All hail plantain (genus plantago)! If you look down this summer there's a fine chance you will see some of this plant growing at your feet. ⠀
Plantain species grow all over the world. Here in Vermont you can find this plant spring through fall in open sun, grassy areas/lawns, edges, sidewalks and parking lots, compacted or disturbed soils, or maybe your garden. ⠀
The leaves grow is a basal rosette (adorable) from a fibrous taproot and are eye/oval shaped with stems/petioles that may change color near the root to more white, red, etc. The leaves are little bit waxy with veins running the length. A tall thin flowering stem comes up from the center of the plant and is covered in small discreet flowers that become neat seeds. ⠀
There are many different species/kinds of plantain, but the most common in North America are Plantago major (probably traveled from Europe) and Plantago rugelli (endemic to Turtle Island/ North America). They are often found growing together. Another species you might see is Plantago lanceolata, who's leaves are longer and thinner. ⠀
Next time you are bit by a spider, bee, or tick think to make a quick spit poultice by harvesting a leaf and chewing it up into a ball to place on the site. The drawing quality of plantain pulls venom and saliva out of bites. ⠀
Plantain is a good healer for burns, scrapes, and all variety of wounds as the leaves are healing to tissue, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial. Plantain supports lung health via their expectoration and demulcent qualities. ⠀
This plant contains both astringency and demulcency, which is uncommon. It is a big part of why this plant has such a wide-range of actions and is an incredible tonic for tissues and organs, (particularly those of the gastrointestinal tract, respiratory, and genito-urinary systems). ⠀
Apart from the variety of poultices you could make, you can also make tea with fresh or dried leaves, eat the leaves fresh, or tincture. Plantain also makes a fine infused oils for salves or lip balms. Tea can be used as a hair wash or soak. ⠀
What is your favorite way to work with this plant?
By Susan Staley. Susan is a clinical and community herbalist with Railyard Apothecary. You can schedule a consultation with her or our other herbalists at www.burlingtonherbclinic.com. Here’s to your health!
You will find the berries skipping along the trajectory of the year’s longest days. They begin in early June and finish with the first frost. In the Northeast we are blessed with strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, bilberries, currents, blackberries, hawthorn berries, elderberries, and more. Picking a perfectly sun-ripened berry, and popping it directly into your mouth, must be one of humanity’s most timelessly shared pleasures. Berries aren’t just nature’s candy, they are also highly nutritious, causing us to develop all kinds of ways to preserve these gems of summer for the colder and longer days.
Berries are an incredibly therapeutic food, and because they fall low on the glycemic index, they are a good choice for maintaining balanced blood sugar levels. What’s more, many compounds in berries deeply support the cardiovascular tissues from the heart down to the smallest capillaries. Our tissues receive protection and renewal from these compounds through increased flexibility and reduced inflammation, important for all variety of wound healing and stressed tissue.
Berries help to build and improve the quality of blood, which can be important for individuals with low iron or fatigue. They help to quench the thirst, and bring a cooling quality (pointing to their demulcent and anti-inflammatory quality). These same qualities, combined with their soluble and insoluble fiber content, make berries an excellent source for improving bowel function and long-term health. Berries are a perfect example of how blurry the line between food and medicine can be. Enjoy them regularly to maintain health or with intentional therapeutic value in mind.
1/2c of blueberries daily is considered a good medicinal dose, and it doesn’t matter if you’ve frozen the berries. Studies show that the anthocyanins (responsible for much of the antioxidant action) are not altered during the freezing or cooking process. This is good news for that next big harvest! Large-scale berry farming often has chemical and social implications, and because berries are often a high-spray crop consider choosing organically grown local or wild harvested berries whenever possible.
Berries make excellent jams, syrups, compotes, smoothies, and topping. Fresh berries need no frills at all, they carry a sense of joy, sunlight, and vibrancy. Berry picking allows you to spend time outside, nourish yourself, and tune to the seasonal abundance.
