herbal preparations: honeys, oxymels, and elixirs

a bee from an egyptian hieroglyph

i figured i would take a short break from the series that i’m doing on natural motherhood and crank back up on a couple of my other projects.   something that i’ve been meaning to add for a while is a basic herbal preparations entry for sweet medicine—for honeys, oxymels, and elixirs.  honey (the common denominator between all three of these preparations) is a mysterious substance.  in the archaeology of beekeeping, author eva crane posits, based on neolithic cave paintings in valencia, spain, that honey has been a food source for humans for at least 10,000 years.  since the beginning of written history, thousands of medicinal and culinary uses of honey have graced the tablets and pages of our past.  yes, dried bee puke has held our interest for quite some time!  it has been used to treat wounds, to aid in the mummification process, to preserve food and drink, to sweeten things, and, as every granny knows, to stop a cough dead in its tracks! Read the rest of this entry »

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natural motherhood, part 4: downstairs maintenance

whether you’re planning on getting pregnant, are already pregnant, or have just given birth, it is essential to do your research on “downstairs maintenance.”  odds are pretty much in favor of your having to deal with at least one of these issues, and (although we’ve gotten better about it) women tend not to have as many frank discussions as we should when it comes to our lady parts.  actually, this post branches out a little further than “lady parts”–the uterus and vagina are not the only bits of anatomy affected by pregnancy, labor, and delivery.  you’ve also got to talk about your bowels, your bladder, your vulva, and your rectum.  how many of you cringed when you read that last sentence? lol. see what i mean?  we don’t talk about this stuff enough. Read the rest of this entry »

herbal allies for college crunch time

eeek!

i was remarking to a friend at dinner tonight how odd (and completely wonderful) it is not to be writing 60-ish pages of final papers or preparing for final exams (for the first time in fooorrrrrr—eeeeeee-verrrrrrr).  i graduated with a master’s in english this past august, and for the three years leading up to that, november and april had always been times of anxiety, late nights, endless pots of coffee, sleeplessness, and eye-strain headaches.  i currently teach in the english department, but most of my friends are still in school there and are still having to deal with term papers and finals.  i feel their pain (even when i point and laugh >:D). Read the rest of this entry »

herbal preparations: tinctures

when folks begin to stick their little toe into the big river of herbalism, tinctures are usually one of the places they start.  if you’ve ever been into a health food store, then you’ve probably seen tinctures before—they’re the little amber dropper bottles with bold plant names on their labels and little black squeeze droppers at the top.  they’re often in eye-shot of the registers because they are alcohol-based medicine (although i pitty the fool who downs an ounce of wormwood tincture thinking they’ll get a buzz…..blerrrg!).  they also come in glycerine as well, but these are harder to find and are usually less effective. Read the rest of this entry »

herbal solutions for cold-weather skincare

there are so many things that i love about cold weather.  i love the feel of clean, cold air on my skin, i love the smell of wood smoke from fires, i love the way that light falls differently in the afternoons, and (oddly enough) i love overcast days where billowing gray clouds seem like they’re reaching down to touch the earth.  emotionally, i start to come alive as the weather starts to cool down—i wish i could say that my skin harbors the same good feelings.  perhaps the only thing that i despise about cold weather (partly, mind you, because i’ve never had to drive in snow) is the havoc that it wreaks on my skin.  i was blessed with a veritable oil well from the neck up, and saharan sands from the neck down.   the good part about this is that i won’t have to worry too much about wrinkles, due to my “dewy southern complexion,” but the bad part is that, between the oil-control soaps i’ve been handed for my face and the arid wintry wind that exacerbates my already-dry parts, i’m quite possibly a walking wildfire risk! Read the rest of this entry »

herbal preparations: lozenges

lozenges are one of my favorite herbal preparations because they give nearly instant gratification.  oils and tinctures are wonderful, but there’s all that waiting for the finished product.  with lozenges, you skip the 5 weeks of infusion in favor of a mix and a quick dry.  they’re less like a scary science experiment and more like instant proof that you’re your own herbalist!

there are other, more fundamental preparations that i was going to teach about first, like vinegars and tinctures, but today was my day with kindergartners and first graders, and you can only be coughed on so many times before you take the hint and write about something that folks obviously need this time of year.   the lozenges that i’m going to show you how to make are specifically for coughs and throat irritation, but with a few adjustments (that i’ll mention later) the recipe can be tweaked for stomach remedies as well. Read the rest of this entry »

herbal preparations: salves

before i started practicing herbal medicine, i think the one time i’d ever heard the word “salve” (pronounced “sav”) was at my grandmother’s house.  salve-making is really a lost art, but it’s so simple and is such a fundamental way of delivering medicine to the body that i can’t figure out we don’t all learn this skill in kindergarten.  for those of you thinking (from my last prep post) about making herbal oils, salve-making is the next logical step in the process, and it gives you a lovely way to showcase your sweet medicine for your family, friends, and local farmer’s markets! Read the rest of this entry »

herbal preparations: infused oils

one of my favorite things to do with herbs is to make infused oils.  you can make many different kinds with many different purposes—anything from cosmetic oils to cooking oils to healing oils to personal lubricants.*  under the right conditions, herbal oils will store for a long time, which is good considering the cost of most base oils and the time that it takes to infuse the plant materials.  when you infuse herbs in oil, you extract those medicinal plant constituents which are fat soluble as well as the essential/volatile plant oils.  one very important thing to keep in mind about infused herbal oils is that they are not essential oils. essential oils come in very small bottles and they are a highly, highly concentrated plant oil.  it takes tons upon tons of plant material to extract any significant amount of essential oil, and many of them are too strong to be used directly on the skin.  when i say infused oils, i mean using a base or carrier oil to extract goodies out of a relatively small amount of plant material.  Read the rest of this entry »

elderberry syrup–for colds, flu, and ice cream!

at the moment, i have sitting before me roughly 50 student papers that need grading, so i’ll blog instead.   seriously, my house is never cleaner than it is when i have papers to grade.  i find myself doing anything but the task at hand, and i often joke with coworkers that i should just give them all c’s…that way i will be mostly right, and when the A students come crying to me about their grades, I can say “oops!” and change them.   just a fantasy, but, you know…. ok so i was thinking of another really good foundational recipe that i could start everyone out on, and elderberry syrup seems to be it.  if you read the post on iron syrup from last night, this will be old hat.  if not, it will still be very, very easy! so a little about elderberries—elderberry is a fruit that we don’t seem to be too familiar with in the united states, and boy is that a shame!  it grows wild on the roadsides, but most people don’t know what it is and don’t know that you can (and should) eat it. Read the rest of this entry »