Podcast 184: Herbs A-Z: Crataegus & Curcuma

In today’s episode we continue our exploration of the herbs on our home apothecary shelves. This week we made an extra effort to share formulation ideas for these herbs!

The hawthorns – Crataegus spp. – are best-known for protecting the heart and vasculature. The quercetin, anthocyanins, and bioflavonoids in the leaf, flower, & berry of this giving tree help modulate inflammation and reduce allergic expressions. Hawthorn berry is flexible enough to prepare in a variety of ways and it formulates well with other herbs. Today we drank a formula with: hawthorn berry, pine needles, mugwort, damiana, juniper berries, and orange peel.

Curcuma longa is our good friend turmeric. It’s famous as an anti-inflammatory herb in a general way, but we think of it particularly as a digestive herb. It’s also very good as a topical remedy. You can prepare a “ginger family reunion” blend with Zingiberaceae plants: turmeric, ginger, cardamom, grains of paradise, galangal… Or, if you like the 80s, you can make “Karma Chameleon tea” with red rooibos, gold turmeric, and green rooibos. 😉

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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Episode Transcript

Katja (00:14):
Hi, I’m Katja.

Ryn (00:15):
And I’m Ryn.

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

Ryn (00:19):
And on the internet everywhere thanks to the power of the podcast. All right, folks. We are continuing on with some little mini plant profiles for you.

Katja (00:31):
All of the plants on our apothecary shelves, on our upstairs apothecary shelves.

Ryn (00:38):
Yeah. So, this is the series we’re working on right now.

Katja (00:41):
The ones we just can’t live without.

Ryn (00:43):
And today we’re going to be talking about hawthorn and turmeric or in their botanical names. Crataegus species and Curcuma longa mm-hmm. Yeah. Pretty exciting herbs, honestly.

Katja (00:57):
Honestly, yes. I am very exciting. Very, I am very exciting. But these herbs are what I actually meant. They are very exciting. And we are drinking hawthorn while we talk about this.

Ryn (01:13):
Yeah. So, we’ll share the formula in just a moment. But first we want to remind you that we are not doctors. We are herbalist and holistic health educators.

Katja (01:21):
The I ideas discussed in this podcast do not constitute medical advice. No state or federal authority licenses herbalist 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 some objective standard. It’s influenced by your individual needs, experiences, and goals. So, keep in mind that we’re not attempting to present a single dogmatic right way that you should adhere to.

Katja (01:48):
Everyone’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 ideas to think about and some information to research further.

Ryn (01:58):
Finding your way to better health is 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 you’re considering any course of action, whether that’s discussed on the internet or prescribed by a physician, is always your choice to make.

Katja (02:15):
Also before we jump in, I want to say that this episode is sponsored by our digestive health course online, and also our cardiovascular health course online. Because although these two herbs can be worked with in lots of ways – and we’re going to talk about a lot of them – I think the sort of most traditional most common thing that people think about when they think about hawthorn is cardiovascular health. And the sort of most common thing that people think about when they think about turmeric… Well, actually that one is probably inflammation, but that’s because of marketing hype. The real thing is digestive health and inflammation in the digestive tract. Which honestly, if you can reduce digestive system inflammation, you are also reducing systemic inflammation. So, it’s fantastic.

Ryn (03:16):
They’re connected. Yeah.

Katja (03:17):
But these courses like all of our courses are available at online.commonwealthherbs.com. And our courses are presented by video, so that you can feel like you’re right in the classroom with us. However, all of the courses have an audio file that accompanies every single video. And since you’re listening to a podcast, maybe you like learning by listening to things, while you are doing other things. And so you can totally keep that system working through our courses if you like. Plus you get invited to our twice a week live Q&A sessions, so that you can ask us your questions anytime live and in person. And lots of other really exciting goodies that come with all of our courses. So check them out at online.commonwealthherbs.com.

Crataegus spp.; Hawthorn Species & Parts

Ryn (04:16):
Yeah. You can get started today. All right. Well, we’re going to get started with this episode, and we’re going to talk first about hawthorn. So, in the botanical name here, this one is Crataegus. And when we talk about hawthorn, we say Crataegus species. Or if you see this written down, it’s Crataegus spp., right? And so that means that there are multiple different species under discussion. Or in this case there are multiple different species of Crataegus that are medicinally active.

Katja (04:47):
And not just that there are multiple species that are medicinally active, but also that they are sufficiently interchangeable that they don’t need to be differentiated. You know, you couldn’t do that if you were saying like mint species, right? Because peppermint and sage have such different actions, that you couldn’t necessarily say oh, well, they’re completely interchangeable. But when we’re talking about Crataegus, or there are some other herbs where you will see the botanical name, the genus name, and then the species name is not listed. It is just listed spp..

