Sunday, May 29, 2016

Treating a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) with Herbs

I'm sure it has happened to many women--you wake up feeling kind of "off" one day, and then, when you use the bathroom, the tingling begins--the very first sign of a Urinary Track Infection (UTI).  That's exactly what happened to me one day a few weeks ago.  I had a particularly busy day on campus, full of meetings that I could not avoid, and I did my best to get through the day.  As the day went on, though, it quickly grew worse and I drank some nettle tea for it's diuretic action (I didn't have anything else with me) while I finished up the last of my meetings. I must admit, I secretly rejoiced with this particular UTI. The UTI is the herbalist's moment of truth. I've been studying herbalism for many years, and I have been waiting for a UTI to come during all of those years--and I had helped others knock out their UTI.  But, I hadn't had a UTI for over a decade, and firsthand experience is an important part of herbal practice. And so my moment of truth had arrived--was I up to the task?  

By the time I made my way home, urination was painful and frequent, the color was dark, the entire area was burning, and I was feeling faint. All the signs of the typical UTI! This was the stage that, before I was an herbalist, I would have immediately gone to the doctor. Instead, I decided to give myself four hours to see if I could knock it out and avoid a trip to the doctor and a course of antibiotics.

The good news about herbal supports for UTIs is that, as long as it is caught early, herbs are really effective for this condition.  Many herbs have a contact antibiotic or anti-microbial effect, which means essentially that as long as the herb can touch the tissue that is infected, it can do healing work. This is particularly useful for UTIs, since anything you ingest goes through your digestive system and into your kidneys, then into your bladder, and then down into your urethra and out. Teas and tinctures suspended in water, in this case, are the absolute best preparations for an UTI because they go through the body quickly and hit all the areas necessary.

Given my increasing pain and suffering, I created a regimen that attacked the UTI from several angles. 

1. Tinctures.  Since things had already progressed a lot in a few short hours, I began as soon as I got home with a big dose of tinctures in water while everything else was brewing.  I took a dropperful of goldenseal (not tasty at all, used for it's antimicrobial effects), supported with echninacea (for its immune stimulating effects) and goldenrod (for its anti-inflammatory effects). I continued to take this combination every few hours.

2. Tea.  I brewed up a tea with oregon grape root (tasting slightly better than goldenseal, but with the same anti-microbial effect through berberine), nettles (for the diuretic and supportive action), lemon balm (to chill me out), and reishi (to stimulate my immune system). I boiled the reishi and oregon grape root for 15 minutes covered, removed the heat, and then added the nettles and lemon balm.  This tea was not particularly appealing, so I added some mint to make it taste better.  I added raw honey (another contact anti-microbal) after the tea cooled and drops of echinacea tincture and began drinking this by the quart as soon a it was completed.

3.  A Sitz Bath. Because UTIs often include a burning sensation on the outside, I also created a berberine-rich sitz bath. This included again Oregon grape root and goldenseal boiled for 20 min, goldenrod added after the boil period and waiting till it cooled a bit. I strained this and added to my bath water. I sat in the bath, peeing when necessary in the tub, for about an hour. The medicine worked well and this particular strategy brought great relief.

4.  Juice.  Finally, I supplemented my tea with juice. You can use cranberry or blueberry here.  I prefer blueberry because it tastes better and is not as drying on the whole digestive system as cranberry.  Both of these juices help prevent bacteria from sticking to and growing in your urethra.  

Within an hour, I had a lot of relief.  I got out of the tub, kept up the fluids, and within a few hours felt much better.  I took a second sitz bath later in the evening again. I kept up the strong regimen for 24 hours, and then  went to just juice and tincture after 24 hours for 72 full hours. At the end of 72 hours, there were no signs of infection. This is important--just because you feel better doesn't mean the UTI has passed.  You need to keep things going for at least three full days to ensure that the infection won't start breeding again. If the herbal home remedies aren't effective for you, don't hesitate to go to the doctor for antibiotics instead!

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Herbal Support for Sleep
Photo by Nikki Roberts
         Sleep is important and a lack of sleep can cause a cascade of problems in our daily lives. The effects of sleep can be seen on all spectrums from our mood and emotional state to our physical ability to function. Not sleeping well can cause irritability, lack of focus, fatigue, memory difficulties, reduced libido and may pose an array of other challenges. This article provides information herbal supports for sleep.

