A UTI Tincture Starring Uva Ursi

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A close-up of Uva Ursi and one of its red berries. Found at Mount Falcon Western Trailhead. The leaves of this specimen are less-than-ideal. I am using it to show the berry. Use only vibrant green leaves with no brown spots and minimal insect damage.

I love finding an herb spontaneously. Just as I was getting used to the sad thought that I shall have to wait until Spring to collect any more herbs, I came across one I’d been looking for all summer but had yet to find. I took my son and my momma’s little dog for a hike to Mount Falcon Trail last week and came upon some Uva ursi growing happily and abundantly on the rocks.

Uva Ursi is a woody, ground-covering shrub that likes to cling to rocks in mountainous regions. It is a lovely plant for beginners, since both its location (clinging to rocks in the mountains) and appearance (waxy, oblong leaves, round, bright red berries, evergreen nature) make it easy to spot. The name translates to “grape of the bear,” which describes its red berries. It is known commonly as bearberry; here in Colorado and other parts of the West, we also call it “kinnikinnick,” which is Algonquin for “mixture.” This is due to the fact that the leaves of the shrub feature prominently in many Native American smoking mixtures.

Uva Ursi’s medicinal offering has to do with the urinary tract. It has been used for centuries to cure and soothe bladder infections, and there is abundant clinical documentation to support its use in this domain. In particular, the therapeutic use of U. ursi  has been shown to “exert a prophylactic effect on recurrent cystitis” (B. Larson et al, 1993). “Cystitis” is another word that describes an infection of the urinary tract. The results of the study indicated that women who had more than three infections per year showed a marked decrease in instances of sickness when taking the herb as a supplement for one month. There were no side effects.

For those of us who suffer from UTIs, that last sentence is particularly intriguing. The typical treatment for cystitis is antibiotics, which brings its own set of uncomfortable side-effects (diarrhea, nausea, YEAST). Sometimes, these side effects are even worse than the bladder infection! So a natural remedy that you can take that is effective and poses no side effects seems almost too good to be true.

At this point, I should like to remind you that UTIs, though common, can be very dangerous. I encourage you to try this natural remedy as both a preventive measure and to treat an infection that is coming on. However, if you have had symptoms for more than a couple of days or are experiencing signs of severe infection (fever, chills, nausea, blood in urine, pain in mid-back), don’t skip the Western medicine. In this case, the infection has spread to your kidneys and will need to be treated with antibiotics.

Now, on to the remedy! This tincture is a combined extract. That is, it includes our star U. ursi as well as a few other herbs that are used in UTIs. These are: corn silk, horsetail, yarrow, and echinacea. Here’s a grief breakdown of what each does:

corn silk (Zea mays)-a mild diuretic shown in small studies to alleviate symptoms of patients with UTI symptoms (Sahib et al, 2012)

horsetail (Equisetum arvense)-a strong diuretic which helps to irrigate the urinary tract

yarrow (Achillea millefolium)-a wonderful multi-purpose herb whose constituents include proazulenes (anti-inflammatory) and essential oils (antimicrobial)

echinacea (Echinacea purpurea)an herb famous for its use in fighting infections. It is an established immuno-modulator, causing an increase in white blood cell production and enhancing the body’s capacity for phagocytosis, a process involving the cellular ingestion of bacteria (from The American Botanical Council: The Complete German Commission E Monographs Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines; Blumenthal et al, 1998).

You can purchase all of the above herbs here.

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Ingredients:

1 large jar
Dried corn silk
Dried horsetail herb
Dried yarrow herb
Dried Echinacea purpurea herb (as you can see, mine is from Mountain Rose Herbs)
Dried Uva ursi leaves
Mortar and pestle (optional)
80 proof ethanol (Vodka)

Directions:

The amount of each herb will depend on the size of your jar. You want to fill it approximately halfway with your dried herbs, with each herb in equal amounts. It’s a little like making sand art. If it helps, you can draw a line at the halfway mark of your jar, and then divide that into five sections. But it’s really just as easy to eyeball it. Here is what mine looked like before adding the alcohol:

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The layered herbs before adding the vodka. The herbs, starting from the bottom, are the U. ursi, horsetail, cornsilk, echinacea, and yarrow. But you can layer them however you like.

I like to grind the herbs a bit in my mortar and pestle before putting them in to tincture, but that is optional. Next, fill the jar to the very top with your alcohol. I prefer to use Vodka. It is cheap, tasteless, and extracts beautifully. Label your jar with its contents and that day’s date, as well as a date six weeks from the day you made the tincture. Store your brew in a cool, dark place. When your six-week date has arrived, strain the herbs through cheesecloth into tinted glass dropper bottles, like these.

