Use the form to the right to email Sarah Sorci,                                                  Sweet Flag Community Herbalist.

Or contact Sarah by phone or mail:

PO Box 261, Fredonia, NY  14063

716-997-2007


Fredonia, New York
USA

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Herbal Writing & Recipes

For educational purposes only. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

Boneset: Local Cold+Flu Relief

Sarah Sorci

Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) is a stately native species, common to western New York and the eastern US. I often meet it along moist trail edges, roads, and in my parents' backyard. Its botanical name, perfoliatum, can be explained by the central stalk's apparent "perforation" of the opposite leaves.

There is debate amongst herbalists as to whether boneset is true to its name— an aid in healing broken bones. According to clinical herbalist David Hoffman, the name derives from "its well-known property of relieving the deep-seated pains in the limbs which accompany [influenza].”  Others cite boneset's traditional use in treating dengue fever, or "breakbone." However, herbalist Dawn Combs argues that boneset contains properties which help to “recalcify teeth, ease bone pain, and repair crushed and broken bones.” Hoffman and Combs agree that its effects on limbs target the periosteum, or tissue surrounding the bones. Combs notes that it “seems to increase blood flow” to this tissue. 

What no one can debate is boneset’s efficacy as a flu and cold remedy. The flu pandemic of 1918 was the most widespread epidemic that non-native Americans have experienced. WWI troops brought the illness home from abroad, and it claimed more than 600,000 American lives. Though vaccines had been created for some bacterial diseases, the 1918 flu was poorly understood. Researchers couldn't see the small virus through microscopes, and it was incorrectly assumed to be a bacterial infection. Vaccines were attempted, but didn't work. Thus, many people turned to folk medicines like boneset. Boneset was deemed one of the most effective remedies for treating flu symptoms. 

Compounds in boneset's aerial parts have been shown to have immune-stimulating activity. In addition to relieving flu-related aches and pains, it acts as a decongestant in the upper respiratory tract. Kings American Dispensatory recommends it for cough and hoarseness related to colds. Boneset is an effective diaphoretic, stimulating sweating and a drop in high fevers. Hence another common name, "feverwort."

Boneset is a digestion-supportive bitter, and can stimulate the bowels for constipation relief. In fact, Dr. Sharol Tilgner describes it as "nauseatingly bitter." One could make a tea of its above-ground parts for medicinal use. But-- why would you want to? I make an alcohol-based tincture for the sake of getting it down quickly. All you need is fresh or dried plant material and 100 proof vodka (or something stronger.) Click here for easy instructions and recommended dosage.

When you taste that bitter flavor, just think to yourself, "That means it's working!"  

 
Sources:

  • Combs, Dawn. Heal Local2015.
  • Diggs, George, et al. Shinner's and Mahler's Illustrated Flora of North Central Texas. 1999.
  • Hoffman, David. Medical Herbalism. 2003.
  • PBS.org. "Introduction: Influenza 1918."
  • Tilgner, Dr. Sharol. Herbal Medicine: From the Heart of the Earth. 1999.

 

Sunny Lemon Balm

Sarah Sorci

If I had to rank medicinal plants based on glamour, lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) would be at the bottom of the list. Gardening with native, at-risk medicinals is all the rage. Lemon balm, however, is native to nearly every continent except the Americas (Asia, Europe, North Africa), and grows like a weed.1  Nevertheless, those of us who have smelled its strong, citrusy aroma know it's something special.  The volatile (essential) oils we smell are what make it an excellent carminative, or digestion supporter. It can relieve gas and intestinal cramping.
 
My director at the Blue Ridge School of Herbal Medicine, CoreyPine Shane, called lemon balm a “little dose of sunshine”-- a hot commodity in February. It contains mild antidepressant properties, and can effectively support those with anxiety, chronic stress, and insomnia. In a double-blind study, 18 healthy volunteers received two daily doses of lemon balm or a placebo for seven days. The lemon balm “increased mood and significantly increased calmness and alertness.”2 Its tension-relieving and antispasmodic qualities also make it useful for migraines. In Medical Herbalism, David Hoffman notes that its volatile oils seem to “act on the interface between the digestive tract and nervous system.”3 As a mild vasodilator of the peripheral blood vessels, lemon balm can also lower blood pressure.
 
