A Healing Herbal Gift

By: Gladys McKinneyIMG_7276

What with the coronavirus outbreak and so many people becoming ill with COVID-19, I wondered what I could do to help, besides staying home, of course. The images seen across social media and press reports are heartbreaking, to say the least.

I wanted to respond with herbs. My sister, my daughter, and my niece are all nurses, and I have a number of family members who are also in law enforcement. So, they have to put on and take off their safety equipment many times throughout the day during this phase of the crisis. The images of our first responders with broken skin, where the safety equipment rubs, seemed to need a response from somewhere, and petroleum jelly was not going to do it. So, I created the following recipe for a healing moisturizer.

The end result has a whipped butter texture that, IMG_7275admittedly, is somewhat greasy when put on due to the oils that are in it. But, keep in mind that these are the healing oils that the skin will need after a long day. After washing your face at night, simply put this moisturizer on. Wash it off in the morning, and then apply whatever moisturizer you would normally use. The healing moisturizer can be used on hands, elbows, and knees in the evening as well. This is not a regular everyday go-to moisturizer, but a way of moisturizing skin that has been through a rough day.

Healing Herbal Moisturizer

First, fill a small mason jar with roses* and add enough almond oil to completely cover them. Let this sit for about a week. This creates the rose-infused oil needed in the recipe.

IMG_72901 cup of shea butter

4 tablespoons of jojoba oil

2 tablespoons of rose-infused almond oil, strained from the roses.

2 teaspoons of honey

10 drops of vitamin E oil

10 drops of German (blue) chamomile essential oil

Chamomile is a favorite of mine. The flowers have a sweet apple scent that brings sunshine with each breath. Chamomile has been reputed to help with upset stomachs, colicky babies, insomnia, and soothing emotions. The reason for its application here is that chamomile has been noted to help with skin irritation, sores, and assist in wound healing.**

  1. Heat the shea butter and jojoba oil in a double boiler. Stir. Once melted, remove from heat and add the rest of the ingredients.
  2. Place in the refrigerator. Once this is solid and creamy white, take it out.
  3. Whip this until it looks like whipped cream.
  4. I put the whipped moisturizer in clear 5 gram screw top containers and needed just over 50 of them.IMG_7277

You can give these out to the first responders in your life, drop them by facilities that you think would need them, or if you are a first responder, you can make this for yourself.

Thank you to all the first responders for their loyalty and love for their fellow humans during this time.

*Do not use florists’ roses as they may have been treated with chemicals during processing.

**Never take essential oils internally.

Sources for ingredients:

Note: This recipe’s ingredients can be modified with ingredients of your choice. Just keep in mind not to allow anything with water to touch what you are doing, because it creates an environment for bacterial growth.

While The Herb Society of America does not endorse one establishment over another, we’ve provided some sources to help get you started. Please utilize due diligence in locating the material of your choosing.

Better Shea Butter

Mountain Rose Herbs  (an Herb Society of America business member)

Author’s Note: As of this writing, Mountain Rose Herbs will be temporarily closed until April 24th, 2020. Please read their statement here.

Starwest Botanicals

Medicinal Disclaimer: It is the policy of The Herb Society of America, Inc. not to advise or recommend herbs for medicinal or health use. This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation or an endorsement of any particular medical or health treatment. Please consult a health care provider before pursuing any herbal treatments.


IMG_7308

Gladys and daughter Cheyenne, a nurse

Gladys McKinney is The Herb Society of America’s Treasurer and lives in Cape May, NJ. She has six children, loves accounting and herbs. When not busy with accounting, her favorite things to do with her children and one grandchild include gardening, going to the ocean, and reading old herbal books.

Membership Raffle Drawing

By: Cheryl Skibicki

HSA HQ

Herb Society of America Headquarters, Kirtland, Ohio

Hello, Herb Society of America members! We would have loved to do this new member raffle drawing with all of you in Charleston, SC, next week, but we hope you and your families are staying home and are in good health. Thanks so much to all of our members who share our love of herbs.

