Podcast 049: A Few Herbs On Our Shelf

This week we do a lightning round of “minigraphs” on some of our favorite herbs. We started by taking a look at what we’ve got on our herb shelf (okay . . . *shelves*) in the kitchen right now, and selecting a few semi-randomly until our 45 minute timer went off.

We covered reishi, catnip, mugwort, heather, st john’s wort, and za’atar (which is a spice blend, but totally still counts – right?). So give it a listen and meet some of our best friends!

Mentioned in this podcast:

And here’s everything else in the way of loose dry herbs on our shelf right now:

  • ashwagandha
  • angelica
  • elecampane
  • tulsi
  • ginger
  • linden
  • chamomile
  • calamus
  • orange peel
  • plantain
  • schizandra
  • mate
  • hawthorn
  • motherwort
  • self-heal
  • uva ursi
  • betony
  • jiaogulan
  • goldenrod
  • cedar
  • calendula
  • ground ivy
  • thyme & monarda
  • astragalus
  • … plus, cooking spices – most importantly: cumin, garlic, caraway, berbere, cayenne, cinnamon, pumpkin spice, fresh-ground black pepper, vanilla, and fresh basil

We’ll talk about them in a future podcast, so make sure to subscribe!


If you like our podcast, you might like learning from us in a more intentional way – like with our Family Herbalist program! It’s a great way to start incorporating herbs into your daily life, to keep you and your loved ones healthy and resilient all year round!

Our theme music is “Wings” by Nicolai Heidlas.

Podcast Transcript:

Katja: 00:12 Hi, I’m Katja.

Ryn: 00:12 And I’m Ryn.

Katja: 00:14 We’re here at the Commonwealth Center for Holistic Herbalism in Boston, Massachusetts.

Ryn: 00:18 And on the internet everywhere, thanks to the power of the podcast. As you know, we’re not doctors; we are herbalists and holistic health educators.

Katja: 00:29 The ideas discussed in this podcast do not constitute medical advice. No state or federal authority licenses herbalists in the United States, so these discussions are for educational purposes only. Everybody’s body is different, so the things we’re talking about may or may not apply directly to you, but they will give you some information to think about and research more.

Ryn: 00:47 We wish to remind you that good health is your own personal responsibility. The final decision in considering any course of therapy, whether discussed on the internet or prescribed by your physician, is always yours. So, housekeeping: shout outs.

Katja: 01:04 We have shout outs to Little Flower Botanicals on Instagram, who is drinking all of the linden, and Maureen, who listens on her way to the midwifery clinic. We love you guys!

Ryn: 01:15 Thank you for listening!

Katja: 01:20 I suppose this deserves a shout out, too. It was Jillian who asked us “What herbs can you not be without?”

Ryn: 01:34 This is such a hard question you guys. This is a variant on the “What if you only had ten herbs to bring with you to the desert island?” kind of thing.

Katja: 01:42 Which we never can manage fewer than thirteen, but whatever.

Ryn: 01:45 It’s a tough one. So, what we decided to do rather than racking our brains was to take a look at our shelf in the kitchen–well, several shelves–that have herbs on there for teas, food, and other purposes, and we’re just going to talk about as many of them as we can. We’re going to get a timer going…

Katja: 02:17 So that we don’t talk for too long. We should say that this is just loose herbs. We have so many tinctures in every room of the house. This is just the loose herbs on the loose herb shelves and then a couple of super important cooking spices that I can’t deal without. We’re going to put a list of them in the show notes because we’re not going to get to all of them; there’s a number that looks larger than twenty. The complete list of what happens to be on our shelf right now is actually not complete because I didn’t put angelica seed on the list, and there’s codonopsis in there and I didn’t put that on the list and I don’t even know why I didn’t. So, there’re a few more on the shelf than are actually on the list and maybe I’ll try to fix that before they get into the show notes. The other thing is that there’re eight herbs right off the bat that are so important that we’re not going to talk about them. [laughter] That’s because we already made a video about them. These are the eight herbs that are on our wedding tattoos. For me, it is seaweed, elder, betony, and tulsi.

Ryn: 03:37 For me, I have pine, yarrow, sage, and marshmallow.