By Susan Staley. Susan is a clinical and community herbalist with Railyard Apothecary. You can schedule a consultation with her or our other herbalists at www.burlingtonherbclinic.com. Here’s to your health!
Sunlight has many benefits to health. The sun produces a broad spectrum of light, most of which is in the visible range to the human eye. This light is responsible for stimulating the production of vitamin D within our cells, which is necessary for the proper functioning of our immune and nervous systems.
While visible light from the sun imparts well-being and keeps our bodies in balance, ultraviolet radiation (which is outside the spectrum of visible light) can cause harm, especially when that exposure is direct, intense, and for too long.
There are a few different types of UV radiation. You will notice that most commercially available sunscreens are marketed as “broad spectrum” or UVA/UVB protective. This is because these two types of UV radiation are most likely to cause health problems. UVA radiation is responsible for skin aging, wrinkling, and skin cancer. UVB radiation is what causes sunburns. It also can cause skin cancers, mole development, and immunosuppression.
The best way to prevent sun damage to the skin is to avoid too much exposure. The easiest way to do this is to pay attention to when the sun’s rays are the strongest, and stay indoors or in the shade during these times. The higher the sun is in the sky, the more risk there is for UV exposure.
Here are some general guidelines:
Cover up. In the winter this is easy, since most of us will want to stay warm. Just remember the sunglasses and face mask to cover your nose, which is still vulnerable to sunburn. In the summer when it is hot, it can be tempting to go out with less clothes, which exposes more skin to UV light. I’ve found that loose clothing made from natural fibers such as linen or silk protects skin while keeping cool (and stylish!). Tightly woven sun hats with a broad brim are great because they create shade for the face, neck, and shoulders. Even a baseball cap can be useful.
If covering up is not an option, sunscreens may be used. Be selective in your choice of sunscreens: many contain chemicals and micronized minerals that could be harmful to the health of the wearer and the environment.
Herbal Sunburn Care
Most people know about Aloe vera as a topical herbal remedy for sunburn. In my experience, Aloe feels nice for a few minutes (until it dries) but does very little to decrease the severity or duration of a burn.
A few years ago, after learning about tulsi or holy basil’s ability to reverse abnormal cell growth caused by radiation, I began experimenting with using tulsi extract topically on sunburn. The first time I tried it, I had been out too long on a particularly sunny day in May. I wasn’t yet thinking about sun hats and staying indoors from 10am-4pm, and my nose had paid the price after a day of cycling. I pulled my tulsi tincture off the apothecary shelf and rubbed a little bit into my burn. Sure enough, the next day the redness and pain were gone. I’ve since learned that applying tulsi extract once, followed by healing lotion (to keep the skin hydrated) is an excellent remedy for sunburn.
For very severe or widespread sunburn, a strong infusion of tulsi, green tea, and Calendula may be more appropriate, since the alcohol in most tinctures can be drying to the skin. I recommend green tea here because it has been shown to both prevent sunburn when used topically and to repair UVB-induced damage. This infusion can be applied directly to the skin, or added to a room temperature bath for soaking. As with the tincture, allow the skin to air-dry and apply healing lotion afterwards.
It is also important to stay hydrated and well rested. Sunburn, as with other types of burns, should be treated and cared for like a wound. Drinking adequate amounts of water and getting plenty of sleep allows the body to heal at an optimal rate.
Directions: Bring water to a boil, pour over herbs, and let steep, covered, until cool. Strain and store in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. Apply directly to sunburnt skin or add to room temperature bath water.
(adapted from Rosemary Gladstar’s lotion recipe)
Thanks for reading!
By Emma Merritt, clinical herbalist at Railyard Apothecary
To book a 1-on-1 herbal consultation with Emma, click here.
Emma will be teaching a class on sun protection online on Wed., July 15th, 6-7pm. Register and info here. If you're reading this after that date, you can take a look for the class recording here.
