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Your Cup of Tea Explained: Phytochemistry

Guest Post by Abby Wagner, Production & Education Assistant, Bridget’s Botanicals

Have you ever walked outside and began to notice vibrant colors and smells you have yet to have noticed before? With the Summer Solistice having just passed, we are well into the blooming season and experiencing aromas of the natural world. Have you ever thought: Why is it that some flowers smell so delightful while others, not so much? Why do I feel good after smelling roses or chamomile? Do you ever wonder if these particular colors or smells represent something deeper in the botanic world? Me too, especially since we have all been stuck inside and I feel like a kid again when I have the opportunity to go outside. With these questions I find that are commonly swirling around, let’s explore a bit and unlock the truth about plants.

For more than 5,000 years humans have been using our plant allies to help aid, support and nourish our bodies. Just like the questions I posed above, our ancestors asked the same things. They didn’t have modern day science to rely on, so instead, through curiosity, personal experience with trial and error, and passed down generational wisdom, they learned how to communicate with plants.

No, it’s not the same style of vocal communication we use with other humans and/ or animals. Instead they learned the language of plants, how to read them and understand what their colors meant, what their smell meant, what their taste indicated, and they studied how other animals interacted with their surrounding flora. Through this, homo sapiens have evolved with our plant relatives forming a beautiful, harmonious relationship.

We are evolving with our environment, which is more deeply understood as our knowledge through studying our allies has helped advance us as individuals. Herbalism and alternative medicine is vastly growing as our knowledge and progression with plant medicine strengthens.

Fast forward to today, we now have scientific studies, instruments and processes to gain a closer inside look at exactly what’s going on from a scientific lens. So, let’s take a deeper look into plants, their constituents, also known as Phytochemistry, and how they interact generally within our own unique body systems.

What is phytochemistry?

Phytochemistry is the study of the biologically active compounds within individual plants. Moreover, Phytochemistry aims to answer two major questions: What is the chemical composition of plants? In addition to how does this information relate to its processes within the human body and chemical phenomena?

You probably are thinking to yourself, chemistry with plants? Yes, exactly that, it’s the magical combination and intersection of chemistry and botany, the star player in the crucial role of understanding how plants function through a scientific lens. These chemical compounds present in plants are then isolated and its molecular structure is determined, which in turn allows scientists to study its properties.

Why is phytochemistry important?

One may be thinking to themselves, yes, this process and major component (star player, if you will) sound central to combining plants, but why else is phytochemistry important? 

Well to be a star player there are many roles that one needs to take on. For example, unlocking and understanding how plants function not only in nature, but within our body systems as well. I know it may feel bizarre to grasp, but many plants produce chemicals to defend themselves or make themselves more attractive to herbivores and pollinators. And, in the same way, they produce various chemicals that can account for causing certain reactions within us. 

It doesn’t stop there, different constituents can be found within the leaves, bark, stem, flower, roots and seeds and at varying concentrations. Depending on your desired effect, the extraction methods will also differ. 

Therefore, understanding what chemicals are being released can and has helped scientists apply it to our pharmaceutical world. How incredible to see and experience now three worlds colliding …Chemistry, Botany and Biology! To better understand how phytochemistry is used in the development of herbal and pharmacological medicine, let’s look at Chamomile.

A Journey with Chamomile

Your walk comes to an end as the sun begins to set and the weather begins to cool off for the evening. You head straight to your cupboard to see what type of teas you have. Chamomile tea immediately pops out at you. You begin to think about what benefits that cup may have for you. Come to find out; Chamomile is one of the most famous and ancient medicinal herbs on the market. Mainly used for inflammation support, alleviation from muscles spasm including those from menstrual cramps, and is best known for its relaxing subtle nervine effects. Chamomile’s capabilities based on it’s chemistry extend beyond that if you look even further…

Overall, there are over 120 biologically active chemicals found within. The dried flower alone contains many terpenoids and flavonoids, which are groups of  phytochemicals that have been studied for quite some time beneficial for their antioxidant like properties. Aqueous extracts, such as in tea form, dried herb steeped in water, have been found to extract high concentrations of apigenin-7-O-glucoside and lower concentrations of apigenin. Both of these compounds seem to be the responsible players that help to sooth muscle spasms, give the plant astringency and promote expectorant effects.

Alcohol extractions, such as tinctures, have been found to contain high levels of chamazulene and bisabolol. Chamazulene and bisabolol are very unstable unless preserved in alcohol. Because of this, chamomile tincture works to soothe the gastrointestinal tract and help ease your nervous system from the inside out.

Lastly, essential oil extractions of chamomile have been found to contain higher percentages of the volatile oils, terpenoids α-bisabolol and its oxide azulenes including chamazulene and acetylene derivatives. These phytochemicals are known to relieve anxiety and be wonderful allies to support general depression when the vapors are inhaled.

As our wonderful plant ally, Chamomile, has shown us, herbs pack a powerful yet soothing and nurturing punch within their delicate fragrant tiny but mighty flowers. Just like discovering new smells, sights and flavors on your walk, you can discover and unlock the secrets behind each herb and the best ways to extract medicine when you take a closer look. If you were looking for another reason to go outside or activity to introduce, this is it! Go for a walk and see what you can discover as you stop and smell the roses!

Information sourced from:

Singh, O., Khanam, Z., Misra, N., & Srivastava, M. K. (2011). Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla L.): an overview. Pharmacognosy reviews, 5(9), 82.

Srivastava, J. K., Shankar, E., & Gupta, S. (2010). Chamomile: a herbal medicine of the past with a bright future. Molecular medicine reports, 3(6), 895-901.

