Guest Blogger: Kai Leathers
Who Are We?
Many Buddhist traditions claim that there is no "self". That is an esoteric topic for another time, but I believe they are right in more ways than one. Modern science is (re)discovering that we are not just a single biological entity; instead, we must think of ourselves as a superorganism. This may sound like the beginning of a horror movie, but it is actually as mundane as a teaspoon of soil in your backyard (which averages between 100 million and 1 billion bacteria). It is quickly becoming common knowledge that humans cannot survive without a thriving diversity of microorganisms.
Even if you have not spent any significant amount of time in the world of holistic health or nutrition, you have probably heard the term "microbiome". Tons of research is revealing that we are not just Homo sapiens ("wise man"), but instead we are host to a huge collection of bacteria, viruses, protozoa, yeast and other fungi that scientists call the microbiome. Indeed, we are never alone. They live on and inside of us, and their lives are essential to the proper functioning of our body systems. In order to optimize health, we must not feed our singular selves, but we must instead feed our collective "superorganism" community - these microscopic colonies in our intestines, or gut. Globally, we are undergoing a sixth major extinction period, and some who study the human microbiome believe our gut bacteria are experiencing a similar extinction. They hypothesize that we may never be able to replace certain bacterial strains that we have lost.
Exercise and Gut Health
You may have cornered a stranger at a dinner party to explain the TED talk you recently watched, discussing ways to increase the diversity of your gut bacteria by changing your diet, but have you heard about how exercise also affects your gut microbiome? Researchers from Rutgers University and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are showing that exercise also has an impact on the amount and type of bacteria in our gut. Experiments have been carried out on mice and humans. One human study looked at previously sedentary lean and obese individuals, and after 6 weeks of supervised cardiovascular exercise lasting a half our to an hour in duration, the composition of their gut microbiomes changed. Certain kinds of bacteria that produce a short chain fatty acid called butyrate, which is associated with positive gut health, increased in number. There was a difference between the concentrations of butyrate-producing bacteria in lean participants in comparison to the obese participants, so there is still more research to be done. These levels of bacteria also decreased after the participants returned to a sedentary lifestyle 6 weeks later, further establishing the link between exercise and the growth of positive species of bacteria.
There are many mechanisms that may contribute to the increase in butyrate-producing bacteria, but scientists are still not sure why the change takes place. This is one area where more research is being done. Possible mechanisms include altered gene expression of immune cells in gut tissue, changing the mucus composition of the gut, raising the core body temperature, which results in less blood flow to the intestines, or increasing the activity of bile acids and lactate levels.
Keep It Simple
Now that we have another reason to get moving, how do we incorporate this into our practice? A few times a week, you should try to really push your heart rate. Most people might turn to running or cycling, but you can turn any exercise into a "cardio" exercise.
One of the most underrated ways to increase your aerobic activity is getting up and down from the ground. In the video below, I demonstrate a MovNat-inspired exercise that is amazing in many ways. This exercise is particularly useful for establishing proprioception, balance, core strength, shoulder stability, and hip mobility. It is the essence of "functional" movement in my eyes because it can increase your athletic skill, or it can simply help you be more efficient at getting up from the ground.
Start on your back, then sit up and place one hand right next to your hip and pull the opposite heel in close to your butt. Lift your butt of the ground and pull the free knee under you as you come into a tripod position with your two feet and one hand. Push yourself to standing, then reverse the order to return to the ground. Once you master the movement try adding in a kick through or jumps into the transition, as seen in the video below. You will be surprised at how quickly your heart rate can spike after just a few reps of this exercise.
Try throwing in 5 minutes of this exercise in the middle or your normal cardio routine. For example, if you run, run for 10 minutes, then try a get-up for 5 minutes before going back into your run. You can also put this on the beginning of your run for a 5 minute warm-up or throw it on the end of your run for a 5 minute finisher to spike your heart rate before a cool-down and stretch.
The keto diet is buzzing right now, but what exactly does it mean, and is it for everyone?
Well, ketosis is pretty cool for a number of reasons. Whether you are aware of it or not, your body has likely entered ketosis from time to time.
We enter ketosis in 2 scenarios:
-when we deprive our bodies (almost completely) of glucose
-when we fast for ~12-15 hours
Ketosis isn't an all or nothing deal. We can be in mild or full-fledged ketosis, or not at all. When glucose isn't available as a result of one of the above scenarios, Ketones are created as an alternate fuel. At this point, some interesting things happen.
In even mild ketosis, our antioxidant production is ignited (up to 150 g antioxidants/day). Ketosis also stimulates the production of beta hydroxybutyrate, the ultimate source of fuel for mitochondria. These guys are the powerhouses of our cells and when they aren't firing correctly, you can expect disease to set in. Ketones help mitochondria produce ATP. By increasing ATP, ketones reduce the generation of free radicals, increase production of endogenous glutathione, and act as an anti-inflammatory agent.
Ketones also reduce inflammation and oxidation throughout the body but especially in the brain. This is because the brain rapidly takes up ketones, an easily digestible fuel source that is small enough to cross the blood brain barrier (the liver converts MCTs to ketones). If ketones are present even at low levels they increase cerebral blood flow as much as 40%. Studies have shown that increasing ketones is a great strategy to block ionizing radiation and for controlling tremors.
To maximize ketones:
-Reduce carbs. This doesn't have to look like cutting them out completely. In fact, having such a stark transition from a carby diet to none at all can cause some crazy symptoms like the carb flu, the keto rash, and other undesirable effects. Be gentle with your body and remember that it doesn't like extremes but rather thrives in moderation. We like to follow the diet recommended through the RESTART program, allowing for non-starchy vegetables and low sugar fruits while avoiding starchy carbs, refined sugars, grains, and processed foods (RESTART will be offered again in January 2020 Athens, GA peeps!)
