Podcast 220: Herbs A-Z: Taraxacum & Thuja

Our herbs for this week are dandelion & cedar! Both are diuretic, but their similarities pretty much end there.

We are big fans of gardening your weeds, and we took another opportunity here to advocate for it. It’s easy to do, and you don’t have to stress about upkeep. Plus, you get nutritious or medicinal plants ready to hand! Dandelion is a great one for this, and the leaf makes an excellent base for a Salad of Health (listen in for an example recipe). Whether you grow it or not, it’s easy to find growing wild – but don’t be fooled by any of the many not-a-dandelions out there in the field!

The cedar we’re talking about today is “western redcedar” or arborvitae, Thuja plicata. (Other plants called ‘cedar’ include “true cedar” Cedrus species, as well as some species of Juniperus.) Katja has an argument to make that this cedar should be counted as a nervine – but it’s not a sedative one; rather the opposite. We also talk quite a bit about its particular aromatic profile, and how perhaps cedar is to tulsi as pine is to rosemary…


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Episode Transcript

Katja (00:14):
Hi, I’m Katja.

Ryn (00:15):
And I’m Ryn.

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

Ryn (00:20):
And on the internet everywhere thanks to the power of the podcast.

Katja (00:23):

Ryn (00:26):
Hi, everybody. Today we’re talking about dandelion and cedar.

Katja (00:31):
Which is exciting.

Ryn (00:33):
One of the cedars.

Katja (00:34):
One of the cedars.

Ryn (00:35):
There are several. Today we will not really talk about Cedrus species.

Katja (00:41):
We’ll talk about Thuja species.

Ryn (00:43):
Thuja, yeah. Mm-Hmm. Before we jump in, really quick this time, remember we have online courses for you. You should check them out. You can find them at online.commonwealthherbs.com. There’s a whole catalog. Something in there you’re going to want to check it out.

Katja (01:00):
Yeah. I’m actually in the middle of writing the newsletter for this week. And if you’re not on our newsletter list, definitely jump on it. You just go to commonwealthherbs.com and sign up at the bottom of any page. But the thing is that in the newsletter I was writing about back-to-school stuff, and how to stay healthy as the seasons change, and all that stuff. Because It is the end of summer right now. It’s late August. And I’m feeling like late August. I’m really feeling the calm before the flurry of fall. You know, the kind of long, languid, really warm, end of summer feeling when you can see fall coming. And even though we don’t go back to school as adults necessarily, that cycle just stays with you, I think, for all your life.

Ryn (01:59):
Yeah. The vibes are around.

Katja (02:01):
The vibes are around, and it’s just like oh no. Not yet. But so in this newsletter I am writing about ways to stay healthy as we make this transition. And that reminds me of the cold and flu course, which you can get at online.commonwealths.com – It was a ramble, but I got there – and all the other great stuff. Go check it out.

Ryn (02:27):
Yeah, do it. Okay. Also, reclaimer here. That’s where we remind you that we’re not doctors. We are herbalist and holistic health educators.

Katja (02:36):
The ideas discussed in this podcast do not constitute medical advice. No state or federal authority licenses herbalists in the United States. So, these discussions are for educational purposes only.

Ryn (02:47):
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 we’re not attempting to present a single dogmatic right way that you must adhere to.

Katja (03:04):
Everybody’s body is different. So, the things that we’re talking about may or may not apply directly to you. But we hope that they’ll give you some good information to think about and some ideas to research and experiment with further.

Ryn (03:16):
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 are 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, that’s always your choice to make. As I pluck cat hairs off of the microphone. Why do we get compelled to do these things in the middle of a sentence? I don’t know, but that’s life. That’s life around here anyway.

Katja (03:49):
That’s life around here. Life with cats. Life with cats. Life with, you know, cats.

Ryn (03:57):

Katja (03:58):

Dandelion: Dine on Your Weeds

Ryn (03:59):
Dandelions. The lion’s tooth. Well, I was thinking about this episode. And I was like what can we say about dandelion that hasn’t already been said so many times? Dandelion. It’s called dandelion because the French dent de lion means the tooth of the lion. And when you look at the leaf, it’s the shape of a lion’s tooth, because it’s these big triangular lobes. I love to say that one. I’ll spend a long time with that on every herb walk that I do probably forever.

Katja (04:25):
If you have kids, and you’re teaching them about herbs, then you can pick dandelion leaves and put them like a smile on your face. And then pretend you’re a lion and be like rah. I’m a lion.

Ryn (04:37):
Yeah. That’s a good one. Yeah. And we can talk about dandelion. And we can say yeah, the leaf is a really great kidney remedy. And it’s got these diuretic effects. And it’ll drain your excess water and all the different reasons that’s important. And we’ll talk about the root as a liver remedy. And we’ll talk about the flower being exhilarant and full of yellow, right? But maybe you’ve heard that already. I don’t know. Maybe you haven’t. But I was kind of getting stuck with that. And I was also thinking about the other things that everyone wants to say all the time about dandelion. Like look at those dandelions coming up through the concrete. Yeah.

Katja (05:17):
How can I kill them? Literally, somebody said that to me once. It was a coworker back when I was an engineer, but I was learning herbalism. And this person was like you’re an herbalist. I bet you’ll know. How do I kill dandelions? And I was just like ahhhhh.

