Marshmallow Root Tea

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I won’t ever forget it. We were on the train towards the west of Ireland from Dublin for a weekend. It was the summer we worked on the farm, me amongst the berries, counting, weighing, squeezing juice and testing. Tasting. William at the main office, in accounting. We were away every weekend traveling and on this particular trip one of the train stations, and cities, was Mallow. We didn’t stop in, we were crossing a mid-land area of open fields similar in a lot of ways to home, but I remember seeing the name Mallow and immediately thinking marshmallow.

And then the years passed away. I found a doctor who helped me understand and overcome a lot of my health struggles, who introduced me to using herbs to support and return to health. Who introduced me to the medicine of Marshmallow. Her introduction was very clinical. Marshmallow was an herb I took amongst a blend to help heal my torn up and reactive gut. An herb amongst many who helped me feel better so I could find my way.

Beyond using in a blend for when gluten cross-contamination causes a negative reaction or during heavy run training, too much holiday stress or similar got in the way, I never thought much of marshmallow. Until one day last spring, about a year ago, when I found in the wetland just after the camas waned and the lupines were all in their purple: pale pink flowers rising up. They took my breath away. I stopped and just stared at them for a while before carrying on with my run. Within the next day or two, William, always bringing home new plants for our yard, had a few pots set out on the patio. One of them drew me immediately.

 

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That’s the plant from the wetland. And somehow, before I even looked at the tag, I knew it was mallow, though I didn’t before know the name of those dreamy marsh flowers.

If you listen and let them, plants can tell you all sorts of things.

 

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This spring I’ve been even more drawn to the mallows around us. William planted ours right outside the front door so I’ve watched it come up from the ground this year. Now in nearly full bloom, those little delicate pinky white flowers atop big leafy leaves. Within herbalism, there runs a theme called the Doctrine of Signatures. Herbs that resemble various parts of the body are often most effective in treating ailments of those body parts. A walnut, resembling a brain, is a classic example. A few weeks ago, I plucked a giant mallow leaf from its stem, placed it delicately in a bud vase, and then proceeded to look at it, to meditate on it if you will, for a number of days. Almost immediately the doctrine of signatures came to mind, because perhaps knowing quite a bit about this plant’s medicinal values, I saw all the surface area of the leaf, resembling so much the villi and microvilli of the small intestine. Villi are finger-like projections where nutrient absorption occurs, and flatten in varying degrees in cases of malabsorption, celiac disease, and some severe GI complaints.

 

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The roots of marsh and other mallows have a particularly slimy and mucilaginous quality, somewhat like oatmeal that’s set a while gets, and this quality makes it particularly useful for soothing internal tissues that are sore or irritated. Think how good a nice cup of warm substance on a sore throat, a somewhat bland liquidous soup on a sore tummy, or even an aloe vera on a burn. This herbal action is called a demulcent. Marshmallow root is a particularly lovely demulcent for those sore throats, achy lower abdomens, dry coughs, and even, and not surprising since it likes to sooth, irritated urinary tracts.

Every time I think of using marshmallow, I think of the gentlest medicine. Just like my morning oatmeal, which might provide some of the same actions given its constituency, marshmallow root infused into a tea is incredibly soothing, just a little sweet, and slightly earthy.

 

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According to herbalist Rosalee de la Forêt, marshmallow root is also what is a ‘yin tonic’ in Traditional Chinese Medicine, and is useful for signs of deficient heat, including hot flashes and night sweats (1).

Unlike most herbs, marshmallow prefers a cold water infusion to extract the mucilaginous and soothing qualities from its ample polysaccharides and starches. So the best way to get its medicine is to put a little of the roots in a jar, pour over room temperature water, and then let it sit and infuse overnight or for a day. As time goes on, you’ll see it change color and become thicker. Strain out the roots, and sip on it hot or cold. It will immediately get to work soothing the tissues you need.

I like to keep it on hand and make a big jar if my throat has been sore or I’ve gotten into a troublesome pattern with foods causing lower intestine pain. And, this last winter and spring, I’ve gotten into the practice of making a jar a week or so to drink as preventative medicine for when running and training a lot, since we now know that a training cycle with lots of challenging running causes just the upset lower GI tissues that marshmallow can assist with.