-Use a form of intermittent fasting by eating in a 6-8 hour span. This could look like not eating after 7 pm and waiting until 11-noon to eat your first meal the next day. Use MCT oil, grass fed butter, coconut butter, or coconut oil in your coffee or tea to sustain you until your first meal
-make these keto muffins! Recipe below :)
6 large eggs
1/4 c olive or toasted sesame oil
½ cup tahini (on the runnier side is best-we love this kind)
1 c raw cashews
½ c raw pumpkin seeds
2 tsp apple cider vinegar
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
Sesame seeds and/or pumpkin seeds to garnish
Preheat oven to 350. Use butter and almond flour to grease and flour a muffin tin.
Add all ingredients listed in order to a food processor or high powered blender. Blend well until you have a completely smooth, creamy batter. You will likely need to scrape down the sides. Use a spatula to empty mixture into your lined loaf pan. It will be sticky! Wet your spatula and smooth out the top, or pick up the pan and drop it a few times on a hard table to even out the batter.
Top with sesame and flax seeds and put on middle rack in oven for 35 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes and then use overhanging parchment paper to transfer to marble slab or wire rack (you can also transfer to cutting board, it just won’t dry as quickly or evenly). When completely cool, you may slice and serve. I like to slice a piece as I need it and keep the whole loaf stored in the fridge in an airtight bag. Just make sure it is completely cooled before storing. It will last on counter for 3 days or in fridge for over a week, but you will eat it all before that time comes!
Scientific Name: Ferula asafoetida (Latin ferula, “carrier”; asa, “resin”, and foetidus, “smelling fetid”)
Common Names: Devil's dung, Stinking gum, Food of the gods, and Giant fennel, Hing
Taste/Energetics: Bitter, warm, grounding, stimulating
Parts Used: gum resin from the rhizome and root of plant
Actions: antispasmodic, carminative, digestive, expectorant, laxative, and sedative, antispasmodic, expectorant, stimulant, emmenagogue and vermifuge.
About the plant: Native to Central Asia, eastern Iran, and Afghanistan. Ferula looks like a giant parsley plant. The tap root resembles a massive carrot. They are harvested when they are 4-5 years old in early spring before the plants flower. The roots are cut where stems protrude to allow it’s milky latex to pour out. The stinky, milky exudates are scraped off and collected, creating fresh wounds for more asafoetida gum resin harvesting.
Fun fact: Asafoetida has been used historically as wolf bait
Uses: Asafoetida is perhaps the most pungent and prevalent spice throughout Central Asia and the Middle East. Some say it’s what makes Indian food taste Indian. Asafoetida is what provides that onion-y, warming, mysterious flavor so characteristic of Indian and Persian food. Asafoetida has an extensive history of use as both a food and medicine. (As a low FODMAPPER with a tendency to be dry-skinned, cold-natured, and slow to digest, Asafoetida has become my best friend, but more on this later).
For one, Asafoetida has an incredible taste. I would say it is a combination of miso, onion, garlic, and saffron with a touch of egg. It’s such a complex and intense flavor that a little bit goes a really long way. Asafoetida accentuates other herbs which is why it is traditionally mixed into blends like Kitchari (a popular blend for stewing veggies and flavoring rice and lentils; I adore it on scrambled or fried eggs) and Hingvastak churna, a digestive blend used in Ayurveda for those with a cold digestion by nature.
Asafoetida has a history of being used for nervous, digestive, and respiratory system conditions and afflictions. Asafoetida was once used to treat hysteria, although these days we refer to that as a good ole’ sedative. Going along with it’s calming nature, it also can thin the blood and lowers blood pressure.
As a respiratory system aid, it’s used for ameliorating spasmodic, inflamed conditions like bronchitis, asthma and whooping cough. Additionally, the volatile oil in the gum is eliminated through the lungs, making this an excellent treatment for asthma. It’s indicated for those with “spasmodic tightness” in their lungs, given the feeling of incomplete breath/air hunger. In Ayurveda, the Traditional Medicine of India, it is said to nourish and relieve stagnation of the nervous tissue for cases of sciatica, paralysis, and epilepsy (cold conditions).
As a digestive aid, it has a few mechanisms of action. For one, it is invigorating to any stagnant gut condition, stimulating blood flow, digestive juice secretion, and peristalsis to get things moving and grooving. It’s high volatile oil content acts as a carminative, popping gas bubbles left and right and relieving lower abdomen distention. Therefore, it’s great for gas! In Ayurveda, it is one of the primary herbs indicated for people with a cold and dry constitution (vata). People with a vata constitution have a hard time regulating heat in their body. Their digestion is often slow, yielding gas, belly distention, and constipation. On that same note, Asafoetida can clear coldness and stagnation in the uterus, regulating periods and easing spastic cramps. It is said to warm the uterus and stimulate menstruation. And it’s great for low libido (often the case of low blood flow, invigoration in the nether regions). Hing is also known to reduce Candida growth and other pesky, unwanted gut flora, viruses, and worms. (they are probably turned off by how stinky it is!). In fact, Asafoetida was used to combat the flu during WWI because of its antiviral properties
Contraindications: Do not use in medicinal/high dosage quantities. In large amounts, an abortifacient quality has been noted due to it's stimulating qualities.
Simple, Savory Kitchari Egg Recipe
In a cast iron skillet, melt 2 tbsp grass fed butter or ghee on medium-high heat. Add 1 tsp of kitchari spice and ¼ tsp paprika. Let infuse into the butter for a few minutes until the kitchen is smelling fragrant and lovely. When you can hear it sizzling, crack an egg into the buttery spices. Top with a bit of sea salt, black pepper, and freshly shaved pecorino or parmesan cheese. Let cook on medium-high for 1 minute. Flip over and douse with a few shakes of Coconut aminos. Cap the pan with a lid and turn the burner off but leave the pan on the burner. Meanwhile. Slice up half an avocado and whip up some dijonaisse using the ratio of 1:3 - dijon:mayo (just make sure it’s coconut oil or avocado oil mayo- we don’t want any rancid vegetable oils inflaming our breakfast!) At this point (about 4-5 minutes later), the kitchari egg should be totally cooked. Remove it from the pan and slide it onto the sliced avocado. Top with a dollop of dijonnaise. Fresh chopped parsley and crispy almond crumbs, toasted coconut, and/or bacon bits adds a nice finishing touch!