         If you or a friend/client are having trouble sleeping take some time to ask questions, reflect and figure out what triggers might contribute to the difficulty. 

Some questions to ask may be:
Is there an underlying level of anxiety or stress that is infiltrating bedtime? If this is the case you might want to incorporate tonic herbs throughout the day into the care regimen. For this condition, two kinds of herbs may be helpful.  Nervines are herbs that feed the nervous system and are gently calming and relaxing.  Some possibilities include Oats / oat straw(Avena sativa), lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) and catnip - Nepeta cataria). Anxioylic's are herbs that help reduce anxiety. Blue vervain (verbena hastata) and motherwort (leonurus cardiaca) could be helpful when used throughout the day.

Are you able to fall asleep quickly but are unable to stay asleep? Dig deeper here if you are able to fall asleep. What is waking you up? Is it your mind running a marathon? Are you uncomfortable? If so is this caused by physical tension/pain or from your sleeping arrangements. Is it something in your external environment like noise, lights, sounds, electronics? Do you have to go to the bathroom many times a night? Once you answer some of these questions you can address some of these underlying problems with appropriate herbs to help.

Can you not fall asleep to begin with? Do you toss and turn trying to fall asleep? Ask some of the same questions above here - is your mind not letting you rest? Are you uncomfortable, if so why? Is your sleep environment not ideal?

See if addressing any of these underlying things helps you sleep! And of course, you can always combine herbal treatments of those underlying causes by taking some sedative and sleep specific herbs before bedtime. Here are my three favorites. These herbs can be combined together if you find that more effective:

Kava Kava - Piper methysticum
  • Botanical Family: Piperaceae 
  • Parts used: Roots
  • Forms taken in: Tincture, Tea, Powder
  • Active constituents: Kavalactones and Polysaccarides 
  • What it does: Kava is a sedative and muscle relaxer. It is often also used in social settings to help release inhibition. It is anxiolytic, meaning it reduces anxiety. This can be a good choice of sleep aid if you are also having muscle tension and pain as a cause of lack of sleep.
  • Tincture Dosage suggestion: Experiment here. You can take a higher dosage if you do not feel the effects of a lower dose. You can take a Tincture of 3-5ml 20-30 minutes before sleep. 
  • Contraindications/Things to know: Kava upsets some people's stomachs.  It will numb your mouth a little bit whenever you take it, that will subside soon after. Some individuals get a little hyped up before the Kava has its sedative effect so it is best to take 20-30 minutes before you would like to sleep. Because of this Kava might not also be the best choice for individuals waking up in the middle of the night that need something to help them fall back asleep. Do not take during pregnancy. If you are a person with a compromised liver please consult a medical professional before taking Kava. Kava can impair your ability to drive or operate machinery, use responsibly. Kava is a potent herb--start with smaller doses and work your way up.  Despite its potency, it is not habit forming in any way.  Make sure you get kava roots only and get them from a reputable source.

Hops - Humulus lupulus
  • Botanical Family: Cannabaceae
  • Parts used: Strobiles from the female flowers
  • Forms taken in: Tincture, Tea, Powder
  • Active constituents: lupulin
  • What it does: Sedative. Can also help reduce pain so can be another good choice for people having difficulty sleeping with pain as an underlying cause. This is a bitter plant so also has a stimulating and supportive effect on the digestive system. 
  • Dosage suggestion: 2-4 ml of tincture before sleep. More as needed, can be taken in the middle of the night. Tea is very bitter, most people do not like it in that form! 
  • Other ways to build this herb into your diet: Drink a beer high in hops before bed like an IPA.
  • Other things to know:  You can also make a dream balm, infused with hops and lavender, to rub on your temples at night before bed.  

Valerian - Valeriana officinalis
  • Botanical Family: Caprifoliaceae
  • Parts used: Roots
  • Forms taken in: Tincture, Tea, Powder
  • Active constituents: 
  • What it does: Sedative. A helpful herb for insomnia and nervous system support. 
  • Dosage suggestion: Try a few drops first and wait awhile and see if you have the stimulating effect or not. Otherwise take 2-3 mls before bed. 
  • Contraindications: About 10% of people have a different response to Valerian where they get stimulated from it instead of sedated. My one herbal teacher Susan Hess told us that this happens to her and she switched to using the flowers and said that was effective. I have not tried it but it is something to keep in mind. Fun fact: Some cats go crazy for Valerian!

