August 7, 2014
I have just recently completed my six month Shamanic Herbal Apprenticeship here in the beautiful West Coast Bush of Piha in New Zealand. We learnt how to connect with native trees, herbs and weeds, and then work with them to prepare a variety of healing remedies. We covered a bit of plant identification, wildcrafting, Materia Medica, herbal nutrition and cooking, plant essences, ointments, creams, tinctures, shampoos, eye drops and even learnt about the best herbs to use in smudgesticks. It was just divine.
The one thing we did, with every single day, was drink nourishing mineral rich herbal infusions. So today I am sharing a little about the importance of having minerals in the diet, and how to increase your intake simply by making these simple and tasty herbal preparations.
We regularly drunk infusions prepared with nettle, oatstraw, peppermint, hawthorn berries, red clover, licorice, damiana, comfrey and kawakawa (a New Zealand native). Herbs are able to gain access to all the wonderful minerals in the soil they grow in, then pass them on to us when we eat or drink them.
An infusion is simply a tea steeped for a lot longer, typically overnight. Water acts as a solvent and draws the minerals out of the plant and into the water. If your water turns a deep green colour after this process, then you know there are minerals in there! So drink them up!
I got into a nice habit of preparing a herbal infusion before bed, then straining the liquid out in the morning and using it as a base for my smoothie. My usual berry, greens and superfood spiked smoothies got taken to the next level with the addition of these herbs – nettle makes the water turn such a lush deep emerald green, and is a fantastic source of iron. Interestingly, a strong brew of oatstraw infusion has more calcium than milk. I keep a big pot of oatstraw on the stove and sip on it throughout the day.
Most health food or organic stores should stock dried nettle, oatstraw or red clover if you don’t have access to an unsprayed area to harvest them from. I live in the city so have to buy them dried like this. There is a great company called Austral Herbs that sell them bulk, organic, and I find this the cheapest way of purchasing. Of course, if you are lucky and have a wild garden, dig in!
Why we need minerals
“In the human body, minerals act as catalysts, participating in enzyme systems that allow the transformation of the food and air we breathe into energy, vibrant health, and consciousness.”
- Paul Bergner, The Healing Power of Minerals.
Minerals are important to wellbeing, and a deficiency in any of them can result in fatigue, mood swings, depression and a severely weakened immune system. A great analogy for their importance is that of the spark plugs in your car. Without them, it won’t be going in a hurry. This is just how they work in the human body.
Minerals are important as they;
• provide structural support for the body (bones and connective tissue)
• act as catalysts or co factors for enzyme reactions in the body
• allow electrical impulses to be conducted along the nerves
We cannot make them in our bodies so we need to be careful to get them from our diets. Today, it is increasingly hard to obtain minerals from the diet, as modern agriculture has depleted the soil of her stores. Chemical fertilisers, pesticides, fungicides and lack of crop rotation are to blame. I could not believe this fact when I read it, apples, in the United States in 1914, contained nearly half the minimum recommended daily amount of iron. Today, we would be lucky to find one-fiftieth (The Healing Power of Minerals, Paul Berger).
Where to get minerals from
Most minerals are found in rocks, soil, and the sea – which is simply a solution containing many of the minerals that make up the crust of the earth below. Not surprisingly then, sea vegetables (and seafood) are one of the best sources of minerals available to us, as they concentrate what is available in the sea.
Fun fact: the extracellular fluid in our bodies is of a very similar composition to that of sea water. The minerals from the earth’s crust are made available to us as they are eventually broken down into smaller particles by weather, geologically changes, or bacteria. From here, they become part of the soil that nourishes the plants, which then nourish us. Plants are a far richer source than animals are so eating sea vegetables and plants are our best bet at getting our quota.
To summarise, the best sources of minerals are;
- Wild plants grown in mineral rich soils
- Sea vegetables
There are two types of minerals needed for health, macro and micro (also known as trace) minerals. Both are vitally important – the macro minerals are named so simply because they are present, and are needed, in larger amounts in the body. The micro, or trace minerals, are needed in only very small amounts.
