Deborah J. "DJ" Martin

A Witch and a Bitch with an Herbal Itch - and an overactive imagination

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Month: June 2010

A (Very) Useful Weed

We cleared land and built our house. The first year here everything was so bare! But in the un-landscaped rubble rose several beautiful spires of MulleinVerbascum thapsus.  Mullein is generally found in very poor, disturbed and dry soil and can often be found in rock quarries, along railroad tracks or anywhere the soil has been very abused and overused.

Our soil qualifies as poor: if it’s not clay it’s a thin layer of powdered rock over still-intact rock. I was excited: at least one something-good had come out of all the bareness! Mullein is extremely useful and the dried flowers, which are very delicate, are almost impossible to find. Thinking I could have a whole section of my yard as Mullein, I let it go to seed rather than harvesting anything. Much to my chagrin, they didn’t reemerge the following year, or the year after that or …

Finally, in our seventh year here, there is one Mullein plant in a completely different place (birds? wind?). There were actually two but my husband (who should know better by now) pulled one up when he was mowing before I could holler at him.

Nearly all parts of the plant are useful … the flowers, fruit, leaves and root. Crush a fresh leaf and put it on a sore or toothache for quick relief of pain and speedy healing; or use as a poultice for mastitis (swollen breasts). An infusion of the leaves is used as a remedy for any sort of lung congestion and will calm coughs. The same infusion can be used to soothe the discomfort of hemorrhoids.

Mullein contains iron, magnesium, potassium and sulfur, making it very nutritious. An infusion, fluid extract or tincture will help with sluggish digestion.  Although I haven’t tried, I imagine the young leaves could be added to a salad, as well. (But the leaves are rather fuzzy … I’m not sure I’d like the texture.)

An ages-old remedy for earaches is to infuse Mullein flowers in oil (generally olive) and then put a couple of drops of the oil into each ear. (Remember, even if only one ear hurts, they are connected so you want to treat both.)

The uses of Mullein aren’t limited to internal. A steam cleanse with the leaves or flowers will help a blemished complexion. (Fill a bowl with steaming hot water. Crush a handful of dried leaves or flowers and put them in the bowl. Cover your head with a towel, bend over the bowl and allow the steam to penetrate all your pores for about ten minutes.) The leaves have a high mucilage content, making them a wonderful, softening addition to creams. An infusion of the flowers used as a rinse will brighten blond hair.

Magically, Mullein leaves can be stuffed into a dream pillow to discourage nightmares; or carry either the root or a leaf with you to maintain health. Best of all, the dried leaves can be powdered and used as a substitute for graveyard dirt.

If you’re lucky enough to have Mullein growing nearby, be sure to store the flowers in an opaque jar. They will turn black if exposed to light.

Mullein doesn’t like to be babied so I will let this plant do its thing. This year, however, I will take a few flowers and leaves … just in case it’s another seven years before I see one again!

Essential Library

From time to time, I’m going to talk about books I think should be on every green witch’s bookshelf. Today’s book is Jude’s Herbal Home Remedies: Natural Health, Beauty & Home-Care Secrets.

This is out in its second edition. The one on my bookshelf is the first edition. The pages are yellowed and the glue in the binding is failing. It’s one of the first books (if not the first) I bought when the little voices in my head told me to start investigating herbs rather than synthetic solutions to problems.

Jude Todd is a Master Herbalist with decades of experience. It’s obvious from her writing that she practices what she preaches and has a great love of living as close to nature as possible. The first chapter, “General Principles of Herbs” gives one a good introduction to and background on herbal medicine.

The book has chapters on beauty preparations, skin care, common ailments (like a cold, headache or indigestion), pet care and household cleaning tips. She gives instructions on how to make preparations such as salves and tinctures; and there’s a couple of really good recipes for homemade soap. The advice on how to harvest herbs is excellent, as well.

One of the things I like about her writing: interspersed with the really practical stuff are things like an “aphrodisiac” tea recipe, or the mention of the fact that her father had a gift for being able to rub away warts. And she doesn’t limit herself strictly to herbal solutions. Applying ammonia to stop the itch of an insect bite isn’t very herbal!

