Your Medicinal Herb Garden

One of the questions I get asked frequently is what herbs would I recommend for a small medicinal herb garden or for someone just starting out so they don’t get overwhelmed. So that’s what I’m going to cover today. Of course, I don’t know everyone’s specifics. I will have to make a few assumptions – there will be plenty of sun, access to water, and the soil is healthy. One other important point is that these are herbs I believe allow for a beginner herbalist to begin treating their family with, they are also good for more advanced herbalists (for instance, I use chamomile in many preparations because it’s good for so many things). I’m hoping this will enable more and more individuals to grow their own “farmacy”!

chamomile plantMatricaria recutita – Chamomile

Like I mentioned before, I believe Chamomile (Matricaria recutita)  to be one of the most important herbs in our home. I use it for upset stomach, trouble sleeping, calming skin irritations, colic, teething issues, anxiety, and more. It is one of those herbs that I could not do without. Once it is growing (seed germination can be difficult) it can thrive in almost any type soil as long as it is well-draining, high clay content or shallow hard pan soil would not work here. It does require full sun, so don’t try to hide this in a corner! It’s PH requirement is also quite flexible growing well in the soil as low as 5.6 up to 7.5. Sadly this is not a perennial plant which requires replanting each year. I left much of my flowers and allowed them to go to seed last fall hoping to see some new sprouts this year.

Uses: upset stomach, gripping pain, IBS, calming skin irritations and reducing infection, colic, teething, hair rinse, anxiety, sleep aid

Soil:  Well-drained

Sun: Full sun but will tolerate a little shade

Annual

Echinacea02Echinacea purpurea– Echinacea (Purple Coneflower)

I’ve always been fond of “Daisy” like flowers and Echinacea is no exception. Echinacea is not only beautiful to us but attractive to pollinators. So if you’re looking to attract more pollinators to your garden, this is an herb you want to consider. Being a perennial, as long as you are giving it space to grow it will grace your garden year after year. It does not do well with “wet feet” but, once established it will tolerate drought and heat due to its deep tap root. The best way to propagate is by root cuttings in Autumn.

For medicinal purposes, Echinacea flower can be used but will not be as strong as a preparation made from the root. If you are harvesting the flowers do it when the flowers are just starting to bloom, for the root harvest in the fall when all the energy has moved down (preferably after a frost or two). Don’t dig up the entire root, make sure to leave some to grow back in the spring. I left mine alone last year (besides clipping a few flowers) to allow it to propagate naturally.

In order for Echinacea to be helpful take it at the first sign of a cold, this is not a recommended herb to be used as a tonic. For internal use, I recommend three preparations: infusion or tincture (flowers) or decoction (root). Make sure to follow directions for preserving herbs if you want to use it over the winter./p>

Uses: Boost immunity

Soil:  Well-drained

Sun: Full sun but will tolerate a little shade

Water: water well until established, after that it will tolerate very dry

lemon balm flowersMelissa officinalis – Lemon Balm

First, a word of warning…lemon balm likes to grow and will expand in your garden if you do not keep it under control. This should not stop you from growing it, just understand you’ll need to cut it back and ‘tame’ it!

Lemon balm is my go to for two specific issues: anxiety and cold sores because of its anti-viral properties, but it is good for many other things as well: eczema, headache, insect bites, and wounds to name a few.  As a culinary herb, it adds a wonderfully fresh, lemony-mint taste to any dish, (it’s especially good in a fruit salad) and brews into a refreshing iced tea!

In my garden, it is one of the fastest growing plants I have. If I see it getting a little sad looking, I simply cut it down and it magically rejuvenates it – basically, It is another easy plant to grow and will grow prolifically if left alone! One way to control it is to clip it back several times in the summer and early fall to keep seeds from forming. Unlike mint, it does not grow underground “runners” so it makes it easy to pull any unwanted plants that might get away from you. On a side note, this makes amazing fodder for your chickens and goats. When our chickens got into my herb garden they decimated my lemon balm, of course, it grew back in a few weeks, but I was amazed at how much the chickens liked it. When I thin I just throw it over my fence and the chickens and goats fight for it!

Uses: Cold sores, anxiety, sleep aid, eczema, headaches, insect bites, wounds, colic, can help with ADHD

Soil:  moist, rich and Well drained

Sun: Full sun

Water: does not tolerate drought very well

These are three great starter herbs if you are wanting to step into growing your own medicinal herb garden.

I need to mention here that my assumption, again, is that you’ve done your research and have prepared your soil for planting. So many problems with plants can be avoided by feeding your soil and ensuring drainage is adequate and biological soil life is thriving!

Truthfully I have a really tough time narrowing it down to just 9 because so many plants are useful to have in your medicinal arsenal. However, one of the criteria I am looking for is ease of growing, which does slim down the list, and the ones I believe are most helpful for family medical care.

Last time I covered Lemon Balm, Chamomile, and Echinacea. This time I will cover calendula, Garlic, and Arnica. Three very different plants but all great for a home medical kit.

calendula-officinalisCalendula officinalis (Pot Marigold)

This sunny, happy, orange or yellow flowered plant is part of the Asteraceae family. Not to be mistaken for the marigold in the

Tagetes family. Sadly, it is an annual (I always prefer perennials), but with all its many benefits I still think it earns a place in every medicinal garden.

Propagate

Calendula does best when directly sown into the soil once the last chance of frost has passed. You can start them inside and transplant but there is more chance of harming the taproot. Make sure your soil allows for adequate drainage and oxygen, especially during the beginning stages, to avoid “damping off.”Calendula will tolerate a wide range of soils but prefers full sun.

A little tip

If you pick the mature flowers regularly in the spring and summer it may continue producing more flowers, even into the fall. Picking flowers also reduce the chance of pests (blister beetles, cucumber beetles, and aphids). Never let the flowers go to seed or you will greatly decrease your harvest.

Harvesting

The best time to pick is in the heat of the day when the water content is the lowest. Dry the flowers as soon as possible. The petals dry quickly but the receptacle does not so you can expect a total drying time of 10 days or more at 90 degrees or so. Let them cool and sort them carefully when they finish drying, as they reabsorb moisture readily.

Uses

Calendula is a wonderful anti-inflammatory for the skin and is used in many lotions, creams, and salves. Apply topically for skin irritation: dry skin cracked nipples, eczema, wounds.

Taken internally it will help the digestive system: colitis, peptic ulcers, gastritis (infusion) and is cleansing for the liver and gall bladder (tincture). It also helps reduce menstrual pain and regulate bleeding (infusion).

Preparations: tincture, infusion, salve, cream, compress

TYPE: Annual

SOIL: Well-drained, aerated soil

SUN: Prefers full sun, will tolerate partial shade

WATER: Water well 1-2 times a week

alluimAllium (garlic)

You can’t go wrong with garlic. It adds a wonderful, flavorful explosion to any fare and, if used correctly, can add nutritional benefits. Garlic is also a wonderful addition to your garden as a pest repellant.

Propagate

Garlic can be planted in the spring but you will likely deal with smaller bulbs when harvesting. I recommend planting in the fall, so put this on your list as something to do as you move into fall. You’ll want to plant garlic about a month before frost hits. Simply break apart the bulb a few days before planting but keep the husk on the individual cloves. Plant them with the pointy end up about 2” deep and 4” apart. Heavily cover with mulch. In the spring green shoots will begin emerging. As the threat of frost is gone, feel free to remove the mulch.

