Healthy Concepts
T. Heather Herdman, RN, PhD

T. Heather Herdman, RN, PhD

T. Heather Herdman, RN, PhD is co-owner of Sweet Willow Naturals in Green Bay, where we have over 140 organic herbs and 70 organic spices available for you to craft your own products, or to simply enjoy as tea. Our store focuses on education and we have many classes to help you learn about herbs, aromatherapy, nutrition, and self-care – focusing on safe information backed up by research and experience. We also offer wellness coaching and massage – stop in today! For more information, visit or email [email protected]

Wednesday, 30 May 2018 18:58

What’s in that shake?

Spring and summer are often catalysts for us to examine our nutrition, and maybe try to shed a few pounds so that bathing suit fits perfectly. Weight loss and “healthy” shakes are all the rage — but do you really know what’s in that drink you’re buying from your local shake shop? Don’t be swayed by good marketing — just saying something is “healthy” doesn’t make it so! Ask to see the labels of the shake powders being used to determine if they are really what you want to be incorporating into your healthy lifestyle. Chances are, if you cannot pronounce the ingredient, or need a dictionary to understand what it is, you really don’t want to be drinking it!

One major company advertising a “health meal” shake lists the following ingredients: soy protein isolate, fructose, soy lecithin, soy oil, flavors, thickeners (guar gum powder, cellulose powder, carrageenan, xanthan gum), calcium citrate, fructooligosaccharides, oat fiber, corn bran, anti-caking agent (silicon dioxide), milk protein, dextrose, cupric glyconate, and gluten — just to name a few! For weight control, the company recommends that you replace two meals per day with two shakes, and eat only one nutritionally balanced meal.

Some of the downsides of these shake drinks are:

  • Processed/artificial ingredients and sweeteners. The amount of sugars (bolded in the ingredient list above) are equal to the protein in this formula, so you are likely to experience a “sugar high” rather than a natural “energy boost.”
  • Soy protein isolate (the first ingredient): frequent intake of soy products can negatively impact the thyroid and reproductive functions; indications are it may cause or tend to produce some cancers.
  • Carrageenan causes inflammation; regular consumption of processed foods with carrageenan is enough to cause inflammation in our bodies. Chronic inflammation is a root cause of many serious diseases, including heart disease, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, and cancer.
  • Soy lecithin and soy oil can, in addition to the previously noted issue, lead to side effects such as bloating, diarrhea, mild skin rashes, nausea and stomach pain.
  • Encouraging a daily low caloric intake — yes, that’s a negative! Regularly eating fewer calories than your body needs can cause your metabolism to slow down; studies show that low-calorie diets can decrease the number of calories the body burns by as much as 23 percent.

So, let’s contrast the ingredient list from this advertised “healthy meal alternative” with an all fresh, healthy, easy to make shake:

Berry Kale Smoothie

  • 1/2 banana
  • 1/2 cup chopped kale
  • 1/2 cup fresh or frozen unsweetened blueberries/strawberries/raspberries (use one berry or a combination you like!)
  • 1/2 cup plain whole milk yogurt
  • 1 scoop plant-based protein powder*
  • 1 tablespoon flax seed meal
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup water (optional)
  • 2 handfuls ice or more to taste

The following table provides a comparison between these two shake options:


Leading “Health Shake” with

1 cup Skim Milk

Berry Kale





Total Fat



Protein (g)



Carbohydrates (g)



Fiber (g)



Sodium (g)



Note that, although the caloric intake is higher in the smoothie you can make at home, the protein is nearly double, and the fiber is almost triple that of the other shake, which means this shake will sustain you longer. The ingredients are all recognizable, healthy foods loaded with phytonutrients to support your health and vitality. You can, of course, adjust this recipe to change up the greens, fruits and even the spices. Add turmeric to help decrease inflammation, or try savory spices if you prefer savory versus sweet flavors, etc.

So, rather than buying a shake with a processed powder base, make your smoothie fresh, healthy, local, and organic — without unnecessary chemicals and fillers. It’s farmer’s market season! Visit your local organic farmers and experiment with a variety of greens to “shake up” your smoothie experience. You’ll be amazed how delicious real food can be!

Choose wisely — it is your life! 

(*Look for a protein powder that is organic, and that uses a combination of protein sources, such as a pea, brown rice, hemp combination, rather than a purely soy-based or whey-based protein source. Calculations for this recipe were made using Vega Protein & Greens Vanilla Plant Protein Shake and Fage Whole Milk Plain Greek Yogurt).


“Health effects of soy protein and isoflavones in humans.” The Journal of Nutrition. C. W. Xiao. 2008.

“Carrageenan Under Fire.” Today’s Dietitian. D. Yeager. 2013.

“Soya lecithin.”

USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference.

