The Summer Afternoon Cuppa

Every so often, I will share my weekend cups of tea on Instagram and one thing may have become a bit apparent: I’m trying to drink less caffeine on the weekends, particularly in the afternoon. So I’ve started creating some lovely non-tea herbal and fruit infusion on the weekends.

One of my favorite herbs for an iced tea is red raspberry leaf. Long lauded as a remedy for all manner of “women’s trouble,” I like it for it’s dark, tannic bite that is reminiscent of black tea, without the caffeine. Mixed with a sweeter herb, like peppermint, and served over ice with a touch of local honey, this makes a lovely afternoon infusion.

I’ve also found a fondness for flower-based infusions. Red clovers have a grassy flavor and impart a pink color to an infusion. Mixed with lavender, the herbal-floral quality of the lavender mixes with the clover and makes a delightful infusion, particularly with a bit of honey and lemon.

Finally, sometimes I take my afternoon infusion hot. One of my favorite simple cups is an infusion of fresh mint leaves from my garden, steeped for a five to ten minutes, and served simply in a tea cup, with no additions. The brightness of the mint and the warmth of the water are perfectly comforting and invigorating, without being overly stimulating.

Of course, all of these are best enjoyed outdoors, if the weather permits, or else curled up next to a sunny window with a good book.

A New Kind of Herbalism

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve long had an interest in traditional, herbal-based remedies. While I certainly go to the doctor when I’m very sick, for more minor complaints, I often try an herbal remedy before anything else. For example, when my recent terrible sore throat came back negative for strep, I turned to herbal remedies to soothe and heal it in the absence of any allopathic intervention. I also love to use herbal and DIY remedies for skin care, though I’ve moved a bit away from that since discovering that many homemade skin care products are not exactly what my skin needs. But since discovering Asian beauty and skin care products, I’ve gotten more into the traditional healing side of Asian skin care and health.

Specifically, I’ve discovered the joy of Hanbang products. Hanbang is Korean traditional medicine. It is very similar to Chinese traditional medicine, although it does have a distinct lineage. One of the most common practices is the use of teas, particularly those based around ginseng and other prized roots. Ginseng, ginger, licorice, Korean angelica, and Solomon’s seal are some of the favored roots in Hanbang teas, as well as remedies such as jujube, persimmon, Schizandra, and citron teas. I actually had a coworker offer me a spoonful of Korean citron marmalade to make a cup of citron honey tea when I was feeling unwell. The bitterness of the citron peel mixes well with the tart citrus taste and sweet honey. I find it far superior to regular lemon-and-honey tea, honestly.

Additionally, I like to use herbal infusions and teas as a way to support healthy body function. I was drinking at least two cups a day of spearmint infusion for the last month, as it is supposed to help balance hormones and improve both hormonal mood swings and hormonal skin issues. As hormonal acne on my chin is the one condition that resists my routine’s improving influence, I thought it was worth a try. Now, armed with some research about traditional Asian medicines, I’ve added to my morning brew. I add ginger to help with circulation, as the temperature in my office hovers somewhere between bone-chilling and simply fingertip-numbing. Goji berries add an interesting flavor, as well as a host of nutrients. I cannot bring myself to eat goji berries, but adding them to tea seems a reasonable way to reap their benefits. Finally, dong quai, which is known as “female ginseng” or “the Empress of herbs” in traditional Chinese medicine, helps support the hormone-balancing action of the spearmint. Unfortunately, it also has a strong flavor reminiscent of celery and may be better suited to an herbal broth than a tea. I do find that this upgraded blend is more invigorating in the morning than spearmint alone, though I have not used it long enough to determine any other benefits.

I’m excited to have found new remedies to bring into my herbal cabinet and look forward to more experimentation. Please share any favorite herbal remedies you might have!

