Posted by: jcapranos | November 15, 2011

Herbs for Hand, Foot & Mouth Disease

So, with many cases of Hand, Foot & Mouth (HFMD) Disease causing a stir on Salt Spring I’m compelled to write about this common infection that has a dreadful name in order to minimize some of the fear surrounding it, according to

First, this illness is not related to Foot & Mouth Disease (aka Hoof & Mouth Disease)  found in cattle, sheep, and swine — the only thing in common is a similar sounding name.  This disease cannot transfer to pets or animals. In fact, HFMD is actually very common in small children under the age of five.  It is considered mostly harmless, with complications leading to serious illness extremely rare. The Centre for Disease Control has some useful information about HFMD .  There is no conventional medical treatment for this virus beyond Advil to take down the fever and ease discomfort.

However, there are several herbal and homeopathic remedies that have been in use for countless years to treat this condition  successfully.
HFMD is usually caused by the Coxsackievirus, a virus that belongs to the group of enterovirus — a class of virsues so common that they rank just second to the common cold viruses in causing many acute infections in adults and children.  Children usually only get this illness once, therefore most adults have acquired natural immunity to this disease from childhood and are rarely affected in adulthood.
Just like the common cold, we transmit these viruses via respiratory secretions (saliva, nasal mucous, sputum) or stool of an infected person; or of course sharing contaminated objects (utensils, the telephone, door knobs). The immune system is capable of  fighting this illness on its own, building life-long immunity to the virus, according to números de tarjeta de crédito.

At first, the symptoms may resemble the flu -  fever, poor appetite, malaise, and a sore throat may be experienced. Soon (perhaps a day or two later) the individual may complain of pains in the mouth and develop blisters. A skin rash likely appears, usually on the hands or feet; though in some cases knees, buttocks, elbows or genitals. Rarely are all of the above symptoms found in one person, although it can happen.

Below are some time-tested remedies to have on hand that are known to treat Hand, Food & Mouth Disease:

First – keep hydrated - Dehyration is the primary medical risk for small children who are fighting a fever. Remember, a fever is present to burn off the virus. It’s a good thing, and we want to keep the children comfortable, well-hydrated, free from drafts so their bodies can efficiently do what they need to do to heal itself. Water is the preferred choice for hyration, however, I also love warm herbal teas as herbs deliver rich minerals and other immune supporting properties while at the same time hydrating the body.

Here are a list of herbs that are known anti-virals (HFMD is a virus) and are rich in minerals and immune building properties that are served well as medicinal teas:

- Lemon Balm
- Astragulus
- Peppermint
- Garlic
- Thyme
- Sage
- Elderberry
- Licorice

You do not need to combine all of these together (if you can, that’s great). Just choose one, two or more of the above and prepare as a strong tea. To do so, pour one cup of just boiled water over one heaping teaspoon of herb — then steep covered with a lid — for a minimum of 20 minutes. Drink as much as you (or your child) like. These are safe herbs that can be consumed freely.

In addition to a lovely medicinal tea, for HFMD I recommend taking a tincture internally, and also apply externally on the rash common to this virus.

Tinctures that I recommend taking internally and externally are:

- Calendula
- Echinacea
- St. John’s Wort
- Oregano
- Usnea
- Bee propolis (may be very messy used externally)

Painful mouth ulcers can be soothed by tincture of Myrrh and or tincture of Calendula.

It is important to nourish the body while fighting infection and provide a healing environment for the individual so healing can happen speedily.

- Serve soups and stews rich in immune-building foods such as onions, garlic, leeks, ginger, kale, cabbage, broccoli
- Prepare broths from miso, burdock root, astragulus root, celery root, garlic, seaweed
- Remove immune comprimising foods such as sugar (including pure juice), from the diet. .

And of course, rest. Enough can’t be said about the importance of convalescence; while sleeping and resting quietly the body is working hard to recover successfully from illness.  So remember, with the proper support of herbs, nourishing organic foods, quiet and deep rest, the wisdom of the body will do what it is designed to do: recover speedily without complications and develop a stronger and more resilient immune system after the exercise of fighting off an acute infection. Truly an amazing system!

Warm Wishes,
Jamie Capranos

Posted by: jcapranos | October 26, 2011

Autumn Rituals: a respiratory tonic

Autumn is definitely my favourite season. While some feel overwhelmed by the chores the season brings, I relish them. I adore decanting, pressing, and bottling all my creations from spring and summer. Nothing is more satisfying for me then sitting back and admiring these herbal potions made with all the plants fresh  and in their prime.

My first aid herb table

Tasting the rich flavour of my herbal elixirs allows me a taste of summer when I need it most — in the depths of winter.

The home apothecary

As I was clearing out and rearranging my shelves, I discovered one of my beloved winter remedies that I’d love to share with you. It’s called Professor’s Blend; a fabulous tonic for the respiratory system. What’s so great about it is it’s easy to make, and the ingredients are (mostly) easy to obtain.

