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Herbs and Herbalism

Herb Profile: Rose

It’s June, herbology faeries! If you’re in the northern hemisphere like me, it’s the month of warming temperatures, lengthening days, bugs and blooms, and the summer solstice. Here’s hoping for lots of energizing sunshine to brighten the days!

I have decided to try something here on the blog and concentrate my focus on one or two plants per month. (It will probably depend on the month and my mood!) So, to start off June, let’s talk about a quintessential June plant—roses!

There are many types of roses, but in culinary and body care contexts it’s best to stick with strongly scented varieties. Use wild roses if you can! (And stay away from pesticide-treated and florist-bought roses.) You can use the petals, buds, leaves, and hips (fruit) of roses.

Roses are an age-old herbal ally, and are best known to represent love. Health-wise, they are great for your heart, pain, PMS, inflammation, blood pressure, stress, anxiety, and insomnia, so that’s not hard to understand! They are great tasting and mood-elevating, too. And rose hips are incredibly rich in vitamin C and are often used as in immune system booster. Roses are considered sour, drying, and cooling, with astringent, analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and nervine properties.

And now, for the fun part: a few of my favorite ways to use rose!

Rose, lavender, and chamomile tea (alone or with other additions such as green rooibos, mugwort, green tea, lemon balm, and/or dried or fresh berries)

Rose and cardamom (with or without additions like mint, nettle, cinnamon, citrus, and/or fennel) tea

Rose, mint, and cacao nib tea

Rose-infused honey

Rosewater-infused desserts (cakes, scones, cookies, fruit salads)

Dried rose petals in skincare products and loose leaf incense


Which ways do you love to incorporate rose into your botanical creations?

Sources:

“Rose Monograph.” LearningHerbs, December 28, 2016. https://herbmentor.learningherbs.com/herb/rose/#botanically-speaking/.

de la Forêt, Rosemary. Alchemy of Herbs. New York: Hay House, Inc., 2017.

Categories
Herbs and Herbalism

Herb Profile: Rooibos

I decided to start this series of herb profile posts with what may be a bit of an unusual choice. Rooibos is very widely consumed in tea form and is probably in some of the decaf tea bags in your kitchen cabinet right now! But it isn’t often high on the list of plants associated with herbalism. Yet, rooibos is one of my absolute favorite herbs, and one I would not like to live without! So, read on to learn more about this cozy and versatile plant.

A Bit of Background:

Rooibos grows mainly in South Africa and is a shrub-like plant. It is prepared much like tea leaves: regular or red rooibos is oxidized or fermented like black tea, whereas green rooibos undergoes a similar process to green tea. Their tastes and benefits are also quite comparable, with the main exception being rooibos is caffeine free and actually contains much higher levels of antioxidants than tea! Also, the taste varies in that rooibos has a bit of a sweet, cinnamon-y tartness that is absent in black tea.

Health Benefits:

Rooibos is purported to carry with it a host of benefits. Full of antioxidants and polyphenols, it is said to be an immune-boosting, inflammation-busting, blood sugar-regulating wonder.

On a personal and anecdotal note, I find both varieties of rooibos to be earthy, grounding, delicious, and cozy! It meets my standards of a highly hygge herb. I love drinking it hot or cold, any time of year.

Recipe Time!

It is hard to go astray blending rooibos with other herbs for tea blends. It is often my go-to base ingredient for anchoring tea blends and giving them a full-bodied, satisfying, cozy flavor. To get you started, here are a few of my favorite simple combinations for rooibos-based teas:

Red rooibos—

Rooibos + chai spices

Rooibos + chamomile + ginger

Rooibos + mint + cacao nibs + fennel

Green rooibos—

Green rooibos + tulsi + dandelion root + ginger

Green rooibos + dried fruit + chamomile

Green rooibos + elderflower + ginger + calendula

Are you a fan of rooibos? Or if you’ve never tried it, are you ready to now?

Categories
Herbs and Herbalism

Where to Buy Herbs: Tips for Budding Herbalists

Are you just starting out on your herbalist journey, and you’re not sure where to buy herbs (not to mention which ones to buy—which I’ll be talking about in another upcoming blog post)? I, too, started out a bit overwhelmed and unsure of what would be the best way to come by herbs for teas and other recipes. So, today I am going to save you a bit of the leg work and share what I’ve learned with you. There is no one right or wrong way to buy herbs, but being as I formed as you can be will help you weigh all the factors when you’re deciding what’s best for your own practice.

Local options

Let’s begin with your local options. It is always good to focus heavily on local herbs for your practice, both to work with plants sharing your own environment and also to support local businesses. (It’s also better for the environment to buy them locally!) This isn’t always easy, however. Some of you may be lucky enough to live in a town or city with local herbalists selling high quality herbs, but others like me? Not so much. There are a few other options, however.

First off, check your local supermarket! Not everything you’re looking for will be there, but some things will. You best believe I get cinnamon sticks, cloves, and cardamom pods at the grocery store. Don’t forget to check out the produce and garden sections for fresh options, too.