A Homemade Herbal Eye Balm

Last week on Instagram, I teased a photo of a snow-day craft project. I had spent some time reading beauty reviews and decided I wanted to make my own nighttime eye balm. I had some herbal infused oil that I made for holiday body butters but ultimately didn’t end up using, and lots of other skin goodies. I had infused calendula and red clover, both fantastic for sensitive skin, in avocado oil, which has loads of vitamins, plus a high level of oleic acid for nourishing dry skin. Since I don’t get acne right around my eyes, I didn’t worry about using a high-linoleic acid oil.

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Then, I decided to use mango butter and babassu oil for the solid fat portion of my balm because Tata Harper uses mango butter in almost everything she makes, and babassu oil absorbs so nicely into the skin. I finished off with a bit of cetyl-stearyl alcohol to harden it up, as it’s less occlusive than beeswax, and some Vitamin E, both for skin benefits and to prevent rancidity. I melted the hard oils and fatty alcohol together, then added the liquid oil and Vitamin E, and then poured it into a little tin that I had leftover from making lip and nail balms. I did sterilize the tin with some 95% alcohol before using it. I let it harden at room temperature, to a rather firm, translucent balm.

At warm room temperature, it’s almost a gel, but upstairs, where it’s a bit cooler, it becomes quite firm. I sometimes have to scratch out a bit of the balm with my fingernail, but as soon as I put it on my fingers, my body heat melts it instantly. I dab it on my ring fingers and the pat it all the way around my eyes as the final step of my night time skin care routine.

Herbal-Infused Eye Balm

Infused oil:

Fill a jar with half calendula petals and half red clover blossoms. Pour avocado oil (or oil of your choice) over the herbs to cover. Poke down with a chopstick or skewer to remove air pockets and top off with oil. Allow to sit in a cool, dark place for several week, shaking occasionally. To use, strain out the herbal matter and reserve the infused oil.

Eye balm:

2g cetyl stearyl alcohol
4g mango butter
4g babassu oil
6g infused oil
1g Vitamin E

Melt together the cetyl stearyl alcohol, mango butter, and babassu oil until completely melted. Add the Vitamin E and oil and stir until well melted and incorporated. Pour into a tin. Fills just a bit more than one 1/2-oz (15g) tin.

A Home Remedy for an Awkward Ailment

As the weather has started cooling down, little by little, Boyfriend and I have noticed a peculiar problem: our house seems to be mildly infested with bees. It’s not great clouds of the little fellows, but rather one or two every so often. It’s gotten to where we are finding live or dead bees around the house almost every day. Sadly, this led to a rather awkward situation yesterday when I discovered a bee in my yoga room… by sitting on it during my practice.

I felt a little pinch, and immediately knew what it must be. I stopped my practice and went up to the bathroom to see the sting. It was already starting to turn red and swell, so I tried to locate the stinger and washed it with my homemade lavender soap and cold water. I patted it dry with some clean tissue and applied hydrocortisone ointment. A half an hour later, the pain was worsening, so I thought to try something more aggressive.

Remembering the drawing power of bentonite clay, I went to my beauty cabinet and mixed up a bit of the clay with enough rosewater and glycerin to make a thick paste, which I glopped on my posterior. Being that the location of the problem area was where it was, this was not something to be done downstairs, where decent neighbors might spy me through the window accidentally. So I lay out on my stomach with my pouticed rear unencumbered.

To suffer the indignity, I decided that part of the remedy would be a nice cup of tea and some chocolate. I believe it be a necessary part of treatment, if just to soothe my nerves. I also took the opportunity to contact our landlady and ask if something might be done about the apian threat.

A Brief Life Update

I’m still here, I promise. And things are still happening.

Sadly, my gardens are not doing so well. A combination of vacation and busy weekends left us with little time to weed. One of our azaleas seems to be dying, and most of my herb garden has been re-conquered by weeds. The basil and parsley are making an heroic effort to fight back, and the sage is doing admirably, but I’ve lost the rosemary. In an odd twist, some weeds grew in my potted peppermint plant and seems to have completely killed it. Killing mint is a new one for me! But I was able to harvest some parsley for a pantry bean soup a couple weeks ago, and some sage for a sage-and-garlic-rubbed pork roast. But my visions of herbed bounty has been tempered somewhat by my natural dislike of actual garden work.