Ryn (05:37):
You harvest them, and then you make food out of them, and you eat the leaves in salad.

Katja (05:44):
I purposely put the seeds in the garden so that we have free salad all the time. I’m not the person to ask how to kill dandelion.

Ryn (05:54):
Yeah. You know, we’ve mentioned on the pod before that one of our favorite ways to garden is to have a garden bed of weeds. To have mugwort and fleabane and burdock and dandelion right there in the garden bed. Because they’re going to grow super easily. They’re going to grow strong and mighty. And they’re not going to require a lot from you.

Katja (06:22):
It’s great because if you garden weeds, you never have to weed your garden.

Ryn (06:27):
Let’s just call it harvesting. Let’s just call it hey, go get some salad from the garden for tonight. And come back with a pile of dandelion, yeah. No, it’s good.

Katja (06:40):
That’s salad.

Ryn (06:41):
Yeah. I like that. Here’s a salad I like, okay? You take a bunch of dandelion leaves. You chop them all up. Maybe you also have some radicchio. Maybe you have parsley or cilantro, or maybe you have some other wild stuff. Maybe you’ve got violet leaf. Maybe you have a little bit of lambs quarters. Not too much, you know, but a little bit you can throw in there.

Katja (07:02):
This time of year you could put a little erigeron leaf in there. Or if you were so inclined, a little goldenrod leaf.

Ryn (07:10):
A little bit, yeah.

Katja (07:11):
Just a little bit.

Ryn (07:12):
Chop it up good.

Katja (07:13):
Or the goldenrod flowers. They would be really pretty and not as bitter. h.

Ryn (07:17):
Yeah. Yeah. And if you’ve got dandelion flowers, you can throw those into your salad also. That’s fine. They go good with the leaf. But you have these leaves. And these are all not just like crunchy water, you know? Your iceberg lettuce where supposedly there’s some fiber, but there’s not…

Katja (07:33):
There’s very little fiber.

Ryn (07:34):
There’s not a lot going on with that, right? No. But instead we have these things that are a bit more fibrous, but also like bitter. That’s the dandelion mostly. And the others might maybe have some pungency to them. Or you can get some wild mustard greens and get some spiciness and that kind of stuff going on. Great. So, now you have a lot of flavor just from that. But we’re not done. Because we’re going to take some sardines. And we’re going to kind of stir them all up with a fork so they kind of become a little pile.

Katja (08:06):
Listen, if you’re out there saying you lost me Ryn. Right now, you lost me. Don’t worry. We’ve got alternatives.

Ryn (08:12):
No, it’s going to get better, right?

Katja (08:13):
Because I am not on board with the sardines either. So, it’s okay. It’s okay. Just stay with him.

Ryn (08:18):
See, but we’re going to take this all, because by themselves they can be a bit much. They can be a bit oily.

Katja (08:23):
There’s nothing you can do to make them better.

Ryn (08:25):
What we’re going to do is we’re going to mix them all around in there. And we’re going to put on some spice, right, like some cayenne pepper, and some ginger powder, and a little tiny touch of clove. And you can just use the berbere spice mix if you’ve got that on hand. Which you should, because it’s the only spice mix you really need in the kitchen, honestly. Because it does go on everything, at least as far as my dinner is concerned.

Katja (08:46):
It really goes on everything, yeah.

Ryn (08:49):
Yeah, yeah. But, you know, some fiery spice stuff like that, okay. And then some pesto, right, which has basil, and it has some pine nuts and stuff. And why don’t we just get some walnuts also and throw them on and some raisins or some dried cranberries. And I think that’s enough. I think that’s good.

Katja (09:09):
You could put some kind of seed, like some pumpkin seed or sesame seed or something.

Ryn (09:13):
I do like pumpkin seeds on there. Yeah. So, now we have this is the healthiest food you’re going to eat this month. It’s going to be awesome. You’re going to feel so good about yourself, right? But it also has a lot of different flavors going on. And I feel like the sardineliness of them is buffered by the spicy and the various kinds of aromatics. And the touch of bitter from the dandelion, I think goes a long way actually.

Katja (09:42):
That’s true.

Ryn (09:43):
Towards making them more palatable like that.

Katja (09:45):
That is true. But if you still can’t stomach sardines, don’t worry. There’s also…

Ryn (09:51):
There’s herring.

Katja (09:52):
You can get canned herring, or mackerel, or tuna salad goes on top of this just fine. I’ll take tuna and mix in mayonnaise. And I really like mayonnaise made with avocado oil, so that it becomes like food instead of just a condiment. And then chop up some apples or something to go in there. You can still put berbere spice. It’s fine.

Ryn (10:17):
The apples are good. You’re right about the apples. I always forget the apples, but they’re good.

New Speaker (10:21):
But if you are like these are all fish. This is still disgusting. What are you talking about? Even chicken could go on top or basically any kind of… You could put steak on top of the salad.

Ryn (10:34):
I’ll put ground beef on there. Whatever man, it’s fine.

