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]

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.

Thursday, 19 November 2015 02:49

How to ensure a healthy, happy holiday season

Like it or not, the season’s craziness is upon us once again, with marketing blitzes, the next “best” sale that we must not miss, holiday parties and many other potential stressors. We cannot change the commercialism that pervades our culture today, but we can change how we respond to it. One of the best gifts we can give ourselves and our loved ones is the gift of taking care of mind, body and spirit. There are many simple methods to ensure a healthy, lower stress holiday season:

Take timeouts just to breathe – yes, breathe! Feel those shoulders creeping up to meet your ears? Take a breath! You’ve just fixed a lovely, healthy meal — the table is perfect, guests are ready to “dig in” — take a breath! Take a moment to acknowledge to yourself all you have done, to enjoy the smells and the visual feast before you before you start to eat!

Dr. Andrew Weil recommends a daily practice of relaxing breathing — simple, and quite effective. Just follow these steps:

  • Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
  • Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose for a count of four.
  • Hold your breath for a count of seven.
  • Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound for a count of eight.
  • Repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.

Take care of your body – eat healthy, tasty foods, drink lots of liquids (of the nonalcoholic variety), minimize refined sugar and caffeine. Schedule exercise every day — even a 10 minute walk will do wonders for your body, mind and spirit. Sip on a delicious herbal tea — chamomile, hops, skullcap, passionflower — an hour or so before you want to go to sleep and get some restorative sleep, which your body needs! Add some immunity boosters to your daily routine — elder berry and elder flower, echinacea, golden seal, rosehips and hibiscus combine to make yummy immunity boosting teas, for example. Make soups/stews to stay warm and satisfy your taste buds. Add some astragalus root to the pot to boost that immunity! Herbs and spices can be added to many foods and beverages. Rather than grabbing a supplement bottle, incorporate the actual plant in your cooking to enjoy the benefits and the flavor the herbs provide!

Are you noticing muscle tightness or pain? Get up and move a little, change positions, close your eyes to reduce strain for a few moments. Think you don’t have time? You will find that just a few moments of movement can save you much time in the long run. You will be more effective and efficient, and you won’t be nearly as uncomfortable!

Take care of your mind – it needs rest, but it also needs new types of stimulation. Try a different type of literature, music or art to stimulate those beautiful “grey cells”! Explore new places, vary where you go for your walks and really pay attention to what is around you — mental stimulation helps keep our brains functioning well, and improves our mood and sense of fulfillment. Stimulate the senses. Try new herbs or spices in your foods and beverages. Add some organic cardamom pods to your coffee or tea, or perhaps some cinnamon and savor the difference as you enjoy the smell and taste of something new!

Take care of your spirit – the propaganda machines are telling you all the things you must buy, do, see and make, but listen to your own internal voice. What brings you peace, joy and happiness? What does this season mean to you? You don’t have to cave in to the consumerism of this time of year — if your joy comes from nature, from your friends and family, from your religious expression — be there, do that, share that! Agree to buy and do less, and share more. Take these moments to deepen those things that bring joy to your spirit.

We can all live healthier, more simple lives, which allows us to enjoy the beauty of this planet, our friends and family, and our lives. Enjoy the magic of the season and stay healthy at the same time!

Reference: “Three breathing exercises.” A Weil.

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