 

Lastly, if you’re wondering about the name, yes marshmallow was the original plant used to make the white fluffy marshmallows for our summer smores or sweet treats. While no longer used, the candying process apparently results in a somewhat squishy sweet root that resembles modern marshmallows. Also, the plants in the wetland are actually more likely Malva sylvestris or similar rather than marshmallow (Althea oficinalis). Nevertheless, they’re all in the same plant family and can be used interchangeably. Of note: I don’t wildcraft from either public or private property, unless its my own, and I encourage you to be incredibly conscious before harvesting plants from the wild.

 

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Marshmallow Root Tea
In some of these photos, I combined marshmallow root with Slippery Elm Bark since the two have similar soothing properties and work well together. They both can be made separately as I outline below. 

1 quart jar
1-2 Tbs. dried marshmallow roots
4 cups filtered water

  • To make a cold infusion, put the dried herbs in the jar, pour in fresh room temperature water, and then allow to sit for at least 4 hours and up to 12 or so.
  • To drink, strain out the roots and sip either cold or warmed.

 

Reference:
1). de la Forêt, R. (n.d.). The Marshmallow Herb.

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nutritional and herbal allies for immune support

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We’ve hit that point in the year where everyone I know is sick, just getting over being sick, or living or working with someone who is sick. Since I work within public elementary schools, which are among the germiest places on earth, I’m often asked if I’ve gotten my flu shot. I never tend to go into a long diatribe but I long ago stopped getting one as it rarely helps ward off the actual virus I end up coming down with, and does nothing to support the natural strength of the immune system. Instead I’ve slowly built up a natural medicine cabinet of traditional foods and herbs to support the system throughout cold and flu season.

While this is a long list that I’ve been using this year, it is by no means comprehensive. Nature is incredibly competent at providing ample foods and herbs that support health and prevent viruses and infections, and truly, the herbs and products one might reach for should depend on the nature of the condition since even with the same virus, individual symptoms may vary and are best supported by addressing the nature of their presentation, such as assisting a dry cough with different herbs than a “wet/mucousy” cough, etc. And fortunately enough, this is also where herbs shine in their support of immune health.

 

Vitamin C // citrus // rose hips powder
Vitamin C helps stimulate white blood cell production, the blood cells that act as an army to take care of infection, pathogens, and inflammation in the body. Rather than relying on a supplement, I prefer to eat vitamin C rich foods including citrus fruits, berries, and dark leafy greens. I also sometimes add in a few shakes of powdered rose hips into smoothies, as rose hips are among nature’s richest and most-potent sources of Vitamin C (1).

Vitamin D
Vitamin D has a variety of positive effects on the immune system including enhancing innate immunity which means those white blood cells do their jobs when a cold or flu virus is on the scene. Vitamin D also protects against autoimmune conditions. All individuals should have their vitamin D levels tested when getting normal bloodwork done, and suboptimal levels should be supplemented with vitamin D3, especially in the fall and winter months or when one primarily works inside and doesn’t get adequate sunlight.

Dark Leafy Greens
I don’t think I will ever be able to emphasize enough the importance of an ample variety of dark leafy greens on one’s health. Greens are rich in vitamins A, E, K, and C, as well as a myriad of beneficial phytonutrients. Choose a couple varieties to eat each week and rotate throughout the season including spinach, kale, mustard and collard greens, turnip and beet greens, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, bok choy, broccoli, swiss chard, arugula, parsley and cilantro.

Probiotics // Miso
A daily dose of beneficial bacteria is good for more than just gut and mental health. Growing research is showing us that certain strains of bacteria modulate the immune system as well as bind to viruses and toxins to prevent infections (4). While I tend to rotate probiotic supplements for general health, consuming beneficial bacteria from traditionally fermented foods is best. My favorite during the winter is miso, as sipping on a little spoonful whisked into warm water, or making a miso broth-based soup when sick is really delicious and helpful.

Elderberry Syrup
There’s a reason this folk remedy has been around so long. Many scientific studies have supported the long tradition of consuming elderberry syrup to ward off or shorten the duration of viral infections. I take 1 teaspoon elderberry syrup every day throughout cold and flu season. Bonus is that when made with gently heated (not cooked) raw honey, it also includes a small daily dose of beneficial probiotics from the honey.

