by CoreyPine Shane on February 21st, 2019

A few weeks ago I was in Florida and was fortunate enough to find a good-sized stand of Prickly Ash trees (Zanthoxylum clava-herculis), a plant that I’d been hoping to find during my trip. There was enough of it that I felt comfortable harvesting a few branches to bring back and make into tincture. As I was researching the herb to refresh my memory of its more obscure uses, I thought it would be a great to share with you. Both because it is an amazing and under-used herb but also it gives me a chance to talk about heating remedies and what they do.

It really is an unparalleled native herbal remedy with a long history of use, most often as part of a larger formula. In the citrus family (Rutaceae) and not related to the true Ash trees, Prickly Ash has some of that aromatic bitterness of the citrus but also a circulatory stimulating, or “Heating” property that is more stimulating than Ginger but not so hot and dispersing as Cayenne. To put that in perspective, Ginger warms up internally and is great for being out in the cold too long while Cayenne is so dispersing that it ends up cooling us off by stimulating the body to dilate the blood vessels near the surface and “sweat off” the extra heat.
It’s circulatory stimulant properties make it useful for those with cold hands and feet, including conditions like Raynaud’s Disease. It also has been used for Intermittent Claudication, muscle pain and cramping from low blood flow after exercise.

Arthritis and joint pain are traditionally treated using both blood movers (“circulatory stimulants”) and blood cleansers (“alteratives”). Blood tends to slow as it moves through the joint capsule because it’s harder to run in curves than in straight lines, and as it slows it can deposit toxins, just like in places where a river slows down debris can pile up. An example of this would be how uric acid builds up in a specific joint in gout.

Many herbal traditions add a warming herb to a formula to help potentiate the formula (ie – drive it deeper into the body, make it more effective). In Chinese medicine Ginger is often used, in Ayurveda Black Pepper and Long Pepper (Pippali) are commonly used, and in some American traditions, Cayenne serves this purpose. But Prickly Ash can be used in the same way, to open up the circulation so that the herb “takes” more easily and deeply.

It stimulates not just blood circulation but also lymph circulation, so it is used in formulas for both acute conditions like colds to chronic conditions – even used as part of a formula for things like cancer, Lyme’s disease, or STIs when combined with other herbs. This would never be the main herb in the formula, but something added to the formula to increase its efficacy.

Prickly Ash is also a good pain remedy, especially for neuralgic pain like sciatica, or shooting pain. One of its common names is Toothache Tree, and the bark can be chewed or the tincture diluted and used as a mouth rinse to help with tooth pain while at the same time stimulating circulation in the gums.

If you do chew it, you might find that it strongly stimulates salivation, which is technically called a “sialogogue” but Prickly Ash is more of a “drool-agogue” by my standards. This ability to stimulate secretions can make it a great ally for people with dry mouth and insufficient digestive secretions, either chronically or because of drugs like beta-blockers or chemo. Really anyone with slow digestion and low secretions could benefit from this herb and it could help flatulent dyspepsia. Just don’t use it if there’s already a lot of stomach irritation or inflammation (“Heat”) because then you would need something more calming and soothing, not stimulating.

Prickly Ash is a great herb to have in your apothecary or around the house, and a great example of a Heating herb that doesn’t overdo it. As I learn more about this plant, I'm going to post more here.

