Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Medicine chest - the first 5

Someone was asking me for a list of the herbs I have in my medicine chest .. ho boy.

Seeing as how I've been obsessively collecting and messing about with just about anything that grows in our area for a couple of decades now, there's a lot of stuff in my 'medicine chest'. I've filled the shelves and cupboards of an oversized china cabinet with various sized mason jars, jam jars and tincture bottles and another, the one that officially is supposed to hold the good china, is starting to see more than just my Grandmother's dishes.
The top kitchen shelves hold the really big jars of infused oils, there are ointments in the drawers in the bathroom .. come to think of it, I've got spruce and pine gums in a kitchen drawer along with the rolling pins, ha! .. Oh heck, there's stuff everywhere in this house. The pockets of my coats are full of seeds, too, collected on walks and mixed together into a delightful mystery garden waiting to be planted.

Plant medicines are the monkey on my back, I can never have enough, never learn enough to satisfy my curiousity. And since I've barely scratched the surface of what's at my fingertips here, this is a lifelong project. What a nice thought.

But if I was to list the ones we use at least semi-regularly, or keep around "just in case" I need to share them with someone in need? That list would look something like this, (in order of what pops into my head as I write it):

Chamomile, in tea bags - Chamomile is for babies. It's about the only herb safe for infants, and even then give only extremely diluted 1/4tsp amounts, for whiney, teething or colicky babies. Better yet, get the breast feeding mom to drink the tea and it will go through her milk.

But babies come in all shapes and sizes. If someone is whining, or sighing deeply in that "woe is me" way that's so irritating to the rest of the household, we give chamomile. The tea settles tummies, is helpful all kinds of bathroom problems, cures heartburn and promotes sleep. It does all those things for people who aren't whiney, too, but if you have a big baby on your hands, you can safely offer chamomile for just about anything they're complaining about.

Steep for 5 minutes, no more, for the tea. For a mouthwash for any kind of gum problems, make it STRONG, along with sage and salt and gargle with generous amounts. That's one of those miracle cures. But don't drink it that strong, it will make you barf.

Dandelion root tincture - or leaf and root, combined. Dandy root will cure a hangover (10 drops in water, once an hour until you feel better). It promotes good digestion in the stomach and supports the liver & gall bladder. It "engenders good appetite" as the old books would put it. It relieves depression, too, which is so often part and parcel of digestive issues, and the damn crankiness/irrational anger that seems to come out of nowhere but actually comes from a stressed out liver. The leafy parts of dandelion have more of an affinity for the kidneys, so if there's a fearful person in your life (fear is a kidney emotion), consider dandelion leaf in their salads. I quite like to have just the root tincture and the leaf/root tincture combo at hand so I can cover all the bases.

St John'swort tincture - There are a lot of ways that St. J. can save the day. It's a great anti-viral (why is that hardly ever mentioned?) so it's a nice preventative to ward off the plague flu or colds when everyone around you is just disgusting (lol, I can't stand sick people, can you tell?). If you succumb, it's always a handy part of the armament when fighting these things, too. That anti-viral action extends to being helpful to shingles and herpes, which makes it a god-send. It needs to be taken at the first tingle, then it can really help to nip an outbreak in the bud or lessen the symptoms if it does break through. To cope with the seasonal blues, tiny amounts taken throughout the day usually turn things around in a couple of weeks. Strangely enough, the person taking the St. J. doesn't seem to notice the difference right away but the people around them do. And of course St John'swort infused oil, (not essential oil) topically, for sciatica and other nerve issues is also top notch. I have several posts on St J, check the sidebar or use the search engine to find them.

Calendula tincture - These sunny yellow or orange flowers have become a real favourite of mine in the garden. They're prolific, bloom til the snow flies and you can get decent seeds at the dollar store (yes, really!). I dry the flowers for some uses and make tinctures for others. Calendula (often called marigold but not to be confused with the awful, stinky tagetes kind, ugh) is an excellent wound healer. It's especially useful for nasty pimples that won't come to a head (take tea or tincture by mouth and dab it on, too) or for any kind of wound that's angry or becoming infected. Matt Wood says "It prevents the appearance of pus and inflammation, encouraging the body to heal the tissues at its own pace. However if pus has formed, it keeps the inflammation from spreading and moves the debris away through the adjacent lymphatics .. it has a special affinity for swollen, hot, pus filled tissue, especially where there is no vent .. it keeps wounds from hardening and forming scar tissue".  The way it works via the lymphatics is key; it's also an excellent remedy for swollen glands of any kind. And last, but certainly not least, it's a damn fine remedy for anyone suffering from candida-type issues thanks to its selective anti-fungal action, way safer and more effective in the long term than Nystatin or those stupid essential oils some people recommend. I could write pages on calendula, and some day I will ..