“Persistent metabolic adaptation 6 years after ‘The biggest loser competition.’” Obesity. E. Fothergill et al. 2016.

“Adaptive thermogenesis with weight loss in humans.” Obesity. M.J. Muller et al. 2013.

“Adaptive thermogenesis in humans.” Int J Obes. M. Rosenbaum et al. 2010.

“Health Meal Fact Sheet.” Herbalife Europe Limited. 2011.

Wednesday, 31 January 2018 20:36

Hawthorn — Crataegus oxyacanthoides

In this month when we tend to think of things related to our hearts, let’s talk about hawthorn (crataegus oxyacanthoides), an herb that can be your heart’s best friend; specifically, let’s talk about hawthorn berries. Hawthorn berries are known as a heart tonic, or nutritive heart herb, and have been used for centuries and across many traditions, for circulatory system health. The hawthorn berries contain bioflavonoids, antioxidants and procyanidins, which help nourish and tone the heart.

These active ingredients act by normalizing the heart — either by slowing its activity, if needed, or by stimulating it — whatever the heart needs, it tries to provide. Hawthorn dilates arteries and veins, which allow for better blood flow. It also strengthens the heart muscle, which helps to regulate and normalize blood pressure. It is also able to strengthen the capillaries in the venous system, which helps those who bruise easily.

Hawthorn is a gentle treatment, and over time can help to support those with congestive heart failure or heart palpitations, high blood pressure, arteriosclerosis and angina pectoris. The gentle nature of hawthorn berries generally allows for the ingestion of hawthorn, even if you are using cardiac medications*. Hawthorn is a food herb, meaning it can be ingested in a wider variety of mediums than most herbs. In addition to tea and tincture, hawthorn berries are used to make honey, jam, syrup, cordials, elixirs and vinegar. Hawthorn-infused honey is a beautiful rose color, with a yummy, fruity flavor.

Making a Hawthorn Berry Infusion by steeping two teaspoonfuls of hawthorn berries in boiling water for 20 minutes, three times daily, over a long period of time can have beneficial effects. Herbs do not work “overnight” in most cases, but require prolonged use to gently tune the body. Try daily Hawthorn Berry Infusion for several months to determine if you find its effects positive.

If you aren’t keen on tea, then try adding a teaspoon or so of this mixture to your hot or cold cereal, adding to a smoothie, stir into your yogurt, or top your fresh fruit:

Hawthorn Berry Infusion

Recipe from Rosemary Gladstar’s Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide

  • 2 tablespoons hawthorn berry powder
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ tablespoon ground ginger root
  • 1/8 tablespoon cardamom powder
  • Mix and store in a glass jar.

*Of course, always talk with your health care provider before using any herbs or essential oils — as there are always exceptions to the rule, and some medications can be affected (either by decreasing or increasing their effectiveness) when combined with herbs or essential oils. The information provided here is not meant to substitute for advice obtained from your health care provider. The statements have not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration, although research studies have been conducted that support these statements. 

References: “Medicinal herbs: A beginner’s Guide.” North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing. 2012. R. Gladstar.

“Holistic Herbal: A safe and practical guide to making and using herbal remedies.” London, UK: Thorsons. D. 1990. D. Hoffman.

Recipe from Rosemary Gladstar’s Medicinal herbs: A beginner’s guide.

Wednesday, 31 January 2018 20:26

Taking a look at holistic living

I’d like to invite you to consider what you mean when you say (or hear someone else say) you want to “be more holistic,” or “adopt a holistic lifestyle.” If we think about the meaning of holism (from ὅλος holos, a Greek word meaning “all, entire, total”) from a philosophical perspective, it is a belief that all the properties of any given system (physical, biological, chemical, social, psychological, etc.) cannot be determined or explained by its component parts alone. If we take that one step further, and apply it to health and wellness, to treat someone within a holistic framework requires the treating of the whole person, accounting for psychological, cultural, and spiritual factors, rather than just the physical symptoms of a disease or injury.

It is interesting, then, that we often hear more about modalities than about a true holistic perspective. Are herbs holistic? Are essential oils? Is massage or acupuncture? The answer to this is that it all depends on how you think about and use these modalities. If your mindset is “Do you have an herb for my headache?” then you are looking for symptom management using an herbal versus a pharmaceutical approach. And while there is nothing wrong with that, it is not a holistic approach. If you only look at health/well-being as something that requires treatment when a malady arises, you may still be approaching health from more of a Western, reactionary mindset rather than a holistic, promotion/prevention mindset.

