Podcast 224: Herbs A-Z: Urtica & Vaccinium
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As we draw near the end of our tour of the home apothecary herbs, today we come to nettle and bilberry.
Urtica dioica, nettle, is an herb who can help with a really vast array of health issues. Sometimes we half-jokingly refer to “nettle deficiency syndrome”: a constellation of imbalances due to poor mineral nutrition, fluid stagnation, systemic inflammation, and associated symptoms. In truth, many green nutritive herbs and food plants help resolve this – but nettle is a particular standout, and is often a great choice for a month or two of work to establish a new baseline. Do compensate for its drying qualities in people of dry constitution, though! This can be done by formulating with marshmallow or other demulcent herbs, or by cooking the nettle into a soup or other food.
Vaccinium myrtillus, bilberry – also known as European blueberry, whortleberry, huckleberry, and a variety of other common names – is indeed closely related to blueberry and also cranberry. All these edible berries – and others besides – share a lot of attributes as remedies. Their sour flavor and blue-purple-red colorations indicate capacity to drain excess fluid, protect blood vessels, and improve blood sugar regulation. The leaves of these plants exert these actions, too! So whichever edible berries grow where you live, making them a part of your life as much as you can is a pleasant way to protect yourself.
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Hi, I’m Katja.
And I’m Ryn.
And we’re here at Commonwealth Holistic Herbalism in Boston, Massachusetts.
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That’s right, that’s right. We’re still here. Today we’re going to be talking about nettle and about bilberry.
Two great tastes that… They would taste fine together, actually.
Would taste okay together.
Yeah. They would be fine together.
Yeah. I might not say great, but I would say healthy. This tea tastes healthy. Mmm.
Okay, listen. You would say unappealing. Because if you put nettle and bilberry together, the result would be a very astringent tea.
That would be that astringency.
Yeah. You would not love that. Okay, but I, I would love that. And if you are out there a person who tends to hold on to water and run a little damp, you also might really like it. If you are a person who tends to be really dry, you might not like it as much.
But don’t worry, because there’s ways that we can formulate our nettle and our bilberry with some friends, so that they won’t be any problem for those of us who are on the dry side. Yeah. So, we’ll get to that in a minute. But first, we’re recording this on December 26th, 2023. And we’re going to get it published later today. And that means that if you’re listening to this as soon as it hits your feed, you still have time to get in on our annual sale.
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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.
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.
Everyone’s body is different. So, the things that we’re talking about may or may not apply directly to you. But we hope that they’ll give you some new information to think about and some ideas to research and experiment with further.
Nettle: a Grassy Taste
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 it’s discussed on the internet or prescribed by a physician, that’s always your choice to make. Yeah. All right. So, let’s talk about nettle and bilberry. And we’re going to start with nettle today. So in the botanical Latin, we have Urtica dioica. Dioica, IOI. That’s kind of fun.
Yeah. Dioica. I really always feel the need to preface any discussion of nettle with an outright admission that I do not like nettle. And I think that that’s really important because…
You mean the flavor. You mean the taste.
Yes, the flavor. The flavor. The flavor. Nettle is amazing, and really effective, and fantastic. And I just think it tastes really gross. And I want you to know that. Because you hear herbalists talking about how wonderful nettle is. Or honestly, you hear this about any herb that an herbalist loves. And I’m thinking about calamus, because we talk about calamus in rather glowing terms. But I think if you tasted calamus for the first time, you might be like uh, no. This is pretty gross, actually. So, I don’t want you to think that if you are new to herbalism or just new to any given herb, and you try it. And you’re like that does not taste good. I don’t want you to think that means you can’t be an herbalist. You don’t get kicked out of the herbal club just because a certain tea doesn’t taste good to you or even if lots of different teas don’t taste good to you. There are lots of ways to make it taste good. And the actions and the benefits that you get from it definitely are worth finding the ways to make it delicious to you. But I just always like to take the opportunity to say not every herbalist is out here like mmmm. Tea that tastes like grass. It’s so delicious. And if you are thinking that it tastes like grass, and that’s disgusting. And you’re thinking that means you can’t be an herbalist. Don’t worry. I also think it tastes like grass, and that’s disgusting. And I just put other tasty things in with it so that it tastes better.
Yeah. I don’t have as much of that problem. I mean, I think straight up nettle tea, yeah, grass. That’s a fair descriptor. It’s a very green vegetal type of flavor. But that’s not terrible. For me it’s more what you were saying earlier. If I just drink straight up nettle all day long, I’ll start to get dryness. And it will be obvious on me because I’m already kind of up against that line as it stands, you know? So, yeah. That’s all right. That’s the thing that happens.
A (Not Too) Long Infusion with Marshmallow
Well, that actually is a good segue into talking about marshmallow, which I really want to do. Because the drying aspect of nettles, while that is very great for a body like mine, it is a thing that gets in the way for people of working with nettle. Because honestly, if you want the nutritive benefits of nettle, if you want a lot of the kidney support benefits of nettle, a lot of the different things that nettle can do for you, it does it best as tea. But if you are a person who runs really dry, and you’re trying to work with nettle. Really quickly it’s going to become super uncomfortable for you because of the drying aspect. And that’s going to just make it hard for you to get experience with this plant and to have the benefits that this plant can provide. So, I really do want to take a minute to talk about marshmallow in specific relation to nettle. Because often we will talk about oh, and if nettle is drying, just mix it with marshmallow so that you get the moistening action. And that’ll help you tolerate the nettle. And when it is said that way… And we say it that way, but lots of people say it that way. I know I’ve just said it sort of very quickly like that. But that sort of implies that you’re diluting the effect of the nettle by just putting in this other thing that is going to counteract the dryness. But, okay, great. Now I’m only getting half the nettle that I could have been getting. And so I really do want to emphasize that marshmallow actually has a lot of the same actions that nettle has. But as drying as nettle is, marshmallow is moistening. And so it isn’t just oh, well. If you’re one of those sad people who runs dry, I guess it’s too bad for you that you’re only going to get half the nettle in your life because you’re going to have to mix it with marshmallow. Actually, what’s really going on is hey, if nettle is drying for you, don’t worry. You can add in marshmallow, which has many of the same actions but with a slightly different mechanism. And you’ll be getting the moistening action, and a much broader spectrum of the kidney support, and the mineral nourishment, and, you know, et cetera.
