Oct 052020

With the change of seasons and the arrival of cooler and shorter days, the wisdom of Chinese medicine offers us some helpful suggestions for staying healthy during this time of year.

According to Chinese medicine, keeping the lungs strong and healthy is especially important during the fall. Taking walks outside and breathing exercises strengthen the lungs. Protecting yourself from becoming chilled, particularly by wearing a scarf around the neck, is a good illness prevention measure as wind and cold are said to be “the cause of 100 diseases.” Grief is the emotion associated with the lungs, so finding ways to deal with grief such as by allowing yourself to cry, talking with a trusted person about how you feel, getting an acupuncture treatment and/or doing some self-massage and breathing exercises (here’s a great video!) can help you process and move through grief in a healthy way.

Certain types of foods and drinks have beneficial health properties for us during the fall season. In particular, there are several that are warming in nature, aiding in blood circulation and boosting immune function. Warming spices such as cinnamon, ginger, garlic, onion and scallions are especially beneficial for people who tend to become chilled easily. Try a hot Chai tea, adding some cinnamon to oatmeal, or cooking a delicious soup or dish with garlic, onions and/or scallions.

Pears are beneficial particularly when steamed or lightly cooked to relieve cough and cold symptoms. They reduce coughing and excessive mucous/phlegm production while moistening and soothing the throat. They’re also generally good as a tonic for the lungs, so they’re a great choice to eat even when you’re not experiencing any upper respiratory symptoms.

Consuming more cooked vegetables and less raw foods such as salads strengthens the digestion and overall health during this time of year.

Enjoy the season and stay healthy!

Justine Myers, Lic. Ac.

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Jun 192020

Written by Meghan Gemma with Juliet Blankespoor
Photography by Juliet Blankespoor
(except where credited)


Your garden wants to feed you—not just with the cultivated plants you tuck into the soil, but with a profusion of wild greens and herbs that spring up of their own generous accord. These feral guests surpass domestic veggies in nutrition and are often brimming with medicine, which makes them worthy of our attention and care in cultivated spaces. In fact, you might consider celebrating their arrival with a bit of seasonal fanfare—another helping of compost, anyone?

These “weeds,” which include lamb’s quarters, plantain, and red clover, will naturally arrive and make themselves at home in your garden—and can peacefully cohabitate with planted veggies and herbs. You can employ plenty of tricks to help them play nice, and, as a reward for acting as a botanical referee, you’ll harvest even more food and medicine from your garden! This is the bounty that grows in-between: the medicine and food that you didn’t plant but still get to reap.

Plant teacher Frank Cook, who has passed on, used to say that more than half the bounty of a garden could be found in the “in-between” in the form of useful opportunistic plants. People all around the world capitalize on this abundant resource, casually “cultivating” weeds in the in-between spaces.

Let’s take lamb’s quarters (also known as wild spinach) as an example of this useful-weed-and-planted-crop polyculture. In my garden, I leave the lamb’s quarters that comes up between recently planted vegetable and herb crops. After harvesting the wild spinach for a few weeks or a month, the veggies fill out, and then I pull out the lamb’s quarters and use it as mulch for the garden. Wild spinach requires no additional tending and is relatively disease and insect free.

Why wouldn’t we invite low-maintenance and nutritious wild plants to populate our gardens? This is practical, sustainable, and reliable kitchen gardening at its best.


Lamb's quarters (Chenopodium album)


Lamb’s Quarters
(Chenopodium album, Amaranthaceae)

If I had to recommend just one wild food to let run rampant in your garden, it might be lamb’s quarters. This edible is common, easy to identify, and a nutritional powerhouse. In fact, lamb’s quarters is so desirable as a food plant that it was cultivated by early Eurasian and North American peoples—predating corn as a staple crop.1

Lamb’s quarters is well aware of the fertile opportunities presented by your garden, and will appear in the springtime as dainty seedlings with arrowhead- or goose foot-shaped leaves (cheno = goose, podium = foot). The seedlings quickly develop into stout plants that typically reach maturity at 3 to 5 feet (0.9–1.5 meters) in height. A classic identification trait is the textured, waxy bloom found on the undersides of the leaves resembling miniature pearls of dew.

I strongly favor the rich, mineral flavor of lamb’s quarters, which is also called wild spinach. Like many wild foods, lamb’s quarters is more nutritionally endowed than its domestic counterpart, garden spinach (Spinacia oleracea). It is a superior source of iron, calcium, zinc, and potassium, and also provides trace minerals, B-complex vitamins, and vitamin C. Plus, lamb’s quarters is delicious.

If you’re excited about bringing this nourishing plant into the kitchen, see our recipe for Wild Greens Pâté, or substitute a couple handfuls of lamb’s quarters leaves into saag paneer (a family favorite at our house). You can use lamb’s quarters anywhere that you would traditionally use spinach—in omelets, stir-fries, spanakopita, soups, and casseroles. The leaves can also be dried and reconstituted for later use.

If you’d like to know more about identifying, cultivating, and using wild spinach, please see our in-depth article on Lamb’s Quarters.



(Plantago spp., Plantaginaceae)

I rejoice at plantain’s return each spring, and return it does—in great numbers and with tenacious vigor. In truth, plantain seems to have a penchant for hard living—it’s not unusual to find it spreading its leaves over the gravelly surface of driveways and parking lots. You’re also likely to see it sprinkled about the lawn and certainly in the soft soil of your garden (even tough plants like to take it easy sometimes). This adaptability means that plantain is almost always around when you need it—which may be more often than you’d think. I’m not exaggerating when I say plantain is one of my most reached-for warm season remedies.

You will commonly see and use two types of plantain for medicine: broadleaf plantain (Plantago major) and narrowleaf plantain (P. lanceolata). The botanical differences are implied in their names: broadleaf plantain has wide, oval-shaped leaves, while narrowleaf plantain bears leaves that are long and slender. Both species grow basal leaves, although P. major’s will hug the ground more closely than P. lanceolata’s, whose leaves stand more erect.

The flowers of each species are also remarkable and distinct. P. major raises a sturdy green stalk that bears miniature white blooms and, eventually, a motherload of tiny seeds. The stalk, which I liken to a wizard’s wand, may wave anywhere between 3 inches and 1 foot (7 to 30 cm) in height. P. lanceolata, on the other hand, sprouts long, slender stems upon which sits one wizard’s hat each—a cylindrical or cone-shaped flower head encircled by starry white flowers and stamens.

The plantains possess prominent parallel leaf ribs that become fibrous and stringy by late spring. If you plan to dine on plantain, it’s best to gather the tender greens early in the season and add them fresh to salads and smoothies. Later, when the leaves become tough to chew, they can still be used in teas, fresh-pressed juices, and soup stocks.

I will say that I keep a close eye on plantain in the garden. A few years back, I encouraged several narrowleaf plantains to languish in my herb and vegetable beds for the sheer appreciation of their beauty. However, when it came time for the plants to disperse their seeds, they went straight to town (and to every corner of the garden). I still welcome plantain into my cultivated spaces, but I take care to snip off the flowering parts before they set seed.

Note: The plantains we’re discussing here are not related to the banana-like fruit by the same name (Musa genus).

Plantain’s Medicinal Uses

Parts used: Leaves and seeds (all plantain species are interchangeable as medicine)
Preparations: Infusion, poultice, salve, sitz bath, food, vinegar
Herbal Actions:

  • Vulnerary
  • Demulcent
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Antimicrobial
  • Mild astringent
  • Nutritive
  • Expectorant

Plantain is one of our finest first aid remedies, in large part because it’s so common and therefore frequently on hand right when you need it. It is also a true and proven healer that quickly brings cooling, moistening relief to rashes, burns, blisters, and other skin inflammations. Its cooling properties calm painful heat and its vulnerary qualities help to repair tissues. This also makes plantain a remedy of choice for wounds, cuts, scrapes, splinters, and bites and stings from insects, spiders, bees, and mosquitoes. Plantain’s antimicrobial qualities make it effective even when infection is present.

On a recent barefoot walk in the woods, I stepped on a piece of glass that left a small sliver embedded in my foot. I wasn’t able to remove the shard and it quickly became too painful to walk without limping. I stopped to soak my foot in a cold mountain stream and then picked a few leaves: wild hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens) for astringency and sheer softness, yarrow (Achillea millefolium) for its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, and plantain for quick, cool relief. I chewed everything up, spit it out in my hand, and applied the wad to the bottom of my foot. I sealed the poultice with a violet leaf (Viola spp.) and slipped a sandal on. While I continued to favor my other foot, the relief was immense and immediate. The next morning, the pain and swelling were gone altogether.

Plantain’s fresh leaves, applied as the elegantly simple chew-and-spit poultice described above, is a classic on-the-fly remedy that you’ll likely use again and again. You can also dry the leaves for winter use, rehydrating them with a little warm water as needed.

Taken internally, plantain is a healer for inflammatory conditions of the digestive tract—ulcers, leaky gut, acid reflux, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). A strong infusion of the leaves is recommended for best results, although it can also be taken as food. The seeds, which are high in mucilaginous fiber, are moistening to the digestive tract and can aid in bowel regularity.2

The strong tea is soothing for hot, dry conditions of the lungs, including persistent, hacking coughs and irritation from inhaling particulate matter. Recently, I was spreading mulch on my garden from a round bale of hay. As I pulled armfuls away from a moldy portion of the bale, the air filled with green clouds of fungal spores. Half an hour later, I was coughing in fits and my lungs were aching. This persisted for a couple of hours before I took action (silly herbalist faux pas) and brewed up a pint of plantain and peppermint (Mentha x piperita) tea. In less than 15 minutes my cough had subsided and my chest had relaxed. The effect was so notable my partner commented on it before bed. Give thanks for the common healing herbs!

Contraindications: There are no known contraindications.



Red Clover
(Trifolium pratense, Fabaceae)

The swaying grace of red clover in bloom is reason enough to let it grow up between your lettuce and kale. In general, I love flowers of all kinds mixed into the greenery of a garden—edible, medicinal, and ornamental. In this light, red clover has a lot to offer. The young leaves and fuschia flowers are edible; the blooms are medicinal, and they are altogether as charming as a meadow in May.

