Podcast 177: Herbs A-Z: Asclepias & Aspalathus

This week we have two more herbs from our shelf – rooibos & pleurisy root! We’re working our way along the shelves and giving every plant a bit of attention, to explore the variety of helpful herbs that exist. It’s easy to get stuck in a rut, so we’re giving everyone an equal shot.

Asclepias tuberosa is known as pleurisy root, and also butterfly weed. It’s best-known as an herb for directing moisture and relaxation to the lungs, which can correct dry and tense conditions there. (“Pleurisy” is a drying-out of the pleura or ‘sac’ that contains the lungs.) But this herb moves water in the body more systemically than just the lungs! It’s helpful for lower-body edema as well.

Rooibos, Aspalathus linearis, is a South African herb which has been popularized around the world as an alternative to black or green tea. It’s powerfully antioxidant, and has traditional medicinal applications for digestive tension. Recent science has shown it beneficial for high blood pressure, uncontrolled blood sugar, and even as a chemoprotective agent. All that, and it’s just plain delicious!

Mentioned in this episode:

These quick plant profiles were done off-the-cuff & on-the-spot. If you enjoyed them, we have more! Our organized & comprehensive presentation of our herbal allies is in the Holistic Herbalism Materia Medica course. We have detailed profiles of 90 medicinal herbs! Plus you get everything that comes with enrollment in our courses: twice-weekly live Q&A sessions, lifetime access to current & future course material, discussion threads integrated in each lesson, guides & quizzes, and more.

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Our theme music is “Wings” by Nicolai Heidlas.

This episode was sponsored by Mountain Rose Herbs. We thank them for their support!


Episode Transcript

Katja (00:14):
Hi, I’m Katja.

Ryn (00:15):
And I’m Ryn.

Katja (00:16):
And we’re here at Commonwealth Holistic Herbalism in Boston, Massachusetts.

Ryn (00:19):
And on the internet everywhere, thanks to the power of the podcast. Yes. All right. Well, here we go continuing on with herbs A to Z, with some wanders in the alphabet here and there.

Katja (00:31):
It’s not all of the herbs A to Z. It is the herbs that are on our set of shelves on our wall.

Ryn (00:39):
Our apothecary shelves, yeah. If you’re just jumping in, if this is your first episode, then welcome. And you may have seen in the feed that we’ve had a number of episodes in this series so far. And there’s going to be a lot more, because we’re still in letter A at the beginning.

Katja (00:53):
We have a lot of herbs on our shelf is what we’re saying.

Ryn (00:56):
We do. We do. Today we’re going to be talking to you about Asclepias. That’s pleurisy root or butterfly weed, a couple other names out there. And we’re going to talk also about Aspalathus, and that one is rooibos.

Katja (01:10):
I’m really excited about both of these. I am really, really excited about both of these.

Ryn (01:13):
It’s going to be good. But first let’s remind you that we are not doctors. We are herbalists and holistic health educators.

Katja (01:20):
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.

Ryn (01:32):
We want to remind you that good health doesn’t mean the same thing for everyone. Good health doesn’t exist as an objective standard. It’s influenced by your individual needs, experiences, and goals. So, we’re not trying to present a dogmatic right way that you should adhere to.

Katja (01:45):
Everybody’s body is different. So, the things that we’re talking about may or may not apply directly to you. But we hope that they’ll give you some good information to think about, and some ideas to research further.

Ryn (01:55):
Finding your way to better health has both your right and your own personal responsibility. This doesn’t mean you’re alone on the journey. But it does mean that the final decision when considering any course of action, whether it’s prescribed by a physician or discussed on the internet, is always yours to make. Yeah.

Katja (02:11):
I’m also pretty excited to say that Mountain Rose Herbs is sponsoring this episode of the podcast.

Ryn (02:18):
Thank you, Mountain Rose Herbs.

Katja (02:20):
Yes and this is pretty exciting because recently, actually, I’m pretty sure that I said this in a podcast. That I had ordered something from Mountain Rose Herbs that I had not told you about, that was going to be a surprise. And…

Ryn (02:34):
It was a good surprise.

Katja (02:36):
It was a good surprise. It arrived. So, I have always wanted one of those cast iron teapots, and I’ve never had one. And like so many people have them, and they’re really cool. And you can get them at, you know, places where fine teapots are sold. I don’t know. But I just never had one. And I was on the Mountain Rose website and getting some herbs. And I just clicked on the… They have like a tea accessories group of things that they sell. And there’s like the really handy tea strainers and like the linen teabags, and the compostable teabags, and different kinds of things. Okay. But they also have some cast iron teapots. And they’re really beautiful. And there’s one that is kind of a mahogany brown with coppery bronze… I don’t know. It’s very pretty is what I’m telling you. And I could not believe that it was only $30. And I was like that’s going right into my cart. And the whole point was, I was like you know, we should have a more organized tea time in the afternoon where we just say it’s tea time. We’re just going to stop everything. And we’re going to drink this tea and be really excited. I mean we drink tea all day. But we’re going to have a special pot of tea that’s separate from the all day long tea, and just take a little break in the middle of the afternoon. And we have these two tins of rooibos tea. One is vanilla rooibos, and the other is actually honeybush.

Ryn (04:20):
Yes, we’re going to circle back to that one.

