Arnica Montana: duct tape for childhood

I have had a number of people ask me what some of my “go-to” herbal/homeopathic remedies are. And, while I’m no herbal guru, there are a few things in my medicine cabinet that are definitely worth sharing and that have worked for me and my family. I’ll start with arnica montana.

Move over Icy Hot, there’s a new sheriff in town!!

Arnica Montana

I have decided that arnica montana or “ahn gock” as Norah likes to call it, is basically the duct tape of childhood. There have been many occasions where one of my girls will fall and bump their head and I’ll think “oof, that’s gonna leave a mark”. So, like a good herbin mama, I slather on some arnica cream and chances are that there wont be anything to show for that owie by the next day.

 Arnica is a small yellow flower with woody stalks that has been used for medicinal purposes since the 1500′s. The benefits of arnica montana are many. Arnica can be used both internally and externally, in adults or children. Many people find that, when taking arnica internally they have better focus, less anxiety, and gain relief from headaches and abdominal pain. When used topically (or internally), arnica acts as a natural anti-inflammatory, natural anti-biotic, has pain relieving qualities. It also helps prevent bruising by helping to disperse trapped blood and fluid from the site of injury. Arnica should not be used on cuts or open wounds, but is hugely beneficial when used on strains, sprains, bumps, or bruises.

If you have kids, you need this stuff. Not even kidding.

Arnica is also great for sore and strained muscles. I have used it often after a game of soccer or hockey, or when I returned home from a long hike. One study performed in Norway actually showed that marathon runners who applied arnica to their skin before the event felt less pain and muscle stiffness afterwards. When used topically in gel form at 50% concentration, arnica montana was found to have the same effect when compared to a 5% ibuprofen gel for treating the symptoms of hand osteoarthritis.

Some mothers choose to take arnica tablets after giving birth to aid in healing and to lessen swelling and bruising. It is very safe and effective and has no dangerous side effects unless taken in very high quantities. I took arnica after giving birth to Norah and could definitely tell a difference.

our oft used arnica gel

Many commercial anti-inflammatory creams now contain arnica as an active ingredient because…well… because herbs work!!

You can purchase arnica in tablet form or gel/cream form at your local health store or online. It is an inexpensive herbal remedy that you will use at least a couple times per week. I’d say go for it.

The Health Benefits of Mullein

If you live in Colorado, chances are that you have seen a mullein plant. They are everywhere! As kids, we used to pluck the long stalks and use them as pretend swords. What I didnt know, was that this plant is a real herbal weapon!! We called the big soft leaves,”indian toilet paper” because…well… it came in handy when there wasnt a bathroom around. TMI? Sorry.

The girls and I were on a walk the other day (looking for rose hips…which I still need more of) and I looked over at the hill side and noticed lots of familiar mullein plants standing tall amidst the folliage and autumn leaves. So, I decided to take the opportunity to harvest some. Plus, I knew the girls would love the soft cozy feel of the leaves. See how nice they are? Just like slipping into flannel sheets at night.

Until recently I didn’t know much about mullein (in fact I didnt even know its formal name for years) other than the fact that my mom used to put warmed drops of mullein oil into our ears when we had earaches. After reading up on the health benefits of mullien, I can honestly say I am pretty impressed with this herbin’ weed. Here are some of the things I have learned about “indian toilet paper” ;) .

  • Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) is known by many names and is commonly thought of as a weed and a nuisance by gardeners because it grows just about anywhere and is very hearty (it is even insulated by the hairs on its leaves so it can live beneath the snow during winter).
  • It can grow up to 7 feet tall and, when in bloom, has small yellow flowers at its top.
  • The leaves and flowers can be used medicinally in oils, tinctures, and even topically for burns. The roots are also useful for bladder issues such as incontinence.
  •  Verbascum (Mullein’s latin name) is an expectorant, meaning it is used to expel mucus from the lungs and throat.
  •  It is also a demulcent, which means that it has soothing elements and reduces inflammation.
  • Mullein aids in the promotion of cell growth and repair and assists in pain relief. It is often used to treat earaches and migraines.
  • It contains antiseptic agents and is used for chest ailments including bronchitis, asthma, pneumonia, pleurisy and even whooping cough!!All of this from a weed? Yessiree!