So how does a holistic, or traditional health perspective (sometimes called folk medicine, which may be intended to minimalize its effectiveness) differ from a Western perspective? Rather than treating only the symptom, holistic care looks for what is going on in the person’s life, which might be at the root of the headache. How is his stress level, and could the adrenal glands be depleted? How is the individual’s nutrition? His sleep? How active is he? How are his relationships with his family/friends, at work, in his community? What is his spiritual belief system? Are there cultural/ethic/familial traditions that might influence his health and well-being (positively or negatively)? What are his beliefs about stress, about pain, about nutrition, about health? Understanding an individual from a holistic perspective requires time to build a relationship, a willingness to listen, and an ability to consider the person’s own values and beliefs and how they can influence health.

Herbs, essential oils, massage, yoga, t’ai chi, bodywork: these are just some of the many modalities that can be integrated into personal care in a way that allows the individual to take control over his or her own health and well-being. These modalities can be integrated with Western medical practices — screenings, medication, physical and occupational therapy — in a way that can improve outcomes; they can also be used alone. However, to be truly holistic, we have to think beyond the “Do you have an herb for this condition?” mindset in which we simply replace a pharmaceutical agent (medicine) with a natural agent (also a medicine). We have to address the person, in all his complexity; if we do not consider all the parts, as an integrated whole that forms the human being, then we remain stuck in the “fix it” mentality often associated with Western medicine, and we resist holism at its very roots.

Let’s be clear, people have found both methods (traditional and Western approaches to health) to be effective but today, more and more people are finding a balance between the Western, allopathic beliefs and the more traditional, holistic ones. So perhaps as we move into this new year, we can consider a different route than merely looking for a prescription/herb/essential oil, and instead taking the time to truly understand what is influencing our health — for good and for ill — and address that using a variety of methods that support our existence as complex, holistic beings.

As we fully embrace this winter season, I find myself longing for the fresh taste of herbs from my garden to season the foods I eat. Obviously, we cannot simply slip outside and snip a sprig of thyme, oregano, or harvest a cayenne pepper so it is time for us to reach for dried or frozen herbs to provide flavor and a health kick to our foods. In addition to using herbal teas as a way to ingest herbs — and rather than relying on supplements — why not use them as we cook? 

In general, dried herbs (if they are still good — how long have you had that spice jar in your cabinet?) are stronger than fresh herbs. The basic rule of thumb is that 1 unit of dry herb = 3 units of fresh herb. In other words, if you would use 1 teaspoon of fresh basil in a recipe, you likely will only need 1/3 teaspoon of dried basil in the same recipe. This is because fresh herbs have a lot of water content when compared to the dried so the dried are far more concentrated. Here is an interesting comparison of fresh to dried herb, according to the USDA National Nutrient Database:

  • Fresh parsley is 87.71 percent water (12.29 percent active ingredients)
  • Dried parsley is 5.89 percent water (94.11 percent active ingredients)

This means that dried parsley is 700 percent more concentrated than fresh. And this holds true with the antioxidants in dried herbs. The gold standard for measuring antioxidants is the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC), developed by the USDA and National Institutes of Health. The ORAC value for fresh parsley is 1,301; for dried parsley, the ORAC value is 73,670. So, if you purchase organic herbs, nonirradiated, that are not UV treated, or bottled with chemical preservatives, you can eat those dried herbs without worrying about a loss of antioxidant properties! Store them in a cool, dry, dark place in glass containers, and they will last longer for you, too. Also, if you buy whole herb versus ground, you will notice that the flavor is maintained longer (just crush/grind it when you need it — a spice/coffee grinder works well).

Since we are in the season in which respiratory ailments are common, let’s focus on an herb that can enhance your respiratory system, protect against colds/flu, help fight sinus infections, or minimize symptoms and/or the length of time those symptoms hang around: horseradish (Armoracia rusticana). 

Before it was a food, horseradish was recognized as a powerful medicine. It has a volatile oil compound, sinigrin, which breaks down to become a natural antibiotic which is thought to be the active ingredient that enables horseradish to be so effective against upper respiratory infections. This compound, along with several others in horseradish, clear congestion, thin mucous, reduce inflammation, fight bacteria and viruses, relax muscles and stimulate the immune system. The root is rich in minerals and vitamins, including vitamin C.

Here is a Bavarian-inspired recipe from Bharat Aggarwal and Debora Yost’s wonderful book that can be used to accompany a pork dish, or as a condiment for a roast beef sandwich:

Bavarian Apple and Horseradish Sauce

Makes about 1½ cups

½ cup prepared horseradish, drained

1 large, tart green apple, peeled, cored and diced

¼ cup lemon juice

1 teaspoon sugar

½ teaspoon salt

½ cup sour cream

1 tablespoon dried parsley

Mix the horseradish, apple, lemon juice, sugar and salt. Cover and let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Stir in the sour cream, sprinkle with parsley and serve. Or, refrigerate until ready to use, stir and bring to room temperature prior to serving.