Katja (04:22):
Right. And I have really been wanting to have them for tea time, but we always make like a giant three liter thing of tea for the whole day and whatever. Well anyway, so I got this teapot. I love it. And what we always put in the teapot is the rooibos, which we’re going to talk about today. So, that’s totally awesome. But anyway, my point here is at Mountain Rose herbs there’s so much more than just dry herbs. And so check it out. They have a whole selection of cast iron tea pots. There’s like two… well, there is one that’s red. And it was very difficult to choose between the one that was brown with copper and the red one, because y’all, Ryn really loves red.

Ryn (05:07):
I like the one you got. It has great texture on it.

Katja (05:09):
Yeah, I really like it too. There also was a blue one. And I was like oh, but I like blue. And then I was like no, because I think we would both love the brown one. And it has just the coppery bits. They’re beautiful is what I’m telling y’all. They’re not expensive. Check them out. Mountairoseherbs.com. It’s just fun. You can get your rooibos. You can get it by the pound. You can get it by the tin. You can get it any way you want. You can get your pleurisy root. And you can get a new cast iron teapot.

Pleurisy Root: Asclepias Tuberosa & Its Properties

Ryn (05:39):
A fancy teapot. Nice. All right. Well let’s go ahead and talk about pleurisy root, Asclepias tuberosa. This is a relative of the very common herb milkweed.

Katja (05:52):
Yes. And actually you mentioned butterfly weed as a common name for it, which is true. But I never, ever refer to it as butterfly weed. And the reason is because a lot of people also refer to milkweed as butterfly weed. And as a teacher I don’t want to be setting up that kind of confusion, especially because milkweed is not really well-suited for making tea or taking internally. There are a few situations in a pinch that I might work with it for a very short period of time, but it’s really not a plant for humans. It’s really a plant for pollinators. And that’s okay. Now all plants have to be for humans. Well, okay. Actually, let me take that back. One of my very favorite remedies for when you’re feeling really low and discouraged, and it happens to be the right time of year is to go out in a field of milkweed and just lay down in it. Because first off, the pink blossoms smells so good. And if you lay down in it, then all these butterflies are like flying over your head. And it’s kind of amazing. So, in this way, actually, I think this is my favorite way for humans to work with milkweed. But Asclepias, pleurisy root, is the orange flowers.

Ryn (07:19):
Right, yeah. Similar shape and structure and all that, but orange.

Katja (07:23):
Yeah. A little bit less of a pompom. But bright orange, not pink. This is one of my favorite plants.

Ryn (07:33):
You do work with this herb pretty frequently, and not always for pleurisy.

Katja (07:39):
Rarely for pleurisy.

Ryn (07:42):
So, what is the deal with that, right? So, like the name of the herb is in reference to a particular, I guess, disease or a condition. And this happens with herbs now and then. You’ve got like gravel root. Let’s see, pleurisy root. There’s a few others that are like that.

Katja (07:57):
Yeah, and all of them are like… oh, feverfew.

Ryn (08:00):
Yeah, there you go. Right.

Katja (08:01):
I’ll think of some more… crampbark.

Ryn (08:04):
Yeah. They tell you something about what they do or what they’re for. But nowadays people are like, yeah, yeah. Pleurisy, that’s a thing I know about. Sure.

Katja (08:13):
Yeah. It’s true. People don’t think about pleurisy as much these days, unless you have had it. And if you had then you definitely know about it, and it’s super unpleasant.

Ryn (08:25):
Yeah. You know, we did talk about this in a way back episode of the podcast, where we were talking about herbs and grief, and about pleurisy root and about other herbs for dealing with kind of like grief-driven or emotion-driven state like pleurisy in the lungs.

Katja (08:45):
Right. Where you’re just so dried out, because you’ve been grieving too long. Or so dried out because you have spent all of your emotion. Yeah. Also y’all can I just say he does that off the top of his head? He doesn’t even look them up. He’s like oh, remember that time two years ago? We’ve been doing the podcast for five years. We just crossed our five-year anniversary like two weeks ago.

Ryn (09:09):
Five years? What?

Katja (09:10):
Yes, five years. And you still are like, yeah remember three years ago when we did this episode about this thing? I’m like how do you remember that?

Ryn (09:19):
I was there at the time. Yeah. So, you know, that is a way that we’ve turned to this, right? So, the original pleurisy is you’ve probably had some inflammatory lung condition. You’ve probably been coughing and hacking a bunch. But your lungs, and also the sack that contains the lungs, they get dried out. And especially if between the two of them, you lose a kind of a lubrication. That’s super important, because your lungs have to expand. And you want them to like glide and slide and not scrape and grind. So, when things get dried out in one of those like containing structures in the body, then it’s really problematic, and it can be very, very painful.

Katja (10:03):
Super uncomfortable. Yeah. So, pleurisy is super common when you’ve had a long lung infection that wasn’t quite bad enough to be able to stay home from work, like walking bronchitis or whatever. Walking bronchitis is not really actually a thing, but you know what I mean. Like you’ve just had bronchitis for so long, but you’ve been going to work anyway, right? And that’s actually one of the most common ways it happens, is having an unattended respiratory infection. And by unintended I mean listen, you’ve got to go to work. You’re not allowed to just stay home. We don’t have sick time that is really supportive of actual being sick and becoming healthy. And so you do what you’ve got to do, and you just cough a lot through it, right? And then over time there’s so much depletion and dryness that builds up that resolves itself, or devolves itself into pleurisy, this dry inflammation of the lungs.