The Startling Effectiveness of Elderberries for Flu Treatment

Flu season. Those two words are enough to make parents, teachers, and doctors run to the store to stock up on disinfecting wipes and medications. We all know that the flu can take you out of commission for longer than most viruses. It will leave you shivering and sweating on the couch watching bad TV, and out of work long enough that your boss actually believes that you’re really sick. Every year it seems there are new flu prevention/shortening products that hit the market and tempt us with their grandiose claims. But did you know that one of the most effective treatments for the flu lies within a small berry on a plant that can be grown in Colorado?

Elderberries on plantI’m referring to the Elderberry, of course. (Common Elderberry: Sambucus nigra L. ssp. Canadensis). I always look forward to this time of year when I can harvest a bounty of fresh elderberries at a family friend’s house. The dark juice stains my fingers a beautiful deep purple, and my mind fills with excitement in anticipation of making fresh elderberry syrup! One summer in Iowa while visiting my Grandpa’s old farm I discovered multiple towering elderberry shrubs that were as tall as trees. They were bursting with white, delicate, sweetly scented elderflower umbrellas. Once I learned about the incredible health benefits of this plant, I started to make elderberry syrup and share it with my clients.

The Little Berry That Packs a Punch

Both the elderberry and elderflower are excellent for staying healthy and fighting off the flu virus. Although lovely and tempting, do not eat the raw berries—consumption in various quantities can cause cyanide build up in the body and make you quite ill. The seeds contain cyanide glycosides which is greatly reduced when the berries are processed using proper methods. (I.F. Bolarinwa et al., 2016. Toxicology. A Review of Cayanogenic Glycosides in Edible PlantsNever fear, cooking the berries volatalizes this toxic compound that makes them inedible in the raw form. 

So, what makes elderberries so helpful to our bodies? They are an excellent source of vitamins A and C, calcium, iron, vitamin B6, and anthocyanins (water-soluble vacuolar pigments). They also contain tannins, sterols, and essential oils and are considered a healthy food. In fact, elderberries have an antioxidant capacity that ranks high when compared to fruits such as blueberries, cranberries, and mulberries.

The berries can be made into wine, jam, syrup, and pies, while the flower petals can be eaten raw or made into a fragrant tea. The flowers can also add an aromatic flavor to pancakes or fritters.

Psst—here’s a delicious tip: pour the syrup over vanilla ice cream for a special treat!

Elderberries Are an Old Friend

elderberries in hand

Past generations knew the power of elderberries for health and they were utilized for many different ailments such as stomach ache, sinus congestion, diarrhea, sore throat, common cold, and rheumatism. Additionally, elderberries have diaphoretic, laxative and diuretic properties which make them helpful with constipation. Folk medicine traditions considered all parts of the elderberry plant to be valuable in healing.

Native Americans also have a tradition of using elderberry for its healing properties (Birchers et al. 2000) and particularly to treat fever and rheumatism (Moerman 1986). Elderberry was considered a Holy Tree during the Middle Ages, capable of restoring and keeping good health and longevity.

Scientific Results of Elderberry Studies

The benefits of elderberries in treating common viruses are real and are reflected in multiple studies on the subject. From 1999-2000, an experiment entitled ‘Randomized Study of the Efficacy and Safety of Oral Elderberry Extract in the Treatment of Influenza A and B Virus Infections’ was conducted in Norway.

Sixty patients suffering from influenza-like symptoms for 48 hours or less were enrolled in this randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study during the influenza season. Patients received 15 ml of elderberry or placebo syrup four times a day for 5 days, and recorded their symptoms using a visual analogue scale. Symptoms were relieved on average 4 days earlier and use of rescue medication was significantly less in those receiving elderberry extract compared with placebo. Elderberry extract seems to offer an efficient, safe and cost-effective treatment for influenza. (Journal of International Medical Research, April 2004)

The Online Journal of Pharmacology and PharmacoKinetics reported on a study entitled ‘Pilot Clinical Study on a Proprietary Elderberry Extract: Efficacy in Addressing Influenza Symptoms’ in 2009. The study, reported by Fan‐kun Kong, PhD., looked at influenza-like symptoms such as fever, headache, muscle aches, and nasal symptoms and their response to elderberry extract. The results were pretty amazing in demonstrating the power of this berry.

  • Following the first 24 hours of treatment, the proprietary elderberry extract group showed significant reduction in fever

  • All patients with fever in the elderberry group returned to normal temperature within 48 hours. In the placebo group, the majority of the patients failed to show any improvement in fever within the 48‐hour treatment period, and only 2 patients (22%) in this group returned to normal temperature.

  • Through 24 hours of treatment, the proprietary elderberry extract group showed a significant reduction in headache symptom

  • In contrast, headaches became more severe in the placebo group

  • No improvement in headache was reported by any single individual subject in the placebo group

The study concluded that using elderberry syrup during the active stage of colds and flu, to minimize distress, appears to support immune function and offers a natural, safe, and effective option. 

(Online Journal of Pharmacology and PharmacoKinetics, Volume 5: 32‐43, 2009, Fan‐kun Kong, PhD.)

Now doesn’t that just make you want to add elderberry syrup to your flu season arsenal?! And you can use it with the peace of mind that you are harnessing the power of mother nature to treat your body, and not ingesting unnatural ingredients. It’s nature’s flu shot! 

Purchase Bridget’s Botanicals Elderberry Syrup

Upcoming Elderberry Medicine Workshop

 

On November 2, I will be hosting a Elderberry Medicine Workshop from 1:00-2:30pm at People House in Denver. Sample elderberry in various forms, craft your own elderberry remedy, and discover why elderberry will be your best friend. Register Today!