Red clover is also a nitrogen-fixing legume whose sturdy roots help to break up compacted or clayey soils. This means it works double-duty on behalf of your garden while it fulfills a cornucopia of other uses. It is often grown as a gorgeous cover crop for this reason. According to wild foods writer, Roger Phillips, red clover is traditionally planted in fields where corn has been grown to restore fertility to the soil, earning it the name “mother of corn.”3

Red clover is an early summer wildflower that grows in fields and pastures as well as in the welcoming earth of your garden. The leaves bear charming white chevrons, the sepals are intricately patterned, and the round blossoms dance along the pink-purple spectrum. Red clover is one of our tallest clovers, reaching toward the sky up to 18 inches (46 cm) or so in height.

As an edible, red clover’s flavor is fresh and sweet. Both the tender young leaves and fuzzy blossoms can be added to salads and such, and they make an enchanting garnish. I enjoy adding red clover to seasonal herbal vinegars—it makes a regular appearance in this Springtime Fairy Vinegar. Red clover tea is delicious, offering us both a pleasant medicine and a refreshing summertime beverage. The individual pink florets each cradle a drop of nectar at their base—pull them from the flower head and enjoy much as you would honeysuckle.

Being possessed of a wide range of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients, red clover is a versatile and nourishing food-medicine. The leaves and flowers are rich in vitamins B and C, bioflavonoids, magnesium, zinc, copper, and selenium.1

Be sure to gather red clover in its freshest state, which is typically in late spring or early summer. Pinch off the flower heads, including the leaves nestled beneath the blooms. If the flowers are beginning to turn brown, pass them by. Use fresh, or dry immediately.

Drying red clover requires special care as the blossoms can easily mold, oxidize, and ferment. I like to spread them on a clean screen and place them in a dry, warm place with good airflow. I try to remember to shuffle them each day to disperse any lingering moisture. Because red clover requires extra care, I recommend growing or gathering your own if possible. Commercial red clover is often of poor quality.

Red Clover’s Medicinal Uses

Parts used: Flowering parts; upper leaves and blossoms
Infusion, food, vinegar, poultice, oil
Herbal Actions:

  • Alterative
  • Lymphagogue
  • Phytoestrogen
  • Nutritive tonic

Red clover is a traditional liver and blood tonic, and an esteemed reproductive herb. I use it in two primary ways: as a cleansing, alterative remedy and as a phytoestrogen for addressing hormone imbalances in women.

As an alterative, red clover’s cleansing and detoxifying properties help rid the body of metabolic wastes as it nourishes the liver and kidneys. Combined with herbs like burdock (Arctium lappa, A. minus) and chickweed (Stellaria media), red clover is a beneficial daily tonic for skin conditions like acne, eczema, and psoriasis. Its proclivity for creating movement in the body also gently stimulates the lymph, and it can be used for lymphatic swellings and as a mild, nourishing medicine for the immune system.

Red clover is a classic herbal phytoestrogen—a source of plant estrogen that is capable of binding to estrogen-receptor sites in the body and eliciting an estrogenic effect. This makes red clover beneficial for folks with hormonal imbalances and conditions such as infertility, early menopause and menopausal complications, breast lumps or tenderness, irregular menstruation, and painful menstruation. See our article on phytoestrogens for a detailed explanation of how they function, when to use them, and how to integrate them into your diet.

As a complement to its other uses, red clover is deeply nutritive and can be taken daily as a nourishing tonic. It can aid in convalescence, debilitating illness, or when other foods are not desired. Its sweet flavor is building to the tissues and invites pleasure into the ritual of taking one’s medicine. Red clover is best prepared as tea for medicinal use so its mineral content is preserved.

Contraindications: Avoid using brown, moldy, or fermented blossoms. These can dangerously thin the blood. Red clover is a traditional folk remedy for cancers and lymphatic swellings. However, there is some speculation that its phytoestrogenic properties may exacerbate estrogen-receptor-positive cancer. Until there is more research, it is recommended that people who have, or have had, estrogen receptor-positive cancer refrain from using red clover.

Other Wild Edible + Medicinal Garden Herbs

Curious who else might show up to your garden party without RSVPing? The following guest list isn’t comprehensive and the descriptions are brief, but you’ll meet some of our all-time favorite herbal free spirits. Please do extra research on their medicinal and edible uses, identification, and possible contraindications. We’ve included links to our other articles where applicable, and you can refer to this list of our Favorite Foraging Books for field guides and culinary inspiration.


Harvesting chickweed (Stellaria media)


Chickweed (Stellaria media), with its starburst blooms and tender green leaves, is the forager’s poster child. It arrives in the cool, moist days of early spring and is likewise cooling and moistening as a medicine. Chickweed is a helpful remedy for hot, dry conditions like irritating coughs, acne, boils, diaper rash, and blisters. It is also a classic spring cleansing herb and nutritive wild food. You can read more about chickweed in our article on the Ten Best Wild Foods for Beginning Foragers + Wildcrafters.


Burdock (Arctium minus)


Burdock (Arctium minus, A. lappa) is a gorgeously leafy herb with a notable taproot. The tasty, medicinal root is bittersweet in flavor and contains high levels of inulin, a prebiotic nutrient relished by gut flora. It is a nutritive food-medicine par excellence, and I enjoy it in culinary dishes and dried for earthy wintertime teas. It has a nourishing effect on the detoxifying systems of the body and is a useful ally for skin conditions like acne and eczema. Keep reading about burdock’s edible and medicinal uses here.


Purslane (Portulaca oleracea). Photo courtesy of Steven Foster


Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) is an edible succulent, with branching stems and bright yellow flowers that open in the sunshine. It is one of the most populous weeds in the world, and is common throughout North America—in both hot climates and cool. The leaves are a fantastic source of potassium and iron, and have been found to be higher in omega-3 fatty acids than any other researched leafy green.4 Purslane can be added fresh to salads, sandwiches, and tacos, or pickled and added to ferments like kimchi. It can also be cooked, but this enhances the plant’s natural mucilage, which may be too slimy for some palettes.


Wood sorrel (Oxalis spp.). Photo courtesy of Steven Foster


Wood sorrel (Oxalis spp.) is a common, sour-flavored herb that makes itself right at home in the garden. Also called sour grass, sour clover, or lemon clover, wood sorrel is a favorite wild treat for children. Its three heart-shaped leaflets emerge from a central stem and are reminiscent of clover. There are many species, and all are edible. The garden variety that grows around my home bears yellow flowers, but they may also be pink or white. As far as food goes, the leaves are the main attraction, these being most tender and delicious before the flowers appear. Wood sorrel is a classic trail-side snack, but I also love it fresh in salads. Wild foods expert Samuel Thayer recommends it steeped in cold water (chopped finely first) and then strained for a tangy, lemonade-like refreshment.5


Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)


Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is one of the first floral foods for bees in springtime, and is also one of the first wild greens of the year to appear on my family’s table. It is a classic edible that was cherished by many of our temperate-climate ancestors and has even been cultivated in kitchen gardens for its nutritious leaves, which can reach great lengths when pampered with a little compost. Dandelion is reemerging as a homegrown vegetable, but you likely needn’t bother; it will arrive of its own accord in no time. For the tastiest greens, choose new leaves from the heart of the plant. Use them raw in salads and smoothies, sautéed and topped with toasted sesame seeds, or added to wild pesto. The flowers can be fermented to make a fine dandelion wine, strewn across birthday cakes, or added to sparkly springtime drinks. Gather up more appreciation for dandelion here.


Cleavers (Galium aparine)


Cleavers (Galium aparine) is an emerald-green herb, imbued with the color and freshness of spring. It often sprouts up at the same time and in the same place as chickweed, and shares some tandem uses: as a seasonal cleansing herb and all-star ingredient in healing skin salves. For internal use, I much prefer my cleavers juiced. It can be combined with any other greens, fruits, herbs, or veggies. My favorite combination is a cleavers/pineapple duet, inspired by Rosemary Gladstar. Beware of sampling cleavers au naturel, as the stems, leaves, and seeds are all covered in itsy-bitsy hooks that can catch in your throat. Thus, it is not a salad herb. Instead, if you prefer, you can roll a stem or two into a tight ball between your fingers to disarm the hooks (a cleavers “pill”) and munch away. Want to use cleavers in one of my favorite seasonal remedies? Make a Springtime Fairy Vinegar using this recipe.


Violet (Viola spp.)


Violet (Viola spp.) is nearly unsurpassed in its destiny as an enchanting springtime herb. The flowers draw the eye with their bioflavonoid-rich purple petals, and the heart-shaped leaves are one of our primary medicines for spring cleansing, nourishing the lymph, and soothing wounded tissues. There are so many ways to partake of violet’s food and medicine that we’ve devoted a whole hub to this beloved herb. You’ll find materia medica, recipes, and a seasonal cleansing protocol.



  1. Brill S., Dean E. Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants. New York: HarperCollins, 1994.
  2. De la Forêt R., Han E. Wild Remedies: How to Forage Healing Foods and Craft Your Own Herbal Medicine. Carlsbad: Hay House Publishing, 2020.
  3. Philips R. Wild Food: A Complete Guide for Foragers. London: Macmillan, 2014.
  4. Simopoulos A., Norman H., Gillaspy J., Duke J. “Common purslane: A source of omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants.” J Am Coll Nutr 11, no. 4 (1992).
  5. Thayer S. Nature’s Garden: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants. Forager’s Harvest Press, 2010.
Meghan Gemma

MEGHAN GEMMA is one of the Chestnut School’s primary instructors through her written lessons, and is the principal pollinator of the school’s social media community—sharing herbal and wild foods wisdom from the flowery heart of the school to an ever-wider field of herbalists, gardeners, healers, and plant lovers.

She has been in a steady relationship with the Chestnut School since 2010—as an intern and manager at the Chestnut Herb Nursery; as a plant-smitten student “back in the day” when the school’s programs were taught in the field; and later as a part the school’s woman-powered professional team. Meghan lives in the Ivy Creek watershed, just north of Asheville, North Carolina.