Yeah. Some anti-inflammatory effects there. Right,
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. So, instead of just saying oh, and if you’re drying, just moisten it with marshmallow. I really did want to take just a little extra minute to be like that’s actually a bonus for you. That’s not like a sad thing. That’s actually an awesome thing.
Yeah. So you can combine your nettle leaf in your infusions together with marshmallow leaf. And that will be a little lighter in terms of adding in that moistening element or balancing out the drying effect of the nettle. You could make that infusion with nettle leaf and marshmallow root, and that will get you closer to a balance between the two opposing factions. So, you know, those are options for sure. Try them both to see how you feel about what you get, what the end result is the next morning. And by that, I mean that these are a really good pair of herbs to be doing longer infusions with. You can put your herbs in a jar or a French press. And you can pour on your boiling water and close it up, and then leave it overnight. And then tomorrow strain it out and drink that in the first half of the. And it will still taste pretty good. I mean, it will taste like nettle, okay? So, you may need to adjust with some sweetness, or some sourness, or whatever feels good to you there.
Some minty goodness, whatever appeals to you.
But you do sort of want to hit a golden hour with this, right? We want to give it several hours, four hours, eight hours, whatever overnight ends up meaning to infuse, but then…
Okay. Overnight needs to mean more than four hours just from a sleep perspective.
Okay. So, sometimes we do a long infusion not overnight. We set it up in the morning, we have it four hours later. Okay. But yeah, okay. We leave it overnight.
Just in case you were out there being a night owl, thinking you could get away with only four hours in your overnight.
Yeah. But the thing is that if you leave your nettle infusion for 20 hours, there’s a problem that happens, and we call it skunking.
That is not the technical term. It’s just what we call it.
Yeah. But it’s very evocative and descriptive about what occurs with the flavor of your nettle when it’s been sitting in that water for too long. So, long enough to get a good extraction. A nice, long, overnight infusion is cool for this. But too long and it starts to taste a bit off. So, you want to catch it in that good moment.
Yeah. Also, a lot of times people ask well, can I make it and then just store it in the fridge for a couple of days? And sometimes that works. It’s really never my preference, but sometimes that does work. It will not work with nettle. Honestly, also marshmallow is another herb that it does not work with. Both of them really do get quite funky after the 20-hour mark. Yeah.
Yeah. I think in the nettle it’s because of a protein. And in the marshmallow it’s because of the mucilage, right? But both of those, they get… They start to not smell or taste too good after they’ve been sitting for a bit. Now we keep saying marshmallow, marshmallow. There are other moistening herbs in the world, right? You can try to reduce the drying impact of your nettle by combining it with another demulcent herb like linden or even violet. If it’s linden and it’s violet, you might need to at least have an equal ratio between your nettle and your moistening herb. I don’t think you’re even going to really neutralize the drying, but you’re going to make it really mild instead of pronounced. Do you know what I mean?
Maybe with linden you might, if you really let it get…
Yeah. And depending on how mucilaginous your particular batch of linden is, because that varies.
Yeah. Sometimes you get a really mucilaginous batch. And if you let it infuse for the whole time, like the whole overnight, then that would work.
Yeah. Sometimes you’ll say all right. Well, I’m going to take my nettle tea, but it’s going to be one part. And violet’s going to be two parts. Because I really don’t want to have a drying drink. But I do want to get some mineral content and some vitamin green. That’s a good way to go about something like that.
Support for the Kidneys & Nerves
I actually really like that you pointed that out, because it starts to really differentiate the actions of the nettle and emphasize different actions. So, if you are blending your nettle with marshmallow, which you might be doing because you’re dry. And you don’t want to get dried out. Or you might be doing it just because you want both actions. If you’re blending it with marshmallow, you’re really emphasizing the kidney function of both, the kidney actions of both herbs. And so we are supporting kidney health. We are providing the nutrients that the kidneys themselves need to be able to do their job. It is really nourishing the kidneys. And that’s going to be really important. Especially because one thing that I want to bring up, but we’ll do it in a minute, is chronic kidney disease. And that’s like kind of a broad spectrum. There can be different types of chronic kidney disease. But both nettle and marshmallow are really supportive there. And they’re herbs that you can work with, even if your kidneys are compromised. They’re gentle enough that they’re going to provide that nourishment and support without being stimulating in a way that creates irritation.