Sunday, May 15, 2016

How to Make an Fresh or Dried Herbal Tincture: A Step By Step Guide

I love looking at my rows and rows of fresh plant tinctures, lovingly prepared, each one carefully labeled in their mason jar on my herbal apothecary shelves.  They are like old friends, waiting for me each time I, or another, is in need.  I remember how each was gathered and prepared, the warmth of the sun, the smell of the plant material, the delight of the process of creation. At this point, I have over 100 different tinctures, preserved indefinitely, and I make more each year, replacing those as I need to do so.  These tinctures are the single most important thing in my herbal medicine chest--and today, we will talk about tincture making and provide everything you need to know to get started including the basic process, ratios, choosing the right plant matter, storing your tinctures, pressing your tinctures, and more.

My Tincture Shelf with Colorful Labels

Herbal Tinctures Overview and Materials

A tincture is plant matter preserved in a high-proof alcohol.  Tinctures have the longest shelf life of any of the herbal preparations; their shelf life is indefinite (by comparison, most other preparations and/or dried herbs will only last a year).  Both dried and fresh plant matter can be tinctured, as can a few other things (like propolis from beehives) -- all will be covered in this guide. 

In order to effectively tincture we need to:
  1.     Gather/purchase high quality plant matter
  2.     Choose the right alcohol based on the plant matter that we want to tincture
  3.     Prepare the plant matter correctly
  4.     Use the correct ratio of alcohol to plant matter
  5.     Put a label on it
  6.     Give time for constituents to extract
  7.     Store and/or press your tincture

We will cover each of these steps in this guide.  You will need the following materials:
  •     Fresh or dried plant matter (see #1)
  •     Alcohol appropriate for that plant matter (see #2)
  •     A mason jar for your plant matter
  •     Something to label your plant matter
  •     If you want to weigh ingredients to ensure consistency of your medicine, a small kitchen scale and a liquid measuring cup
We suggest reading through this guide fully before getting started!

1.  Gather or Purchase High Quality Plant Matter

So many medicinal herbs can be found right outside your door.  In our ecosystem in the upper Midwest and Northeast, this would include--in your yard (dandelion, ground ivy, plantain, yarrow, chickweed), on wild edges and fields (st. john's wort, blackberry, raspberry, goldenrod, queen anne's lace, stinging nettle, elderberry/flower, rose), in forests (hawthorn, oak bark, ghost pipe, various medicinal mushrooms (reishi, chaga, birch polypore, turkeytail), sassafras, stoneroot, skullcap, blue cohosh).  For a locally-based herbalist who gathers fresh herbs—it's best to gather and preserve when they are in abundance!  I strongly advocate using fresh plant matter to tincture when at all possible.

You can also prepare dried plant tinctures if fresh material isn't available--but for this, I would strongly suggest selecting the freshest herbs you can.  Fresh herbs have a strong smell, they have a bold color, and most importantly--they have a good effect!  When you go to buy the herbs, either get it from a reputable source, or sniff the jars yourself, checking for smell, taste, and color. 

The medicine is only as good as the herbs you select.  Also make sure that you select herbs that are free of chemicals or that were grown in areas that are not polluted (pay close attention to where roads are, where spraying takes place, what is upstream, etc). 
In my case, I'm working with some freshly harvested Yellow Dock (Rumex Crispus) roots...

2.  Choose the Right Alcohol

Proofs and Percent Alcohol: To understand how to tincture, we have to understand a few things about alcohol. Alcohol has two properties—the alcohol itself and the water.  Proof is double the percent of alcohol contained within the container, so 80 proof means that you have 40% alcohol, while 160 proof is 75.5% alcohol, and 190 proof is 95% alcohol.  When you are tincturing multiple things, you generally need a few different kinds of alcohols and proofs: I would recommend three kinds (if you can get them): an 80 proof bottle, a 150 proof bottle (or so), and something as close to 190 as you can manage.

Plant Constituents and Extraction: Certain plants extract their constituents in water, while others extract their constituents in alcohol, some are fine with either, and some need both; alcohol acts like a solvent for these plants (for a good overview of every plant's needs for extraction, we highly recommend Richo Cech's Making Plant Medicine).