Katja: 03:41 On our Youtube channel (which is Commonwealth Herbs and there’s a link in the show notes), there’s a video about our wedding tattoo herbs. We go through each of them and show off our wedding tattoos back when we were much more newly married and they were fresher. They’ve dried well, though. They make good tea.

Ryn: 04:07 They were well preserved. [laughter]

Katja: 04:07 Those eight are super important and you can watch video about those. So, let’s dig into some of these other ones.

Ryn: 04:20 Our completely out-of-order list begins with reishi.

Katja: 04:23 Oh, we’re going to do it in order of the out-of-order list? Oh my goodness. I’m not going to be able to hold to that for very long.

Ryn: 04:30 You probably won’t, but that’s fine. Reishi is a fantastic medicinal mushroom…

Katja: 04:38 That I drink every single day.

Ryn: 04:39 You do, but you don’t ever take reishi on its own.

Katja: 04:47 Only in capsules.

Ryn: 04:48 Because reishi is wicked bitter. It’s so bitter. Reishi is really intriguing. Here’s a mushroom that happens to have some aromatic elements to it, some bitter elements, it has what you would expect from a lot of medicinal mushrooms in the way of immunomodulating polysaccharides and other elements that are going to interface with the immune system in a way to improve immune resilience, but not overstimulate immune agitations like autoimmunity. On net, it’s a really fantastic plant that you can offer to lots and lots of people. I can’t really think of contraindications for this particular one.

Katja: 05:32 No, I can’t either. One of the things that got me really interested in reishi was the assertion by Matthew Wood that reishi helps to balance the rational and the emotional mind. I read that and it was one sentence with no kind of context or anything in Earthwise Herbal, and I was like “Tell me more”, but there was no more. I thought, well, I guess I’m going to have to find out for myself because that sounds intriguing. I am a really emotional person and I’m also a really rational person. I have been diagnosed with Asperger’s and I’m also an Aquarius. If either of those systems appeal to you then you probably would be saying, “Wow, she has a really rational mind” right now. On the flip side, my father used to say that us Shivelhood women have our bladders behind our eyeballs, which was his funny way of saying we cry a lot. And I do, I cry so ridiculously easily. It’s really obnoxious.

Ryn: 06:44 You can make her cry by putting on one of those commercials with the puppies and toilet paper. [laughter] Not quite that bad, but definitely every music composer for a Hollywood film is delighted to have you in the audience.

Katja: 07:01 I cry every time they want you to cry on a movie or a television show. I’m just like, “Ok, I’ll cry!” [crying sounds, laughter] every time. When I read that, I thought that was really intriguing and I do think that there is something to that. I drink reishi every single day, typically with ashwagandha and decaf coffee.

Ryn: 07:31 That’s the most pared down version of your ‘not coffee’ recipe that there is. There’s so many other things that could go in there.

Katja: 07:37 Angelica also. Those are the four things that if nothing else goes in, those have to go in.

Ryn: 07:42 But there could be calamus, codonopsis, and eleuthero.

Katja: 07:47 Elecampane. There are usually those also. But those are the four that really have to be there. I do really find that after doing that for a while, I really am more balanced between those. I still cry very easily, but I feel much more grounded even if I’m crying than when I used to get upset and it was sort of like, “Oh Katja, come on–seriously”. That I find really intriguing. The other thing that I’ve found about reishi is that it is in fact really amazing for altitude sickness, which I am super prone to. I used to like to say that there were three steps up to our apartment, and therefore we live a foot and a half above sea level here in Boston. But now we live on the second floor, so we live like 10 feet above sea level now. It’s getting crazy around here. [laughter] For a few years in a row, we went out to high elevation in Colorado and New Mexico to speak at conferences; we were at the AHG [American Herbalists Guild} Conference, the Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference, and something else out there, too. I just am super prone to altitude sickness, and if I take reishi capsules everyday for a month before I go, no problem. But the time that I didn’t, vertigo, nausea, the whole nine yards. It was awful.

Ryn: 09:31 Other things to know about reishi: it’s got a lot of benefits for the cardiovascular system, it has a bit of a vassodilating effect. That means that it relaxes the muscular tension around the blood vessels and therefore allows them to have a greater volume, which means that they’re going to reduce the pressure in the system, so that’s an aspect of its medicine as well. I don’t really work with reishi too much. I’ll have a little bit of your uncoffee sometimes.

