Podcast 092: How We Make Our Winter Elixir
This winter elixir is our #1 cold & flu remedy! We make a big batch every year around this time, when most of the plants that go into it are fresh and ready to harvest. They need about a month to extract fully into the elixir, so we can’t wait until we’re already sick to start putting our elixir together. Preparing it now means it’s ready for us when the first respiratory infection of the season strikes. Holistic herbalism means thinking ahead sometimes!
Our herbal elixir is designed to be general-purpose, to cover all the most important bases. When you have a cold or the flu, you don’t only need to “kill” the virus. You also need to keep your inner waters flowing, help fevers be effective & efficient, maintain mucous membrane function, and provide your immune system with the support it needs to function optimally. From the marrow on outward, our winter elixir is a full-spectrum solution to respiratory infections.
PS: If you don’t have all the ingredients we discussed in this episode, work with what you’ve got! Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. 🙂 And remember that you can work with what the landscape gives you in your own bioregion – wherever you are, there are herbs that can do these jobs.
Herbs discussed include: loosestrife, elderberry, ground ivy, mullein, boneset, sumac, goldenrod, st john’s wort, japanese knotweed, catnip, & blue vervain.
If you want to learn more about how to manage cold & flu with herbs and holistic strategies, our newest online course is for you! Herbal Remedies for Cold & Flu teaches you everything you need to know to conquer a cold or fight off the flu. We teach you how to work with herbs that are safe and effective for all aspects of the illness. Throughout, the focus is on finding ways to support what your body is already trying to do as it works to restore balance. Winter is coming, so get ready now!
As always, please subscribe, rate, & review our podcast wherever you listen, so others can find it more easily. Thank you!!
Our theme music is “Wings” by Nicolai Heidlas.
Hi, I’m Katja.
And I’m Ryn.
And we’re here at the Commonwealth Center for Holistic Herbalism in Boston, Massachusetts.
And on the internet everywhere. Thanks to the power of the podcast.
Woohoo. Hey, this week I am really excited to talk about our sort of all-purpose winter syrup.
Yes, it is an elixir. It is technically elixir. I don’t know why I always say the word syrup. Maybe it’s easier to say than elixir. I don’t even know.
It’s a habit.
It is a habit. That is all, it is an elixir. It is stuff infused in honey and stuff infused in alcohol and then blended together.
Yeah, that’s really good stuff.
I’m really excited to talk about it now because this is the time of year that we always go out and harvest for our winter elixir. So this is the time of year to go out there and harvest the stuff that I’m going to talk about. And this is the elixir that gets us through the whole winter. And you know, whenever the sniffles, whenever one of us has a sore throat, whatever, if we feel we’re getting sick, we just turn to it right away. So I make like a gallon of it or at least a half a gallon, but sometimes a gallon of it every fall. And then we just take it all winter long. So anyway.
Give it to all our friends.
We do. So my point here is that, we want to give it to you and I want to tell you all about what’s in it and exactly how we make it and all that good stuff.
Yeah. But first, let’s give you our re-claimer. So, we are not doctors, we are herbalists and holistic health educators.
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 that we’re talking about might or might not apply directly to you, but we want them to give you some good information to think about and research further.
And we want to remind you that good health is your own personal responsibility. The final decision when you’re considering any course of therapy, whether you heard some people on the internet talking about it or it was recommended by a physician, that choice is still in fact always yours.
And that is what we are reclaiming. We claim that initiative in our health care. That collaboration.
Yeah. And that ability to be -I don’t want to really say self-sufficient, to be relationally sufficient?
Yeah. And part of that does mean to be able to prepare your own remedies and have them for when you need them. And that’s what this episode is about.
Ingredients & Advice
I’m so excited about it. So I think what I’m going to do is just list off the ingredients to start with. I want to talk about each one of them. But let me just give you the actual plants that we’re going to talk about as a list right up front. It’s going to be purple loosestrife, elderberries, ground ivy, mullein, boneset, sumac, goldenrod, St. John’s wort, Japanese knotweed flowers, catnip and blue vervain. And before I even start to launch in and talk about each one of these, I really want to overtly say right from the beginning that although I really love these herbs and I do choose them on purpose, I also choose them because these are the herbs that are growing together on a particular piece of land that I harvest from to make this syrup every year. Elixir. This elixir every year. And I choose from the plants that are at their peak at this time, plants who will do the work that I need to get done. And the reason that I want to be really clear about this is that as we go through this and we talk about what each one of these plants is doing in this formula, I want to be really clear that you don’t have to make a formula that is exactly these plants. What you’re looking for is these actions. And so maybe one particular of these plants doesn’t grow near you, but you know of another plant that has a similar action that you could swap out. That is perfect. That’s ideal actually. Because in every bioregion there are plants who can do the jobs that these plants do. So you might have all these plants growing near you, but if you don’t, then as we’re going through and we’re talking about what each one of these is contributing, then you can be thinking about, Oh, okay, I don’t have ground ivy. I need to find a plant who can do that kind of work.