Ryn (05:28):
Yeah. Like goldenrod.

Katja (05:29):
Yes, exactly.

Ryn (05:32):
And any of several Solidago species can be taken in basically the same ways.

Katja (05:35):
Yeah. So when you see that, it always means that they are more or less interchangeable.

Ryn (05:44):
Right. Yeah. And, you know, with different species of hawthorn, sometimes the berries are very large. Sometimes they’re very small. Sometimes they get extra seeds in there, you know, or the leaf patterns can be a little different and so on.

Katja (05:57):
Yeah, sometimes they’re a little less lobe-y. Sometimes they’re a little more lobe-y.

Ryn (06:01):
Yeah. But they’re all fairly small differences in the end. So, you know, on our shelf, because this is where we’ve been looking as we go along our set of herbs for this podcast series, we have the hawthorn berry. And right now we don’t have a separate jar for hawthorn leaf and flower, but often we do keep one.

Katja (06:23):
Sometimes we do. And for, I don’t know, 15 years for sure, maybe longer than that. Maybe 20 years, I don’t know. I kind of favored the leaf and flower because it was less expensive. And I felt like it was active. But then there came a point when I made a choice to emphasize the berry instead. And say I know it’s more expensive, but this is the action that I really want. And I feel like the berry is more effective. And since then I really haven’t worked with the flowers as much. And I sort of notice in my thought pattern, that I’m kind of like well, I’d rather use less of the berry than more of the leaf and flower. And listen, I don’t know. Like herbalism as a whole has trends, but also each one of us as individual practitioners have trends. And we get into like, you know, it’s just the same as just what’s your favorite vegetable right now? Or you get into a rut with food choices or whatever. It also maybe has something to do with the way that I am choosing to work with hawthorn recently, and sort of recently over the past however many years, and the constituents that I want to emphasize. So I really don’t want to say that there’s no reason to have leaf and flower at all.

Chemical Constituents, Colors, & Actions

Ryn (08:01):
No. Yeah, there’s a lot of overlap let’s say, in their constituent groups, you know? So like the leaf for instance of hawthorn is fairly rich in a constituent called quercetin or quercetin, somewhere in there. And also so that compound is found in a lot of different plants, actually. It’s a really widespread chemical, especially in medicinal herbs. And it can take a number of different formats. Basically you can have like the base compound, and then it can get a sugar attached to it. And then that’s where you end up with things like rutin. Which if you start looking at chemical lists for medicinal herbs, you’ll be like oh, there’s rutin again. And it’s sometimes interesting to learn these connections between molecules that have a sugar attached and the ones that don’t. The fancy term for that is glycosides versus aglycones. But these compounds, or this quercetin anyway, and glycosidic forms, they are anti-inflammatory at like the top level. But they have a little more specificity than that, where they really work to help stabilize the cells in your body that release histamine. Those are called mast cells. And herbs that are rich in quercetin, they can help mast cells to be like less reactive to your environmental exposures. So, maybe you do breathe a little bit of pollen, but instead of a big flood of histamine release, it’s minor, or it just doesn’t happen on that first inhale. You need a little more hah, a little more literal breathing room. Okay. So, that compound is maybe a little stronger represented in the leaf. And it’s going to be present in the flower. There’s some in the berry too for sure, but maybe a stronger representation in the leaf. So, if you’re really focused on maybe allergic issues, that might be a part to emphasize.

Katja (10:11):
Another plant that has a really high concentration of quercetin is nettle, for example.

Ryn (10:18):
Yeah. And golden rod too, yeah. Now in the berries, well they’re purple, right? Or they’re red.

Katja (10:26):
Yeah, red-y. A very blue red, right? They’re not a yellow red. They’re a very blue red. And I specify that, because it is that blue, the reds and the blues, the pigments themselves are doing work. Like it isn’t that those colors are representative of something. It’s that the chemicals that make the color are also doing medicinal work in the body, or health-affecting health-benefiting work in the body.

Ryn (11:01):
Yeah. And I feel like I might have said something like this on the podcast before, but I’m going to say it again, just because it’s awesome. Okay. So, when we say that, what we’re talking about is like there’s some chemicals in the herb. And they reflect light in such a way that they absorb the green and the yellow wavelengths and all that. But they reflect back to us those like red, purple, blue wavelengths. And the reason that the chemical is able to do that is actually the same reason that it’s able to serve as an anti-inflammatory agent to soak up reactive oxygen species and wild electrons, right? Free radicals that are running around in the system and can be causing problems. And it’s really because of the structure of the chemical itself. Often these pigment compounds are fairly large as molecules go. And they may have like a long linear shape to them, or like a long stretched out shape with a little curve in it here or there. And that’s the molecular arrangement that’s required to capture, and we say reflect, but it’s really re-emit those wavelengths of light that have been altered in that way. But it’s also what allows it to absorb electrons. Because electrons and light, you know, photons, are they different? Are they the same thing? Let’s have some physics arguments about that for several years. But it is really about structure down on that microscopic level. And I find that really fascinating.