I sincerely hope, from one UTI-sufferer to another, that this remedy helps you. Take it as a prophylactic or at the soonest possibly moment you feel an infection coming on. An effective dose will be 1-2 dropperfuls three to four times per day, while drinking plenty of water (at least one full glass every hour). Please remember, though, to seek medical treatment if you are not getting better fairly quickly. These infections are no joke!

Sleep Tincture Using Colorado Wild Hops

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Hops, a.k.a. Humulus lupulus, found growing wild in Morrison, CO

You are probably familiar with hops. These days (especially in Colorado) you can’t throw a rock without hitting a craft brewer or a home brewer, each of whom has his/her own philosophy regarding how much and what kind of this fragrant flower to use when creating mankind’s favorite alcoholic beverage.

“Hops” is, in other words, synonymous with “beer.” But it may surprise you to know that hops also has an ancient history as an herbal remedy, particularly in the realm of sleep.

Hops, a.k.a. Humulus lupulus, contains valeric acid, a carboxylic acid named after another of its natural sources, valerian. Both plants are known for their sleep-inducing abilities and are extremely effective as a tincture for insomnia. I have been using a store-bought tincture that includes both, but I am anxious to brew my own!

I was lucky enough to find WILD HOPS growing along the same creek where I always seem to find beautiful herbs. They grow in long vines resembling grape vines that drape themselves over every rock and tree stump you can see. The smell is strong and resin-y, similar to another familiar plant in the Cannabinaceae family.

Unlike that other familiar plant, however, a tincture of hops has no mind-altering effects. It is completely safe when used on an as-needed basis and does not have the unpleasant side-effects often associated with over-the-counter sleep aids, such as grogginess/hangover. Here is how to make it:

Hops Tincture

Ingredientshops2

-glass jar with tight-fitting lid

-80 proof grain alcohol, such as Vodka

-Dried hops* (Purchase hops here)

Directions

Fill your sterilized jar halfway with the dried hops. Then fill the jar completely with the grain alcohol. Screw lid on tight. Label with the contents, today’s date and a date six weeks from now. Store in a dark place, shaking at least a few times a week for six weeks. After six weeks, strain your tincture into 2 mL dropper bottles. They will keep for several years!

*You can use fresh hops, but this will make your tincture more susceptible to mold, so
keep an extra eye out.

To use your tincture, put one dropperful into a little water and drink 30 minutes before bed. If your insomnia is stubborn, you could combine this with a second dropperful of Valerian Root tincture (more on that later). I have found the combo to be extremely helpful with my insomnia and restless legs. No strange dreams, no grogginess, just beautiful, restful sleep.

Sweet dreams, everyone.

Review of White Willow for Back Pain: it’s the Tortoise, Not the Hare

 

 

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The White Willow Tree, Salix alba

Yesterday, I woke up in excruciating pain. Lately, I’ve been adopting some awkward sleeping positions due to the intense heat we’ve been experiencing. It is in some kind of desperate, subconscious attempt to flatten my body and thereby increase the surface area over which any miniscule breeze might flow that I have managed to wrench my neck in a most devastating fashion. In other words: I slept funny and now I can’t turn my neck.

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Dried bark of the White Willow tree

Awhile back, I tinctured up some White Willow Bark I’d purchased from Mountain Rose Herbs. White Willow, a.k.a. Salix alba, has a long tradition of use as a painkiller. Its dried bark is, in fact, the original source of Bayer’s aspirin. The primary pain-killing ingredient is salicin, which is converted by the gut into saligenin, which is then metabolized to salicylic acid, the active ingredient in Aspirin (you will see it on the label as “acetyl” salicylic acid).

There are pros and cons to taking White Willow instead of straight Aspirin. The main pro is that it also contains a large amount of tannins, which protect your stomach from the notorious irritation caused by over-the-counter pain killers, like Aspirin. Additionally, White Willow seems to have a lesser effect on coagulation than Aspirin (Altinterim, 2013). In other words, Aspirin thins your blood, and White Willow doesn’t, at least not to the same degree. In most cases, blood thinning is not a desirable side effect. Your body needs to be able to form platelets and clot the blood in order to heal cuts, for example.

The main con of White Willow Bark is that it takes much longer to experience any effect. It has to be metabolized into the salicylic acid and re-absorbed before any analgesic effects can be noted. This can take an hour or more.

But, in the name of SCIENCE, I elected to try the Willow Bark and put it to the test. I took two dropperfuls in water and waited an hour. Nothing, I tell you. NOTHING. And my tincture is fairly strong. It is a 1:3 ratio of Willow Bark to grain alcohol. (The standard ratio for Willow Bark extract is typically 1:4). I decided to consult my girl Dr. Marisa Marciano, the Naturopathic Herbalist, for dosing recommendations. She recommends 5-8 mL three times per day. Two dropperfuls is about 2-3 mL. So… I NEEDED MORE. I went ahead and took three more dropperfuls in water (about 5 mL, or another teaspoon-I was getting desperate).