Juliet Blankespoor

JULIET BLANKESPOOR founded the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine in 2007 and serves as the school’s primary instructor and Creative Director. She's been a professional plant-human matchmaker for close to three decades. Juliet caught the plant bug when she was nineteen and went on to earn a degree in Botany. She's owned just about every type of herbal business you can imagine: an herbal nursery, a medicinal products business, a clinical practice, and now, an herbal school.

These days, she channels her botanical obsession with her writing and photography in her online programs and here on her personal blog, Castanea. She's writing her first book: Cultivating Medicinal Herbs: Grow, Harvest, and Prepare Handcrafted Remedies from Your Home Garden. Juliet and her houseplants share a home with her family and herb books in Asheville, North Carolina.

Want to take a deeper dive into medicinal herbs and their uses?

Our 1,000-hour Herbal Immersion Program is the most comprehensive handcrafted online herbal course available, covering botany, foraging, herb cultivation, medicine making, and therapeutics.


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Jan 222020

The Folklore and Medicine of Witch Hazel

Written by Mary Plantwalker
Photographed by Juliet Blankespoor



Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana, Hamamelidaceae) is our kinky, golden-star flower shrub or small tree that blooms in cold weather when all other flowers are absent from the landscape. These flowers are long-lived, as they patiently wait for weather warm enough to wake up an array of possible pollinators, from gnats to flies to moths. The witch hazel flowers know they gotta get it while they can, and still, only one percent of the flowers will ever develop into seeds. 

In this article, Juliet shares a humorously explosive story about the seed’s clever dispersal methods. Another name for the witch hazel tree is bead wood because its tiny seeds make a beautiful, hard and shiny, black nugget that can be used as jewelry.1

More of the Lore Behind Witch Hazel’s Name 

John-Manual Andriote wrote that witch hazel is “one of the few products that’s both FDA-approved and endorsed by real witches.”2Now that is a special plant! But which witch is witch hazel? 

I suppose once a medicinal plant has the name witch in it, it’s bound to be seen as magical in some way. Witch as we use it today, comes from the old English word wicca, or wizard. It is said, though, that the “witch” in witch hazel originated instead from the Middle English word wiche, which means “to bend.” Think about wicker, which comes from the same root word, meaning “pliable branches that bend.”3

Another interpretation is that the name derives from the use of witch hazel’s branches for dowsing, also called “water witching.” Yet another idea is that it stems (pun intended) from the Middle English word wicke, meaning “lively,” which describes how the stems become alive and move when water is detected below. 

Still others believe its name comes from the shape of a gall that’s sometimes found on the leaf, caused by an aphid, that looks like a witch’s hat.4And one last reason for the name witch that I have come across over the years is that the witch hazel plant flowers near Samhain (Halloween), evidently from a witch’s spell. Well, which witch do you believe?

The hazel part of witch hazel’s name is derived from the resemblance of its leaves to those of the hazelnut (Corylus americana) tree, both being broadly oval and scalloped. They are distantly related, but one way they are different is that witch hazel leaves are asymmetrical at the base. There is also a white bottlebrush flower cousin in the Hamamelidaceae family called witch alder, of the Fothergilla genus, so witchy-ness indeed spreads! 


Hamamelis virginiana


Water Witching 

Dowsing is an ancient art that has yielded successful results for centuries for locating both water and precious metals underground. Dowsing has been referred to as far back as Homer, when he writes in The Odyssey about the divining rod called the Caduceus that ended up in the hands of Asclepius, the old Greek God of Healing. That divining rod, with its head of entwined serpents, is what eventually became the well-known symbol of medicine.5

The Mohegan Tribe, in what is now called Connecticut, is believed to have been the first to show settlers how to use witch hazel sticks for dowsing by taking a branch and cutting it into the shape of a “Y” then walking with the end of the Y in front, hovering it over the earth. In A Natural History of Trees, author Donald Peattie says folks would use witch hazel branches that were naturally forked, “whose points grew north and south so that they had the influence of the sun at its rising and setting, and you carried it with a point in each hand, the stem pointing forward. Any downward tug of the stem was caused by the flow of hidden water.”6

When a dowser uses metal rods, they are “L” shaped. Regardless of the tool, it is the dowser who must be sensitive to almost imperceptible changes in movement, whether the device be L or Y shaped, metal or wood. Witch hazel has been given the most attention over the years as the preferred wood for successful water witching, but if you live in an area where witch hazel does not grow, Lee Barnes, President of Appalachian Dowsers, says other springy-type branches can be used. Another local dowser agreed that any forked branch from a flexible tree would work fine, including willow (Salix spp.), maple (Acer spp.), or apple (Malus spp.). 

Witch Hazel’s Benefits in Folk Medicine

Itching? Got varicose veins? Sore muscles? Hemorrhoids? What does witch hazel do that helps relieve all of these things? It has an affinity for blood flow health—I think of it as a plant being that can tell what the blood vessels’ needs are. Too much blood in an area? Too little? Witch hazel balances out the flow with innate intelligence. 

The late James Duke was so enamored with the benefits of witch hazel that he assumed the “H” in Preparation H (an over-the-counter hemorrhoid product) stood for Hamamelis (the genus of witch hazel)!7The buds, leaves, twigs, and bark have long been used by both indigenous peoples and early settlers wherever it grew. In Appalachian folklore, witch hazel is one of the more widely used medicines. Grandma was almost always sure to have some witch hazel in her apothecary, ready to fix whatever was ailing you.

Witch hazel extract is used for countless ails: poison ivy rash, burns, acne, eczema, gum inflammation, sunburn, tired and achy muscles, eye strain, bruises, sprains, insect bites, and so on.8Ritually, it has been used to keep away evil and heal broken hearts. 

Witch hazel is also a vulnerary herb, and I have heard it referred to as the “wound healer.” I can speak from experience that it is most certainly a “wound reliever.” What a nice tingling sensation it leaves on the skin after using it as a poultice, a compress, or just as a splash. Most of its uses are for topical applications but it can be used internally as well. It has even been recorded to help with internal bleeding.


Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana)

Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana)


Indigenous Uses of Witch Hazel

In upstate New York, the Iroquois use an infusion of dried witch hazel leaves for sore throats, colds, and diarrhea. Hot water is poured over fresh leaves to make poultices for sprains and swellings, which simultaneously eases pain and promotes healing, and the leaves are then crushed to place on bruises. 

On the western edge of Hamamelis virginiana’s range, the Osage make medicine from the bark to treat skin ulcers and sores. A lame back can be helped with compresses of witch hazel. The species most likely in use is Hamamelis vernalis—which blooms in late winter/ early spring, as its species name indicates—another medicinal witch hazel native to North America. 

The Potawatomi, originally from what is currently known as the Lower Peninsula of Michigan, have a tradition of using witch hazel in their sweat lodges. By placing the young branches on top of the hot rocks inside the lodge, sore muscles can be eased. Perhaps there is an energetic quality that comes from the witch hazel steam as well.


Preparations and Properties of Witch Hazel Medicine 

Parts Used: Bark, twigs, leaves, and buds

Medicinal Preparations: Tincture, infusion (leaves and buds), decoction (bark and twigs), liniment, compress, poultice, steam, wash, distillate*

Tincture ratios and dosage: Fresh bark and twigs 1:2 80%; dry bark and twigs 1:5 40%.

Infusion ratios and dosage: 1 Tablespoon (15 ml) of the dried leaves or green buds per 1 cup (240 ml) of water three times a day.

Decoction ratios and dosage: 1 Tablespoon (15 ml) of the dried bark or twigs per 1 cup (240 ml) of water three times a day.

*Note: Witch hazel preparations sold in drugstores are made from a steam distillation of the twigs, preserved with alcohol. They are much less potent than a standard tincture or tea.

Herbal Actions:

  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Antiseptic
  • Astringent
  • Hemostatic


  • Cooling
  • Drying

Active Compounds:

  • Flavonoids
  • Tannins (hamamelitannin, catechols, and proanthocyanidins)
  • Volatile oils



Relaxing in the Sitz Bath

One beneficial way to use witch hazel is in a sitz bath. Sitz baths are a shallow bath used to direct healing and blood flow to the genital area and/or anus. During my pregnancies and in postpartum, I used sitz baths to protect, tone, and strengthen my perineum and anal tissue. Blood supply to the area of concern is increased while soaking in a sitz bath of witch hazel by toning the blood vessels, tightening membranes, and repairing inflamed and sore skin.


Sitz Bath Recipe


  • Minimum 1 quart (1 liter) extract of chopped plant material—more is great!
  • 1 to 2 gallons (3.5 to 7 liters) of water
  • Bathtub


Harvest witch hazel’s branches and bark any time of year, or the fresh leaves and new bud growth in spring. Always make certain if gathering bark from the trunk to only take it from one side of the tree. Removing bark from the entire circumference of a tree or shrub will kill it. I prefer to strip the bark from small limbs or branches in order to limit the harm to the tree. See this article on ethical wildcrafting for guidance if you are new to foraging. 

Take any of the woody plant material, bring it to a boil, then simmer for 20 minutes, covered. Turn off heat, add the tender leaves/buds, and cover. Steep for an hour or more (the more plant material you add and the longer it steeps, the stronger the sitz bath brew will be). 

Fill a bath with enough warm water to completely cover your pelvic floor. Now strain the witch hazel extract and add the liquid to the bath. Soak in the tub for 20 minutes. Whatever the issue is that you are addressing with the sitz bath—hemorrhoids, postpartum tears and soreness, rash—send positive energy to that area and take deep belly breaths while soaking. Visualize the witch hazel and your body doing a marvelous healing dance together!


Witch Hazel Compress Recipe

The same astringent action of witch hazel that helps stop bleeding can tighten the pores of troubled skin and strengthen the muscle fibers of veins, making witch hazel a fantastic candidate for compresses. Applying it as a hot or cold compress (a cloth soaked in witch hazel decoction) can help increase blood flow to sore or injured areas. Compresses bring comfort.


  • 1 cup (240 ml) extract of chopped witch hazel bark, twigs, leaves and/or green buds
  • 1 quart (1 liter) water
  • Cotton cloth


Take any of the woody plant material, bring to a boil, then simmer for 20 minutes, covered. Turn off heat and add the tender leaves/buds and keep covered. Let steep for an hour or more. Strain and bring the witch hazel extract back up to a very warm temperature but do not boil. 