The macro (major) minerals include:
The micro/trace minerals are:
Toxic minerals include:
Most minerals can be toxic if you have too much of them. The good thing about minerals is that they are inorganic elements. This means, unlike vitamins, they are not heat sensitive, so we can heat or cook our mineral rich foods and still retain these precious elements.
Mineral Rich Herbs
Nettle, oatstraw and red clover are relatively easy to get a hold of, and are very rich in minerals.
Nettle makes a lovely, dark green infusion, it’s the one I have photographed above. It is a great healing support for the urinary tract and digestive tract. It is a great blood tonic. It is also beneficial for healthy hair – you can massage the infusion directly onto the scalp for hair loss. Nettle contains iron, calcium and magnesium, and many of the trace minerals. It nourishes the adrenals, balances the endocrine system and boosts immunity.
Oatstraw is the green tips found on oats. It has a pleasant mild, slightly sweet taste, and is particular good for the nervous system. It has more calcium than milk, and is a great source of B vitamins – which are the co factors for enzyme activity in the body. The B vitamins help us manage stress and give us energy. Oatstraw gives us beautiful hair and nails, and boosts libido.
Red clover can be seen growing all over grassy verges up and down your street – you will definitely have noticed it. I wouldn’t pick or use these though as they would have been exposed to so many car fumes. Red clover has an affinity for us ladies, and is particularly helpful for balancing the endocrine system, it is useful in menopause and for hot flushes. It has anti tumor and anti cancer properties. Red Clover has the B vitamins, calcium, chromium, molybdenum, nickel, potassium and more.
How to Make a Mineral Rich Herbal Infusion
This could quite simply be the easiest recipe in the world.
Fresh or dried herb
1 litre glass jar with a tight fitting lid
Fine mesh bag to strain the plant material through
- Fill a one litre glass jar ¼ full of your chosen dried or fresh herb (nettle, oatstraw, red clover)
- Pour boiling water into the jar, and fill it right to the very top.
- Screw the lid on tightly.
- Leave it overnight to infuse.
- In the morning, pour the liquid out, and strain the plant material. Give the plant material back to the soil – it will still have some beneficial minerals in there.
How to take your Mineral Rich Herbal Infusion
Drink your infusion chilled or heat it again on the stove – you can even use it as a base for your smoothies like I do. Keep any left over in the fridge for a few days, any longer and it may start to ferment. One last note, oatstraw is a bit tougher than the soft nettle leaves and red clover flowers. Once you have made your infusion, you can re use it by boiling it up in some hot water and preparing a tea, this way you will squeeze out as much of those minerals as possible.
July 30, 2014
Continuing on with last week’s theme of natural remedies in your own kitchen – today I have prepared a simple recipe that uses a common plant from the garden – Calendula. Calendula is that happy, bright yellow orange flower also known as pot marigold. It is often planted to help attract the bees as well as deter pests. Calendula has her own special healing powers, a well known remedy for all kinds of problems associated with the skin, and it’s for this reason that calendula is a popular ingredient in many herbal creams.
Calendula helps to soothe inflammation of the skin, and is helpful for eczema, psoriasis and acne. It is also good for wounds and physical injuries, as it has antiseptic and astringent qualities. You can steep some of the freshly picked petals in hot water to make a tea/infusion, then once cooled, pour over a cloth and use topically as a compress. If you have a sore throat, you can gargle with the tea instead. You can even help rid yourself of a wart by crushing the petals and rubbing the juice in. Clever little calendula!
Finally, not skin related but useful to know all the same, calendula can be used for gastro-intestinal problems. The plant’s astringent qualities enable it to draw skin and tissue together, making it great for ulcers, stomach cramps, and diarrhoea.
Carrots and Goji Berries for extra beautifying
All things bright red, orange and yellow tend to be good for the skin, they are rich in beta carotenes, the pigment in the plant that gets converted to vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A helps protect your eyes, can reduce wrinkles, improve wound healing, and soothe skin conditions. The carrots and goji berries in this recipe give us all of the above.
I wanted to keep this recipe as low GI as possible, because a friend I intend to enjoy them with is highly sensitive to sugars at the moment. I used rice malt syrup to sweeten the recipe, but you easily sub it out for coconut nectar or pure maple syrup – Manuka honey would also be great (another good one for the skin!). White miso is in there because it sneaks in a little good bacteria, and lends a subtle salty taste. You could also run with the flower theme and sprinkle in some flower essences for some extra magic.
