Wild Herb Week and Wild Herb Day is to make delicious herbal beverages whenever we can. In the winter, we’ll be making warming drinks to nurture ourselves while we have our herbal spa day and make syrups and salves.

In the spring, we’ll explore the new growth and prepare food and medicine from what comes up. Most likely, this will include a spring salad and a celebration of nettle, manifest in soup and nourishing nettle vinegar.


Click here for more details about Wild Herb Days.


Autumn olives.

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A Wild Herb Week student with her goldenrod harvest.




Herbal tinctures and oils.


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Baskets made by participants in Wild Herb Week I, July 2015, filled with herbs we gathered for making tinctures and medicinal oils.