In times like these, it's good to remember that the plant world offers so much to us for mental and emotional well-being. Here are the three main categories of herbs that can help, along with examples:
1. Nervine Relaxants
These herbs help to calm down the nervous system, easing both physical and mental tension. These herbs are often used at the end of the day to unwind, or to promote restful sleep, but also can be taken in smaller doses throughout the day to take the edge off of things.
Herbs in this category include skullcap, passionflower, valerian, lavender, chamomile and hops.
One of my personal favorites is Skullcap. It is best in tincture form (of the fresh plant) but also works as a dry herb for tea. I've used this herb to keep my mind from racing and to be able to focus on work during the day. I think of it like the mountain steams where it can grow wild here in Vermont - in promotes a sense of serenity and peace, which is always present if only we could notice.
These herbs build up our resiliency so that when we do encounter stressors we can more easily adapt to them. From a physiological perspective, it seems as if they often help manage our stress hormones and keep them from spiking either too high or too low. They're most effective when taken regularly for an extended period of time.
These herbs include ginseng, ashwagandha, eleuthero, tulsi, schisandra and rhodiola.
Ashwagandha is one of my favorites in this category. It is a root that works well as a powder, tea or tincture. It is from India, but is grown here in Vermont. What sets it apart from other adaptogens is it is slightly relaxing and promotes deep, restful sleep. I like this herb for helping me feel like I have more stable energy throughout the day.
3. Mood uplifting plants
These plants specifically help to brighten the mood and promote feelings of lightness and happiness. They are, of course, especially helpful for when you're feeling down or emotionally upset.
These include St. John's Wort, lemon balm, linden and rose.
St. Joh'ns Wort is the most well known of these. Don't take it if you are taking pharmaceuticals because it could interact. I find that it really helps the figurative "light" shine through, just as the leaves themselves have an interesting feature where they are dotted with pores that literally let the sun through. It flowers at the peak of sunshine - late June, early July. The flowers and upper leaves are what's used. It's best in tincture form (of the fresh plant) but can be used as tea or other forms too. I find it slightly stimulating, and definitely uplifting.
Let us know if you have any questions, we're always open to helping guide you in your choice and use of herbs!
- Nick Cavanaugh, clinical herbalist at the Burlington Herb Clinic.
P.S. Nick taught a class about this on June 17th, 2020. If you'd like to see the recording you can e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Note: This post may be updated as time goes on and we get more information
As herbalists, we’ve been following the spread of COVID-19 and wanted to give you a few updates on some of the most useful approaches you can take to stay healthy, support your loved ones, and reduce the spread of the disease.
The first order of business is good basic hygiene! Hand washing with regular soap and water for 20-30 seconds is the best approach. Coronavirus is an enveloped virus, meaning that its genome is surrounded by a fatty membrane (just like our cells). These membranes are vulnerable to soap: it dissolves the bonds between the fatty layers, neutralizing the virus. Frequent handwashing is perhaps the most effective public and personal health tool we have.
Hand sanitizers are an alternative, to use in a pinch or when traveling, away from a sink, etc… The FDA and EPA have put out an extensive list of sanitizers that are effective against COVID-19 (see this document for the full list of approved disinfectants: https://www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_health/emergency_management/downloads/coronavirus-disinfectants.pdf ). What stand out to us, as herbalists who would rather avoid solutions with bleach or other harsh chemicals, are sanitizers based on alcohol or thymol (a part of the essential oil of thyme).
1. Alcohol-based hand sanitizer
Basic recipe is 2 parts alcohol, 1 part aloe gel
Key consideration: the alcohol you use can be rubbing (isopropyl) or "regular" (ethyl, or ethanol), but must be at least 90% (180 proof). Concentrations are listed on the bottle (eg. at the drugstore, rubbing alcohol should say "91% isopropyl alcohol"). Don't use 60% isopropyl or anything lower than 90%. Alcohol-based sanitizers need to be 60-70% alcohol.