We had 317 new members join us in the past year! Whether they found us through social media, attended a webinar, or were referred by a friend, they all add value to our community of herbal enthusiasts. We’re picking one winner per district to receive one-year of free membership, a $55 value. This raffle was open to anyone who let us know that they recruited a friend to join us in the past year.

Names were drawn out of mason jars from the home office of our Membership Coordinator, Cheryl. Those jars will now be filled with dried herbs, pickled ramps, and Winnerother herbal concoctions. Read on to find out who our lucky winners are:

Central District

Winner: Tricia H. from the Wisconsin Unit

Great Lakes District

Winner: Krystyna W. from the Central Ohio Unit

Mid-Atlantic District

Winner: The Pennsylvania Heartland Unit

After referring Marcia G., who joined us in April 2019, the PA Heartland Unit will get to award one-year of free membership to one of their members!

Northeast District

Winner: Roxanne V. from the New York Unit

South Central District

Winner: Sherrie T. from the Pioneer Unit

Southeast District

Winner: Debbie B. who is a Member At Large

West District

Winner: The Northern California Unit

After referring Deborah M., who joined us in August, the Northern California Unit will get to award one-year of free membership to one of their members!

Congratulations to all our winners!

Not a member of The Herb Society of America? Join now and become a part of the herbal Thankyouexcitement. Benefits of membership include discounts, Reciprocal Admissions to over 300 public gardens and arboreta, free webinars, newsletters, and The Herbarist, the Herb Society’s annual publication. As always, thank you for your support, which makes our work possible.


CherylSCheryl Skibicki joined The Herb Society of America in December, 2019, as the Membership & Development Coordinator at Headquarters. She got her start exploring the fields and forests of Western New York, fundraising for farm to school education in Nevada, farming in Washington, harvesting honey in Montana, and is now planting roots in Ohio. Her “herbal” journey began with an epiphany in a nettle patch that she mistook for mint. Her nose stung for a good while afterward!

 

Harbinger of Spring Look-Alikes: Dead Nettle & Henbit

By Susan BelsingerIMG_8189

The first spring wildflowers, herbs, and weeds are popping out all over. Two that frequently appear together are both members of the mint family, Lamiaceae: dead nettle (Lamium purpureum) and henbit (Lamium amplexicaule). Since they often grow in a patch together, are about the same height, and both have bright green leaves and purplish-pink flowers  that bloom at the same time, at first glance, they are often mistaken as the same plant. However, held side-by-side and inspected a bit closer, they are very different in appearance. Similarities also include how and where they grow. Their early spring blooms are some of the first food for honeybees, and the tubular shape of their flowers attract hummingbirds.

Both of these spring harbingers prefer sunny spots where the land or garden soil has been disturbed, along roadsides and in meadows and lawns, and will tolerate some shade. They are often found growing side-by-side and intertwined together in patches in moist, fertile soil. I’d say that they grow anywhere from 8-to 12-inches tall, sometimes being the same height in a group together, though occasionally the henbit stretches just a little bit taller than the dead nettle. The henbit is a bit rangier and will even sprawl along the ground, whereas dead nettle is upright.

IMG_7862

Henbit (left) and dead nettle (right) have obvious differences when compared side by side.

Harvest unsprayed, tender spikes early in the season—both the leaves and flowers are edible— and be sure of the correct identification of the plants before you eat them (dead nettle has some look-alike plants before it flowers). Both plants are easy to identify once they bloom. I find that many of our weedy harbingers taste green and earthy; I get strong mineral flavors from nettles and henbit similar to chickweed. Although they are members of the mint family, there is no mint to their flavors. If the stems are tough, then I remove them; if tender, I often add them to my Wild Greens Salsa Verde recipe (see below) since it will be pounded or pureed.  