Professor’s Blend (named after the great herbalist Dr. Christopher):

Chop equal parts of:

- onions

- garlic

- horseradish (fresh; from the grocery store in a jar will not work)

- ginger

*optional: a few pinches of cayenne, or even 2-6 whole fresh or dried cayenne peppers
** Also optional: stir some honey to taste (also healing for a sore throat)

Step Two: Place all the above ingredients into a wide-mouthed glass jar, and cover with apple cider vinegar.

The proportion for measuring this elixir is approximately a 1:5 ratio. That means, if you weighed out 100grams of chopped ingredients you’d add 500ml of apple cider vinegar.
If you don’t have a kitchen scale, and the idea of weighing this out sounds like a bother, then simply fill any sized wide mouthed jar 1/4 full of chopped ingredients.

Step Three: Line the lid of your jar with wax paper (vinegar rusts metal lids). Fasten the lid tightly, and shake your tonic daily. Store in a cool, dark place. This is ready to consume within seven days.  I never take my ingredients out of the jar, I let it age, and become stronger over the months. You can do this too.

NOW WHAT: Let it sit in a cupboard, or on your kitchen counter to remind you to take between 1-6 TBSP a day, as a respiratory tonic. The great thing about herbal medicine is it is usually food-based medicine. Thus, use this tonic as a base for salad dressings, toss over rice, veggies, etc. Or, mix in water and drink down.

THE HERBS: Used medicinally, many “foods” are considered herbs: think parsley, thyme, rosemary, basil — and yes, onion, garlic, horseradish, cayenne and ginger. Why the herbs in Professor’s Blend? Well, while I could write a whole post on the each, what is essential about each ingredient is that it is warming, spicy, and diffusive. These actions dispel pathogens including bacteria and fungi. That means they are excellent at warding off any potential respiratory bug, and they excel at clearing the respiratory passages of sluggish mucous, helping us breathe better. They are immune tonics, and prevent sickness. If you are sick with an acute infection, this tonic is an expectorant, encouraging the expulsion of hard-to-cough-up mucous, and helps to drain the sinus passages.

Plus it tastes good.

Coming up next: herbal syrups, rose hips, and hawthorne – stay tuned!

Warmest Wishes,
Jamie Capranos

Posted by: jcapranos | September 15, 2011

Apple Cider Vinegar

As we move towards autumn I notice the smell in the air, the light cast by the sun, and colour of leaves take on a distinct change. I can’t believe the Autumn Equinox is just a week away— a sure sign of deepening into the the fall, which will certainly draw me more internal. Since childhood, there is no sign more telltale that autumn is here then apples ripe on the tree. And apples ripe on the tree indicate it’s time to make apple cider vinegar, one of nature’s most powerful healing elixirs and one of my favourite autumnal home garden projects.

Apple cider vinegar is so easy to make, and each time I do, I think back to the thousands, possibly millions of generations of people who have been doing so, and I find myself drifting into a distant memory of how our ancestors first came to understand its countless health benefits. With a natural acidity, it proves to be an antibacterial, and due to the naturally containing “good” bacteria it assists in breaking down food and is perfect for sorting out upset stomaches and augmenting our infection-fighting medicinal vinegars (read more about those ). Apple cider vinegar makes an excellent hair rinse, especially in the treatment of dandruff or fungus on the scalp and  it makes a fabulous facial toner (for these two purposes, you must dilute with 50% water or else it’ll really sting!).
The National Arthritis Association lists it as a potential remedy for easing arthritis due to its Malic acid content; and it is also listed as a possible solution (some swear by it) for weight loss by breaking down undigested food, balancing blood sugar levels (thus minimizing food cravings), and improving overall efficiency of digestion. And there are plenty of ancedotal claims of people stating it has lowered their cholesterol (it’s natural pectin attaches to cholestrol globules) and even blood pressure. I’ve had many people in my practice try it for eliminating Gout — with success I’m happy to report. How much? Just 2 tablespoons taken a day is the general dose for gaining health benefits from apple cider vinegar. Yes, you can mix it with water and honey to make it more palatable. And you can also add it to salad dressings, veggies and more. Just do not cook it or heat it excessively or else you’ll kill all the good stuff.

Fresh fir needles soaked in home-made cider vinegar for coughs and colds

Apple cider vinegar is also known to relieve constipation, sore throats, coughs, sinus infections, headaches and more. For a more exhaustive list on what apple cider can do for your health, check out this book , written by one of the “authorities” on the subject, the Bragg family. Personally, I am skeptical of any ONE thing being promoted as a cure-all, and I cannot atest for all of the health claims given to Apple Cider Vinegar. But, I do have personal and professional experience with it easing constipation, dandruff, scalp fungus, sore joints, a myriad of digestive complaints, a skin toner, gout, and decreasing food cravings. And, as mentioned on this blog under in February’s post, I adore it most for serving as one of the best extracts for herbal medicines. It really brings home the concept of local medicine if you ask me!