Common Names: Linden, Lime Tree, Basswood
Scientific Name: Tilia sp.
Varieties: 30 known (and 80 cultivated) species with varying medicinal qualities. The most well-known medicinally are: T. cordata, T. americana, T. platyphyllos
Taste: sweet, slightly bitter
Energetics: aromatic, cooling, soothing
Parts Used: young leaves, buds, and flowers. Bark, sap, and leaves have also been used as food (Forêt, 2015).
Actions: Anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, anxiolytic, astringent, cardio-tonic, demulcent, diaphoretic, diuretic, hypotensive, nervine, stomachic, vasodilator
Constituents: Calming volatile oils, quercetin glycosides, kaempferol glycosides, mucilage (Tilgner, 1999)
,The sweet scent and delicious taste of Linden alone is enough to make anyone fall in love with this tasty tree... not to mention its long list of healing properties.
The genus Tilia includes 30 species with varying degrees of medicine. The most popular Tilia species, T. cordata or Littleaf Linden, lights up European streets with its lovely aroma. It has been used for centuries as a nervine; in fact, the oldest Tilia cordata is 2000 years old, residing in Gloucestershire, England and is still producing medicine today (Kleiman & Cavanaugh, 2018). Tilia americana, American Linden or Basswood, is native to the eastern United States. Basswood is a bit less medicinal than its European relative, although it is still an effective remedy for an overburdened nervous system.
Linden can grow over 130 feet and is resilient to environmental pollutants and temperature extremes. Linden’s solid, steady and strong nature indicate its ability to strengthen, protect, and help its users rise above the struggles of life.
As a gentle yet effective nervine, Linden is equally beneficial to the very young, very old and feeble, those on medication, and everyone in between. Tilia is specific for nervous tension held in the heart. Linden’s action in both the cardiovascular and nervous system illustrate how the body doesn’t ever operate in isolated systems. As a vasodilator and relaxant to heart musculature, Linden gives an oxygenated sense of relief, easing the mind and calming the heart at the same time. This complementary set of actions is why Linden is known as a prophylactic for arteriosclerosis and hypertension (Tilgner, 1999). But don’t start enjoying Linden’s benefit before it’s too late: according to famous French herbalist Maurice Mességué, “One cannot start taking [Linden] soon enough”.
Consider Linden for any dry, hot, inflamed, uncomfortable states. Dry throats and fussy fevers are soothed by its cooling, demulcent qualities. This demulcent has the duel benefit of being an astringent too, meaning it tones weepy, leaky tissue and ensuring that moisture is locked in (Forêt, 2015). The same goes for hot, irritated, upset stomachs. Linden after meals brings calm and easy digestion.
Use Linden for the breadth of anxiety disorders, from grief, fear, depression, insomnia, shock from trauma, and general nervous tension. Linden aids the adrenals, the tiny but powerful organs that pump out stress hormones. Linden has been shown to possess corticosteroid-sparing properties during high-stress situations. Linden can also shorten the duration of viral infections (Tilgner, 1999). Its cooling qualities can shorten a fever and improve a cranky, diarrhea-prone digestion.
Dosage & Preparation: Pour just boiled filtered water over 1-2 tsp of fresh or dried leaves. Steep for 10 min and drink 1-3 c/day. You can also make a cold infusion by pouring room temperature water over leaves/flowers and letting slow steep over night. Drink cool in the morning for a refreshing start to the day. As a fresh or dried tincture, take 1 dropperful 1-3 times a day. Young leaves in the spring can be enjoyed as a salad green.
Plays Well With:
Nervous system: Damiana, Lemon Balm, Oat, and Licorice (found in our Take it Easy Tea!)
Cardiovascular System: Hawthorne, Motherwort, Pomegranate
Digestion: Marshmallow, Tulsi, and Chamomile for hot, cranky digestion; Cardamom, Orange peel, Rose, and Licorice for after-dinner digestif
Throats and Colds: Marshmallow, Cherry bark, Licorice, and Elderberry
Kleiman, J., Cavanaugh, N. (2018). Open Up Your Heart and Let Linden Play! Railyard Apothecary
Tilgner, S. (1999). Herbal medicine from the heart of the earth. Creswell, OR: Wise Acres Press, Inc.
Keyes, J. Linden. Herbs for Mental Health. Retrieved 2019. https://herbsformentalhealth.com/linden/
Forêt, R. (2015). Linden Flower Tea Benefits. Herbs with Rosalee.
Flickr Creative Commons - Tilia pictures by Johannes Shwanbeck, Marco Verch, and Joshua Allen
This article is written by fellow Blue Ridge School of Herbal Medicine Graduate and Physical Therapy student, Kai Leathers, Asheville, NC.
In my freshman philosophy class, I remember learning that I must always define my terms. So what do I mean by a “sustainable movement practice”?
Sustainable is a word that is thrown around a lot lately, but what does it actually mean? It doesn’t just mean happy chickens and ethically-sourced ingredients. Sustainable is simply the quality of something that will last, something that can be maintained for a long time.
Movement is just what it sounds like, deliberately moving your whole body. Why did I not say exercise? While exercise is certainly important, I am talking about something more fundamental than exercise. A sustainable movement practice will be the foundation for whatever you do, whether it is formal exercise or just the way you move through the world in your job or at home.
Preferably this is something you will do habitually, and that is where the practice part comes in. This practice involves being mindful of how your body feels, really paying attention, and continually refining the movements.
So what we are talking about here is a way to develop a better relationship with our bodies, and a lifestyle based around movement. Jon Kabat-Zinn refers to mindfulness meditation as a way of “tuning your instrument before taking it out on the road” - that instrument being your mind. This movement practice is the same thing, except that instead of tuning your mind, you are tuning your body. You are tuning and adjusting your body to maintain its use. If you want to continue doing the things you love for as long as possible, I believe it is imperative to have a sustainable movement practice.
I have come up with three principles to follow in order to develop such a practice:
1) move often
2) move through a full range of motion
3) pick an achievable amount of time.