Although I now do my own research and make up my own recipes, I still use a hair rinse recipe I got out of the book however many years ago, as well as several of her household cleaning solutions. Why reinvent the wheel?

Ahhh, Lavender

I’ve been trying to ring my garden with Lavender … it’s one of the plants the local deer and bunnies don’t seem to like. I thought a full ring might keep the critters away from the other goodies and look rather pretty at the same time. Although I don’t have enough plants for a full circle (yet), the ones there are in full bloom and look (and smell) gorgeous.

One of the most popular herbs on this planet because of its aroma, Lavender is also one of the most useful. Lavender has been used for thousands of years not only for its fragrance but as an antiseptic disinfectant, sedative, tonic and wound healer. Its credentials were firmly established early in the 20th century with the rise of aromatherapy. The story goes that a French perfumery chemist by the name of René Gattefosse confirmed the powers of Lavender when, after his hand was badly burned in a laboratory explosion, he plunged his hand into neat (undiluted) Lavender essential oil and it healed quickly without scars.

When purchasing Lavender, check the Latin binomial name. You want to be sure you’re getting either Lavandula officinalis or Lavandula angustifolia. This is “true” Lavender and has the clearest and sweetest of scents. A lot of what I see on the market today is “Lavandin” which is a cross breed and has a stronger, harsher (somewhat camphorous) scent and inferior medicinal qualities.

Some things you can do with Lavender besides putting it in a potpourri:

Make an infusion (1 teaspoon dried herb to 8 ounces just-boiled water). Steep for 5 minutes or so and drink 2-3 times per day between meals. This provides a sedative action and is good for insomnia, indigestion, migraines & irritability. A stronger infusion (1 ounce dried herb to 16 ounces water steeped for about 10 minutes) will support complaints of the respiratory tract, chills, infectious diseases, fevers and tiredness. I’ll warn you: a Lavender infusion won’t comes out the pretty blue/purple of the flowers – it’s a light green! And it doesn’t taste as good as the flowers smell.

The British Pharmacopoeia recommends Lavender tincture for cases of mild depression. 60 drops per day (spaced out 20 drops in water 3 times daily) was proven out in a double-blind trial.

Pure Lavender essential oil is one of only two that you can apply directly to the skin without diluting it first. For sound sleep, sprinkle 2-3 drops on your pillow before bed. Add 5-6 drops to a warm bath to combat stress. Massage your temples with a drop or two (you can dilute first) to get rid of a headache. 2-3 drops on a cotton ball & placed on the skin will get rid of the sting of insect bites or ease the pain of sunburn or other mild burn (it’ll help it heal faster, too). For a sore throat, take 2-3 drops in a spoonful of honey a couple of times a day.

Lavender is also an insect repellent. Dab 1-2 drops of oil behind the ear to deter head lice or put some flowers in a muslin bag and hang in your closet or put in your drawer to repel moths.

Or make that potpourri by pouring a handful of dried flowers into a bowl. The scent is so calming!

I’m So Excited!!

I can finally get “officially” excited. Although I signed the contract about a year ago, my first book, Herbs: Medicinal, Magical, Marvelous! is now available for pre-order on Amazon.

This book is meant as a reference for all the green witches out there. The official blurb on the book reads like this:

“For millennia, man has been using herbs … in food, for healing, and for magical purposes. Only in the last hundred years have the magical and medicinal properties of herbs been separated by scientists and the magical community. This book reunites the two into a comprehensive reference.

Drawing on her years of practice and research, Deborah J. Martin has compiled information on over three hundred herbs. Avoiding the confusion of common names which can vary by region, she uses the Latin binomial (scientific) names for all the plants but gives the reader a cheat sheet for easy reference.

Written with a touch of humor, she details the difference between synthetic drugs and herbal alternatives. Lists make looking up an herb for a simple ailment or magical spell effortless. Also given are instructions for different types of herbal preparations and their medicinal and magical uses.”

You can read what others have to say here.

Needless to say, I’m jumping up & down with joy! Pre-order it today: Herbs: Medicinal, Magical, Marvelous!

