Working with 12 common herbs, Amy Jirsa offers recipes and ideas to open your mind, strengthen your body, and nourish your spirit. In-depth profiles show you how to unlock the powerful properties of calendula, chamomile, cinnamon, dandelion, echinacea, elder, ginger, holy basil, lavender, nettle, rose, and turmeric through delicious teas and foods, luxurious salves, skin and hair care treatments, complementary yoga poses, and meditations. Discover the natural keys to radiant health and wellness.
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About the Author
Amy Jirsa is the author of Herbal Goddess and a master herbalist and yoga instructor. She writes regularly for a variety of natural living publications, including the online journals elephant journal and MindBodyGreen. She blogs at quietearthyoga.com and lives in Maine.
Read an Excerpt
Discovering the Sunny Side of Chamomile
Who could use a little sunshine, a little happiness, in their day? Hey, who couldn't, right? Well, you're in luck, because here we're exploring sunny, daisy-like, little chamomile (Matricaria recutita and Chamaemelum nobilis) — right at the beginning. Who knows why you picked up this book. Maybe you were looking to learn more about herbs (yay!), or maybe you've just come off a holiday/long winter binge, or maybe you're just looking for a little renewal. Anyway, the why doesn't really matter in the long run.
Most of us (including yours truly) put so much faith and hope into some shiny promise of renewal that we inevitably fail; our expectations are so high that we doom ourselves never to live up to them. Couple that with the letdown that follows this so-called failure, and you become overwhelmed.
So let's take it down a notch. Let's narrow our focus and choose one thing we can do for ourselves each day to improve our health, our well-being, and our focus. That's what this book is for, and what better place to start than with chamomile, the tiny, joyful cousin of the sunflower? In this first chapter let's hand our hearts and our minds over to the sun — the source of life, health, and happiness; chamomile is the perfect herb for the job.
You've probably tasted chamomile tea before. Maybe you even prefer it to other hot tea or coffee-like beverages. No surprise there; chamomile tea is the second most popular tea in the world (after black tea). And, for that reason, it's taken for granted. I mean, it's not a sexy tea, is it? It's a stay-at-home, before-bed, warm-and-cozy tea, isn't it? Oh-ho! I beg to differ.
Okay, so maybe chamomile will never have the sex appeal of the rose (see chapter 2) or the rock-star status of echinacea (see chapter 9). But chamomile can be your best friend — maybe even one of those friends who becomes more than "just friends" once you get to know them better. (And then again, maybe that's just taking the metaphor a bit too far....) Trust me, this is a truly versatile herb and, once you've familiarized yourself with it over the coming weeks, you'll find it is an invaluable addition to your herbal survival kit.
Here's the skinny: Chamomile boasts anti-inflammatory, antibiotic, anti-spasmodic, calming, diuretic, and tonic properties. See? You'll use chamomile for everything. But the best news? It's completely safe for adults and children alike. One note, though — as chamomile is a member of the ragweed family, if you suffer from severe ragweed allergies, start slowly with this herb to see how it treats you. (This should be the practice when introducing any and all herbs, by the way.)
As a member of the happy-go-lucky daisy family, chamomile is recognizable by its yellow center and 10 or more petals surrounding it. This tiny flower grows on a very thin stalk, which can reach up to 2 feet tall. The leaves are delicate, divided, and rather feathery. The scent is sweetly intoxicating, uplifting, and mildly bitter. Like all herbs, chamomile is a wild-growing plant, but due to invasive farming, city sprawl, and widespread development of natural landscapes, it's pretty rare to find it anywhere but in cultivated gardens.
FOR THE BODY
Okay, so chamomile is obviously pretty awesome. But how and when do you use this smart and versatile herb? Let's start with the body. First: the gut — the site of digestion, assimilation, and elimination. Most health starts here. As a mildly bitter herb, chamomile helps stimulate the digestive juices, allowing the body to absorb more nutrients from food while also preventing the unfortunate duo (gas and bloating) that sometimes occurs when, such as after the holidays, we switch back to eating more whole, unadulterated foods.