Percent Alcohol and Preservation: Fresh plant matter, especially wet plant matter (like hawthorn, chickweed) has water, and therefore needs a higher proof (150-190). You use 150 for many, and 190 for plants that are particularly resinous (or those mushrooms you are doing a double water-alcohol extraction). Alternatively, you can dry and/or wilt fresh plant matter before tincturing and then use 80 proof rather than 150.  Wilting is simple--you leave it on the counter for a few days and it slowly loses it's moisture.  Dried plant matter requires a bit more water, so standard 80 proof (40%) alcohol is excellent for this.

The key for preservation is to ensure a minimum of 25% alcohol or more for preservation. I personally like to get at least 40% alcohol content for preservation.

Neutrality and Purchasing Alcohol:  Grain alcohol (like Everclear, moonshine) or vodka are the most neutral of the alcohols and are thus best to tincture in. Another common tincturing alcohol is brandy; this is especially good for elixirs (sweet herbal preparations with raw honey and herbs). Rum is another common choice (made from sugarcane).  If you select other kinds of alcohol, you will be getting the constituents of whatever it was made from along with your herbs--which you may not want.

For high proof spirits (190), grain alcohols are the best, especially if you can get organic high quality ones (the best are from Alchemical Solutions, but they are extraordinarily expensive!).  Everclear is the most readily available high proof spirit (151 or 190 proof) but its very strong and harsh in tinctures--your tinctures will not taste very good tinctured in alcohol.  But sometimes, beggars can't be choosers (especially if you live in certain states with strict liquor laws). Your tinctures will not taste good in Everclear, but they certainly will be effective.   Rain Vodka is one of my personal favorites (80 proof).  If you can find Devil’s Springs 151 Vodka, that’s another one of my favorites because it has a much nicer flavor.  Mixing spirits or diluting them down is also an option!

3. Prepare the plant matter correctly

If you have gathered plant matter wild, you want to "garble" it, that is, sift through it carefully to ensure that you haven't got anything that isn't the plant you gathered (like pieces of grass, etc).  You should also look for small bugs and make sure they end up safely outside, not in your tincture jar.  Wash the plant matter if necessary.

Plant matter should be chopped up finely to allow for the alcohol to penetrate the surface area of the plant--the more finely chopped, the easier it will be for the alcohol to permeate all of the surface of the plant.  A food processor is really useful for this, especially for a lot of plant material. If you are working with fruits with seeds (like hawthorn) you should remove the seeds if possible.  Many plants in the Rosacea family have cyanide in the seed (apples, hawthorn, cherries, etc).

If you only have a lower proof alcohol available, make sure you wilt juicy plant matter prior to adding it (chickweed, hawthorn, ghost pipe, etc.) 

My yellow dock, ready to tincture!

4. Use the Correct Ratio of Plant Matter to Alcohol

The “folk method” of herbalism suggests that you simply put your herbs in a jar, pour in some alcohol to cover the herbs and wait. This is a perfectly fine method and one many herbalists use!

If you want to get a bit more consistent (and make consistent medicine), however, a bit more work is required.  Specifically, you will want to weigh out your ingredients. If you are making a lot of tinctures, it is useful to get a smalls kitchen or postal scale for weighing.

The standard dried herb ratio is 1:5, meaning you will use 1 oz (weight) of herb for every 5 oz of menstruum (alcohol, by volume).  The standard wet herb ratio is 1:2, meaning you will use 1 oz (by weight) of herb for every 2oz (by volume) of alcohol.

Here’s where the tricky part comes in:  if you use these ratios and you use standard canning jars with lids (best); your alcohol will not cover your herbs.  This is where small, smooth, and round stones come into play—stick some clean stones in the herbal blend and ensure that the plant matter is fully submerged!  I learned this approach from Herbalist Jim McDonald and it is a wonderful trick that works well!

The rock that weighs down a tincture = priceless!  Just make sure you have a nice, clean rock.

5.  Put a Label On It

Please, please put a label on your tincture, or at some point in the future, you'll forget what is in there! Your label should include the following:
  •     Plant name (include the Latin name if possible, since many folk names can refer to more than one plant)
  •     The date you created the tincture
  •     Where the plant matter came from (wildharvested, location; purchased, location; etc.)
  •     Tincture method used (Folk method, ratios (include ratio)
  •     Any other pertinent info (I like to include info on if the tincture is low-dose, like Lobelia, or not)
An old yellow dock tincture on the left and my fresh tincture on the right.  The alcohol is already quickly extracting the roots, producing a yellow that will deepen to brown as the extraction process continues. See my label?  This label is just some scrapbook paper, but you can use anything. 

