Podcast 198: Herbs A-Z: Inula & Juniperus
We’re back to our apothecary shelf herb profile tour! This week we have a pair of herbs who both support respiratory function. They demonstrate two types of heat: pungency and the hot aromatics.
The root of elecampane, Inula helenium, taste in a way we fondly refer to as “peppery mud”. This herb is fantastic for cold, damp lung conditions. When you feel like you’d need a shovel to get all the phlegm out of your lungs, look to elecampane for help. Inula is also an excellent digestive herb, and these effects are most comprehensive when it’s taken as a decoction.
The leaves and, especially, the berries of juniper (Juniperus communis) are bright with warm, airy aromatic movement. Simply holding a berry in your mouth and letting its vapors pervade your sinuses & lungs is an old trick from the Nature Cure movment. Today it’s a good habit for when you’re traveling or in a large group of humans! Juniper’s an excellent urinary antiseptic also, and for Katja, it’s a standout emotional support herb.
Our Respiratory Health course includes more discussion of elecampane & juniper, as well as other key herbs to work with, and methods for targeting herbal remedies to the sinuses & lungs. Asthma, cold/flu/corona, COPD, and other troubles are covered in detail. Plus, you get everything that comes with enrollment in our courses. That includes: lifetime access to current & future course material, twice-weekly live Q&A sessions with us, open discussion threads integrated in each lesson, a buzzing student community, study guides, quizzes & capstone assignments, and more!
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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.
Woohoo. Wait a minute.
So, dear listener, we usually sit on the floor to do this, and we are sitting on the floor. But we like naturally always sit on the same sides, and we are not sitting on the same sides right now.
Do you need to switch?
I’m not going to. I’m not going to switch.
She’s going to be okay.
I’m going to be okay. I just want you to know that it feels really funny.
This is an example of one of the things that I used to always notice in classrooms. Which is that myself and then also every student that I’ve taught tends to find a place the first day and then go back there every other time as much as possible. And like, I think out of all the students that we had for our in-person programs over the years, there were like three who were wild. And they would sit different places every month, and everyone else was confused about it.
Free range students. Yeah.
Yeah. That happens.
But they’ve done studies about that.
Yeah. And it can actually help to intentionally change your seat and switch your perspective to see things a little bit differently.
Yeah. It helps you to like focus on the information better. Yeah. So, hey, if you always listen to the podcast in the same seat, then join me in being in a different location for today’s episode.
Yeah. All right. So, what are we doing today? Well, we’re back to our herbs A-to-Z series. In fact, this is the herbs on our home apothecary shelves A-to-Z. Because an actual complete A-to-Z list of all the herbs everywhere would take…
It would be a really long time.
You can just see across his forehead right now that little progress bar. You know, it’s like slowly moving.
It would take a while is what we’re saying. So, we’re keeping this series to this set of herbs that we keep ready to hand in our home apothecary. These are plants that we work with really frequently.
Today we are going to focus on Inula helenium, which is elecampane, and Juniperus communis. Or Juniperus?
Juniperus? Yeah, I guess that’s how it is.
Well actually, if it’s Latin, isn’t it Uniperus?
At any rate, juniper, yes.
Yeah. They just happen to both be next to each other on our shelves arranged alphabetically by the Latin name. But as you’re going to see here, these two plants, juniper and elecampane, actually have a shared affinity in the body. And both of them are helpful for a lot of the same problems.
Now, this is going to be really interesting, because when I think about elecampane and juniper, I think of them as really, really different and fairly unrelated. And the reason is because I kind of have favorite ways to work with both of them. And you can kind of get stuck there. This will happen to you too, right? You have herbs that you work with regularly, and you have like a favorite way to work with them. And so then you can get kind of trapped into thinking of them in those terms. And I noticed that the birds are saying don’t, get stuck with your herbs in the background there.
Yeah. They’re going to weigh in a few times during the episode here.
Yeah. So, it was really interesting for me that you’re like ah, these are really similar herbs. And I was like, right. They actually do have a lot of the same actions. It’s just that when I work with them, I am not thinking of them in those terms. So, always, always sit in a different place when you’re studying and shake it up. Whenever you realize that you are stuck in a pattern with your herbs, then shake it up and realize oh wait. There are other things going on here.
Yeah. Another good reason to learn from lots of teachers. And that reminds me that I wanted to remind you that we’re not just podcasters, we’re also teachers.
In fact, one of the reasons that we make this podcast is to give you a chance to check out our teaching style. So, in other words, if you like this podcast, you’ll love our online courses.
Yeah. And plus, you know, the best way to support this podcast is by enrolling in our very excellent online herbal courses. You can find all of them, our individual courses, our long programs, you can find all of them at online.commonwealthherbs.com.
Yeah, go check it out. You can pause us right now to go check it out. We’ll still be here when you get back.
Yeah. And you know, there’s links in the show notes. Yeah. All right. So, before we jump in to a discussion of elecampane and juniper, let’s give our reclaimer. This is where we remind you that we’re not doctors. We’re 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 doesn’t mean the same thing for everyone. Good health doesn’t exist as an objective standard. It’s influenced by your individual needs, experiences, and goals. So, keep in mind that we’re not attempting to present a single dogmatic right way that you should adhere to.