You CAN add 5-10 drops essential oil per ounce of sanitizer if you want, just to improve odor and make it more pleasant.
Dispense into squirt bottles. Squirt a pea-sized amount on your hands, rub in, and allow to dry. Note that this is a little more runny than commercial hand sanitizer gel, but it is still effective.
*Note that our first experiment making this required us to blend and strain this to get a useful consistency.
2. Thymol-based and alcohol-free hand sanitizer
FDA/EPA have approved "Thymox" (a solution of 0.25% thymol) as a coronavirus-effective disinfectant.
We can recreate a 0.25% thymol solution using these ingredients:
Water, 29 mL (about 1 fluid ounce). Using distilled water is best, but any clean, fresh water will do.
Gum Arabic, a dispersant, 300 mg (https://www.amazon.com/Pure-Organic-Ingredients-Ingredient-Watercolor/dp/B07DFSGH9F/). It is important to add a dispersant so that the essential oil will be evenly distributed throughout the solution, and no small drops will form that could cause skin irritation.
Benchmark Thyme essential oil, 0.8 mL (consistently high thymol concentration, which is assayed https://www.benchmark-thyme.com/benchmark-thyme/). If you can’t find benchmark thyme essential oil, regular thyme essential oil will do.
Add the essential oil to the gum Arabic and mix thoroughly. Add the paste to the water and shake well.
Pour into a spray bottle and dispense by spraying. Rub into the hands and allow to dry.
In terms of herbal support, we know very little about this virus, seasonality, and transmission. It does seem to be more contagious than the flu, and does affect those over 60 and with heart disease, lung disease, and diabetes more significantly. There is no evidence that any of the classic herbs we use for cold and flu "treat" the virus. Instead of treatment, we have been focusing on good hygiene and prevention by strengthening immune function.
To keep your immune system strong, please take good care of yourself: good food, good hydration, and most importantly good sleep. If stress around all this is an issue, consider adaptogens like American ginseng (if available organic), Ashwagandha, or Eleuthero ("Siberian" ginseng). Do not "go it alone" on this infection, especially if working or in contact with higher-risk populations. The virus can cause symptoms to progress into a danger zone quickly. Don't delay asking for support. The key symptoms seem to be dry cough and fever, though this can vary. Call your care provider(s). Follow their directions.
Herbal support centers around plants and mushrooms that support good immunity, but don’t overstimulate immune function. The following are simply ideas for herbs to consider to stay healthy as part of immune supportive routine including all the above information. Again, these are not herbs that are known to "treat" COVID-19 infection.
Not all of these herbs are a good idea for all people. As always, attention to the individual is very important. Given that, this list may help stimulate ideas for those that already have a good understanding of herbs, but for those that don't please only take it as a jumping off point from which to do more research.
If you'd like any specific advice about how you or someone you know can stay healthy please contact us to set up a consultation at email@example.com or 802-540-0595.
1. Immunomodulant herbs - Astragalus and medicinal mushrooms, especially reishi (Ganoderma lucidum / tsugae / oregonensis). Relatively high amounts: 1 tsp. Astragalus tincture 2x/d, 7-12 g Astragalus total in caps/powder/decoction daily. 2 mL mushroom extract and/or blends, or 3-4 g mushroom extract powder, or 4-5 g mushrooms decocted daily.
2. Lung support herbs include Asclepias tuberosa (pleurisy root), licorice root (caution w/ high blood pressure), mullein leaf, elecampane root, Platycodon grandiflorum (balloonflower) root, Usnea.
3. Warming aromatic diaphoretics are theoretically a good idea: ginger, angelica, Lomatium, Ligusticum (osha – consider other options, as this herb is endangered).
4. Consider avoiding elderberry for those at greater risk to reduce the risk of over-stimulation of an immune reaction. Elderberry lectins, not present in other berries, ramp up immune function and inflammatory cytokine production, which is THEORETICALLY a concern as the cause of death is connected to sepsis and cytokine storm in vulnerable folks (see this paper from China as reference: https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.02.26.20026989v1.full.pdf).