So, okay. So, you’re pairing your nettle and your marshmallow. And you’re really going full on in that kidney direction. Whether that is I think maybe I’m getting a UTI. And it’s not far enough along that I’m needing to have uva ursi. But I think maybe there might be one getting started. And so I’m going to just drink quarts and quarts of nettle and marshmallow. All the way through to I have chronic autoimmune kidney disease. And I’m trying to support my kidneys and make life as easy for them as possible. Like that whole spectrum. Whereas you also mentioned violet or linden. And both of those are really heart-focused herbs and also relaxing herbs. And so if you were working with nettle to get the kidney action. But the reason that you wanted that was as part of a strategy to support cardiovascular health. Maybe there’s edema going on. Maybe there is high blood pressure going on. And maybe it’s still in a place that you feel comfortable managing it with herbs. You don’t need to be medicated yet. Then you would really be getting that kidney heart connection aspect. The health of the cardiovascular system and the health of the urinary system, specifically the kidneys, really play together in high blood pressure, in edema, in a lot of other coronary problems. So, yeah. So, that blend really gets you in that kind of area of focus, even though it still is seated in the kidneys.
Right. And with those two, violet and linden together with your nettle, you’re also getting a type of nerve support as well. Because with the two moist herbs there, they have, like you were saying, relaxant effects on the nervous system, not just the cardiovascular system but kind of both together. And those could combine together with nettle, which is not really stimulating or sedating your nervous system, but it is feeding it. And, for instance, in our Neurological & Emotional Health course, we actually spoke about nettle quite regularly. Because it turns out that your nerves really require mineral content to be in your blood, in your system, at least as much as your bones do. When you think about minerals, you think about building a solid structure like bone. But minerals are required to allow electrical signals to be generated and transmitted through your body. And so there could be a place in a nervine formula for nettle to take, to take up the role.
Especially if that formula was targeted towards too much activity. So, I’m thinking of anxiety or just general anxiousness, jitteriness. Specifically because the minerals that your body needs to inhibit certain messages in the nervous system. Your nervous system says oh, I have a message. I better send it. Okay. That’s the simple explanation of how the nervous system works. But it turns out that there are all these deciders in the nervous system that say hold on. That message is really not that important. We really don’t need to bother anyone with that. Or really, honestly, I think you’re exaggerating. And let’s just sit on this for a minute.
These are like nerves talking to each other.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. There is all of this interplay inside the nervous system. It’s not just a one-way indiscriminate message movement system. There’s a lot of intelligence going on to decide whether or not a particular message actually is going to get passed along to the brain. And minerals play a very pivotal role in making sure that that decision-making process can actually happen. So, if you are experiencing a lot of anxiousness, experiencing a lot of overstimulation. Or feeling like too much is getting in, and you don’t have enough filters to hold some things out. One of the reasons may be not having enough minerals to actually say, we don’t actually need to worry about that right now. Let’s just go ahead and tamp that message down on the internal level. Not like trying to convince yourself that your worries aren’t important. But actually at the cellular level to say oh no, let’s actually do some filtration of these messages. Not all the messages have to go to the brain.
Yeah. So, this is making me think of a place that we can link together this idea of balancing out the drying effects of nettle while still getting as many of its benefits as possible. But I can connect it to this thing with the nerves and the mineral content as well. And it’s going to happen through soup and through what we call nettle deficiency syndrome and how to solve that. So, soup is another good way to work with nettle and to resolve that concern about being overly drying. Because your soup can have, well, it can have some fat in it. You can be making a bone broth, and that’s going to have some oily elements. And you throw some handfuls of nettle leaf into your soup and let that cook down. That’s going to extract a lot of mineral content.
Nettle Deficiency Syndrome
Plus, if this is something you’re actually going to eat without straining out and just keeping the liquid, you’re going to eat the nettle leaf bits. And that’s the way, if you want to get protein from nettle, that’s the way to do it. Because sometimes people will say yeah, nettle is this excellent herb. It’s high in protein. It’s a good alternative source if you’re a vegan or whatever else. And then they start talking about taking tincture or even about drinking tea. Which I like to do both of those things, but that’s not how you get the protein from nettle, right? That protein is bound up in the leafy plant material or the marc. And if you are not eating it, that part isn’t really what nettle’s offering you today, right? If you get a tincture, you’re definitely going to get the anti-inflammatory action. You’re going to get that kidney benefit. You can actually get some blood sugar regulation effect from nettle tincture. If you drink the tea, more of the mineral content comes through in the tea. That will release from the plant material and get into your drink. So, you add that element. But when you make the soup, now you’re eating the leaf as well. So, now you’re getting the protein. You’re getting all the mineral, because none of it’s left behind in the marc, you know? And you get some of it in the drink, but not all of it. When you eat it in soup, you’re getting all of it there together. So, it’s a good way to go. And especially if what we’re looking at is this thing that we sometimes call nettle deficiency syndrome. Which sort of means well, your diet is kind of beige. It’s got a lot of processed food. It’s got a lot of packaged food. It’s got a lot of restaurant food. It probably tastes amazing, but it may not be providing you all of the nutrients that your body really wants. And that could be about protein, especially digestible protein. It could be about mineral content. It could be about chlorophyll, which is an always underestimated nutrient, right? Folate, a bunch of other cool things that come through in your nettle leaf or in your nettle soup. And this whole idea of nettle deficiency syndrome, what does it look like if somebody’s sitting in the clinic or sitting in a class? Maybe they’re fatigued. Maybe they have a bit of edema. Maybe they have a bit of some neurological issue that might be called depression or might be called anxiety depending on how the day is going. A cluster of things.
Maybe there’s low thyroid function or even low cardiovascular function, like slow movement in the cardiovascular system. Both of those would be coming from mineral deficiency.
Yeah. There could be issues with cramping or with fluid retention, if some of your electrolytes like magnesium and potassium, if those are out of balance. Again, that’s where we could get some of those nerve symptoms going on.
A lot of menstrual irritation, like lots of cramping, lots of PMS. Slow, sluggish menstruation.
