Is the world’s number one herb a sleeper? Well, if you have never heard of the benefits of neem (Azadirachta indica) then the answer is yes. However, very few people in India will not be familiar with this herb since its use in ayurvedic healing dates back some 5000 years. Described by some as a panacea, neem is an evergreen tree found growing throughout the Indian subcontinent, Pakistan, Nepal, Iran, and in the tropics. Every part of this tree has medicinal value and all parts of this tree can be used, from the sap, twigs, flowers, and bark to the seeds, gum, fruit, and roots. To describe anything as a panacea might seem outmoded and unbelievable since rarely does the reality meet the expectation but, as you will see, that lofty pinnacle is achieved by neem.
So many uses in herbal medicine! Neem is used to combat tiredness, cough, fever, loss of appetite, and worm infestations. It is used in vomiting, skin diseases, and excessive thirst. It heals wounds, reverses gum disease, reduces high blood pressure, and is used to treat arthritis, malaria, diabetes, liver disease, and cancer. Neem leaves reportedly remove toxins, purify blood, and prevent damage caused by free radicals in the body by neutralizing them. Neem seeds and leaves are purported to be spermicidal.
Healing properties of Neem
The root, bark, resin, gum, twigs, leaves, seeds, flowers and fruit of the neem tree contain chemical compounds with extensive therapeutic qualities, including: analgesic, alterative, anti-inflammatory, antithelmintic, antipyretic, antigastric, antifungal, antimicrobial, antienemic, antibacterial, and antianxiety.
What does the neem tree look like? Neem is a large evergreen tree of elegant stature with an attractive leaf and an olive like fruit. It is fast growing and remarkably disease and insect free. The neem tree is known for its drought resistance and can grow in many types of soil.
Neem seed oil is probably the most significantly important derivative from the neem tree. It has a wide spectrum of uses as an antimicrobial, and can be applied topically to fungal and bacterial skin infections. Its composition is much like other vegetable seed oils, composed primarily of triglycerides of oleic, stearic, linoleic, and palmitic acids. The seeds are pressed in expellers andthe oil yield can be as high as 50 percent of the seed kernel. Research suggests that the high fatty-acid content may be responsible for its effectiveness in treating skin disorders. Internal use of neem seed oil can be toxic and should not be used internally in large doses or for long periods of time. Certain people should never use neem oil, especially children and infants, some of whom have had fatal reactions to the ingestion of neem oil. Pregnant and nursing women should also not use neem seed oil internally.
Oil can also be created by infusing neem leaves in a carrier oil, which is purportedly a more traditional preparation and yields gentler results according to traditional Ayurveda.
Neem has a curative effect on chronic skin conditions that have not been successfully helped through conventional medical treatments. Acne, dry skin, dandruff, psoriasis, eczema, herpes, shingles, andringworm have all been shown to respond to natural creams salves or lotions made with neem. This is where learning about herbs and how to incorporate them into your daily life comes in very handy. (If you are looking for a self study program, check out the Online Intermediate Herbal Course). There are many wonderful sources for recipes and formulas for making your own body products. Becoming familiar with the healing properties of herbs and how they can be used in products that are tailored made for you can be a gigantic step towards better health.
Remember that many of the conventional anticancer drugs are derived from plants. The benefits of neem have been extensively and scientifically studied. The components extracted from the seeds, leaves, flowers and fruits of the neem tree have been used in traditional medicine for the cure of multiple diseases including cancer for centuries. These extracts show chemo preventive and anti-tumor effects in different types of cancer. Two bioactive components in neem, azadirachtin and nimbolide, have been studied extensively. The key anticancer effects of neem include inhibition of cell proliferation, induction of cell death, suppression of cancer angiogenesis, restoration of cellular reduction/oxidation balance, and enhancement of the host immune responsive against tumor cells. These effects are tumor selective as the effects on normal cells are much less. Furthermore, neem extract sensitizes cancer cells to immunotherapy and radiotherapy, and enhances the efficacy of other chemotherapeutic agents.