Getting Pregnant Naturally

bird nest with eggsThe month of May is the perfect time to discuss fertility and pregnancy. On May 1 parts of the world celebrated the Gaelic holiday, Beltane, known as May Day in the U.S. Traditional Beltane activities include jumping over a broom for increased fertility, braiding hair or putting ribbons in the hair, all in the name of readying the womb for life, literally in women, or metaphorically for the earth. Beltane is the special time halfway between spring and summer in which nature is making good on the promise it made in early spring when roots rejuvenated, and soil was moistened with spring snow. Plants are producing shoots and buds, trees are leafing out, bird eggs are being incubated, and the world is about to come to life. This is the time when fertility is abound in nature all around us and thoughts turn to the cycle of life and growth; relationships and sexuality. Here in Colorado of course, we are advised to wait until after Mother’s Day to plant most our crops and plants outside due to our climate and chance of snow, but we still experience the wonders of nature during this time before summer. This weekend I enjoyed planting some nettles, holy basil, spearmint, and spilanthes.

Addressing Fertility

I first became interested in fertility after taking a class by Dr. Jonathan Van Blerkom, an embryologist at CU Boulder, who specializes in fertility, virility, and mammalian development. It was in this class that I learned that many countries in the world are seeing declining fertility rates. Although there still are some populations that continue to grow quickly and have high fertility rates, it’s surprising how many do not. Even more surprising was to learn the rate of infertility in the U.S. is 10% after 1 year of a woman trying to get pregnant. It seems more people are experiencing infertility issues and/or issues keeping a baby through the first trimester. Is the prevalence of hormonal birth control a factor? Is it altering the hormonal cycles in our bodies? 

As an herbalist, I suggest lifestyle changes to combat infertility and increase the fertility rate. In fact, when women consult a Naturopath or herbalist they are often successful in getting pregnant and this is a much less expensive option than traditional medicine. Over the last several years I have been learning about methods and botanicals that are known to increase fertility. This last year I decided to design an herbal kit around fertility for my clients. 

Causes of Infertility

Despite what many people think, it’s important to understand that the average time to get pregnant is one year. Especially after a woman has been on hormonal birth control. The body needs to re-acclimate. Once a woman hits the one year mark of trying to get pregnant, has been taking her basal body temperature and tracking cycles, and having regular unprotected sex, it is then that the couple is considered infertile. And it is more common for women to be infertile than men. The fertility rate for women decreases quite a bit after the age 35, but with men it’s later and they can get women pregnant at older ages. Women are born with all of our eggs and those eggs have capillaries that surround them; tiny blood vessels that help to deliver oxygen to the eggs to keep them viable. But after time the capillaries die off and do not regenerate, or the eggs become compromised and are not as well oxygenated which decreases the viability of the egg. The most common possible causes of infertility in women include:

  • Irregular menstrual cycle and ovulation
  • Decreased egg viability 
  • Physical problem with the fallopian tubes, uterus, and
  • Endometriosis, pelvic adhesions, and or PCOS
  • Environmental toxicity and exposure to endocrine disruptors
  • Diet, physical shape, smoking and alcohol consumption

For men, infertility is also caused by a variety of factors.  Most common is impraired motility of the sperm. Additionally there are special enzymes contained within the head of the sperm that help it to enter the egg. If these are comprised the sperm may not be able to fertilize the egg.  Men can have their sperm tested at a sperm lab to check for motility and other factors. Interestingly, only 1 in 25,000 sperm reach the fallopian tubes, and during that time, the sperm go through a variety of events all of which seem to be heavily dependent on extracellular calcium uptake (Rahman et al, 2014). In this blog, I will focus on the women’s side of the story.

Natural Ways to Boost Fertilitypregnant woman next to plant

You can’t physically change an egg or sperm. As women however there are ways to impact fertility naturally. You can increase fertility with certain lifestyle practices and different plants to influence your hormones, your internal enviornment for optimal sperm maturation, and maintaining embryo implantation.

Adjusting After Birth Control

After ending your birth control your body may need up to one year to let your hormones synchronize or reset. Your body has been used to synthetic hormones, sometimes for 15 to 20 years, which is a long time and your body will need an adjustment period to return to its natural rythms. If you want to speed things up or have been trying for a year, you can look to botanicals to boost your fertility by through the support of bringing your hormones back into harmony. 

Vitex in Australia, 2018

Putting Herbs to Work for Your Fertility

Hormone Balancing: Dandelion leaves are also helpful for hormone balancing, while licorice root and peony flower have been shown to increase ovulation and improve your fertility. The most exciting however is Vitex (Vitex agnus-castus), also know as chasteberry, one of my favorite herbs to put to work for increasing fertility. The berries of the tree that are used. It is a major hormone balancer, especially after being on hormonal birth control, this is my favorite to use with clients, and has been used for thousands of years. Recently the scientific community has released multiple publications on it’s effectiveness. As is the case for any herb, just like a daily vitamin or diet change,  if you want to see a result you have to be consistent and take it regularly (once or twice a day) for 2-3 months. Many people take Vitex regularly for simple hormone balancing for regulating periods or help with menopause, and it has been used for a variety of reproductive disorders (van Die, 2013). 

Blood Sugar Levels: Another way to boost fertility is to balance your blood sugar since it influences the regulation of insulin, another hormone important in the dance of how your body funtions. You can do this includes exercising, avoiding sugar and alcohol, and drinking tea with burdock in it, or sautéeing the root, which you can buy in local health food stores. 

Nutrient Levels: Other plants that will increase nutrient levels in your body are nettles or red clover. Some women buy expensive prenatal vitamins, but tea can be just as helpful, is more cost effective, and tastes good. My Fertility Tea and Nourish Me Tea are perfect options to get the nutrients you need. The difference in these two teas is that the Fertility Tea has the hormone balancing herb Vitex in it. In general, you want to eat healthy, get lots of nutrients, avoid processed food, eat whole foods and plants; organic when possible. Think of it this way: you are building a nest and you want that nest to be the most hospitable environment possible for your egg to flourish. Women can sometimes get a fertilized egg, however it may not attatch to the uterine wall, called implantation, due to a lack of nutrient levels in the body or an environmtnet that the egg will not flourish in. Additionally, removing dairy from the diet helps to decrease inflammation because dairy can have hormones and environmental toxins in it, especially if commercially produced. Keep in mind that alcohol impacts estrogen, which you are trying to balance out, and if you are drinking a nutrative tea, alcohol counteracts it. Drinking two cups of tea a day and will serve to match what you would have been taking with prenatal vitamins.