A little tip

Do NOT use garlic bought at the store, use garlic from a previous harvest or buy them from a local garden shop. Be aware that you need to pick a variety that is good for your zone. Garlic flowers are lovely but if you are looking for larger bulbs, clip back any flower shoots. Because garlic likes extra nitrogen fertilizing with rabbit manure or manure tea would give it that added boost. Water well about every 3-5 days during the drier season.

Harvesting

Harvest when you see the tops begin to yellow and get droopy (usually late summer in my area). Pull them from the soil gently, using a spade, brush off the dirt and hang in a shady spot with plenty of air flow. You can bunch them together but make sure every side gets air. It is ready to use when the wrappers are dry and papery. You can either “braid” them (yes, even hard neck garlic which is what grows best here) or clip off the tops and store in a dry, cool area.

Uses

Garlic is one of those things that mainstream medicine has recognized. There’s really no way you can go wrong adding garlic to your life on a daily basis.

• Reduce risk of certain cancers
• Positive effects on the cardiovascular system
• Lower cholesterol
• Antibacterial
• Antimicrobial
• Antiviral
• Antifungal

The key to achieving the highest health benefits from this powerhouse is to make sure you don’t cook it, yes, add it to dishes, but try to add it near the end of cooking, it will provide the most intense flavor and won’t destroy all the enzymes (allicin). Press the garlic through a garlic press and let it stand for 5-10 minutes, this activates the allicin. At this point, you can add it to your dish, blend it with some honey and spread it on toast, add it to a batch of elderberry syrup (already prepared) for an extra immune boost, or, get crazy and just eat it straight up. Warning – you will have garlic breath J

Preparations: capsules, food, infused oil, powder

TYPE: Annual

SOIL: Well-drained, aerated soil

SUN: Prefers full sun

WATER: Water well every 3-5 days during the hot, dry months

Warning

Because garlic is such a warming food, it can be aggravating to people with a warm constitution. In high doses, it may irritate the digestive system, causing gas, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and burning of the mouth. In normal and moderate doses garlic acts as a pre-biotic, food for the good microflora in the gut. People with a known allergy to Allium plants should avoid garlic.

arnica1Arnica

 

A daisy-like flower with a happy, sunny disposition also part of the Asteraceae family. This is a beautiful and helpful addition to any medicinal herb garden.

Propagate

If you are fortunate enough to know someone that has arnica in their garden, ask if you can have a cutting or if they are ready to divide their plant. If not, starting with seeds isn’t that difficult but germination can be tricky taking one month up to two years so patience will come into play here! Sprinkle the seeds and lightly cover with soil. Keep moist. The other option is to start them indoors with plenty of light (preferably a grow light) you can transplant these in the spring after the threat of frost is gone.

Uses

• anti-inflammatory
• analgesic (reduces pain)
• vulnerary (wound-healing: fractures, sprains, contusions, muscular pain, varicose veins)
• rubefacient (increases blood flow to an area helping speed healing)

Arnica should only be used topically on the unbroken skin. It is quite effective when used as a poultice, in a carrier oil or salve.

Harvesting

Harvest blooming flower heads in summer, June through August.

Preparations: poultice, salve, infused oil, wash ( Steep 2 teaspoons arnica in 1 cup boiling water, let cool and use)

TYPE: Perennial

SOIL: Prefers sandy, slightly alkaline

SUN: Prefers full sun, will tolerate shade in very hot areas

WATER: Not drought tolerant until established, keep the soil moist but not soaked – a good weekly watering should suffice except during very dry, hot months.

nettleI love nettles, the leaves are filled with a plethora of vitamins (high levels of Vitamin A, C, E & K), protein, chlorophyll, and minerals (calcium, magnesium, iron, and potassium) making it quite useful as a vitamin drink. Juicing fresh nettle, preparing a nourishing herbal infusion, creating a “pesto”, or even using it as the spinach in a vegetable lasagna are all great ways to enjoy this herb while benefitting from its nutritive power.

I am fully aware that nettle is available to anyone who wildcrafts, so why do I recommend growing it in your herb garden? Because you know how it’s been grown and where it’s been grown. You have worked to create healthy soil and you aren’t spraying it with harmful chemicals. Furthermore, it’s growing right outside your door making it quick and easy to harvest, whether you are harvesting enough to make herbal preparations or even if you just want a little for your dinner preparations. To me, keeping things simple is key.

But what about the sting? Well, it’s a small price to pay, and honestly, if you harvest them correctly (wear gloves here) and either dry or saute/steam them, the sting is no longer a threat. Interestingly, nettle actually contains juices in its leaves that can stop the pain of a nettle “sting”. I was out yesterday looking at some nettle, I wasn’t wearing gloves and just decided to grab a leaf, roll it up, and eat it. I didn’t get stung, I decided to do an experiment and just brushed my hand against the nettles, sure enough, I was stung. I immediately grabbed another leaf, worked it between my fingers until the juices were released and rubbed it on the sting. The intensity of the pain greatly decreased, I wasn’t that bothered by it so I didn’t keep the leaf on for long. A few minutes later, the sting seemed to begin intensifying again so I grabbed a plantain leaf, crushed it and applied it with total relief in a short time. The moral of the story here is grab it like you own it – nettles sense fear J

Nettle prefers rich, moist soil and full sun but will grow in shadier areas, the difference being that the plant in shade will produce less seed which can be harvested and used as well. Seeds are great for overwrought adrenals. The seed can be a little stimulating, if you dry it first this will decrease the effect.

As a nourishing herbal infusion, it can help with fatigue, building and purify the blood, and detoxify (it has a diuretic property). This is also a wonderful herb to include in your diet and herb regimen if you are prone to allergies.

Preparations: Infusion, Nourishing Herbal Infusion, Poultice, Tincture, Juiced, Food

Growing

TYPE: Perennial
SOIL: Moist, rich
SUN: Prefers full sun will grow in shade
WATER: water well until established
Propagation: Cuttings, Root transplant, seed

lavender farmers marketLavender (Lavendula)

Lavender is a beautiful, highly aromatic plant that is not too difficult to grow in the right conditions. It is one of those herbs that almost everyone recognizes by sight and smell. Who hasn’t enjoyed the scent of lavender in soap, lotion, or even in a room or body spray? Lavender is an antimicrobial which makes it a great choice for a room deodorizer with germ-killing capabilities. It is a calming herb that can easily be added to infusions and baths to help reduce stress and irritability and induce sleep. It also has wonderful anti-inflammatory properties making it a perfect herb when treating burns and bug bites. The essential oil has been used for many years to treat burns, eczema, reduce scar tissue and aid in healing infections (including fungal).

I don’t think you can have enough lavender growing so I choose a sunny spot that has soil that is well-drained. It doesn’t like to have “wet feet” so it really doesn’t require that much input. Watering once a week is generally sufficient during the driest months. Don’t put it in with something that prefers moist soil, it will not thrive and may not even survive.

Harvest the flowers when they are dry and make sure to dry them immediately to reduce the loss of the essential oils. The leaves can also be used but are not nearly as high in medicinal properties as the flowers.