Katja: 10:13 I make up for it for you. I do love it though, it is pretty great. Well, in no particular order: I put catnip next. It wasn’t really next, I moved it. There’s a giant pile of roots at the beginning and we need to shake it up. It’s herb number two and we need to shake it up. [laughter] Catnip is a plant that I did not learn to appreciate until you, actually. It is not a plant that I really ever worked with and you just loved it so much and eventually I wondered “What’s this all about?” Oh my goodness–catnip, I love you.

Ryn: 11:01 That’s so wonderful. Not just for cats, but if you do get catnip, get good catnip. Your cat deserves it. We would buy our catnip from Mountain Rose or some other high quality supplier. We have some growing in that little pot at the bottom of the stairs in front of our house and one of my favorite things in the whole world is to eat a leaf directly off of the plant. Oftentimes, if I’m taking Elsie out for her morning romp, then I’ll stop over by the catnip plant and nibble a bit from there.

Katja: 11:43 Which is really saying something, because it’s next to the sage plant and you used to love to eat a sage leaf every morning fresh on your way to work. It’s been catnip for awhile now.

Ryn: 11:53 It’s just something about the fresh live plant. It has an element of scent and taste to it that is a little bit lost when it’s dried.

Katja: 12:05 It’s got quite considerable volatile oil content. Remember last year or the year before that I was making the winter syrup and I smelled the catnip from like a hundred yards away. There’s a piece of land that we harvest on every fall to make our winter syrup that’s got elderberries, loosestrife, goldenrod, and a whole host of other things. Every year, the syrup that we make is a little bit different. I think we talked about this in a podcast perhaps, and if we did, he’s going to write it in the show notes. I know that there’s catnip that grows on that land sometimes and so I was keeping my ears perked (or I guess my nose perked) for it because I did want to put it in if it was there and I could smell it from so far away. It was wonderful. Catnip is, in humans, really about rising things. Ryn really loves it because a lot of times he has trouble in the digestive system and it’s rising. It’s maybe heartburn-ish, although that’s less these days, a lot of times it’s maybe a little nausea, maybe into a little butterfly discomfort.

Ryn: 13:38 If I had known about catnip when I was in college, that would have made a huge difference for me. That’s when I was pharmaceutically medicated for heartburn. They didn’t put me on PPIs, for which I’m now very grateful, but there were definitely those slurries of the chalky stuff that you break up and drink down. It wasn’t the best.

Katja: 13:59 He always took catnip for those sorts of things and so I gained a great appreciation for catnip because I saw how effective it was for him.

Ryn: 14:08 But those aren’t the digestive problems you have.

Katja: 14:11 Yeah, I have downward moving ones, and so that’s chamomile. But one thing that really started me with catnip is rising feelings of anger or rising feelings of fear or anxiousness. A lot of that as a mother comes from “I haven’t heard from my kid, she was supposed to check in an hour ago, now she’s whatever age and she’s more independent”. I think that’s probably when I really started with catnip, with those feelings coming up of “Oh no, what has gone wrong?” and trying to tell myself that it’s nothing, she just wasn’t watching the time because she’s whatever age she was. That has really continued to be so effective for me as times in life come and go, when you’re just really pissed about something, or politics, and it’s going to make you puke because you’re so upset and you’re not even nauseous, you’re just going to puke your anger out. What were you going to say about catnip?

Ryn: 15:42 It’s versatile, you can pair it together with a bunch of other herbs really easily. It has a distinct flavor to it, but it’s not aggressive or too assertive in its flavor. We often will pair catnip together with chamomile when we have these digestive issues. Sometimes I like to put it together with sage. I feel almost at a loss to say when to take catnip. It’s sort of just “Do you feel bad?” [laughter] I have a little pet theory that it’s particularly good for cat people, people who are really into cats. I think that it helps to align your neurochemistry a little bit more with what they’re into. Nepetalactone, one of the constituents in catnip, is pretty famous as being a sort of a pheromone analog for the cats. That’s part of why they get so excited about it, roll around, run, jump, play, and then they sort of lie down, stretch, purr, and do all of that kind of thing. I think of catnip in humans more for the latter half of that experience. When you just need to have a nice gentle purr in your life, that’s when it’s catnip time. Fantastic stuff, tastes good, versatile, works for lots of different problems, but particularly appropriate for those of us who have that kind of tension pattern manifesting in the digestive system and then driving things in an upward direction. That’s the way I tend to think of that one. Who’s next in this lightning round of herbal minigraphs?