Soak the cotton in the infusion/decoction, fold and ring out over the pot so you can reuse that liquid. Make it as hot as you can comfortably tolerate. Apply compress to the area of concern. Cover the compress with another towel (and hot water bottle if you have it).

Leave compress on for five minutes then consecutively repeat so that the heat can work along with the witch hazel medicine. Do this at least three times in a row, and, depending on the severity of the issue, even several times a day.



Sore Muscles Liniment Recipe

This easy recipe brings relief to feet, calves, arms, neck—anywhere you feel just tuckered out. Shake your liniment before each use, then pour some on a light cloth or directly onto the sore muscle, and massage in. You may want to put some in a spray bottle for easier application.

To begin, follow this recipe for tincturing witch hazel by harvesting the twigs, leaves, and buds in spring and adding it to 190-proof organic (if possible) grain alcohol. If it is not spring, you can still make a good witch hazel tincture by harvesting twigs, leaves, or the outer bark if you know of a big healthy stand. Make at least a quart of the tincture so you can use it for a myriad of recipes. See this article for even more medicinal recipes that use witch hazel tincture. 


  • ½ cup (120 ml) witch hazel tincture
  • 7 drops Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) essential oil
  • 7 drops Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) essential oil
  • 7 drops Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus) essential oil
  • ⅓ cup (80 ml) distilled water


Once the witch hazel tincture is complete, strain, measure out ½ cup (120 ml) of it and add the essential oils and distilled water. If stored in a cool, dry place, this liniment can last a year or more (if you have not already used it up by then). Make sure to use a rubber or plastic lid, as metal will corrode and make it almost impossible to open the container.


Baba’s Aftershave Recipe

My husband grew up in Lebanon where he recalls his father (called Baba) using witch hazel as an aftershave. Maybe his father used it because he was from the United States, or maybe witch hazel products had reached the far corners of the globe way back then. In any case, we have adapted Baba’s original aftershave which was the drugstore distillation, to a more potent one you can make right at home. The antioxidant qualities of witch hazel can prevent wrinkles, so this aftershave serves not only as a comforting splash to prevent infection or irritation, but as an anti-aging boost to skin too!


Note: This recipe needs to be made in small batches since you will want to keep it in the bathroom for convenience—where its shelf life is no more than a month. 

  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup (240 ml) witch hazel extract of chopped witch hazel bark, twigs, leaves, and/or green buds
  • ¼ cup (59 ml) witch hazel tincture
  • 5 drops of essential oil of choice (the aftershave smell you like most)


Make your decoction by bringing to a boil almost two cups of water with the woody plant material then simmer for 20 minutes, covered. Turn off heat and add any tender leaves/buds and then cover again. Let steep for 10 to 30 minutes. 

Strain one cup (240 ml). Once this has cooled completely, add the tincture and your essential oil of choice. Make sure you have researched that the essential oil you choose is safe for facial skin.

Please don’t let the time of year or availability of bark (or no bark) stop you from experimenting with your own witch hazel medicine making! If you have access to just witch hazel twigs, or perhaps only have permission to harvest the leaves—whatever part of the witch hazel tree it may be—make your extract or tincture with that. Witch hazel is strong, and all of these parts of the plant at any time of year will yield medicine more potent than any distillation you could buy at the pharmacy. 



  1. Munroe D. The Trees of Ashe County, North Carolina. McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers; 2017. 
  2. Andriote J.M. The Atlantic, “The Mysterious Past and Present of Witch Hazel.” https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/11/the-mysterious-past-and-present-of-witch-hazel/264553/ November 6, 2012. 
  3. Durant M. Who Named the Daisy? Who Named the Rose? A Roving Dictionary of Wild Flowers. Congdon & Weed, Inc.; 1976.
  4. Spira T. Wildflowers and Plant Communities of the Southern Appalachian Mountains & Piedmont. The Univ. of North Carolina Press; 2011.
  5. The American Society of Dowsers, “Dowsing History” https://dowsers.org/dowsing-history/ accessed November 29, 2019.
  6. Peattie D.C. The Natural History of Trees. University of Nebraska Press; 1980.
  7. Duke J., Ph.D. The Green Pharmacy. Rodale Press; 1997.
  8. Gibbons E. Stalking the Healthful Herbs. McKay Co.; 1966.


Meet Our Contributors

MARY PLANTWALKER (Mary Morgaine Squire) has been practicing yoga and meditation while steeping herself in the plant world for the past 27 years. She is a writer, mother, avid gardener, yoga teacher, and plant ambassador. In the 1990s, she earned her BA in Journalism and Sustainable Living from Fairhaven College, and has since traveled the world meeting and learning from as many plants and indigenous healers as possible. As an active earth steward, Mary is called to protect and care for Herb Mountain Farm, the incredible land she stewards in western North Carolina, while encouraging others to do the same wherever they are. Mary is gifted in facilitating ceremony and enticing mindfulness into the everyday, and is passionate about welcoming people into the walk of embracing plants as allies while living in harmony with all beings. You can follow Mary's plant escapades on Instagram.

JULIET BLANKESPOOR founded the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine in 2007 and serves as the school’s primary instructor and Creative Director. She's been a professional plant-human matchmaker for close to three decades. Juliet caught the plant bug when she was nineteen and went on to earn a degree in Botany. She's owned just about every type of herbal business you can imagine: an herbal nursery, a medicinal products business, a clinical practice, and now, an herbal school.

These days, she channels her botanical obsession with her writing and photography in her online programs and here on her personal blog, Castanea. She's writing her first book: Cultivating Medicinal Herbs: Grow, Harvest, and Prepare Handcrafted Remedies from Your Home Garden. Juliet and her houseplants share a home with her family and herb books in Asheville, North Carolina.

Want to take a deeper dive into medicinal herbs and their uses?

Our 1,000-hour Herbal Immersion Program is the most comprehensive handcrafted online herbal course available, covering botany, foraging, herb cultivation, medicine making, and therapeutics.


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The Medicine of Pine

Nov 192019

The Medicine of Pine

Written and Photographed by Juliet Blankespoor

This article was originally written for Mother Earth Living magazine and is published here with permission from the publisher. Mother Earth Living is an American bimonthly magazine about sustainable homes and lifestyle.



My kindergarten school picture is the first evidence of a lifelong love affair with trees, and pine in particular. My dad had planted a little grove of white pines (Pinus strobus, Pinaceae) in our backyard. I spent my afternoons playing in their whorled branches, unwittingly collecting resin in my locks while leaning my head against their sturdy trunks. My mom cut out the sticky parts, resulting in a hairstyle that could only be rivaled by the likes of Pippi Longstocking.

There are over one hundred species of pine worldwide, and most have recorded medicinal uses. Cultures around the globe have used the needles, inner bark, and resin for similar ailments.1,2,3 Internally, pine is a traditional remedy for coughs, colds, allergies, and urinary tract and sinus infections. Topically, pine is used to address skin infections and to lessen joint inflammation in arthritic conditions.4 Native people across the continent—including the Cherokee, Chippewa, Iroquois, Apache, Hopi and countless other groups—have used over twenty species of pine in a similar medicinal fashion.1


Silhouette of pine tree at sunrise

Along with its myriad medicinal applications, pine is a source of lumber, food, essential oil production, and incense. There are a few species of pine in North America and a handful of species in Eurasia that yield the familiar edible pine nuts. Pine is essential commercially for its lumber and pulp, which is used to make paper and related products.

Many species of pine are considered cornerstone species, playing a central role in their ecological community. See my article on longleaf pine here. Finally, many species are planted ornamentally for their evergreen foliage and winter beauty.


Longleaf pine (Pinus palustris)

Longleaf pine (Pinus palustris)


Medicinal Use of Pines

Pine Needles

The fresh needles and buds, picked in the springtime, are called “pine tops.” These are boiled in water, and the tea is consumed for fevers, coughs, and colds. The needles are also diuretic, helping to increase urination. Pine-top tea is one of the most important historical medicines of the rural southeastern United States, especially given pines’ abundance in the region. Renowned Alabama herbalist Tommie Bass used the needles in a steam inhalation to break up tenacious phlegm in the lungs. I combine pine tops with sprigs of fresh thyme (Thymus spp., Lamiaceae) and bee balm (Monarda spp., Lamiaceae) for this purpose. Tommie Bass reported “ the country people used to drink pine top tea every spring and fall to prevent colds.”5

I enjoy the needles—fresh or dry—as a fragrant and warming wintertime tea. It pairs well with cinnamon bark (Cinnamomum verum, Lauraceae) and cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum, Zingiberaceae). Pine offers relief in sinus and lung congestion through its stimulating expectorant, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory qualities. The fresh, younger needles also contain Vitamin C.

Try combining peppermint (Mentha x piperita, Lamiaceae) and catnip (Nepeta cataria, Lamiaceae) with pine needles as a tea, which can be sipped upon throughout the day to assuage cold symptoms. This combination is a safe remedy for the whole family.

Nourishing Skin Tea
Mighty Pine Tea

  • 1 quart water
  • Small handful of pine needle tops (approximately five to seven branch tips; fresh or dried)
  • 1.5 Tablespoons dried peppermint
  • 1 Tablespoon dried catnip

Boil the pine needle tops in the water for twenty minutes. Turn off the heat and add the peppermint and catnip. Cover and let steep for an additional twenty minutes. Strain and add honey if desired. Sip on the tea while hot, reheating each cup as needed throughout the day. Adults can drink three cups a day. Children’s dosages should be lessened proportionally.

Pine Bark

The inner bark contains more resin and is more astringent than the needles. It has been used historically as an antimicrobial wash or poultice and infused in bathwater for muscle aches and pains. It’s also boiled in water and ingested as a remedy for coughs and colds. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the knotty pine wood from several species of pine is infused in wine and used topically for joint pain.3 I tend to reserve the bark for topical applications since the needles are easy to harvest and more pleasant tasting. 