Wild, edible greens are powerful, good food and offer a variety of flavors for free; they are nutritious and usually high in vitamins and minerals. In Europe, the gentle word “potherb” is given to wild greens that offer the knowledgeable forager herbs for the cooking pot. Both of these plants can be eaten raw in salads, sandwiches, wraps, and salsas, or cooked in soups and sauces, or combined in a mess o’ greens with other potherbs or green leaves like kale, spinach, chard, tat soi, etc. I prefer to combine them with other greens rather than eat them in quantity on their own.

Dead Nettle (Lamium purpureum)

IMG_8241

Dead nettle

Sometimes called red nettle, purple nettle, and even purple archangel, it is thought that this is called dead nettle because its leaves resemble stinging nettle (Urtica dioica), though they do not have the stinging characteristic of Urtica. Spotted nettle (Lamium maculatum) is closely related, however its leaves have whitish spots or blotches. 

The foliage of purple dead nettle is wrinkled and hirsute (hairy), and the edges of the heart-shaped leaves have rounded teeth. The leaves grow opposite one another on their noticeably square stems, mostly on the lower stem and at the top (leaving the center stem bare), where they overlap and give the appearance of being overcrowded. Foliage is a medium, bright green although depending upon growing conditions, the leaves clustered at the very top are often purplish-red in color. It is quite attractive against the dainty, single, tubular, lavender-pink flowers. Beginning foragers might want to wait to harvest when the plant is in flower—that way there is no mistaking it for another plant.

In doing research on the medicinal aspects of dead nettle, there are many actions listed: antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, astringent, diuretic, diaphoretic, purgative, and styptic. Since it has astringent and styptic qualities, the fresh leaves are recommended for external wounds or cuts. Tea from the leaves is purported to aid in digestion and is used as a mild laxative. It is also used for women’s issues for heavy menstrual flow and cramps. Caution: dead nettle should not be taken while pregnant or trying to become pregnant.

Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule) 

This plant is often mistakenly called dead nettle (L. purpureum). I’ve read that henbit gets its name because chickens like it and seek it out, though I am not sure about that—the chickens that I know don’t pay it much attention—though they have lots of other plants and insects to forage. While dead nettle has petioled leaves (little leaf stems attaching the leaves to the central stem), henbit’s lower leaves grow on short stalks, and the mid-to upper, ruffled and scallop-edged leaves appear in a half-circle, clasped around the square stem.

IMG_8265

Henbit

I love how Billy Joe Tatum perfectly describes the flowers of henbit in Billy Joe Tatum’s Wild Foods Field Guide and Cookbook: “The tiny flower buds look like beet-colored velvet beads, as small as a pinhead at first. As the buds open you see silken purplish flowers with long corollas, looking like Jack-in-the-pulpits in miniature.” Often upon close inspection, the tiny flowers are pale pinkish inside with deeper-colored spots; each flower turns into a four-seeded fruit.

IMG_8360

Chickens in the dead nettle.

Henbit’s properties are somewhat similar to those of dead nettle and include: anti-rheumatic, diaphoretic, diuretic, febrifuge, laxative and stimulant. Henbit has been used to support good digestion, whether consumed raw or made into a tea, and has also been used  to reduce a fever.

To prepare foraged greens:

To quickly capture the best flavor and nutrients, bring the greens to the kitchen as soon as they are harvested. Assemble a salad spinner or washing bowl, a cutting board, and the compost bucket. Run one gallon of water into the spinner or bowl. Add about 1/4 cup distilled white or apple cider vinegar to the water.

Methodically pull the tips or tender leaves from the stems. Pinch off leaves with yellow edges, or brown or black spots. Place the edible parts in the vinegar water as you work and submerge the mass in the water, plunging up and down several times to loosen foreign matter. Let the greens soak in the water for several minutes and the grit will fall to the bottom of the container. Lift them out and drain them. Discard the vinegar water and spin or pat the greens dry. Use fresh or cooked. If not using all of them, wrap them in a kitchen towel and store in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator for a few days.