Happy beauty bar making, beauties!
Calendula Beauty Bars
1 heaped cup calendula petals
¾ cup grated carrot
½ cup shredded coconut
½ cup almond meal
1 cup almonds
¼ cup goji berries
¼ cup sunflower seeds
¼ cup pumpkin seeds
2 tablespoons chia seeds
1 teaspoon vanilla paste/essence
½ cup coconut butter
¼ cup rice malt syrup
1 teaspoon white miso
1 tablespoon orange zest
- Place the coconut butter and rice malt syrup in a jug, and rest it over a bath of hot water to soften or liquefy.
- Roughly blitz the whole almonds in the food processor, just a little – we want to have a few chunks in there.
- Add all other dry ingredients, except the flower petals and goji berries, and pulse till combined.
- Pour the coconut butter and rice malt syrup into the mixture, and add the vanilla paste, pulse again till combined.
- Add the flower petals and goji berries at the end for one final quick pulse.
- Transfer mixture to an 8 inch square cake tin lined with baking paper, use the back of a spoon to flatten the surface. Press slivered almonds over the top to decorate, and perhaps some extra orange zest.
- Freeze to set, cut into 8 large bars to serve.
July 24, 2014
Without even really realising it, we often have a treasure trove of natural, powerful, safe medicines growing on our window sills or sitting in our pantries. The everyday, common herbs and spices we adorn our foods with should not be overlooked for their medicinal properties. More than simply adding culinary flare, these beauties have so much more to offer. Today, I am showing you some of my favourites, and how to use them.
Stimulant, tonic, carminative, spasmolytic, rubefacient (reddens the skin), antiseptic.
Cayenne certainly grabs your attention. It is a wonderful cardiovascular tonic and circulatory stimulant, helping to reduce cholesterol and triglycerides, improve the blood flow through the veins and arteries and increase warmth. Cayenne is a strong antioxidant, and a great digestive tonic – it helps to increase gastrointestinal juices and stimulate appetite. Used topically, it works as a counterirritant while simultaneously blocking pain receptors.
How to use it:
A pinch in a glass of water (with lemon and honey to flavour it).
Warming stimulant, carminative (dispels gas), aromatic, astringent (contracts body tissues), antispasmotic, antiseptic, antiviral.
Cinnamon powder is ground from the dried inner bark of the tree. It is traditionally used for digestive ailments, particularly, flatulence, irritable bowel, nausea and diarrhoea. It is also useful for menstrual irregularities and fighting yeast infections.
How to use it:
Add a teaspoon to your smoothies or sprinkle over a hot drink.
Combines well with ginger.
Carminative (dispels gas), mild local anaesthetic for toothache, warming stimulant, antiseptic, antispasmodic.
Clove is a great remedy for toothache, and chewing on a clove bud may help anaesthetise the area before you get to see a dentist. It is also a great carminative, combining well with other warming spices such as cinnamon, cardamom and ginger – in a lovely chai tea for example – to help ease gastric distress and improve digestion.
How to use it:
Chew fresh cloves for toothache, or dab a cotton tip in the oil and dab onto the affected area.
Stimulant, carminative (dispels gas), antispasmodic, antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, diaphoretic (induces sweating), rubefacient (causes redness of the skin), anti-emetic (prevents nausea and vomiting).
Perhaps my all time favourite, simply because it is so versatile. Ginger is a true remedy for many digestive complaints. It works as a carminative to help ease wind and bloating. It eases indigestion. And it works a treat for nausea, whether it be from an upset tummy, morning or travel sickness. Aside from its therapeutic use for digestive ailments, it is also a fantastic circulatory stimulant, and helps bring blood flow to the surface. As a stimulant, ginger can also help increase sweating, which is useful in case of a fever, to bring the body temperature down. Finally, ginger is useful for treating respiratory conditions. Soothing to coughs and colds and even sore throats when taken as a gargle.
How to use it:
Make an infusion: slice an inch of ginger and steep in hot water.