Preparations: Get creative when deciding how to use this herb: floral bath, steam inhalation, infusion, oil, pillow, sachet for drawers, tincture, poultice, salves, lotions, & hydrosol (maybe you have a friend or know someone who makes essential oils like I do which gives me a great supply for hydrosols)!

Growing

Type: Perennial
Soil: Rich, drier
Sun: Full Sun
Water: Water well once a week or so, let soil dry between waterings
Propagation: Seed, Cuttings, Layering

comfrey-true-deep-purple-flowers 002-400Comfrey (Symphytum spp.)

Many people cringe when I recommend growing comfrey. They see it as an invasive plant that will eventually choke out the rest of the herbs in their garden. Though this can be true, with a little management you can keep this from happening while benefiting from the diverse offerings of this plant!

First, I want to mention the few obvious things that are not medicine related: comfrey leaves are wonderful mulch makers and, because of their large leaf growth, will shade out competitors like any unwanted weeds that may pop up in your garden. Because they are deep-rooted they pull up the minerals found in the soil and bring it up to the leaf. Chopping and dropping these mineral-rich leaves puts those minerals back into the soil and adds organic matter (thus aeration) to your soil profile. Additionally, bees and other pollinators love the flower and if you grow a blocking variety you won’t deal with it reseeding itself.

As far as medicinal use, there is virtually no competing herb that can heal skin the way comfrey can. As a matter of fact, it can heal so well and quickly that you need to make sure the wound is fully cleansed and there is no sign of infection, it could get closed up inside. Comfrey is also well-known for its ability to treat sprains, swelling, bruises and historically even mend broken bones! It can also help alleviate osteoarthritis and other arthritic type pain.  Comfrey contains allantoin which stimulates tissue repair and cell proliferation. Which means it is also great in salves to use on areas that are troubled by irritation or rash.

Comfrey is a pretty flexible plant and can grow almost anywhere. However, it does prefer moist, rich, loamy soil and dappled sunlight. We have found that once it is established it grows really well, even in imperfect conditions. If you are wanting to control the spread I would suggest two things: do not disturb the roots. Every small root piece will grow into another plant. Make sure you are going to keep it where you plant it and don’t till the soil. Second, reduce its growth by chopping the leaves at least twice in a growing season, and dead head any flowers that appear. If it is growing in an area that you don’t want it, the best way to get rid of it is to keep its leaves so low that it loses all ability to continue growing. Do not go pulling the roots because you will likely not be able to get the entire root system out.

Preparations: Poultice, salve, infused oil, infusion

Growing

Type: Perennial
Soil: Moist, Rich, loamy
Sun: dappled sunlight
Water: occasionally, once it’s established it can tolerate drought much better because if its deep roots.

Can Turmeric Help Manage Diabetes?

Turmeric has been used for centuries in both food and medicine. The spice is believed to have many potential benefits for the human body. But could turmeric be a new tool to help manage diabetes?

Turmeric is the common name for the root Curcuma longa. It is a bright yellow-orange spice that is a staple in traditional food dishes from many Asian countries.

In this article, we explore the role of turmeric in alternative and Western medicine. We go on to analyze the potential benefits of the spice for diabetes management.

Turmeric and medicine

turmeric
Turmeric and its compounds are being studied for conditions such as cancer, inflammation, and psoriasis.

Turmeric plays an important role in medical practices, such as Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).

Medical science is interested in the herb, as well, due to the high levels of friendly compounds it contains. Of particular interest is a class of compounds called curcuminoids.

One curcuminoid found in turmeric is curcumin. This name is sometimes loosely used to describe all of the curcuminoids in turmeric.

Turmeric and curcumin are being studied for a number of human conditions such as:

  • irritable bowel syndrome
  • inflammatory bowel disease
  • cancer
  • arthritis
  • uveitis
  • peptic ulcers
  • inflammation
  • h. pylori infections
  • vitiligo
  • psoriasis
  • Alzheimer’s disease

Turmeric is also often added to the diet to help reduce inflammation and oxidative stress.

Can turmeric help people with diabetes?

Including turmeric in the diet seems to promote general wellbeing. There is also evidence that indicates turmeric may be especially beneficial for people with diabetes.

It is believed that curcumin is the source of many of the medical benefits of turmeric. The focus of most research has been on curcumin itself, rather than the whole turmeric.

A review in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine compiled more than 13 years of research on the connection between diabetes and curcumin. The result suggests curcumin can help people with diabetes in different ways, as described here:

Curcumin may help control blood sugar

Curcumin may help people with diabetes control their blood sugar levels.

Tests using animal models indicated that curcumin could have a positive effect on high blood sugar. Many tests were also able to improve the levels of insulin sensitivity in test subjects. Other studies found that curcumin had little effect on blood sugar.

Thus, taking turmeric or curcumin orally may help reduce blood sugar levels to more controllable levels in some people, though more research on humans is necessary.

Curcumin may help prevent diabetes

curcumin capsule turmeric
Studies suggest that people with prediabetes may not develop full diabetes when given curcumin in capsules.

Researchers also noted that many of the studies done over the years showed turmeric might also protect against developing diabetes. One study posted to Diabetes Care found that people with prediabetes who were given curcumin for a period of 9 months were less likely to develop the full-blown condition.

The study also noted that the curcumin appeared to improve the function of the beta cells that make insulin in the pancreas. Accordingly, including turmeric or curcumin in the diet may be beneficial for people who want to reduce their chance of developing diabetes.

Curcumin may reduce diabetes-related complications

Compounds like curcumin may also help with a few diabetes-related complications.

People with diabetes often have liver disorders, such as fatty liver disease. Researchers gave test subjects curcumin over a long period of time. As a result, these people appeared to have fewer symptoms of liver disorders.

Curcumin may also help:

  • prevent nerve damage caused by diabetes
  • prevent diabetic cataracts, according to results of animal tests
  • fight cognitive problems, due to antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties
  • fight kidney disease, by reducing important markers

The compound curcumin was reported to be active against diabetic vascular disease, and it seems to speed wound-healing. There is also evidence that suggests long-term curcumin intake can improve aspects of digestion.

Curcumin may adjust immune response in type 1 diabetes

An article posted to Clinical and Experimental Immunology also noted that curcumin may adjust how the over-active immune system works in people with type 1 diabetes.

Researchers found that curcumin lowers the T cell response of the body. This is the immune response that destroys the pancreatic beta cells that make insulin.

This means that curcumin may help empower the immune system. Similarly, it may boost the immunomodulatory medicines prescribed to manage type 1 diabetes.

Risks, considerations, and side effects

Before taking any new supplements, a healthcare professional should be consulted.

Turmeric is considered safe and can be included in the diet regularly. However, there is the potential for side effects when turmeric or curcumin are taken in large doses. Some people experience symptoms of indigestion, nausea, or diarrhea if they take too much of either.

People with certain conditions may need to avoid turmeric altogether, as it may make these worse. Conditions that might be affected include:

  • gallbladder disease
  • kidney stones
  • anemia

Taking too much curcumin or turmeric for a long period of time may also contribute to liver problems.

Similarly, the spice may increase the effects of other blood sugar medications, potentially leading to hypoglycemia or low blood sugar. The best course of action is for people to work with a knowledgeable doctor or healthcare practitioner before using supplements like curcumin for any of their symptoms.

Turmeric and diabetes management

If people with diabetes add turmeric to their diets, it should be used as a supplement to a comprehensive diabetes management plan.