Yeah. So there’s that interchangeability aspect and there’s also the aspect of when the landscape gives you a formula, accept it, Work with that. So you know, there is this particular patch of land over by the river here in town and we had gone over there for years and years on walks and got to know all the plants that lived around there and how they were fairing year by year. And then, maybe six, seven years ago now we started saying, Oh wait, we can gather everything we need for the winter right here on this, like a couple of acres of land, not even. And that was really great and it’s been really nice to keep going back there year over year.
I also want to say that we only harvest one basket of herbs for all of this, not one basket of each herb, one basket total of all of these herbs combined. And that will make us between a half gallon and a gallon of elixir. You don’t need a wheel barrel full of herbs to do this work. You don’t need it all. You just need a little bit. And that’s really exciting because there are birds out there who depend on these plants too and deer and all kinds of other animals and also other humans who all depend on these plants and also the pollinators. So just to put that right in your head as well, just take one basket, go for a walk, collect the stuff and then make it into medicine.
Yeah. So, shall we talk about Purple loosestrife?
We shall! I’m so excited to. So if you listened to our recent podcast episode about some of my very favorite invasive plants, and I do use the word invasive with giant quote marks around it, then you already have a lot of thoughts about loosestrife and hopefully some of them are pretty positive. A lot of people are frustrated with Purple loosestrife because they feel that it is invasive and that it’s crowding out other native plants. But this plant is so amazingly helpful and such a plant in service, not just to humans but also to the soil and also to the pollinators. Like not just the bees even, but all the pollinators. And this plant is also able to repair damage that we humans have done to the environment in the form of pollution. So that’s pretty exciting.
Yeah. But even if you are in a place where somebody is going to take away all the purple loosestrife, and you know that that’s going to be going down. And you also know that it’s an area that you can harvest from and it’s good soil quality and water quality nearby and all of that. You know, if it’s going to be cut down anyways then go ahead and make some remedies out of it. You know, loosestrife has obviously some relevance to respiratory infections and that’s why we’re including it here cause that’s what cold and flu are. And loosestrife has a number of actions that are working together actually. One of the things I find really interesting about this plant is that it’s one of not very many out there in the Herbal universe that combines both a demulcent quality and a stringent quality. Demulcency is the aspect of herbs that helps us to absorb and to utilize water more efficiently inside of our bodies to be better hydrated, to keep fluids moving through the body and particularly moving to the mucus membranes, which is really relevant when you’ve got a respiratory infection because mucus membranes line your whole respiratory tract. So the demulcency of loosestrife helps to take care of it in that regard. But on the other hand, the astringency of loosestrife also supports mucus membrane tone, preventing them from getting too soggy and boggy and leaky. And if you’ve ever had a day’s long runny nose, then you can recognize how something that can bring that back into a place of balance could be really valuable.
Yeah. So it’s sort of like a Goldilocks plant, you know, like it can tone things up, but it won’t tone it up so much that you’re drying out.
Yeah. Pretty fantastic.
That is a really big part of why it’s so relevant for eyes as well. We were talking as we were filming the Cold and Flu course, which is launching later today. And in the Cold and Flu course we were talking about loosestrife for all of the crud in your eyes that comes along when you get the cold or the flu or whatever. Whether that is all the way to conjunctivitis or whether it’s just like the crap that is leaking out of your eyes when you’re sick and you just feel so miserable, loosestrife is really awesome for helping with that as well. And again, I think a lot of that comes back to its ability to improve the quality of the mucous membranes. Tone it up, but not dry it out.
Yeah. Lovely loosestrife. All right. Did we cover it? Is there anything more to say there? Loosestrife does seem to have some immune activating or I don’t really want to go all the way to stimulating but immune modulating effects.
Yeah. You know and it has some pretty significant anti-fungal effects as well. And it’s important to recognize that if you have what we refer to as a cold, that actually encompasses a lot of things, it may encompass or might be a virus like rhino virus for example, but we often refer to things that are technically a sinus infection as a cold, like a head cold, right? Sinus infections are really, really most likely to have a fungal component. And so including the loosestrife here, it just broadens the spectrum of what you’re dealing with. And even if you do have rhinovirus or even if you do have influenza, even like something super specific. But it doesn’t mean you don’t also have some fungal stuff opportunistically happening in your sinuses. And also, we think in terms of, this was the one virus that made me sick right now, or the one bacteria or the one, whatever that made me sick right now. But actually it doesn’t really work that way.
Yeah. Pathogens usually don’t stand in line and say, Oh, it’s your turn now. Okay.
Yeah. It’s kind of like just a big mob and there’s a whole bunch of them. There may be one that’s like leading the charge, but there’s a bunch of other things coming along for the ride. And so the broader we can get our spectrum of action, the better.
All right. So we’re big loosestrife advocates.
