Tuesday, September 23, 2014

How I Made an Elderberry-Echinacea Syrup

In my last week’s post, I wrote about my beginner’s journey into the world of herbal medicine and how to make a comfrey salve for your bumps and bruises.  I hope that if you read last week’s post, you are feeling more empowered about your abilities to provide at least a portion of your own health care.  As you continue down the path of creating your own herbal remedies, your confidence will grow and you can be assured that you will be providing some great natural healing resources for yourself and for those you care about.

As we are now entering the Fall season here in the American Midwest of the Northern Hemisphere, the weather is almost constantly changing, and with it, the outdoor temperatures change quite often as well.  My belief is that all of these fluctuating changes in the weather put stress on our bodies to maintain our homeostasis (our internal body balance), and this makes us more vulnerable for developing infections that are going around in our communities.  Add that to all of the increased busyness and activities (read: Stress) that many of us experience this time of year, along with the decrease in natural sunshine exposure in the fall and winter (read: a decrease in vitamin D from natural sunshine), and we quite often find ourselves battling a respiratory or some other infection.  When that happens, it certainly doesn’t hurt to get some assistance from our herbal allies that can help to shore up our immune systems.  Also worth exploring are the medicinal mushrooms like Reishi, and Chaga, which are excellent tonics for our immune systems and our bodies.*

I have wanted to try elderberry syrup for awhile now, but the cost of about $10 or more a bottle was not something that I could justify in my budget.  Given my recent interest in herbal medicine and making my own herbal remedies, and further emboldened by reading Rosemary Gladstar’s Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide, I thought, “Dang it, I can just make this stuff myself.” 

After making my first Elderberry-Echinacea syrup recently, I felt like, “Why haven’t I been making these things for years now?”  Good question.  Probably because I am finally discovering how simple it can actually be to make herbal remedies at home.  I assure you that if I can make these things, you can too!  If you already know how to cook, you can easily learn how to make herbal remedies as well.  If you don’t already know how to cook, making these things are actually fairly simple, and it might even encourage you to start making a lot more things yourself at home.  There is nothing to be afraid of.  Just give it a shot!

I searched online and found this excellent post and recipe for Echinacea-Elderberry Syrup from Crunchy Betty’s blog.  All of the main ingredients, elderberries, echinacea, raw honey, cinnamon and ginger root, help to support your immune system or aid in healing your body when you have come down with one of those annoying seasonal infections. 

Crunchy Betty claims on her post that children can take this syrup as well as adults, but I cannot personally recommend a specific dose appropriate for children.  The bottom line is that you should do your own research (or ask a health practitioner or professional herbalist) to determine whether this would be appropriate for your child.  I do think that the syrup is certainly tasty enough that children wouldn’t mind taking it, however.

Below are some pictures that I took while creating the syrup.  I hope that you find them helpful.  Again, if you would like to access the recipe that I used, please check out Crunchy Betty’s post.  I’ve already taken this syrup several times when I felt like I was starting to come down with something.  It is a very tasty way to take one’s medicine, indeed!

*Note: Always consult with a qualified health practitioner to determine which natural therapies are right for you if you have any existing health conditions.

All of the ingredients needed to make the syrup: spring water (you could use distilled water, but I used spring water from an excellent source near my house), ginger root (can be either fresh or dried), dried elderberries, cinnamon sticks, dried Echinacea (pictured above is Echinacea root that I purchased from the bulk herb section of my local natural food store, but you could also use the contents of an Echinacea tea bag if that is all that you have available), and some raw honey.  You want to use raw honey, since only raw honey retains all of the healthy properties that honey should have such as enzymes.  Getting organic local raw honey is best, if you can find some.    

All of the ingredients (except the honey, which is added later) ready to simmer in the pot.    

After simmering the ingredients for approximately 45 minutes and the volume of the liquid is reduced by about half…

Pouring the finished liquid over a fine mesh stainless steel strainer into a glass measuring cup.

The finished liquid, with a deep purple-red color.    

Be sure to press as much liquid out of the spent ingredients as you can to extract plenty of herbal goodness for your syrup!

Once your liquid has cooled for about 10-15 minutes, add the liquid to the raw honey.  This brief cooling period is very important, as the cooled liquid will not “cook” any of the raw goodness out of the honey.  Stir this mixture well!

Lastly, add your finished syrup to a very clean glass bottle, mason jar, or other glass container, label and use as needed.   Store your syrup in the refrigerator, and enjoy your tasty creation whenever you feel like you could use an herbal immune boost.  Smile when you reflect that you have an awesome herbal remedy at a fraction of the cost of a store bought version.  Be careful, though: You may need to make extra when friends and family taste your new remedy and want some too!  Better yet, teach them how to make some for their own family…  Share the herbal love!  

