6 Herbs for Immune Support

immune systemStaying Healthy

As we head into winter, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to keep my family healthy and free from colds and the flu this year. We got one brief cold already, but fortunately between taking homeopathic remedies and herbs it was out of the house within a few days! This cold caught me a bit off guard, but I want to be ready for any sickness we might come across the rest of the year. Thus I’ve been researching herbs and natural remedies to keep you healthy in the cold & flu season and help you heal quickly when you do get sick.

 

What follows is a brief explanation of what your immune system is and a list of six readily available herbs that can boost your immune system and help during a cold. There are dozens of herbs with anti-viral and anti-bacterial qualities and many different natural remedies for fighting colds such as apple cider vinegar that I specifically chose not to address here. I purposely chose to research herbs that are readily available, can be combined with each other, and cover the full spectrum of an illness from strengthening your immune system before (Astragalus) to the sore throat (Licorice) to killing off the cold bugs in your body. (Yarrow) I would rather know a few herbs well than have an overwhelming list of herbs that I do not know how to use, might use wrong, or do not even have in stock. That said, as the winter progresses, I will definitely be doing more research and will be writing additional posts with more info on fighting colds.

What is your immune system?

“The immune system is the body’s natural defense system that helps fight infections.” (WebMD) It is composed of white blood cells, antibodies, and other cells that destroy bacteria and viruses that they identify as being different from normal, healthy tissues. Your immune system includes your tonsils, thymus, lymphatic system, bone marrow, spleen, and white blood cells.

The Lymphatic System

Your Lymphatic system is composed of lymph nodes/ vessels all through your body that transport and filter lymph fluid. The lymph nodes trap bacteria, viruses, etc. then white blood cells called lymphocytes destroy them. “When the body is fighting infection, lymph nodes can become enlarged and feel sore.” (Livescience.com.)

Bone Marrow

Your bone marrow is spongy tissue found primarily inside the bones of your arms, legs, pelvis, and spine. Bone marrow is made of red and yellow marrow, which makes red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets.

White Blood Cells

The white blood cells created by the bone marrow are very important because they protect the body from infection by destroying the bacteria or viruses that cause it. Lymphocytes are little white blood cells that are divided into two categories; B-cells and T-cells. Your B-cells make the antibodies that attack the bacteria and toxins in your body and the T-cells are white blood cells that work together to actively destroy infected cells.

The Spleen

Your spleen, the largest organ in your body, is also part of your immune system. It is located on your left between your ribs above it and your stomach right below it. This organ filters the blood to remove blood cells and platelets that are getting old or are damaged. (National Institute of Health) It also destroys foreign substances including bacteria.

Tonsils & Thymus

Your tonsils and thymus help your body by making antibodies against bacteria and viruses. The Thymus is a little organ shaped like a thyme leaf (Live Science) beneath your breastbone. It is here where T-cells mature.

Which herbs should you consider when trying to strengthen your immune system or help it fight off a sickness? Here are six common herbs in alphabetical order

6 Herbs for Immune Health

Astragulus: This root has been used for over 2,000 years in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Studies have shown that Astragalus boosts your immune system by triggering the creation of new cells in your bone marrow and Lymphatic tissue, increases the activity of immune cells, and protects cells against free radical damage. (Mother Earth Living) Take before a cold hits to build your immune system up, but stop if you end up with a cold so you don’t trap it in your body.

Echinacea seems to stimulate the immune system and helps to increase the body’s production of white blood cells. JJ Pursell of The Herbal Apothecary suggests taking it for the first day or two of coming down with a sickness then switching to something that treats your symptoms more directly. Mother Earth Living suggests taking, ” 30 to 60 drops of liquid extract or 1-2 capsules of 300-400mg each every two hours for the first 24-48 hours, followed by the same dosage four times a day for three days after symptoms disappear.” Check out my post on Echinacea for more info

Elderberry contains Vitamin A, Vitamin C, as well as flavenoids and anthocyanins which all boost your immune system. The berries also contain antiviral properties. (HCH) Elderberry products are often used to treat cold, flu, and upper respiratory infections. Quick warning; there are a few different kinds of Elderberry. Don’t use the red elder as it is mildly toxic and don’t eat the berries of the blue elder raw in large amounts as they can cause gastrointestinal distress. Check out my post here for the Elderberry Syrup recipe that I use and love!

