Saturday, May 14, 2011

Back to Eden

I was sixteen when I bought a book that was life-changing for me.  I was walking by a display of books at a local grocery store when a title caught my eye; “Back to Eden".  On the cover was the quintessential half-naked couple sitting by a stream with a garden/forest in the background.  I was in a hurry that day and didn't really look to see what the book was about, but liked the title and the idea it embodied (it was the 1970's) so paid for it and brought it home.  Later that night I opened it up, thinking it was about going back to a more natural way of living, and found it was a reference book about herbs.  Herbs? what are herbs?  It looked boring and I was mad at myself for spending the money and stuck it on my bookshelf. 

A bit worn, but this is the original I purchased in the 1970's

Eventually I picked it up and started reading through it, amazed that something you could grow yourself had the ability to cure you of all sorts of ills.  My mom didn’t cook with many herbs; mainly bay leaves, and occasionally oregano.  There was no place to get seeds of herbs that I could find, no internet to do research, so my knowledge of herbs grew very slowly.

In 1977 I worked in NW Portland; on my lunch hours I would walk around the historic neighborhoods and came across a shop on West Burnside called, “Jean’s Herb Shop”.  I walked in, and my true education about herbs started.  I visited Jeans shop almost every week, until we moved to West Virginia.  Shortly after my first daughter was born, we had an ice storm and the entire SE are of Portland was coated in ice – no one was going anywhere.  

My daughter had what I thought was a cold, but was getting steadily worse.  Her breathing sounded awful, and at only three weeks old, she couldn’t cough to clear her bronchial tubes.  I called the doctor but they said there was nothing they could do or recommend unless it was bringing her in, and no ambulances were moving that day.  So I called Jean and told her what was going on.  She asked me what herbs I had in the house and I named them off to her.  I ended up making up a weak tea of slippery elm and getting some spoonful’s into my daughter (FYI, it is nasty tasting stuff, so I added a bit of peppermint tea).  After twelve hours her breathing was clear and she was fine.  I was convinced of the efficacy of herbs. (I don't normally recommend giving anything to an infant like this, but I was desperate).

It was at this point that I really started reading Back to Eden and taking it seriously.  I started using herbs for basic complaints that we all get, keeping several herbs on hand at all times.  I now have over thirty years’ experience using herbs.  I want to say that I have no hesitation taking my kids to the doctor or the hospital – the work they do is amazing and I am in awe of the knowledge they have.  I have been fortunate that the doctors we deal with are aware of herbs and vitamins and their uses and encourage us to use them as a first line of defense.  Recently my daughter who has congestive heart failure had a stroke and her medicines needed to be adjusted.  Because of this, she started having migraines all the time.  Her neurologist recommended CoQ10 and Feverfew.  Feverfew is an herb that has a long-standing reputation for the treatment of migraine headaches.  It takes a few weeks to build up in the blood stream, but once it does it should lessen the incidents of migraines.  That is certainly what happened to my daughter.

When my daughter was diagnosed with congestive heart failure, I researched the herbs that she would need to support her and help give her more energy.  I started her on those herbs and she took them steadily for about a year.  But then came a week where I had forgot to fill them, and decided to see if not taking them made any difference.  Wow, what a difference not taking those herbs made to her energy level, her mood, etc.  So now she takes them every day, and her cardiologist supports her taking them.
Those herbs are hawthorn, garlic, and cayenne

Over the years, I have dosed my kids, and made recommendations to many people on what herbs to use, and in almost everycase they have given relief.  But you should let your doctor know if you are taking any herbs or vitamins if you are currently on medication, because some can actually interfere.  For instance, Dandelion capsules (dried leaf) are something I took for a variety of reasons; it is a liver tonic, and also helps with chronic joint pain which I get with my fibromyalgia.  When I was diagnosed with diabetes, I had to cut down on the amount of dandelion I took, because it also lowers blood sugar, and can interfere with my diabetes medication.  

So work with your doctor, read really good reference books, do research on the internet – a lot of sites will tell you if you shouldn’t take the herb if you have a certain condition. 

And for all of you who fight to kill off dandelions in your yard, shame on you!   

The fresh juice of the Dandelion can be applied externally to fight bacteria and heal wounds; it has a strong antibacterial action.  Dandelion is used to treat gall bladder, kidney and urinary problems, used as a diuretic in edema, which is an issue with high blood pressure and heart problems – and it doesn’t deplete the body of potassium like some other diuretics.

Dandelion is used as a tonic, blood purifier, for constipation, joint pain and liver issues.  The old timers in West Virginia ate dandelion leaves in the spring to get rid of toxins, made a tea from the leaves ( sometimes along with sassafras)  and the roasted roots are a good substitute for coffee (and better for you)
So what are the herbs that I keep around all the time?