Pine Resin

The resin, also called pitch, has many local first-aid uses—it’s used as an antimicrobial dressing on wounds and to pull out splinters. Pine resin, in minute quantities, has been used internally as a powerful expectorant but it does have some toxicity, so I recommend sticking to the needles or bark when it comes to internal use. I use pine pitch, prepared as a salve, to draw out splinters, glass, and the toxins left from poisonous insect bites. Pine resin salve is helpful to lessen muscle aches and joint inflammation.

Pine Pitch Band-Aids: Forest First-Aid

On a trip to the southwest, I learned another way to apply pine pitch medicinally from Arizona herbalist Doug Simmons: Take a piece of pitch that's semi-hard but still pliable and form it into a flat bandage over the afflicted area. This simple forest first-aid has excellent drawing power, as well as being anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial. Cover it with a Band-Aid or clean bandage and leave it on overnight. 

On this same trip, I had a chance to see the resin in action. Six months earlier a mysterious insect had bitten or stung my foot, leaving behind a little welt that refused to clear up, no matter what remedy I tried. I decided to try Doug’s method of application with the pine resin. I applied a pliable piece of pitch and left it on overnight. The next morning the welt was gone, and it hasn’t returned.

Man harvesting pine resin from a tree's that already been damaged

Pine Pitch Salve

  • 1 part clean pine pitch
  • 2 parts extra-virgin olive oil
  • Grated beeswax or beeswax beads (proportions below)

See our article on preparing herbal salves here. The measurements in this recipe needn’t be exact, but following the general proportions by volume (using a measuring cup) is useful for achieving the desired consistency. Using a double boiler, melt the pitch in the olive oil (1 part pitch to 2 parts olive oil, by volume) until it is mostly dissolved (it’s fine if a little resin remains solid). Add the grated beeswax (1 part beeswax per 4 parts of the combined liquid oil and pitch). Pour into jars and let cool before adding lids.

Journal page about Pine

Pine Identification

The first step in identification is to make sure you have pine and then narrow it down to the exact species. To accurately identify pine, look for the characteristic two to five needles growing together in a little bundle (called a fascicle), coupled with the familiar pinecones. Each bundle has a little papery sheath at the base. (Note: a few species of pine only have one needle; however, this is an anomaly, and most species bear two to five needles in a bundle.)

Identify the species local to your area and research their traditional uses. That said, it’s important to know that no pine is harmful and the medicinal uses overlap between species, so if you can’t find any information about your local pines, they are still medicinal. Just make sure it is indeed a true pine (in the Pinus genus) by checking for the identification traits listed above, and you’ll be good to go!


The male reproductive parts of longleaf pine

The male reproductive parts of longleaf pine


The flavor of pine varies depending on the species and the time of year the needles are picked. The needles have an astringent, “puckering” effect (similar to strong black tea) and a slightly resinous flavor; some pines possess a mineral tang, reminiscent of seawater. Some have needles that are quite sour, especially in the spring. After proper identification, chew on a bit of the needles to get an idea of how the various pine species in your area measure up. 


Longleaf pinecone

Longleaf pinecone


Pine Look-Alikes

Other conifers have cones that are sometimes mistaken for pinecones, so be sure you have a real pine and not some other cone-bearing evergreen. Many conifers have similar medicinal properties to pine—spruce (Picea spp., Pinaceae) and fir (Abies spp., Pinaceae), for example. One simple visual indicator that set these two trees apart from Pinus species: both spruce and fir have needles that connect directly to the branch, as opposed to the fascicle in pines.

It’s crucial that you are extremely careful to not harvest yew (Taxus spp., Taxaceae), which is a conifer with poisonous needles.6 Yew produces a red fleshy fruit (technically a cone), unlike the familiar hard brown cones you see growing on other conifers. Other species of conifers, including yew, have precautions, or possible toxicity, so proper identification of pine is crucial.

Pine Imposters

Be aware that many species of trees with pine in their common name are not true pines and are not used in the same way, and may even be toxic. For example, Australian pine (Casuarina spp., Casuarinaceae) and Norfolk Island pine (Araucaria heterophylla, Araucariaceae) aren’t even in the same family as the true pines! As with any plant you harvest from the wild, you’ll need to use the identifying characteristics, along with the scientific name, rather than the common name.


Freshly harvested pine needles in a basket

Harvesting Pine

You can harvest pine needles anytime they’re looking good and so are you. Seriously though, the needles can be gathered anytime they are needed, but the fresh springtime tips are more pleasant in taste and tend to be a little more sour than older needles. Cut the tips of the branches using garden scissors or shears, and dry in baskets.

Harvest the bark in the spring, preferably from a tree that needs to be thinned or a tree that’s fallen in a storm. You can alternatively collect a three-to-four-inch diameter branch from a tree, which leaves only one wound on the tree. The outer bark is removed and composted, and the inner bark—the medicinal portion—is scraped free from the wood. Dry on a screen or in a loose-weave basket.

Whenever you go on hikes or camp, keep an eye out for freshly dried, amber-hued pine resin on living pine trees. It’s much easier to harvest when the golden pitch is dried but not super brittle or black. Using a small knife, cut the pitch directly into a small jar, leaving a thin layer intact on the tree (the resin serves to protect the tree from pathogens and insects after injury). Sometimes the resin is dried on the outside and squishy on the inside, so proceed carefully. You can still gather resin that is gooey but it’s messy business indeed. 

Pine resin can be dirty with adhering bugs and dirt. Avoid soiled resin if possible but if you end up with a grubby batch, gently heat the resin in a small pot and strain through a fine sieve. Clean the pan and strainer with rubbing alcohol. Store the pitch in jars for up to a few years. The medicinal resin has a distinct “piney” and resinous odor; when it’s past its prime, it will have lost its aroma.

Safety & Contraindications: Do not use pine needles in pregnancy and avoid the long-term internal use of the bark. Both pine needles and pine bark can cause kidney irritation with long-term use in strong doses or with sensitive individuals. Do not use pine resin internally except in minute doses under the direction of a skilled herbalist. Be sure you have correctly identified pine and not a look-alike or a sound-alike (see the notes in the identification section).

There haven’t been any recorded instances of human poisoning from ingesting small amounts of medicinal pine (like the dosages a sensible person would ingest or imbibe). You’ll sometimes read warnings about pine toxicity from authors who mistakenly infer human safety precautions from documented cattle poisonings where the animals are consuming pine needles in copious amounts.

Snow-covered pine (Pinus sp.) needles



  1. Moerman DE. Native American Ethnobotany. Timber Press; 1998.
  2. Wood M. The Earthwise Herbal: A Complete Guide to Old World Medicinal Plants. North Atlantic Books; 2008.
  3. Bensky D, Clavey S, Stöger E. Chinese Herbal Medicine: Materia Medica. Eastland Press; 2004.
  4. Moore M. Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West. Museum of New Mexico Press; 2003.
  5. Crellin JK, Philpott J, Bass ALT. A Reference Guide to Medicinal Plants. Duke University Press; 1990.
  6. Burrows GE, Tyrl RJ. Toxic Plants of North America. Wiley; 2012.

Meet the Green Mastermind Behind Blog Castanea:

Juliet Blankespoor

JULIET BLANKESPOOR founded the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine in 2007 and serves as the school’s primary instructor and Creative Director. She's been a professional plant-human matchmaker for close to three decades. Juliet caught the plant bug when she was nineteen and went on to earn a degree in Botany. She's owned just about every type of herbal business you can imagine: an herbal nursery, a medicinal products business, a clinical practice, and now, an herbal school.

These days, she channels her botanical obsession with her writing and photography in her online programs and here on her personal blog, Castanea. She's writing her first book: Cultivating Medicinal Herbs: Grow, Harvest, and Prepare Handcrafted Remedies from Your Home Garden. Juliet and her houseplants share a home with her family and herb books in Asheville, North Carolina.

Want to take a deeper dive into medicinal herbs and their uses?

Our 1,000-hour Herbal Immersion Program is the most comprehensive handcrafted online herbal course available, covering botany, foraging, herb cultivation, medicine making, and therapeutics.


Click for detailed story

Dec 062018

By Juliet Blankespoor and Meghan Gemma
Photography by Juliet Blankespoor

When it comes to fighting infections and warding off looming illnesses, antimicrobial herbs will be among your very best helpers. These remedies contain compounds that directly deter pathogenic bacteria, fungi, viruses, and protozoans.

You’ll find that antimicrobial herbs are valuable remedies for the common cold, the flu, and manageable mild to moderate infections. Depending on the type of infection, antimicrobial herbs are applied topically or taken internally, and in some cases, both applications are beneficial.  I keep a reserve of these herbs in my apothecary throughout the year, but I take special care to stock up in preparation for the arrival of cold and flu season.

It’s typically helpful to combine herbal antimicrobials with herbal immunostimulants, which are used on a short-term basis to boost immunity during the initial stages of an infection, as well as throughout the duration of an infectious illness. Classic immunostimulating herbs include echinacea, garlic, and spilanthes. You can read more about how to use them in our article, Herbs for the Immune System.

It’s important to realize that herbs aren’t always the only support you might need to combat infections. Antibiotics and conventional medical care have their place, especially with young children and serious infections. For a list of warning signs that indicate the need for medical care, please visit the article above.

Note that this article is introductory in scope and doesn’t fully cover each medicinal. If you plan to forage any of these herbs (with the exception of goldenseal and white sage, which are threatened and should not be gathered from the wild) you’ll need to seek out identification tips. You’ll also need to learn foraging ethics and guidance before you harvest any plant from the wild! There are deadly poisonous plants out there, so proper identification is paramount.

See our articles on Foraging and Wildcrafting on the blog for more guidance. This is just the tip of the antimicrobial iceberg—for a longer list of antimicrobials, please visit our Herbs for the Immune System.

Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica)

1. Japanese Honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica, Caprifoliaceae)

Parts Used: Floral buds, opened flowers, stems, and leaves

Preparations: Tincture, decoction, infusion, honey, syrup, poultice, douche, and compress

Herbal Actions:

  • Antiviral
  • Antibacterial
  • Antifungal
  • Immunostimulant
  • Anticatarrhal (decongestant)
  • Expectorant
  • Antioxidant
  • Diuretic
  • Astringent
  • Alterative
  • Anti-inflammatory

I would venture that many of you are intimately acquainted with the blooms of this familiar vine and have partaken of her nectar, sipped straight from the flower’s slender golden tube. All you sucklers will be happy to know that the familiar honeysuckle vine is also a potent medicinal, with far-reaching applications.

