The Druid Herbalist

An ongoing journey with the healing power of plants


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Herbs for the Heart

Apologies for the huge gap since last posting!

With the hawthorn in full bloom, it’s time to celebrate the wonderful properties that hawthorn and other herbs can provide for our circulatory system. As always, please talk to a qualified herbalist before taking any medicine, as there may be contraindications, especially if you are pregnant or are already on medication.

Welcome in the May!

Hawthorn (Crataegus oxycanthus) – leaf, blossom and berry

Hawthorn is a good heart tonic, beta blocker, protects the heart muscle, prevents heart attacks, is a vaso-dilator (peripheral), helps promote sleep and is the best herb for blood circulation.  It regulates low blood pressure, steadies the heartbeat and lowers cholesterol.  It contains chemical compounds that keep blood vessels open, and it vital where vessels lack tone and are inert due to fatty or calcium deposits.  It lessens pain in the heart and adjacent areas, re-elasticates blood vessel walls (through rutin), rebuilds collagen fibres in outer layers of vessels and is a powerful anti-oxidant, as well as being rich in vitamin C.  It reduces inflammation, relaxes the smooth muscles of the uterus, intestines and other areas to relieve congestion and reduces water retention (bloating before period).  It also aids digestion and eases sore throats.

This herb is to be used as a tea, syrup (berries) and as a tincture.

*Not to be used with other beta-blockers or heart drugs/herbs. Please consult a qualified herbalist if on heart/blood pressure medication of any kind.

 

Cayenne (Capsicum annum) – fruit

Cayenne is a brilliant styptic (stops blood flow from wounds). It equalises blood pressure and is good for heart attack or stroke victim recovery as it strengthens the heart and improves circulation. It dilates the arteries and protects from damage. It aids in heat tolerance, stimulates endorphins and is a good treatment for migraines (prevention and cure).  It also reduces the tendency for blood clots. It aids digestion, is a cathartic and also relieves sore throats.

This herb can be used in cooking, in capsule form (powder) or as a tincture (HOT!).

*There are contra-indications with this herb, especially for asthma sufferers.

 

Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) – flowers

Meadowsweet is an analgesic, antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory and anti-rheumatic. It thins the blood, is astringent and also works as a diuretic. It balances stomach acid as is good for treating diarrhoea. It is also good for treating colds and flu, headaches and reduces fever.  It is an excellent pain reliever and is also good for cystitis and urethritis, breaking down kidney stones and gravel.

This herb is used as a tea, tincture, glycerite and compress.

*There are contra-indications present, especially if you are on anti-coagulant medication such as for a stroke.

 

Motherwort (Leonorus Cardiaca) – herb  *Lionheart

Motherwort is a good heart tonic. It reduces blood pressure and lowers cholesterol, also reducing hardening of the arteries.  It is a galactagogue and also a sedative. It is anti-spasmodic and aids in nervous complaints. It also reduces pain from angina pectoris.  It helps treat migraines and panic attacks, and is good for menopause.  It helps correct anemia, flatulence and diarrhoea.

This herb is used as a tincture, tea or powder (capsule)

*There are contra-indications, especially with pregnant women.

 

Gingko (Gingko Biloba) – leaf

Gingko slows ageing and reduces the risk of stroke.  It helps with anxiety and depression, improves blood flow to the brain (good for Alzheimers and demetia sufferers) and is also beneficial for diminishing eyesight.  It helps treat Raynaud’s Syndrome as well as preventing blood clots.  It improves recovery in heart attack victims and those who have suffered head traumas. It also aids with varicose veins and other circulatory conditions.  It is an anti-asthmatic, antispasmodic and an anti-inflammatory, as well as inhibiting immune-based disorders.  It also treats depression, dizziness and tinnitus.

This herb can be used as a tea, powder (capsules) or tincture.

*There are contra-indications for this herb, please see a qualified herbalist before taking it.

 

Lime (Tilia europa) – flowers  *Linden

Lime is a natural anti-spasmodic. It opens the arteries, reduces high blood pressure, hardening of the arteries and eases nervous palpitations.  It helps migraines, relieves sinus headaches, eases stress and nervous tension and helps in cold and flu.  It is very palatable and sweet-tasting – a popular herb with children in France. The cold tea is especially beneficial for hot flushes.

This herb is used as a tea (hot and cold) and as a tincture.

*There are contra-indications for this herb, especially for those on blood pressure medication.

 

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officianalis) – leaf

Rosemary stimulates blood flow to the brain, thereby aiding memory, easing migraines and improving circulation. It eases varicose veins, helps with low blood pressure and helps treat wounds.  It calms anxiety, helps hair regrowth, is an anti-inflammatory and also aids in loss of appetite  and other digestive problems. It works well with liver and gall bladder complaints, menstrual problems, eczema and toothache.  It is also known as a remedy for exhaustion.

This herb is used as a tea, gargle, wine, salve, bath, herb pillow, in cooking and as a tincture.