Is there a weekend farmers market local to you? That’s another worthwhile place to check for herbs, or even plants you can take home and grow yourself. And speaking of growing them yourself, if that’s an option for you, you might consider it. Just keep in mind it takes a lot of work for a small yield.

Foraging can be another option in some locations, but it’s best to take precautions and care. Make sure you’re educated on local plant safety, and think about finding an experienced foraging mentor to teach you what they know. Also, be sure to know how to forage carefully for the sake and longevity of the plants, and take only what you need.

Online

If you’re like me, navigating online shopping options tends to be the most realistic choice for most dried herb purchases. However, it can be tricky to know where to start and who to trust.

For starters, I am going to establish here and now that while I am not a fan of the dark side of Amazon, I am also not a snob about Amazon shopping. Some people don’t have the privilege of choosing other places to make purchases. I am sometimes one of those people. I will say, though, if you shop for herbs on Amazon, you’re going to find it’s a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to quality and even prices. Definitely research all your options before deciding Amazon is the way to go.

Many small herbal retailers have online shopping options, so do keep that in mind! It’s great to be able to buy high quality herbs online and support a small business. Pricing is often a bit higher with these businesses, but you are paying for quality and service.

Another online option is Mountain Rose Herbs. They are a well-known online herb retailer with usually good prices. You do have to pay shipping, but this can be worth it if you’re buying in bulk. Also, they’re a reputable herb supplier with a wide variety of products and a pretty great website with recipes and tons of information! Many herbalists promote / endorse MRH.

Finally, if you’re still overwhelmed, try to focus on starting small with a few versatile herbs that can be used in many combinations and ways. In retrospect, I’ve found that there are several herbs I’ve bought that I rarely use! If you begin with staples (think chamomile, mint, ginger, and others), you’ll be able to build a good foundation. (Stay tuned for a whole post on this soon!)

Are there any other herbal resources I’ve forgotten? Let me know in the comments!

Categories
Herbs and Herbalism Tea

My Top 5 Tips for Tea Blend Formulation

If you’re just embarking on your adventure in the wonderful world of herbalism, the idea of tea blend formulation might seem daunting. Or, maybe you’re such a creative soul, it seems like it will be a no-brainer of an endeavor? Well, I am here to tell you that…it can be both.

But fear not! That is what this post is all about. I have spent more than a year mixing up tea blends from others’ recipes, creating my own unique recipes, and taking herbalism courses on this very topic. Some of the tricks I’ve learned have come from experts’ wisdom, and many others have come from my own-trial-and error. Below I will share my favorite tips and tricks for developing your own herbal tea blends.

Tip 1: Try to stick to SIX ingredients or fewer.

I have discovered the hard way that too many ingredients can really muddle up an herbal tea blend. Sometimes, I just get too excited and can’t help myself, though! I feel like a funny old witch in a Disney cartoon, throwing a little of this and a pinch of that and the last dregs from that jar over there into the “cauldron,” my mixing bowl. But instead of cute sparkly puffs of smoke and fireworks shooting out, I am left with a weird tasting mixture that makes no sense. “Didn’t I put mint in here? I can’t even taste it!”

Don’t be afraid to have fun and experiment with your formulations. Don’t be afraid to follow your instincts and see where they take you. But try not to let them take you further than the six-ingredient mark. From my experience, if you add more than six different herbs, you begin to lose the ability to pick out the unique and special flavors and actions the different ingredients bring to the mix.

The big exception to this is with teas like chai. When you absolutely KNOW your ingredients have amazing synergy (HELLO cinnamon, anise, cloves, nutmeg, black peppercorns, allspice, cardamom, fennel…) you don’t have to be so mindful of not overdoing it.

Tip 2: Start with a theme, purpose, or base herb in mind.

It always helps to have a starting point. I find that a theme, a desired purpose for the tea to serve, or even just a base herb can be a great jumping-off point.

My personal go-to is to begin by thinking from a seasonal perspective. There is something very natural and hygge about living life according to the Earth’s cycles and seasons. I am almost always in the mood for an herbal recipe based around the season for that very reason. Is it the middle of the summer? A cooling mint and hibiscus sun tea on ice hits the spot. Has autumn arrived? A combination with cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, and chamomile would be warming and soothing. You can’t go wrong with a seasonal blend.

If you want to think beyond seasonal themes, some other starting points could be based around a particular purpose you want the tea to serve. Maybe you have a wellness issue you’d like the tea to address, such as digestion, anxiety, or even a cold. There are herbs exquisitely suited for all those issues and more! Or maybe you want to base your theme around a special occasion (birthday tea party?), a holiday, or even a book/film/person who inspires you. Another starting point could definitely be culinary considerations–you can base a recipe around a particular taste you are craving. Pumpkin spice latte, anyone?

Finally, a super simple approach is to just choose a base herb as your starting point. Maybe you have an abundance of lavender growing in your herb garden? Or, maybe you are writing up a page on lavender for your herb journal? So, you choose to formulate a tea around that.