The more I learned about the mullein plant, the more I wanted to use this awesome resource. So, I looked up some ideas on what to make and how to use it. I decided to try my hand at some garlic infused mullein oil. I found this recipe and whipped it up in no time. It was seriously so easy. You can also buy mullein oil in almost any health food store or herbal store. I posted the recipe below in case you would like to try it for yourself. Cold season is coming quickly, oft accompanied by the dreaded earache/ear infections.

Mullein and Garlic Ear Oil

Pick 1/4 to 1/2 cup of mullein flowers (I used some of the leaves as well)
Finely chop 3-6 cloves of garlic
Cover both with olive oil in a jar
Place cheesecloth or a similar type of fabric over the top to allow moisture to escape
Allow to infuse for 3-4 days
Once infused strain through the cheesecloth and pour into dropper bottles
Store in the refrigerator for longer life
Usage:
Warm the oil in hot water or leave at room temperature during periods of ear pain
Add 2-3 drops several times a day to ear canal
*Do not use if you have a perforated ear drum or if your ear is already oozing fluid*
God’s garden is so full of useful things, isnt it? I am truly enjoying the adventure of learning about the resources around me and using them in the interest of my family’s health. :)

 

Making and Canning Elderberry Syrup

More Elderberries!!

Just a short time ago, I wrote a blog post about making elderberry tincture. Near the end of the post, I suggested that elderberry syrup is much more palatable and is a great way to boost the immune system – especially for kiddos. A couple of weeks after our tincture extravaganza we were on yet another walk. Once again, we happened upon a boat load of ripe elderberries. Hooray!

Ripe elderberries, still on the umbrels

These bushes were actually the same ones we had harvested from previously, but since we were harvesting later, the berries were even more ripe! As soon as I saw the masses of berries I began to picture little jars of elderberry syrup sitting on my kitchen counter. With cute little labels on them. Awwww.

Here is how I went about making and canning elderberry syrup. 

1.) Harvest and Separate Berries
Our second batch of berries was much easier to de-stem than the previous batch because they were more ripe. It only took an hour or two this time, instead of 5 hours. Whew! If you want some info on how to properly take the berries off the umbrels, you can find out here on my previous elderberry post.  Here is what the berries look like after they are separated and de-stemmed.

2.) Boil
Once the berries were separated, I poured them into a large stock pot (I actually used 2 pots because I had so many berries). I then covered the berries with water. Not a lot of water, just about an inch above the berry line. The goal is to add water without diluting the berry juice too much. As you can see in the picture above- there were still some bits and pieces of stems left in the pot, but any leftover stems or flowers will rise to the top once you add the water, so you can spoon them out. I then reached in and squished the berries up by hand. You dont have to do that- I just felt like it.  :) Anyway, I then turned the stove on and brought the water/berries to a boil. After removing my hand of course.

3.) Simmer
Once the berry mixture is boiling, let it simmer gently for 25 minutes or so. This will help to soften the skin of the berries and extract the glorious purple juice within.

This is how the berries looked after I squished them up a bit, just before being boiled.

4.) Strain
After the berries have simmered, strain the elderberry juice into a large container. We are not going to use the berries in our syrup, so the goal here is to get as much juice out of the berries as possible and leave behind the skins and seeds etc. Here is the contraption I came up with. Costa Rican coffee maker + organic cotton bag = great straining device!

Pour the berry juice through a sieve or cheese cloth to catch all the juice

Another good way to strain the juice out,  it is to lay a clean cotton cloth over a colander and pour it through. This will allow all the juice to be used but none of the other debris will make it through. After all the juice has been poured out, I would recommend you put all of the berries into a cheese cloth or a mesh bag, and squeeze the life out of them. Milk those babies for all their worth!!

The berries, after being squeezed to death. (and Norah’s hand)

5.) Add Ingredients
I then added approximately 48 ounces of honey to the juice. I had about 2.5  gallons of elderberry syrup and I basically did it to taste. I have a tendency to ignore recipes and just do my thing. But I tried to stick to a method this time. Tried. I also added 4 cinnamon sticks to the mix because cinnamon is just amazing and is also a great cold killer.

