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Healthy living, herbal remedies and DIY natural beauty.

Prepare for Spring by Making Digestive Bitters

Just as we spend spring days clearing rubble from our overwintered gardens, we can also spend the warmer, longer days clearing winter’s accumulated waste and toxins from our bodies. Up to this point, we’ve been in hibernation mode – sleeping more, eating comfort foods that are high in fats and oils – and in early spring it’s time to jump-start our perhaps still resting metabolisms, get the blood moving, and help the liver process the waste efficiently.

Bitter tonics are particularly useful in spring because the simple act of tasting bitters on your tongue triggers the liver and gall bladder to create bile, which stimulates the digestion of fats and oils. With the digestive system working efficiently, toxins are eliminated from the body and, over time, bitters act as “alteratives” or blood purifiers. Herbalist Rosemary Gladstar taught that alterative bitters are “agents that gradually and favorably alter the condition of the blood” (Gladstar, 2011).

dandelion greens
Fotolia/posh

You can introduce bitter flavors into your diet by eating more bitter greens, like arugula and dandelion. Coffee is the most commonly consumed bitter, and steamed burdock is a seasonal bitter treat that’s also fun to forage. An easy DIY option is to make herbal bitters, which are essentially a tincture made with bitter herbs. Although drinking bitters isn’t as much a part of our mealtime traditions as they once were, you may still recognize the term “aperitif” for digestive-stimulating drinks consumed before a meal, and “digestif” for those consumed after a meal.

Digestive bitters can also double as fantastic ingredients in homemade cocktails. For example, the Manhattan cocktail (my personal favorite) calls for angostura bitters, which feature bitter gentian root (Gentiana lutea). Keep the following Digestive Bitters in your medicine cabinet, but don’t hesitate to break them out when a special-occasion cocktail is in demand.

DIY Digestive Bitters Recipe

tincture bottle
Fotolia/rawf8

This recipe uses ingredients that are easy to forage, grow, or purchase in the United States. Yield: 1 pint.

  • 2 parts dandelion root

  • 1 part fennel seed

  • 1 part orange peels

Add combined herbs to a wide-mouth canning jar and then cover with high-proof vodka or brandy. Shake to make sure all herbs are completely submerged, and then let sit in a dark spot for 4 to 6 weeks, shaking every 2 or 3 days to keep plant material covered. Strain through a cheesecloth and store infused tincture in a labeled, amber-colored bottle. Take 1 teaspoon or one tincture bottle dropperful before or after meals. Consume your homemade bitters within 1 year.

fennel seeds on spoon
Fotolia/ksena32

Learn more about bitters by reading this fantastic two-part series by Sharyn Hocurscak with The Herbal Academy: Part 1: History and Benefits of Bitters and Part 2: Making Bitters. 

I’d also recommend reading Guido Masé’s book The Wild Medicine Solution: Healing with Aromatic, Bitter, and Tonic PLants – Guido is the founder of Urban Moonshine, a company that crafts high-quality bitters that are sold nationwide.

 

 Hannah was inspired to write this blog post during her time enrolled in The Herbal Academy’s online school where she worked her way through the Entrepreneur Herbalist Package. She is managing editor for Heirloom Gardener magazine and senior editor for Mother Earth News. Read all of Hannah's posts here.

Argan Oil: Its Benefits, Uses and Purity

 

You’ve probably heard of argan oil: the new “miracle” ingredient in DIY natural cosmetics. You may know it’s made in Morocco, where it’s something of a national treasure. You may also know it’s beneficial for your hair, body, and even as a food ingredient.

However, you may not know any specific argan oil benefits — that studies suggest it accelerates burn healing and fights cancer and diabetes.

In this post, I’ve compiled the last 20 years of research on argan oil benefits, Now you can get the real deal about all its benefits without the hype and sales pitches.

Many people making homemade, DIY cosmetics, or looking for non-toxic beauty or health care ingredients, get lost in a sea of available information online... If you’re one of them, use this as a quick reference.

How is Argan Oil Used?

Now let’s see exactly what the liquid gold does and doesn’t do.

Argan oil is only found in southwestern Morocco. Numerous attempts have been made to grow it in other parts of the world with no success, It is mainly used in two very different ways First of all, the oil is used as a gourmet delight because of its nutty flavor and apparent health benefits.

Secondly, it is used as a powerful ingredient in many health and beauty products. It is rich in vitamin E and contains many antioxidants. In fact, the Berbers who populate this region of Morocco have been using the oil for hundreds of years, and it has been particularly valuable in protecting and conditioning hair and skin.

Between June and August, the Moroccans harvest the mature fruits of the argan tree. These fruits are dried for many weeks, the most labor intensive part of oil extraction is removing the pulp and crashing the hard shell nut which contain one to three oil rich kernels.

These kernels are then pressed using traditional extraction or mechanical extraction or chemical extraction to obtain culinary-grade oil, the kernels needs to be roasted before pressing.

Sebum Level Correction

In Morocco, where the Argania tree grows in the semi-desert Sous valley, people have long used argan oil to fight spots, oily skin, acne and other skin problems. In recent years, science has given us hard evidence that explains why.