Japanese honeysuckle flowers are powerfully antimicrobial and are one of the most widely used medicinal herbs in the world. Honeysuckle can be used internally as a tea or tincture and externally as a poultice or wash. The floral buds and opened blooms are immune stimulating, and strongly antibacterial and antiviral. I use the flowers internally to address hot, inflamed conditions—head colds, flu, urinary tract infections, laryngitis, mastitis, sinus and ear infections, and lower respiratory infections.

The flowers can be gathered as buds and as opened blooms, and tinctured fresh in alcohol. Honeysuckle is also effective as a tea; I combine it with mint and lemon balm to mask its slight bitterness.

Many species of honeysuckle have been used medicinally throughout North America, Europe, and Asia. However, their traditional use and the part employed (bark, leaves, flowers, etc.) varies among species; the biochemistry of the genus is also variable. For example, some honeysuckles have poisonous berries, and some have leaves and bark that can cause vomiting and diarrhea.

Subsequently, we can’t make broad speculations about the medicinal qualities of the entire genus. We’re only talking about Japanese honeysuckle in this article—don’t extrapolate the information here to all honeysuckle species.

Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica)

Japanese honeysuckle is native to eastern Asia. It has spread throughout much of the world and can now be found in South America, North America, Oceania, and Europe. In the United States, it is especially prolific in the Southeast, but it can be found in almost every state, including Hawaii. Do not plant Japanese honeysuckle as it’s seriously invasive. Harvesting it for medicine is one way to slow its spread!

Japanese honeysuckle is a perennial woody vine that twines around its host, reaching 30 feet (9 m) in length. It can be found in thickets, pastures, and young, open forests and along fencerows, roadsides, and the forest’s edge. It is not a shrub, unlike many other honeysuckle species.

The leaves are elliptical to oblong and leathery when mature (they feel thickish); they are opposite. The leaves grow to 1.2–3 inches (3-7.5 cm) long and have ciliate margins (tiny hairs, like cilia, growing from the edge of the leaf). The vine has peeling, brown bark.

Here are some resources to help you properly identify Japanese honeysuckle:


Contraindications: Some species have been used to stimulate the menses and childbirth, so I would avoid the internal use of honeysuckle in pregnancy to be on the safe side. Make sure to only gather this species; other honeysuckles are not necessarily safe or used medicinally in the same fashion. The berries are poisonous.

Usnea (Usnea spp.)

2. Usnea (Usnea spp., Parmeliaceae)

Parts Used: Whole lichen

Preparations: Tincture

Herbal Actions:

  • Antiviral
  • Antifungal
  • Antibacterial
  • Antiprotozoan
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Anticatarrhal (decongestant)

Usnea is an important medicinal to have on hand in the medicine cabinet. Winter is a fine time to gather Usnea, as heavy winds during storms often knock down branches covered with this versatile medicinal. Lichens are symbiotic organisms, consisting of a fungi and algae. Usnea is fairly easy to recognize, with its thin string-like branching pattern. It can be differentiated from similar lichens by pulling one of the "strings" slowly apart and looking for a thin white strand at the core.

Usnea is especially helpful in treating respiratory congestion, as it is drying and anti-inflammatory, in addition to being antimicrobial. I primarily use Usnea in tincture form, and combine it with immune stimulants, for upper and lower respiratory infections. It is also one of my treasured remedies for urinary tract infections, along with corn silk (Zea mays), uva-ursi (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) and marshmallow root (Althaea officinalis). Most urinary tract infections can be successfully addressed with this protocol, along with unsweetened cranberry juice. Be sure to look out for warning signs of a kidney infection, such as fever, back pain, and persistent urinary symptoms. Kidney infections are best addressed with antibiotics.

Usnea (Usnea spp.)

Usnea is more effective as a tincture rather than tea when treating infections, as its antimicrobial properties are more alcohol soluble. I tincture dried usnea with organic grain alcohol at 1:4 95%, and fresh usnea at 1:2 95%. I use a glass blender to create an usnea/alcohol slurry.

Contraindications: Usnea should only be used on a short-term basis, and can be very drying to the sinuses.

Garden sage is a fine anticatarrhal (Salvia officinalis)

3. Garden Sage (Salvia officinalis, Lamiaceae) and White Sage (Salvia apiana, Lamiaceae)

Parts Used: Leaves and stems

Preparations: Tea, tincture, honey, gargle, smoke bundle, and steam inhalation

Herbal Actions:

  • Antibacterial
  • Antifungal
  • Astringent
  • Carminative
  • Anti-inflammatory

Illustrious for its culinary uses, garden sage is also a versatile medicinal herb. In fact, its name heralds from the Latin salvere, “to save”, referring to its famous reputation as a lifesaving remedy. This mint family herb has been used therapeutically for centuries with far-reaching applications, ranging from soothing sore throats to washing wounds.

White sage (Salvia apiana)

White sage’s medicinal uses are very similar to those of its cousin, although the former is more antimicrobial and stimulating than its domestic brethren. I find that a steam inhalation of the leaves helps to break up respiratory congestion in both the lungs and the sinuses. Try combining it with thyme (Thymus vulgaris) and bee balm (Monarda spp.) in the steam pot, along with a few drops of eucalyptus essential oil.

Sage leaves have traditionally been burned after sickness to purify the home. White sage is a sacred herb to many Native American peoples, and its overharvesting by Westerners has resulted in the demise of wild populations.

Because white sage is becoming increasingly rare in its native habitat due to over-gathering, we suggest learning how to cultivate this precious herb. We have a growing guide (plus recipes!) on the blog. Do not gather or purchase wild-harvested white sage.

Contraindications: Sage is a uterine stimulant and should not be used in large doses by pregnant women. In medicinal quantities, it can dry up the breast milk.

Red bee balm (Monarda didyma)

4. Bee Balm (Monarda spp., Lamiaceae)

Parts Used: Leaves and flowers

Preparations: Tea, tincture, honey, and steam inhalation

Herbal Actions: 

  • Antibacterial
  • Antifungal
  • Diaphoretic
  • Anticatarrhal (decongestant)
  • Expectorant
  • Carminative
  • Nervine
  • Antirheumatic
  • Emmenagogue
  • Diuretic

I try not to play favorites—even with plants—but I must confess that this group of herbs is among my most cherished of botanical sweethearts. Bee balm is a powerful antimicrobial cold and flu remedy (helps to clear the sinuses, break a fever, and overcome infection). It can be taken internally as a tea or tincture and used as a steam inhalation to treat sinus congestion. It’s also a gentle sleep aid, helping to bring rest during the discomfort of illness.

There are over twenty species in the Monarda genus, all of which are native to North America. It is important to use scientific names with this group, as common names are many and often used interchangeably. The species might be called wild bergamot, bee balm, Oswego tea, or horsemint, depending on where you live and whom you are talking with. The name wild bergamot is especially confusing, as bergamot is also applied to the essential oil from the similarly scented Citrus bergamia. It is the citrus oil, and not Monarda, that is used to flavor Earl Grey tea.

Wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) growing alongside purple cone flower (Echinacea purpurea)

The bergamots are some of the showiest medicinals for the garden, with their tousled tops of crimson and lavender. The flowers are edible, adding a vivid zest to any meal. You can use any of the bee balm species in the Monarda genus medicinally.

Contraindications: Do not use in pregnancy, as bee balm is a traditional menstrual stimulant. As with other spicy herbs, bee balm may aggravate heartburn.

Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis)

5. Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis, Ranunculaceae)

Parts Used: Rhizomes, roots, leaves, and stems (the rhizomes and roots are most potent)

Preparations: Infusion (leaves), decoction (rhizome and roots), tincture, gargle, and powder

Herbal Actions:

  • Antimicrobial
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Anticatarrhal (decongestant)
  • Astringent
  • Emmenagogue
  • Alterative
  • Bitter

Goldenseal’s vivid yellow roots are famous in the Native American pharmacopeia and are among the most purchased herbs in commerce today. Unfortunately, goldenseal is often used incorrectly—at the first sign of a cold or flu. At this stage, goldenseal's drying qualities can actually counteract the beneficial “flushing” efforts of the immune system—think thin mucus and a runny nose.

Goldenseal becomes helpful when the symptoms of a cold or flu move deeper into the body or become more serious; for instance, when a sinus infection develops or when pneumonia becomes a concern.

You’ll want to reach for the goldenseal specifically when thick yellow-green mucus or discharge is present. You can use it as a gargle or take it internally as a tea or tincture.

Goldenseal can be used topically in powder form, or as a compress or wash to treat skin infections.

Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis)

Please do not gather goldenseal from the wild or purchase wild roots, as they have been heavily overharvested. Grow your own if you can or purchase organically cultivated roots. Take a peek at our Guide to Growing Woodland Medicinals for more information on cultivating goldenseal.

Contraindications: High doses of goldenseal should only be taken for short periods of time (no more than three weeks), as it can cause inflammation and irritation to the mucous membranes and digestive tract. Even in small doses, tonic use can be overly cooling and drying to most constitutions. Other contraindications include high blood pressure, pregnancy (large doses can cause premature contractions), and breastfeeding.

Looking for more blog articles on herbs for the immune system? We’ve compiled our most comprehensive free herbal resources on the subject, and they’re all right here for your convenience.

Meet Our Contributors:

JULIET BLANKESPOOR founded the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine in 2007 and serves as the school’s primary instructor and Creative Director. She's been a professional plant-human matchmaker for close to three decades. Juliet caught the plant bug when she was nineteen and went on to earn a degree in Botany. She's owned just about every type of herbal business you can imagine: an herbal nursery, a medicinal products business, a clinical practice, and now, an herbal school.

These days, she channels her botanical obsession with her writing and photography in her online programs and here on her personal blog, Castanea. She's writing her first book: Cultivating Medicinal Herbs: Grow, Harvest, and Prepare Handcrafted Remedies from Your Home Garden. Juliet and her houseplants share a home with her family and herb books in Asheville, North Carolina.