This post is shared at Healthy, Happy, Green & Natural Party Hop

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Adventures in Herbal Medicine and the Making of a Comfrey Salve

My Dear Readers, I have been really excited about herbal medicine lately.  I feel very drawn to learn as much as I can about herbs, to learn how to grow them, and to learn how to use them for both food and medicine.  Just as the processes of cooking and preparing tasty things from our gardens allow us an excellent way to get in touch with what nature provides, herbal medicine making gives us yet another wonderful way to interact with nature by giving us some very important resources to help our bodies heal and bring about greater balance from within. 

Herbal medicine is what many consider to be “the people’s medicine,” as it puts the power to heal back into our own hands in an age when many of us have given that power away to others.   We can grow our own herbal medicine right in our own backyards and balconies, which I personally find very empowering.

Some Words of Caution
I will emphasize here, as many others have, if you have a particular health condition or concern, please consult with a qualified health practitioner to ensure that certain herbs will not negatively affect you or any medications that you may be taking.  Also, based upon my personal experience traveling through the world of alternative medicine seeking answers for my own health issues, sometimes we just need to enlist the help of others who have greater knowledge than ourselves.  While I certainly believe that we all need to pay close attention to our own intuition and listen to the signals that our bodies give us concerning our health, we all can reach points when we need that extra help beyond our own knowledge and insight. 

I also believe that health care (I actually prefer to say “wellness care” instead, as I believe that we should be focused most on prevention and lifestyle when it comes to health) should be holistic and integrative, and so I personally favor practitioners with a deep knowledge of many wellness areas, including herbs and supplements.  Ultimately, you must do what is right for you and your family and what you are comfortable with. 

Everyone has unique needs and situations when it comes to their health.  Some things will resonate with you, and other things won’t.  Pay attention to that and be true to yourself, but please seek outside help when you need it.  And, if you don’t find what you need in the first practitioner you visit, or even the second, third, or more, don’t stop until you get the help that you need to bring about true healing.  It took me about eight years to get to the bottom of my own health issues, so I want to encourage you that if you are struggling to find answers to your health problems, keep looking until you find someone who can partner with you and help you to truly heal.  I believe that partnership is where it is at with health practitioners.  Any other arrangement gives our empowerment away.

Okay, Back to Herbs…
With all of that said, when used appropriately, herbs can be wonderful tools to help bring the body into a greater place of balance, and to help your body heal itself from the inside out.  Since many herbs (note that I am saying many, not all herbs) can be used by our bodies as food, and many are very safe and have very few side effects.  Again, I urge you to please use common sense and learn as much as you can about the herbs you wish to use.

Herbs are wonderful holistic health packages.  Unlike pharmaceutical drugs, where the medications are commonly isolated compounds that tend to have multiple side effects, herbs contain a plethora of plant compounds and co-factors that often work together much more holistically on the body, and this can help to prevent many of the nasty side effects that pharmaceutical drugs can have (Also please read:  I am not telling you to just go off your medications if you are taking them. Some people certainly still need such medicines.).  Some folks simply do not tolerate a lot of chemicals well, including many pharmaceutical drugs.  For such individuals, herbs, nutritional supplements, and homeopathic remedies tend to agree with our systems much more.

Finding Inspiration
Recently, I read a book on herbalism for beginners, Rosemary Gladstar’s Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide, and I was inspired to prepare many types of herbal remedies myself.  So far, I have made alcohol-based herbal tinctures (and for those of you who are waiting for my post on making a Holy Basil tincture, I should be writing it within the next couple of weeks.  Your wait is almost over!), and I have also made teas from both dried and fresh herbs. 

After reading Rosemary’s book, the frontier was open for me to explore other herbal medicine making techniques as well, such as salves and ointments, and I felt empowered to try making new things of herbal goodness.

My Adventures with Making a Comfrey Salve
Little did I know that I would soon have a great opportunity (although not so great for my husband) to further explore herbal medicine making when my husband experienced a bad fall while mountain biking two weekends ago.  He got some bad cuts, scrapes, bruises and swelling. 

Fortunately, he is now well on his way to mending and there was no emergency situation (thank goodness for bike helmets!), but right after he came home after being injured, I got right to work helping my sweetie by cleaning all of the wounds very well.  Then, I applied a conventional salve that my husband grew up with to all of the open wounds, put gauze over the wounds, and wrapped them with a bandage until the open wounds had closed up.   Unfortunately, that particular salve is not as holistic as I would prefer, but I’m hoping to explore this area much more in the future.  I also initially applied some homeopathic arnica gel to other injured areas without open wounds to help with the trauma and the sore muscles.