Everybody’s body is different. So, the things that we’re talking about may or may not apply directly to you. But we hope that they’ll give you some new information to think about and some ideas to research further.
Elecampane: Inula helenium & Prebiotic Fiber
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 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 that’s discussed on the internet or prescribed by a physician, is always your choice to make. Yeah. All right. Elecampane. Inula helenium.
Yes. You know, when I think about elecampane, elecampane is an herb that I work with a lot.
Yeah. It probably falls into not just the top 10 herbs I couldn’t live without, but probably the top five even. But the very first thing that always comes to mind when I think about elecampane is peppery mud.
That is the flavor
Yeah. Elecampane is pungent. It’s bitter. It’s earthy. These are other words to say the same thing.
Well, and it has that warming heat, the pungency there. But I think the mud part is super important. And you get to that peppery mud not just from the flavor profile, but also from the texture. Because elecampane has such a very high inulin content. That’s where Inula, the name, comes from.
Inula, inulin. I think the name of the fiber followed the name of the plant botanically. Yeah.
Oh, that maybe.
That’s probably how that went down. But yeah, inulin is a prebiotic. That means it’s a food for your probiotics. You know, like your gut flora, they’ll eat various different things. But it’s all a question of are we feeding the ones who are most friendly to us. And are we feeding them things that they really love and that they’re going to thrive on? And inulin is particularly good for some of our friendliest critters.
It is. It’s a fiber that you can’t digest, right? Like if you didn’t have any microbiome, it would just go right through your body. It would be something that you could not make any use of.
Yeah. Your digestive enzymes don’t break it down into smaller pieces.
Right, right. But we do have microbiomes. And the bugs that are most friendly to us, most helpful for our digestive process, it’s like their very favorite food. It’s the thing they like to eat best.
Yeah. So, you know, and in fact, when you decoct your elecampane, the water gets muddy. Because this fiber is going to get separated from the root bits and chunks and everything you’ve got in there, and it makes the water cloudy, you know? Or some people say milky, but yeah, cloudy.
Yeah. And I think that dives right into preparation a little, because despite that the flavor can be quite challenging, a decoction is 100% hands down my favorite way to work with elecampane. And now when I say that I want to be clear. A tincture does work.
Yeah. The decoction is sort of the most comprehensive. Like you can take the tincture. And you can even, if you want to, make an unfiltered tincture that does have a little bit of the insulin content in it. But you have to think about the dose size that you’re actually going to take. And so the thing for this prebiotic fiber. And for other herbs the thing for when a plant has mineral content, and that’s part of its medicine. If we take a tincture, you’re not getting mineral content. You’re not getting prebiotic fiber content.
Homeopathic mineral content.
Yeah. Right. Like maybe you’re taking a dropperful. Maybe you’re, you know, doing British size dosing, and you’re taking a tablespoon of your tincture. Okay.
That’s Katja sized dosing. That’s not just…
Well, yeah. Yeah, it’s true. But, so that’s honestly not very much liquid. And so it can only contain so much fiber. And so there’s not going to be a whole lot in comparison to drinking a mug, you know, eight ounces or whatever of elecampane decoction. So, if you’re trying to feed your flora, that’s the method you want.
Yeah. But I also prefer the decoction for respiratory issues as well. And again, I do want to emphasize that a tincture does work.
And it’s portable, and it lasts a long time.
Right. It’s not like it doesn’t work.
There are reasons.
And so if you’re out there saying, well, I want to… You know, my kiddo, my teen, my tween, my spouse, my best friend, whatever has nasty, bronchial, whatever. And I want to give them elecampane, and there is just no way that they’re going to drink peppery mud. I don’t want to wax poetic about the decoction and then have you think that the tincture isn’t going to work at all. It will work. Okay. But now that I’ve said that, oh my God, y’all, you have to have a decoction. It is so much superior. It works so much better. And I’m not going to pretend that I like it. I do not find it delicious. I do sometimes find it necessary. I don’t like the flavor, but sometimes I want it anyway, because I know my body is saying I need that thing. But I don’t think it’s delicious. Some of our students have said that they actually like the flavor. Honestly, some students have even said that their kids don’t mind the flavor. And every time they say that, I am flabbergasted, but excited, delighted.
Yeah. I think there’s a few things going on there. One is something that happens with a lot of herbs that don’t taste great the first time you taste them. And this is if it really helps you, it starts to taste better to you, right? This is like people who’ve been taking lobelia tincture, and it’s really helped them to breathe more freely or to get more oxygen. Or people taking elecampane, and it really cleared up some deep heavy phlegm that was stuck in their lungs for weeks. And they’re like aah, I feel so much better. And it’s like yeah, let’s get some more of that elecampane. That’s good stuff. So, that happens for a lot of people. Not everybody, but enough.
I mean, that’s how you feel about centaury too, I think.
I mean that’s so bitter, like you can’t even… yeah.
Very much so. And then with kids, I don’t know, you get ’em young enough. You get ’em used to a thing. And then they’re just used to it, right?