Neem in the Garden
We are becoming ever more aware of the dangers to our health from organic pesticides applied to our food. For many of us this has lead to growing our own vegetables and fruit, at home, in our own backyards, and increasingly in our front yards too! Yet, most of us to our chagrin have learned just how difficult this is: beautiful squash ruined at the last moment by squash –borers. Or some of our crops end up pitted and scarred, which makes one strongly suspect of the beautiful, organically grown specimens of fruit and vegetables in expensive stores. We ask ourselves how we can get our produce to look like that without resorting to the use of chemicals.
Towards the end of the 20th century the pharmaceutical companies moved away from the highly effective, but highly toxic organo-chemical pesticides by developing allegedly less toxic and much more selective pesticides called neonicotinoids. Unfortunately the use of these new chemicals is strongly implicated in Colony Collapse Disorder in honey bees. Here in the USA and in Europe honey bee colonies are disappearing. This tragic phenomenon has a profound impact on our own survival because the pollination of many crops worldwide is dependent on the honey bee.
Neem won’t harm spiders, butterflies, ladybugs and other insects that pollinate plants because neem must be ingested to be effective. Pests that eat the treated leaves will eventually die while “good” insects are spared. Scientists have looked especially at the effect of neem oil on honey bees since bees do eat pollen. What they found was reassuring. To see any harmful effects very high concentrations of neem must be used, much more than you would ever use for pest control. Weekly use of neem oil spray at a normal concentration (0.5 %- 2%) does not hurt honey bees at all.
You still need to be careful when you spray neem oil in your garden because any oil spray can smother and suffocate insects. I suggest that you spray first thing in the morning or last thing in the evening when beneficial bugs are least active.
Using these techniques, you can raise a beautiful garden in a very conscious way.
So why are we not all using neem if it’s so good?
This can be debated, but the economics have to be considered. Neem contains 4 major and 20 or so minor pesticides. Most major commercially available pesticides contain one. It is presumably more expensive to manufacture 25 different chemicals rather than one. Furthermore, when in 1992 a patent was applied for neem oil in the US, it was not allowed after opposition by the Indian Government, because they said neem oil had been used for this purpose for 2000 years; not getting a patent may well effect the economic prospects of a pesticide preparation.
Global significance of neem
Neem is the “village pharmacy.” Every part of the plant has bioactive compounds that can be used in medicine and agriculture. It is a fast growing tree that can provide fire wood, shelter, food, medicine, and crop protection. The western world is just beginning to learn of the benefits that this tree offers. With the news spreading, trees are being planted here in the US in semi tropical regions such as southern California, Texas, Arizona, and Florida. We at the Herbal Academy of New England concur with the United Nations Declaration naming the neem tree to be the tree of the 21st century.
Brahmachari G. (2004). Neem--an omnipotent plant: a retrospection.
Chembiochem. 2004 Apr 2;5(4):408-21.
Conrick, J. (2006). Neem The Ultimate Herb. Twin Lakes, Wisconsen: Lotus Press
Hao F, Kumar S, Yadav N, Chandra D. (2014). Neem components as potential targets for cancer prevention and treatment. Biochim Biophys Acta. 2014 Jul 10.
Khillare B, Shrivastav TG. (2003). Spermicidal activity of Azadirachta indica (neem) leaf extract. Contraception. Sep;68(3):225-9
Meeran M, Murali A, Balakrishnan R, Narasimhan D. (2013). "Herbal remedy is natural and safe"--truth or myth? J Assoc Physicians India. 2013 Nov;61(11):848-50.
Mishra A, Dave N. (2013). Neem oil poisoning: Case report of an adult with toxic encephalopathy. Indian J Crit Care Med. 2013 Sep;17(5):321-2
National Research Council. (1992). Neem A Tree for Solving Global Problems. National Academy Press, Washington, DC
Tillotson, A. K. (2001). The One Earth Herbal Sourcebook. New York, NY: Kensington Books
Photos provided and copyrighted by Vicki Parsons, Neem Tree Farms.