 

Wild Greens Salsa Verde

(Makes about 2 1/2 cups)IMG_8217

This traditional green sauce goes well with any type of vegetable, whether it is grilled, steamed, oven-roasted, or crudités; it is also good with simply-prepared meat, chicken, fish, and pasta, or even tortilla chips. Vary the herbs that you have on hand or what is in season. When I can, I make this a wild green sauce by adding whatever I can forage: dead nettle, henbit, sorrel, chickweed, dandelion greens and/or flowers, purslane, lambs’ quarters, violet leaves, field cress, monarda, wild onions, or garlic. You can fill in with any seasonal greens from the garden if need be like parsley, fennel fronds, cilantro, arugula, spinach, etc. Sometimes, I add other ingredients—about 1 tablespoon of capers, a chopped boiled egg, or a handful of nuts, like pine nuts, walnuts, or pecans. The sauce can be made without the bread; it just helps to thicken it a bit.

1 1-inch slice country bread, crusts removed

3 large garlic cloves, slivered

About 1/2 cup olive oil

About 3 to 4 cups of mixed edible green leaves, picked over, washed and spun dry 

1/4 cup minced sweet-tasting onion

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Soak the bread in a little water for 10 minutes, then squeeze most of the liquid from it. Add the bread and the garlic to the mortar or food processor and pound or pulse to coarsely chop.

Rough chop the greens. Add them a handful at a time, and pound them in a mortar and pestle or chop in a food processor. Use a little olive oil to loosen them.

Add the olive oil to the herbs as if making a mayonnaise, a few drops at a time, blending or pulsing to incorporate.

When most of the oil has been added, blend in the onion and vinegar. If you want to add capers, nuts, or a hardboiled egg, now is the time; pulse or pound to mix. Season the sauce with salt and pepper, and taste for seasoning. The sauce should be a little thinner than pesto—add a bit more oil, vinegar, or even a bit of water if need be. 

Let the sauce stand at least 30 minutes before using—that way the flavors will develop and meld. Adjust the seasoning and serve at room temperature. The olive oil will not emulsify completely; a little will remain on top of the sauce. Store any leftover sauce in a tightly-covered glass container in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Medicinal Disclaimer: It is the policy of The Herb Society of America, Inc. not to advise or recommend herbs for medicinal or health use. This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation or an endorsement of any particular medical or health treatment. Please consult a health care provider before pursuing any herbal treatments.


sb self portrait moors of ireland (1)Susan is a culinary herbalist, food writer, educator, and photographer whose work has been published in numerous publications. She has authored a number of award-winning books. Her latest book, The Culinary Herbal: Growing & Preserving 97 Flavorful Herbs, was co-authored with the late Dr. Arthur Tucker. Susan is passionate about herbs and her work, sharing the joy of gardening and cooking through teaching and writing, and inspiring others to get in touch with their senses of smell and taste.

Ramps

By Paris Wolfe

When Jeremy Umansky was at culinary school in 2006, a professor took him foraging in the Hudson Valley. They were looking for fiddlehead ferns, morel mushrooms, and ramps. Umansky –a James Beard award semi-finalist, and owner of Larder Deli in Cleveland – was converted. He has been harvesting that harbinger of spring, ramps, ever since. 

For those who haven’t yet heard, Foraged.Ramps 14the ramp – also called a wild leek — is a species of wild onion (Allium tricoccum) that is native to North America. The bulbs resemble a scallion, but the leaves are wide and flat. They cover Appalachian forest floors before trees fully leaf out. The flavor is a mix of garlic and onion. And, if you eat too many raw, you will sweat that aroma.

Ramps are high in vitamins A and C, and in lore, they are considered a blood cleanser and part of a good spring tonic. In April and May, ramp festivals and dinners are common throughout their growing region and the plants often pop up on farmers market stands.