Nourish Me Tea

Exercise for Oxygenation 

Exercise is great for getting good blood flow to the uterus and your body in general. It will increase blood flow to the genitals and reproductive organs and also help you feel more pleasure. Remember those capillaries that are oxygenating the eggs? Healthy blow flow helps them out! Another way to increase blood flow to the uterus is through Mayan uterine massage, which we will feature in an upcoming blog this summer. 


Work Alongside Nature

It is always recommended to do fertility charting as it will show you the window of time when you are most fertile (usually four days). Be aware of your cycle, and have sex on those days to increase your chances of pregnancy. Did you know the day of your cycle when you are most fertile is day 14 if you are on a 28-day cycle? You’ll be producing more cervical fluid, and potentially you’ll get excited more easily. It’s also recommended to take your basal temperature readings which will tell you when you are more fertile. The temperature will rise after ovulation has begun. Your body and mind will work together to make this clear to you. Listen to your body—it will be telling you to have sex! There are some great apps out there to help you with charting your cycle.


Stress Less

I know, what I’m asking may seem impossible to do if you are worried about getting pregnant, but you need to stress less! Constant worry and stress doesn’t help your womb environment. Relax and recognize that it will likely take some time to become pregnant. If you do your planning around your cycle, eat right, supplement with herbs, and aren’t spending money on expensive prenatal vitamins you may be more at ease just knowing you are giving your body natural help. Lastly, get on a good sleep cycle as this also helps to regulate the hormones. Check out this post about natural remedies for sleepless nights

In summary, there are a TON of alternatives and very effective herbs to use when you are trying to get pregnant. Try lifestyle components first. Work with mother nature’s herbs and become more in sync with your hormone cycle. Of course, sometimes it is necessary to go the route of In Vitro Fertilization (IVF), or other methods, which are wonderful medical marvels that we are lucky to have available. But if you can avoid that costly and sometimes risky route, all the better. 

 

So where can you find these botanical products to increase fertility naturally? Check out my Fertility Women’s Health Set.

The Surprising and Wonderful Health Benefits of Dandelions

Dandelion for Detox, Digestion, and Beyond

Ahh, Spring! You start to survey your yard and are pleased to see the grass greening up, the iris leaves poking up through the ground, and new growth on the trees. But the one thing you may not be pleased to see is dandelions! These plants have gotten a very bad rap due to their fast-growing/fast-spreading nature, a flower that is not often considered beautiful, and the fact that they will pop up in the middle of your lovely grass. But dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) have a surprising number of uses and benefits for health.

 

Years ago I was taking a class that involved the study of plants and herbs and I created a drawing of the dandelion plant. After researching the plant I was excited to learn that they actually have medicinal properties! Later I proudly shared this newfound information with my Mom, thinking I was opening her eyes to something ground-breaking, but to my surprise she laughed and shared that she knew all about the plant because her Father, my Grandpa used to make dandelion wine! Since then I have looked at dandelions in a whole new delicious light.

Dandelions are actually an incredible source for our bodies in that they are an overall nourishing herb, with uses ranging from detoxification, liver support, digestive aid, and women’s hormone health. And, you can utilize almost the whole plant!

NOTE: dandelions should not be eaten by those with a latex allergy, or an allergy to the aster flower family (asteraceae).

Banish Bloat with Dandelion Leaves

The leaves of a dandelion plant are a diuretic, which means it is a substance that promotes diuresis, the increased production of urine. Diuretics rid the body of excess water, help with water retention, and conditions such as edema (swollen ankles), and reduce bloat in general. Additionally, dandelions support healthy kidney function.

Now, with most diuretic substances, they cause a depletion of potassium in your body. So if you were taking a medication to help with water retention, you would need to be supplementing with potassium as well. But dandelion leaves have potassium already in them, as well as Vitamin E and A and zinc phytosterols, making them a great natural option for the issue of water retention.

An amazing benefit of dandelion leaves is that they are a great hormone regulator for women, especially those experiencing menopause. In fact, I use it in my Transition Time tea which is included in my Menopause Women’s Health Set.

Dandelion leaf tincture

How to use the leaves:

  • Use the leaves to make dandelion tea. But only if your yard is clean of pesticides, going back a couple of years to be safe.
  • Leaves can be mixed in  with a salad. They are bitter; most people prefer to mix them with other greens rather than alone, however if you choose to brave the bitter, add in what we recommend in our Botanical Bites blog Spring Goddess Salad.
  • Chop up the leaves and turn into a tincture using apple cider vinegar. Add a touch of honey once it’s complete to create a delectable traditional Irish/Celtic remedy called Honegar. 
  • Create dandelion bitters to help with digestion, balance the hydrochloric acid production, and regulate pH balance.

It’s best to harvest in the earlier springtime when the leaves are smaller because they are tastier at this point, and do become more bitter as they get larger.  

Getting to the Root of it All

Spring is the perfect time to look for dandelions, and you can view them as a spring detox in your life. 

Chemical structure of inulin. Image from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inulin

Dandelion root is high in polysaccharides, which help to balance out blood sugar levels, making it a great herb for those with diabetes. The root also contains inulin, a soluble plant fiber that helps to regulate blood sugar especially in prediabetic individuals according to studies such as this one by the Nutrition and Dietic Research Group of Imperial College in London. If you are on medication for diabetes, consult with your medical practitioner before taking dandelion root.

