Favorite Herb This Week: Ginger

Ginger is the herb I’d like to highlight this week, as I have started working with it more frequently since growing my own last season. Zingiber officinale is the official Latin name, and the plant is native to somewhere in Southeast Asia. You CAN, however, grow it here in Connecticut if you play your cards right. The video below demonstrates how I am currently hoping and praying that my 2022 ginger crop will survive until I can plant it outdoors in May.

Ginger is a warming, drying herb that I work with both fresh and dry. If you can find it grown organically, you don’t have to worry so much about peeling the skin off, but if all you can buy is a big chunk from the local Asian Market you had better scrape the skin off (it actually is easiest to do with a spoon) before you chop the root up into “fingers.”

Ginger is great for helping relieve an upset stomach. I’ve used ginger both fresh and candied for this purpose for my kids for years. Another way I like to work with ginger both for tummy troubles and general winter blah’s is as a tea: A few chunks of fresh ginger, two slices of fresh lemon, and a cinnamon stick bashed up in the mortar and pestle. Put those three things into a mug and pour boiling water over the top. Add honey to taste (or to help a sore throat) if you want, but I think it tastes pretty good on it’s own too.

Another new way I’m working with ginger now is as an infused oil. The warming, rubefacient properties of the herb help increase circulation in the capillaries. I’m currently infusing some ginger in oil to be combined with my infused cayenne oil. Once completed, I will give this blend to a client to help treat peripheral artery disease that is creating a lack of blood flow to their extremities.

Ginger is also excellent when infused fresh into honey; honestly this makes super awesome-tasting honey to add to any tea! However, I do also dry ginger chunks to be blended into teas, such as my Gut Heal Tea and my personal blend of Chai tea (Available in my Apothecary Shop.)

I like to just give you an idea of how I personally work with an herb in these blog posts, as I have books and web resources and personal experience to draw on. But Henriette’s Herbal has a good Monograph you can check out, and so does This Website I found, if you only want to look online.

If you are interested in learning more about Folk Herbalism, check out my new Folk Herbalism School going on this year!

Fighting Cancer Naturally

As far as I can tell, I don’t have any more cancer. Yet.

I felt a lump on my neck a few months ago and decided to have it checked out at the doctor. They ended up doing an ultrasound of my thyroid gland, which led to a biopsy, which eventually led to a very concerning discussion with a surgeon and an endocrinologist about the 50/50 chance of the lump they found being cancerous.

A month and a surgery later, I am without half of my thyroid gland. And yes, the lump was cancer.

The GOOD news was that for whatever reason (I’m honestly thinking divine intervention at this point,) I found the lump really early and there was no sign of cancer anywhere around or near it. Even the surgeon was baffled by that; he said the lump itself had managed to attach itself to the muscle in my neck (which explains why I thought I felt it up much higher than it actually was) and yet NOT spread to the muscle tissue, lymph nodes, or other surrounding thyroid tissue. In other words, just the lump itself was cancer.

Check out my sexy scar

I’m taking this as a sign to take even better care of myself than I normally do, which as you know is pretty darn good. Because I still have half a thyroid gland that also has two teenie weenie lumps that the doctors are “keeping an eye on,” I have to be on a certain medication to make sure that half of my thyroid doesn’t grow larger (to compensate for the missing half) and thus cause the little lumps to grow into cancer. The main side effect of this medication is bone loss. Fun, right?

Anyway, I’m telling you all this to segue into the reasons why I have currently decided to watch and monitor the rest of my thyroid and surrounding areas, rather than freak out and have everything removed. I have explained before how important the lymphatic system is for the human body to function, so I am exceedingly reluctant to lose any portion of that. And I certainly don’t want to be without any thyroid gland. Losing that completely would ensure I had to remain on some form of medication for the rest of my life. So what am I going to do instead?

For now, I am on a small dose of animal-based TSH that I have to figure out the correct dosage of over the next few months, via blood tests and feeling in my body. I’ll either feel low down like crap or super hyper and energetic… but what I want to feel is right in between. I need to get another ultrasound on my glandular area in 6 months and again in a year to see whether any cancer is growing back.

