by Ellen Evert Hopman
(Article originally published in The Llewellyn Journal.)
As a Druid Priestess I have made it my business to become well versed in Herbal Healing. My novel Priestess of the Forest: A Druid Journey (Llewellyn, 2008) is a fictional piece about Druids, but also features herbal lore within its pages. Some have told me they actually bought the book to learn the herbal cures!
Every Druid needs to know at least some herbal basics. Fortunately, there are spices and herbs already in your kitchen that you can easily use.
PLEASE CONSULT A HEALTH PROFESSIONAL BEFORE USING HOME REMEDIES, ESPECIALLY IF YOU HAVE A MEDICAL CONDITION.
Some basic guidelines for kitchen medicines are:
- Never cook with aluminum utensils; the aluminum can flake off and can lead to health problems. Use cast iron, steel, copper, or ceramic cookware only.
- Be sure you simmer ingredients in a pot with a tight lid so that the volatile oils don’t evaporate into the air. (Do not boil the herbs, as they will lose their virtue.)
- Herbal teas can be kept in the refrigerator for up to a week in a glass jar with a tight lid. They can also be frozen into ice cubes and stored in a bag in the freezer for later use.
- Whenever possible, use organic ingredients to avoid pesticides. Fruits and vegetables must be cleaned with hot, soapy water and rinsed thoroughly to remove pesticide residues (which are often oil-based to make them stick to the produce skins).
- Dried herbs and seeds should come from commercial organic growers. It is irresponsible to purchase wild-crafted organic herbs and spices, as in many cases these are becoming endangered species in their natural habitats.
- Flowers and leaves are steeped in freshly boiled water that has been removed from the stove. Roots, barks, and berries are simmered (never boiled).
- Honey is not suitable for infants, as it may harbor bacteria.
- If any herbal preparation does not agree with you or makes you feel bad, then DON’T USE IT. As it is said, “an ounce of caution is worth a pound of cure.”
- Sleep, exercise, and healthy foods are the true keys to a long, happy life.
This spice comes from the unripe fruits of an evergreen tree (Eugenia pimenta—commonly known as Pimentos) that grows in South America and the West Indies. It tastes and smells a bit like cloves and is used to season meats, curries, and pies. You can make a remedy for stomach upset and gas by simmering ½ to ¾ teaspoon of the spice in a cup of hot water for ten minutes. Be sure you use a non-aluminum pot with a tight lid.
When the tea has cooled, strain it through a coffee filter and take in a tablespoon dose. Dilute it with water if it is too strong for your taste.
Three or four cups of strong allspice tea added to bath water can also help those suffering from arthritis or rheumatism—it is warming and it eases pain. You can also soak a washcloth in the hot tea and apply it as a compress to an arthritic joint.
Aloe can grow in the garden in warm climates and indoors in a sunny spot in colder areas. This is a plant that you will want to have somewhere near the kitchen.
Whenever someone gets a burn, whether from cooking or from the sun, split open one of the fleshy leaves and apply the moist, inner gel to the burn. Aloe is cooling and soothing and loaded with skin-healing vitamins.
Anise is a spice that was used by the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. Anise seeds are used to flavor pies, cookies, and stews. The tea is a great remedy for colic, gas, and indigestion. It can also be taken with honey for a cough.
Steep two teaspoonfuls in a pint of freshly boiled water in a tightly covered non-aluminum pot, for ten minutes. Strain and take a tablespoonful as needed. Sweeten with honey if desired.
A wise, old adage states that “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Several studies have proven the health benefits of apples. In a University of Michigan study it was determined that students who ate two apples a day had fewer headaches and emotional upsets, as well as clearer skin. Eating raw apples increases saliva, stimulates the gums, and cleans the teeth—leading to better dental health.
Eating raw, peeled apples will help cure diarrhea. Eating apples with the skin on will ease constipation (cooked or raw). For both diarrhea and constipation, it is also wise to drink plenty of extra water.
It is a good idea to follow up a course of antibiotics with apple cider, garlic, plain yogurt, sauerkraut, or miso soup, to re-grow the correct bacteria in the intestines. Antibiotics kill both unfriendly bacteria as well as friendly bacteria in the body and balance needs to be restored with these natural probiotics.
In Norse mythology it is said that when the Gods feel they are beginning to grow old they eat a diet of apples, to restore their strength and youth.
It is unwise to eat apple seeds, as they contain cyanide compounds (which are poisonous).