6.) Re-boil the syrup
Once I got every ounce of juice out of the berries, I poured the elderberry syrup back into the large pot to boil again for a short time. As you can see, I am by no means an expert pourer. Sadly, I spilled a couple of ounces during the transfer. Sad day.

No use crying over spilled milk- but ederberry syrup? That’s a different story *sob*

So, after I dried my tears and cleaned up the mess, I then re-boiled the syrup.

Look at that beautiful purple syrup!! Mmmmm

6.) Prepare Jars
While the syrup was heating up again, I prepared my canning jars. The jars need to be sterilized so that all bacteria is dead. For long term storage, this is a vital step. Its actually important even if you plan to use your syrup within the week. Just better all around. You dont want a bunch of nasty bugs getting into that liquid gold. I also sanitized the lids by pouring boiling water over them.

7.) Distribute
Once the jars are clean and the syrup has boiled for a few minutes, I let it cool for a bit and then poured it into the jars and put the lids on.

If you dont wish to can/preserve your syrup, you can stop reading here. The following steps detail how to can the jars for long term storage. If you plan to use the syrup within a month or so, you can keep it in the fridge and take it daily or as needed. Skip to the bottom for some suggestions on use and dosage.

8.) Canning
We choose to preserve our syrup.  #1 We cant see ourselves using 2.5 gallons of elderberry syrup within 3 month’s time (3 months is about as long as you can keep elderberry syrup on the shelf/in the fridge). #2. We want to be able to give it away to friends without a “use by date” printed on the label. We dont have a pressure canner. In fact, all I have is a huge stock pot and some jars. Guess what? It works! Simple, affordable, and fun!

Here is how to use a water bath canning method for your syrup:

  • Fill a stock pot halfway with water
  • Once the water is heated add the filled jars
  • The jars need to be separated with a wire rack like this. Or with random objects you find in your kitchen. Like we did.
  • Add more water until the water level is about an inch above the top of the jars
  • Bring the water to a boil
  • Allow the jars to boil for 20-35 (the amount of time depends on the size of the jars and your current altitude.) Here is a chart that details the various boiling times.
  •  Remove the jars from the water. Most people like to use these handy dandy jar grabbers if they dont have a rack, but since I dont have either, we just tipped some water out and grabbed the jars with a pot holder. Only a few minor burns were sustained :) Kidding. We are fine.
  • Let the jars cool and check the seals before storing
  • Store in a cool dry place and use as needed.Here is the fruit (literally) of our labor! *sigh* Looks good, eh?

    Tada!!! 21 jars of canned elderberry syrup! Ain’t she a beaut?

If you dont have elderberries, or dont feel like buying any and making your own syrup- you can also buy elderberry syrup online. It’s pricey, but boy does it work!! Kicks those germs right out. Not to mention the other benefits that I mentioned in my tincture post.

Here are some great ways to use your elderberry syrup:

*For adults: Take 1 tablespoon per day, or 3 per day if you feel a cold/flu coming on.
*For kiddos: Take 2 teaspoons per day, or 2 tablespoons if you feel a cold/flu coming on.
*In homemade yogurt as a sweetener and an extra immune boost
*In carbonated water- the girls love it! Just add a couple of tablespoons to a glass of seltzer water. It makes a wonderful and healthy “soda” as a treat for the kiddos
*Pour over pancakes, baked oatmeal, or in tea instead of honey
* Drizzle over ice cream
*Use as a sweetener in baked goods

What would YOU do with elderberry syrup??

Making Elderberry Tincture

Finding Elderberries in the Mountains

Around this time last year, the girls and I were on a stroll and happened upon an elderberry bush. I was shocked. I never expected to find elderberries in the mountains of Colorado! I picked a ripe cluster of the berries and brought them home and did a bunch of research to make sure that I was right in my herb identification. I was! We went out later that week and harvested as many berries as we could find and made 2 large bottles of tincture from that one bush. We felt like such pioneers. Well, imagine my surprise when we found over 10 elderberry bushes this year on our foraging adventures! Thanks to Mark’s keen elderberry spotting.  We decided to make as much tincture as we could. Little did we know what that was going to entail. Before detailing our little venture into herbal remedies though, here are some important rules of elderberry use.