My end goal, if possible, is to shrink or completely eliminate the remaining tiny threatening lumps on my existing thyroid half. Can it be done? I think so. Let me tell you my plans:

Ever since Covid started, I have been taking mushroom supplements to assist my body in achieving optimal immune function. I started really getting into mushroom hunting in 2020 in addition to my regular foraging, so I have been able to find and properly identify quite a few medicinal mushrooms. Reishi (ganoderma tsugae,) Turkey Tail (trametes versicolor,) birch polypore (fomitopsis betulina,) Hen-of-the-woods (maitake,) and Chaga mushroom tinctures have been going for months at my house. I recently got a Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus) mushroom growing kit for the holidays as well, and just harvested my first chunks of that to tincture.

All of my tinctures are made with 100 proof vodka and sit for a minimum of 6-8 weeks. Then I strain them and re-use the mushroom chunks in twice that amount of water, simmering them slowly for 2 – 3 hours. Then I strain that material again and combine the two liquids to form a double-decocted mushroom tincture. While the alcohol extracts most of the vital constituents from the mushroom, the water decoction extracts the polyphenols, vital nutrients mainly found only in plant materials. This technique ensures you get the most out of your foraged mushrooms, and creates a tincture that can last for many years if unused.

This past year I made all those mushrooms into medicinal tinctures myself, mainly from wild foraged sources. Turkey Tail and Maitake are of particular interest to me, given their being known for their anti-cancer benefits. At any rate, I now have a big 4-ounce sized tincture bottle filled with a combination of these tinctures. I take several dropperfuls daily in addition to my other supporting supplements.

Another measure I have taken is (of course) with my diet. The first step to helping fight cancer is to seriously reduce my sugar intake, especially processed sugars. I’m already a pretty big proponent of not eating highly processed foods, and I hardly ever drink soda or eat candy. I have also severely reduced my alcohol intake, which is making me feel better for a lot of reasons. But alcohol has always been bad for those fighting cancer, since it breaks down in your body into acetaldehyde, which prevents your body from repairing damage.

So I have to watch what I eat even more closely (no cake or cookies unless I bake with monkfruit or some other alternative sweetener.) And I get to eat more cheese and dark leafy greens like collards and kale, because the bone loss side effect from my meds requires me to increase my food-based calcium intake as much as possible. You won’t hear me complaining about “having” to eat more cheese…

I also am utilizing a special meditation technique taught to me by my very good friend Bryan Redfield, which basically help me visualize a special cancer-killing light shining directly on the part of my neck where the thyroid and surrounding tissue reside. Bryan has helped me deal with and think through a ton of emotional baggage surrounding this whole ordeal, and I am very grateful for his knowledge and support.

So far, those are my main steps for fighting this potential cancer. I’m also exercising and trying to maintain optimal physical health (fairly easy during farming season, but harder in the winter months as you know.) I’d love to hear from you (comment on this post) if you know of a certain food, drink, or herb that fights cancer as well. I’m determined to beat this thing out of existence! So I’ll take all the help I can get.

Herbal Smoke and Smudging

Cleansing your body and your space with herbal smoke has been practiced by many cultures all over the globe for centuries. There is quite a lot of controversy over the word “Smudging,” as it originates from the Native Indian tribes of the Southwestern United States, where white sage (salvia apiana) grows wild.

I personally use the word “smudging” more often than not because at this point in time it is the most recognizable term for the practice of lighting a bundle of dried herbs and wafting the smoke in a specific direction with a specific intent. This YouTube Channel gives a very succinct and accurate demonstration on the process. I personally grow my own white sage in pots that I move indoors over winter. I think a lot of the argument for cultural appropriation stems from the fact that there are a dangerous number of people going onto land they don’t have permission to be on and foraging for (stealing) wild white sage, to the point that the plant is now endangered in the wild.

Many European cultures have been practicing cleansing rituals similar to smudging for centuries. Working with herbs found in your native region, whether they are native plants or (like mugwort) invasive plants is one of the best and most sustainable ways you can create smoke sticks.