Yeah. And really through hormonal, sex hormonal stuff all the way up to infertility issues. I mean, you probably have a stack of case files, which are person comes in dealing with infertility, trying to conceive, trying to avoid in vitro stuff. And the master power interventions are let’s figure out if you’ve got food allergens. Let’s eat some more protein and good quality fats. And let’s get some nettle into you as much as we can.
Yeah. And sleep more.
And sleep, right? And then, you know, a month, two months later, they come back like ta-da. Look at my pregnancy test.
And listen, it doesn’t always happen. But it happens.
Yeah, no. I don’t want to minimize struggles people have.
Right. But it does happen a shocking number, like a shocking percentage of the times. And even if it doesn’t happen. Even if those interventions don’t fix fertility problems. What they will do, and what they’re definitely doing is even if you still have to go and get fertility treatments. You’re in a better place for those treatments to be successful, because you’re rebuilding stuff that wasn’t there. And so, we’re kind of back to this idea of nettle deficiency syndrome. I mean, it’s kind of a joke to say that.
Yeah. Because it’s sort of like there’s a lot of situations where we’ll look at something. And we’ll say look, nobody has a vitex deficiency. So, if someone’s been taking vitex, and it helps them feel better for their particular menstrual irregularities, that’s cool and all. But we have not addressed the root cause of the problem there. And we have a lot of issues with vitex anyway. It can cause depression. It can disrupt things. And it’s not the cure-all that people sometimes make it out to be. But I think even those people would have to admit that it’s not about correcting an underlying imbalance or a nutrient deficiency or whatever else and really getting to that root cause. But sometimes nettle can address those root causes.
Yeah. So, you’ll have this whole list of things that nettle can help with, and they might look like they’re not really related at all. We’ve just talked about a lot of stuff that’s kind of all over the map of the body. And so it’s not necessarily always because nettle is binding to some whatever that is going to specifically regulate your other thing. It is more about oh, you were seriously lacking in some fundamental nutrients that nettle is providing, so that now you can do the work that your body needs to do. So, the kind of joke around nettle deficiency syndrome is this did used to be a food. It was a very common food. And for that matter, plants in general were just much more common foods. There was an article, a paper, a something that went around some number of years ago about the number of plant species that humans consumed at some point in history, versus the number of plant species that most humans in industrialized countries consume today. And it was over a thousand back at some historical time species of plants over the course of a year, versus today it’s like 10. Okay, well people are eating wheat, and corn, and soy, and iceberg lettuce, and potato. And… yeah.
Yeah. You get the idea, right?
And so what that ends up with is that there’s this whole… In my mind I’m visualizing a pie chart. And I’m visualizing a very large piece of the pie that is just missing from the baseline diet of most people today because we are not eating so many plant species anymore. And all that even before we start to talk about soil degradation, and the plants don’t have as much good stuff in it as they used to. Okay, but we’re not even eating them at all anymore.
Yeah. Yeah. So, I mean, nettle deficiency syndrome, a lot of what it addresses and what it gives to you could also be achieved by making sure you have a big pile of leafy greens on your plate every day. Or it could be dandelion deficiency syndrome, right?
Or seaweed deficiency, yeah.
So, when you get a green nutritive herb like this, it can really address a pretty broad array of problems. And if that’s the kind of nourishment that’s lacking in someone’s diet, this is a really great thing to start on. Give it a month or two, give it a season. See what remains after that point. And generally what remains will be a lot less and a lot easier to move from that point than from where you started.
An Assist with Chronic Kidney Issues
Yeah. Okay. So, I keep mentioning chronic kidney stuff, and I do want to make sure that we talk about that because chronic kidney issues are becoming more and more common. And listen. If you work as an herbalist, whether you are doing that work just in your own family or in your community. Just because they know that you like plants, and they ask you questions or whatever. Or whether you’re doing that work professionally as a clinical herbalist. The kinds of people that we work with typically have chronic illnesses, have autoimmune illnesses, have longstanding and/or complex health problems simply because if they didn’t, we wouldn’t see them. When it’s something quick and easy, then yeah, they might come to us if they’re already plant people. But when it’s quick and easy, they may also just go to their doctor, and get an antibiotic, and be done with it. Or they might just do nothing. There are a lot of options for quick, easy, slash not really irritating, like irritating but not really serious things. But when it starts to get really serious and complex, the conventional medical system maybe they can address one part of it, but they don’t address the whole complexity very well. And so people who have complex health issues are the people who tend to seek help in more holistic kinds of ways because they’re trying to deal with the interconnectedness of different chronic issues or just the complexity of their state. So, my point here is that we do tend to see larger percentages of those kinds of things, which means we have to be prepared to deal with them. But it also kind of skews our perception maybe of the general population. I am seeing tons of chronic kidney stuff and accelerating chronic kidney stuff. So, you know, 10…
Among students, clients…
Yeah. 10 and 15 and even 20 years ago, maybe I would talk to somebody about kidney issues once a year. It was not super, super common. Or chronic kidney issues. I’m not thinking about a UTI but somebody with autoimmune kidney disease or something like that.
Yeah. And you can step back and be like so what would cause a population of people to experience higher rates of a problem like that? And with the kidney, we can look at a bunch of different things, right? One of them is simply that it’s going to rise together with rates of pre-diabetes and Type II diabetes, which have been on an uptick for many decades at this point. But it hasn’t really slacked off that much. And there it’s because when you have these problems, you have more sugar in your blood. That makes it thicker. That makes it harder for the kidney to filter. That gives the kidney more job to filter sugar out than other stuff that should be resolved. And so it starts to struggle, right? So, there’s that. And then of course now, well, we’ve got covid. And I know you’re probably sick of hearing about covid every episode, but look. It can have impacts on kidney tubules and their capacity to filter, and to sort through everything in the blood, and function well. So, it’s one of many sites in the body that struggle with that infection and its impacts.