Katja: 17:49 I know I talk about ashwagandha a lot and even though it is next on the list, let’s pull somebody who I talk about less. How about mugwort?

Ryn: 18:06 You’ve been super into mugwort lately. It’s weird because it didn’t happen immediately after the Dreaming Herbs class that I did at that conference this summer. That was a mugwort focus time for me, but you had a kind of delay on that one.

Katja: 18:20 I did. You know what it really was, actually, Hilary Kamien has an Etsy shop called QuintessentialArts and she is the artist who made the motherwort and hawthorn necklace for me that is those leaves that are painted silver (you might have seen a picture of it on social media). She also made a mugwort leaf and it is so beautiful that I keep visiting her website just to look at it. I didn’t tell Ryn yet you guys, but I actually ordered it just a minute ago. [laughter] It was so beautiful that I was so captivated by it and I thought “But mugwort isn’t even one of my plants, why do I think this is so beautiful?” I kept going back to the website to look at it and finally I was like, “Oh, I need to start drinking mugwort, that’s clearly the thing”. We tell our students that they should do an herb of the week or an herb of the month, and we always tell them it doesn’t matter why you pick it. You can pick it because it looks pretty in the jar, you can pick it because somebody told you about it once.

Ryn: 19:58 You can pick it because you like the name. Centaury was that for me when I first got started. [laughter]

Katja: 20:02 That’s true. It doesn’t actually matter because the herbs pick you. Some people when they first start off with us and I say something like that, they think “Well, she’s kind of weird, but whatever. I guess we knew that she was weird, so it’s fine”. The thing is, though, the longer that you work with plants, the more that you realize that’s not weird at all. Mugwort has recently picked me and said it’s about time, and finally I got it through my head. So here’re a few other interesting things about mugwort. The box that I have had mugwort in for a really long time, and two things for which it is super effective, one is for stagnant menstruation. That is not to say that it is abortifacient–it is not–so please don’t do that. But if you are getting your period and it’s just slow, cruddy, and brown, you’re on day three of that nonsense and ready for this thing to actually start, and you’re cramping and it’s crappy, that is a mugwort time in a big way. The other box that it’s been in is around dreamwork. If you are a person who is trying to remember your dreams or trying to have more agency in your dreams (some people call that lucid dreaming), then mugwort is super good at that. That was the extent of mugwort for me for a really long time. I’ve been studying a book called Behave by Robert Sapolsky because I’m working on neuroendocrinology, trauma response, and fun stuff like that (yes, it will be a class soon, probably in late spring of 2019). In the reading, he mentioned when the prefrontal cortex is stimulated. The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that is super rational and thinks things through; the amygdala is the one that has the sort of lizard brain response of “Oh no, run away!” The prefrontal cortex is “But if you think that, then you must not be a very nice person, so you should probably not think that, you shouldn’t run away, you should stand here and be very rational.”

Ryn: 22:58 I love your rational voice. [laughter]

Katja: 23:04 He was saying that when they had subjects in a sleep lab who they could see were dreaming (because they were coming up in the REM sleep) and then they stimulated the prefrontal cortex, that when they stimulated the prefrontal cortex, suddenly the people in the study were able to remember their dreams very clearly. When I read that, I said, “Hold on a second, what?” Then I read it again and I said, “Does that mean that mugwort stimulates the prefrontal cortex?” The answer is a mystery, but it is something that I’m really looking into and looking a lot more into the way that mugwort works in the body. One thing that I’m finding super frustrating about this is that there are 10 million studies on mugwort, wormwood, and sweet Annie, and most of them were about malaria and most of them do a really crappy job at differentiating between the species in this family.

Ryn: 24:27 You know, I haven’t tried wormwood before bedtime yet. I should really do that. If you have already, let me know, send me an email or something. I would be totally curious if other artemisias have the same kind of effect on dreaming that artemisia vulgaris (mugwort) does.