Dandelions are an alterative herb. Alterative herbs help to restore the body’s elimation process by supporting the liver, kidneys, and skin. I like to think of these are ‘blood herbs’ as they help to clean the blood of impurities by helping the liver to perform better. Dandelion root helps the liver along so it’s not overworked. Always remember that what you eat goes into your stomach and intestines, and the capillaries associated with villi transfer nutrients into blood, which is then processed by the liver. Bowel problems, IBS, hepatitis, and jaundice are all conditions that my be benefited by dandelion root along with other alteratives, by way of the liver.

Skin conditions such as eczema, and rashes, can also often be related to the blood. Taking alterative herbs like dandelion root may help to clear up skin. 

Along with being a liver tonic, dandelion root is also a cholagogue, which helps stimulate the bile production in body and is also responsible for helping to metabolize and break down the unnecessary fats in your body.

How to use the root:

  • Chop the root and roast it with burdock, my favorite way is sautéd lightly with olive oil
  • As a detoxification remedy, you can use in a tincture or tea. The root can taste quite earthy so I recommend mixing it with licorice root because it’s sweet, and burdock root to balance it out. You could also blend with sarsaparilla, cinnamon bark, or fennel for a rich delicious blend.
  • Use as a coffee alternative. ‘Dandy Blend’, sold in health-food stores, is good alternative to caffeinated coffee.
  • You can also candy the root just as you do with carrots!

A good way to ensure you are not ingesting pesticides from a local yard, is to harvest dandelions on wild land, the mountains of Colorado, etc. However always be sure to check the regulations of the land management agency whose land you will be visiting to see if harvesting is permitted.

Pick Those Dandelion Flowers – And Eat Them!

As a teacher of mine once said, dandelion flowers are not to be vanquished. Think about what the flower brings to mind. The bright yellow and cheery flowers are like a round sunburst. They are energetically positive and can lift the mood just by shifting your perspective to view them this way.

How to use the flower:

  • Pluck the individual petals out and put into salad
  • Add the petals in pancake fritters
  • Can make a dandelion petal glycerite, and it becomes a tincture
  • Dandelion wine! Sorry, my Grandpa’s recipe is a family secret!

If you do not wish to eat the flowers, then try to restrain from pulling them and trashing them as dandelions are very loved by bees!

I hope you now have a different perspective on dandelions and will put them to use as natural health remedies soon.

Check out my Spring Goddess Salad recipe that incorporates dandelion leaves. Happy harvesting!

 

The Science of Aphrodisiacs

Love Potion #9

When you think about aphrodisiacs you might think of kooky witches stirring a cauldron and selling a bottled love potion to the villagers who are hoping to have someone fall in love with them. Even though the idea of aphrodisiacs may seem the stuff of fairy tales, there is actually science behind it–and I believe they do work! Since the middle ages, aphrodisiacs have been known and used in concoctions to boost libido and seduce others. This article by Vogue discusses a brief history of aphrodisiacs.

There is not a lot of clinical research on aphrodisiacs and no direct signaling mechanism at a cellular level that has shown and proven that they work. However, there is evidence of indirect mechanisms throughout the body as a result of taking aphrodisiacs. You see, with herbs it’s hard to track the mechanism of what is happening in the body. Lucky for us, you don’t have to actually point to a mechanism to feel a certain way.

 

You Can’t Be On All the Time

Let’s start by talking about arousal and physical response. Most of us aren’t constantly in the mood, and sometimes it takes longer to feel aroused, which is dependent on many factors. Daily life may be making you tired or stressed, and this gets in the way of arousal. One in ten people actually have Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder (HSDD) which is an underactive libido and is caused by fatigue, stress, depression, or hormone changes over time. In fact, 40% of women experience this at some point in life (source: medicalnewstoday.com). Men who are experiencing sexual dysfunction often turn to Viagra®, and there is a medicine for women who need more testosterone called Flibanserin by Addyi. All those conditions aside, some people may just feel that things are getting a tad stale with their partner and they wish to fan some oxygen onto the flame.

Prescription medications can come with a long list of side effects, and I say if you can treat something with plants and herbs – try that first! Botanical aphrodisiacs offer a natural alternative.

Even if sex is not a big factor in your life, anytime it is shared with someone it helps to create a shared intimacy that will deepen your bond. Know that low or slow arousal is common and there is something you can do about it in a natural way.

The Psychological and Physiological Effects of Aphrodisiacs

In addition to physical response, your mind is also positively affected by aphrodisiacs. Your mind has a powerful effect on how you feel. Here are the four ways in which aphrodisiacs can benefit you:

  1. Happiness

    Swiss Chocolate

As I discussed in my last post, For the Love of Botanical Chocolate, chocolate (Theobroma cacao) is very

 popular around Valentine’s Day and is known as an aphrodisiac as it triggers the release of serotonin and contains trace amounts of phenylethylamine (PEA). PEA is already found in small amounts in our body. Is a neurotransmitter in our nervous system, and is one of the chemical components that plays a key role in our mood. Not only is PEA good for our mood, but it is also a stimulant that is associated with heightened states of euphoria and arousal due to its stimulation of endorphin release, as discussed by Chris Kilham, a Professor of Ethnobotany at the Univerersity of Massachusetts at Amherst. These are major players that ifluence our mood and are responsible for happiness.

  1. Circulation

A big part of arousal is getting good blood flow to the genitals. A food that stands out for this is chili peppers. They are vasodilators, which means they increase blood flow. In fact, any kind of chili pepper has the capsicum molecule which causes dilation of the blood vessels and allows for greater blood flow to the genital area. 