And just also general rates of autoimmunity are increasing pretty drastically. And so if we’re looking at well, across the board autoimmune issues are rising. Okay, that means that we’re going to see more autoimmune kidney disease too just because all the different types of autoimmune issues are rising.
The rising tide lifts all kidney shaped boats.
So, okay. So chronic kidney ailments. That is one really cool thing for nettle. Because a lot of our kidney herbs, especially when you’re thinking in terms of UTI, are really too stimulating for somebody who has chronic kidney issues.
Uva-ursi, juniper berry could be irritating. Yeah.
But nettle is actually not just not too stimulating, but also really beautifully supportive for somebody with chronic kidney issues. Now again, we definitely need to take the energetics into consideration. And if it is a person who runs dry, then of course we’re going to put in the marshmallow. We’re not even going to feel sad about it because the marshmallow is going to be providing a lot of what we need to do this work as well. Both marshmallow and nettle are super helpful for chronic kidney issues. But that is, I think, just a really beautiful aspect of nettle. That it is really common. It will happily grow nearly anywhere. And it is really safe for almost all people. Okay. Is somebody on blood thinners? We’re going to need to double check that one because different blood thinners you shouldn’t have nettle with. But otherwise it’s really safe across the board. It has a lovely broad spectrum anti-inflammatory effect, and then just such strong support nourishment for the kidneys. Yeah, so I think it’s like a really… If you have not really taken some time to make friends with nettle yet in your herbal journey, now is the time. Because you may need it in the future, and your community is definitely going to need it in the future. Or the now.
Bilberry, Related Species, & Blood Sugar Regulation
All right. Well, why don’t we go on and talk about bilberry next. So, this one in the botanical Latin is called Vaccinium myrtillus. And it’s worth maybe talking about some related species and some other names for bilberry. This is sometimes just called European blueberry because it’s basically a blueberry that lives in Europe. And blueberry itself, there is a variety of species that are referred to as blueberry. You can have Vaccinium angustifolia, which is kind of the most common, I think. But also Vaccinium corymbosum or pallidum, those are all called blueberry. The bilberry, it can also sometimes be called huckleberry or whortleberry. So again, lots of names. But if you see a bush with some blueberries on it, and it’s in the Ericaceae family or all of that. Then yeah, okay. Blueberry, bilberry, that’s fine.
Basically all the blueberries look the same. The only difference is how big they are. So, if it’s a teeny, tiny thing, but it is very obviously a blueberry, it is a blueberry. And if it’s a big, fat, juicy thing, and it is obviously a blueberry, it is a blueberry. And it just sort of depends on how improved the species is. So, the wild ones tend to be really small, and the plants tend to be much more delicate and low to the ground. And the cultivated, domesticated whatever – the ones that they farm from so that they can sell you blueberries in the grocery store – tend to be fairly tall, little shrubs. They can be taller than me and have some stout branches. And they tend to produce the big fat blueberries that you buy from the grocery store. But they’re all blueberries.
Right, yeah. And then just as an aside here, cranberry is also very closely related. Cranberry is another Vaccinium. That particular one is Vaccinium macrocarpon. And there’s a lot of similarity between cranberry and blueberry and bilberry. There are some points of differentiation. Of course, cranberry, the fruit and the juice and extracts from it are more famous as a remedy for a UTI. But don’t let that throw you too hard. And don’t let that make you think that bilberry or its juice or tea from its leaves isn’t going to have similar types of benefit, right? If you have a UTI, and you have a choice between blueberry juice and cranberry juice. Yeah, okay. The cranberry is probably better for you.
But if you can’t stomach the cranberry then get the blueberry.
Yeah. Drink it. That’s good stuff.
Wait, I have a question.
Okay, I want to hear it.
If you have a really small cranberry
That’s what I want to know.
There’s some… Uh, I don’t remember which species it was. Not a vaccinium. Some totally other thing that is a microcarpon, but I can’t remember who.
Yeah. I just want… What if it’s just a little baby cranberry. Then it can be Vaccinium microcarpon.
Yeah. Why not?
Yeah, okay. Well, I just wanted to get that question answered.
So I mean, I don’t think we have to tell people that blueberry fruit is pleasant, or nice to eat, or then it can be a nice snack. You probably knew that already. Yeah.
. Yeah. That’s probably not breaking news.
Yeah. But it is, let’s say, a particularly good snack – any of these berries, any of any berries, honestly – for folks who are struggling with blood sugar problems. Because they taste good, I hope, to you. They taste sweet. They’re pleasant. There’s the sour element in there. But these are not going to spike your blood sugar to bad places. Even if you compare eating a handful of blueberries to eating a handful of mango bits, the blueberry’s going to be better for you, right? And then if you compare it to a handful of Skittles, well, there’s a huge difference.
But if you are trying to make changes in your eating habits. And you have a habit of maybe it’s mid-afternoon, and you eat some M&Ms because that’s how you get through your day.
You want to have little, small things and take them one at a time.
Yeah. A blueberry… Okay, the flavor is very different than an M&M. But in terms of the habit, it is the same habit. It’s like I’m just going to take a little round thing and put it in my mouth. And pretty quickly you can adjust yourself to blueberries instead of M&M’s.