Many people with diabetes respond well to:

  • eating a healthful diet
  • exercising regularly
  • managing their stress levels

Doctors will often work directly with a person to create an individualized health plan that addresses their specific symptoms.

A good diet plan for people with diabetes usually begins with a move away from processed foods. People should aim for a diet rich in natural, unprocessed meals instead. Eating a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, and grains helps to ensure a diet contains as many nutrients as possible.

People with diabetes must watch their carbohydrate intake, particular carbohydrates in processed and refined sugars, as these can cause spikes in the blood sugar. Although natural sugars such as those found in fruit are better options, these also need to be accounted for when managing diabetes.

Fiber-rich foods are also needed, as they slow the rate of sugar absorption in the body. This may help prevent blood sugar spikes during the day.

Including plenty of other healthy spices besides turmeric in the diet may also help some people manage their diabetes symptoms. These include:

  • cinnamon
  • ginger
  • cumin

Criticisms of turmeric and curcumin

Not everyone is convinced curcumin is as good as it seems.

A recent study posted in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry was critical of the use of curcumin to help prevent or treat anything.

The researchers argued that curcumin is not very bioavailable and that the quality of the herb can vary greatly. This makes it difficult to use or test its compounds in a controlled way. They called for a more careful examination of curcumin in future research.

Outlook on taking turmeric for diabetes

Turmeric is not a medicine in the Western sense of the word. It is not a replacement for any medications a person may be taking. It should also not be used as a substitute for any part of diabetes care.

Both turmeric and curcumin can easily be taken to supplement a diabetes-care regimen. This should be done under the guidance of a doctor, who may ask a person to start out with a low dose to gauge their reaction to it. The dose can be increased, gradually, to avoid any complications or side effects.

Pairing turmeric or curcumin with oils, fats, or black pepper may also increase the effect of their beneficial compounds.

Homemade Medicine

Guide to make your own simple, effective herbal remedies

Making our own herbal medicines and body care products can save money and improve our health, and it’s much easier than you may think. If you already make herbal teas, then making infusions, decoctions, tinctures, salves and poultices can quickly become part of your repertoire, too. Don’t worry if they sound confusing; you’ll soon discover how to prepare a variety of plants to make a range of simple but effective herbal medicines.

One very important note before you begin making herbal medicines: Always make sure you are using the correct plant (check the Latin name) and the correct part of the plant (flower, leaf, roots), as some parts may be toxic if used internally.

Internal Medicines

Tea Time

Making herbal tea may seem fairly straightforward, but to reap the greatest medicinal value from herbs, we need to do more than dunk a tea bag in hot water. There are two main forms of herbal tea: infusions and decoctions.

Infusions: Infusions are the commonly known form of herbal tea, in which herbs are literally infused in hot water, usually one heaping teaspoon of dried herb (or one teabag) per cup of hot water for 10 to 20 minutes. This is the ideal method for extracting the medicinal compounds in most berries, flowers, and leaves. You can also use fresh herbs, but because of their higher water content, you usually need to double the amount of herbal matter per cup of water (two teaspoons per cup of water instead of one).

Decoctions: To extract the medicinal compounds from seeds, roots or stems, you’ll want to make a decoction, which involves boiling the herbs and allowing them to simmer for about an hour, usually allowing one heaping teaspoon of dried herb per cup of water. Note that this method is less suitable for berries, flowers, and leaves because it tends to destroy many of the delicate medicinal compounds they contain. As with infusions, you can use fresh herbs, but you typically need to double the amount of herb matter per cup of water.

What if you want to make a tea from some combination of roots, berries, seeds, stems, flowers and leaves? Start by making a decoction with the roots, seeds or stems. Bring it to a boil, then reduce to a simmer to continue brewing for an hour. Turn off the heat and add any berries, flowers, and leaves. Allow the mixture to steep for an additional 10 to 20 minutes. Now you’ve extracted the best medicinal compounds from all of the herbal components you’re using.

Tinctures

Tinctures are alcohol extracts of fresh or dried herbs. They’re highly effective at preserving a plant’s active constituents. You can make a tincture from roots, leaves, seeds, stems or flowers.

To make an herbal tincture, finely chop the fresh, clean herb you are using. You can also use dried herbs. Either way, the idea is to chop the herb as much as possible, to give the alcohol as much surface area to act upon as you can. Some herbalists recommend grinding dried herbs in a coffee/spice grinder before making a tincture.

Place the chopped or ground herb in a half-quart or quart-sized glass jar. Fill the jar with as much plant matter as possible to ensure the medicinal value of your tincture, keeping in mind that you’ll need enough alcohol to completely submerge the herbal matter. Top with vodka or pure grain alcohol, making sure all of the plant matter is submerged in the alcohol to prevent mold growth. Note that different kinds of alcohol will produce different kinds of tinctures. Visit Mountain Rose Herbs for more information. Date and label the jar, and allow the mixture to sit for two weeks, shaking daily to encourage extraction. After two weeks, strain the contents through a cheesecloth-lined sieve. After most of the liquid has gone through the sieve, pull up the corners of the cheesecloth and, using clean hands, carefully wring out any remaining liquid. Store the herbal tincture in a dark glass jar or dropper bottle away from heat or sunlight to preserve its healing properties. Tinctures will usually keep for a few years. You can make an herbal tincture out of any medicinal or culinary herb that can be used internally. A typical tincture dose is 30 drops (about one dropper full) three times daily, but we recommend looking up specific dosage recommendations for the herbs you use. Avoid tinctures if you are pregnant or nursing, or if you have liver disease, diabetes or alcoholism.

Skin-Healing Medicines

Infused Oils

Infused oils are made by infusing herbs in oil, rather than alcohol as in tinctures. The infusion technique works to transfer the healing properties of herbs to oils. Infused oils are excellent for massage; as skin or bath oils; or as a basis for balms and salves, which I’ll explain in the next section. Never ingest these oils.

Infused oils are easy to make. Choose any type of vegetable or carrier oil, other than petrochemical-based oils such as baby oil or mineral oil. It is also best to avoid oils that break down quickly when exposed to heat, such as flaxseed oil. I prefer olive oil or sweet almond oil, which can be warmed to encourage the transfer of healing compounds from the herb matter to the oil.

You can make many types of infused oils, but two of the most common are St. John’s wort and calendula oils. St. John’s wort oil, made from the flowers of the plant, can be used for treating bruises, swellings, hemorrhoids, scars and sprains. It is also recommended as a topical treatment for eczema. Avoid sun exposure for a few hours after using this oil on your skin as it can cause photosensitivity. Calendula oil, also made from the flowers of the plant, aids wound healing and alleviate various skin conditions.

Making herbal infused oils is particularly suited for the delicate flowers and leaves of plants. Simply add fresh flowers or leaves to a jar and fill it with oil, such as sweet almond oil, apricot kernel oil, almond oil or olive oil. You’ll want enough plant matter to ensure the medicinal value of the infused oil, but not packed so tightly that the oil cannot penetrate the plant material. The plant material must be completely submerged in the oil to prevent mold from forming. Label and date the jar, including the herb and the oil used. Allow the infusion to rest for two weeks, shaking the bottle periodically to encourage the infusion process. After two weeks, strain the herbs from the oil, squeezing out any remaining oil with clean hands. Cap and label the jar, and store away from light and heat.

