As the temperatures begin to fluctuate and the North Bay begins to move into cold and flu season, local herbalists are opening their apothecary jars and sharing knowledge about some healthy, medicinal foods that can help support the immune system.
Last month, Meredith Brown, a nutritional therapy practitioner in Petaluma, led a group of 10 women through a Home Remedies class at Wind & Rye, demonstrating how to DIY everything from Fire Cider and Elderberry Syrup to Healthy Lung Tea Infusion and Healthy Lung Tea Tincture, both potentially helpful for the flu season and in the wake of October’s wildfires.
In recent years, ancient remedies such as Elderberry Syrup have enjoyed a renaissance along with the culinary tonic known as “Fire Cider,” first introduced by renowned herbalist Rosemary Gladstar in the 1970s, when she also founded the California School of Herbal Studies in Forestville and co-founded Traditional Medicinals tea in Sebastopol.
“Even Martha Stewart (magazine) has a recipe for Fire Cider now,” said Laci Sandoval, a pastry chef and graduate of the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone, who launched her new cooking school, Wind & Rye Kitchen in Penngrove, last month with the Home Remedies class. “Elderberry has become trendy in the last few years. You see the syrup at Whole Foods and Oliver’s now.”
While studies have been done on the healing properties of elderberry — described by Hippocrates as his “medicine chest” — many medicinal herbs and plants are powerful and need to be taken carefully and judiciously, particularly for pregnant or nursing women. In addition, people should confirm any curative claims with their physician
However, it is well known that Native Americans and other cultures all over the world have turned to herbs and plants for centuries for their antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antiviral properties.
“You can use the (healthy lung) infusion and tincture for any immunity issue,” Brown said. “The lungs are the first line of defense in your immune system.”
The tea, infusions and tinctures are all made from a blend of high-quality herbs sourced from Rosemary’s Garden in Sebastopol or online from Mountain Rose Herbs based in Eugene, Oregon. The herbs ranged from well-known plants such as lavender, peppermint and chamomile to the more exotic mullein and marshmallow root.
Although the tea, infusion and tinctures are made with similar herbs, each one is prepared a little differently.
“They all have the exact same properties,” Sandoval said. “But the potency is different.”
A simple cup of herbal tea needs to steep for just a few minutes in hot water. An infusion, by contrast, is steeped overnight in water in order to extract more vitamins, minerals and other healing nutrients from the herbs.
“For the infusion, you use one cup of herbs to a quart of water,” Brown said. “You can set it up at night, let it sit, and drink it throughout the next day.”
For the tincture, the herbs are steeped in an alcohol such as vodka (for adults) or glycerin or apple cider vinegar (for kids) and left for 8 to 30 days, The jars require a shake or two every day, then need to be strained and poured in tincture bottles with a glass dropper.