But you can also go a little further on that. And you can be like all right, well look. I’ve got this person in my family. They’ve got fairly advanced diabetes. They’re on these medications and so on, and they really have to watch their sugar intake super closely. And even mostly they do it. But I wanted to make them a nice treat when they come to visit. So, what should I think about? Well, if we take some blueberries and some other berry friends. And we get some heavy coconut cream. And then we dust it with a generous amount of cinnamon powder all over. Then we’ve actually got a treat that is low in sugar, high in tasty, and offers some herbal friends that will really help with blood sugar regulation, both from that snack, but also from the rest of your day.
In fact, it helps so much that if you’re a person who is medicated for diabetes, and you’re going to now really incorporate this into your life. It’s not a bad idea to test your blood, your fasting blood glucose levels, just to watch. Because your baseline is very likely to reduce and to do so over a reasonably short period of time. If you start saying I’m going to eat a thing of blueberries every day, or I’m going to start working with bilberry every day. You could see some pretty significant changes over the course of a few weeks or a month. And they might be changes that are significant enough that you could or even might need to reduce your dose of the medications. So, it is important, but also fun to test and see the impact that you’re having.
Medications are Not Intended to Operate in Isolation
Yeah. With these herbs that can help to regulate blood sugar and improve how your body manages that, we’re always thinking about them in the context of someone who may be medicated, just because that tends to be how that plays out, right? One of the nice things here about working with these herbs is that even if somebody is, like we say, they’re taking these medications that’s helping them to get their blood sugar into a better place. It’s worth knowing that those medications, especially the newest ones like Ozempic and Wegovy… And those are both names I think for Semaglutide, right? But I think Ozempic is probably the name people know best about that. When those were approved, both for diabetes management and the newer step for weight loss, the clinical trials weren’t done like go and eat your normal diet. Do whatever you’ve been doing, but now we give you this drug. They were we give you this drug, and we give you diet advice. And we give you exercise instructions and journals to make sure that you keep up with them and all of that kind of stuff. So, it’s not so much that there’s a world where people are supposed to be taking the drug. And then maybe if they’re lucky they get instruction about diet and exercise and so on. The way the drug was intended was for all of these things to be happening at the same time. And so when we’re talking about dietary changes that can improve blood sugar regulation, like reducing sugar and getting more protein or whatever. When we’re talking about well, what are going to be your snacks? And how can we get blueberry and bilberry and cinnamon into them for you. That is complementary work – complementary and alternative medicine – but it’s also necessary. That’s supposed to be part of the plan.
And again, just to really emphasize, the studies were done with that. So, if you say oh, well this study says that Metformin or Ozempic or whatever is going to control my diabetes. It’s important to recognize that the study was not done with the only intervention being the medication. The study was done with a cohort of interventions, one of which was the medication.
Right. And so when you see these commercials, or these case reports, or these glowing reviews or whatever… These people lost 10%, 15% of their body weight when they took this. That wasn’t the only thing that changed for them.
And the problem is that most people are not getting that counseling. And it’s not because the medical establishment is trying to hide something from you. A lot of times it’s because that education hasn’t filtered down to your actual practitioner. A lot of times it’s simply because your practitioner does not have time. They have to see 15, 20, 25 patients a day, and they don’t have a lot of time to educate patients on exactly all of the nuances of things. There just simply isn’t enough time to see 25 people and do all that education. So, it’s not like some kind of nefarious conspiracy or anything like that. It’s just that the system doesn’t support the kind of counseling that needs to happen for all people actually, no matter whether it’s diabetes or whatever else.
So, you know, for any of y’all listening who are practicing herbalists or clinical herbalists, this is a really important thing to kind of put into your mind and to be able to explain to other folks. Because it can really help to kind of bridge that gap or cover that space between what people expect and what they’re really going to need to do if they want the results that they’re hoping for.
Yeah. And it’s just another place where it doesn’t have to be either-or. It doesn’t have to be black and white and binary in all the ways that I’m trying to say the same thing here. Herbalist and conventional medicine can work together. This is just one of a million ways that we can support somebody’s goals with their conventional pharmaceutical strategies with our herbs and holistic strategies. We can say oh great, you’ve been put on Metformin. There’s probably a bunch of stuff that they didn’t have a chance to tell you. So, first let’s find out if they did. And let’s look at how we can also be supporting that safely, so that we can get you the best possible outcome. Yes.
Berries & Vascular/Eye Support
Okay. Well, speaking of the best possible outcome, and here we’re talking about blood sugar management and diabetes and everything else. Bilberry and all of its friends, all of its Vaccinium buddies, are really supportive of cardiovascular health very specifically to the blood vessels themselves. They help to repair damage in the walls, the actual structure. You can think about bilberry as infrastructure week, right? It’s like if you just imagine that your blood vessels are roads throughout your body where all of the delivery trucks are driving to drop off all of the resources to all of the cells in your body. And just from the normal wear and tear of life, exactly like the roads in your community, roads get potholes. So do blood vessels. They just have damage that happens, and it needs to be repaired. And that is normal. That is just the way the body works. So, okay. All throughout history, every time that human animals went around eating berries, it was like oh, great. Now I can repair some potholes in my blood vessels. Okay. But as humans have progressed, it turns out that we have developed our society in certain ways that create many more potholes. Partially because we no longer consume the foods quite so regularly that help us repair the potholes, which means that we’ve cut our repair staff. But also, foods that have been introduced over the past 50 to 100 years are often things that directly create damage in the vasculature.
So, if you’re over there thinking about sugar, you’re on point.
