Cultivating Contemplation

Contemplative practices are those that quiet the mind and generate a state of reflection that holds a world of knowledge. These practices range from meditation, yoga, writing to walking, dance, and others. (Visit for more on contemplative practices.)

I find wintertime to be the perfect time to cultivate the contemplative practices that bring me inner peace. In my late teens, I found Tae Kwon Do. This martial arts practice taught me what can be accomplished with determination and a disciplined body and mind. Over the many years of training, it gave me confidence and a sense of joy for learning and growing physically and emotionally. It shaped me in so many ways. As I have aged, I have cultivated other contemplative practices like meditation, tai chi walks in the forest, and storytelling to nurture the spiritual part of my life.

For me, the keys to any contemplative practice are consistency and self-compassion. I’ll be honest, there are days when it is hard for me to sit still or go for a walk. There are high-stress moments and deadlines to meet – they seem more deserving of my attention. I don’t eat as well, I don’t sleep as well, and I feel out of sorts. Ultimately the groundedness I feel when I stay in tune to these practices and prioritize them, outweighs the alternatives. The more I make space for meditation or a walk in the woods, the greater the distance between a trigger or stressor and my response; I feel a greater sense of calm and awareness. 

What will you do during these darker, colder months that will allow you to emerge into the warmth of spring a more centered person? Perhaps you’ve been saying you want to write daily but have not made the time for it. Maybe you promise yourself that you will wake up 20 minutes earlier for some quiet, alone time but the snooze button is just too easy to hit in the morning.

I encourage you to try and stay consistent with whatever contemplative practice you enjoy. I leave you with these words from Stephen Covey, “Be patient with yourself. Self-growth is tender; it’s holy ground. There’s no greater investment.

chia tea ld

Chaga Chai:
A grounding and warming herbal beverage

Chaga mushroom has a rich, coffee-like taste and helps support the immune system. 


  • 8 oz water
  • 4 oz milk or non dairy milk of choice
  • 1 heaping tablespoon of black tea (optional)
  • 1 tbsp chaga powder
  • 4 cardamom pods smashed with side of a knife
  • 2 in. section of a cinnamon stick
  • 1-2, 1/4 ” slices of fresh ginger
  • Pinch of fennel seed, about 10 seeds
  • 5-6 black peppercorns
  • Honey or maple syrup to taste


  1. Add water, milk, spices and chaga powder to a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low, and allow to simmer for 20 minutes.
  2. Add tea. Steep tea about 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Strain into a cup and stir in honey to taste.

*Other herbs like dandelion or burdock can also be added to this drink

contemplative tree

The Tree of Contemplative Practices

Understanding the Tree

On the Tree of Contemplative Practices, the roots symbolize the two intentions that are the foundation of all contemplative practices. The roots of the tree encompass and transcend differences in the religious traditions from which many of the practices originated, and allow room for the inclusion of new practices that are being created in secular contexts.

The branches represent different groupings of practices. For example, Stillness Practices focus on quieting the mind and body in order to develop calmness and focus. Generative Practices may come in many different forms but share the common intent of generating thoughts and feelings, such as thoughts of devotion and compassion, rather than calming and quieting the mind. (Please note that such classifications are not definitive, and many practices could be included in more than one category.)

A New Year of Nourishment

January 1st marks Detox D-Day for many who practice the heroic or the scientific traditions of medicine. We all know what this looks like: a holiday season full of fatty richness and unhampered excess followed by a January resolute with green smoothies, lemon water cleanses, and partially used gym memberships. But in the Wise Woman Tradition, the new year marks a new season of nourishment.

We don’t cure or cleanse; instead, we enrapture and enrich. Instead of living the ‘out with the bad’ philosophy, we think ‘in with the good’, feeding our bodies and souls and treating them with kindness, compassion, and love. We don’t resolve to persistently scrub our colons and clear our livers, because our guts and our filtration systems are already doing that for us, 24 hours a day, and far better than we could ever do it with all the diets in the world. We don’t detox, because we aren’t dirty.

You’re Not Dirty, and You Don’t Need Cleaning

There is an overarching ethic – which gets its time in the spotlight at this time of the year – that we human bodies are walking dirtbags from years past and in order to start fresh, we must get clean first. But have we forgotten that our bodies are already doing this for us, cleaning, filtering, and ‘detoxing’ in our waking life and our sleep so that we can continue living each day as a fresh, whole, human beings? Each hour of each day, the body produces brand new cells and turns the old ones into waste products. Every minute, 1,450 milliliters of blood circulate through the liver after having been ‘cleaned’. Every 11 months, we have a completely new body made up of those brand new cells. We are renewed, replenished, re-nourished. And we didn’t even have to ‘detox’.

In the heroic tradition, which encompasses much of the alternative health world, pain is gain. Detoxing is purifying. The body is polluted, toxic, and sick, and only by hard work and careful cleansing can we get it clean again. We are filthy and must be controlled by regular detox rituals. Healing is the removal of everything bad from the body, and the addition of nothing.

In the scientific tradition of medicine, which represents much of western medicine as we know it, bodies are machines and herbs can be standardized into drugs, which fix machines. Health and sickness are always at opposite ends of the spectrum, and sickness is never a gift, never an opportunity, only a state that demands to fix. Healing the body through drugs and medicines helps the ‘machine’ to get back to a normal state of healthy function.

In the Wise Woman tradition, the world’s oldest system of healing and the one still practiced by the majority of indigenous cultures in the world today, good health is vibrancy, change, flexibility, and possibility. Health is an integrated both/and situation, rather than a black-and-white either/or dichotomy. Wholeness is ever-changing, unique, abnormal, and doesn’t involve eliminating the bad so much as including and honoring the whole. Nourishment is as simple and innocent as a steaming bowl of soup, as grounded as the powerful earth, as all-encompassing as the universal garden of healing, and as beautiful and perfect as you.

Resolve to Love Your Body for Its Pre-Existing Perfection

Trusting the body to provide you with your own optimum level of in-house cleanliness is part of trusting the body to do its job perfectly, provided that we offer it enough nourishment in terms of food, medicine, and emotional and physical engagement. It is like trusting the body to breathe, pump, and circulate the appropriate substances for those precious few hours of sleep you get each night.

This new year, consider resolving to love your body in its own perfect wisdom, rather than trying to scour every corner of it for bacteria and muck. The energy that you desire to put into detoxing is so valuable, but it would be so much better used in carefully choosing and preparing the foods that nourish your body, rather than trying to clear out any unwanted, invisible toxicity.

Those bacteria that we loathe are the same ones that grow the garden of our gut flora, those microbes that we want to purge are the same things that build up our immunity to viruses, and there is a good chance those toxins that we perceive are long gone, having being evacuated by our body’s own miraculous built-in detoxification system. Loving and nourishing yourself is a commitment to self-acceptance and self-awareness. Trust that your daily nourishing habits, like drinking nourishing herbal infusions, consuming nutrient-dense food, and using herbal medicine when appropriate, are enough.

How Can You Nourish this New Year?

Deep nourishment, soul-level, bone-level nourishment, comes from myriad different places. In the food world, we may grasp it from savory, warming winter broths and stews. We may suss it out of roasted root vegetables and lacto-fermented vegetables that are brimming with probiotics and the makings of good gut flora. And we definitely derive it from our daily nourishing herbal infusions, using the dense nutritional load of nettles, oat straw, linden, comfrey, and red clover to get our everyday doses of fully absorbable vitamins, minerals, and nutrients.

In the emotional world, we find nourishment from rewarding relationships, personal time spent with the spiritual self, and the wonderful hibernation period that the only winter allows for. Nourishment is all around us, nestled in the tree buds sleeping silently until spring, tucked under the first layer of snow in the chickweed that still blooms white beneath the January ice. This year is new, this year is nourishment, and this year, you can choose to nourish yourself in your personal perfection and in your own perfectly messy, perfectly clean soul and body.