Evening Primrose tinctures (flower and whole plant) - These are tinctures I made as an experiment long before I read about anyone else using the plant other than the seed oil. It's still rare to see anything written up about it. I first made the flower tincture just because they're so breathtakingly beautiful, glowing in the evening or at sunrise. How could they NOT be useful, I figured. Their fragrance is heady with almost touch of danger, reminding me of Datura flowers .. now I ain't fool enough to mess with Datura (any more, some day I'll tell you that story) but the similarity in the fragrance hinted that I might have a milder, safer source of Datura blossom's relaxant and pain relieving properties (without the possible fatal ones) in evening primrose, and I was right. In extremely small doses (3-5 drops) taken before bed, evening primrose flower tincture soothes, calms and lifts the spirits, relieves the kind of pain that's not worth taking a Tylenol for but is keeping you awake and tense. Tincture of the whole plant (leaves & root, I don't use the stem) is a great gassy tummy or bloat remedy. It was years before I saw Kiva Rose and Matt Wood writing of their uses of the plant; they of course have many more uses for it than I'd discovered on my own. Versatile plant, evening primrose. I've never seen it for sale, it's something you'd likely have to experiment with from your own back yard (always the best way to learn).

Okay, that's enough reading for you for now (and enough writing for me!). I'll come back to this in another post. My list (except for Chamomile) is based on experiences with what I make from my own plants or those I've collected from the wild, so if you're forced to buy yours, I can't promise they'd act the same way.  Still, if any of these pique your curiousity, look them up. Remember - you want 3 independent sources, preferably NOT any that are trying to sell you something!


  1. So I'm having issues with dry skin just on my hands, mostly on my finger and thumb pads. I figure it's from washing my hands and doing dishes because the rest of my skin is fine. I've developed a crack on my thumb.

    I go looking for herbs that might help, and calendura pops up! I just bought some very nice dried ones, so I thought I'd figure out how to use them. Trouble is that what I'm finding on the net is not very useful and seems overly complicated. Do you have anything suggestions that are quick and easy? Thanks!

    1. Oooh, cracked thumb, that's nasty. Quick & easy? Get your hands on some lanolin, it works like magic on cracked skin. Longer term, make some infused oil as described in the post today (you can maybe use the quicker method, it's probably fine for dried calendula blossoms, just make a small batch):


      Then make an ointment by melting beeswax into the oil, described here:


      Neither is as complicated as it sounds/looks. If you can cook, you can do it (and I know you can cook!)

  2. Wilbur, if you're still checking this post - you could try just soaking your cracked thumb in calendula tea as well.

    1. Oh shoot! Got distracted. Forgot what I wrote before. Anyway, I used the double boiler method using calendura and coconut oil. Figured it would be similar. I put it on my hands, and the fingers other than my thumb are already perfect. The thumb seems to absorb a lot of the oil. The crack is smaller, but it less painful. I think the calendura infused oil reduced the inflammation and made that happen. Good stuff!

    2. Will try the tea too!

  3. Definitely still checking! This is my new favorite blog!

    Ha! I can sort of cook. I basically never cooked until my daughter was about 4 years old. Microwave meals mostly. I don't remember why, but I slowly got interested. And I learned to make stuff that interests me. I can make a roast chicken that takes 4 days and beats any I've had at any fancy French restaurant, but I literally cannot boil an egg. No idea. If I needed a boiled egg, I'd have to research it. My wife has me pegged: If I'm interested, I'm 1000% in; if I'm not, I'm 1000% out. Binary.

    Also, I don't use recipes. I get gists of recipes, and ideas of proportion. I have no idea where to buy lanolin and beeswax. Amazon? But that would take hours. So I look for your gist.

    And what I decided to do was put the calendura flowers in a bowl of coconut oil using your double boiler method.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. (Hahaha - this comment section is all messed up! Biblical - the first shall be last and the last shall be first ..or something)

    Anyway, attaboy Wilbur! Improvise away!

    Did you know I have 3 blogs? Yes, it's true. One of them is called "Home Sweetening" (named after my home cleaning biz). If I ever bring it back to life, I'll be wanting that 4 day chicken recipe. And for the record, boiling an egg isn't the easiest thing to do. Not to me anyway.

  5. I'm being disciplined and I will not go search for Datura. I will stay focused. But what is Datura? You mentioned it in the evening primrose section. I adore chamomile and always have, even as a kid. Love that stuff. Tea bags and loose "leaf." And what I really love is that later, when I research stuff, I see WHY I love certain things. Natural selection!---Terri F

    1. I actually detest the taste of chamomile, until/unless I need it, then I find it quite pleasant. Weird, eh?

      Since you asked - Datura is a gorgeous but very dangerous plant also called locoweed and jimsonweed. The flowers are big, white, trumpet shaped and they spiral open in the evening and the seed pods look amusingly like spiked testicles. (no, really, they're hilarious)

      There are many stories about accidental (or deliberate) ingestion killing or driving people insane because urban legend has it you can get high (a misreading of the Carlos Casteneda books, I guess). Used with extreme caution, it can be a pain reliever but it's NOT for amateurs.

      But the flowers are sooooo pretty and they smell like honey and moonlight. I used to grow them, and a whiff or two used to leave me relaxed and happy .. So once upon a time, I picked ONE flower, put it in a vase in the bathroom and took a long bath. It was a few feet away from me, but in the enclosed, steamy space, the fragrance got to me .. I found myself seeing colours (woops)! No harm done, but I could tell it was a close call.