**If you cannot make your own apple cider vinegar, you can purchase some at your local health food store or natural grocer. However, read the fine print on the bottle and ensure that it is organic and unpasturized apple cider vinegar.

1. Start by either pressing your own apples for juice, or purchase some freshly pressed apple juice from a local farmer. Be sure no water has been added. It must be real, whole, unadulterated apple juice with nothing added or taken away. I have never used pasturized juice, only the fresh stuff right from the farm. Confirm these apples have not been sprayed! It’s important the apples have been drug free.

Apple juice pressed from our apples

2. Defrost your juice if it has been frozen. This is a great way to use last year’s batch if you still have some in the freezer. Next, find yourself  a large, wide mouth jar or earthenware crock. Clean it meticulously. Then dry it, and pour your juice into the vessel.

3. Next, you want to cover your vessel to prevent dust, bugs, or other unwanted particles from entering your cider. However, you also WANT some healthy air exchange for it to breathe. Keep in mind that this substance is alive. Anything that is alive, ferments. We want to assist in the fermentation process by allowing healthy exchange to occur, and for that, we do need some air circulation like anything alive does.

I like to cover my vessel with a tightly woven, very clean and dry cloth. I tie it with a string to fasten it, and as always, I date the cider so when it is done, I know how long it took to get the right taste and acidity to my liking.

That’s it! You do not need to add anything to it. The next step is just to let Nature do her magic.

How do you know it’s done? Taste it. It can take anywhere between 3 weeks or 3 months to get the acidity you like. I find that 3 or 4 weeks usually makes for a good cider vinegar. If you like, you can purchase pH strips from the health food store and test it for acidity. You’re looking for a pH reading below 4.5. However it is not necessary to test your vinegar with strips. Let your taste buds be your guide.


- Within a few days – depending on the temperature outside and in your home — a frothy foam may manifest. That’s ok, it means that the natural sugars are being digested by the good bacteria and fermentation is taking place. You can, with a clean spoon, scoop away the foam.

- If blue bacteria shows up on the foam, it doesn not mean the cider is bad. Again, just scoop it away.

- You will notice clumps of concentrated particles begin to form this is called the “Mother“, and is a positive sign. Do not scoop these away! This is the concentrated good bacteria. Some people prefer to filtre these out once their cider is done, and compost them. This is a personal preference. You can also save these, add add them to your next batch of juice to speed up the process of a fresh batch of cider–however in this case they’d need to be used immediately.


Once you’ve reached the acidity you like (determined by taste or test strips), strain it through a mesh strainer and either compost the majority of the “Mother” or hold it back for a new batch (remember it must be used immediately). Bottle the cider vinegar in clean glass bottles. Mason jars will work, so will wine bottles, or anything else you like. It does not need to be refridgerated; but if you do, that’s okay too. It will naturally age, slowly, over time.

Now, use it in salad dressings, pour it over your food, take in water, tea, mixed with honey, or any other which way you like. As mentioned, my favourite is using it for even further health benefits by turning it into a . I hope you find this home project as satisfying as I do.

Jamie Capranos

Posted by: jcapranos | August 11, 2011

cleopatra’s face cream

I’ve never considered myself skilled at making face creams until I experimented with omitting shea butter and cocoa butter – two staple ingredients listed in every face cream recipe I’ve ever come across. It took me a while to realize the reason my creams came out so grainy in texture and seemed to separate quickly could be due to these ingredients.

Then I discovered the wonders of coconut oil.

I use it in cooking, and generally think it’s fabulous for one’s health. And now, I use it in my face cream! It’s an oil that is solid at room temperature, therefore it adds some of the firmness needed to create lovely creams, without being tempermental.

I’m excited  to share my precious face cream recipe with you;  I think it is divine, and I’ve named it Cleopatra’s Face Cream after the legendary lover of roses. I am a serious rose lover too, and in this recipe I used rose water, rose infused oil, and a lot of rose absolute essential oil for the scent. It’s amazing.
Feel free to adopt the name and this recipe as your own — please enjoy, I’m happy to share it!


* All amounts are approximate, I’m never very strict with amounts*

20g beeswax

1/3 cup coconut oil

1/2 cup herbal infused oil (or pure olive, sesame, apricot, almond oil)

1 tsp of rose essential oil (or your own favourite essential oil e.g lavender, rose geranium, vanilla, ylang ylang, jasmine, neroli, chamomile, sandlewood the options and combinations are endless) and of course you can make this unscented too!
The above ingredients account for your oil group.
The remaining two ingredients below account for your water group.

100 aloe vera gel

150ml rose water

Basically, a cream is 50/50 oil and water. The alchemy is in getting these two substances which normally repel one another to infuse and become one. The result is a very beautiful, nourishing substance that is simply glorious.