  1. Stimulation

There are several herbs that cause stimulation in us and stimulation is tied to arousal. Guarana (Paullinia cupana) is a climbing shrub native to the Amazon basin whose seeds are often used in energy drinks. But energy drinks can be very unhealthy. Stick with the pure forms, straight from the ground! Guarana contains twice the amount of caffeine than coffee so it is guaranteed to give you an energy boost. This is a great herb for people who feel too tired to have sex. The component in the seeds from the fruit on this shrub is called guaranine, which is the stimulant. It warms the body. Because of the combination of stimulation and warming, Brazilians are known to use it as an aphrodisiac. Buy guarana as a powder for consumption and take it during the day, or right after work, when you are looking for a pick-me-up for a sensual evening. It’s generally too stimulating to take close to bedtime.

Damiana Plant
Damiana Plant

The next stimulating herb is damiana–the queen of all aphrodisiacs in my mind! I studied damiana (Turnera diffusa) while in Mexico and absolutely love the floral flavor. I add it to my Frolic aphrodisiac bitters and Sexual Vitality Tea. Damiana has hormone balancing properties and is restorative when mixed with licorice root and rose. It is a native shrub in Mexico and both the leaves and flowers have been used for thousands of years by the Mayan people. Fun fact: this plant is named after St. Damian, the patron saint of pharmacists. Damiana is mildly irritating/stimulating to the genitourinary tract. This is an herb you use over time in order for it to be most effective, and it generally takes several weeks to start noticing a difference. But the effects pay off: it provides more sensation in the genitals, and boosts sexual potency in men and women. Read more about Damiana

More stimulation comes from cnidium (Cnidium monnieri) seeds, which is a Chinese herb that also grows in Oregon. Cnidium seeds are known for rapidly increasing libido; in fact, it acts like a natural Viagra. The active component found in the seeds in it is called osthol, and it helps the penis tissue to become erect. Osthol impacts the nervous system involving muscles or tissue and this is why it helps with erectile dysfunction. It is a vasorelaxant, meaning it causes blood vessel relaxation and expansion in the tissue. It affects the corpus cavernosum (the two tubes inside the penis) and the erectile tissue in the penis. Additionally, it has been used in herbal Chinese medicine to improve sexual dysfunction in women by having the same effect on the clitoris (source: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov) You ingest this herb by chewing a teaspoon of the seeds, but only when you are ready for the effects to happen!

The last of our stimulating herbs is one I first came across it while traveling in Peru in 2006. It’s called maca (Lepidium meyeniia), which is a tuber root, like a potato. Maca is high in protein and has an effect on mood and testosterone, being commonly used for an energy and libido booster. Data has shown that maca hasn’t had any effect on hormone levels, however it is used by clinicians to boost testosterone in women when needed for low desire. And people do report feeling a difference when using maca (source: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov).

  1. Relaxation

Kava Kava Plant
Kava Kava Plant

Across the spectrum from stimulation for desire is relaxation, and it is just as important for building arousal. The first herb that comes to mind is kava kava (Piper methysticum), which is a relaxant. This French Polynesia and Fijian plant’s root is used for a calming effect on the nervous system, which is the biggest area that you can address for your libido. When you are stressed, cortisol is produced in your body in larger amounts and it impedes one of the hormones that helps build desire. Kava Kava is a fantastic herb to help balance hormones.

What better named aphrodisiac is there besides passion flower (Passiflora)?! I like to say, passion flower for presence, passion and pleasure. It is also helpful for muscular tension and muscle cramps.

For an aide in stress reduction look to rhodiolia (Rhodiola rosea). It reduces cortisol and is an adaptogen. It’s a good daily tonic to help deal with stress. Look for an upcoming post that goes into depth about rhodiolia.

I discussed the main herbs that are known to be aphrodisiacs, but there are others such as ginseng and horny goat weed as well.

If you are interested in enjoying some of the herbs mentioned in this post, learn more about my Sexual Vitality Set which comes with teas, bitters, aromatherapy spritzers, and more.

Join the Women’s Sexual Health and Well-being Course

I just began hosting my Herbs for Women’s Sexual Health and Well-being course and we will discuss herbs in relation to sexual dysfunction and desire….soon to be virtual, so keep your eyes out in 2019!

Learn More and Register

 

 

 

How Bitters Aide with Digestion

How Bitters Aide with Digestion

My visit to Italy in 2009 is when I discovered the joy of bitters. I was introduced to them when I learned that many people who live there drink aperitifs and digestives before or after meals. At first I was enamored because they are like a small and delicious liqueur shot and it just tasted good! But when I learned more about the power behind bitters and how they influence our digestion the scientist in me became interested. They are not only delicious, but they also have health benefits.

Digestives, or bitters, are composed of many different bitter plants and just a half ounce or ounce is enough as it is pretty potent stuff. And although the bitters do have alcohol in them, the reason to drink them is not the same as with regular alcoholic drinks. The digestives are extracted bitter plants that are in alcohol and the reason to take them before or after meals is to increase and improve your digestion.

Bitters have been used around the world for thousands of years, and are especially popular in Europe. Many people make their own bitters with their own recipe, and often times that recipe has been passed down for years within their family. As I explored bitters more during my trip I discovered that similar concoctions were commonly being used within cocktails, and the cocktail lover within me became interested 😉

Over the next year I started to see bitters showing up in American bars, being served as additives to cocktails. Suddenly, cocktail bitters started to skyrocket in popularity. I myself started to utilize bitters in my diet and looked for what was available on the market, which wasn’t much several years ago. I decided I wanted to add bitters to Bridget’s Botanicals repertoire and wanted to make and share them with my clients. They are after all, a great introduction to the botanical and herbal world and I liked that I could sort of disguise that within cocktails to bring herbs into more people’s lives. So in 2017 I launched my Wild World Bitters line at the ‘Cocktails on the Rocks’ event at Red Rocks Park in Morrison, Colorado.

