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What’s Growing Around You?

What's growing wild around you?  Do you know?  Have you stopped to take notice of a plant that catches your attention?  Is there a new plant showing up near you, where you haven't seen it before?

When I visit people's homes and land to help identify the wild edible and medicinal plants that grow there, I am often struck by the way that certain plants show up for certain people.  Whether we realize it or not, the plants that grow around us (as in, near our home, or a place that we frequent) often carry a particular healing element that would very specifically benefit us.   When we discover that the medicine we need is growing right near us, it can change our relationship to the natural world, and help us appreciate the dynamic role that we, as living beings of nature play within it.  Here are a few examples of plants showing up where and when folks might need their support...

I recall walking with a woman around the mowed lawn, outside her home, as she positioned herself on one side of me in order to hear me speaking.  She told me about a persistent blockage she was dealing with in her ear, which began with an ear infection that seemed unable to fully clear, despite rounds of antibiotics.  As we walked, I noticed thick patches of purple-flowered ground ivy in various spots on the lawn.  "Do you know this herb?", I asked her.  Other than having noticed it growing abundantly amongst the grass in her lawn, she did not know the plant.

Ground ivy is one of the first herbs I think of for stubborn infections in the ears.  While it clears infection through the lymph system and respiratory tract, it also helps to gently detoxify, and "reset" the entire body into a state of better resilience and microbial balance.   One of the ways it is known to do this is through its ability to clear out heavy metal buildup in the body---particularly lead, aluminum and mercury.  We can accumulate heavy metals through chemical runoff in the soil and water, as well as residues from pesticides and herbicides found in many common foods.  Heavy metal buildup can affect the body's immune response to infection because metals will displace important minerals that help us to metabolize wastes and efficiently turn nutrients into energy.  Ground ivy can help to draw these metals out of the body, sending them through the pathways of elimination/detoxification, like the lymph system, the liver and digestive system, the respiratory tract and the kidneys.  Meanwhile, the vast mineral profile in ground ivy and other wild herbs (such as stinging nettles and dandelion leaves) can help to restore the system, and allow the body's microbial balance to regulate so that infection can not thrive there.  I suggested harvesting some of the ground ivy, and preparing a tea from it, which could be drunk daily (1-2 cups), along with some of the other cleansing, re-mineralizing herbs that we found growing there.

Another time, I remember finding an abundance of yarrow leaves growing beside the garden that surrounded a young couple's new home.  He did carpentry work, and was involved in the building of their home, while she did various types of bodywork and massage for a living.  When I told them about the medicine of the yarrow that grew in their lawn, they were amazed at how appropriate it was for both of their needs, different as they were.  It is one of the top remedies to help heal lacerations from sharp objects like cutting tools as it manages excessive bleeding, prevents or clears infection and disperses congealed blood to clear bruises.  Also, I often give its flower essence to those who do one-on-one healing work because it helps to protect people from taking on the energy that's around them (ie it protects the practitioner from taking on the energy that may be clearing off a person whom they're working on).

Then there was the time when one of my students, early on in the Experiential Herbalism program, was taking raspberry leaf tea daily as a way to help promote fertility and regulate her menstrual cycle.  She had a friend who had lots of raspberry canes growing on her property, and was planning to go to her friends place to harvest the leaves herself so she could dry them and drink them, instead of buying the tea.  After one of our classes in which we studied raspberry leaf, and visited the wild black raspberries growing here at the farm, she went back to her home, on a rural property that borders a woodland, and discovered that the wild raspberry canes grew around much of the perimeter of her yard, and had been available for her to harvest all along, right outside her door!

Herbal medicine shows up,  not just as a physical healing agent, but it works on multi-facets.  Plants can lend their energy and presence to our environment in ways that might change the way that we engage day to day.  They tend to communicate in their own language, bringing scents, textures, visual inspiration, and attracting different insects and wild life to their environs, which can also influence our engagement with the world.   The concept of flower essence medicine (as described with the yarrow above) can provide subtle, yet profound influences that trigger shifts in mental and emotional patterns, affecting our decisions and our relationships. 

For me this year, it seems that violets have taken up residence in a few of my garden beds, with their blue-purple blooms standing out amidst the array of unchecked spring growth that comes in before I begin to cultivate, mulch and plant.  Their quiet beauty draws me in, and their presence calls me to avoid cultivating to my own plans, but rather to work with them and the energy they already bring to the garden space.   Accepting what is present, and holding your own with integrity---this seems to be some of what I am currently learning from violet.  This understated medicine is actually a powerhouse, and can be called on to gently but deeply restore a number of degenerative conditions back to health and integrity.  Meanwhile it can help in simpler cases too, cleansing through the lymph system like ground ivy, and soothing the throat and the lungs from all sorts of irritations.  I am listening to violet, grateful that it has brought its vigor to my garden spaces.  We'll see how the medicine it brings presents itself in different ways as the season progresses.

So....what's growing near you?  Have you been paying attention?  Nature is ready to be your medicine--in fact, it seems to offer itself up as such, regularly--- and you do not need to go far to receive it.  Just have a look around, and see what's showing up.

Sunlight Medicine

Some herbs are sun carriers.  Their medicine holds the warming, life-giving, soothing & uplifting qualities that time spent basking in sunlight can bring.  They lend energy and brightness to lethargy and depression, inspiring movement and encouraging endurance.  They dry up dampness, dispelling the growth of unwelcome pathogens, and creating a vibrant terrain for diverse beneficial microbial growth.  They help to soften and relax tight, sore, tense muscles and tissues.  And with all of these offerings, they promote the healing of injured tissue, movement of stagnant blood and renewal of healthy flesh.

 Here in Canada, weeks of winter days in impoverished sunlight can dampen the spirit.  Being indoors more often, less exercise, slower metabolism, and a slower immune response can mean more tiredness and more tendency towards depression---on a physical, mental and emotional level.

Some of our sun carrying herbs, taken through the winter (and in other seasons, when called for) can help to balance and revitalize these sluggish states.  I'd like to discuss three of my favourite wild sunlight herbs that meet this mark in varying ways.  All three can be found in our local region of Southeastern Ontario (Canada).


St John's Wort Hypericum perforatum

St John's Wort (SJW) is harvested around the time of the summer Solstice, when its yellow-red flowers are in full bloom, and the days linger with sunlight.  Its botanical name, Hypericum perforatum gives some clues about its healing nature.  "Hypericum" carries the word "hyper" in it, meaning "higher" or "above".   This medicine can help to lift heavy spirits, creating a space that allows for a more heightened perspective.  Its species name, "perforatum" points to the tiny little translucent glands that dot its leaves.  When you look at the leaves in the sunlight, you can see the light coming through these little glands, and they look like holes, or perforations.  This is an herb that offers both a lift in perspective, and an ability to see the light shining through dark places.  SJW has been studied extensively for its clinical benefits in depression and anxiety, and it has helped many people through periods of stagnation, darkness and depression. 