1. Place your beeswax and coconut oil  into a glass measuring cup, that measures 2 cups. Then place that into a large pot with simmering water that rises to approximately the 1/2 cup mark. This hot water bath is hot enough to melt the wax and oil (coconut oil is solid unless heated) so you do not burn the wax or oil.

coconut oil and beeswax melting

2. Meanwhile, mix your water group ingredients in a separate measuring cup. Set aside.

3. The wax and oil will eventually become completely liquified. This takes approximately 10 – 15mins. Once no solid particles are visible, lift the measuring cup out of the hot water bath, and leave standing until it is warm to the touch, but not hot. Approximately body temperature. This only takes a few minutes. Don’t walk to far away, you do not want these otherwise solid waxes / oils to harden!

These next few steps need to happen pretty quickly, because as the oils are warm, but neither cold or hot, the molecules are receptive and we need to get them to bond with water.

4. Now, pour your herbal infused oil into the now-warm but not hot wax and coconut oil mixture. Seefor how to make herbal infused oils.

Here I am pouring a St. John's wort infused oil, rose infused oil, and balm of Gilead infused oil (all separate oils I pre-mixed together) into my beeswax and coconut oil that was just melted. Look at how these herbal infused oils sparkle!

Now, having just poured cool / room temperature oils into warm-body temperature oil/wax it may try to harden and look like this:

Don’t worry! Everything is still ok. However, quickly scoop this concoction into an excellent and very powerful blender if you have one– or my preferred method– a 1 litre mason jar and mix with a stick blender. Use a spatula to get all of the oil/wax into your blender / jar.

5. Then, start blending, while gently pouring your water group into the oil group- this is the amazing part! We are encouraging the water molecules to bind with the oil molecules, to homogenize, and become one.

This is what it looks like when water and oil bind together

Very quickly, you have cream! Blend until the water and oil have clearly homogenized.

Because the blender motor is warm, the cream may seem a bit runny. Once you transfer into jars, it will settle into a lovely texture.


Now you can scoop into little 50ML salve jars which health food stores carry, and give away as beautiful gifts. This makes a lot of cream – approximately ten 50ML jars. Or, simply put in any glass container, and affix with a label (and a date–I always date my concoctions).


- My suggestion for clean up is to wipe everything down with newspaper, that way eliminating much of the oil so when you wash up everything isn’t a greasy disaster
- You can also rub excess cream all over your body
- I have never had any cream go moldy. However they can turn moldy or “off” if you use tap water. I always use a distilled water like rose water, and aloe vera gel (which is mostly water).
- This cream has a very long shelf life. However I’d recommend use it up within a year.

Enjoy and have fun!

Posted by: jcapranos | August 9, 2011

Herbal Oils

As the strength of the hot sun coaxs flowers to open, it signals me ’tis the season to get busy making herbal oils.

For those new to making herbal medicines, making an herbal oil may seem an intimidating task, but rest assured, once you’ve done it, it soon becomes one of the easiest aspects of medicine making. The rewards of this skill are plenty – herbal oils can be fashioned into so many wonderful healing delights: massage oils, healing salves, chest rubs for colds and coughs, moisturizing lotions, and beautiful face creams to name just a few.

While you can make an herbal oil with dried herbs, I prefer making mine with fresh. I recently made some fresh St. John’s wort oil (Hypericum perforatum). Here’s how I did it– go ahead and apply these instructions to any other herb suitable to make into an oil. Just a few examples of herbal oils that you can make this time of year are: mullein flowers, calendula flowers, lavender flowers, rose petals, plaintain leaf.

1. First, select your location. I found a nice clump of St.John’s Wort with new buds and new flowers coming up. On a dry sunny day,  pinch off a combination of almost-opening buds and newly open buds, being sure to avoid the wilted, exhausted flower heads that are on their way dying. I filled a 1 litre mason jar about a third of the way full of blossoms, brought it into the house, and covered the blossoms by filling my jar almost full with organic sesame oil.

St.John's Wort just picked and covered in oil. I immediately set it on a sunny window sill. All the flowers will eventually settle to the bottom as they become saturated over time with the oil .

2. Then, I set it on a sunny window sill, and covered the lid with paper towel, and secured the paper towel with a mason jar lid ring. There are two purposes for this: 1) the paper towel permits moisture to evaporate in the hot and dry environment of the window sill  2) prevents bugs, dust, and other particles from ending up in my oil.

My medicine making companion placed a crystal atop the jar to charge it with crystalline energy....anything is possible...