An herb that is a little more commonly discussed when it comes to cold and flu and winter elements is elderberry. And elderberry is really fantastic and it’s famous for good reason, right? Elderberry is particularly good at helping us to fight off the flu. But don’t write it off if you say, Oh, well this is a cold, so I should not bother with elderberry. It’s still definitely going to help.
I just love elderberries so much. So elderberry, maybe let’s start at the most general and go to a more specific. The most general is that it is bursting, literally bursting with antioxidants, with bioflavonoids and with vitamins. And all of these things are strengthening the infrastructure that your body has, to fight infection. And I really feel like I’ve been talking a lot more about herbs in terms of infrastructure in the body. Actually part of this is a part of a podcast that we haven’t recorded yet but is on deck and we’ve written a lot of it. But we have all these structures and systems in our body to do all the work that we need to do and they are just like the other things that you think about when you hear the word infrastructure, like our highways and our subway systems and our bridges and our tunnels. When you hear the word infrastructure, I feel like that’s usually the context. And right now, if you’re here in Boston, you know the T could use some upgrades. There’s a lot of literal crumbling happening, like in the stairways and in the whatever. And so I want to take that image and use that as a way to help people understand how herbs are functioning in the body. Often it is not that a particular plant is particularly targeted to a particular virus and it’s going to function specifically against that virus. Although in the case of elderberry, there is one of those aspects, but often an herb doesn’t have that aspect. What it’s really doing is repairing our crumbling infrastructure so that we are really well suited with the most like up to date technology that our body possesses to do the work that it needs to do. And so even before we talk about the, in the case of elderberry, very specific targeted action against the influenza virus, we can talk about this tremendous ability that elderberry has to repair and restore and renew and reinvigorate our infrastructure for fighting infection.
Yeah. Pretty amazing. And so Elderberries have been found to reliably shorten the duration of the flu. And also to reduce the severity of the symptoms that you have. While that’s going on to the point that in most cases, after three or maybe four days of working with elderberry, you don’t really have observable flu symptoms anymore, which is pretty great because usually that’s a seven day sickness. Elderberry in specific reference to the flu has this capacity to prevent the virus from breaking into your cells and turning them into little virus factories because that’s how viruses reproduce. They don’t reproduce like the rest of us. They have to basically get into one of your cells and hijack the cellular machinery and turn it into a little virus factory.
Like an assembly line. They’re like the Henry Ford of the pathogen world.
Yeah. But so firstly they have to get in there and to do that, they have a kind of a spike that they use to get through the cell wall and get inside. And elderberry has these constituents that break off or disable the spike so that the flu virus can’t get it. So that’s a great way to basically prevent the virus from proliferating and give your immune system fewer targets to work against.
Yeah. Elderberry is amazing.
And I think that the bottom line is fewer targets, right? If there’s all these pathogens in your body but they can’t reproduce, then there’s a finite amount of fight that your immune system has to put up. It’s not like, ‘Oh God, there’s more and every 20 minutes there’s more! They just keep coming!’ That’s not going to be the situation because: ‘Oh, all right, we see the job we need to do. Let’s get out there and do it and then we’re done.’
Yeah. So, loosestrife and elderberry together are kind of the backbone of the formula. They’re the majority by volume of what we’re putting in here.
Ground Ivy, Mullein & Boneset
Year. Okay. So then let’s talk about ground ivy, mullein and boneset. And I’m going to group these three together because these are some supporting herbs who have actions that are directly relevant to a cold or the flu. Directly relevant to the symptoms that you’re experiencing with typical winter respiratory crud. So ground ivy is partially here because I am so susceptible to ear infections. So Ground ivy actually is going to make up kind of a large portion in our particular blend, but it’s not just about ear infections. Ground ivy also has a really beautiful ability to move fluids in your head and that means your sinuses, that means your clogged up ears. That means like all of the lymphatic action that needs to be happening to drain stuff out of your head when your head feels like it’s so full and it’s going to pop. Ground ivy is there for that. So, even if you are not a person who is super prone to ear infections, ground ivy is still really worth considering because it is so, so helpful in moving all those fluids around.
Yeah. Got to keep the lymph flowing. It’s really, really critical. Okay. And then mullein, right. Mullein is an herb that helps to direct moisture toward the lungs especially. And that’s helpful because when you have a cough, the cough is serving a purpose. The purpose is to get something up and out of the lungs so it’s not hanging around in there anymore. You need your coughs to be effective. When you have a respiratory infection, you need to cough to not just be something that keeps you from getting good sleep at night because that’s no good. And that’s making it harder for the immune system to work. You want the cough to be getting that phlegm, getting that crud up and out in a way. So mullein helps to do that because, if the lungs are too dry, then you can be coughing and coughing, but not really ejecting anything. But also if there’s some phlegm in there but it’s gotten thick and it’s gotten stuck and now it’s hard for the cilia of your lungs to push it along. Then it’s going to be just, you know, it’s going to stick around a lot longer and be much more of a barrier. So if you can thin that out, you can moisten it up a little bit by some fluid that seeps through the mucus membranes, then it’s going to be thinner, it’s going to be easier to move and easier to get out. So mullein helps all those things to happen and basically as a consequence of this effect, it also relaxes the lungs and so they don’t feel quite as tight. You can take a bit of a deeper breath too.