Katja (12:39):
And then in terms of that differentiation, other colors are doing other things, right? Like if we think about the yellow sort of spectrum of colors, a lot of that is carotenoid content. And that’s fantastic. It’s great. But it’s doing other things. But there are others. You know, berberine also has a yellow spectrum color, et cetera. Green spectrum colors are also fantastic, and they’re doing other things. And so kind of having a sort of broad spectrum handle on the color representation, the work that the color of different plants is doing. That’s a fun aspect of phytochemistry, that if you are more interested in, you can check out in the basic phytochemistry course. Online.commonwealthherbs.com.

Ryn (13:33):
Right. So, you know, to give these a name. With hawthorn we’re talking largely about anthocyanins and proanthocyanins. There’s like variations on these words.

Katja (13:44):
I’m pro anthocyanin.

Ryn (13:45):
Yeah. We’re in favor.

Katja (13:46):
We’re definitely. Yeah.

Ryn (13:48):
So these are these like red purple compounds. And like we’ve been saying, they’re major element is in that anti-inflammatory activity. Some of these are also in a group called bioflavonoids, and those too have that color to them. They have anti-inflammatory activity. The bioflavonoids are also very good at maintaining stability and integrity in your blood vessels. And this is one of the really important activities of hawthorn berry for cardiovascular health.

Katja (14:26):
I think that as I was talking about, you know, super emphasizing the berries over the last several years, I was like why am I doing that? But I think that is where it is. Because as I’ve been getting older, I’ve been focusing more on my own cardiovascular health. I have a lot of family cardiovascular risk factors. And so that’s been very important to me. And then of course as more and more around COVID has been shown to be a cardiovascular threat and a vascular in particular threat, that also has probably strengthened my feelings around wanting those particular attributes of the berries that are helping with vascular integrity, with vascular health. And that combined with the reality that I do drink quite a bit of nettle. So I don’t really have to think too much about ah, I need to get that quercetin from somewhere. I’m getting it from lots of other plants, especially nettle. So, I can see my sort of thought process there, even if it maybe was kind of subconscious. That okay, I’ve got these needs being met, but I have these needs over here that I really want to focus on. Anyway, we get into these preference kind of places, and it’s always great to take a minute. To sit and think why have I been preferring this over that lately? And do I continue? Do I want to continue to do that? Okay. Well, anyway.

Ryn (16:05):
Yeah. So hawthorn berry, it’s relatively flexible. I mean, you can make a nice infusion with it. And it is one that you’re going to want to seep twice if you’re doing an infusion. You’ll wee the color continue to come out in your second pour there. You can also decoct your hawthorn berries. And I actually really like to put these together with a number of cardiovascular oriented herbs. I like hawthorn together with cacao nibs. That’s really nice. A bit of ginger in there is really quite good.

Katja (16:38):
Listen, you can put a couple of slices of reishi in with that. And even though the reishi is quite bitter, when you blend it that way you get this really nice, full-bodied flavor, right? Because the reishi really grounds out the flavor. And then the hawthorn and the cacao and the ginger, like it just… You can toss cardamom in there too. And that really does make a lovely decoction. So, if you’re a person who maybe you’ve tried reishi in the past. And you’re like uh, not delicious. And you are not like a fan of coffee flavor, so my notcoffee with reishi in it doesn’t really appeal to you. And you’re like wow, how am I going to get reishi into me? That is a really, really lovely blend that will surprise you with its deliciousness.

Ryn (17:30):
Yeah. You know, somewhere kind of between infusion and decoction is the airpot or the press pot. A vacuum sealed lever dispenser thing.

Katja (17:42):
Those big, tall, silver bullet things that you see in coffee shops. Listen, we couldn’t live without those.

Ryn (17:49):
It’s really a fantastic invention. It’s great to be an herbalist in the time of the vacuum chamber. They’re really good. And I framed it as like between infusion and decoction, because if you do an infusion in a glass jar, then like the water cools down pretty quick, right? You’ve got like 20 minutes it’s still good and hot. In this vacuum press thing here, it’s going to stay pretty close to boiling for as long as it’s in there.

Katja (18:18):
Yeah. So, we have a two and a half or liter one or so. And you pour the whole thing in there while it’s boiling in the morning. I mean that’s what we do. And then in the late afternoon when we’re getting the last cup out of it, it’s still too hot to drink. So that’s not exactly a decoction, but it’s not an infusion either. It’s much stronger than an infusion.