- I chose sesame oil because it’s more stable than olive oil, readily available where I live, and it’s a thinner oil than olive oil hence less greasy in texture.
- I filled my jar not quite to the top with oil, because, as some of you know St.John’s Wort continues to produce new flowers and new fresh buds everyday, about a week when it’s in it’s prime. Thus, I want to leave extra room in my jar should the oil level rise as I add new flowers daily, as they are available by mother nature.
- Yes you read correctly — when I’m making a fresh herbal oil from flowers that are hard to come by in abundance at one time, and tend to produce over a series of days, I collect daily and put them immediately into my jar of oil. I also do this with mullien flowers.

14 days have passed-- Hypericin, the anti-viral constitutent gives the oil a bright red colour. Notice the flowers, exhausted, have floated to the bottom of the jar.

3. I leave this jar undisturbed on my windowsill for a minimum of 10 days – 2 weeks. I do not shake it, and I do not remove it from the location. This is called a Solar Infusion. We are using the powerful heat units of the sun to extract and then transfer the medicinal virtues of the plant into the oil. This can also be done on a very low flame on your kitchen stove.

Freshly pressed St. John's wort oil. This will now sit on a shelf in a cool, dark place until I'm ready to use it. The texured lines you see on the bottom of the jar are just the decorations on the glass jar.

4. After 14 days pass, I separate the plant material from the oil by running it through cheesecloth into a clean, dry bowl or measuring cup. I compost the cheesecloth and exhausted flower blossoms, and once again transfer the now-herbally-infused oil into a clean, bone dry jar, and fasten with a lid. I store this oil in a dark place with even temperature until I am ready to use it.

Up next — I’m going to make a beautiful face cream with this St. John’s Wort oil — Check back later!

Posted by: jcapranos | July 25, 2011

Fresh Tinctures for July

June and July are by far the busiest months for tincture making.  The flowers are blooming and the fresh new green growth is abundant! For me, there is nothing more magical than finding myself healing a sore throat in the middle of winter with the vibrant plant medicines made fresh that past  summer. Truly a process of beautiful alchemy that you can taste on your tongue and feel through your body.  Making a tincture is incredibly simple, and very economical.

First, you source a healthy patch of the herb you’d like to tincture. Or, you take notice of what is growing abundantly around you, and take that as a sign you might just need it. If that’s the case, research that plant, and determine what part is used as medicine.

Today, I made a fresh plant tincture of Verbena officinalis, also known as Vervain.

A healthy patch of Verbena officinalis

Flowering tops of Verbena officinalis

It is essential that you collect your herbs in the peak of their season, and also the peak of the day. That means when they are fresh, vital, and the flowers are just blooming, or about to, depending on your herb. In your herb books, when it states harvest the “aerial part”, that means cut the top third or so of the plant, stalk, leaf, bud and flower. I inspect the plant as I’m collecting it to ensure each leaf and bud is clean, vibrant, and consistent in its colour. I collect the aerial parts (all the parts above the ground) when the day is dry and sunny. I was out collecting around 11:30am, when the sun was strong, and the plant was in its peak. I avoid collecting aerial parts when they are wet with rain or wilted and  exhausted by the sun which they can be in the late afternoon and evening.

Tools of the trade:

To my collecting location, I bring:
- A collecting basket (or brown paper bags)
-scissors or other sharp instruments for cutting (Felco-type clippers are good for the tough stuff)
-jars to put my herbs into
-measuring cup
- scale
- pen
- Masking tape to use for labeling

Once harvested, I then cut or chop my herbs directly into a clean wide-mouthed vessel. Notice here I’m cutting with very sharp utility scissors. I find this much easier and far more efficient then chopping herbs on a cutting board.

I weighed my jar on the scale when it was empty, so I can subtract that weight from the final weigh-in

I almost always tincture at my harvesting location. That way, the vitality of the plant is being captured in its fullness by tincturing it right away. There’s also something meditative, peaceful, and synergistic about doing it this way. And yes, it’s very time efficient and rewarding to go home with your medicines already made, and ready for the shelf.

A one litre jar completely filled and ready to weigh

Next, I weigh the finished product on my handy electrical kitchen scale. This is an important tool when making excellent quality medicines using the Standard Method according to traditional western herbalism. According to this Standard Method, the most potent and effective method of tincturing fresh plants is by using a proportion of 1:2 herb to alcohol solution ratio; and use 95% alcohol. So in my case, all this plant matter weighed 250grams (remember I subtracted the weight of the jar). So, a 1:2 means I’d use 500ml of 95% alcohol to 250grams of fresh herb.

Then tightly screw on a well-fitted lid to your jar. The next most important step when making a tincture is– a label! You might think you’d remember when you made your medicine, what it is and what kind of alcohol you used, but trust me, you probably won’t. Please label your medicines and include:

- The date
- The latin name
- What percentage of alcohol you used
- what weight to volume ratio you used

One of my shelves of medicine - away from direct light and close enough to admire daily

Then have your medicine sit on a secure shelf away from direct sunlight. I like to have my tinctures accessible enough so that I can shake them daily for at least a week, admire their beauty, and think healing-filled thoughts each time I walk past them — all important ingredients when making medicine. While your fresh tincture will be ready as soon as 7 days from making it, most herbalists, myself included, prefer to have the medicine sit for at least a month. Yet another important reason to date it – some like to label not only the day they made the tincture, but also the day it will be ready to decant.

