Podcast 190: Herbs A-Z: Glycyrrhiza & Gynostemma
Today our apothecary shelves present us with a pair of adaptogens! As we continue our series looking at the herbs we keep on hand at home, this week we encounter two particularly excellent herbs for stressed-out folks with dry constitutions.
Licorice’s botanical Latin name tells us straight out that the herb is sweet: Glycyrrhiza glabra means “smooth sweet root”. This sweetness comes together with the plant’s moistening qualities; it’s one of our sweet demulcents, like fennel. Licorice makes a great topical remedy for dry irritated skin. It has a particular affinity for the adrenal glands & cortisol metabolism, and can often help with chronic fatigue. We prefer to take it in formula rather than on its own, and this is also a good idea for safety considerations. (The herb, if taken alone and in large doses, can raise blood pressure.)
Gynostemma pentaphyllum is known also as jiaogulan; it’s one of a number of plants sometimes called “poor man’s ginseng”. It has a number of actions and constituents in common with the ginsengs. In its own right, it’s a great adaptogen for recovery – both physical and emotional – and for climbing out of depleted states. Our preferred source is Majestic Herbs, who source their organic plant material from a project in Thailand working to reduce opium production by helping farmers transition to growing jiaogulan instead.
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Our theme music is “Wings” by Nicolai Heidlas.
Hi, I’m Katja.
And I’m Ryn.
And we’re here at Commonwealth Holistic Herbalism in Boston, Massachusetts.
And on the internet everywhere thanks to the power of the podcast.
Yeah. All right, folks, we are continuing on with our herbs A to Z series. We’re talking about herbs on our shelves and in our apothecary here at home. And today we’re going to be talking about Glycyrrhiza and Gynostemma, which you may know better as licorice and jiaogulan. Yeah.
Before we do that, I also want to mention something that you might be interested in. Last week I did a presentation for the American Herbalist Guild about GMP labeling for small producers. And you know, that’s a really intimidating topic I think for a lot of folks who want to go into business as a product maker. And so I filmed that recording, and I put it on our YouTube channel and also on our website. So, that if you are a person who’s making herbal products and selling them, and you find the GMP labeling laws to be really intimidating, we can help. So, you can find that whole video, it’s almost an hour long, with all of the rules that you need to make sure that your labels say what they have to say and don’t say what they’re not supposed to say. And a lot of creative ways to describe your product, and still follow the rules, and also let your personality and your creativity show through. So, you can find that video. It’s available to everyone on our website. And to do that, you would just put GMP in the search bar. So, if you went to commonwealthherbs.com and just put the letters GMP all together, the page will come right up for you. And it’s also on our YouTube channel, which is Commonwealth Herbs. So, whichever way is easiest for you to get to it. If that is something that applies to you, I want to let you know that it is there and available for you.
Yeah, right on. And hey, by the way, if you’re an herbalist who’s interested in starting a business or already has one and wants to make some refinements to how your business works, then you should check out our Herbal Business program. You can find this with all of our other video courses at online.commonwealthherbs.com. And this is going to give you all the information you need to know to get yourself up and running with a variety of different kinds of herbal businesses, right? So, this could be product making. It could be running a clinical practice. It could be having an herb farm. Lots of other options exist for you.
Yeah. We cover really everything from getting your business registered and how to pay your taxes to what kind of insurance you need. And then like all the GMP stuff. No matter what kind of business you have, it’s broken down by what type of business you’re running. How to build a website or how to find somebody to build a good website for you. And what you should say on it, and what you can’t say on it. And oh my goodness, how to market without selling your soul. Like just so much stuff is in there. Really every part of running a business is in there. So, check it out if that applies to you.
Nice. Right on. Okay. So, let’s get to talking about these herbs. And as always, we just want to take a quick minute here and remind you that we are not doctors. We are herbalist and holistic health educators. The 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.
We want to remind you that good health does not mean the same thing for everyone. Good health doesn’t exist as an objective standard. It’s influenced by your individual needs, and your experiences, and your goals. So, keep in mind that we are not attempting to present a single dogmatic right way that you should adhere to.
Everyone’s body is different. So, the things we’re talking about may or may not apply directly to you. But we hope they’ll give you some new information to think about and some ideas to research further.
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. And it also doesn’t mean that you’re to blame for your current state of health. But it does mean that the final decision when you’re considering any course of action, whether it’s discussed on the internet or prescribed by a physician, is always yours to make.
Licorice: Glycyrrhiza Glabra Inside & Out
All right. So, let’s start with licorice, Glycyrrhiza glabra.
Licorice, the plant that both of us love differently.
Is that what it is now? We’ve evolved. We’ve evolved your licorice stance. We’ve come to a new paradigm.
Okay. No, no. It’s actually the same paradigm. It’s just we’re going to talk about it a little bit differently.
