Going for a stroll is a healing activity by itself. It helps support healthy heart function, improves balance and coordination, and if you’re strolling with a friend, it can also help support your social wellbeing. But did you know that while you’re meandering a trail, walking along a creek, or even just walking around your backyard, there are healing plants all around just waiting to be noticed. They’re growing gently down by your toes and high up in the trees swaying with the wind, and they’re often not only beneficial to our health but also to the health and well-being of pollinators and other plants.
A few years ago, when I first began to be interested in medicinal herbs, I felt a little weighed down by the realization that there’s too much to know. There are so many beautiful combinations of herbs that work on so many different levels and support our health in infinite ways - it can get a little daunting. I started collecting books for everyday herbal use but really got hooked when I went to grad school and started learning the chemical compositions of many everyday herbs and began to see why they worked beyond the intuitive folkloric level and began to see their mechanisms of action. I really could geek out on this all day, but I’ll spare you. Basically, I realized through all this that you don’t need to go to school specifically to study herbal medicine just to benefit from all that medicinal herbs have to offer. You just have to dive in! I’ve been using this summer as a chance to continue my herbal self-education and I like to choose one herb a month to focus on. As I feel more comfortable with the information I’m collecting, I’ll begin to share these here with you! But first, I wanted to give a brief intro into how everyday herbal use could be beneficial to your wellbeing.
Just like water can be found in many different phases (gas, liquid, solid), herbs can be found and used in many different ways - almost like phases. Medicinal herbs can be harvested as roots, flowers, leaves, stems, bark, seeds, etc. And they can be prepared and taken as pills, teas, infusions, rubs, tinctures, syrups, compresses, and whole (like as a soup or a garnish). Below, I’ve included just a few of my favorite ways to incorporate medicinal herbs into your everyday life. I think you’ll notice that once you start to build your own herbal first aid kit, you’ll find that you have remedies and herbal support for just about everything! As an added bonus, most medicinal herbs are so beautiful to grow and add a healthy element of diversity to your garden for your local pollinators.
Making your own herbal vinegar can be a great way to incorporate more herbs as a whole into your diet, as well as allow you to add more diversity to your favorite herbal selections. You can use your vinegar mixes as salad dressings or even take them under your tongue, the same way you would a tincture.
Try it! Osteoporosis vinegar blend:
2 Tablespoons dried hawthorn berry (while hawthorn berries are best known for promoting heart health, their anthocyanidins have been found to help stabilize collagen and cartilage in bones)
2 Tablespoons dried black cohosh root (the estrogen-like properties found in the root can also help with hot flashes and night sweats)
1 Tablespoon dried St. John’s wort (there are recent studies that show that St. John’s wort also has estrogen-like properties that help slow bone loss that is due to estrogen deficiency)
1 Tablespoon dried nettle leaf (nettles have been found to help with Rheumatoid Arthritis as well as chronic and degenerative conditions of the entire musculoskeletal system, such as osteoarthritis and osteoporosis)
1 Tablespoon dried alfalfa leaf (the flavonoids found in alfalfa leaves have been found to be estrogenic)
Apple Cider Vinegar
Put herbs in a glass jar. Fill the jar to the top with apple cider vinegar. Close tightly and give it a good shake. Store in a cool, dark spot for about 4 weeks. Don’t forget to shake it every day. Strain the mixture after 4 weeks and use daily.
Tinctures are concentrated, (usually) alcohol-based extractions of plant materials. One of the many benefits of tinctures is that they are much more portable, storable, and longer-lasting than herbal teas.
Try it! Peppermint and thyme tincture to help calm a nervous stomach:
1 Tablespoon dried peppermint (peppermint is a nervine as well as one of the best carminatives around - also acts as a mild anesthetic as well as relaxing agent to the stomach walls and intestinal muscle tissue)
1 Tablespoon dried thyme (due to its beneficial volatile oils, thyme is indicated for gastritis as well as acts as a carminative)
1 Tablespoon chamomile (mild nervous system sedative)
1 Tablespoon yarrow (yarrow is an astringent carminative and a natural bitter, which helps in digestion)
1 Tablespoon licorice root (has been found helpful in treating and preventing ulcers, IBD, gastritis)
Place all herbs in a jar. Cover with the vodka, stir, and make sure all the ingredients are well immersed. Seal the jar tightly and place in a dark and cool spot for 3-4 weeks, making sure to give it a good shake every day or so. After a few weeks, strain the ingredients with a cheesecloth-lined sieve into a shallow bowl. Discard the used herbs and pour the liquid into an amber glass bottle. Label the tincture with the names of all the ingredients and the date. Take 1 teaspoon in a glass of cold water or straight before or after meals.
Teas are great because they allow you to explore so many flavors while also experimenting with the different healing properties of plants. They can be made with fresh or dry flowers and herbs and can incorporate many plants you may grow in your own backyard.
Try it! Lemon balm and rose tea to boost your mood
2 Tablespoons dried lemon balm (mild nervous system tonic and relaxant)
2 Tablespoons dried rose petals (sedative and antidepressant)
Place lemon balm and rose petals in a large teapot or french press. Boil water, allow to cool for a few minutes, then pour it into the teapot/press. Allow to steep for 5 minutes and then serve.
As you can see, there’s a whole world of herbs out there that are so medicinally beneficial and easy to incorporate into your everyday! What are some of your favorite herbs? If this piqued your interest read this blog post on Marjoram's Medicinal Benefits too!