I’ve started walking much more, in addition to my newfound swimming practice. I’m feeling healthier, though also tired. But I’ve discovered that a weekend walk to the local herb store is the perfect distance to tire me out without being too onerous. And buying a few ounces of herbs is a rather cheap shopping trip.

Boyfriend and I also put up another batch of mead this weekend. We chose to use a local apiary’s honey because it comes in bigger jars, but we kept the same recipe as before otherwise. We made a 5-gallon batch! So hopefully it turns out well and next summer we will have lots of honeyed bounty to share with our friends.

I’m experimenting with my hair care again. I’m trying to become more natural, after deciding to grow my hair out longer. My hair is finally long enough to wear up most of the time, without resorting to sad, floppy ponytails, so I’ve rejoined the Long Hair Community in which I participated for a couple years before my divorce. While going through my old journals, I discovered that I had luck in the past with soap-based washing. Since I’ve recently moved to a homemade facial cleanser made with Dr. Bronner’s soap, oil, and honey, I’ve decided to try using the rest of the soap I’ve bought to wash my hair. It’s a simple process: just unscented soap to wash, rinse quite well, and then rinse with diluted apple cider vinegar to rebalance my hair, and rinse the whole thing again. A little oil or tallow balm on the ends of my hair keeps them soft. And I can use aloe vera when my hair feels a bit dry. So far so good.

But… I have some new surprises on the horizon. I don’t want to give too much away, but stay tuned next week for a very vintage hobby post, hopefully. I’m also going to the local renaissance festival this coming weekend, which is a lot of fun, and progressing with my aerial silks. So that will probably be posted as well in the coming weeks.

Cottage Herbalism

I don’t remember how I first learned about herbs and herbal remedies. Probably my mother made a tea of some sort. But at some point I developed an affinity for herbalism. I’ve taken a few classes, but am mostly a self-study, and at this point in my life, have settled into a kind of casual, cottage herbalism, as I like to call it. A kind of timeless healing that eschews potent herbs or attempts to break in and heal aggressively in favor of gentle remedies that supplement a healthy lifestyle and modern medicine when needed.

My favorite remedies are herbal teas. I often buy blends from Traditional Medicinals, although I dislike that they use stevia and liquorice to flavor many of their blends, so I also love the single-herb tea bags from Celebration Herbals and Alvita. I find that using simples (single herbs) to start is good to make sure you don’t have any adverse reactions. And a basic herbal book is nice to keep track of any obscure contraindications, like avoiding parsley and rosemary in medicinal quantities during pregnancy.

But my herbalism is relaxing and soothing. It is a cup of chamomile-lavender tea before bed to soothe strained nerves. It’s a brew of ginger root for an upset stomach or red clover, echinacea, honey, and lemon for a cold. I once developed a really nasty, flat-on-my-back-on-the-couch cold the day before an audition that I really, really wanted to go to. I drank echinacea, honey, and lemon tea 4-5 times that day and was easily well enough to audition.

From there, I occasionally turn to tinctures and extracts when I need a bit more support. My favorite company right now is called Urban Moonshine. They primarily make delicious herbal bitters, which I take to help digestion sometimes. They’re also tasty just added to a glass of sparkling water. But their tonics stand out to me. They keep their recipes simple and don’t use very potent herbs, but their Joy Tonic, a blend of linden, rose, and motherwort, helps balance me during the high stress times of my life.

I used to make some simple tinctures of my own, but I’ve fallen out of the habit. It’s not difficult, and you can use either fresh or dried herbs. The important part is to use a lot of herb, steep it for at least a month, and shake it often. A few years back, I made a set of tinctures that served most of my needs. Hypericum (St. John’s Wort) for low times, Viburnum (Crampbark) for PMS, and Leonurus (Motherwort) for stress. While I’ve largely replaced these with the Joy Tonic (and a little ginger tea for cramps), they served me well for a long time.