You’ve changed your language. For a long time it was like bahhh, licorice. I don’t like it.
Yes. I have really scoffed at licorice. I do not love the flavor of licorice. And Ryn really likes it. He likes to put it in tea, and I really don’t. And he could put like one tiny shaving of licorice in there and not say anything. And then I’ll drink the tea. And I’ll be like babe, there’s licorice in here.
Yeah, I can’t get away with it, no.
No, not even one. It’s totally the princess and the pee. It is absolutely absurd is what I’m trying to say here. But when I say over and over again ahhh, I don’t like licorice, I am actually leaving one part out. And that is that although I don’t like the flavor of licorice, I really love and really depend on the topical actions of licorice. And so instead of just saying all the time negative things about my feelings towards licorice, towards the flavor of licorice, I want to change my language. And I want to say that we both love licorice inside and out. You like it inside. I like it outside. Lots of ways to love licorice.
Yeah. And it is true really, because since the very first time I met you, when you started talking to me about herbalism, you had the brilliant idea to make infused oil with licorice root on the stove. And apply that to eczema, and psoriasis, and other kinds of dry rashy situations.
Yeah. At that time that wasn’t a very common way to work with licorice. But I really needed something that would deal with really bad eczema or psoriasis. And I just wasn’t finding topical stuff that impressed me. And I had been looking at licorice and its ability to sort of change the way that our body processes cortisol and allows the cortisol to function longer in the body. And I was thinking geez, you know, I wonder if that would work topically. And so I started working with it topically. And it really does work that way. It is kind of, you know, it’s like the Solomon’s seal of eczema. There’s a lot of plants that you can work with for joint health, but there’s nothing quite like Solomon’s seal. And so the same here. There’s a lot of plants that can be helpful for skin irritations, especially really strong skin irritations, but there’s nothing quite like licorice in terms of its anti-inflammatory capacity. So, I used to always infuse licorice into oil. And I have really moved away from that, mostly for convenience purposes. It seemed like I never had licorice oil on hand when I needed it, mostly because I just used it so frequently that it seemed like I always had to make more. And so I always kind of felt like I was scrambling to make it. And to infuse licorice in oil, like it doesn’t take 10 minutes. It takes a while, usually like a few days to really get a great infusion. And you’re going to need heat in that process as well, unless you are lucky enough to have fresh licorice root available to you. But most of us probably are going to be working with dried licorice roots. So, you’re going to need heat in that process. And so the other thing is that licorice oil can be… It’s messy.
Yes, you can put it in a tincture bottle. And honestly that’s the way that I’ve found that is most portable and least likely to leak. And then you can just use the dropper top to drop out whatever amount that you are going to apply right in that moment. And so in terms of mess factor, that’s the like least messy way to do it. And there’s a lot of benefit to infusing licorice in oil. Because if you have really dry, topical, inflammatory crud that you’re dealing with – so it’s like really dry, flaky eczema, or really dry psoriasis, or something like that – then the oil itself is also going to be really soothing. But just the mess factor and everything else, I don’t know. I just got away from that, and I started working with decoction instead. Which of course yes, you do have to make in the moment. But it only takes half an hour on the stove. And then you’re done. And you can make a couple quarts of it and have it for a day or two. And I find it to be less messy. On the other hand it’s a little bit less set it and forget it. Because if you’re going to use a water preparation, then you have to like soak in it, or do a compress, or at least carry around a spray bottle with you so that you’re applying it frequently.
Yeah, the oil, once you apply it, it’s going to continue to be on there and to continue to act for quite a while.
Yeah. So I, in my own habits, have moved towards decoction, but that’s because that’s what works for me. And what I find the most manageable and the most like integrable into my life and like least mess from my perspective. But both of them are very functional, like very awesome. And so it really comes down to if you’re specifically looking for the extra moistening action that you get from the oil, or if you find the oil more convenient to work with. And obviously you can make it into a salve then afterwards as well. Or if you prefer a water based preparation. Honestly, I don’t really think that one works better than the other in terms of direct anti-inflammatory efficacy. I’m pretty sure…. I mean I have not done a trial where I divided.
A lesion, a rash.
Yeah. And put only water on one side and only oil on the other side. And that would be the way to really find out for sure. But anecdotally I feel pretty strongly that they’re quite comparable. So, do whichever method works easiest for you. The one thing that I will say is frequency of application is key. I mean that’s true for any herbal thing. So, whatever you will do with frequency is the method you should go with.