Tip 3: Mint Chocolate Chip Milkshake with Whipped Cream Topping.

Huh? I thought this blog was about herbs and tea?

Sorry–let me explain. See, many herbal educators use a version of a pyramid visual to explain tea formulation: the base herb that is the main, well, basis for the blend; the middle supporting herb that works together with the base; and the top accent or catalyst herb that adds balancing flavor or action to the mix. I know this system, and it makes sense, but I’ve come up with my own spin that is a bit more fun and really easy to wrap your brain around and remember. Hence, the Mint Chocolate Chip Milkshake with Whipped Cream method!

Here’s how it works–the mint is the main, direction-setting base herb. The chocolate chips are the super-essential supporting herb that just works perfectly with the base-slash-mint. And the whipped cream on top, the icing on the cake so to speak, is the accent/catalyst herb that adds that little something-something. See? Isn’t that a fun and easy way to remember it?

Tip 4: Don’t overthink it…but also start small!

At the end of the day, if you overthink the whole process of herbal tea blending, it’s going to suck all the fun out of it. So, if all else fails, just forget the rules and tips and go with the flow. Don’t be afraid to try something new! But…maybe stick with making a small amount for the first try of your new blend in case you don’t like it. As a rule of thumb, I tend to make about three teacups’ worth of a new blend at a time: enough to try it a couple times to make sure it’s good.

And don’t forget to write your recipe down as you go! Otherwise, you’re left sniffing that last little spoonful you have left, going through the herbs and trying to remember what went into it. Not that I know from experience. Nope, that has never happened to me. Not once…

Tip 5: Sticking to others’ recipes and recipe books is a totally legit method!

Maybe creating your own herbal tea blends is just not an ambition of yours. Maybe using others’ recipes is more your speed. If so, that is totally fine! And it doesn’t make you any less of an herbalist than anyone who does formulate their own blends.

Think of it this way: I love baking. But do I invent all my own cake, cookie, pie, and bread recipes myself? No way. I do not trust myself to understand the chemistry of baking well enough to make up my own recipes. Heck, I often just bake things from boxed mixes! But I still feel great and accomplished after baking something, whether I wrote the recipe or most definitely did NOT. And you can feel that way, too, if you utilize recipe books or online herbalists’ recipes to mix up herbal tea blends or any types of herbal recipes! It’s not a competition. It’s just getting more people enjoying making things with their own hands, and putting that creativity and ingenuity out into the Universe.

So, tell me: do you have any other questions about tea blending? Are you more ready than ever to hear my reviews of recipe books and my own shared recipes here? Or are you ready to dive into the herb jar with both hands? (I guess it had better be a pretty big jar, if that’s the case!)

Categories
Herbs and Herbalism Hygge

Welcome, Plant People!

Welcome, plant people! (As in plant lovers, herbalism enthusiasts, and tea connoisseurs; not so much the Little Shop of Horrors imagery that I am now afraid I’ve invoked. What a way to start a blog!)

Anywho. I am so glad you’ve found yourself here on this blog! The purpose is pretty simple, really. Here you will find my happy place, my mind palace, my little virtual garden-greenhouse-apothecary. It’s a place where I will share useful information, recipes, and ideas about all things herbalism, gardening, and experiencing nature.

Over the course of the last year, I have nurtured a deep love of herbalism, hygge, and nature reverence I have found within myself. The past year has been a doozy for everyone, and this seems to be one of the ways I am personally coping. It’s not a new endeavor; it’s a homecoming. And because so many others share my love for these things, I thought I would throw my hat in the ring and put my views out there.

What I feel is unique about what I bring to the tea table is my approach. Primarily, herbalism is a source of mental health support, a fulfilling hobby, a source of spiritual sustenance, and a creative outlet for me. I have found myself stuck at home for the majority of my time (and this has more to do with motherhood than the pandemic), so I am creating a fulfilling little cottagecore oasis for myself and my family with herbs and plants. I am also connecting to family traditions from the past, exercising my creative muscles, and fostering contentment in small and quiet ways.

As you might guess, I won’t share many peer-reviewed studies on how to balance your hormones or heal medical conditions with herbs here! That is not my intent or my focus at all. I am always conscious and in awe of the holistic benefits plants and plant-based diets can provide for our nutrition and health, and that definitely overlaps with what I will be discussing here. But I am not a medical practitioner, and I am not offering medical advice.

What you will see here might touch on such topics as:

  • Specific herbs, their tastes, and general health benefits
  • Ways to seek out herbal education yourself
  • Parenting and nature
  • Nature-based self-care
  • Herbalist traditions
  • Recipes
  • Apothecary supplies I use and love
  • Herbalism book reviews
  • Featured herbalists, artists, and makers I admire
  • Herbalism in fiction
  • And more!

Again, I am so glad you are here. I hope you continue to follow along and enjoy taking this journey with me!

-Anna, The Herbology Faerie