Podcast 131: Accessible Herbalism for Edema
Edema is stuck fluid: stagnant blood and lymph that isn’t flowing the way it should be. Puffy ankles and swollen fingers are just two ways this might show up for someone. It’s not just cosmetic – stagnations like this impair wound healing and healthy cellular function, and can put strain on the heart and kidneys. Fortunately, there are many common and inexpensive herbs for edema, and some of them might already be in your kitchen! You can start today to drain the excess fluid and restore healthy conditions to the body.
Along with a bit more movement and some changes to the diet, herbs can help with edema in a variety of ways. Some of them stimulate the kidneys to filter out more fluid from the body. Others give the blood circulation a kick, to disperse pooled fluids. Certain herbs even help to circulate lymph, the “second” circulatory system in the body. And of course, there are topical astringents that can work on the outward expressions of puffiness, restoring healthy skin tone.
This is part 3 in our Accessible Herbalism series! We’re sharing strategies for safely improving some of the most common health concerns, especially for marginalized communities. We want to empower people to take action in support of their own health and the health of their neighbors. The safe, accessible tools of holistic herbalism can fill in the gaps left by uneven access and affordability of conventional care. Working with easy-to-find, inexpensive herbs, with low risk of adverse effects and drug interactions, is something anyone can do.
We’re building a community health collective organizing tool out of this material as we go through the series. You can learn more about the project and find all the collected resources here:
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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 podcast. Yeah. So we’re continuing our series about accessible herbalism this week. And this time our topic is going to be about edema.
Yes. So this is part three in a series of strategies for safely improving some of the most common health concerns, especially that we see in underserved areas. The purpose of this series is to offer community herbal information in an accessible and inclusive way so that people can take action to support their own health.
You know, in many parts of our country, there just isn’t accessible medical care. And in other cases, the medical care is available, but it’s so understaffed that it’s difficult to really get quality care. So we want to provide some tools and some skills that are going to help fill in that gap. This isn’t medical advice because we’re not doctors, but what we’ve got here is some safe, accessible self-care strategies that will help to improve your health outcomes. We believe that all people have a right to accessible and high quality health care, and we want all people to have the tools to care for themselves.
Yes. Our plan here with this series is to work with a relatively small number of easy to get and inexpensive herbs. So you’ll notice frequently the same herbs turning up in different places as we work with the different aspects of these easy to get and mostly affordable inexpensive herbs. Of course, there are other plants that can work well in each of these situations also, but we’ve tried to stick to ones that are really accessible. They’re affordable, or they grow in lots of places and they’re easy to harvest and hard to mistake. We’ve also chosen herbs that are generally safe and generally don’t have medical contra-indications or interactions with pharmaceuticals, with prescription drugs that you might be taking. And if there is anything like that, then we are making sure to draw that out very specifically so that you can be aware of it.
As we work through this project and come towards the end, a printable version of this work is going to be available along with some information about how to start your own community health collective and share this knowledge with people around you. So we’re making all of this available free to everybody, because we want everybody to have these skills. And if you want to find out more, or if you want to support this effort, then you can do both those things at commonwealthherbs.com/mutualaid.
Yes. All right. Well, before we dig into this week’s topic, which is edema, we just want to do our reclaimer that we always do. We have to say it, but also we want to say it, because we are not doctors. We’re not trying to be doctors. We’re not trying to provide medical care. Herbalism is something that is available to people who are not doctors. It is available as self-care and as work that you can do in conjunction with any other health care that you’re receiving. So that everybody’s working together for the best possible outcome. So we’re not doctors, we’re herbalists and holistic health educators.
And the ideas we discuss in our podcasts do not constitute medical advice. No state or federal authority licenses herbalists in the United States. These discussions are for educational purposes only. Everyone’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 some ideas to research further.
And we want to remind you that good health is your right and your own personal responsibility. So this means that the final decision when you’re considering any course of therapy, whether it’s discussed on the internet, or prescribed by a physician, is always yours.
All right. Let’s talk about edema.
What is Edema?
Yeah. So what does this even mean, first of all?
Yes, well, edema is when there is too much fluid stuck in your body. Most commonly, this happens in the feet, the ankles, and the lower legs. But it’s also common in the hands and honestly it can actually happen anywhere. Edema makes these areas look puffy. So if you have edema in your feet and in your ankles, for example, then your feet might puff up out of your shoes, especially if you’re wearing shoes, like flats that don’t cover the whole foot or sandals that don’t cover the whole foot. So the area around the sandal straps kind of puffs up a little bit. Or if you are wearing socks and then you get some puffed up area, like kind of muffin top.
The sock kind of squeezes.
Yeah. And above the socket kind of puffs up over. And then when you take your socks off, you have like the total marks from the sock on your ankles. These are indications that there’s too much fluid in that area. And that can be a really big problem, because when there is too much fluid, we’re seeing that it’s just all sitting there. It’s not moving around. And that can cause something like a traffic jam. So that you can’t get nourishment into that area. Fresh blood and fresh food, basically, oxygen for the cells can’t get in there because there’s too much fluid already there.
Yeah. So there’s two kinds of fluid that are involved here. The first one is actually lymphatic fluid, which is the kind of watery stuff that’s in between your cells. It’s like your inner ocean. So this fluid has waste from the cells, but it’s also where a lot of your immune system lives. So a lot of your immune cells live in the lymphatic vessels and travel through them to get around the body. So those immune cells there, they’re watching out for any kind of infection or damage like a wound, you know, something like that. So this fluid needs to cycle around in order to stay clean, to stay healthy, just like the water in a pool. You know, if your pool didn’t have a pump in it.
Yeah. And a filter.
It would get pretty gross pretty quick.
Right. It would eventually be like a stagnant pond and it the water would turn green. So you think about that inside your body too. It’s not necessarily turning green, but…
I mean a healthy pond, it has its own kind of like fresh water coming in or water going out and things are filtering. You know, there’s a lot of life going on in there. So, you know, just like that water, if it just stays in one place, it gets all loaded up with some trash or some mosquitoes.