You can also cook with horseradish, which makes the flavor quite mild. Today, it is often used as an ingredient in batter or coating for fish, and is even added with a bit of sour cream to mashed potatoes. 

References: “Healing spices: How to use 50 everyday and exotic spices to boost health and beat disease.” Aggarwal. B. & Yost, D. Sterling. 2011. 

“Herbs for common ailments: How to make and use herbal remedies for home health care.” Gladstar, R. Storey Publishing. 2014.

Friday, 29 December 2017 17:10

Mullein — Verbascum thapsus

If you think you don’t know an herb when you see one, this is a plant that I’m fairly confident anyone could pick out in a field. It’s likely to be one of the tallest of the plants you see, as it often reaches seven feet or more in height, with a tall spike at the center. The leaves are quite large (5-8 inches), soft and fuzzy with a look and feel that remind me of the ears on Nubian goats. You find mullein growing everywhere — by streams, at the side of the road, in cement cracks in sidewalks — and in any soil type (gravel, sand, clay). She is a determined grower, handles full sun to part shade, and is a biennial (in the first year you see a rosette of the beautiful, fuzzy large leaves at ground level, followed by the tall spike in year two with delicate yellow flowers all along the tall spike), and she grows in zones 3-9. That means that we find her in a lot of places here in Wisconsin.

Mullein leaves are used to moisten the respiratory tract and calm coughs and congestion. The flowers, when infused in oil, either alone or with garlic, are used to relieve infection and pain of earaches. We are going to focus on the leaves for this Herb Blurb, because it is the time of year when we use mullein leaf the most for its expectorant and antispasmodic properties. 

If you have a “tickly” cough, mullein might be just the thing for you. And, she is a wonderful tonic for hacking, spastic, deep coughs and for bronchial congestion, colds, allergies, and other respiratory issues. Mullein is also used to support glands, which can often become swollen and sore during times of infection. It has been used in the care of asthmatic individuals, because it can help relax constriction or tightness in the lungs and throat.

If you have mullein growing near you, it is a simple thing to harvest. Gently gather some of the beautiful leaves (taking care not to harvest more than ¼ of the plant), and allow them to air dry. Once dry, you can gently crumble them into a dark glass jar, or a regular mason jar that you store in a dark, cool place. If you don’t have it this year, start some seeds next year so that you will begin to have your own supply of this beautiful, healing herb.

Cough Tea

For an easy way to make tea to get you through cough and cold season, make up a batch of tea overnight, using a half-gallon mason jar or other similar glass jar.

  • ¼ ounce mullein leaf 
  • ¼ ounce coltsfoot leaf
  • ¼ ounce marshmallow leaf

Bring water to a boil, and pour over herbs to fill jar. Allow to steep overnight (you can pour the water into the jar in your kitchen sink, cover and leave overnight). In the morning, strain the herbs and refrigerate the tea. Warm as you want to drink it throughout the day. Feel free to add honey to taste, if you like. 

References: “Herbal antibiotics: Natural alternatives for treating drug-resistant bacteria (2nd Ed).” Buhner, S.H. Storey Publishing. 2012.

“Rosemary Gladstar’s medicinal herbs: A beginner’s guide.” Gladstar, R. Storey Publishing. 2012.

“The herbal apothecary: 100 medicinal herbs and how to use them.” Pursell, J.J. 2015. Timber Press. 2015.

We often think of stress as a bad thing: we are “stressed out” because we have too many things to do and it leads to a feeling of burnout or fatigue. But good things can also cause stress: a new home, new baby, vacation, family coming home for the holidays. This kind of stress, also known as eustress, is a positive form of stress that can have a beneficial effect on health, motivation, performance, and emotional well-being. When we are in a state of eustress, endorphins are released. These are the same chemicals that are responsible for “runner’s high” — they make us feel good! However, sometimes even these good stressors add up and eventually the scale is tipped so that we experience too much of a good thing and we burn out.

So, how do we tip ourselves over to eustress from distress in this busy, commercialized and yes, downright stressful time of the year?

First, let’s take a look at what is involved with stress and stressors. There are important stress hormones that our bodies produce and use when they need them, such as in an emergency situation. These hormones are epinephrine and norepinephrine, and they are often referred to as the “fight-or-flight” hormones that are released when the body is under extreme stress. During this type of stress, much of the body’s energy is used to combat imminent danger, and these hormones help the body muster the energy it needs to either stay and fight or take flight. The neat thing about these hormones is that as soon as you stop needing them, they stop being produced — they don’t hang around in your system causing havoc, instead they go away once the crisis has been averted.