Katja: 24:45 Or if you have sweet Annie, artemesia annua. That would be really interesting. Also, I found some really compelling work–another science scientific study–around artemisia constituents and nervous system function, which I suppose isn’t shocking if I’m going to go out on a limb and say that it might stimulate the prefontal cortex. This is a plant that I am just really amped up on, and here’s the kicker: I’m pretty sure that I have always worked with it in tincture or in a formula. I personally tend towards slow menstruation, so mugwort goes into my ‘bleedy tea’, but there’s a ton of pennyroyal and some other things in there. I think it has been literally years and possibly more than a decade since I had a cup of straight mugwort tea. A few weeks ago I did and I was like, “Holy schmoly, this is so delicious. Where has it been all of my life?”

Ryn: 26:04 It’s all she’s been drinking.

Katja: 26:05 It’s so good!

Ryn: 26:10 You love herbs with that kind of flavor, though; like there’s a bit of astringency, there’s little aromatics going on. That’s right in line with a bunch of your other favorites.

Katja: 26:18 It is so good, you guys. So, if you have not been inspired by mugwort yet, do it now. Go get some, drink it, and see what happens. It’s so good.

Ryn: 26:34 Let’s go next to heather.

Katja: 26:37 Let’s talk about heather! I think we haven’t ever talked about heather, which is kind of hard to believe.

Ryn: 26:42 Heather is pretty great. This is the plant of the heath. Heather is wonderful, a delightful little pink flower; the flowers are the part that we work with for herbal medicine. This is one that we started working with together. I remember there was one herb order where I wanted to try some other stuff and you said that sounded great. I was like, “Let’s get some heather flowers, let’s get some cedar tips”. I literally can’t think of heather without thinking about cedar just because of this.

Katja: 27:36 We do drink them individually. It is true that we often drink them together, very often. They are delicious together.

Ryn: 27:45 They really are pretty fantastic. Heather, it’s got a nice light flavor, it’s very floral.

Katja: 27:52 It’s very pink! But it’s not sour. It’s not in any way like hibiscus, rosehip, or anything. It’s not that kind of pink, not like sumac berries.

Ryn: 28:05 It’s delicious, and it just sort of feels pleasant; it feels light, I think that’s the best word for it.

Katja: 28:17 It has astringent qualities and yet it doesn’t seem to irritate you.

Ryn: 28:22 No, they’re pretty mild.

Katja: 28:24 It has a lot of kidney affinity. This is actually a plant that I should think about more and more specifically in terms of kidney function for you, because a lot of the kidney plants are a little too much for you.

Ryn: 28:38 Yeah, not my favorites.

Katja: 28:40 But heather is one you just really love, and even goldenrod. I’m always like, “Stop formulating with goldenrod! We don’t have very much of it and it’s too precious to me. It’s so delicious, why would you ever put another plant with it?” Every time that he’s in charge of making the tea for the day, he wants to put goldenrod in formula and I get so irritated because I think goldenrod is so delicious and so precious. We can buy it, but the stuff that we harvest ourselves from our own land is millions of light years better. Plus when you buy it, it’s mostly leaf and that’s great, but when we harvest it, it’s mostly flower and that’s better. I just can’t even tell you guys. My thing here is that, even with goldenrod, you need to pad that with other things, but with heather not. You will drink that, right up.

Ryn: 29:41 I remember a while there we were drinking a lot of heather tea, right up to bedtime, and we were waking up many times in the night. So, it’s definitely one of those herbs, like your goldenrod, your nettle, and so on. You know, plan wisely. If you don’t have a problem with getting up to go pee and no difficulty getting back to sleep, great, drink it all the time, that’s fine. But if that is a trouble for you, then maybe stop this one around 4 o’clock.

Katja: 30:16 We drink so much tea right before bed, and we both just wake up to pee anyway. Even though sometimes it takes me a long time to go back to sleep, I can’t imagine not drinking an entire pot of tea in the hour before I go to bed. [laughter] So we just get up and pee.

Ryn: 30:38 There’s a story about heather that I really like. I think I must have gotten to this somehow from one of Jim McDonald’s links and his enormous list of all the links an herbalist could ever need.

