The Teacup Chronicles

Category: Ashwagandha

A few Valentine’s treats

Today is a day for celebrating the love in your life, and what better way to do so than with a few deliciously herby treats! Below are a few of my favorite “love potions”:  beverages and treats infused with herbal aphrodisiacs. An aphrodisiac is somewhat of a loaded word these days – but to me  is anything (herb, food or otherwise) that helps us to connect with our senses and delight in our bodies. Whether that happens through relaxing, stimulating, strengthening or intoxicating is somewhat different for us all. My love potions have a little something for everyone – herbs to enhance vitality and strengthen the sexual organs; herbs to enhance blood flow; herbs to relax the mind, and of course, a little something to open the senses. Hope you enjoy!

Kava Bliss Chocolates

An intoxicating combination of kava with chocolate, nuts and spice. Topped with coconut and rose powder, they are sure to please!  Kava is a Polynesian herb traditionally used in welcoming ceremonies to ease social tension and bring down social barriers. It reduces anxiety with its calming, relaxing effects and has a somewhat euphoric impact on the mind.  If you are unfamiliar with this herb, start with a smaller amount to see how you react.

Ingredients:
  • 1 cup organic dark chocolate chips
  • 2 tablespoons nut butter (almond, peanut, cashew, etc)
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup toasted nuts, chopped (hazelnut, almond, cashew, pecan)
  • 1/2 – 2 teaspoon kava powder (depending on desired strength)
  • 1/2 teaspoon cardamom powder
  • 1/4 cup coconut, toasted
  • Rose powder, for sprinkling

Directions:

  1. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler over gently simmering water. When mostly melted, remove from heat and stir until the chocolate is fully melted.
  2. Stir in the nut butter, maple syrup and vanilla extract.  Add the nuts, kava and spices and mix well.
  3. Line a tray with waxed paper. Drop tablespoon sized portions of the chocolate mixture  onto the tray.
  4. Immediately sprinkle the chocolates with the toasted coconut and rose powder. Let cool until firm, then store in an airtight container in a cool dark cupboard until using.

Based off of a recipe in Eat:Taste:Heal by Thomas Yarema, Daniel Rhoda and Johnny Brannigan.

Love Bites

Libido is a product of vitality, and as such, nourishing and strengthening the body is as important to romance (indeed far more important) than roses, red wine and chocolate. Eat a few of these each day to nourish your body, strengthen your sexual organs and enhance your vitality: a little offering to the Aphrodite within us all.

Ingredients:

  • 2 oz cocoa powder
  • 1 oz maca powder
  • 1 oz shatavari powder
  • 1 oz ashwagandha powder
  • 1 oz muiri pauma powder
  • 1 tablespoon spice (cinnamon, cardamom, etc)
  • 1 teaspoon rose powder
  • 1/2 cup ground nuts
  • 1/2 – 1 cup honey
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • coconut for rolling

Directions:

  1. Combine the herbal powders together and mix until well combined.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients (except the coconut) and mix well. You may have to knead the mixture to incorporate all the powder. You should have a thick dough like consistency that is not overly sticky.  Add more honey if you find the mix is too dry.
  3. Pinch the dough into small balls and roll in dried coconut. Store in a sealed container.
  4. Eat 2-3 balls per day.

Based off a recipe by Larken Bunce, RH: a teacher, friend and colleague.

Damiana Mulled Wine

Damiana is a Central American herb  used in matters of love for so long that it was given the Latin name of Damiana aphrodisiaca for a period!  It opens the senses, relaxes the mind, enhances blood flow and uplifts the spirits – the perfect ingredient for a lovely spiced wine to share with someone special.

  • 1 bottle of your favorite red wine
  • 1 oz damiana leaves
  • 1/2 oz rose petals
  • 10 cardamom pods
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 inch piece fresh ginger, sliced into thin rounds
  • 1 vanilla pod, sliced lengthwise

Directions:

  1. Place all ingredients except the damiana and rose petals into a saucepan. Bring to a boil then reduce to a gentle simmer for 20-30 minutes.
  2. Turn off the heat, and add the damiana and rose. Cover, and let sit for 30 minutes.
  3. Before serving, gently heat until steam begins to rise from the wine. Pour through a strainer and serve in mugs.