Right? Yeah. Yeah. Well, so, you know, with that topical application, we’re thinking about the anti-inflammatory effect, the moistening quality, soothing the rash, all of those kinds of aspects. And when we drink licorice we get that effect internally, right? We get that most notably in the digestive system itself. So, when there is irritation and discomfort there, then it can be really soothing. And I like to include this in digestive formulas, and tummy tea, and gut heal tea, and things like that. I find that it really helps quite a lot, especially again, for folks who run on the dry side. There are a lot of vulnerary herbs. There’s just a lot of land herbs in general that are going to be drying in nature. And you might really want their activity. You might be like ah, I’ve got this great calendula. This is going to be an excellent intestinal vulnerary. And it’s going to knit those tight junctions a little tighter into a good range. And it’s got all this kind of benefit that I want. But I don’t want to just drink that by itself, because I already run a bit dry systemically. So, a little bit of licorice goes a long way in there. In this way it’s kind of like a corrigent for dryness. And again a little bit, right? You don’t need to have equal parts of nettles and licorice in order to balance out. That would be overwhelmingly sweet, just too much, too much sweetness.
Yeah. That wouldn’t be very nice.
Yeah. but again, a small amount. So, if you have your licorice as like 10% of your formula, then that’s usually going to be just fine and both do the medicinal actions of the root, but also not kind of be overwhelming with the sweetness factor there. Cloying was the word I was looking for.
Yeah, really. Like if you look cloying up in the dictionary, licorice will be next to it. A nice little picture of licorice there.
Yeah. But honestly, I don’t… It’s interesting. One way that I don’t mind licorice straight up by itself is chewing on pieces of the root. So, if you get like little dried root slices. Or sometimes you can even find these like… Oh, I don’t know, what do you call them sticks? Licorice sticks?
Yeah. No, they’re sticks.
Yeah. You know, so it’s a piece of a root. And those are good to kind of gnaw on. They make a pretty decent tooth stick, if you want to do dental care with herbal twigs and herbal roots and so on. You can pretty much just find something, chew on the end until it looks a little brushy, and kind of brush your teeth with that. And with a plant like licorice you are getting some beneficial effects for your gums. Again some anti-inflammatory activity if the gums were inflamed.
Yeah. You should still floss. Yeah, yeah. And, you know, whatever. But these kinds of things can work. And using tooth sticks or using botanical toothbrushes and that kind of thing is, of course, a very old habit for humans on this planet.
Wait, I want to go back real quick. Because you said that most of the land herbs are drying. And I can imagine that maybe somebody out there is listening and thinking like most of the land herbs? Like what other herbs are there? And I just wanted just say the sea herbs.
Yeah, and also like the pond aquatic plants. You know, think of like pond lily. Not a drying herb.
Although horsetail. Kind of drying.
Yeah, right. But that’s kind of like how you can have say like a linden tree and a willow tree. And they’re both happy to be in damp soil. But the linden is like I’m just cool being a little moist with my friends.
Yeah. It’s like I’m going to soak up all this. Yeah. And the willow…
The willow is just like I have boundaries. I have my astringency in my own tissue. I will take in as much water as I need and exactly no more.
Yeah. That’s true. Yeah. So, anyway, I just wanted to point that out. The sort of difference between water herbs – whether they’re freshwater herbs or saltwater herbs – and land herbs.
Licorice as an Adaptogen & Exhaustion/Burnout
Yeah. Well, okay. So, licorice, right? It’s many things, but adaptogen is probably going to float to the top of the list for a lot of people nowadays. Particularly because adaptogens have been commercialized over the last decade or so, or maybe a bit more than that, but certainly are now. And this is the kind of thing that folks are aware of and excited about, because they’re marketed as herbs that help you cope with stress. Herbs that give you energy for free probably, right? Yeah.
Technically those are two different statements actually.
They are, yeah. But they get conflated in the marketing.
Yeah. And some of them are very stimulating, you know, like ginseng. Yeah. And they are herbs that give you energy. But I like to focus on the part about helps you deal with stress a little bit better. And a lot of times, especially with licorice in particular, you will see it associated with adrenal fatigue. And that’s a word that…
With that exact phrase. Yep.
Yeah. That’s a phrase that… You know, it’s not like I have never said that. I definitely have. But I am moving away from that phrase and just sticking with exhaustion or sometimes burnout also. And the reason is that when we say adrenal fatigue, what we are referring to is not medically necessarily adrenal fatigue. It might be.
Right. The phrase gives you the idea like oh, my adrenals have been… And even the story that’s told around this is your adrenals have been overworked, because your high stress life, the stressors on your life, are demanding them to produce tons and tons of cortisol and do a lot of work in that way. And ultimately, they just blah, they give up the ghost.
Yeah. Almost like the pancreas with regard to insulin.
Yeah. They can’t sustain that level of output. And so they start to, you know, reduce their output of cortisol and other stress response hormones. And then they’ll say that’s where you’re fatigue, that’s where your exhaustion, that’s where your brain fog is coming from.