Here’s the deal. Your body produces a natural, oily substance that waterproofs and lubricates your skin. This substance is called sebum, and it protects you from injury, sunburns and other nasty stuff. Even your ear canal has sebum.

The problem is, the modern lifestyle can mess with your natural sebum levels. Air pollution, unhealthy food and even hormone levels can confuse the body. As a result, many people today have.

• Too much sebum - oily skin, whiteheads, blackheads, acne, pustules
• Too little sebum - dryness, skin injuries and tears, itching and redness, acne

Having too much sebum is a common and dangerous problem. This makes hair follicles become clogged with oil and dead skin, leading to all kinds of yucky skin conditions. Unfortunately, most oils, including olive oil, can’t stabilize your sebum levels.

The reason for that is, your skin isn’t very good at absorbing vegetable products, which is why many people complain about olive and sunflower oils greasing skin to the point it leaves stains on clothes and furniture.

Argan oil works differently. A 2007 study had volunteers apply a cream with Argania spinosa oil base for 4 weeks. The results took the researchers aback.

Sebum regulation improved in 95% of the volunteers. Areas covered with oily spots were reduced by 42%. The number of active sebum glands stayed level, proving that argan oil fixes your sebum levels naturally instead of messing with your body.

Researchers believe that Vitamin E and linoleic acid (omega-6) are the specific ingredients in argan oil that create this effect. Vitamin E is a unique, fat-soluble antioxidant essential for healthy skin. Omega 6 is a fatty acid that stimulates skin and hair growth.

Argania Spinosa oil may be so good at de-greasing oily skin and moisturizing dry skin because it’s rich in both - another one of many argan oil benefits.

Accelerate Burn Recovery and Reverse Skin Damage

That’s right: a study confirmed that argan oil application can greatly accelerate recovery from burns and other injuries! Didn’t think you’d see this way to use argan oil for skin care, did you? Argan oil significantly speeds up wound healing by almost 50%! as shown in a clinical experiment.

That’s why it’s used for all kinds of exposure injuries in Morocco since a long time ago. It is widely known to heal sunburn, puncture wounds, frostbite, hot and cold burns, etc.

The one question that’s still open to debate is how and why Argania Spinosa oil works to heal the skin. Although we don’t know all the answers, a study has shown why the oil specifically speeds recovery from sun damage.

Melanin - the pigment in our skin that protects us from ultraviolet rays and decreases the risk of cancer - is critical to say the least. Having too much or too little of it can lead to a higher risk of cancer, skin disorders and other problems. Studies have shown that argan oil is an elective melanin biosynthesis inhibitor. This means that argan oil normalizes skin cells that have too much melanin, keeping you healthy and safe from UV rays.

Slows Cell Aging and Oxidation

Argania Spinosa oil is rich in spinasterol and schottenol: naturally occurring compounds that have been clinically proven to protect cells from both oxidation and aging. As an added bonus, they help your body maintain Vitamin E. Since Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant, this gives your immune system an extra kick when it comes to fighting cancer.

Here’s what’s really interesting. Normally, antioxidants act by scavenging free radicals: uncharged molecules that are believed to cause aging and aging-related diseases. What antioxidants can’t do is slow down the level of oxidation in your body.

Argan oil is different, because it tackles the free radical problem at the root. It reduces the rate of oxidation in your body, actually stopping your body from creating these particles. In fact, Argan oil has 3 mechanisms that have been shown to specifically fight skin aging and wrinkling. It keeps cells young, protects them from cellular stress, and stimulates new skin growth and the regeneration of old skin.

Improved Skin Elasticity

As you already know, Moroccan oil is a powerful antioxidant. It’s rich in vitamin E and omega 9: the 2 things your skin needs to stay healthy, elastic and hydrated. That’s why Moroccans use it to prevent wrinkles, premature aging and crows’ feet. What does research tell us about its measurable effects on the skin?

Well, in a human subject experiment, a group using argan oil as a skin product for 30 days was shown to have significantly improved skin hydration compared to the placebo group.

Since moisture loss is one of the main reasons for skin aging, this is significant. Hydrated skin loses less collagen and is protected from heat, cold and the sun. Wrinkles may be impossible to reverse, but making sure your skin cells and membrane have enough water prevents signs of aging from happening in the first place.

The evidence doesn’t lie. In another study, 30 postmenopausal women were asked to apply argan oil every night for 2 months. The amount was tiny: 10 drops. The assessments used to measure the oil’s effect were TEWL (transepidermal water loss) and WCE (water content of the skin).

After two months of argan oil use, there was a measurable improvement in the skin’s ability to retain water. It could also “lose” more water without drying, meaning this wasn’t just a cosmetic effect; this was a real, cell-level change.

The proof’s in the pudding: even a tiny amount of Moroccan oil added to a skin product can improve hydration and the elasticity of skin without “trapping” water inside cells and making the user feel bloated.

How Important is the Purity of Argan Oil?

As mentioned above, argan oil is expensive because it’s only produced in one place on earth: Morocco.

Although the Moroccan government plans to triple argan production output in the next few years, and the trees have already been planted, it’s still a premium product.

To save money, manufacturers and retailers have sometimes added other oils to what is labeled as “argan oil”. (This is what doctors hypothesized as the reason for the severe reaction of allergic contact dermatitis.)