A staple of Appalachian cooking for centuries, today’s chefs are incorporating them into their menus. “We use every part of the plant,” Umansky says. “We use the greens the way you’d use any fresh herb. We use leaves in a salad, for a pesto, chopped finely as a seasoning.” He takes inspiration from a variety of cooking styles including Southeast Asian, Mediterranean, and more. He also pickles the bulb for a garnish long after the season has ended.

Ramp Biscuit Trio

Ramp Biscuits

Cooking, he warns, will mellow the flavor. “That’s why we like to use the greens as fresh as possible,” he says. “If we really want that ramp flavor, we’ll treat them as a scallion.”

“Last year we shifted our approach and only plucked greens, no bulbs,” he noted. “Every few years we do that to give the bulbs a break and keep our private patch healthy.”

For those who don’t have Umansky’s training and imagination, books and blogs inspire. Perhaps one of the best cookbooks about ramps is Ramps, The Cookbook: Cooking with the Best-Kept Secret of the Appalachian Trail (St. Lynn’s Press, 2012).ST LYNN'S PRESS RAMPS Cover

The fully illustrated book brings together recipes from chefs, food writers, and bloggers around North America. They’re good with eggs for breakfast or in a curry for dinner, and they are delicious in soups, fritters, and jelly. Or, try pairing Cream of Ramps with Wild Asparagus soup with ramp pesto cornmeal muffins. 

Editor’s note: West Virginia hosts many ramp festivals in the spring. Check out this website for more info on events held throughout the state – this is a good time to plan next year’s trip! Ramps, like many wild plants, are vulnerable to overharvesting, which depletes native populations. As always, please purchase plant material from reputable sources and/or practice sustainable foraging techniques. United Plant Savers suggests harvesting one leaf per plant, harvesting the leaves only, and even learning how to grow your own.


Paris Wolfe is an award winning writer of business, food, and travel articles.

Bergamot Orange – March Herb of the Month

By Maryann Readal

What do Earl Gray tea, the confection Turkish Delight, the liqueur Bergamia, eau de cologne, and some air fresheners have in common? The answer is: the essential oil from the bergamot orange, Citrus ×bergamia, The Herb Society of America’s Herb of the Month for March.

March2020 HOM Bergamot OrangeWhen I first looked into March’s Herb of the Month, bergamot orange, I was sure there would not be much exciting information about this herbal tree. What can you expect from a tree that produces oddly shaped, yellow oranges? It turned out that I was very wrong.

Bergamot orange, C. ×bergamia, has a lot to satisfy the curious mind. The tree is a hybrid of lemon and sour orange, so I don’t think you are going to eat the fruit right from the tree. The origins of the tree are debated, but many believe it originated in Turkey. In fact, the origin of its name comes from the Turkish word “beg-a-mudi” which means “pears of the Prince” or “pears of the Lord.”

Today, the fruit is grown in many places, but the fruit which is produced in the coastal Calabria region of Italy is the most desirable. In fact, the Calabria region (the toe of the boot in Italy) is an economically protected area because of the fruit’s importance to not only the region’s economy, but also to future research into the fruit’s medicinal benefits. Eighty to ninety percent of the world’s production of bergamot essential oil (BEO) comes from this 60-mile strip of the Italian coastline.

1811-Rosoli-Flacon

Original “eau de cologne” containing bergamot, by Jean Marie Farina.

BEO is very important to the perfume industry. Its history in perfumery dates back to the late 1600s – early 1700s when the essence from the skin was first used to produce cologne water (eau de cologne) or toilet water. Still today, the essential oil is used in perfumes. According to Gina Maruca, et al., “bergamot oil, [sic] is one of the most important perfume materials; its pleasant refreshing scent, [sic] blends into almost, [sic] any perfume composition so that, today, there is not a perfume which does not contains BEO (Bergamot Essential Oil)” (Journal of Science and Engineering, 2017).

For use in cosmetics, the bergapten compound of bergamot essential oil is removed because it creates a photosensitivity to sunlight whenever used on the skin. People with photosensitivity should be careful using BEO that has not had this compound removed.