Every third week of September, my partner Kiva Rose and have the responsibility and pleasure of organizing the HerbFolk Gathering (www.PlantHealer.org) in the forests of northern Arizona. It is an event that draws people from all over the country to learn about natural healing with plants, but it is only one of dozens that you can choose from among during each year’s conference season.
Whether you are studying medicinal herbs in order to take responsibility for the well being of yourself and your family, or if it is your hope to become a practicing herbalist that helps others, one of the very best ways to accelerate your learning is by attending one of the many herbal events in your area or beyond. Esteemed teachers cover the topics that you most need to understand how to be a safe and effective user of medicinal plants, and the gatherings of like-hearted plant lovers provide the support and camaraderie of a true healing community... an inviting resource and great way to enjoy a season of personal growth and blooming.
Different Kinds of Herbal Events
There are basically 4 different kinds of herbal conferences:
1. International, Broad Spectrum:
Inclusive, geared towards the widest range of participants, with the broadest possible scope (for example, the International Herbal Symposium). Almost everyone wants to attend one of these extra large events sometime, and feel the energy of it.
2. International, Professional:
Designed for professionals, academics (in the case of university conferences), and/or primarily for existing or applying members (as in the case of the American Herbalist Guild conferences). Nothing else can take the place of such an event, if yours is a particularly professional, official, or academic career path.
3. International, Niche:
Events that still invite global participation, but that are characterized by a particular tradition or approach (such as Traditional Chinese Medicine conferences, and the Southwest Conference on Botanical Medicine that’s known for a naturopathic emphasis), a certain constituency or subset (the various new radical or “revolutionary” herbalism events, for example), or a community or cause (such as HerbFolk Gathering, devoted specifically to the folk herbalism revival... and the seeding of other groups and events).
Created special for the herbal community in a certain bioregion, intimate, evoking a strong regional/cultural flavor, and often emphasizing the medicinal plants common to the area. Close-by regional events are less expensive to attend, and one can therefore often afford to attend one even if planning on going to an international conference the same year. Every bioregion (defined by natural landscape and biota, not political boundaries) needs its own herbal gathering, and all of us need to support local involvement.
Which Herbal Event is Right For You?
Which of these 4 types might serve us best, hinges on how we answer some basic questions, such as:
Am I seeking a path to accreditation, professional credibility and career?
Or am I desirous of an empowering but informal education?
Would I do best with entry level classes, advanced, or something between?
Am I looking for classes within a certain tradition, or diverse perspectives?
Am I searching for a particular skill set, for a specific intended use?
What do I most need to know, and what would I most enjoy learning?
What do I plan to do with what I learn?
The 1970s saw a revival of herbalism in America, with the famed herbalist Rosemary Gladstar being instrumental in the creation of the first new herbal gathering in a long time. She still helps put on the New England Women’s Herbal Conference, which she calls “a place where we come to ignite and spark one another, and to create healing not only on a personal level, but planetary as well.” Other treasured herbal events designed especially for women include the the Southeast Wise Women Herbal Conference, every October in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, and the Mid-Atlantic Women’s Herbal Conference held on a very pretty 100 acre Pennsylvania farm also in October.
Smaller bioregional events, such as the Montana Herb Gathering tend to have a particular local flavor, both serving and evoking the feel of a particular region. Specialty conferences such as United Plant Saver’s Planting The Future focus on the conservation and cultivation of native medicinal plants.
The HerbFolk Gathering emphasizes a folk herbalism that empowers the individual, inspiring and enabling action and healing in all other aspects of our lives, in our communities and the natural world that sustain us. This year’s theme is “The Enchanted Forest,” providing “the information you need, the enchantments you desire,” held Sept. 18th-21st at gorgeous Mormon Lake, in the high forests just south of Arizona’s awesome Grand Canyon.
From the intimate Breitenbush Gathering in Oregon to the mighty International Herbal Symposium, dozens of large, medium and small events provide a magical confluence of education and delight. There are few parts of the country where there is not a conference or weekend workshops within a day’s driving distance, and it can be well worth it to drive or fly across the continent to attend a particularly awesome gathering. From their opening ceremonies to the final bittersweet parting, the experience is one of affirmation, stimulation, and celebration!