Salves

Salves are basically herbal balms or ointments made by thickening herbal oil infusions with melted beeswax. Most health-food stores sell plain beeswax, which can be shaved with a potato peeler or grated with a cheese grater and then melted over low heat. You can also buy beeswax pastilles, which are ready to melt. Be sure to avoid other types of wax, as they are made of petroleum byproducts.

Allow two tablespoons of shaved, melted beeswax to one cup of infused oil after the herbal material has been strained off. Melt the oil and beeswax over low heat, preferably in a double-boiler, to prevent overheating. Stir regularly. Remove from the heat as soon as the beeswax is melted and well-incorporated into the oil. Immediately pour into small, shallow jars, tins or lip balm containers. Let cool undisturbed to allow the ointment to set. Use for skin irritations and other skin conditions, and for dry or chapped lips. Similar to herbal infusions, calendula, and St. John’s wort is excellent choices to use in salves.

Poultices

A poultice is a paste made with herbs that are applied to the skin. It is typically applied while hot or warm, except when made with herbs that are naturally chemically hot, such as chilies or ginger. To make a poultice, fill a natural-fiber cloth bag with powdered or chopped fresh herb matter. Tie it closed, and then place it in a bowl of hot water just long enough to soak and heat the herb. Remove it from the water, and apply to the affected area until the poultice has cooled and until you experience some relief. Reheat and reapply the poultice. It is best to use a fresh poultice each day.

Poultices are particularly effective in soothing aching or painful joints or muscles, as is the case with ginger. Calendula helps bruises and damaged skin, while echinacea boosts the immune system to help heal long-lasting wounds.

Some of My Favorite Healing Herbs

All of the herbs listed here are safe and effective. However, before making specific remedies of your own, make sure to research the herb you plan to use to ensure you’re using the right parts and amounts, as well as contraindications that may apply specifically to you and your circumstances.

• Calendula (Flowers): Skin healer extraordinaire
• Chamomile (Flowers): Relaxant and dental antimicrobial (use tea as a mouthwash)
• Dandelion (Roots or Leaves): Osteoporosis preventer and anticancer powerhouse
• Echinacea (Roots): Immune booster
• Feverfew (Flowers and Leaves): A headache and migraine alleviator
• Garlic (Cloves) Amazing germ buster
• Ginger: (Root): Muscle and joint pain healer
• Horsetail (Leaves): Nail, teeth and bone builder
• Juniper (Berries): Urinary tract antimicrobial
• Lavender (Flowers): Anxiety and depression alleviator
• Licorice (Root): Chronic fatigue syndrome solution
• Nettles (Leaves): Allergy remedy
• Oregano (Leaves): Antimicrobial antidote
• Peppermint (Leaves): Headache remedy and sinusitis aid
• Red Clover (Flowers): Relieves menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes
• Rosemary (Leaves): Memory booster
• St. John’s Wort (Flowers): Anxiety antidote and anticancer therapy; skin healer
• Thyme (Leaves): Cough and antibacterial medicine

Herbal Medicine – Teas

Tea is a time-honored and widespread preparation method used by cultures around the world today – for at least the past 3,000 to 5,000 years, as well. This makes sense because teas utilize the most popular and available liquid substance in the world: water. Water at its boiling point {212 degrees F} will remove, or extract, most if not all of the valuable active chemicals from a herb, concentrating them in a form that {in most cases} is safe and enjoyable to drink hot or cold. Teas are also inexpensive and cost-effective, requiring only water, a stainless steel saucepan, and a source of heat.

Here are some common questions that are asked when learning how to make teas.

  • Is there a general herb-to-water ratio I should follow when making tea? The answer will vary, depending on how strong you want to make your tea. To make a moderately strong tea with dried herbs, add 1 part of a dried herb {by weight, in ounces} to 10 parts of water {by volume, in ounces}; so you will add 1 ounce of a dried herb to 10 liquid ounces of water. You can make your tea stronger or weaker by adding more or less herb to the same amount of water – in fact, it’s likely that you will want to modify these proportions to suit your own taste. Use this 1:10 ratio as a starting point, modifying it to your liking as you continue making tea. If you are using fresh herbs from your garden, add two to three times as much plant material as you would for dried herbs, meaning you will use 2 to 3 ounces of fresh herbs to 10 liquid ounces of water.
  • Can I use tap water to make tea? Generally, no. When you make a tea, you should always use purified water. Tap water in some areas is fine, but other locations have water that contains unwanted chemicals such as chlorine, as well as minerals and salts that can affect the medicinal qualities of the herbs. We recommend that you have your water tested if you need to use it from the tap so you are aware of any impurities that might be present.
  • How long should I simmer – or boil – my tea?  The answer depends on what part of the plant you are using. If you are extracting flowers, leaves, and small stems {which are thin, comparatively less dense than other plant parts, and have active chemicals that are easily and quickly extracted}, you’ll place them in a cup, cover them with freshly boiled water, and let them steep for 10 to 20 minutes. That’s called an infusion. To strain out the herb, pour the liquid through a fine-mesh strainer and into your cup. If you are making a tea from roots, bark, hard fruits, or seeds {which are firmer and more dense and require more time and higher heat for the active chemicals to be extracted}, you will cover the herb with water in a saucepan, bring it to a boil, reduce the heat, and gently simmer for 20 to 30 minutes {or even longer}. This preparation is called a decoction. To strain out the herb, pour the liquid through a fine-mesh strainer and into your cup. Any additional tea can be stored in the fridge.
  • What does steeping do to herbs? Steeping herbs in water helps to release the medicinal constituents. In our opinion, hot water is the best substance for releasing the compounds stored in the cells of herbs.
  • What’s the best way to strain herbs from tea? There is no one best way to strain herbs, but here are three options: {1} Place your loose herbs in a cup or mug, pour hot water over them, and after they steep, pour the liquid through a fine-mesh strainer. {2} Place the herbs in an infuser or strainer and lift the infuser or strainer out of the mug when it has finished steeping. {3} Use a French press just as you would for brewing coffee, by placing your herbs in the cup of the press, pouring hot water over them, inserting the plunger to about halfway down {or well above the level of the herbs, so that you’re not compressing them}, and pouring the liquid out when it’s finished steeping.
  • Can I refrigerate or store my teas for later use? Yes, you can. While we recommend that tea is consumed fresh for the best medicinal potency, you can certainly store any prepared tea in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. We prefer that you use a glass container {instead of plastic}, and make sure the container is covered.
  • Can I substitute my favorite herbs in these recipes? Certainly! Consider the recipes in each section to be starting points, and feel free to use your imagination and creativity. These are model recipes – simple templates that allow you to substitute other herbs, using the same proportions of herbs and liquid. If one doesn’t seem enticing or tasty to you as you’re making it, consider adding pleasant-tasting herbs such as licorice, anise, or cinnamon to the brew. Orange or grapefruit peel add flavor and are digestive aids. Stevia is a powerful herbal sweetener that helps take the edge off bitter teas, and honey combines well with most herbs. Use all of your senses to craft medicines that you love.

