Archives for posts with tag: Herb

… and the apartment sized harvests. Within one hour I picked basil, parsley, tomatoes, stevia, chamomile and lavender. I then planted some greens for the fall – a little late, we will see. After that I made a pesto and documented it. Okay, on with the rest of the day!

parsley and basil pesto

a nice big jar of pesto nearby an experiment in pickled jalepenos

Tammy Schmidt, Montreal.


a bit of green everyday

Cats have been a part of my daily life for 14 years now.  During most of this time I have thought of them as little carnivores, little super predators.   While it is true that they rely on meat for their sustenance, they love plants too.  They love green stuff like fresh green blades of oats which are sometimes referred to as ‘cat grass’.   Most people know that cats love catnip.  Cats also respond to other herbs too such as valerian, which will excite them, and chamomile, which will generally calm them down.

For many years I was hesitant to experiment with herbs for cats because I felt that it was naïve to think that cats metabolize herbal remedies in the same way that humans do.  Just look at the way catnip excites cats, while it relaxes humans.  Or the monoterpenes in citrus, called limonene, and in pine, called pinene, are toxic to cats and not to humans.   Other common essential oils used on humans have proved to be lethal to cats.  And, years ago when I tried some of the very safest remedies such as flower essences on my cat, he seemed more annoyed than anything that I was using these calming essences on him.  I gave up on the idea.

Eventually, I tried again and I looked into many different books on herbs for pets.  Many of them are mostly written for dog owners.  After discovering a book called Herbs for Pets: The natural way to enhance your pet’s life by Gregory L. Tilford and Mary L. Wulff, I began to experiment more with herbs for my cats.

One of the most impressive things that my cats have taught me this year is that they love herbal tea.  I make up one day’s worth of nutritive herbal tea made with nettles, red clover, burdock, dandelion and a very small amount of licorice and I mix it with their wet canned food.  They love the tea so much that they will lick up all of the tea before starting in on the canned bits.  When they take their tea, they seem to have stronger constitutions, they seem to be in better moods.  My oldest cat seems less frail and he has a better temperament.  I have read about the benefits of herbal remedies for years now, but these furry little guys have taught me so much about the importance of herbal tea.

If you want to experiment with herbs for cats, be sure to pick up at least 3 good books on the subject and talk to someone who knows more about this than you do.   My local library has dozens of books on this topic.  Take notes and pursue inconsistencies in the information in these books.  It is best to trust people who have practiced for a long period of time.  Be aware that there are many popular books written by people who write well and have collected all of their information from other books.  These books are generally not the best place to collect information because they are not necessarily backed by practice.

Finally, if you are making something for your cat, even if it is a nutritive tea, remember that they only require a very small dose.  A typical dose for humans is made for someone who is 150 pounds.  A cat is usually less than a tenth that size.   My cats are getting 1-2 tablespoons a day of tea and this seems to be enough.

Tammy Schmidt, Montreal

Christopher Hobbs at the American Botanical Council Garden imparting knowledge to other herbalists attending the AHG 2010 Symposium

I just read a very silly article in the Globe and Mail called The promise and perils of backyard herbalism by Adriana Barton.  In this, she tries to pit herbalists against ‘real’ science and research.  I love how this article reveals how bound-up we are in our respective beliefs.  Some people are thoroughly disgusted with anything beyond the allopathic medical model.  Why is this?

In her first few paragraphs, she takes Kyle Patton as a typical herbalist. His training is sited as a 7 month course in Ithaca, New York.  I would say that Patton may be passionate and he might have learned a lot during this course, but he is relatively new to herbalism with only a 7 month course under his belt.  I am curious to know how he is already prepared to lead courses in herbal medicine.  Judy Nelson, of Dominion Herbal College, is right to say that a credible herbalist is someone that people might go to for teaching or advice. Nelson notes such a person should have studied at the very least for 4 years, and this should include a good deal of supervised clinical hours.  Herbalism is both an art and a science.  I personally believe that you need many excellent mentors to be your teachers.  Kyle Patton states that herbalism is not book learning.  I will give him a break, he is new to it all and hopefully he was misquoted, because any credible herbalist I know will tell you it is both book learning and experience with plants and practicing traditional methods.  It takes many, many hours of study of both the human body and plants. It takes practice in working with/being-with both the plants and humans.  I think clocking about 10,000 hours in total is about right before anyone should really call themselves an authority on herbal medicine.  And guess what?  You have to keep going with it if you want to stay fresh!  This is not to say that people can not learn along the way and work towards becoming an herbalist.  It is just that if you are choosing mentors or experts in the field, look for one whose dedication to herbal learning can be respected.