Katja (10:36):
Anything could go on. Yeah. But it’s true. And I really like how you are reframing this entirely as dinner, right? Because when we think about herbalism, so often we are just… Because most of us grew up in the medical environment, like the conventional medical environment. Where if you get sick, you take the thing, and then you get better.

Ryn (11:07):
Get sick, take medicine, get better, the end.

Katja (11:09):
The end, right. But actually, so many of the ways that we get sick… Not 100% of the ways, because there are still viruses and bacteria out there that are really strong. And you’re just going to get sick regardless. So, okay. I’m not going to say you will never be sick in your whole life if you eat dandelion salad, but…

Ryn (11:31):
No. Right. And then on the other side, your genes have a transcription there or whatever. You don’t make a certain protein and things get weird. Yeah, sure.

Kidney Supporting Salad

Katja (11:37):
Yeah. So, I want to be careful that I’m not making some huge blanket statement here. But human bodies do require certain inputs. And the modern diet does not provide many of those inputs, but they’re not actually optional. They really are required. And then even worse, a lot of those required inputs, both in the form of like vegetable fibers… Fiber is so important to the function of the body. But also all these minerals and nutrients that you get in green leafy things, they’re very expensive to purchase. And in some places you don’t even have the option to purchase them. Because the grocery store that you have available maybe only has iceberg lettuce. Or maybe the places to buy food that you have available don’t have fresh greens even. And so recognizing that you can put together a salad that actually tastes fine and costs you nothing is a really big deal. And that’s really part of the reason that I love so much to plant dandelion in a garden. I mean, because it is thoroughly comical, right, because most people are trying to get rid of the dandelion. But the seeds are free. And they are almost guaranteed to germinate for you. It’s the lowest maintenance thing. And all of these wild plants that grow voraciously basically anywhere. And I’m thinking specifically of like dandelion, violet. Honestly even mugwort is not bad in a salad. And those three grow perniciously almost. They just grow everywhere. And you can encourage them to grow too. And then it’s just salad for free. And you can grow them in a bucket. You don’t even need a fancy garden space to do it.

Ryn (13:41):
Yeah. Plus then you’re like okay, well I know that these dandelions are safe together. They don’t have like some kind of Roundup spray on them by the neighbors, or by the town, or whatever. They don’t have dog pee on them. Whatever the concerns are with the dandelions in the closest field. The ones that come out of your garden, no worries. Everything’s good.

Katja (14:05):
Oh, you know, while we’re putting things into this salad formula, we could toss red clover in there too. Because that’s another one that grows really voraciously and has a mild flavor.

Ryn (14:16):
Throw some blossoms in there.

Katja (14:17):
Yeah. So okay, great. What will we be supporting with this amazing salad? You know, first off kidney function. And that’s good, and that’s important. And I think maybe the first thing that everybody learns about dandelion is like oh, kidneys.

Ryn (14:38):
Yeah. With…no, you go first.

Katja (14:41):
Well, I was going to take a little detour into lymphatic function.

Ryn (14:46):
Oh. What’s coming to mind for me was really just it’s easy to learn that and to think okay. Dandelion is appropriate when you have a kidney problem. Dandelion is appropriate when you want to flush a lot of fluid through the system to help to chase away a UTI, maybe in combination with some more direct antimicrobials like uva-ursi. Fine. Dandelion might make sense if you’ve got inflamed kidney issues, if you have a kidney disorder. You’ve got that kind of thing going on. Okay, cool. That makes sense. But don’t forget that the kidneys are connected to the rest of the body. And I’d say one of the places that we find ourselves thinking about dandelion and it’s kidney activity most often is going to start with somebody coming in and saying hi. I’ve got a heart issue. I’ve got high blood pressure. And we think hmm, what kind of high blood pressure does this person have? Oh, I see a damp pattern. I see a lot of excess fluid on the body. If we drain that out, that’ll reduce the amount of fluid in the system. That will bring the pressure down. Awesome, dandelion can help, right? So, that’s really, really frequent. And if you’re just kind of new to learning about herbs and plants, try to try to hear these statements or these teachings about herbs. This one’s good for the kidney, that one’s good for the heart, this one’s good for the lymph. And say okay, well what’s next to that? What’s the next system down the line, or the one upstream. And how are these things going to be interrelated to each other?

Katja (16:08):
That is actually kind of exactly where I was going. Because we hear all the time dandelion is good for the kidneys. Or it’s a diuretic. And where’s that fluid coming from? It’s not just the fluid that you drink with the tea. That fluid has to come somewhere. And so when we’re thinking about dandelion with regard to water retention that’s causing excess pressure. And especially we can now tie that out to diet-wise too. That’s especially frequent in a very high sodium kind of diet or a high processed foods kind of diet. Which is a reality for so many people, just simply because life is so busy. And those foods don’t usually require a lot of preparation. And they’re easy to get in lots of places.

Ryn (17:03):
Oh, and they taste good.

Katja (17:03):
Well, okay. And there’s that.

Ryn (17:04):
You can’t forget that part. You know, that matters a lot, right? People’s food needs include that it should be enjoyable.

Katja (17:09):

Ryn (17:11):
That’s actually important when it comes to sustaining or maintaining any particular eating habit.