A few bundles I made before hanging them to dry

Take a walk around your yard or woods and see what grows naturally there. Be sure you aren’t touching poison ivy or something toxic, but if you see a plant that you don’t recognize, it is usually safe to rub a leaf or flower between your fingers and then smell your fingers. Does it smell pungent? Sweet? If there is a definite and pleasant aromatic scent on your fingertips, check a field guide (or the internet) to see if you can identify the plant. You are looking for a plant with a pleasing scent and high volatile oil content. Once you are certain you’re not picking something that could hurt you, ask the plant if you can harvest a little from it. Only take a little and always say thank you, preferably with a personal offering such as tobacco, hair from your head, or some water from your water bottle.

Remember that garden sage (salvia officinalis) works just as well for smudging as white sage; there is no reason to go to the hippie shop and drop a ton of money on a bundle that probably isn’t ethically harvested. It is safe and possible to grow your own white sage instead.

Me tying the knot at the end of a bundle during my Smoke Stick making class

Once your bundle has hung to dry somewhere out of direct sunlight for several weeks, you can tighten the strings and then light the end. Get it smouldering and walk around the house or cleanse your body with the smoke. I will likely teach more classes on this soon!

For more reading about herbal smoke versus smudging, see the articles below:

The Ancient Art of Smoke Cleansing

Smudging vs. Smoke Cleansing

Smoke Cleansing as an Alternative to Smudging

Maintaining a Healthy Urinary Tract

This is one of the articles I wrote during my Herbalist Certification course. It’s chock full of good information about urinary tract health, so if you have bladder issues, pay attention! References are cited at the bottom of the page.

(This is the image that came up when I googled “pee”)

Just like the book with the title referring to the opposite end of the digestive system, Everybody Pees.  There are many ways to maintain a healthy Urinary Tract system, but the fact remains that we all must do so or suffer detrimental health consequences.

The simplest method to making sure you don’t end up with urinary problems is to remain hydrated.  While problems can still arise due to other circumstances that your body may be subjected to, the simple act of drinking enough water is your biggest and best shield for protecting your kidneys and bladder.  Your urine should be almost clear, to very light yellow if you are drinking enough.  Generally speaking, if you “feel thirsty,” your body has already begun to dehydrate and you definitely need to drink.  On this same note, making sure you eliminate often enough is crucial.  It doesn’t matter how much your boss wants you to take care of a customer if your bladder is so full it might explode.  Take regular bathroom breaks and ignore your co-workers or friends if they make fun of you for going “too often.” Regular water intake and elimination is crucial for kidney function, and functioning kidneys are a necessity for life.

Some supplements that can be helpful in maintaining your urinary tract include cranberry juice (or a supplement pill,) blueberries, and probiotics such as yogurt or kombucha.  The berries contain high amounts of Vitamin C and help prevent bacteria from attaching to the uterine lining[1] (in women.) Wearing breathable cotton underwear and maintaining a clean genital area (without the use of highly-perfumed soaps or douches) will also help prevent any infections from taking hold. Men can avoid the risk of contracting a urinary tract infection by drinking plenty of water, eliminating often, and maintaining clean genitalia. For both genders, urinating and washing up after sexual intercourse is also a crucial key to preventing bacteria climbing up the urethra.

If, despite your best efforts, you do end up with a burning, itchy, painful sensation whenever you urinate, you probably have a Urinary Tract Infection. It is actually quite possible to treat a UTI without antibiotics, though if you attempt these methods without success it is best to see your doctor anyway.  Reduce or eliminate your intake of sugary, highly-processed foods, start taking a supplement of cranberry or acidophilus (probiotics are widely available in pill form,) or you can drink low-sugar cranberry juice and eat low-sugar yogurt.  Balancing the bacteria in your gut with the help of kombucha, water kefir, sauerkraut, or other fermented foods will absolutely help to bring balance to your other bodily systems via their antifungal and antiviral properties. [2]

As an adult with a UTI, you can avoid citrus fruits and make sure you drink lots of water, but you also have several herbal remedy options for treatment.  Provided you aren’t pregnant, breastfeeding, or have known kidney problems, horsetail can be a helpful supplement. A capsule of horsetail extract two or three times daily may be helpful for alleviating some of the symptoms of bladder and urinary tract infections, incontinence, and even bed wetting because it can relieve the urge to urinate. [3]  Parsley made into a tea/infusion may also help, as it is a diuretic and will increase the flow of good urine through the urethra, helping clean out the bad bacteria. Uva ursi is another herb that can help treat urinary tract infections if used on a short-term basis. And I have personally had success working with a tincture of corn silk when a burning sensation has come along.