Honor the Tree

by L.Cota Nupa Maka

Tuesday, January 15, 2019 5:24 PM | Wise Woman (Administrator)

The fun your family had picking out the Christmas tree? Has this been tarnished by our total lack of respect for it once we are done with Christmas. What do you do with your Christmas tree once you’re through with the holidays?

How do we honor the Christmas tree after it has shared its beauty and life with us? It saddens me to see the Christmas trees thrown out along the curb for the trash truck to gather. Indigene Art Forms I feel like we are a throwaway society and the lack of honor for a once living thing has been disrespected.

In the days when we use to have a fresh tree, how can I say a live one if it was cut down, we never just threw it on the garbage heap. The kids and I would undecorate it and then drag it out into the back yard. In the deep snow, we put a five-gallon pail and filled it with sand then set the tree in that to stand upright.

Then the fun part began with decorations made of cranberries and dry fruit. We took pine cones and mixed up a bowl of ground suet and bird seeds. Add some honey and peanut butter and you have a spread that can be put on the pine cones. With sticky hands, we packed the mixture in pine cones and hung them from the tree with wire. Old withered apples and carrots went on the tree during the winter months. Even a bagel or donuts found its way to the inner tree branches for the small birds to enjoy. Nothing was wasted and the animals and birds certainly did appreciate the treats.

We even strung grapes and cut oranges for the cardinals who came looking for a juicy bite. Hung among the suet blocks the tree looked just as festive as when it sported lights and shiny ornaments.

The squirrels and other small animals, I am sure in the wee hours of the morning, stopped by to have a nibble of our gourmet selections. Perhaps a deer or two found a treat hanging on that tree during the long cold winter months.

After the winter came to a close and the spring threatened to burst through the frozen ground we held a bond fire. I can recall when the kids were little we would pile up all the branches that had blown down during the winter months for a bond fire. Right on the top of the pile would go the Christmas Tree still dangling some of its tinsel. It was the crown jewel of the fire and in a kind of the ritual way, it was the saying goodbye to the winter and hello to the spring. There was always a great breath of awe when the fire reached the tree and it burst into flame.

The word BOND FIRE is used so often but the meaning of these fires has long been forgotten. In the olden days, the bond fires could be seen for miles up and down the valley as families celebrated the first signs of spring. It was a time for families to gather around the bond fires and talk and share the stories of winters past. In the times we held them in our back yard in Maine we had mostly neighbors and friends over for a weenie roast and some hot chocolate. It was fun sitting on a log and just soaking in the heat of the fire and watching the kids throw sticks into the flames.

For days I would smell the sweet smoke on my clothes it was a great way to honor the little tree that gave us so much joy.


We do not use a fresh tree now but have over the years chosen to use an artificial one. It is better to spare the trees that are so precious to our well being. At first, it was hard to get used to the change, the conflict over the fresh versus the artificial still goes on in our family.

If you do not use a real tree then honor a small bush or tree outside and make it your nature tree. It can become a tree for the small animals and birds in honor of the season of the giveaway. 

Wise Woman Herbal Ezine – January 15, 2019

White Sage

{Salvia apiana}

Also, Known As:

  • Bee Sage
  • Sacred Sage
  • White Ceremonial Sage
  • White Sage

Salvia apiana or white sage is a perennially growing evergreen shrub that is indigenous to the southwestern regions of the United States and the adjoining north-western areas of Mexico. This herb is mostly found growing in the wild in the scrub habitat in the coastal regions of Baja California and Southern California, located on the western peripheries of the Sonoran and Mojave deserts.

White sage possibly derives its name from its ashen evergreen leaves, which contain oils and resins. The leaves of white sage emit a potent aroma when they are rubbed. The white to light lavender hued blooms of this plant attract bees, and this is described in the plant’s specific name – apiana. White sage bears many flower stalks, which measure anything between 1 meter and 1.3 meters (3.3 feet to 4.3 feet) in height. Occasionally, the flower stalks of white sage have a pinkish hue and they grow higher than the foliage, especially in spring.

White sage usually grows up to a height of five feet. The plants bloom during the summer. The petals of white sage pucker back, as the stamens dangle on the sides. The white sage flowers are often troublesome for the bees, as they can neither go inside nor get out with ease. However, bumblebees are more apt at dealing with these flowers, while hummingbirds have no trouble at all in collecting nectar from white sage flowers.

Plant Part Used:

Dried leaves.

Herbal Use:

Native American groups inhabiting the United States’ Pacific coast extensively use white sage or Salvia apiana. The seed of this plant formed the main ingredient of their staple food, locally known as “Pinole”. People belonging to the Cahuilla collected the white sage seeds in large amounts. They pounded the seeds and blended it with wheat flour as well as sugar for preparing biscuits or gruel. Even the leaves and stems of white sage were consumed by members of the Chumash as well as other local tribes.

Many tribes used the seeds of white sage to clear their eyes of foreign objects, much in the same manner as the Europeans used the clary sage seeds. Cahuilla women also used the roots of this plant to prepare a tea, which is reported to provide strength after childbirth, in addition to healing. Several Native American tribes also burnt the leaves of white sage and the smoke was used in various rituals undertaken for purification.

The leaves of this plant were also used to make an infusion, which was employed in the form of a blood tonic as well as to treat colds and coughs. The leaves are also edible. In addition, they are used in the form of a sweat bath and also to treat colds. As aforementioned, the seeds of white sage are used in the form of eye cleaners.



Several native tribes in America, including the Costanoan, Cahuilla, Kawaiisu, Diegeno, and Maidu of California used the seeds of white sage or chia, as known locally, for cleansing as well as healing their eyes. One means of cleaning the eyes was placing a few white sage seeds inside their eyes at bedtime. These seeds became swollen and gelatinous during the night. While the seeds moved around underneath the eyelids during sleep, they pull together foreign substances, if any, on the eyeballs. The seeds were taken out in the morning, cleaning the eyes and also getting rid of all foreign particles.

For centuries, various native groups have been using the leaves of white sage in the form of hair shampoo, hair straightener, and hair dye. They crushed the leaves in water and applied the water to their hair. In addition, freshly crushed leaves were also used to make a poultice, which was applied to the armpits to get rid of foul odors. They also burnt the leaves and used them in the form of incense to fumigate their homes following the outbreak of infectious ailments like measles.

These native tribes collected the seeds in a flat basket or beater basket. Subsequently, the seeds were dried and pounded into a powdered form for use in meals. In southern California, the Cahuillas used one part of the pounded seeds to blend with three parts wheat flour and a small amount of sugar. This blend was consumed dry, mixed with water in the form of gruel. Alternatively, they baked the powdered seeds into biscuits or cakes.

These tribes harvested the seeds in large quantities and kept them in baskets at home after drying. For instance, the tribes inhabiting north of Santa Barbara stored the dried seeds as well as other foods in small baskets on hand. They especially stored some seeds for the winter, when many other foods were not available. In California, the Chumash, as well as other tribes, also consumed white sage leaves and stems.

Women of the Cahuilla drank an infusion prepared from the roots of white sage after childbirth with a view to getting rid of afterbirth problems as well as support internal healing. Cahuilla people also consumed white sage seeds for treating colds. Similarly, the Diegueno employed the white sage to prepare a tea for curing colds.

These native tribes of America used the white sage leaves in various ways – they smoked the leaves, used them to prepare a herbal tea and also employed the leaves in sweat houses for treating colds. Members of the Diegueno tribe used the leaves of white sage in the form of shampoo to cleanse their hair as well as to prevent them from becoming grey untimely. Some tribes also rubbed the leaves against their body or applied the crushed leaves to their body to get rid of any foul smell. In fact, men of the Cahuilla tribe usually did this prior to venturing out for hunting. They also burnt the dry white sage leaves and the smoke was used in the form of incense during purification rituals. Several native Indian tribes in America hold the white sage in high esteem. This herb is also cherished by many other cultures across the world even to this day. White sage is especially valued for its tender feminine attributes.