Ryn (11:17):
Yeah. So we need some herbs to direct moisture over there and lubricate. So, demulcent herbs can be super helpful. Simple marshmallow can help. But pleurisy works at kind of a… I don’t know. Say it works at a deeper level or it’s just…

Katja (11:31):
Well, it’s not a demulcent.

Ryn (11:32):
No, right.

Katja (11:33):
It’s definitely not a demulcent. And that’s really important to note, because we’re going to talk about other ways to work with pleurisy. It’s a fluid shifter.

Ryn (11:43):

Fluid Shifting & Elimination

Katja (11:44):
Yeah. It’s a fluid shifter. It is a fluid redirector. And you know, you’ve got to remember, your lungs are part of your systems of elimination. We don’t usually think about that. I think because most of the time when we think about lungs and breathing, we think about taking in oxygen. And we don’t usually think about the exhale. And I think about how when you’re doing some kind of meditation or whatever. And often they say don’t worry about the inhale. Just think about the exhale. And how much our culture has to be told that, you know? I think in general we just don’t think about exhalation very much, which we should. So much is happening with exhalation. But that is, among other things, a primary way that – oh, I hate the word toxins. But I’m going to say it – that toxins leave your body. And some of those toxins are just regular old metabolic waste.

Ryn (12:47):
I mean hell, that includes carbon dioxide, right?

Katja (12:50):

Ryn (12:51):
Like you have to get that out of you, otherwise you’re not going to feel great.

Katja (12:56):
Right. But it also includes some of the volatile oils and garlic. That’s not exactly a toxin. In fact, that’s great. But as we eat garlic and we digest it, and then the way that parts of the garlic, the volatile oil component of the garlic, leaves the body ultimately is through the lungs. Which is why you get garlic breath. It’s not because it’s stuck on your tongue. It’s because you’re aspirating out those volatile oils. Okay. But, so that’s where the function of pleurisy root really comes in. If you remember that your lungs are eliminating things from your body, and moisture is one of the things to eliminate from the body, pleurisy root is moving fluid from other parts of the body to the lungs. And ultimately you will exhale that fluid. But if the lungs are super dry, they will hold onto what they need.

Ryn (14:02):
Yeah. So, you know, when we say something like that, that the herb is going to move fluid from somewhere else in the body, that implies a couple of things. First off, if somebody had this kind of state in the lungs and they were dry everywhere, we wouldn’t just say drink some pleurisy and be done with it. Or even more, just take some tincture of pleurisy root and be done with it, right? At the very least to have that water preparation, so then you’ve introduced some fluid into the system. And now you can let the herb direct at where it needs to go. But even better is to either in the same preparation or in like a sequence to have something that’s just straight up hydrating and moistening to the body. Marshmallow root, linden, something like this. And then to cycle that with the pleurisy root as well.

Katja (14:47):
You can even put them together. I’ve definitely done that. Marshmallow root, pleurisy root, some cinnamon. But so that fluid moving, I think that’s my favorite part about pleurisy root. So, this is where when I was a kid I used to really enjoy historical fiction a lot. And in historical fiction, that is I think one of the only places that you still see the word dropsy. And as a kid I always thought that meant some kind of palsy, some kind of shaking disorder, or fainting disorder, or something like that.

Ryn (15:28):
It probably means you fall down, right? You drop to the ground.

Katja (15:32):
Exactly. That’s always what I thought it was. Yeah, that’s not what dropsy is. Dropsy is basically another word for edema. It was a little bit … you know there are lots of different kinds of edema. And there is some specificity about edema with potential cardiovascular weakness, potential kidney weakness. And maybe those two things are going to play into any form of edema, but not necessarily if you’re just like pregnant, or if you sprained your ankle. Like you can have temporary situational edema too.

Ryn (16:10):
Yeah. Or you can have fluid bloating around the belly from your unrecognized food intolerance. And that may not mean that you’ve got poor circulation or your heart’s weak or whatever else.

Katja (16:20):
Right. Or you can get edema from a high sodium diet, which eventually will cause weakness both in the kidneys and the heart, but not right off the bat. You know, you’ll get the fluid retention long before you have the more organ based long-term damage.

Ryn (16:40):
But yeah, that like classic dropsy is like ah, your heart’s not really keeping up. The fluid has dropped to the bottom of the body. It’s kind of stuck there. You know, today we would read that and say like yeah, there’s also a sedentism aspect to this, right? Because your heart’s job is not to move the blood every single place in your body, you know? And as far as your lower body is to circulate those fluids, the major organ is walking. It’s the muscles in the legs. You’ve got to get them moving and working, and that’s how that fluid will circulate. So yes. We often do recommend pleurisy together with a nice long walk.

Katja (17:17):
Yes. So, pleurisy is very helpful in bringing that fluid back up.

Ryn (17:23):
And we both just did it. So, sometimes we’ll say pleurisy, and we’ll be referring to the root.

Katja (17:30):
Right, right. Oh, thank you.

Ryn (17:31):
Right. So, if we say something like, Hey, pleurisy is really great for this watery problem, we mean the herb.

Katja (17:36):
You’re right. That sounds absolutely ridiculous. And I’ve never realized that we do that all the time.

Ryn (17:40):
Yeah, all the time.

