Herb Basics

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Elder flowers (Sambucus nigra)
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A Place to Start

Angelicas: Healing Herbal Cousins

More than 50 species of angelicas spread across the globe. Several have longstanding reputations as prized healers, and different species have widely varying uses. In many cases, all parts of these medicinal angelicas — roots, stems, leaves and seeds — carry healing chemicals.

Angelica archangelica: Angelica. The plant’s roots and leaves are used medicinally for ailments ranging from colic and indigestion to bronchitis and debilitating chest conditions. It’s also used in candies and to flavor liqueurs.

A. sinensis: Chinese angelica, or dong quai. This sweet, pungent herb is the main tonic in Traditional Chinese Medicine for regulating menstruation and strengthening the female reproductive system.

A. atropurpurea: American angelica. This herb has similar properties to A. sinensis, but it’s less aromatic.

A. dahurica: Fragrant angelica, or bai zhi. A Chinese herb used for headaches and aching eyes, nasal congestion and toothaches.

Make your own natural salve

Herbal salves are excellent remedies for cuts, scrapes and minor burns. They’re also fun and easy to make at home. This recipe makes about 3 ounces of salve. You can find the ingredients listed below, plus 1-ounce glass salve jars with lids, at health-food stores and herb shops.

3 ounces herb-infused oil, such as St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) or calendula (Calendula officinalis) oil
1/2 ounce pure beeswax
15 drops pure essential oil (try lavender, tea tree or a combination)
3 (1-ounce) salve jars

Slowly heat herbal oil in a saucepan to about 100 degrees. Chop or grate beeswax and gradually stir it into the hot oil. Remove from heat and stir in essential oil. Pour hot salve into jars and let cool. Cap jars and store at room temperature.

Clear your sinuses with helpful herbs

For sinus congestion, try a tea made from 1 teaspoon each of yarrow flowers (Achillea millefolium), elder flowers (Sambucus nigra), peppermint leaves (Mentha Ypiperita) and elecampane root (Inula helenium). Place herbs in a covered container with 1 quart of boiling water. Steep for 20 minutes, strain and drink 1 cup three times daily; drink more when severely congested.

Another good remedy for clogged sinuses is to include cayenne (Capsicum annuum) in your diet. The spice helps dry up mucus, opens nasal passages and stimulates healthy immune functioning.

Finally, try an external application of fresh gingerroot (Zingiber officinale). Cut the root into chunks and grate it. Squeeze the grated ginger to remove excess liquid, and apply the herb directly to your nose and forehead. This promotes drainage, as well as good circulation.

The scoop on St. John’s wort

Common names: St. John’s wort, Amber touch-and-heal, goatweed

Latin name: Hypericum perforatum

Family: Hypericaceae

Part used: Flowering tops

Medicinal uses: St. John’s wort is a safe and effective remedy for mild to moderate depression (not for severe depression). Externally, the herb is effective for relieving the pain of scrapes, wounds and minor burns.

Forms commonly used: For internal use, tea, tincture, capsules and tablets; externally, in oils, ointments and salves.

Side effects: St. John’s wort should not be taken with pharmaceutical antidepressant drugs, as the herb may increase the drug’s effects. Fair-skinned individuals should avoid excessive exposure to sunlight when using this herb, as hypericin may cause hives or blisters upon exposure to sunlight.

Notes: To make St. John’s wort tea, steep 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of the dried herb in a cup of hot water for 10 to 15 minutes; strain and drink. The tea may be less effective than tinctures or standardized extracts.

St. John’s wort has been used for centuries and was possibly named by early Christians in honor of John the Baptist. The herb, which flowers around the summer solstice, is an invasive weed; if you want to grow it at home, consider confining it to a pot. St. John’s wort imparts a rich, red color to tinctures and external-use oils.

Relieve your child’s stomachache with herbal tea

Herbalist Kathi Keville recommends the following tea to help ease a child’s stomachache. To make the tea go down easier, add some honey and share the tale of Peter Rabbit with your child.

Peter Rabbit’s tea
2 cups boiling water
1 teaspoon chamomile flowers (Matricaria recutita)
1 teaspoon lemon balm leaves (Melissa officinalis)
1/2 teaspoon catnip leaves (Nepeta cataria)
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds (Foeniculum vulgare)

Pour boiling water over herbs and steep for 10 minutes. Strain and allow to cool. Have your ailing child sip this tea as needed — sometimes as little as 1/4 cup spells relief.

Source: Keville, Kathi. Herbs for Health and Healing. Emmaus, Pennsylvania: Rodale, 1996.

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