And I want to be clear that in my desire to shift from the phrase adrenal fatigue to something like exhaustion or burnout, I am not saying that your adrenal glands actually are perfectly happy. They never were tired to begin with. I’m not saying that at all, actually. But the reason that I’m wanting to make this shift is twofold. And the first is that when we talk about adrenal fatigue, what we really mean is endocrine like…mmmm
Yeah. We could say endocrine fatigue, you know. I don’t mind having the word fatigue in there, although then it does start to feel like pancreatic fatigue, i.e. we’re not making enough insulin anymore. And dysregulation is a little bit better, because we might be making too much of some of these things.
Right. Including cortisol, you know. And the thing is that this is both difficult to measure and also often measured in ways that are not the best we’ve got.
Like not very reliable.
Right. So, in many cases folks will take a morning saliva sample and have that checked for cortisol status. And if it’s high or low or otherwise outside of the supposed normal bounds, then they’ll be like ah, you’ve got an adrenal problem. And you know, we’ve got to get you a bunch of adaptogens to fix it up. But the thing is…
And specifically they’ll be looking for adaptogens that support adrenal health.
Right. And so that’ll drive you towards licorice for sure. But the thing is that in a lot of these cases, it’s not that there is a diminished overall production of cortisol. There may be shifts in the kind of pattern of rises and falls, peaks and valleys over the course of the day and night. And those are all things that we can work on. But just going in… And I think this is your real point here. Just going in and saying oh, here’s an herb we’ve identified that altars cortisol metabolism or protects and supports the adrenal specifically. Like that’s going to solve the entirety of the issue, when it’s much broader than that. There are other organs, there are other systems that are involved here. Because nothing in the body happens in isolation.
Yes. So, that’s the first fold of my twofold thing. And the second is that exhaustion and burnout are real, and they are serious. And culturally there has been the shift towards the words adrenal fatigue, because culturally we have like decided that exhaustion is insufficient. And you’re not allowed to be exhausted. Neither are you allowed to seek help for exhaustion. And the same about burnout. We’ve decided that oh, well burnout is normal. Everybody, you know, whatever. But like oh, adrenal fatigue, that’s a real thing. And adrenal fatigue sounds medical. It sounds like a diagnosis. And burnout sounds like you’re whining in this perspective. And so for me part of the shift in language is that exhaustion is a serious issue. Burnout is a serious issue. They deserve to be dealt with. They have absolutely physiological factors. You’re not just whining. And you do deserve to have the time to rest and recuperate and to have the help you need in doing that. And so, I really want to reclaim the seriousness of those two words.
Which is to say that it’s not something that is going to be solved by a product that you can find on the internet, or in an herb shop, or something like that, right? So, adrenal restore tincture combination offered by your local MLM retailer. It’s not going to be the entirety of the solution here, right? And the thing is, and this is one of the cautions we’re always giving about adaptogen is, that sometimes with the particular adaptogen or a particular formula, you might feel that way for a while. You might feel oh, I started taking this. And suddenly I’ve got energy. I’m focused. I didn’t even need that much sleep last night. I can get it done. Things are doing good in here, right? And a lot of times that’s because you’ve gotten a new credit card. And what’s going on… We’re using the credit card analogy for adaptogens here, which is that it can give you a little extra boost. And it can be a bridge over a time when you need to cover some debts or whatever. But at some point, you’ve got to pay it back. So, yeah.
And also, I feel like that by moving, like reclaiming these words, reclaiming the seriousness of exhaustion. If you say to somebody that you are exhausted, nobody… Well, okay. Yes, you might be offered a cup of coffee or whatever. But it is directly implied that you need to rest. And if you say to somebody that you’re burnt out, they might also offer you coffee. You know, they might offer you some kind of motivational speaker who tells you to go crush it, whatever. But the direct implication is that you need to rest. And when we say adrenal fatigue, the direct implication is there must be a pill to take to solve a malfunctioning organ. And so yes, there are a lot of herbs that can assist in this situation in terms of rebuilding endocrine resilience and function, and also rebuilding what has been depleted through exhaustion and burnout. But those terms retain their holistic nature. And they retain the reality that a pill alone, or a tincture alone, or even 10 quarts of tea alone are not going to solve this problem. You also need to be given the space to rest. And you require the support to be able to have this space to rest. Yeah. And that support might be childcare, or it might be sick time, or other kinds of leave from work that is done in a sustainable manner so that you can still pay your bills. Or it might be, you know, whatever.
A question becomes though here, what do I do when I’m in a situation where I am overstressed, where I am overworked, where there are a lot of demands upon me, and I can’t actually change any of them right now? I’m in a situation, because of money, because of time, because of a schedule, because of commitments, responsibilities, whatever, I can’t actually shift those right now. And so somebody might ask people who talk about adaptogens the way that we do well, should I just not take them at all? Or is there some like safe way that I can work with these.?