1. MOVE OFTEN
Our bodies are made to move, and when they don’t, things go wrong. Many of our chronic diseases can be caused or exacerbated by too little movement - a sedentary lifestyle. Therefore, these diseases can be prevented or mediated by adopting a more active lifestyle. When most people think of exercise or an “active lifestyle” they may think they have to pick up jogging, or start lifting weights. While those would be great additions to your daily routine, that is not what I mean when I say be more active. It would even be too simple to say, “Sit less”, because it is not THAT we sit, but HOW we sit that causes so much dysfunction.
Too often, people tend to focus on their formal exercise practice - their time spent in the gym or in yoga class - but then they neglect all their other waking hours. What is more important is the cumulative amount of time that you engage in low level activity - how you sit, stand, and what you do for work, and how you spend your free time.
This is one of the most important concepts to remember: Our bodies get used to whatever position we put them in most often.
Think about how often you bend forward to pick something up or how often your head hangs down and forward to look at your phone or computer. The more often you repeat a movement pattern, the more efficient your nervous system and muscles get at carrying out that movement.
Now, think about all the different ways you can move your body right now, in whatever situation you find yourself in. Look up, look down. Look over your shoulder. Reach overhead. Bend backward. Twist. Stand on one leg. March in place. Roll on the floor.
When we move our bodies, rotate and twist our limbs and breathe, blood is channeled to the places where it normally flows less efficiently. Your joints (where a bone meets another bone) inherently get very poor circulation, but when we move, we lubricate those joints and feed them nutrients. Movement nourishes your joints and the lymphatic fluid gets circulated and helps with your immune system and when you breathe you pump fluid in and out of the discs in between your spinal column. So the more often you move, the better.
2. THROUGH A FULL RANGE OF MOTION
Each one of your joints, such as your elbow or your shoulder, has a certain range of motion that it is designed for. As babies and kids, our range of motion is at its fullest capacity. As we get older, our muscles become short and tight or long and weak, as they adapt to the environmental stresses we most frequently expose them to. This length-tension relationship between muscle groups has a huge effect on the way your joints function.
Everyone has heard the phrase, “If you don’t use it, you lose it.” This is absolutely true of your joint range of motion. Very few adults can drop into a deep squat with their butt close to their heels and still keep their heels on the floor. This is because they stopped doing this motion. We were all capable of doing it as a child, but years of sitting in chairs and couches caused us to lose this ability. The same holds true for other joints and movements. Fortunately you can regain much of your range of motion and maintain what range you already have.
3. PICK A TIME
So much about behavior change is developing good habits. In order to develop a new habit, you need consistency. I find that setting a ten minute timer is a good way to start. Ten minutes a day may not seem like much, but once you develop a daily practice, you will probably notice that your body starts to feel better. Oftentimes, ten minutes turns into twenty minutes, because moving feels good! You will be surprised at how quickly ten minutes goes by.
It is easy to overlook the seemingly small things that we do each day and believe that they are unimportant. Many people often have this mindset about their formal exercise practice. They think, “If I can’t do my 45- minute workout today then I might as well not exercise at all.” From my hours spent around patients in physical therapy and seeing my father recover from a spinal injury over the course of three years, I have learned that every minute and every activity adds up to something bigger.
4. TRY THIS
Set a 10 minute timer and just move your body through a full range of motion. Be creative with it, and don’t worry too much about that voice in your head saying, “Am I doing this right?” Emphasize moving your body in all directions and different planes of motion. Twist. Reach. Roll. Slow down. Notice the miracle of how you can move any part of your body just by your brain telling it to. Nobody taught you how to walk, your body just knew how to do it. We take it for granted every day. See your body for the work of art that it is. Explore the movements with curiosity.
Check out the video below for a few ideas of what I include in my practice and post questions in the comment section or email me at email@example.com.
Nettle, Urtica dioica, Urticaceae
Parts Used: leaf, root, seed (leaf discussed here)
Energetics: salty, sweet, nutritive, drying, neutral
Habitat: Herbaceous perennial native to Europe, Africa, Asia and North America preferring open or partly shady habitats with plenty of moisture. Nettles are often found on forest edge, by rivers or streams and on roadsides. Now, Nettle has naturalized throughout the world and is often found growing in a streamside ditch
Actions: alterative, analgesic, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-ulcer, antiviral , anticancer, antibacterial, antifungal, antiandrogenic, diuretic, hepatoprotective, nutritive tonic
Active Constituents: Minerals, chloropyll, silica, terpenoids, carotenoids, including β-carotene, neoxanthin, violaxanthin, lutein and lycopene, fatty acids (palmitic, cis-9,12-linoleic and α-linolenic acids), a variety of polyphenols, essential amino acids and proteins, vitamins, tannins, carbohydrates, sterols, polysaccharides, and isolectins (Kregiel, 2018)
Nettles have been treasured through the centuries and for good reason: few other plans can boast such a robust list of medicinal uses, nutritional value, and textile fiber potential. The use of nettle in fabrics has been dated back to 2000 bc with burial shrouds found in Denmark. Hippocrates wrote about 61 remedies using Nettle.
1. Nutritive Tonic- Nettles are quite possibly the most vitamin and mineral-dense plant in Western Herbalism. They are one of the highest known sources of iron and chlorophyll (chlorophyll is what makes plants green and thriving, so when you eat it - you thrive, too!). Chlorophyll is incredibly cooling and alkalizing to the body, and its high content in Nettle plays a role in its powerful anti-inflammatory action. Nettle leaves are mineral rich, particularly high in iron, selenium, zinc, and magnesium. For this reason, Nettles are always indicated for weak, listless, pasty, and/or anemic people. Nettles contain 2x more antioxidant-rich polyphenols than cranberry juice (66.61 mg GAE) . Protein, Vitamin C, fiber, and silica - important for bones! - are also exceptionally high in Nettle. As a nutritive tonic, Nettle works best when taken regularly. Folk herbalists munch on Nettle in a variety ways - sautéed with eggs and other veggies, stewed in soups and broths, or blended into a pesto or smoothie are great ways to eat Nettle. It also makes a tasty simple tea. Nettle’s rich mineral content means it is excellent at strengthening bones and connective tissue, enhancing protein metabolism, building the blood and nourishing the entire body on a cellular level.