A Lymphatic Assist & Staying Healthy

Katja (17:17):
Right. Okay, but so if we say that you can drink dandelion. It helps your kidneys, and it’ll reduce your water retention. How did it do that? Oh. Because it also helps your lymphatic system. It also stimulates the movement of fluid throughout the whole body and helps to shepherd it up to the kidneys – Or I suppose in some cases down to the kidney, depending on where that fluid is located – so that you can stop retaining it. And so yeah, like you were saying, we think about it as this oh, kidneys, kidneys, kidneys. But it’s so interconnected with so many other factors. And then because right now everyone is following the new covid strains, and watching as the numbers are rising again, and wondering if there’s going to be another surge, and all that stuff. That’s what my news feeds are kind of all about right now.

Ryn (18:15):

Katja (18:16):
Yeah. Again, right. Again, some more. I want to make a plug for the relation of dandelion to keeping yourself healthy as you can in a time of covid. Because covid, you know, we think of it as a respiratory disease. Because that’s the way that it comes in, and that’s where our first acute symptoms are. But that’s not actually where it’s doing the most damage in the body. It’s doing a tremendous amount of… It’s doing damage in lots of places, but one of the places is throughout the cardiovascular system. And another place is actually directly to the immune system. Like specific immune responder cells are being damaged by covid. And so okay, If we have an herb that is going to help keep everything moving in your body. Help keep things flushed out, get rid of the trash really quickly, don’t let anything pile up. It’s going to take pressure off your heart and the vasculature, because it’s literally reducing pressure. And it’s going to stimulate lymphatic function so that you’ve got quick turnaround. Plus it comes with lots of minerals that your body needs to keep doing all the work it has to do.

Ryn (19:30):
Including things like being able to dilate or constrict blood vessels as required, which is part of maintaining healthy blood pressure levels and also maintaining heart rate variability.

Katja (19:40):
Right. Exactly.

Ryn (19:41):
Like your heart as this muscle that’s working all the time is using those very minerals in order to constrict, and to release, and to keep the time and all of that, and let those kinds of electrical activity play out in an appropriate way, a responsive way. And that also connects over to nervous system health in some way, right? This is a little bit of a reach, but…

Katja (20:06):
No, I mean the mineral part isn’t a reach in terms of regulating nervous tension and nerve signaling. Yeah.

Ryn (20:15):
Right, yeah. But nobody’s going to talk about dandelion as a nervine herb, right? But I’ll tell you, sometimes you have somebody and they’re just pretty mineral depleted or nutrient depleted in several dimensions. And they start working with a tea. Our default is to call it nettle & friends, but it could as well be called dandelion & friends. But a bunch of nutritives and some things to bring in some mineral content especially, and some chlorophyll, and some folate, and some other good stuff like that. Really foundational nutrients that we can get from green leafy herbs like this. And you see a lot of different things change for them in the course of a month or a season. And sometimes that does include a feeling of more mental and emotional steadiness. You could connect that to the grounding influence of the earth element, you know?

Katja (21:10):
You could, yeah. You could.

Ryn (21:11):
That’d be a fair way to…

Katja (21:13):
I mean, because technically that is just a different way of saying mineral content, right?

Ryn (21:19):
Yeah. I think that’d be a fair invocation of the archetype.

Katja (21:22):
Yeah. Okay, so I want to go back to the concept of Covid here, because now we have a podcast episode where Katja says that dandelion is for covid.

Ryn (21:36):
Oh, you wouldn’t say that.

Katja (21:37):
You wouldn’t, would you?

Ryn (21:38):
Dear listener, you wouldn’t go and try to summarize that to someone else this way. You know better? Okay. We trust you.

Katja (21:44):
But that’s the thing. The flip side of that is yes, it’s true. Dandelion has no antiviral activity that I have any awareness of. And listen, plants do lots of things that we haven’t studied yet. So, I’m not going to say it has no any kind of activity. I’m just going to say I’m not aware of any. Because who knows? Plants can surprise you sometimes. But I really don’t think that the dandelion is doing anything to directly fight a virus. However, there’s so much more to staying healthy than the direct one-on-one virus… Well, you don’t really kill a virus. It’s not really alive. But, you know, virus fighting…

Ryn (22:28):
You disassemble it. You edit it until it is no longer a threat to you.

Katja (22:33):
Deactivate, yeah.

Ryn (22:37):
You get your big red pen, and you start striking out all the lines of code you don’t want. Okay, sorry.

Katja (22:45):
Yeah. Anyway, I think that’s the best one right there. But so, there’s more to staying healthy in a time of viral pressure than just the direct deactivation of the virus itself. There’s every other part of your body that still has to function well. And there’s a lag time between when that virus gets into you – or bacteria or whatever pathogen – and when your body is able to clear it out. And during that lag time damage is happening. Some amount of damage is going to happen. That’s okay. Bodies can account for that, you know, up to a point. At a point it has become too much, and now it can’t be accounted for. But the thing is that bodies can account for it if we have given them all the tools that they need to do that work. And modern society does not just naturally bestow on us all of those tools. We do have to strive for them.

Ryn (23:54):
We have to be intentional, you know, about a lot of choices. And all of this of course, to the extent that we are able. That we have the resources, that we have the access to such things.