Whatever else is going to come in and stick around. Right? So we don’t want that. So lymphatic fluid, it moves through lymphatic vessels, which are just like your blood vessels, just like your veins and arteries, except sort of just over to the side a little bit.
They’re like beside them.
They’re next to them, you know.
It’s like a divided highway where there’s two roads with the grassy strip in the middle.
Totally. So these vessels, they help those fluids get around the body and ultimately get to the kidneys where they can be filtered out so that the wastes can leave your body in the urine. And that fluid is going to move through those vessels every time you move your muscles, every time that you stretch, every time that you contract your muscles and lengthen them out again. Each time they move, you’re squeezing the fluid along those vessels, around the system, and then ultimately again, back toward the kidney. So if you’re not moving around very much, or if that fluid is thick because it’s got a lot of wastes in it, then it’s hard for that fluid to get all the way around and get back to the kidney. And it can cause the legs or the hands or the belly, whatever, to swell up
And you know, there’s no pump. There’s nothing that moves that fluid around. Like your heart can move some of your blood around, but the lymphatic fluid doesn’t have a pump. The only thing to move it is when you move your muscles to squeeze it up and up and up, a little bit, a little bit along the way.
So that’s the one fluid, right? And then the other one is of course your actual blood. So your blood, you know, it comes from your heart, it goes into your arteries, and wants to feed all the cells in your body all the way down your toes. And then it wants to move back up to the heart again, through the veins to keep moving all the way around, to keep circulating. And it needs a little bit of help to do this, actually, because it’s working against gravity when it wants to come back up in the body. So imagine some blood has circulated down to your toes and now it has to get back up to your heart again. So, you can feel your heart pumping from here, but like the amount of force it would take to go all the way down to your toes and all the way back up again, it would be way too much for the heart to do on its own. So it relies on the movement of your skeletal muscles, right? The ones that you get to decide when they move and when they don’t. The ones in your legs, the ones in your arms, the ones in your core, those muscles as they move and stretch and change their shapes and everything, they to help to move, not just the lymph, but also the blood around the body. Really important.
Yeah. Now edema often comes along with varicose veins. These are two sort of symptoms of the same problem. And this is when in, especially in the legs, you can have varicose veins anywhere, but especially in the legs you’ll see a vein that puffs up. And you can see maybe one little part of the vein rising up above the skin, just in a little puffy place. And it might be a little bit blue in that area. Or if you have a large varicose vein, you might be able to trace the actual vein. There’s a little bit of blue there. It’s a little bit puffy. And what’s going on there is that there is a spot in the vein that is not strong. And so, because it has a weak spot, it has stretched out of its original shape, and that puffs that one area up. You can think about the way that you can take a balloon and kind of, you know, if you’ve made balloon animals or whatever, you can squeeze it and get a little spot to puff up. And so there’s just a weak spot there, and then it puffs up because of the pressure of the blood inside. And these weak spots that ultimately cause varicose veins, they happen because those vessels aren’t healthy. They’re not being nourished well. Maybe there’s blood, that’s been sitting around getting stale, getting stagnant, and causing damage in the area. And so you know, you can imagine this, if you sit with your leg bent for a long time, it’s hard for the blood to come up through that bend because you’re actually squeezing some of the veins in that area. And so if you sit with your legs bent for a long time, day after day after day, and you’re squeezing that area all the time, then that’s where you can get a damaged spot. And that’s why so often you’ll see varicose veins happening just like right below the knee. There’ll be often a lot of them there. And then they’ll go down the leg from there. Now that doesn’t mean you can never sit down, it’s normal for humans to sit down, of course. But it just means not to sit down for long periods of time every day. That we want to have our movement broken up so that we don’t contribute to this damage and make more varicose veins.
Yeah. You can see the damage to the veins there. You can’t easily see, you know, with your eyes, the lymphatic vessels, right?
Yeah. They’re not blue, so they don’t show through the skin very well.
Yeah. But if this kind of damage is happening to the veins, then it’s a safe bet that a similar problem is happening with those lymphatic vessels too. So we’re going to also want to take care of them.
Now edema can be really, really uncomfortable or even very painful, especially if it’s a hot and humid day, or if you’re menstruating. Those are things that can really aggravate the pain of edema. Or if you’ve been standing for a long period of time, or if you are not accustomed to walking and you try to walk for a longer period of time. All of these things can really cause edema to become very painful. So that’s something that we want to work with and consider and work around. Edema is also often a symptom of other issues. You don’t have edema just all by itself for no reason, right? There’s something else going on that is causing the edema. And often there are multiple factors involved. So often this comes along with cardiovascular disease or trouble in the kidneys or liver trouble. It can kind of be a chicken and the egg kind of a situation, right? Did the cardiovascular disease come first and cause the edema? Did the edema come first and then aggravate cardiovascular issues? Or were both of those two issues caused from some other thing, like a very sedentary lifestyle with a lot of sugar in the diet, for example. These issues are complex and it can be hard to point to exactly the one thing that kicked all of it off. But that’s okay, because when we know the different factors that are involved, then it means that we’re going to take care of not only of getting those fluids moving again, and not only of trying to improve the health of the veins in the area, improve the health of the area that has edema itself, but we’re also going to take care of these other parts of the body, your heart, the rest of the cardiovascular system, the kidneys, or the liver. We’re going to make sure that we are working on all of these things at the same time. And that way we don’t need to know exactly which one of them came first, which one of them caused it. We’re just going work to improve the health of all of these organs at the same time. And fortunately, a lot of the herbs that we turn to for edema are also herbs that can take care of the health of the heart, of the kidneys, even of the liver.
Move Your Body to Move the Fluids
Pretty great. So we’re going to talk about those herbs in a moment, but before that, I want to talk about a couple of other factors that are going to play into edema, and that can be really critical for when we’re trying to resolve it. So first we’re going to talk about movement because we’re talking here about fluid and, and about fluid, that’s stuck and stagnant and all in one place.
