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The Herbal Pantry

I first became interested in herbs when I was pregnant with my third child. My first two pregnancies were highly medicalized affairs that left me feeling emotionally unsatisfied and disconnected from my own body.

When I discovered I was pregnant again, I resolved to do things differently. I hired a nurse-midwife for my care and began reading everything I could get my hands on about natural pregnancy care. This journey led me to Shelley Torgove, a certified herbalist and the owner of Artemisia & Rue in Denver. I began learning about the marvelous healing properties of herbs and experienced a joyful, healthy pregnancy and delivery.

My interest didn’t stop there, though. I wanted my children and husband to experience the gentle, natural healing effect of herbs. I talked with experts and read volumes of material. Today, I keep a variety of herbs on hand for all sorts of uses—from boosting everyday health to healing acute infections. Below are just a few of my favorites. These herbs have a long track record of safety and can be used by almost anyone.

Alfalfa. High in vitamin K, iron, and other nutrients, alfalfa is a great herb to add to nourishing tea blends to promote energy and overall health.

Chamomile. Known for its ability to relieve stress and anxiety, chamomile makes a fragrant, delicious tea. Give it to fretful children before bedtime or drink some yourself when you’re feeling upset. Add a few chamomile flowers to baby’s bath for a soothing, fragrant experience. Chamomile also treats indigestion and inflammation.

Dandelion. Like alfalfa, dandelion is a highly nourishing herb, known for its liver and kidney cleansing abilities. It has a slightly bitter taste and is best used in blended teas.

Echinacea. Echinacea is a beautiful perennial plant with its vivid flowers and large leaves. Dried, the plant is known for its ability to boost the immune system and ward off colds, flu, and infections.

Garlic. Garlic doesn’t just make spaghetti sauce taste yummy. It’s known for its antibiotic and antiviral properties. Mix a teaspoon of minced garlic with some honey and take it at the first sign of a cold or flu. For younger children, steep garlic in hot water for fifteen minutes. Drain and add lemon and honey to make a healing tea.

Ginger. Ginger is most often used by pregnant women to relieve nausea, but it also works well to relieve stomach cramps, motion sickness, and menstrual cramps. Add a bit of chopped fresh ginger to a salad or tea.

Mint. Mint gets a bad reputation in the garden because it tends to take up more than its fair share of space. It is an invasive plant, but grow it in pots or in its own area and you’ll love it. Mint calms an upset stomach and heals colds and the flu. Most importantly, it’s a great herb for disguising unpleasant-tasting herbs.

Nettle. As a child, I’d met nettle more than once and wasn’t fond of its ability to produce a nasty rash. Once it’s dried or cooked, though, it makes a powerfully rich food and medicine. Steam the leaves and eat them as you would other greens or dry them for teas. Nettle is very high in iron, calcium, and vitamin A to strengthen, heal and energize. Known for its ability to fight anemia, fatigue, menstrual problems, and hay fever, nettle can be found growing wild in most woodland areas.

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Raspberry Leaf. Raspberry leaf is most widely known as a women’s herb, used to strengthen the uterus during pregnancy. But it’s also a great addition to any nutritive tea formula for children and adults. Raspberry leaf is high in iron and calcium and has been shown to lower blood sugar levels. Combine it with alfalfa, dandelion, and chamomile for an everyday tea.

Skullcap. This easy-to-grow member of the mint family is a powerful nervine. Use it to treat anxiety, headaches, and stress. I took this along with a little motherwort during the early stages of labor and barely knew I was in labor.

Valerian. More than any other herb, valerian is known for its ability to calm nerves, relieve pain, and cure insomnia.

Buying and Storing Herbs

Most of the herbs you see marketed commercially have come from other parts of the world. They’re usually treated with several doses of insecticide and may have been exposed to moisture or high temperatures—not exactly the ideal environment. Buy herbs from a natural food store or a certified herbalist and look for labels that say “organic” or “wildcrafted.” They should smell potent and still have a lot of their original color. Don’t buy those that are dull in color or have little aroma. Not all herbs smell good—in fact, some can smell downright disgusting! But they should still smell like herbs.

Better yet, grow herbs in your own garden. Most herbs are very easy to grow, even in poor soil, and are fragrant and attractive. Some have insect-repellent properties or are deer resistant.

I either grow my own or buy them loose at a local natural food store. Store your herbs in a cool, dry, dark pantry in air tight containers. Glass mason jars are an excellent choice.

Using Herbs

When you first start using herbs, stick with gentle ones known for their safety. Use them in teas for overall health, rather than for emergencies and illness. To make a tea, combine loose herbs (see recipe below) and put them in a cheesecloth bag or tea ball. Steep them in boiling water for six to eight minutes. Add lemon, honey, or milk as you prefer. I like to blend my own teas by combining raspberry leaf, chamomile, dandelion, and alfalfa leaves together.

As you gain knowledge, experiment with more powerful herbs, but always under the direction of a naturopath or certified herbalist. Herbs are plants, but they contain powerful pharmacological compounds and should be treated with respect. Some of them can interact with medications, so always check with your health care provider before mixing herbs and pharmaceuticals.

Nutritive Tea

  • 1 part alfalfa leaf
  • 1 part dandelion leaf
  • 1 part raspberry leaf
  • 1 part lemon balm
  • 1 part nettle

Combine the ingredients in a large bowl and store in a cool, dry location. To make one quart of tea, add ¼ cup of the mixture to one quart of boiling water and steep.

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