How to Plan and Prepare
As of 2013, tickets are averaging from $250-$350 for most multi-day events, although a few nonprofit conference cost as little as $35 per person.
Besides tickets, you may need to figure-in your gas costs or plane tickets, the price of a cab or shuttle from an airport to the site if you are flying, meals and lodging in route, meals and lodging at the event, and a little extra for fun purchases at each conference’s Healer’s Market.
Decide if you are driving or flying, plus a shuttle or rental car from the airport when necessary.
Conferences may include the price of meals in the registration costs, provide and charge separately for prepared meals, invite food vendors to take care of the participants’ needs, or simply suggest you bring enough food to both eat and share in a potluck atmosphere. No matter what the meals arrangement, I recommend you bring a supply of easy to prepare meals or snack foods to supplement.
Arrange far in advance for childcare at home while you are gone, if needed. Children are usually very welcome at events, if you plan to bring them be sure to pack accordingly.
Conferences usually last from 2 to 4 days, and you will want to arrive on site the evening before.
Plan to Bring:
A blank journal or note taking supplies. A time piece to avoid being late to. Supplementary food, snacks, special dietary needs. Clothes for any weather, due to nature’s many surprises. Basic first aid, skin care, and any herbal preparations you use, and any extra herbs or preparations you have around that you might want to trade to others. If any of the classes are held outdoors, you may want to bring a sun hat and sunglasses, and even consider bringing your own comfortable seating pads or chairs if you are driving to the event. A tent, bags, sleeping pad, pillows and ground cloth if camping out. And remember your camera, to capture those precious memories of your time at the gathering.
*To receive conference updates and over 30 pages of free monthly herbal information, subscribe to the complimentary Plant Healer Newsletter at: www.PlantHealer.org ...and stay tuned to our Mother Earth News/Plant Healer posts. Wild herbal blessings to all!
My 83-year old dad is a blueberry fanatic. Each year, he and my mom pick and freeze blueberries from a farm at the foot of Mount Si, in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains in the Northwest. His annual goal is to pick and freeze 100 pounds, enough to take advantage of blueberries’ health benefits year-round. He eats blueberries every day to help keep his macular degeneration at bay, his blood pressure down, and his memory sharp. It’s not surprising that my dad’s blueberry habit seems to be helping, given the plentitude of research on the health benefits of blueberries and other kinds of berries.
Health Benefits of Berries
Known for their bold, attractive colors and deliciously unique tastes, berries are one of the richest sources of natural antioxidants and polyphenols. Polyphenols are the largest and most important group of phytochemicals in people’s diets. Polyphenols such as flavonols, phenolic acids, anthocyanins, and procyanidins are found in particularly high concentration in various berries.
Blueberries, in particular, are very high in two specific polyphenols known for their health benefits: proanthocyanidins and anthocyanidins. These are thought to be the primary polyphenols responsible for blueberries’ health benefits. Proanthocyanidins and anthocyanidins are considered nature’s most potent antioxidants, but their powers have been found to extend far beyond the suppression of free radicals.
In addition to polyphenols, berries contain other important nutrients such as vitamin C, folate, potassium, and soluble fiber. Berries are relatively low in sugar and have a low glycemic load, meaning they do not cause sharp spikes in blood sugar the way some natural fruits do. Plus, in contrast with some of the other excellent dietary sources of polyphenols, such as chocolate, wine, and tea, berries contain no fat, alcohol, or caffeine.
Berries for Disease Prevention
Regular berry consumption has been linked to the prevention of some of the most common and debilitating chronic diseases.
Berries for heart and blood vessel health: Berry consumption is associated with improved cardiovascular disease outcomes. Eating berries helps the heart and blood vessels by reducing blood pressure, raising “good” HDL cholesterol levels, decreasing oxidative damage, lowering inflammation, reducing blood clotting, and improving the functioning of blood vessel walls.[1,4] Proanthocyanidins, the polyphenols responsible for blueberries’ health benefits, for example, have been shown to help treat and prevent cardiovascular disease by relaxing blood vessels and preventing the oxidation of LDL cholesterol.
