Plant Medicine, Whole Food Soul Nourishment

Engaging the Elder Mother

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The Elder is one of those plants deeply rooted in the lore and tradition of Western (European) Herbal Medicine. It gives something of itself to span the medicinal needs of all seasons, whether it be it’s clusters of delicate cream flowers in the late Spring/Summer, to it’s deep purple, almost black berries hanging from blood red stems that appear in the autumn and winter. It’s evergreen leaves also offer various virtues to us fragile humans, although more as a soothing topical application.

The species of Elder (Sambucus spp.) most commonly used in our tradition is Sambucus nigra. For those who like the odd tipple now and then, the genus name will be reminiscent of the drink Sambuca – which the flowers are an ingredient of. And it is reputed that the original Pan flutes were crafted from the pithy stems. The Elder also has a rich folklore attached to it, with varied tales of a wizened Elder mother (The Elder Mor) that guards the tree and grants only those who are worthy to make use of it’s medicine. There is a certain presence to this plant that I find to be quite welcoming, and one of the joys of the warmer season is the sight of an Elder in all her blooming glory enticing me to make sweet medicine, and even more delicious sparkling elixirs. So perhaps, I am one of the chosen ones 😀

image credit: wikipedia commons.
image credit: wikipedia commons.

Either way I am filled with joy and thanksgiving at the bounty this tree provides.

I use the elderberries to make an anti-oxidant, vitamin C rich Winter Immune Elixir. The berries also possess potent anti-viral properties that make it useful not only in prevention of, but also treatment of the dreaded ‘flu. However, here on the East coast of Australia, we are currently beginning the season for the flowers so this article will focus on what I like to do with these.

The flowers, being carefully dried, are traditionally used along with peppermint (Mentha piperita) and yarrow (Achilles millefolium) in the famous tea blend that is taken at the onset of colds and flu. This combination increases the circulation, tones the mucous membranes, is anti-viral and induces sweating, allowing the fever associated with the body’s attempt to fight the influenza virus to break, and release the toxins through the skin. The actions of the Elder flowers themselves are anti-catarrhal (drying up mucous, yet also soothing the mucous membranes) in the upper respiratory tract (nose and sinuses), and so are specific for sinusitis, cold and flu, blocked nose, and blocked ears/deafness associated with sinus problems. They would therefore also be useful in combination with other specific herbs for treating hayfever.

The flowers are also well known for their delicate fragrance, which lends itself to a pleasantly refreshing cordial, sparkling wine, or probiotic elixir. Nothing says summer like an Elderflower Sparkle (Well, many things say Summer, but this is a highlight at picnics on a balmy mid-summer eve). The following recipe can be made two ways, depending on convenience and resources available. It imparts the anti-viral and immune supporting properties of the flowers as well as the synergistic virtues of the accompanying ingredients to provide an all round life-enhancing elixir.

I first made this on a base of water kefir. In short, Kefir is a symbiotic organism that feeds on sugar and in turn cultures or ferments the medium it is fed in, be it water (with sugar added), coconut water, or animal milk (lactose). (Note: the water kefir and the milk kefir are actually two distinct organisms, yet both offer incredible probiotic benefits)*

As my kefir is currently in hibernation (yes, you can do that), due to me being in transit at the moment, I have gone on for convenience sake, to make this on a base of coconut water first cultured with the contents of one potent probiotic capsule.**

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Elderflower Sparkle ( a.k.a Galactic Wayfarer’s Famous Ginger Sling)

1 litre of water kefir (cultured and strained of the kefir organism), or 1 litre of cultured coconut water

1 inch knob of ginger, peeled and sliced.

½ lemon, sliced thinly.

3-4 dried figs, chopped

1 large handful (about 1.5 cups) of fresh Elder flowers, (picked of blemished flowers and hidden tiny spiders).

Place all ingredients in a 1 litre / 1 quart mason jar, loosely cap or place a tea towel over it, and leave to further culture overnight (again depending on ambient room temperature, this may take longer. I have been known to seemingly forget about it for up to a week and it still turned out well.)

When you see the mix go a bit cloudy, and a bit bubbly (more so if you are using the kefir), it is ready to strain. Add 1-2 drops of liquid stevia if desired. You can drink as is – in shot-size portions, about 100ml, or add as a base to juices or smoothies, or maybe even in place of tonic water with your favourite gin – FYI: mine is The Botanist)

Either way, it’s healing, it’s nourishing, it’s convivial, it’s all good!