Lemon balm’s antiviral properties are a common reason to use it in my practice. Clinical and lab trials have demonstrated its ability to reduce the frequency and severity of herpes simplex virus outbreaks-- both oral cold sores and genital herpes. Laboratory studies have also demonstrated lemon balm’s usefulness for those with Grave’s disease and hyperthyroidism.4
 
As suggested above, lemon balm is very easy to grow in part- to full sun-- some might say too easy. A large container may be preferable over growing directly in the garden, in the interest of avoiding a hostile takeover. Though lemon balm makes a delicious tea, it doesn’t dry as well as other herbs due to the rapid escape of its essential oils. I prefer to make a tincture or infused honey with the fresh leaves, before the plant flowers. If you make a tea, sun tea works well—a long steep in warm water, rather than boiled. If using hot water, be sure to cover your container to reduce the evaporation of volatile oils.  Enjoy!
 
Sources:
1. Mountain Rose Herbs:  Mountainroseherbs.com/products/lemon-balm/profile
2. University of MD Medical Center: http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/lemon-balm
3, 4. Hoffman, David. Medical Herbalism. 2003. pg. 567.

Native Caffeine: Yaupon Holly

Sarah Sorci

After last month’s booze-themed post, a caffeine kick feels appropriate. 
Yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria) is a plant I was thrilled to meet and giddily harvest along the coast of Georgia. I’ve raved to many a friend about its status as the only caffeinated plant native to North America. In fact, Yaupon has more caffeine by weight than both coffee and green tea.  (While that may sound like a lot, note the larger volume of a pound of dried leaves, compared to a pound of heavier coffee beans.) It is closely related to South America’s yerba maté (Ilex paraguariensis).
 
Like the green, black, white and oolong teas from Camellia sinensis, Yaupon is high in antioxidants. However, it is relatively low in tannins, giving it a less bitter, mellower flavor than other teas. Yaupon offers a range of health benefits, including digestive support. A Texas A&M study demonstrated the role its anti-inflammatory compounds can play in the inhibition of colon cancer. 
 
Yaupon’s botanical name, vomitoria, comes from its ceremonial use by native people of the southeast. The men would drink a very strong brew, and he who could hold it down the longest was trusted with special tasks. Native folks also prepared an everyday (i.e., more agreeable) drink from Yaupon’s leaves and twigs. During the Civil War, the Union hoarded coffee, sending its prices skyrocketing from 20 cents to $60 per pound. Caffeine-deprived southerners were lucky to have Yaupon in their backyard as a substitute.  It remained a popular drink into the late 1800s. Today, we all know which plant is America’s true caffeinated love.
 
I found this thicket-forming shrub growing abundantly near Savannah, GA, and into northern Florida. It can be found as far north as Virginia, and from Arkansas to Texas. Yaupon thrives in ecosystems that other plants might consider harsh—sand dunes along the ocean, swamps, and sandy woods and forest edges. Due to its native status, it is pest-resistant, highly drought-tolerant, and overall low-maintenance when planted where it “belongs.” These qualities, plus its proximity compared to imported coffee and tea, make it the best caffeine choice in terms of sustainability. Sourcing from US growers and sustainable wild-harvesters seems like a fine economic and social justice choice, too.

 
Sources:
www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?kempercode=c771
www.wildedible.com/wild-food-guide/yaupon-holly
www.eattheweeds.com/hollies-caffein-antioxidants/
www.cnn.com/2007/LIVING/wayoflife/10/29/mf.coffee.confederacy/
www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21262328

Herb-Infused Booze

Sarah Sorci

The infusion of wine and liquor with medicinal plants has been done for thousands of years. Early records come from ancient China, the Greek physician Galen, and around the world. The US Pharmacopoeia VIII of 1906 included eight medicated wines, and the 1916 National Formulary IV offered official formulas for fifteen. Wine and liquor offer many benefits as solvents; their mixture of water + alcohol (generally 12-50% alcohol) allows for the dissolution of both water-soluble and alcohol-soluble plant constituents. Their acidity further enhances solvency.
 
When Prohibition hit the US, medicated wines went out of style and were erased from the Pharmacopoeia and Formulary. Many modern herbalists, including myself, offer grain or cane sugar alcohol tinctures for greater dosing precision and predictability. However, as herbalist James Green muses, tinctures often strike a “rather solemn, clinical” chord, whereas “the spirit of imbibing an herbal wine lends itself more to the mental and spiritual celebration of health and wellness.”
 
