For the Love of Roots
By: Shannon Toye
As an herbalist, forager, and wildcrafter, I often ponder over my favorite plants and plant parts. If I were given the choice between flower, leaf, or root, my answer without hesitation would be root. Don’t get me wrong, I value and revere the plant kingdom as a whole; I love the delicate beauty of a flower in full blossom, I consume raw greens every day. But the root is where the true medicinal powerhouses reside.
The Allium Family always makes me think of mob bosses. Nobody messes with the Alliums. Boasting over 1000 species, it’s far more encompassing than merely garlic and onion bulbs. Chives, scallions, leeks, ramps, garlic scapes... we know they add some serious flavor to food, but they also have a myriad of truly stellar medicinal properties:
- Destroy infection-causing viruses and bacteria
- Lower total cholesterol (but raise HDL—"good"—cholesterol)
- Lessen the risk of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries)
- Lower blood pressure
- Reduce the risk of blood clots, which cause the majority of strokes and heart attacks
- Reduce the risk of certain cancers, most notably stomach cancers
- Purify the blood, which increases the capacity to fight tumors and infections
- Help fight against neurological diseases such as Alzheimer's
- Enhance detoxification by reducing toxins
I rely quite heavily on the allium family to build my family’s immune systems in the months leading up to “flu season” and continue to utilize them daily throughout the winter months. The saying goes: ”An apple a day keeps the doctor away,” but I like to believe, “A clove a day will keep illness away.”
Honey is perhaps my favorite way to extract the medicinal properties of raw garlic and onion. This recipe was inspired by Rosemary Gladstar.
10 cloves of organic garlic, minced fine
½ an organic onion sliced thin, then quartered
½ an organic lemon, chopped fine
4 oz jar
little less than ½ cup raw organic honey
Boil 2 cups of water in a small pan, then turn off the heat. Place the honey in a glass jar and submerge it for a minute or two just to loosen it.
Place all plant materials in a sterilized 4oz jar and cover with the honey. Stir to make sure everything is coated. Let steep for at least 2 weeks before using. This can be kept at room temperature indefinitely.
Use a tablespoon of this when you feel a cold coming on, if people around you are sick or as a daily preventative to boost your immune system. This is also pretty amazing slathered over a chicken then roasted.
If the Alliums are the mob bosses of the plant kingdom, Panax, meaning “all-heal” in Greek, are the ninja warriors. Ninjas require years of discipline and training, and while you can plant, grow, and harvest any member of the allium family in a single year, panax requires several years before cultivation. This has caused panax to be one of the most poached and endangered plants. United Plant Savers has been actively involved in spreading awareness and replanting efforts in regard to Panax quinquefolia, also known as American Ginseng, but considering ginseng sales generated over 2 billion dollars last year, the plant is still quite at risk.
Why are these plants in such demand? One thing that makes ginseng a powerhouse is that it falls among a category of plants known as “adaptogens” which are a unique group that work a bit like a thermostat. When the thermostat senses that the room temperature is too high, it brings it down; when the temperature is too low, it brings it up. Adaptogens can calm you down and boost your energy at the same time without over stimulating. They can normalize body imbalances. By supporting adrenal function, they counteract the adverse effects of stress. They enable the body’s cells to access more energy, help cells eliminate toxic byproducts, and help the body to utilize oxygen more efficiently. WebMD lists a myriad of other beneficial properties that the Panax genus possess, but to be frank, as a single, working mother, I would capsize without adaptogens, and these are among my favorites:
- American Ginseng (Panax quinquefolia)
- Siberian Ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus) [a bit of a misnomer, this plant was reclassified and is now more commonly referred to as “Eleuthero Root”]
- Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)
2 ginseng roots, either American (Panax quinquefolius) or Asian (Panax ginseng) or 1 of each, approximately 1 oz
½ cup fresh Holy Basil (Ocimum Sanctum) commonly known as “Tulsi,” flowers and leaves chopped fine, or 1 oz dried
1 oz Ashwagandha Root (Withania somnifera), not powdered
1 oz Milky Oat tops (Avena sativa)
Add plant material to a 32 oz mason jar. Cover it with 2 cups of brandy (or more, to cover the herbs) then top with ½ cup raw organic honey. Cap and let sit for 4 weeks in a dark, cool place being sure to shake daily. Strain and take 1 teaspoon daily under tongue to combat stress and increase energy and stamina.