Exactly. Or like canola oil or a lot of the other industrial seed oils. So then, another factor, and this is a factor that we discovered. Or it may have been discovered sooner, but it has been brought into the mainstream medical science through covid, though covid is not the only virus that can do this. But covid directly damages the walls of the blood vessels. And that damage creates cardiovascular problems. It creates organ problems too. Because even if there was no damage to the organs caused by covid and other types of viruses… There is, but let’s say there wasn’t. When we damage the delivery network, then the organs and each individual cell, they’re not getting the resources that they need to function not even optimally but just passingly, you know? So, this damage to the blood vessels is why we see… In a diabetic, for example, we see the diabetic neuropathy and all the way down to wounds not healing in the feet and even having to amputate toes. It really is coming from the damage to the blood vessels.
But also blindness.
Right. In the other direction.
Which is another risk, another major risk for people who are diabetic. And especially if it’s not managed well over a period of time, there can be a lot of damage to the eyes. Why? Because the eyes have a lot of these capillaries, these tiny blood vessels that are most susceptible to the kind of damage that you’re talking about. You know, it’s not going to be an enormous vein that you can see in your wrist or something like that.
Well, unless you’re talking about varicose veins, in which case a lot of that is this kind of damage. There are other things playing into that as well, but this is one of them.
Yeah. But you know, you’re a tiny blood vessel. You’re mostly wall, right? So, there’s more of that to get harmed. But so, in the eyes, that’s a place where that damage can accumulate. And people can get the diabetic retinopathy, right? The retina is being damaged because of that. We can kind of swing back around to if you look in some older herbal books, you’ll see references to bilberry being beneficial for eyesight and for eye health especially, again, over the long term of a person’s life. And you can make that connection through this kind of knowledge, right? You can say well, how could an herb make a benefit for the eyes? What’s special about the eyes? What kind of tissue is in the eye that this herb can access and act upon? And we can see that through these capillaries, these tiny blood vessels here. With bilberry you’re getting at least two types of effects that are protecting these tissues. There’s that one of directly providing these structural elements that keep them strong and flexible and able to not get oxidized, or damaged, or full of potholes. But then there’s also that effect of bringing down the blood sugar in the system as a whole, right? Because the more sugar is around, well, the more damage occurs. It’s like gasoline that can spark up any little fires that are there. Take a little pin prick of inflammation and make it into a wound in those tissues. So, we can kind of see those actions reflected in the capacity of this herb to protect your eyes or even to improve eye health.
Yeah. And again, it’s one of those things where if you Google bilberry, you’ll see oh, it improves eye health. And it improves heart health. And you might be like, what? I don’t understand why those things. Is this like some kind of magic? I don’t know. Why do those go together? And it’s because it’s about the blood vessels.
Yeah. When I was first learning herbalism with you, in the first couple of years I had laser eye surgery done. And the version I got was called PRK. It’s done directly on the surface of the eye. Instead of with LASIK they kind of make a little flap, and peel that back, and then reshape in the middle layer. I got the one done right on the surface. And the downside is the recovery period is like lay in a dark room for a week. So, that was actually really interesting from a sleep perspective. What happens when you don’t have bright lights on in the house for a couple of weeks and all of that? It was a cool experiment. But I took bilberry for a month before that surgery and a month afterward. And I think it made a difference because my eye doctor said I had the best recovery he’d ever seen from that particular operation. And, you know, now it’s 10, 15 years later. And I can still see all the needles on the pine trees out there. My eyes are doing great.
I can’t even see them with my glasses on.
So, yeah. I think that’s a little anecdote about the benefit that bilberry can have there. There in more of an acute situation or it’s not like a chronic, lifelong thing. It was a specific incident I was preparing for and then recovering from.
Cholesterol, Covid, & the Benefits of Sour & Color
You know, I want also to make just a little connection here. We’re talking about all these different kinds of vascular damage, and diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. But I want to tie in cholesterol. Because the individual cells of cholesterol, one of their many functions in the body is to fill in the potholes. To make a little scab inside your blood vessels so that the wall of the blood vessel is able to heal. Just like a wound on your skin, and you get a scab, and then underneath the scab the cells are healing. The same thing happens on your blood vessels. And so when we look at bilberry, cranberry, et cetera. And we see claims that they can lower cholesterol levels. Again, that might sound like this is ridiculous. How could that possibly happen? Well, it’s happening because it is healing. It is improving the ability for those blood vessels to heal and restore themselves. And the more that they can do that, the less requirement there is for cholesterol. If you have a lot of wounds on the inside of your blood vessels, your body will say oh no. I have to produce a lot of cholesterol right now, so that I can get scabs on all those wounds, so that I can heal my blood vessels. Well, if you just keep getting wounds on top of wounds on top of wounds, because of all the different factors in modern diets and whatever else that create those wounds. Then you’re just getting scabs on top of scabs on top of scabs. Which inside of the blood vessels, that is a big old clump of cholesterol. And ultimately that’s going to cause a lot of problems. Because I think probably if you had scabs forming and reforming on your skin, you’d get scars and other kinds of things too.
We don’t think of it in the same way – because we can see a scab on our skin, and we can’t see this stuff happening inside our blood vessels – but it is the same thing. So, these berries, they’re pretty great. That’s what I have to say. Well, okay. One other thing though is that tying it back to covid, we’re seeing… You know, listen. I know that I think in the last three podcasts we’ve brought up covid. And it can be really easy to just be so sick of hearing about covid. But the reason that it’s important to talk about it is because the important part of covid is not the coughing and the respiratory whatever. I mean, that can be quite serious, and it can be a really big problem. But that is sort of an acute problem. And hopefully most people can get through that part. It is not always the case. That part can also be fatal. But a lot of people experience a mild covid infection and then sort of don’t really understand what the big deal is. Because they’re like well, it was like the flu. It was not very fun, but I got through it.