Artichokes are regularly boiled and eaten as a vegetable; simply cut off the stem and sit the base of the green flower head in a pot with about ½ cup water. But did you know that the water left over from cooking could be used medicinally?
A strong tea of the leaves is a diuretic (removes excess water in the body through urination) and is very useful for liver problems such as jaundice. You can use a mixture of ½ artichoke leaves and ½ asparagus. Use about one pint of water for every 2 tablespoons full of vegetable matter. Simmer for 5 minutes, cool, and strain and take ½ cup every 4 hours. Be sure to drink the tea 2 hours before a meal. (Caution: Diabetics should avoid this remedy and other diuretics).
Asparagus spears should be simmered quickly, or steamed, for no more than five minutes. In this way they retain their vitamins (A and C) and minerals (calcium, phosphorus, sodium, chlorine, sulfur, and potassium).
Asparagus is both a diuretic and helpful for kidney problems. It also helps flush uric acid out of the system. Excess uric acid accumulates when your diet is heavy in animal meat products. Too much of it in the body can lead to gout and rheumatism.
(Caution: Diabetics should take care with this and all diuretics.)
Bananas are fruits of the tropical rainforests, some of the Earth’s oldest living ecosystems.
Bananas are best eaten when they show a few brown spots. They are loaded with vitamins (A, B, B2, and riboflavin) and minerals (potassium, magnesium, sodium, and chlorine). The minerals found in bananas replace the ones lost through diarrhea. Children with diarrhea will be able to keep up their weight and energy levels if they eat bananas.
In Sri Lanka a cup of the sap of the banana tree is given to a person who has been bitten by a venomous snake.
Barley is a soothing, cooling, mucilaginous (slippery) grain that is helpful for bowel diseases, throat and stomach problems, and fevers. It can be eaten as a vegetable or (if a person is very sick) given as a drink.
To make barley tea, first wash the barley carefully in cold water, and then boil 2 ounces of barley in one cup water for 3 minutes and strain out the liquid. Add 4 pints of fresh water and continue to boil until ½ of the liquid remains. Cool and strain.
Be sure you use whole grain barley because it will have all the B vitamins, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and sodium.
Basil is used in Italian recipes such as spaghetti sauce. It can be added to egg and cheese dishes and to fresh salads. It is easily grown in the garden.
Basil tea is delicious when combined with a little fresh or dried mint or catnip leaf and honey, and is said to help rheumatism. It also soothes stomach upset and constipation. It has even been used to relieve whooping cough.
For headaches, dip a cloth into a strong batch of basil tea and apply it to the forehead as a compress. (This works even better if you add 2 tablespoons of Witch Hazel extract. Witch Hazel is a small tree that blooms in the fall with crinkly yellow flowers.)
Use one teaspoon of basil for each cup of water. Bring the water to a boil, remove from the stove, and add the basil. Allow the basil to steep for 10 minutes in a non-aluminum pot with a tight lid.
The pods of beans (kidney beans, pinto beans, navy beans, green beans, snap beans, wax beans, etc.) have a lot of silica, which means that they help strengthen internal organs.
The pods are slightly diuretic and they also help lower blood sugar levels. They are helpful in very mild cases of diabetes. For this purpose you have to eat 9 to16 pounds of the pods a week, cooked like a vegetable. The pods should be picked before the beans are fully ripe and are best used fresh.
The dried pods can be consumed as a tea for rheumatism, kidney and bladder ailments, and excess uric acid. The tea is also useful for acne. Put three handfuls of the dried, cut-up pods in 1 quart of water and simmer for 3 hours in a non-aluminum pot with a tight lid.
Did you know that you can eat beets raw? Grated, raw, fresh beets and carrots can be served with a little lemon juice, olive oil, and sea salt. The green leaves can be steamed or lightly sautéed. Beets are loaded with vitamins such as A, B, B2, and C, along with plenty of blood-building minerals. Beets should be consumed if anemia is a problem, or after an operation where a person has lost a lot of blood.
If you have a juicer, you can peel the beets and put them through the machine. (Adding some carrots makes the flavor sweeter.) If you don’t have a juicer, peel the beets, mince them, and then place them in a glass jar. Sprinkle lightly with a little sea salt and just barely cover the beets with fresh, cold water. Allow to sit for six hours and then strain out the juice. You can add more cold water to the drink if desired and adjust for taste.
Article originally published in The Llewellyn Journal. Copyright Llewellyn Worldwide, 2009. All rights reserved.