Right? The whole issue is that this fluid isn’t moving.
Yeah. And so, a huge, huge part of the resolution here is going to be movement. So the fluid needs your muscle movement in order to flow through the vessels. And again, that’s both true about lymph and true about blood. So, because of that, we need to move our muscles, right. Walking, swinging your arms around over your head. You know, maybe it doesn’t feel good in the moment if you’ve got a lot of edema, a lot of swelling. If it’s to the point that it’s causing pain, walking could be painful for you, but it is going to be essential to get some kind of movement. So if you can walk, do it, even if it’s only in short spurts, right? If it’s for five minutes at a time, you can get up, you can go outside and walk around your house or walk around the block you live on, come back in. Okay. You had a little walk. That’s great. If you can do that several times through the course of the day, that will be even better. And this is an important thing that I like to highlight that it would be better. I think, in this case and in a lot of health areas, to get three, 10 minute walks in your day, rather than to get one walk that was 30 or 45 minutes. We want to, like you say, break up those periods of sedentary time, get that blood flowing again for a little while. And do that multiple times through the day, rather than just kind of once. So a lot of people have the habit or have the idea in mind that exercise is something that we sort of like set aside some time for and put it over there. And that’s when we do our exercise. But in a lot of cases if your goal is more about health maintenance and less about building muscle, then health maintenance is better achieved by multiple smaller, maybe less intense, bouts of movement.
Honestly, I would even prefer that somebody walks for two minutes every half hour then to try and do 30 minutes at the end of the day or in the middle of the day or something like that. And if you’re a person who’s experiencing a lot of pain from your edema, two minutes might be a reasonable time for you to walk. Like that might be enough that you can do before it starts to hurt. And then that’s fine. It would be better to do that very frequently then to try to do one big session of movement and have it hurt. And now you’re not going to want to do it tomorrow and all that stuff.
Yeah. Over time, this will get easier. It will get less painful. It will help to disperse those fluids. So give it a little time, give it a little space. Let your movement expand, you know, as time goes on. You don’t have to do it all at once. Start where you are.
Now, if walking is impossible because it’s just too painful. There’s so many reasons that a person just can’t can’t freely walk. You don’t have to walk to move those leg muscles. So you can do anything that will move your leg muscles. For example, you can lay on the floor, lay on your back on the floor with your legs up on a chair, or lay on your bed with your legs up on the wall or up on a bunch of pillows, whatever is reasonable for you. Maybe on the headboard of your bed, you can prop your legs onto that. And then just move them around. If you’re able to sort of make bicycle motions in the air with your legs. If that’s too intense, just move them in any way that you can, even, if all you can do is wiggle your toes and point and flex your feet. Any kind of movement that you can make, if you do it as often as you can throughout the day in small spurts so that it isn’t too painful, but you’re doing it regularly, this is going to help. This is the same with your arms too. If you have edema in the hands, for example, then you could just raise your arms and move your hands around, roll your wrists around, kind of wave your arms over your head. You can ride your bicycle with your arms over your head. All of these things are helpful. And again, you don’t have to do it for a long time. You just have to do it regularly. Even just having your legs up on a wall, up on a chair, up higher than the rest of your body, and your arms up. Even just that is going to help because in this case gravity can be draining the fluid down. This is a lot easier now for the fluid to move down because it’s working with gravity. So even if you cannot do these movements by yourself, someone can help you and hold the weight of your arms up for you, and help you move them around. Or hold the weight of your legs up for you and help you move them around. Even that is going to be helpful. And so, especially, if you’re working with elders or people with very limited mobility, it’s not impossible. It’s not hopeless. There are still these movements that can happen. Even if they are assisted movements, it is still going to help.
Yeah. Just kind of like gently pumping the legs for somebody as they lay on their back, you know? And some gentle massage could help too, to move the fluid around. So if the legs are up then you can kind of like gently brush along the leg and kind of try to gently encourage that fluid to drain down and move that along.
You don’t have to make hard squeezing. And also that can hurt. Literally, the way that you would pet a cat, just very gently rubbing up towards the body, up towards the heart.
Compression to Move the Fluids
Yeah. That’ll move that lymphatic fluid along. One thing a lot of folks do for edema is to wear compression garments, right? So compression socks, or sleeves, or gloves, or leggings or whatever else to kind of squeeze everything, squeeze everything in a bit. And that can help, but it’s important to make sure that they’re the right size. If they’re too small, they can actually cause more damage. They could be cutting off circulation.
And the sizing is, a lot of times you can just buy like small, medium, and large. But that’s not necessarily going to fit your body. And so in order to get compression garments that work really effectively, you do need to be measured for them, and that can be really expensive.
So a less expensive alternative is to work with an ACE bandage. Right. And what you’re going to do is you’re going to wrap whatever limb it is. If it’s your ankle or your arm or whatever, you’re going to wrap from the end back toward the body. So rather than starting here at the elbow and wrapping down the arm toward the hand, we’re going to start at the hand or at the wrist and wrap around, moving in the direction of the elbow. If it’s your foot, you’re going to start down at the ankle or on the foot itself, move up the leg in the direction of your body.
Right. Because as you’re doing the wrapping, you’re gently pushing fluid up.
Yeah. And you’re not wrapping here is if you want to stabilize a sprained ankle. We’re not having a whole lot of pressure coming through there. Just the gentle squeeze from the elastic itself is totally enough for this.
Make sure that you have not cut off the circulation. Make sure that you’re checking that if this is on the legs, that the toes are the color that they’re supposed to be, and they’re able to freely wiggle. It should be very gentle and very comfortable. But you know, not that long ago before we had all these super elastic fabrics, this was the normal way to manage edema when compression was required. This, I can remember every morning, my grandmother getting up and wrapping her legs this way. And that was just normal because that was the seventies and the early eighties. And we didn’t have all these. They hadn’t invented spandex yet. So I think actually we did have, I can remember my mother had some compression stockings, but they weren’t like what is available today. But at any rate that gentle wrapping can be a less expensive and more easily to custom fit option, as long as you do it carefully and make sure that you’re not cutting off any circulation.