Decocting for Digestion & Respiration
It’s totally true. Do not tell them that they won’t like it. Don’t tell anybody that they won’t like it. You know, don’t lie and say this is delicious. Just don’t say anything. But here’s my strategy for being successful here. Which is that I will make a good strong decoction of elecampane. And then every hour I will take a shot glass full. And I’ll fill the shot glass up to the tippy top and then just try to swallow it down in one gulp. And if you can’t, then two gulps, you know, whatever. And then drink something nice for the rest of the hour. And just every hour take a shot. And that way we’re not pretending that you’re not a good herbalist if you don’t think this is delicious or whatever. You’re not trying to get through a whole cup of peppery mud. And it really does have like a thickness to it because of the inulin. But you’re still getting that water extraction. Yeah. And I really don’t just think that the water extraction is better if you’re going to work with elecampane in a digestive context. And it does have absolutely fantastic digestive qualities. It’s bitter. It’s warming. It’s a warming bitter. There aren’t actually a ton of warming bitters. Most bitters tend to be cold. But elecampane is one of our warming bitters. And on top of it, it is a warming bitter that comes along with that prebiotic fiber. So, it really has… you know. It can sing. It can dance. It can… what’s the other thing? It’s the triple threat. It’s, you know, whatever. And so yes, as a decoction. If you’re going to work with elecampane for digestive purposes, a decoction is the thing. But I feel pretty strongly that elecampane as a water extraction, as a decoction, is the most effective way to work with it for an acute respiratory situation as well. If you have a long-term respiratory situation. Like maybe you grew up in a house with smokers. And so your lungs had a lot of challenge as they were developing as you were growing. Or you had childhood asthma. Or like all the different reasons that people can have compromised lung function or just not super strong lungs. And so, for this reason you want to work with elecampane every single day to help build up lung strength. Yeah, okay. Work with a tincture in that case, because it is a lot more efficient.
Yeah. Or prepare an elixir, you know. Now this isn’t to say like oh, well just add a touch of honey, and now it will be delightful. Unless you’re one of the elecampane lovers, and okay, that’s cool for you. But it is worth saying that honey and elecampane together are their own unique, interesting flavor.
Well, it’s almost like they’re polarizing. It’s like they’re oil and water. When you put honey and elecampane… When you put honey and catnip together, they form this synergistic delight that makes it really tasty, or like honey and tulsi or whatever. Honey and ginger. It just becomes this two great tastes that taste great together. When you put honey in elecampane, they repel one another. And so it makes the flavor of the elecampane even stronger. And it makes the honey encapsulated also even stronger. Honestly, it makes the flavor worse. Like oh my gosh, don’t try them together.
Yes. If you’re preparing an elecampane decoction, and you’re like I know. I’ll make this a giant mug drink rather than a shot glass-sized teacup drink by adding honey to it.
I mean, try it. See how you feel about it.
Yeah. Don’t take our word for it.
Don’t take our word for anything, you know. But our experience has been that that’s not the solution that one may hope.
You could put ginger in or angelica, even calamus. But not so much honey.
Yeah. When you’re doing a decoction thing, like you can spring off from that. You can put ginger and cardamom and then some other chai type spices into there. And go into that direction, and that’ll do it, you know?
And that’s not just about flavor.
No, that’s true. Your balance is going to be about like, I really want to have enough elecampane for elecampane to be the star. To really get out the elecampane shovel, and dig the phlegm out the lungs, and toss it into the pot. So, but I think that’s actually quite easy to do with the chai spices. You can very easily have, you know, eight parts elecampane and a total of two parts of chai spices, but they’re still giving enough flavor.
Why Flavor Matters
Yeah. So, in the not just the flavor category here. All of those chai spices are also warming. Many of them have their own pungency. They have circulatory stimulating actions. They have antimicrobial actions. Many of them in their own right have respiratory support actions. So, you’re not just adding filler when you put chai spices in with elecampane. You are still working towards the problem that you’re working on. But it is a little easier. And so at this moment, I realize there’s two things I’d want to say simultaneously. One of them is I want to talk about the respiratory aspects. And the other is I want to talk about why all of this discussion about the flavor is so important. So, let’s get that one out of the way first, and then we can talk about the respiratory aspects. When you are working with herbs, listen. If you won’t take it, it won’t work. And when you’re working with herbs, you’ve got to take it more frequently, right? This isn’t like you can have one ounce in the morning and be done with it. Really, if we’re talking about an acute respiratory situation, I’m not kidding with every hour at least an ounce. You know, at least a shot glass every single hour.
Yeah. That strategy isn’t only just to be like okay, I can get this into me today, if I only have to taste it for four seconds. And then I can go back to my tasty beverage or whatever. It’s also that repeated small doses are, in many cases in herbalism, more effective than the same size total amount or even a larger amount just taken one time in the day. So, I’m saying if you take, you know 10 of these two-ounce little teacup shots of elecampane. Okay, you’ve consumed 20 ounces of that drink over the course of the day. That would be better than taking all of that at once. Like drink it down fast in the morning and then have your coffee or something.
Right, right, right.
We want to extend your exposure to the herb, and that includes the flavor.