Herbal Hugs: January’s Blog Party

This months blog party, hosted by Lucinda over at Whispering Earth, is entitled “Herbal Hugs.” Don’t you just love that? Her thought is that, what with all the grey and gloomy January weather, we could all use a little extra support and decadence in our lives these days. As she explains,

The idea is to write about the herbs you find most comforting, supportive, caring and indulgent or the recipes you just couldn’t be without when you feel a little low and just want a big hug from your favourite plant friends.

So with those words in mind, I am going to share some of my favorite plants and most treasured concoctions for encompassing  myself in a big herby embrace of plant love. For me, these plants are often those that deeply nurture the body, delight the senses, and uplift and soothe the spirit. But most of all, they are plants that work on that ambiguous place known as the heart – that place where love originates and is received. So make yourself a big cup of steaming tea, pull up a chair, and prepare to be smothered in loveliness.

Roses and Hawthorn for the heart

Rose and Hawthorn have long been two of my favorite plants, and some that I use most frequently in my own apothecary. Both members to the rose family, they are similarly bedecked in threatening thorns which will prick a heedless harvester. You might think that characteristic a little counterintuitive when speaking about herbal hugs and comforting, caring plants – but it is actually part of what makes them so supportive.

Rose and hawthorn are both about protection, and particularly about protecting the heart. Traditionally used as boundaries to protect and guard land or sanctuaries, they offer that sense of enclosure and protection to the sanctuary of our spirit .

Hawthorn protects the physical heart:  normalizing blood pressure, protecting blood vessels from oxidative damage, as well as strengthening the heart muscle and guarding against arrhythmias, palpitations and congestive heart failure. Rose works on the emotional heart: soothing the nervous system, uplifting the spirits and infusing the mind with beauty and love – protecting the heart from emotional hurt and healing the pain of loss.  By strengthening our heart in so many ways, they give us the sense of security and strength to truly open our hearts to the beautiful joys and sorrows of life; fully experiencing and fully giving from a place of balance.

Rose and hawthorn have also long been associated with love and beauty – the two elixirs of the heart. Hawthorn was used in the Ancient May Day festival of Beltane – the festival marking the beginning of summer and a celebration of fertility and love. Covered in pinkish tinged, sweet-scented blossoms at that time of year, the hawthorn is the perfect symbol to capture the beauty of maidenhood and budding romance. This old proverb tells of an ancient custom of bathing one’s face in the dew of hawthorn on May Day, to ensure everlasting beauty:

The fair maid who, on the first of May, goes to the fields at break of day, and bathes in dew from the hawthorn tree, will ever strong and handsome be.

I hardly have to tell you about rose’s ties to love!  A Greek myth tells that rose was created from the body of a beautiful nymph:  given joy, brightness and charm by the three Graces; love by Aphrodite; intoxicating perfume by Dionysus; and a beautiful sunny sky to open its blossoms to by the wind God Zephyr. How very true it is – these things are all contained in Rose.

I think that what rose and hawthorn do especially  is to help one love themselves – to discover one’s own beauty and sense of grace – to see the beauty of one’s life. Thus, I use them both together when I am feeling vulnerable and hurt – afraid to open my heart; when I am feeling insecure and unkind to myself; or when I can’t grasp the beauty of what surrounds me.

Here’s a few preparations I really love:

Ruby Red Rose Oil

When the summer is high in midsummer and St. Johnswort is in bloom, I like to co-infuse equal amounts of fresh rose petals and St. Johns wort blossoms in oil. (If you can’t wait till mid-summer and have some St. J oil on hand, you can make using dried rose petals by heating them very gently in the oil for several hours, then straining. The scent won’t be as fantastic, but still very nice).  Infused with the brightness of St. Johnswort and the soothing, sensual fragrance of roses, it is a wonderful treat in winter when you feel a little low and need a great big dose of self-love.

Hawthorn and Rose Heart Cordial


This lovely cordial provides the antioxidants that protect the physiological heart, and the soothing, stress-reducing effects that protect the emotional heart.