If you don’t use pure argan oil, you won’t get its full benefits. In cosmetic products, you risk diluting the nanoparticles that make it so easy to absorb to the point where all the goodness is gone. When consuming it, you risk putting whatever was used to dilute the oil in your body. You probably don’t want that.

So how do you recognize Organic Pure Argan oil?

Real, pure, authentic oil often has a tiny bit of sediment at the bottom of the bottle and appears a bit “cloudy”. It’s also pale yellow in color. If your oil is clear, and has no sediment at all, you’re probably getting a fake.

Argan oil should also have a luxurious, nutty smell! If yours doesn’t have a smell, it could be old, or worse, “deodorized” by extreme heating processes... If it’s even Arganoil at all. The good news is, studies show that even a few drops of pure oil can help you get these wonderful argan oil benefits.

Using Argan Oil Correctly

As a supplement. So, you want to live longer, stay younger, and protect yourself from diseases like diabetes and cancer. In other words, you want some argan oil in your life! A very easy way to get its nutritional benefits is by using it as a supplement.

Argan oil does the most for your lipid levels and insulin sensitivity when consumed with food. 3-5 ml taken with 1 or 2 meals every day will do wonders for your skin and overall health. Many people also report that moroccan oil reduces hunger pangs, and consume it before bed to avoid the night munchies!

In your DIY recipes. When you use pure, natural products in your DIY skincare recipes, you only need a few things to make a great formula you will swear by. Whether you make stuff for personal use, or to sell, argan oils many benefits and low required dosage make it a godsend in cosmetics.

If you want to make that DIY shaving cream, or body butter, or handmade soap, or facial mask, just add 10 drops or so to the formula. Even 1 drop of pure argan oil will have a noticeable effect on dry and oily skin, stretch marks and all skin types - just make sure to warn people with nut allergies!

As a stand-alone product. Argan oil is very rare, even in Morocco, where it’s made. Fortunately for Moroccan women, you only need a tiny bit to get its benefits. Traditionally, locals use argan oil before bed, applying a few drops to their face and hair as part of their night-time beauty routine. You can do the same — it’s so rich you’ll find it easy to make just a little last you a long time!

As a food ingredient. The last (and tastiest) way to use argan oil is in your food. Just use it instead of butter or olive oil and share it with your friends and family members so they get the benefits, too. As another option, you can use it as a great bread dip ingredient, either pure or mixes with a little balsamic vinegar, Italian-style, for a delicious treat!

Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only and does not attempt to replace the advice of a medical expert.

Elena Julian is an aspiring farmer, mother, beauty DIYer. Join Elena aver at OilYit. Watch her press argan oil on Youtube, and follow along on Twitter.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

5 Natural Remedies for Insomnia

Between 30 and 35 percent of all adults have some brief or minor symptoms of insomnia while 10 percent of the global adult population has to deal with chronic insomnia. This data is from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, and so it is a reliable and accurate representation of the high prevalence of this sleep disorder. Most people who have the problem will tend to brush it off as usual lack of sleep, but it is a serious condition which needs attention.

The good news is that there are many natural remedies for insomnia that can be very useful for people struggling with the problem. The solutions range from lifestyles changes to the use of herbs, and they include the following six.

Meditation

6107353399_f02b40962c_zPhoto by Spirit Fire

Anxiety and stress are a part of most people’s regular day, but they are also some of the leading causes of insomnia. If you are worried about something, it becomes very hard to sleep because you cannot achieve the right mindset necessary for sleeping.

However, meditation can help you get rid of the anxiety and stress because research proves that it is very effective in calming both the body and mind. And so, sparing a few minutes for meditation before bed can help deal with your sleeplessness. Some people do not like or know how to meditate, but yoga or even praying can also be alternatives.

Light Therapy

The body uses light as an indicator of when to sleep and wake up. Human beings have an internal mechanism that controls this function, and the absence of light sends signs to the brain that it is time to sleep. Light therapy is very easy to do as you only need to dim the lights about an hour before going to bed so as to trigger the production of important sleep-inducing hormones like melatonin. You should also expose your body to daylight in the morning to shut down the production of melatonin so as to help it establish a sleep routine.

Herbal Teas

cup-829527_640Via Pixabay

A warm cup of herbal bedtime tea is one of the most efficient ways of dealing with insomnia, and most sleep experts will always recommend it. But, not every herb is ideal for sleep because those that have caffeine will only make your insomnia worse.

You should always go for those that are decaffeinated and make the tea without excess sugar because sweeteners are bad for sleep. Also, it is important to know that there are some particular kinds of herbs that have been proven to be very useful for dealing with insomnia. Valerian root tea tops most lists, and this is because of its ability to reduce the time that it takes to fall asleep and also improve the quality of your sleep. Others like kava, which induces relaxation, and chamomile that has anti-inflammatory and calming effects also make a helpful herbal bedtime tea.

Develop a Strict Sleep Schedule

Instead of concentrating on trying to sleep for as many hours as possible you should focus your energy on creating and following a strict sleep schedule. Research shows that individuals who sleep and wake up at the same time every day tend to get more restful sleep than those that do not follow any schedule. Interfering with the body’s internal mechanism is one of the things that lead to insomnia and so establishing a routine is vital. Getting a sleep routine is also not difficult as you only need to make a few adjustments to your daily schedule.

