Support for Seasonal Ilnesses

As always I refer readers back to my Caring for the Ill post for a primer on how to take care of sick family or friends. Last year’s flu post offered many additional ideas.  Please check those out.

Influenza 2014

As there are many reports of H1N1 circulating, I thought I should mention that elderberry is especially effective against the H1N1 virus. Elderberry is a traditional antiflu remedy which seems to work through the mechanism of binding with viruses before penetrating into the walls of cells, consequently preventing the their spread.. The authors of a study published in the journal Phytochemistry concluded that “the H1N1 inhibition activities of the elderberry flavonoids compare favorably to the known anti-influenza activities of Oseltamivir (Tamiflu; 0.32lM) and Amantadine (27lM).” (Bill Roschek, 2007, p. 1255)

Interestingly enough, the CDC did in fact formulate this year’s vaccine for the H1N1 strain, along with an H3N2 strain and a Influenza B strain with the Yamagata lineage.  It is pretty close to last year’s vaccine only the B strain is different and some people got a quadrivalent vaccine which included a  B strain of the Victoria lineage.   But the H1N1 strain still seems to rearing its ugly head this year, even amongst the vaccinated.


RSV is considered a seasonal epidemic and that is what our family got hit with this year.   I have to say I prefer this one to last year’s norovirus, but it is still no fun, especially for very little children.    Steve and I managed to pump the fire cider and the Vitamin D and avoid becoming ill but it hit our poor kids before we knew they had been exposed.  Respiratory Synctial Virus (RSV) exhibits symptoms similar to a cold.  It does not respond to antibiotics and unlike influenza, there is no vaccine, so this one is one we have to learn to deal with.   Symptoms are similar to those of a cold- runny nose, sore throat, cough, earache.    Having been around it before,  I will say that this seems to be a particularly wicked strain causing significant symptoms in older kids and hospitalizing babies around here.     I found that the boys really experienced the most relief from their symptoms when they were kept in a steamy environment and given frequent lymphatic massages with our aromatic chest rub.

Today,   I would really like to offer you a few additional tricks other than those I’ve mentioned in the aforementioned articles, that can be made with ingredients you can buy at the grocery store .

As you may  recall I  really prefer warm broths, for hydration.  Here is another  tasty broth that can be used to make soups for the convalescence period so you might want to double the recipe.

Onion Broth

1 chopped onion and 2leeks
1/2 cup barley or steel cut oats
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons dried rosemary
2 tablespoons dried thyme
2 tablespoons dried shitake mushrooms
coarsely ground sea salt, to taste
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 quarts wsater

In a large saucepan, heat the oil over really low heat. Stir in the chopped onion and leeks. Cook until the chopped vegetables are translucent and soft, but don’t let them brown. Pour in water and add barley, spices and dried mushrooms. Simmer uncovered for 40 minutes. Turn off heat and let the mixture infuse for as long as you want. I usually make mine at night and let it sit overnight. Strain and serve in a mug.

1656072_10151910988946860_522004123_nFor  sore throats…

The boys complained of a lot more of a sore throat than usually I’ve experienced with RSV, in the past,   but that could be because of pressure from swollen lymph, too.    Still it can’t hurt to mention that sage tea with lemon can be soothing to sore throat. 

You can also bake a lemon, spread it with honey and give it to someone to suck on.

Horehound candies are a traditional remedy for relieving inflammation of sore throats.

Another trick for fevers…

Finally I thought I would mention one last idea for fever support.  As I mentioned frequently in the past, I don’t suppress fever. I think I recently read that the immune system actually functions most effectively at about 102 degrees. In addition to using cool compresses, another traditional practice can be used to pull the heat away from the head and upper body, is a calf wrap.    I would use rose vinegar or lemon juice for this.   You can make a quick rose vinegar substitute by mixing 1/4 cup rose water with 1/4 cup vinegar.  This is an old anthroposophical medicine trick that I learned possibly from the book You are Your Child’s First Teacher or one of the other Waldorf books I read when the girls were little.   