Berries for brain health: Recently, the effects of berry consumption on the brain and cognition have been studied and results indicate that regular berry consumption can be an effective therapy for treating and preventing several diseases related to nervous system degeneration and age-related brain dysfunction. Studies show that eating berries can enhance cognitive performance in humans.
Berries for immune boosting and cancer protection: Frequent consumption of berries is also associated with improved immune function and cancer outcomes.
Berries for eye health: Because of their high concentration of anthocyanidins and proanthocyanidins, berries like blueberries and bilberries have been studied and found to improve vision and help prevent eye inflammation, cataracts, and macular degeneration.
How To Get Blueberries’ Health Benefits Year-Round
Summer is the time for foraging for wild berries, picking berries at your local berry farm, or buying them in large quantities to freeze for later eating. If possible, choose wild berries. Although all berries are superfruits, wild berries are typically more loaded with health-promoting polyphenols compared to their commercial counterparts, which tend to be bigger and sweeter, but not as intensely pigmented or flavorful. After wild, your next best option would be certified organic and local; and next best after that would be local with minimal spray but not necessarily certified organic.
The best way to freeze depends on the berry, but generally involves spreading unwashed berries out on a large tray or cookie sheet in order to sort and pick out any bad one and remove any stems. Then chill on cookie sheets if possible before transferring to bags or containers for storage in the freezer. Rinse frozen berries before eating. Blueberries will thaw in minutes by simply soaking in room temperature water.
Frozen berries can be used in juices and smoothies; thawed and eaten as is; juiced; or used on yogurt, whole grain cereal, or in all kinds of delicious recipes. Read more about berry benefits here.
- Am J Clin Nutr. 2008 Feb;87(2):323-31.
- Nutr Neurosci. 2011 May;14(3):119-25.
- J Sci Food Agric. 2014 Mar 30;94(5):825-33.
- Am J Clin Nutr. 2014 May 28;100(Suppl1):347S-352S.
- Biofactors. 2010 May-Jun;36(3):159-68.
- BMC Complement Altern Med. 2014 Apr 2;14:120.
- J Agric Food Chem. 2013 Nov 19. [Epub ahead of print]
I have been pestering my husband for over a year to make a plant press for me. At one point, I even madeit public by writing a few blogs to drop the hint. Alas, our farming activities have included so much growing, harvesting and processing of plants that there was little time to spare to make me more equipment to study them.
Anyone who wants to learn more about their local medicinal plants should have a plant press. In some spaces of course, such as anational park, it is inappropriate to take plant specimens. This is a project more suited for outings in privately owned wild areas where you are given permission to hike. A good guide book is essential, but there are times when it is inconvenient to stay out in the field long enough to research the identity of any new find. For these times a good pocket knife and plastic baggies are just as important as the field guide.
A plant press will allow a budding naturalist to preserve plant specimens in a more permanent way. Keeping a library of dried plant material connects us with the earliest botanists and medicine makers. When I first started I used phone books and old magazines stacked between heavy encyclopedias. This is a great way to work in a pinch, but invariably I lost track of which books held my latest collection and they were easily damaged or forgotten. I had in mind a plant press that James Green describes in his Herbal Medicine-Maker’s Handbook, A Home Manual, but making it required a trip to the hardware store... insert my previous comments on lack of time here....
Finally, this year for my birthday, my husband came up with a new design that was quick and easy enough to get done in between weeding the garden and taking care of the kids. I couldn’t wait to share it with others as I believe it is a practical way for anyone to make their own press. So many do-it-yourselfers don’t have a wood shop, so his solution will allow anyone who can operate a simple cordless drill to connect with their environment in this ancient way.