The juice from the bergamot orange was used in traditional Italian folk medicine to treat intestinal parasites and malaria. The oil was used as an antiseptic and to treat fevers. In Ayurvedic medicine, the oil has been used to treat a variety of skin problems, depression, flatulence, and loss of appetite. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, BEO was used to stimulate and re-balance the flow of energy in the body. Bergamot oil is still used in aromatherapy applications because, when inhaled, its ingredients soothe and calm the nervous system, reducing anxiety and stress and helping with sleep disorders.

BergaCal

Bergamot supplement (courtesy: madeinsouthitaly.com)

Still under investigation today are the therapeutic possibilities of bergamot, and there is great interest in its antioxidant, cancer- and cholesterol-fighting components. Other uses of the fruit include using the pulp and peel in animal feed and to improve soil. Because of its antimicrobial properties, researchers have recommended the use of bergamot essential oil on fresh fruit in order to prolong shelf life.

So for an herb that did not seem interesting at first, there is certainly a lot more to it than meets the eye. Or should I say the nose.

For more information about bergamot, recipes, and a colorful screensaver, please see The Herb Society of America’s Herb of the Month webpage.

Medicinal Disclaimer: It is the policy of The Herb Society of America, Inc. not to advise or recommend herbs for medicinal or health use. This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation or an endorsement of any particular medical or health treatment. Please consult a health care provider before pursuing any herbal treatments.


Maryann is the Secretary of The Herb Society of America. She is a member of the Texas Thyme Unit in Huntsville, TX. She gardens among the pines in the Piney Woods of East Texas.

 

 

HSA Webinar: Growing and Using Herbs of the Southwestern Missions

Author Jacqueline Soule will be presenting this month’s webinar on Wed, March 25 at 1pm – click here to register. This article is excerpted from her book, Father Kino’s Herbs: Growing and Using Them Today.

Epazote – An Efficacious ‘Erbcover kino

By Dr. Jacqueline A. Soule

Did you know that you can speak at least one word of Nahuatl, the language spoken in Mexico pre-conquest? Epazote is the Nahuatl name for Dysphania ambrosioides (formerly Chenopodium ambrosioides). English common names include wormseed, Jesuit tea, American wormseed, Mexican tea, and Jerusalem oak.

By the time of contact between the New and Old Worlds, epazote had been cultivated for well over a thousand years in southern and southeast coastal Mexico.  It was, and still is, a principal flavoring for a large number of Yucatan and Veracruz dishes and is indispensable for cooking black beans.

Epazote in Cooking

Like the Old World herbs cumin and ginger, epazote has the unique ability to help break down hard-to-digest vegetable proteins. These difficult proteins are found most often in beans, peas, and members of the cabbage family. A few leaves of epazote cooked in the pot with the potential offender can go a long way towards rendering the bean proteins, well, shall we say, “ungaseous.”

epazote 4631088290 wiki cc 2.0Epazote was popular on the coast and in warmer climates of the Aztec and Mayan areas but had also made its way into Central Mexico and the Aztec National Botanical Gardens. It was traded in the marketplace of Tenochtitlan in the 1530s.  The most popular culinary uses were to cook it with beans, nopales (prickly pear cactus pads), and fish dishes.

Epazote in Medicine

Ethnomedicinally, epazote has been used in a decoction as a vermifuge (against intestinal worms) and in an infusion to help induce labor, reduce menstrual cramps, and as a general post-partum tonic. It is also used in the treatment of amenorrhea, dysmenorrhea, malaria, chorea, hysteria, catarrh, and asthma. Oil of chenopodium is derived from epazote and is a proven anthelmintic, that is, it kills intestinal worms, and was once listed for this use in the U.S. Pharmacopeia. It is also cited as an antispasmodic.