Ryn (18:46):
Right. It reminds me just because you keep it hot all day and all of that, it’s kind of similar to a technique that we learned called Mr. Long infusion. This is where you take a Mr. Coffee, a drip coffee maker, and you put the herbs into the glass carafe. And you don’t really put anything in the basket where you would normally put your ground coffee. You just pour the water in. You let it drip through into the carafe, onto the herbs, and then you just leave it there. And they remain hot, not boiling, not like rapidly evaporating. Most of these I’ve seen there’s like a partial cover or like mostly covered over the carafe itself. So you don’t lose all of your aromatics, you know. You don’t lose them very rapidly.

Katja (19:36):
Yeah. They’re evaporating much more slowly, because a lot of them are being caught as condensate on the lid and then falling back in.

Ryn (19:45):
Yeah. So that’s a great method. But when we started getting the press pots, we kind of stopped.

Katja (19:53):
Oh, it’s s… plus it’s hot tea all day long. It’s really, really excellent.

Ryn (19:57):
Yeah. Super simple.

Katja (19:59):
Well, so in today’s…

Ryn (20:00):
We have one today, and it has hawthorn in it right?

A Multipurpose Hawthorn Tea Blend

Katja (20:02):
Yeah, in today’s airpot we have hawthorn. And then there is pine needle, white pine, because I’ve really been craving that.

Ryn (20:13):
Fresh off the branch.

Katja (20:15):
Yep. Fresh off the branch. And then mugwort and juniper, because those are flavors I really enjoy together. And then orange peel and some damiana. And I’ve got to tell you all, this tea is so good. I just, like I want to jump up and down. I can’t, I don’t even know. But also if you think about what’s going on here, we have a lot of… so we can sort of start at the heart and move out. So we have that heart support, that vascular support, lots of anti-inflammatory action for the cardiovascular system. And then we can think about, maybe we think next about the damiana and the mugwort, because those are two herbs that are promoting a lot of movement. And we need that. We need to get the blood moving if we are going to avail ourselves of all this great anti-inflammatory action. Like we have to get the herb to the problem. That always is the challenge. And so great. We’ve got this hawthorn in here doing all this anti-inflammatory work. But then we can stir it all around with the damiana and the mugwort. The orange peel is also providing a somewhat different spectrum of anti-inflammatory agents. So together with a hawthorn, we get like a broader spectrum of action.

Ryn (21:48):
Yeah. But quite complementary. If you’re looking at these herbs from the perspective of flavor, the hawthorn berries and the citrus peels, they’re both sour. And so they share some qualities there. They’ve got a variety of plant acids in their tissues, and , those are part of the anti-inflammatory effect. But you’re right. It is a much broader representation, yeah.

Katja (22:14):
So then also with the damiana and the mugwort, we get some relaxing action, right? We get the blood moving, but sort of in the nervous system direction we have a more relaxing effect. And if we are thinking about cardiovascular support, relaxation is also super important. A lot of tension in the body is going to absolutely translate to a lot of tension on your vasculature, right? If your muscles are tight, if your muscles are tense, because your mind is tense, where are all of your blood vessels. They run through and around all your muscles. So, if your muscles are all tense, so are your blood vessels. They are being squeezed and crushed by your tense muscles. And that’s fine. I don’t want you to think you can never contract a muscle, because you might squish a blood vessel. Obviously it’s supposed to work that way. But on the other hand, that chronic state of tension is not where those blood vessels want to be. They can handle, like I have to pick up this box. And so I need to tense up my muscles to be able to contract and do this muscular work right now. No problem. In fact, that actually helps the blood vessels to do some of their work. But to just sit there and be tense all the time, to just sit there and be squeezed all the time, that is literally the definition of hypertension.

Ryn (23:48):
Right. Yeah. Oftentimes in a medical context, instead of saying high blood pressure, you might just leap directly to that statement, hypertension. Now high blood pressure can be driven without tension being a major part of what’s going on. If there’s just a lot of fluid retention like edema, like extra water in the system, that can drive your pressure up too. But for sure the hypertension pattern is really common. And the thing is that every time that I’ve seen this, it’s not like it was invisible. It’s not like it was like hidden deep within your muscular tissue. And like, not at all visible externally. It’s tension that’s not only in those small little muscles that wrap your blood vessels. It’s tension in your neck. It’s tension in your back. It’s tension in the way you sit. And in the place and all these things.