There is a third hormone, however, that isn’t so accommodating. Cortisol is consistently being created and released by the adrenal glands in response to minor stressors. The problem with this is that unless you have a physical way of releasing stress — moving, physical activity, dare I say exercise? — the levels of cortisol continue to build up in your body. Eventually, the adrenal glands become fatigued. Some common signs of chronically elevated cortisol levels include mood swings, forgetfulness, anxiety, difficulty concentrating and weight gain. Sound familiar? We tend to shrug this off by saying stress is a part of life, but chronically high cortisol can be quite dangerous to your health.

One of the ways to seek support for our bodies in times of chronic stress is to utilize adaptogenic herbs. As their name suggests, adaptogens help the body adapt to stress, regardless of its cause, by normalizing cortisol levels and supporting those tired, overused adrenal glands.

In addition to lowering cortisol and supporting adrenals, research suggests that adaptogens: have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties; naturally enhance our mood by working to lower anxiety; have antidepressant properties; help normalize the immune system, the nervous system, and blood sugar metabolism; and, improve energy, stamina, muscle tone and strength.

Perhaps the most important of the adaptogens is ashwagandha (withania somnifera), an herb that has long been used in the Ayurvedic tradition, and in more recent decades has been adopted into Western herbal practice. It is thought to be one of the most effective adaptogenic herbs for lowering cortisol levels, with both calming and energizing effects. Recent studies have shown that ashwagandha may be effective in reducing anxiety, while its anti-inflammatory properties have shown promise in studies linked to rheumatoid arthritis. In one trial, it was found to increase four immune system cells, indicating a change in immune cell activation.

Ashwagandha isn’t necessarily the tastiest of herbs, so finding good ways to disguise it in great-tasting, healthy foods is a fabulous way to incorporate this adaptogen into your daily life.

Note: This information is not intended to suggest that you should replace any current treatment with ashwagandha. Always discuss your care with your trusted health care provider.

Ashwagandha Date Treats

Recipe from Alchemy of Herbs: Transform Everyday Ingredients into Foods and Remedies That Heal

Recommended eating: 2-3 per day • Yield: 40 balls


1½ cups pitted and chopped dates

2 tablespoons cocoa powder

1/3 cup ashwagandha powder

2/3 cup unsweetened coconut flakes (plus extra for rolling)

¼ cup tahini

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

½ teaspoon orange extract

1 teaspoon cinnamon powder

1 teaspoon ginger powder


  1. Soak pitted dates in 2 cups hot water for 30 minutes.
  2. Strain dates well.
  3. Place dates and remaining ingredients into a food processor. Blend until it forms a consistent paste.
  4. Chill the mixture in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
  5. Roll the paste into teaspoon-size balls and roll in coconut.
  6. Store in refrigerator and eat within one week. 

References: “Anxiolytic-Antidepressant Activity of Withania Somnifera Glycowithanolides: An Experimental Study.” Bhattacharya, S.K., Bhattacharya, A., Sairam, K., and Ghosal, S. Phytomedicine. 2000.

“Efficacy & Safety Evaluation of Ayurvedic Treatment (Ashwagandha Powder & Sidh Makardhwaj) In Rheumatoid Arthritis Patients: A Pilot Prospective Study.” Indian Journal of Medical Research. Kumar. G., Srivastava, A., Sharma, S.K., Rao, T.D., and Gupta, Y.K. 2015.

“Adaptogens in Medicinal Herbalism: Elite Herbs and Natural Compounds for Mastering Stress, Aging, and Chronic Disease.” Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions/Bear. Yance, D.R. (2013).

“Alchemy of Herbs: Transform Everyday Ingredients into Foods & Remedies That Heal.” Carlsbad, CA: Hay House Inc. de la Foret, R. 2017.

Recent decades have seen an explosion of research supporting the use of fungi in health promotion. Some common actions shared by many medicinal fungi include: balancing the immune system, liver support, anti-tumor, antiviral, antibacterial, antioxidant, lowering LDL cholesterol, anti-inflammatory.

Let’s take a look at some of the readily available mushrooms we can use to support our health, using nature’s plants:


(Inonotus obliquus, Hymenochaetaceae)

Chaga is very popular as an immune tonic and antioxidant. There is concern about the overharvesting of chaga, since it is not currently being cultivated, so avoid use as a daily beverage, but use as needed for health promotion. For example, prepare chaga chai with traditional chai spices to help prevent colds and flu.

Maitake, or Hen of the Woods

(Grifola frondosa, Meripilaceae)

Maitake is used as a liver tonic to balance the immune system, has demonstrated antitumor activity, helps lower blood sugar and LDL cholesterol levels, and lowers blood pressure.1


(Lentinula edodes, Marasmiaceae)

Uses of shiitakes include supporting the cardiovascular and immune systems. They are antioxidant and used as a cancer preventive to increase stamina, improve circulation and alleviate arthritis symptoms.