Antispasmodic, antiseptic, antiemetic, carminative, analgesic (relieves pain), nervine, aromatic, diaphoretic.
Peppermint is so easy to grow and soothing to the digestive tract. A well known stomach tonic, it helps to promote digestion, ease flatulence, cramps, spasms, and bring relief to irritable bowel syndrome. Peppermint contains menthol, an aromatic oil that has antimicrobial and antiviral properties. You can use a little peppermint oil blended with your lip balm to help treat cold sores – in addition to being antiviral, it is soothing, cooling, and relieves pain. Peppermint can also help improve the flow of bile and break up gallstones.
How to take it:
Peppermint makes a lovely infusion. It also helps make other herbal infusion more palatable.
Diuretic, carminative, expectorant, antispasmodic, antimicrobial, gastric tonic, uterine tonic, emmenagogue.
Parsley is one of my favourite herbs because it helps us ladies out so much with all things pelvis, bladder and uterus related. Parsley is a natural diuretic and helps eliminate bloating and water retention. Not only that, it also helps maintain kidney and bladder health, by assisting with the elimination of waste. As an emmenagogue, parsley helps to stimulate blood flow to the pelvic region and the uterus, making it helpful in encouraging a delayed period and in relieving menstrual pain. It is also a great digestive, helping dispel gas. Finally, parsley sprigs chewed at the end of the meal help to freshen the breath (thanks to all that lovely chlorophyll!).
How to take it:
Again, as an infusion, or by adding a handful to your smoothies.
Antispasmodic, antiseptic, parasiticide, carminative, choleretic (stimulates the output of bile), diuretic, sedative, anti-depressive, circulatory tonic.
Rosemary stimulates the circulatory and nervous systems, making it useful for treating headaches and migraines. You can either take it internally as an infusion, or externally as an oil. It improves blood flow and strengthens fragile blood vessels. Rosemary also helps reduce flatulence and stimulates the digestive tract and gallbladder, to increase the flow of bile. It has antibacterial and antifungal properties. It is also helpful for painful periods.
How to use it:
Place a few stems in hot water and steep, to drink as an infusion.
Dry the herb and prepare as an infused oil to rub on your temples when you have a headache.
Antiseptic, carminative, astringent, aromatic, tonic, reduces sweating, oestrogenic.
The botanical name for Sage, Salvia, is a Latin derivative that means to save. Sage is great for oral health. Like parsley, it helps freshen the breath, and can be used as a mouthwash. The astringent and antiseptic properties help prevent gum disease and mouth ulcers. Try it as a gargle with a little added apple cider vinegar for sore throats, laryngitis or tonsillitis. Take it as an infusion to help settle the stomach and fight inflammation. Its astringent properties will help ease mild diarrhoea (astringent simply means the drawing together of body tissues). It also has oestrogenic action – it can help stimulate breast milk production and ease hormonal nights sweats and hot flushes.
How to use it:
Prepare as an infusion to either drink or gargle.
As a mouthwash.
Antiseptic, anti-microbial, anti-spasmodic, anti-microbial, anthelmintic (anti-parasitic), astringent (contracts body tissues), carminative, expectorant.
This little Mediterranean shrub contains volatile oil that helps settle a grumpy stomach. It is strongly antiseptic so this makes it useful for treating sore throats, tonsillitis and laryngitis as a gargle. As an expectorant (relieves chest congestion and expels mucous), it is particularly good for coughs.
You can use it topically (as a cream) to treat an infected wound.
How to use it:
Pick a little fresh from the garden, steep in hot water and enjoy.
Stimulant, carminative (dispels gas), aromatic, digestive, anti-inflammatory.
Available whole, or as a bright golden yellow powder, turmeric is useful for inflammatory conditions such as arthritis, asthma, skin conditions and inflammatory bowel. It is also rich in antioxidants and vitamins A, C and E. Cancer protective and anti tumor.
How to use it:
Slice it fresh and steep in hot water to take as an infusion (a little lemon and honey combine well like this).
Add half a teaspoon of the powder to your smoothies.
July 17, 2014
I often get asked about the correct way to soak and activate nuts, and why it is beneficial. So today’s post demystifies this simple process so you can enjoy healthy and extra tasty nuts, raw or in your cooking (or un-cooking!).