Lifestyle Changes

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Via Pixabay

Insomnia is in many instances a product of behaviors and so it is important to make some changes so as to deal with it. Bringing your work home and working late into the night might seem like a good idea because you will do more but it is not. Working in the house makes you feel preoccupied, and the light from the computer or tablet also affects your ability to fall asleep. Other habits such as taking long naps late in the afternoon can also make it hard to sleep at night which is the time you need the rest most. Also, eating heavy meals before bed can also cause insomnia because the body focuses on digestion. Making some changes and avoiding any of these negative things will help solve your sleep issues.

Insomnia comes with serious health implications, and it will also affect your performance at work or school. Whether you go for a healthy herbal bedtime tea or any other remedy, the most important thing is always to take some action.

Ann Katelyn is a homesteader in Alabama whohas dedicated most of her life to gardening and botanical study with growing interests ranging from the popular, world-class roses to the rarest and most exotic orchids. She is currently trying her best to become well versed on plants found in desert areas, the tropics, and Mediterranean region. Connect with Ann on Twitter and her website, Sumo Gardener. Read all of Ann's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Homemade Neti Pot Rinse

When I still lived at home with my parents, my mom would sing out “neti pot!” every time I complained of sinus pressure or sounded congested, which was fairly often during cold, dry winter weather. At first I hated using the neti pot, which involves pouring salty water into one nostril and out the other to help clear sinus congestion and rinse out allergy-causing debris, like pollen. I always waited until the infection was so bad that my sinuses were completely clogged and the salt burned my irritated mucous membranes. No wonder I hated it!

In college, I couldn’t afford to buy antibiotics every time my sinuses flared, plus I was becoming more aware about the negative side-effects that antibiotics can have on our gut microbiomes. As an alternative, I started using my neti pot 3 or 4 times a week to prevent sinus and allergy symptoms from taking hold in the first place – what a difference that made!  I learned that Ayurvedic practitioners have used nasal rinses for thousands of years and they complete their rinse with the application of Nasya or “nose” oil to keep their nasal passages from drying out.

neti pot rinse 

By switching my neti pot usage to a preventative habit rather than a last-minute treatment for acute sinus conditions, I completely changed my relationship with the neti pot and my appreciation for sinus rinses in general. I haven’t had a sinus infection for years, and now I’m the one singing out “neti pot!” every time a friend or coworker complains of sinus or allergy congestion.

Infused Salt Rinses

For years, I kept a container of sea salt and a box of baking soda underneath by sink and I would sprinkle a bit of each into my neti pot before adding warm water.  The salt helps prevent irritation because it makes the rinse more closely resemble your own sinus fluids; the baking soda increases the mucus-thinning properties of the solution. Casually mixing the solution on an as-needed basis is a fine technique, but after splurging on a store-bought, infused salt rinse I realized that adding a few drops of essential oil can drastically improve the experience.

The infused salt rinse that I purchased had a gentle mix of rosemary, fir, and cedar wood essential oils, and by inhaling deeply after the neti rinse I felt like I was standing in the center of a cool evergreen forest. Although I loved the infused salts, I didn’t love the price tag, especially for something I could so easily create myself.

I’ve noticed that I’m more likely to use my neti pot when I have a ready-made solution on hand. Plus, keeping this rinse in stock has allowed me to clear the unsightly salt and baking soda containers out from underneath my bathroom sink. When following the below recipe, I mix up enough infused salts to fill a 4 ounce glass jar, which lasts my household about 3 months.

Ingredients:

  • 4 parts fine sea salt (should be the consistency of table salt)
  • 1 part baking soda
  • 5 drops essential oil of your choice (I used rosemary, which is anti-fungal, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory)

Add the sea salt to your storage container and then add 4 or 5 drops of the essential oil of your choice. Stir or shake your container to distribute the oils evenly. Add the baking soda, put the lid on your container, and shake vigorously to mix everything together.

To use: Add ½ teaspoon of the infused salts to your neti pot and then cover with 1 cup of room temperature, distilled water. Lean over your sink and pour half the mixture through one nostril then stop, switch sides, and pour the other half through your other nostril. Clean your neti pot in warm, soapy water between uses.

Warning:  Essential oils are extremely concentrated and should be used with caution. Research your essential oil selection carefully before using it and test the diluted oil on the back of your hand to make sure you don’t have any unexpected reactions. To test the oil, dilute 3 drops essential oil in ½ teaspoon of carrier oil (olive oil, sesame oil, almond oil, etc.). Rub a drop of the diluted essential oil onto the back of your hand and watch it for 24 hours to make sure no signs of redness appear. If no patchy red spots appear, then you can assume it’s safe to use on your body and you can add a few drops to your neti pot rinse. If you use too much essential oil or too much salt then your neti pot rinse will burn.  