by CoreyPine Shane on October 13th, 2017

There are more herbs for digestive issues than for just about any other issue, maybe because digestive problems are one of the most common complaints. Almost every herb we use in cooking has a beneficial effect on digestion, which is part of the reason we use them in our food. Though a lot has been said about many of the standard digestive herbs like Fennel, Chamomile and Ginger, the three that are my favorites right now are Cardamom, Betony, and Meadowsweet. These have become my “go-to” herbs for digestive problems as well as many other issues.
Cardamom may be familiar to anyone who’s eaten Indian food, but it’s become one of my most used herbal tinctures over the past couple years. It is the seed of a plant (Elettaria cardamomum) in the same family as Ginger and Turmeric, and with some similar properties. It is warming, aromatic, and slightly bitter, so it can act as both an aromatic digestive herb and also a bitter.
Aromatic digestives (also called carminatives) help soothe digestive upset from over-eating and act as a mild anti-spasmodic for the gut. Most of our cooking herbs are aromatics and have some of this property of stimulating digestion – for example Cumin, Coriander, Oregano, Cinnamon. Some medicinal herbs are known to have a stronger action on the gut – Fennel, Peppermint, and Ginger for example.
All herbal bitters, really anything with a bitter flavor, stimulate digestive secretions like stomach acid and digestive enzymes which “prime the pump” and helps us break down our food more easily. There’s been so much written recently on the the myriad benefits of bitters that it might be a whole other blog entry.
Cardamom has both these therapeutic properties, being a carminative and a bitter. It’s often added to chai tea (“Masala Chai”) to assist in digesting the milk. It’s also excellent for nausea when Ginger would be too heating or for some reason not well tolerated. I also use it after a meal when it feels like the food isn’t digesting well, especially after eating heavy, oily or protein-rich foods.
But it is more than just a digestive herb. Cardamom helps calm the mind, and some Ayurvedic practitioners advise adding it to coffee (as it often is in Turkish coffee) so that the coffee isn’t overly irritating to the gut or too stimulating for the mind (Ayurveda would say it helps calm excess Vata). I’ve put a small amount in formulas for other issues just to harmonize the formula, since there’s a sweetness to this herb that is very grounding.
I use Cardamom as a tincture, but the powder or freshly ground seeds can be added to food, hot drinks, or smoothies. I find it’s better to get whole decorticated seeds and grind them fresh because the powder deteriorates quickly.
Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) is an occasional weed in some places, and is a great medicinal plant for many reasons. It contains salicylic acid, the constituent also found in Willow bark from which aspirin was originally synthesized. As such, it is an excellent anti-inflammatory and pain reliever, especially for headaches with a feeling of heat in the head, but also for joint pain.
I primarily use it is for inflammation and irritation in the gut, especially if there is a sensation of heat. I’ve found it very helpful for acid reflux, heartburn, and irritated stomach. I think of it as an “herbal antacid” but to be honest I don’t know if it actually reduces stomach acid or just makes our bellies feel better.
I might add in Meadowsweet to balance out stronger herbs that might upset digestion, or combined with antimicrobial herbs like Barberry (Berberis vulgaris) to treat a stomach flu or single-cell parasites. The Meadowsweet is more to treat the symptoms while the anti-microbial herbs work on the cause of the disturbance. Helping the irritation may also help with diarrhea.
It is the leaves that are used, fresh or dried, and as either a tincture or tea. If someone’s stomach is very irritated, some vegetable glycerine or honey can be added to create more of a soothing remedy.
And the final remedy I want to talk about is the extremely useful herb, Betony (Stachys betonica) – not to be confused with Wood Betony (Pedicularis spp.). If you are buying this herb, make sure to check the botanical name as the common names of these two fairly different plants are sometimes used interchangeably.
Betony, also known as Stachys (pronounced “stay-keys”) is easy to grow in the garden, and its leaves can be used as tea or tincture. It can be used for such a wide variety of ailments that it is considered one of the top herbs in Europe, though it is just becoming more well-known in North America.
The primary use of Betony is as a nervine to calm an over-stressed nervous system. Although any relaxing herb will help with digestion to some extent, this herb seems to have a little something extra. Maybe this is partly because it is in the mint family (Lamiaceae), although it doesn’t have a strong aroma like some mint family plants.
Betony is my choice of herbs when someone has an upset stomach from stress, tension or worry. Chamomile might be more well-known and easily available, but Betony seems to have a stronger effect on calming the mind. I’ve used it for headaches from poor digestion or from stress as well with great results. It has a wonderful grounding effect as well.
Keep these three herbs around your house and you can help almost any digestive upset! 