6.  Give it time

Tinctures, in progress or finished, should be kept in a cool, dark place.  Your tincture will be ready after 4-6 weeks of maceration (that is, soaking).  You can press it and bottle it up, or, if you are like me, you can leave the constituents in there indefinitely and pour off what you need before pressing the last little bit out!  

7.  Store your Tinctures

Your tinctures should be stored in a cool, dark place.  I have mine in a shelf that has a cloth cover over it (see photos).  You shouldn't hide them away where you won't remember them--keep them somewhere that is easily accessible to you so they are there when you need them. 

The same shelf I showed above, but this time with its cover to keep out the light.

8.  Use your Tinctures

We will have another post that will go more in depth about how to use your tinctures.  For now, however, you can take tinctures straight (although they are intense because of the higher proof alcohol), you can put them in some water to dilute and then take them like a shot (which is what I often do).  If you are making an herbal tea, you can add it to the tea and the heat will burn the alcohol off.  You can also add them to various other kinds of medicinal preparations.

We hope you've enjoyed this article on tincture making--and we would welcome your comments and insights! 

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Herbal Supports for Type Two Diabetes

Diabetes is a very common condition today. Many of you reading this post probably know someone with diabetes or may experience it yourselves. The CDC (Center for Disease Control) reports that 29.1 million people in the USA (or 9.3% of the population) have diabetes. Ninety to ninety-five percent of these cases are Type 2 diabetes.  It costed the US population $245 BILLION dollars in 2012 (3).  It is for this reason, and many others, that herbal supports are an excellent way to consider managing your diabetes. The purpose of this post is to give a brief overview of diabetes and begin an exploration of some potentially helpful botanicals and herbal treatments for individuals with diabetes. A recipe for herbal tea follows at the end of this post. 

The full name for the condition is diabetes mellitus - the word diabetes come from a Greek word meaning to siphon through and mellitus comes from a Latin word that means sweet. This meaning references one symptom of diabetes, Glucosuria, which is when there is glucose aka "sugar" in the urine. When you hear the terms "blood sugar" or "sugar" in relation to diabetes, glucose is the particular form of sugar being discussed. Our bodies need glucose to supply us energy. Foods that we eat get broken down into glucose which gets transported in the blood to our bodies cells. However, in order for the glucose to enter our cells a hormone, produced by the pancreas, called insulin is needed. Think of insulin as a key that unlocks a door to let the glucose into our cells. When someone has diabetes the glucose is not able to be used properly by the body even though it is present in the bloodstream. This can happen because the pancreas is unable to produce insulin or because the insulin (key) is unable to open the "door" to the cells.

Here are some differences between type one and type two diabetes:

Type 1 Diabetes:

  • Onset more common in childhood/youth
  • Pancreas beta cells destroyed – no insulin is produced

Type 2 Diabetes:

  • Onset more common after the age of 20
  • Beta Cells active – insulin is produced but there is insulin resistance
  • If diabetes is not controlled properly it can lead to beta cells in pancreas being destroyed and less insulin being produced

Factors that increase diabetic risk:

  • Genetic factors: if both your parents have diabetes your risk of developing is 75% compared to 15% if only one parent has diabetes
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Poor diet and/or excess body weight

Diagnosis for Diabetes

There are a few tests to evaluate blood sugar and determine if someone has diabetes or is at risk for developing diabetes (this is sometimes called per-diabetes). The Fasting Blood Glucose test is done by testing blood after someone has not taken anything but water in for 8 hours. A1C measures the average glucose present in the bloodstream over the past few months. This is done by measuring what percentage of the hemoglobin, a protein in your red blood cells that carry oxygen, in your blood is "sugar coated". The Oral Glucose Tolerance Test is a two hour test that is done by measuring the blood glucose levels before and after consuming a special drink. Having higher numbers than average on any of these tests may lead to a diagnosis of diabetes or pre-diabetes.  A diagnosis for diabetes occurss when you have fasting blood glucose greater than 126 mg/dl (normal under 100), A1C greater than 6.5% (normal under 5.7%, and an oral glucose tolerance test greater or equal to 200mg/dl (normal under 140).