a mentor of mine, Christine Dennis, as she leads a class

Today’s popular culture is in a bit of a DIY state of mind.  DIY is trendy.  But Adriana Barton is quite frankly out of touch to write that all herbal medicine is a DIY trend.  Over 80% of the world uses herbal medicine as their primary medicine. The World Health Organization recognizes this!  Herbal medicine is not just one tradition.  There are many, many traditions around the globe for producing effective herbal remedies.  People learn what is passed down in their families, people practice herbalism around the globe.  This is quite simply anything but a Do-It-Yourself type trend.

Barton’s article gives examples that make herbalism look wacky.  She states that researchers, “caution that “natural” doesn’t mean necessarily “safe”,” AND she states that these “researchers” have evidence of misdiagnoses, incorrect preparations and heavy metal contamination amongst other contaminants. These sages also informed Barton that St. John’s Wort interacts with everything.  I would like to challenge this and say that “researchers” are not the only ones saying this.  Credible herbalists know this too.  We learn about plant constituents, their actions and compare this to pharmacological texts and pharmaceutical industry manuals. A comprehensive knowledge of interactions and contraindications is fundamental to herbal medicine. Had Barton asked me, I would have told her as much as her researcher did. We have been saying and using this information too!  Good herbalists stay up to date with the latest research on herbs. Our vocation is to work conscientiously with the remedies that grow on our planet.

Also, as a herbalist, I agree with the researchers that mistakes do happen in terms of dosage, plant identification and plant remedy suitability.  Westerners are highly urbanized, and we should not kid ourselves that our oneness with nature is sometimes no more than a mere feeling. Few of us have this sense due to actual relationships to plants and the land.  Adulterations do happen.  From time to time, people do not identify plants properly.  It turns out that one time a commercial producer ended up picking plantain and toxic immature foxglove plants and putting them in the same batch.  Oops!  If a commercial producer can do this, there is a chance you could too. I learned this account from Roy Upton’s presentation at the 2009 American Herbalist’s Guild annual symposium, “FDA Good Manufacturing Practices and Community Herbalists.”

AHG 2010

Folks that have been interested in herbal medicine for a few years now; Christopher Hobbs, Mark Blumenthal, Roy Upton, Robin Marles

I am not saying that the people are not qualified to participate in herbal medicine.  I am saying that we need skilled experts, including herbalists, to guide us.  It is terribly interesting how Barton’s article goes so far as to quote the researcher on how it is so impossible to reason with backyard herbalists because,  “It is like a religion to them.”  I think that there is a serious issue here if we get locked in ideological camps and cannot reason with each other.  There are times when allopathic medicine is the most effective, efficient and humane of medicines.  There are also times when people find healing with herbs.  There are times when allopathic medicine is not effective. Sometimes herbal remedies work best.  Not only that, but many herbalists are researchers, they study medicine, some go on to becoming doctors.  For these folks, it might have began as a seven-month course, but it continues to grow.

Things get even worse when I read Barton’s other article, When it comes to herbal medicines, buyer beware.  It should be titled: “The obvious reasons journalists are not necessarily the best people to do summaries on herbal medicines.”  Not only is the information misleading, but there is no mention of the Latin names for precise plant identification. Only the common names are used.  She lists feverfew, milk thistle and lavender as safe for most people and black cohosh, licorice root and pennyroyal to be used with caution or not at all.  I would counter this and say that to use any of them, you are better with counsel from a credible herbalist.