We know of no herbs that have evidence of efficacy for Covid19 treatment, as this novel virus presents a lot of unknowns. However one formula (Shuang huang lian) is receiving attention in China for herbal treatment of the virus, but keep in mind it is often used as an injection. It is Baikal skullcap root (Scutellaria baikalensis), Forsythia fruit, and Honeysuckle flower (Lonicera japonica). For details on the case series and treatments being used in China, see this paper: https://www.medrxiv.org/content/medrxiv/early/2020/03/03/2020.03.01.20029611.full.pdf
If you or someone you know has symptoms or has had contact with a confirmed infection, the first step is to call your healthcare provider and let them know, and receive guidance. After a plan is in place, we as herbalists can provide support using some of the strategies outlined above.
May you have good health, strong immunity, and peace of mind as we all work together to keep our elders and most vulnerable safe.
In the depths of New England winter, it can seem like the green of the landscape has all been replaced by white and grey. The perennial herbs sleep below blankets of snow, the limbs of oaks, maples, birches, all bare. We’ve spent the past Autumn harvesting and making medicine to store for the winter and carry us through until the new growth of Spring.
Nevertheless, the sleepy winter forest holds gifts of strong medicine. Behold: cedar, juniper, hemlock, and pine, to name a few. The evergreens of northern New England hold potent remedies in their needles.
If you have ever tasted a cedar tip or a hemlock needle, then you know the instant sensation of aroma and flavor that comes from crushing a tiny needle between your teeth: aromatic, warm, piney, and a little sour.
The unique flavor of evergreens tells us much about their medicinal properties. Aromatic: they are rich in essential oils with antimicrobial and immune stimulating properties. Warm: they increase circulation and help break a fever. Sour: they are high in vitamin C and other phytochemicals. This comes as no surprise to anyone who has used thuja (cedar) to help ward off a cold.
But it’s not just cedar-- many of the evergreen trees can be used as warming winter remedies. They can be made into tea, added to a bath, or used as a sinus steam. I’ve even been known to boil fir branches from my christmas tree to fill my house with their lovely aroma.
Here I will share with you a recipe for White Pine Syrup. You can substitute pine for a variety of evergreens, just make sure you positively identify any tree before using. There are a few evergreens that are poisonous, such as the yew. Also, I prefer to use windfallen branches. If you harvest directly from a living tree, please be respectful and only take what you need. Never overharvest and always ask permission and thank the tree for it’s gifts.
White Pine Needle Syrup
Take 1 tsp of syrup 2-3x/ day at the onset of a cold. You can also make herbal soda with the syrup by adding it to seltzer--about 2 oz per 16 oz of seltzer, or use it in cocktails. Get creative--the sky's the limit. Evergreens remind us that even in winter, we are supported by the abundance of nature and the healing properties of the plants all around us. So get out those snowshoes or cross country skis and go explore the forests and woodlands in all their winter wonder.
Learn more about medicine making with plants at my "Medicine Making" class series that happens several times throughout the year. You can find the latest info on our classes and events page here: https://www.railyardapothecary.com/classes--events.html
By Emma Merritt, staff herbalist here at Railyard Apothecary
The meaning of winter
Beyond our human customs, there is a natural way of this season. The winter solstice marked the ending of the waning of daylight, and the beginning of the the slow return of sunshine. At the same time, the depths of winter are just beginning, and the coldest, snowiest days of the year are surely ahead.
It is only natural that in this time many people set intentions for the seasons ahead. Just like the animals in slumber dreaming of warmer days, or the seeds and roots, full of potential yet quiet beneath the soil, we imagine a future so different from now, which can exist only when the causes and conditions arise in their time.
What future do you wish to see? What dreams do you dream? What can our shared world become? Now is the time to think big, to let your wildest dreams dance about in the vast expanse of imagination. For it is in this time of stillness, of quiet, without so much distraction that we can find the deepest connection to that which is yet to become.