The idea is now I’m done.
Yeah. Now I’m done. And the media or wherever we get education about these things is not really doing a very good job of explaining the actual long-term problem from covid. And as herbalists, it’s that long-term problem that we are going to have to deal with more and more. And also, we are the ones with the really good tools to deal with it, right? So, when you get covid, you have a respiratory infection. And you cough, and it’s terrible. Or maybe it’s not so bad for you. And then you stop coughing ideally, and you go back to your life ideally. Some people will get long covid. And maybe you don’t, and you think ah, lucky. Great. Okay, I’m fine. But what’s really going on is that now the virus is inside. And it’s filtering through to places where it’s not going to make you cough anymore and making changes in your body. And these cardiovascular problems, the damage to the arteries and the veins, is one of the changes that it makes. And that is going to, over time if it’s not dealt with, it is going to cause cardiovascular problems, heart attack, other kinds of cardiovascular disease or neurological problems or whatever else. All the problems that happen when the delivery system breaks down in your body.
And there really aren’t pharmaceuticals that tell your body you should repair all the blood vessels now. There’s not a drug for that, but there are herbs for that. And so if we just look at the whole population, because at this point most people have had covid at least once. If we just look at the whole population and say okay. We know that there are these long-term problems that covid is causing. And we know that there are herbs, some of them quite pleasant like blueberries, that can actually stimulate the body to do the repair work for that kind of damage. If you ask me, we should be investing at the federal level in blueberry farms, so that everybody gets blueberry deliveries every day. Or every morning like the milkman used to be. He would show up and bring the milk, whatever. Now he can show up and bring the blueberries, so that everybody’s blood vessels can be repaired. That would be pretty great. Anyway, yeah. So, go ahead.
Yeah. Maybe one twist on all that. What we’ve been saying about blueberry, and huckleberry, and whortleberry, and also cranberry, basically. A lot of this stuff also applies to mulberry, and to strawberry, and definitely to goji berry.
Let’s go wild. Schizandra, why not? A lot of the berries share many of these effects in common. You can even look at them through the lens of taste. These berries tend to be a little bit sweet and a decent amount of sour. Sour is connected in traditional medicine, and in practical experience, and just empirical observation to managing fluids in the body, draining out excess fluids. In the ancient world, people would look at someone with type two diabetes. And the first thing they would see would be the stuck fluid, and the edema, and the fluid bloating on the body. And they would say well, I’m going to give you sour berries. I’m going to give you sumac berry. That’s a really good one. Because that’s going to help to drain that excess fluid out. But we can look at it now. And we can say well, yeah, but at the same time you’ve got these anthocyanins protecting the blood vessels. You’ve got these beneficial impacts on insulin sensitivity throughout the body. Those are going to add extra layers of benefit to a situation like that. And so, if you’re hearing us talk about blueberry. And you’re like well, I don’t have any huckleberries or whortleberries around me, but I do have aronia berry. Great, go for it. If you happen to be in the Amazon, and you have…
Yeah, that’s the one.
You don’t need to import them. But if you already live there, then go right ahead. We can also look at this from the science-y perspective. We look and say the taste, that is similar between them all. But there’s also appearance that’s similar between them all, in that they are all these deep colors of reds and blues. And the pigments, the actual molecules that make the red and make the blue, have specific functions in your body. It isn’t like they represent a function. This just always blows my mind every time. The color red, the molecule that makes that color, is the molecule that does a lot of this anti-inflammatory work and cellular repair work in your body. The same for the color purple, the same for the color blue. Those pigments, they look cool with your eyes. But once they get inside your body, they are going to work. They’re doing stuff in your body to improve your infrastructure. And so when we see these berries, and they all have these colors. Now okay, listen. That doesn’t mean that any red berry in the world is going to rebuild your blood vessels because some of them are poisonous.
Like oh, I’m going to eat my bittersweet nightshade berries. And I’m going to eat a handful of poke berries all at once.
And I’m going to eat yew berries. Yeah, don’t do that. Don’t do that.
No, no, no.
So, we are specifically talking about the edible berries. Stick to those. But these colors. Oh, elderberry falls into this category as well. If you hear about elderberry, you’re always thinking about oh, it fights the flu. Right, but also it rebuilds your blood vessels. That’s really cool.
Yeah. Cool. So yes, enjoy your berries.
All right, great. I think… was there another one?
No, but I do think that we should emphasize, especially since we have talked so much about cardiovascular health in this episode. We should emphasize the Cardiovascular Health Course, which especially if you were like hold on. Cholesterol, what you just said about that kind of blew my mind. And if you are thinking about repairing the cardiovascular system post covid, any of those things.
If you’re thinking about I need to do better for my blood parameters after my holiday eating habits have gone to their fullest extent.
Yes. All of that is in the Cardiovascular Health course, which until the end of December is 20% off with the code kindness. You will find the Cardiovascular Health course, along with all of our courses on Urinary Health, Digestive Health, Clinical Herbalism, Herbal Business stuff, all sorts of things.
Medicine Making, Formulation, we’ve got you covered.
Yes. At… Are you ready? You can type it in your phone right now. It is online.commonwealthherbs.com.
And there’s a link in the show notes. All right. That’s it for us. We’ll be back again soon with some more Holistic Herbalism podcasts for you. Until then, take care of yourselves. Take care of each other. Drink some tea.
Drink some tea.
And huckle your whortles if you can.
With your microcarpons and your macrocarpons.
All right everybody. Bye.
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