 

neti pot rinse materials 

 

 Infused Water Salt Rinse

An even gentler way to incorporate healing plants in your neti rinse is to leave out the essential oils and instead replace the distilled water with an herbal infusion.  If you have a runny nose, then an astringent tea made with raspberry leaf, yarrow, or rose, will help tighten tissue and dry up the mucus membranes. If your nasal passages feel raw and sore, then a vulnerary herb, such as calendula, plantain, or chamomile, will help repair the damaged tissues. Finally, if there’s a sense of intense dryness underlying the issue, then demulcent herbs, like slippery elm and marshmallow will provide comfort. For more information on using herbal teas in sinus rinses, I recommend reading The Herbal Academy’s online blog post Natural Allergy Relief: Nasal Rinses, Eyewashes, and Herbal Steam.

herbal infusion for neti pot rinse
Fotolia/fotofabrika

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon dried herb
  • 1 cup distilled or boiled water
  • ½ tsp salt rinse (follow recipe above for infused salt rinse, but omit the essential oils)

Steep the herbs for 10 to 15 minutes in water then strain. Pour infusion over salt rinse in a neti pot. Wait until it comes to room temperate, then use. Thoroughly wash your neti pot in warm soapy water after each use.

Hannah was inspired to write this blog post during her time enrolled in The Herbal Academy’s online school where she worked her way through the Entrepreneur Herbalist Package. She is managing editor for Heirloom Gardener magazine and senior editor for Mother Earth News. Read all of Hannah's posts here.

How to Make an Herb Journal (Plus a Free Herbalism Class)

Herbalists often create a special type of herbal journal, called a materia medica, which is an inspiring way to stay connected to our studies and to our plants to ensure we are always learning and growing as herbalists. It’s a great tool for all types of herbalists — and that includes homestead herbalists, too!

One thing you can never have too much of on the homestead is knowledge, and that’s true of everything from keeping up with repairs, to working with livestock, to gardening, and even learning how to use herbs to support your health.

Most homesteaders prefer to have a selection of good books and magazines on hand rather than relying solely on a computer or other electronic resources. Power outages or spotty connections are often a reality on the homestead! Because a materia medica can be a journal, a three ring binder, or other hard copy format, it’s an especially valuable learning tool for homestead herbalists.

Plant  - Herbal Materia Medica Course by Herbal Academy

What is a Materia Medica?

A materia medica is a collection of in-depth plant profiles, or monographs, that herbalists use as a tool for learning and reference. It’s a phrase that, roughly translated, means “healing materials.” Materia medicas have been created since before the Middle Ages as accessible repositories of herbal knowledge.

Materia medicas have taken many forms, from hand illuminated manuscripts to typeset volumes and modern books. Here at the Herbal Academy, we encourage our students to create their own personalized materia medicas as part of our Intermediate and Advanced Herbal Courses, and it’s a practice we highly recommend to anyone who is interested in learning herbalism.   

An herbal profile in a materia medica typically includes several useful categories. In a well-rounded monograph, information about what a plant looks like, which parts are used, and important facts about safety are all carefully researched and recorded. Other information, such as how to grow or harvest an herb can also be included.

It’s best to be consistent across all of the herbal profiles in your materia medica by including the same categories for each herb, and also including the resources that were used to research the monograph in case you would like to go back to look for more information later on.

Focusing on a single plant while creating a materia medica allows you to develop a better understanding of the many ways that plant can support health. Exploring topics such as native range, cultivation, and botanical description can breathe life into our academic understanding of a plant.

Materia Medica Course promotion - square

Start Your Own Materia Medica

Just like the wide variety of historical materia medicas, our students’ materia medicas take many forms, but we often get asked for guidance on how to get started. So we came up with the Materia Medica Herbal Course! The Herbal Academy is also very excited to be offering this new course for FREE during January 2017!

The Materia Medica Herbal Course provides a convenient template for starting your own personal materia medica. Having a uniform template to work with as you study herbs ensures that you don’t forget to research any important areas to better understand your herbs.

But the course also goes beyond just explaining how to work through creating a materia medica monograph. We’ve made sure to add plenty of information on herbal safety, researching tips, and activities to help you learn the most from each plant in your journal.  

Like all of our online herbal courses, the online, self-paced format of the Materia Medica Herbal Course is both flexible and accessible. Sign up for free, and as an optional addition to your program, add the Materia Medica Journal during your registration for a treasured keepsake to use and explore alongside your course lessons.

Sign up now to save your seat in class!

The Materia Medica Journal By Herbal Academy

No herbalist should be without a materia medica. In addition deepening your understanding and experience of plants, it’s a convenient way to organize and easily reference all the information you’ve gathered so that you will have it on hand when you need it most. Your materia medica journal could even become a treasured keepsake for your family, much as old pioneer diaries and commonplace books were passed down from one generation to the next.

We hope you will join us for the course and learn to make your own materia medica!

Agatha Noveille is an author, herbalist, and Associate Educator at the Herbal Academy. The Herbal Academy is an educational resource offering affordable online herbalist training programs for students at all experience levels, ranging from very beginner to the advanced professional level. Set your foundation in the Introductory Herbal Course, explore herbal therapeutics for body systems in greater depth in the Intermediate Herbal Course, prepare for business endeavors in the Entrepreneur Herbal Course, and delve into complex clinical topics in the Advanced Herbal Course. Learn more about the Herbal Academy’s training programs, and read all of Agatha's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

Photos provided and copyrighted by Grant Lacouture and Amber Meyers, Herbal Academy.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

8 Ways to Be Kinder to the Planet (And Ourselves) in 2017

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You know how every year, millions of people swear off sodas and fast food, and by the following month, they’re already off the wagon, and those resolutions are just a guilty memory? What if we skipped that part this year? What if our health, happiness, and care of the earth could be tied into the same mission this year for our New Year’s resolutions?

I’m a firm believer in the reason most people fail to stick to their guns every year is simply because they make a half-hearted promise, maybe belt it out on social media, and that’s the end of it — it’s just a statement of intent, and the statement alone isn’t enough to motivate them to follow through (hey, myself included).

What’s really needed to stick to your New Year’s Resolutions isn’t a different promise or a stronger cause — it’s a different approach. What if instead of saying we were going to do something this year, we decided we were going to be something else?

There’s a sad song from The Avett Brothers, Head Full of Doubt, Road Full of Promise, that strikes a chord with me in this line of thought: “Decide what to be, and go be it.” We don’t need a list of resolutions, or a goal weight, or a figure to strive for in our bank accounts — we need a mindset shift. We need to focus on why we need to accomplish something, instead of just how badly we want to accomplish it. It doesn’t have to be a health focus, or a financial agenda, or some career-climbing master plan — just make it a shift in the way you think, every single day, and the rest will fall into place.

So here’s an idea: What if instead of just focusing on one measly, lame goal this year, we focused on bettering ourselves, by feeding what we feel we are lacking the most? What if we looked at the things that we wanted, and followed the thread back to the reasons we actually want them? What might that do to our resolve, our outlook?

Take a fresh look at the things you want to accomplish this year, and you might find that many of the things on this list fall in line quite naturally for you. We all want to come out of 2017 feeling better about what we accomplished than the year before, but life needs to be lived for the right reasons — get your mindset around why you need these things, and you’ll be well on your way to a more well-rounded you.

Here are a few things you can try in 2017 to lessen your impact on the planet.

Start a Waste-Reduction Project

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Trash has become a massive epidemic worldwide — we simply throw away too much, and it’s not breaking down fast enough. As you throw things away each week, write it down — keep a clipboard on the wall next to your trash can. At the end of the week, sit down and figure out what you would have to do to make sure each piece of trash didn’t wind up in there

Maybe you won’t have a solution for every piece, but it’s a strong start to, and there are a slew of other benefits as well.

Resolutions for Waste Reduction

Health - less packaged, processed foods

Care of the earth - Less strain on landfills

Budgeting - Less money spent on consumables

Care of family - healthier foods usually don’t come in plastic packaging, more food prep together

Community - Coordinate community recycling efforts

Plan a Garden This Year

Now’s the time to start mapping out a garden, if you’re up for the task. It’s a lot of work, sure, but practices in permaculture make it much easier, with no-till methods, seed broadcasting, mulching, and polyculture to save you from hours of weeding and hoeing.

Gardening does so much all at once - it improves your health with manual labor and fresh food, it educates you on new subjects, lessens the carbon footprint of your food by putting a source right in your own backyard, and takes some of the strain off of your food budget.

Start planning now what you’d like to grow, and how you’d like to grow it. Permaculture makes it all pretty simple and low maintenance, but it is a new concept for many people to get their heads around. If you’re looking for a learning resource, check out Gaia’s Garden by Toby Hemenway to get started planning your own permaculture garden this year.

Resolutions for Planning a Garden

Health - More fresh produce on hand

Care of the earth - Lessens carbon footprint, puts sustainable food production in your control

Budgeting - Save money on groceries (even save your seeds for next year)

Care of family - Spend time together in the garden working toward a common goal

Personal education - Learn some new skills!

Career - Sell excess, teach classes if you get good at it!

Learn to Forage in Your Area

If gardening sounds like more than you have time or space for, foraging is an excellent alternative, and is a great way to find wholesome, nutritious food somewhere besides the grocery store. You may not realize how many edible plants are in your area, so do some research to be sure you only harvest was is safe and edible.

Local extension offices are a great source of information, and a local plant and field guide can help to get you started. If you’re still not sure where to begin, look into more forage-based education, either through a local guide, or with a book that specifically covers wild edibles.

Resolutions for Foraging

Health - Wholesome, nutrient dense foods, and exercise getting it

Care of the earth - Less dependency on grocery store food

Budgeting - Get organic, natural foods and herbs for free

Care of family - Spend time together hiking and exploring nature’s bounty

Self-education - Learn about plant identification and foraging practices

Career - Sell some of your harvest, or offer guided tours

Start Hunting and Fishing

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Commercially raised livestock is perhaps one of the largest crimes being committed by humanity right now — the treatment of these animals is abhorrent, and the manner in which they’re raised and processed has left the meat products often tainted with bacteria, and much less nutrient density.

Hunting and fishing are essential survival skills that yield an incredible reward — ethically raised and harvested free-range meat — straight from nature. Pair up with a mentor and undergo the necessary licensure process to get started. Take plenty of time to practice, and treat it like a second job — though time-consuming, hunting and fishing are practices that yield big rewards.