Yes. So, that’s the reason why it’s important to focus on the flavor. If we’re telling somebody to have some chamomile or some catnip or some tulsi or whatever. Yeah, okay, there may be a person who doesn’t favor one or the other thing. You’ll always find someone who doesn’t like peppermint. It’s fine. For the most part, that’s not so challenging. But because we need to do this multiple times a day, in fact, even at least once an hour in order to be effective, we have to face the reality of the flavor. Because that’s a whole thing with herbalism, right? If you’re like well, I’m going to take care of this myself at home. That might be fine. That might be a completely realistic, reasonable, responsible thing to do, but only if you’re actually going to take care of it. You can’t just say in your head well, I know elecampane is helpful for a respiratory situation, so I’m all set.
And I have some elecampane in my house, so I’m done, right?
Right. No, it has to get into your body. And so it is really worth not just when you’re working with other people. Although at that point it becomes twice as important. But even when you’re working with yourself, it is important for you to take a few minutes and think about the flavor. Think about is this repulsive to you? Because if it is, we need to get creative, before you get sick, about how you’re going to make this tolerable for you. And it doesn’t have to be one of our suggestions. It can be anything that works for you. These are just some suggestions that we’ve found that work over time. But again, the only thing that works is what you’ll take. And if you’re really sick, listen, elecampane is super powerful. I mean, for really serious respiratory stuff, I would still be turning to elecampane. Yes, it can help strengthen lungs over time. Yes, it’s safe to take over a long period of time. Being very powerful doesn’t mean that it isn’t safe. But this is an herb that can be helpful even in scary respiratory situations. And I’m not saying that if you have a situation where you should be in a hospital, that you can just take elecampane and not go to the hospital. I’m really talking about a situation where you don’t have any kind of higher definitive care, and you have a very scary respiratory situation going on. That’s when I would be reaching for elecampane.
Yeah. And we’re going to be particular about what kind of respiratory issues we’re looking at here. So, energetically elecampane, again, it’s going to be hot in nature. It’s going to be drying. And so it’s really most appropriate for respiratory problems that are cold and wet, right? So, the lungs are devitalized. They’re not functioning at high efficiency. There’s phlegm accumulating in there, and you’re having trouble getting it up and out, right? It’s not that you’re coughing up bits of yellow phlegm every 20 minutes. It’s that you cough, and you rumble, and you sort of hack. And you feel it slosh around in there.
And it’s the cough that maybe even hurts, because it’s so deep. And you’re really exerting yourself to try to move that sludge.
Yeah. And so I think already in this podcast a couple times I’ve given that metaphor of when you need a shovel to get all the phlegm out of you, you know. And elecampane is the herb for you.
Is Elecampane Drying or Not?
You just said that it’s drying, and I want to talk about that for a minute. Yeah. Because, so in all of our online courses, at the end we have capstone assignments. The last chapter is always a bunch of case studies, where we work through them in videos to show you how we would approach different cases. And then at the end, there’s a case study that the students work through and submit. And then we read them, and we talk to them about them. And we give them feedback on how they did to have like a not exactly exam, because the word exam can be like intimidating for lots of people, but a practical hands-on exercise that lets you put everything together, right? Okay. So, the reason that I’m talking about this is because recently several people turned in their respiratory health capstone. And I know that these folks are not co-located, so I know they weren’t really talking to each other, but it’s almost like it was a conversation. And so then I did pull it all together for us all to have some thoughts about it. Because everybody was really getting hung up on that concept of elecampane being drying.
I guess what I would say, not to interrupt your flow here, but my main thought is like if somebody had a dry raspy cough. Hacking, but no phlegm in there, nothing to shake loose. Then this wouldn’t be the first herb I think of, but maybe I should.
Well, I don’t know. We had this really excellent conversation about it. Because I myself do not think of elecampane as drying. I also live in a very damp body, so like…
In a relatively humid climate.
Right. So, I always have to second guess myself when somebody says something is drying. And I say no, that’s not drying. I mean, listen, I say that about uva-ursi, right? I’m like oh no, that’s not drying. That’s fine.
It’s definitely drying. Just so we’ve got that clear. It’s definitely drying.
Yeah. Yeah, yeah. So, I always know that if my response is that’s not drying. Then I have to stop myself and say hold on a second. Is it drying to everybody else and not me? Or is it really not drying? And so we were having this conversation about elecampane, and is it drying, is it not drying? How does that impact how we look at our strategies for working with this plant? And here’s where I think the conversation cashed out. It did not cash out with a one single right answer, because every body is different. And so ultimately the answer is going to be perhaps different for each individual that you’re working with. However in my own body, I pretty much think about elecampane with any sort of respiratory issue. And I have worked with elecampane with lots of people, who do have a hacking kind of cough. Who run dry overall. Now, maybe the hacking cough does have a little phlegm behind it that is or isn’t coming up, but their constitution is dry overall. And I have worked with people with that kind of a profile with elecampane tincture, especially over long term, trying to strengthen the lungs. I’ve had a lot of success with that, and it didn’t dry them out.
Yeah. But since these were people who were already coming in in a state of dryness, wouldn’t this have been part of a protocol that was like some elecampane tincture to target the lungs plus some marshmallow infusions…
Okay, you’re right.
To address your systemic constitutional pattern.