Right. And part of changing the way that I talk about this physiological reality is not to say okay, you person who are experiencing burnout and exhaustion. Like you’re also responsible for the reality that our society doesn’t provide time to rest. Like okay, obviously no. But the more that we talk about things in terms of exhaustion and burnout. And like that is enough. You don’t need it to be more serious than that. It is already serious on its own. Then the more that we can be building awareness as a society that we need to be able to support this. But yes, in the moment in the individual’s life there are so many herbs that can help support this like restoration of resources in the body. Some of those resources are sleep. But some of those resources can be depleted minerals that our body uses up in the process of pushing us forward when we are exhausted, right? And so we can restore those. And also licorice, okay not so much on the mineral front. Although, you know, I mean, all plants have some minerals in them for sure. But licorice can definitely be a factor, especially if you are living a lifestyle that requires a lot of cortisol. And yeah, there have been times in my life that I took licorice internally, because of exhaustion issues that couldn’t be dealt with sleep in that moment. So, I don’t want to say that it’s not appropriate to do that, or it’s not helpful to do that. It definitely is. I just want to rephrase the words that we turn to.
The way that we express it.
Formulation & Caution with Licorice
Yeah. I think my answer to that kind of question about how to do this safely in those moments would be formulate first of all. And in general we find that adaptogens work better in formula. And that’s a place that licorice really shines too. Because licorice, one of its kind of classic applications is to, we often say to harmonize a formula or to help disparate herbs in a formula to work well and to work together.
I don’t ever say that.
No, but in at least two different traditions of herbal practice on the global scale, you know, that’s a common repeated idea.
No, it’s true. You definitely see it very frequently. But I always kind of try to avoid saying that, because I think that it often is like something that we see written somewhere, and then we repeat it. Like we, the herbal culture in the United States specifically. And so I try to…
Right. And there are a few different ways to explain that. One is just flavor wise, you know. Like a little bit of sweetness in there can help some maybe bitter, maybe earthy, maybe pungent, maybe whatever herbs to taste a little bit nicer together. That’s one element of it. I think that that’s real and relevant. Other people talk about that on a chemical level. And say that even in the process of extraction or the stabilization of say a tincture formula, there are some elements in licorice that can help various different types of constituent to stay in suspension together. And that’s possibly another explanation for what’s going on with that observation. But in any case, I certainly find that I prefer to have a little touch of licorice in my adaptogen formulas.
You know, and I think that’s one of the other factors there is the moistening aspect. That so many, especially the stimulating adaptogens, are drying. There’s a couple that are moistening, but most of them are drying.
Right. I like the specificity of stimulating adaptogens there. You think of rhodiola, Asian ginseng, eleuthero, he shou wu, right? Yeah. The more stimulating, I think the more likely they are to have drying qualities.
Yeah. And I also think about just here at home, even when we’re making formulas that have nothing to do with like stress or anything else. They’re just like oh, this is the tea we’re drinking today. Very often because we’re formulating for both of us in that moment, there will be a bunch of drying stuff in there. Because that’s what I usually need to be drinking. And then you need to be adding some moistening action. So, you might have licorice and sometimes also like fennel or something on the side to add in. But I think that that could fall into a way to define harmonizing also is to bring a little more moisture in.
Yeah, absolutely. Nice.
Okay. Sorry. I didn’t mean to derail you there. I just wanted to be like oh look, here’s one other way.
Yeah, right. One other quick comment on licorice in case you haven’t already heard this one. There’s a caution that’s given about licorice that it can raise blood pressure, or it can be problematic if your blood pressure was already elevated. In this case that is attributable to a specific constituent in the plant called glycyrrhizin. This is one of its steroidal saponin type constituents that does contribute to some of its adaptogenic effect and some of its activity on hormones and other things. But it’s not the only one. It does though seem to be the primary driver of this effect to basically alter kidney function, so that you are eliminating more potassium and retaining more sodium. And this is going to cause your body to retain more fluid as well. And then because of the more fluid in the body, the pressure in the blood system goes up. This is really only documented in cases where people are taking licorice both by itself – like not in a formulation with other plants – and in high doses. So, some cases of somebody drinking like thermos full of licorice tea every day for a month at a time. Other cases of somebody eating like a box of these little candies. But they’re basically like a concentrated licorice extract that’s been dried down and…
made into a little candy type thing, you know? So, like eating a whole box of those every day instead of having like two. So, situations like that, yeah. And especially if there already was a preexisting state of elevated blood pressure or of too much fluid stuck in the system. Think of it energetically. If we had somebody with a lot of dampness in their body, I wouldn’t suggest to them oh, take licorice tea and just drink it straight all day long. It’s good for your adrenals, right? No, that’s totally ignoring the constitution and the energetics of the herb. And so that’s why we always center and start ourselves with that kind of quality. Yeah. The other thing though that I like to bring forward about this is that glycyrrhizin is not all bad. And it does seem to contribute to some of the liver protective effects of licorice that have been documented even in some pretty extreme cases. There were some studies done in Japan, I believe, where they were looking at intravenous administration of isolated glycyrrhizin as a medicine for cirrhosis and some other advanced liver pathologies and had some really good results there. So, I’m not saying that you’re going to drink licorice tea and cure cirrhosis. But it certainly isn’t going to hurt, right? And, you know, empirically we can observe a pattern of liver heat, liver inflammation, and working with licorice and seeing that start to resolve. So, I just mentioned that, because you will encounter DGL, those are deglycyrrhizinated licorice products. They’ve taken that particular constituent out. The idea is that the rest of the constituents from the herb are still present. So, you can get its benefits as an anti-inflammatory to deal with anything from heartburn to other like systemic inflammation issues. And so those are quite popular. And if you have high blood pressure, if you have fluid retention and so on, but you do want to work with licorice, then that would be the way to do it. I would probably just steer people towards different plants entirely. But anyway, that’s something that can be done. Just recognize that some of its medicinal activity may be reduced in that form. Yeah.