2. Diuretic - Nettles are supreme medicine for the entire urinary system. Plants with a “salty” taste let us know they are rich with minerals; this is common for kidney-specific plants like Horsetail, Dandelion, and Celery. Assessing Nettle holistically, you can see that it thrives in deep, damp soils. Using the doctrine of signatures, Herbalists throughout the ages have learned that Nettles also regulate dampness in the body. Pretty cool connection! Synthetic diuretics work solely in the urinary system, increasing liquid output and urination. Herbal diuretics, on the other hand, work much more holistically- they regulate liquids throughout the whole body, working systemically on the Water Element (Evolutionary Herbalism). Synthetic diuretics are used to relieve edema, swelling and gout, but in doing so, they also deplete potassium due to its high water solubility (no one wants to be peeing out precious minerals!). This is why potassium pills are often prescribed at the same time. Herbal diuretics like Nettles are brilliant in that they come equipped with minerals like potassium so that depletion is much less common. Nettles also have a toning, drying and astringent effect, bringing extra umph to cases of leaky, weapy, lax tissue states. Think of Nettle for cramping uteri, post childbirth, leaky gut, high/low blood pressure, and any inflamed puffy state.
3. Alterative - Alterative is an herbal action term that pertains to an herb’s effect on one’s ability to process and remove toxins systemically. Historically, alteratives like Echinacea- also known as Snake Root for this reason - were used to remedy snake bites because they helped the body cleanse itself of circulating toxins. For this reason, alteratives are commonly called “blood cleansers”, but their action is much more complex. Snake bites might not be as common today, but most humans living in the modern world have some degree of toxicity circulating inside. Nettle’s other actions as a diuretic and nutritive play into its role as an effective alterative. Nettle has traditionally been considered a “spring tonic” - folk herbalists would eat the young fresh leaves in the early spring to open up the channels of elimination after a stagnant winter season. Alteratives improve the removal of waste products, enhance metabolic functioning, improve the absorption and distribution of nutrients, and just make you feel fresh and great.
4. Anti-inflammatory - Because of its dank supply of chlorophyll, Nettle is able to cool and alkalize the body. Puffy, inflamed tissues are cooled, nourished, toned, tightened by Nettle’s touch. Arthritic joints, inflammatory GI conditions, excessive cardiovascular heat (often displayed by high blood pressure), and inflammation of the urinary and reproductive organs are especially relieved by Nettle.
Nettle works as a topical anti-inflammatory in a very unique way. Its rubefacient, or “counterirritant” action, is pretty unique to Nettle. Essentially, urticating (from the Latin world for Nettle, Urtica) is the historic practice hitting one’s inflamed, swollen joints and aches with the fresh plant multiple times. This action brings a flood of fresh oxygenated blood flow to the area, removing stagnant waste products (which are often the cause of pain) and feeding the area with nourishment. The stinging hairs, or trichomes, of Nettle include the smooth-muscle stimulating substances of acetylcholine, histamine, and 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT) along with formic acid, and serotonin.
How to take: As a food herb, we enjoy Nettles best at meal time. A spoon of Nettle pesto (mixed with other garden herbs like parsley or basil- check out our recipe below!) or a handful thrown into the soup pot are great ways to infuse your food with mineral rich Nettle. A warm or cold infusion of 3 tsp. Nettle (dried or fresh) in 1 qt filtered water. Drink throughout the day for a refreshing, cooling treat.
Plays Well With: You can find Nettle in our Wonderful Woman Tea for it’s toning, mineralizing, and astringent properties - perfect for moon time cramping and PMS.
-Due to its drying nature, we like to pair Nettle with a bit of moistening Licorice, Orange Peel, or Tulsi for a tasty, balanced drink.
-For a great bone builder, Nettle, Horsetail, Oat Straw, Dandelion, Rosemary, and Ginger make a stellar daily tonic.
-Soups! Simply through a handful in any soup for a hearty, mineral-rich addition
-Pestos! The deep, salty bite of Nettle plays will with other pesto herbs like basil and parsley. Add a handful of fresh to any pesto batch- just be sure you blend well so you don't sting your tongue!
-Muffins and Breads! A few tablespoons of dried Nettle leaves or powder will give your baked goods fortified nutrition
Contraindications: When consumed abundantly and/or out of balance of other moistening plants, Nettles can cause dryness. Nettles are generally safe, but high amounts might disturb anyone on diuretic pharmaceuticals. Always be sure to harvest the leaves before the flowering stage
Nettle Pesto Recipe
With gloves, basket, and scissors/pruners in hand, go find a nettle patch. Make sure the patch hasn’t flowered yet- harvesting already flowered nettle might cause urinary irritation. I like to use basic scissors to clip the nettle leaves right at the node, or where the next section of opposite leaves begin. This allows one fresh pairs of leaves present at the end of each nettle stem, facilitating more even and beautiful growth for the plant. Clip down to about the 2nd or 3rd node so that you are only getting the freshest tips of nettle. The older, larger leaves at the bottom of the plant are tougher and not as tasty. At the end of this process, you should have about 10 handfuls of leaves and stems (or the equivalent of 3 compacted cups of nettle leaf + stem).
Once inside, gently rinse nettle with colander. Using your scissors, clip off all the leaves and shove the woodier stems in a pot or jar. You can use these stems for teas and soup stocks. I will make a pot of boiling water and infuse the stems for about 10 minutes and keep this in my fridge to drink at my leisure. You can also freeze stems with other veggie scraps and bones for a soup stock base. When all your leaves are de-stemmed, very quickly steam them in a pan with a bit of salt, pepper, and water to de-sting them. Blending up the leaves fresh will also remove the sting from stinging nettle, but I like this extra step as a precautionary measure (I have had fresh nettle pesto where some of the stingers were still in tack- yowch!)