 This lifting aspect, and allowing light to seep in is just one of the ways that SJW carries sunlight.  On a more physical level, it brings warmth to the tissues, stimulating blood flow, reducing inflammation and pain, and promoting healing relief to injured and arthritic areas.  I infuse fresh SJW flowers in oil every summer to extract the medicine from this plant.  This oil can be rubbed onto sore muscles and joints, as well as injured skin (from cuts, scrapes, etc) and inflamed or damaged nerves.  When people are recovering from surgery, I often suggest to them to expose the site of the incision to the sunlight daily.  This can help to speed and encourage the healing process.  Applying SJW oil or salve to the site can also help with this process--although it should not be applied when exposing skin to sunlight to avoid burning.  As a sun herb, SJW will accentuate the effects of sunlight, can therefore make one more sensitive to it.

St John's wort has a long history of use in clearing out microbial imbalances, cleansing pathogens and stimulating gentle detoxification.  It is a superlative liver support, awakening the clearance processes there when they tend towards slowness or sluggishness.  Because of its powerful liver stimulation, SJW does come with some cautions in therapeutic use, if it's taken alongside certain medications, however.  The reason for this is that if the medications are metabolized through the same liver pathway as the SJW, and the SJW stimulates liver clearance, it could clear the meds out of the body quicker than intended, potentially impacting the  duration of the meds' effects.  Not all medications metabolize through the same liver process as SJW but a number of common ones do.  For people wanting to work with SJW who are also taking pharmaceutical medications, it is advised to consult with an herbalist or another practitioner trained in herbal medicine and pharmacology before beginning to take it in regular, therapeutic doses.  For pretty much anyone however, rubbing the infused oil of SJW onto the skin has no contra-indications, and is deeply soothing.

Goldenrod Solidago canadensis & spp


Goldenrod is a sunlight carrier worth knowing.  Not only is it a widely abundant and generous herb in our region (and in many northern and temperate climates), but it also offers tremendous medicine.  It's helpful to take as a tea for infections like colds and flu for stuffiness and congestion in the head, ears, nose and throat.  Its antimicrobial medicine will help to clear out unwanted pathogens in these areas, reducing inflammation and drying up mucus buildup that comes with them.  Allergies that bring symptoms in this area (such as hay fever) can also be relieved with goldenrod's support.   It not only addresses bacterial infections and inflammation, but it's also a decently powerful anti-fungal herb.  With a similar drying, revitalizing action to the sunlight, goldenrod can be employed anywhere in (or on) the body to help reduce and clear the effects of mold, candida overgrowth, athletes foot and other fungal infections.    It is also a cleansing, detoxifying herb that works largely through the kidneys and bladder.  This means it is very helpful in infections in these organs too as a soothing, anti-inflammatory, immune-stimulating diuretic.

Like its blooms who arrive in mid-August and linger all the way through to late September, Goldenrod medicine lends endurance.  I think of goldenrod flowers as gatherers and storers of sunlight.  The plants spend the majority of the summer forming leaves and stems, without any indication of flowering until fairly late in the season.  When the blooms burst forth at last, they glow with a rich, bright yellow that suggests a deep, enduring warmth like the long rays of sunlight on an early autumn afternoon.  These flowers attract pollinators of all sorts to gather their stores of nourishment for months into the future.  Their medicine lends this endurance energy to those who consume it.  Goldenrod tea can be a wonderful drink on a day when there is lots to do, but less energy or motivation to do it.   It can help to ease exhaustion, and gently stimulate movement out of depression.   Like St John's Wort, Goldenrod also makes a beautiful, warming, anti-inflammatory infused oil.  The fresh flowers can soak in a clear jar, covered in the oil of your choice (I often use sunflower oil) with a lid on it in the sunlight for about four weeks.  When strained out, this oil can be massaged into sore places, used to help heal injured skin, and as mentioned above, rubbed into sites of fungal infection to help it to clear.

Birdsfoot Trefoil  Lotus corniculatus


Birdsfoot Trefoil works in harmony with sunlight to make an energizing, uplifting flower essence.  Flower essences are vibrational remedies, made with focused intention, from flowers, water and sunlight, and preserved with bit of alcohol.  The vibrational aspect refers to the fact that the flower essences influence us primarily on a non-physical level, affecting our energy, mind and emotions much more than they have any sort of direct influence on the physical body.  They are extremely diluted so that their medicine is safe to take, without concerns of contraindications.  Instead, they nudge the system to change on a vibrational level.  This translates to shifts in unhealthy psychological and/or emotional patterns when the appropriate remedy is chosen.  If it is not the appropriate remedy, usually nothing will change at all.  These fiery July blooms carpet open fields and lawns, like a reflection of bright summer sunlight growing all over the ground.

I think of birdsfoot trefoil flower essence as a remedy that brings energy and life force into a slow or stagnant system.  It brings motivation to move and to heal.  It can help those who are exhausted, depressed from lack of sunlight and lack of movement, and weak as they slowly recover from illness or a period of stress.  Like its name (and the appearance of its flower) suggests, birdsfoot trefoil brings in the flitting, light energy of a bird.  It helps us to take flight.   The diluted remedy can be taken, just a few drops at a time in a glass of water.  Its feeling is a bit like a sunny morning, and it is best to take this one early in the day to avoid energizing too much before bed time.



In a land where winter dominates the landscape for a decent chunk of the year, we're lucky to have access to sunlight medicine in the form of plants.  When harvesting and preparing these medicines through the summer months, I give thanks to the sunlight embedded within them, which I know will help to carry us through until the soil softens and sprouts emerge, bringing us around again into a new season of growth.


Mars, Hot Sauce & Medical Astrology

Here’s a little medical astrology confirmation experience story.  After several weeks of waiting for our peppers to ripen, and waiting to find the right window of time to do it  I finally got a fall batch of hot sauce made on Oct 30th. Eager to get it done, and not accounting for the intensity of some of the chilies I was using, I made it with my bare hands— all our garden chilies bleeding their fresh juice and rubbing fresh seeds against my skin. 

The intensity of the heat seemed to pick up after I was finished the project.  Even after scrubbing my hands with good soap, the lingering burn stayed with me all day.  I made efforts to avoid rubbing my eyes or touching other sensitive spots, forgetting occasionally and further spreading the burn.  I found brief sessions of relief when I plunged my hands into pots of cold rain water that afternoon while washing freshly harvested roots. Soon I found myself walking over to the rain barrel every 10 min or so to soak my hands in it and gain a bit of respite from the sting. But the burn would return a few minutes after removing them. 