As someone with arthritis, I would be remiss without giving a nod to one of my personal saviors in anti-inflammatory power, Zingiber officinale (my second savior is turmeric [Curcuma longa]). Inflammation is the body's natural healing response to illness or injury, and its pain, redness, heat, and swelling are attempts to keep you from moving a damaged area while it is being repaired. Inflammation subsides as the body heals. However, in some conditions, including arthritis, diverticulosis, gallbladder inflammation, and heart disease, the inflammation does not go away. It becomes chronic and leads to many other problems. Ginger has been used for centuries in China, Japan, and India specifically for the medicinal benefits to these inflammatory disorders. Often the spiciness can give people the impression that it will cause stomach upset, but the exact opposite is true. Ginger contains properties that inhibit two specific enzymes: cyclooxygenase (COX) and 5-lipoxygenase (LOX), which are the direct culprits of inflammation. Aside from keeping the flames at bay, ginger also possesses anti-viral properties and is one of the token ingredients in the folk medicine remedy known as “Master Tonic.” This tonic is made with a variety of roots, cayenne peppers, and raw apple cider vinegar. Most diseases begin in the digestive tract and in order to prevent this, there needs to be a lack of inflammation and the PH needs to be close to neutral. Viruses and bacteria thrive in acidic conditions, which are commonly caused by a diet high in refined sugars, carbohydrates, and processed foods. Raw apple cider vinegar has an alkalinity that renders the digestive tract virtually uninhabitable to virus and bacteria, so the name “Master Tonic” really is quite fitting. Aside from all the properties the roots bring to the blend, cayenne contains capsacin, which is also a valuable anti-inflammatory.
MASTER TONIC (FIRE CIDER)
*Use organic ingredients whenever possible
1 part shredded fresh horseradish root
1 part shredded fresh ginger root
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 chopped onion
1 cayenne pepper, chopped with seeds
½ cup dried elderberries or 1 cup fresh
½ cup raw organic honey
Optional: A small handful of fresh organic herbs of your choosing such as thyme, rosemary, or sage.
Place everything in a 32 oz mason jar. Cover with raw organic apple cider vinegar and top with the honey. Cover with plastic wrap (do not cap directly or the cap will corrode), cap, and shake to blend ingredients. Traditional folk medicine calls for this to be made during the full moon and placed in a paper bag. Dig a small hole in the ground and place the bag inside. Cover with dirt and allow to steep through the entire moon cycle until the next full moon. It’s enough just to keep it in a cool dark cabinet from full moon to full moon (4 weeks). Then, strain and take 1 tablespoon a day to boost immune function, ward off colds, and relieve inflammation. It can also be diluted in 8 oz of water or used in place of vinegar in a salad dressing recipe.
BURDOCK ROOT (arctium lappa)
Last year at the New England Women’s Herbal Conference, I went to a workshop about the liver that really resonated with me. When we ingest anything, it makes its way through our digestive tract and comes to the liver, which has to determine where the digested matter can be best utilized. Is it a nutrient that belongs in the bloodstream? Is it a waste product? For thousands of generations our livers worked quite efficiently, but as the industrial revolution ushered in incalculable pollutants and toxins, that job became a bit more complicated. Pesticides and other chemical components (seriously, what is “carbomer” and why is it consumable?) overtax the liver and that causes a chain reaction to occur in our bodies. Sometimes the toxins end up being released into the bloodstream where they wreak havoc. Sometimes the adrenal glands get word that the liver is working overtime, so they send a message to produce more hormones and before you know it, the cortisol, estrogen, and progesterone are going haywire. This causes our integumentary system (skin) to take over the excess, which can show up in the form of acne, eczema, and rashes. The plant medicine approach to supporting the liver in efficiently relieving the body of toxins is the inclusion of bitter plants. Burdock root, dandelion root, angelica, milk thistle, mint, and wormwood are among my favorites as well as raw kale, dandelion greens, arugula, and sesame seeds.
The following recipe for “herbal bitters” is a great way to stimulate digestive enzymes and give the liver an added boost of help to eliminate toxins from even the cleanest diet.
1 oz dandelion root
1 oz burdock root
2 oz dried orange peel
1 oz gentian
Place herbs in a 12 oz mason jar. Cover with warm water (about ½ cup) and let sit for an hour to rehydrate. Fill entire jar with 100 proof vodka. Cover and store in a cool dry place for 4 weeks (full moon to full moon) being sure to shake every day. Strain and take 1 teaspoon 15 minutes before meals for optimum benefit, or minimally 1 teaspoon a day to support liver function. This is a phenomenal remedy for hangovers or to combat the bellyache of overeating and is especially helpful in clearing up acne from the inside.
Shannon Toye is an herbalist and owner of Out of the Woods Wildcrafting. She believes preventative care is one of the fundamental components missing from today's healthcare industry and supports people in achieving optimum physical health by nourishing the systems of the body with plant based products created simply from traditional wildcrafting methods, sustainable harvesting, and cultivating native medicinal plants. Shannon lives in North Adams, Massachusetts.