Combine 1 cup frozen black cherries, 1/3 cup each hawthorn berry, schisandra and rose petal, 1/8 cup each hibiscus and rose hip. Grind all the dried herbs coarsely in an electric coffee grinder, and place all ingredients in a seal-able container with 1 cup raw honey and enough brandy to cover (about 1 cup). Let infuse for 1 month or more before straining out the herbs and enjoying.

Ashwagandha and Milky Oats: Deep Nurturing

Often when I feel down, it is because I am worn down. I feel depleted and exhausted, and unable to cope with the stresses that I normally face with ease. It is these times when I turn to the herbs that build and nourish an enfeebled system, strengthening the nerves and adrenals to restore vitality and strengthen the body.  I call these the “mothering” herbs, because they give one the sense of nurturing and care that only a mother can.

Oats is the very same that gives us the nourishing seed, but as a medicinal herb, it is picked when the groats are still green and exude a milky sap (not unlike mother’s milk). They deeply nourish and restore function to the nervous system, repairing the myelin sheath, providing minerals and vitamins needed for optimal functioning. They restore energy, uplift the spirits, and reduce anxiety – swathing the whole nervous system in a protective, soothing embrace.

I like to think of the oat plant when I am taking oats – these tender, vulnerable stalks swaying gracefully in the wind, firmly rooted into the ground. By strengthening our vitality, our roots – they allow us too to sway gracefully in the winds of our lives. I like to prepare this herb as a tea, infused overnight to fully extract all those delicious nutritious bits.

Ashwagandha is an Ayurvedic herb. The name translates to “the strength of a horse” – insinuating that by taking it, you will receive just that. It strengthens adrenal function, normalizes stress response, builds immune function, calms the nervous system, and promotes deep, restful sleep. It is one of the only adaptogens (herbs that normalize stress response) that calms rather than stimulates, which makes it wonderful for any of us that are chronically fatigued and worn but also overstimulated and anxious, as though one’s nerve endings are worn completely raw to the world.

Ashwagandha milk with rose water and honey

Ashwagandha is traditionally prepared as a powder in warm milk, which amplifies its building, nourishing qualities. To make, place 1 heaping tablespoon into a cup of milk in a small saucepan. Heat gently on low until the milk begins to steam. Take off the heat, and add 1 teaspoon of rose water and 1 teaspoon of honey. Whisk well, and serve with a sprinkling of powdered rose petal and cardamom on top. Drink before bed. (You can add a little whipped cream like I did if you are feeling particularly decadent!).

The Mint Family: Soothing and Delightful

If I had to choose my favorite plant family, it would be quite a toss-up between the Rose family, with hawthorn, rose and all those lovely fruits and berries, and the Mint family with its delightful and delicious aromas and potent medicinal effects. The mint family includes such gems as lavender, lemon balm, peppermint, rosemary, sage, motherwort, skullcap and sacred basil – a truly all star line up if you ask me!

The mint plants are typically scented with delightful perfumes made from complex mixtures of essential oils that are soothing to the nervous system and digestive tract. I find that they are uplifting – pulling one out of the heaviness of their thoughts and creating a sensation of lightness in the spirit. They bring a little hint of the divine into our hearts and remind us to dance and celebrate rather than be so serious and downtrodden. “Look up!” they say.

I enjoy these plants most as teas, where their delightful aromas create wonderful flavors that muse with the hot steam to soothe a weary spirit and awaken the heart to joy. They are the summer flowers, after all, full of summer time bliss and fairy magic.

Fairy Flower Tea

Combine tulsi, lavender, lemon balm, bee balm and rose petal in a teapot. Cover with hot water, and infuse for 10-15 minutes. Serve with milk of choice and a spoonful of raw honey to sweeten.

Motherwort Skullcap Tincture

These are two mint plants that are not aromatic, but are still amazing. Motherwort is just that – a mothering herb full of soothing, centering energy. It’s Latin name Leonurus cardiaca means “lion-hearted”, pointing to its ability to impart courage and strengthen the heart. It reduces anxiety and heart palpitations, cools and quiets the mind, and balances the female hormonal system – great for menopause. Skullcap strengthens and soothes nervous system function and puts a “cap” on overactive thinking. I carry a tincture made with equal parts of each as my rescue remedy, helping calm anxiety and soothe me in stressful or challenging situations.