Calf Wrap

1.  Add 1/2 cup rose vinegar or lemon juice to a basin of warm water.

2.  Soak two long strips of cotton in the solution These should be long enough that you calf wrap them from the knee to the foot

3. Wring the strips of cotton until water no longer drips from them and wrap the foot and the leg up to the knee.

4.  Take long strips of wool and wrap the feet and legs again. This is another good use for old sweaters. For children you can just cut the arms off the sweaters and pull them over like a sock.   

5.  Position your feverish “patient” comfortably in bed and change the cotton strips out when they get cold.  If you would like you can lay something under the patient to protect the bedding from getting wet, but honestly the wool keeps most of the damp from seeping out.


Bill Roschek, R. F. (2007). Elderberry Flavonoids bind to and prevent H1N1 infection in vitro. Phytochemistry, 1255-1261

Posted in Caring for Illness, Herbs | Leave a comment

Meat Pies and Powder Fort

Pork and Apple Pie

Pork and Apple Pie

So as I mentioned elsewhere, we were without an oven for a few weeks and so I was deprived of pie on national pie day, so tonight we made up for it by having meat pies for dinner.  The kids prefer the standard chicken pot pie, but we grown-ups had a hankering for pork and apple pie.

The recipe is based  on one my husband’s Mom made when he was young, but it reminds me a good deal of a lot of the medieval meat pies I’ve had at SCA events,mostly because of the unique blend of sugar and spice, used as flavoring.

So for my little herbal digression before sharing the recipe with you I’d like to bring to your attention the ingredient in many medieval recipes known as powder fort.  This is a common ingredient in medieval cookbooks but it seems no one is quite sure of exactly the spices used in this concoction but many food historians have given their best conjectures as to what these spices were

David Friedman and Elizabeth Cook share  the following recipe in How to Milk an Almond, Stuff an Egg and Armor a Turnip: A Thousand Years of Recipes:
1 part cloves,
1 part mace,
1 part cubebs,
7 parts cinnamon,
7 parts ginger
7 parts pepper

There seem to be as many interpretations as there are medieval food researchers. Daniel Myers who is publisher/author of the website Medieval Cookery, has this to say about his recipe: ” Many medieval recipes call for spice mixtures without detailing the exact spices. While it is tempting to assume that each particular spice mixture had a consistent recipe, there is evidence of substantial variation for different times, regions, budgets, and cooks.”   This is the recipe he shares along with the advice to make it your own which I appreciate because I don’t really love ginger all that much.  I’d probably substitute nutmeg.

3 Tbsp. ginger
1 1/2 Tbsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. cloves
1 tsp. cubebs
1 tsp. grains of paradise
1 tsp. black pepper

Really why I wanted to mention this is to ask those herbally inclined readers  to take a good look at these recipes, especially those of you who have studied Ayurveda. Remind you of anything? A churna, perhaps? At the very least, it is a blend of seasonings which would serve to stimulate and promote digestion. I make this comparison because I believe that so  often our students are so intrigued by the Eastern healing philosophies and are  unaware of the rich  history of Western herbalism which may be more evident  when one takes into account the medieval  receipt books as well as the  dry “learned” herbals of the the day.

Why we teach Gerard to our students but not Tusser , has always been a source of confusion to me until I read a few books which made me start to think of history of herbalism as being the history of men who could read and write and who were when it comes down to it quite disdainful of folk medicine.  Even Culpeper who  supported the idea of “English herbs for English bodies” still believed in the superiority of the Greek Galen’s Art of Physick over the simple remedies of the country people.   I believe that only focusing on the printed herbal,  gives us a very limited perspective of how herbs were actually used in the British Isles and I am constantly intrigued by little bits of information I find in the folklore and oral histories, I am discovering.   Eventually I will have my thought organized into a large body of information, but for now back to dinner…

Pork and Apple Pie

First you will need to make a double crust pie recipe. This is the recipe I learned from.  Just use lard or  substitute butter in  place of the shortening.  Remember that hydrogenated fats kill.