Yes. You’re not wrong there. You’re definitely not wrong. Often also pleurisy root was involved, if I’m thinking about these different situations with this particular kind of person. A person who has dryness overall and then has this respiratory issue.
Yeah. Pleurisy root plus elecampane is a combination that we come to a lot, including in decoction format. And there too, the pleurisy is really helping to counter veil against the drying influence.
Yeah. So, I guess where this cashed out was that just because elecampane is categorized as drying, does not mean that you can’t work with it in a person who has a dry constitution. And that is not always true for dry people. If we were talking about nettles, a dry person will find nettles uncomfortable pretty quickly if you don’t take action to count counterbalance that. I think that a dry person will not find elecampane uncomfortable as quickly as nettle. I don’t think that the marshmallow has to happen every single day like it would with nettle. And so, you can experiment for yourself about how it falls for you with the drying aspect. But in this conversation with students, we were really coming out with nah, not as drying as nettles. Not so drying that I need to think uh-oh, can’t do that, you know?
Yeah. It’s important not to get to – I don’t know – binary or polarized about these things. You know, to be like ah, well, I define myself as damp. And therefore I can never have anything moistening. That’s not really the way this stuff works out. Okay. One other thought about elecampane – and this is for the modern context, and for sustainability questions, and that kind of thing – there’s this very excellent herb called osha that grows in the mountains, in the Rockies I think primarily.
Yeah, in the west. It grows at altitude.
Yeah. It’s a high-altitude plant. Not the most abundant plant. The reason I’m mentioning it in the context of elecampane is that it’s another respiratory-focused, antimicrobial, stimulant, expectorant, pungent herb. A touch of bitterness along with that pungency and warmth as well. So, there’s a lot of similarities to these two. But osha is an at-risk plant, if not outright endangered, in some areas of its natural range. And osha is also an herb that I see a fair amount of… I don’t want to call it hype, exactly. Maybe I do. Some of the stuff I see is absolutely hype. You know it’s like this miracle mountain root is America’s answer to ginseng, if you ignore American ginseng. It’s the best plant for all problems. And especially in the recent years, osha is the cure for coronavirus.
Oh, good lord.
You know, I’ve just seen enough of that. This was already a plant that was pretty highly stressed from over harvesting and that kind of population pressure. And it definitely did not need to be purported to be a cure for Covid. So, here’s what I’d like you to do. When you hear somebody say osha, you say elecampane. Because elecampane can be cultivated and is extensively cultivated. It’s just a more abundant and resilient plant as far as survival of the species goes.
Yeah. And it’s super effective. I do think that osha is tastier. In the limited experience I’ve had with osha. I’ve had like – I don’t know – we got maybe a half an ounce that was sustainably harvested and gifted to us. And that’s the only OSHA I’ve ever had. And it is quite delicious. But if you want the flavor of osha, it’s very similar to angelica. So, you could mix angelica into the elecampane and sort of broaden the profile to get a little closer to the osha flavor profile. But still be in the action range with the elecampane and the angelica together.
Juniper: Juniperus communis, A Warming Aromatic
Yeah. Cool. All right. Let’s talk about Juniper now.
Juniper is delicious. No problems there.
Juniper is pretty tasty. This is another warming plant, but rather than describing this as pungent, we would use the term aromatic. And I often think about how to define this for people who are kind of brand new to herbalism, you know? Okay. So, they both taste warm. Usually you do it through examples, right? You say well, pungent is a flavor that you get from… It’s like the commonality between ginger and turmeric, but also garlic and horseradish and things of that sort.
It’s like bitter hot, you know?
Whereas the hotter aromatics are plants like sage and thyme, and oregano and monarda. And then the sort of evergreen set that juniper fits into, where you’ve got cedar, and you’ve got pine. And you’ve got fur and spruce and all of these friends. So, it’s like the warming aromatics of the evergreen persuasion. That’s what we got going on with juniper. And especially that’s going to be true with the leaves. And yes, you can work with the leaves. They’re a little bit less aromatic than the berries, which is where we put most of our focus. But they have the same basic type of effect and affinity for the lungs and kidneys and that kind of thing.
Well, that’s the funny thing, right? Because when I think about juniper, I think about kidneys and emotional health. And I had it so strongly. In fact, really at this point, especially in the last year, it’s really so strongly in the emotional health box in my brain, that it’s not like I forgot that it is helpful for kidneys. But I just focus so much on emotional aspects of juniper, that I completely forgot all of its respiratory aspects. Not like completely forgot, but just set aside. And was like it’s at the back of the drawer. You don’t really notice it.
Yeah. But it does have this sort of aromatic antiseptic quality to it, where the vapors from the juniper, they move through your body. And, you know, I was talking about the leaf. But with juniper we more often work with the berries. And those have that aromatic that’s from the sort of evergreen range. But there’s something very specifically juniper about the berries.
There’s an extra flavor.
And it’s, you know, gin.
There’s a sweetness.
Think or try to conjure up for yourself the flavor of gin, because juniper is pretty much the dominant botanical note that’s used in in almost all gin formulations. Cedar berries are pretty similar as well. There’s just this very light… To me it tastes like the element of air has been compressed into an aromatic molecule and offered to you.
I feel like cedar is a little hotter than juniper and a little airier. Juniper has a little bit of sweetness in it.