Late that night as I lay in bed, unable to relax for the pain in my hands, I had a couple thoughts.  One was that it was interesting for me to experience such intense heat in my hands because in general, they are almost always cold.  So in a way, this was a welcome shift—if only it wasn’t so darn painful!  The other thought was about the quality of this relentless heat, and how it felt to me.  It not only burned, but it had an antsy feeling to it, like an impatience to find relief.  There was almost an anger, and a ferocity to it.  My next thought was “this feels like Mars!” It was then that I realized that this day was the very day that transiting Mars had begun its retrograde motion, which will continue until mid January 2023. 

For me, this was quite the epiphany because the current retrograde of Mars happens to hit me quite powerfully in my astrological chart.  Mars is retrograding (moving backwards from our perspective) through the sign of Gemini.  In my chart, Gemini sits in my first house, and thus it holds my rising, or my Ascendant point.  Almost right beside that point in my chart sits my natal Mars.  So this current Mars retrograde traverses over my Ascendant and also over my natal Mars.  This can easily trigger more Mars-associated experiences in my life during this time. 

Being a viewer of astrological transits, I knew of this upcoming influence, but I didn’t know just what it would look like.  In medical astrology, your first house dictates the parts of your physical body that may express themselves most strongly through your life.  Gemini governs the chest, shoulders, arms and… hands!  Mars relates to the fire of the body, and to temperature in general.  With a strong Mars placement in your chart, either heat or cold can be expressed more extremely in the physical body.  My hands, normally too cold and in need of better circulation, shifted to extreme burning as Mars retrograded over my Ascendant and my natal Mars in Gemini.  There it was.  As above, so below. 

Eventually, my thoughts that night took me into dream space, and when I awoke the next morning I was grateful to find that my hands felt back to normal again.  Mars is not only fiery but speedy too.  Mars in Gemini is like a fire burning up quickly with a burst of oxygen, and then just as quickly, dying back down again.

About 10 days later, I found that a few more of our chilies had ripened, and I also came across the last of the sweet red peppers being sold at a farm stand near my home.  I picked up a few of them to blend with my remaining chilies, deciding to make one more small batch of hot sauce (we do love our hot sauce around here!)  This time I was using fewer peppers, and I took care to avoid skin contact with them as much as possible.  I also didn’t take the time to separate out and save the different pepper seeds for next year’s gardens because I had already done that the last time.  This meant much less touching the seeds, thus much less heat.  In the end, the burn was there again, lingering for a couple hours but almost completely gone by bed time.  That night, as I felt the tiny tingly reminder in my hands, I reflected that this day was the full Moon.  This full Moon was intensified by an amazing total lunar eclipse.  The energy of the Mars retrograde was amplified by this event, because a full Moon will reflect and amplify everything around it.  How interesting, I thought, that I chose to work with this intense herb once again on this powerful day, and here I am with burning hands once again!

This is a clear, rudimentary example of the ways that we experience in our physical life the effects of cosmic movements and interactions.  Medical astrology is an ancient art that can help us to map and track these effects, giving us clues to the causes or factors involved in various states of health.  One of the first details we look at in an astrological chart is the sign in the first house–the “rising sign”.  This can begin to tell us the story of how we, as physical beings, engage with and adapt to the physical world.  Looking into a chart from a medical astrology perspective can be quite elucidating, offering helpful keys to the story of your health, which you may not find elsewhere.  It offers a holistic perspective that spans beyond your body, mind, emotions, family history and living environment out into the cosmic influences that formed a blueprint for who you are.  The chart can be a helpful reference point as we navigate life’s challenges, and look for the supports and strengths that are there with us at those times.  Medical astrology has a long history tied in with herbal medicine, and we can be directed to the particular herbs we choose to work with for health, based on the influences shown in the chart.

For me, Mars retrograde means not only hot hands for a day, but it also points to a chance to energize my communication (another Gemini characteristic).  This transit has perhaps been the fuel behind my impulse to share with you a bit about medical astrology— a tool that I use in my herbal practice whenever I have the opportunity, and one that I share with people when they express interest.

On Valerian and the Medicine of Aroma

Valerian thrives in the cold, sprouting to life before most other garden herbs. With tiny early spring plants, identification can be tricky sometimes because many leaves look similar to each other. Whenever possible, I rely on my sense of smell at these times. In valerian’s case, that means digging my fingers into the soil to gently rub against the roots.

The roots carry the unique aroma of valerian’s medicine, and they are the part most often harvested for medicine. The sweet, complex deep note of the fresh root’s aroma is truly unique and pleasing, and this is what we find when we make contact with the living roots. Once harvested however, the pleasing effect wanes as the aroma slowly turns to something much more akin to putrid—or better yet, stink-foot-like!  Catching a whiff of it can certainly cause one to recoil.

The recoiling effect delivers an important message for us, however.  A message that is specific for a body and a nervous system stuck in a pattern which doesn’t serve us. Valerian is a powerful nervine herb that triggers a shift from tension and anxiety to deep relaxation. While of course it’s true that soothing aromatic herbs like lavender or chamomile can effectively do the same thing, and they are indeed helpful nervine herbs, sometimes their effect can’t be reached because a pattern is so rutted or deep seated in a system that it just won’t easily change. Psychological patterns in the mind, or tension patterns held in tissues can stubbornly hold on, as many of us have witnessed first hand or in others.

The initial response to valerian medicine is a sort of repulsion.   The repulsion triggers a further tensing up, which is then very quickly followed by a deep release. The rutted pattern is then broken by this initial disruptive force.  Repulsion can literally be defined as “re-pulsing”—in other words, changing up the pulse, the current or the pattern that has been dominating the system.  When something is repulsive to us, we want to remove ourselves from it immediately.   In the case of valerian, the dominating pulse in the system carries a frequency of tension.  Valerian helps us to see that frequency, which is not serving us, as “repulsive”.  The system is then quickly triggered to toss it off so that we can shift into a frequency (or current, or pulse) of relaxation instead.

I think of valerian’s action as being similar to a well-known relaxation technique.  You may know of this one: you consciously tense up all your muscles, holding as tightly as you can before releasing with a big exhale into deep relaxation.  The practice of initially conjuring up even more tension than you’re already carrying before releasing it all can bring about a much deeper shift into relaxation. It reveals to your body that which you clearly don’t want.  And it then triggers a recoil as held patterns get shaken up.

I remember finding valerian growing beside a cold, glacier-fed waterfall on Vancouver Island many years ago.  My teacher Sheelagh had just helped me to identify the herb growing in the wild a few days before, and together, our herb study group had marveled at that beautiful, unique scent of the living roots.  On this day, I was climbing up a rock beside the waterfall when I began to smell that incomparable scent of those roots again.  I looked around, and realized that my fingers, gripping between two rocks, had disturbed a colony of tiny valerian plants.  In an effort to minimize damage, I removed three of the tiny plants that I had unwittingly disturbed, patting in and making more room for the rest of the colony to grow more strongly there.