More Plant Food & Less Sodium
All right. Well, we’ve got some thoughts around food here, just like always. So because we need to build strong vessels, blood vessels, lymphatic vessels, we need to repair damage to them too. And because in addition, inflammation will cause the fluids to thicken up the blood, the lymph. Again, it will cause them to get thick. The more inflammation is present in the body, the thicker the blood will get, the thicker the lymph will become. So because of all these things, we need to find more foods that can fight inflammation and reduce the amount of foods we eat that cause inflammation. So that basically means if we can get more veggies in, we can do both of those things simultaneously. Any vegetables that you like. Frozen is totally fine. But we’re just trying to get plant foods with colors into your life.
It is important here just to take a moment to recognize that corn is not a vegetable. Sweet corn is delicious, but it doesn’t count as a vegetable. Corn is actually a grain. And so that one we don’t count in our vegetables. But any other ones, broccoli, carrots, peas, green beans, spinach, kale, anything that you like, just get more vegetables every day. And yeah, frozen is completely fine. It doesn’t have to be all the effort involved in getting fresh vegetables and making sure that you cook them before they go bad. Like all that stuff. It’s okay to just stock up on frozen vegetables in your freezer, take out what you need for today, eat it up. Whatever will get these vegetables in you. That’s what we want to do that.
That and berries as well, right? Both vegetables, but even more so berries. They really help to fight inflammation. And they especially help to build strong blood vessels that aren’t too weak, that aren’t too elastic, you know, that have a proper degree of integrity and tone, both the veins and the lymphatic vessels as well. So that’s going to be the first big thing we’re going to want to do around food.
With berries, berries can be quite expensive to buy them fresh, but frozen berries are a much more affordable option. And they’re completely valid. So blueberries are probably my favorite to turn to there. They’re the most available and usually the least expensive. Strawberries, raspberries, if you can find frozen blackberries. That’s fantastic too. Those are all great. But really blueberries are fantastic and they’re the most affordable ones. So that’s really excellent. And again, get them frozen, put them in your freezer. You don’t have to worry about them being in season or going bad or any of that stuff. Just go ahead, get the frozen blueberries whenever you can afford it. And know that that’s helping to build those vessels also.
So the other thing we’re going to want to think about here around edema and food is sodium in the diet. And I say sodium in particular there, because that’s like the form of salt, that’s going to turn up in processed food and packaged food. And then of course in, in table salt, right? So these kinds of salts, they make your body retain water. And that means that it’s gonna just be more fluid in the system. More likely to get stuck. More likely to stagnate and lead to edema.
Right. You kind of want the Goldilocks amount of water in you. Enough water such you’re not dried out so that all the cells have enough hydration, but not so much water that the cells are drowning in too much water.
And the same is true for salt, honestly. We don’t want to have a completely zero salt diet, or a zero sodium diet, or anything like that. That wouldn’t be good for humans. But the thing is that the way that a lot of us eat today again, with a lot of processed food, packaged food, restaurant foods, those are really high in sodium and lacking in a lot of other minerals that would help to kind of balance it out. So, you know, the goal here and the things that we’re going to try to do around food choice are to get less snack foods, less fast foods, less things that are obviously salted, like chips and pretzels and so on. To reduce those to whatever extent we can, right?
Yeah. Even things like bread. You would be shocked how much sodium is in bread. So every time that you can, switching that for vegetables is the best way to go. And whenever you shop, if you are buying processed foods, to make sure to choose the low sodium versions of those foods. That will also help. It’s also really important to get enough protein in your diet. And specifically here we’re thinking about fish, chicken, or other meats, turkey, whatever you like. Because protein helps to keep the fluids inside the vessels. It binds up in a certain way that gives those vessels a little bit more integrity so that the fluids don’t leak out quite so easily. And then that leakiness is causing more sort of flooding in the cells around that area. So protein is also important in helping keep those vessels strong and to have a lot of integrity. And this can be as easy as tuna salad. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. It doesn’t have to be fresh fish that can be expensive. It’s okay to have tuna salad. That counts. Oh, you know, tuna on salad, even better. That’s something that you like a lot. To take canned tuna or canned salmon and put it on some dandelion greens, which, if you’re lucky you have dandelions growing around you, and you can just pick those. And maybe put a little vinegar or something and there you go.
Diuretic Herbs: Dandelion/Parsley/Nettle Leaf
Yeah. It’s super easy. Really good for you. All right. Let’s talk about some herbs. So herbs are gonna serve a number of different specific actions that are all going to contribute to the overall effect that we want, to reduce those swollen areas, to eliminate some of the excess fluid that’s gotten stuck in the system. So first we can start out with diuretic herbs that are going help to improve kidney function, to eliminate some fluid we don’t need anymore. And also,, because of that effect on the kidney, to reduce the amount of water that’s retained in the system. So these are our diuretic herbs. And if you’ve been listening to the last couple episodes in this series, then these are going to be familiar, actually. We’ve got our old friend dandelion leaf turning up here. We’re thinking about parsley leaf, parsley herb, and also about nettle. Nettle leaf in particular here.
Yes. So you can work with whichever of these is easiest for you to get, or the one that you like best. Dandelion leaf and parsley leaf can just be eaten. Parsley you can get at the grocery store, pretty inexpensively. Usually you can get it for like 50 cents or a dollar for a bunch. And dandelion, sometimes you can find that at the grocery store, but it’s fine to just pick the dandelion leaves as long as they’re in a reasonably clean area. And we’re looking at a quarter cup to a half a cup of these chopped to eat daily. And, by the way, if you do live in an area with a lot of dandelion, you can freeze it just like spinach, just like any other frozen vegetable, you can freeze dandelion leaves. And that way you’ll have them in the winter. Dandelion is one of those plants that as long as you don’t take all of the leaves from a plant, it will just keep growing. So just take a couple, like two from this plant and two from that plant, and they will keep producing new leaves for you. It’s kind of like a fresh salad bar all year round. But yes, you can freeze those leaves also. So chop them up first. You can put them in a Ziploc bag, toss them in your freezer. You’ll have them in the winter.