White sage is an aromatic herb that has been widely used over the centuries in the form of incense as well as in smudge pots during ceremonies. Hence, this herb is commonly also known as the white ceremonial sage.

Some people also burnt the white sage leaves to fumigate their houses or dwellings following any contagious disease and also for purifying the air during ailments. When drunk in the form of an infusion or tea, white sage offers potent anti-inflammatory properties. White sage tea may also aid in reducing the symptoms of an ulcer.



White sage seeds are used for culinary purposes, either raw or after cooking. Native American tribes also mixed the seeds with cereals like wheat or oats, toasted them and subsequently ground them into a fine powder for consuming it dry. Alternatively, they also soaked the white sage seeds in water or fruit juice for the night and drunk the liquid or consumed it along with cereals. Sometimes, the seeds were also used in the form of spice. On the other hand, white sage leaves are consumed after cooking. The leaves are also used to add flavor to seed mushes. Often, people also consume the young stalks of white sage raw. The tops of ripened or mature stems are peeled and consumed raw.

Habitat Of White Sage:

Salvia apiana (white sage) is indigenous to a very small region in southern California as well as the northwestern areas of Mexico. This plant has a preference for the conditions found in this dry, coastal region, which has a sloping milieu on the fringe of the desert. The plants need deep watering only once in two weeks, especially when grown in a sandy soil having proper drainage and a sunny location. Although white sage can endure cool climatic conditions, the performance of the plant will be poor when grown in shade and humid conditions and if they are watered excessively. If you are living in areas where frosting is common, you can grow white sage in pots and keep them indoors. It is best to grow the white sage as annual plants in such areas.

White sage hybridizes very easily with other species belonging to the Salvia genus, especially Salvia clevelandii and Salvia leucophylla.

The ideal conditions for growing white sage include a dry climate. In fact, these plants may be killed if the winter months are too wet. Salvia apiana is unable to endure colder climates and, hence, they die. Plants of this species can only tolerate low temperatures in the range of -5°C and -10°C. White sage seeds are available in health food stores and are usually used to prepare beverages – infusion or tea. White sage is an excellent bee plant. Plants belonging to this genus are seldom disturbed by browsing deer.

For commercial purposes, white sage is usually propagated by its seeds, which are ideally sown in a greenhouse during the March-April period. Normally, it takes about two weeks for the seeds to germinate. When the seedlings have grown sufficiently big to be handled, prick them out and plant them in separate pots. You may transfer the young white sage plants to their permanent positions outdoors during the onset of summer next year. In places where the temperatures hover around the endurance levels of white sage, it is advisable that you grow them in a greenhouse throughout their first winter. You may plant them outdoors during the end of spring in the subsequent year.

White sage can also be propagated from semi-mature wood cuttings. These cuttings can be done at any time during the growing season, as they are generally very successful.


In 1991, scientists at the University of Arizona undertook a study which showed that white sage (Salvia apiana) possesses potential antibacterial qualities, especially against Bacillus subtilis, Staphylococcus, Candida brassicae and Klebsiella pneumoniae.


White sage contains triterpenes and diterpenes, including oleanolic acid, carnosic acid, and ursolic acid.

Possible Side effects and Precautions:

Although white sage is safe for consumption by most people, this herb should be avoided by women during pregnancy.

Harvesting White Sage:

While harvesting white sage (Salvia apiana) by cutting the stems one needs to be careful to discriminate between the fleshy and woody parts of the stem. Cutting the fleshy top of the white sage stem will produce two stems in the following year. On the other hand, cutting the woody base of the plant will not promote the growth of new leaves or stem. After cutting the stems, hang them upturned to desiccate them and subsequently bundle them in the form of smudge sticks (dried herbs). You may preserve the dry leaves of the herb for preparing tea or, if you prefer, even use them in your food. The seeds can be collected for sowing in the next year. For this, you need to save the brownish fruits, which are akin to nuts, prior to the release of the seeds.

Incoming Lunar Eclipse Energetics & Saturn-Pluto

We welcome the Sun’s entry into Aquarius, a total eclipse of the Leo Full Moon and the emergence of the Cancer/Capricorn eclipse cycle. With all the excitement of the new and the possible comes a certain dragging on our vitality. This week contains contradictory energies of breakthrough versus holding back, easeful flow versus striking every obstacle, depth of vision versus a caution that hampers action. Our sense of self and trajectory may feel ready to head out into new territory but inner or outer workings want to bring complications, doubts, and frustrations. It may feel hard to commit to the slow and steady work required to make the break, so we must look out for sabotaging our goals just because it doesn’t come as easy as flipping a light switch. In fact “making the break” is a good phrase for this week as it will be our commitment to working for what we desire which creates the “the lucky break” and opportunity.

While the Jan. 5 solar eclipses marked the emergence of the Cancer/Capricorn cycle that runs all the way through July 2020, the total lunar eclipse on Jan. 20 is the closing of the Leo/Aquarius cycle which began Feb. 2017. People with significant placements in Leo or Aquarius have been most impacted, but one of the general tenors of this nodal axis is a concern with how we present ourselves to the world—or our way of being in the world (Leo) versus standing outside of it and observing (Aquarius). Leo is perhaps more concerned with being seen clearly, while Aquarius wants to see others as they really are. This final eclipse which happens at 9:12pm US/Pacific right after the Sun enters Aquarius on Jan. 20 asks us to reflect on where we may be hiding behind a false image. Are we driven by the desire to be liked or to otherwise have social approval no matter the cost to ourselves? Is there a bully, either inside of us or outside of us, who would like us to remain in a compromising position?

This eclipse suggests we can move into a different way of projecting our personality into the world by turning a courageous heart towards any bullies and fears of what a movement towards more personal integrity represents. And while it takes courage to face our obstacles, that doesn’t mean becoming bullies ourselves! Unnecessary aggression will just add to the fear and misunderstanding. Watch how you speak to yourself, and others, like your soul, is listening carefully. Such a movement could also coincide with healing our relationship to belief itself, and our faith in our Soul’s own deeper dreaming. We could reflect on how our understanding and practice of virtue and generosity supports or undermines our dreams and ideals. And we might pay attention to our dreams to learn about the wounded ones inside of us as well as to hear our Soul’s longings for expression in this world. The closing eclipse of the Leo/Aquarius cycle may also provide a summation of everything which has been opened, closed and potentiated over the past 2½ years. It may not be neat and clean, but rather show what work remains to be done.

With the incoming Cancer/Capricorn eclipse cycle, we will now be moving towards digging into the secret garden of our Soul and what we don’t (yet) know about ourselves. The time and awareness we invest in caring, nurturing and nesting will become more relevant than ever to our social roles and goals, as will the interweaving of our work into our personal lives. This eclipse series coincides with Saturn’s and Pluto’s time in Capricorn, indicating that these eclipses carry significant impact and not only to those of us with important placements in the signs of Cancer and Capricorn. The more challenging dimensions of Saturn-Pluto—limitations, scarcity, overwhelming and impersonal forces of history—will be emphasized so we will need to focus on our strengths and invest in the power of committed collaboration. Saturn and Pluto’sactivation beckons us to clear and make space in our lives before so can actually receive the monumental transformation that is in store for us and the world.

We will need to sharpen our tools for managing the difficult, which includes identifying, appreciating and celebrating what is working—instead of being sucked into an overly negative or critical outlook. The Cancerian aspect of nurturing ourselves, our bodies and our communities points to an important piece of growing with Saturn-Pluto’s immense pressure—accessing and expanding the mutual support systems we all need.

anima mundi tea 2019


A Vitamin Crich  + Mineralizing + Aphrodisiac + Dopamine Tonic Tea

1/2tsp Mucuna Pruriens 
1Tbsp Rose Petals
1tsp Hibiscus Powder (or a handful of whole flowers)

Directions: Add ingredients to a medium sized teapot. Pour almost boiling water to the herbs and allow it to steep for 5minutes. Add sweetener of choice if need be. Enjoy in the evening and/or in the AM to feel sensational!