I made a tiny tincture from those tiny fresh roots later that day.  The tincture was so tiny in fact, that it fit into a little glass salve jar, and that was where it stayed, with the roots kept in, until its medicine had been used up.  I used that tincture topically, as though it was a slave.  I found it to be the most effective herbal medicine I had ever experienced when I applied it to the tense muscles of my shoulder blades–the location where I, and other members of my family traditionally tend to hold our patterns of tension.  The effect of recoiling, and then immediately allowing flow was deeply palpable to me, and my ability to release the armored tension I held there felt almost miraculous.  I had the strong sense that growing beside the cascading glacial waterfall significantly helped to enhance the pure action of this medicine as an agent of flow.

That first experience with Valerian taught me so much that has remained with me to this day as I continue to work with this medicine in my practice.  I learned about how the medicine works on a visceral level.  I learned that a little can go a very long way.  I also learned how the environment where a medicine grows can have a profound influence on its character and efficacy.  I learned to use scent as one of my primary identifiers of plants when I am out in the wild.  And I gained some insight into the concept of shifting deep patterning, sometimes through triggering an initial recoil, with the remarkable power of aromatic medicine.

Basil Tea for Mind, Gut & Spirit

Many folks don't think of basil as a tea herb, but I have been savouring its rich low-note flavour this winter, and I've also been enjoying the way it makes me feel. 

Basil provides a soothing balm for nerves and the belly, it has a clarifying influence on the brain and ignites a bit of a spark in the spirit.  It is known as an amphoteric herb for the nervous system, meaning that it works as both a stimulant and a relaxant.  It can help to uplift and energize low moods, while it can also ease the stresses of the day, readying the body for restful sleep.  Herbs that can both stimulate and relax are particularly suited to these current times.  Many are finding struggle in carrying not only responsibilities in the outside world that need to be addressed, but also ongoing undercurrents of mental/emotional stress.  Mental health has posed an increasing challenge in the modern world, as many of us well know, with depression and anxiety levels at all time highs.  Of course there are numerous reasons for this, and many ways to address it, but sometimes amidst the complexity, the tried-and-true effectiveness of simple, age-old garden herbs (or pantry herbs) can be easily overlooked.

Any herb that has a flavour and aroma will have a relaxing effect on the smooth muscles of the gut, reducing cramping, indigestion and inflammation.  This is part of the reason that humans have included aromatic spices in cooking for millennia.  They actually help us to digest our food.  Drinking aromatic tea after a meal will do the same.  As we are discovering more and more, the brain and mental health are quite reliant on gut health, and there are important connections between the nervous system and the digestive system.  As basil tea helps to ease indigestion and inflammation in the digestive tract, the body can more easily uptake some of its soothing gut-brain neurotransmitters, like the well-known serotonin which brings feelings of happiness and peace.

HOLY BASIL Occimum sanctum

Basil tends to bring more mindfulness and awareness.   Many are familiar with its Ayurvedic cousin, Holy Basil (Occimum sanctum). This is a much revered herb that has a slightly sweeter flavour than the culinary basil of the west (Occimun basilicum). Holy basil makes a delicious tea, long touted as a supportive herb for the brain, bringing more mindfulness and presence in meditative states.  Holy basil is also classified by herbalists as an adaptogen---which means that it helps the body and mind to adapt to various stressors, maintaining a state of equilibrium and equanimity both physically and mentally.    It has been shown to help support the body and mind through overcoming various addictions (cannabis and coffee are two examples), helping to clear out any toxic build-up, while providing the clarity, stamina and positive outlook needed to move out of old patterns.  

In fact, the European basil (Occimum basilicum) has many similar properties and also a long tradition of use.  Basil has been shown to help stimulate and support adrenal function---which helps with stress management in general.  It has shown to be helpful in clearing out heavy metals and toxic residues that are stored in fat cells in the body.  It has a beneficial influence on womens' health, supporting breast milk production and flow for nursing mothers, and helping the body to regulate in the wake of menopausal shifts, and/or post hysterectomy.  Basil is also a fairly potent anti-microbial herb that can help the body to fight bacterial infections of various types.  It has significantly high levels of both vitamin C and vitamin A as well.


I find that basil's deep, pungent flavour speaks to the depth of reach that it has on the system.  It is known to combine well with lemon balm in tea to help ease depression.  I like to blend it with lemon peel and cinnamon to accentuate its unique flavour, and also to further support digestion, bring a warming effect (cinnamon) and an increased boost of vitamin C (lemon peel).  The bright, deep and spicy flavour of this blend has been keeping me cozy, mellow and perhaps a little more deeply attuned to my body and mind on these chilly winter evenings.

Here is a simple recipe for this tasty, feel-good tea:

1 heaping teaspoon dried basil (or a small handful of fresh basil)

1/2 teaspoon  broken cinnamon bark pieces (or 1/3 teaspoon ground cinnamon)

1/2 teaspoon organic dried lemon peel (or 1 teaspoon fresh), peeled & chopped into little pieces or grated, with as little of the white pith on as possible (Note: lemon should be organic)

2 cups of freshly boiled water

Put herbs into a teapot and pour hot water over them.  Put a lid on the pot (this helps to keep the aromatic medicine from evaporating out, and yields a more potent infusion).Allow tea to steep for at least 15-20 minutes.  Strain, drink and share as desired.




The Winter Elixir

Here is a recipe for a winter elixir.   This is a concept that can be played with, and the recipe can be adjusted based on the ingredients you have available, as well as your particular needs and wants. 

The idea of an elixir is essentially a preparation that is healing in nature, often nutritious with some medicinal characteristics but it is mild and safe enough for pretty much anyone to take. 

Elixirs are thicker than tinctures.  Although, like tinctures they may be based in alcohol, they will often have a sweet, pleasing flavour as well.  Honey or some kind of syrup are often included in an elixir to achieve this effect.  Of course, honey itself has many healing, immune supportive properties.  If a syrup is used instead, it may be an herb-infused syrup such as elderberry syrup or ginger syrup in order to bring in the healing properties of those herbs.  To prepare an herbal syrup, one could follow a recipe for a simple syrup, but instead of water, use tea infused with the herb of choice.

For this elixir, I have chosen a blend of herbs that are often found on a kitchen shelf, along with a few herbs that are easily found locally in the wild, or can be grown in gardens (these herbs can also be purchased fairly easily and affordably from an herb supplier).  