Once leaves have steamed, add about 2-2.5 cups worth (depending on how much you steamed them) to a blender. Add 1/2 c olive oil + 1 spoon tahini, 1 handful fresh parsley, juice and zest of 1 lemon, 2 handfuls of walnuts & flax seeds (about 1-1.5 cup, depending on the nuts you use), 2 tsp miso paste, a hefty pinch sea salt and crushed black pepper, and a dash of cayenne (optional: ½ cup pecorino or any hard goat’s milk cheese). Blend until smooth. Transfer to a jar and store in fridge for at least a week or in freezer. If you divvy them up into ice cube trays and freeze, you have perfect 1-portion servings for quick meals.
Popham, S. & Popham, W. (2015) Materia Medica Monthly, Vol. 2: Stinging Nettle, Urtica dioica.
Semalty, M., Adhikari, L., Semwal, D., Chauhan, A., Mishra, A., Kotiyal, R., & Semalty, A. (2017). A Comprehensive Review on Phytochemistry and Pharmacological Effects of Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica). Current Traditional Medicine, 3(3), 156-167.
Creative Commons, flickr. Ben Matthews, Diana Susselman, mfitaly
What's in RALLY?
Herbalism is all about the balancing energetics of herbs to meet the needs of the person taking them. A person with a hot constitution taking a heating herb daily because they heard it might be good for them isn't going to do much good at all (stay tuned for a post on understanding your constitution later!).
Well-balanced formulas, like the blends we create, are geared towards meeting the needs of the general population. RALLY is a blend we've been tinkering with for a while. As expert coffee drinkers and bonified herb nerds, we experiment with putting herbs in our coffee on the regular.
In time, we found the perfect formula of nutty, sweet roots, simultaneously uplifting and calming adaptogens, and flavorful digestive aids to make for an unforgettable cup of coffee. Adding RALLY to our coffee has elevated a mundane daily routine into a morning ritual with the power to sustain all day long. I even carry a little jar of it in my purse to top of my coffee when I'm out and about.
The Herbs in RALLY
Shatavari, Asparagus racemosus
A sweet, slightly bitter, warming and moistening root used as a medicinal food in Ayurveda, the traditional medicine of India. It soothes the lining of your entire gastrointestinal tract, reinvigorates dried tissue, enhances your ability to respond to stress, and improves immunity. It is also a well-known aphrodisiac.
Red Reishi, Ganoderma lucidum
A cherished heart and immune tonic in Traditional Chinese Medicine. It is fondly called the "Mushroom of Immortality" for its restorative qualities. Reishi is slightly sweet, bitter, pungent, and warming. It is a powerful anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and immune tonic, increasing or decreasing immune response depending on the individual (amphoteric). It can lower cholesterol and nourishes the liver.
Ashwaghanda, Withania somnifera
A slightly bitter, warm, and drying root used as a medicinal food in Ayurveda. It calms while also enhancing focus and mental and physical performance. Affectionately called "Sweat of the Stallion", it is known to invigorate and balance hormones. It's a nervine (nerve calming), immune-amphoteric, and anti-inflammatory agent.
Dandelion, Taraxacum officinale
Dandelion root has been used for ages to improves digestion from the stomach to colon. It is another Aster family plant rich with prebiotics that feed healthy gut flora. Dandelion root is a liver and gallbladder tonic, improving the quality of bile for better fat digestion and enhancing detoxification pathways.
Chicory, Intybus cichorium
A sweet, bitter, warming, and nutritious native root once used as a coffee supplement. As an Aster, Chicory is a prebiotic rich with inulin which feeds good gut flora. Chicory is known to enhance digestion and colon health. It is also anti-inflammatory and improves blood sugar and lipid levels.
Digestive, Flavorful Spices
Ceylon Cinnamon, Cinnamomum verum
A sweet, bitter, warm, and nutritive spice. It is a well-known blood sugar stabilizer, circulatory tonic, and respiratory health agent. It soothes the entire gastrointestinal tract.
Cardamom, Elettaria cardamomum
An aromatic, warm, and drying spice traditionally added to coffee in Ayurveda. It is carminative (dispels gas), alleviates stagnation throughout the body, and freshens breath.
How to Drink RALLY
The beauty of adding balanced adaptogens, blood-sugar stabilizers, and digestive aids to your coffee is threefold:
1. Your energy is sustained all day - by nourishing your adrenals, those tiny glands taxed with the huge responsibility of generating stress hormones, adaptogens can keep you from meeting that dreaded 3 o'clock crash. Blood-sugar stabilizers slow down the sometimes topsy turvy effects of caffeine. Drinking RALLY coffee with a fat also sustains the energy high much longer than drinking coffee straight.
2. RALLY reduces the common ill effects of coffee-drinking like indigestion, reflux, and jitters - Our digestive aid herbs like Dandelion, Chicory, and Cardomom, support digestion and foster an environment of good gut flora - soooo essential for overall health.
3. It's easy! You don't have to go out of your way to incorporate powerful, immune-boosting, stress-relieving herbs into your busy life - simply add a scoop of RALLY to your morning cup!
Recipe for the Ultimate RALLY Cup of Coffee
1. Choose a darker roast - they have less caffeine.
2. Always use 100% Arabica, shade-grown beans. Not only do they taste better, but shade-grown mimics the natural way coffee grows beneath the forest canopy.
3. Try to pair your coffee with a fat or protein like coconut oil, grass-fed butter, good quality milk, or collagen peptides. This slows the absorption of caffeine and mitigates the "acid-stomach" feeling some coffee-drinkers experience.
4. Mix 1/2 tsp RALLY, 1 scoop collagen, and a 1/2 tsp coconut oil and/or splash of your favorite creamer into 1 cup of coffee. Blend for a few seconds in a blender or use the incredible hand frother to incorporate the fat and herbs into your coffee. Sip slowly and enjoy thoroughly!
Panossian, A. G. (2003). Adaptogens: tonic herbs for fatigue and stress. Alternative & Complementary Therapies, 9(6), 327-331.
Wagner, H., Nörr, H., & Winterhoff, H. (1994). Plant adaptogens. Phytomedicine, 1(1), 63-76.
Winston, D., & Maimes, S. (2007). Adaptogens: herbs for strength, stamina, and stress relief. Inner Traditions/Bear & Co.