Common Symptoms of Diabetes include the following:
  • Polyuria – frequent urination
  • Polydipsia – excessive thirst
  • Glucosuria – glucose in the urine
  • Rapid weight loss
  • Excessive hunger
  • Slow healing from wounds
  • Fatigue
  • Blurry vision
Diabetes is a serious condition with many complications.  These complications include: heart disease, stroke, blindness, kidney failure, high blood pressure, amputations necessary of lower limbs due to poor circulation, complications in pregnancy, and depression.

Herbal Healing Options

There are many treatment options for individuals with diabetes. Patient education, exercise and diet play an important role here. In addition pharmaceuticals and herbal medicines may be useful. Here are three botanicals to consider when working with diabetes.


  • Other names: Astragulus membranaceus, Milk Vetch, Radix Astraguali, Radix Astragalus  
  • Botanical Family: Fabacea aka Pea family.   
  • Parts used: Roots.  
  • Active constituents: Polysaccharides, Saponins and Flavanoids (5)
  • What it does: Astragulus reduces fasting blood glucose.  It also increases insulin sensitivity, and reduces lipids in the blood.
  • Dosage suggestion: Tea – 2tsp root 16oz water to drink 3 cups per day. Tincture 40-60 drops 3x/day (2)
  • Other ways to build this herb into your diet: Put the dried slices in soup at the start of cooking (you can strain out before serving!). You can also add Astragulus powder to oatmeal, tea, lattes, coffee, baked treats.  You can even put a stick in your water bottle.
  • Contraindications: Do not use with opiates (3)


  • Other Names: Cinnamomum spp., Sweetwood
  • Botanical Family: Lauraceae aka the Laurel family  
  • Parts used: Inner bark.
  • What it does: Cinnamon reduces fasting blood glucose (8); it delays gastric emptying and reduces postprandial blood glucose levels (10, 12).  Cinnamon also decreases insulin resistance (13). 
  • Dosage suggestions: Dosage suggestions are varied in studies, so anywhere from 120mg/day to 6g/day. As a tea, you can add 1 tsp cinnamon chips to 8oz water 3-4x/day (2). As a tincture, take 20-40 drops 3-4x/day (2). Cinnamon may need to be taken for long-term this to see anti-diabetic action (11)
  • Other ways to build this herb into your diet: Add cinnamon to your regular tea/coffee. You can put extra cinnamon into your baked goods, add to curries, milk, oatmeal, cocktails, or even water. 
  • Contraindications: Avoid therapeutic doses in pregnancy (2)


  • Other Names: Humulus lupulus
  • Botanical Family: Cannabaceae 
  • Parts used: strobiles (that is, the hops flowers)
  • Active constituents: resins, bitter compounds 
  • What it does: Hops helps with the lowering of body weight (15). Hops also helps enhance lipid metabolism (15, 16). It helps improve glucose tolerance (15, 16). Finally, hops reduced insulin resistance (16).
  • Dosage suggestion: Tea 2 tsp to 8oz water take 4oz 3-4x/day. Tincture 20-30 drops 3x/day (13).  
  • Other ways to build this herb into your diet: You can get hops into your diet by drinking beer, especially IPAs which are high in hops. Brew hops into your kombutcha. Add hops to your bitters compounds and cocktails. 
  • Contraindications: Hops are a sedative, so be mindful of time of day when you take hops. Also, do not use hops if you are on sedative medications like Ambein. 

Balanced Blood Sugar Support Tea

This tea is a wonderful daily tea for people suffering with diabetes.
  • 4 cups water
  • 8 Astragulus slices
  • 4 tsp cinnamon chips (if using powder use less)
  • 1T fresh ginger diced
Place in pot with lid bring to a simmer. Simmer 10 minutes.