This is a winter elixir, so the herbs involved are warming, immune stimulating, anti-microbial and Vitamin C rich.  It can be taken to give the system a boost when you feel a cold coming on. 

From the kitchen shelf, I've included ginger, which can be added fresh or dried, and peppercorns. Note that dried ginger is much stronger and more warming than fresh, so less of it should be used.  Other possible additions from the kitchen might be flavourful, antimicrobial herbs like cinnamon, corriander, fennel or thyme. 

From the wild harvest and from the garden, I've included Norway spruce needles and twigs.  Any variety of spruce or pine could be included in this blend.  I like to harvest from freshly fallen branches so as not to take directly from the tree.  Also included are rosehips, goldenrod flowers, yarrow flowers and calendula flowers.  Spruce and rosehips are markedly potent sources of vitamin C.   Spruce is also warming, immune stimulating and antimicrobial.  Goldenrod, yarrow and calendula are all aster family plants that stimulate the immune response in different ways.  Goldenrod and calendula are good lymphatic clearing herbs, and in addition to being strongly anti-bacterial they are also anti-fungal, helping the body to manage many types of microbial overgrowth and imbalance in the system.  Yarrow is also powerfully antimicrobial, and it is a diaphoretic herb.  This means that it sends heat throughout the circulation to the periphery, where it helps the body to open the pores and release what is no longer needed through the sweat glands.  Gently heating and promoting a bit of a sweat is an age-old approach to fighting off impending illness.  Ginger is diaphoretic as well, so these two herbs works together nicely in this blend.

The herbs are infused in brandy, with honey added.  For those who prefer, the honey can be left out, or the herbs could be infused just in the honey and the brandy could be left out.  

Elixirs can be fun, creative ways to work with herbs and make tasty, health-supportive concoctions that the whole family will likely enjoy.  They can be taken by the teaspoon-full or by the shot glass-full, depending on the size, and preference of the taker.  








yarrow Achillea millfolium


goldenrod Solidago canadensis


makes approximately 500 ml 

Brandy 350-400 ml

Honey (preferably raw) 50 ml

Ginger   fresh, 1 Tablespoon finely chopped; dried, 1/2 teaspoon

Black Peppercorns  1 teaspoon

Fresh or dried spruce needles and twigs   1 handful

Rosehips, chopped  1 Tablespoon

Calendula petals  1 Tablespoon dried, or 1 handful fresh

Goldenrod flowers  2 teaspoons dried, or 1 handful fresh

Yarrow flowers  2 teaspoons dried, or a small handful fresh

Place all herbs in a 500 ml jar.   Pour brandy over the herbs to cover them and fill the jar (the amount of brandy needed for this will vary depending on how finely the herbs are chopped up and the amounts of herbs included).  Add honey.  Stir, or place a lid on the jar and shake the blend so that all is nicely combined, and the honey is dispersed throughout.   Let the jar sit in a dark place (like a cupboard) for 2-4 weeks.  After this, the herbs can either be strained or left in the elixir, but the elixir will be ready to drink.  Take, or give to loved ones when a cold or flu is coming on, or they just need a warming, stimulating boost.  Dosage can vary between 1/2 teaspoon to a shot glass, depending on the taker 😉







Wishing you a thriving, healthy winter!

Garlic Mustard as an Invasive Plant Medicine (part 2 of 2)

This article is a continuation of a previous article titled Garlic Mustard: Plant Ally of the Moment


One thing I have found to be true in the time that I have spent observing and interacting with the natural world is that very often the plants that we need most for medicine are growing in abundance nearby.  Whenever I notice a proliferation of a particular plant, I’m inclined to ask “what role are you playing in this environment?” And “how might you provide healing in this place and time?”  

With garlic mustard these days, the answers seem rather clear.  

Its virtues were well known by the people in its native lands.  Garlic mustard was originally brought to North America in the mid 19th century by the English settlers who made regular use of it as an edible and medicinal plant.  I imagine they viewed it as a suitable plant to cultivate here due to its ability to thrive in colder climates.  It was desirable also because of its high vitamin C content.  It was known as an antiscorbutic (scurvy preventative) agent.  In order to have access to garlic mustard throughout the year, the plant was commonly preserved in vinegar to have on hand as a nutritive and antiseptic agent. 

What the settlers did not realize of course, was how eagerly it would grow here.   When it moves into an area, garlic mustard easily and quickly seeds itself, spreading and replacing many native species.   As part of the takeover, it emits chemical compounds in the soil that destroy the mycorrhizal fungi.  These soil microbes are a key aspect of the health and immunity of many woodland plants and trees.  Without them, it is that much more difficult for other plant life to compete against the garlic mustard, and the garlic mustard often wins.   

Ironically, these chemical compounds are the same sulphur compounds I discussed in my previous post on garlic mustard.  Known as glucosinolates (and their derivatives), they support our immunity while helping to ward off bacterial and fungal growth in our bodies.  What we’re seeing therefore, is that the very compounds from this plant that pose a threat to our native flora can meanwhile help to support our wellness in the face of infection.

While it is clear to see why garlic mustard’s aggressive growth habits are much maligned by concerned naturalists wanting to protect native ecosystems,  the most sensible response to this situation seems to be for us to harvest the plant, and make use of the medicine it provides.   Some plant medicines are endangered, and their harvest is outlawed or strongly discouraged.  We’re watching the endangerment of more and more wild plants and animals as the biodiversity of our planet diminishes.  Other plant medicines however are newly emerging in places they have not grown before.  Their harvest not only poses no risk to their survival, but it may significantly help to protect the damaged ecosystems where they thrive.

The ability of an invasive species to take over an ecosystem is contingent on the resilience of that ecosystem. Many of the word’s ecosystems have been weakened already by other disturbances like chemical runoff, deforestation, excavation and nearby development.  Weakness creates an opening for opportunistic species.  These days, there are few habitats on earth that have not been so disturbed, and we now find ourselves faced with the infiltration of invasives en masse.  In a sense, we could say that the immunity of many ecosystems is not strong enough to withstand invasion. 

We see this same encroachment happening on macro and microcosmic levels throughout our world.  Much like the ecosystems of the earth, human immunity and resilience have also been weakened by chemical and electromagnetic pollutants in our field.  These, combined with nutrient deficiencies from a food supply grown on depleted soil, make us open to invasion by opportunistic super bugs that threaten to take down the very fabric of our societies…..And here we are in the spring of 2020.

Fortunately, natural processes tend to be cyclical.  While garlic mustard is currently enjoying a population boom, the compounds it emits have been shown to peak and decline within a 25-30 year period.  Following that, the soil mycorrhiza tend to return, along with other plant species to replace the excess garlic mustard.  Even while it’s booming, it is also not solely problematic.  Its warming sulphur compounds seem to speed up leaf breakdown and metabolism in the soil, making nutrients more quickly available to the flora of the area, and ultimately feeding the soil for future plant life.  As for the infiltration of viruses, humanity has endured many and our species has not only survived, but our immune intelligence has strengthened and wizened through the experience of meeting them.