Yeah. Nice. You could do that with nettles as well, honestly.
Yeah. If you live in a place where you can harvest your own nettle, yeah.
Nettle is also one that you can purchase and it’s less expensive than many other herbs.
Yeah. To buy it dried as if to make tea from.
To get it from an herb shop or an herb supplier online. So, you can get a decent amount of nettle and last you a good long time. Not too much.
Yeah. I would say right now the market price is somewhere like $10 for a pound. And a pound is going to last you for a few months. So that is if you think about paying $10 for a vegetable that will last you that long, that’s pretty good.
Could be pretty great. Yeah. With the nettle, if you’re gonna make it into tea, or if you had dried dandelion leaf that you were going to make into tea, there our goal is to get at least a quart of tea per day. And what we like to do is to take three spoonfuls of herbs. We call it a tablespoon, but it’s like a heaping, round tablespoon, not like a flat level one. Put three of those into a quart sized jar. A Mason jar is good because you can pour boiling water right into it, cover it up. And then for these, we’d like to let them infuse overnight rather than just like a five minute steep or a 10 minute. We like to let them infuse overnight and then drink it the next day.
Yeah. If you set it up before you go to bed, then it’ll be ready for you in the morning. And the reason that we’d like to let this sit overnight is because there’s a lot of mineral content and chlorophyll and just a lot of good stuff in the nettles, in the dandelion. Actually you can make parsley into tea also if you want to. And it takes a little while for that to all get out into the water. And you’ll see this, actually. If you look at that tea that you have set up in the Mason jar, if you look at it in 10 minutes, it’ll sort of be a very pale brown color. But when you see it the next morning, it will be so dark that you almost won’t be albe to see through it. And so when it gets that dark, dark color, what’s going on there is that we have pulled the chlorophyll, we’ve pulled the minerals out of those leaves and into the water. So that’s what we want, because then you’re going to drink that. And if you really want to make sure you get every last bit, you can eat the dried, well, they won’t be dried anymore. You can eat the leftover herbs at the bottom of the jar as well, if you want to. I don’t find it terribly appealing, but it’s just a few spoons full and it is very good for you. And if you really want to not waste anything at all and get every bit from it, then that’s a great thing to do.
Okay. A couple of quick cautions here. If you’re taking blood thinning medications, then any one of these herbs could also thin the blood in addition. And so that wouldn’t be good combination. We’d want to approach carefully, talk to your doctor first, talk to your herbalist just to make sure that everything there is going to work out okay. And if you’re taking medications for diabetes, then it can also be important to test your blood glucose levels, your blood sugar levels, daily or frequently in a day, especially if you work with parsley for this. Parsley, even more than the dandelion or the nettle, it can improve diabetes. It can improve blood sugar regulation enough that you need to monitor and make sure that your medication dose is still correct. So we talked a bit more about that in the segment we did on accessible herbalism for diabetes.
And that’s actually good because edema and diabetes go together. So you might have already started working with parsley to help with diabetes, to help reduce your dependence on your medication, to maybe be able to reduce how much medication you need, and just improve your body’s ability to do that sugar processing work. And so you might already be testing, working with parsley and testing, to be sure that that you are in communication with your doctor when that needs to happen. But if you had not started that yet, or hadn’t heard of that yet, then if you choose to work with parsley and you’re taking diabetes medication, then just make sure that you check your blood levels frequently. If you see your blood glucose levels coming down and down and down, that’s good. But we do need to make sure that you talk to your doctor and if you need to make an adjustment to your medication, that they are able to do that for you.
Lymphatic Herbs: Calendula, Red Clover
That’s what, all right. So the next category of herbs we’re going to look at after the diuretics, there is going to be herbs, we call lymphatics. And that means that they move the lymph, right? They help your lymphatic system. They stimulate the flow of that lymphatic fluid. And in large part, these herbs do that by thinning out the fluid or helping to keep moving them along, get them going through the system.
Yeah. If there is a lot of inflammation or a lot of extra sugar, just a lot of metabolic waste sitting around in these fluids, it’s hard for them to move because it’s almost like syrup or molasses in your vessels. That’s difficult to move. If we can make it a little bit more watery than it will flow more easily.
Yeah. So the first one herb that comes to mind when I think about herbs to move the lymph around is usually calendula. Calendula is an amazing herbs. It’s really fantastic. In terms of accessibility, this one is more easy to grow than otherwise.
Yeah. It is beautiful and it is very happy to grow in a bucket. It will grow basically anywhere you give it a chance to, and it is very prolific. So this is an herb that, even if you only have a little scrap of a front yard or a balcony with a bunch of buckets, you can grow a lot of calendula.
It’s the blossoms that we work with. And the calendula flowers there, they’re really helpful when there’s a lot of bloating. Especially if there’s bloating around the belly, around your gut, calendula has a really strong affinity for the lymphatic vessels around your intestines. And when we think of lymphatic vessels, we think of like lymph nodes here, you know, maybe lymph nodes in the breast or something. But you’ve got a lot of lymphatic tissue all around your intestines. And that’s a place that can get swollen, can get bloated. That can be a form of fluid retention there. People don’t always call that edema.
Yeah, but it still qualifies.
It’s the same basic problem. So calendula is really appropriate, really effective, really specific to that kind of swelling problem.
And especially if you are a person who also has some gut trouble. Maybe you get some cramping or some other kinds of gut pain along with edema symptoms and whatever else is going on for you. That’s another thing that calendula can help with. So calendula would be a really good choice if you have edema and have a lot of bloating around the middle and maybe are feeling some gut pain, this would be a really good one.
Calendula is sometimes referred to as pot marigold. Don’t confuse it with marigold. Different species. Calendula. That is its botanical name or its Latin name as well. So if you were maybe visiting a garden center or something.
