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The Complete Seed Starting Guide for Herbs & Edibles

When we begin to approach our last frost date, I start to get all kinds of excited because it means that, soon, I'll be able to start harvesting things from my garden again. Spring is beautiful here. The crocuses and daffodils and hyacinths have flowered and now the tulips and pansies are filling the neighborhood landscapes with color. Flowering trees are filled with blooms and fresh new leaves. Hardy plants are happily growing in the garden and the perennials have started to wake up. Everything starts to look like it’s hopeful again, ready to see the sun, prepared to send its energy back out into the world. Seed trays have been sown and are incubating in our mini greenhouses. This was my first full winter in an area where things look drastically different in the wintertime, and, while I enjoyed spending a restful season inside, away from the chilly temperatures, I also really anticipated the days I could start getting plants in the ground again. Since many of you are now entering prime seed-starting season, I thought I'd put together a comprehensive mini guide to starting seeds for you.

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Starting Seeds 101

The first thing you need to figure out when you sit down to dream about your garden for the year is what you want to grow in the space you have available. Which veggies would you love to pick fresh right from your garden? Which herbs would you like to have on hand for your kitchen? Are there any medicinal herbs you’d like to grow this year? Once you know what you want to grow, you can determine which varieties will do best in your growing zone, purchase seeds, and schedule out your optimal planting dates. These are things I like to do during the months of December and January, when things are a bit quieter in the garden, but you still have time if you haven't had a chance to do your planning yet.

I like to map out my growing space and decide how much of each plant I'm going to grow and where I'm going to plant it. Having a master plan helps me to plan crop rotations, to not to over-fill my beds and to use my space efficiently. Knowing what I'm going to plant ahead of time allows me to create my planting schedule for the year so I don't fall behind on seed sowing, plant feeding, succession sowing, etc..

Starting Seeds Indoors vs. Outdoors

If you live in an area with a shorter growing season, you can get a head start with your seeds by starting them indoors 4-8 weeks (sometimes up to 12 weeks, depending on the plant) earlier than you would be able to get them going outside. Things like tomatoes and peppers and warm weather loving herbs like Basil can all be started indoors and then planted out after your area has finished its frosty season. If you're starting seeds in the house or garage, make sure you have a good daylight balanced bulb or a bright spot near a big window to give seedlings the light they need to get going. Plenty of light will keep them from getting leggy.

If you’re blessed with a warm growing zone and a long growing season, you can still start seeds indoors and then successively sow more seeds outdoors a month or two later to take advantage of that long season, or you can start your seeds directly outdoors once the nighttime and soil temperatures have warmed up a bit.

When we lived in southern California, I started all my seeds outdoors, but because we live much farther north now, I like to start most of them indoors or in our mini greenhouses to extend my growing season.

Seed Starting Containers

I used to use 72-cell propagating trays to start my seeds. They were super convenient and efficient. I could easily label each row of seeds and each tray was automatically watered through the flat tray that would sit beneath it. Since we started to transition away from plastic, though, I’ve come to love handmade wooden seed starting boxes even more. They’re tall enough to give my plants enough room to develop a really healthy root system right from the start and the plants seem to like them a lot better.

I also use biodegradable seed starting pots on occasion. They're usually made from coco coir or peat and are especially useful for plants that don’t like to be transplanted (think Borage, squashes, etc.) because they can be planted directly into the ground after gently removing the bottom of the pot without disturbing the roots of the plant.

Special SEED Treatments

Stratification

Some seeds need to experience a cold season before they can properly germinate. If you live in an area where you already have a cold season, you can probably plant most of these seeds out in late fall, directly in the garden. But if you’re wanting to plant in spring, you can simulate the cold season by placing the seeds in a labeled container in the fridge with some barely moist soil or sand and allow them to chill there for a month (or two, or three, depending on what the plant needs) before planting the seeds outside in early spring.

Scarification

Some seeds have a super protective seed coat that keeps the seed from germinating for a while. If you want those seeds to germinate quickly and more consistently, you can nick that seed coat with a piece of sandpaper or the edge of a blade to help the seed wake up. This can be difficult with seeds that are very small and hard to keep a grip on, but if you are patient and stick with it, scarification will improve your germination rate. Certain seeds can/should be scarified with freshly boiled water, but most will need to be treated with a blade or sandpaper.