A Cutting Board Plant Press
Time is always of the essence, so going to the local store and buying two matching cutting boards was a quick choice. You can pick the size of the board to meet your needs. We selected ones with handles so that it can be carried around the farm or on trips. With materials in hand, this project took us about 15 minutes to complete and is much more cost-effective than ones you can buy on the internet:
Tools and Materials
drill with drill bit
paper cutter (or scissors)
optional wood clamps
2 wooden cutting boards with handles
4 bolts with matching wingnuts
blotting paper or watercolor/marker paper
Drill holes in the four corners of one of the cutting boards and use that board as the template to make matching holes in the second board (clamp with wood clamps for ease). To minimize wiggling/twisting, the holes should be just big enough to force your bolts through. Take cardboard and blotting paper and cut into a stack of rectangles that will just fit inside the bolt holes on your cutting boards. Put your bolts through the bottom cutting board and stack in your cut cardboard and paper. Place on the top cutting board and tighten down with the wing nuts. You’re ready to go in search of flowers!
Out in the field, take off the wing nuts and top cutting board to begin layering flowers. Start by laying a sheet of cardboard on the bottom board and place as many flowers as you can fit in between two sheets of blotting paper. Add a square of cardboard to complete the first layer. Keep adding layers to dry as many flowers as your bolt length will allow. When finished, put on the top cutting board and tighten down with the wing nuts to press. Sit your harvested flowers in a dry ventilated place and wait for success.
Hello, this is Jesse Wolf's partner Kiva Rose, with the second in what will be a long series of posts by us on the topics of medicinal herbs, folk herbalism and natural healing. Together we host the upcoming herbal conference and celebration in the forests near the Grand Canyon, Arizona, and produce and sell a special digital quarterly for herbalists and the students of herbalism called Plant Healer Magazine, but we are also committed to making available to everyone a certain amount of absolutely free educational content including Plant Healer's complimentary blog "Herbaria" (subscribe at www.PlantHealer.org), and some of our newest writings will be appearing right here on this Mother Earth News blog.
In all cases, we strive to provide a balance of information, from how to identify and make use of America's medicinal plants, to interviews with famed herbal practitioners and teachers, with the intention of helping you take some responsibility for your own health and that of your family... in the most natural ways possible.
The Brambles of Summer
Many rose family plants, including Rubus species such as Raspberry and Blackberry, are astringent tonics. This means that they tighten and tone lax tissues, and that’s useful in a practical sense because they help to restrict the loss of needed fluid through those too relaxed tissues. This could be excessive diarrhea or sweating during a fever that is leading to dehydration, excessive uterine bleeding during menstruation, excessive urination, or even bleeding, swollen gums as the result of gum disease.
Most of us think of the leaf or even root in regards to medicinal uses, but the tart, unripe or partially ripe berries are also very useful, and children are generally more easily convinced to take a tasty berry potion than even the nicest tea. The good news is that Rubus species tend to be very tasty indeed, from leaf to berry! There are a great many ways to turn Blackberries, Raspberries, and other closely related species into medicine, and I’ll provide a couple recipes here so you can get an idea of some easy ways to make your own remedies with them.
This elixir is tasty, easy to make, and lasts forever if kept in a cool, dark place. If you prefer not to use this small amount of alcohol, then a syrup also works very well. The berries are rich in antioxidants and have some value in inhibiting the flu virus (I really like to add blackberry to my Elderberry syrup as well, for just that reason), among their many other virtues. This elixir or the syrup can help reduce feverishness and diarrhea in both children and adults while still tasting good.
Note: Do NOT wash the berries just prior to using them, the extra water can make the elixir ferment! You want the berries and leaves as dry as possible.
For your elixir, it’s helpful to have on hand:
a pint canning jar (or other glass jar that seals well)
approximately half a pint of blackberries (preferably a mix of various stages of ripeness, as the less ripe berries are more astringent)
approximately half a pint of fresh blackberry leaves, roughly chopped
cinnamon to taste (optional)
fresh ginger to taste, grated or finely chopped (optional)
about a pint of high quality brandy (the better the brandy, the better your elixir will taste)
approximately 1/4 pint of raw honey
a good stirring spoon
First, fill your jar all the way to the top with the Blackberry fruit and leaves, you don’t have to pack them in but push them down a bit to minimize the air space in the jar. Add optional spices if desired, these are especially nice if being used for any sort of gut upset, and help to reduce cramping. Now, pour the honey in slowly, stirring as necessary, until the plant matter is well coated. Next, fill to the top with brandy, against stirring as necessary to remove air bubbles and fill the jar evenly. Now cover the jar with a tight fitting lid, and shake carefully to finish the mixing process. Let macerate in a cool, dark place for four to six weeks (or as long as you can stand to wait. Strain through coffee filter. Bottle and store in a cool, dry place away from sunlight until needed.