Now, go and give yourself a big herbal hug!

And be sure to get some more herbal hug inspiration over at Whispering Earth, where all the blog party posts will be collected and shared.

 

 

 

 

Surviving the holiday stress

Brigitte over at My Herb Corner is hosting an herbal blog party this month called “No Time for Stress”, and I just couldn’t resist joining in. I admit, my reasons might be slightly selfish – I have been a bit stressed lately with all the hustle and bustle of holiday parties, travel plans, and classes to teach – and in writing this blog I am hoping to remind myself of all the strategies I should be using to cope with the added stress. In other words, I need a great big dose of my own medicine.

It’s just such a conundrum this time of year. The darkness beckons us inwards, begs us to rest and dream as the earth herself is doing, and yet, our social and work lives seem to ask just the opposite. While the sense of festivity and the bringing together of friends and family is a wonderful thing to warm our spirits during the darkest part of the year – I do find myself getting worn thin by resisting that call for rest and introspection.

Of course, the obvious answer to this problem is to seek a balance.  Make time for resting and putting the feet up by the ol’ fire by letting some of the party obligations go, maybe even deciding to spend a bit less on holiday presents this year so you can spend more time with your family and yourself. But I know that is easier said than done, so I am sharing a few tips with you for remaining sane throughout the holiday chaos, if (and only if)  you promise that you will at least try to find some down time. Do you really promise? (I’ll know if you’re crossing your fingers….). Ok, if you promise, then read on:

Tip #1: Have a nice cup of tea

I’m not sure if my grandmother ever actually made me a cup of tea, but for some reason I always imagine her offering me one when I’m in a tizzy. Her voice, tinkly as a bell and worn as an old shoe, pops into my head and says, “Now, now dear. Why not sit down and have a nice cup of tea?”

I’m not sure if she’s coming through from the other world, or if my mind has just chosen her as the most effective messenger, but I always listen when I hear the advice, and it always works its magic. You’ll know that tea drinking is my preferred method of experiencing herbs – you can read pages and pages about it here – but suffice it to say that there is some magic in the process of preparing a steaming cup of fragrant, herb infused liquid. The preparation in and of itself is part of the medicine. It tricks you into slowing down, just a little, and finding a moment to catch up with yourself.

I like to use herbs that are nourishing and strengthening in my daily stress blend, herbs known traditionally as nerve tonics:

Milky Oats: The very same type of oats you put in your breakfast pot, milky oats are just harvested earlier in the season with the groat is still green and exudes a delicious milky sap. Full of B vitamins and minerals that nourish and strengthen the nervous system, great for those who are depleted from chronic stress, anxiety, and over-work.

Skullcap: Skullcap helps to calm the nervous system and quiet the mind – putting a cap all those thoughts flying in and out of the brain. Skullcap, like oats, is best used before, during and after stressful events, because it works by rebuilding and strengthening – rather than having a strong acute action. Good for those who get tension headaches and tight muscles when stressed.

Tulsi: Also known as Holy Basil, tulsi is revered in India. They love it so much that almost every household keeps a plant in their courtyard, lovingly tended and worshiped by the woman of the house.  It reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol, modulates blood sugar, calms anxiety and alleviates depression, while also boosting immune function and acting as a strong antioxidant. Whew!  All that, and it also tastes divine.

Lemon Balm: Calming, uplifting, and soothing to the digestive tract, as well as deliciously lemony tasting. Great for anyone who experiences digestive upset when stressed, or for those who feel a little blue this time of year.

Hawthorn leaf and flower: Traditionally known as a heart tonic, hawthorn also supports and soothes the nervous system – working on that mysterious intersection of heart and mind. Energetically, it fortifies the heart and provides a sense of protection and strength during stressful and emotionally trying times. Especially good for those with stress related high blood pressure.

Lavender: Incredibly soothing to the nervous system – helping to reduce anxiety and quiet the mind. Especially helpful for insomnia.

Linden: The delicious smelling June flowers from an ancient and noble tree, the linden flowers are soothing and sedative, helping to promote sleep and quiet an anxious, worried mind. Also good for those whose blood pressure spikes during stressful times.