Whatever intention-setting you may be doing this year, we here at Railyard are here to support you in the areas of health, personal growth and education.
To better your health, we offer herbal consultations. We have "min-consultations" which are 10-30 minutes and 2 hour "initial consultations" to go in depth. All consultations may include a personal herb recommendation, such as a custom tea or tincture blend. Learn more about these services here.
There are also other healing practices here, including a naturopathic doctor practice, acupuncture, ayurveda and more. You can see some of the practitioners' info here.
For personal growth, we have opportunities to meditate, learn reiki, share stories and more. Come join us in community and expand your horizons.
And of course we have lot of opportunities for education about herbs, health, wellness and more. Check out the upcoming classes on our website or Facebook page. Want to go deeper with your learning? Sign up for a monthly or seasonal class pass.
This year we are looking forward to growing our services, expanding our event offerings, offering more online education and generally growing our community with all of you. Thank you for being a part of this journey with us!
Wintertime is pretty much here in Vermont. What can we do to stay healthy?
The first thing is to make sure to stay warm and counteract dryness. Scientists aren't sure if cold weather itself can make people sick, but traditional medicine systems have long considered "cold" itself to be a cause of ailments. Studies have shown that immune response might be more sluggish in a colder environment, but how that translates to humans is inconclusive. My theory is that since the immune cells are transported in part by the bloodstream, if our circulation is impaired we're going to have less immune activity.
In any case, experience has shown generations of humans that it's best to stay warm this time of year! So yes, go outside and get things moving, but make sure to bundle up!
Dryness is important to counteract as well - the cold air holds less humidity, and indoor heating makes things even dryer. Moist mucuous membranes are a very important line of defense against germs. Stay hydrated, but also eat plenty of good quality fat to help hold in moisture.
There are two main categories of herbs that can help with the immune system:
1. Immune Tonics
These include astragalus, reishi, and shiitake. All of these basically help keep the immune system active by making the body think that there may be something to guard against.
For example, polysaccharides present in these herbs can activate white blood cells in our digestive system, causing the immune system as a whole to function at a higher level.
Take these herbs daily in soup, tea, tincture or powder to maintain a healhty immune system during the more challenging months. They are considered "food-like" due to the way that they can be incorporated into the diet.
2. Immune Stimulants
These include echniacea and elderberry. These herbs basically kick our immune systems into higher gear very quickly, making them ideal remedies when people first feel signs of sickness, are around people that are sick, are travelling, etc.
The root is the strongest part of echinacea. The best preparation of that is a tincture of the fresh root - the immune-stimulating compounds degrade afer it's been dried.
Elderberry works well in a variety of ways - syrup, tea (or decoction) or tincture are amongst the most common. Combine it with the elder flower to get a stronger effect.
Let us know if you have any questions! Join us at our "Winter Wellness" class next Monday, 12/2, 6:30-8pm to learn more. Reading this past 12/2/19? Stay tuned on our class and event page for future offerings, we often offer this class two or three times per year.
Stay warm and well out there!
How to make herbal tinctures ("folk method"):
1. Gather your herb.
2. Fill it loosely into a jar with a screw top (i.e. mason jar).
3. Pour alcohol over your herb until it covers the herb about 1/2'' or so. For dry herbs use 40-50% alcohol (80-100 proof), for fresh herbs use 60-95% alcohol (120-190 proof). Plants with a high water content (i.e. fresh roots) should use the higher alcohol percent (i.e. 95%). Vodka or grain alcohol are good choices because of their neutral flavor.
3.5. Optional step - blend the alcohol and herb together to increase surface area exposure for the herb.
4. Place the jar away from light (i.e. in a cupboard), in a cool, dry location for 4-6 weeks.
5. Shake or stir the tincture every day if possible.
6. If after a day or two the plant material expanded and is no longer submerged in the alcohol you may need to add more alcohol. Especially look for this with dry roots and fruits (may need to cover them with 1-2'' or more alcohol from the beginning).