Infusions:

Infusions are the most common way to make teas from fresh or dried leaves, flowers, or flowering tops. Use 10 liquid ounces of freshly boiled water {with the heat just turned off} for every 2 to 3 ounces of fresh herb or 1 ounce of dried herb {or, of course, a combination of fresh or dried herbs}. Pour the freshly boiled water over the herb, either loose in a mug or held in a tea ball or infuser. Let it sit, covered {use a tea mug lid or “hat,” a small saucer, or anything flat and nonporous so the constituents don’t evaporate}, for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove your tea ball or infuser or pour the liquid through a fine-mesh strainer to remove the loose herbs; compost the herbs. You can take tea in 1-cup doses at least three times daily, up to 6 cups per day, in most cases. For very light and fluffy herbs, like mullein or chamomile blossoms, you can increase the amount of water to make sure the herb material is completely immersed.

Gentle infusions preserve the maximum amount of volatile components, such as essential oils and other fragile plant substances. They are made by starting with room-temperature water, utilizing a smaller herb-to-water ratio, and steeping for an extended period of time. To make a gentle infusion, place 1 ounce of fresh or dried herb in a container, cover it with 4 to 10 liquid ounces of purified water, and stir to make sure the two are thoroughly combined. {For even greater extract-ability, you can place the herb and water in a blender or food processor and gently whir for 10 to 20 seconds on the lowest setting, and then pour the mixture into the container.} Let the mixture steep, covered, for 8 to 12 hours. Strain, using a fine-mesh strainer and compost the herb. Drink the infusion in 1-cup doses, three to six times daily. You can experiment with the amount of water you add {between 4 to 10 parts}, depending on the strength of the herb and your taste preference.

sun tea is a form of gentle infusion that uses the warmth of the sun to enhance the extraction process. Place 2 to 3 parts fresh or dried herb {measured in ounces} in a clean, clear glass jar with a lid. Pour 4 to 10 parts purified room-temperature water {measured in liquid ounces} over it, and stir to make sure that the herb is completely combined with the water. Put the closed jar in a sunny place and leave it until the tea is strong enough to suit your taste {usually 4 to 6 hours}. Strain the herb from the tea and enjoy the drink at room temperature or chilled. You can refrigerate sun tea for up to 3 days.

Basic Infusion:

There is nothing more enjoyable than gathering herbs on a warm summer morning and bringing them indoors for a refreshing cup of healing tea. Here is a sample recipe for making an infusion from the herbs that you have picked fresh from your garden or dried yourself.

2 – 3 ounces fresh or 1 ounce dried herbs

10 liquid ounces purified water

Place the herbs in a tea ball, infuser, or directly in a tea mug or other container. Bring the water to a boil. Immediately pour the water over the herbs and let the mixture steep, covered, for 15 to 20 minutes. Strain and compost the herbs. Drink the infusion in 1-cup doses at least three times daily, up to 6 cups per day.

Basic Gentle Infusion:

You can  use this recipe with a variety of herbs, such as anise hyssop, catnip, chamomile, lavender, lemon balm, lemon verbena, oregano, peppermint, spearmint, and thyme. All of these herbs have an abundance of volatile or aromatic compounds that are ideally preserved with this method.

2- 3 ounces fresh or 1 ounce dried herbs

10 liquid ounces purified room-temperature water

Whir the herbs and water in a blender or food processor for 15 to 20 seconds. Place the mixture in a clean, covered container and let it steep for 8 to 12 hours. Strain and compost the herbs. Drink 1 cup three to six times daily.

Basic Sun Tea:

Making a sun tea is a fun and easy way to slowly infuse herbs in the sun’s rays. Use this method in the summertime, when you will have at least 4 to 6 hours of sun to warm your tea to perfection.

2 – 3 parts fresh or 1 part dried herbs, measured in ounces

4 – 10 parts purified room-temperature water, measured in liquid ounces

Place the herbs in a clean, clear glass jar with a lid. Add the water, and stir to thoroughly combine. Close the jar, and place it in a sunny location until the tea is strong enough to suit your taste {usually 4 to 6 hours}. Strain and compost the herbs. Enjoy the drink at room temperature or chilled. You can refrigerate sun tea for up to 3 days.

Decoctions:

Decoctions are made with the hard or woody parts of a herb, such as the bark, roots, and seeds. To extract all of the properties of these denser plant parts, you will need to bring the water to a boil and simmer the mixture. Start with 2 to 3 ounces fresh or 1 ounce dried herb {or a combination of herbs}, and place it in an uncovered saucepan. Add 10 liquid ounces of purified water, stir to thoroughly combine the herbs and water, and bring to a boil. Reduce the temperature and gently simmer the herbs for 20 minutes to 1 hour. Many herbalists follow the traditional Chinese decoction method, which simmers down the liquid for a longer time period, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. If you are just getting used to the bolder taste of decoctions, begin by simmering for a shorter time period, about 20 to 30 minutes or longer, increasing the time as you adjust for your taste preferences. You can take 1 cup two or three times daily.

If you would like to make a larger amount and store it, make a quart or two of tea. For 1 quart, start with 5 cups of water and add 8 to 10 ounces fresh or 4 ounces of dried herbs. You will lose 1 cup of water in the boiling process, and the end result will be 4 cups {1 quart}. Prepare as above, bringing the mixture to a boil, reducing the heat, and simmering for your desired time period. Once again, strain the liquid and compost the herbs. You can refrigerate this for up to 3 days.

Light decoctions are appropriate for certain comparatively lighter, more porous roots, barks, and seeds {such as the stiff, thick leaves of comfrey, rosemary, and white sage; the thin roots of valerian; and the light seeds of vitex}. A light decoction is prepared in a covered saucepan, which helps to prevent the escape of volatile constituents like essential oils. Begin by placing 2 to 3 ounces fresh herbs or 1 ounce of dried herbs in a stainless steel saucepan. Pour 10 liquid ounces of purified water over them, stir to thoroughly combine the water and herbs, and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10 to 20 minutes. After turning off the heat, you can let the mixture steep for another 10 to 15 minutes if you wish to further extract the active constituents, then strain and use or refrigerate the decoction. Drink 1 cup two or three times daily. Adjust the herb-to-water ratio to suit your taste.

Basic Decoction:

Use this recipe to extract the goodness from hardy roots you have lifted out of the soil and from seeds ripened in the late summer sun. Enjoy the deep earthiness and strength of this medicinal preparation.

2 – 3 ounces fresh or 1 ounce dried root, seed, or bark

10 liquid ounces purified water

Grind the root, seed, or bark in a blender or food processor. Place it in a saucepan and add the water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer, uncovered until the liquid is reduced by about one-third. Strain and compost the herb. Store the liquid in the refrigerator. Drink 1/2 cup three or four times daily.

Basic Light Decoction:

Use this recipe for light roots, seeds, and barks, or for tough leaves with hard-to-extract constituents. This method is perfect for comfrey leaves, rosemary leaves, white sage leaves and twigs, valerian roots, and vitex seeds.

2 – 3 ounces fresh or 1 ounce dried plant material, as described above

10 ounces purified water

Place the herbs in a saucepan; pour the water over them. Stir to thoroughly combine the water and herbs, cover, and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10 to 20 minutes. After turning off the heat, let the mixture steep for another 10 to 15 minutes, then strain and compost the herbs. Drink 1 cup two or three times daily, warm or cool. Adjust the herb-to-water ratio to suit your taste.

Herbal Ice:

If you want to make a larger batch of medicinal tea and keep it beyond the 3-day limit in the refrigerator, let the tea cool, pour it into ice cube trays, and freeze it. Then pop out the cubes and store them in heavy plastic freezer bags, using them as needed.