by CoreyPine Shane on June 26th, 2017

Maybe it’s these intense times we are living in, but I’ve been seeing more clients recently with a history of trauma. Maybe it’s because I’ve been reading more about trauma recently. Or maybe because more people are recognizing what trauma is and wanting to work with it as our culture FINALLY gets around to acknowledging that not just Vietnam vets can experience PTSD (and even veterans are under-diagnosed in my opinion).
Anemone is a beautiful herb to work with triggered states, whether from past trauma or from other sources. The fresh plant tincture is incredibly centering, and helps bring us back into our bodies. Anemone is my favorite remedy for panic attacks, acute anxiety, and feeling all over the place. These are intense times, and this is a plant well suited to treat trauma. I think of it as “Herbal Rescue Remedy.”
The genus name comes from the Greek word for wind (“anemos”), and some of the plants are known as wind-flowers. This is very appropriate, since it is the perfect remedy when we feel disconnected from our body, like our spirit is all up in the air, and our emotions are blowing around like the wind.
Although these plants have a long history of use, I find the best description of this emotionally settling use in the books of the Eclectic physician-herbalists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Eclectic John Fyfe, MD, wrote in 1903, “This is one of our most useful and frequently indicated remedies.”
King’s Dispensatory of 1898 has a long list of its Specific Indications, which begins with, “Nervousness and despondency, sadness, unnatural fear, tendency to weep, morbid mental excitement, marked depression of spirits…” This kind of intense triggered state is when Anemone really shines, helping us find the presence of mind and heart to deal with overwhelming emotions without sedating or numbing out. In fact, it helps us be more present without feeling like we are drowning in our emotional experience.
It is a “low-dose botanical,” meaning that it is used in doses of 1-5 drops of the tincture (alcohol extract) for best effect; much more than this can cause stomach irritation and vasodilation, so it is better to do small frequent doses if needed, and never large doses. It’s not dangerous, but too much will give you some unpleasant feeling side effects. I don’t usually write about low-dose botanicals but this is such a useful plant that it’s worth it.
I learned about this genus of plants from my teacher Michael Moore, who introduced it to modern herbalism, and most of the folks I know who use it have either studied with him or with one of his many students who are now teachers. I still think of Michael as the godfather of modern American herbalism.
Michael said only the western species are effective, such as Anemone occidentalis, Anemone tuberosa, or Anemone patens. Some of these are now in the Pulsatilla genus, and the whole remedy is used similarly to the homeopathic remedy Pulsatilla.

Another benefit of this plant is that it can be extremely helpful for migraines. In the same doses of 1-5 drops it can be surprisingly effective, especially when the headaches make you feel weak and faint. It is better for "vasoconstriction migraines" with a lack of blood flow to the head with a pale face and feeling cold.
But I’ve started experimenting using a fairly common east coast species, Thimbleweed Anemone virginiana (pictured), and I’ve found it just about as effective, though sometimes I need to go up to 10 drops for maximum effectiveness. I discovered this because I have a strong connection to the Anemones and one day this plant just called to me to be made into medicine. I started experimenting in non-emergency situations and found it be just about as good as the western species!
What’s exciting about this is that the plants need to be tinctured fresh, so this means us eastern herbalists can still harvest this plant ourselves, and this species is a fairly common native plant of tall meadows bordering woodlands. This time of year you’ll see it along trails from North Carolina to New York to southern Ohio, and probably further.
It is available occasionally in commerce (my company Pine’s Herbals sells both the west coast Anemone occidentalis, and if you feel like experimenting, the local Anemone virginiana). And it is not too difficult to find in the wild in June and July. Harvest the whole above ground herb (leaving enough plants to set seed for next year) and tincture in pure alcohol (95% or strongest you have). Because of the low dose, even a half pint will last a long time. Because it is acrid (strong and burning taste), I recommend chopping it outside so your nose doesn’t burn.
We as a culture have a lot to do to heal the trauma that we carry, and herbs will never be a substitute for work like Somatic Experiencing therapy, but the Anemone plants are a good temporary fix for those challenging moments.

by CoreyPine Shane on October 30th, 2016

Rosemary is steeped in our culture, one of the most common garden plants as well as a common component in French and Italian cooking. Literally “rose of the sea,” it reminds us of the Mediterranean coast where shrubs grow 8 feet high and almost as big around.  The scent is unique and unmistakable, as aromatic as oregano and as resinous as a pine tree.

