A warm mug of herbal tea with honey can soothe a sore throat. Ginger eases an upset stomach. The scent of lavender can calm frayed nerves. Each of these remedies is familiar and has roots in age-old practices.
“Using plants as family medicine is a common man’s medicine. People have been using plants in all cultures at all times,” says Margi Flint, owner of Earth Song Herbals Family Practice in Marblehead.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, people have been keenly attuned to their health and many have turned to remedies that their ancestors would have recognized. Here, some of the North Shore’s best herbalists share some favorites.
Super-charged chicken broth
“Chicken soup is medicine,” says Flint, who combines water with bones from a roasted chicken in a big pot, along with a quarter-cup of apple cider vinegar to help extract calcium. She also adds four or five astragalus roots, unpeeled burdock root that’s been sliced into rounds, and medicinal mushrooms, like shiitake, maitake, and reishi, or mushroom powder. After simmering for eight hours or overnight, she adds sliced onions and carrots during the final hour of cooking. Finally, she strains out the solids and freezes the broth in different-sized containers so it’s always on hand for a variety of uses.
Easy antiviral spray
Flint makes this easy antiviral spray by combining two parts scientific-grade alcohol with one part aloe vera juice and two drops of thyme essential oil for every ounce of liquid, which research shows has antimicrobial properties. She also adds five drops of an evergreen oil (try juniper, cedar, or pine) plus two drops of optional frankincense oil.
Turmeric can help with inflammation, depression, brain function, and much more, which makes golden milk both delicious and good for you, especially in the evening before bed. According to Flint, “a cup of this beverage makes you totally chilled out.” First make turmeric paste by simmering and stirring half a cup of water with a quarter cup of turmeric powder for 7 to 10 minutes in a saucepan, adding more water as needed. Store the paste in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
To make one serving of golden milk, add a teaspoon or two of the paste to a saucepan with a cup of coconut or nut milk; a teaspoon or two of honey; one teaspoon of coconut oil or ghee; and spices (whole or ground) to taste such as cinnamon, ginger, cloves, allspice, or black peppercorns. Simmer for 10 minutes, strain, and serve.
“Making herbal teas is a pretty simple way to begin diving into plant medicine,” says healer and herbalist Madeline Mooney of Moon Child Reiki & Herbals in Beverly. All you need are dried herbs, a mixing bowl, a storage container, and tea strainer.
Herbal teas not only taste good and help soothe the spirit, but also incorporate healing ingredients. For instance, Mooney says lemon balm helps to calm nerves; oat straw contains vitamins and minerals like calcium; rosemary can aid in digestion, and calendula is good for the skin.
When mixing herbal tea blends at home, Mooney encourages people to listen to their own preferences and include what they’re drawn to.
“It’s OK to follow your own intuition with it,” she says. “The folk method of mixing herbs is to kind of intuitively sense how much of each to put into your mixture.”
Store each of the below herb mixtures in a cool, dry place. To make tea, use a tablespoon of tea per cup of hot water and steep for 5 to 15 minutes.
1 cup of lemon balm
A heaping tablespoon of oat straw/milky oats
Half to one teaspoon of either lavender flowers or rose petals
Pinch of rosemary, if desired
One cup of chamomile
Two teaspoons of rose petal
Half teaspoon of lavender
Fire cider is herbal alchemy. Hot peppers, onions, garlic, ginger, horseradish, turmeric, honey, citrus, and other ingredients steep in apple cider vinegar to create a powerful, flavorful, and fiery concoction that many people swear by for fighting off illness. Slice the ingredients, put them in a jar, cover with vinegar, and let them sit, shaking daily, for several weeks before straining and using.
“If I feel myself getting sick that’s the first thing I hit,” says Teri Kalgren, owner and certified herbalist at Artemisia Botanicals in Salem.
Sip it straight or mixed into warm water, use it in cooking, or dress a salad with it. However you use it, fire cider is easy and fun to make at home. There are countless recipes online. Play around with what you like best.
Finding what works
Like food and medicine, herbal remedies react with different people in different ways. For instance, many people love chamomile tea’s relaxation effects, but people with seasonal allergies might want to avoid it.
“Chamomile tea is great but it’s a first cousin to ragweed,” notes Kalgren. Other herbs interact negatively with certain medications, like St. John’s Wort with antidepressants. An herbalist can help you navigate these considerations.
“We don’t prescribe. We try to help you find what would be right for you,” Kalgren says.