Many Blessings,

Michelle x

*To learn the differences as well as how to nurture and make kefir for yourself, I would direct the reader to the most fabulous fountain of kefir knowledge on the web: http://www.chariot.net.au/~dna/kefirpage.html

** After trying out a number of various probiotics for culturing purposes, I now favour the Ojio brand of probiotics. It contains 16 strains of implantable vegetarian-based microflora at a count of with 100 billion or 50 billion. Unlike my second favourite Healthforce Nutritionals Friendly Force, the Ojio brand must be refrigerated for optimum potency. To culture coconut water, I typically use a ratio of 1 litre fresh coconut water: 1 capsule. Leave at room temperature overnight (depending on ambient room temperature, you may need to leave it a little longer at room temp. and then refrigerate.)

***If you would like to learn how to make Elderflower champagne, I throughly recommend this recipe, which can be found here: https://theherbarium.wordpress.com/2010/07/30/‘champagne’/

Resources:

For dried herbs –

mountainroseherbs.com

australherbs.com.au (bulk)

highlandherbs.com.au

southernlightherbs.com.au

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Whole Food Soul Nourishment

The Fantastic Berry Bombastic ‘I Love My Gut’ Smoothie.

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For me, food should be functional…which is a strange thing to say, but in this day and age..food is a far cry from what it was intended to be. So what does functional mean? It should be highly nutritious, have healing potential, and engage the senses in a positive way. One of my favourite pastimes is making my meals functional. I formulated the following smoothie recipe to help heal my gut wall/gut brain, nourish my beneficial flora, and provide a nutrient dense breakfast smoothie that keeps me going for hours. And it has a pretty colour, and tastes incredible. My 6 year old daughter said it is the best smoothie I’ve ever made. (And her favourite colour just happens to be purple). Depending on the coconut you use, it’s meat may be softer, or more mature – this will effect the end consistency of the smoothie and so this can also be enjoyed as a pudding or smoothie bowl.

Water & flesh from 1 young coconut.

1 scoop (30g) hemp protein powder

2 Tbs chia seeds

1 Tbsp bee pollen

1 Tbsp lecithin powder (non GMO – I currently use Healthforce Nutritionals)

1 tsp L-glutamine powder (I use Jarrow Formulas)

1 tsp slippery elm powder (sustainably sourced)

the inner gel from 1 medium aloe vera leaf (or 20ml bottled fresh aloe juice – Lifestream is a good brand)

¾ cup blueberries – fresh or frozen

½ tsp vanilla bean powder (or 1 vanilla bean)

½ tsp cinnamon (true cinnamon – look for Cinnamonum verum or Zeylanicam verum)

2-4 capsules probiotic (I use and recommend Healthforce Nutritionals Friendly Force) – open and empty capsules into smoothie.

10 – 12 drops fulvic / humic acid (optional but highly recommended)

Add all ingredients to your blender jug and then blend on high for around 30 seconds until well incorporated. Enjoy!

A Materia Medica of ingredients:

Coconut – the water is rich in electrolytes and has the perfect balance of electrolytes akin to human blood. In fact, during WW2 in the pacific, coconut water was used in emergencies to substitute plasma when a blood transfusion was called for. The flesh of the coconut is rich in healthy saturated fat – in particular lauric acid, which is also found in human breast milk and is essential for brain development. Coconut also has anti-fungal properties.

Hemp – industrial hemp contains no THC (the compound that becomes psychoactive when heated) and is a highly nutritious food in it’s own right. The seeds provide a good source of fibre, as well as all of the essential amino acids, and a good ratio of essential fatty acids. It is easily digested and has a high bioavailability.

Chia – chia is an ancient food used by the aztecs to aid endurance and stamina. The seeds are high in protein and the omega 3 essential fatty acid. They are also high in fibre, and forms a gel in liquid which helps soothe an inflamed digestive system.

Bee Pollen – has been touted to be a complete superfood, being very rich in amino acids, B vitamins, and enzymes.

Lecithin – acts as an emulsifier to help the digestion of fats, and is also essential for brain health.

L-Glutamine– amino acid that is present in every muscle cell and assists in providing energy to the cell ensuring quicker recovery. It is also essential tot he integrity of the gut wall, and is used in healing the gut wall.

Slippery elm – an ancient herbal food used by native americans for soothing, drawing and healing inflamed tissue. It is also nutritious, and helps to restore the gut wall integrity as well as helping to tone the entire digestive tract. It is a demulcent.

Aloe vera – soothing gel, cell proliferative helps to heal connective tissue and restore integrity to the gut wall. It is also anti-microbial and immune-strengthening. Helps with hydration.

Blueberries – a low GI sub-acid fruit which is rich in polyphenols – dark coloured blue purple colour pigments which are highly anti-oxidant and help prevent and heal free radical damage by micro and macro parasites and environmental toxins. These pigments also feed and nourish the beneficial flora in the human microbiome.

Vanilla bean – a warming herb that acts as a synergist to harmonise the other ingredients.