Katja (17:41):
Oh my goodness. Okay. Pleurisy root is really, really helpful in bringing that fluid up from the lower depths. And then ultimately you’re going to exhale that fluid, but that’s where the moistening action is coming from. It is bringing fluids up from lower parts of the body into the lungs. I really appreciate that, because I have some varicose veins. Honestly, I got my first varicose vein when I was like still in high school. So, you know, it’s a family tradition. And also a tendency to retain fluid in the lower part of my body is a family tradition. You know, these things… to say they’re hereditary is true, but…

Ryn (18:31):
It’s more accurate than saying that they’re genetic.

Katja (18:33):
Right, right. To say the hereditary is true. We just have to remember that we inherit many things. We inherit physical attributes, and we also inherit habits and…

Ryn (18:43):

Urinary Consolidation & Chronic Lung Issues

Katja (18:44):
Right. And so my habits that I inherited from my family culture reinforced the physical attributes. And Presto, varicose veins. Anyway, so I love working with pleurisy root in that regard, but there’s more. Because pleurisy root has this kind of organizing effect on fluid. It’s like it’s a really good shepherd of cats. Or it’s like the pied piper of fluid in your body. And so what I find is if you are a person – and this is me sometimes for sure – if you’re a person who pees all of the time. You’re like every hour, every 45 minutes, you’re like oh, gotta pee, oh gotta pee. And you don’t pee a lot, but you have to pee. I don’t mean that you have a UTI. Like just regular pee, but frequently enough that it’s kind of annoying. You know that nothing is exactly wrong with you, but it’s just annoying. And actually, at least in my experience, often that is kind of a precursor of something’s not awesome.

Ryn (20:05):
Yeah, I mean if this is a long-term situation, it could be a sign of some, you know, low level, but ongoing inflammation around the bladder. A very, very mild form of interstitial cystitis or something like that.

Katja (20:18):
Yeah, exactly. Those sorts of symptoms. So, at any rate, and this is super annoying, especially if it happens at night. If you get up four times at night to pee, that’s what I’m talking about. And pleurisy root helps to like consolidate your pee.

Ryn (20:39):
There was a while when you were really struggling with that, the nighttime thing. Nighttime waking with this.

Katja (20:45):
Yeah. And so instead of peeing, instead of getting up to pee four times, you get up to pee once and you pee a lot, instead of four times where you just pee some.

Ryn (20:55):
Right, this is that consolidation effect that you refer to.

Katja (20:57):
Yeah. It’s pretty amazing.

Ryn (21:00):
This is something that you observed in yourself, and then I’ve shared with a lot of students and clients. But I don’t know that this aspect of work with pleurisy root is something that’s written down or…

Katja (21:10):
Well, I think… So where I want to look for it… but in the definitely more than 10 years that I’ve been working with pleurisy root that way, I just haven’t had time yet. And I don’t understand why that is. But the place I want to look for it is in the physiomedicalists, like the old books from the late 1800s. We’re not going to see that in modern writing, I really don’t think. But it makes a lot of sense if you think about… like if you think about dropsy in general. And you think about the specific nuanced aspect of dropsy, which is the association with kidney weakness. Okay. Listen, kidneys aren’t weak all on their own. They’re tied in literally to the bladder. Like these are not… you don’t have like super bladder and sad kidneys. That’s not how it goes. Although, interestingly… So, when I was very young I was hospitalized with kidney problems, and have always had kidney and bladder issues. And one of the things in my life that also went along with that was I hated to pee at school. And, you know, I was hospitalized for kidney issues long before I even got to school. But then I got to school, and I didn’t want to pee at school. And so I would just hold my pee like all day long. And I did have a super bladder kind of. My bladder was not happy about this, I’m sure. But I think about that now, when I think about my bladder and kidney stuff. And I’m like man, my poor bladder. Like what the heck did I do? Like it didn’t start out strong to begin with. And then what did I do to it when I was a kid? Like whatever. One of the rounds of doctor visits about it yielded me a Mickey mouse watch though. That was pretty great. And I was supposed to… Mickey mouse was supposed to tell me when I had to pee. Whatever. The things you remember about childhood, right? I’m definitely sharing way too much about my pee with you all. I’m just glad I can’t see you right now.

Ryn (23:34):
Yeah. Well, there’s like an emotional echo there with that holding things in kind of a tendency. And I don’t know. When you tell some of these stories, it sort of feels like you want to go back in time and give yourself some Asclepias back in the day.

Katja (23:53):
I do, and some advice too, holy cow.

Ryn (23:56):
Yeah, for sure.

Katja (23:58):
When will we please invent time travel? That would be great. Anyway, pleurisy root. It’s not just for pleurisy anymore. In fact it never was just for pleurisy. And I really encourage you to experiment with this plant. I think that a lot of people don’t really work with it. Because if you haven’t had pleurisy, then you think well okay, then I don’t need that plant. But if you are a person who has lower body dampness, if you’re a person who has weak kidneys, weak bladder, if you pee all the time, if you can’t keep your fluids moving, any of those kinds of things, really try it. It doesn’t taste bad. Maybe it isn’t like super exciting, but it doesn’t taste bad at all. If you toss a little cinnamon in there, it’s fantastic. Maybe just for fun, because our society is so depleted, toss a little codonopsis in as well. It’s going to be actually really quite tasty, quite pleasant to work with. I put pleurisy root in my not coffee every morning. You know, that’s a… Well, okay, listen. You know what the not coffee is. You’ve been listening. I don’t have to tell you. It’s in like every other episode.