Hemlock Reishi, or Varnished Artist’s Conk

(Ganoderma tsugae, Ganodermataceae)

There are different species of this mushroom: Ling-zhi (Ganoderma lucidum) and Ganoderma tsugae, which can be substituted for one another in recipes. Reishi is used to support underactive and overactive (e.g., allergies and asthma) immune activity. Reishi is used in traditional Chinese medicine for the liver, heart and lungs.1 It is helpful as a daily support for those who often suffer from respiratory infections. Reishi is also used for those with hepatitis C, or with a history of alcohol abuse or exposure to environmental toxins. It is an adaptogen (balances the body, supports its ability to manage physical, mental and emotional stress), known for increasing vitality, energy and overall resilience.3 Reishi is used for anxiety; it is noted to be balancing and grounding.

Here’s a wonderful recipe that can be used to support immune function — it’s a nice option for those who may not like elderberry syrup — or who want to try something different. It’s yummy. Even kids like it!


Recipe from Juliet Blankenspoor, Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine


1 cup dried shiitake slices (1 ounce, or 28 grams)

1 cup dried maitake slices (¾ ounce, or 21 grams)

1 cup dried chaga crumbles (2½ ounces, or 70 grams)

1 cup dried reishi slices (1 ounce, or 28 grams)

2 tablespoons cinnamon chips

2½ teaspoons decorticated cardamom seeds

¾ cup maple syrup

11 ounces organic corn, grape or cane alcohol (190 proof [95 percent]), or 21 ounces (621 ml) 100 proof (50 percent) vodka


  1. Add mushrooms, cinnamon, cardamom and 40 ounces of water to a pot. Stir well to coat the mushrooms and herbs.
  2. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer 6-8 hours. Stir and check water level frequently. When water dips below the mushroom-herb mixture, add enough water so mixture is completely submerged.
  3. Turn off heat and leave uncovered to cool 30 minutes.
  4. Strain the mixture through a straining cloth into a half-gallon jar.
  5. Press mushrooms with a stainless steel potato ricer.
  6. Measure 32 ounces of your liquid into a half-gallon mason jar. If you have less, add water to bring volume to 32 ounces. If you have more than 32 ounces, pour off the excess. Exact measurement is important, or your proportions will be off.
  7. Add maple syrup and alcohol.
  8. Shake well, and pour into your storage bottle.

Store in the refrigerator for one year; in a dark, cool cabinet for 6 months. Adult dosage is one teaspoon to one tablespoon, twice daily. 


1. Hobbs, C. Medicinal Mushrooms: An Exploration of Tradition, Healing, and Culture. (Botanica Press, 2002).

2. Stamets, P., and Yao, C. D. W. Mycomedicinals: An Informational Booklet on Medicinal Mushrooms. (MycoMedia, 2002).

3. Winston, D., and Maimes, S. Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief. (Inner Traditions/Bear & Co., 2007).

Sunday, 30 April 2017 22:58

A natural guide to spring cleaning

The sun is starting to shine more brightly and stay around just a bit longer every day. The breeze has started to feel a bit warmer and more welcoming. The vernal equinox has come and gone — it’s officially spring! With spring often comes that desire to throw open windows, invite fresh aromas and a feeling of newness into our homes. The spring cleaning bug begins to strike!

Rather than rushing out to your local big box store to pick up a cadre of chemical-laden cleaning products, why not whip up some of your own natural, chemical-free yet highly effective cleaning supplies? Make enough to keep them on hand for you to have as spring becomes summer too.

White vinegar can be used as a safer bleach alternative for some applications, like cleaning. It is also biodegradable. However, vinegar is not a registered disinfectant and it does not kill some dangerous bacteria, such as staphylococcus. It does work really well for certain things, such as degreasing the range hood in the kitchen, cleaning mold and mildew in the bathroom, cleaning and descaling the coffee maker, and replacing the rinse aid in your dishwasher. A recent study showed the following, “vinegar was more effective in reducing microbial contamination than the other alternative cleaners but was least effective in removing soil.” Thus, it may be best to use vinegar as a rinse to help to disinfect a surface after you have cleaned it with a soap-based cleaner. Hydrogen peroxide has antimicrobial ingredients and can also be an effective household cleaner.

Herbs can provide effective cleaning properties — they aren’t just good in teas!

Here’s a simple, effective and nice smelling basic scrub to clean sinks and bathtubs:

Sink/Tub Herbal Scrub

½ cup baking soda

½ cup dried sage leaves, coarsely ground

½ cup ground rosemary leaves

Mix together and store in an airtight glass jar. Shake well to blend, sprinkle on surface of sink or tub, scrub with a damp sponge.

