Nov 192011

 We’re nearing the end of one of  my favorite times of the year,  Autumn and with that comes  change. The intoxicating  smells of rotting leaves mix  with rich earth to create a  heady perfume unparalleled  anywhere else. Death and life  seems to be everywhere at  once: bare trees with their  recently lost leaves swirling in  the sky while little warm spells cause flowers to blossom in a last ditch effort to continue their species. It’s a paradoxical season for an often paradoxical world and it’s beautiful. Now that summer’s high energy has wound itself down and cool weather approaches more by the day I find my energy, like that of the plants around me, moving downward and inward. I seek more solitude and more quiet time, time for reflection and introspection.

In Chinese medicine Autumn, ruled by the element Metal, is characterized as a time of letting go as well as of inspiration. It is ruled by the lungs and the colon, both organs of elimination and so is an appropriate time for gentle cleansing (look for a future post on fall cleansing!)

It seems to me that so many people these days are caught up in the “what can I take for X mentality” that they forget an integral part of true healing: awareness. Awareness comes in many shapes, sizes and forms and it is of course impossible to be aware of all things at one time. However, cultivating awareness, awareness of self and of one’s body, can be deeply rewarding and healing to those suffering from illness or even a simple lack of connection.

I try to be aware of my surroundings, of appreciating all that’s around me but I admit: I’m not perfect. In the height of summer much of my attention is devoted to finding plants, making medicine or otherwise having an agenda. As I seek more solitude from this fast paced life I find myself wandering more through some of my favorite trails or taking naps in a favorite meadow with no real goal or purpose in mind, no task or pretense, just being. This is the time to throw all that away, lay face down on the ground and roll in the leaves until their intoxicating perfume is permeating your very being. Relax, have fun and let go.

Cultivating this awareness can deepen one’s connection to self and to one’s surroundings. It can allow you to have a more complete understanding of what’s happening with your body, something that is too often missing in this modern culture. Don’t get overwhelmed, nobody understands everything in a day. Learning one’s body is an ongoing process, it’s dynamic not static and the body goes through many changes; as we grow so does the body and its needs. Start simple: visit a favorite meadow under a full moon, whether with a friend, a lover or yourself and just be. Watch the sky, smell the Earth below you, feel the wind in your hair. If you’re cold feel it. What does it really feel like to be cold? What sensations or memories does it provoke? Feel your body’s response to it. Try finding some woods or a river near where you live and take a long well deserved nap under autumn’s dying sunlight. As the amber light filters through the trees and brushes your cheeks, feel that last bit of warmth from the fading sun. Soak up the smells and feelings you get and laugh. Laugh at the silliness of the world, laugh when you take yourself too seriously, laugh and feel inspired.


As flowers give way to seeds, herbage dies back and energy descends into roots to be stored for the winter take this time to let old things go, old habits die and assess how you are feeling in this season of transition. Take time to be with yourself, nourish yourself and love yourself and you’ll find not only a deeper connection with the world around you but with yourself as well.


Nov 032011

Nourishing infusions have got to be one of my favorite ways to ingest plants.

Nettle about to be infused overnight (photo by Andrea Salzman)

They are often loaded with vitamins and minerals and are a rich source of phytochemicals. So what is a nourishing infusion you ask? First let’s define what an infusion is. An infusion is basically any plant matter that is covered with boiling water and steeped for anywhere from a couple of minutes to a couple of hours. A nourishing infusion tends to be an infusion that is made from gentle, nourishing, mineral rich plants and are steeped for several hours or even overnight. This allows for maximum diffusion of the various chemicals from the plant to flow into the water.

I particularly like nourishing infusions because not only do they pack a nutritional punch, they are also easy to make and relatively convenient. I have found the best way to do them is prepare them just before turning in for the night. In this way, I can go to sleep and wake up with a lovely, deep and nourishing drink that I can carry with me throughout the day. In the morning you can strain off the herbs and then either drink it as is or reheat it. Typically I drink them room temperature in the spring and summer and heat them in the fall and winter. Most of these infusions are going to be tonics (read as slow acting) and should be used over a long period of time for best results.

The process: It’s simple. Get a clean quart jar and fill it with anywhere from a ¼ cup to a full cup of plant material and fill the jar with boiling water. Screw on a lid and let it sit. Done. The greatest thing about these, perhaps, is their versatility. Feel free to experiment: try them with honey, herbal honeys, mix and match and have fun. Below are listed some of my favorite plants for these overnight infusions and a little blurb on what they may help with.