Drink lots of water daily! It’s okay to pee!

Preventing kidney stones is another common Urinary Tract concern, but it is usually possible to prevent these with many of the same methods as preventing a UTI.  Drink plenty of water, exercise regularly, avoid highly-processed foods and sugars, and eat fresh, whole foods whenever possible.  If you have a history of kidney stones, you may also want to avoid eating too much sodium and try to get your calcium needs from foods rather than supplements. Beets, chocolate, spinach, rhubarb, tea, and most nuts are rich in oxalate, and colas are rich in phosphate, both of which can contribute to kidney stones. If you suffer from stones, your doctor may advise you to avoid these foods or to consume them in smaller amounts.[4]  It is also important to get most of your Vitamin D from sunlight exposure, rather than supplements.  The most natural method of acquiring your vitamins and minerals is always best.

With a good dose of sunshine and vegetables, regular exercise, and plenty of water, you too can maintain your body’s urinary system, avoid the unpleasant problems, and have happy pee.


[1] https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/stay-a-step-ahead-of-urinary-tract-infections

[2] https://www.culturedfoodlife.com/utis-yeast-infections-and-cultured-foods/

[3] https://wellnessmama.com/8592/horsetail-herb-profile/comment-page-5/

[4] https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/5-steps-for-preventing-kidney-stones-201310046721

Cleavers is Galium, but not all Galium is Cleavers

That title statement may not mean much to you unless you’re into herbs or foraging, but Cleavers are a common herbal remedy in much of North America and the UK. For the past two years, I have been operating under the exciting assumption that cleavers had graced me with their presence in my back yard and gardens. I encouraged its growth in my gardens and made a deal with the plant that I wouldn’t weed it out as long as it let me pick some to work with it as medicine and food. I was so excited to know that such a great medicinal plant had decided to call my place home!

I was wrong.

THIS is actual “Cleavers,” Galium Aparine

After crying internally and smacking myself repeatedly for my mistake, I am now in a forgiving mood. You see, there are over 600 species of Galium in the world, at least 60 of which are native or naturalized in the United States. I was positive what is in my yard was a galium, and after a little sleuthing and help from some people in a Facebook plant identification group, I have concluded that what I have in my yard is Galium Mollugo, a naturalized but not native variety that likely traveled over from Europe with other immigrants such as Dandelion and Plantain.

Galium Mollugo I have been seeing
This is the galium I’ve seen at my farm. Note the NON-Hairy stem

Galium Mollugo, a.k.a. “Hedge bedstraw,” is what has popped up all over my yard and farm. It’s so named because it smells really nice when dried, so was added to the old style beds that were basically mattresses stuffed with straw. Much nicer to sleep on something that smells more pleasant than the cow barn! It is an edible weed that I frequently add to stir-fry’s and omelets, and makes a lovely tea when used fresh. I usually tincture it fresh as well, for use as a lymphatic cleansing agent and nervine.

Fortunately for me, it seems that most galium species can be used interchangeably in a medicinal fashion. The only one to be slightly wary of is Sweet Woodruff, but I also have that planted in the yard on purpose because of its wonderful scent, so I’m much more positive about that identification. Sweet Woodruff is not meant to be ingested in large amounts due to the compound that makes it smell so nice, Coumarin. You can still use it in a tea or whatever, just not frequently or a lot of it.

I prefer to work with regular cleavers anyhow, and save my sweet woodruff for incense making purposes. Well… with my galium mollugo anyway…. which I’ve been working with thinking it was cleavers for like 3 years now…

At any rate, I wanted to share this post because while I pride myself on my ever-growing foraging skills, I’m definitely not infallible. Hopefully with the photos included here you can understand why I made the mistaken identification, and thankfully the entire species is a safe herb to work with. Don’t forget that it’s very important to double and even triple-check your identification of any wild plant before you eat it!

Powered by WordPress.com.

Up ↑