*There are contra-indications for this herb

 

Common Circulatory Complaint: High Blood Pressure

Three ways to relieve symptoms:

  1. Diet – change to low in salt and fat, meat-free if possible
  2. Use hawthorn tincture – care must be taken if other heart medications are used
  3. Meditation – mindfulness meditation to calm and reduce stress, creating compassion for self and others

 

Bibliography:

Bruton-Seal, J. & Seal, M. (2009) Hedgerow Medicine: Harvest and Make Your Own Herbal Remedies, Merlin Unwin Press

Davies, J. R. (2000) Healing Herbs: Hawthorn – Crataegus Monogyna, Penguin

Hopman, E. E. (2008) A Druid’s Herbal of Sacred Tree Medicine, Destiny Books

Künkele, U. & Lohmeyer, T.R. (2007) Herbs for Healthy Living: Recognition, Gathering, Use and Effect, Paragon


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Wild Foods! Foraging in the British Countryside

This month as part of my Herbcraft course we’re working on the Plant Realm – Wild Food. Here on the Suffolk coast there are lots of wild foods at pretty much any time of the year. With so many to choose from, it was hard to narrow it down to just nine for my course, so I’ve opted for some wild food combined recipes instead alongside nine available foods right now! All of the wild food listed here is found along the coast, heathland and bridleways of my home. It goes without saying: do not collect anything to eat unless you are absolutely sure of what it is.  There are many dangerous look-alikes that could seriously harm you, or even kill you. Also do not eat too much wood sorrel, as it contains oxalic acid that can cause upsets. That being said, foraging for wild food is one of the best and most rewarding ways to fill your plate, especially in the autumn!
Blackberry: found in hedgerows, sweet when fully ripe, tart when ripening. Eat straight off the bush, or use in smoothies, crumbles, eaton mess and other desserts.

Mushrooms: puffball and parasol, nutty and fleshy, found under trees, in lawns, along paths, dry soil. Use quickly after picking, as they don’t last (few hours) – great for frying or in a light batter. Wipe clean with a damp cloth.

Elderberries: found in hedgerows and forest, tart and juicy. Great for jams and wines. Also good as a syrup for winter coughs, colds and flu.

Haws: berries from the hawthorn tree, found in hedgerows and forest, tart and fleshy. Great for jams and jellies.

Rowan: berries from tree, found in hedgerows and forest, tart and juicy. Great for jelly.

Heather: flowers, found in abundance on heathland, sweet and earthy. Nice tea, as well as flavouring for beer and wine.

Crab apples: found along hedgerows and the occasional escapee in the woods, tart. Pectin in apples great to add to any hedgerow fruit for jams and jellies.

Rose hips: hedgerows and forest edges, strangely tart and sweet at same time! High vitamin C, lovely as jelly, also can be made into a syrup for coughs and colds in the winter.

Yarrow: young leaves and flowers, found fields and meadows, along bridleways and forest edges, mild bitter flavour. Use in salads or with flowers as a tea.

Recipes:

Springtime Soup – gather nettles (tops), alexanders (stalks) and cleavers (fresh shoots) in the spring. Fry an onion with alexanders stalks until softened and then add nettles and cleavers to pot, wilting them down. Add water and vegetable stalk, season to taste. Blitz in blender and serve. Scrumptious and packed full of vitamins and nutrients for a good, spring cleanse!

Spring Salad – mix together fresh young hawthorn, dandelion, chickweed, wood sorrel and yarrow leaves. Serve with a light dressing – maybe a blackberry and vinegar dressing from the previous autumn? Late summer/autumn you can make the same salad, just without any tree leaves as they now contain too many alkaloids. This recipe is more bitter than boring old iceberg lettuce, but so much tastier!

Mushroom Fry-Up – simply toss puffball and/or parasol mushrooms with a bit of butter/oil and garlic. Eat on toast or with eggs for breakfast. Gorgeous.

Raw Hedgerow Jam – gather haws, rowan, elder and blackberries along with some crabapples. Take off any stems and put together in blender. Add local honey (about halfway up the fruit) and blend together. Strain through muslin cloth into clean jars and wait for it to set (around two hours). Enjoy on yummy scones! Not as sweet as conventional jams, but equally delicious.

British Forager’s Stir-fry: stir-fry alexanders stalks, puffball and/or parasol mushrooms, samphire and blackberries with some garlic (you can use ransomes in the spring, or the ransomes bulb in the autumn). Just before serving wood sorrel and young fresh dandelion and yarrow leaves. A real taste of the British countryside.

Flower Power Teas: Just add water and allow to steep for 3 – 5 minutes with the following – heather flowers, chickweed, rose hips and petals, hawthorn flowers (can use leaves as well in spring – do not use any tree leaves after summer solstice, as they then contain too many alkaloids). Light and refreshing taste.

Breads: sweet chestnut or acorn with beech bread can be made by making nuts into a flour for pancakes, breads, scones and more. Do not eat too many beech nuts as they can cause stomach upsets – good to combine them with other nuts. Full-bodied, nutty and rich taste.