Our favorite teas for freezing into cubes are echinacea {very effective against sore, inflamed throats during a cold or flu}; lemon balm, lemon verbena, and lemon thyme {for digestive help and summer refreshment}; and ginger and chamomile {for upset stomachs and nausea}.

Oak

Quercus alba

oak treesAlso Known As:

  • Gospel Tree
  • Oak
  • Tanners Bark

The oak is a mighty and majestic tree that has the aptitude to grow up to a height of 90 feet (30 m), have a circumference of about 33 feet (10 m) and survive for as many as 1000 years! The oak is indigenous to North America where over 80 species of the tree are found. All species of the oak are beautiful deciduous trees having grayish, furrowed barks and shed their leaves during the fall. The roots of the tree are spread over a wide area and a mature oak tree may often dominate lesser locations. The timber of the oak is light brown in color, solid and weighty having a compact grain and are ideal for making furniture and flooring. The leaves of this imposing tree are bifurcated into quite a few curved sections. The fruit of the oak is an even acorn (an ovoid nut) that turns caramel hued when ripe and having a carved cap that wraps almost one-fourth of the fruit. Usually, a healthy oak tree that is about 25 years old is capable of bearing as many as 25,000 acorns annually.

The oak blossoms during the period between April and May and its seeds mature in October. The flowers of the oak are monoecious (each flower has only one sex – male or female) by nature and are usually pollinated by wind. However, most oak trees are found to bear different flowers having either of the sexes. The oak tree has a preference for loamy or medium and clay (heavy) soils, but they are able to grow in heavy clay soil too. The plant also has a preference for basic (alkaline), acid and neutral soils. The plants need an arid or moist soil and are able to grow in sunlight as well as semi-shade conditions as in the slightly forested areas. Although the oak plant is able to endure strong winds, they do not survive well when exposed to maritime conditions.

The botanical name of the oak – quercus, is derived from the Celtic terms ‘quer’ denoting ‘good’ and ‘cuez’ meaning tree. In addition, the tree has a common name – chen, meaning beautiful. Long back, the Celts believed the oak to be a sacred symbol. In fact, the Druids harvested mistletoe on the sixth lunar day of December with a gold sickle and heralded the arrival of the New Year chanting ‘To mistletoe, the New Year’. On the other hand, farmers used the acorns to make flour for several years. Even to this day, a number of members of the Berber tribes use the acorns to produce a nourishing breakfast cereal known as ‘racahout’. References of the oak are found in the Greek and Roman mythologies too. While the Greeks related the oak to the ruler of the Greek gods Zeus owing to the might and muscle of the tree, the Romans associated the majestic tree with Jupiter, the Roman god considered to be equivalent to Zeus. In fact, the custom of reveling in ceremonies under the shade of the mighty oak trees persisted even after Christianity was introduced. Therefore, it is not surprising that the oak tree has obtained it English designate ‘the gospel tree’ or ‘the prayer tree’.

The Goths or people inhabiting ancient Germany regarded the oak tree as a mark of might and victory. Hence, the term ‘as strong as an oak’ came into existence and is profoundly establish in people’s memory even to this day. During the Middle Ages as well as the Renaissance, unidentified healers utilized the leaves as well as the bark of the oak internally to treat hemorrhaging, diarrhea, tuberculosis and even rickets. They were used externally as a poultice to heal wounds discharging pus. The powder of the leaves and bark were applied externally to stop bleeding nose, while talc prepared with them were used externally to end hemorrhaging or uncontrolled loss of blood.

In addition, the bark of the oak tree was frequently blended with iron salt to color textiles black. However, to some extent people across the globe used this combination to tan hides. The timber obtained from the oak tree is economically very viable and used as a raw material for making furniture, flooring, constructing house frames as well as railroad framework. However, in the ancient time, the most important use of the oak tree was perhaps building ships. In fact, the oak was a natural resource that was extremely desired by the new settlers, especially in North America. Within a span of around two centuries, the English as well as the French totally pillaged hundreds and thousands of acres of white oak trees from southern Quebec in Canada.

Parts Used:

Several parts of the oak tree are utilized for different purposes. While the buds and tender leaves of the oak are collected during the early phase of spring, the fruits or the acorns are harvested in fall and the outer bark as well as the sapwood or inner bark are utilized during the end of winter.

Remedy Use:

The native North American tribes frequently used the white oak for remedial purposes. In fact, these indigenous people of North America held the oak tree in high esteem particularly for its antiseptic and astringent virtues. They used different parts of the oak tree to treat various medical conditions. Unfortunately, the oak is of little or no value at all in the present day herbal treatments. The inner bark or sapwood of oak encloses 6 to 11 per cent tannin, possesses potent antiseptic and astringent features and is additionally utilized as an expectorant (a medication that promotes the discharge of phlegm or other fluids from the respiratory tract) and a tonic (a medication that revitalizes or strengthens). To heal diarrhea and bleeding piles, sporadic fevers, asthma, consumption, coughs and colds, lost voice and other conditions, boil the oak bark in water and drink the infusion at regular intervals for a number of days. Many people often chew the oak bark to heal their mouth sores. The bark is also effective for external application to treat conditions like skin infections, rashes, bruises,burns, ulcers and other problems. It is also used as a vaginal douche (wash). It is best to collect the outer bark as well as the sapwood (inner bark) of oak trees during spring. All types of galls or blisters produced on the oak tree are potently astringent and may possibly be made use of in treating chronic diarrhea, hemorrhages, dysentery and several other conditions.

The timber of the white oaks is perhaps their most valuable possession as it is among the best available anywhere. However, often timber merchants mixed inferior quality oak wood along with white oak wood and market them for more profits. Compared to the timber of other varieties of oak, the wood of the white oak is more resistant to rotting. The cellular structures of the white oak are known as tyloses that provide the timber with a compact cellular structure even disallowing water to penetrate the wood. Tyloses are actually grow inside the cells of living timber parenchyma (the fundamental tissue of plants, composed of thin-walled cells able to divide) into the cavities of cells controlling xylem. Timber of white oaks containing tyloses is utilized for making wine and whiskey barrels and outdoor furniture. White oak timber is especially used to make barrels to store whiskey and wines as they do not allow any leakage of the liquors. On the other hand, red oaks do not possess tyloses and, hence, it is not as impregnable as the white oak timber. In fact, the wood of the red oaks is mostly used as construction material, interior finishing of houses, cooperage (making or repairing barrels), shipbuilding and making agricultural instruments.

The Japanese use the timber of the white oak comprehensively or the manufacture of specific weapons for martial arts, such as ‘bokken’ and ‘jo’. The white oak is considered to be a valuable timber owing to the compactness of its grain, strength, resistance to water, honey fungus, rotting etc., and being comparatively splinter proof when it is broken due to any crash or force. Compared to the white oak wood, the red oak wood is significantly inexpensive. According to urban fable, the Japanese White Oak, known as ‘Kashi’ is the preferred wood, but the prevailing law in Japan prohibits harvesting any white oak trees. Hence, most of the white oak wood used to make weapons for martial arts in Japan is actually imported from the North Western United States.