When we make dessert we like to make sure of a few things. It's paired with:
1. Lots of good fat
Fat slows down the absorption of sugar. This means two things: we stay satisfied longer and we don't overburden our organs- especially the pancreas.
The pancreas is an incredible organ taxed with the huge responsibility of getting sugar out of the blood. When we have too much sugar in the blood, those sugars bind with our blood cells rendering them clunky, ineffective and hazardous to our entire body. So basically, always eat fat when you eat sugar! We like grass-fed butter, ghee, and unrefined coconut oil for our saturated fats and extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil, and sesame oil for our unsaturated fats.
2. Sugar stabilizing herbs
In many clinical trials, Ceylon Cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum) has been shown to: promotes glycemic control, improve lipid parameters, reduce insulin resistance, and improve insulin action (Ranasinghe et al, 2012). It's likely no coincidence that cinnamon and sugar is a traditional combination. Our ancestors knew what was up!
This class of herbs could possibly be one of the modern human's greatest herbal allies. Adaptogens work by improving our body's perception of and response to stress, making us more resilient in the face of it. Think of it this way- we can't always control the amount of stress going on in and around us, but we can certainly control how we respond to these stressors. Our bodies are always responding to stressors large and small, emotional and physical, whether we are aware of it or not (if you haven't noticed, our bodies are really good at acclimating to sub-optimal environments and our minds are really good at distracting us from listening).
And the truth is- the modern world barrages us with constant, low-level stressors that our ancestral bodies have simply not adapted to handle. These chronic low-level stressors mean that our bodies are always pumping out stress hormones, leaving us depleted in some capacity at some point in time. Depression, autoimmune conditions, fatigue, inflammation, mood disorders, hormonal issues, lack of vigor- many argue that all these things could be traced back to chronic, low level stress (Sapolsky, 2004).
Adaptogens have been utilized by our ancestors in some form across the globe. They are tonic level herbs (meant to be taken regularly) that produce a non-specific response in the body (they increase our resilience to numerous stressors) while also having a normalizing effect (balancing us out no matter the direction we favor) (Winston & Maimes, 2007).
Science is in the midst of catching up to the magic of adaptogens, but the verdict is out: adaptogens rock! They come in all shapes and sizes and address countless modern complaints.
An important note on taking adaptogens: best practice is to stop any adaptogen routine during times of acute illness such as the flu.
1.5 sticks grass-fed butter
6 oz chopped bittersweet bakers chocolate
1 tsp instant coffee
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp ceylon cinnamon
1/4 tsp licorice powder
2 tbsp red Reishi powder
1 tbsp Shatavari powder
4 large eggs room temperature
1/2 c raw sugar
healthy pinch of sea salt
1/2 cup raw cacao
1 c heavy cream (coconut cream can work too!)
12 oz bittersweet chocolate
pinch sea salt
Preheat oven to 325 F.
Cut out a piece of parchment paper to fit a circular 8” pan. Place paper into pan. Set aside. Melt butter in a saucepan at a medium low heat. Add the Reishi and Shatavari, stirring constantly as the herbs infuse into the butter, about 5 minutes. Remove butter mixture from heat and add chocolate chips. Stir until smooth. Add the instant coffee and vanilla extract and set aside.
Whisk or mix eggs, sugar, and salt until your mixture has grown in volume (this takes around 5 minutes with a hand mixer). Next, slowly add your chocolate-butter mixture as you continue mixing. Fold in cacao, cinnamon, and licorice. Mix until completely combined. Pour the batter into your prepared pan. Bake for 30 minutes at 325. The edges should appear "baked" but you want the center a bit gooey still. Remove from oven and cool at room temperature completely before transferring to a fridge. Let chill for 5 hours.
Bring 1-2" water to a low boil/simmer in a sauce pan. Top with a double boiler. Add chocolate and cream to the double boiler and let melt, stirring occasionally until you have a smooth consistency. Add a pinch of sea salt. Drizzle over your chilled cake until it's completely covered. Chill again for another hour. Serve with whipped cream and enjoy!
Engels, Gayle & Brinckmann, Josef. 2012. HerbalGram: Cinnamon, Issue 95. American Botanical Council
Ranasinghe, P., Perera, S., Gunatilake, M., Abeywardene, E., Gunapala, N., Premakumara, S., ... & Katulanda, P. (2012). Effects of Cinnamomum zeylanicum (Ceylon cinnamon) on blood glucose and lipids in a diabetic and healthy rat model. Pharmacognosy research, 4(2), 73.
Sapolsky, R. M. (2004). Why zebras don't get ulcers: The acclaimed guide to stress, stress-related diseases, and coping-now revised and updated. Holt paperbacks.
Winston, D., & Maimes, S. (2007). Adaptogens: herbs for strength, stamina, and stress relief. Inner Traditions/Bear & Co.
This berry has our hearts, livers, immune systems, adrenals... Come to think about it, what can't this plant do?
chisandra is a longstanding adaptogen with the sort of gentle healing touch we could all use. With the summer heat in full-force, we have been enjoying Schisandra as a cool drink paired with Licorice root powder, Holy Basil and lemon. We decoct 1-2 tsp. of Schisandra berries in 10 oz filtered water for 5-10 minutes. We remove from heat and add fresh Holy Basil and an organic lemon wedge. Cap this with a lid and let steep for 15 minutes. Add a bunch of ice to the hot water or let cool in the fridge before enjoying the cooling, calming, enriching benefits of this powerful tonic strength berry. Read on for the full Materia Medica on our favorite "Five Flavor Berry".
Schisandra Materia Medica
Scientific Name: Schisandra chinensis
Taste/Energetics: Sour, sweet, bitter, pungent, warm, dry
Actions: Adaptogen, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, astringent, antiasthmatic, hepatoprotective, immune amphoteric, refrigerant, stimulant, cardiovascular tonic
Parts Used: berries/seeds
Uses: Schisandra is a prolific herb in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) where it is known as Wu Wei Zi, which translates to the 5-Flavor Fruit. We call it the everlasting gobstopper of the herbal world. Its broad spectrum of flavor means it has the breadth to benefit many organ systems.