Eg. Making Acorn Flour
• Similar to other nuts, you’ll need to remove the shell of the acorns before you can consume them. There are different ways to do this: Nutcracker, pounding it with a hammer and removing the nut meat, or my favorite way is a two-step process: first cut them all in half with a large kitchen knife and then work at popping out the nut meat using the sharp point of a smaller knife.
• Now that you have all the nut meat out of the shells, you’ll want to grind these down as fine as possible. The old way is to use a big flat rock as your surface (acts as a mortar) and a smaller round rock used to crush and grind the nut (the pestle) into a fine consistency. Since I like to train in the old way but still use technology when possible, I like using my Greenstar juicer or a food processor. The nuts are softer than peanuts and will not damage these appliances.
• Leech the bitter tannins out of them before gobbling them down. To do this, bring a pot of water to a boil and pour the acorn meal in it. Let it boil for 5+ minutes making sure to stir the pot so that some of the acorn meal doesn’t stick and burn at the bottom. As an FYI, you could have skipped step 3 and just continued with this step, however I find that it takes way too long to process and wastes too much fuel. By using the ground up meal, it provides a greater surface area and leeches out the tannins much faster.
• After your initial boil, filter out the acorn flour with a cheesecloth or an old t-shirt (even a sock will do in a pinch). I like to place a colander in my sink and then place the t-shirt or cheesecloth over the colander making a bowl-like depression with it. After pouring the liquid into the cloth depression, be careful with the hot water. It’s best to pour cold water into the slurry until it cools off and you can then pick up the cloth filter to help strain the remaining water out. After filtering, you’ll want to do a taste test. Is it still bitter? If so, repeat steps 4 and 5 until the bitterness is out.
• At this point you’re left with essentially a ball of acorn-flour dough. If you want you can use this right away or if you want to save it for later, you can dry it out. To dry it out, simply spread it out flat onto a cookie sheet and place it in the oven at the lowest temperature until it is completely dry, or do the same thing but instead place it outside (this takes longer). Placing it in a food dehydrator also works great. After it has dried out you’ll probably notice that it has caked together (this is due to the high fat content). You can store it as is or further process it by crushing it into a powder (by hand or food processor). This acorn flour can then be used to make pancakes, bread, or added to cereals or soup.
*Acorn flour recipe from Tactical Intelligence Blog: http://tacticalintelligence.net/blog/how-to-make-acorn-flour.htm

Alcoholic drinks: Freeze some sloes or any other berries the night before. Empty half a bottle of vodka or gin (invite some friends around to help you!) and then fill up the bottle with the frozen berries until full. Leave in a cool dark place for a week or longer (if you are able and not tempted to drink it straight way), shaking up the contents every day. When you’re ready, strain and enjoy! Dee-lic-ious.


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Summer Madness

hawthornThings have been so busy here – I apologise for not posting as often as I’d like!  This month I am studying the heart and circulatory system, and herbs that benefit and aid both.  It’s a lot of hard work, going back and re-learning all my human anatomy and biology from over 25 years back when I was in high school! Thinking about blood, veins, arteries and the like always makes me a bit queasy, but I got through it 🙂

I went out yesterday and collected hawthorn, elderflower and birch leaves. I’ve made a hawthorn tincture with half of the harvest straight away, and am drying the other half of the leaves and flowers in my airing cupboard.  Put the flowers and leaves in a blender and cover with brandy, mix it up and then place in a jar in a cool, dark place for 1 month.  Strain and use as directed.

Hawthorn is such a wonderful plant, medicinally and spiritually. Medicinally, it is a heart tonic, a beta blocker (regulates rhythm and blood pressure), the best herb for circulation, protects the heart muscle, prevents heart attacks, helps promote sleep and is good for heartache (of all kinds).  Special care must be taken with hawthorn is one is one any sort of heart medication – seek out a qualified herbalist if you intend to use this and are on any medication!

Spiritually, it is the favourite fairy tree in folklore.  It is also one of the ogham trees in Druidry.  For a good blog post about the spiritual aspects of hawthorn, please see my friend Danu Forest’s post on SageWoman HERE.  (Note: she states that it is unlucky to bring hawthorn blossom into the house, and I would agree if you are using it simply as decoration – it’s always much better on the tree anyway, and good for bees and other wildlife. However, as a herbcraft practitioner, it is perfectly safe to bring indoors to use in your work.)

The elderflowers I am drying to use with some dried oak leaves I collected a couple of weeks ago, for a tea to treat coughs.  In the autumn when the elderberries are out I will collect those as well and add them to the mix.

The birch leaves I collected for a birch leaf tea, which is a good all around body tonic and quite refreshing.  The bark and sap are also really good spring tonics, but it is too late to collect the sap – it should be done before the leaves come out.  When collecting the bark, do not “ring” the trunk of the tree – instead collect some twigs and branches and use the inner bark of these.

Note: when collecting tree leaves, do so before the summer solstice, as afterward they may contain too many plant alkaloids.  reference: Ellen Evert Hopman, A Druid’s Herbal of Sacred Tree Medicine.