Making the Break: Astrology of the week of Jan. 14 – Jan. 21, 2019.
Once a month we take the peak weak of astrological happenings to attune you to what’s going on in the sky.


Books are an invaluable resource for the home herbalist, and growing your home library over time is always a great idea. Having at least three herbal books or resources available is absolutely necessary when studying plants and creating a materia medica. Still, there are so many fantastic books available – where should you begin? Here are 6 herbal medicine books that we think are worth the investment!

 Herbal Medicine Books Worth The Investment

The Herbal Medicine Maker’s Handbook: A Home Manual by James Green

This book has step-by-step instructions for making any kind of herbal preparation you could possibly think of. It also explains why you should do certain things, not just how which is handy to know if you find yourself faced with the need to improvise. The Herbal Medicine Maker’s Handbook extremely detail-oriented, but still very readable – Green is authoritative while still being lighthearted. A prime example of this is the chapter on herb jellos, an unexpected and surprisingly useful way to prepare herbs for kids – and one that he stumbled on quite by accident! The book also contains a brief overview of 30 plants that he and the other co-directors of the California School for Herbal Studies developed for use as part of the school’s curriculum.



Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine by David Hoffman

This textbook is not for the faint of heart, but it provides an incredible amount of information on the most medical side of herbalism. This tome is a great resource if you are interested in learning the chemistry behind herbalism, as it explains the different types of chemical compounds and goes into great detail for pharmacology, toxicity, and safety issues, formulation, and chapters for treatment approach by body systems. An extensive materia medica with herbal profiles is included at the end. It’s a fascinating and extensive look at the scientific side of herbalism.



The Earthwise Herbal, Volumes 1 and 2 by Matthew Wood

One of the most thorough resources on herbal materia medica available anywhere, The Earthwise Herbal details the historical use of many herbs and includes Wood’s personal experiences in working with the herbs in his clinical practice. Volume One focuses on Old World, European plants while Volume Two discusses the New World plants of North America. Wood has focused on western herbalism and a more folk-style approach, but his books are an excellent resource for herbalists of any tradition. These references are valuable both for beginners and experienced herbalists alike, as they provide valuable insight and lesser-known perspectives on many well-loved herbs.



The Herbal Kitchen by Kami McBride

No herbal home should be without this delightful book, which provides simple and creative ways to use herbs in the kitchen. Detailed profiles of many common cooking herbs and spices explain how these often overlooked plants are useful for health.  Delicious and unique recipes include cooking oils, seasoning salts and sprinkles, herbal honey, cordials, and vinegar. The Herbal Kitchen is full of creative ways to use recipes in everyday cooking- nothing about this book is complicated, but the recipes are delightful and not to be missed.



The Herbalist’s Way by Nancy and Michael Phillips

One of the best volumes for folk herbalists searching for their path, the informal but detailed exploration of the art of herbalism in The Herbalist’s Way leaves you with the sense that you’ve spent the afternoon across from a wise elder, chatting as you both enjoyed tea. In fact, the author’s highlight conversations with many herbalists throughout the book, so by the end of the book you have learned from the experiences of many others.  This book explores how to become a herbalist and why – from an overview of the many possibilities of finding your niche, legal aspects, and more.



Healing with the Herbs of Life by Leslie Tierra

Tierra has a background in Traditional Chinese Medicine, so that’s the focus of Healing with the Herbs of Life. This book is more detailed and yet easier to understand that some courses on the subject, so it is absolutely worth the investment if you are interested in learning about this style of herbalism. The book is divided into three sections covering the fundamentals of herbalism, a TCM perspective on disease and the process of healing, and a section on regaining and maintaining health. The fundamentals of herbalism section include a detailed material medica and appendices at the end of the book contain a convenient reference for weights and measures, along with a listing of TCM formulas. This book is good for beginners as a learning tool, or for advanced students as a reference.



If you’re already an herbal bookworm here are more all for your reading pleasure.

 Herbal Medicine Books Worth The Investment

Botanical Naming Of Herbs

Every herb has two sets of names – common names and a Latin name, which is usually its botanical name also. While the common names of the herbs may be modified by people in different eras and different places, the Latin names of the plants remain the same almost always. Generally, many gardeners refrain from using the botanical names of the herbs, as they find these names difficult to pronounce and even daunting. In effect, the Latin or botanical names of the herbs are often also redundant or preventable. It is possible that farmers growing vegetables like tomatoes and carrots their entire life, still not learn their Latin names.

Horticulturists have developed several flowers and vegetables propagated from their original species, it may be sufficient to use their general English names. On the other hand, often herbs do not change from their original species – leaving them unchanged from how Nature made them, and grow them in the gardens very much in the same form as they are found in nature and under various names. In addition to being a certain way to identify a herb, the Latin names also help us to connect with the gardeners through different ages as well as all over the world.

Often, the botanical name of a herb lets us know something specific regarding the plant – for instance, the place of its origin or where it is found growing; the first person to discover the herb; and few words about the plant’s distinction, color, the shape of its leaves and so on. As English has its origin in Latin, very often you will notice similarities between a plant’s common English name and its Latin or botanical name and this helps to work out the information regarding the herb. For instance, all plants belong to the mint family are Mentha. This includes M. aquatic, which is found growing in or close to water bodies and M. rotundifolia, a plant whose foliage is more round compared to many and the variegata form of this plant is mottled green as well as white. On the other hand, M. spicata is spearmint having leaves that are spear-shaped or spiked. Then again, M. citrata is the botanical name for citrus or orange mint, while M. piperita denotes peppermint. In fact, this will also help you to deduce that menthol, the natural chemical compound which forms the soothing and cooling component in throat lozenges and pain balms, is obtained from the mint!

It is worth mentioning here that all plants are categorized according to their broadest family link down to their most precise distinctive name. In addition, each herb has a separate Latin name which comprises two parts – first comes the genus name and then the name of the particular species. For instance, the herb southernwood’s botanical name is Artemisia abrotanum, a herb that belongs to genus Artemisia and is named after the Greek Goddess of Hunting – Artemis. Approximately 200 other species also belong to the same genus, counting the herb tarragon (A. dracunculus). It is interesting to note that dracunculus in Latin denotes a little dragon, possibly referring to the sharp bite of tarragon.

What actually makes the botanical name-tree even bigger is the fact that plants belonging to all genera as well as their entire species are a part of a more extended plant family. The family connection of the species is founded on their common characteristics. For instance, the genus of all plants belonging to the genus Artemisia is a division of the family called Compositae – also known as the daisy family. All plants belonging to this family produce flowers that are made of several small blooms that form a central sphere. When you look at the flowers casually for the first time, you may possibly not notice any family similarity between the flowers of artemisias and sunflowers, which form the most outstanding species of the family Compositae.

The individual flowers of the sunflower are noticeable very clearly. They are a close collection of several hundred disk flowers, which appear in a spiral arrangement interwoven with one another and encircled by yellow-hued rays or larger petals. However, you would be requiring a magnifying glass to distinguish the minute flowers that make up the trivial disks without the rays found in nearly all flowers produced by plants of the genus Artemisia. However, when you are able to discern the defining characteristics of the flowers of this plant family, you are able to distinguish the various members of this family. Irrespective of the flowers being tiny as those of chamomile or the much bigger sunflowers, all varieties of the daisy belong to the family Compositae.