Licorice is an excellent antiviral. Herbs for Children’s Health encourages using it for soothing and healing sore throats, respiratory infections, viral infections, and gastrointestinal inflammation as it also has some valuable anti-inflammatory properties and is mucilaginous. It is deliciously sweet and can be added to other herbs to make them more tolerable. Keep in mind that anyone with hypertension, kidney or bladder problems, anyone using steroids, or anyone taking medicine for a heart issue should not use Licorice. Always use your own discretion & do your own research too!

 Reishi Mushroom is appropriapte when your immune system is low and it seems you catch every cold that comes by. It strengthens your parasympathetic nervous system and the adrenal system. You can use Reishi as either a decoction or a tincture. Simmer a piece about 2″ long for 15 minutes & drink about 1-3 cups per day. Use as a tincture, taking 1-3 droppers 1-3 times per day according to The Herbal Apothecary.

Yarrow was tested against 5 different bacteria and 2 fungi including Staph, E coli, Salmonella, and candida and found to be a successful broad spectrum antimicrobial. It can raise the body temperature & induce sweating, which can help clear out an illness. To use Yarrow as an infusion, steep 2 tsp per cup for 10 minutes and drink 1-3 cups per day. To use as a tincture take 1-2 droppers 3-4 times per day.

I want to leave you with an immune building tincture from The Herbal Apothecary that you may want to start making now to be ready for cold & flu season. Check out my post on tinctures for more information . . .

Immune building tincture; Combine these tinctures together in the amounts indicated; take 1 dropper 1-3x per day.

2 oz elderberry

3/4 oz rosehips

1/2 oz astragalus root

1/4 oz ashwagandha root

1/4 oz licorice root.

Click the link below to share on Pinterest!

immune system

 

3 Ways to Dry Herbs

“The purpose of drying is to take out enough water from the material so that spoilage organisms are not able to grow and multiply during storage.” (Putting Food By)dryingherbs
Technically the USDA defines dehydrated food as having only 2.5 to 4 percent water left; this is unattainable with home drying. Dried foods are defined as having about 10 to 20 percent water left in them, which is very achievable with methods available at home. This does not apply to dehydrating/drying herbs as much, but I want to explain why I am talking about drying herbs versus dehydrating them.

As a note, when I refer to herbs in the rest of this post, I am talking about the leaves, whole flowers, or petals used for cooking or medicinals. Roots can also be dried, and I have a short bit of information on that by the information below on using the oven to dry herbs.

What does drying food require? Two things . . .

First, drying food requires heat strong enough to remove the water from the herbs, but not too strong that you end up cooking what you are trying to dry. It is the same principle as raising bread; don’t get impatient, set it to rise in too high of a temperature, and end up cooking the top layer of dough.

Drying herbs also requires enough dry, moving air to carry away moisture from the drying herbs. Attempting to dry herbs outside in very humid climates may not work very well even if it is hot.

Basic Steps to Drying Herbs

Regardless of how you dehydrate your herbs, the first few steps and the general principles are the same.

Harvesting Herbs

First you need to harvest your herbs by either trimming the whole sprig or just the top 5-6 inches of growth. Different herbs may benefit from different types of pruning, so be sure to learn about the specific herbs you are growing. The herb profiles here on the blog are a great way to do that!

Harvesting should be done at the herb’s peak, most likely in midsummer before they start to flower. (unless of course you are growing the herb for the flowers.) The ideal time of day to harvest is after the dew has dried, but before the heat of the day has caused the plant to lose any essential oils.

Cleaning Herbs

Pick over them to make sure you are not inadvertently bringing any bugs with you. Yesterday I found a butterfly chrysalis on my lavender plant that I was harvesting from; glad I didn’t dry that! Rinse your herbs in clean water, and pat dry.

Drying Herbs

Next, choose one of the methods below to dry your herbs. Each has their pros and cons, and you will probably end up finding a favorite. Personally I like using a dehydrator because it goes faster thus is easier because I have to think about it for a shorter period of time.