Soaking

Many seeds need to be soaked in water overnight (sometimes even longer) to help them germinate. Sweet peas come to mind. During our rainy seasons, I’ll sow them just before I know we’re going to get a few days of good rain and let the showers give them all the moisture they need. I've had success with this method, but if you’re expecting lots of sunny weather or if you're planting large amounts and you're dependent on your crop, it’s best to give them a soak indoors before you want to plant them. Fill a ramekin or a small dish with lukewarm water, drop the seeds in before you eat dinner, and, in most cases, they’ll be ready to plant out by the time you’re ready to head out to the garden the next morning.

Choosing the Best Spot in the Garden

Take heed to what kind of environment your plants like best. Do they prefer full sun? Part shade? Rich soil? Well-draining soil? Wet feet? Choosing the best place you can for the plant will give you the best results when it comes time to harvest. Knowing what conditions each plant prefers will also help you plan out your companion plants and permaculture-style garden layers as well.

Some plants that love full sun:

Tomatoes, peppers, dahlias, poppies, cosmos, Basil, Parsley, Thyme, Lemon Balm, Rosemary, Lavender…

Some plants that can also thrive in part shade:

Peppermints, Turmeric, Ginger, Chives, Cilantro, Oregano, Skullcap, Calendula…

Some plants that can grow in the shade:

Parsley, Cilantro, Chives, Chives, Thyme, Peppermint, Bleeding Hearts…

Many resilient plants can grow in either full sun or part shade. Try experimenting with a plant in each area to see which one does better, then you can plant more in the better-performing spot the next year.

What are you hoping to add to your garden this year?

Much love,
Erin

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7 Things to Make with Dandelion Flower Heads

Would you believe that, when we lived in southern California, I rarely saw a Dandelion? We lived in such a pesticide-laden area that whenever we did see a Dandelion, we would cheer it on and congratulate it for blooming. Our area was so manicured that “weeds” were a rare sight. Many communities are now seeing the incredible value offered to us by the Dandelion and are encouraging people to let them grow, which is great because they tend to grow where they are most needed. I’m hoping this mindset keeps spreading because we still have a long way to go to improve our collective mindset toward this plant (and others that are considered weeds). Dandelions are helpful for us in many ways, but they are also a very important first food for the bees and we all need to be doing our part to help our bees. So, I challenge you to let your Dandelions grow.

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Did you know?
In other countries, Dandelions are purposely planted in protected areas of the garden because they are so valued!

Every part of the Dandelion plant is edible and useful for medicine. The roots and leaves are used as digestive bitters to help stimulate digestive enzymes and improve digestion. They are both mineral rich and the roots also contain inulin, an important prebiotic substance that helps feed our beneficial gut flora. The leaves are diuretic. The flower heads are also rich in vitamins and have been used as an analgesic (pain reliever) and, overall, the plant has been traditionally used for all kinds of skin and digestive system complaints. Today we’re going to focus on the flowers.

Note: When you’re harvesting Dandelions, make sure you’re harvesting them from a clean area where they haven’t been sprayed.

7 Things to Make with Dandelion Flower heads

Infused Carrier Oil and salves, creams, etc.

Allow the flower heads to wilt in a shady area for at least a couple of hours (up to a day or two) before infusing to allow some of the moisture to evaporate from the flowers. Fill 2/3 of a jar with the flower heads, then pour your carrier oil of choice over them until they’re covered by about an inch or so of oil. Allow the oil to infuse for 4-6 weeks, then strain out the flowers heads. This infused carrier oil can be incorporated into massage oils and other oil-based blends (salves, creams, balms, etc.) for skin complaints/inflammation and pain.

Infused Vinegar

Dandelion vinegar is wonderful in homemade vinaigrette recipes. You can also infuse it in raw apple cider vinegar and use it alone as a drinking vinegar, in herbal shrubs, or as a mild, pre-dinner digestive stimulant.  Give it a try!

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Dandelion fritters

Dandelion flowers can be coated in batter and skillet-fried or baked to make tasty little fritters! They’re crispy and yummy and oh so good.

Dandelion jelly

Spread it on some sourdough toast with some dried Dandelion petals (florets) for a flavorful treat.