Safety Rules of Elderberry Harvesting and Use

  1. You can ingest the flowers of the elderberry bush- some people put them in champagne for a light springy flavor. Here is what the elder flowers look like

    Elderflowers

  2. Do not ingest unripe berries. They contain a mild cyanide which can cause nausea and vomiting etc.

    Unripe elderberries

  3. When using ripe elderberries, use them when they are purple and the stem has turned reddish/pink.

    Ripe elderberries

The Health Benefits of Elderberry

When I was a kid, my aunt used to make elderberry tincture and send it to us so I was somewhat familiar with it. I knew it was good for fighting off the flu or common cold because the second I complained of a stuffy nose or headache, out came the elderberry tincture. What I didn’t realize is that it can also improve heart health, lower cholesterol, lessen asthma, help with diabetes, and improve vision. It is also helpful in reducing inflammation in the bladder and urinary tract. Elderberry juice was used as a treatment in Panama during a flu epidemic in 1995 and in Israel, at Hadassah’s Oncology Lab, it was determined that the anthocyanins in elderberry enhance immune function greatly. In fact, it does such a great job that they are now treating AIDS and Cancer patients with elderberry!!! So that’s the scientific side of things. On to the making of the tincture. Be prepared to get dirty and have some fun!

My awesome hubby getting the berries at the top of the bush and his mum holding on to his ankles, “just in case”

Making Elderberry Tincture and Syrup

1.) Harvesting We spent about 30 minutes picking the ripe berries, and filled an entire reusable grocery bag. Hooray! You can also buy dry berries from herb stores like this one.
2.) Separating Guess how long it took us to separate those berries? Oh….about 5 hours.
Yep, talk about labor intensive! Oh well, its a labor of love, right? Anyway, to take the berries off of the umbrels, you simply have to use your finger tips and lightly pluck the berries off making sure to not take any stem along. If the berries are super ripe you can use a fork or wide tooth comb and run it downward along the stem. Some people freeze the berries while still on the umbrel and separate afterwards, but I havent tried that method yet.

Berries: separated and rinsed

3.) Recipe and Process There are a few different ideas on how to properly make tincture. Some people use only berries and alcohol. We decided to add a few extra ingredients. One thing is certain though- you have to use alcohol that is 80 proof or higher in order to extract the medicinal properties and preserve the berries. We used 90 proof rum for some of the jars and 90 proof whiskey for others. Some people say that vodka is the only proper alcohol to use when making tincture. But, I like to live on the edge so we didn’t use vodka. Anyway, here are the steps we took.

  • Separate and wash the berries
  • Mash them lightly
  • We added raw honey to the berries (about 1/4 cup of honey per 1 cup of elderberries) just because we wanted to make it a bit more palatable.

    Filling the Jars

  • Fill each jar about halfway with the berry/honey mixture
  • Add alcohol to the berries until the jar is nearly full (ends up being about a 50-50 mix).
  •  (Optional) Add a couple of cinnamon sticks, 3 or 4 cloves, 1 tablespoon dried echinacea, and 2 teaspoons dried lavender to each jar. We added these things because we had them on hand, and because they all have specific medicinal qualities that are also helpful in fighting illness and boosting the immune system.

    The finished product.

  • Seal the jar and shake the mixture until well combined.
  • Store in a dark dry place
  • Shake lightly every couple of days
  • The tincture will be ready after 2-3 weeks.

Suggested Use: You will want to strain the tincture before consuming it. You can do so 1 serving at a time or strain the entire content into a new jar and discard of the berries entirely. A daily serving (1 tablespoon) of tincture is great for keeping your immune system up and running. You can take it 3 times per day when you feel the first signs of flu or cold coming on. For kids, I would suggest making elderberry syrup since its more palatable and  kids love it!

Garlic as a Natural Antibiotic: A Germ’s Worst Nightmare.

What do Italian food, crunchy mamas, and natural antibiotics have in common?

*hint* take a peek up at the title up there.