Jiaogulan: a Moistening Adaptogen with an Interesting Flavor
Well, you know, I didn’t realize it until just now, but it is adaptogen day here on the pod. Because jiaogulan, our next herb is also an adaptogen. Yeah. And jiaogulan is an unusual adaptogen, because it falls into the moistening category. There’s not a lot of them that do that. Licorice, jiaogulan, we could put codonopsis in that category, and maybe astragalus.
American ginseng, yeah.
And then goji, maybe?
Goji, yeah. Most of them are pretty mild in terms of their moistening quality. And I would say that’s true about jiaogulan as well. This is not like a marshmallow. This is not like a seaweed. This is not like an elm, you know? Yeah.
This is closer to linden or maybe violet or something like that.
Yeah. And I love this plant. I love jiaogulan so much. And so, if you’ve been following the pod, and you know that I am a person who runs damp already. And that I do sort of avoid those moistening herbs. But jiaogulan is fantastic. Also, I do like linden quite a bit too. So, the more mild moistening herbs that have a specific moistening action on… you know, in linden’s case it is on the nervous system. In jiaogulan’s case it definitely, I find, has nervous system impact. When I am turning to jiaogulan it’s usually because I feel like my life is a marathon that doesn’t have any end. And that is another way to say I’m depleted. And so in that case I’m depleted on a nervous system level. I’m depleted on an endocrine level. I’m depleted in lots of other places too, probably. And depletion, especially when we’re talking about the nervous system, is a state of dryness. So, even if maybe in my lower legs or in my belly I’m still carrying some dampness. There is dryness happening in the body. And we don’t want to just let that be dry forever and depleted forever.
Nice. Yeah. Jiaogulan, I think I first got attracted to it when I noticed that it was very helpful as a post workout recovery aid, or even like a reduce the need for recovery if you start early enough kind of situation. And so I often do associate it with like goji in particular. And the two of them are very frequently like the core adaptogen pair that I’m going to build a formula around for times when I expect a lot of physical exertion to be demanded soon, or when I am recovering and kind of rebuilding after something like that. Yeah. And if you go to our website, commonwealthherbs.com and search on evry day yeah. That’s the name of a formula that I’ve made for a while. That includes jiaogulan, and goji, and cedar leaf, and pine if we’ve got some fresh, and ginger. And a number of other things to help with like blood flow to the muscles, and recovery, and making sure the joints aren’t too tight. Giving them some fluid movement and all of that. But I find it very, very helpful when there is a lot of physical demand
When you started with that pairing, jiaogulan with goji, that was a long time ago. Wow. We were so much younger. And recovery was not, I think, a word in your normal speech really. You were teaching martial arts at the time. You were a very active teacher. And so you were teaching for several hours and then having your own class. And you did that six days a week. And there wasn’t really… There also wasn’t a lot of sleep happening then ah, when we were young. And then sometimes going out dancing too, you know. There just wasn’t much recovery time for your body.
And that’s why I have to do it all now, folks.
It is true. The pace of your workouts has changed. And now you tend to leave a day in between your heavier work. But that was when you really came to lean on those two plants in particular. And back at that time it was my first clinical office in Boston. And it was across the hall from the studio where you were teaching martial arts. So, in between classes he would come over and like….
Like grab a handful of goji berries and chew them down before I went into go teach again.
Or like have the goji or have the jiaogulan tea made. And then come over and get a cup, and then walk back and then yeah.
Good times. Right. And yeah, I think the very first time you taste jiaogulan, you’ll kind of like stop and say this is something really interesting going on here. There is a sweetness to it. So, I guess there’s some connection to the licorice there in terms of flavor-wise, and goji, and like the other kind of restorative adaptogens. Like, okay, there’s a sweetness to it. But it’s always felt to me like there’s a hint of seaweed in here somewhere. Which I guess is like the minerality, or we even in herbalism use the term salty to describe these kinds of flavors. But yeah, it just tastes nourishing, and yeah.