Katja (24:06):
And now we’re back to why dandelion is so awesome.

Ryn (24:09):
This is why gardening some weeds and having a nice salad based on that is a good way to ground these things very literally.

Nearly Free & Look Alikes

Katja (24:17):
I don’t usually like to think about wild crafting herbs in terms of it’s free, because it’s not actually. I mean, there is significant impact when we wildcraft herbs, and impact that sometimes you don’t see for a while. For example, red clover is a biennial plant. So, you could find a field of red clover and be like oh my God. This is amazing. And you could take all of the red clover flowers and be so excited. And next year you could come back. And you could see there’s so much red clover. Look, I didn’t do any damage. I can take so much red clover. This is great. Or maybe you didn’t harvest any the second year. Either one of those could be true. Because maybe you had left over from the first year still. But the third year there’s going to be no red clover there. Because red clover is biennial, and it needed the seeds from that first year to propagate the third year. And so sometimes we think we can just go and grab things for free. And we think even that we haven’t created an impact. But then down the line we see oops, impact. Oh, that was me. And so, I don’t normally like to put it in exactly those terms, but I feel like dandelion is kind of an exception here. Because the seeds are so prolific, and they have a very reliable germination rate. And also, it’s kind of impossible to contain them. So, you can take some seeds and put them in your garden, or your bucket, or your wherever. And you’re going to drop a few. They’re going to go in other places and whatever. You don’t have to take the whole seeds. Each dandelion makes a lot of flowers, so you can take a couple and leave a couple to spread the seeds. But working through the seeds in this particular plant is really, really effective and doesn’t really detract from the populations. So, you know, you move the population a little. Some of it you move into your garden. But you’re just going to keep propagating it there. So, I don’t like to say it’s free. It’s free. And I know I’ve said that 16 times through this episode. But dandelion, a little bit.

Ryn (26:35):
Yeah. I mean, it’ll cost.

Katja (26:37):
A little bit it’s free.

Ryn (26:37):
It’ll cost you some time, right? A little bit of effort. But dandelion leaf or flower is among the easier things to harvest out there in the green world.

Katja (26:47):
The root’s a lot harder to harvest. It’s really in there.

Ryn (26:51):
Roots. Yeah. That does take more, it does take more investment. That’s true. But yeah, you know, and with dandelion, the leaf, it’s pretty distinctive. If you’ve seen a dandelion, you probably know what we’re talking about. Do watch out for the not a dandelions, because there are some. And if you go to our website, commonwealthherbs.com, and you just search for dandelion, then an entry will come up where we talked about this. And I think we have photos of three or maybe four different plants that the flower looks a little similar to the dandelion flower. But they’re not a dandelion. They might be hawkweed. They might be cat’s ears.

Katja (27:32):
They might be a lettuce species.

Ryn (27:34):
Wild lettuce species, yep. Sometimes people even ask if lesser celandine is dandelion. And I say no, because we’re in a forest. And dandelion doesn’t grow in the forest.

Katja (27:43):
Not so much.

Ryn (27:44):
Maybe near a forest, but not like we are now 20 feet under the trees. Okay. You’ll find celandine there in the springtime, but that…

Katja (27:51):
Also, lesser celandine has a very different leaf. I think you wouldn’t really… yeah.

Ryn (28:00):
But I only bring that one up because I’ve been asked about it on herb walks in the past. So, I’m like all right, somebody’s out there. That means there’s more than one.

Katja (28:08):
Coltsfoot has a flower you can mistake for dandelion. But it comes up before the leaves, so there’s no leaves around. And when you see a flower that you’re like is that a dandelion? And you see absolutely no leaves. Then you’re like okay, it’s coltsfoot.

Ryn (28:20):
Yeah. The hawkweeds, and especially the wild lettuces can throw you, because their leaves can look very dandelion leaf-like. But the thing with those is this is going to make it easy for you, right? With dandelion you get one stem and one flower per organism. So, if the stem branches anywhere, then that is not a dandelion. It’s a naked stem also on the true dandelion. And so if the stem… You’ve gone above the ground, and you find a leaf. Ah, nope. That’s probably wild lettuce. That’s not a dandelion.

Katja (28:53):
I mean it could even be chicory that hasn’t flowered yet. Once chicory flowers, it’s blue, so then you notice it. But first it looks a lot like dandelion. And listen. If you make a mistake with any of these, they’re fine. They’re all edible. And cat’s ears won’t be very pleasant because it has a lot of little hairs on it. So, you would look at that and be like, I don’t think I want to eat that. But all the rest of them… Well, and some of the lettuce species also have some spiny bits. And you would be like ah, that doesn’t look delicious. But any of the things that looked like dandelion… But neither one of those would hurt you. They’re just not appealing because they have hairy bits.

Ryn (29:28):
If you go eating Lactuca… It’s not spinosa. What is that actually called? Serriola? Yeah, with the big spines under the leaf. I’m not going to bite into that raw. That would probably be unpleasant. I’m probably not going to eat it cooked either.

Katja (29:43):
Well, I mean, if you ate around the spininess, it would be bitter, but fine. It wouldn’t hurt you.