I’ll even give you a picture. Yes. It’s garlic.

At least you cant get bad breath from just looking at it, right?

 

In all its potent glory.

I could list all the benefits of garlic right now, but let’s just suffice to say – its basically a miracle herb. You should definitely use garlic as a natural antibiotic. I’m talking the 007 of herbal remedies here folks. No, its not ideal for a make-out session, but if you can get past the…um…vibrant fragrance its great for almost everything else.

About 3 months ago I was bathing my youngest daughter when I noticed some peeling and cracking on her big toe. I figured it was from being dry. Living in a desert can do that to ya. But it gradually got worse, to the point that her foot was actually peeling, cracked, and bleeding. Since I didnt want to take an unnecessary trip to the doctor, I decided to do some research and figure out how to treat it on my own. You will find that this is a common theme in the Sharman household.
After a lot of researching, googling images, and comparing notes I figured out what it was. Athlete’s foot! I know, right? Seriously? I didnt think babies could get that stuff.

Regardless, I figured that since athletes foot is a fungal issue, it was time to pull out the big guns.
Here is what I did to help, and ultimately cure, Norah of her foot fungus.
Every morning and evening I slathered on a layer of GOOT. What is goot? Goot is a homemade mixture of coconut oil, garlic, olive oil, and essential oil. Its goot stuff!

I cant remember where I first saw the idea for this smelly yet amazing salve, but as soon as I read the ingredients I was sold. I’ll post the recipe for you below.

  • 1/3 C Unrefined Coconut Oil (I like the organic extra virgin stuff)
  • 2 Tbs Olive Oil
  • 8 Cloves of Garlic
  • A couple drops of essential oil like lavender

Throw it all in a food processor or a blender…just something to make it nice and smooth. Then slather it on. You can heat and strain it to make sure there are no garlicky lumps, but I didnt. I also used this salve on the bottom of the girls feet at night when they were fighting a flu/cold too and on their neck and chest for a respiratory issue as well. It helped a lot.

I’m telling you- this stuff will evict any germs who have tried to make their home in you or your little ones. Its easy to make and a little bit goes a long way. Garlic helps treat bacterial, viral, and fungal infections. It is chock full of antioxidants and boosts the immune system. It also tastes good on fresh bread.

The Health Benefits of Aloe Vera

It’s summertime and the livin’ is easy!

BBQs, watermelon, lemonade and ….sunburn. We’ve all been there. Spent just a tad too much time at the pool or hanging out with friends at the church picnic, right? It burns us precioussssss (no, I am not a LOTR geek, but I couldn’t resist). Then there’s that greenish goo. The stuff your mom always slapped on your bright red skin after giving you the “I told you so” look.

Aloe Vera is great for treating sunburn or burns in general. But did you know that there are a lot of other benefits of aloe vera? No? Well, read on!Aloe Vera was known to ancient Egyptians as the “plant of immortality”. But, since those folks did not actually live forever, I am guessing that Aloe may not truly hold immortality in its grip. I do know, however, that aloe, when taken internally, has been proven to ease constipation, lower blood pressure, and is helpful in healing the gut and intestinal tract. It also stabilizes blood sugar, halts the growth of a cancer (seriously!), boosts immune function, lowers cholesterol, relieves join pain, is also helpful in treating skin issues such as acne. Aloe vera can save animals and human from severe hemorrhagic shock (blood loss) too. It is also a cell regenerator, and it even assists in the preservation of food. Crazy right? And you just thought it was for sunburn. Pshhh

I have used aloe on many occasions to help with those burns I always seem to get while baking. Like the one below.

Don’t try this at home.

Yes. It hurt. But, I can honestly say that aloe soothes and heals better than any other topical cream I have used. Many people will tell you not to apply aloe to an open cut, but there are others who swear by actually putting aloe IN a wound to speed healing and prevent scarring. So, its really up to you since its your body.

Another wonderful idea comes from one of my favorite crunchy blogs. Check out this great idea on how to beat the heat. Sounds like a cool haven to me. Especially if you don’t have or don’t like A/C. You could also mix some aloe gel with coconut oil and lavender for a nice smooth lotion. But more on that later…

Stay cool friends.