Wildflower and Bramble Leaf Tea
This is a lovely tea to drink just for taste’s sake, but it’s wonderful for calming irritated nerves, overheated children (and adults), and addressing any seasonal digestive issues as often happens with summertime bouts of diarrhea. It won’t dry up secretions to the point of causing suppression, but it will cool the body, reduce a fever, and gently lessen any excess loss of fluids.
2 tsp of fresh blackberry or raspberry leaf
1 tsp fresh rose petals
1 tsp fresh Lemon Balm leaves
2-3 fresh violet leaves
1 cup boiling water
Pour the water over the herbs and let steep 5 to 10 minutes. Honey can be added to taste. This can also be iced and served cold, and drunk as desired.
The plants you need can be ethically wildcrafted in many parts of the country, including close to or within urban areas. You can also purchase them from any of a number of herb suppliers, including one of our favorite sources, Mountain Rose Herbs.
Backyard Medicine by Julie Bruton-Seal and Matthew Seal
The Plant Healer's Path by Jesse Wolf Hardin (www.PlantHealer.org)
Practical Herbs by Henriette Kress
Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West by Michael Moore
Chemical preservatives are found in almost every type of processed food, and they are posing serious risks to our health. Here are the top five reasons to avoid food preservatives.
A study that monitored more than 61,000 Swedish women over 18 years found that the consumption of processed meat is associated with a 50% to 100% increase in the risk of gastric cancer. The most dangerous types of meat were found to be bacon, pork, salami, ham, and hotdogs. Additional studies suggest that the development of cancer is due to nitrosamine, a product of nitrite preservatives.[2,3]
Sulfur dioxide is found in many soft drinks, alcoholic beverages, dried fruits, and dried vegetables. A study found that one in nine asthmatics experience worsening symptoms as a result of consuming soft drinks that contain sulfur dioxide.
Lowered Blood Oxygen
A study found that sodium nitrite, a common preservative in processed meats, causes lower levels of red blood cells and hemoglobin. These are the cells and molecules responsible for carrying oxygen to the body, a lack of which can lead to decreased energy production and cell death.
Diabetes and Heart Disease
Processed meats have been found to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease by 30%, coronary heart disease by 42%, and diabetes by 19% as a result of their high salt and preservative content.
How to Avoid Preservatives
The following foods are likely to contain the largest amounts of preservatives and should be avoided.
Processed meats such as salami, pastrami, bacon, and all deli lunch meats [1,4]
High-sugar beverages such as soft drinks and flavored coffee 
Restaurant food, especially fast food
Canned or dried food, including vegetables, fish, and fruits
Frozen food such as boxed meals.
In general, any food with a high sugar content, a low water content, and an acidic or low pH is likely to contain preservatives. The ones that are most commonly found on ingredient lists are:
Benzene: Sodium benzoate, potassium benzoate, benzoic acid
Acetate: Sodium acetate, acetic acid
Sorbate: Potassium sorbate, sorbic acid, propanoic acid 
Nitrate: Sodium nitrite or nitrate, potassium nitrite or nitrate, nitrosamine, nitric acid.
Fresh vegetables and fruits may also be coated with preservatives, but these are easily removed by washing.
Safe Foods and a Vegetable Wash
Researchers suggest eating nuts, legumes, fruits, and vegetables, and replacing processed meat with freshly butchered local meat or wild-caught fish. Vegetables and fruits are safer than meats, but should be cleaned to remove pesticides and preservatives. Spraying and rinsing them with a vinegar or lemon solution will greatly reduce any surface preservatives. One common recipe includes:
1 cup filtered water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon baking soda.