“Slow Down,

You move too fast.”  Simon & Garfunkel had it right in 1966 and it’s still good advice today. (Man, am I dating myself or what?)

Although I’ve thought about “slowing down” many a time, like many other folks, there’s too much to do and not enough time to do it in! I’m splitting my time (and focus) between being an accountant, an herbalist, a writer, a wife, a mother, a daughter, a friend … and sometimes feel overwhelmed. But I was visibly reminded yesterday that I needed to slow down a bit. I had a phone conversation with my high school classmate, friend and now publicist, Kathleen Malone of Sundance on Success. She, like us about six years ago, has moved into a new home that needs some landscaping. Not yet having visited our corner of heaven in the mountains, she hasn’t seen my garden and I wanted to share it with her – at least through a photo or two…

… and it was pouring down rain during our conversation.  After we finished talking, I went back to work but as soon as the skies cleared for a few minutes, I stopped what I was doing, grabbed the camera and ran outside.

As I ran down the stairs to the garden to a good spot to take a photo, I startled the bejeesus out of a box turtle. They’re rather prevalent around here but I’d never seen one in the yard before. Like all turtles, he “turtled up” upon seeing me.  I took a couple of photos of the garden and was ready to run back into the house when something told me to just sit there. A minute or two of quiet later, he started to poke his head out of his shell. Far enough, at least, that I could get a shot of his head.Ooo, there was so much to do … I wanted to get the photos to Kathleen, had piles of work still waiting for me on my desk and in the shop, there was laundry to be done and I needed to check in on Mom. But as I downloaded the photos from the camera and started looking at this little guy, I realized that I was rushing for no apparent reason. There was nothing on an immediate deadline and I needed to take a breath.

That got me to thinking about the people I encounter. If they have a physical problem that they want to take an herb for, they’re looking for something that will work within an hour … even if whatever it is has been building up in their system for years. Phytotherapy (medical herbalism) doesn’t work that way. Illness is an imbalance in the body and herbs work to bring the body back into balance with itself. That takes some time.  Even synthetic medications take time.  Mom’s only been on her Parkinson’s medication for two weeks and is mightily upset that the tremors haven’t stopped, despite the fact that she’s been told by her doctor (and me) that it will take a month or more for the meds to have any noticeable effect.

The same thing goes for many witches I meet. They want something, put a spell together in a hurry without taking time to think things all the way through and then are surprised when the results aren’t what they wanted, or perhaps intended.

I’m not sure when instant gratification and “have it done yesterday” became de rigeur in our society but I do believe it’s added to the stress level of a good proportion of the population. Chronic stress isn’t good for anyone, physically or mentally.  If folks would slow down a bit, stress levels would decrease and I think we’d all feel better.

I left the piles of work, decided the laundry could wait, resolved to call Mom later in the day and went back outside to watch the turtle for a few more minutes. He slowly made his way to wherever he was going but I’ll betcha dollars to donuts he eventually made it. I felt more relaxed and better able to tackle my work when I went back to my desk.

Answers

First, thanks for all the compliments on my blog. They may have truly been intended or not, but I’ll take them.  Even though my comment section tells folks the blog is moderated and the comment won’t be approved if it doesn’t pertain to the subject matter, I get all sorts of “comments” from people that apparently can’t read. So, I thought I’d take a few moments to answer some of the non-herbal comments.

1.  If you want to start blogging, do it. You don’t need my opinion or permission. There are plenty of blog hosting sites around and an Internet search will find them all.

2.  What software do I use? Scroll all the way to the bottom of your screen.  It’ll tell you.

3.  What template do I use? Mine is customized. I spent a lot of time doing it. If you want something that looks like mine, figure it out yourself – just like I did.

4. Want to be a guest blogger?  Maybe.  Send me an email and point me in the direction of your blog so I can see what you write about and how you write. Then we’ll talk.

5.  Don’t bother trying to advertise your site, especially if it’s not herbal-related. (Viagra? Please.) My spam filter catches most of them and I’ll catch the rest.  The only sites advertised here are my own and the blogs I follow. If you want to cross-link, again, send me an email and we’ll talk. Otherwise, I believe in the “delete” button.