Yeah. Hold on you guys. I’m distracted just a little bit because he’s so great. I was just listening to him talk about mullein and I’m just like, wow, I am so lucky.
Well thank you. But try to focus.
Alright, focus. Boneset!
Boneset. So boneset in this case, the action that we are working with is boneset’s ability to stimulate the health of the bone marrow itself. And you might be thinking, what on earth does that have to do with it? Well, let me tell you because I find this so exciting and super, super fascinating. Boneset is able to restore healthy bone marrow and healthy bone marrow is going to restore your white blood cell count cause that’s where you make them. And if you are fighting an infection, what you need is the cavalry, right? Like ”send in the cavalry’, you know. Or let’s make it baseball. And it’s like the ninth inning and your pitcher is really tired. And what do you get? You get a relief pitcher, right? Some new pitcher comes in with a fresh arm and I don’t know tons about baseball, but I do know that this is a thing. And that’s what bone set is doing for you. Boneset is able to literally create more immune responders. So if you are fighting this fight against your friendly neighborhood pathogen and your immune system is like, ‘man, what I could use is a relief pitcher right now. I just need some extra hands to fight this fight’. Boneset will create them for you. Okay, well your bone marrow will create them, but boneset will help your bone marrow to do that. And I think that is the coolest.
Yeah. But wait, there’s more, right? So, boneset also helps with the movement of fluids and the dispersion of heat in the system. So by that I mean that on the one hand boneset can serve as something of a diuretic and help you to eliminate fluid wastes. But also it has a diaphoretic quality that opens up the skin as a channel of elimination or as a pathway. And that allows you to sweat a little more freely if you’re having a fever or just to release some internal heat and let some things out of the body in that way. And those are really critical when you’re in the stage of cold or especially flu where you’re fevering boneset helps the fever to be much more productive. Right. We go into a lot more detail about this in the cold and flu course. But a fever is not the enemy. A fever is your friend actually. Fevers are one of your best weapons against the infection for lots and lots of reasons, but we want them to be effective and efficient. We want the fever to accomplish what it needs to do and then recede, right?
Yeah. Be done with it.
Yeah. So boneset makes the fever much more efficient and that way you don’t have to keep fevering over and over again or you don’t have these like low grade fevers that linger for a long time. You get that good solid fever going and then you’re done. And that’s great.
Sumac, Goldenrod & St. John’s Wort
Well, now we have another group of support plants. If we do this in concentric circles, they’re like the next outward concentric ring of support plants and that is going to be staghorn sumac, goldenrod and St John’s wort. So where we’re going here is…
This is like our Red and Gold.
Oh yeah, it really is, isn’t it?
Yeah. St John’s Wort has both of those. Goldenrod is gold and sumac is red.
This is the Gryffindor team of our elixir.
Yeah, that’s totally what’s going on here.
Yeah. Excellent. All right. So these are supporting other organ systems that are sort of tangentially involved, right? So sumac is very nutritive. It is providing all those vitamins and minerals. It’s basically supporting your whole darn body. And then goldenrod is supporting the lungs. -Um, I can’t believe I just said that! What I mean is kidneys.
Yeah, the kidneys.
Kidneys. Pretend I didn’t say lungs. I meant Kidneys. Goldenrod is supporting the kidneys. And St John’s Wort is supporting the liver. So why do we care about overall nutritive support, overall vitamins, especially vitamin C as well as kidney and liver support? Well, partially because we’ve got to do a lot of exchange during illness. You need to clear a lot of stuff out of your system when you get sick. It is like all the dust bunnies have to go and in order to do that, your liver and your kidneys need to be really functioning at the top of their game. It’s like when you decide that, ‘Oh, I should probably vacuum.’ But then you start vacuuming and you realize, ‘Oh, I haven’t maybe vacuumed in a while and there’s a lot of cat hair underneath the bookshelves and I just moved the cushions on the couch and there’s cat hair in between them.’ And you realize that this is a much bigger job than you thought it was. That’s how getting a cold is actually, because this is a time when your body says everything must go. Just clear it all out. Piles of bags for Goodwill. Here we go. Or to your local thrift shop. And that’s why we care so much about this general background, process of elimination support.
Yeah. And again the sumac and the goldenrod, they both do have some of the activity on the mucus membranes, right? They have some astringency to them. Some of that tonifying quality. Like you say, sumac has all of that vitamin C plus a bunch of other bioflavonoids and those are similar to but different from, or in that way, complimentary to the bioflavonoids that we’re finding in the elderberry, You know, look at the colors, right? Elderberries in that blue purple side, sumac is in that kind of bright red, I don’t know. I need more color names. You’re better at this.