Katja: 30:49 Jim McDonald; that’s HerbCraft.org. He’s great.

Ryn: 30:53 Somewhere in there I got bounced over to a site that had myths and stories about herbs. The one about heather (I won’t do it poetic justice right here real quick) was basically all of the plants were sort of getting their assignments from the Mistress Nature. Nature said, “Alright, who’s going to go and live over there on the rocky wind-swept hills and mountains?” Everyone said, “Oh no, my petals will fly away”, or “I want to grow up tall and be by the water”. Heather said, “Okay, I’ll go over there.” And Mother Nature said, “For this, I will reward you; you will have beautiful pink little flowers and everyone will be delighted when they see you.” And so it is.

Katja: 31:41 So it is. I really want to grow heather in Royalston, I really do.

Ryn: 31:46 I thought there wasn’t any around town, but of course there’s the arboretum and there is a little patch of it right over there. I was there with a group of pharmacy students and I was walking along and I was like, “Okay, here’s the linden tree, over here is the shrubs garden, and see who’s around over here”. I hadn’t been over there too often. I saw the heather and–wow–I jumped up and down, I went over there and I was petting the plant, sniffing it, and eating little bits off. They were all like, “What happened? What are you doing?” I was just thrilled.

Katja: 32:22 The pharmacy students are a howl, they’re really great. They’re pharmacists, they’re about to graduate, take their boards, and go out in the world and be pharmacists. They come to us for six weeks and we get to blow their minds a little and do something completely different. They’re such good sports and they’re so adventurous. For some of them, adventure is very tiny and that’s a huge adventure for them. And then remembering Scott that time, who got poison ivy on his arm and wanted to come in. He said, “Hey look, I have this poison ivy, let’s do some experiments.” And I said, “We should, but you know, what we really need? I need you to have a lot more poison ivy than that.”

Ryn: 33:13 We need to have a control group and then three intervention groups.

Katja: 33:15 I said, “We need to have way more poison ivy on you.” I was sort of teasing him. I mean it was true, we did, but it was mostly teasing. Then the next day, he came in with tons more poison ivy and I thought, “You are the best ever.” So, we made different regions of his poison ivy be for oak, witch hazel, black tea, and then the control section was nothing, and then the calamine lotion or whatever you get at the pharmacy. Black tea won actually.

Ryn: 33:52 You know, something occurred to me about heather. There’s a formula that I really like to make with heather and it’s called Tiny Flowers. So it’s heather, meadowsweet flowers, elderflowers, the tiny flowers from the goldenrod.

Katja: 34:19 Yarrow flowers would be super nice too. Meadowsweet is not on this list and it’s because we ran out and so it’s not on the shelf right now.

Ryn: 34:33 Do you know why we ran out, though? It was so critical for you while you were dealing with braces. That was really, really a big deal for you when you had all those little cuts and lacerations in your mouth from the braces.

Katja: 34:52 Some of them were large cuts and lacerations. My braces are off and retainers are so much better than braces. Speaking of classes that are coming, also in spring of 2019 is natural strategies for surviving braces. I’m going to share all of my tricks that I learned.

Ryn: 35:19 What should we talk about next? We’ve got a little more time on our timer here.

Katja: 35:28 What about St. Johns wort?

Ryn: 35:32 And how about we talk about St John’s wort and we don’t say the word ‘depression’ any more times?

Katja: 35:38 I don’t even need to say the word depression when I talk about St John’s wort. But you know what’s funny, I crave St John’s wort when I am bingeing on sugar and I’m not going to say the word depression, but I will say that I binge on sugar when I am feeling upset, out of control, overwhelmed, and whatever. Part of why I crave St John’s wort so strongly during those times is of course because I’m eating tons of sugar and St John’s wort stimulates liver function, it is the Gold Medal Liver Function Stimulator in my book. I can’t think of something that I would rather work with and it works so well.

Ryn: 36:27 I think by that you mean that it’s a strong enough to be effective and to get noticeable discernible benefits that you can just feel in your body, but not so strong that it’s one of those herbs Sam Coffman is always trying to give me when we hang out. He’s like, “Hey Ryn, take this tincture–it’s like a punch in the liver!” And I say, “I’ll have a drop.”

