Herbs in the Home, Part 1: Medicinal Infusions

Don’t tell him I said this, but my husband and I are suckers for chick flicks. A few months back, we found ourselves watching Julia & Julia. If you’re not familiar with the movie, it’s  about Julie Powell, a blogger who cooked over 500 recipes from Julia Child’s famous Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year.

Now we love any movie that revolves around the kitchen (Babette’s Feast  is one of our all-time favorites), so the cooking part struck a chord right away. But so did the basic premise of the movie: working through a cookbook to learn more about cooking. Just imagine what would happen if you took one of your favorite culinary manuals and actually worked through every single recipe. You’d be an expert, right? Brilliant concept!

I began to think about which book I would delve into first if I were to do such a thing. 1,000 Indian Recipes seemed a little ambitious. So I asked myself: what’s something I’ve been wanting to learn more about, but haven’t due to time/money/intimidation? The answer came to mind right away: herbs, and particularly, herbal remedies to use in the home.

I Love Herbs

I remember the first time I realized you could simply rub a mint leaf and smell its amazing scent. Something about that just captured me. I always loved the idea of herbs hanging from the rafters of my house or meandering out of a garden bed in my backyard. I could spend hours browsing through the herb section at the nursery, dreaming of my yard full of aromatic remedies.

But reality has not been quite as romantic. The first time I bought a mint plant, it died in  two days. (And here I thought it was un-killable.) Despite a few successes at drying herbs, I’ve dealt with a good amount of moldy basil. And let’s not talk about all the seeds I planted in my patio garden that never saw the light of day.

herbs

Some of the more fortunate seedlings.

 

 

Despite it all, I still love herbs. I love essential oils and herbal tea. I use fresh herbs in the kitchen all the time. I’m currently planning a new backyard herb garden that will hopefully see more success than my patio attempt. And herbal remedies have been some of the most effective helpers for keeping illnesses at bay in our home. So it only made sense to work my way through a book about herbs.

What Book to Choose?

Now we come to the hard part: choosing a book. There are a lot of them. I chose to work my way through Rosemary Gladstar’s book, Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide.  I made this choice for several reasons:

  • It’s a simple introduction that moves from the fundamentals to the complex (but not too complex).
  • I’ve listened to a lot of podcasts by the author, Rosemary Gladstar (is that really her name? I don’t know, but it sure is fitting). Gladstar is a well-respected herbalist, and I like her approach to herbal medicine.
  • There are just enough recipes to make me feel accomplished, but not so many as to be overwhelming (a total of 124 – and some of them I am already familiar with).

So I placed an order on Amazon and anxiously waited for it to arrive. It finally did, and I haven’t been disappointed. I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in herbal medicine. Gladstar has a way of making a potentially complicated topic seem approachable. And really, it is approachable. It’s kind of like making broth – all you really do is throw a bunch of good stuff together and wait. At least that’s been my experience so far, but I’m only starting out.

I also appreciate Gladstar’s balanced approach to herbal remedies. I have immense respect for doctors and know they have far more education, knowledge, and experience than I do. But still, it helps to have simple remedies on hand to help you and your children fight through those maladies that aren’t quite serious enough to warrant a doctor visit, but are just grave enough to keep you up all night.

For example, back in December my two-year-old son woke up at 2am tugging on his ear and screaming inconsolably. None of my children have ever had ear infections, but I was pretty sure this was a tell-tale sign that something was afoot.

My body was screaming at me to just give him some Tylenol for the pain so we could both go back to sleep. My more reasonable side was aware that there was no Tylenol to be had in our medicine cabinet. So instead, I sleepily stumbled to the bookshelf to retrieve one of my favorite books, The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy, by Valerie Worwood. As I nursed my son, I began a half-conscious search for simple herbal remedies I could utilize with the essential oils and herbs I had on hand. Then I forced myself to get back out of bed and make them.

The rest of the night was spent sleeping intermittently while massaging my son’s neck, ear, and jaw and trying to keep an oil-drenched cotton ball in his ear. But he slept, and he stopped crying.

The next morning, I got out of bed – much against my will – and made some garlic oil to put in his ear. I also threw together a compress made of lavender flowers and salt to relieve the pain. When he woke up, I did the mandatory unpleasant saline rinse and gave him a tincture containing lobelia and marshmallow root (side effects include screaming and violent head shaking, FYI). And then a wonderful friend brought over some nourishing food and probiotics to provide even more support for his little immune system.

By noon, much to my delight, he seemed completely pain free and had not spiked a fever. That night, he slept like an exhausted toddler. And I also slept well. But I will admit – more than anything, I felt triumphant. This is why I love herbal medicine. Worst case scenario, it can almost always relieve pain and discomfort. Best case scenario, it can prevent more serious illnesses.

As Gladstar notes:

“…[H]erbal medicine is the medicine of the home. It is used most effectively for the myriad non-emergency health problems that arise in everyday life: simple first-aid situations, the bumps and bruises of life, headaches, colds and fevers and flu, coughs and aches and pains, and chronic illness.”

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 What Is a Medicinal Infusion?

So now we come to the fun part: the first recipe, a medicinal infusion (page 29)! I was excited to learn about this new and advanced technique, until I learned a medicinal infusion is basically the same thing as herbal tea. (I did say she starts with the basics, right?)

As Gladstar notes, “Infusions are made from the more delicate parts of the plant, such as the leaves, flower, buds, some berries and seeds, and other aromatic plant parts.” Basically, you pour boiling water over these plant parts (either dried or fresh), and let it sit for 30 – 45 minutes, depending on how strong you want it. Then you drink it. Pretty simple!

For my infusion, I used fresh turmeric. I chose turmeric because we’ve all been suffering from allergies lately, and ginger and turmeric are my go-to solutions. Turmeric is a warming herb, perfect for the fall and winter months. It is commonly used to treat colds and coughs, which is what we’ve been dealing with. And it’s also safe for pregnancy (I am pregnant at the moment).

Normally I would combine it with ginger and simmer on the stovetop for about 20 minutes to make a strong tea. I never realized you could just let it sit in a jar. Since I had some fresh turmeric root on hand, I sliced it up, threw it in a Mason jar, and poured the boiling water over. Then I went to pick up my daughter from school and came back home. After about 45 minutes, I strained it and drank a small cup. It was delicious! Turmeric has a very earthy flavor, so you might want to sweeten it up with some honey and lemon, but I enjoyed it on its own.

turmericteasteep

Turmeric gives the infusion a pretty golden color.

Bonus Recipe: Afternoon Pick-Me-Up Turmeric Frappucino

Around 2 in the afternoon, I often start craving coffee. Since I usually drink a cup or two in the morning, I prefer to drink herbal tea instead. But not just any herbal tea will do. It has to at least taste like coffee or caffeinated tea.

I usually drink tulsi or rooibos, but today I decided to give my infusion a shot and make a mock frappucino. The result was delicious, light, and slightly sweet –  and of course, it’s healthy, too!

Ingredients

  • 1 cup turmeric infusion
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk
  • 1/2 cup cashew milk (you could probably just use one or the other, but I only had a small amount of each)
  • 2 frozen bananas
  • 1 cup ice cubes
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 Tablespoon raw honey

Directions

Throw it all in a blender, blend it up, and enjoy.

turmeric frap.jpg

Drizzle a little honey and sprinkle some cinnamon on top. Yum!

Stay tuned for the next step in my herbal medicine journey – syrups!

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