Or if you were buying seeds.
And you wanted to get some seeds or get a couple of starts or whatever, they’ll always list the common English name and then also the Latin botanical name. And just look for that to be calendula in at least one place in there. And you’ll be all set
And even specifically calendula officinalis. And you can remember that by remembering that this is the official calendula, and not some other unofficial calendula that we might just call marigold. This is the official calendula. And if you ask for that, they will be able to give you the right seed.
Yeah, there we go. Okay. Another lymphatic herb, and even more common, actually, than calendula, is red clover. So red clover grows wild in, well, a lot of the country, a lot of the world at this point. It’s one of those herbs that follows people around and has spread as people have spread.
Even there’s a subway stop in Dorchester, where every year I see this huge.. like there’s just a little scrap of dirt next to the parking lot there. And it is just overflowing with red clover every year, just literally bursting. So even if you live in a city you will still likely find red clover. It’s really very, very common.
Yeah. So red clover, what we’re mainly interested in here are the blossoms, the flowers. And you can harvest them right from the field. You can eat them as a food. They’re one of those flowers that you can eat in a salad and that’s pretty fancy. You can also have them dried and you can make tea with them. If you wanted to, you could make a tincture of the fresh blossoms as well, but we really prefer to work with these as a tea, as an infusion.
Yeah. There’s something about trying to encourage the movement of water through the body. And there’s something about working with water to do that job that feels better in the body than working with a tincture, an alcohol base to do that. Now red clover is one of my favorites to choose when there’s edema in the legs, but also upper body edema as well, and especially even like lymphedema after a breast surgery. It is just a very effective mover. This is another one that if you’re taking blood thinners, then we just need to be a little bit more careful because the purpose of this plant is to thin out fluids. And if you’re already taking blood thinners, then we may thin things out too much. So this isn’t necessarily the right choice if you are taking blood thinners. But if you’re not, then red clover is going to be super, super helpful. And it’s got a lot of nutrients in it as well. It’s just a very nourishing plant as well. So that’s pretty exciting.
So like we said, you can just eat them, you can make them into tea. Again, if we’re making tea, we’re going to look to get at least a quart a day. A quart of tea made with three big heaping tablespoons of dried plant material. Both of these really, we’re looking at the blossoms. Something about flowers helping to move lymph around.
Yes. That seems right.
It’s a part of that. Yeah. So, if you had a few tablespoons of dried calendula flowers, dried red clover flowers, both of them together. Put that into a jar, pour on boiling water, close it up, and let it steep. And we like to let these steep overnight, again. And then in the next day you can just drink that through the course of your day, as you go along. You can totally mix this together with your dandelion or nettle. You could add things like mint or ginger or cinnamon, flavor-wise. So feel free to formulate.
Yes. Especially, I will say that calendula in particular is not my favorite flavor. It does have a little bit of a bitterness. It’s not so bitter that it’s like offensive, but you probably would really appreciate a little mint to go in with it, or a little cinnamon or ginger or something like that. And all of those herbs are also herbs that are going to be helpful in this situation in terms of reducing inflammation. And that is going to help as we try to improve the health of the cardiovascular system of the vessels that are weak in this situation.
Circulatory Stimulant Herbs: Ginger & Garlic
Yeah. You know, particularly true with ginger, right? So, you know, herbs to stimulate circulation and to reduce inflammation are another kind of group or set of actions that we’re going to think about in regards to edema.
You know, in particular, just before you jump in on ginger there, I want to make a note. Because we’re sort of talking about these two groups of fluids and we’re getting them very close together. And that’s because they are very close together. They are a full kind of pump system or like a filtration system. The blood goes out to the furthest parts of the body. It comes back up through the kidneys to be filtered. But when all those cells get the nourishment from the blood and they produce waste, because all creatures do. Kind of like teeny tiny cellular poop, you know, everybody hoops, even your cells. And that has to be brought back up for filtration as well. And so, even though this is two different types of fluid in the body, they’re very intertwined. And their circulation, their movement, it all kind of depends on one another. It all flows together or doesn’t flow together. So that’s why we care so much about both of them in this case. Even though the edema may be a little bit more of one type of fluid or the other, it turns out in order to fix it, we have to fix both.
Cool. So, when it comes to stimulating circulation, when it comes to reducing inflammation in the body, it’s hard to find two better herbs than ginger and garlic. And fortunately, ginger and garlic are pretty easy to find. So they can both help and both are especially helpful, again, if there are cardiovascular issues that are accompanying or contributing to the edema. So the easiest way to work with garlic to start with is to make it as a food. Any kind of food that you’re making, put one or two cloves of garlic into there per person. So if you’re cooking for three people, three to six cloves of garlic can go into that meal. That’ll be an effective dose for everybody. You can add ginger into your food in kind of the same amounts, like maybe one thumb sized piece of ginger per person.
You know when you get the ginger and it has little thumbs sticking off of it? It’s sort of like one of those for each person.
Yeah. That’ll do. You can, of course, make ginger into a tea. You can even make garlic into a tea, and I like to do that. It is strong. It is intense, but you might decide that you love it. I don’t know. Give it a try. See what happens. You can combine the two of them. You could have a little bit of ginger, a little bit of garlic. Maybe you put in some sage into there as well. That’s a fantastic blend for if you think you’re catching a cold, by the way, but it’s also pretty good to get your blood moving around, to get those fluids circulating. And these herbs, they bring a lot of anti-inflammatory potency to the game. The combination of the two of them is really quite strong to bring down inflammation through a number of different chemical mechanisms. But the ultimate effect is that these two herbs are fairly familiar. A lot of people feel pretty comfortable eating ginger and garlic particularly as food. Maybe the tea thing is a little weird, but as food anyway.
Well, you know, you could make just ginger tea, maybe pop a little lemon in there. And now it will be delicious. So if the idea of garlic and your tea turns you off, that’s totally fine. Just make your ginger, pop a little lemon in there. Whichever blend, if you’re going to put the garlic into the tea, that’s great if you’re feeling really brave. I do not like it.