Europeans have a grand history of blending the social + medicinal with aperitifs and digestifs. These pre- and post-meal beverages are often infused with digestion-stimulating bitters (ex. angelica, gentian) and/or carminatives, whose volatile oils support gastric emptying and peristalsis (ex. chamomile, cinnamon, ginger, anise). 

Infusing alcoholic drinks is simple! Think making tea, with alcohol. Steep chopped plant parts in alcohol for a few days to a few months, and the plants' constituents are pulled into solution. No heat required. Strain, and enjoy.
 
Below are a few simple drinks I’ve enjoyed this holiday season. Click here for these recipes and more.
 
Chamomile+Rosehips Chardonnay
Chamomile is a nervous system relaxant of Sleepy Time Tea fame. Studies have demonstrated its digestion-aiding abilities due to volatile oils and anti-inflammatory constituents.  Chamomile’s pleasant flavor also accounts for its rich history of infusion into alcoholic beverages. It is an ingredient in Hendrick’s Gin, vermouth, and chamomile liqueur. Marolo distillery infuses chamomile in grappa (brandy), producing a tasty digestif. The rosehips in this drink add a pleasing rosy hue, plus a kick of vitamin C.
 
Winter Spice Brandy or Merlot   Cinnamon+cloves+allspice+orange peel
 
 “No one knows where cinnamon sticks come from. There is a bird called the cinnamon bird that gathers the fragrant twigs form some unknown location and builds its nest from them. To harvest the cinnamon, people attach weights to the tips of arrows and shoot the nests down.”
                      -Aristotle, Historia Animalium, 350 BC. 
 
Unbeknownst to Aristotle, Cinnamomum verum is native to Sri Lanka—where the highest quality cinnamon still hails from.  In addition to jazzing up my oatmeal, it is used widely in gin, vermouth, liqueurs, and bitters. There is wisdom to adding cinnamon to the sweet, warming foods and beverages of wintertime. The bark has been shown to moderate spikes in blood sugar, and is employed in herbal medicine for its “warming, moving,” circulation-stimulating properties.
 
Cloves are tightly closed flower buds, dried quickly to avoid fermentation. According to Amy Stewart, the taste of cloves works well with other flavors; it “intensifies vanilla flavors, and adds a level of complexity to citrus. Many nutty and spicy flavors rely on cloves to support and amplify other flavors, including amaretto, alkermes, and some vermouths and amaros.”
 

Countless plants have been infused into wines and liquors--  check out Amy Stewart’s The Drunken Botanist for inspiration. Try digestive bitters like angelica or calamus; the “spicy sweet bass note” of fenugreek (Stewart); chai or coffee; figs + cardamom; fresh ginger; or the vitamin-C rich, festive flavor of conifer tips with citrus peel. 

Sources: 
Green, James. The Herbal Medicine Maker’s Handbook. Berkeley: 2000. pp. 170-171.
Stewart, Amy. The Drunken Botanist.  Chapel Hill, 2013. pp. 152, 161, 205, 241. 

Black Birch: The wondrous real deal.

Sarah Sorci

My brother Matt drinks a lot of root beer and birch beer. Every time I see a new rustic-looking label, I take an excited sip. The flavors of black birch, sassafras and sarsaparilla are divine. Then I glance at the ingredient list, and my plant-loving heart deflates a bit. Usually there is no trace of real plant material in the bottle, other than corn syrup or sugar. Modern science does a great job of mimicking the real thing with artificial flavor. But if we could still enjoy these plants' anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and "blood cleansing" properties by just sipping soda, that would be great, too. Perhaps if soda companies still banked on the health of forests to make products, they would be powerful supporters of woodland agriculture, forest preservation and reforestation-- who knows?

Here in western NY, I've been delighted to encounter Black Birch, of Birch Beer fame(pictured above). I saw black birch everywhere in western NC, and heard that this flavorful/medicinal species is less common back north. When I spotted its dark, spotted bark and paired, double-toothed leaves here, I nearly gave it a smooch. 
Like white willow and tiny wintergreen, birch contains methyl salicylate, the compound used to make aspirin. This chemical imparts a delicious wintergreen flavor; hence its other common name, "Sweet Birch." Other constituents, including tannins, add to its anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties. 