2 lbs cubed pork
4 green, tart apples peeled, cored and sliced

2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp dried thyme leaves
1/2 tsp dried crushed rosemary
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper

I like to sear the pork cubes first as it cuts down on the cooking time and keeps the meat more tender. You can do this while the oven preheats to 350 degrees. Then mix together the sugar and spices. Line an 8X8 pan with crust and then layer, the meat and the apples sprinkling the seasonings over the layers. Don’t be afraid to stack it high and pack them tightly, the apples shrink quite a lot as it bakes. Pour any juice in the frying pan over the layers and then top with another crust. Cut a few vent slices in the top crust and bake it in the oven for about 50 minutes or until the apples are tender.

Posted in Baking, Eating Your Herbs, Recipes, Winter | Leave a comment

THe Homespun Seasonal Living Workbook Challenge

So I am starting to get a few more hits here on the blog, to the tune up having to upgrade to a little and so have to acknowledge the fact that I need to make what has been a hobby for a very long time now, into something that at least supports itself a little. I hate the idea of using affiliate links, but I thought about it long and hard and have decided that I think  I can do this in a manner that isn’t too offensive to my sensibilities.  I have more than a few friends with ventures out there to support while maybe helping to support my work here.

Back in December,  I received a lovely early birthday gift.  Kathie Lapcevic  sent me a  copy of her new e-book and I couldn’t be more happy to see it. She’s been an internet friend of mine for a very long time now.  We met back on Xanga and  I remember being very excited when she launched her teaching business through her website

I am equally excited to see her newest endeavor an downloadable workbook for people who are just getting started on their path toward seasonal living. The book takes you through 12 weeks of exercises to be repeated for each season. These are thought engaging tasks designed to increase your awareness of  the seasonal changes going on around you.  I think this is something important for everyone and though it has been one of the guiding forces in how we live our lives around here,   I’ve noticed that I’ve been slacking a bit in this department myself.

So I decided that I am going to give it a whirl starting on the first day of spring. If you buy a copy for yourself between now and then (I am thinking at least a few of my friends can come up with $8.50 between now and then)  comment here and maybe we can work out a Facebook discussion group or something like that where we all talk about our progress in the exercises. We can be study buddies, if you will. I think discussion and support make every endeavor like this easier to stick with. I will probably share this post a few times on the Facebook page between now and then so be sure to let me know if you want in on the group.

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Sustainable Sourcing

               A conversation ensued the other day on Facebook to which I probably contributed far too frequently to because it is a topic which  I am passionate about.   I thought it best to remove myself from the conversation and bring my thoughts here to the blog, because I was getting a little het up.

            We talk A LOT about sustainability and social medicine at Goddard.  In fact there has been a rumor that the Health Arts & Science program  might begin to offer that Master’s degree.  I believe it is the degree I will probably end up pursuing if is offered.   I realize in participating in that conversation surrounding sourcing, that the information people have has not kept up with the modern reality of a global market. 

          Do you remember the heyday of the phrase “think globally, act locally”?  I think many of my readers are old enough to have heard it quite a bit.   But maybe what you don’t know is that idea is kind of an outdated one, in these days of  the international, global economy.  While certainly we need to continue to support local initiatives, the idea that the whole world is going to go backwards and countries will turn back to insular purchasing while ideal, is ludicrous. Those who want to pursue that idealism, by all means continue.   For those who prefer to focus on what is practical, read on…

         We also have to consider the historical impact of the American role in the global economy, as well as its modern implications.   If by creating an insane demand for a product, we Americans have created jobs which have enticed people in third world countries to leave their traditional form of living behind to work in these industries, we are indirectly responsible for the continued well-being of these workers.   We have a certain level of social responsibility  for  these people.

       Boycotting a product while it might have some small impact on a company  could also have a devastating impact on the workers and their families.   To be fair.  There are some companies, like Nestle, that I boycott, but I question the efficacy and even morality of that practice.    Steve’s Mom has also been boycotting Nestle since before I was born and that hasn’t seemed to make much of an impact on the CEO or the shareholders.  The fat boys are going to maintain their salaries and payouts at the expense of the workers, by cutting back their workforce, requiring mandatory overtime of those workers who remain and mistreating them even more than before.  That is the regretfully atrocious reality of mainstream American business practice.  It is entirely possible that the boycott has increased slavery, rather than prevented it.    Still, I can’t suggest that we support,  or source raw ingredients from,  companies whose business practices we abhor.  I think that the best that we can do is to research and support fair-trade, sustainable farming projects in the hopes that maybe some of those displaced workers can find a better employment situations, if our boycott has in some way impacted them.