Yeah. The sweetness is there.
It’s just a little more earthy.
You really get that sweetness when you have a whole berry. And you crush it in your mouth, and it kind of dissolves in this burst of that juniperus aromatic. And there’s that sweet, like right there at the bottom.
Yeah. You might not taste it if you make it into tea. But when you eat a juniper berry – even if it’s dried, it doesn’t have to be fresh – then you get that little burst of… yeah.
The dried berries… There was something that I learned. I’m sure it was from one of Paul Bergner’s teachings.
I was going to say no, it was definitely from Paul.
Certainly. Yeah. But he was, you know, kind of talking about some of these things in a historical context. And he was talking about a practitioner from Germany. Oh, I don’t remember the century, but several hundred years ago. A practitioner called Father Kneipp, who had a sort of hospital situation. And, you know, as everybody at the time worked with herbs, because that’s what there was. But had a practice and had all the nurses and everybody in the spot there be in the habit of holding or carrying a juniper berry around in your mouth while you do your rounds. And imagine this is, you know, like people with serious respiratory issues. And you don’t quite have modern understandings of ventilation. And Florence Nightingale hadn’t revitalized hospital practices yet, all that kind of stuff.
Yeah. Hospitals were kind of sketchy places.
Yeah. So what are you breathing in when you’re hanging out with these folks, you know? So, the idea of the juniper berry in the mouth… And just try it yourself. Just put one in there. Don’t really chew on it too much, but just hold it in your saliva will work through it.
It’s like a lozenge.
It’s like a lozenge, yeah. And you’ll feel your mouth fill up with that aromatic stimulation. You might salivate a bit more. You might feel that kind of freshness in your sinuses, that kind of thing. You can really feel it pervading your portals to the outside world.
I’ve a couple of times taken a little container of juniper berries when I’m going to go on a plane. And just to hold them and chew on them as I go along.
I mean, even through covid like, you know, you’re wearing your mask. It’s not super fun. You’re out in the world.
You’re wearing your mask. You’re smelling your own breath a lot.
Yeah. It’s really not awesome. And so, you know, just a juniper berry in there. It makes the whole experience more pleasant for you. But also, it’s not just about the flavor of it. It really is providing that aromatic antimicrobial action.
Yeah. The things that smell, the chemicals that smell, they are the ones that are antimicrobial. They are the ones that are stimulating your humoral immunity, right? Like both of these factors are equally important when we’re talking about almost any kind of infection. But I think particularly about this with respiratory infections. Because everyone always is like we’ve got to kill the germs. We got to kill the germs. And yes, you’ve got to do that. And you can do that by the pungency, the heat, the activity of these plant compounds. But the other big piece of what those do is they wake up your own immunity. They wake up your mucous membrane resident immune cells that are like those monsters from Mario that are on a chain, and they’re just going to reach out and grab whatever comes next to them. You’ve got those in all of your respiratory and digestive linings. And you want to get them stimulated. And this kind of stimulant herb does that.
Kills Germs on Contact
Okay. But also it kills germs,
But also it kills germs.
There’s a commercial in my head from like, I don’t know, the eighties, I guess. And I can’t remember the product, so I don’t know what that says about how good the commercial was. But the tagline was kills germs on contact. I don’t know, was it Lysol?
Some kind of surface spray? Yeah, probably something like that.
Something like that. And I have to say that I love that tagline, motto, whatever in relation to herbalism. Because it’s like super, super important, whenever we’re talking about these antiseptic herbs. The majority of herbs that… And that’s Opal the bird in the background who’s making that crazy noise. He really wants me to emphasize this point. You can tell, because he is very excited about it. The majority of antiseptic herbs that are out there kill germs on contact. That’s important because it reminds you that you have to get the herb to the germ. You can’t expect most antiseptic herbs to travel through your bloodstream and then somehow magically kill germs in your blood like a pharmaceutical antibiotic does. Okay. Now, there are some exceptions about herbs moving through the body and then getting to a place. I’m thinking of like garlic for example. No matter how you imbibe garlic, it is going to get back to your lungs. And it is going to come out through your lungs, because that’s just where it’s expelled. Fine.
Yeah. But that’s a thing to know about your plants, right? And this is how we can get an herb that works very well as a urinary disinfectant or a respiratory disinfectant or something like that. But maybe not both at the same time, or maybe it’s not going to reach your spleen or some other organ that may have an issue, right? It’s about how does your body metabolize and process this chemistry? Where does it go in your system to be broken down, to be eliminated, to be whatever is going to happen to it. Juniper is one that I think actually does have both a urinary and a respiratory affinity or seat of action. And there are other plants like that, where they sort of split their aromatics. You know, some of them you exhale, and some of them get diverted to the kidney to be eliminated that way. But as they move through and as they pass out, they’re still active. They’re still antimicrobial.