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Dandelion syrup

Dandelion flower syrup makes a tasty addition to your breakfast pastry or pancakes and can also be used to flavor drinks and drizzled on shortbread cookies.

Dandelion cookies / pancakes

The petals of the flowers can be added to your baking mix when you’re making cookies or pancakes. They’ll contribute a bit of color to the recipe and can also be used to decorate the tops!

Dandelion biscuit butter

Use a butter spreader to fold Dandelion flower petals (florets) into some room temperature butter, then stir in just a bit of raw honey. Store the butter in the fridge and use it on your biscuits!

Do you have a favorite Dandelion recipe? Tell me about it in the comments section below!

Much love,
Erin

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The Differences Between Helichrysum Essential Oils

Awhile back, I published an article all about the differences between the different Lavender essential oils and I had a few of you ask if I could post an article like it that outlined the differences between Helichrysum essential oils. This one is for you!

Helichrysum is a small, flowering Daisy family plant that produces little yellow flowers. It is sometimes also called Immortelle, Everlasting, Curry Plant (not the same as Curry leaf) and Life Everlasting. Helichrysum species grow in so many different parts of the world (France, Croatia, Madagascar, South Africa, the US, etc.) with varying growing conditions and climates, so their therapeutic properties can vary quite a bit based on the species and where it was grown. To keep things simple, I like to think of Helichrysum essential oils as being separated into two main teams: the wound healers and the breathe easy-ers.

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TEAM ONE: THE WOUND HEALERS

The wound-healing group of Helichrysum essential oils is the main group that will come to mind for most people when they think of Helichrysum and its therapeutic properties. This group contains Helichrysum italicum essential oils that are generally rich in sesquiterpenes, especially Υ-curcumene, esters (mainly neryl acetate), and monoterpenes like α-pinene and limonene. Constituents may vary a bit based on the growing conditions and where the plant was grown, but in general, Helichrysum italicum essential oils are especially suited for wound healing, skin issues, pain and inflammation, injury support, and their ability to help balance the emotions, uplift the spirit and facilitate healing after emotional or physical trauma.

Helichrysum italicum essential oils generally have a warm, earthy, slightly sweet middle to base note aroma and are valuable additions to wound-healing applications and after-trauma support. Their antimicrobial properties further assist with wound-related applications.

TEAM TWO: THE BREATHE EASY-ERS

Perhaps lesser know, this group of Helichrysum essential oils brings support on a different level. They are generally richer in the molecule 1,8-cineole (H. bracteiferum, H. gymocephalum, H. odoratissimum), the sesquiterpene β-caryophyllene (H. bracteiferum, H. odoratissimum), and the monoterpene β-pinene (H. bracteiferum). Constituents also vary based on growing conditions and location, but in general, these species are grown in areas like Madagascar and South Africa and are much more suited to applications for respiratory system support. They smell nothing like the italicum species and have a much sharper, more medicinal aroma.

H. bracteiferum, H. gymnocephalum and H. odoratissimum essential oils are antimicrobial and well suited for decongestant formulas that help to open up the airways and expel mucus from the respiratory system. They are said to be useful for allergy symptoms and for assisting the immune system during cold and flu season. These oils are still anti-inflammatory and analgesic like their italicum sisters, but they are not well suited for skin healing applications. They are prone to oxidation, so it’s best to store them in the fridge to extend shelf life and reduce risk of skin irritation.

THE SPECIAL ONE

There is one species of Helichrysum that is truly a team player in that it kind of fits into both categories of Helichrysum essential oils: it is excellent for both wound healing applications and for respiratory support. Helichrysum splendidum may be the essential oil to purchase if you want the best of both worlds but only wish to purchase one oil. It has a balancing effect on the mind and is still useful for trauma support, but is also antimicrobial, well suited to formulas that deal with cold and flu or allergy symptoms. This particular oil is rich in δ-cadinene and germacrene (sesquiterpenes), with a notable β-pinene content as well.

THINGS TO KNOW

Regardless of species, Helichrysum essential oils are pretty safe to use in topical formulas, but it is thought that they are most effective when used in smaller doses. This is especially great if you want to use Helichrysum italicum species-derived oils because they tend to be more costly oils, but will last you quite a while since very little is needed to reap their therapeutic effects.