Different methods will take different amounts of time to dry your herbs. Thicker, larger leaves will also take more time than thinner, smaller ones. Keep an eye on your herbs as they dry to get an idea of how long your preferred method takes. You know your herbs are dry when they crumble easily and you can rub them together to crush them.

This applies more to food than to herbs, but the products you’re drying need to be protected from insects at all times. Nylon mosquito netting or a currently unused window screen can be laid on top of your drying herbs for this purpose. If you are drying them outside don’t forget to protect them from dew at night by either bringing the herbs inside, or covering them with a large box, etc.

Storing Dried Herbs

How do you store your dried herbs? Once you strip the leaves off the stems, they should be stored in an airtight container away from light. A pantry or cupboard is ideal for this, though a damp basement or root cellar is obviously not a wise place to store dry herbs because it is too wet. I wash and reuse glass jars that I can’t use for canning such as salsa jars or tomato sauce jars. If I have extra mason jars sitting around I use those, but save a lid by recycling one from a jar of canned goods that has already been used up. (Draw an X on the lid so you remember not to try to use it again for canning.) Also, remember to label your herbs with the name of the plant and when you harvested it. You may think you will be able to tell your herbs apart by appearance and smell, but I know from experience that you will not always remember what is what. Even if you are 90% certain that you are using the right herb, labeling them and being 100% confident provides valuable peace of mind!

Different Ways to Dry Herbs

So what are your options for drying your herbs?

Air Drying Herbs

The first, cheapest, and probably most straightforward way is to air dry your herbs. Herbs are particularly suited to air drying because they do not need to be dried at high temperatures.

A great way to air dry your herbs is to place a large brown paper bag like you would get from the grocery store over your bunch of herbs (10 to 15 long sprigs of herbs per bundles) and tie the opening of the bag around the stems. Hang up the whole contraption in a dry room with good airflow (not somewhere humid like the basement, laundry room, bathroom, etc.) When the leaves/flowers are dry, you can simply shake them off into the bag.

You can also air dry herbs by spreading them out on a screen, such as a window screen, and setting them up on something like chunks of firewood, cinderblocks, sawhorses etc. to allow air to circulate all around them.

Using an Electric Dehydrator

Your next option for drying your herbs is to use a dehydrator. Using an Electric dehydrator for drying herbs is not necessary because they dry so well at room temperature, but if you want to dry them more quickly, it will work very well. There are two types of electric dehydrators, a vertical flow dehydrator or a horizontal flow dehydrator. A vertical flow dehydrator houses the heating element at the bottom of the unit and blows the warm air up. This will work but is not ideal because the trays will not heat evenly, flavors will mix, and things can fall into the heating element. A horizontal airflow dehydrator houses the heating element at the back of the dehydrator, which allows the hot air to blow evenly over all the trays at once. Most dehydrators have an herbs setting, which is their lowest heat setting. I use my Excalibur Dehydrator to dry herbs almost overnight with excellent results. My only tip would be to make sure not to cram the dehydrator too full. Remove some trays and leave enough space between the herbs and the tray above them that they don’t touch.

Using an Oven

You can also use an oven, which can be used like a dehydrator with a bit of creativity. Using the bake setting on an electric oven (as opposed to broil) or just the bottom heating element on a gas oven, preheat the oven to 140 F/60 C, then turn it off to let it drop to around 100 F/38 C. Check the temperature with an oven thermometer. Herbs need a lower drying temperature than most foods do. Once the oven is warmed up, load it with your herbs. Putting Food By suggests using cake racks set on cookie sheets as an alternative to trays built for drying food, which I think is brilliant. This allows air to circulate and won’t accidently melt anything (Though your oven should not be that hot anyway- just a disclaimer!) Leave the oven door open a crack to improve air circulation or prop it open with a rolled up hot pad. Keep a close eye on your herbs as they dry- remember you want them to be crumbly, not charred!

A Note on Dehydrating Roots

The Reader’s Digest Back to Basics book has some notes on drying herb roots. This is not something I have tried yet, but it’s always good to be collecting knowledge! It says to dig the roots up in early spring or fall. After they are thoroughly washed, slice them thinly and set them out to air dry partially. They suggest finishing the drying process in a oven on low heat because air drying completely can apparently take up to two years! Roots are completely dry when you can snap them and they feel brittle.