Medicinals on Migration

Epazote was brought northward into the Southwest United States primarily by natives resettled into the region by Spanish decree. It is recorded as planted in the herb gardens at San Xavier del Bac Mission (outside Tucson, Arizona) in 1752.  Epazote found its way into eastern North America and Canada. It was a popular vermifuge as its effects were more predictable and less violent than European wormwood (Artemisia absinthium). There are no reports of Yankees using it for culinary purposes.

Planting and Careepazote NRCS wiki cc 0.0 PD

Plant epazote from seed in spring once night temperatures rise above the low 50s. You can also start indoors and transplant once danger of frost is past. Seeds can take as long as four weeks to germinate. Plants will thrive through the warm season and freeze to the ground at 35℉, but often regrow from the roots. At 20℉, the roots will be killed as well.

Epazote plants do well in full sun, but some afternoon shade is appreciated in the Southwest by this tropical herb. Soil can be poor, even clay, but plants grow best in average, well-drained soils. Epazote can be grown in containers that are at least twelve inches deep.

Epazote can reach five feet tall, but at that height, it will be scraggly and unattractive. Pinch epazote plants often, especially the central branches, to keep it around two to three feet tall, compact, leafy, and with an appealing form in the garden. Usually a single plant epazote AMP 1902139 web cropprovides enough herbage for a household.

Epazote reseeds readily, so pinch off the seed stalks, or be ready to ruthlessly weed out excess plants the following spring. On the other hand, seed heads turn an attractive bronze in autumn, and the lesser goldfinches enjoy the seeds. Ideally, find a less-used corner of the garden for epazote where, if seeds spread, they will not be a major problem. A strongly scented herb, epazote is reported as a deer repellent, and I can report that javalina, jackrabbits, and cottontails avoid eating the plants.

Harvesting and Use

Epazote is best used fresh for culinary purposes. Chop or mince leaves and add early to dishes that require long cooking, like beans, roasts, soups, or stews. Use one tablespoon minced leaves per cup of beans or to a two pound roast. Do not use it as a garnish since the taste is bitter. If not fresh, frozen epazote may be used as a culinary herb. In my tests, epazote does not have the same “digestive” effect after drying.

Medicinal Disclaimer: It is the policy of The Herb Society of America, Inc. not to advise or recommend herbs for medicinal or health use. This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation or an endorsement of any particular medical or health treatment. Please consult a health care provider before pursuing any herbal treatments.


Jacqueline Soule business portrait. Tucson, AZ. © 2012 Mark Turner

Jacqueline Soule Tucson, AZ. © 2012 Mark Turner

Jacqueline writes about gardening for a living. It’s a job she does in two very different USDA zones – 10 and 4. Nine months of the year she lives on an acre in the Tucson Mountains, and 3 months on an acre in Vermont. In both places she happily grows numerous herbs because they are about the only plant the local critters will not munch to the ground.

© copyright Jacqueline A. Soule. This article is excerpted from Father Kino’s Herbs: Growing and Using Them Today written by the author. All rights reserved. You must ask permission to republish an entire blog post or article. You can use a short excerpt, but you must give proper credit, plus you must include a link back to the original post on our site. No stealing photos. To purchase this and other books by Jacqueline Soule, visit her website.

A Bit about Bitters, Part II

By Erin Holden

Welcome to Part II on herbal bitters! For a little background info on what bitters are, why we taste them, and where we taste them, see Part I posted on 2/17/20. It’s a worthwhile read, but not necessary if you just want to jump in with this article.

Historical Uses: Egyptian medical papyri from as far back as 2650 B.C. mention bitter herbs, such as frankincense, myrrh, aloe, and wormwood, being macerated in alcohol. Knowing now what we do about bitters, it’s reasonable to think some of these concoctions were used for stomach ailments that call for bitters today. Fast forwarding a bit, we find the origins of the famous Swedish Bitters in the mid 1700s. Considered a universal medicine, it contained, among other herbs, aloe, saffron, rhubarb, gentian, and myrrh. Another common ingredient was theriac, a “composite” medicine consisting of up to sixty-four vegetable, animal, and mineral parts. Several of these – caraway seed, ginger, angelica root, and fennel to name a few – are still used in contemporary bitters formulae.