And, of course, I have my own Gardener’s Herbal Tea blend, which I haven’t drunk as faithfully, but may end up back in my morning routine. The nettles will help calm my sinuses, and the other herbs will support a rather frayed system from the stress of preparing for my show’s opening weekend.

Do any of you have favorite gentle herbal remedies? Anyone experiment with casual herbalism, rather than trying to be very medicinal about things?

Bedtime Ritual

I am a creature of habit and bedtime is no exception. Before bed, I need to have a little wind-down time. When I was in rehearsals and tech, I got in the bad habit of getting home after 10:30 at night, and staying up even later, so lately I’ve tried to make a push to get in bed by 10, because I have the time to do so.

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First, I turn off the electronics around 9:30 or 10. I want to get myself away, not just from the supposed blue light that disrupts our sleep, but also away from the constant passive stimulation. I’ve taken to reading at bedtime for a little bit at least.

But before I get into bed, I need to do my nightly skin care. It doesn’t take long, but it serves as the official boundary between the day before and the night to come. I gravitate towards lavender and rose scented products, which are very calming. I cleanse with my lemon-lavender scented cleansing balm, apply rosewater toner, and a rose night cream, and head to my bed, clean and lightly scented.

Then, I have a cup of tea. I’m fortunate to have such an attentive Boyfriend who makes me my tea most nights. I like chamomile tea with lavender for before bed because they are both calming herbs, and the flavor of the lavender tones down the chamomile, which I don’t like on its own. I will also sometimes have lemon balm, or catnip, both of which are calming, sedative herbs. If I’m feeling very high-strung, I might have a cup of Traditional Medicinals Nighty Night tea with Valerian, which is quite relaxing, but the valerian does make the tea smell a bit like feet. So I save that for when I really need it.

I ask Boyfriend to leave the tea and a glass of water on my bedside table, and he usually obliges. So when I return from my vanity, I can change into soft clothes, slip under our thick comforter with a book, and sip my tea until I’m ready to turn off the light.

Then all that remains is to switch off my bedside lamp, settle in, and fall asleep.

Gardener’s Herbal Tea

Yesterday it was lovely and grey with a dramatic cloudy sky. After going out for lunch, I decided to stop off at my favorite little herb shop to get provisions and then went home to make up a new batch of my personal herbal tea blend, which I like to call gardener’s herbal tea.

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It’s made up of nettles, oat straw, red raspberry leaf, and rose hips, all of which could be grown in the garden, although I purchase mine these days. One of these days, I’ll have my own little yard and garden and perhaps will be able to grow the herbs myself. It makes a nice cup of morning tea. I brew it for an hour in the mornings to really get the essence out of the herbs. The nettles give it body, while the raspberry leaf offers tannin, the oatstraw mellows the cup, and the rose hips give it a bright tart note that really brings the flavors together.

I like to start the day with an herbal cup when I know I shall be drinking cup after cup of caffeinated tea at work. The herbs are supporting to the body in general, and I find my skin looks clearer and my demeanor is brighter. Nettles are packed full of good minerals, although they do taste a bit like strong spinach. Oat straw is supposed to be mellowing and calming. Rose hips are a great source of vitamin C, and red raspberry leaf is good in general for women’s concerns.

Each morning, while Boyfriend showers, I go down to boil a kettle and start my tea. I use my tea cozy to keep the brew warm while I then start my day, shower, dress, and make breakfast. It’s usually been almost an hour before I sit down to my pot of tea. It looks lovely, the rose hips tinting it a litle rose color. I sit and sip my tea and then am ready to start my day properly.

To mix the tea, I gather my herbs. I eyeball the mix by volume, using probably an ounce or two each of nettles, oat straw, and raspberry leaf, and then pouring the rose hips, about four ounces, on top. I can either shake them up in the jar to mix, or mix it up in a bowl. I use about a quarter cup of herb for a pot of tea. I hope you will give my herb blend a try!