        As I mentioned before realism has to enter into to the picture at some point.    We are not going to eliminate the American demand for sugar, coffee, chocolate or even palm.   What all consumers can do is put intense pressure on American companies to source these products properly.   By pressuring large manufacturers into sustainable sourcing, we have the effect of improving the workers situations even more by creating more business for companies treating their employees,  and their ecosystems, ethically.  I get that all of the regulatory commissions aren’t perfect, but if no one is buying their product, the companies won’t have the funds to continue to improve their programs.    So consumers should look for sustainable sources of the aforementioned and continue to encourage more stringent regulation in that industry.*   Personally I think that correspondence from someone who says, “Listen, I am supporting you but I want you to do better” is far more effective than “I will not buy your product until you are perfect”.

We herbalists can do the same when sourcing our herbal products.  Ideally, we should try to focus our practice on local herbs and local herb growers.   When you hear my polite explanation that ” Indian and Chinese herbs don’t really speak to me” what I really mean is that it is kind of against my principals to use exotic herbs when there are perfectly good local plants about.

Still there are some herbs that I have found to be useful and I love spices in my cooking so I am at the mercy of the international market.   That is reality.   There are companies like Mountain Rose, which enforce fair-trade standards in their international sourcing and I support them because of it.  I still want them to do better, though.   

I am continually impressed by Frontier Natural Products Co-op‘s work in this area. Sadly, they  don’t get a lot of respect from the herbal community for working to improve their sourcing practices dramatically over the last decade.   (I am going to go out on a limb and say it is because they don’t have an affiliate program and no one gets paid to promote their products, but I am cynical that way.)  First of all, the company itself is a member-owned coop with stellar business practices especially in how they treat their employees.  I’ve heard rave reviews of their cafeteria as I know a few of the farmers who supply it and they have an on-site employer-subsidized childcare facility which is an extreme rarity in Iowa.   Additionally, their Well Earth Program has truly been going a step beyond the idea of fair-trade and is actively working to improve the communities from which they are sourcing their products.  You can read here about a school they built in one community. I am baffled as to why they don’t get more respect amongst herbalists.   I figure it is because a lot of people don’t know about the program, so I will give it a shout-out, but I still want them to do better.

There are companies like American Botanicals whose sourcing is not stringent enough for me and  I won’t order from them.  This is no great loss to any, except maybe to my pocket book because they are cheaper.   But you kinda get what you pay for there.

I’d like to end this with a plea to the community herbalists out there, not to be too judgmental of people for not using sustainable products.   I  get it, but really shaming people who might be buying the best ingredients they can afford, isn’t going to make you any friends and it is mean.  Also never speak in absolutes. Most words which follow the phrase   “I never..”  are sure to get you in trouble someday unless you are “practically perfect in every way” like Mary Poppins and  even she eats sugar.

I am definitely not perfect in this regard.   Sometimes it slips out because I am really passionate about these things.  But also I come from a pretty damn poor background and I have a compassion for poverty that is only shared by those who have experienced it.

Even on a practical level, I am of the opinion that if you give people a positive action to take rather than shaming people for the negative  you will accomplish more good.    I think that my goal for the blog this year is to talk more about sustainability and share more practical, simple ideas for achieving that.   And yes, Quinn, that means  I will share more recipes, even though that makes me look more “like a bumpkin and less like a professional herbalist”.   Because maybe I am a bumpkin, but I am a damn smart one and I’d like to do some good with that.

Personal letter I sent to GSA 

The other day I had my proverbial rear handed to me for sticking up  for Girl Scout cookies in a public forum.  As a former leader and cookie cupboard, I have to tell you that I don’t appreciate the fact that the organization leaves me in the precarious position of  having to put aside my values in defending what has pretty much become an American tradition.