Katja (24:36):
It’s usually not a surprise to someone to hear that they are tense. They’re like oh, no… Yeah, you’re right. I’m tense, you know? So then the last part of this formula was juniper. And it’s not really making an enormous part of the formula, but it also doesn’t have to. Juniper does its work, you know, it’s quite potent. It does its work even in small doses. And in this case that work is stimulating kidney function. So, if there was some stagnation of fluids, if there was some edema going on. And so frequently when there are cardiovascular problems, there’s that very strong tie between the cardiovascular system and the kidneys. Then we are providing that support there. I mentioned pine, and I said because it’s tasty and I’ve been wanting it lately. But I didn’t actually list any of its attributes in terms of this particular formula. Pine also has some stimulation on the kidneys, also has quite a bit of anti-inflammatory action. And…

Ryn (25:47):
A bunch more vitamin C.

Katja (25:48):
I was going to say some nutritive action too, right, just straight from the vitamin C. And not vitamin C like just ascorbic acid, but vitamin C like the whole bioflavonoid complex. So, it’s just another, yet again, broadening the spectrum of that anti-inflammatory action.

Ryn (26:08):
Yeah. So this kind of illustrates something about hawthorn. That it’s a fantastic herb all by itself, but it’s often very good idea to formulate it together with something to enhance its activity. And to say if we look at the individual, do we need to relax some tension to allow better flow and better circulation. Do we need a circulatory stimulant. Something a little hotter, like cayenne or ginger or something like that, to get the blood moving and get that pushed out to the places that we want to circulate the hawthorn medicine to. Or do we need a diuretic to drain out some excess fluid that’s diluting things. So, hawthorn is very powerful, but I often feel like we need to give it a friend to make it a little more particular to each individual.

Katja (26:58):
Okay. I want to also talk about this formula again, with specific regard to emotional health. Because all of that was about physiological impact, and all of that is super important. But I could have described every single thing in this formula, just from its emotional health aspect. And I want to make sure that we don’t forget to emphasize hawthorn’s really strong impact on emotional health. So, here we go. Let’s do it again. When we think about especially like it’s February whatever it is today. Third, second, third, no second. Okay. That was challenging. So it’s gray, and damp. And they say in new England that February is the longest month. Because it is when you’re sick of winter, and you’re thinking about spring.

Ryn (28:09):
Where is our dandelion flower tincture? It’s time.

Katja (28:13):
It’s time. It’s time for it. Yeah. So, this is a time of the year where things can get quite heavy, just because of the weather already. Even before we talk about all the things going on in the world today. We didn’t even have to go there, and we already are feeling heavy and maybe a little bit discouraged. So, that exactly is the place this blend is going to support emotionally. Hawthorn berry is very uplifting. It is like when your heart just feels slumped. Like you just can’t get your heart up off the couch. You know what I mean? And you know, whether it is like there’s so much to care about, and all of it takes a toll. And I just can’t work up the energy anymore to keep… Like I’m just too sad or too down or too whatever about all the things going on. I feel like that really is a time for hawthorn for that nourishing pick me up kind of thing. And if we think about one of the physiological aspects that you often hear about hawthorn is that it nourishes the tiny blood vessels that feed the heart. We think about all the blood goes through the heart, and it does, but like a tunnel. And in order to feed the heart, the blood has to come through these other tiny blood vessels that are responsible for maintaining the heart. And so it’s one thing for the heart to be pumping the blood for everyone else. But you also have to feed the heart. Like if the heart isn’t getting fed, it’s just going to, you know, whatever. So, okay. So, emotionally when you feel that way. And then I really find that pine also has a very uplifting, emotional aspect. When I feel like I just can’t anymore. When I feel like I just want to hide under the bed.

Ryn (30:39):
Yeah. Pine is fortifying.

Katja (30:40):
That’s exactly the word I’m trying to say. Yes. And then mugwort has… We’ve talked about this before, because I am fascinated to no end by it. But mugwort has some really powerful brain impacts about how the whole frontal lobe is interacting with the rest of your brain. And, you know, if you think about some brain chemistry. And just to keep it super duper simple, we can think about the reptile brain, right? The part of your brain, the lower part of your brain at the base, where you perceive threats. And where you have the feelings that are supposed to keep you physically safe in the world, but also which get out of balance sometimes, because they are that gut reaction kind of place. Not a gut reaction, but a like… you know, your reptile reaction, right? Your sort of lizard brain. And then if we go along with this sort of very simplified story, it is the like frontal lobe. It’s the very top front part of your brain in your forehead that explains the world to the rest of you. And says no, no, you don’t have to be concerned about that because of these reasons. Or eek, actually yep. That one is pretty concerning. We maybe really should get on that. Or even yes, that’s a problem. But right now you alone can’t do anything about it. Or right now you already are working on that problem. It’s just large, and so it hasn’t been solved yet. Don’t get down. We’re still working on it. You know, whatever the story is, mugwort is an herb that feeds that part of your brain. The part of your brain that says no, no, we can find a solution to this. The part of your brain that calms down that little lizard in the back that is freaking out and needing to punch something. So, that can be very helpful. And then you know, damiana is physically relaxing and also emotionally relaxing, but not the kind of relaxing where you feel like you can’t think clearly.