Fall is a great time to harvest medicinal roots and barks like birch, sassafras, and sarsaparilla. Most plants have finished putting energy into making flowers and seed. Now their resources are moving through the inner bark to their roots, for safe winter storage. 

Using Black BirchWhen harvesting bark, I prune twigs that receive less light. In theory, this allows the plant to direct energy to more productive branches. I never take bark from the trunk. If you don't have black birch in your neighborhood and wish to purchase, email me.

To make birch tea: Snip twigs into small pieces. Boil water. Allow it to cool 15 minutes before pouring over the twigs (1-2 Tbs twigs per cup water). Cover. Steep 4-12 hours. Strain. Enjoy. 

Alcoholic birch beer recipe: www.motherearthnews.com/real-food/birch-beer-recipe-zmaz71mazgoe.aspx

Speaking of Alcohol... Stay tuned for next month's blurb about herb-infused vodka, wine and brandy for the holiday season. 

Elderberry, Astragalus, and Rosehips (oh, my!)

Sarah Sorci

With cold and flu season upon us, autumn is a time when many seek immune system support. Below is a recipe for Elderberry-Astragalus-Rosehip syrup, a tasty and immune supportive formulation that is simple to make. First, I'll share some information about these plants.

Elderberry: At the Bundesforschungsanstalt Research Center in Karlsruhe, Germany, scientists found that elderberry anthocyanins enhance immune function by boosting the production of cytokines. These proteins act as “messengers” to help regulate immune response, helping to defend against disease. The anthocyanins found in elderberries also possess more antioxidant activity than vitamin E or vitamin C.  Elderberry was listed in theMosby's Nursing Drug reference for cold and flu, nasal and chest congestion, yeast infections, and hay fever. In Israel, Hasassah's Oncology Lab is using it to treating cancer and AIDS patients.

At Austria's University of Graz, researchers found that elderberry extract also reduces oxidation of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, which is correlated to cardiovascular disease.

Astragalus: According to David Hoffman’s Medical Herbalism, “Astragalus appears to strengthen both specific and non-specific immunity… Astragalus is one of the herbs known to stimulate the body’s natural production of interferon… The polysaccharides in astragalus intensify phagocytosis… and has been used to treat leukopenia, or low white blood cell count.” (532)

Astragalus is an adaptogen, a class of herbs offering “non-specific” support for physical, mental, and emotional stress across multiple body systems. It also helps to protect the liver from damage. Lucky for us, it is also mildly sweet and tasty!  Some enjoy adding astragalus to soups; in traditional Chinese medicine, astragalus is considered to be a safe, gentle, long-term tonic. 

Rosehips:  A “hip” is a small, hard fruit produced by flowers like roses after they flower. Any variety of rose, wild or cultivated, produces edible  hips. Though they are high in vitamin C, many are not especially tasty. Hence, their use in making hot teas and syrups, where they are often blended with tastier herbs while adding an attractive reddish color to the blend.

According to the “Herb Wisdom” database, rose hips “contain 50% more vitamin C than oranges [by weight]. A single tablespoon of the pulp gives an adult more than the recommended daily allowance of 60 mg.”

Sources:

Hoffman, David. Medical Herbalism. Rochester, 2003. 

http://www.herbwisdom.com/herb-elderberry.html

 

Elderberry Astragalus Rosehip Syrup Recipe  

Makes 3 cups. Elderberries and rosehips can likely be found in a thicket near you, at the right time of year (elderberry: late summer/early fall; rosehips I harvest in the fall in upstate NY). These herbs can be obtained from your local herbalist, or ordered online from an ethical company such as Mountain Rose Herbs.

1 qt water

1 oz. dried elderberries

0.7 oz. dried astragalus slices

0.5 oz. dried chopped rose hips

1 C honey

In 1 quart water, simmer herbs until liquid is reduced by half. Strain out herbs with cheese cloth. Stir honey into warm liquid until dissolved. Bottle and keep refrigerated. 

Enjoy medicinally (1-6 dropperfuls or up to 1 tsp, 1-3x daily), and/or in the kitchen (in smoothies, tea, oatmeal, on pancakes, etc.)

Based on a recipe from herbalist Rosemary Gladstar.

*For educational purposes only. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.