Resolutions for Hunting and Fishing

Health - Incredibly nutritious, lean meats

Care of the Earth - No commercial meat operations involved, animals are in their natural habitat, less carbon footprint, no styrofoam packaging

Budgeting - Incredibly money saver - buy less meat!

Care of family - Teaches valuable lessons on the sanctity of life

Education - An incredible skill set to acquire

Career - Get good enough at it to start offering mentoring/outfitting services

Source As Much As You Can Locally

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I get it — MacBooks don’t grow on trees. Sometimes, you just have to order things online, and a lot of times, even when you buy something locally, it was made a long ways away from where you bought it.

All the same, if you can start narrowing down your local market for things you buy regularly, you might be surprised at what gets produced in your area. If you’re not up for producing your own food, local farmers will often happily sell you bulk meats, and share of their crops via CSA programs.

Look at your grocery bill - can you buy bread from the local bakery instead? Can you buy flour from a local mill? Is there a girl in your neighborhood that does a bang up job making her own laundry soap? Get involved with your community, and see if you can spend some of your money locally, instead of sending it to the big box stores.

Resolutions for Buying Locally

Health - More aware of what goes into your food

Care of the earth - Less gas needed to get your stuff to you

Budgeting - Support your local economy, be more aware of where your money goes categorically

Community - healthier foods usually don’t come in plastic packaging, more food prep together

Career - Is there a need to be filled? Can you produce something in demand?

What Can You Live Without?

My husband jokes that I love to get rid of things, and it’s true — I hate clutter, and I hate things that sit for months on end, never touched. Here’s the thing: No matter what your budget, most of us in the developed world live well beyond our means. We spend our lives in a consumer culture, and our house becomes a rat’s nest of forgotten possessions.

Take your clutter, and turn it into someone else’s good day. Maybe you don’t need 37 pairs of shoes, but maybe five other people could use a few pairs. Go through your home from top to bottom, and make a rule for yourself - get rid of anything you haven’t used in the last six months, that you won’t use in the next six months, and that doesn’t make you happy to have.

The catch? You’re not allowed to just throw things away. Donate them, repurpose them, sell them - whatever you have to do to simplify your life, but do not transfer the burden of your clutter to the landfill.

This doesn’t just apply to stuff either — what about consumables? Are there things you don’t necessarily need to buy every month? What if you reused dog food bags, and bought 20% fewer trash bags? What if you split your jar of coconut oil in half, and stopped buying lotion? Could you get away without using shampoo? Do you really need a bottle of Windex, or will a little white vinegar suffice?

Be brave — you’d be amazed what you can live without.

Resolutions for Being a Minimalist

Happiness - Less clutter makes for a more peaceful state of mind

Care of the earth - Repurposing or donating things you don’t use

Budgeting - Make a little cash off of your junk!

Care of family - Show the value of experiences instead of things

Career - People actually do this for a living - get good enough at it, and start selling it to people that don’t have time to do it themselves!

Productivity - It’s easier to keep a clutter-free house clean

Are Your MedsTreating the Problem or the Symptom?

This one’s a touchy subject, and let me just start by saying, just because you take a pill, doesn’t mean you’re weak, or thoughtless — sometimes, we need modern medicine, and thank goodness it’s there when we do.

That being said though, I know a great number of people that take several pills, every single day, then more pills to combat the side effects of those pills, then see doctors and specialists because their hormones are out of whack from taking so many pills — it’s a vicious cycle. If you can simplify your health, do it.

I have my own health concerns, and I know it can be challenging — many medications are given to us to accommodate what will ultimately never happen, but fix our problem — a lifestyle change. If there’s something in your life that you can change though, to try to wean yourself off of those medications, have an honest conversation with your doctor about it. Tell them what your goal is, and tell them even if it doesn’t work, so long as it’s safe, you’d like to try.

If nothing else, a lot of ailments can be managed with simple, natural remedies - look into what's causing your problems, and do a little research on herbal treatments that may be a more natural and effective means of treating them. 

Resolutions for Assessing Your Meds

Health - Simplify things with fewer side effects

Care of the earth - Fewer medications entering water supply

Budgeting - Less money spent on insurance, prescriptions, and doctor visits

Care of family - Be there to see them grow, even if the pills aren't

Detox Your Home

People have this jaded saying that I keep seeing all over the interwebs — someone will share some exhaustive, compelling study about why some chemical cocktail is causing cancer, and with a notable digital eyeroll, someone will say ‘Well everything causes cancer!’

To which I say, that’s because we have carcinogenic ingredients in everything we use. Cancer-causing compounds are in everything we touch, eat, drink and breathe, and that’s why everything causes cancer. But what if we simplified things? The process of detoxing your life in this way is overwhelming and exhausting at first, so take it in steps initially, to make it easier. Pick a thing, and go after it in every corner of your home, until you’ve eradicated it, and then move on.

For us it was MSG, then corn syrup, then parabens, then plastics, pesticides — after a while, you start to realize that it’s just easier when everything you use is simple — the few the ingredients and materials, the better. Stainless steel or glass for dishes, raw spices instead of blends, cocoa powder instead of eyeshadow. You make small changes over time, and they add up to a complete lifestyle change.