While I understand the efforts the organization is making (GreenPalm Certificates, planning the switch to certified sustainable palm oil), it simply isn’t enough.   The standards in that industry need to be made stronger.

Girl Scouts has the purchasing power which could drive the industry to do away with deforestation  which would indeed “make the world a better place”

 As an aside, it would also “make the world a better place” if you would remove the hydrogenated products from all of your cookies.   Trans fat is pretty evil and draws the organization even more bad press.    Stop falling back on loopholes and do the right thing.

Posted in Conservation, Sustainability | Leave a comment

Digestive Support for the Winter Months

The winter months seem to contribute to sluggish digestion which sometimes (not always) manifests itself in constipation.  There are many reasons why this happens.

IMG_00171) First of all, it is dry.   Remember that the condition of your external epithelial tissue likely resembles the internal. If your skin is dry, you need to make a point to increase your fluid intake.   If you are like me and absolutely must have warm things to drink in the winter, make a peppermint latte or an herbal chai or a spiced tomato juice cocktail.   The boys are fans of the almond-oat beverage that I make.  We all like spiced apple cider and  hot lemonade.  Make some sort of  nourishing warm broth and drink it, but you get the point here, stay hydrated.    This includes adding some humidity to your environment.  Like I’ve said before there is a reason Mom kept a kettle going on the woodstove all day, long.    Remember that healthy oils play a role in this, as well.   I think fish oil of some sort during the winter is key.    I’d like to suggest adding it to the diet rather than supplements but I know that is not realistic for everyone.

2)  Some people are trying to eat seasonally for environmental reasons or perhaps due to trying to follow an Ayurvedic diet. Here in Iowa, when you are following that diet you are eating  lot of root vegetables and probably not getting your 8-10 servings of fruits and veggies per day.  This leads to not  getting enough fiber which you need for proper digestion.    (Even all you juice fanatics out there can get constipated if you are using a juicer that strains the roughage out.)

There is definitely not as much green leafy goodness in a local winter diet- my kale is shot after that last cold snap.   A lack of leafy greens can lead to less bitter flavors in the diet during this time of year.   If you haven’t read Jim McDonald’s lovely treatise on how lack of bitters may contribute to sluggish elimination, you can find it here: pdf

I still think we need our greens, even if it means buying them from afar.     Next year you can think of nifty ways to preserve  local fruits and veggies for the winter months.   I will make it a goal to pull more of the preserving recipes off the old database and finding some new ones.   One thing to think about is that fermented vegetables are a good source of probiotics which also help to promote digestive health.

As per the other concerns,    I understand that  winter foods were traditionally supposed to be sweet, warming and maybe a little on the fat laden side to keep us warm when we are all working ourselves to the bone and out in the elements most of our day. Traditionally that was okay, but I think discretion needs to be used in light of modern conveniences like heat, indoor jobs and cars.     If you are slim or frequently exposed to inclement weather for extended periods of time, then a traditional winter diet is desirable.  However, I maintain that those of us who don’t fit that category, given the modern concerns about insulin resistance,  could focus on less starchy vegetables sources.

Think of ways to make  these  fruits and veggies warming.   Soups fit the bill nicely around here because they are warming, moistening and you can stuff them with veggies and barley.  Barley is what they call in nutrition circles a bulk-forming laxative.     Braising greens is a nice way to warm them up.     As an aside,  when you do eat the root vegetables make sure that you are adding healthy fats and lots of warming, stimulating spices.   Squash with butter, or olive oil,  is good.  Squash drizzled with olive oil infused with  nutmeg, mace, saffron, salt and long pepper is AMAZING.  Adding a healthy fat helps to lower the glycemic index.

3)  We all slow down….   Here in the frozen cornfields, people are a little more housebound and so moving even less than normal, which also impacts your elimination processes.   Get moving.

4) A lot of folks are on the  SAD American diet and well really, that is enough said about that. Eat some damn vegetables and fruits, people.  I wonder how many more times I will say that in my lifetime?

There are all sorts of other issues that could contribute to the problem.   Chronic stress has a nasty impact on the digestive system, so an adaptogen might help.   Licorice root certainly has a history of being used for the complaint.     Some medications lead to problems, also.    Holding it when you have to eliminate can result in impaction due to the fact that it stretches the colon which in turn means that more waste has to enter your colon in order to trigger the next bowel movement.