Scarlet? Super red. Really, really red.
Yeah. So they have constituents that are from the same chemical family, but they’re distinct from each other. And so getting that kind of a scattershot approach here is actually much more effective than being, like you say, tightly targeted to one particular issue.
Sumac has a nice diuretic action too, which again is kidney supportive but also through the whole process of that elimination.
Right, right. And goldenrod has some aromatic qualities to it. St John’s Wort has some wound healing qualities or some anti-inflammatory qualities. So there’s just a ton of stuff going on in there.
Actually all three of those have some nice anti-inflammatory qualities but by different mechanisms of action. And again, the inflammatory response is part of getting sick. You might not necessarily think about it when you have a cold or the flu. You might not think about inflammation, but inflammation is definitely there and you need it. Inflammation is what tells your body, ‘Hey, we should get that immune response going.’ So it is important. But then having these herbs in the mix that also have anti-inflammatory actions is also really good because what we want to do is we want to have a healthy inflammatory response and then we want to say ‘Thanks, that was awesome. Good job. Now you’re done. Go home.’.
Same story with that fever. Make it effective, make it efficient.
And then make it be done. Yes.
Japanese Knotweed, Catnip & Blue Vervain
All right. So this next one is a bit of an experiment.
Yeah. Last year or maybe two years ago, on a whim, I tossed in some Japanese knotweed flowers. And the reason was because….
You saw them and they were beautiful?
Well that would be reason enough actually. Yes. But also, I saw them and they were beautiful and then I felt really inspired. But I felt really inspired because I had been starting in on some research of sort of beyond Resveratrol with Japanese knotweed. Because when you hear Japanese knotweed, usually the stuff that you’re hearing is Resveratrol, Resveratrol, Resveratrol. Sometimes you hear Lyme and sometimes you hear arthritis and generally you might hear joint support, but usually what you hear is Resveratrol. But there’s a ton more to Japanese knotweed than that. And there’s a lot of study going on about Japanese knotweed in cancer, like cancer support and part of cancer protocols. There’s a lot of research going into Japanese knotweed in terms of infection fighting action. And I had just a couple of years ago started digging into that research and trying to broaden the way that I think about Japanese knotweed. And now I really love putting Japanese knotweed flowers into the winter elixir. I think it’s super, super effective, but I haven’t stopped researching. And an interesting thing is that when I was doing the Botany for Herbalists course and I was looking deeper because the botanical name of knotweed has changed a couple of times. It’s been reclassified. And I was including information about that in the course. And I looked up the actual name for Japanese knotweed because we always call it Japanese knotweed, but I was like, what do they call it in Japanese? And one of the names for it is Itadori, which means ‘to take away pain’. And that kind of blew my mind because that is a totally new aspect of Japanese knotweed that I have never considered before. At least not overtly considered, obviously if we are contributing anti-inflammatory action, then ultimately we will be reducing joint pain. If we are contributing an ability to fight an infection, ultimately we are reducing discomfort. But I had never considered pain reduction as a primary identifying factor of Japanese knotweed and it is clear that somebody else does. So now I am in a whole new phase of Wow, I need to dig even deeper into my ways of thinking about Japanese knotweed and my way of being in relationship with Japanese knotweed. So that’s super exciting to me.
Yeah. So we put some flowers in there and that’s pretty great.
Herbalism is like this. You guys, it has been 20 years, it may be has been more than 20 years and you never stop being amazed or delighted or surprised. Like there’s always some new thing that suddenly you realize and you’re like, wow, I thought I knew that plant. Like I thought I really knew that plant. And then you’re like, Holy cow and your mind is just blown. And it is one of the things that has kept me doing this for 20 years because it just gets deeper and more rich. There’s just so much amazing stuff out there. And every time you’re like, this world could not possibly become more amazing, I am utterly overwhelmed with the amazingness of this world. Then like there’s more amazing, like there’s just more.
There is. Yeah. Well I think catnip is pretty amazing personally. And we were really delighted when down by the river we found some wild catnip growing down there. I was really excited to see it.
And it’s so potent. I don’t understand why there aren’t like chords of lynxes just purring in this. It’s astounding. You can smell it like before you can see it.
Yeah. So you know, the catnip here we included in this and also blue vervain is another one we think of in a kind of a related fashion. Both of these herbs help us to relax and between the two of us we have our favorites, we have the herbs that match our personality types the best you might say. So I love catnip because it makes me feel like I’ve got a cat sitting on my belly and purring, you know, it’s great for when you’ve got your guts all wrapped up in anxiety and frustration. And for both of us, a lot of times when we get sick, there comes a point when the frustration really sets in like, Oh, I have so much to do and now I’ve been lying here for a day and a half or a week or whatever.
My inbox is overflowing.