Over the past couple years I’ve taught several classes about the medicinal uses of our common kitchen herbs, reminding us that the reason most of these plants came into use is because of their medicinal properties as much as their flavor. But of all the kitchen herbs, I’ve been most impressed with Rosemary, both so well loved as a garden herb and so often overlooked as a medicine.
And it can do so much! It stimulates digestion (as most kitchen herbs do), helps brain function, gets our circulation going, treats arthritis, and also has an association with the liver. Historically, Rosemary has been as much a staple of the apothecary as it is of the kitchen.
The interesting piece of this is that you can tell a lot of what this herb does based upon its taste. The aromatic property tells you it is a carminative, a fancy herbal word that I usually translate as “aromatic digestive,” because that’s what it really means. It is an aromatic herb that stimulates digestion.
But Rosemary also has a resinous property, which is easily noticed by anyone who has ever stripped the fresh needles from the branches. My hands always end up sticky black with the resin, and that delightful piney smell.
Resinous plants are often used in traditional western herbal medicine as antiseptics or antimicrobials (think Myrrh or Frankincense), or as expectorants (think Pine bark or Yerba Santa). But in Chinese medicine, resinous plants are thought of as herbs to move the blood.
Now this idea of “moving blood” means more than just stimulating circulation, although rosemary certainly does that. It also implies that the herb helps relieve pain, as all pain is caused by stagnation. So the category of “Herbs that Move Blood” is also the category of many of the pain relieving herbs.
You might not think of this as a pain relieving herb, but in the French tradition it was used as a salve topically for arthritis pain, and also to relieve menstrual cramps (“Secrets des Plantes,” Michel Pierre & Michel Lys).
It is still commonly used as an essential oil to treat certain kinds of headaches, and can be applied on the temples for this purpose. I would think of it for headaches where the person feels cold, looks pale, and has a feeling of stuckness. Avoid it for headaches with more “Heat” type symptoms where the person is agitated, irritable, and might have more redness in the face.
This circulatory stimulating property also makes it a great brain herb. It helps, like Calamus, to aromatically open the mind, clearing brain fog and helping us think more clearly. It’s a great herb to take before studying or doing intellectual work. Taken regularly it can help improve memory.
While it is a stimulant to the brain, it is also a calming herb useful for times of stress and overwork. So unlike coffee, which can make our muscles tighter and contribute to stress, Rosemary actually calms the body while stimulating the mind.
There are many ways to take this herb – I prefer to use the tincture (alcohol extract) as it is convenient and easy to carry with me. I find that I only need 10-15 drops of the extract at a time for a good dose. It also makes a nice tea, but use a about half the amount than you would for other herbs because the taste is strong.
For the relief of joint pain, the salve of liniment can be excellent but a bath is truly lovely. For the bath, you can either make a strong tea then pour it into the bathtub once you’ve drawn the bath, or just add a few drops of the essential oil.
It is truly a lovely essential oil, either diluted for topical use or put into a diffuser. But then again, the flavor is wonderful in many dishes so it makes a great cooking herb.
I hope you find a way to enjoy this wonderful and useful herb sometime soon. It’s a perfect remedy for this autumn time of year as things start getting chilly. Add in some rosemary to warm things back up!

by Maria Noël Groves on March 23rd, 2016

CoreyPine's Note: Maria Noël Grove is the author of the excellent new herbal book, Body Into Balance. The Blue Ridge School is hosting her on Thursday, April 7, for a class on "Herbs for Allergies" - see our home page for more info. She will also be teaching and have a booth at the Mother Earth News Fair that weekend, April 9 - 10.

The Art of Herbal Formulation
By Maria Noël Groves

As an herbalist and intuitive home cook, creating a recipe from scratch usually means I stand in front of my options (ie: the herb closet, spice rack, or tincture apothecary) pondering, “Hmmm, what do I feel like? What flavors go well together?” Then I begin pulling jars, holding them, inhaling them, and then scooping this and that into the pot, seemingly at random, letting my senses and gut instinct guide me. This is how most herbalists work to create blends, and no two people will make quite the same thing, yet it often all works.

However, herbal newbies often approach jars of herbs or a ready-to-harvest garden with trepidation. They’re afraid they’ll screw things up or combine things that don’t mix well. They want recipes! Exact recipes! Herbal medicine is generally more forgiving than you may think, but there is an art and science to blending great formulas. The ability to create your own custom blend allows you to make perfect healing remedies for you and your family and to craft creative blends to give as gifts or sell. Keep the following suggestions in mind, and then just start practicing! Make small batches at first – a cup of tea, tiny bottles of tinctures, cordials, etc. – until you know you have it the way you like it. Experimentation, trial and error are part of the experience of learning herbs. Don’t let it hold you back.