Chamomile also strengthens the metabolism by aiding the kidneys in cleansing the blood. That scent you associate with chamomile? That's the volatile oil, which stimulates the liver and kidneys, encouraging their purging of toxins. Let's face it, after your third week of, say, eggnog and gingerbread for breakfast, this is support your body could certainly use (see tea recipes).
After any fabulous period of indulgence, not only are there toxins to purge, but there are storehouses of nutrients to restock. Sugar, caffeine, and excess fat and dairy can deplete our body's energy and nutrients. Chamomile is a monster source of niacin, magnesium, and essential fatty acids. Inevitably, at least at first, you're going to miss the extravagance, but stockpiling your body with nutrients will help cut down on the cravings that so often haunt us when we try to change our body's routine.
Adding chamomile to your daily diet can increase plant-based compounds (called polyphenols) in your system, which, in turn, increase antibacterial activity in your body. The analgesic (pain-relieving) and anti-inflammatory actions of chamomile help soothe sinus pain, headaches, sore throats, and swollen lymph glands.
Exercise, too, will help ward off illnesses and hurry you through this detox process. Yup, you guessed it: Chamomile is a good support for the workout regimen which typically accompanies most attempts to get back on the healthy train. As an anti-spasmodic, chamomile can help reduce muscle cramps and inflammation. If you suffer from nerve pain, such as sciatica or lumbago, chamomile can be used internally or externally.
FOR THE MIND
So far, we've just touched on depression and blues; sometimes, getting up and getting going is no easy task. It's no wonder that anxiety and depression often trail us around, whether we're making major changes or not. But allow chamomile to do its work here, too; as a nervine and mild sedative, chamomile will soothe all (okay, most) of your worries. The volatile oils of chamomile (especially from fresh, not dried, flowers) are especially soothing, in particular for those with a tendency toward whining (both child and adult varieties).
You can also use chamomile in flower essence form (an oh-so-groovy magical potion that capitalizes on a flower's unique vibration; see Flower Essence vs. Essential Oil box). All you need to do is put a few drops in a glass of water or directly under the tongue. Are you easily upset, irritable, or holding emotional tension? Well, chamomile's got a vibration for that. What about easing addictions, anger, anxiety, depression, insomnia, nervousness, and chronic stress or tension (especially when it's felt in the stomach)? Yup — that, too. What about the kiddos? Is this safe for them? You bet — this flower essence is especially soothing and effective for the 12-and-under population.
FOR THE SPIRIT
All magical herbs have a gender, planet, and element attached to them. Why? Well, it's kind of a long story (isn't that always the truth with good stories?). Essentially, these attachments were a classification tool.
The gender of a plant was based on how its vibration felt, presumably a judgment made by someone with a lot more sensitivity than yours truly. Basically, think of gender as describing warming or cooling energy. "Masculine" energy is warming and "feminine" energy is cooling.
Traditionally, certain planets were associated with different outcomes in magic (the sun for protection and the moon for fertility, for example). So, when herbs were found to bring about certain outcomes, they were assigned to a particular planet for classification purposes.
You can think of the elements in the same way as the planets. The four elements (earth, air, fire, and water) consist of everything one needs to create and sustain life. The earth element is linked to prosperity and fertility, air to wisdom and intelligence, and so on. So, long story short (too late for that, maybe ...), it's all about classification and cross-reference.
As is par for the course in all ancient wisdom, no one (it seems) really agrees upon anything. For chamomile, I've found various magical attachments and have decided that the practitioner will just have to decide for herself which feels true, thank you very much. For example, I've found that chamomile's gender is either masculine or feminine, depending on the source behind the research. The planet is the sun and/or Venus, and the element is water (everyone pretty much agrees on this). Chamomile offers help in the areas of protection, prosperity, wealth, fame, riches, sleep, love (this might explain the Venus connection), purification, and achieving goals. So, how can you get your magic on? Drinking and bathing in chamomile and using the flower essence are definitely a few ways to cover your bases. See others below.
