Herbal remedies. Photo © Tatiana Belova \ Fotolia.com

This article is part of A\J's web series Night School. In celebration of back-to-school time and our Night issue, the A\J web team brought you a series of quick lessons, posted between September 16 to October 11, 2013, covering everything from activism tactics and canning tips to how factory farms breed disease.

We're welcoming guest lecturer Zoe Miller for our final A\J Night School Lesson. Zoe is reporting back from a workshop offered earlier this week by the Waterloo Public Interest Research Group on healing from trauma with plants.

I have been working with herbs in my garden for the last three growing seasons, each fall focusing on drying and crushing the herbs I’ve grown for teas. Emotional trauma is something relatively new to my life, and something that I hope to overcome by fighting to survive daily, while utilizing plant allies to improve my ability to be me – unimpeded by overly self-critical, detrimental and destructive thought patterns.

Shabina Lafleur-Gangji, who has been studying herbs for more than half a decade, joined me and other plant-infatuated folks to share knowledge about medicines and approaches to healing that have been consistently stolen, colonized and devalued. Throughout the workshop, we paused to discuss specific issues we were experiencing, ask questions about terminologies and seek support or suggestions from other folks in regards to our own stories and histories with certain herbs.

I think it’s beautifully necessary to share this knowledge again, although reading about making a tincture (for me, anyways) is more difficult than being shown how to do so. I hope that I am able to reproduce the following recipes as accessibly as they were made to me.

What is an adaptogen?

Adaptogenic herbs help decrease cellular responses to stress, allowing one to slow down their thoughts; these herbs meet you where you are. That is, when you’re experiencing panicked feelings, adaptogens can help slow and calm thoughts/respiratory responses. When you’re depressed and unmotivated, adaptogens can act as a catalyst for energy and motivation/focus.

Kala Tulsior ‘holy basil’ (ocimum tenuiflorum) is the adaptogen that we focused on in this  workshop. Tulsi has been sacredly cultivated in India for over 5,000 years; its name means the incomparable one. It can be used in teas, tinctures and salves to:

  • Decrease cold, flu symptoms, and viral susceptibility
  • Help with lung health, asthma
  • Calm ear/head/stomach upsets
  • Prevent heart disease, fever, mercury poisoning and slow the progression of cancers
  • Help relieve ring worm
  • Counteract venomous bites, mosquito repellant
  • Promote longevity and long term health maintenance
  • Lower blood sugar in diabetic patients
  • Naturally aid sleep

How to make a Tincture

  1. Cultivate, dry, and finely chop your chosen herb.
  2. Fill a mason jar or darkened, sealable glass container more than half way with the dried herb (if you are using fresh herbs, fill the entire jar; herbs shrink down when they are dried).
  3. Fill up the rest of the bottle with alcohol of choice. (40% is necessary to extract the nutrients needed from the herbs. You can use brandy, vodka or your preferred alcohol.)
  4. If you wish, you may add a bit of water or glycerine (mostly to improve the taste).
  5. Leave the sealed jar in a dark place, and shake every once in a while. Leave it like this (unopened) for one to three months depending on your preference.
  6. When the tincture is sufficiently aged, strain the liquid from the herbs in the bottle and (optional) transfer into a dropper bottle for easy use.
  7. Label it with the name of the herb and date created. Tinctures are most potent when used within a year.

Need to de-stress? Honeyball it!

I wish I’d had this recipe accessible to me last winter, when struggling with school, emotional and traumatic stresses – but now I feel more prepared for the upcoming one! Honeyballs are herb- and honey-based candies that help you to be grounded, centred and purposefully embodied when faced with intense stress or other emotional challenges. No exact measurements are given in the recipe: it’s something that you can feel out and make your own.

First, collect or purchase:

  • Ashwagandha root (aids in morphine withdrawal, arthritis, anxiety, trouble sleeping)
  • Maka powder (energy and immune system boost)
  • Licorice root powder (helps to lubricate respiratory system, taste)
  • Cinnamon
  • Oatstraw (replenishes adrenals, helps bodies to replenish)
  • Tulsi 

Using a double boiler, bring a cup or more of honey to a boil, then follow these three simple steps:

  1. Start by adding ashwagandha and maca powders (as the base) to thicken the honey. Add in the cinnamon, oatstraw and tulsi as supportive ingredients.
  2. Keep stirring and mixing in the ingredients until the honey mixture is very thick, like a cookie batter.
  3. Using a spoon and your fingers, form the mixture into balls. Roll the balls in the licorice root powder. They will harden if left to do so, or put in the refrigerator. They are just as awesome freshly made and squishy, though!

We were each able to take home two honeyballs, and upon eating mine I felt noticeably calmer and more present within ten minutes.

After the workshop ended, our discussions evolved into a way to keep this knowledge close to us, to sustain it and ensure its continuity. Within the next few weeks, folks who attended the workshop series or those who are just interested in having personal autonomy over the healing practices used on their bodies will be having a preliminary discussion about fostering ongoing herbal learning and discovery at the University of Waterloo. If you are interested in being a part of this discussion and the meetings that will likely follow, track our plans from the event's Facebook page!

Zoe is a 4th year Women’s Studies and History student at the University of Waterloo.

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