While all plant family comprises a number of herbs, three plant families include a notable number of helpful aromatic herbs. If asked to name any four herbs spontaneously, most likely you would talk about sage, parsley, thyme, and rosemary. Three herbs of these four are members of the family Labiatae – a name derived from the Latin term denoting lips. In fact, all members of the Labiatae family bear distinct flowers that typically resemble open mouths, wherein the lower lips are a little extended. It is simply astonishing to note the huge number of herbs belonging to the family Labiatae – the vast genera and several different types of species belonging to each of them. The family Labiatae comprises some of the familiar genera, including the oregano, mints, sages, savories, and thymes. Precisely speaking, there are over 750 varieties of sages, also known as salvias, throughout the world, in addition to bergamot, basil, catnip, lavender, hyssop, rosemary, lemon balm and several other genera in the Labiatae family. In fact, there is no other plant family that includes such a large number of herbs. In addition to the lipped flowers, the family Labiatae is also identified by the form of the flower stalks of the plants. These flower stalks are not round but have a square or four-sided cross-section.

Next, to the family Labiatae, the plant family called Umbelliferae includes the second largest number of herbs. This is a Latin term, which sound very much like umbrella in English, and the plants belonging to this family characteristically give rise to a small cluster of flowers that have the shape of umbels and are arranged at the terminals of the slender stems that spread out from the uppermost part of a stalk that resembles the spokes of an umbrella at its handle’s end. Going by this description of the plants, it is easy for you to conjure up the images of the herbs that belong to this plant family, including anise, angelica, coriander, chervil, cumin, celery, fennel, dill, parsley, sweet cicely, and lovage. Almost all the plants belonging to the Umbelliferae family have a concentration of flavor in their leaves as well as the seeds. In fact, some seeds of these plants are also used for seasoning purpose.

As far as the number of herbs it includes, Compositae is the next most important plant family. In fact, the herbs belonging to this family do not grab your attention immediately. In fact, this plant family contains only some well-known herbs that produce flavoring leaves. However, there are a large number of therapeutic herbs in this family, such as artemisias, anthemis, feverfew, Echinacea and yarrow.

As one is likely to look forward to, the onion genus known as Allium, which is a member of the Amaryllidaceae plant family, comprises a number of culinary herbs having a pungent smell, such as chives, garlic, Egyptian onions, shallots, and scallions. On the other hand, the poppy family called Papaveraceae includes the opium poppy, which is harmless when the seeds are used for baking purposes, but vital in medicine as the main supply of morphine. The remaining herbs come in the grab bag of different plant families. The mallow family, known as Malvaceae, includes many medicinal plants that have been used for long. For instance, musk mallow (botanical name Malva moschata) is considered to be a garden flower of the settlers and is now found decorating the roadsides. It also ricochets into our gardens and the white or pink flowers, such as the hibiscus are always accepted by everyone. The Rosaceae family includes different types of roses, which have been popular all the times for their delicate scent. Then again, the dried Florentine iris (belonging to the Iridaceae family) roots provide us with a fixative that aids in retaining the aroma of roses when used in potpourri. Perhaps, it can be safely concluded that all plant families include no less than one species that may be called a herb.

In addition, learning about the origin of a herb prior to growing it in your garden (irrespective of whether it has come from the low-lands, mountains, the temperate Mediterranean region or the freezing North) may be of much help. It would help you more if you know about its precise local habitat – whether it is found growing naturally in the sun or in a shade; in an arid soil or beside a stream. The herbs will flourish better when you create an environment similar or almost the same as their original habitat in your garden.

It is suggested that you ought to also try to find out if a new herb is annual, perennial or biennial; or tender or hardy. When we use the terms ‘tender’ or ‘hardy’, we actually mean the ability of the plant to tolerate cold, which could vary between a mild frost to a solid freeze or a climatic condition similar to the Northern winter, where it is absolutely cold for five months of the year. As expected, plants that wither or shrink even when there is slight frosting are known as tender. In fact, tender annuals only grow during the months when there is no frosting. On the other hand, tender perennials, such as ginger, bay, pineapple sage, lemon verbena, scented geranium, and rosemary, are among the most well-known herbs and may be grown outdoors during the summer months. However, similar to some people, these plants need to spend the winter months indoors. In fact, these types of herbs are ideal for growing in big pots that are portable too.

As their name suggests, annual herbs survive for just summer only. Their entire life cycle – sprouting, growth, blossoming and seeding, is completed only in one season. Similar to the perennially growing plants, annuls may also be tender, semi-tender or even hardy. For example, sweet basil is the most common tender annual plant that shrinks even when there is an indication of frost and stops growing even when there is a cool spell. On the other hand, coriander possesses the aptitude to tolerate mild frosts but dies when the temperature drops to freezing level. Chervil is a very hardy annual plant that survives in a hard freeze and, the cold notwithstanding can still continue to grow.

Every spring, it is important for all gardeners to start growing nearly all the annual herbs afresh either from their seeds or plants obtained from nurseries. However, there are some annual plants that remain in the garden by means of sowing their hardy seeds during the later part of summer and appear once again when the robins are back in May. It is worth mentioning here that among all the self-sowing annual plants, three are excellent culinary herbs – coriander, chervil, and dill.

While chamomile is one herb that grows naturally, there are some other vibrant colored herbs, such as blue annual woodruff, calendula, borage and painted sage that also start growing on their own in the vegetable gardens to enhance their beauty every year.  While the creeping thyme forms more mats in the spaces between the stones used for paving, additional foxgloves growing among roses. They may also bring some additional work for the gardeners who may require getting rid of a forest caused by lovage seedlings or maybe by lemon balm plants that are deep-rooted in the soil.

The best way to grow perennial herbs is to group them along with other different permanent plants in the garden. They may form a segment of your garden landscape that may be improved over several seasons. Speaking from a sensible viewpoint, it will be less problematic if you undertake several phases of maintenance, which include weeding, cutting back and top dressing, in case you are growing the perennial plants in beds or borders of your garden. If you make some planning the relative heights of the perennial plants, other plants growing in the vicinity and also the overall impact of the foliage texture as well as the color of the flowers, the final outcome would be a garden that manifests the imagination as well as the taste of the passionate gardener.

The Chemistry Of Herbs

A herbalist should be fully aware of details about the pharmacology of herbs, a basic understanding of it. Herbs are used for healing the human body, they are considered to be holistic agents, and they are used on a physical and biochemistry level. Many pharmacologists try to find out the constituents of herbs, place them according to their chemical groups and have done numerous research and have found herbs to be very complex in their characteristics. Herbs contain a huge variety of chemicals like water, inorganic salt, sugars, carbohydrates, proteins that are highly complex, and alkaloids.

Plant Acids:

An example of weak organic acids is generally found among plants, lemon is the perfect example of citric acid. Organic acids can be split into those based on a carbon chain, and those, which contain a carbon ring in their configuration, but what both have in common is the -COOH group. Chain acids are also known as aliphatic acids, which can range from formic acid (the simplest one, found in the stings of the nettles) to the more complex chain acids like valeric acid and citric acid. Valeric acid is being used in sedatives in allopathic medicine.

The ring acids are known as the aromatic acids, they form a crucial pharmacological group. The most uncomplicated aromatic acid is benzoic acid, which is found in foods like cranberries, resins, and balsams, like Peru balsams, gum benzoin, and tolu. These acids are used in antiseptic lotions and ointments and they are also used for antipyretic and diuretic actions. One can cure a chronic bronchial problem just by inhaling these acids.


Alcohols are found in a variety of forms in the plant kingdom, they are mostly a component of volatile oils or sterols, for example, geraniol in attar of rose and the menthol in peppermint oil. Waxes too are also a common form of alcohol. Mixtures of alcohols and fatty acids are generally found on leaves and other parts of the plants. Carnauba wax is acquired from the palm Copernicia cerifera.