The issue of constipation in little ones came up in a conversation the other day which made me realize I’ve never really addressed that here on the blog-probably due to the fact that I keep the previously mentioned issues in mind and  prefer to talk about proactive self-care than waiting for sick people to call me.

In the days when self-care was household knowledge, all such issues were approached proactively rather than retroactively.  Cod Liver oil was often  administered daily.   Folks who grew up in the  UK may  remember  lining up for  their Brimstone  and Treacle on a weekly basis, if they are old enough or grew up with a grandparent.    This licorice root preparation was so ubiquitous that the phrase was used as a title for a disturbing play in the seventies.   If something did happen, slippery elm gruel was often fed to children or an infusion of senna pods.

Senna is a stimulating laxative, which I tend to avoid due the to the fact that the bowels can become habituated to stimulation.  The same goes for aloe and cascara.  Demulcents are great, but today  I think that you’d have a difficult time getting slippery elm gruel into a child.

So if the issue comes up for your child, or you, first consider  the previously mentioned issues and address any issues of diet and exercise.

For immediate relief an adult might  try 200 mg of magnesium citrate and  1 tblsp of yellow dock syrup three times a day and a nightly Epsom Salt bath.  I might not be able to resist adding a bit of licorice root to the syrup.  I originally made  this recommendation based on the fact that yellow dock syrup had had a stool loosening effect on several of my clients who were taking it for iron related issues and anyone who has ever taken too much magnesium knows what that does.  It has served me pretty well.

For a child you might consider a teaspoon of yellow dock syrup 3 times a day, a few cups of the almond-oat beverage I mentioned above and a nightly Epsom salt bath.

I also racked my brain to come  best way to successfully disguise herb powders so that children will eat  them and I thought of my immune  boosting truffles.     Just a few tweaks and  I came up with something a lot more edible than slippery elm gruel. I hope that some of you out there might give these a try and give me some feedback.  I don’t have anyone around here to experiment on.   After a kind of giggly survey of the household  today, we have determined that we all eliminate once (sometimes twice) daily.

Digestive Support Snacks

Dry Ingredients

1/4 cup  slippery elm  powder
1/4 cup milk thistle seeds finely ground and sifted
1/4 cup licorice root powder
1/4 cup ground  flax  seeds (another one of those bulk-forming laxatives)
2 tbsp raw cacao powder
½ cup ground oats or almond meal.  I probably prefer oats for this recipe.
I also think I would add 1/2 teaspoon of spice here- fenugreek  (another bitter) for sure and maybe cinnamon.


1/2 cup tahini
Fruit Puree*

Mix dry ingredients first and add ½ cup  or tahini to the mix.

If you can’t afford or can’t find the herbal powders:  Just use  1 cup of ingredients you can purchase as food such as flax seed, ground oats and don’t worry about the herbal powders.   Substitute ground sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds for the milk thistle seeds and add 1/2 teaspoon of fenugreek powder as a bitter and 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon.

Now mix in your fruit puree, honey or a combination of both until it forms a dough you can work with.

Roll this mixture in balls and roll in a coating of your choice.

Toasted coconut ground with a little nutmeg
Raw Cacao powder
Finely ground nuts or seeds- sesame seeds are good here.
Dark chocolate

I would be completely comfortable offering these to a child who was prone to constipation on a daily basis if they were made with flax seed or  maybe plantain seeds.   Adults too, could eat these as a daily snack.

Dried Fruit Puree

I’ve shared this recipe before but for these particular truffles, I would make sure that some prunes are part of the dried ingredients.   It is important to save the liquid you’ve used to rehydrate the fruits because a lot of your nutrients leech out during the re-hydration process.

Soak  1 cup of  dried fruit in 2 cups of warm water overnight.
Strain; reserving the liquid.
Place re hydrated fruit in food processor or blender.
Whip adding reserved liquid until a creamy paste like consistency is formed.

Posted in Caring for Illness, Winter | 3 Comments