Before You Blend: Ask Yourself…
What’s Your Goal? Before you begin to craft your blend, first decide its purpose. Do you have a particular health concern you want to address? Is this a general tonic blend that addresses a variety of conditions for one person? Or are you simply making a tasty tea that features a particular herb or flavor profile? This will be the driving force behind your creation!

What Fits You Best? Before you get caught up in the fascinating yet overwhelming topics of what herbs extract best in which form and how to combine them, think about what works best for you (or the person you’re creating the blend for). No matter how amazing a tea is, it won’t do a darned thing if you hate tea and will never stick with the habit. Are tinctures perfectly convenient or too medicine-like? Are you stuck in that “just give me a pill, that’s all I’ll do” mentality? Do you need to avoid anything due to health such as alcohol or sugar and honey? Should you be aware of herb-drug interactions? Are you allergic or known to have negative reactions to specific herbs or foods? What flavors do you love and hate? Get to know the actions of each herb before you put it in your blend. Read up on them in a few good books or websites and then listen to your body to see if they agree with you. Some people might be surprised to find that licorice raises their blood pressure, cinnamon gives them constipation, ginger is too warming, or peppermint aggravates acid reflux even though these herbs are otherwise extremely safe and don’t cause these “side effects” in most people.

Does the Solvent or Extraction Method Matter? Perhaps you know you want to make a winter wellness blend, but you’re not sure if you should make it as a tea, tincture, cordial, herbed vinegar, herb-infused honey, or something else. Once you’ve established any personal preferences (see above) that may take precedence, ponder what remedy form suits the condition and herbs best.

·      Tea (Water): Pros – inexpensive, gentle, hydrating, easily absorbed, normal, and the ritual alone of making and sipping hot tea is healing.  Cons – inconvenient for some, generally limited to dry plants (some herbs lose potency once dry), some herbs may be unpalatable, hard to blend herbs that don’t mix flavor-wise or require different steeping times and methods (ie: roots and leaves).

·      Tincture (Alcohol): Pros – extract most herbs well, convenient to travel and take, shelf stable for years, easily absorbed. Cons – alcohol issues (addiction, allergy, religion), takes 2-4 weeks to make (unless you do a percolation tincture, which is ready in 24 hours, see my website for a video and directions), doesn’t extract minerals (ie: nettles) and mucilage (marshmallow, slippery elm) well. While 100-proof vodka works for most plants, fresh or dry, high-proof alcohol is more effective for resins (myrrh, boswellia) and fat-soluble constituents (turmeric). Low-alcohol decoction method preferred for mushrooms and polysaccharide-rich herbs like astragalus.

·      Syrups, Honeys & Cordials: Pros – taste good, easy to incorporate into daily routine, gentle, syrups and honeys quell coughs. Cons – not always potent, high-sugar (and alcohol for cordials), shorter shelf life than tinctures.

·      Powders & Capsules: Pros – convenient to take, homemade is inexpensive (but time-consuming to make), minimal taste, powders can be mixed in honey, nut butter, drinks (better absorption than pills). Cons – need to be digested, pills often not as effective as tea or tincture, store-bought products can be expensive, powders can be unpalatable, only dry material can be used, powders quickly degrade and are often adulterated or low quality in commerce.

·      Vinegars & Oxymels: Pros – vinegar base enhances digestion/absorption, superior to alcohol for extracting minerals, alcohol-free alternative to tinctures, shelf stable for a few months to one year, honey in oxymels (a vinegar-honey extract) improves flavor of vinegar. Cons – vinegar base aggravates ulcers and some cases of reflux, honey in oxymels may be too much sugar, vinegar flavor may not be palatable, shorter shelf life than tinctures, not as potent for most plants compared to water and alcohol.
Ingredient Categories: Primary, Supportive & Synergist
I learned this method of formulation from the well-known herbalist Rosemary Gladstar. I love its simplicity, and you can use it to craft an easy blend of three herbs or complex formulas. Choose one or more ingredients in each category: Primary, Supportive, and Synergist. This basic concept works whether you’re creating a tea, tincture, or other form of remedy.