Volatile Oils:

Volatile oils are a combination of simple molecules like isoprene or isopentane, which can mix in various ways to produce terpenes. It is a basic mix of 5 carbon molecules, sometimes with slight differences here and there. All this combines to make the volatile oils.

Volatile oils are mostly found in aromatic plants, herbs like peppermint and thyme are the perfect example of volatile oils. The combination of the oils and the smell can be in variations, even if they belong to the same types of the plant, basically, it all depends on the concentration of the oils. When these oils are extracted from the plants, the aromatic oils are produced, which are used for many therapeutic treatments, and the major part of the production is used to manufacture perfumes.

There is a wide range of aromatic oils and they each have specific qualities, though most of these oils have some common characteristics, which are worth learning about.

Most aromatic oils are antiseptics; oils like eucalyptus oil, garlic oil, and thyme oil fall under this category. These oils are absorbed with ease inside the body and they are effective for both internally and externally on the whole body system. When they are consumed internally or applied externally they land up finally in the urinary system, lungs, bronchial, sweat glands, saliva, tears or vaginal fluids. They can even occur in breast milk and during pregnancy can go to the placenta inside the fetus. Apart from having antiseptic functions, it can also encourage the creation of white blood cells, therefore increasing the immune system of the body.

Volatile oils have the quality of arousing the tissues they come in touch with, some oils like the mustard oils irritate the skin slightly while oils like menthol and camphor leave a numb feeling. Both these oils help in digestion arousing the lining of the colon which gives reflex reaction thus increasing the gastric juices to flow, which also makes the person feel hungry. People, who suffer from acute pain, can benefit from these oils by calming the peristalsis in the lower part of the intestines.

Volatile oils are also beneficial for the central nervous system. Oils like for example chamomile oil, are known to calm and sedate while peppermint oil helps in stimulation, both these oils have the quality so easing out any tension in the body system thus reducing conditions like depression or tension. When there is an external application of aromatic oils on the body, the aroma is easily transferred through the nose to the brain, triggering an instant reaction.

Herbs, which contain volatile oils, have to be retained by storing them carefully in sealed bottles or containers, as volatile oils can evaporate with ease.


There is a huge variety of carbohydrates in the plant kingdom, they are found in foods like sugar: fructose and glucose, they are also found in starches, which is the storage of the main energy and they can also be in the form of cellulose which is much more complex or elaborate, which helps in supporting the structure of the plants.

Large cellulose known as polysaccharides combines with other chemicals and produce molecules known as pectins, which are generally found in fruits like apples or even in seaweeds like algin, agar or even carragum, which are found in Irish moss. They are very effective and have the power to cure and are used in producing gels, which are further used in medicines and foods.

Gums and mucilage are carbohydrates, which are complex in nature and are retained in soothing and healing herbs like coltsfoot, plantain, and marshmallow. Once applied it relaxes the lining of the gut, arousing a reflex reaction that goes to the spinal nerves to areas like the lungs and the urinary tract. The mucilage not only reduces irritation, it even reduces inflammation of the alimentary canal, it also decreases the sensitivity of the gastric acids, can cure diarrhea and reduce peristalsis, it also cures the respiratory system, lessens coughing and tension, and increases the secretion of watery mucus.

Phenolic Compounds:

Phenol is a bulging block of many components of plants. The compounds of phenol could be simple in structure or could be a composite of a variety of basic molecule. One of the simplest phenolic compounds is salicylic acid, which is generally found in the combination of sugar, it forms glycoside found in willow, cramp bark, meadowsweet, and wintergreen. It functions as an antiseptic, painkiller and has anti-inflammatory functions too. It is utilized in most allopathic medicines like aspirin, acetylsalicylic acid is the main component if this medicine.

Eugenol oil is found in cloves and it functions like a painkiller, even thymol from thyme oil also cures pains, and both oils contain salicylic acid. Bearberry acts like an antiseptic on the urinary system of the body because it contains phenol hydroquinone.


Tannins in herbs have the quality to function as astringents. They act on proteins and other chemicals to protect the layer of the skin and the mucous membrane. It can even bind the tissue of the gut, decrease diarrhea and also stop any internal bleeding. They are also used for an external application like the treatment of burns, healing wounds and reducing inflammation. Tannins can cure eye infections like conjunctivitis or even infection in the mouth, vagina, cervix or rectum.


The evoking smell of hay is due to the coumarin chemicals. The grass is not the only plant, which contains this aromatic component of coumarins; sweet woodruff also contains these chemicals. Coumarins do not have much effect on the human body but one of its components known, as dicoumarol is a strong anti-clotting agent. Coumarins have been used extensively in allopathic medicine. Small doses of warfarin are used as an anti-clotting drug to cure conditions like thrombosis and as a rat poison, large doses are used.


Anthraquinones are found in plants, which are supposed to be effective laxatives and they are also natural dyes. They are generally glycosides and are found in plants like rhubarb, yellow dock, senna, aloe, and buckthorn. Anthraquinones stimulates the colon after eight to twelve hours of ingestion and they also stimulate the peristalsis of the intestine, all this can be achieved if the natural bile is present. If the colon is over stimulated, then colic pain could occur. Anthraquinones are usually combined with carminative herbs to cure this type of condition.

Flavones and Flavonoid Glycosides:

Flavones and flavonoid glycosides are chemical groups commonly found in most plant components. They can actively act as anti-spasmodic, diuretic, circulatory and cardiac stimulants. Some like rutin, hesperidin, and bioflavonoid vitamin P can aid the circulatory system and decrease blood pressure too. Buckwheat is a herb, which can be used effectively for such health problems. Bioflavonoids help in absorption of vitamin C. Milk thistle is another herb, which has a strong presence of flavonoid and can cure an ailing liver.


Saponins have drawn the attention of majority pharmaceutical chemists in the world. They are utilized in the synthesis of cortisone, which is an anti-inflammatory drug, and they are also widely used in the synthesis of sex hormones. Saponins are found in herbs, which do not essentially act in a similar way, the body can use them as raw products to build the necessary chemicals. Natural saponins and synthesized drugs are quite similar, like cortisone and diosgenin, which is found in wild yam.

Goldenrod, chickweed, figwort, and wild yam all contain saponins, which are used to produce anti-inflammatory drugs. Saponins are very good at stimulating the upper digestive tract and herbs like primrose, mullein, violet, and daisy are rich in saponins.

Cardiac glycosides:

Cardiac glycosides were discovered in 1785 in foxglove. A lot of investigations has taken place over this chemical component. They have a lot of similarities to saponins and are used in medicine to give support to heart problems.

Cardiac glycosides are made of a mixture of sugar and steroidal aglycone. The center of activity is charted out by the characteristics of aglycone. In the combination, sugar determines the bioavailability of aglycone, which is quite active.

Cardiac glycosides are found in most flowering plants. Lily of the valley, squill, foxglove and Strophanthus family are the best resources of cardiac glycosides. In therapeutic treatment, cardiac glycosides are very effective in increasing the force and power heartbeats, and at the same time keeping the level of the oxygen intact for the heart muscles. They can help the heart to function in a steady manner without straining the organ.

Bitter principles:

Bitter principles stand for a group of chemicals that have an extremely bitter taste. They are diverse in structure and the bitterest ones are iridoids, terpenes, and other groups.

Bitter principles are known to be very effective in most therapeutic treatments. Through the taste bud, they arouse the secretion of the digestive juices and also help the liver to be more active, helping in hepatic elimination.

Sedatives like hops and valerian, cough remedies such as white horehound, anti-inflammatory herbs bogbean and devil’s claw, and the vulnerary marigold have all the properties of bitterness.


Alkaloids are the most powerful group of plant constituents that act effectively on the human body and mind. Under the category of alkaloids, you will find hallucinogen mescaline and the very poisonous brucine. These alkaloids can work on the liver, lungs, nerves and the digestive system of the body. You will find alkaloids in most of the herbs. Alkaloids inside the plants do not really have any specific function, apart from storing excessive nitrogen. Alkaloids as a group are very different in their structure and they have separated into 13 groups accordingly. Their structure is dominated by nitrogen and they have a distinguished physiological activity.