As far as summaries go, there might be better ways of describing the herbs she mentions.  Yes, most herbalists would agree, feverfew has brought great results to some who suffer from migraines. And yet every herbalist should know that one needs to take this remedy over a long period of time in order to see an effect.  If you use it like an Advil, it will not work.  Milk Thistle is not a primary herb used to reduce blood sugar.  It is known to be one of the very best liver remedies.  Most herbalists will tell you that black cohosh is not the menopause herb.  It is in fact an antispasmodic, pain reliever and it is used to relieve muscular pain. Licorice root is usually not used in high quantities in formulas and when used in the right context, for the right people, it has a long history of safe use.

Lavender is not primarily used for hair loss.  And why is Barton suddenly talking about aromatherapy with the mention of thyme, rosemary and cedarwood oils to mix with the lavender?  Any aromatherapist would ask the simple question when seeing this formula; which thyme oil are your talking about?  Which rosemary oil are you talking about?  Also, it’s irresponsible of Barton to hastily state that lavender might disrupt hormones in young boys without giving context or information on studies. The effect is to create fear of something that simply cannot be understood in a few paragraphs of news text.  And then, with the pennyroyal example, she compares leaves of pennyroyal to concentrated essential oil of pennyroyal.  This, too, is really silly.  Anyone who has tried the famous oil of oregano, made with the essential oil of oregano, typically sold as a product already diluted with olive oil will tell you that it is not the same experience as a cup of mint or oregano tea.  The leaves of pennyroyal are not the same as the highly concentrated essential oil of pennyroyal.  To say that pennyroyal oil is most famously known for liver and kidney damage, seizures, lung failure and brain damage is really obscuring the story.  I mean, this is true, but that is not the story!  It was used by young women trying to induce abortions on their own.  No credible herbalist that I know would ever, EVER recommend this!  I am not sure a credible herbalist recommended this in the first place.  It is a sad cautionary tale.  You don’t forget it.

Another part to the article that bothers me is that there is no mention of the ethics of picking wild plants in an urban environment or any environment.  Wild plants growing in the wrong places can be toxic due to the soil and the plants being exposed to toxins.  Also, plant diversity in cities is already at risk.  If we start to recommend that everyone living in a small area start picking wild plants for medicine, this will further destroy an already perhaps exhausted and not exactly healthy environment.  Ethical production of herbal medicines needs to consider sustainability.  Isn’t this one of the best reasons to choose herbal medicine, it can easily be made sustainable and accessible?  I think it makes more sense for people in the urban settings to grow what they can in the community gardens (without pissing off the other gardeners because herbal medicines, such as milk thistle, st. john’s wort and others are naturally robust in gardens), and partner with interested local organic producers outside of the cities before we start recommending wild crafting.  Who wants to look at a bald Mont Royal in Montreal?  Do you want to be the herbalist responsible for creating something like this?

So, it might be that herbalists, ones that are really interested in practicing as herbalists, are needed in many different domains.  Professionals such as pharmacists and researchers from universities have studied alongside me, so I know that they are picking up a few things from the herbalists.  If you are choosing to use herbal medicine, seek out many books, seek out many experts, and keep exploring. Herbalism is not an easy field to master.  At the same time, small steps and good advice from credible folks will give you the courage to keep exploring and to do this responsibly.  Yes, it can be like cooking, it can be like art.  But we have all heard of food poisoning.  Cooking and herbalism is not all so common sense.  The plants may be communicating, but would you not want to test the message?  Science and intelligence through practice helps, in both the areas of cooking and herbal medicine.

Tammy Schmidt, CHT.

some of the herbs that were used

The first Herbal Creativity Spa Weekend workshop was held this last weekend. It was a thoroughly delicious, educational, creative and fun experience.

in the midst of making Herbal Truffles

Participants learned to make succulent herbal truffles, beautiful felted soaps, and pretty Boudoir Boxes.

fancy felted soaps, made by participants

They enjoyed some herbal teas, made a bath tea, and tasted a Healthy Hot Chocolate.

making some Boudoir Boxes from scratch

They made (and some dared to sample…) a true Love Potion.

pouring something good...