Ryn (29:47):
This is extreme rabbit behavior.

Katja (29:49):
Yes. But anyway, the point is that even if you think you’re getting dandelion and you accidentally got the wrong one, it won’t hurt you. You might find something unappealing, but it will not be damaging. Coltsfoot does have pyrrolizidine alkaloids of the more damaging variety. But again, coltsfoot, when you see the flower, there are no leaves. And when you see the leaves, you wouldn’t think that’s a dandelion, because they’re like the size of a horse’s hoof. They’re your whole hand. They’re really very, very large and roundy.

Ryn (30:26):
Yeah. Very different.

Katja (30:29):
Yeah. So, you wouldn’t make that mistake for that one.

Ryn (30:32):
Yeah. Okay. Hard to do plant id through an audio medium, but there are some pointers for you. All right. Let’s move on. Let’s talk about cedar now. Let’s talk about cedar. Well, you know, earlier you were saying about dandelion. And how you were making the argument for ways that this can be helpful in a time of covid. And even though it’s not directly addressing the respiratory system, or the viral load, or whatever. But cedar would.

Cedar: Stimulating to Organs & Mood

Katja (31:03):
Cedar would directly address, yes.

Ryn (31:04):
Cedar would if you take it as a steam, which is really one of our favorite ways to take it. Or as a tea, because the volatiles…

Katja (31:11):
We just love cedar in so many ways.

Ryn (31:12):
Because the volatiles are going to move that way. So, you drink your tea. With cedar you get some kidney stimulation and some respiratory mm-hmm. , you get a bit of both. This isn’t actually that unusual with aromatic plants. Because in the end it’s really all about the volatiles, those tiny little like energetic or rapidly moving molecules coming into your body. And then your body saying I don’t actually want to leave this bouncing around. I’m going to get this out of here. And I’m going to direct some of it to the lungs to be exhaled and some of it to the kidneys to pass out with the urine. And that’s cool and all, but they’re still active on the way is the cool thing. So, for the lungs that’s still stimulating humoral immunity in the mucus linings. And in the kidney that’s waking up the kidney itself and increasing that filtration rate. And also, yeah, directly combating some bacterial critters if there’s any in there.

Katja (32:01):
Yeah. Definitely having that antiseptic action in the urinary tract. And also cedar, while we’re just going to extol all the virtues here, I am going to make a big strong argument for cedar as a nervine. I am.

Ryn (32:18):
I don’t know how many times I’ve heard this one from you. Let’s hear it.

Katja (32:21):
So, cedar is like if you’re feeling kind of down, and you’re feeling like it’s been gray for several days in a row, or several weeks in a row. And you need… It’s not like you’re in a bad mood. It’s not like you’re even necessarily grumpy. It’s just that everything is gray and monotonous, and there’s just no spark in anything. It can happen in February, or any kind of like late November, or any kind of cold, rainy time, especially if there isn’t any nice snow to make it look lovely outside. When there’s fresh snow, then everything is like woohoo. Fresh snow. That’s very pretty. Bu if the snow is dirty, or if there isn’t even any snow. There’s just mud and cold rain, that kind of mood. That’s when cedar is so, so helpful. Because it is a very upward boost of emotional energy. It’s not like it gives you the jitters. It’s not like caffeine. It’s not like it is necessarily amping you up. It is just raising you up, if that makes any sense.

Ryn (33:44):
Here’s the thing everybody, right? Nervine doesn’t always mean sedative. It doesn’t always mean calming even. That’s an artifact of our culture really. It’s that so often we’re like I need something for my nerves. It means I need something to calm me down. But what you’re describing here is a time when you need a little bit of stimulation, the right amount in the right direction, in the right place. But yeah, you’re trying to get things moving, get things activated.

Katja (34:15):
Just get a little spark. Get a little something to grab on to in your day and be like ah, right. Yeah. Cedar is really helpful in that regard. I also really like pine in this way. And maybe someday we’ll do a podcast episode where we differentiate the nervine aspects of all the evergreen trees. Because I have a lot to say, and I can really split the hairs very finely between them. And I think mostly that’s because I turn to evergreens in this way so much. This is a thing that is really helpful for me when I get in that cold, gray, damp, stagnant kind of emotional place. And I really can fine tune based on which evergreen I’m choosing.

Cedar Parts, Ways to Take, & Phytochemistry

Ryn (35:13):
You know, with cedar, and what we’re talking about here again is Thuja plicata. That’s the main species that we’ve worked with the most. And primarily with the leaves is what we’re talking about. It is worth saying that with cedar you can also get your hands on the berries, right?

Katja (35:29):
We’ve had them. They’re good.

Ryn (35:30):
We’ve had those sometimes,

Katja (35:32):
They’re kind of like juniper, but they taste like cedar.

Ryn (35:34):
Yeah, very similar to juniper berry. And then on the other hand, I’ve also once or twice gathered some juniper leaf and made some tea out of that. Which is similar to cedar leaf, but you could tell the difference in a darkened room.

Katja (35:48):
Like without looking at the labels.

Ryn (35:52):
Yeah. But what’s the word for the difference between them? Because for me it’s like… And surely some of this is just bias from looking at the plant. But like no, yeah, the juniper leaf has more of a blue to it.