Once that day comes, separate your exhausted plant material from the liquid tincture by straining it through a mesh strainer lined with cheese-cloth. Squeeze the cheese-cloth as hard as you can, to get every last drop of tincture. Compost the plant material, and voila! You have plenty of beautiful rich herbal tincture to put in little glass dropper bottles – don’t forget to label those too - ready for your medicine cabinet.

1. If the subject of medicine is something you think you could get passionate about, the best book on the subject (in my opinion) is The Medicine Maker’s Handbook by James Green.
2. 95% percent alcohol is not available on the shelves for sale in Canada. I have a liquor license, and you can get one too by applying at any Government liquor store customer service counter. If you are not interested in going through the process, you can purchase a 75% rum for sale on the shelves which is high enough to make a great fresh tincture. Or, if you cross the boarder into Washington State, you can purchase Everclear at Duty Free.
3. You can purchase empty tincture bottles with droppers at the health food store, pharmacies, or various places online if you google such a thing.

Questions & Comments? Please leave them below. I’d love to hear from you. Oh, and I have two more spaces left in my Alchemy of Herbal Medicine Course, click for more information if you’d like to study this marvelous world more extensively among a great group of people.

Green Blessings,

Posted by: jcapranos | July 10, 2011

California Poppies

I’ve just returned home after spending nearly 2 months in California. Oh how I love that state! The people, the mountains, the sunshine, and of course the bright and bountiful flowers found everywhere.

Here I am standing in wildflowers along a sidewalk in Oakland, CA.

There are many things that impress me about California, and San Francisco in particular. One of those things is how at every street corner, at nearly every shop, or even alley way,  beauty, spirit and activism seems to be remarkably woven together.
Take the Women’s Centre building for instance:

To get an idea of the scale of these murals, notice the two people standing in front of the building. Not only are the paintings gorgeous in their bright colour, they are rich with meaning. The sign held by one of the characters reads, “More funds for women’s health research”.

What I love most about the murals on this building is the effort to illustrate diverse representation within women’s health. In the paintings we have a woman in what looks like a doctor or nurse uniform with her tools of technology behind her. Next, a woman with a placard fighting for more funding; then a woman performing energy healing.

When not awe-struck by all the art my eyes, as usual, settle on what weeds are bursting through the sidewalk cracks. Here it was loud and clear:

California poppies (Eschscholzia californica) were abundant everywhere! This beautiful plant also grows wildy all over Salt Spring Island. It somehow made sense to see so much of this beautiful flower that is also a sedative and helpful for insomnia. San Francisco is so stimulating, it was easy to never sleep with all the great people, food, music, and creative city life.  Of course the flower would be plentiful on every corner generously offering itself to the human aid. Plants are amazing that way–they grow where they are most needed.

Unlike it’s cousin the Opium poppy, California poppy is not a narcotic nor addictive.  In fact, it normalizes the nervous system, making it a safe choice for sleeplessness, anxiety and nervousness, even in small children. I have mostly used it in cases of irritability, heat congestion in the liver coupled by insomnia or restless sleep. I have used it in a small handful of cases for sciatica and other sharp shooting pains and it has worked very well.
I’ve made a fresh tincture with it, and also brewed it as a tea. If you have it growing around you, harvest the entire plant (flower, stem, leaves and all), chop it, and dry it for tea. Beware, it is VERY bitter! I combine it with mint, or some other palate-pleasing herb to buffer the intense flavour.

Speaking of, it’s beautiful outside, and I’m eager to be back on the island. I’m off to walk the garden before night falls, and plan next weeks post.

Have you tried California poppy? Let me know if you do. Write comments & questions below. I look forward to hearing from you.

Green Blessings,
Jamie Capranos

Posted by: jcapranos | May 31, 2011

I’ve just returned to cyberspace after a luxurious week-long break from technology camping out  & teaching at the .

I’ve never been before, and wow, what a treat! It was completely different from what I expected. I met amazing colleagues & teachers, made new friends, and in short was blown away by the powerful presence of 500 women and girls.  I feel blessed and inspired and ready to share all of what I’ve learned with my students this coming September & October.

Budding herbalists brewing up ideas

What impacted me the most were not the great classes and impressive teachers (of which there were many), it was the potency of joy, power, and creativity of a 500 woman village that was co-created. I’m now convinced that if a woman hasn’t already had a women-only experience of this volume, it’s a MUST in one’s life-time.