A relaxing, yet invigorating, time was had by all!

finishing touches, choices being made... a Boudoir Box

Stay tuned for the next Herbal Creativity workshop, which will be announced in March…

les pieces des resistances... herbal-infused truffles

Truffles with nuts and chocolate dusting in de...

truffle magic!

The pinnacle of the dark, dreary days of winter is a purgatory that rests between Christmastime and Spring… February. Installed into February is a day that is supposed to be a celebration of “Love”. Many lament the commercialisation of Valentine‘s Day, and resent the high expectations and sadness that come with so many of our holidays.

Traditional Valentine’s expectations dictate that one should enjoy chocolates, give expensive gifts, and be in love. Well, let’s take some of the good from those traditions and embrace them! Even if you are single, you deserve some chocolate. Actually, you deserve more chocolate. Feeling a bit bloated after a winter’s eating? This is an opportunity to sharpen your skills in making HEALTHY treats. Herbal-infused organic chocolate truffles, anyone? Or perhaps a cup of Healthy Hot Chocolate? True love. Love is in a good cup of tea, a soothing bath that invigorates the spirit, or a beautiful hand-made gift box to hold treasures.

The brains behind the Fleurbain concept, Tammy Schmidt, Clinical Herbal Therapist and Natasha Henderson, visual artist and arts instructor, are offering an Herbal Creativity Spa Weekend workshop in February. There is an option to take one or both days during the Herbal Creativity Spa Weekend, on Friday the 11th from 7 to 10pm and Saturday the 12th from 1 to 4pm.

Friday night, we will enjoy a relaxing glass of wine (or herbal tea) with some dessert treats and fine cheese. Participants will learn how to make an herbal Love Potion. The Love Potion is a special euphoric herb that is distilled in a vodka base. Everyone will get to take home a sample of this to try themselves! Tub Teas are all the rage, and for good reason. What could be better than infusing your entire body in an organic, herbal bath that is designed to soothe the body, mind, and spirit? Participants will learn some of the properties of the herbs used in this special Valentine’s Tea Bath, and take home a sample. Finally, we will make a Boudoir Gift Box, a gift box made from scratch that will be decorated with fine fabrics, papers, lace, and beads. It will be suitable as a gift box for chocolates, jewellery, fine treasures… and can be re-used to hold your favourite special things.

Saturday afternoon starts off with a healthy, delicious beginning. Participants will learn how to make Healthy Hot Chocolate (yes, this version is truly healthy), and enjoy a cup. While sipping our treat, we will make organic chocolate truffles, which will be flavoured with high quality, organic herbs for unique flavours. These are perfect to tuck into the Boudoir Boxes made the previous evening. Then we will think about the physical and mental well-being that a good bath brings, and make a felted soap loofah for our next bath. These soaps combine sheep’s wool with a high-quality Ginseng or Evening Primrose soap to be an exfoliating and moisturising addition to your bath. Finally, we will create a batch of Love Tea to take home and enjoy.

All courses use the finest quality, pure and organic ingredients. Take one afternoon or evening for $75, or treat yourself (or a friend!) to both sessions for $135. Location of workshops will be in a Montreal artist’s studio, converted to a Valentine’s Factory for our workshops. Please email fleurbain(at) for information and registration.

my little bottle of bitters decorated with a Santa sticker

I made this bottle of bitters so that folks in my family would have a “just in case” digestive boost to carve through the season of excess otherwise known as Christmas.  The small bottle of bitters in the middle of the above photo illustrates the type of approach I like to take for labeling things for myself.  On this little sticker, Santa seems to have a little digestive upset.  His position seems to indicate that he recently may have had a good deal of rich food.  Santa needs some bitters.