So when I look to a patch of garlic mustard on a forest edge, and ask “what role are you playing in this environment?”, what seems to be true to me is that it is resiliently holding a place for plant life within a climate that is increasingly challenging to the survival of many plants. And in response to the question “how might you provide healing in this place and time?”, I see it on a long term path towards restoring the land, while on a short term path towards contributing to human health and resilience.  

  CLICK HERE for Part I: Garlic Mustard, Plant Ally of the Moment


Scott, Timothy Lee; Invasive Plant Medicine; Healing Arts Press; Rochester Vermont; 2010

Evans, Lankau, Davis, Raghu, Landis; “Soil mediated eco-evolutionary feedbacks in the invasive plant Alliaria petiolatata”; Functional Ecology Vol. 30 Issue no. 7; British Ecological Society; May 2016

Rodgers, Wolfe, Werden et al; “The Invasive Species Alliaria pertiolata (Garlic Mustard) Increases Soil Nutrient Availalbility in Northern Hardwood-conifer Forests”; Oecologia 157. no. 3: September 15 2008


Garlic Mustard: Plant Ally of the Moment (Part 1 of 2)

Part II of this blog post, titled Garlic Mustard as an Invasive Plant Medicine can be read HERE

During this period of uncertainty and transformation, I would like to shine some light on one of our local wild plants.  Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) is a nutritious early spring green, and a remarkable healing agent whose leaves are currently emerging.  Its nutritional and medicinal benefits are particularly indicated for many of us at this time, as they contribute to immune integrity and respiratory health.  

Garlic mustard can be found around our region in such great abundance that it is regarded by conservation bodies as an invasive plant.  

Here I would like to illustrate the ways in which this plant can serve our resilience at this time, in the hopes that more of us will take advantage of the opportunity that it brings.  Since it is an area of particular interest to me, I've also created a second post (part II) where I share some of my ideas around the plant's "invasive" tendencies, and what they seem to teach us about resilience and the nature of invasion.


In the face of COVID19, we're hearing from numerous sources about the importance of vitamin C as well as vitamin A intake.   In addition to their well-known ability to stimulate and strengthen the immune system, vitamins C and A support the structure and integrity of the membranes that protect our respiratory and digestive tracts as well as our blood vessels.  The damage caused to these membranes with virus' entrance into our cells seems to lead to a cascading immune response that brings an overwhelming flood of mucus and inflammatory agents to the area of infiltration.  The blockages that result pose significant challenges to breathing, metabolism, and removal of wastes from the system--some of the major (sometimes life threatening) symptoms we're now seeing.  Vitamins A and C not only help to prevent the virus' entry into our cells by strengthening the membranes, and not only do they help to fortify immune cell production and immune response in the case of entry, but they also support the blood vessel walls and the mucus membranes that line our respiratory and digestive tracts so that if the virus does enter, the damage it can cause is significantly reduced, and more quickly repaired.  

Garlic mustard is known for its impressive vitamin A levels, and it has been shown to contain 3-4 times as much vitamin C as oranges.

Various mustard family plants infusing in raw apple cider vinegar

Not only does it strengthen immunity and support tissue integrity, garlic mustard is a potent antimicrobial agent as well.  This is due in part, to its many sulphur compounds.  These can be detected in the sulphury smell that we find in most Mustard (or Cabbage) family plants.  Their presence creates a less-than-hospitable environment for bacterial and fungal growth (see more on this in part II of this article), while also stimulating immune function in a number of ways.  One of those ways is by gently increasing heat in the body.  This makes the immune cells work, and reproduce more quickly.  Generally speaking, maintaining a higher temperature will increase the body's immune capacity (which is why we may develop a fever when we get an infection).   In the early days of spring, when the  damp & cold weather can easily permeate us, garlic mustard's contribution of warmth helps to protect the body (and particularly the lungs) from infection.   

Many descriptions of COVID19 in the lungs characterize it as having a profoundly "cold" effect.  The respiratory passages are stuck, not only because of a buildup of mucus and fluids, but also because there is not enough heat to move things through, so the fluids congeal.   Hot drinks are encouraged, as well as warming herbs like ginger, onions, garlic and thyme.  Once again, the warming action of garlic mustard fits this indication to a tee.

Like all Mustard family plants, garlic mustard is known to encourage the clearance of phlegm build up in the lungs.  We can feel this when we taste the spicy leaves, roots and seeds, which tend to "cut" mucus and move it out of the system.  When I work with clients who tend towards lots of mucus build up, I encourage them to eat radishes, turnips, horseradish and mustard greens regularly.  (While on the subject of clearing mucus, I will mention that avoiding dairy and other creamy/fatty foods will often significantly help to reduce build up as well)

The thin, edible taproots of garlic mustard taste like radishes

In addition to its spiciness, garlic mustard also has a slightly bitter flavour.  The mild bitterness is helpful because it gently but effectively stimulates all aspects of the digestive function.  Improved digestion means improved absorption of many the nutrients provided by the plant, as well as those we take in from all the other foods & supplements we ingest.    

The bitter flavour also supports the liver in its clearance of wastes and toxic elements from the system.  Liver clearance is a crucial aspect of fighting off pathogens.  A system overburdened with wastes and toxicity is an immuno-compromised system.  Also, when the body is fighting infection, lots of waste is continually generated by the immune system, and this can cause further damage and invite in more infection if the liver fails to clear it out fast enough.  


So how do we work with this abundant plant to make use of its offerings?   


With relative ease.  The entire plant is edible, from root all the way up to seed.  It is safe to consume in abundance (although I would recommend that folks with low thyroid function eat it cooked more often than raw---and the same goes for all foods in this family).  It can be easily dug up, and either consumed fresh, dried for future use or preserved in vinegar (or in vodka if you want to make an herbal tincture).


Garlic mustard leaves on toast . Tastes like garlic toast!

We love to include it in our meals as a fresh spring green vegetable.  The young leaves, stalks and roots can be added to stir fries, pastas or blended into pesto.  They're also delicious pan cooked on their own with lemon juice and soy sauce.  They do have a garlicky flavour as the name suggests, and their mild bitterness resembles that of rapini.  In fact, when the stems grow tall and immature buds develop, the bitterness is slightly reduced, and the plant is almost identical to rapini.  Fresh leaves can be added to raw salads, and they blend nicely in potato salads where a mustard dressing might enhance the flavour nicely.   More recently I've experimented with adding the roots to some home-made kimchi and saurkraut.  The enzymes and beneficial bacteria on these fermented foods should help to make the nutrients in the roots that much more accessible.  A spicy condiment similar to horseradish can also be made from the roots.  