I can’t do it! Yeah. Sometimes I sneak in and take your phone away when you’re asleep. But yeah, I mean, it can be hard to let yourself be sick, to let yourself get bored even. You know, the healing power of boredom is highly underestimated, but it’s a real force in the world and catnip I find it helps me to release that kind of tension, to let that go. It also does help because I frequently get digestive upsets when I have an infection or an illness like this. And catnip is quite soothing to the belly. So for all these reasons I find it really lovely to include in the mix.
Yeah. Well, you know, vervain you guys, if you have spent any time around us, either physically or virtually, you know that I love Chamomile. It really helps me chill out and relax. But vervain takes it to a whole new level. And, I think it’s funny because Chamomile doesn’t grow on that particular piece of land, but vervain does.
I haven’t found wild Chamomile there. Well maybe like one tiny little plant that we wanted to leave alone.
Yeah. But vervain does and fairly prolifically. And vervain is a plant that helps you let go when you are kind of white knuckling a little, when you are gripping on so tight and really trying to control an outcome. And for me that becomes really, really important. When I’m sick, it’s not just about, ‘Hey, you should chill out and relax in bed.’ It is that I need something strong enough to like literally uncurl my fingers from the thing that I’m holding onto way too tightly, which is usually my work. It’s usually, ‘no, no, I’m not sick. I can’t be sick. There’s too much to do. There are people with questions I need to answer them. There’s stuff going on. Oh we need to whatever.’ And it’s really hard for me to let go of all that and just be sick. Just get in the bed and be sick. And vervain is very specifically targeted to just let go for a minute of all the things you are trying to control. Even if the thing you’re trying to control is ‘no, no, I’m not sick’, you know?
Putting it all Together
Yeah, definitely. All right. So those are our ingredients. So here’s the process for how we put it all together.
Yes. Okay. So one, there’s a little bit of planning involved in this. And the reason is that ground ivy, I like to make tincture of ground ivy early in the spring because I really like to do it when the flowers are on. Now you don’t have to, you can do it when there’s just the leaves. You can do it when you need to. It’ll be fine. But I like to do it best when the flowers are on. So I usually make the tincture of ground ivy early in the spring. And then what I like to do is use that tincture and add to it. So when it is time to go out and harvest these plants, I will take the loosestrife, the mullein, the boneset, the sumac and goldenrod, the St. John’s wort at least. And put all of those into the ground ivy tincture plus add a little bit more vodka to that and because it’s probably more plant matter than I really had ground ivy tincture. So usually about half of that is ground ivy tincture. And then I also pour in another half of vodka just to fill it up so it’ll cover all the plants. The end goal here is you’re covering all the plants with vodka: chop them up some, so that they fit in there better, stuff them in a jar and cover them up with vodka to let them soak.
The elderberries I put into honey and I’m going to talk about that in a minute, but you also can put the Japanese knotweed flowers, the catnip and the vervain into the honey as well. Or those three things you can toss into the tincture, whichever one appeals to you more. I like to put them in the honey. It’s fun to do that. So I will put them in with the elderberries into the honey and I will let them extract into the honey for a good long time, for at least a few weeks. And the honey will turn really deep purple from the elderberries. And after it’s been at least a few weeks, I will take them out of the honey and mash them a little, especially the berries, mashed it up a little bit and add them to the tincture so that anything that’s left in them that didn’t get pulled out from the honey is going to end up in the tincture. All right, so now I have deep purple elderberry infused honey plus the flowers from the Japanese knotweed, the catnip and the vervain. I have a big old bottle of loosestrife, ground ivy, mullein, boneset, sumac, goldenrod and St. John’s wort macerating in vodka to which I have put in the Japanese knotweed flowers, the catnip, the vervain, and the mashed up elderberries from the honey so that they can soak even longer in the alcohol. And I wait for another few weeks, another like maybe two weeks. So all in all, this has been four to six weeks. And then I strain it out. And because I do all this with fresh plant matter, I really need to squeeze it. If you don’t squeeze the leftovers, you’re gonna waste a lot of your tincture. So make sure, dump it all into a big bowl and pour off all the alcohol that is free flowing and then squeeze out all that plant matter. Ring it till your hands are really sore. You can wrap it up in cheese cloth and ring it like you’re wringing out a towel. You can put it in some kind of a press if you want to. You can just get a lid that fits inside and squeeze it down with that lid so that you’re sort of making your own kind of press or you can just wring it like crazy if you have the hand strength to do that. Or if you would like to build the hand strength, you know, like consider it an exercise, whatever method works best for you. I don’t know, you can wash your feet real good and step on it. Like they do for grapes when they’re making wine.
I am familiar with this story about stomping on the grapes.
They wash their feet really good for it.
I haven’t been to a vineyard in quite a while in this lifetime. So maybe we can visit one and check if that is still the method they use.