Adaptogenic herbs // reishi // Eleuthero  
Medicinal mushrooms have been getting a lot of trendy press time lately for a good reason. Reishi is my favorite as it strengthens both the immune and adrenal systems. Reishi, like several other mushrooms contains polysaccharides called beta glucans which stimulate the immune system. (2,3)
Eleuthero or Siberian ginseng is another favorite adaptogen. Like reishi, it can be used as an immune tonic with regular use reducing the incidence of colds and infections. It has also been shown to reverse low white blood cell counts in cancer patients. (3)

Herbal Throat Spray and Herbal Throat Lozenges // Zinc
Rather than reach for the common drugstore throat sprays, I’ve taken to using an herbal version called TheraZinc. It contains some of those soothing and supportive herbs such as elderberry, cloves, echinacea, and slippery elm, as well as zinc, an important mineral used as a co-enzyme in many cellular reactions, as it is essential for the normal development and function of cells and for regulating immune cells (4). I tend to rotate throat lozenges but some of my favorite ones also contain the same herbs and zinc.

Turmeric 
One of the current superfoods, turmeric has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine. It is highly beneficial and nearly a catch-all in terms of what it can assist with, including the ability to enhance immunity. Like dark leafy greens, turmeric also contains important antioxidants to support the immune system, including vitamins C and E (1). However, the thing about turmeric is that its beneficial compounds are exceptionally difficult to become bioavailable in the body. Taking it with a small amount of ground black pepper and with another ingredient that contains fat helps turmeric work its magic in our systems.

Ginger 
Common fresh or dried ginger is exceptionally beneficial in controlling inflammation and muscular pain, increases circulation, and also aids in digestion. Ginger is a warming and pungent spice, and I particularly enjoy it in hefty doses during the cold season. What’s more, many herbs act as synergists with each other meaning when you take them together the effects of both herbs are more than a sum of their parts. Happily, turmeric and ginger seem to work together to great effect in our bodies when it comes to combating inflammation.

Demulcent Herbs // Marshmallow Root // Licorice Root //Mullein
Marshmallow Root // Putting a few pinches in a jar of cold water and letting infuse overnight is the best way to see how marshmallow root works. In the morning, you will have a jar of slippery, soothing, slightly sweet liquid that is best for dry and sore throats and coughs. The root will provide a similar soothing action on the tissues of the GI so beyond cold and flu season, this is a great herb for digestive support.

Licorice Root // Despite the connotation with licorice candy, licorice root does not taste anything like the red or black ropes I loved to eat as a child. Licorice is an excellent herb for balancing the adrenals, balancing blood sugar, and helping decrease stress and inflammation. It is also soothing to the mucous membranes and GI tract, and makes for a good addition to a tea blend to help out a sore throat. Note: licorice should not be taken by those with high blood pressure. 

Mullein // Known for its ability to support the lungs and respiratory system, this common weed grows freely along roadsides and pathways in the summer months. Mullein brings moisture to the respiratory tract providing soothing relief to dry, inflamed tissues and tickly coughs (2). I’ve taken to adding a couple teaspoons of dried mullein to loose leaf tea blends when I need some moistening lung and throat support.

Bee Pollen
Look to adding bee pollen when one is especially depleted. Bee pollen, the food of the young bee, contains nearly all the nutrients we require, and contains protein in the form that is readily useable by the body. It is eaten throughout the world for a variety of indications including aiding recovery from chronic illness, building new blood, preventing colds and flu, improving endurance and vitality, and extending longevity (5). When using bee pollen, it’s wise to remember that it is precious food, with a daily dose taking one bee over an entire month to gather. Use consciously.

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. This information does not intend to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease. 

References:
1) McBride, K. (2010). The Herbal Kitchen
2) Pursell, JJ. (2015). The Herbal Apothecary
3) Winston, D. and Maimes, S. (2007). Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief.
4) Braun, L. and Cohen, M. (2015). Herbs & Natural Supplements: An evidence-based guide (4th ed.).
5) Pitchford, P. (2002). Healing with Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition (3rd ed.). 

 

Sweet Beet + Elderberry Oatmeal

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Happy Easter Friends!

Today I have a recipe I’ve been making on repeat for the last couple months, and one I’ve been meaning to share for weeks. But in truth, I’ve been busy. And stressed.

In what I knew would be a packed late-winter season, my class schedule was on overload for what ended up being six weeks. When I signed up for them, I thought it would be three to four, and knew I could get through for one jam-packed month. But then a job opportunity landed that I decided to take, my running coach decided I could handle more miles (and thus time), and one of those classes was taught by a professor that was amazing, but intense. Even for grad school.