Digestive support. Try this little number: Steep a cup of chamomile tea (2 teaspoons dried flowers per 1 cup just-boiled water) for 10 to 15 minutes. Since the volatile (essential) oils of chamomile are so important to this digestive kick, be sure to cover your tea as it steeps. Drink about 20 minutes before you eat. A warning, though: This tea will be a wee bit bitter; try sweetening it with stevia or honey and adding non-dairy milk (the proteins in regular milk interfere with the medicinal effects of the herb).
Basic tea for workouts, anxiety, and insomnia. Brew 2 teaspoons in a cup of water and let steep for only 3 to 5 minutes, in order to avoid bitterness. Add honey or maple syrup for a little sugar-and-nutrient boost.
For rejuvenating and rehydrating after your workout, drink the tea chilled. For anxiety relief, have a cup as soon as anxiety begins. Inhale the steam from the tea for a few moments before drinking — the volatile oils released in the steam will do wonders for anxiety. For guaranteed (inner and outer) beauty sleep, try a cup of chamomile tea an hour or so before bed.
Chamomile for cranky, colicky children. If you have little ones around, chamomile is a wonderful herb for cranky, colicky, or teething infants and children. For better sleep, make the following tea. A chamomile infusion can also be rubbed on the gums of teething infants.
Gently warm 1 cup milk (dairy or non-dairy) on the stove, being careful not to scald it. Turn off the heat and add 1 teaspoon dried chamomile flowers. Let steep, covered, for 5 minutes. Sweeten with honey (if the child is older than 2) if you like.
Cold and Flu Steam
For the inevitable cold or flu that always seems to follow a period of detox, try an herbal steam featuring chamomile.
* 3 drops essential chamomile oil or 6 tablespoons dried chamomile flowers
1. Add the oil to a steaming pot of water, or if making tea, add the dried flowers to a quart of hot water.
2. Place a towel, tent-like, over your head and breathe in the steam for 10 minutes. Make sure the water isn't boiling; we want healing, not burning, happening here. As an anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial, chamomile will heal the lungs and sinuses, while the heat drains the mucus from the body (as a bonus, you'll end up with gorgeous, glowing, detoxed skin as well).
Chamomile Lip Balm/Stress Reliever
Makes 3 ounces
This is a general lip balm recipe, but I like to boost the essential oil component and then rub it on my temples or pulse points when I'm feeling stressed or anxious. Also, with the high-scent factor, just rubbing the balm on my lips easily allows the scent to travel to my aromatherapy machine (aka my nose) .
* 2 tablespoons beeswax
• 2 tablespoons shea butter
• 2 tablespoons almond oil
• 2 vitamin E capsules (this acts as a preservative)
• 20 drops chamomile essential oil
• 61/2-ounce tins (see Resources)
1. Sterilize your tins and any wooden spoons or measuring cups you'll be using in boiling water for 10 minutes. If using plastic spoons and measuring cups, run them through the hottest cycle in your dishwasher.
2. Melt the wax and shea butter in a double boiler (or in a heat-safe bowl perched above a pan of simmering water). Add the almond oil. When all the ingredients have melted, remove from heat.
3. Puncture the vitamin E capsules with a sterilized pin, and add the contents to the mixture, along with the chamomile essential oil. Mix gently.
4. Carefully pour the mixture into the tins. Leave off the lids and let the balm cool, undisturbed. This will take a few hours. Decorate and/or label the tins as desired. Keep or give away!
Chamomile Herb Sachets
These sachets can be tucked into drawers, tossed into the dryer, slipped into a pocket and sniffed (surreptitiously) when anxious, or tucked beneath your pillow at night to ensure a sound sleep. If making your own bags, consider stamping them with fabric-safe ink or choosing fabric that reflects your personality.
* Handmade bags (in the size of your choice) of cotton or muslin, or pre-made cotton tea bags
* Coarsely ground chamomile flowers
* Chamomile essential oil
Stuff each bag with dried flowers and add a few drops of essential oil to boost the aromatherapeutic power.
Chamomile Body Wash
Makes 16 ounces
Herb-infused soaps are a wonderful addition to your daily shower — especially if you don't have time for an aromatherapeutic bath every day.