In TCM, it is also said to enhance the 5 yin organs: liver, kidneys, heart, lungs, and spleen. Basically, when you hear yin, think nourishing.
Schisandra “astringes the jing”, which means it remedies conditions caused by excessive fluids as in diarrhea, frequent urination, and excessive discharges (vaginal, sweat, mucus, premature ejaculation). Its ability to reduce excessive fluid means it is very useful for night sweats and menopausal conditions. In Chinese medicine, the kidneys allow the lungs to fully inhale; Schisandra helps the kidneys “grasp the lungs”, allowing for stronger respiration and the ability to take deeper breaths and have more productive coughs. Paired with its anti-inflammatory, antihistamine, and relaxing qualities, it is very useful for asthma and shortness of breath.
Schisandra “calms the shen”. The shen is stored in the heart and represents the spirit or our consciousness; disturbed shen yields anxiety disorders, ADHD, and emotional/mental debility. By calming the shen, it is used for those with stress-induced cardiac issues, chronic insomnia, and anxiety disorders. Schisandra is incredibly beneficial food for the liver. It possesses the ability to regenerate hepatocytes- liver cells- and increase a powerful endogenous antioxidant, glutathione. Clinically, its been shown to protect us from liver damage and promote healing.
Schisandra is one of the more stimulating of adaptogens, mildly stimulating CNS activity. Interestingly, it simultaneously enhances reflexes, mental and physical performance while also calming and relieving anxiety (when herbs work both ways like this, we call them amphoterics). Schisandra has also been found to have normalizing power over blood pressure, elevating hypotensive states and reducing hypertensive states- likely due to its calming properties.
Safety: Increases the effects of barbiturates. Best practice is to discontinue the use of tonic strength adaptogens during times of acute illness.
Dosage: 400-500 mg capsule 2-3x day/ 1-2 oz dried berries in 10 oz water, decocted for 5-10 min, steep 20-30 min 3x day/ 20-40 drops tincture 2-3x day. As a tonic strength adaptogen, take 5-6 days a week consistently for at least 3 weeks. Bodies love regularity but they also love breaks. It is wise to take a week off every 5-6 weeks for any tonic herbal regime.
Plays Well With: Bacopa, Milky Oats, and Rhodiola for ADHD; Lemongrass, Holy Basil, and Hibiscus for the ultimate cooling drink; Milk Thistle, Turmeric, Artichoke Leaf, and Beet juice for liver health; Dang Shen and Prince Seng for wheezing, asthma, and general debility/chronic fatigue; Licorice, Cinnamon, and Fu Ling mushroom for strengthening vitality of lung and kidneys (this formulation is called Gui ling wu wei gan cao tang in TCM).
Upton, Roy. Editor. Schisandra berry (Schisandra chinensis): Analytical, quality control and therapeutic monograph. American Herbal Pharmacopoeia and Therapeutic Compendium. Santa Cruz, CA; 1999:1-25.
Winston, David, and Steven Maimes. Adaptogens: herbs for strength, stamina, and stress relief. Inner Traditions/Bear & Co, 2007.
Scientific Name: Althea officinalis
Family: Malvaceae (the same family that brings you Okra, Mulberries, and Hibiscus!)
Etymology: Althea from Latin altho, “to heal”; officinalis indicating its placement in the official pharmacopoeia of medicine, medieval Latin
Taste/Energetics: cooling, soothing, neutral/slightly sweet
Parts Used: all parts, especially dried root
Actions: anti-inflammatory, anti-tussive emollient, demulcent, diuretic, vulnerary
Uses: Wherever there’s an itchy, hot, inflamed situation, think Marshmallow. Marshmallow root is a cooling, soothing mucilage that resolves irritated epithelium both inside and out. Mucilages are polysaccharides- slimy, thick, moistening and cooling in nature. Mucilages like Marshmallow root are interesting in that they resolve inflamed states without penetrating the cells at all- rather, the mucilage acts physically rather than chemically, coating the skin’s surface with a soothing, protective barrier to allow healing to take place. This non-intrusive quality makes it especially safe for infants, infirm, and elderly to use and makes it paramount medicine for any digestive condition characterized by inflamed, irritated tissue and ulcers. The slippery nature of Marshmallow means it can also acts as a gentle laxative.
Marshmallow has an affinity for tissue of the digestive and urinary systems. Stephen Bergner calls it the band-aid of the stomach for this reason. Think of Marshmallow for any case of heartburn and irritable bowel or as a mouthwash for inflamed gums (remember that the lining of the mouth is contiguous with the entire digestive tract).
Marshmallow not only cools and soothes, but it’s vulnerary action means it heals wounds. Traditionally it was used in topical poultices for injuries. Its hydrophilic nature means it retains heat, allowing the heat to penetrate more fully when used as a warm compress for sprains and swelling.
The epithelium of the gut is similar to that of the throat- therefore, Marshmallow is an ally during cold and flu season. Sore throats and painful coughs are calmed by Marshmallow. It also stimulates phagocytosis, the process by which the immune system destroys pathogens. Rosalee De le Foret recommends Marshmallow root for lingering post-infection coughs, dry coughs, and unproductive coughs. As a urinary system anti-inflammatory, it is an effective remedy for the hot, inflamed and irritated conditions of bladder infections, cystitis, kidney stones, and frequent UTIs.
Preparation/Dosage: Cold infusion is ideal for retaining the cooling qualities - put 1-3 tbsp of dried herb, tied up in a satchel or loose, in cool, filtered water. Let infuse overnight and strain in the morning. Drink throughout the day to soothe chronically irritated guts or prevent heartburn. Hot or cool compress (depending on your needs) - simply place a clean cotton rag into your marshmallow tea and wrap around irritated, swollen, or inflamed skin.
Contraindications: According to King’s American Dispensary (1898), the infusion or decoction may be freely administered. In modern times, take several hours after taking prescription medications as it may inhibit the absorption.
dela Foret, Rosalee. 2010. Learning Herbs
Pengally, Andrew. 2004. The Constituents of Medicinal Plants
Eileen Schaeffer & Amy Wright
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