So in light of all the action happening at once, I took a class extension. I dropped creative projects and unproductive activities like social media, I spent all my waking hours working or running save a precious few in the early mornings and evenings, and I just got through.

I’m still recovering, trying to prioritize down time, read some good books, bake (currently experimenting with gluten-free/vegan hot cross buns!!), and run with joy and gratitude. And also, feed myself well.

And while it’s spring break for many, I’ve a couple more weeks before I get there.

 

So today, let’s talk a little more about stress, overwork, and the nutrients that are necessary always, but even more so when we’re trying to bulldoze forward at full speed. The first are the entire friendly group of B Vitamins. 

The essential B vitamins are necessary in every step along the pathway of converting food into energy. When the body undergoes any kind of stress, whether it is physical or emotional, and feels depleted, the B vitamins are likely needed to restore balance and energy. In addition to converting food into energy and helping to cope with stress, many of the B vitamins can also help alleviate symptoms of insomnia, nervousness, PMS, and mood swings.

Each of the B vitamins (B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9, B12, and their friend Choline) have their own specific roles, but they function quite well as a group. They are found abundantly in whole foods, particularly in whole grains, legumes, seeds and nuts, fruits, and vegetables–except for B12 and Choline, which each deserve their own discussion another day. In order to incorporate the spectrum of all of these essential nutrients into your diet, it is important to eat a wide variety of fresh, colorful, whole foods.

Most of us are actually getting sub-optimal levels of these nutrients, especially when we are overworked and very active.

 

Next up in importance in times of stress is Magnesium

Magnesium is a key player in over 300 biochemical reactions and is essential for creating and maintaining healthy bones, energy production, nervous system balance, and blood sugar control. And it is anti-inflammatory. Magnesium is required for DNA and RNA synthesis as well as the synthesis of glutathione, which is a powerhouse antioxidant that combats free radicals and cellular damage.

Like the B-vitamins, Magnesium is often lacking in the modern diet, our needs are more when we are stressed either physically or mentally, and it’s abundant in whole foods like leafy greens, beans, nuts, and seeds, and whole grains.

 

Finally, when we are overworked, our immune system takes a hit, and it’s during these times that we often fall victim to colds and flus. While winter flu season theoretically should be winding down, the mega virus(s) that’s been hitting hard these past few months is still going strong. Enter my favorite immune booster, elderberries.

Elderberries have strong antiviral properties and have been shown to shorten the duration of cold and flu outbreaks in research. They also have a very long history of use in traditional medicine. Made into a delicious syrup and combined with anti-inflammatory ginger (which I’m now making and selling in my shop), a daily small dose during times of increased stress gives a good immune boost*. I’ve been taking it all winter and especially these last few weeks, and even with exposure to a whole lot of sick kids, have been staying healthy.

 

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Sweet Beet + Elderberry Oatmeal, serves 1-2
Due to all the aforementioned whole foods I’ve packed into this delicious breakfast bowl including oats, beets, flax seeds, sunflower seed butter, as well as a little drizzle of elderberry syrup, this makes for a really nice start to the day. It’s one of my favorite breakfasts lately, and definitely feels like a meal that brings to life the meaning of self-care and stress reduction. For busy mornings, I like to prep all the ingredients, save the oatmeal and toppings in a saucepan the night before, and then store it in the fridge. In the morning, bring the pan to a boil, add the oats, cook until done, and then add toppings and serve. 

1 1/2 cups water
1 medium-ish beet, finely grated
3/4 cup old-fashioned oatmeal
1/8 tsp. sea salt
1-2 Tbs. raisins
1/2 Tbs. sunflower butter
1 tsp. elderberry syrup
a dash of cinnamon, optional
1 tsp. ground flax seed, optional
additional sunflower seeds to top

  • Bring the water to a boil in a small saucepan. Add the finely grated beet, salt, raisins, and oatmeal. Turn down to medium-low and cook until soft and to desired consistency, about 8-10 minutes. You might need to add more water, as needed.
  • Then stir through the sunflower butter, remove from heat, and add the syrup and any additional desired toppings. Enjoy, ideally in a non-distracted setting for the ultimate self-care.

 

*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. This product does not intend to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease.