Little Known Healing Tips From Top Herbalists

Herbalists and organizers at Breitenbush Herbal Conference 2011. Photo: Jody Shagg of In Harmony Herbs.

My head is just swirling with new wellness tips that I can’t wait to try out. Why? Because I spent last weekend with a dozen of my favorite herbalists at the Breitenbush Herbal Conference near Portland, Oregon. These are the people who inspired me back in the ’80s when I first discovered the healing powers of plants.

I’m talking about the big movers and shakers in the herbal world who were at the forefront of the Herbal Renaissance. Their books and courses have educated and inspired thousands of healers all over the world. Last weekend I had the privilege and pleasure to once again learn from such herbal luminaries as Michael Tierra, Rosemary Gladstar, Christopher Hobbs, James Green, Kathi Keville and so many more.

Unplugged from the internet and the bleeps of incoming texts and cell phone calls, we were free to soak in the healing hot waters without distractions – and to soak in the knowledge and wisdom of the people and the plants.

Upon my return I sat down to blog, wondering which amazing topic I should write about? Essential oils and herbs for pain management? Healing plants you can find on the city streets? How to use essential oils in everyday life? Easy recipes for lozenges? Rosemary Gladstar’s tips on making herbal treats – so your medicine tastes even better than having it with a spoonful of sugar? Or maybe her recipe for herbal “zoom” balls, intended to impart a non-jittery energy blast.

I’ll share all of this and more in future posts – along with book reviews of some of the exciting new editions I purchased at the conference. Today I thought I’d give some short and sweet healing tips that amazed me because they were so different than anything I’d heard before.

Easy tricks for healing everyday ailments.

1) Hot Water Headache Treatment

Relieve a stress headache by placing your hands in hot water. How simple is that? It works to put just your feet in the hot water too – just don’t immerse your entire body.

The easiest way to do this is to just turn on the hot water tap and put your hands underneath for a few minutes. You could also soak them in a bowl of steaming water.

2) Breathe Easy With Cedar Tea

Cedar leaf.   Photo via Flickr, Mom the Barbarian

Cedar leaf tea can  prevent colds and flus. This was a new one on me. Many cities plant cedar as a landscape tree so it’s not hard to find some leaves if you want to experiment with its medicinal value. According to Christopher Hobbs, who has more than 40 years of experience with herbs and is now a scientist, the antiviral and immunomodulating effects of this plant are backed by research.

Hobbs recommends drinking cedar leaf tea throughout the day both to prevent and treat those nasty colds and flu bugs. A great plan for right now as we head into the season.

Cedar has many other beneficial uses, it turns out, beyond smelling sweet and refreshing. There’s enough to say about it to make it the topic of an entire blog post!

3) Elder Berries Top the List For Strengthening Immunity

Elder Berry.    Photo via Flickr, simonsterg

Have you been paying big bucks for the Brazilian fruit acai? That plant has gotten lots of media hype for its antioxidant and health enhancing properties, and you can buy it frozen or in many other forms. But guess what? Turns out that elder berries have ten times the antioxidant properties as acai.

Hobbs says that elder berries also have antiviral properties and stimulate the immune system – and this is borne out by the multitude of natural immune-boosting supplements on the market that are based on elder.

Elder trees grow all over the U.S. and Europe, so for those of us in the Northern hemisphere, it’s much easier (and cheaper) to get our hands on some elder berries. If you’re harvesting your own elder, be sure you choose the blue (or black) fruit, red elder berries can be toxic!

You can make your own elder berry syrup by simmering the berries on low to medium heat. You want the whole fruit – skin, seeds and all – so don’t strain it. Just add some sweetener if you wish at the end and voila – a delicious syrup to help you have a healthy winter.

Two excellent commercial elder berry products are Sambucol and Gaia’s elderberry syrup.

4) Two For A Toothache

Yarrow.    Photo via Flickr, Steve Guttman NYC

Lots of people have heard about packing a toothache with clove oil – but did you know that yarrow root can numb the pain as well? If you’re out of clove oil but know where some yarrow is growing – head on out and dig up the root. Just wash it off and chew on it to experience some temporary relief.

And if you don’t know where any yarrow is, but do know where to get a hold of some clove oil here’s the best way to use it: Rather than placing it directly on the painful area, mix the clove oil with a little jojoba oil and rub on the afflicted gum area as needed.

You could make this treatment even more pleasant (well, as pleasant as treating a toothache could possibly be) by combining the clove oil with some Vanilla Precious oil, made by Aura Cacia. This is simply a blend of vanilla essential oil (an incredibly expensive substance) with jojoba oil. The scent? Heaven in a bottle. The price? A little bit of a gasp – but really, it’s well worth it. Lots of other uses for this stuff too. And it’s already all blended up for you.

5) Flower Seeds For Digestion

Ever grow that flower called ‘Love in a Mist?’ Every spring it takes over my flower bed – a bit to my chagrin. Well, now I know of a use for it (besides as a dried flower seed pod.) Turns out that those little black seeds inside the pod are known as ‘black cumin’ and they taste delicous. Apparently the flavor is a cross between orange and licorice and they make a great sprinkle on soups, salads and other dishes. They also make a nicely flavored digestive tea. Can’t wait for next spring to try this out!