Babes in arms everywhere

The way women took care of each other was effortless and joyful. Babies and children (boys under age 7 permitted) were cared for by every woman as if they were her own. Women who were strangers to one another gracefully held, fed, looked out for, nurtured and soothed the children in need without much explanation. I was moved by how safe every baby and child felt in the presence of so many “strangers”. The sense of nurturance was palpable and moving.

Gathering for the love of herbs-- Everyone slept in the tipi's shown here or their own tents

Beautiful food was prepared for us by a vibrant kitchen staff. The teens and younger girls voluntarily brought meals to the elders.  Every woman made sure  pregnant women and mother’s with young children ate first.
And on Sunday, towards the end of the symposium weekend, there was a beautiful Coming of Age Ceremony for all.

First, the young women who had begun menstruating this year were invited to step into the circle to be honoured, and acknowledged for their rite of passage into womanhood.

Young women stepping into the circle

Then the mother of each of the above girl was invited into the circle to be honoured for the incredible work it is to raise a child. All the sleepless nights, the thankless work, the turmoil, the ups and downs of parenting that’s unromantic and not always spoken about; really parenting is the most important work in the world.

Mother's honoured for the profound work of raising daughters

Next, all the self-identified elders of the gathering stepped forward to honour these women and girls offering words of wisdom and guidance. Then we all collectively celebrated these wise elders for guiding us forward and paving the path for us to shine as we do.

A wise elder honouring the young girls in the coming of age ceremony

Tears were shed as women shared that THEY have been coming to the Symposium ever since they were little girls (this weekend was the 46th symposium). And here today, they stand with their children in arms and with their mother, now a wise elder by their side. I was blown away at how many daughter-mother-grandmother sets were at the gathering. So moving.

And finally, that this was all tied together with the love of herbs and the natural world made an incredible event just that much more extraordinary. The power that women share so naturally with herbs and healing rendered me just speechless. It never needed to be explained. It’s just so natural that women live their lives intrinsically woven with the rhythms of nature, healing their bodies and families with herbal wisdom. The wild, untamed flowers, seeds and berries serving as food, medicine, and the threads that weave community. Literally.

Women, herbs, and nature ---an effortless connection

So I am altered, well rested, deeply moved, and back in the bustling city of San Francisco writing this to you on the last day of May.
Soon I’ll be heading into yet another powerful teaching intensive, and will write more on that as it happens.

Meanwhile, you can view my upcoming herbal classes and you can leave comments or questions below.

Sending you all well wishes from sunny California,

Jamie Capranos

Posted by: jcapranos | May 2, 2011

May is by far my most favourite month of the year. The season is bustling with all the colour and vigour of new life; flowers opening to show their sunny faces and the green of the grass so intense it’s hard to believe it’s real. In just one week my lawn  has suddenly  covered with dandelion flowers. For me, that is a sure sign we’re headed into summer and the harsh of winter is far behind us.

No flower can make me smile as wide as dandelion. In the face of being trampled on, threatened with herbicides, ignored or despised this simple herb continues to grow brightly, and with tenacity, filling cracks in sidewalks and other remarkable places where it seems no life can otherwise  survive.  Where land has been damaged or destroyed, you can count on dandelion to show up with its sunny disposition and begin remineralizing and healing the land. It has sometimes been called the “herbal earthworm” because of its amazing ability to turn “dead” soil into rich, nutritious fertile soil.

And like most maligned, ignored, pesky plants that grow vigorously in the face of all adversity, it has extraordinary medicinal value. First, the flowers can be used to heal skin, in particular heal sunburns, windburns, age spots or inflammation from a wound or incision. You can also use the oil for a muscle rub to ease sore joints, cramps, back aches, arthritic pain and more. Eat the flowers in your salads, or make a tea for the reasons given above– plus it’s a great mood enhancer. By consuming the flowers you are inviting in the essence of this sunshine plant: one that inspires hope, optimism and enthusiasm even in challenging times. So, if you are feeling down and experience emotions locked in your muscles, this is the flower for you.

The name “Dandelion” comes from the expression “teeth-of-a-lion”, referring to the sharp, teeth-shaped leaves of this plant. The leaves are edible so long as they are bright green and healthy looking.  The best way to eat them is raw in salads. Dandelion leaves are particularly high in vitamins A, C, B complex and also high in the minerals calcium, potassium, iron and plenty of trace minerals.  The amounts will vary depending on location. If you prefer, you can also make a tea with the leaves.

The entire plant is bitter. The taste that most westerners dislike, but is so necessary for vibrant  health. Why? Bitter herbs and vegetables, in this case dandelion, promotes gastric juices which in turn improve digestion  by balancing stomach acid, improving assimilation of minerals, and decreases gas, bloating, constipation, and sugar cravings. BITTERS ALSO HELP DECREASE INFLAMMATION.  Dandelion is a “liver lover”, improving  liver function. Considering the liver has over 500 known functions, that’s really important news.