This is really important, because you see in a lot of the older books, or a lot of herb teachers still talk this way. They will say well, juniper has affinity for the kidneys. And they don’t say anything else. They just stop there. And so you might be sitting in a class in that sort of situation and say well, why? Why does juniper have affinity for the kidneys? Who decided that? And this is why. Because the aromatic, the volatile oils of juniper, the way that your body processes them. Different ones are processed through different organs. But juniper is processed through, like eliminated from your body through the urinary tract, and they’re not broken down before they get there. So, when we say juniper affinity for the kidneys, it’s because that’s how you get those aromatic oils out of your body again. That’s why it has that antiseptic action. Not just topically through your larynx as you swallow or whatever. You’re swallowing down, and the juice of the juniper is touching the mucous membranes of your throat. So, you’re getting the antimicrobial action there.
You are, in fact. But also because when you ingest the juniper, your body has to do something with those volatile oils that get through your digestive system. And what it’s going to do with them is pee them out. And so as they are moving through the kidneys, through the bladder, through the tubes, because you’re peeing them out, they are coming in contact with pathogens in the urinary tracts that want to give you a UTI or whatever else, right? Yeah.
Yeah. And again, they’re also stimulating the tissue, right? So, I was talking about stimulating the respiratory tissue as you’re also fighting off infections there. Here we’re also stimulating the kidneys. And so this is where we get a stimulant diuretic effect from juniper. This is a plant for sure where you can drink some tea, and then you will need to pee. That that will happen for sure. Maybe not the best thing to include in your tea blends for the last half hour before bed.
Although I often do.
Sometimes it happens, you know. One thing about the diuretic effect of juniper that really surprised me when I learned it was that this actually spares your electrolytes. With diuretics, and also there’s another term aquaretic, and another term natriuretic. And these are all different ways of saying what’s coming out of you. So, the general idea with diuretic is that more urine comes through. People specify aquaretic if they’re like ah, well that’s just the water without losing a lot of mineral content. Or natriuretic means like losing salt. Okay, more minerals are coming out. And when you learn about a plant like dandelion, you’re like well sure, this makes sense as a diuretic that’s going to spare your mineral content. Because it has so much mineral content, it sort of doesn’t even matter if you pee out a bunch.
Almost it’s like it doesn’t spare the mineral content, so much as it replaces the mineral content. Yeah.
That could be it. But then, you know, you think about juniper. And you’re like ah, well I’ve tasted this. It’s like aromatic. It’s a little fiery, a little airy. It’s got movement and stimulation and activation. So, I wouldn’t really be surprised if you were losing more of your… you know, losing a normal amount or whatever, of electrolytes or mineral content because of this effect. But no, it actually turns out that juniper, it’s more of just the water, the excess water that you’re going to eliminate. And you’re not going to lose your mineral content. So, that’s really great. This would be in stark contrast to something like a pharmaceutical thiazide diuretic, which you have to get potassium supplements. And I would argue for magnesium and a bunch of other minerals as well.
Yeah. It’s not just about potassium.
Yeah, it’s a substantial difference.
The Emotional Uplift of the Aromatic
So, listen, we’ve talked about a lot of stuff with juniper, except I want to come back to the emotional health aspect. In the past couple years, I have really gotten into… It’s ever since I read Robert Sapolsky’s book called Behave, I got really into mugwort as an emotional health herb. Especially for times when I felt it was either difficult to think through a fog, because it was the kind of tired, dense kind of fog, or difficult to think through the fog of my emotions. Both of those are true. Now, my emotions tend to be pretty watery. So, they are very foggy. Like if I’m really, really emotional, it gets pretty dark in my head and, you know, like that dense, thick fog. So, I’m kind of talking about two situations that are very similar. They have that kind of damp lack of focus. But I really have found mugwort to be very effective in that regard. And then I started thinking, you know, what would make mugwort even better? Because I really truly love the flavor of mugwort. Not everybody does, but I really do. And then I was like wow, you know, the, the only thing that could make this even better would be juniper. And I started putting the juniper in with the mugwort. And listen, all of those aromatics. When we think about peppermint or tulsi, we think about the upward lift of those aromatic volatile oils, right? You think about oh, peppermint doesn’t have caffeine, but it moves oxygen to the brain. It moves your energy up, right? We think about that with tulsi too. And that’s not just those mints that we are accustomed to thinking about that. All of the aromatics that have that bright, upward movement, they all have that bright, upward movement. If it’s there, it’s there. And so, you know, you get that from pine. You get it from cedar. You get it from all of the aromatic sort of evergreens. And putting those two together, well, then I just got a little obsessed. And I started recreating gin recipes, but as tea, right? So, I’d put in orange peel and a little hawthorn berry just to like put a… Often the botanical profile of gin has like some sort of berry or a little sweet sour in it. So, then I just started going crazy in that direction.
Yeah. You made some really good gin tea.
Yeah, I really love making gin tea. But juniper and mugwort together. And if you don’t have that, really even just plain juniper tea is really great. Also lovely with rose by the way. Two great plants that grow great at the beach together. So, if you do rose petals or even rose water and juniper, that can be really, really lovely. A little different. That’s a little more… You know, with the addition of the rose in there, we’re really going for your down, and you’re feeling like your to-do list is hunting you. And that’s a little different than I can’t see through the fog of my emotions, or I can’t see through the fog of the tiredness in my brain. Those are two kinds of different qualities. But anyway, I really have gotten kind of obsessed with that mood boosting, uplifting, the sun is coming out again activity on the emotional level of juniper.