Ryn (25:16):
There’s lots of herbs in there. But correct me if I’m wrong, but I feel like you added elecampane and pleurisy root to your not coffee combo at the same time.

Katja (25:29):
That may have been true.

Ryn (25:31):
That might’ve happened.

Katja (25:33):
I don’t always put elecampane in. I do it when I’m having some respiratory thing. But elecampane is not always in there. Angelica always is, pleurisy always is, ashwagandha always is, and reishi. And then it gets wobbly after that. Yeah, whatever I feel like.

Ryn (25:50):
Yeah. But you know, elecampane, we do often put elecampane and pleurisy root together, particularly if there’s been like a chronic lung problem that’s sort of mixed presentation. Like maybe there’s some phlegm that we want to try to motivate out, but we’re having trouble getting it moving. So, the elecampane is to give the motivation and the, the expectoration. The pleurisy is to like moisten the lungs up enough that that can effectively happen. Right. And it’s a really effective pair. We turn to that for pretty severe cases.

Katja (26:24):
I do prefer these in water. In general I prefer pleurisy root in water almost always. This doesn’t feel like a tincture plant. It’s not like a hate all tinctures. I take plenty of tinctures. There’s like 10 tincture bottles on my desk right now. Oh, look, I think there’s 13. And I take them all the time. I don’t want to be like tinctures are bad, signed Katia. You know?

Ryn (26:48):
No, but it’s just so, so easy to for people to be like I’m going to get my herb. The easiest way is a tincture. Awesome. And then they don’t drink more tea in their day. And, you know, there’s tons of benefits to just having a warm beverage on a regular basis. And yeah, we’re big fans of that.

Katja (27:07):
Yeah, so I do prefer it in water. But if you’re going to mix elecampane with it, now you’re going to need some much stronger flavoring agents. And, you know, putting it into a not coffee blend – heck just putting a little decaf coffee in with it – that will do the trick. But otherwise it’s going to need to be like good, strong chai spices.

Rooibos: Aspalathus Linearis & A Little History

Ryn (27:30):
Yeah. All right. Well, let’s talk about rooibos next. This is Aspalathus linearis. This is a plant from South Africa. And it’s like popularizing, you know. Rooibos is something now that you can find. I think that there have even been some Starbucks drinks that have had this available in them, and things like that. But it’s been getting attention and getting interest as like a black tea alternative or a green tea alternative. It’s not caffeinated. But otherwise some of its sensory qualities are kind of similar to drinking some tea. But it’s honestly got a lot – how to say this – not a lot more going on. But for me it has a very different flavor from black or green tea. One thing that I would advise though is if you’re interested to get your hands on some green rooibos, and try that as well. The most common form you’re going to find of rooibos is red. And this is really similar to the difference between black and green tea, by which I mean they come off of the same plant. So with green and black tea it’s the Camellia sinensis tea plant. And what you do is you have the herb. You gather it. And if you just straight up dry it carefully, you’re going to get the green form. So, that’s green tea or green rooibos. But what they’ll often do instead is kind of like bruise the leaves while they’re still fresh, or even like spritz them with some water, and keep them someplace warm. Traditionally this would have been just like big heaps of the herbs, like piled on a tarp or something, and allowed to kind of hang out there for a bit. Nowadays they have industrial versions of that with like rotating drums, and heat and temperature is controlled and all of this. But it’s essentially an oxidization process that you’re encouraging to occur. It’s usually referred to as a fermentation process. With rooibos sometimes they say that it’s a sweating process. But chemically what’s happening is that there’s some oxidation going on. And that’s why you get that reddening, right? The plant gets kind of a rusty color. But with rooibos and also with like black tea and, what do you call it? Oolong tea is kind of similar. It changes the flavor a bit. And with rooibos it gives it that vanilla like kind of scent. If you get the green rooibos, and you make tea with that. You sniff it or make a drink with it, it’s a quite different flavor honestly.

Katja (30:08):
Yeah. I mean, it’s still nice. It’s still very nice.

Ryn (30:11):
I like it for sure. But I definitely see why the red…

Katja (30:15):
Why they go to all the trouble.

Ryn (30:17):
Rooibos is the most popular, for sure.

Katja (30:20):
Yes. Yes. You know, actually, speaking of all the trouble, rooibos is in fact quite a lot of trouble. It was a long time… this was a plant that grows native – it grows like in the wild – in the part of Africa that is today called South Africa, in southern Africa. And the traditional people who lived there would go and gather the leaves and work with them. But the problem is that the seeds of the plant are so tiny that they’re kind of impossible, like actually functionally impossible to gather. And it wasn’t until late in the 1800s…. No, it was later than that even.

Ryn (31:09):
Yeah. It wasn’t really until the 1950s that they were seriously commercializing it. And that was… like there had been some attempts to cultivate the seeds and everything. There was a lot of time and figuring out how to physically treat the seeds in order to get them to grow.

Katja (31:24):
Right. Well, first they had to figure out how to gather them, or to gather enough of them that they could have…

Ryn (31:30):
Have something to work with.

Katja (31:31):
Yeah. Wide scale cultivation. And then they wouldn’t germinate. And they had to figure out how to get them to germinate. And then once they got through all that, then they could actually make big, rooibos, probably plantations is the right word.