1. Astragalus polysaccharides alleviates glucose toxicity and restores glucose homeostasis in diabetic states via activation of AMPK published by APS
2. Farm at Coventry Student Handbook by Susan Hess
3. Herbalpedia by The Herb Growing and Marketing Network accessed through HerbMentor
4. National Diabetics Statistics Report 2014 by Center for Disease Control and Prevention
5. Recent Advances in Astragalus membranaceus Anti-Diabetic Research: Pharmacological Effects of Its Phytochemical Constituents published by NCBI
6.The effect of Astragalus on PPAR-? mRNA expression in macrophage with Type2 Diabetic Mellitus by Chinese Archives of Traditional Chinese Medicine
7. Effect of Astragalus membranaceus extract on diabetic nephropathy on PubMed
8. Cinnamon extract improves fasting blood glucose and glycosylated hemoglobin level in Chinese patients with type 2 diabetes on PubMed
9. Diverse mechanisms of antidiabetic effects of the different procyanidin oligomer types of two different cinnamon species on db/db mice on PubMed
10. Effect of cinnamon on postprandial blood glucose, gastric emptying, and satiety in healthy subjects on PubMed
11. Changes in glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity following 2 weeks of daily cinnamon ingestion in healthyhumans on PubMed
12. The potential of cinnamon to reduce blood glucose levels in patients with type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance. On PubMed
13. Herbal Therapeutics by David Winston
14. American Diabetic Association website -
15. Hop (Humulus lupulus)-Derived Bitter Acids as Multipotent Bioactive Compounds by Journal of Natural Products
16. Beer and health: preventive effects of beer components on lifestyle-related diseases. On PubMed.
17. Isohumulones, bitter acids derived from hops, activate both peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor alpha and gamma and reduce insulin resistance. On PubMed
18. Plants Having a Potential Anatidiabetic activity: A Review. By Research Gate.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Materia Medica - New England Aster

New England Aster 

We begin our blog with a post on one of our most incredible herbal allies--New England Aster.  This plant is still becoming known in the herbal community, but it is a welcome addition to any medicine chest!  It is a first-rate lung tonic and lung relaxant plant, able to help bronchial passageways ease tension and allow for more easy breathing.  So let's learn all about this delightful plant!
Botanical Name: Symphyotrichum novae angliae
Plant Family: Asteracea 
Other Common names: Michaelmas Daisy

1.  Identification  and Habitat

Habitat and Growing Conditions: New England Aster is one of the last plants to bloom in the season in temperate climates in North America. As the nights grow colder in September and October, at the same time that Goldenrod is blooming, you will find New England Aster.  The flower clusters have a distinct aromatic smell, and that aromatic smell contains much of the medicine.  New England Aster is a plant native to North America and is widely distributed.  You can often find it on edges and fields, in waste areas.  It is also easily cultivated and loves full sun conditions; it will tolerate a variety of different soil types.  It needs light to germinate.

Harvest Notes:  Look for stickiness and an aromatic smell when harvesting—that indicates more potent medicine. Harvest the fresh flowering tops and tincture them while fresh (in alcohol or glycerin). New England Aster will go to seed as it dries, so you cannot use it easily as a tea. An alternative is to freeze the fresh flowers and brew into tea.

Botanical Identification Features: New England aster can be identified by the following features:
  • Leaves clasp directly to the stem 
  • Leaf pattern is alternate and simple (not compound). Leaf edges are smooth. 
  • Flower blooms deep purple but intensity of color can vary plant to plant, centers are yellow 
  • Flower heads are clustered (with many flowers, up to 20, on the same stalk)
  • Flower heads are a combination of disk flowers (center) and ray flowers

II. Herbal Knowledge

Energetics:  Aster is tonic, dispersive, stimulating, relaxant (strong, lung specific), slightly astringent, warming, and drying.
Lung Relaxant: New England Aster is a first rate lung tonic herb.  It is specifically used for tension in the lungs or asthma issues.  It is also useful for spasmodic coughing, lungs aggravated by cold weather, tightness from tension in the bronchial passageways. 

Various Lung Conditions and Coughing: For dryness in the lungs, you can mix New England Aster with mullein and plantain.  For dampness in the lungs, use on its own or mix with ground ivy. If you have a wet cough, mix New England Aster with Pleurisy root for relief.

Lung Tonic:  Aster is a first-rate lung tonic for the respiratory system, it has a long-term rebuilding and tonic effect on lungs. 

III.  Our Experiences

I (Dana) was a chronic asthmatic since the age of six. By my 30's, I had had several near death experiences with asthma and many hospitalizations; my doctors considered me a very chronic and at-risk case, and told me often that I would be on Asthma medications for the rest of my life.  My asthma attacks were caused by cigarette smoke, chemicals, changes in temperature, exercise, and humidity.  I assumed that I would always have asthma, and always be on the medications.  The meditations I was on were Advair, Provent, Abuterol Inhaler, and a Nebulizer.  I took the first three of these each day, and the fourth as needed.  The medicine made my hands shake terribly and made me feel really jittery; it was hard to write on the board when I was teaching. When I was 31, the effects of the four medications were seriously impacting my life.