Chocolate Peppermint


Peppermint – my house has not been without peppermint tea since I first started using it in 1977.  Peppermint will help with nausea, will strengthen your entire system, and I use it to mix with other herbs that don’t taste so well.  This herb is so amazing; there is not room in this posting to cover all it can do.  So read in a good herbal reference book (Like Back to Eden) all that this does.  It also is beautiful to look at, and fresh peppermint tea tastes great!  We have a chocolate peppermint ground cover around some of our vines that my granddaughter just picks and eats.  I always encouraged my kids to drink some peppermint tea when they got home from school – it has a calming effect.  (Probably one of the reasons it was used in mental hospitals a hundred years ago).

Favorite Peppermint story:  In the 1980’s a master chess player was teaching me how to play chess.  He started coming over about 2-3 nights a week to play a couple of games, and I would always serve peppermint tea, which he really liked.  He was a professional chef, and like most, a little high-strung.  After a couple of weeks we had a game that lasted almost an hour – he used to be able to checkmate after about 10 minutes.  He shook his head and said he didn’t know what was wrong with him, he was usually much better at chess, and he had lost his edge at work – he just felt so laid back and mellow (which apparently you don’t want as a chef) – he was really worried about what was wrong with him.  So I told him. It was the peppermint.  He was drinking too much, and it was mellowing him out.  He was horrified, and wouldn’t drink it after that.  So if you want to be on edge all the time, adrenaline pumping, etc., don’t drink Peppermint tea.

Red Raspberry Leaf

Red Raspberry Leaf – this to me is a miracle herb.  If you are irregular, it will correct that.  If you are constipated, or have the opposite problem, it will fix that.  It brings you back to normal.  Because of Red Raspberry Leaf and Peppermint tea, my kids never really had symptoms of the flu.  When my mom had gall bladder surgery, she was miserable for months afterwards, because she had the runs.  Couldn’t get rid of them.  Her doctor tried all sorts of medication, but nothing was working. Mom was so miserable she wanted to die.  I was living back east at that time, and of course, no internet, phone, etc.  So when I finally found out what was going on, I told her to drink Red Raspberry and Peppermint tea.  After three days, her misery was ended – she was normal again.  

Sage ( from my garden)
Sage – most people think of sage as a flavoring for breakfast sausage and stuffing, but in my family, it is the tea you drink when you have a sore throat.  We mix two spoonfuls of sage with a spoonful of hyssop and a spoonful of lemon grass, and then let that steep in a large teapot (or quart jar) for about 5 – 10 minutes.  Pour into a cup and add honey to taste – drink a couple cups a day for sore throats when you have a cold.  One of my daughters was an RA in college and all her girls would come to her for sage tea. I had to send her a pound of sage to keep up with the demand!  (FYI – that is a lot of sage!).
Hyssop – as mentioned above, excellent to take for colds, especially when you have asthma (which several of us do).  Here is a great link for more info:
Lemon Grass – I so love this herb.  My dream is to be able to grow it, but since it needs to be brought indoors during the winter because it is so tender, and our cats eat anything green that is brought in, I would have to have a fenced off sun-room.  We use it in our sage tea for sore throats, but it is an ingredient in one of my favorite teas, Lemon Lift.  Here is a website to see what all this herb can do:

Turmeric – thought this was just an ingredient in Indian cooking like curries, didn’t you?  I keep this on hand for cuts and slivers that get dirty – a constant hazard working in the garden. Mixed with a little olive oil, I put the salve over the cut or other skin irritation – it draws the infection out and helps it to heal faster.  Check out this link for the other amazing things turmeric does:

Slippery Elm – I keep the capsules on hand at all times.  If you have a cold that is hanging on, this will help when you get over it.  Many of my fellow co-workers have taken this and can attest to its effectiveness.
I just realized that if I listed all the herbs that I keep on hand and how important they are, this blog posting would be way too long to read.  So do this – get yourself a copy of Back to Eden, or, any other good modern Herbal guide.   I have another guide I use a lot that is all about Kitchen remedies – herbs and spices you commonly find in your kitchen and what their medicinal uses are.  That is how I started using Turmeric, cayenne and ginger for common health problems.

Where to get herbs?  You can grow some of them, but others you will need to purchase.  We are lucky in the Northwest that Fred Meyers carries a lot of the common herbs like Peppermint, Red Raspberry leaf, sage, etc., in bulk in the natural food section.  In Portland, there is Limbos on 39th next to Trader Joe's.  If there is no local supplier, a reliable source on line is  

This business supports sustainable agriculture and is certified organic.  If you are buying bulk herbs, buy just what you think you can use within a month or two.  Do not store in plastic, but store in glass jars, and store in a darkened cupboard – exposure to light can weaken the effectiveness of herbs. 

Again, check with your doctor if you are on any medications.  Or if you are seriously ill I would see a doctor first.  But give herbs a chance – it is amazing to me how many studies are currently going on studying the effectiveness of herbs (and then the pharmaceutical companies try to imitate with chemicals the natural substance so they can make money on it).  

Ah – it is time for some hot peppermint tea - perfect after a day working in the garden.

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