To encourage weight loss there is a supplement known as chitosan, which is basically a fat blocker. Chitosan is derived from chitin which is found in exoskeletons of shrimps and crabs, it is quite similar to plant fiber and cannot be digested easily. If chitosan is consumed orally it behaves like a big sponge absorbing the fat of the body up to four to six times than the body usually does while passing the digestive system. It helps flush out all the excess fat in the body which could have been metabolized and settled inside the body. It is like you can eat as much as you want if you are consuming chitosan.

The disadvantage of chitosan is that it does not cure chronic overeating at all. It should only be consumed for two weeks at a time to just get a weight loss diet started. Chitosan can be very good at absorbing fat, but at the same time it can be quite harmful in the sense that it can rob the body of essential vitamins like E, A, D and K. If chitosan is consumed, diet supplements like vitamins and essential fatty acids should also be included in the diet too. According to studies, chitosan is considered quite safe for any weight loss program. A test was conducted on two mice, one was administered chitosan while the other was not, the mice which had consumed chitosan and other supplement diets had few precancerous lesions than the one who did not have chitosan at all. It can also lower total blood cholesterol level in the body and raise the level of HDL, known as good cholesterol, which in turn protects the body against any heart disease. Chitosan is a versatile supplement, it is a good antacid and helps prevent tooth decay.


Herbs have been perennial companions, and some of the earliest evidence comes from starchy herbs (like Dioscorea, a genus that includes yams and found on kitchen vessels from 30,000 years ago) that straddled the line between medicine and food. The microbiomes of our ancestors, if modern hunter-gatherer populations like the Tanzanian Hadza are any indication, varied seasonally and responded, in part, to the availability of these roots and tubers. They were, and still are, rich in digestible carbohydrates as well as prebiotic starch. While we can’t digest this starch directly, it is an important source of nutrition for the microbial ecology. These days, prebiotic starches are still just as vital, and we rely on a few key plants that provide an abundant, varied source to support a thriving microbiome. With all of them, start slowly at first to see how your digestive system reacts, and take them around mealtime – they are very food-like.

Slippery Elm. This is the inner bark of Ulmus rubra and is so named because of the rich, slimy mucilage it produces when mixed with water. This mucilage is slippery to the touch, soothing, and loaded with prebiotic starch. We can’t break down these chains of rhamnopyranose and galacturonic acid, but they support a healthy mucous layer in the GI tract and serve as food for beneficial bacteria, too. You can mix the powder into tea, brewed at a relatively low temperature (180F), or to cooked grains like oatmeal after they’re off the heat. Its mild flavor makes it a favorite way to get your prebiotic fiber. Use between two teaspoons and two tablespoons a day.

Codonopsis--Top 6 Herbs For Your MicrobiomeCodonopsis. The root of this beautiful vine is often steam-treated and tastes a little smoky as a result. Its rich complement of starches and prebiotic fiber have made it famous in Traditional Chinese Medicine, where the herb is considered a “spleen qi tonic”, able to support good digestion and assimilation. Its starch includes inulin-like fructans that seem able to support healthy microbial populations in the GI tract. If you want to go beyond just soothing, Codonopsis is a good choice based on its extensive traditional use and indications. One to three teaspoons a day of the powder approximates the doses used in Traditional Chinese Medicine, and in liquid tincture form, we often suggest 60-90 drops two or three times a day.

With a touch more bitter flavor, roots from the _Asteraceae_ like dandelion and burdock also provide a good amount of prebiotic starches, though lean more towards shorter-chain compounds like inulin, a fructooligosaccharide (FOS). These are still good food for our microbial flora, but the added touch of bitterness also supports healthy secretions across the gut – a fantastic combination for digestive health.

Top 6 Herbs for your Microbiome--DandelionsDandelion(Taraxacum). The classic digestive tonic also includes a good amount of inulin and other prebiotic starches, especially if harvested in the fall. This clues us into one of the reasons plants make these molecules to begin with: they are long-term energy storage, often concentrated in the roots so that in spring the plant has reserves it can use for new green growth. But for us, fall-harvested dandelion roots can be coarsely chopped and roasted over low heat for 5-10 minutes, or until a nutty aroma develops. These roasted roots make a valuable tea, brewed with one tablespoon per cup, or added to French press or drip coffee-makers. Dandelion root is an especially good companion to your probiotic supplement or fermented foods.

Burdock--Top 6 Herbs For Your MicrobiomeBurdock(Arctium). You can eat these big roots just as you would a carrot: stir-fried, grated into a salad, or simmered into soup, burdock brings a delicious, mildly bitter and earthy flavor to your dishes. It’s also great pickled or brined. But for the microbiome, you’d be hard pressed to find a richer source of inulin and prebiotic starch. Traditionally, herbalists relied on burdock to support healthy skin, and part of the reason lies in this herb’s ability to build a healthy microbiome and provide gentle, bitters-based detoxification, too. While a tincture, taken in doses of 1/2 teaspoon two or three times a day, has good bitter tonic qualities, you’ll want the whole root in food-like doses to maximize the benefit to gut flora. One large root (eight inches long or so) is a good daily amount. The equivalent dose of powder is high: three or even four tablespoons per day is not unreasonable. But even in smaller quantities (one or two teaspoons), burdock root can be mixed with grains or infused into tea and helps give flora the food it needs.

Finally, sometimes even well-established migrations can get off course. Plants in the Berberidaceae, a botanical family rich in deeply-yellow pigments often concentrated in the roots, provide us with a tonic action traditionally used to support great digestion. The Eclectic physicians of the 19th century held up herbs like goldenseal or barberry as restorative tonics, often used as “alternatives” for healthy skin and good liver function as well as gut health. These herbs are quite bitter, too, due in large part to the same alkaloid that brings the yellow color: berberine (and some derivative molecules). These days, we know that berberine supports a normal, healthy balance of organisms in the microbiome, and also that it can help keep the connections that link cells, connective tissue, and fascia of the intestines strong and healthy. This is a good combination that addresses both the “field” (cells and mucosa) and the “herds” (bacterial populations).

Goldenseal--Top 6 Herbs For Your MicrobiomeGoldenseal(Hydrastis). This classic tonic is often the starting point for microbiome-support protocols in my herbal clinic. It comes from shady spots on the Eastern seaboard, all the way to Ohio and down south through Appalachia. Because of its popularity over the years, it is considered an at-risk botanical and should be used sparingly, and for short periods of time. It’s a good thing then that its dose (about 1/4 teaspoon two or three times a day) is so low, and that you often take it for two weeks or less. If you want to try goldenseal root, beware its strong bitter flavor, and mix the powder with a little water. Or consider the tincture, still quite useful despite its low starch content, at doses of 15-45 drops.

Oregon Grape Root--Top 6 Herbs For Your MicrobiomeOregon Grape Root(Mahonia). The west-coast plant from the forest understory is often touted as an alternative to the at-risk goldenseal. But it’s an excellent herb in its own right, bringing a good balance to the microbiome and also supporting great liver function and bile production. It is quite bitter, like all its berberine-rich cousins, making a tincture the easiest way to experience its benefits. Try 60-90 drops, in a little water, twice daily before meals. As a bitter tonic, you’ll see relief from the common, mild symptoms of digestive upset. But as a berberine source, Oregon grape root is hard at work for a great microbiome, too.

The strongly bitter herbs of the Berberidaceae can be a powerful way to begin your journey of microbial support. After experiencing them for a week or two, it’s time to start thinking about some of those rich sources of prebiotic starch, either alongside grains, in tea, or mixed with smoothies or juice. Think about simple additions like burdock root, roasted dandelion root tea, or Codonopsis powder. You don’t need too much, but the regular presence of prebiotics alongside natural ferment as part of your daily routine brings a familiar context back to the teeming ecology that lives inside our bellies. They’ll thank you for it – and you will appreciate the results!