In Cocktails: I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention bitters as they are used in cocktails. Many countries, such as Italy, Germany, Spain, and France, have “the tradition of consuming an Range_of_Cocktailbittersherbal, bittersweet liqueur as an aperitif or digestif”, to either stimulate or aid digestion before or after a meal (Parsons, 2011). However, during the 1850s in the United States, the temperance movement, along with high taxes on potable alcohol (alcohol consumed as a beverage), forced these types of drinks to fall out of favor, and led to the increased popularity of stomach bitters, a nonpotable alcohol (so not subject to the same taxes). Unfortunately, many unscrupulous companies began making outlandish claims for their products, forcing the federal government to step in and lay down restrictions. This, along with Prohibition in 1919, knocked bitters off the U.S. map for a good long while.

DandelionIn Food: Many countries that traditionally partake of alcoholic bitters also have a history of harvesting and consuming bitter spring greens. Plants such as burdock, dandelion, and cresses pop up early in the spring, and their bitter leaves not only helped stimulate digestive systems turned sluggish from a winter of consuming preserved foods, but provided much needed vitamins and minerals. Additionally, many bitter plants are anthelmintic, meaning they help kill intestinal worms. It gives new meaning to the term “spring cleaning!”

Bitters Today: Building on a long history of use, herbalists today suggest bitters for a variety of digestive disturbances – from dispelling gas, increasing bile production and secretion, to supporting healthy blood sugar regulation. As stated in Part I, though, bitters are produced by plants for defense, and as such can be pretty powerful. Always consult a trained herbalist first if you’re considering taking bitters.

Regarding their use in cocktails, herbal bitters have taken off in recent years. I remember when Angostura Bitters were all I could find, but within just the past few years, my local liquor store has started offering many more brands and flavors. Trendy bars have also taken to concocting their own special house bitters, and books are being written on the subject.

Bitter Herbs: The list of bitter herbs is a long one, so I just wanted to highlight a few. Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) is most famous for its role in the liqueur Absinthe; itsWormwood_shoots by Eddideigel common name comes from its use in killing intestinal parasites. Cinchona (Cinchona spp.) is the botanical source of quinine, the widely used antimalarial agent. Gentian (Gentiana lutea), the archetypal bitter, is a main ingredient in most commercially available cocktail bitters, including Angostura Bitters. Some plants that don’t have an overt bitter flavor, such as fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) and ginger (Zingiber officinale), are also sometimes classified as “bitters” by herbalists due to their therapeutic action on the digestive system.

Thanks for sticking with me through this rather long “intro” into herbal bitters. If this topic tickles your fancy, I highly recommend the following resources: two books on bitter foods and cocktail bitters, with recipes, and a fascinating paper on the history of Swedish Bitters. The book by B.T. Parsons is available for checkout to members from the HSA library for the cost of shipping.

Ahnfelt, N. & Fors, H. 2016. Making early modern medicine: Reproducing Swedish Bitters. From the Library to the Laboratory and Back Again: Experiment as a Tool for the History of Science; 63(2): 162-183.

McLagan, Jennifer. 2014. Bitter: A taste of the world’s most dangerous flavor, with recipes. New York: Ten Speed Press.

Parsons, B.T. 2011. Bitters: A spirited history of a classic cure-all. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press.

Medicinal Disclaimer: It is the policy of The Herb Society of America, Inc. not to advise or recommend herbs for medicinal or health use. This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation or an endorsement of any particular medical or health treatment. Please consult a health care provider before pursuing any herbal treatments.


Erin Holden is the gardener for the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum at the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington, D.C. She is a member of the American Herbalists Guild, United Plant Savers, and a member-at-large of The Herb Society of America.