I got to thinking about bitters and better labeling after seeing a cute little kit of on the market. I love this little kit because it is downright adorable! It is so cute it might work as a gateway to herbalism. Who knows? However, these bitters are primarily intended for enjoyment.  It kind of irks me that all of the ingredients do not appear on the label. Knowledge of the ingredients and their constituents is essential for the wise deployment of any herbal concoction. Perhaps this is normal in the beverage world. One of the world’s the most popular drinks (sometimes promoted by Santa) does not label all of the specific ingredients on the bottles either.*

Taken before a meal, bitters increase digestive secretions. Thus they promote an appetite and gear-up the system for optimal digestion. Bitters taken after a meal will help with digestive disturbances and decrease flatulence. Although generally distasteful, bitters can counter balance other flavours such as sweet. Think of bitter leaves in a salad, coffee, beer and Angostura bitters.

Bitters range from mild – like dandelion root and leaves, chamomile and yarrow – to strong – such as horehound, gentian, goldenseal. A more extensive knowledge of herbalism includes how certain bitters have affinities with particular systems of the human body.

Bitters stimulate actions in the body as they enter the mouth and are received by bitter taste receptors at the back of the tongue. They have a broad range of actions in digestive system including: stimulating an appetite; regulating blood sugar, insulin and glucagon hormone production; stimulating self repair of the gut wall; aiding the liver in it’s work of detoxification and increasing the flow of bile; encouraging the release of digestive juice. All of these actions depend upon the ingredients and their constituents.

Further study of herbalism shows how subjecting the digestive system to bitters can illicit actions upon other systems in the body: relaxing bitters can ease digestion therefore take pressure off the cardiovascular system, including the heart; certain bitters help with expectoration of mucous from the respiratory system; some bitters bring on late menstruation; bitters help with the assimilation of food, leading to less metabolic waste in the musculoskeletal system; herbalists often use bitters in depression and nervous system debility; and bitters can help to clear up skin conditions.**

Care needs to be taken with certain herbs, since the effects of plant constituents are often powerful! For example, strong bitters are contraindicated in pregnancy, kidney stones, gallbladder disease, menstrual cramps, gastroesophageal reflux disease, hiatus hernia, gastritis and peptic ulcers.  In these cases, bitters stimulate actions that are either unnecessary for the body or beyond its systems’ capacities to cope with.

How I make my DIY bitters

Here are some suggestions for bitters. I consider the actions I want and go for the plants that have these actions.  I macerate these plants by completely covering them in a strong alcohol like vodka or brandy for 2 weeks, shaking the bottle daily.  Then I strain this, putting the menstruum in an amber bottle and the herbs in the compost.  I label the bottle of tincture.  If it is for others, I am sure to label all of the ingredients, the date it was made, who made it and suggested use.  When working on herbal formulas, it is recommended that one researches each herb using three different academic books on herbalism.  If I do not have access to this, then I stick to the herbs I know.

If a plant is noted as a strong bitter, please consider consulting an herbalist about this bitter. Always use organic herbs in formulas. Other than that, make a small amount, keep great notes on what you do and see how it turns out.

Possibilities that come to mind:

Dandelion root (Taraxacum officinalis) is mildly bitter and mildly stimulating for the digestive system.  Around 20% of the formula can be comprised of dandelion root.

Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) tastes great and will be a welcome carminative *** to the formula  Use around 15%.

Anise (Pimpinella anisum) is also a great tasting carminative.  Use around 15%.

Ginger (Zingiber officinalis) is an anti-inflammatory carminative that acts as a bit of a catalyst for other herbs in the formula.  15% of the formula can be fresh, use a much smaller amount if you are using dried, like 1 – 5%.

Gentian (Gentiana lutea) is extremely bitter.  Generally, not more than 5 – 10% of the formula is gentian.

Cinnamon (Cinnamomum spp) is a tasty gastrointestinal tonic, a stimulant and carminative.  Do not use more than 5% in a formula because it tends to thicken the tincture.

Cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum) is also a tasty carminative, use up to 5% of crushed seeds.

organic Orange Peel is a lovely aromatic carminative.

Celery Seed (Apium graveolens)  is an important carminative digestive tonic that assists in the removal of uric acid.

If there is a need to relax:

Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) is a nice carminative that is also relaxing for restless individuals

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is calming and antispasmodic in the digestive system

Catnip (Nepeta cataria) is a really fine carminative with nervine and sedative properties that is suitable for all ages when taken as a tea.  Can also be added to the formula.