Pick a poison you want to focus on eliminating, and then make it your mission to eradicate it from every corner — then move on to the next one. Whether it’s lead, artificial colors, preservatives, or fluorescent light bulbs, it’s much easier to just pick one thing and run with it for a while.

Resolutions to Detox Your Home

Health - Take control of what your family is exposed to

Care of the earth - Way fewer biohazards and nasty chemicals going into your groundwater

Budgeting - Less money spent on consumables

Care of family - Make healthier choices together

Career - Start offering a home detox service locally, you’d be surprised how many people take you up on it!

Destiny Hagest is personal assistant to Paul Wheaton, founder of  Permies.com  and  RichSoil.com, as well as a content curator and freelance writer. You can catch Destiny hanging out in the forums at Permies.com quite regularly, and visit her LinkedIn profile, and follow her on Twitter. Read all of Destiny's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here. 


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Adaptogenic Chai Recipe

We all go through a certain amount of daily stress, whether it’s a missed deadline, a flat tire, or a hair-pulling conversation. Fortunately for us, our bodies are remarkably talented at overcoming this stress and marching onward. Over time, however, this consistent low-grade stress builds up, causing depression, anxiety, insomnia, inflammation, and more.

 holding a cup of chai tea

A class of medicinal herbs called “adaptogens” were discovered in the mid-1940s as being able to help our bodies “adapt” to stress. This relatively safe and nontoxic class of herbs are defined not by their plant family but by their actions, which support the production of stress-related neurotransmitters and hormones to strengthen and tone our nervous system and organs.  Many of the plants that are considered adaptogens are also well known in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for increasing energy, brain function, and overall vitality. Adaptogens are sometimes called “modulating” because they increase or decrease the function of a particular body system or hormone based on what the body needs (Groves, 2016).  For this reason, I picture this smart class of herbs acting as little soldiers that travel though the body assessing the state of things and forming a gentle plan of action that’s specific to each individual.

Adaptogenic chai ingredients

Clockwise from center top: Ashwaganda, rhodiola, fennel, ginger, cloves, allspice, dried orange peel, cinnamon sticks, licorice, eleuthero (center).

It may be time to integrate adaptogens into your daily herbal routine when stress leaves you feeling burnt out and tired for an extended amount of time. For me, this happens after a stressful deadline when I feel a certain amount of mental fog and overall weariness.

Adaptogens can be either energizing (ginseng, rhodioloa, and eleuthero) or calming (reishi, ashwaganda, holy basil, gotu kola). Please note that ginseng needs to be sourced ethically due to its at-risk status as an over-harvested wild plant. To learn more about adaptogenic herbs and ways to use them, consider reading Agatha Noveille’s book Adaptogens: 75+ Herbal Recipes and Elixirs to Improve Your Skin, Mood, Energy, Focus, and More.

The Adaptogenic Chai Recipe, below, blends energizing rhodiola and eleuthero with calming ashwaganda and traditional chai spices for a delicious and well-balanced blend.

Adaptogenic Chai Recipe

In herbal formulations, a “part” is a self-determined measurement. It could be 1 tablespoon, 1 cup, or any other amount that you determine based on the yield that you’d like and how much of the ingredients you have on hand.

Ingredients:

  • 2 parts eleuthero root (Eleutherococcus senticosus)
  • 1 part rhodiola root (Rhodiola rosea)
  • 1 part ashwaganda root (Withania somnifera)
  • 1 part licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra)
  • 1 part dried orange peel
  • ½ part fennel seeds
  • ½ part allspice
  • ½ part cloves (full or ground)
  • 1 part fresh, chopped ginger root
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 parts loose leaf black tea (optional)

Directions: Combine all herbs except the fresh ginger, cinnamon stick, and loose leaf black tea. Mix well, then package, label, and store in a cool dark place. To use, add ¼ cup chai blend, freshly chopped ginger, and 1 cinnamon stick to a stockpot and cover with 1 quart distilled water. (For a smaller batch, use 1 teaspoon of herbs per cup of water.) Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 20 to 45 minutes. For a caffeinated chai, add 2 parts loose leaf black tea when the decoction is finished and then let steep for an additional 3 to 5 minutes. Strain, return to stock pot, and add cream or nut milk to taste.

Straining tea into a pitcher 

Because my partner and I drink this chai every morning as a coffee replacement, I decoct 2 quarts at a time (without loose leaf tea), and then refrigerate. Each morning, I bring our daily portion to a simmer then remove from heat, add loose leaf black tea, and let steep 3 to 5 minutes before straining and adding local, organic cream to taste.

For a calming twist, leave out the black tea and instead add 1 dropperful of kava-kava tincture to each person’s cup. In fact, this soothing beverage is so wonderful at calming nerves and encouraging peaceful discourse that I plan on bringing 2 quarts of kava-infused chai to my family’s holiday gatherings, where political conversations tend to disrupt the otherwise good vibes.

 2 white cups of chai tea 


Hannah was inspired to write this blog post during her time enrolled in The Herbal Academy’s online school where she worked her way through the Entrepreneur Herbalist Package. She is managing editor for Heirloom Gardener magazine and senior editor for Mother Earth News. Read all of Hannah's posts here.