In general, the shelf life for Helichrysum essential oils ranges between 3-6 years, with the species listed in the breathe easy team on the shorter end of the spectrum.

Which Helichrysum species essential oils do you have in your apothecary?

Much love,
Erin

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7 Things to Make with Violet Flowers

When I first joined Instagram (after much coercing on the part of friends and family who knew I would love all the pretty photos despite my aversion to social media), all the herbalists were posting about their Violet flower harvests and sharing their pretty recipes with the world. I was living in a 3rd story studio apartment in the middle of a concrete jungle at the time and had wanted to work with Violets but had never seen Violets growing in my area. My little balcony garden was full, so I couldn’t grow them then, but I knew that at some point, I was going to plant those sweet little blooms. They were the first plant I started looking for when we moved to the PNW last year. We hadn’t even pulled into our new hometown or seen our new home yet when I started telling Jon we needed to go scout out a few Violet patches in the wooded areas around us. Since then, it seems that I scatter Violet seed throughout my garden beds at least twice a year. I think it’s safe to say that I want Violets everywhere. If you like them too, here are a few ideas for ways to use them.

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1 - Make a Violet flower shrub.

I shared the recipe for this shrub on the blog a couple weeks ago. We like to use shrubs in homemade salad dressings, but you can also add them to orange juice or grape juice, Ginger ale, popsicle recipes, etc. They’re super yummy!

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2 - Violet flower syrup

Syrups are so simple to make and this version, made with sweet Violet flowers, looks so lovely that it would make a beautiful gift too! You can use it to dress baked goods, drizzle a bit on toast, or add it to drinks.

Bonus: It looks so pretty while the violet flowers are infusing! See the photo below.

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3 - Violet infused sugar

Infuse sugar with Violet flowers to add a touch of lovely flavor and color. The sugar can then be used to dress sweet recipes or in sugar scrub recipes that could use a dash of color. The sugar also holds the aroma of the Violets, so if its one of your favorites (it's one of mine!), you'll love the way the sugar smells!

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4 - Breast serum

Both Violet flowers and leaves can be infused into carrier oils to make a useful breast massage serum that helps support breast and lymphatic health. It’s a great daily-use product for women!

5 -  Add them to food

They’re gorgeous in salads, on top of shortbread cookies, as edible decoration on fancy desserts…and they taste great!

6 - Make candied Violets

Candying the flowers preserves them so they can be stored for a couple of months and used as pretty garnishes for your favorite dishes (if they last long enough!).

7 - Press them

Press a few Violets and Violet leaves. They can be used to decorate stationery, baked goods or keepsake boxes or added to your herbarium.

What are you making with Violets this year?

Much love,
Erin

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How to Make Violet Flower Breast Serum

Violet’s heart shaped leaves and delicate purple blooms are perfectly suited to women-specific breast health applications. The nourishing herbal infusion made with Violet leaves and / or flowers can be taken internally to help support the health of the breasts and the lymphatic system. Violet can also be applied directly to the breasts as a poultice. For those of us who may not have time to lounge with Violet on our breasts, though, this serum recipe is a happy medium and it also adds the benefits of massage! Keep a pretty dropper bottle of it on your bathroom counter or at your makeup vanity to remind you to use it each day after you bathe.

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Violets are reputed to help dissolve lumps, reduce inflammation, induce relaxation and uplift the spirits. They are cooling energetically, so are beneficial whenever there are signs of excess heat.

 Ingredients

  • Violet flowers and leaves
  • organic unrefined olive oil
  • organic Jojoba or sunflower seed oil, unrefined
  • organic essential oil of Rose (optional, but if you do use it, make sure you choose the steam distilled essential oil, not the absolute or concrete)

Instructions

Gently harvest your Violet flowers and leaves on a dry spring morning when the flowers are blooming. Take care not to harvest more than 1/3 of the plant at any one time to ensure the health of the plant. Keep the flowers and leaves covered in your gathering basket to protect them from the sun (a tea towel draped over the basket works well). Once you’ve gathered enough to fill your jar, bring them indoors and spread them out on a clean towel or drying rack, in a single layer, to make sure they are clean, dry and critter-free before infusing them. It's a good idea to let the moisture in the plant material evaporate a bit before infusing.

Fill your jar with the leaves and flowers, then pour your carrier oils of choice over the plant material. Olive oil on its own is a bit too heavy and greasy for me for this kind of recipe, so I like to combine it with an oil like Sunflower or Jojoba to improve its texture a bit. Secure the jar’s lid, then leave the oil to macerate for 4-6 weeks. At the end of the infusion period, strain out the plant material. You can transfer the oil to your dropper bottle as needed and add Rose essential oil at a 1-2% dilution (very little is needed; it’s a strong smelling oil).

To use the oil, spray the breasts with Lavender or Rose hydrosol after showering, then seal in the moisture of the hydrosol by massaging a few drops of the Violet serum into the breasts, underarms, and other nearby lymph nodes. Allow the serum to soak in while you brush your teeth before dressing to avoid transferring any oil to your undergarments. (It soaks in pretty quickly and doesn’t leave any greasy residue.)

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I hope you enjoy this recipe! Do you already make a variation of this? Tell me about it in the comments section.

Much love,
Erin


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How to Make Comfrey Ointment

I first started learning about Comfrey several years ago when I found a couple of videos about it on YouTube. (I found the same videos again for you! This one by Yarrow Willard and this playlist of videos by Susun Weed.) When I first started learning, I didn’t really know what to make of Comfrey because every herbalist who wrote about it or spoke about it would preface whatever they said with a safety disclaimer. Because Comfrey contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids, there are some groups of people who caution against internal use of Comfrey, especially the root. You’ll have to make your own decision about what seems best for you regarding internal use of this plant, but do know that topical use of Comfrey leaf is safe and is extremely useful for repairing damaged skin. It’s the star of this ointment recipe!

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Ingredients:

  • 3 parts Comfrey leaf infused carrier oil
  • 2 parts Calendula infused carrier oil
  • 1 part beeswax
  • Organic essential oils of:
    Lavender (angustifolia) – 8 drops per ounce of carrier
    Helichrysum (italicum) – 8 drops per ounce of carrier (this is a pricier oil, but is unparalleled when it comes to skin-repairing properties; if you don’t have any on hand, use extra Lavender instead)

Instructions:

Melt the beeswax over low heat using a double boiler method, then stir in your carrier oils. Once everything is thoroughly incorporated, remove the blend from the heat and stir in the essential oils until everything is fully mixed. If you want your finished recipe to have a lighter texture as shown in the photo (more of an ointment texture than a harder salve texture), use a fork or stirring rod to mix the blend after it cools about halfway. Pour into sterilized tins or jars, add your label, and enjoy!

Comfrey has earned the nickname ‘knitbone’ because it is rich in a constituent called allantoin which can help repair damaged areas quickly. It’s great for skin wounds (though I wouldn’t use this ointment on a puncture wound or a deep, open wound), scrapes, burns, bites, stings and bruises.

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Do you keep Comfrey leaf in your apothecary? Let me know in the comments section below.

Much love,
Erin

 


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Violet Flower Herbal Shrub Recipe

When Violets (Viola odorata and Viola spp.) begin popping their sweet little heads up above their green covers in late winter to early spring, we know warmer days are well on their way. Violets are one of the first plants I start working with in spring because they are one of the first to wake up and send their colorful light out into the world. After a gray and dreary winter, those pretty purple shades are welcome, both calming and energizing as my focus starts to shift back toward the tending of the garden.

One of my favorite things to do with the first batch of Violets is to infuse the flowers in vinegar, then use the vinegar to make a shrub. Around here, we like to use vinegar shrubs in homemade salad dressings, Ginger ale recipes and all kinds of popsicles when the days start to warm up. This shrub recipe is like a sweet tonic for the winter-chilled soul. I love it.

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To make your own, you will need:

  • fresh Violet flowers
  • organic blueberries
  • Raw apple cider vinegar
  • Raw honey

Gather your Violet flowers (leave some for the critters) and place them in a mason jar along with your blueberries. Pour your raw apple cider vinegar over the berries and flowers until they are covered and then some. Stick the jar in the fridge and allow the flowers and berries to macerate in the vinegar for 1-2 weeks (up to 4 weeks if you want a stronger flavor). Then strain them out of the vinegar and stir in some raw honey, to taste. Some people like to add equal parts honey to vinegar, while others prefer to leave their shrubs less sweet. Taste as you add until it seems just right to you.

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You can also use Viola tricolor (Heartsease) for this recipe if you don’t have Sweet Violets near you. Both are easy to grow, so I’d recommend sowing a few packets of seed throughout your garden (or your lawn!) if you can.

Are the Violets blooming where you are? Let me know in the comments section below.

Much love,
Erin

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Top 10 Herbs for the Cardiovascular System

We’re covering a lot of heart-healthy herbs and essential oils this month here on the blog and in the February issue of the magazine, which revolves around herbs and essential oils for the cardiovascular system. These 10 botanicals are my absolute favorites for heart-health blends, both physical and emotional. You’ll find some of them in the heart tonic shrub recipe I shared last week as well! Let’s dig in, shall we? My top 10 herbs for heart health and the cardiovascular system are…

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1. Hawthorn

I recently published a full article all about Hawthorn, its therapeutic effects and its test results, so I’ll let you read more about it there, but I will say here that Hawthorn is the primary heart health herb for good reason. It’s indicated for almost every kind of heart-related ailment, helps improve circulation, balances blood pressure, regulates cholesterol and heartbeat, and generally strengthens and tones the heart. It’s wonderful for any kind of emotional or energetic issues that are being manifested in pain or sadness carried in the chest area as well. Read more about it (and find the references for all of these statements) here.

2. Motherwort

Motherwort is a Mint family herb that contains heart-healthy flavonoids and glycosides. It can be a bit bitter, so it’s usually taken as a tincture made from the aerial parts of the plant. Motherwort helps to improve circulation and regulate the heartbeat. It works very well for people who tend toward nervousness and carry a lot of tension in the body.

Caution: Motherwort is an emmenagogue, so it should be avoided by pregnant women.

3. Turmeric

Turmeric is an anti-inflammatory herb that helps to prevent heart ailments and supports the body when dealing with them. It helps with improved circulation and cholesterol levels, boasts anticoagulant properties and has been shown to protect against heart disease.  Read my full profile on Turmeric here.

4. Hibiscus

I like to add Hibiscus flowers to my Hawthorn tea and they are an ingredient in my heart tonic herbal shrub recipe. They are rich in heart-protective antioxidants and have been shown in studies to balance blood pressure, heart rate and cholesterol levels.

5. Rose

Studies show that fresh Rose flowers help us to feel calmer and more comfortable. They’re traditionally given to express love for someone and to send comfort and love to someone who is hurting because they are so deeply heart-nourishing energetically. Tinctures made from Rose can have an analgesic, anti-inflammatory effect and are especially useful when we are feeling physical pain caused by an emotional wound. Rose extracts also show potential for their ACE-inhibiting action and potential for blood pressure regulation.

Rose essential oil has been widely used in aromatherapy to help comfort and uplift the hurting heart and to bring a sense of calm when one is feeling nervous or ungrounded. The essential oil and the hydrosol have anti-inflammatory effects which indicate that, energetically, they can be used to help us let go of the things that are inflamed (causing pain) in our hearts. Rose’s antispasmodic activity further helps us to let go of the tension associated with the pain. Rose is an exemplary emotional healer for issues of the heart.

6. Garlic

Garlic helps promote healthy circulation and may help regulate blood pressure and cholesterol levels. It is said to have a blood-thinning effect and has traditionally been used to help prevent heart ailments.

7. Ginger

I have a full profile on Ginger here. While typically thought of as a digestive herb, Ginger has been found to be able to reduce blood sugar, triglycerides, cholesterol levels and to have an anti-inflammatory effect. It’s especially efficient at keeping energy flowing and increasing circulation.

8. Rosemary

Rosemary has been found to be effective for use when dealing with heart ailments. It has a pronounced anti-inflammatory effect and posses antioxidant properties that help protect the heart as well. It has been found to reduce oxidative stress and regulate cholesterol levels.

9. Cinnamon

Cinnamon is a yummy, spicy herb that is commonly used to flavor food, but it can also help protect against heart diseases and has abundant anti-inflammatory constituents. It also shows promise for balancing blood pressure and cholesterol and boasts antioxidant protection.

10. Nettles

Nettles are incredibly rich in minerals that are necessary for the heart to function properly. Furthermore, it shows antioxidant activity, anti-inflammatory effects combined with cholesterol regulation and a decreased risk of heart issues in certain cases. Nettles have traditionally been used to help balance blood pressure as well.

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Which herbs would you add to this list?

Much love,
Erin


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Herbal Heart Tonic Shrub Recipe

My husband has always been an apple cider vinegar fan. He was drinking vinegar as a sort of tonic long before drinkable vinegars became popular (it eventually became an “in thing” for awhile when we were living in southern California and, since then, it's seemed to become a lot more common) and long before I ever did. Once I started to really love Fire Cider, though, I began to come around. We now enjoy herbal shrub recipes, which are made of vinegar, honey, fruit and herbs. They’re  pretty versatile, lend themselves to experimentation, and make a great base for salad dressings! Shrubs can also be added to marinades, sorbets, popsicles, and homemade sodas. This particular recipe is for an herbal heart tonic shrub and it uses lots of yummy, heart-supportive herbs.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of Hawthorn berries
  • 1 cup of strawberries
  • ¼ cup of Rose petals
  • ¼ cup of Hibiscus flowers
  • a tablespoon or so of Cardamom pods
  • 1 quart of raw apple cider vinegar
  • Raw honey, to taste

Click here to read more about Hawthorn and how it supports the heart.

Instructions:

Add your Hawthorn berries, Rose petals, Cardamom pods and Hibiscus flowers to a quart sized jar, then fill the rest of the jar with frozen strawberries (or fresh, if you have them available; we're in the middle of winter here, so frozen it is) and pour raw, organic apple cider vinegar over everything until it's all completely covered. I usually just fill the jar to the brim. Cap the jar, give it a good shake, then stick it in the fridge to infuse. I usually let mine go for at least a week or two, but you can infuse it for up to 4 weeks if you’d like your finished recipe to be stronger. My last batch infused for about 4-5 weeks and it turned out super yummy.

Once your recipe has reached the strength of flavor that you want, strain out all of the herbs and fruit and stir honey into your recipe. Some people like to use equal parts honey and vinegar while others like to cut back a little bit on the honey. Add it to taste to achieve the level of sweetness you prefer.

How to Use It

You can take herbal shrubs the same way you would Fire Cider – a small amount on its own, daily or as needed, or you can mix a small amount of the shrub into sparkling water, ginger ale, fruit juice, or your favorite beverage of choice. They make great salad dressings, too, so feel free to experiment by tossing a bit of shrub with some olive oil and drizzling it over your vibrant bed of greens.

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I hope you enjoy this recipe! Let me know if you decide to make it. I’d love to hear how you like it.

Much love,
Erin


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Hawthorn and Cardiovascular Health: An Herbal Monograph

If I were to ask you which herb is most effective for supporting the health of the cardiovascular system, most of you would immediately think of Hawthorn. This strong, yet gentle, protective plant is one of my long-term herbal buddies. Our February issue of AromaCulture Magazine is centered around the theme of herbs and essential oils that support the cardiovascular system, so covering Hawthorn this week is quite timely.

Many species of Hawthorn grow native here in the United States, while others have been introduced from Europe and other temperate regions. The shrubs/trees vary in height by species and their leaf shapes also vary quite a bit. They are members of the Rose family and boast the signature 5-petaled white flowers that are typical of plants in this family. In the past, it was thought that there could have been up to 1000 different Hawthorn species. I’ve seen people claim anywhere between 100 to 300 recently, but as of my last count, there are at least 350-410 accepted species (I counted around 420, but some are accepted only with a low confidence level, so my number is conservative).

Hawthorn is slow growing, but easy to cultivate if you choose a plant that does well in your area’s growing conditions. It can tolerate many soil conditions, but prefers nice, rich soil. Growing from seed is especially slow-going as the seeds can take up to a year (or even more) to germinate. Scarification, stratification, and fermentation have all been utilized to process seeds and to try to hasten germination. Two of my Hawthorn plants (the first ones I ever purchased) are still fairly young and were purchased as seedlings, but I was recently able to find a couple of more mature trees (7-8' tall for only $7 each!) at a native plant nursery and I'm excited to see how well they do this year. Hawthorns hybridize readily and older plants will happily produce little saplings that can be potted up and gifted to friends and family or spread throughout the garden. Berries can be harvested in the fall when they're ripe and flowers and leaves can be gathered in the spring. (Leave plenty of flowers behind if you want berries, though.)