Summing it Up . . .

So there you have it, the basics of drying, how to tell when your herbs are dry, different ways to dry them, and how to store them. Drying herbs is a great step towards further self sufficiency. The feeling of knowing what herb you need to treat a problem and reaching for a jar of herbs you grew and dried yourself to make the remedy is amazing! I want to strongly encourage you to start experimenting with saving your herbs for when your family needs them this winter. And remember, always keep learning!

Planter Ideas for Indoor Gardening

growing herbs2

There’s a hint of cool in the air, it is officially after Labor day, the kids are back at school, and pumpkin flavored everything is making an appearance. Sounds enough like fall to be thinking about bringing the outside herbs in!

I began looking on Pinterest to get some ideas for my indoor herb garden and was quickly overwhelmed by just how many different posts there are, and just how many of them are SUPER similar to each other.

So, wanting to streamline things, I decided to narrow them down into categories, post a picture of each category, and share some thoughts on each one to help you decide how  you want your garden to grow.

First I want to talk about some of the issues you’ll have to contend with: The two biggies are light and watering. Obviously, it is super important that your herbs get enough light. .Window sills, the sides of cabinets next to windows, stand alone shelves in front of windows or the unused side of sliding glass doors, sunny table tops or desks, etc. They don’t all have to be in the kitchen either. I have plants tucked in my laundry room, bathroom, the window sills behind my couch, and on the dining table. The only thing to consider is that they need to be accessible or you will forget to use them and forget to water them.

Which leads me to my second point; indoor plants are completely dependent on you for water. You can’t forget about them and hope it rains enough to keep them happy like in an outdoor garden. I am absolutely terrible at remembering to water my houseplants and am working on developing some ideas for remembering. That will be a post in itself once I prove to myself I can actually keep them alive. Like I said already, make sure that your plants are accessible; a plant on top of your kitchen cabinet is likely NOT going to get watered as much as a plant sitting on your sink windowsill.

On the flip side of NOT watering your plants is OVERWATERING your plants. With a toddler who really likes to “help mama” I can see this becoming more of an issue. A damp plant will become moldy or get root rot, so let your pots dry out between watering.

Consider drainage too. Some planters like mason jars or tea cups won’t have drainage holes and will need to be watered less. Keep trays under your plants with drainage holes so you don’t damage your window sills or set them in the sink to water them and let them drain for a bit before putting them back.

With these general guidelines in mind, here are a few broad ideas for growing an indoor herb garden.

Shoe Holder Gardens:

indoor1

I don’t know how I never thought of this before, but it is brilliant! You could stash it behind a door that gets a good bit of light, or mount it directly on the wall. You would just have to be sure to mount it securely because that much dirt could get very heavy when wet. Which leads me to my next concern. Some shoe hangers are made from breathable fabric, and that could very likely start dripping on the floor when wet, stay damp and damage the door/drywall, or cause mold to grow. If I did this, I would definitely stick with vinyl and potentially cycle my watering schedule to only water 1 or 2 rows at a time. Just a thought.

Cup Gardens

indoor2

A Cultivated Nest

How cute are these! I don’t drink coffee, but I have some super cute giant sunflower coffee cups that I would love to display in my kitchen and I think this would be the perfect reason to do so. Only downside is that my husband DOES drink coffee and might not appreciate me filling all the good-sized cups with dirt & plants. This would also be a good use for cups that you love but have a crack in them.

Upcycled Cans as Planters

indoor3

listotic

Any sort of cans headed to the recycling bin can be washed out and used as is or spray painted your favorite color. I especially love the idea of copper spray paint to make plain silver cans look a bit more expensive. Adding labels to them is a great touch too because I tend to forget what I have planted in each pot. Another benefit is that unlike other planters such as tea cups or mason jars you could easily drill a few holes in your recycled cans for drainage.  I love the look of matching tin cans lined up along a window sill, but if you are limited on window space, you could also mount them on a board by screwing them on from the backside of the board then mount the board on the wall.

Hanging Bucket Garden:

indoor4

HGTV

This looks a good bit more time intensive than simply washing out a can or filling a cup with dirt, but I love the effect! This would be great to add to a window that didn’t have the best view (as long as you don’t open the window very often) It would be fun to put hanging plants in a high row and let them cascade down the window. Another benefit for home herbalists with kids is that could mount them out of reach of tiny fingers and there is no way they would get knocked over during any rough housing. I’m actually talking myself into this as I type!