MEGHAN GEMMA is one of the Chestnut School’s primary instructors through her written lessons, and is also the principal pollinator of the Chestnut School’s social media community – sharing herbal and wild foods wisdom from the flowery heart of the school to an ever-wider field of friends, gardeners, healers, and plant lovers.

She has been in a steady relationship with the Chestnut School since 2010—as an intern and manager at the Chestnut Herb Nursery; as a plant-smitten student “back in the day” when the school’s programs were taught in the field; and later as a part the school’s woman-powered professional team. Meghan lives in the Ivy Creek watershed, just north of Asheville, North Carolina.


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Jun 062018

Chinese Herbal Medicine Cabinet
by Justine Myers, Lic. Ac.

These Chinese herbal remedies are great to have on hand when you’re feeling ill.  Here’s what I always keep at home in my medicine cabinet and take as soon as I need them in order to feel better and recover quickly:

Yin Chiao: this is truly a miracle remedy for a sore throat at the start of a common cold.  With its powerful anti-viral properties it can help fight off a cold within 1-2 days when taken as directed so you don’t go on to suffer for 10+ days with a full-blown cold.
Indications: sore throat at the start of a cold.
Instructions: The key to success is to take 5 pills as soon as possible when your throat starts feeling sore, then repeat doses of 5 pills every 2-4 hours until your throat is no longer sore.  Your sore throat/cold should resolve within 1-2 days if you take it as directed.  (Note: if you don’t take it right away, it’s still worth taking it within 24 hours of the onset of a sore throat – but the likelihood of it preventing a cold progressing altogether is better the sooner you take it.  If your cold doesn’t resolve after 2 days of taking Yin Chiao, discontinue taking it.).
Helpful Tip: I keep a bottle at home and I also keep one in my purse, which I take with me to work, when traveling, etc.  You might want to keep one at home, and an extra bottle in your backpack, car, office or other location where you spend lots of time – so it’s with you when you need it.
Potential Side-effect: loose stools or diarrhea may occur 1-2 days after taking Yin Chiao, especially in people who are easily prone to these conditions.  If you have some Curing Pills on hand, taking 1 dose of 2 Curing Pills 1-2 times a day for 1-2 days can help mitigate the digestive side-effects and keep your digestion running smoothly.

Upper Chamber Pills (Cang Er Zi Wan): for colds and allergies with sinus symptoms and headaches, sinus infections
Indications: sinus congestion with thick nasal discharge, post nasal drip with thick phlegm, frontal/sinus headache and/or sinus pain/pressure associated with common cold, sinusitis or allergic rhinitis.  It can also help dizziness associated with sinus congestion.  Unlike Xin Yi Wan, these don’t help with loss of sense of smell.
Instructions: 12 pills, 2x/day (that’s a total of 24 per day) until symptoms resolve (may be several days to a week).  Or you can take 8 pills, 3x/day as directed on the label (I prefer twice a day for simplicity – it will work well either way).
Helpful tip: When I’m all stuffed up I will take these and use some saline nasal spray and/or neti pot and find it very helpful.  I never take other drugstore over the counter medications as I prefer this treatment much more and there are no side-effects.

Clear Wind-Heat Teapills (Sang Ju Yin Wan): these pills are helpful for an irritated/scratchy throat with a dry cough (different than the sore throat without cough, in which case Yin Chiao is more appropriate).
Indications: a dry cough and irritated throat typically occurring at the onset of a common cold or flu
Instructions: 12 pills, 2x/day (that’s a total of 24 per day) until symptoms resolve (typically 1-3 days), or you can take 8 pills, 3x/day as directed on the label (I prefer twice a day for simplicity – it will work well either way).
Helpful tip: These pills work best when taken as soon as possible after the onset of symptoms, and may help prevent the progression of the illness so you feel healthy again after 1-2 days.

Clean Air Teapills (Qing Qi Hua Tan Wan): these pills for coughing with phlegm/mucous help reduce the severity of coughing and lessen phlegm/mucous production.
Indications: coughing with thick phlegm that typically happens with a chest cold/upper respiratory infection
Instructions: 12 pills, 2x/day (that’s a total of 24 per day) until symptoms resolve (this could be a few days up to a week), or you can take 8 pills, 3x/day as directed on the label (I prefer twice a day for simplicity – it will work well either way).

Curing Pills: a classic Chinese formula for curing a variety of acute digestive conditions.
Indications: stomach virus, food poisoning, upset stomach, nausea, gas, bloating, diarrhea, loose stools.  Also useful as remedy for hangovers and overindulgence of heavy foods.
Instructions: 3 capsules, 1-3 times per day for 1-2 days depending on the severity of your symptoms and how quickly they resolve.
Potential Side-effect: constipation may occur 1-2 days after taking Curing Pills, especially in people who are easily prone to it.

Suan Zao Ren: for insomnia with anxiety
Indications: difficulty falling asleep and/or difficulty staying asleep with anxiety, also useful for night sweats.
Instructions: follow instructions on the label.  Can be used occasionally for acute bouts of insomnia, or nightly ongoing for chronic insomnia.

Dr. Guo’s 37 Healing Salve: a topical salve for musculoskeletal pain, stiffness and muscle tension.  Contains a blend of Chinese herbs and Western herbs, as well as arnica, camphor, menthol, Vitamin E and essential oils which help reduce inflammation, improve circulation and relieve pain.
Indications: for musculoskeletal pain, stiffness and muscle tension.
Instructions: apply 3-4 times per day to affected area.

Other remedies you may find helpful to have on hand:

Eight Righteous Teapills (Ba Zheng Wan): treat and prevent urinary tract infections (UTIs)
Indications: If you tend toward frequent UTIs, keep them on hand in your medicine cabinet and during travel and take them when you feel like your risk for getting a UTI is high, or when you start to experience symptoms of burning/painful urination.
Instructions: 12 pills, 2x/day (that’s a total of 24 per day) until symptoms resolve, or you can take 8 pills, 3x/day as directed on the label (I prefer twice a day for simplicity – it will work well either way).

Bi Yan Wan: for allergies/hayfever with itchy/watery eyes and/or sneezing, and allergic rhinitis and sinusitis with nasal discharge.
Indications: unlike Upper Chamber Pills and Xin Yi Wan, these pills address the itchy/watery eyes and sneezing aspect of allergies, along with runny/stuffy nose.
Instructions: 6 pills, twice a day (that’s a total of 12 per day), or if you prefer you can follow the instructions on the label and take 4 pills, 3 times per day.  Take them as long as you’re experiencing allergies.

Magnolia Flower Pills (Xin Yi Wan): for colds and allergies with sinus symptoms and headaches
Indications: common cold, sinusitis or allergic rhinitis with congestion, runny nose, post nasal drip, frontal/sinus headache and loss of smell.  Does not address thick nasal discharge or dizziness associated with sinus congestion (Upper Chamber Pills are better for those symptoms).
Instructions: 12 pills, 2x/day (that’s a total of 24 per day) until symptoms resolve (may be several days to a week).  Or you can take 8 pills, 3x/day as directed on the label (I prefer twice a day for simplicity – it will work well either way).

Free and Easy Wanderer (Xiao Yao Wan) and Free and Easy Wanderer Plus (Jia Wei Xiao Yao Wan): these formulas are helpful for general physical and emotional balance with a variety of symptoms, and is also good for Women’s Health.  The plus type is better for people who tend to feel hot, and for stronger irritability.  Ask us which type is right for you.
Indications: reduces stress and irritability, improves poor appetite, reduces tension headaches, regulates digestion, and is useful for PMS and irregular menstruation.
Instructions: 12 pills, 2x/day (that’s a total of 24 per day) until symptoms resolve, or you can take 8 pills, 3x/day as directed on the label (I prefer twice a day for simplicity – it will work well either way).  This formula can be taken for 1-3 days for acute symptoms, or for chronic conditions it may be taken for several weeks or months.

Zhi Bai Di Huang Wan: helpful for menopausal and perimenopausal hot flashes and night sweats
Indications: perimenopausal/menopausal symptoms of hot flashes, night sweats, anxiety and insomnia.
Instructions: 6 pills, 2x/day (that’s a total of 12 per day).  This formula can be used long-term until symptoms resolve.

Tao Hong Si Wu Wan: for menstrual irregularities and and menstrual cramps.
Indications: irregular periods, late periods, scanty menstrual flow, menstrual cramps.
Instructions: 12 pills, 2x/day (that’s a total of 24 per day) until symptoms resolve, or you can take 8 pills, 3x/day as directed on the label (I prefer twice a day for simplicity – it will work well either way).  I recommend taking it daily through at least 3 cycles for irregular, late and/or scanty periods.  If cycles are regular with mild to moderate pain, take it 1 week prior to period and first 2 days of period.

Stasis in the Lower Palace (Shao Fu Zhu Yu Wan): for painful periods with PMS and premenstrual depression, endometriosis, fibroids and other menstrual irregularities.
Indications: moderate to severe menstrual pain, heavy periods, irregular periods.  Often helpful for the above manifestations which commonly occur with endometriosis and fibroids.
Instructions: 12 pills, 2x/day (that’s a total of 24 per day), or you can take 8 pills, 3x/day as directed on the label (I prefer twice a day for simplicity – it will work well either way). This formula can be taken long term.  It’s recommended to try it for at least 3 months, and may be continued as long as it’s needed.

Margarite Beauty Pills: for acne
Indications: primarily for acne, but may also be helpful for certain manifestations of eczema, rosacea, skin rash or hives, particularly when there is redness and pimples.
Instructions: 6 pills twice a day (that’s a total of 12 per day) until skin is clearer.  May be used short term for acute bouts of acne/hives/eczema, or longer term for chronic skin conditions, but only if it is tolerated well.  Ask Justine whether this formula is right for you.
Potential side-effect: loose stool or diarrhea.

Please ask us for help selecting the best herbs for your particular health conditions.  You’re welcome to come by anytime our office is open to ask for assistance and purchase herbs.
All doses listed above are for adults; please ask Justine for the recommended doses for children.

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Mar 232017

“Laugh and the world laughs with you, Weep and you weep alone”

— Ella Wheeler Wilcox (1855–1919).

The above thoughts expressed more than a century ago tell us the importance of laughter.