Yeah, my point is, squeeze it as much as you can by any method you can. There’s no one right method. The method is whatever’s right and doesn’t hurt your hands too much. One person doesn’t have to squeeze it either. You can pass it around. Whatever you need to do. My point here is squeeze it a lot because there’s a lot of tinctures soaked up in those leaves and you don’t want to lose out on that. Okay, now you have all of that tincture. You’re going to dump in all of the honey and shake it real good. And you’ve got something that is deep, rich, purple. It is maybe three quarters alcohol and one quarter honey or maybe two thirds alcohol and one third honey. It ends up usually somewhere around there. I don’t have to measure. That’s just how it normally ends up because when I stuff all of the plants into the jar for the alcohol and cover it with alcohol and then stuff all of the things that are going into the honey into a jar and cover it with honey, it just naturally ends up to be about two thirds alcohol and one third honey. But even if it’s 50/50, that’s fine. As long as there’s at least 50% alcohol, it’ll be stable and solid and you won’t have to refrigerate it. And then when we get sick, we keep it right on the counter. That’s the thing. When you get sick, you don’t want to do something really hard cause you’re sick. But even worse when you’re starting to feel the sick coming on, if you’re anything like me, you’re like, ah, I got to work really hard because I’m going to get sick and I’m not going to be able to work. So I got to do lots of stuff. And almost like when you feel the sick coming on, it’s almost even harder to take care of yourself because you’re like, ‘no, no, I’m not sick’. My point is we leave it right on the counter right in front of us so that it is super easy to just take it, just take it all the time.
Dosing & Additional Thoughts
Yeah. So if we start to feel a little tickle in the throat, a little ache in the ear or one of our signs that there’s a cold or the flu coming on, then we’ll take our winter elixir bottle. It’s usually like one of these, you know, growlers, like you would have mead or you know, beer or whatever. And so we’ll take one of those, like unscrew that and pour off about a shot. We use shot glasses for this. That’s the dosing method for our winter elixir. Go ahead and take that whole shots. Don’t worry, you’re going to be fine.
Yeah, if you’re giving this to a child obviously you’re going to give a lot less.
Give a spoon. That’s fine. So we’ll take that and usually if I’m taking one, then I’ll make another one and hand it to you or vice versa. And then repeat that every few hours that first day. If you’re starting to feel really bad, then as often as every two hours is fine.
Yeah. And then I would also say that, whatever your appropriate amount is with regard to alcohol intake, if that sounds like a lot of alcohol for you, because over the course of a day that is going to be a couple of tablespoons of alcohol. If that’s too much for you in one day, then back it off, that’s totally fine. This is a thing that you can dose appropriate to your body. So for us, that’s a really good dose. But if you take, you know, two teaspoons instead, that’s okay. Just take it frequently.
Yeah. Right. And try to go to bed early. You can do a thyme steam, that’s great. If you can eat some garlic and have some ginger in your life and all of that kind of thing, you know, there’s lots and lots more that can be included in your comprehensive cold and flu protocol. And if you’re interested…
Hey, we have that for you.
We have that for you, yeah. So our newest course is launching today and that’s all about Holistic Management of Cold and Flu. So there’s going to be a link in the show notes and you can also find it by looking at all of our online courses and check that out at commonwealtherbs.com/learn and you’ll see everything that we’ve got.
Yeah. Not just cold and flu, but everything, just like everything. Yeah. Awesome. All right. Well I really hope that this is inspiring for you to go out and experiment. It doesn’t have to be like that, if you can only find three of these herbs, great. Make it anyway. Three of these herbs is awesome. If you find different herbs that are similar in function, then awesome. Make your own blend. And by the way, share and tell us what it is, we would love to hear. The blend itself doesn’t have to be exactly what we make. And you might notice that we didn’t put percentages or anything in here. The percentage is whatever is right that year.
Yeah. I mean you’re going to be using less boneset than you are some of the others because it’s bitter and because it can give you a little upset tummy if there’s too much of it. But in a formula like this where there’s a lot of other herbs in the mix, then they can balance each other out and kind of smooth over those rough edges. But yeah, you can definitely adjust this to what you need. You also adjust it to what the land provides, you know, so we don’t make this the same way every year. There’s been years where there was not a very strong St. John’s wort crop or one year where the vervain just didn’t turn up at all. And we were like, ‘Oh no, is it gone forever?’. And then it came back next year. So, that’s a big thing for us too, is that, if there’s a year where there’s a lot of goldenrod and it just looks gorgeous and beautiful, then we’ll include more of that in our syrup or elixir that year. So there’s that flexibility and that responsiveness to what’s actually growing.
By the way, if you are taking pharmaceuticals or someone who you love who might be sharing this elixir with you, is taking pharmaceuticals, then it’s better to just leave the St. John’s wort out altogether. Simply because the St. John’s wort can cause the pharmaceuticals to be metabolized more quickly. And so you actually clear them from your system faster than your doctor intended, which ultimately lowers your dose. And that’s no good. So do avoid the St. John’s wort if somebody is taking pharmaceuticals, but as long as nobody is, then that’s totally fine. But I guess that’s exactly the message that I really want to get across is that, it doesn’t have to be exactly the same every time. It doesn’t have to be exactly the way we make. This is flexible. It is responsive and adaptive and in relationship to what’s going on in your local environment right now. And also responsive to your own body too. If you find for example, that the plant that really helps you to relax most is lemon balm and you’ve got some in your garden then toss lemon balm in there instead of catnip and vervain. That’s totally cool. Whatever it is. It should be playful. There should be lots of adaptation and I just want to sort of focus on that for a minute because I don’t want people to think like, ‘Oh, I have to do it exactly the way that they did it’ or that there’s a lot of stress about exactly your methods. Really just go on out there, responsibly harvest some beautiful plants and then work with them.