Tip #2: Adapt with “Adaptogens”

Adaptogens are a class of herbs that help normalize the stress response and enhance resistance to a wide range of stressors on the body. They bring the body back to a place of balance, no matter what the direction of imbalance might be (which is amazing and profound) , while nourishing and enhancing the vitality of the body.

Here are some of my favorites:

Ashwagandha: Adaptogenic, building and calming to the nervous system, a perfect remedy for those who are anxious, have trouble sleeping, and are also weakened and fatigued by chronic stress. Take a teaspoon of the powder in warm milk at bedtime to promote restful sleep.

Eleuthero: Also known as Siberian ginseng, Eleuthero has been long studied by the Russians for its ability to enhance physical and mental endurance and strengthen the immune system. Great for those who tend to get sick when worn down, or for those who get fatigued easily when stressed.

Reishi: Known as the mushroom of immortality, reishi is said in Chinese medicine to, “calm disturbed shen.” Shen roughly translates as spirit – and symptoms of its disturbance include insomnia, heart palpitations, mental agitation, and sadness. Balances the immune system – whether deficient or over-active, protects the liver from damage, and normalizes the cardiovascular system.

Rhodiola: A rosy smelling root that improves memory and enhances alertness, reduces anxiety and symptoms of depression, protects from radiation and improves immunity. Read more about it in my rhodiola post.

Schisandra: Known as the 5-flavored fruit, the bright red berries are something straight out of Harry Potter – tasting first sour, then sweet, and progressing through salty and astringent with a distinctive ending of bitter. Protects the liver (great for all those holiday cocktails), strengthens the immune system, and enhances alertness and concentration while relieving anxiety, heart palpitations and insomnia.

Tip #3: Don’t forget to breathe

I once read that when taking deep breaths, it is nearly impossible physiologically to experience anxiety. Try it for yourself: take a breath, and pull the air all the way into your abdomen – hold it there a moment – and then slowly, slowly exhale the air through your nose. How do you feel?

When we are stressed, we tend to breathe shallowly, which predisposes us to heart palpitations, foggy thinking and fatigue when our blood is not properly oxygenated. Simply remembering to breathe fully can go a long way to remedying these symptoms – and automatically moves our nervous system out of sympathetic fight or flight mode – and into a calm state.

Exercising is also an important part of breathing deeply, oxygenating the blood and helps to diffuse the impact of stress hormones on the body. So while it is all to easy to nix your exercise routine when schedules become hectic and time seems scarce, try to at least get out for 15 – 20 minutes of brisk walking each day. Sacrificing those 15 minutes will enhance your energy, uplift your mood, reduce stress and increase mental concentration – well worth it, I should say.

Tip #4: Nourish your body

While sweet treats and glasses of wine may temporarily give you a lift and ease the stress – they will only worsen the problem in the long run by further depleting and stressing the nervous system. Instead, choose foods that are packed with the nutrients your nervous system and body needs to function optimally.

B vitamins, calcium, magnesium and vitamin C are all important for nervous system and adrenal health, as are omega 3 fatty acids. Complex carbohydrates and high quality proteins support energy levels, and prevent blood sugar dips that further stress your body, cause fatigue, and de-stabilize mood.

To ensure your body is receiving proper nutrition, include these foods in your daily diet:

  • High quality proteins such as cold water fish, pasture raised poultry and eggs, pasture raised meats, and legumes combined with nuts, seeds, or whole grains.
  • Dark leafy greens such as kale, collards, chard, parsley, turnip greens, pok choi and broccoli.
  • B vitamin rich whole grains, such as oats, quinoa, millet, amaranth, barley, brown rice and buckwheat.
  • 5-7 servings of brightly colored fruits and vegetables for antioxidant phytonutrients that protect against the effects of stress.
  • Calcium and magnesium rich foods such as and  sesame, almond, and pumpkin seeds, cultured dairy, and seaweeds.
  • Omega 3 rich foods such as salmon, sardines, flax seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds and walnuts.

And, lastly, don’t forget your promise to make some time for yourself to rest and go inwards, as the season requires. Otherwise, you are only bandaging up the problem rather than healing the root.

May you all have a wonderful, joyful, rejuvenating and relaxing holiday! And while stress is inevitable, may you adapt and move through it with ease and grace.