Essential oils often have great cleaning properties that include being antiseptic, antifungal, antibacterial and antiviral. A word of caution: use essential oils sparingly if you have children <2 years of age and/or four-legged friends in your home — infants, along with cats and dogs, are especially sensitive to some essential oils and they absorb them quite easily through their skin. Remember that essential oils have chemical properties that require the liver or kidney to metabolize, which is hard on babies. Also, if you have older pets, their organs may find it more difficult to get rid of essential oils from their circulation. You can use lemon juice in place of essential oils, or even in addition to them. Lemon juice is less concentrated than essential oil but has similar properties.

Herbal Degreaser

2 cups water

¼ cup Murphy’s Oil Soap

10 drops lavender, rosemary or any citrus essential oil or ¼ cup lemon juice

Combine all ingredients in a spray bottle. Shake well before use. Spray generously on appliance surface and wipe with damp cloth or sponge. Wipe dry with a cloth or towel.

Homemade Deep Cleaning Soft Scrub

1 part castile soap

1 part cream of tartar

Spray bottle of hydrogen peroxide

Mix together castile soap and cream of tartar in a small bowl until a paste forms. Scoop out the paste with a sponge, rag or your hand. Rub over the surface you’re cleaning. Spray the surface down with hydrogen peroxide and then let sit for a few minutes. Scrub to clean and rinse surface off with water.

Citrus Floor Cleaner

1 gallon hot water

2 tablespoons liquid castile soap

15 drops sweet orange essential oil

8 drops lemon essential oil or ¼ cup lemon juice

Combine all ingredients in large bucket. Dip a mop into bucket, squeeze out excess liquid. Clean floor by working in sections, using short strokes and dipping mop as needed. No rinsing needed.

Double Nut Wood Polish

¼ cup almond oil

1/8 cup walnut oil

4 drops lemon essential oil

Combine all ingredients, apply a light layer of polish to wood with brush or cloth. Rub into wood with a soft cloth using a circular motion. Wipe again with a dry cloth.

All-purpose Stain Spray

¼ castile soap

¼ cup vegetable glycerine

2 tablespoons Borax

10 drops peppermint or tea tree essential oil

1¾ cups water

Combine all ingredients in a spray bottle and shake well. Spray generously onto stain, launder as usual.

Enjoy experimenting with fresh scents and natural cleaning products. Happy spring!

Monday, 30 January 2017 18:38

Valentine’s Day alternatives

February is for valentines — and often that means that people are buying processed chocolate candy or mass produced bath/body products for those they love. These products are, unfortunately, generally made with ingredients that are contrary to a healthy lifestyle. That doesn’t mean, though, that you must deprive yourself (or those you love) from luscious chocolate delicacies, or avoid using bath/products altogether, no!

Consider a different alternative. Everyone appreciates it so much more when you take the time to create something from scratch that shows the person of your dreams deserves something made with love. Get to know a few herbs and start crafting your own products. You will learn something new and show those you love that they are worth your time as you develop something for them all by yourself. There are certainly lots of ways to show you love someone, but let me share some herbal suggestions that you can create and share!

Here’s a special, lip-smacking liqueur to share with your sweetheart (make it now, it requires a few “soaking days” of preparation but it is oh so worth it!). This recipe comes from the world-renowned herbalist, Rosemary Gladstar:

Damiana Chocolate Love Liqueur

1 ounce dried Damiana leaf

2 cups vodka or brandy

1 ½ cups spring water

1 cup honey

Vanilla extract

Rose water

Organic chocolate syrup

Almond extract

  1. Soak the Damiana leaves in the vodka or brandy for 5 days. Strain (do not throw out the leaves); reserve the liquid in a glass bottle.
  2. Soak the alcohol-drenched leaves in the spring water for 3 days. Strain and reserve the liquid.
  3. Over low heat, gently warm the water extract and dissolve the honey in it. Remove the pan from the heat, then add the alcohol extract and stir well. Pour into a clean glass bottle with a dash of vanilla and a dash of rose water for flavor. Let it mellow for 1 month or longer; it gets smoother with age. (For your Valentine’s Day, you can speed this process up by warming your oven to a low setting, about 250 degrees, then turn it off and put the liqueur in the oven and leave it until the oven is completely cool — presto! Ready for step 4!)
  4. To each cup of Damiana liqueur, add ½ cup of chocolate syrup, 2-3 drops of almond extract and just a touch more rose water.
  5. Serve at the time of your choosing. Refrigerate the remainder to enjoy later.

There are also some lovely herbal baths that you can prepare to give someone a special evening. Herbs used in baths should be aromatic and relaxing, and there are so many to choose from! For the special someone in your life, consider the following recipe:

Deep Relaxation Bath

2 parts chamomile

2 parts sage

1 part hops

1 part lavender

6-8 drops clary sage or lavender essential oil

Store in a glass container in a cabinet so that the sun doesn’t get to the herbs. When you are ready to use, just put the mixture in a small muslin bag and toss in a warm bath. Add a naturally scented soy candle, some beautiful music and turn the lights down. Perfect!