If that doesn’t answer your question, send an email to dj@herbylady.com. I’ll help if I can.

Don’t Scratch That Itch!

Any stinging/biting insect thinks I’m a gourmet meal and they’ll stop at nothing to get to it. When I was a kid, Mom would spray me with those toxic insect repellents without success. As an adult, I’ve tried every natural insect repellent I can think of and the bugs still make a beeline for the smorgasbord.

Over the years I’ve learned to live with the bites and tried different herbal combinations to see if there was something that would help calm the itch. Jewelweed is specific to itchy problems but it’s best used fresh and I don’t have any growing nearby. Other herbs that have an antihistamine effect are: Basil, Chamomile, Echinacea, Fennel, Fig, Gingko, Grapefruit, Nettle, Oregano, Passionflower, Rue, Tea, Thyme & Yarrow.  The essential oils of Caraway, Clove  Lemon Balm and Tea Tree are also recommended.  After a lot of experimentation, I came up with an oil blend that lessens my itch considerably – it’s a combination of German Chamomile, Melissa (Lemon Balm) and Tea Tree in a Coconut oil base.  The usual itch from mosquitoes and no-see-ums isn’t bad enough that I drink a tea of one of the herbs to help my body stop manufacturing histamines (the chemical that causes the itch).

That said, I spent a miserable Memorial Day. I only had about ten minutes’ outdoor work on Sunday so didn’t put on my long pants and socks – just went out in shorts & flip-flops.  I also didn’t take my usual shower after coming in – I knew I was going to clean the house and decided to shower after that. Huge mistake. I apparently found a nest of chiggers and by Monday morning, was covered in bites – most of them inside my underwear!

Nothing I tried alleviated the maddening itch. Not my usual oil blend, not my rash cream, not even a couple of different commercial anti-itch creams.  Scratching, no matter how satisfying it may be, just makes the itch worse after I stop and also opens up the possibility of infection. So, I started nosing around the Internet to see if I could find a solution.

The first suggestion was a hot shower – as hot as you can stand it.  That helps as long as you’re standing under the water.  As a matter of fact, the relief is almost as good as sex. However, one can only stay in the shower so long.  Even though we have a flash water heater and I wouldn’t run out of hot water, there are other things to do than just stand there all day.

The second suggestion I found was Adolph’s Meat Tenderizer.  I’d heard of it for bee stings but not for itchy bites.  The meat tenderizer is an enzyme and the theory is that enzyme counteracts the ones injected by the bugs to allow them to feed. (Dr. Weil explains how and where they feed here). I don’t have any Adolph’s around but I do have digestive enzyme capsules.  It was worth a shot. I broke open a couple of capsules and made a paste.

The bites form a scab on top of the opening created by the bug so you have to open them up to get the enzyme into where it can act.  Most of my bites hadn’t yet formed a white pustule on top that could be lanced so I did this by using a strong exfoliating scrub pad in the (really hot) shower and then applied the paste to each individual bite as soon as I got out. Then I made a Nettle tea and got that into my system to start working.

Within an hour, I wasn’t ready to scream my head off.  Today, 3 days later, the bites are healing nicely and I can get by with my normal anti-itch oil blend.  (I’d probably feel even better if I wasn’t sitting on and continually irritating a lot of them.)

A friend of mine grew up in the Southeast and said that his dad used to dust his family with sulfur powder before they went outside in the spring and summer.  Apparently, chiggers don’t like sulfur but, eeew! What a smelly solution. Garlic has a really high sulfur content and doesn’t smell quite so gross so I’m going to try garlic oil before I resort to asking the pharmacist for some sulfur powder.  Although I know covering up is a good thing, I like cooler clothes so I’m going to always take a shower as soon as I come inside, no matter how short the stay outdoors, to wash any of those little buggers off me immediately. I probably won’t avoid bites altogether but now I know what works to stop the itch.

Now, if I could just get my husband to try something instead of suffering in scratching silence …