Bittersweet Science

So how do bitters actually work in our body? When bitters enter our mouth, we start to produce more saliva and our saliva helps to break down food. A dropper full of bitters before a meal automatically activates the enzymes in your mouth and this helps break down the food a little better. That’s the first step on the journey into your body.

In the stomach we have molecular biology pumps that secrete hydrochloric acid which is responsible for breaking our food down. Problems start to happen when we don’t have enough acid or we are over producing acid.

If a person is having heartburn and taking over-the-counter medicine for it, the stomach actually reacts in the opposite way than you would think. It detects a decrease in pH and it starts to produce more acid in response, leaving us with a more acidic environment in our stomach. Bitters however, regulate the secretion of the hydrochloric acid into our stomach, which is the key to balanced stomach acid.

In the last ten years or so, there has been a lot of research about how the gut helps to regulate the immune system and the nervous system. The microorganisms in the gut are symbiotically producing signals for our body, or chemicals, which are actually matching our physiology and responding to those different signals to activate or regulate our nervous system and immune system. T2R receptors, which are connected to the nervous system, are found all over the body, but primarily are in the gut. I want to mention the plant-based diet again here because if you are eating foods that already help with diversifying the gut flora this only helps further support immune system. Here’s a cute educational simple yet effectively explained TED Ed video about you, your food, and your gut microbes. 

It is truly amazing how much of our body is connected to our gut health, which implies just how important it is to take care of .

 

If you are having other problems such as frequent illnesses, depression, or anxiety, you may want to look to the gut for the answers. You can experiment and start to use bitters to see if they help and positively influence you. As with any herb, I encourage you to try them for at least one month, but ideally three months, before deciding whether it’s having an impact on your wellness journey.

 

Get Ahead of Holiday Digestion Issues

Now that we have more knowledge of the science behind the microflora in our gut it is clear how important it is and how much it can affect us. And what better time of year to work on digestion issues than the holidays. All the family gatherings, big meals, and holiday parties make for abundant and wonderful food, but also sometimes very uncomfortable GI issues. This is a great time to incorporate bitters into your diet. You can do a dropper full right into mouth, or in a glass of water, or you can have fun with bitters and try them in cocktails, or even drink them straight. Infusing them in 

cocktails can be a great and somewhat sneaky way to help your stubborn parent/sibling/spouse with their holiday digestion issues 😉 When they talk about how great they feel the next day you can tell them why!

Types of Bitters for Meals and Cocktails

Bitters are very balancing in general and the extracts of the herbs are of course bitter, so that adds a different element to food. They can balance flavors of food and be used in something such as salad dressing, along with other beneficial oils. I recommend my Frolic and Awaken bitters on dessert items and baked goods as they are not quite as bitter as some others.

Historic bitter herbs include wormwood, dandelion leaves, endives, yellowdock, burdock, gentian (well-known for use in cocktails), lavender, rosemary, yarrow leaves (great in salad).

In closing, bitters are more of a traditional, long-term solution for digestion; one that a lot of Europeans have been using for centuries. They can really positively impact your gut health and thus your overall health.

If you would like to get started with bitters, I offer a Wild World Bitters sample pack of three different bitters. This makes a great holiday gift, especially if gifted before a big holiday meal 😉 Note: the Primal bitter is the best for digestive issues.

Fall Equinox Herbs

Fall Equinox Herbs for Health & Harvesting

On September 22 we experienced the Fall Equinox, the second time of year when there is an equal amount of dark hours and daylight hours. The other instance of this is around March 20, with the Spring Equinox. And as we move into fall, we are of course shifting into days filled with more darkness than light. I like to think of fall as a time when, psychologically, we start to go within ourselves and reflect on what our body needs. We look at how and where we want our next season to go. It’s a time to evaluate, reflect, and foster deep thought. And physically we are transitioning from our vibrant, outdoor time to more time indoors and getting cozy.

Because fall is the time of harvest for many foods, it’s only natural that we begin to focus on nourishing our bodies with heartier foods like potatoes, squash, corn, etc. The winter brings cold and harsh conditions in many parts of the world. It’s important for us to build up our bodies in preparation, and this can mean immune boosting foods that feed our blood and nourish our bodies. Eating within the season is something we think of when we find particular foods in the grocery store during certain times of the year. But when we really explore the rhythm of nature aligning with our biology we realize that as the season changes, so does the needs of our body.

To the herbalist and wild crafter, fall conjures up images of berries ready to be picked, roots to be dug up, and teas to be made! It’s a special time whether you are venturing into the woods to seek harvest, or walking out your back door into your own garden. Fall is the time to notice when the leaves of plants are dying back, as this signifies that the plant is sending more energy  into the roots now, which is an excellent time to harvest root vegetables and herbs. My grandfather, a potato farmer, taught me this.

Three Plants and Herbs to Collect in the Fall

Burdock Root

Arctium, more commonly known as burdock root, is found worldwide, and while you can harvest it in the spring as well, it makes a nice complement to other herbs harvested in the fall. In the summer, the leaves of the burdock plant are so big that the majority of the plant’s energy and nutrients are in the leaves. In the fall, look for the birds landing in and around the plant; that means it’s dying and thus the right time to harvest the roots.

Digging up burdock root can take a while, but it’s worth the effort. I tend to think it tastes like carrot or parsnip and has an earthy flavor overall. Don’t peel the skin! It’s good for you. Speaking of good for you, burdock is an alterative–it helps to clean the blood and gives support to the liver. Your liver is your blood portal and burdock is a helpful detox, especially if your diet perhaps isn’t the best, you take medications, or you drink alcohol. 