Making your own pampering gifts has an added benefit. It can help you to slow down, take a breath and relax for a few minutes. That’s a healthy side effect for you, while you create something with love for your sweetheart.

Have a happy, herbal Valentine’s Day. 

It seems that every day we have people coming in to our store who are ingesting essential oils (EO) for everything from weight loss to toe nail fungus to cancer; most often without any scientific support for these claims. Rationale for ingestion, rather than inhalation or topical application, is often “they do it a lot in Europe” or “they’re from plants, they’re perfectly harmless” or “the EO I use is so pure it cannot harm anyone.”

The use of EOs internally — by drinking them or taking them in capsule form — means that the EOs are being used therapeutically. It is best to work with someone who has training in health sciences, understands physiology and medications you might be taking, and who has significant education on the properties of the EOs themselves. Essential oils can be contraindicated in certain medical conditions and with certain medications, so it is important that you know all of this before using an EO. Just as you probably wouldn’t ever consider taking a medication in unmeasured amounts just because a friend or coworker suggested it, I don’t recommend casual use of EOs therapeutically — especially in young children (<2 years), the elderly, those with chronic disease, or people taking medications. “Common” EOs can cause reactions in these individuals. That said, there is good research supporting the use of EOs in capsules for such things as irritable bowel syndrome and the treatment of parasites.

Let’s cover some key points.

Essential oils are ingested in Europe for medicinal purposes only, in gelatin capsules, diluted in a carrier oil or gel, to treat infection or chronic conditions, and are prescribed by licensed health care providers (nurses, physicians, pharmacists, herbalists) with significant training in EOs. “There is more chance of toxicity by this [the oral] route… The majority of French physicians who use essential oils in this way are working alongside bacteriologists and pharmacists, and are well aware of toxicity issues. A potential toxicity hazard could occur when untrained people use essential oils orally and ingest too much.” Although cases of toxicity or poisoning by EOs are rare, why take the risk? Inhalation and skin absorption (in a carrier oil) are both effective. Rather than ingesting grapefruit or lemon EO in your water, why not simply get the fresh fruit and squeeze in some of its juices? It will taste great but, as with drinking the EO, I’m afraid there is no evidence to show it will really help you lose weight. That’s a whole different conversation!

Essential oils are plant based, so they do come from nature; however, so does poison ivy and I don’t imagine anyone would willingly roll in a patch of that! Nature isn’t always nice, and to assume that “because it is natural, it is safe” is a bit of a stretch. In fact, studies have shown toxicity with oral ingestion of some EOs up to and including skin conditions; vomiting; diarrhea and even coma and death in young children.

There is no scientific proof that any essential oil which is 100 percent pure is better than any other. There is no required testing of essential oils in this country, so look for those with gas chromatography–mass spectrometry (GC-MS) certification, which identifies all substances found in the EO. To be compliant with FDA labeling, the bottle should have the complete Latin name of the plant from which the oil is taken (there are numerous cultivars of many plants, such as lavender, and studies indicate differences in effect depending on the cultivar), with no additives. The only exception to this is that some companies will blend more expensive essential oils with a carrier oil, such as jojoba oil: so long as these are clearly marked, the essential oil within the blend can still be a pure EO; you are simply purchasing a pre-blended oil. Trademarked terms may seem to provide proof that one brand is better, but these are marketing terms, and as such, they don’t mean anything that is scientifically provable.

Sustainability is an issue. We are already seeing an issue with over harvesting of plants and trees. Sandalwood, for example, has been so overharvested that the price of this EO has skyrocketed, and the species is in jeopardy. I’d like to suggest that we think about sustainability of plants/trees when we think about EO use. It can take hundreds of lemons to make one bottle of lemon essential oil. That has to have an environmental impact.

I encourage you to learn about EOs — but be wary of websites and “educational materials” provided from companies that sell or market EOs, or their representatives. Look to known experts who do not represent companies that manufacture or sell EOs — due to the obvious conflict of interest — and research that is independent of those companies. The National Association of Holistic Aromatherapists (NAHA) is an excellent educational resource.

References: “Clinical aromatherapy: essential oils in practice.” J. Buckle. Churchill Livingstone, Elsevier Science. 2003.

“Unintentional exposure of young children to camphor and eucalyptus oils.” Z. Flaman et al. Paediatrics & Child Health.

“Sclerodermiform syndrome after ingestion of essential oils.” A. Gonzalez-DeArriba et al. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. 2008.

“A review of the toxicity of Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree) oil.” K.A. Hammer et al. Food and Chemical Toxicology. 2006.

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