Katja (36:06):
It really does.

Ryn (36:09):
And the smell and the flavor. There’s something in there that’s a little on the end of the spectrum.

Katja (36:12):
And cedar has more orange in it.

Ryn (36:13):
Yeah. Oh, yeah. For sure. So, I’m sure that that’s very helpful.

Katja (36:19):
You know, also, actually, I think that when you look at Thuja plicata, the leaves are scaly. They’re like little scales that are laid on each other. And they’re quite orderly and tidy. And when I look at juniper, it looks a little shaggy. It’s like cedar is a crow, and juniper is a raven.

Ryn (36:45):
Oh, there we go.

Katja (36:46):
You know, like those two birds look really similar, but ravens have bedhead. They’re just shaggy. And yeah, so I think of that between cedar and juniper.

Ryn (36:59):
I hear that for sure. You can tincture cedar leaf for sure. We have some tincture of that. We have some blends with that as well.

Katja (37:10):
You made a cocktail bitters that had cedar. And that was so good. And actually you should make it again. I know that the recipe is in the Medicine Making course, just in case you don’t remember where you put it. I remember that it is in there. So, this is maybe me saying hey, would you please maybe make some of that because it’s really good.

Ryn (37:33):
That was a good batch. Yeah, you know, you can often make an aromatic bitters, and you can do that with any aromatic plant that you’ve got. There are some that kind of take the stage more often than others. But yeah, cedar was a good one. I tried doing like a broader evergreen bitters one time, but that didn’t have enough bitter to it.

Katja (37:53):
It wasn’t so bitter. It’s quite tasty, but it’s not very bitter.

Ryn (37:56):
Yeah. I had more pine than anything in that one. I think it might have benefited from adding more cedar. Because cedar itself, especially if you have a bit of twig involved, you do get some bitterness from it. You get some bitterness from it.

Katja (38:12):
Cedar, maybe there’s a little bitter, but it’s not as sharp as pine. Pine has a flavor that you’re like oh yeah. This is where they make turpentine. When you drink it as tea, it’s very mild, very, very mild. But there is like just a little bit of sharpness to it. I find that pleasant. But it’s there.

Ryn (38:42):
It’s like pine is to rosemary as cedar is to tulsi. Something like that.

Katja (38:46):
Yes. And cedar goes really well with tulsi too. They blend together really well. But there’s just a roundness to the flavor of cedar. There’s like some tiny little background of bubble gum going on.

Ryn (39:00):
You always say that, and I’ve come to know what you mean over time. Because you say the same thing about tulsi as well. And I think that one, many people can connect on that. They’re like yeah, tulsi has the bubble gum thing going on. The cedar one, I know what you mean, but I know you pretty well.

Katja (39:18):
Just a tiny little bit of bazooka in the background, you know? Did they even still have that when you were a kid?

Ryn (39:26):
Oh yeah, totally. You get a little comic in it.

Katja (39:28):
Yeah, on the wrapper. And listen, it’s not just nerdy fun to sit around and be like oh, it has that bubble gum flavor like tulsi does. That’s phytochemistry. When we are able to identify similar flavors, what we’re really identifying there is actual phytochemicals, actual organic chemicals in the plant that are creating those different flavors. And so, they have a whole job for this, if we’re talking about wine. People who do this work of fine tasting the wines get paid a lot of money. But listen, fine tasting your herbs is the same thing. And it’s because you are being receptive to the different chemical profiles of the herb. And so when we see two plants that have a very similar flavor profile, what that means is that they are sharing a bunch of chemicals. And those chemicals are going to have the same type of action in the body. I mean, the chemical is the chemical. We could strip it out. And they do this when they try to make pharmaceuticals out of plants. They do isolate certain chemicals and strip them out. I don’t think that’s a very great way to work with plants. Because It’s better to have all of this stuff present in the full complex, the whole plant. But at any rate, when we are able to identify those similar flavors, we’re also able to identify similar actions or to rely on similar actions. And in fact, when we think about cedar and tulsi, we get that emotional uplifting action from both of them. It’s the bubble gum flavor.

Ryn (41:23):
It’s the bubble gum flavor. Yeah.

Katja (41:24):
You just need to identify what makes the bubble gum flavor?

Thujone & Safety

Ryn (41:29):
Well, I’ll tell you what it isn’t. It’s not the thujone. All right. So, we’re not going to go into the whole story here, but just briefly. I wanted to mention this, because it does come up as a safety warning when people talk about cedar and about Thuja. So, thujone is a constituent in this plant, especially in the volatile content or in the essential oil. Drinking cedar tea, taking cedar tincture is not going to provide you with a dangerous level of thujone content. You would get alcohol poisoning before you got thujone poisoning from drinking cedar tincture, okay? I want to make that clear.

Katja (42:07):
Even though it would be more concentrated in the tincture.