And what about the root? Absolutely edible. The best times to harvest the root are just before the plant flowers or in the autumn, after the plant has gone to seed. The root is a powerful healer for the kidney, bladder, and has been used in anti-cancer therapies. The entire plant is a natural diuretic, and the genius of nature has created this diuretic as naturally high in potassium, the mineral that is at risk of being depleted with pharmaceutical diuretics.  Importantly (and why it’s important in anti-cancer therapies) dandelion root has a special affinity for the lymphatic system. So consider this root if you frequently have swollen glands, regular coughs, colds, bronchitis that you can’t shake and go on and on.  The root has also been traditionally used to balance blood sugar levels and to improve hormonal function for both men, women, and teenagers struggling through puberty. To reap the benefit of all this, you must consume the root daily. Go ahead and chop it for salads, drink as tea, make an herbal vinegar with it (click for the how-to of vinegars) or just eat it as is.

Flowers- drink as a tea, eat in salads, or make an oil with them.
To make an oil:
1. On a bright sunny day collect dandelion flowers being sure they are completely dry.
2. Fill a bone-dry glass jar with your dandelion flowers. They can be whole, you do not need to chop them up.
3. Cover flowers with a good quality (preferably organic) oil like extra virgin, olive, sesame, grapeseed or almond oil.
4. Cover open mouth of jar with paper towel. Then affix a plastic band around the jar to hold the paper towel tightly in place.
5. Set on a sunny window sill. This way the oil is solar infused, and any moisture in the flowers can escape. The power of the sun extracting the medicinal virtues from the flowers.
6. In 10 days, separate your flowers from the oil by running through cheesecloth or strainer. Compost the exhausted flowers.
7. You now have a beautiful dandelion flower oil, to use as a muscle rub, or to nourish and heal skin (a great moisturizer).

Leaves and root- enjoy raw in salads, or drink in tea, you can even add them to soups and stews.

Aren’t herbs amazing?!

If you think so, please join me for my Alchemy of Herbal Medicine herbal course that begins in September, view details by clicking .

Questions? Comments? Please post them below.
Green Blessings!
Jamie Capranos

Posted by: jcapranos | April 14, 2011

More on the Bounty of Nettle

I woke early this morning to set out and harvest nettle root from my small but healthy patch of nettles (urtica dioica)

The peak time to harvest roots are early spring while the energy is still residing in the root and pushing upwards for new growth; autumn while the vital energies are pulling back towards the earth to rest over winter; and early morning or late afternoon & evening.

While most of us are familiar with all the benefits of nettle leaf, few pay attention to the remarkable root. Like all mineral rich plants or plant parts, next to eating them or drinking them in an infusion, I like my vinegars. That’s because vinegar (and I mean raw, unpasturized organic apple cider vinegar) is one of the absolute best extraction solvents available.  If you are new to making medicinal vinegars, you can read my herbal vinegar post with instructions on “how to” at the bottom of that post .  Alcohol tinctures do not do a good job at extracting these minerals at all, however alcohol does do a good job at extracting many other constituents. Vinegar is also an inexpensive and healthy preservative. I will write an entire post dedicated to the health benefits of vinegar at a later date. Now back to nettle root.

Nettle root nourishes the spleen, thereby powerfully enhancing the immune system and “feeding” the blood. For reasons that have yet to be identified, it decreases inflammation from the body, and is now catching on as a popular new treatment for all issues to do with the prostate. That is Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH), prostatitis, and even prostate cancer. The root has a powerful affinity to men’s health, and a company has even patented it for male patterned baldness (!).

Once I bring my nettle roots home (and remember to collect at most 1/4 of a plant community so to leave lots to thrive) I wash them well – not peel them – and chop them like carrots, filling a clean glass jar about 1/2 – 1/3 full of roots.  There’s no rule around proportion. You can fill your jar to the brim with roots. It’s really a matter of how much root you have, and how intense you want the taste. I do it both ways depending on how much root I collect.

Next I cover with apple cider vinegar. It’s inexpensive to buy, and incredibly easy to make yourself. When I write my post dedicated to apple cider vinegar I’ll go into more detail around how to make it. Basically, you leave juice in a wide mouthed vessel to stand until it turns to vinegar. Seriously that’s it!

Here’s my earthenware crock with vinegar in it. As you can see I go through a lot of it as I like my medicinal vinegars – such practical medicine!

Next cover your herbs with the vinegar

and don’t forget to label your medicines! It’s good practice to include the latin name. Date and location are also important.

Store away from direct light and shake daily for a week. Also important is to admire its beauty, reflect on the miracle of nature, and each time you shake it infuse it with good energy and intention for how you’d like it to help you and your family - that’s the magical art of herbal medicine!

p.s. please feel free to share this post with friends, family & neighbours or “share” below via facebook.  Instead of emailing me, please leave your questions / comments below where it says “leave a comment/reply”. Thank you!

Green Blessings,
~ Jamie

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