Cinnamon – a warming herb known as a circulatory stimulant. It acts as a synergistic vehicle to bring blood flow to the digestive tract and enhance the absorption of the other nutrients. Cinnamon is renown for regulating blood sugar levels. It is also antimicrobial and a carminative – meaning that it relieves gas and bloating.

Many Blessings,

Michelle

Plant Medicine

Winter Ally: Elderberry

Here in my neck of the woods, Winter is beginning to make its presence felt. Scarves, beanies, and Ugg boots are coming out of the closet again, hipsters are adorned with fuller beards, and small mobs of onesie-clad teenage girls and the odd snuggie-clad (that was soooooo last year) misfit invade late night supermarkets to stock up on marshmallows and various other blubberfying hibernation fuel. For many people, however, Winter also invokes ‘flu season and the obligatory revenue-raising ‘flu shot.

And then there are the fringe dwellers, the ones who dare to dress in hemp fleece, and the ones who prefer to eat seasonally, the ones who take stock of the seasonal shift in their local plant communities, and dare to dance to that hypnotic, subtle beat that reverberates beneath us all. The ones who know the ancient ways. Perhaps I am such a one as these.

As the temperature wanes and transitions from the heat of Summer through to that first hint of real chill in the air around the Autumn equinox, something magical happens. Splashes of cream chantilly lace give way to tiny green pin heads that, with the coming weeks, swell into umbrella clusters of aubergine orbs that speak of secrets and wonders. These are the Elderberries. The original ‘flu shot, and still the best.

The Elder (Sambucus spp. – Sambucus nigra is the variety mostly used in commerce), is a shrub that has a rich tradition of use as well as a rich folk lore associated with it, particularly in Europe, but also in North America. The flowers, leaves, and berries are all used in healing and each possess individual and collective actions. For this post, however, I would particularly like to concentrate on the berries, as they are most pertinent to the effects of the season in which they appear (although the dried flowers have also traditionally been used in specific combination with yarrow, and peppermint to remedy a flu with fever.) The berries, like many other berry species – especially blueberries (note the botanical moniker of blueberries and bilberries; Vaccininum spp.) are of tremendous use as a preventative against the Winter woes.

Elder berries are rich in bioflavonoids such as rutin and quercitin, and rich in anthocyanins (the powerful anti-oxidant that is a constituent in all edible dark pigmented berries). Elder berries are a good source of vitamin C, beta-carotene, and the B vitamins. Studies have found that extracts of Elder berries possess anti-viral action, and are effective against Influenza viruses. The berries taste a little sour with a hint of sweetness.

My kids and I have often found great joy in harvesting, decocting, and preparing the fresh berries to make Elderberry Elixir as our particular insurance against the ‘flu (also accompanied by sensible dietary practices). However, we have now moved far away from that particular community of Elder, and we haven’t as yet found a new, wild (or domesticated) community around our new home. Fortunately, the dried berries also make a great Elixir, and with a drop or two of Elder spagyric (an alchemically prepared tincture), it’s potency can be lifted through the roof.

 

For an all-round immune boosting effect, I like to combine the Elderberries with Astragalus and Echinacea root (also immune boosting), Ashwagandha or Eleuthro for their adaptogenic properties, and Ginger and Cinnamon for their warming properties. Liquorice root may be added if there is a history of asthma, but not if there is a history of high blood pressure. More often than not, people will come down with the ‘flu when they are run down and burnt out from the stress of work, or simply, every day living, so it’s important to address our ability to cope with stress as well. You can buy all of the above listed herbs individually and make a strong decoction*, then let cool and strain, and stir in some raw honey and some brandy to preserve it. I usually take 1 teaspoon of the elixir 3x/day as a preventative. Or you can drink one cup of decoction 1-2x/day.

[* a typical decoction is made by adding a measure of roots, seeds, bark, or twigs,  to four measures of water (eg: 1/2 cup herb to 2 cups water), slowly bring to the boil and then reduce to simmer for 15-30 minutes.]

Stay tuned for my new range of Tealixirs which will include a pre-prepared blend of this Immune booster so you can make your own elixirs, as well as a video introducing the new range and how to craft these amazing elixirs. In the meantime, if you would like to venture out into the wild on your own, arm yourself with a good field guide (I like Markus Rothkranz’s book on Free Wild Food and Medicine) and introduce yourself to the Elder. Otherwise feel free to source fresh plants and dried herbs from the following suppliers (I have no affiliation with these companies by the way, I shop with them myself and just think they’re awesome);

http://www.herbcottage.com.au

http://www.australherbs.com.au

http://www.kodaphytorium.com.au

Elderberries

 

Many Blessings,

Michelle x