There’s also like a little smokiness to it. Not actual smokiness, but that same flavor that you find in schisandra. It isn’t smokey, but there’s just like some sort of … That’s the closest way to describe it.
And when we had a live plant in the house. And I would occasionally nibble off a leaf of that. From the fresh plant there’s a little acrid touch in there. You know, which the acridity, when you can taste that flavor, it’s often an indicator of a relaxant effect of the plant when you ingest it. And for sure that’s part of jiaogulan’s quality set, right? This is a cooling, moistening, relaxing herb.
You know, since you mentioned having plants in the house, we did grow jiaogulan in the house for, I don’t know, three years maybe. Last year I let it go ahead and die when winter came, because it had quite a few aphids on it. Or no the scaled ones, the little things that look like blobs and they’re actually bugs. And jiaogulan really does have quite a lot of sweetness in the sap, so they love it. And there’s not like much in the way of predators for jiaogulan, because it grows away. It grows in like Southeast Asia. So, you can absolutely grow it at home. And honestly, I really recommend it. It’s a beautiful plant. It’s a climbing vine. It’s just an amazing plant. But you really have to be right on top of the scale thing, because it will get it.
And that’s okay. If it gets it, you can scrape them off every day. Or you can spray it with the different like soapy mixtures or whatever. In this case the plant had been around for a few years. And I was like oh, you know what, I’m just going to start fresh next year. So, that’s also fine. It’s okay to do that. But yeah, I really enjoy growing it. It’s very pretty.
Ways to Work with Jiaogulan
Yeah. And it is always interesting to taste an herb fresh off the plant and compare that to what you get when you nibble on the dry bits, or when you make tea from your dried material. There often are these extra elements to the flavor when it’s fresh, that you lose or change a bit as they dry. I do love jiaogulan in tea. That’s the primary way that I like to work with it. And it’s a nice one, because you can get effect from it in a short infusion. A lot of our adaptogens are like roots and woody bits, and things that are going to take a whole decoction and other processes to extract well. But jiaogulan is kind of like tulsi. You can have a cup of tea ready in 20 minutes and start to bring these effects into your system. I also think that like tulsi it doesn’t only have the kind of like long term actions that we get from many adaptogens. This one does feel like it starts to go to work pretty quickly, you know?
Yeah. I don’t mind a long infusion of jiaogulan. I do like to make a big air pot of it. And you can get some of it in the shorter infusion and then some of it hours later.
Yeah. That’s a really good way to go.
I like that a lot, because there is mineral content going on there. And I don’t want to miss out on that. But the photochemical profile of this plant is like so broad, that it’s one of those like oh, you can start drinking it as soon as it’s cool enough to drink. And also hours later it’s still going to be amazing for you. When I think about how we blend it, we do blend it really differently. When I work with jiaogulan, I am looking for like emotional support 100% of the time. Okay. Part of that is because I don’t work out as intensely as you. But even when we were training Muay Thai together, I was never like okay, wow. I need some jiaogulan, right? Like that never happened. I turn to jiaogulan for emotional depletion of stamina and emotional exhaustion. And especially in times when I have to keep going. And it doesn’t feel like there’s an end in sight, even if there is actually an end in sight, but it doesn’t feel that way. And I tend to really like it blended with goldenrod, which is another herb that I turn to in that same emotional, mental kind of state. I like to blend it with tulsi for obvious reasons. Because at that point if you’re feeling that level of emotional depletion, then tulsi is definitely on the list. And I really like to put ginger in there as well. For me specifically when I think about ginger, I really am thinking about releasing tension. And sometimes when you are in that kind of marathon place, you’re only holding it together with tension. Like that’s really all that’s left. And then you go a little further, and now that tension gets stuck. And it’s no longer really serving you at that point. Because okay, yes, it is keeping you upright and moving. Whether or not you’re moving forward might be debatable, but you’re definitely moving. At any rate you’re upright. But at that point that tension is preventing you from bringing in stuff that could be helping you. I’m saying you here, and what I really mean is me. I’m sort of talking to myself here, but it might also be true for you. And so, ginger in that regard for the relaxation specifically, with the acknowledgement that the tension has gone past its usefulness. And maybe in order to get through this, I actually do need to relax just a little bit and allow nourishment and replenishment to come in. Oh, and often I would say wood betony goes into this mix as well. And partially because when I am feeling emotionally exhausted, there is a real abstraction that happens and like a dissociation factor. And so that is always a time to be calling on wood betony.