Ah, it’s so good.
So, he loves it. I don’t love it. So I make my ginger tea with lemon. But either way, two to four cups of this tea a day is going to be really, really helpful.
Yeah, for sure. Now, once again, if you’re taking blood thinners then you’re probably ahead of the game already on this one. But yeah, garlic and ginger, both of them, they can thin the blood. And so, you know, having that extra effect on top, that could be a problem. So we would need to sort that individual case out a little bit more carefully.
Yeah. And that’s coming up so much throughout this particular issue, because one of the best ways to fix this issue, aside from movement, is to get that syrupy molasses-like fluid a little bit thinner so that it can flow more easily. And it’s just, if you’re already taking a drug that’s doing that, then we don’t want to add onto that.
Topical Astringents: Witch Hazel, Willow, Oak, & Rose
Yeah. All right. Let’s talk about some topical applications for herbs as well. So that’s like putting herbs right on to the skin, right on to the swollen area. And what we’re going to begin with here are astringent herbs. Astringent means that they tighten, that they squeeze, that they, that they get the extra fluid out of an area where you apply it by squeezing things out.
Yes. Now whether or not you are working with compression, socks or sleeves or compression wraps, any of those things, you can put herbs directly on your skin to soak in wherever that puffiness is. And so even if the idea of a compression sock doesn’t appeal to you, or you’ve tried it and it’s not comfortable, or it doesn’t work totally, no problem. You can still put herbs on that area with this astringent action and they will help, with their astringency, to tighten things up a little bit. So the easiest way to do this is to make a strong decoction. That means to take the herbs that we’re going to talk about and sort of simmer them for a little while. Maybe 20, 30 minutes, just a nice low simmer with a lid on so you don’t boil all the water off. But we want to really get all the goodness out of these herbs into the water. Let it cool. And then you’re just going to put a cloth in the water, like a clean washcloth. Wring it out just gently because we actually want to get the water onto the person. We just don’t want it to drip all over and make a huge mess. So then just take that cloth and lay it over the areas that have edema, especially if you’re feeling discomfort or pain in that area. Or lay it right over the varicose veins and do this several times a day, and do it every day because these work over time to make their improvements. Now, if you have a large bucket, you can put your feet and your ankles right into that bucket, if that’s easier. Or if you have edema in your fingers and your wrists and your hands, you can use a dish pan or a bowl to just put your hands right in there. That might be easier than fiddling with cloth on your hands. And so you can soak for 10 or 15 minutes, and then dry off and go about your day. And do that two or three times in the day. And over time, you’re going to see a lot of improvement. So let’s talk about the herbs who can do this work.
Well, we can start with some trees. And we’re thinking here about witch hazel, about willow, and about oak bark. And honestly, a number of other trees with a lot of astringency in their barks would be helpful here, but these three are fairly common. Lots of folks can identify an oak by looking around for the acorns, the leaf shape and everything. So for these, you can take the twigs from any of these trees. It would be fine to mix them together. If you have a mixed forest area, there’s a little willow, there’s a little oak over there. Maybe find a couple of witch hazel trees. I’m thinking about Hall’s pond here in Boston, where all three of those grow in close proximity to each other. But you could take the twigs from them and just trim them off with some sheers or scissors.
Yeah. Or if there was just a big storm and there’s a bunch of fresh twigs that fell down on the ground, you can even just pick those up. That happens a lot for willow. After a storm, a lot of the branches will be on the ground. And so you can just go gather them. And you can gather a week or two weeks worth of branches after one storm. It’s pretty great, even just from one tree. And you never have to take anything off the tree because you’re just taking stuff off the ground that blew down in the storm.
Yeah. If they’re just small twigs, you know, you can just kind of like chop them up with scissors or something and spread them out a little bit. They’re mostly dry already, but they’ll dry quick. And they’re pretty easy to preserve and keep around for yourself. But yeah, so you could take a handful of those, put them into a pot. Put in some water, bring it up to a boil, turn down the heat. Turn down the heat, and then let it simmer for, like you said, 20 or 30 minutes or so. Then let it cool. Soak that cloth. Make that compress. Put that right on there. Make sure you’re going to use a clean cloth every time that you do it though.
Yeah. That’s important just so that everything in your source stays nice and clean. You’re not transferring any kind of bacteria or whatever else from your skin back into the pot.
Once you’ve made that decoction, that simmered tea, you can keep it around for a day or two, if you keep it in the fridge, if you’re not going to use it all at once.
And it might feel good anyway to have it so cool on your skin. Now, if you live in the southwest then maybe willow and oak aren’t as likely candidates for you to find. But you might be able to find ocotillo or red root. These are two really common plants in the southwest that are easy to identify, especially ocotillo. You really can’t get that one wrong.
Yeah. Ocotillo in the southwest, for sure. Red root actually grows all over the country, but maybe…
That’s true. I, I just think it’s a little easier to find in the West and in the Southwest. But ocotillo, I’ll tell you, it grows even in the cities. It grows everywhere throughout Arizona, New Mexico, all over the southwest. These are also very astringent herbs that are particularly helpful as a compress for edema. We’re going to prepare them in the exact same way. We’re going to take the twigs from the ocotillo. Or in the case of red root, we’re going to take the roots. So be careful how you harvest that. Red root is very common in the west. And so you can also purchase that much more easily. But we’re going to prepare it the same way. Give it a simmer and then work with it as a compress, using a clean cloth each time.
There we go. Well, next let’s talk about rose. So rose you can work with the petals, the rose petals, and also the leaves. And that’s good to know because there may not always be petals on the rose when you want it or whatever. But the leaves are going to be quite astringent as well.
You know, actually even the twigs, if you’re pruning your rosebush, even the twigs are going to be quite astringent. And so you can even work with them.