Generally, I take a small amount, like a 1/4 teaspoon of this bitter blend in a small amount of water, either before or after a meal.  If I forget to make bitters, I take an after dinner tea instead.  Bon appétit!

Tammy Schmidt, Montreal

* Coca-Cola

** Hoffmann, David Medical Herbalism; The science and practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 2003.

*** A carminative action generally involves volatile oil plant components which encourage the expelling of gas from the stomach and intestines.  Carminatives are often anti-spasmodic, anti-inflammatory and antiseptic.

An olde fashioned favourite tea that is used for sudden chills, chills from a feverish state or fevers is equal amounts of mint, elder flower and yarrow. If you happen to have a copy of Matthew Wood’s Earthwise Herbal, you will read that “mint tea was used during the terrific grippe epidemics of 1838 and 1836.”*

I would really love to know when this combination was discovered.  I would like to give you some kind of a quaint story about a particular person who looked quite hobbity, lived in a hollowed out tree and happened to come up with this recipe. Alas, I don’t have such a story.  All I know is that it is an olde recipe traditionally used for colds, flus, the early stages of a cold, fevers and chills.

Let’s look at why each of these ingredients might be helpful.  Try to keep in mind that this is not the only way these plants are used, it is not even the most popular way they are used.  I am simply outlining why this formula might be of use.  If you prefer not to use herbs for healing or if you have trouble finding these herbs, you can always try food as your first medicine.  I made a list of common foods useful for colds and flus a couple weeks ago.

Peppermint (Mentha piperita) is considered to be at first warming, then cooling.  It is also stimulating and drying.

Mentha piperita 0.1 R


Try a cup for yourself and pay attention to how you feel. It has a long history of use.  Even Dioscorides** put a spray of mint in his cloak to raise his depressed spirits. Peppermint is useful as a diffusive circulatory stimulant, antispasmodic, carminative, nervine, anti-emetic (in normal doses) and a weak anodyne. It is antiviral, antifungal and antibacterial. Peppermint helps to relax peripheral blood vessels, calms muscle spasms and dries dampness.

Elder flower (Sambucus nigra, S. canadensis) According to the King’s Dispensary, elder flowers are diaphoretic and gently stimulating when used as a warm infusion.

Sambucus nigra - vlierbloesem

Elder flowers

In a cold infusion, elder flowers are diuretic, alterative, and cooling.  Both hot and cold infusions will help the body to release toxins.  In 1653, Culpeper claimed that elder flowers are beneficial for edema (the word he uses is dropsy) and will aid in cleansing the blood, clearing the skin and will aid the liver and spleen functions.***  Elder flowers are also antiviral, anticatarrhal and antispasmodic.

Common Yarrow, Milfoil


Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is in the Aster family.  And as such, it is considered to be chemically complex.  This chemical complexity makes yarrow a normalizer, particularly in the circulatory system or when dealing with blood.  In the context of colds and flus, fevers and chills, yarrow helps as a diuretic and a diaphoretic, encouraging the removal of waste from the body and movement of the blood to the surface of the body.  It will gently relax the body while aiding liver function.  When you drink yarrow tea hot, it will increase the body temperature and make you sweat, thus acting as a diaphoretic.  It is also anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, bitter digestive tonic, antiseptic, antifungal, hypotensive, carminative and peripheral vasodilator.

How to prepare this classic combination? Boil a cup or two of water.  Add 1 teaspoon of the combination of equal parts peppermint, elder flower and yarrow.  Let this steep for 15 minutes in a covered vessel, strain the tea and then drink. And, perhaps put on a sweater or cover up with a blanket, take a nap or read a book.  Relax!

Tammy Schmidt, Montreal

*Wood, Matthew. (2008) Earthwise Herbal; A Complete Guide  to Old World Medicinal Plants. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 345.

**Bartram, Thomas. (1995) Bartram’s Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine. New York: Marlowe and Company, 331.

*** Culpeper, Nicolas. (1995) Culpeper’s Complete Herbal. Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions Limited.

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