Yeah. Alright. So there it is. There’s how we make our winter elixir and we hope that you make your winter elixir soon.
Yeah. Keep prepared, right?
Oh, and here we have some shout outs. I do need to say that I am again, I feel like some of the shout outs slipped through the cracks. But I do have some to share with you. First to my dear friend Amy, who I just discovered is listening to the pod and I have to say that it’s pretty exciting when anyone lets us know that the pod is helpful and meaningful in their lives, but it’s especially exciting to hear from a friend that I don’t get to see very often and she loves what we’re doing and I’m super excited about.
Amy! Hi! Hello!
Yay. I’m so excited. She wrote to say that she started listening and now she listens every single day on her commute.
Yes. She’s catching up from the very first episode.
Aaaah, oh wow. That’s so great.
Yeah. Anyway. You know, there is that proverb “you can’t be a prophet in your own city”. Not that I think of the word prophet is right for us, but like you can’t be an expert in your own town. Like the people knew you before or the people who knew you when you were a kid, it’s hard to get them to take you seriously when you become an expert in basically anything. Even if you are a lawyer or a pharmacist or whatever. Like they knew you when you were a kid, so they’re not going to take it too seriously. And I don’t know, it’s fun when, when our friends are like, ‘hey we see you, we see what you’re doing and we’re into it’.
That’s so great. All right, well we had another shout out here for Angelina who’s interested in the clinical program and you know, there’s been a lot of interest in clinical program over the last week or the last couple of weeks, which is great. We’re really excited for that. So that program launches in November and remember this one does have some prerequisites. So if you’re interested, check it out. You can start at Commonwealthherbs.com/learn and look into the clinical herbalist program there. And if you’re interested then reach out to us.
Yeah, you can even email us directly at email@example.com and we can help you out with that. Also a shout out to Emily from California who wrote an email to us a whole month ago, but I think I missed it back then and I was just going back through the inbox because literally I’m so behind on replying to people and I found it so, better late than never. Yay, Emily! Hi! And like I said, I’m pretty sure I’ve missed a few more of them because my inbox is kind of a disaster. So if we missed your shout out, don’t worry some random number of weeks from now, it will be in the list. But the bottom line is that honestly, you guys, whenever I see somebody saying, I love the podcast, it just makes me so happy and thank you so much for supporting what we do. And I’m so glad that it’s helpful for some of you guys out there and if you would like to support it more actively than you can check it out at Commonwealtherbs.com/supporters and become a monthly supporter of our podcast, which not only helps to pay the cost of running this podcast, the cost of hosting it on the internet and all that stuff. But also helps to support our community programs. Like the incarcerated students project where we provide herbal education to incarcerated people for free. And the single moms of color project where we can provide scholarships for single moms of color because it was the right thing to do. Were we provide scholarships for native Americans, who want to learn herbalism even though we do not teach native American herbalism. The plants are the plants and we teach what we have to offer and we want to share that with anyone.
Yeah. And if you’re interested in supporting us in other ways, we are still looking for help with transcription. So we’re getting transcriptions of the podcast episodes themselves and also of the videos in our online program courses. There are many goals to this project. One of them is that that’s the material that we send out to the folks who are incarcerated. So you help us to expand what we can offer to people in that situation. And we have some other plans in the works ultimately with our transcripts.
Yes. We are hoping to make the video programs more accessible to hearing impaired and other populations. So our volunteers who help us transcribe are helping us make herbalism more accessible to more people.
Yeah. And so if you’d like to get in on that project then again, just drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll get you going. All right, well that’s it for us today. We’ll be back next time with another episode of the holistic herbalism podcast. Until then, drink lots of tea.
And go for a walk.
Make some preparations for the winter because ‘Winter Is Coming’.
Wait! No winter IS coming and that’s so delightful. I think on whatever the TV show is that says ‘winter is coming’. I’m pretty sure they mean it ominously but-
Yeah, there are some almonds in that.
Well, I mean it pretty excitedly because winter can be a time to slow down a little bit. And I know in our culture it often isn’t, but in the environment it is. And so at least here in the Northern hemisphere, if you are our listeners in Australia and New Zealand and other Southern hemisphere places, then I suppose winter is not that for you. But, it’s a time that I really look forward to and I’ve really been working hard over the years to realign my life with slowing down a little bit in the winter. And that is also a part of my cold and flu strategy.
All right, we’ll see you next time.
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