Garlic mustard pesto with lemon juice, fresh garlic and olive oil. A tasty immune boosting sauce that helps to clear your pipes.

One of my favourite ways to preserve the healing properties of garlic mustard is steeped in vinegar.  Its spicy garlicky flavour comes through, along with the plant's myriad trace minerals.  I use apple cider vinegar for its numerous health benefits.  The method is simple.  I fill a jar half full with the chopped up plant, and then pour cider vinegar in, filling it to the top.  The plant infuses in the vinegar, out of direct light, for 3-4 weeks.   I then add this vinegar to my salad dressings regularly, and take it by the teaspoonful if I need an immune boost.

To use it as an expectorant to help clear phlegm from the lungs, I would also take a teaspoon of this infused vinegar, or make a tea using a handful of fresh leaves and roots per cup (if it's too bitter, the tea could be blended with mint, or honey could be added).  It would also be effective just eat the the fresh leaves and roots as they are.  


Bringing its rich green and bold flavour to a spring salad


Garlic mustard can be found growing in woodlands, tree lines and other shaded or partly shaded areas including lawns and gardens.  It has heart shaped leaves with prominent veins, and serrated edges.  The leaves have smooth stems which come up in a basal rosette from a single white tap root.  The plants tend to grow in clusters, and they may have a slight purple-green colour in colder weather.  When the leaves are crushed, they give off a garlic smell.  This is a key identifying feature of the plant.  In its second year of growth, garlic mustard sends up flowering stalks in late May-June. At this stage they resemble broccolini or rapini florets until they open into small, four-petaled white flowers.  After flowering, they produce long seed pods around early-mid July, and these are edible as well (though significantly spicier than the rest of the plant).  In fall, newly seeded growth returns and the plant is at a similar stage to that of early spring.


Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) in flower


The plant seeds itself with vigour, so harvesting before seeds are mature is a way to help keep its invasive tendencies in check.  When harvesting garlic mustard, I encourage digging it out from the root whenever possible.  As with all harvests, before taking the plant I encourage taking a moment to be mindful of the plant, and of the environment we're in.  With this mindfulness, I encourage clarifying our intentions for how we would like to make use of the plant's benefits.  And finally, I ask that we harvest with respect, acknowledging with gratitude this gift of the earth.

For a discussion on the plant's invasive tendencies, and how we might view these too as a vehicle for healing CLICK HERE to read Part II: Garlic Mustard as an Invasive Plant Medicine

Scott, Timothy Lee; Invasive Plant Medicine; Healing Arts Press, Rochester Vermont, 2010

Thayer, Samuel, Nautre's Garden: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting and Preparing Edible Wild Plants; Foragers' Harvest; Birchwood WI, 2010



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Letting the Wild Thrive

The word “thrive” has a sense of wildness to it.  An idea of energized wellness, well adapted to changing environments and outside influences, responding to life’s encounters with strength, agility, creativity and timeliness.  We tend to yearn for this type of well being.  This ease of adaptability.  Ease of unity with others, balanced with strong enough boundaries to keep ourselves safe and healthy.

To me, wild wellness speaks of relying on our innate intelligence and intuitive knowing to make the best decisions in all aspects of our lives, like what to eat and when, how to move our bodies, where to focus our awareness, when we are safe and when there is danger, when to seek support and when we’ve “got this” on our own.

We can learn a lot about wild wellness by paying attention to wild ecosystems of any size and in any place, from woodlands to beaches to backyards to urban alleyways…

We know that ecosystems thrive on the dynamic changes that continually occur on various levels, taking cues from and responding to all sorts of influences, like the ever changing habitation and visitation of insects, birds and animals, and the longer term life cycles of plants, trees, fungi and lichen that offer opportunities for growth and decay in different ways at different times.

Where there is disturbed or impoverished soil,  trees may not be growing, as the land is in the process of gathering nutrients and moisture to make the site suitable for them to live there again one day.  The earth will then use her wild intelligence to support that land with certain plants and their root systems along with the bacteria and mycorrhizae that surround them, all helping to bring more nourishment to the soil, while restoring and retaining moisture at the same time.  A good example of this type of plant is mullein (Verbascum thaspus) which thrives on poor, dry rocky or sandy sites for a few years following some sort of disturbance, followed afterwards by other plants that are able to grow in the soil that the mullein has prepared for them.  Mullein is also an important plant medicine for humans, helping to restore healthy tissue growth at sites of injury and irritation, bringing more fluids and nutrients to the tissues, and in turn, more soothing and healing.


Mullein (Verbascum thaspus)

Nowadays, as we well know, many ecosystems on the planet are working to adapt themselves to toxic loads.  As chemicals and heavy metals from ever-growing industry and ever increasing waste build up in the soil daily, they are carried from place to place in the hard-to-predict movements of water and air, affecting ecosystems that may even be some distance from the original source of the pollution.  Sadly, this means that sometimes even seemingly healthy forests and wild lands where balance and relative purity has been maintained throughout our lives are now taking up toxicity, weakening their native plants and trees, and bringing more potential for illness.  As trees are felled for industrial and/or large scale agricultural growth, and their vast root systems, so crucial for supporting nutrient sharing and immunity are depleted, ecosystem resilience seems to suffer all the more.

What we can observe however is that challenged ecosystems still employ the strength of the earth’s ancient wild intelligence to help them restore balance, clear away toxicity, rebuild nutrients and provide food and shelter for other life forms–in other words, to continue to thrive despite the challenges.  Fortunately for us as inhabitants of the earth, there are plants with enough intense resilience and strength to grow in disturbed and toxic ecosystems.  Plants that continue to oxygenate our air, while rendering benign organic matter out of harmful chemicals throughout their growth cycle, and at the same time, providing food and medicine for the earth and its surrounding life forms.

More and more we are seeing this as “invasive plants” show up at sites of toxic spills and industrial accidents, thriving when other species can’t.   The idea of allowing the growth of  “invasive” plants in toxic areas so that the earth’s natural phytoremediation process can occur is being taken more seriously as we increasingly recognize and integrate the idea that the earth’s intelligence is incomparably more sophisticated than that of humans at this point.   And not only are we finding this support for ecosystems from these plants, it turns out that many of our “invasive” wild plants are proving to be important medicines for a growing number of health challenges that have been linked to exposure to environmental toxicity.    We find in many of them medicinal properties that address health issues such as systemic infections from new super bugs,  various auto-immune issues and cancers.

Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata)

Here is a piece I wrote a few years ago about one of these important plant medicines, Japanese knotweed.