Ryn (33:12):
It won’t make you get tired or anything really.

Katja (33:14):
Yeah. Again, there still is that movement. There is that circulatory stimulation, but there is a direct, relaxing effect on the nervous system. So that, you know, you can sort of think more clearly. Instead of thinking very tense and very, maybe spin-y, you are thinking more clearly. And then juniper and orange you know, right in there with the pine, very uplifting. Very sort of bright and sunny. Anyway. Very ideal for February.

Curcuma longa: Turmeric & Its Topical Actions

Ryn (33:52):
Yeah. So those are some kinds of herbs that we like to put together with the hawthorn. But again, it’s flexible. I think we’ve described a couple different ways you can go with it. Well, why don’t we turn to turmeric next?

Katja (34:07):
Let’s do it.

Ryn (34:08):
Yeah. Turmeric. Okay, so boy, it sure is gold, isn’t it? And turmeric’s an interesting herb, right? So, in a lot of our herbs when we see gold or yellow, orange color we say ah, carotenoids. That’s some good stuff. That’s got those nice anti-inflammatory actions, you know. That’s really good. It helps protect against UV damage. This is great. Turmeric is a bit different, right? So the yellow gold color in turmeric is coming from this constituent called curcumin. And curcumin is also pretty well known, because it was identified as a relevant anti-inflammatory agent from the herb. And you saw supplement makers for a while just selling curcumin supplements by itself. You can probably still find them here and there. After a while folks kind of caught on and realized oh, wait, hang on. It’s an herb. And if we really stop for a moment and think we’ll be like, yeah, but there’s going to be synergy with other constituents in there. There can be maybe like less potency for one obvious molecular effect, but a broader spread of synergistic effects happening when we go with the whole herb instead of the isolated ingredient.

Katja (35:23):
Seriously herbs, if you imagine herbs in a car driving down the highway, what they say is there’s no I in team. That’s their bumper sticker, right? Like even one single herb all by itself is still a whole community. It’s still a whole team of phytochemicals that are all working together to do the things that they are going to do. And you cannot isolate just one, just one of those things. That would be like isolating one single eyelash, and imagining that that eyelash is Katja. You can’t do it.

Ryn (36:07):
Yeah. I wouldn’t really do that. So, you know, curcumin, it is interesting. It is a cool constituent. It is a strong anti-inflammatory agent. But it’s most active when we’re just talking about straight up turmeric as a spice or taken by itself. It’s all going to be most active in the digestive system.

Katja (36:30):
Okay. So I want to have just a tiny detour here. Okay. So, you were talking about carotenoids versus curcumin. And I want to bring berberine into this conversation as well for just a second. Turmeric does not have berberine. But specifically you hear all the time about turmeric being the best anti-inflammatory. And you also hear very, very frequently about berberine containing plants being the herbal antibiotics. And these are two yellow, like super duper yellow plants. A little different, in like their spectrum of yellow is a little different, but regardless. But the interesting thing about both of these is that they don’t pass very well into the bloodstream. They do work exceptionally well topically. So whether that is topically on the digestive tract, because you have consumed it. And remember your entire digestive tract is outside of your body. It’s inside, but it’s outside. It’s like the hole of a donut, right? If you are holding a donut, the inside of the donut is still outside the donut. It’s okay. You can imagine that. So, when we think about working with turmeric to get that anti-inflammatory action, when we think about working with the berberine constituents to get their antibacterial action or their antimicrobial action, we’re thinking topically. We are thinking about the digestive tract and about your skin. Okay. Well, anyway, that was just an interesting like hey. These are two yellow things that don’t pass through your digestive tract very well. And it doesn’t mean that nothing yellow will pass through the intestinal walls. Like carrots with their carotenoids, they do. That’s fine.

Ryn (38:28):
Yeah. Because you know, again, they’re all distinct in that regard. But you were mentioning topical applications for turmeric, and that’s something we’ve spoken about on the pod in the past too.

Katja (38:43):
How do you remember? You always remember what we have talked about, and I’m like what did we talk about this morning? I don’t know.

Ryn (38:54):
Yeah, but I remember talking about it, because it was a moment when we were feeling excited to look at turmeric, and I think also echinacea in a different light than what they usually get discussed as. Because it’s usually like oh, take your echinacea. Take some tincture. Drink it back, because it’ll fight your cold. Take your turmeric supplement, and that’ll keep your joints loose.