Ryn (31:46):
Probably. Yeah. But so not the easiest thing to grow. And it’s still, you know, certainly compared to tea or coffee or other major beverages… Even like mate I’d say probably has a greater amount of like acreage and cultivation. So, yeah, it’s controlled. And actually I was going to come to this in a minute, but there was something intriguing I found while digging into this. Which was that in 1994, a company in the United States tried to register the term rooibos as a trademark. And this was, you know, people didn’t really know about rooibos in the U.S. At the time. It doesn’t feel even that long ago, but it wasn’t a thing. But it started to, and then like by 2005 there was a lawsuit that was brought to the U.S. Patent and trademark office. The American Herbal Products Association was involved in that. A couple of other companies got in on the action there. But they put a number of different cases up. And the company that had had put in that trademark for rooibos, they lost. And then they surrendered the name, and put it back in the public domain. So, that intrigued me because ever since the whole fire cider thing, I’ve been curious about places where herbalism and like patent law and trademark law come together. So, this is an interesting case like that.

Katja (33:22):
Yeah. I feel really grateful that that was freed up. But I think that this portion of the podcast really is about the colonized and exploited nature of rooibos for so long. And so, first I want to just recognize that. That this is a plant that was worked with traditionally, but then had a lot of exploitation. And so now, like I mean I love rooibos. I really love to drink it. But just make sure that you take care with your sourcing, and that the rooibos that you get is fair trade.

Ryn (34:02):
Yeah. This is interesting. I hadn’t put these thoughts together before this moment, but in 2005 I had my first cup of rooibos tea. And I only remember that, because I was living in Paris at the time, and I had made friends with a south African girl. And we would hang out and smoke cigarettes on the roof. And she would give me rooibos tea that she brought from home, and it was amazing. So yeah, that was nice. I guess that was about the same time that rooibos was expanding in popularity here in the U.S. too.

Katja (34:36):
Yes, although you probably would have had it regardless of that, because, yeah, because she had brought it from home.

Rooibos’ Properties

Ryn (34:43):
Good stuff. So rooibos, if you haven’t had it before, like I mentioned before, it has kind of like a vanilla… very slight smokiness to it. But not the kind of smoky that’s going to turn you off.

Katja (34:56):
See, I would never say that there’s any kind of smoky in it. But that’s only because anything smokey does not appeal to me unless it is bacon.

Ryn (35:03):
Well. Yeah. But you know, it has low tannins. And that’s nice because you can leave it steeping a long time. Or you can put it into something, even a decoction. You can put it in there and cook it a good long time, and it’s not going to make your drink like unpleasantly astringent or excessively bitter or anything else like that.

Katja (35:24):
We did that the other day when there was some leftover in the aforementioned cast iron teapot. And I just put it on the stove and heated it up again, and then sort of forgot about it for a little while. And this poor pot of rooibos was really overheated and also neglected for a long time. It tasted great. It tasted fantastic. Not bitter, not astringent.

Ryn (35:49):
Yeah, really great.

New Speaker (35:50):
Not that I would mind if it were astringent. Not that you would mind if it was bitter. But what I’m saying is it still tasted like rooibos.

Ryn (35:58):
You know, constituent wise, the plant has been investigated a bunch recently, and it has a ton of different polyphenols in it. There’s a few compounds that seem unique to this herb, or are found in like a small handful of herbs around the world. And it has a bunch of metabolically helpful agents in it, including some plant acids. And again, these same polyphenols, when I say metabolically helpful, I mean that in a few ways. The most obvious one is that this herb is a powerful anti-inflammatory. And that’s probably the way that most of us are thinking about and understanding this herb nowadays. The color of the plant, the redness that comes out when you make tea with it, that’s also like a demonstration of its antioxidant capacity. And antioxidants are anti-inflammatory. They help our bodies to respond to inflammation. They help us to get it under control and mitigate the damage that it can cause when it’s longstanding. So, that’s pretty much all that is currently, at least in the United States, emphasized about rooibos. But there’s a lot more to this herb, and I’m starting to learn a little bit about that. Actually I’ve got a couple of good articles in the show notes for you. These are from a couple of different medical journals. One is Evidence-Based, Complementary, and Alternative Medicine, which is a pretty decent journal by and large. They have often got some good herbalism articles in there. And then there’s another one from the South African Journal of Botany. So of course, most of the work on this plant is being done in Africa and in South Africa especially. And there it’s being recognized more and more as like a multifactorial medicinal plant. Some of its longest standing traditional indications seem to be around digestive upsets. And primarily this herb is a digestive relaxant, to help out with things like colic, which is like cramping and pain in the guts. Not just for babies.

Katja (38:09):
I was going to say, associated with babies. But listen, you know, if you’re feeling cramping and pain in your guts, and it’s hard to eat, and when you eat it feels bad, you don’t have to be a baby for that to be colic. Or a horse, like horses of any age we will say that they have colic. But no, you too can have colic. You don’t have to be a baby. You might be being a baby about it, but you know. That’s fair. That’s appropriate.