Yeah. Now these ones, if you’ve got rose petals and you’ve got rose leaves and twigs and everything, you could make a decoction from them. But you could also just make an infusion. Just fill a quart size Mason jar a quarter of the way full with the leaves and the petals and all of that. Pour in some boiling water, let it sit for a couple of hours. And then from that point you’re ready to go ahead and make a compress. So rose, you can get it done a little bit quicker.
Yeah. When it’s just leaves and petals, you don’t have to cook it. If you’re using the rose twigs or the vine cuttings when you prune back your rose bush, then you probably should decoct those. Give them a good long simmer. But the petals and the leaves don’t have to.
Yeah. And again, you know, make a compress for that. That’s that soaked cloth, right. Soaked in the tea, put on the area. And again, you can store that in the fridge if you didn’t use it all at once.
Now, you can also get rose water right from the grocery store or witch hazel also from the drug store, sometimes also at the grocery store, to make your compress. And sometimes that can just be easier. If you’re very busy, then sometimes it’s easier to let somebody else make it for you so that all you have to do is just put it on. And if you’re going to get them in that form, the rose water or the witch hazel, you can just put them in a spray bottle. You don’t have to go to all the trouble of the compress. Just dump it into a spray bottle and several times a day, just spray it on yourself and then let it dry. And presto. That’s all you have to do. So if you are busy then don’t let, busy-ness be a reason not to take care of yourself. Just let’s find a simpler, easier way to do the job. And rosewater at the grocery store or witch hazel from the drug store, both are going to be very effective.
Yeah. And look, even plain black tea would be helpful here, right? Plain black tea, especially when it’s been steeped over long, you know, for 20, 30 minutes or so, that’s going to deliver a fair amount of astringency. And so again, you could just make a quart of strong black tea steeped for too long. Soak a cloth in there, put that right on. You’re good to go.
Yeah. You’ll know. Because if you taste it you won’t want to drink it. It’ll make your whole mouth just like very, very…
Quite bitter, quite astringent.
Yes, exactly. And that’s when it’s ready to use as a compress for edema. And honestly, whatever teabags you can get at the grocery store, Lipton or Red Rose or whatever brand it is, it can be store brand black tea bags, and that will totally still work as an astringent compress on these areas. Make it strong. Put a bunch of teabags in. You can think about making sun tea when you do a big jar of sun tea and you put like eight teabags in there, that’s the sort of thing that we’re going for.
Yeah, I’d say for a quart, like at least three or four.
Or if you were making a big pot so that you could store it in the fridge, then more like five or eight teabags.
How to Hydrate the Surface Skin
Cool. So, we’ve been talking about different ways to get these. You could buy them. You could find some of these herbs and harvest them. The ones that you buy, you may find them available as dried herbs, the kind of thing we have in our jars here at home. Cut and sifted pieces of the plant. You may also find these herbs as tinctures for sale. It is okay to apply tincture right to the skin. And with these astringent herbs that can help to get that action, squeeze out the excess fluid and everything. But it will dry your skin out. And we’re going to talk in just a moment about how sometimes with edema, there’s a dry layer of skin on the surface. And so, adding more tinctures, alcohol based preparations to that, that can drive that out even further. So we’re going to want to make sure to take care of the skin and make sure that the surface layers are taken care of as well. And that we’re, we’re hydrating them.
Yes. So what’s going on here is that remember I was talking earlier about a traffic jam, right? Even though there’s a lot of fluid trapped in your legs or in your hands. And you might think, well, there’s so much fluid there. How can my skin be dry? That’s actually the reason that the skin is dry is because there’s so much fluid. But that fluid is old and there’s no food or oxygen left in that fluid. It’s all stale and stagnant and used up. And so the fresh blood cannot get to the area to bring nourishment, to bring food and oxygen to those cells. So what’s really going on is that those cells are starving. And that’s why those you’ll see the skin cells dry up and create patches of dry skin in places where you have edema, because they’re literally starving. They’re not getting enough nourishment. So we can help them topically. You’re not stuck that way. You can use any lotion that you like, but some lotions have a lot of chemicals in them. And the very good quality lotions are very expensive. So here’s what I like to do instead. I will put some rose water, and I just get it at the grocery store. It’s like maybe two or $3 a bottle. I just get just the regular kind of rose water that you would cook with. Put it in a spray bottle. You can maybe pop a little witch hazel in there if you want to, but the rose water is enough. And spray that on the area that has dry skin. Then take just a couple drops of olive oil in your hand and rub it in. Because here’s the thing, lotion is just oil and water mixed together. But then they have to add things to make it smell good, and more importantly, to make sure that it doesn’t mold. Because when you mix oil and water together, then very quickly it wants to mold. But when you mix it together right on your skin, your skin is absorbing it and using it right away. So it’s not going to mold on your skin. It’s just going to mold in a jar if you put oil and water together. And so when they make these lotions and sell them, they have to put chemicals in or something in that will prevent that mold from happening. And then they also, you know, it’s going to sit on the shelf for a long time. So they need to put things in that make it smell nice as well. But if you just do it right on your skin, first spray on some rosewater, and then rub it in just a little olive oil, just plain is totally fine. If you want to, you can put some herbs into the oil as well, but honestly it can just be right from your kitchen. Just a couple drops on your hand, rub it right on where you sprayed the rose water. Rub it in until it’s all rubbed in. There you go, lotion. And you can do that a couple of times a day and now you are providing nourishment to those skin cells, but without any of the chemicals that they use to preserve the lotion. So it’s a better quality item. And it is so much more cost effective because you don’t have to go out and buy the expensive lotion that doesn’t have the chemicals in it.
Nice. Okay. So I think we worked our way from the inside out.
We got all the different pieces into play there. Cool. So we’re taking some walks, we’re working with some herbs, taking care of skin.
We’re paying attention to our food. Yes, exactly. So next week we will be back with another episode in our series for accessible herbalism. And this time we will be talking about obesity and weight issues. So we can’t wait to see you then.
Yeah. Until then take care of yourselves, take care of each other and drink some tea.
drink some tea, take a walk.
See you next time.
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