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Traditional Uses and Preparations

Most herbalists today use the flower, leaves, twigs and berries medicinally, but native peoples also used the bark, sap, and the root of the Hawthorn for various medicinal purposes. A tea made from the twigs was used by native peoples to relieve pain in the side and to improve bladder function. The roots were decocted and used for general weakness, diarrhea (Hawthorn is astringent), and other complaints. A berry decoction was used as a laxative and for stomach issues. Hawthorn leaves were used as a poultice to reduce swelling. In most areas, Hawthorn was considered to be a good tonic herb that was useful for sickness and overall health.

Many native tribes would gather Hawthorn berries, dry them, and then mash them and dry them in discs to form crackers or cookies that could be eaten during the winter months when food was scarce. These cakes could also be rehydrated and used to make sauces. Other tribes would grind the Hawthorn berries and make bread with them (click here for my hawthorn berry pumpkin bread recipe) and still other peoples would chew the inner bark like gum.

Hawthorn trees are also known for their long thorns which have historically been used as sewing needles, pins, and fish hooks and for their use in medicine bag making.

In western herbalism, Hawthorn has traditionally been used to improve circulation and keep fluids and energy moving efficiently through the body. Its reputation for its beneficial effect on the cardiovascular system is long-standing. It has been extensively tested in clinical trials and studies and is commonly taken in tincture, tea, and capsule form, and is often included in jellies, jams and other food recipes as well.

Therapeutic Effects

Hawthorn has been found to be a gentle cardiotonic herb with anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, astringent, calming, diuretic and antioxidant properties. It helps to balance blood pressure, tone and strengthen the heart, and improve circulation so the heart can function more efficiently. (See the test results section for references.) Many herbalists have reported success with using Hawthorn to regulate heartbeat, balance cholesterol levels, and improve overall heart health when taken over time.

Energetically, Hawthorn helps us to feel calmer, more uplifted and happier in spirit. It has an affinity for helping us with the pain of deep loss or feelings of grief or sadness. When we start to turn inward to try to protect ourselves from having our hearts hurt, Hawthorn helps us to keep our hearts open and love energy flowing.

Because it is so effective at keeping both physical and emotional energy moving, Hawthorn is also useful in cases where there is stagnation in the digestive system and its historical use indicates that it has been commonly used for this purpose. Where there is damage in the connective tissues, Hawthorn can help assist with collagen production and repair of the damaged tissues.

Hawthorn is often paired with Rose, Hibiscus, Linden and/or Yarrow in traditional preparations and is commonly used in combination with other relaxing nervine herbs.

Constituents

Hawthorn’s constituents include antioxidants, vitamins B and C, saponins, tannins, bioflavonoids and procyanidins, among others.

Test Results

For Dogs

Hawthorn berry powder can be sprinkled into your pup’s food to help prevent and support heart issues and to support the cardiovascular system and circulation in general. Breeds that are especially prone to heart issues may benefit from a consistent addition of Hawthorn to their diets. Jon and I want to train Cavalier King Charles Spaniels as therapy and service dogs someday when we have our land and they can sometimes be prone to heart issues, so Hawthorn is one herb that we'll definitely be including in their diets regularly. Fresh berries (de-seeded) can also be used as pup treats when they’re in season and if your pup usually eats dry kibble, you can use a bit of Hawthorn tea to moisten it. (Just make sure it cools before giving it to them.)

Safety Considerations

Hawthorn is a nourishing, tonic herb, so best results will be seen when taken consistently over time. It is gentle enough that it can usually be taken with medications, but please do check with your doctor prior to adding Hawthorn to your repertoire if you are on any kind of heart medication.

Hawthorn is indicated for almost every kind of heart-related condition or ailment.

The hydrosol

Hawthorn hydrosol has been traditionally taken internally when physical or emotional healing of the heart is needed. It is rarely found nowadays unless you happen to know someone who distills it or you are able to distill it yourself, but there are a select few artisan distillers who still produce it. I’ll be distilling my own later on this year and will let you know how it goes.

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Resources

Is Hawthorn a part of your daily repertoire? If not, have you ever tried it?

Much love,
Erin


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