Ryn (38:35):
Right. Yeah. For that, for cramps, for nausea as well, this herb seems to have a decent amount of traditional indications for that. The relaxant effects of this herb were a mild surprise to me, like reading it on paper. But then pausing and considering, and being like well, when I drink it, yeah. And actually like sometimes if I am having an upset stomach, I’m like some rooibos in here would be really great. I hadn’t like verbally in my head associated it with a relaxant effect, but that totally makes sense. And that’s seen other places in the body too. Like in the vasculature this herb can help to bring down blood pressure if that’s driven by hypertension, which is super common. And even in the musculature, this herb has been identified to have some antispasmodic effects. So, think about cramping or shaking kind of problems too.

Katja (39:27):
That I think is one of the reasons that I like it so much. I really do have a strong tendency to crave antispasmodic herbs. One thing that I find really interesting…

Ryn (39:40):
Oh, we should have chamomile and rooibos together. That’d be so good.

Katja (39:43):
Yeah. That’ll be a tea time tomorrow. Yeah. One thing I was going to say about that relaxant effect is that a pure relaxing effect – just a straight, I’m thinking of something like kava, right – is super uncomfortable in my body. I don’t want that much relaxation. I do not want to be a puddle of mush. That feels not good to me. And rooibos does have a little astringency. It has a lot of relaxation. It has antispasmodic action. But you can taste it. There’s a little bit of astringency. I mean, nothing like uva ursi, not even as much as lady’s mantle. Still just a little bit of astringency. And when I’m… You know, sometimes I don’t feel awesome, and I’m like, oh. I’ve got to pull myself together. Or I’m having trouble keeping it together. Like those are phrases that come out of me a lot. And so on one hand I do need to relax, but on the other hand too much relaxation is going to feel super uncomfortable for me. And when I get in those situations, I tend to reach for teasel, as a tincture in that particular case. But I do tend to reach for teasel, because it helps me keep it together and bounce back. And so I think that is something pretty amazing about rooibos, that it has that relaxing action. It has an antispasmodic action. But it also has just enough astringency that I feel like no, no. I’ve got it together.

Ryn (41:21):
I’m contained. I’m not going to like… I don’t know. I’m picturing a backyard pool, you know, like an above ground one. Yeah. And then at some point like somebody runs into it sideways or whatever, and the thing just like splits open and spills everywhere. Yeah.

Katja (41:38):
That’s a thing I worry about a lot in me.

Ryn (41:42):
Yeah. Well, and like you’ve said, you know. High doses… well, various doses of kava can sometimes feel that way.

Katja (41:48):
Yeah. Like literally. I don’t know. Clearly there must be something on the internet about an above ground pool collapsing and all the water going everywhere. Because I have a very clear image of that in my mind, as soon as you started to talk about it. Yeah. I worry. Like that is an emotional state that I feel like I always have to protect myself from anyway. So, I really appreciate that rooibos comes pre-packaged with just enough astringency so that you can relax without falling apart.

Cardioprotective, Helping with Blood Sugar, & Chemoprotective

Ryn (42:15):
Yeah. Nice. Well, you know, rooibos also has some evidence and some logic behind it to be protective to the whole cardiovascular system. That’s that antioxidant effect, coupled with the relaxant quality, that’s going to solve some of the major tissue states that underlie common cardiovascular pathologies. Especially for stressed out people who aren’t really taking care of themselves and getting enough colorful veggies.

Katja (42:39):
Why are you looking at me?

Ryn (42:41):
I’m looking at everyone. Yeah. I was also excited to find evidence that rooibos can help with blood sugar regulation. Because that’s another super common problem that most of us can use some support with and some help with. Plants are fantastic for that. Lots of plants can help out in this direction. But it’s always cool when we have good evidence for that. And it’s nice to see that with rooibos.

Katja (43:09):
Yeah. It’s like we don’t always have awesome studies that give us the evidence-base to see something, and that doesn’t mean it isn’t there. But it’s super fun when we have that. It’s really fun.

Ryn (43:20):
Yeah. We like that. And it’s also been identified as a chemoprotective herb, which can mean protection from occupational exposure to dangerous chemicals. But it can also mean that if someone is going through chemotherapy, this would be an herb that could help that to be more successful and less painful. And again, this is common with other antioxidant herbs, antioxidant rich herbs.

Katja (43:45):
Yeah, that’s an area that eleuthero has been really studied in depth for, in terms of potentiating chemotherapy, but also protecting the not cancer cells from the damage of the chemotherapy. Yeah. It is like an actual category of… Okay. No, I don’t mean that there is a category of herbs that has been like codified. But that chemoprotective aspect is something that has been studied, and there are herbs with quite a bit of evidence behind them. Yeah.

Ryn (44:19):
Right. Yeah. So, it’s just fantastic when we can have a plant like this that’s supporting some of the most common problems that are going to encounter health wise, that’s supporting these like critical hubs of physiological health and activity, and tastes good. Right? I keep coming back to that. Speaking of flavor. So, rooibos and a friend called honeybush are often conflated, like talked about in the same breath or as the same plant. So honeybush is technically a different herb, a different species. It’s a Cyclopia species. There are a number of different species in that genus that are used to make this tea.

Katja (45:07):

Ryn (45:08):
Yes. Like Cyclops. Yeah. I think it’s because of the flowers looking like big eyes, something like that

Katja (45:18):
Sometimes the Latin names make me so happy. I just… okay. Keep going. I just need to think about Cyclopia for a little while.