Katja: 36:52 Yeah, it’s not like taking mayapple root or something like that. Please don’t do that. We do not recommend that you do that. But it is wildly effective, and yet it’s like Palmolive. Didn’t they have that commercial in the eighties or whenever about how it’s “tough on grease, soft on hands”. That is the reason that you can’t work with St John’s wort if you’re taking pharmaceuticals. It’s not about drug interactions, it doesn’t actually interact with drugs. What happens is that it speeds up your liver’s effectiveness and efficiency so much that it will clear the drugs from your system too quickly (well, more quickly than what your doctor anticipated), and so suddenly the dose of whatever it is that you’re taking is drastically lower than what was intended. If that drug is keeping you alive, like an organ rejection drug, now we have a literal life-threatening situation. It’s not because it’s interacting with those drugs, it’s because it is speeding the liver up so much. So, you don’t want to do that; especially this is not an herb to take if you’re taking SSRIs or any kind of psychiatric pharmaceuticals because those have withdrawal symptoms. If you’re taking those and you’re thinking you’re also going to try some St John’s Wort, what will actually happen is it will reduce the dose and it’s very likely that you would start to have withdrawal symptoms and that would be very unpleasant. However, if you were coming off those drugs already, you were totally off of them, and you just wanted something to help out, and if St John’s wort was the right type of help, then it would be safe once you were totally off of those. Anyway, the reason that I love it so much when I’m eating so much sugar is because it improves my liver’s ability to deal with all that sugar, all of the corresponding insulin that is resulting from it, and all of the inflammation that’s happening because I’m eating way too much sugar. This is a good time to have a word from our sponsor, schisandra, which helped me kick my sugar habit without even trying. So, if you’re trying to kick your sugar habit, schisandra. [laughter] The other thing that I love about St John’s wort is its effects on the nervous system. It has a lovely effect. There’s some research done on myelin sheath regeneration and that’s pretty awesome.

Ryn: 40:01 Myelin sheath being the sort of exterior coating of the nerves, which both protects them and also helps them to transmit their messages to each other.

Katja: 40:09 If you are a person with MS, fibromyalgia, or any of the other buzzy nerve situations where nerve stuff is maybe not being transmitted quite right, there’s just something wrong with the nerves, or any kind of myelin sheath disorder and you’re not taking pharmaceuticals, then St John’s wort might be a great idea. Even I had damage in my hand from years of playing Ultimate Frisbee, where there was a bunch of nerve damage, it was numb, and the nerves were not really functioning in an area of my hand. I have a stumpy thumb on one hand, so the frisbee would hit my hand before I could close my hand on the Frisbee, which is not supposed to happen; you’re supposed to close it before it hits your hand, but that’s not how it worked for me, so I would always have these bruises. I played Ultimate Frisbee in high school and college and I didn’t become an herbalist until I was a little older than that (I was 20 something). It was a couple of years afterwards that I was learning about St John’s wort and I was reading about how it can regenerate nerve tissue, and I thought, “Yeah, sure it can”. I just started putting some St John’s wort tincture on that area and guess what–it worked, and it was a couple of years later. It was still in my skeptical phase when I was still an engineer and didn’t know about this stuff. I liked tea a lot, but really you can regrow my nerves? And turns out, I don’t know if it regrew them, just reanimated them, or whatever the right word is for it, but I can feel that area of my hand now and I couldn’t for a long time, so that’s pretty cool.

Ryn: 42:17 When I think about St John’s wort sometimes, I also think about it as a sun herb. St John’s wort is best gathered and harvested at the summer solstice when its medicine is strongest, and it really carries that solar energy into those preparations you make from it. I also like the way that St John’s wort has green when it’s photosynthesizing and then as it dies back in the autumn, it fades or converts over into this rusty red color.

Katja: 42:52 It doesn’t fade because the red of it is so rich. It’s like mahogany, you know?

Ryn: 43:00 Yeah, that’s true. It’s like reddish brown.

Katja: 43:01 I mean, the green does fade away, that’s accurate. But ‘fade’ also implies washed out or something, but the color is actually so rich and deep.