Man is born to be healthy. Health not only means absence of diseases, but also a natural feeling of well-being, a self-contained enjoyment of happiness and fulfilment with joyful behaviour comprising not only of the physical, mental and social well-being but also of the spiritual well-being.

Time old philosophy of four generic factors are the fundamental determinants of life – Aahaar (nutrition), Vehohar (Behavior), Vichar (Thinking), and Aachar (Conduct). Their norms, value and strength control the mind-body coordination exhibited as life. Humor and Laughter are the key to alter the behavior, thinking and conduct.

Increasing industrialization, urbanization, changing social and moral values have caused tremendous increase in stress and strain in day-to-day life, which in turn is a very big contributing factor for many of altered lifestyle related diseases such as ischemic heart disease, diabetes, stroke, obesity, cancers and some forms of mental illness. It is high time that each of us realizes the importance of “Lifestyle Modification” in prevention and management of many of these diseases.

Candace Pert writes ‘Emotions registered and stored in the body in the form of chemical messages are the best candidates for the key to the health connections between mind and body’. According to Pert, this job is accomplished by complex molecules called neuropeptides. These neuropeptides are the means by which all cells in the body communicate with one another. Building more humor and laughter in your life helps assure that these chemical messages are working for you and not against you. The mere fact that you feel better after a good iaugh is not enough for the scientific community of so called “Evidence Based Medicine”, but data have started accumulating to quench their scientific thirst.

Laughter and Immune System

In 1980 departing editor of world famous “New England Journal of Medicine”, Dr. Franz Ingel£inger wrote that 85% of all human illnesses are curable by body’s own healing system (Immune system). Immune system responds favorably to positive attitudes, thoughts, moods and emotions such as love, hope, intimacy, optimism, joy, humor and laughter, and negatively to negative attitudes such as pessimism, indifference, hate, hopelessness, anger, loneliness, anxiety and depression”. In short a positive attitude to life is key to happiness.

Several studies have shown that watching as little as 30 -60 minutes of a comedy video is enough to increase both salivary IgA (Immunoglobulin A) and blood levels of IgA, which are often referred to as the body’s first line of defense against upper respiratory viral and bacterial infections.

Immunoglobulin M and G also increase following laughter, so does the compliment- 3, a substance which helps antibodies to pierce through defective and infected cells to destroy them. Humour has been found to alter cellular immunity in a positive way.

Humour has also been shown to increase level of gamma interferon, a complex substance that plays an important role in the maturation of B-cells, growth of cytotoxic T-cells, and activation of NK cells.

All this evidence makes it clear that humorous individual have a stronger immune system.

Effects of Laughter on Pain

Appreciation of pain depends to a certain extenent on frame of mind and prevailing environment. It is well known that during war, severe gunshot injuries are tolerated with little pain. Recently this has been explained on the basis of “Gate theory of pain”. Similarly, humour also helps in reducing severity of pain. Max Eastman has rightly said that “Humour is the instinct for taking pain playfully”

Humour and Stress

That humour is the biggest stress reliever has been a well-know fact for centuries.

Limited research carried out on stress related hormones and humour has shown that laughter affects at least four neuroendocrine hormones associated with stress response. These are epinephrine, cortisol, dopa, and growth hormone. These hormones are related to bodies? “Fight or Flight” response.

Laughter and Cardio Respiratory System

Laughter provides a handy source of cardiac exercise. Heartbeat remains rapid for nearly 15 to 20 seconds after a good Belly laugh. From cardiac point of view this can be described as “Internal Jogging”. As laughing can be repeated many times, one can give the heart a good workout.

Laughter is not a substitute for good exercise for cardiac toning but for elderly persons and bed-ridden patients this can be considered as a good source of cardiac conditioning.

In one study it was found that persons who led humorous life had a lower resting heart rate. Laughter may also help in lowering blood pressure as an adjunct with other life style modification programs, but scientific studies are needed to substantiate this fact.

There are many studies that have linked Coronary Artery Disease to Type-A personality; studies have also shown relationship between hostility and heart diseases. Humor and laughter may be use in countering bad effects of hostility and type-A personality, but concrete scientific studies have not yet been made in this field.

Laughter and Breast-fed New Born

Laughter even affects breast-fed new-born infants. In a scientific study it was found that among the mothers who breast-fed their infants and actively used humour and laughed more frequently had fewer upper respiratory infections and their infants also had less infections as compared to those who did not do so. This could be attributed to higher levels of Immunoglobulin-A in the breast milk of these mothers.

Other Benefits of Laughter

Dr. Heiko Hayarshi of Japan University in a study found that those diabetic patients who watched a comedy show had smaller rises in their post meal glucose as compared to those who watched a humorless show, meaning there by that positive emotions like laughter help in decreasing blood sugar level.

Dr. Malcolm Harthers found that Laughter increased active Testosterone (male hormone) level especially in elderly people. If this is found true in large controlled studies, this may explain the secret of longevity in humorous persons and confirm a common layman’s observations that persons with a good sense of humor get sick less often.

Bhagwat Gita says ‘laughing drives away grief which is an important contributory factor for many mental ailments. This could be boon in present day scenario where mental illness is on a steep rise.

Humour is known to reduce frequency of cold and upper respiratory infections. This may probably be explained by a high salivary IgA levels in these persons.

After critically evaluating the above information, it makes sense to conclude that the individuals who have a better developed sense of humor, i.e. those who find more humor in their day-to-day life, remain happy contented, and have a stronger immune system and better health. This view has also been expressed by Bernia Siegel, M.D. who said, “The simple truth is that happy people generally do not get sick.”

Daily vitamin D supplements may reduce asthma attacks

 Daily vitamin D supplements lowered the risk and severity of asthma attacks, according to a new review of nine clinical trials, which involved 435 children and 658 adults, most of whom had mild to moderate asthma.

Reviewers found that oral vitamin D supplements ranging from 400 to 4000 units a day reduced the risk of attacks requiring medication by 37%. The number of attacks requiring emergency intervention decreased by more than 60% among vitamin D users.

But taking vitamin D did not appear to have a meaningful effect on daily symptoms as measured by a long function test and questionnaires. The authors suggest that vitamin D triggers antiviral and anti inflammatory responses that might decrease the risk for lung infection.

“We don’t yet have the evidence to say that everyone should take it,” said lead author, Adrian R Martineau, a professor of respiratory infection at Queen Mary University of London.

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Feb 092017

What do you do when you start to feel that scratchy throat and stuffy nose? Everyone has their own cold prevention remedies and recipes, but in my humble opinion, green mung bean soup is the winner!

First thing first, it’s incredibly delicious! It may look a little funny if you aren’t used to it…but it tastes amazing. The caramelized onions and garlic and cumin seeds give it a rustic and comforting and appetizing aroma and the mung beans have a very pleasant creamy texture.

Not only does it taste like heaven, each ingredient is incredibly healing. When I was healing from Ulcerative Colitis, green mung bean soup was one of my staples because each ingredient is so medicinal. Now I just cook it when I want something that I know will digest well, or if I would like to do a little cleansing.  If I feel like I am getting sick, I just make a pot of green mung soup and eat it throughout the day. Works like a charm!

The key is that it’s warming and nourishing, but not too heating and also light and easy to digest which makes it ideal for people who have compromised immunity. The green mung beans are high in protein, but they are very light and also have a mild scraping action to help pull out impurities from the body. Turmeric is an anti-inflammatory and helps to purify the blood. Cumin seeds, mustard seeds, garlic and onion all help to stoke your digestive fire.

The best part about this soup is that you can keep all of the ingredients on hand at all times so you don’t have to make a special trip to the store if you feel like you are getting sick. You even add any vegetables that are in your fridge and make it even more delicious. I like adding greens and carrots to mine, but you can add any kind of vegetable that suits your fancy!

1 cup whole green mung beans (must soak at least 5 hours)
3 1/2 cups water
1 Tbsp Ghee11/2 tsp ginger – chopped
1/2 tsp garlic – chopped 
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp mustard seeds 
1/2 tsp Turmeric          
1 small pinch of hing (asafoetida- available for purchase at the Indian Store)                                              1 tsp Himalayan Pink Rock Salt or to taste (available at Trader Joes or Whole Foods)

1. Soak the mung beans overnight in water. 
2. Finely chop ginger and garlic. 
3. Drain the mung beans, rinse them and put them in pot with 3 1/2 cups of water.
4. Add salt and turmeric and bring to a boil.
5. Cook Mung beans fully stirring occasionally. (they are not fully cooked until they are breaking apart. Will take approx. 45 min unless you use a pressure cooker in which case it will only take about 20 minutes)
6. Heat ghee in a separate pan. Add hing, mustard seeds and cumin seeds. Wait until you hear the cumin seeds pop. Then add garlic and ginger and let simmer for a few minutes until garlic becomes golden brown.
7. Add ghee mixture to cooked mung beans and stir.
8. You can add greens like kale or spinach to this for some added texture. If you want to add other harder veggies like carrots or potatoes, add them after the mung beans have been cooking for 10 minutes, always add greens at the very end.
9. Enjoy 🙂


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Nov 082015
Whooping cough does this to children. It can even kill them. And it's preventable. Antvaccinationists oppose this.

Whooping cough does this to children. It can even kill them. And it’s preventable. Yet some prefer the disease over an effective vaccine.

Over at Science-Based Medicine you’ll find my recent post on Heather Dexter, who claims to be a “Board Certified Naturopathic Doctor” in Michigan,  and blogs at likemindedmamas.com. She recently used her blog to describe, in astonishing, horrific, gut-wrenching detail, how she let three of her children suffer for months with whooping cough without seeking proper medical attention. She’s pulled the post off her website now, but the internet never forgets, and you’ll find this case discussed over at Naturopathic Diaries, the Skeptical OB, and at Respectful Insolence as well.

In all my blogging about naturopathy I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a case that left me so upset – because Dexter’s belief in the “naturopathic philosophy” meant that three small children endured months of misery (apnea, vomiting, and turning blue),  useless remedies (homeopathy, herbal remedies, and even regular enemas) all because of a belief system that prioritizes a philosophy over scientific evidence.

Find the original post over a Science-Based Medicine.

Photo via OneSalientOversight via Reddit.

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