Mother Earth Living

Herb Basics

A Place to Start
by Amy Mayfield
November/December 2005
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If you’re traveling by plane this holiday season, you may want to take supplements to help ease jet lag, especially for short holiday trips. Of the many products on the market that purport to fight jet lag, melatonin is one of the most popular and controversial. Melatonin, a hormone normally produced in the brain by the pineal gland, plays a role in regulating our daily sleep/wake cycle. Some studies also have shown, however, that taking too much melatonin or taking it at the wrong time actually can disrupt the sleep/wake cycle or cause other side effects, such as confusion, drowsiness and headache.

Advocates of taking melatonin claim that it influences the body clock and eases symptoms of jet lag. Dr. Andrew Weil, author of eight books including Eating Well for Optimum Health (Knopf, 2000), takes melatonin when he travels. He writes, “In general, I have found that, after arriving at my destination, taking 1 milligram of melatonin … at bedtime for only one or two nights significantly reduces jet lag, regardless of the direction of travel.”

Melatonin is available over the counter and marked as a dietary supplement. As always, consult a doctor before taking any supplement, especially if you are taking other medications.

Source: Zimring, Michael P., M.D. and Lisa Iannucci. Healthy Travel. Laguna Beach, California: Basic Health Publications, 2005.


High in antioxidants and full of flavor, chile peppers are excellent additions to a healthy diet. But can you take the heat? Following is the heat rating of the most popular peppers, based on the industry-standard Scoville Organoleptic Test, invented in 1912 by pharmacist William Scoville. As a general rule, the smaller the pepper, the more intense the heat.


Quinoa (pronounced “keen-wah”), a Peruvian plant that was the staple food of the Incas, is a nutritious grain with a unique texture and flavor. Higher in protein than any grain, quinoa is worth adding to your diet — it is a good source of calcium, phosphorus, iron, B vitamins and amino acids. Try it in an herb-rich salad for a nutrient-packed, tasty lunch.

Serves 4

1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 oranges, peeled
1/4 cup toasted, slivered almonds
21/2 cups cooked quinoa, at room temperature
Salt and pepper, to taste

Whisk lemon juice, oil, tarragon and parsley in a large serving bowl. Section oranges and cut each section into thirds. Stir oranges into the bowl. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve chilled or at room temperature.


Common names: Bilberry, European blue-berry, huckleberry, whortleberry

Latin name: Vaccinium myrtillus

Family: Ericaceae

Part used: Berries

Medicinal uses: Bilberry benefits micro- circulation, making it useful in the treatment of such conditions as night blindness and diabetic retinopathy. Anthocyanosides, compounds found in bilberry, help strengthen capillaries and prevent bruising, hemorrhoids and varicose veins. It has mild laxative effects, but also helps relieve diarrhea.

Forms commonly used: Capsules, tablets, tinctures, fresh fruits.

Side effects: According to the Botanical Safety Handbook (CRC, 1997), bilberry fruit is a Class 1 herb, meaning it is safe to consume when used appropriately.

Notes: During World War II, pilots from the British Royal Air Force reported that they could see better at night after eating bilberry jam, popular in England.

It is estimated that more than 1,600 metric tons of bilberries are consumed each year. They have a similar, yet more tart, taste than blueberries and also are used in syrups and tarts. Bilberries are widely cultivated around the world.

Bilberries have a high vitamin C content and were historically used to treat scurvy. During the 1600s in England, bilberries mixed with honey, in a mixture called “rob,” were used to treat diarrhea.


Herbalist and midwife Aviva Romm, in her book Naturally Healthy Babies and Children (Celestial Arts, 2003), recommends a nourishing tea blend for new mothers. Romm writes that Mother’s Milk Blend Tea is one of her favorite herbal formulas and an excellent beverage in the days following birth. The tea promotes relaxation and digestive comfort, and eases after-birth cramps.


1 ounce dried chamomile flowers (Matricaria recutita)
1 ounce dried catnip (Nepeta cataria)
1/4 ounce fennel seeds (Foeniculum vulgare)
1/2 ounce dried nettle (Urtica dioica)
1/8 ounce dried lavender flowers (Lavandula angustifolia)
1 cup boiling water

Combine herbs. Place 1 tablespoon of the mixture in a glass jar and add boiling water. Steep for 10 minutes, then strain. Drink up to 4 cups daily.

Source: Romm, Aviva. Naturally Healthy Babies and Children. Berkeley, California: Celestial Arts, 2003.

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