Alchemical Theory: A Look at the Basic Principles of Alchemy


The One Thing (or the Subtle Ether)

Space, whether interplanetary, inner matter, or inter-organic, is filled with a subtle presence emanating from the One Thing of the universe. Later alchemists called it, as did the ancients, the subtle Ether. This primordial fluid or fabric of space pervades everything and all matter. Metal, mineral, tree, plant, animal, man; each is charged with the Ether in varying degrees. All life on the planet is charged in like manner; a world is built up in this fluid and move through a sea of it.

Alchemical Ether, which some Hermeticists call the Astral Light, determines the constitution of bodies. Hardness and softness, solidity and liquidity, all depend on the relative proportion of ethereal and ponderable matter of which they composed. The arbitrary division and classification of physical science, the whole range of physical phenomena, proceeds from the primary Ether, for science has reduced matter as we know it to nothing but Ether, which, although not solid matter, is still matter, the First Matter of the alchemists. When most of us speak of the matter, of course, we usually visualize solid substance, but it has been proved by that matter is not actually solid, but merely a stress, a strain in the etheric field of time and space. The atom and the electrons and protons of which it is composed, all move in a sea of Ether, so, that in accordance with this theory of alchemy, the very air we breathe, the very bodies we inhabit, all things must likewise be moving in this sea of Ether, the parent element from which all manifestation has come.

This principle that all things proceed from One Thing is demonstrable in the realm of biology, for the multicellular organisms, complex as they may be in their structure, nevertheless arise from a single cell. Science postulates that all matter is composed of atoms; atoms, however, are composed of protons, neutrons, and electrons, and those in turn composed of still finer components until we the Ether. This Ether is.a universal connecting medium, filling all space to the furthest limits, penetrating the interstices of the atoms without a break in its continuity. So completely does it fill space that it is sometimes identified with space itself, and has, in fact, been spoken of as Absolute Space?

“The Ether of space,” according to physicist Sir Oliver Lodge, “is a theme of unknown and apparently infinite magnitude and of a reality beyond the present conception of man. It is that of which everyday material consists of, a link between the worlds, a consummate substance of overpowering grandeur. By a kind of instinct, one feels it is the home of spiritual existence, the realm of the awe-inspiring. and supernal. It is co-extensive with the physical universe and is absent from no part of space. Beyond the furthest star the Ether extends, in the heart of the atom, it has its being. It permeates and controls and dominates all. It eludes the human senses and can only be envisaged by the powers of the mind. Yet the Ether is a physical thing; it is not a physical entity, yet it has definite properties. It does not matter any more than hydrogen and oxygen is water, but it is the vehicle of both matter and spirit.”

Now, the alchemist has divided matter, seen and unseen, into seven principles or planes, and of these the fifth principle, or Quintessence, corresponds to science’s Ether or in more contemporary parlance, the Space-Time Continuum. If we are willing to admit that there is some truth in this relationship of ideas, then we may begin to see that alchemy is based on absolute law. All the forces of our scientists have originated in the Vital Principle, that one collective life. Our life is a part of, or rather one of the aspects of, the One Universal Life.

The Archaeus

During a person’s life, there is present a finely diffused form of matter, a vapor filling not merely every part of his physical body but actually stored in some parts; a matter constantly renewed by the vital chemistry; a matter as easily disposed of as the breath, once the breath has served its purpose. Paracelsus named this First Matter of life the Archaeus, meaning the oldest principle. “The Archaeus is an essence that is equally distributed in all parts of the human body,” he wrote. “The Spiritus Vitae(Spirit of Life) takes its origin from the Spiritus Mundi (Spirit of the Universe). Being an emanation of the latter, the Archaeus contains the elements of all cosmic influences and is, therefore, the cause by which the action of the cosmic forces act upon the body.”

The Archaeus is of a magnetic nature and is not enclosed in a body but radiates within and around it like a luminous sphere. Alchemy and alchemy alone, within the current historical epoch, has succeeded in obtaining a real element, or a particle of homogeneous matter. This is the true Mysterium Magnum. By this age-old science, the alchemist may set free this Vital Principle in his laboratory, destroy the body of the metal on which he is working, purify its Salt, and reassemble its principles together in a higher form. The alchemical process, which is, after all, but a miniature reproduction of a superior process in operation around us all the time, undoubtedly proceeds from Master Intelligences who have lived at some time or another on our earth.


The Scientific Approach

It is a pity that science must always reject old ideas and cast them away as useless before rediscovering them as something new to be incorporated into current theories. To discard the alchemist’s theories is about as intelligent as to dismiss as rubbish Einstein’s Theory of Relativity merely because one does not happen to understand his language. Some of our scientists have realized this for a long time. F. Hoefer in Histoire de la Chimie (Paris 1866) remarked: “The systems that confront the intelligence must remain basically unchanged through the ages, although they assume different forms [depending on the age and culture of man]. Thus, through mistaking form for basic truth, one conceives of an erroneous sequence. We must remember that there is nothing so disastrous in science as the arrogant dogmatism that despises the past and admires nothing but the present innovation.”

If scientists would try to understand the conception of the universe as taught by Hermeticism (the Perennial Philosophy) throughout the ages, taking as its starting-point the teaching of the One Mind in Manifestation; its seven planes of consciousness; its infinite archetypal forces, and as the basis of its philosophy the Emerald Tablet axiom “As Above, So Below,” it would create a lasting system of understanding based on eternal Truth instead of on a quicksand of egocentric theories. Science will never really understand the truth about life until it reaches this realization. Such a realization cannot be attained through its instruments and appliances but only through the inner powers of the mind.


The Quintessence

Paracelsus noted: “Nothing of true value is located in the body of a substance, but in the virtue thereof, and this is the principle of the Quintessence, which reduces, say 20 lbs. of a given substance into a single Ounce, and that ounce far exceeds the 20 lbs. in potency. Hence the less there is of the body, the more in proportion is the virtue thereof.”

“The Magi in their wisdom asserted that all creatures might be brought to one unified substance,” he continued, “which may by purification and purgation, attain to so high a degree of subtlety, such divine nature, and Hermetic property, as to work wonderful results. For they considered that by returning to the Earth, and by a supreme and magical separation, a certain perfect substance would come forth, which is at length, by many industrious and prolonged preparations, exalted and raised up above the range of vegetable substances into mineral, above mineral into metallic, and above perfect metallic substances into a perpetually alive and divine Quintessence. The evolutionary perfection includes within itself the essence of all celestial and terrestrial creatures.” By this Quintessence or quantum esse, Paracelsus meant the nucleus of the essences and properties of all things in the universal world.

From the Golden Casket of Benedictus Figulus comes the following wisdom: “For the elements and their compounds in addition to crass matter, are composed of a subtle substance, or intrinsic radical humidity, diffused through the elemental parts, simple and wholly incorruptible, long preserving the things themselves in vigor and called the Spirit of the World, proceeding as it does from the Soul of the World. This is the one certain Life filling and fathoming all things so that from the three emanations of sentient beings (Intellectual, Celestial, and Corruptible), there is formed the One Machine of the Whole World. This spirit by its virtue fecundates all subjects natural and artificial, pouring into them those hidden properties that we have been wanting to call the Fifth Essence or Quintessence. But this Fifth Essence is created by the Almighty for the preservation of the four qualities of the human body, even as, Heaven is for the preservation of the Universe. Therefore is this Fifth Essence and Spiritual Medicine, which is of Nature and the Heart of Heaven and not of a mortal and corrupt quality, makes life possible. The Fount of Medicine, the preservation of life, the restoration of health, and in this may be the cherished renewal of lost youth and serene health be found.”