Why activate them?
Nuts and seeds are sleeping. They are not yet ready to germinate. To protect them in their dormant state, they have an anti-nutrient called phytic acid, which tastes very bitter and deters the pesky birds and other pests from bothering them until it is time to wake up and grow. Phytic acid, when ingested, will bind to minerals in the digestive tract such as iron, calcium and zinc, inhibiting your absorption of them. In order to release this anti-nutrient, nuts and seeds are best soaked and even sprouted – also known as being ‘activated’. The process of soaking mimics an environment in which they may start to grow. Activating your nuts is indeed beneficial, especially for those with compromised digestion.
You can activate any nut or seed with a skin. Try almonds, brazil nuts, hazelnuts, walnuts, pumpkin seeds and pecans. You may be surprised at how much tastier and less bitter they are after this process.
Generally, those that are pale and have no skins such as cashews and macadamias do not need to be activated.
One last note – I like to use a splash of lemon juice or apple cider vinegar, as it helps facilitate the process – but even just using water is perfectly fine.
A large quantity of raw, organic nuts (or seeds)
Apple cider vinegar
- Place your raw nuts (or seeds) in a large glass bowl and cover with filtered water
- Add a small splash of apple cider vinegar
- Let soak for a minimum of two hours, ideally overnight
- Drain the water
- Spread evenly on a dehydrator tray and dehydrate at 115˚F till completely dry. Store in an airtight container.
July 10, 2014
Poor Nana has such bad circulation in her hands and feet because she has a slightly delicate heart, so I made her this beautiful fragrant oil to use as a stimulating foot rub. This is a nice recipe to play with in winter since it’s so cold, and the simple ingredients used are warming and boost the blood flow. I’ve used ginger, rosemary and olive oil, and the nice thing is, these are all things you may already have at home. A few drops of basil essential oil adds a divine scent. The most important part of preparing a home remedy of course (or a meal), is to set your intentions before you make it. It’s in this way that you can really amplify the healing properties of the plants. Here is a little more on each of the ingredients…
Rosemary has long been considered the herb for circulation and memory enhancement. It is often referred to as the ‘herb of remembrance’ and a sprig of it on your desk is said to help improve your memory as you study. The essential oils also act as a pick-me-up, stimulating the central nervous system. A mix of lavender together with rosemary is also said to lift the spirits and ease depression. The substances in the herb help slow the breakdown of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, in turn helping prevent Alzheimer’s. It doesn’t just improve blood flow to the brain, but to the rest of the body as well. It is rich in antioxidants, which help prevent free radical damage and protect the delicate capillaries. The oils are wonderful for muscular pain.
Also considered a circulatory stimulant, ginger is one of my favourites as it is so readily available, smells and tastes divine, and has so many therapeutic benefits. Aside from promoting blood flow, it is also highly anti-inflammatory, and useful in cases of nausea, travel sickness and upset tummies. If you have cold hands and feet, a little ginger will help bring the blood to the surface.
Basil Essential Oil
I added a few drops of Basil essential oil because it is indicated for Rheumatism and pain in the joints and connective tissue. This was specifically for my Nana. It smells so lovely, but other alternatives for a circulation tonic would be Cedarwood, Cypress, Bitter Orange, Sandalwood and Thyme.
If you are after specific foods or herbs to help increase circulation you can try;
Rosemary and Ginger Circulation Oil
1 fresh ginger
1 good handful fresh rosemary
250ml olive oil
Few drops essential oil of your choice
- Slice your ginger into really thin pieces like the photograph above
- Spread them out on a dehydrator tray with the rosemary and dehydrate till all moisture has been removed. It is important to have dry plant material when making infused oils so that they don’t ferment.
- Fill a glass jar with all of your dried plant material, then pour the oil over the top, right to the very top so there is no space for any air to get in. Add your essential oils.
- Gently tap the jar on a hard surface to remove any bubbles, then cap the lid.
- Let it infuse like this for about two weeks.
- After this time, decant into a small bottle, and store in dark, cool place. Massage into your hands and feet to boost the circulation.