* 5 drops chamomile essential oil
• 1 teaspoon jojoba or almond oil
• 1 16-ounce bottle castile soap
• 3 drops tea tree oil (optional)
• 3 drops peppermint essential oil (optional)
• 3 drops citrus essential oil (optional)
1. Add the chamomile essential oil and jojoba or almond oil to the bottle of castile soap. For an invigorating wash, add the tea tree and peppermint oil; for a soothing wash, add the citrus oil. Shake it, shake it, shake it up.
2. Stick that bottle in the shower and use it daily. If you wish to dilute the castile soap, which can dry out your skin on its own, you may wish to put the soap in a foaming pump bottle. Fill the bottle one-third full of soap and two-thirds full of water. Screw on the pump top and voilà! Foaming soap, gentle (and fun!) enough to use every day.
Butterscotch Chamomile Clusters
Makes about 3 dozen clusters
This recipe comes down from my great-aunt, and, since I'm a sucker for butterscotch, I've kept it around, making little additions here and there. Chamomile is a surprisingly good mesh with the sweetness of the 'scotch.
* 2 cups butterscotch chips
• 2 tablespoons nut butter of choice
• 4 cups organic brown rice crisps cereal
• 1 batch chamomile-infused sugar (recipe follows)
1. Put the chips and nut butter in a double boiler (or heat-proof glass bowl over simmering water) and place it over low heat. Stir constantly until melted, then remove from heat (this should take 5 minutes or so once your water gets simmering).
2. Add the rice cereal and stir carefully until coated. Drop by tablespoons onto parchment paper and let harden a few minutes.
3. Roll the batter into balls between palms and then roll them in chamomile sugar. Set them aside until firm.
Makes about 2 cups
Infused honeys are just a fabulous, fabulous invention. I'm sure they were first derived to preserve the herbal harvest, as well as present a good (and palatable) delivery method for all kinds of herbal goodness. Now there are endless ways to use these sweet infusions, from baked treats to tea to ice creams to cough medicines. If you grow your own chamomile, gather flowers in the morning, after the dew has dried.
* 2 cups honey (I prefer raw, organic, local honey)
• 3–5 tablespoons fresh chamomile blossoms or 2–4 tablespoons dried flowers
1. Sterilize a 1-pint mason jar by boiling it in water for 10 minutes and allowing it to air-dry. Alternatively, run it through your dishwasher on the hottest setting.
2. Put the chamomile blossoms in the jar and cover them with honey. If you don't want the mess of straining the honey after the steeping period, you can put the herbs in a reusable tea bag.
3. Set the jar in a sunny windowsill for 1 week. Gaze at it lovingly (there's nothing more beautiful than flowers suspended in honey on a sunny windowsill).
4. Taste the honey. If the flavor is strong enough, strain the herbs and discard (or compost or use in one of the above recipes). If it's not strong enough for you, then either add more herbs or let the honey steep for another week.
Excerpted from "Herbal Goddess"
Copyright © 2015 Amy Jirsa.
Excerpted by permission of Storey Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Introduction: Discover Herbs and Recover Your Power Chapter 1 Discovering the Sunny Side of Chamomile Chapter 2 Rediscovering the Most Romantic Bloom Chapter 3 Detoxing with Dandelion Chapter 4 Adapting with Holy Basil Chapter 5 Playing Nice with Nettles Chapter 6 Healing with Calendula Chapter 7 Having a Lie-Down with Lavender Chapter 8 Treating It All with Turmeric Chapter 9 Keeping the Doctor Away with Echinacea Chapter 10 The Many Wonders of the Elder Plant Chapter 11 Versatile and Singular Cinnamon Chapter 12 Jiving It Up with Ginger Appendix I: Flower Essences Appendix II: Herbal Oils Appendix III: Herbal Salves Appendix IV: Herbal Tinctures Appendix V: Herbal Vinegars Resources Suggested Reading Glossary Index
What People are Saying About This
A beautiful and well-written book that makes the art of natural healing accessible and enjoyable.