Ryn (45:27):
But yeah, this is considered to be really similar like all the way back. It’s another kind of like red tea plant. Honeybush if anything has even lower tannin content than rooibos does. It is also processed in the same way for commercial sale. Which is to say that it has that fermentation or oxidation process done to it, to alter the flavor and make it more appealing and everything. It has a lot of similar constituents to rooibos. So, there’s good reasons for people talking about these in the same breath. But they are different plants. And it is fun if you’re an herbalist to like do a little blind taste.

Katja (46:09):
Yes, get both.

Ryn (46:11):
Make a quart of this and a quart of that, and alternate your cups of tea. You can cover the labels and see if you can figure them out by flavor and everything. And yeah.

Katja (46:21):
These are fun games you can play with your spouse, your children, your friends.

Ryn (46:26):
Herbal community group, you know, all that stuff. Yeah.

Katja (46:30):
I don’t know what y’all do for fun, but in our house…

Preserving Wine & Infusing in Cider

Ryn (46:36):
That’s right. Other fun things. So, I discovered in the course of putting some notes together for this episode that winemakers in South Africa are doing a cool thing nowadays. Taking rooibos and honeybush… These, they can get, I picture them kind of like elder where it’s sort of like a tree. But it’s not like a, you know, 90 foot tall pine or a giant oak or something like that.

Katja (47:05):
No, it’s like a scrubby kind of tree.

Ryn (47:07):
Yeah, But anyway, winemakers are taking the wood from rooibos and honeybush and using that instead of oak during the maturation phase, where the wine is resting and aging and everything. And so the cool thing about this is that the high antioxidant content from the herbs is sufficient for preservative purposes, because you do want to prevent oxidation of your wine. And that’s why they tend to put sulfites into there, right, sulfur dioxide. But what they found is that when they put the rooibos and the honeybush into the barrels as the wine is aging, you don’t even need sulfur dioxide. You don’t have to add any sulfites at all. And so the herb is going to basically just be antioxidant enough that it can protect the wine as it matures. So, that’s really cool. Also apparently makes it a distinctive, you know, palate and mouthfeel and so on.

Katja (48:07):
Yes. I would really love to try this.

Ryn (48:08):
Yeah. it’s kind of hard to get your hands on unless you’re living in South Africa currently. However, it is super easy to infuse wine with herbs at home.

Katja (48:17):
Yes. And super delicious. I highly recommend it.

Ryn (48:20):
Yeah. We really like to do it. And look for this you can buy cheap wine. I mean two buck Chuck was a thing, is still a thing I imagine. What is it Charles Mondavi? There’s like these $2 bottles of wine you can get at like Trader Joe’s or something. Sometimes I would intentionally get that for a class that we were going to do on herb infused wines just to emphasize for people like you want to have some wine. It should be like a style that matches with the flavor of the herb you’re going to get and everything. But you don’t need it to be like super fancy wine for this. The flavors of your herbs are going to overpower a lot of the flavor from the wine itself.

Katja (48:56):
They’re going to redeem that cheap wine.

Ryn (49:01):
Yeah. That’s what’s up. So, yeah, I want to go and get some cheap wine. And get some rooibos and pour them into a jar together. And infuse it and see what we can get.

Katja (49:12):
Well, you know, right now my favorite herb infused wine is damiana. But just thinking about rooibos infused in wine, that seems like such a great idea. Yeah. It might give damiana a run for its.. I don’t know… A run.

Ryn (49:31):
Yeah. So, that’s going to be something we’re going to try out soon, and I encourage you to do that as well. And then one other thought, rooibos infused cider is fantastic.

Katja (49:40):
We’re drinking it right now, y’all and oh my God.

Ryn (49:43):
We’re in fact having rooibos infused chai-der. That’s where you put chai spices in your cider, right? So some apple cider. Today we have rooibos, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, and then I don’t remember the rest.

Katja (49:59):
There was allspice. There was nutmeg. I don’t think I put it in star anise this time. I was in a rush.

Ryn (50:07):
Any cloves?

Katja (50:09):
No, I don’t think so. Yeah. No, there’s not cloves in here.

Ryn (50:11):
But anyway, find your favorite chai spice.

Katja (50:15):
Yeah, whatever your chai preferences. I should have put anise in. I just was, I don’t know, got distracted or something. But it doesn’t matter, because the rooibos is so good that any lack of anise is fine.

Ryn (50:30):
Yeah, absolutely.

Katja (50:32):
Rooibos has redeemed my anise-less chai blend.

Ryn (50:40):
Yeah. I’m going to note if you’re making a pumpkin spice thing, you can sneak rooibos in there. It’s going to fit in really nicely.

Katja (50:47):
You don’t have to sneak it in. You can carry it in right in front of everyone.

Ryn (50:51):
You can walk it in on struts. Yeah, that would be good.

Katja (50:54):
Yeah. Right through the front door.

Ryn (50:57):
All right. Well, anyway, so those are some thoughts from us on pleurisy root and on rooibos. I hope you found that interesting and entertaining. We’re going to continue on next week with somebody up there. I think perhaps astragalus is coming soon. Maybe shatavari is on the way. So anyway, tune in next time for some more Holistic Herbalism Podcast. Until then take care of yourselves. Take care of each other. Drink some tea or some infused wine or some chai-der.

Katja (51:28):
Some rooibos chai-der. Drink some.

Ryn (51:30):
Drink it, and we’ll see you again soon.

Katja (51:54):
Bye bye.


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