By eating more organic, whole foods, and less processed and packaged food, in general, the better you will feel and the healthier you will be. You can find a variety of delicious, whole-food recipes here.
1. Int J Cancer. 2006 Aug 15;119(4):915-9.
2. Br J Cancer. Dec 1973; 28(6): 562–567.
3. Food Addit Contam. 1992 Sep-Oct;9(5):561-77.
4. Public Health Rep. 1984 Jul-Aug; 99(4): 360–364.
5. Br J Dis Chest. 1980 Apr;74(2):128-34.
6. Appl Environ Microbiol. Aug 2004; 70(8): 4449–4457.
7. J Egypt Public Health Assoc. 2001;76(3-4):281-95.
8. BMC Med. 2013 May 23;11:136. doi: 10.1186/1741-7015-11-136.
There is no experience or practice more valuable, empowering, and utterly satisfying than enabling the health and well being of ourselves, our family, friends and community... naturally. And herbs are arguably the most benign, helpful, and therefore central component of natural health. The restrictive modern medical system — with its often harmful emphasis on pharmaceutical drugs — makes learning at least the rudiments of herbal self-care more important now than at any time before. Folk herbalism requires no certification, only our dedicated study and devoted practice, as we take on the work of helping to heal our bodies, communities, and the Earth itself.
As the publishers of Plant Healer Magazine and books, my partner-blogger Kiva Rose and I have given ourselves to making both ancient traditions and the most up-to-date research and skills available to all who are interested — from doting mothers and kitchen medicine makers to neighborhood herbal providers, street medics and professional clinicians. With the following series of exclusive Mother Earth News posts, Kiva and I hope to bring to a wider audience a taste of the aesthetics and joys of herbalism as well as needed practical information such as folk herbal recipes, herb profiles with uses, tips on making assessments, an introduction to understanding personal constitutions and natures, plant energetics made easily understandable, wildcrafting in city and countryside, healthful food, and how to choose an herbal education.
Forget what you may have heard and quiet your fears about whether you are qualified or “good enough” — anyone who ever lovingly uses a plant to ease discomfort or contribute to someone’s health is an herbalist. Time, study, and experience make us more effective, but we are already herbalists by virtue of our alliance with the plants, and our intentions and efforts to contribute to vital healing processes. With this caring and doing, we join a long lineage of healers and caregivers from primeval remedy makers through tribal Medicine Women and southern Root-Doctors, Hispanic Curanderas and even licensed physicians who continued using plant-based medicines into the 20th century. And of all those who ever work with herbs, there will always be those of you who feel called to a deeper relationship with the herbs, who feel a calling or a sense a mission. Discovering and defining one’s role within the field of herbalism is one of the core topics of our most recent book, available now through the M.E.N. bookstore: The Plant Healer’s Path, and for those most interested in becoming an herbalist we’ve provided an extensive excerpt that you can read for free on this site: Walking The Path of Herbalism.
Kiva sends her greetings, and looks forward to writing a useful and fun post for you in a week, so keep checking back. And she and I wish all of you every blessing on your individual paths of service and wellbeing We hope that you’ll make us your lasting allies and aides... in this natural, vital, and truly delightful purpose.
Adventure and savor!
Jesse Wolf Hardin is an inspiriteur, artist, and the author of nearly 1,000 articles and a dozen books including his newest, The Plant Healer’s Path, a collection of in-depth interviews entitled 21st Century Herbalists, and a much acclaimed historical novel of healing and adventure, The Medicine Bear. As Terry Tempest Williams said, his voice “inspires our passion to take us further, seeing the world whole.” Kiva Rose is one of the best known herbalists of this generation, as well as an artist, storyteller and committed culture-shifter, with her Medicine Woman Roots blog well loved. Together they produce Plant Healer Magazine, the leading publication for herbalists and wildcrafters, and the HerbFolk Gathering held in forests near the Grand Canyon each September.