Catnip Oatstraw infusion ready to be strained (Photo by Andrea Salzman)

Nettles-(Urtica dioica)- Often hailed as the king of mineral rich plants, nettles are indeed a powerhouse of vitamins and minerals. They are a great tonic to worn out adrenals and can help build up nutritionally deficient constitutions. Here’s a little tidbit I picked up from herbalist and friend Kiva Rose, if you find that drinking nettles is causing you to need to visit the bathroom more than usual (and believe me, I do) try adding a bit of Marshmallow (althea/malva spp.) leaves and/or roots or a bit of licorice. Their moistening nature can counteract some of nettles dryness.

Hawthorn-(Crataegus spp.)- Well known for being a functional heart tonic, Hawthorn also has a place in the emotional realm. For functional heart problems (mild CHF, arrhythmia, palpitations, etc.), Hawthorn needs to be drunk regularly and in large quantities and a nourishing infusion is a great way to get in all that flavonoid-rich goodness. Emotionally, I have found hawthorn to act quicker and find it cheers me up when I’ve had a long, stressful and emotion filled day. It is used to ease heartbreak and can have a place in treating emotional trauma.

Oats-(Avena Sativa)- If Nettles is the King of mineral rich plants than Oats is his Queen. Oats are also a rich source of vitamins and minerals (and yes, it is the same plant you get your oatmeal from). Oats are useful for building up energy and stamina to a depleted nervous system. They are also useful as tonics to those of us who don’t get enough vitamins/minerals in our diets (you know who you are). Oats are also useful in building up energy after being sick. Combine them with nettles to kick things up a bit.

Tulsi-(Ocimum tenuiflorum)- Tulsi, also known as Holy Basil, is a sacred herb in India with a long history of use. It is aromatic and warming and just all around wonderful; I like to call it a hug in a mug. One of its constituents (eugenol) is the same chemical responsible for giving cloves their earthy warm taste which, unlike regular basil (Ocimum basilicum), places it on the more warm end of the spectrum making it an ideal fall beverage.Often cited as helping to lower elevated cortisol (the ‘stress’ hormone) Ocimum is wonderful for calming an overexcited nervous system. Conversely, its aromatic nature also gives it a place in treating stagnant depression by helping to move things along. I like it combined with nettle or on its own.

Chamomile-(Matricaria recutita)- Chamomile. It’s an herb that almost everyone knows, even those that don’t ascribe to herbal medicine will often be heard telling people to drink chamomile. Chamomile is probably the archetypal remedy for all things involving digestion and indeed it is quite useful. It’s bitter and aromatic and can help ease gas, chronic digestive upset and symptoms of GERD. It is also useful for mild anxiety and stress, particularly when they involve GI upset. An herbalist friend who uses chamomile for insomnia says it works best with a bit of honey added. Try it and let me know.

Catnip-(Nepeta cataria)- Catnip is an underrated and underused herb in my opinion. I have to admit I’ve always thought of it as, well, weak. However during a period of intense anxiety I found a strong cup of catnip to calm me down so well I could hardly believe it. When I combined it with a little Blue Vervain (Verbena hastata) it nearly knocked me out! It is great for digestive trouble that moves up (i.e. vomiting, burping, gas) and like chamomile, great for anxiety that causes GI symptoms (though I find Nepeta a bit stronger). It definitely works acutely but it is still mild enough that it can be taken long term for more chronic issues.

Raspberry-(Rubus spp.)- Like both Nettles and Oats, Raspberry leaves are a rich source of vitamins and minerals. They tend to have an affinity for the female reproductive system and make a wonderful, nourishing tonic for female-bodied folks to drink on the regular. They are slightly astringent and can help tone loose, lax tissues (as in excess bleeding, etc.) and consumed regularly and as part of a larger protocol may help many functional female disorders. Like Nettles, they are a rich source of Iron and are especially beneficial when drunk during menses.

Meadowsweet-(Filipendula ulmaria)- Meadowsweet is best known as a gut anti-inflammatory. Like a few other plants, it contains salicylates (specifically methylsalicylates) which are in part responsible for its anti-inflammatory action. Methylsalicylates is the taste of Wintergreen and at one time was a part of what gave root beer it’s creamy, aromatic flavor. Meadowsweet is a great nourishing infusion when you have chronic GI problems from simple gastritis to more complex Crohn’s. It won’t solve everything but it’s a great start and it tastes good. What could be better?

There are many more herbs that can be made into nourishing infusions, these are just a few of my favorites. When thinking of herbs to use remember to keep it simple, safe and nourishing and it will make a great nourishing infusion.