After the open wounds had healed enough and they had closed up fully, it was time for some herbal comfrey (Symphytum officinale L.) magic.  I was excited to make an herbal salve to help him, and over the last few years, I have been hearing about comfrey over and over again for healing injuries, almost to the point of a legendary reputation. 

The one thing to keep in mind is that you should not apply comfrey in any form to open wounds, as it will make everything heal up way too quickly, including over infected wounds.   Therefore, do not apply comfrey until the wound has fully closed up, and then the comfrey can be free to do its healing work.  Also, I have come across many warnings about ingesting comfrey, so for our purposes, I would advise using it for external use only.

After searching online for directions for how to make a comfrey salve, I made my very first herbal salve from dried comfrey roots and leaves based on the directions from this web page.   Because I do not grow comfrey myself at present, the comfrey was purchased at one of my local health food stores in their bulk herb area.  The only ingredients used to make the salve were some beeswax, some comfrey and some olive oil. 

Like so many other things, we are often afraid to try to make many of these things ourselves, as if we tell ourselves, “The manufacturers know best.” Perhaps in certain cases this may be true, but in many cases, we can make just as good, if not better, things ourselves, and often such things end up costing us a lot less in the end.  This is often the case with quality food (check out my post on making homemade granola bars), and it can certainly be the case with herbal remedies as well.

We also ask ourselves, “Will this really work?” or “Will this kill someone?” or even, “You mean, I can make that myself?”  Well, my answer to these questions is that humans have been making and using herbal remedies since long before pharmaceutical drugs ever existed.  Just do your research, use common sense and be brave enough to give making these things a try.  I bet that once you try and make your first herbal remedy at home, you’ll feel so empowered that you’ll soon leave no herb unturned and you’ll want to make a lot more of them.

Not only did I make a comfrey salve myself, which seems to be helping my husband’s bruises and other injuries to heal quite efficiently, but within the same week, I made my own elderberry-echinacea syrup, which is definitely not cheap if you purchase any of the prepared commercial brands out there (I’ll post on that process soon as well).   In fact, because of the cost of those elderberry syrups, I never even tried it until I made my own.

Here are some of the pictures from my salve making adventure last week:

The three ingredients for the comfrey salve: beeswax beads (you could also use chucks of beeswax or grate it yourself), olive oil (I used extra virgin), and dried comfrey leaves and roots (either one will work).

Heating up the dried comfrey in the olive oil within a double boiler situation on the lowest heat setting on the stove top.  I don’t have a double boiler, so I was able to rest a smaller pot on the lip of the lower larger pot containing water.  The idea here is to avoid overheating the oil and maintaining the integrity of both the oil and the herbs.

Still heating, making sure the oil maintains a temperature between 100 and 140 degrees F for 3 to 5 hours.  This process is essentially making an herbal infused oil.  Stir occasionally.

At the end of the heating process, the oil smelled very strongly of herbs, and it had turned a very deep green color from the comfrey.

Straining the spent comfrey over a glass container using a fine mesh stainless steel strainer.  This strained out the majority of the herbs, but I still had to fish out a few stray herb pieces after this step by using a spoon.

The dark green comfrey infused oil.

Pouring the comfrey infused oil into a stainless steel pot with beeswax beads.

Heating on low and stirring until all of the beeswax melts and dissolves into the oil.

The melted and dissolved beeswax and oil.  Almost a salve!

After pouring the finished warm salve into clean and dry tins.  You could use other containers, such as shallow glass jars with lids.  I do not recommend using plastic containers to pour this warm liquid into, however, as plastic could be absorbed by the warm liquid and might contaminate your remedies.  The idea here is to avoid putting any additional toxins on or in your body or the bodies of the people you care about.

The comfrey salve after cooling and hardening in the tins.  We are done!  Hooray for homemade herbal medicine salves that we made ourselves!!!  I feel much more empowered now, how about you?  This wasn’t so hard, was it?  Say it with me now:  I can do this!

My homemade labels for the salve tins, made from a paper bag.  Obviously, you can make your labels look as professional or down-to-earth as you wish.  Have fun with it!  These two tins were just for my own home use, so I wasn’t too worried about being fancy.  Make sure that you write what the remedy is, which ingredients you used to make it, when you made your homemade remedies, and any special instructions for using the remedies, such as “For external use only” or any suggested dosage instructions.

One tip to keep in mind is that for homemade herbal salves, you will probably want to keep them in the refrigerator or another cool dark place to avoid the oils turning rancid.  This can easily occur with remedies made from oils. 

According to Rosemary Gladstar, these types of salves should last for several months at least, but some can last much longer when stored under ideal conditions.  If the color of the remedy has faded and the oil starts to smell rancid, you will know that it is no longer usable.

This post is shared at Healthy, Happy, Green & Natural Party Hop