1. Primary Herbs:
The herbs that have the primary medicinal action (for a health condition) or primary flavor (for a tasty blend of tea). These can take up a small or large percentage of a formula. 

It’s difficult to give general examples of primary herbs because they can be almost anything! Usually, though, they are relatively potent and direct in terms of action or flavor.

2. Supportive Herbs: These herbs support the primary herb and whole body vitality. For example herbs that are tonic, nutritious, adaptogen, soothing. Flavor-wise, they might provide a nice base note to offset or compliment the primary herbs. Or, they might buffer a strong activity or potential side effect of a primary herb. Often these take up a large percentage of a formula.

3. Synergists: These herbs help put synergy to work. Movers and shakers are often spices (cayenne, black pepper, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, peppermint) that increase circulation and improve digestion to enhance the absorption/action of the other herbs. This isn’t just herbal voodoo! Just a pinch of black pepper improves turmeric’s absorption by 2,000 times, and a pinch of cayenne boosts green tea’s cancer-killing ability 100 times that of either ingredient alone. Ginger enhances echinacea’s anti-cold activity. Harmonizers (licorice, honey) tend to be sweeter bring flavors and actions together. In both cases they often improve the flavor of a formula. Often, just a small amount of a synergist is used. Cayenne, black pepper, and cardamom are so potent they easily overpower other herbs in your blend if you overdo it.

4. Maybe Also Add Some Good Vibrations? This gives your blends a little something extra. Rose petals have physical healing properties (ie: tightening and toning tissues), but they also gladded the heart. Consider them when you’re feeling hopeless, full of rage, or have a broken heart. Flowers are often a welcome addition, even if they simply make you happy to see them in your loose blend. Flower essences are highly dilute remedies akin to homeopathics that target emotional, spiritual, and physical wellbeing. You can easily add a few drops of a flower essence to tincture blends or your teacup. Highly scented herbs and spices bring in aromatherapy, especially for tea blends. In fact, any herbs can be viewed as having more esoteric healing properties. Generally speaking, roots ground us while flowers activate our emotions and spices light our fire. “Good Vibrations” are totally optional, but this is where the art and magic of herbs comes in.

Don’t Get Too Hung Up on the Details! Herbs don’t really like to be put in a box, so don’t be surprised if the same herb pops up in multiple categories in one or separate blends. They’re complex entities, and we put them into categories to help us understand them better. For example, cinnamon may be a synergist, but if you’re creating a blood sugar blend, it may also be a primary herb. Nettle is a classic supportive herb, but if you’re creating a nutritious blend, it’s the star player. A stress-relieving adaptogen might be the primary herb in a stress blend, but it will play second fiddle to hormone-balancing vitex in a PMS blend.

But How Do I Choose?
As you begin to study herbal medicine, you’ll realize that herbs are like the English language: There are many synonyms. While some may have a slightly different tone or meaning, you can often use several words (or herbs) interchangeably based on availability and still relay the same message. First, what herbs do you have on hand to choose from? If cost is a factor, rule in or out your herbs based on price point. Now, each herb has multiple healing benefits – does one have any “side benefits” that you’d prefer? Any side effects you want to avoid? And, lastly, how does it taste or harmonize with the other ingredients in your blend – this is especially important when you make a tea. Creating a blend is a lot like arranging a flower bouquet or writing a poem, finding that perfect balance and beauty that works for you.

Maria Noël Groves, RH (AHG), registered clinical herbalist, runs Wintergreen Botanicals, LLC, an herbal clinic and education center nestled in the pine forests of Bear Brook State Park in Allenstown, NH. She is certified by Michael Moore’s Southwest School of Botanical Medicine, a registered professional herbalist with the American Herbalists Guild, and has also completed Rosemary Gladstar’s advanced training program and Lichenwood Herbals’ flower essence practitioner training. Her business is devoted to education and empowerment via classes, health consultations, and writing with the foundational belief that good health grows in nature. She is the author of Body into Balance: An Herbal Guide to Holistic Self Care, a 300+ page, full color herbal organized by western body systems. Learn more about Maria and herbs at