Compared to the fruits of red oak, even the acorns of the white oak are a lot less bitter to taste. Although the acorns of white oak are comparatively smaller than the fruits of other varieties of oaks, but serve as a very beneficial food for the wildlife, especially for woodpeckers, turkeys, rabbits, deer, wood ducks, pheasants, grackles, jays, nuthatches, deer and thrushes. A number of indigenous tribes of North America also used the white oak acorns as a food. In fact, the white oak is the only identified food plant of the caterpillars belonging to the Bucculatrix ochrisuffusa and Bucculatrix luteella species.

oak

The seeds of the white oak have a slightly sweet flavor and may be consumed fresh or after cooking. Usually, the seeds of the white oak are one-three cm in length and they mature in the first year. Chemical analysis of the seeds has demonstrated that they enclose approximately 66 per cent of carbohydrates and a mere six per cent of protein. They contain very poor amounts of tannin and require a bit of filtration or leaching. It is believed that the white oak seeds that have a reddish or pink spots on their shells comparatively have a sweeter flavor. The presence of any tannin that has a bitter taste in the white oak seeds may be filtered by meticulously washing the dried and pulverized seeds in water. However, during the leaching process, the seeds lose a number of their nourishing properties. The process of leaching the entire seeds may take a number of days or sometimes even weeks if done properly. An alternative process to leach the seeds is to cover them in a cloth bag and put them in a stream. Compared to leaching the whole seeds, it is much easier and faster to leach the powdered seeds. One is able to distinguish whether the tannin content in the oak seed has been removed by simply tasting the seeds or the powdered seeds. Traditionally, people leached the oak seeds by burying them in a marshy ground all through the winter. Later, during the spring, the seeds that had just begun to germinate were dug out and by this time they would have lost their astringent or bitter flavor. Many people consume the oak seeds after roasting them. Roasted oak seeds taste something in between popcorn and sunflower seeds. Interestingly enough, the roasted oak seeds may be used as a substitute for coffee, without the caffeine content of coffee.

Applying mulch or covering of leaves at the base of an oak plant helps to keep away slugs, caterpillars and other of the like. However, it is not advisable to use fresh leaves to cover the base of the plants because they have an aptitude to slow down the development of the plant. The bark of the oak tree contains rich amounts of tannins. The galls on the bark of the oak trees are basically outgrowths that are occasionally generated in large numbers. They are said to be caused by the actions of larvae of various insects found on the tree. In fact, the insects inhabit these galls and collect their required nourishment’s from within these outgrowths. After these insects develop from the larvae stage to the pupa stage and leave the trees, these galls or outgrowths on the bark of the oak trees may be utilized as valuable source of tannin that is used for dying fabrics black. The brown dye extracted from the bark of the oak trees or from the galls does not require any mordant or caustic. However, using a mordant or caustic may also help in obtaining dyes of different colors, including gold, yellow and chrome.

The timber of the oak trees is perhaps the most prized produce of this species of plant. The oak tree wood is tough, has a considerable weight, solid and strong. In addition, the grains of the wood are condensed making the timber durable. The weight of one cubic feet of oak timber is approximately 46 pounds. The oak wood is among the most significant timbers available in North America and is extensively used for a variety of purposes, including making cabinets, furniture, construction framework and agricultural instruments. One of the main uses of the oak wood in the earlier times was shipbuilding. The oak wood is also very useful for making the planks for barrels used for storing whiskey and wines. In addition, the oak wood also serves as a high-quality fuel.

Other Medical Uses:
  • Excessive sweating
  • Foot odor
  • Frostbite and chilblains
  • Gangrene
  • Goiter
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Laryngitis
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease
  • Pregnancy problems
  • Stomach ulcers

Habitat of Oak:

As they are large and majestic trees, the oak grows well in grasslands or lands cleared of vegetation close to mixed deciduous wooded areas. As discussed earlier, the plants have a preference for high-quality, profound luxuriant loam that may be on the stiff side. The oak plants are capable of enduring acidic soil. When the oak plants are young, they are able to endure some extent of shade or semi-shade. The young plants also have an aptitude to tolerating reasonable exposure and survive well, but their development is slightly undersized. It may be noted that the white oak trees have a preference for summers that are warmer. A number of named varieties of oak trees are grown for their edible seeds. Normally, it takes around 30 years for the oak trees to produce good crops of seeds. Once the trees are 30 years old or above they produce plenty of crops once in every three years and moderate crops in the years in between. The oak trees can be harvested for their seeds for as many as 120 years, i.e. till they grow up to around 150 years. The oak trees blossom when the new growth appears in spring and the seeds mature in the first year itself, in October. The oak trees generally do not accept any kind of disturbance to their roots and, hence, they need to be planted in their permanent positions when they are young. However, the plants may need shelter from frosts during their first two winters. The oak trees have the ability to hybridize with other species in the genus quite easily. In addition, plants belonging to this genus are remarkably defiant against honey fungus.

The seeds of the oak are very sensitive and become unsustainable if they are permitted to dehydrate. Hence, they need to be preserved in a moist and cool condition during the winter, but it is advisable to sow them in seed beds outdoors immediately after they mature. However, it is essential to ensure that the sowed seeds are not consumed by squirrels, mice and other animals. They require adequate protection from such menace. In addition to sowing the oak seeds in outdoor seed beds, a small number of them can also be sown in pots having considerable depths in a cold frame. Even if the seeds are sown in deep pots, it ought to be remembered that oak trees have deep taproots and, hence, it is essential to plant them in their permanent positions outdoors at the earliest. In effect, the seeds that are sown outdoors in their permanent positions without any disturbance to their roots will develop into most excellent trees. It is important not to leave the oak plants in a nursery bed for over two growing seasons without transplantation. In case this happens, the transplantation or relocation of the plants will be severely affected.

Constituents:

  • Bark: gallic acid, tannins, minerals (calcium, iron, potassium).
  • Leaves: vitamins A, C and E, chlorophyll, mucilage’s, carbohydrates.
  • Fruit: starches, sugars, tannins, calcium oxalate.

Possible Side Effects and Precautions:

Consumption of oak bark in excess may result in acute constipation. It is advisable to not cook any food with oak bark in cast-iron pans or pots since this results in the tannins present in the oak bark turning into toxins for the kidneys. It needs to be noted that when the oak bark is exposed to iron, it becomes toxic.

Applications:

The buds of the oak are utilized to prepare a mother tincture in alcohol. To prepare the mother tincture, use one part of the oak buds to 10 parts of alcohol. When taken in the dose of 20 drops before a meal, the mother tincture helps in lowering blood pressure, fighting impotency as well as common physical and mental tiredness. A decoction prepared with tender oak leaves is drunk to encourage the flow of bile, purify the spleen as well as provide relief from irritable bowels. To prepare the decoction, use one leaf for one cup of water.

Usually, the outer bark and the sapwood or inner bark of the oak are collected from trees that are seven years old or above. After harvesting, the bark is sliced into smaller parts and then boiled in water for a few minutes. This herbal preparation requires one ounce (30 g) of the oak bark for every four cups (one liter) of water. This preparation is taken internally to heal poisoning due to lead, copper or mercury as well as bloody diarrhea. For best results, take a 10-day treatment with the preparation. The infusion may also be applied externally as a compressor to heal contagions in the anus or vagina, hemorrhoids, leucorrhea (a thick, whitish ejection from the vagina or cervical canal) as well as all different anomalous skin infections.