Katja (39:14):
It’ll fix your arthritis.

Ryn (39:17):
Yeah. Help you live forever, all that thing. But both of these herbs have really strong traditions for being applied topically. And you know, with turmeric this was something that that we’ve tried a number of times, and had a bunch of students who shared this as part of their family tradition, or something that grandma used to suggest and this and that. And it’s really quite effective, you know. Turmeric topically, it will have that anti-inflammatory quality. And that can help your body to say heal a rash, or for that matter just to make a nice efficient healing process for a wound, something like that.

Katja (39:59):
Yeah. Like scrapes. We’ve had over the years a lot of students who have come from various parts of Asia. And they all have that experience in common, or they all shared that common experience of they would get a scrape on the playground or something like that. And their mother or grandmother would put turmeric on the wound, and it would turn that area yellow. And then when it stopped being yellow, she would put it on again. A couple days later if it wasn’t healed yet, but it wasn’t yellow anymore, then you would get more turmeric on it. And I love that, because turmeric, we do grow it here now. Even in New England they grow it here now. But that’s very new. It’s not something that’s native here. But it’s so fascinating to me to see all the different things that people do a little differently where other plants grow. And so of course, you know, like here when you get a scrape on the playground, it’s plantain. And that’s what goes on it. But in other parts of the world where you have turmeric just growing everywhere, when you get a scrape on the playground, it’s turmeric that goes on it.

Ryn (41:18):
Yeah. So, we’re an advocate for that. I mean, even acne and things like this can respond really well to turmeric. You can just take powder. If you have some from your spice rack, you can take a little powder. Mix it with some water. Make a paste, and put it right on.

Katja (41:33):
It is going to turn your face yellow.

Ryn (41:36):
Yes. It will make your skin gold, orange, yellow, somewhere in there. So, you know, think about your own personal base skin tone and how that might look on top.

Katja (41:45):
Right. Or just go full on artistic. Like draw fancy things. It can be like a little temporary golden tattoo.

Ryn (41:56):
Sure. Yeah.

Katja (41:59):
Like seeping its anti-inflammatory action right there through your skin. As long as you can see the color, the action is happening. Because that action is coming from the color itself, the molecules that make the color. I can’t say that enough times.

Ryn (42:22):
Yeah, we’re both like permanently delighted by the subject.

Katja (42:25):
Yes. It like fascinates me every time. I’m like whoa, the color is working.

Ryn (42:32):
Yeah. Well, I feel like possibly I work with turmeric a little more often than you do.

Katja (42:40):
It’s true.

Family Reunion & Karma Chameleon Turmeric Tea Blends

Ryn (42:41):
I’m trying to think of things that we’ve made with turmeric that you’ve really enjoyed, and most of them are meals.

Katja (42:47):
No. Okay. There is that one turmeric blend. And I started off one day with a Rishi tea. They make a… I don’t know if they still make it, but I have a tin from a kabillion years ago that was a ginger turmeric blend. And I bought it because I was like, I never can make turmeric taste good in tea. Maybe I’ll buy somebody else’s tea and see if it tastes good. It was pretty all right. And then it was empty. And so I looked at the back and I said yeah, okay. Here’s the list of herbs that they started off with in this tin, and I’ve got all those. And so I’ll put those in. And then I thought really some more herbs would be even better. And so I added like schisandra and elderberry, and I don’t know more things. I fortunately have it written down somewhere, because the tin is empty again and I need to remake it. But that one is pretty okay with turmeric. That blend I like.

Ryn (43:54):
There’s lemongrass. I think what it was for you was the lemongrass and the goji berries. I think those made the turmeric flavor more palatable.

Katja (44:03):
Yeah. And a lot of ginger.

Ryn (44:04):
A lot of ginger.

Katja (44:05):
Yeah. Which actually is fantastic. Turmeric and ginger both have a real strong anti-inflammatory action that has a lot of overlap, but also things that don’t, right? Like, so again, they are creating more of that spectrum.

Ryn (44:23):
Yeah, you know what? A couple of times we’ve made like ginger family reunion tea. So, you get turmeric. You get ginger. You get cardamom. If you have it, you can put in this thing called grains of paradise, which is seeds from another relative. If you go to the grocery store and they have galangal, you can put that in there. That’s all I can remember off the top of my head, but that’s actually really great.

Katja (44:49):
Those are the ones that we usually can get to make the mix with, yeah.

Ryn (44:54):
Yeah. Zingiberaceae family reunion. It could be a spice blend just as much as it could be a tea or a decoction or whatever.