Yeah. Very much that kind of ray of light through the fog and the mist and all of that. Yeah. My personal favorite way to work with juniper is actually incense. And it’s been a bit of a while since we had some juniper incense around. But I really love it as an incense. It’s exactly kind of what you’ve been describing. It’s that light, uplifting scent. It’s a little bit stimulating. It’s a good kind of thing to put on, and then play some up-tempo music, and get some work done.
Yeah. Well and when you have it as incense, that does get to your brain pretty fast, right? Because it’s going right in through. As you breathe it in, it’s getting right up into the brain. But also, it’s getting right into your respiratory tract. You’re getting two for one that way.
Yeah. Incense and other kind of aromatic preparations are a good way to direct this straight to the lungs, you know. If that’s really what you’re dealing with, you could even do a steam, something like that. And you can do that with the berries. Or if you just do a few drops of some juniper essential oil into a pot of water, you can steam with that. That might be something nice and portable to take with you again, if you’re traveling. You can see I have this relationship with juniper where it feels protective to me. Because I’m always like oh, if I’m going to travel. If I’m going to be surrounded by germs, or weird situations, or new people, or whatever, then I would feel better if I had a little juniper with me. I sort of put it next to yarrow in that regard.
You know, that’s funny, because as a challenge you did have lung issues. And you work a lot on lung strength. I mean, you don’t display as a person with lung issues today, but you also spend a lot of time keeping your lungs in shape.
Right. That involved 10 years of martial arts training with a heavy focus on regimented breathing. That involved training in breath holding and various kinds of breathing exercises and breath yoga and a bunch of stuff over time. And then yeah, herbs.
Yeah. And so, but it’s interesting to me that when you’re feeling like you need protection, often there is that lung component there. Of like I need to feel whole in my body. Like that’s kind of seated in your lungs.
Some echo of childhood asthma attacks. For real, yeah. That’s a pretty scary situation, you know. Yeah. So, if any of that resonates for you, then try out some juniper, will you?
Hmm. Elecampane and juniper. I mean you could put them together.
I would have them in the same day. I don’t know that I would have them in the same formula. Maybe.
If you had to, you could.
Yeah, you could probably make it work. You know, speaking of, as we’ve been, all this respiratory stuff, I want you to know that we have a Respiratory Health course. And it includes more discussions about elecampane and juniper, as well as a bunch of other key herbs that we like to work with, and methods for targeting your herbal remedies to the lungs and to the sinuses and the whole respiratory tract. Because remember, it’s not just about having the herb in your house. It’s not even just about having the herb in your tea. It’s about the best way to get it where you need it.
Yeah. We talk in there about herbs that can help support asthma, and colds and flu, and covid, and COPD, and all kinds of other respiratory troubles. All of that is covered in detail with herbal strategies, holistic strategies, all the different ways that you can support rebuilding respiratory health, if you are the kind of person who grew up in a family with smokers, or had asthma, or any of that kind of stuff too.
Right. And with this course – just like every course we offer – there’s a bunch of other things that come with your enrollment, including lifetime access to all of the current and future material in any course that you buy.
Yeah. Any time that we update courses, you get all the updates for free.
Yep. And also your access to the course doesn’t like time out after six months or something like that.
Right. You get to keep it forever, forever, forever.
You get access to twice weekly live Q&A sessions with us. We have discussion threads integrated into every single lesson in the course. If you are watching a video, and you have a question, you can just put it in right there. We have a student community as well, which is buzzing and busy lately. Lots of good chat going on. People swapping herbs and plants and things. Our courses have study guides. They have quizzes. They have capstone assignments that yes, we actually read and grade for you.
Yeah. Well, we don’t give you a letter grade or a number grade, because that just puts a lot of pressure. Instead we have a discussion about it. We talk about all the things that are awesome. And anything that, oh, don’t forget to think about this or whatever. We try to make all of our work with you as a discussion, as a collaboration to push your skills forward. That’s part of why the live Q&A sessions are so important too. Even if you can’t attend them live, you can get all the archive. There’s more than 200 hours of Q&A sessions archived. But part of why that’s so important is that we want you to be able to talk with us once a week, twice a week, as often as you want to, to really get through the stuff that maybe is too complicated to write down or needs a little bit of back-and-forth discussion. All of this is about collaborating, so that you get skills. And then you can go out and use them in the world and really do this work in your community.
Yeah. So, we’re not just trying to throw a bunch of info at you and then send you off on your way.
Yeah. We want to have a relationship. We want to be involved. So, if that sounds good to you, you can check that out at online.commonwealthherbs.com. And that’s where all of our other courses are too. If you’re maybe more interested in Digestion or Formulation or Herbal Energetics or… Well, we’ve got a lot up there. So, go check it out. Again online.commonwealthherbs.com. That’s where we are. All right. That’s it for the podcast this week. Thanks for being here with us.
I hope that you enjoyed our birds. And if you did not, we apologize. But by next week, they will no longer be part of the podcast. We will be in a different room again. They enjoyed being here with you, while they got to be here with you.
All right. So, take care of yourselves. Take care of each other. Drink some tea.
Drink some tea.
And chirp, chirp, tweet. Bye everyone.
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