Yeah. You had mentioned ginger there as a good pairing. And I often do like to have ginger or some other like digestive soothing, calming herb in the mix when I’m having a bunch of jiaogulan. And the reason is that like most other adaptogen plants, jiaogulan has a high concentration of saponins, specifically these steroidal saponins that contribute to some of its hormonal activity. And the thing is that saponins, well, if it sounds like soap, then it should. Because actually if you take a plant with high saponins, put it in some water and let it sit, and then shake it around, you’ll get some bubbles. You know, you’ll get some foam.
And they’ll be like iridescent bubbles just like soap.
Yeah. So, if you make a tea from an herb with a bunch of those in it and drink it, it can cause some gastrointestinal irritation, right? And so it’s usually a good idea to have something like ginger, or maybe some sage, or whatever digestive, carminative herb that you find appealing to put it in together with there. Yeah. And about those saponins, sometimes jiaogulan is… Well, it’s one of like three or four different herbs that is occasionally called poor man’s ginseng. And traditionally that was just because people identified a similar activity, and back in the day called it a chi tonic. Or using other terminology, today we can put them all in this adaptogen category. But also from a scientific perspective, when jiaogulan has been assayed, they’ve found pretty high concentrations and pretty diverse structural varieties of the saponins. And even particularly what are called ginsenosides, which are some of these that originally were found in the ginsengs but have since been identified in some other plants as well including in this one. So, there’s your bit of science for the day. Cool stuff, yeah.
Yeah. Well you know, you could put licorice and jiaogulan together. That would be quite an intense flavor.
Yeah. I’ll admit sometimes if I’m feeling really dried out, I’ll be like okay, my tea today is going to be marshmallow leaf, jiaogulan, goji berry, licorice, fennel, and some linden.
That’s not for water types.
Yeah, but it would be awesome for you. We should make some today. Excellent. Well, hopefully that was interesting, elucidating. Go out and investigate some licorice and some jiaogulan. I will say that these are two plants that don’t grow here. You can grow them in the U.S. And you can intentionally grow them. And it’s awesome to do so. But these are plants that you’re probably going to be working with from commerce.
Oh, you know what, there was a commercial thing I wanted to mention about this. In a supplement shop or a store like that you may encounter these tea bags that are jiaogulan tea. And look at the label a little bit closely to see what you’ve got going on in there. There’s a common brand. The product name might be Green Dragon or Jade Dragon or something like that. But there’s a common brand where what they do is they have some of the herb, but they’ve also made a liquid extract and then dried that. And then put a bit of that into the teabag as well. So, that’s a bit different from when you have just the powdered herb or whatever in one of your teabags. Those are actually pretty good. I can recommend them. Sometimes I’ve been traveling. I think the last time was I had gone traveling to go to a MoveNat event. And I was like oh, I want to have some tea when I get home in the evening. And I stopped in a place, and found this, and was like ah, this is going to be a good one. Because when they make these dried concentrates and include them into their tea bags, it’s kind of like a way to cram 17 times as much herbal material into a small package. And also to have it be very rapidly dissolving in the water, and like really liberating those chemicals, and getting them to you.
I mean it’s like dehydrated tea. I mean it is not like that, it in fact IS that, yeah. Jiaogulan is not the only herb they do that with. They do that with some of the mushrooms.
Yeah, we’re seeing this more and more now. It’s like, I don’t know, technology has advanced or become cheaper, and more folks are interested in this in their process. So yeah, with mushroom teas that’s like pretty much the only acceptable way to prepare a mushroom tea in a tea bag form by the way. Is to do one of these processes. So, yeah.
In terms of sourcing jiaogulan, there is a project in Thailand. And it is called, I believe, the Kings Royal project. Which is not very descriptive, but it is a thing. And they were providing the infrastructure to grow jiaogulan as an alternative to opium. And the result is really fantastic. Ed Smith, who runs Herb Pharm, he lives in that part of the world. And he went and toured it and everything. And it’s just fantastic. And so one of the ways to purchase jiaogulan through that project is majesticherbs.com. And they provide jiaogulan that is from that project. And also butterfly pea that is also related. So, I am pretty excited about that project. Because it’s not very safe to be an opium farmer. And it is especially not safe to be the daughter of an opium farmer. There’s just a lot of awful, awful things that happen. And so finding ways to provide other ways to make a living is really important. And it’s not really… Like you need a whole sales channel. And you need the marketing and all that other stuff. And so this project was about providing that. So, it’s very cool.
Yeah. Nice. All right. Well, that’s it for us today. Thanks for listening. Thanks for being here with us. We’ll be back next time with some more Holistic Herbalism podcast for you. Until then take care of yourselves. Take care of each other. Drink some tea.
Drink some tea. Maybe some jiaogulan tea.
Yeah. And remember adaptogens are credit cards. So, take care of your various sleep and stress debts when you work with them.
And normalize being exhausted. Wait, no. That’s not what I mean.
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