Ryn: 43:15 You can tell when you have a good St John’s wort preparation because that red color comes through and that’s good stuff. In some applications, things like emotional work, drop-dose work of herbs or flower essences, we think about St John’s wort when people need a kind of solar influence. They need some protection or some resilience to the kind of threats that flee from sunlight, your [emotional] vampires, your scuttling cockroaches, and things like that. St John’s wort can be very, very helpful in those kind of formulations, and for that purpose I might formulate it together with yarrow, which also gives you a degree of protection. They’re different though; yarrow is more about giving you armor or a thicker skin, whereas St John’s wort is like a light shining down on you from above and it’s protecting you.

Katja: 44:22 It’s like when the light comes on and dark things flee into the corners. Do we have time for one more?

Ryn: 44:40 Let’s do one of our spice friends.

Katja: 44:43 I was going to say za’atar.

Ryn: 44:45 Let’s talk about that. That’s not a single herb.

Katja: 44:55 That’s true, it’s not. We have some amazing za’atar that we get from a cooperative farm in Palestine in the West Bank; you can find it by googling ‘Canaan za’atar’.

Ryn: 45:11 We’ll dig up the link and put that in later.

Katja: 45:15 It’s not only super delicious and amazing, but also it’s fair trade in an area that doesn’t have a lot of fairness and it’s just amazing. Za’atar, the base of it (I’m not sure “the base”; I think it’s roughly equal parts, at least in my world it’s roughly equal parts) is a particular species of thyme and it is not common garden thyme that we grow here. It’s a different species, it’s a fuzzier species. You could use common garden thyme that we grow here if you were making your own, but the thyme from Palestine is just different. It’s still completely thyme–you taste it and think yes, that’s thyme–but it’s just so good. The other things in it are ground up sumac berries and toasted sesame seeds, and it’s so delicious. While we’re on regional variance of thyme, I will also mention Arctic thyme, which grows in Iceland. It just popped into my head because I made Kjötsúpa at the beginning of the week (that is Icelandic lamb soup), and I didn’t have any arctic thyme and we also didn’t have any regular vulgaris left in the jar, but we had za’atar. So I totally made za’atar Kjötsúpa. It was excellent and I didn’t even tell you, I just told you it was Kjötsúpa. Za’atar is one of those spice blends that really embodies for me the concept of ‘let your food never be boring’. Our food is never boring, I put in herbs by the tablespoon.

Ryn: 47:28 We spice pretty aggressively. But za’atar is great, it’s so balanced. It has the pungency from the thyme, the bit of sour from the sumac, it’s got that oily umami kind of ground note from the sesame. Put it on everything.

Katja: 47:45 I can’t get enough of za’atar. It also really reminds me that when you’re putting cumin, caraway, even pepper, sage, or fennel [into your dinner], those are all digestive plants. Okay, there’s a lot more to them than that, but you could just look at it and if you knew anything about herbalism, you’d say, “Of course we would put these things in our foods because they aid in digestion”. Thyme does help in digestion, but because thyme is so in the respiratory place for me (when I have respiratory crud, thyme is the thing I reach for very first), za’atar is a real reminder that most of the things that we think of as herbs and spices in terms of cooking, they’re not about flavor, they’re about getting our medicine into our food every single day and making sure that we stay healthy.

Ryn: 48:50 Or at the very least, we could actually equate a having a variety of particular flavors and staying healthy, like those together. Well, speaking of spices, maybe it’s time for dinner.

Katja: 49:08 It is really time for dinner. I’m so hungry.

Ryn: 49:10 All right, cool. Well, thank you for listening again this week, and thanks everybody who’s commented and hung out with us on Instagram and all the other places in the Internet world there.

Katja: 49:23 I’m so excited. We’re actually recording Thursday night because last week, we were with our advanced students and we accidentally didn’t put the podcast until late. I’m sorry you guys. This week we’re not going to let that happen because we’re with our foundation students all weekend (our local Boston foundation students). We teach that program online by video and they’re prerecorded videos; you can download them anytime and we love to say that if you can watch tv, you can learn herbalism. We tried to make them really fun. But we also teach that program live here in Boston, and tomorrow is the second to last weekend with them and we really wanted to make sure that we did not accidentally launch the podcast late this week. So, it is Thursday evening and it’s dinner time.

Ryn: 50:15 All right folks, we’ll catch you later.

Katja: 50:18 Goodnight!


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