Katja (45:02):
That would actually be pretty tasty. Yeah. It’s fun to do family reunion blends. Yeah. I enjoy that. When you like look at a bunch of plants that are all in the same plant family that you also happen to have, and then make a tea with all of them. Yeah. It’s very tasty. But that is a very good way to work with turmeric. Because again, you are getting the very specific actions of turmeric, but you’re getting the broad spectrum of the whole family. I find turmeric to be a little like a smidge on the drying side. And I suppose ginger is too, but I don’t feel it.

Ryn (45:52):
Yeah, it’s not as obvious, because it doesn’t have the bitter quality.

Katja (45:54):
Yes, true. And so I think that also. It’s funny, because normally I’m really in favor of drying herbs. But something about the turmeric astringency is not my favorite. But when you balance it with the ginger, then I feel much more comfortable. It feels more comfortable in my body. And it’s funny, because you don’t typically like drying herbs, but you really like turmeric. And I think part of that might have some specificity about where the drying is happening. I like the drying to happen in my legs. I like it to happen throughout my lymph everywhere. And you’re getting a little bit more of the drying action, like turmeric is emphasizing a little bit more of the drying action sort of on contact, kind of more directly in the digestive tract.

Ryn (46:49):
Yeah. That’s interesting. Well, I guess one other, this is mostly just for fun, all right. But there was a thing a couple days ago where I just couldn’t think of anything to make for tea. And I was like staring at the shelves. I was like, I don’t know where to start. But I had a song stuck in my head. And so I let that guide me.

Katja (47:08):
Okay. That was actually good. I kept saying all day, I was like, this is actually good.

Ryn (47:14):
Yeah, it was okay. Well, what I ended up putting in there was we really like to serve rooibos. And we actually profiled that not too long ago. Aspalathus is the botanical name for that one. So, you can skip back a few episodes, and we’ll talk to you about rooibos there. But one thing that we do with rooibos is we work both with the red and the green. So it’s the same plant. It’s just a matter of what they do with it after harvest. And mostly you’ve probably had red rooibos. It’s where they like allow it to oxidize a little bit. It generates a kind of vanilla flavor, and a particular scent, and this beautiful red color, and everything. So most of the time that’s how we get our rooibos. But Mountain Rose also sells the plain dried plant, and they call it green rooibos. So, what I made with tea the other day was I put red rooibos. I put some gold turmeric in there. And then I put some green rooibos. And between the red, gold, and green, we had karma chameleon tea. And I guess I should sing the song, but I’m not going to. So, that was pretty good. I did need to add honey.

Katja (48:22):
I didn’t.

Ryn (48:24):
That was too drying all on its own for me that way. But yeah, red, gold, and green.

Katja (48:31):
Yeah. No, I liked that quite a bit. And then I thought wait, we could maybe expand on it. Because I felt like maybe some goji berries would be kind of nice in there.

Ryn (48:40):
Yeah. And maybe some citrus peel for the gold, maybe some yeah…

Katja (48:45):
Yeah. For the green, I was thinking lemon balm or lemongrass. And then I was like, does it still count as green if the name implies yellowness? But they are both green. So, I was like maybe it does.

Ryn (49:01):
I was trying to think of herbs that have green in their name. Like okay, green cardamom. Well, sort of. There’s a plant called green chiretta, but I don’t know. And we don’t have that. Yeah. I’m not sure.

Katja (49:14):
We’ll have to sort of play with that formula a little bit more.

Ryn (49:18):
Yeah. Today, I guess we talked a bit more about formulation than in other episodes.

Katja (49:24):
You know, but it is important to be thinking about how your herbs you know, how they behave individually, but also how they behave at parties.

Ryn (49:37):
Yeah. Cool. All right, everybody. Well, that’s it for us this week. Thanks for being here. We’ll be back next time to talk about possibly cardamom and eleuthero? Do we not have any starting with the letter D botanical plants? Hmm.

Katja (49:54):
I think we don’t.

Ryn (49:55):
Maybe not right now.

Katja (49:56):
Not up here.

Ryn (49:57):
Yeah. Dipsacus, teasel would go there.

Katja (50:00):

Ryn (50:03):
Wild Yam. Yeah.

Katja (50:03):
That’s downstairs. We don’t really work with that very often.

Ryn (50:06):
All right. Well, we’ll get back to you on that one. But yeah, until then take care of yourselves. Take care of each other. Drink some tea, and put a whole party of plants into your tea.

Katja (50:16):
Yes, yes. Karma karma karma karma karma chameleon. Do do do do do do do.

Ryn (50:28):
Beautiful. Beautiful. You can play it on the harp for us next time. Bye everyone.

Katja (50:34):
Bye bye.


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