Tiered Organizers:

indoor5

There are so many beautiful tiered organizers available that could be used to display your herbs. It would save space on your counter, catch water that drips out when you water your plants, and be moveable. It could also double as a centerpiece on an island or table, yet be easy to move out of the way when you need the additional space.

Mason Jar Planters:

indoor6

Domestically Speaking

We can’t forget the quintessential mason jar! Whether you want to mount them on a cabinet like this photo suggests or spray paint the inside and line them up on your window sill, I love the country touch a mason jar adds (even if it is a bit stereotypical).

So there you have it . . . six broad categories of indoor planters to spark your imagination and help you get your creative juices flowing as you bring your herbs inside. Have another idea that I didn’t cover? I would love to see your ideas & photos of your indoor gardens in the comments!

 

 

 

 

Get Your Herbs Ready for Fall!

summerslump

Hot. Humid. Buggy.

Summer plants are withering.

My fall garden NOT GROWING as fast as I think it should.

It still feels like summer so I still feel like retrying to plant some of the things that were not successful this year like cucumbers, but it is too late.

It’s the August slump. It feels like it happens every year. Either I am frustrated because things didn’t grow as well as I had hoped (yep), overwhelmed with one thing that took over the garden,(it’s weeds this year) or ready to get planting and try again, but I have to wait for next spring for some things.

Maybe you’re feeling this way too. If so, keep reading and check out a few idea for fun things to do as we approach fall. Here’s a quick overview of what I’ll be sharing in the coming weeks to get you through the late summer slump.

Bring the outside in!

                My husband thinks I’m crazy for my houseplant collection, but hey, he has taxidermy deer and little woodland animals all around the house so he can’t complain about bringing the outside in!

My biggest suggestion is to start an inside herb garden! I am sooooo excited about trying this and will be posting about some of my favorite pinterest suggestions along with some practical ideas for making your inside garden a success.

– Take cuttings and restart them in pots. I’ll be writing soon on how I learned to do this and the best plants to transplant from cuttings so you can try it yourself.

– Dig up plants that will not overwinter in your area and repot them. Some plants will go dormant in the winter and spring back to life in the spring, while others will not be coming back after the cold months. Learn which plants to baby and which plants will tough it outside in my upcoming post.

Start some exotics inside

– Like I said (my Grandpa used to say that lol) this is a great time of year to turn some more attention to your indoor plants. I bought a turmeric root and an ginger root to plant as houseplants back in the spring and they are doing great! It’s always fun to have something fresh and green to take care of in the house.

Harvest & Dry what you do have

– trim plants & dry the cuttings inside or outside. I will be posting on how I harvested from my    herb plants including lavender, rosemary, sage, mint, chives, and more!

– Make some quick-grab infusions so you are ready to use your herbs on a moment’s notice. I’ll be sharing how I make extra strong infusions and freeze them in ice cube trays so they don’t go to waste and always have them available.

Start some seeds!

I’m so doing this with my cilantro. I have a cilantro plant outside, but I want some inside in the kitchen window so I can snip some off whenever I need them. I’ve been reading about how to start herb seeds inside and instead of encouraging them to grow into a giant plant, just maintaining them by keeping them trimmed.

Learn how to USE what you have

Here’s a shocking idea; learn to use what you have in a way that your family will enjoy. For example, my mint is growing great. I was crazy enough to plant it directly in my garden & it may as well be a weed now. Only problem is that we don’t really like mint tea so much, so I really do not have anything to use up all my mint for. Same goes for my pineapple sage plant. It’s big and beautiful, but I need to figure out how to cook with it. I am looking forward to using these hot sticky end-of-summer days to do some research and experiment with the plants that I have already.

So there you have it; some of the things I am super excited to be sharing with you all in the coming weeks as we enjoy the harvest we have been blessed with and get ready for fall. I KNOW there are plenty more great ideas to keep learning and growing as the garden season wraps up (reading my blog is one of them!) Leave a comment with your ideas to prepare for fall; I’d love to hear them!