7. After 4-6 weeks strain out the herbal material and store your tincture for use!
It's possible to get much more detailed with your tincture-making, but the above method will work pretty well for most herbs. If you want to be more precise, you can measure the weight of the herbs and the volume of the "menstrum" (alcohol). You can also look up a recipe to find an "herb:menstrum" ratio for the plant you're working with. For example, an recipe might say to tincture a fresh plant at "1:2, 80%," which means for every 1 part of plant material by weight (grams or ounces), use 2 parts of menstrum by volume (milliliters or fluid ounces), using 80% alcohol.
With more potent herbs it's best to be precise and follow a specific recipe in order to take a more precise dose of the final product. For most mild herbs, there is a great deal of room for experimentation and error - herbs like peppermint or chamomile have a wide therapeutic dose range, so it doesn't matter so much what the relative concentration of the tincture is.
The most important thing in terms of safety is to prevent fermentation, mold or harmful bacteria growth by using a high enough alcohol percent. To be on the safe side, the final alcohol percent should be above 30%. When you use fresh herbs that contain water, the final alcohol percent will be lower than the alcohol you add in, as the water in the herb will dilute the alcohol. That's why you need to start with a higher percent of alcohol with fresh herbs. If you want to be very precise, set aside some of the fresh herb, weigh it, let it dry, and then weigh it again to find out how much water was in the herb.
Thanks for reading! Let us know if you have any questions. You can reach us at 802-540-0595, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on our Facebook page. Want to learn more in person? Join Emma for a tincture making class as part of the "medicine making series" on Tuesday, Nov. 5th, 6:30-8pm.
Linden is a common street tree with some remarkable healing properties. Its flowers are relaxing and uplifting, like a warm glow of sunshine - and they taste quite pleasant! In this article we'll share with you more about this wonderful tree, in hopes that you may go out and find it yourself to pick some flowers or just to sit under and bask in its comforting fragrance.
"Tilia" is a genus of about 30 trees in the Malvaceae plant family. In Europe, trees in this genus often have "linden" in their common name, while in the northeast U.S. the common native species, Tilia americana, is often called basswood (though also called "American linden" at times). The species most commonly used for its medicinal effects is "littleaf linden" (Tilia cordata), a tree native to Europe.
Trees in the Tilia genus are found throughout the eastern portion of North America, Europe and Asia at moderate altitudes; they are usually not quite as low as sea level but they are also not in the mountains. The Champlain Valley provides a great ecosystem for these trees.
There are several species of linden which are common street trees in Burlington, including “littleleaf linden” (the most medicinal) along with “silver linden” (Tilia tomentosa). All of the lindens in our area likely have similar medicinal effects but differing potencies.
One way for herbalists to explain a plant's properties is the “doctrine of signatures” which looks at the shapes, colors and other visual characteristics of a plant to find correlations with its medicinal uses. For example, linden’s heart-shaped leaves are indicative of its ability to “gladden the heart” – uplifting the mood as well as physically helping the heart by gently lowering blood pressure and expanding blood vessels. These actions, in part due to linden’s aromatic volatile oils, may also relieve headaches and muscle tension.
When we drink linden tea, eat a linden flower, or even smell linden’s aroma dancing through the air, our parasympathetic nervous system becomes activated, putting us into “rest and digest” mode. This is in part because the volatile oils present in the linden flower act as a nervine relaxant, telling the body that everything is safe. Being in this state allows the body to regenerate; blood pressure lowers, breathing deepens, immunity improves, and uplifting peacefulness is created.
Linden has a cooling and moistening energy, perfect for a hot summers day, and gentle enough for every body – children and adults alike.
These are the terms herbalists use to describe linden's effects:
In the Malvaceae family, Tilias are related to okra, cotton, cacao, marshmallow and hibiscus!