…And this one, by Michigan herbalist Jim McDonald that expounds on the medicinal and phytoremedial benefits of another “invasive” healing plant, Purple Loosestrife.

This study examined the wild plants that grew and  thrived while taking up numerous heavy metals and arsenic following a toxic mine spill near Seville, Spain.

…And here, a Boston University study on the ability of our fiercely invasive (and very nutritious) Garlic Mustard to speed up nutrient recycling in forest leaf litter, allowing trees and plants to take up nutrition at a faster rate, and thus helping to restore the overall health of the forest over time.

Japanese Knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum)


As our environment changes, wild ecosystems shift, becoming habitable spaces for new species, and sometimes less habitable for those who have been living there.  While these changes seem disturbing, especially as we watch them happening at such an alarming rate, I believe it is important at this time to trust in the earth’s dynamic wild intelligence which is never static but relies on continual change and adaptation in order to thrive.

There is  potential for much more research in the area of phytoremediation and invasive plant medicine.  I would wholeheartedly encourage this type of study.  Even if lab research is not being widely supported enough at this time however, we can make our own observations, collect our own empirical data, do our own research, and share our findings with others.  I believe that doing this grassroots level work will prove to be invaluable for many of us as we come to rely increasingly on the resources directly around us to support our needs for health, and otherwise.

I have been focusing on this area, and intend to continue doing so as I watch these “invaders” enter our landscape while we encounter perplexing new illnesses whose treatment approaches are still uncertain.

As we come to recognize that our innate intelligence is not separate from that of the earth, I believe we will ignite our potential to thrive in ways we may not yet have imagined.

Click to access a_citizens_guide_to_phytoremediation.pdf

Click to access allison03.pdf

Click to access 20133323601.pdf

Scott, Timothy Lee.  Invasive Plant Medicine. Rochester Vermont: Healing Arts Press, 2010

First Defence Tactics: 3 Ways to Fight Early Stages of Cold & Flu

In my previous post, I talked about ways to boost the immune system to prevent infection.   Since sometimes it gets its way in, even despite the best of our efforts, I’ve created this follow up post to talk about the three main things I like to do to fight a cold or flu in its very early stages, as soon as I feel that tickle in the throat…

That feeling in the throat comes from a conglomeration of bacteria and immune cells, creating inflammation and subsequent irritation on the membranes between your nose and chest (where the bacteria are generally looking to invade).  At this stage of infection, your immune cells are just beginning to respond to live invading bacteria.  Your body is very vulnerable at this stage, and your infection is very contagious to others.  However, if you can respond quickly enough, and with sufficient potency, you can stop the invasion here, before you experience any more symptoms.

The three things necessary to do this are: 

killing off the invading bacteria

clearing the debris out of the body

restoring and strengthening the immune system before and after the battle

One safe, easily accessible herb that addresses all three of these necessities is garlic.  I like to take garlic immediately when I feel a cold coming on.  A good way to take it is to chop it up or mince it, put it on a spoon and swallow it down in small amounts with water.  You don’t have to chew it, just swallow it like a pill.  This way you hardly taste it, and it hardly affects your breath but goes directly to your digestive tract where it can be absorbed into the bloodstream.  You want to take at least three tablespoons of minced garlic, or about 5 or 6 cloves minced.  You need the garlic to be fresh and raw in order to be most effective.  Garlic kills off bacteria and reduces inflammation while supporting immune cell production and action.  It is also cleansing to the body, helping to clear out wastes (from killed off bacteria and their waste products) so that there is less chance of infection taking hold.  One way that garlic helps to clear out wastes is via the sweat glands.  Garlic is known as a diaphoretic herb, meaning that it induces sweating. 


Sweating is a relatively quick and easy method of clearing out wastes when fighting infection.  It is another thing that I try to do when I feel like I’m getting sick.  Building up body heat through saunas, baths, perhaps exercising and/or wearing lots of warm clothing will help to induce a cleansing sweat.  We have other diaphoretic herbs in additions to garlic that can help to encourage sweating.  Some of my favourites are ginger, elder flowers and yarrow.   I like to make a tea with chopped up ginger, elder flowers and/or yarrow flowers and steep it with a lid on for at least 10 minutes.  I will often pour a hot bath while the tea steeps, and then strain the tea and drink it in the bath.  This raises the body temperature (which activates immune cells) and triggers sweating which helps to clear out bacteria and infective toxins through the pores of the skin.  I like to use fresh ginger generously for this, but if all I have is dried powdered ginger, I will put a pinch of that into my cup of tea.  Powdered ginger is stronger than fresh, so a little goes a long way.  Elder flowers grow wild in our area, and I harvest them from the elder trees (Sambucas spp.) in June.  I then dry them to be stored and used in tea throughout the year.  Yarrow (Achillea millefollium) also grows wild in our area, found in fields, lawns and trail sides.  I harvest the flowering heads in early July, dry them like the elder flowers and store them for future use as well. (Both elder and yarrow are tremendously healing plants with many uses–this is but one of them).

Elder flower Sambucas canadensis

Another quick and easy method of clearing out waste products from fighting infection is through the urinary tract.  The kidneys and bladder will quickly and easily clear out wastes as long as there is enough fluid in the body to create urine.  This means, we need to drink lots of water!  If the throat is irritated, you might find that drinking warm or hot water is nicer than cold water, and this is fine.  The yarrow and elderflower are also good diuretic herbs, so drinking tea with them will encourage urination.  However, in order to be sure you’re clearing out all the wastes you no longer need, you want to have lots of fluid moving through your system.  And the best, cleanest most beneficial fluid is water.  Nature’s gift to us.  So I make sure I am drinking way more than I normally would whenever I’m feeling the throat tickle.

Yarrow Achillea millefolium

The final necessary piece in all of this is to ensure that the body is supported with proper restoration while your immune system fights the good battle.  The most important thing to do is very little!  Resting and better yet, sleeping will allow all of your healthy cells to regenerate, healing the damage caused by the invading pathogens, so that any remaining infection is easily fought off, and any bacteria hanging around looking for an opportunity to invade will not find one in you!  Staying home, putting extra blankets on the bed, wearing extra warm pajamas and avoiding anything that demands a lot of energy (both physical and mental) will all help to prevent the onset of illness or at least encourage a quick recovery.  Drinking tea without caffeine, but with chamomile, lemon balm, hops, passion flower or other soothing, tranquilizing herbs can help you to have a long, much needed restorative sleep.

Of course there are many tips to fighting off a cold or flu, and I’ve only touched on a few here.  I’m sure you have some of your own.  If you feel like sharing any of them in the comments here, I’d love to hear about them.  I hope the general concepts and suggestions I am offering here are of some value to you, however.  And I wish you warmth and vibrant health this winter!