There are several ways to enjoy burdock. My favorite way is to roast it and eat it like you would a carrot. You can also chop it up, dry it, and put it in tea. It’s particularly good when added to chai tea, just mix it with cinnamon, cardamom, peppercorn and ginger. Or it’s great as a detox tea with dandelion root, or blended with licorice or chamomile tea. With something like burdock that doesn’t really taste great on its own, you can look to complement it with other herbs and still enjoy the unique benefits of the chosen plant. For instance, burdock can be mixed with other fall herbs such as hawthorn berries . . .

Hawthorn Berries and Leaves

Hawthorn berries come from the hawthorn tree, naturally, and their color is bright red–blood red in fact. This is noteworthy because like many things in nature, their color can indicate how they can be helpful to our body. Hawthorn berries have been shown to help cardiac function, regulate blood pressure, and increase circulation.

The leaves of the hawthorn tree are perfect for a fall herbal tea and now is the time to harvest them! The dried, hardened berries can also be used in tea, as well as in a fresh whiskey tincture, or as a circulatory tonic. Additionally, hawthorn pairs well with warming herbs, which I will discuss in a moment.

Elderberries

September is the time for elderberries! They can be used as herbal medicine for the coming winter and cold and flu season. You only want to use the dried berries of the plant; the leaves are toxic. A great way to incorporate elderberries is as a syrup. This little berry has been shown in various studies to be effective on eleven strains of the flu! I make an ImmuniTea and Elderberry Syrup that contains elderberries that is great for immune system support.

Did you know elderberries are considered a ‘shadow’ herb? A shadow herb is one that supports up to work with the darker sides of ourselves. Meaning–habits we do not like about ourselves, depression, self-loathing or low self esteem. How can you learn to love those darker parts of yourself and relieve some of the pain? As I talked about before, fall is a good time to reflect on things like this, and an ingredient like elderberries can aide in this reflection.

Rocky Mountain Herbs in Season

Here in the Rockies, there are three plants/herbs that are starting to come out and are ready for harvesting: osha, juniper berries, and rosehips. Be on the lookout for these as you explore and you will be able to add to your fall equinox herb collection. Take precaution with harvesting osha, it’s an at-risk plant designated by United Plant Savers an organization that focuses on medicinal plant conservation, and you may only take 10% of the plant population. In some cases, that means there is not enough to harvest so you will need to leave it be.

Lastly, when you are wild crafting, ensure you are doing it where herbicides are not sprayed, and check with your local jurisdiction or land management agency for the area you are crafting within to understand what is permissible for collection.

P.S. We had so much fun with our backyard Elderberry Harvest Party in September. Hope you can join next year!

‘Tis the Season: Frankincense and Myrrh

‘Tis the Season. And with this season we are reminded of the birth of Jesus and the gifts bestowed on him by the Three Wise Men; Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh.”

We all know the value of gold, but what do we know about frankincense and myrrh?

What are Frankincense and Myrrh?

Frankincense and Myrrh are the gummy sap product of the Boswellia and Commiphora trees, respectively, grown in dry climates such as India, Oman, Ethiopia, Somalia, Yemen and Saudi. The trees are cut allowing the gummy sap to ooze out. Once the sap hardens the resulting tear shaped resin is scrapped off the trees. Frankincense has a sweet, citrus aroma while Myrrh has a piney, bitter aroma. The resin of both are edible, can be burned as an incense either separate, together or with herbs, or steamed to produce essential oils.  

Early uses of Frankincense and Myrrh

Historically Frankincense and Myrrh have been used for their spiritual properties. Frankincense is a symbol of holiness. Myrrh is a symbol of bitterness, anguish and affliction. In addition to their use in spiritual ceremonies, Frankincense and Myrrh have been used in personal hygiene and beauty products and medical treatments for more than 5000 years. Early uses:

  • Frankincense was used hide body odor between baths by burning the resin and floating it near the clothing

  • Women mixed Frankincense into their eye shadow to improve the texture and used Myrrh on their face to rejuvenate the skin

  • Myrrh is thought to have been an early dental product

  • Medical practitioners, such as Hippocrates, wrote about their antiseptic, anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties and it has been reported that they were used to cure hemlock poisoning, snakebites, diarrhea, the plague, scurvy and a host of other diseases

  • Both were burned as an insect repellent

  • Both were used in the embalming process

  • Both were used in prayer, various rituals and cremations. The Egyptians used them to prepare human mummies. Others included them in incense burned during offering ceremonies.

Current day uses of Frankincense and Myrrh

Today Frankincense and Myrrh are still used in personal hygiene and beauty, medical treatments and spiritual ceremonies, but in a different way than in the early uses. Current day uses:

  • Both are used in Chinese medicine, Ayurveda, and aromatherapy
  • Both are used in toothpastes and mouthwashes, but have also been used for abscesses, toothaches, gingivitis and bad breath.
  • Both can be used to aid digestion when chewed like gum
  • When used together, either as an essential oil or ground dried resin, they support wound healing due to their antiseptic,  astringent, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antifungal and analgesic properties
  • A recent study also shows that Frankincense has the ability to reprogram an enzyme involved in our immune response to be anti-inflammatory
  • Both have been investigated as possible support for cancer patients due to their antitumoral, cellular rejuvenation and antioxidant properties
  • Frankincense has also been studied as possible support to people suffering from Crohn’s disease and ulceative colitis
  • Both are used to reduce scars, blemishes and on chronic skin conditions
  • When both are used in meditation practices they have been reported to improve focus, reduce anxiety, fear, grief and loneliness, reduce mental distractions, promote creativity and reduce irritability
  • Both are still used in prayer and various ritual ceremonies

NOTE: It is advised that Frankincense and Myrrh should not be used during pregnancy. As with any product you should consult your physician before using.

Written by Becky Wilson, Bridget’s Botanicals