Ryn (42:09):
Right. More concentrated than the tea, absolutely. Yeah. But on the other hand, thuja essential oil, which is usually the way that it’s sold rather than as cedar essential oil. Thuja, that does contain like 99% thujone. It’s one of these situations where that’s the primary volatile the plant makes. And so if you go making an essential oil, it’s not exactly an isolate of just that chemical, but it’s pretty close, right? And so the essential oil of Thuja is something that you should actually be very careful with. And even for topical application, all of the different essential oils have varying safe levels that you can apply them at. And these are like if you’re going to be putting it on often, if you’re going to be putting it on for long times, you know? And people want to give you a single reference for that. And be like oh, well, if you’re working with essential oils in your topical herbal remedies, you can stay safe by making sure that they’re only at 2% dilution or 1% dilution. And if you follow this rule, you’ll be safe. And that would be nice, but nothing is that simple, right? Because there are some that you can put in there at like 5% or 10% even. That’s rare, but it happens. And then there’s others like Thuja, where the safe level for this is like 0.25%. So, you could very easily exceed that. If you’re sort of like ah, I don’t know. Four drops per ounce, whatever. I’ll throw it in there. It’ll be fine. So, this is one to be extra careful with. If you don’t have specific training in essential oil safety, it might be better to just keep this for diffusion into the room. Get some of that nice smell. Get some of that nerve uplifting effect. A lot of that is carried through here. But don’t go putting this on the body willy-nilly. And absolutely never ingest this essential oil. Very bad.

Katja (44:07):
Please never ingest any essential oil, but this one in particular.

Ryn (44:12):
Even more, if you’re going to ignore us when it comes to – I don’t know – lavender or something. I wish you wouldn’t, but fine. But with this one, don’t lose any of your internal organs. You probably need them.

Katja (44:26):
Yeah. You grew those for a reason.

Ryn (44:29):
Okay. If you want to hear more about that, we have recently released a course.

Katja (44:37):

Ryn (44:37):
That’s what I was saying there.

Katja (44:39):
Re… Yeah.

Ryn (44:41):
Re… Yeah. Very long re-. Yes, a course on Herb Safety & Herb Drug Interactions. And we have a unit in there on essential oil safety. So, you can get all of the detail in that. Find that along with all of our other courses at online.commonwealthherbs.com. Ha ha.

Katja (44:59):
Herb Drug interactions & Herb Safety.

Ryn (45:02):
That’s the one.

Katja (45:03):
Yes. It’s really good. Check it out. It’s like the thing everybody needs.

Ryn (45:09):
Yeah. Well, why don’t we wrap up then actually. And say like all of our courses, that one includes… If you’ve been listening along, can you do the whole spiel with us? Can you talk about how they’re based on video lessons, and it’s just like being in the room with us. Can you talk about how they come with MP3s so you can download them and take them with you like a podcast. Or how there are quick guides and PDF readings to deepen your knowledge, how you can open a discussion thread in the middle of any lesson, and type your questions in right there, and then jump right back in. How you get to join our community, which has been really active lately. Lots of cool stuff going on in there. This is essentially social media, but just for herbs and just for herby people.

Katja (45:54):
And just for our school. It’s private. It’s not open to the entire world. I mean, it’s open to you. But you have to make an account to get there.

Ryn (46:07):
You have to find the place and do the secret knock. Which is to put in your email address and register.

Katja (46:12):
Your email address and password, that’s actually the only secret knock.

Ryn (46:15):
Yeah. But it’s great. We have a really good chat, and you can ask folks anything. We’ll weigh in with our thoughts, but there’s a lot of people in there with experiences different from our own. And this is why we wanted to build such a thing for our students to benefit. And for us too, you know? I learn things in there all the time.

Katja (46:32):
Plus it’s so fun to watch students sending things to each other. Somebody will be like oh, I had a really good goldenrod year. I’ve got a ton of extra goldenrod. So, DM me if you want, and I’ll send you some or whatever. I love watching everybody sending stuff to everybody.

Ryn (46:48):
Yeah. We’ve got a whole swap thread section going on in there. Yeah. We’ve got weekly Q&A sessions. You get lifetime access to the material when you get these courses. So, whether it’s the Herb Safety one, or the Cold & Flu one, or any of the many courses that we’ve put together for you, we hope you’ll check those out. Again, that’s online.commonwealthherbs.com.

Katja (47:12):
Support the podcast and get herbal education all in one fell swoop.

Ryn (47:18):
That’s what’s up.

Katja (47:20):
You know, if you can actually just recite all that with us. And you’re like yeah, I can. Yeah. The video lessons, the MP3, all the things. Then say it to your friends. Just go out and tell friends about it. Hey, did you know about this cool herb school? They’ve got video lessons and MP3 and PDFs and…

Ryn (47:40):
Oh, and you know, right, we are a podcast after all. So, we should probably say you can subscribe, you can rate, you can review our podcast wherever you listen.

Katja (47:47):
Oh, we haven’t said that in a long time.

Ryn (47:49):
Yeah no, it actually helps. It does make a difference. So, if you have a moment, we would appreciate that. All right. That’s it for this week. We’ll be back soon with some more Holistic Herbalism podcast for you. Until then take care of yourselves. Take care of each other. Drink some tea.

Katja (48:06):
Drink some tea.

Ryn (48:08):
And eat your weeds.

Katja (48:10):
Whoa, that’s a good one.

Ryn (48:12):
Yeah, it’s a classic. Bye everybody.

Katja (48:15):


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