The oldest known linden tree is said to be more than 2,000 years old. It lives in Gloucestershire, England.
Tolerant of urban pollution and extremes in temperature and precipitation, linden trees thrive throughout the streets of Burlington. Favored for its lush shade and aromatic fragrance wafting through the air, it is a favorite among Vermont summer dwellers. The trees can reach up to at least 130 feet tall, towering over us as we walk, blessing us with their shade and sweet smells, reminding us that nature is all around us even when we are surrounded by concrete.
Each species listed below has similar foliage with some differences in leaf color and shape. All species have characteristic light green ribbon-like “bracts” that expand from the center of the leaf, connecting a cluster of tiny yellow-white flowers with long stamens projecting out beyond each flower. These bracts are one of the key identifiers for linden. The flowers remind me of little fairy gowns, blooming for only a few short weeks between end of June and early July, before turning into fruit that looks like a cluster of little green peas.
American Linden/American Basswood (Tilia americana)
Identification: Asymmetrical, long, heart shaped, deep green, non-serrated leaves.
Habitat: Found wild in sugar maple-basswood forests throughout the northeastern United States and southern Quebec, Canada.
Medicinal uses: The flowers are not as fragrant, so may be less potent, but may have similar effects to the more commonly used species.
Silver Linden (Tilia tomentosa)
Identification: Non-serrated leaves are often asymmetrical, heart shaped, deep green with silver backs unique to the silver linden species.
Habitat: A common street tree in Burlington. Found throughout Europe, eastern North America and Asia.
Medicinal uses: May have similar medicinal properties to littleleaf linden.
Littleleaf Linden (Tilia cordata)
Identification: Distinctly heart shaped, serrated, deep green, asymmetrical leaves.
Habitat: Another common street tree. Found throughout Europe and North America.
Medicinal uses: This is the species used most commonly, and is typically what's found in commerce. It likely contains the most concentrated medicinal properties of all linden species.
When harvesting from this tree first make sure that you've identified it correctly by checking more than one credible source. Secondly, only harvest away from polluted areas - it is a common street tree, but we would not suggest harvesting it from a busy road. Quiet, low-traffic roads may be ok, but even better would be a yard or another area further removed from cars.
We harvest the flowers along with the bracts (the light-green leafy bit attached to the flower stalks). Abiding by the honorable harvest, we harvest 10% of the flowers that we see, leaving the rest for our pollinator friends to continue the tree’s life cycle.
Harvest before they've turned brown, as the older, brown flowers have been said to have more narcotic-like effects.
We stretch our arms up to clasp a flower, a handful of sun ray, reaching up into our full, expansive selves.
You can dry the flowers at home by leaving them in on a screen or a brown paper bag in a dark, dry, well-ventilated location. Once dried, linden is delightful in tea, as a hot infusion, and even as a cold infusion.
A cold infusion can be made with both dry and fresh linden flowers by pouring cold water over the flowers and letting it steep for 12-24 hours.
A sun tea can also be made this way, in a lot less time. On a hot summers day, place a generous handful of flowers in a glass container, pour cold to lukewarm water over the flowers and place in a sunny spot to steep for the afternoon.
Linden also makes a tasty homemade tincture.
Thanks for reading, and hope you can spend some time with this lovely tree!
n.d. “Species: Tilia americana.” Accessed on 3 Jul, 2018. Fire Effects Information System (FEIS), 2018. Retrieved from: <https://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/plants/tree/tilame/all.html>
Justis, Angela. (1 Jun, 2016). “A Family Herb: Gentle Linden Flower and Leaf.” The Herbal Academy, 2018. Accessed on 3 Jul, 2018. Retrieved from: <https://theherbalacademy.com/a-family-herb-linden-flower/>
Written by Jordan Kleiman, University of Vermont student and apprentice at Railyard Apothecary, and Nick Cavanaugh, staff member at Railyard Apothecary and clinical herbalist at the Burlington Herb Clinic.
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