In Basket: July 2011

Dear Herb Companion,

I JUST WANTED to say that I loved the May 2011 issue. I am eager to find the eyedrops for sensitive and aging eyes from your “9 Herbs for Healthy Eyes” article. Does anyone have any idea where to get those? Or does anyone have a recipe for making the tincture or drops that I would need?

–Ti Bo, West Terre Haute, Indiana

Try this leaf infusion with eyebright: Combine 1 tablespoon eyebright leaves with 1 cup distilled water; strain; mix with salt (1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt per cup); and apply as a compress or pour into an eyecup and soak each eye. (Change the solution between eyes.) If there is leftover solution, keep it refrigerated; toss after 24 hours. You could also buy herbal eyedrops, available at health- food stores. We recommend Herb Pharm’s Rue Fennel formula. It contains rue, fennel, eyebright, goldenseal and mullein. –Eds.

THE ARTICLE “PLANT a Medicinal Garden” from your May 2011 issue was a very nice introduction for herbal novices. However, I have a serious objection to the final statement concerning peppermint tea: “People prone to gastric reflux should not drink peppermint tea. Peppermint tea relaxes the sphincter.” This is not true. I don’t have time to hunt down the JAMA article now (it was published more than 10 years ago) but the allopaths did a double-blind study and peppermint tea was found to be as effective as proton pump inhibitors (such as Nexium) in relieving the symptoms of acid reflux. It’s not the tea–it’s the concentrated essential oil that aggravates reflux.

–Cynthia Koons, Muncy, Pennsylvania

You are right. Peppermint leaf yields from 0.3 percent up to the high end of 1 percent peppermint oil. Therefore, warnings intended for pure peppermint oil do not equate to or relate to peppermint leaf. We apologize for our error. –Eds.

YOUR WONDERFUL AD “A Passion for Plants,” and the photo observing the trillium in the Willamette National Forest (May 2011) was most impressive. It brought back memories of attitudes and practices of my biology teaching days (1955-1993). At a time when curriculum emphasis was on biochemistry, I stubbornly insisted that my students also learned of the ecological significance of the environment and the plants around them.

On a field trip to the Delaware Water Gap National Recreational Area, I startled my students when I dropped to the forest floor to more closely examine my first sighting of pink lady’s slipper (Cypripedium acaule). A couple of these students later became “flower floppers” themselves to get better sightings of wildflowers.
Thank you for encompassing the big picture of gardening and the ecological balance and diversity behind it.

–Ed Klavon, Pennsburg, Pennsylvania

I READ THAT a root extract from Japanese knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum) rivals grape extract as a resveratrol source.
As an experienced forager of wild foods, I have eaten the green shoots of Japanese knotweed as a spring pot herb, but I did not know whether the root was edible. Now I wonder if it would be possible to make my own supplement by drying and powdering the root and putting the powder in capsules. I realize that I would have no way of scientifically determining the quantity or quality of the active principle in the herb I gather, but could one reasonably expect some benefits and no harm?  

–Carol Kelly, Marion, Ohio

The problem is not using the knotweed shoots, but rather standardization to a level of resveratrol minus the other constituents. Resveratrol is typically extracted with ethyl alcohol, which is why resveratrol is higher in red wine than in grape juice. Also, the oxalic acid content (which gives it the taste of rhubarb) can produce kidney stones and aggravate conditions such as rheumatism, gout, arthritis and hyperacidity. –Eds.

IN YOUR SEPTEMBER 2010 article “Lower Your Blood Pressure,” should you take all four of the herbs mentioned in the article or will any one of the herbs help lower your blood pressure and cholesterol?

–Helen Robinson, Salem, Virginia

Arjuna and hawthorn are pretty similar in action. There’s no harm in taking them together, but it’s not necessary–one or the other will be effective. Garlic is often combined with hawthorn, and green tea is a great beverage. So mix and match as desired. –Eds.

I HAVEN’T READ The Herb Companion magazine for three years. My Oklahoma penfriend used to send me copies now and then. She belonged to the Herb Society of America. I haven’t heard from her in a long while.
I am 72 years old and I love to grow herbs. I have talked about their benefits at local women’s meetings I attend now and then. I grow red sage, thyme, fennel, yarrow, vervain, rosemary and feverfew in my garden. I would like to have someone email and chat with me sometime. I use Yahoo! messenger to keep in touch with friends whom, I am sad to say, are not herb growers. It would be so inspiring to have a friend who does. 

–Dale Duncan, Dannevirke, New Zealand

Readers: Email with “Penfriend” in the subject line to get in touch with Dale. –Eds.

I DISCOVERED WILD horseradish and I am loving it! What a huge difference fresh horseradish is from the stuff in supermarket jars! Luckily, before I did anything with it, I learned how to make it fresh. Keep your face away from the lid when opening a fresh batch of ground horseradish–pow! It is some strong stuff! Also, keep it in small jars and freeze because it oxidizes and its potency breaks down quite rapidly.
My boyfriend, Andy, buys fresh herbs and sticks them in the freezer still in their plastic package. I think they should be dried, or washed and blended with oil, so I buy freeze-dried or use fresh instead. He doesn’t think it matters. Which is best? 

–Cheryl Terrace, New York

Many people harvest basil (usually in sprigs about 4 to 6 inches long with a few leaves), as well as dill, parsley, etc., to freeze in plastic bags. Andy may be onto something good. A number of owners of Thai restaurants we’ve talked with buy fresh lemongrass, Thai basil and Makrut lime leaves, then wash and freeze them for use in their dishes. As long as the herbs are going to be put into a cooked dish (rather than trying to use them in a salad) the method works just fine. –Eds.

Facebook Fodder

LORA FLEMING: Here’s a picture of a bee on my oregano last summer. There were about 30 bees on there!

RACHAEL AMEN: Marshmallow and bee balm!

LISA MIDDENDORF: Echinacea, catnip, lavender, thyme, comfrey, bee balm and anise hyssop.

Visit to read more Facebook Fodder. Turn to Page 54 to learn more about attracting pollinators.

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In our next issue, we delve deeper into the art of preparing spice blends. What are your favorite spice blends? Please email letters@herb with “In Basket” in the subject line.

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