Love in a mist, photo by Flickr

If you don’t have these in your own yard, you might be able to swipe a few dried up pods from your neighbor’s flower bed.

6)Peppermint For More Than Pep

I knew that peppermint essential oil could pep me up and reduce fatigue, but I had no idea that studies have shown that it actually reduces road rage too. Not that I get all aggro in the car or anything, but this tip definitely inspired me to keep a bottle  in the glove box. It’s always good for that sleepy driver syndrome, but now I know it might help me handle my annoyance when someone cuts me off or drives too slowly in the left hand lane.

I might take that bottle of peppermint oil inside too (or just keep an extra one on hand) for a few other cool uses I learned about.

A few drops sprinkled on my socks can soothe tired feet, or keep them tingling and invigorated all day. This sounds heavenly for those travel days that involve lots of walking on cement. And if I’m feeling extra foggy in the morning, I’m going to shake a drop or two onto the floor of the shower when I step in. The steam from the shower will give me a little wake-up aromatherapy treatment.

Gargling with peppermint oil is another new one one me. Obviously a great breath freshener, but the antiviral properties can work to disperse any nasty sore throat germs and gingivitis pathogens too. But how to gargle with it? Essential oils don’t disperse well in water, but they do in fat. But who wants to gargle with olive oil? The solution is to put a drop or two in a small amount of half and half. There’s your gargle. This trick can work with any essential oil you might want to gargle.

If you’re a vegan – or if the thought of gargling with half and half just really grosses you out – you could  use any type of alcohol to disperse the essential oils. Just don’t use rubbing alcohol!

7) Get It Out Of My Eyes!

Anyone who has used essential oils even a little has experienced the awful sensation of getting some in their eye. Usually happens after you’ve just used the oil, then forgot and rubbed your eye. Ouch!

My instinctive reaction is to flush the eye with water. Never seems to work all that well though. Well, no wonder. As noted above the essential oils molecules don’t disperse well in water molecules. So, of course the trick is to actually apply some carrier oil to your eye. Why didn’t I think of that?

Just place a little oil (any type you have on hand – olive, almond, canola – whatever) into a water bottle cap or eye cup and soak your eyeball for a few seconds. The irritating essential oil will transfer to the carrier oil and no more burning.

8. Wash Your Eyes With Flowers

Shasta Daisy.    Photo via Flickr, gurdonark

Soothe those red, itchy eyes with a tea made with the flower heads of Shasta daisy. This ubiquitous flower grows all over the place during the summer months, and the ornamental version graces many a yard. Whether your eyes are irritated from allergies, a foreign substance, or dust in the air, you can just pick a few daisy flowers, steep in  hot water and apply to your eyeball with an eye cup or the cap of a water bottle. Be sure to move your eyeball around while it is soaking so the healing effects can reach all over your eye.

You can do the same thing with dried chamomile or even a chamomile tea bag. But I love the idea of rinsing my eyes with fresh flowers.


I hope that, like me, you’re inspired to try out at least one of these tips. Have you ever seen any of these suggestions before? I’d love to hear what your results have been or any other unusual wellness tips you may have come across. Let me know in the comments!


15 Responses to Little Known Healing Tips From Top Herbalists

  1. Very Cool! Thanks, Sarah! I’m especially intrigued by the peppermint oil for easing stress. Could use some of that by Friday afternoon!

    • Actually peppermint oil is really more specific for ‘pepping’ you up (wonder if that’s how it got the name – ha ha). You might be better off with lavender oil to get that calming yet uplifted energy after a long week of work. Both of those essential oils occupy a place of honor in my first aid kit, and I try to keep them within easy reach!

  2. Wonderful blog, Sarah! I have added it to favorites so I can return and catch up on your interesting and educational articles. Thank you!

    • So glad you’re enjoy it Linda! You can also subscribe or RSS it too. And let me know if there’s anything specific you’d like to read about. I’m always open to new ideas!

  3. Wow, “elder berries have ten times the antioxidant properties as acai.” That’s hard to believe. Do those grow wild in the woods or do you typically cultivate them?

    • I was really surprised to find this out too. But I trust Christopher – he is very dedicated to reading the studies and knowing the science. Elder grows wild in the northern hemisphere, and many people cultivate them. European elderberry is Sambucus nigra, and American elder is S. canadensis.
      I’m sure there are some bushes near you. You can also buy dried berries and health food stores.

  4. > Cedar leaf tea can prevent colds and flu.
    This sounds like a wonderful thing.

    Any pointers to your favorite research on this where I can explore for more?

  5. My favorite was the one about the hot water treatment. “Relieve a stress headache by placing your hands in hot water.” That’s the best wellness advice I’ve heard in the last weeks. I’ve been suffering from headaches recently, and I’ll try this easy solution if I have them again this week. Thanks for all the useful information Sarah! I’m really looking forward to reading all other articles you’ll share. You sound fired up! 🙂

    • That was one of my favorites too, C.A.! I actually found myself almost wishing for a headache so I could try this out. Let me know how it works for you.

  6. What a great article. I loved the headache one and the eye one, it does make huge sense, though the headache one is beyond me, but I’ve got great trust 🙂

    • I was pretty surprised to hear about the headache remedy too. Enough to ask her for more details. Kathi Keville is the herbalist who shared this info, and she has seen success with the method. I’m curious to try it out myself next time I’m in need.

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