I met herbalist Jim McDonald (who I started studying with soon after) and he encouraged me to try the New England Aster for my asthma.  With a change in my diet (the elimination of gluten) and the use of New England Aster, I was able to get off of all four medications in less than 4 months.  In the many years since I began taking it, the Aster has literally rebuilt my lungs—I can exercise in heat or cold; I have a lot more resistance to smoke and chemicals, and I can breathe freely.  I now only take the aster about 1-2 times a week to keep my lungs strong.  Its seriously the most amazing plant.

Many others have reported similar experiences: New England Aster allows them to breathe
Aster freshly tinctured!
more easily, to stop taking both long-term and fast-acting inhalers, and really begin to live again.  It is a highly effective plant!

IV. Preparation and Use 

Parts Used:  Flowering tops

Preparation: New England Aster is best used as a tincture; it can also be used as a tea. When you try to dry it, it immediately goes to seed if its in full flower stage. If you dry it a little earlier, when its a bud, you might have better luck drying it. You can use it as a tea only if you freeze it or use it fresh. The seed pods are OK for tea, but we prefer to freeze the flowers. The best way to use this plant is to tincture it--make a tincture with the fresh flowers in high proof alcohol (standard 1:2 ratio) or you can also make a glycerate.  

Dosage:  For a standard tincture,  5-15 drops 3-5 times a day, or as needed is a typical dose.  We have found that you can use it as needed for acute conditions, or take it over a period of months to rebuild the lungs.  

Hillside of Aster and Goldenrod in late Summer/Early Fall
Aster and goldenrod in the sun!

Welcome to the Star and Thorn Botanicals Blog!

Hello friends and welcome! We have decided to start this blog, which is a joint collaboration between two sister-herbalists, to share our herbal knowledge with the broader communities in which we live and also beyond. We plan on including all sorts of information on this blog, with weekly posts appearing each Sunday.

We will be covering the following topics in the coming weeks, months, and years:
  • Local medicinal plants and materia medica
  • Foraging and wildcrafting information, ethics, and tips
  • Exploring children's herbalism and community-based herbalism
  • Talking about little-used local plants
  • Herbal first aid and wilderness first aid
  • Family-based herbalism and the herbal medicine chest
  • Medicine making, herbal recipes, and how-to guides
  • Herbal artwork and creations

About us!

Briel is a traditional western herbalist, reiki master teacher and chef currently living in Freeville, NY. Briel has studied Homestead Herbalism under Susan Hess and is a graduate of the Northeast School of Botanical Medicine with 7Song. She is currently apprenticing with 7Song through his Herbal Apprenticeship Program and works with him at the Ithaca Free Clinic. Briel leads plant walks and classes through the FreeSkool in Ithaca, NY. She specializes in childhood education, foraging/wildcrafting skills/ethics and strives towards making botanical medicine accessible to all. Briel also blogs about healing foods, reiki, creative moment, and more at:

Dana is a traditional western herbalist and certified permaculture designer living in Western Pennsylvania. She is a graduate of  Jim McDonald's Four Season Herbal Intensive and has also studied with New England Herbalist Rosemary Gladstar, although Nature has always been her first teacher. Dana teaches herbalism classes through the Wise Women's Natural Health Collective in Homer City, PA and also offers plant/herb walks in the area. She also is a member of the Indiana PA Herb Study Group. She is particularly committed to locally-based herbalism using plants available in the North Eastern and Midwest United States, restoring habitat and reintroducing endangered plants, and in combining herbal practice with permaculture design and ethics. Dana also blogs about sustainability and spirituality at the Druid's Garden (

 About Star and Thorn
Star and Thorn are old names for two of our very favorite herbal allies: aster (star) and hawthorn (thorn).  These two herbal allies have made a tremendous personal healing difference in our lives.  Aster, of the New England variety, is a lung relaxant and lung tonic, and helped Dana rebuild her lungs and avoid asthma complications.  Hawthorn is a herb of the heart, both physically and spiritually, and has been a lifelong friend and companions to us both.

Thank you for stopping by and joining us on our journey!