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My tincture of White Willow. Pretty red color, but VERY bitter.

That did the trick. About 45 minutes later, I noticed my shoulders had relaxed and I reached for my son to pick him up without thinking twice. I ran a vacuum, lifted baskets of laundry (I am SO domestic, aren’t I?), and got on with my day. The pain relief lasted quite a while, too. About 8 hours passed before I felt I needed another dose. This herb seems to abide by the old Aesopian moral of “slow and steady wins the race.” Nicely played, White Willow.

Bottling Day: Horsetail, Shepherd’s Purse, and Fennel

Today is “Bottling Day” for a few herbs I’ve had tincturing: Horsetail, Shepherd’s Purse, and Fennel.

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First, a little background on the herbs themselves. I believe I already went into detail about Shepherd’s Purse in my previous post, “Review of the Three C’s.” But I’ll say it again: it is a WONDER herb. If you suffer from heavy periods, a small dose of this herb will change your life.

Horsetail (Equisetum arvense) is also a valuable herb. It is a strange-looking plant that I randomly came across while walking by the creek one day. It is quite easy to identify: it is bright green and shaped like a bottle brush with segments that much resemble bamboo. They look almost like tiny evergreen trees sprouting right out of the ground. Here is a picture I took as compared to a botanical:

IMG_5424                             horsetail

The odd-looking stalks in the botanical drawing are what the plant looks like when it is producing spores. These were growing along the river, too. If you’re thinking right about now that this is one weird, prehistoric-looking plant, you would be right. Apparently, these things have been around since the Paleozoic Era (about 400 million years ago). They were considerably larger then. Now, as you can see by the picture, they are only a few inches high. So what is their use to us? Well, Equisetum arvense is one of natures greatest sources of silica. Silica is essential in maintaining healthy skin, nails, and hair. As a person with decidedly UNhealthy skin, nails, and hair, I am anxious to try this out.

The Naturopathic Herbalist recommends taking the tincture four times a day, 2-6 mL at a time. She also recommends doing four weeks on, one week off. That’s probably due to the diuretic effect. Horsetail increases urinary output, which can result in a loss of salts like Potassium. So taking a week off would allow you to replenish your electrolytes, I would imagine. I think I’ll start with the 2 mL, which is about two dropperfuls, four times per day. I’ll keep you posted as to the efficacy.

The elemental silica in horsetail is actually present in its acid form, called silicic acid. I think I’ll also make my Mama start a regimen for her bones. There is an early study (Spector et al, 2008) that suggests silicic acid enhances bone growth, along with a Calcium and Vitamin D3 regimen, in osteopenic females. How great is this stuff? You can actually rebuild your bones WHILE gaining shiny, beautiful hair and nails? I’m sold.

And lastly, the fennel. I think most people are familiar with this licorice-y herb. You can eat the plant as well, but it is the seeds of the plant which are used in herbal medicine. These are the very same seeds that you find tucked into a tasty Italian sausage. They are chock full of volatile oils. The term refers simply to any unstable (rapidly degrading/evaporating) oil derived from plants. Basically, anything that has a strong smell can be counted upon to contain volatile oil. Peppermint and ginger are some well-known examples.

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Foeniculum vulgare, a.k.a. fennel

In the case of fennel, its volatile oils have a relaxation effect on the smooth muscles of the intestines. It has been used for centuries as a remedy for flatulence (hee hee) and “griping.” Griping is an herbalist term for the uncomfortable cramping that often accompanies stomach upset. You know, that “gotta-go” feeling?  If you find yourself in need of a laxative, for example, take it with fennel tincture. Just put two dropperfuls in with the water you are using to take the laxative.  I have tried it before and it is fabulous. It’s nice to take a laxative and not feel like you’ve ingested poison two hours later. (There are herbal  laxatives, by the way, but I have yet to try them. I’m sure I’ll make a post one of these days, since I seem to have a peculiar theme centering around bodily functions.)

Anyway, onto the bottling. I once again followed the tincture method given by Mountain Rose Herbs. If you are using dried herb, you fill a jar halfway with your herb and then fill it up to the top with 80 proof alcohol, usually vodka. If you are using fresh herb, fill the jar about 2/3 full. All of my tinctures brew for six weeks. Don’t forget to gently shake ’em at least a few times a week.

To bottle the tinctures, I like to strain each one into a Pyrex liquid measuring cup. Then you don’t need a funnel, since the measuring cup has a little spout that pours. You can use cheesecloth to strain the herbs, OR you can cut up a muslin blanket your baby never used (make sure it’s clean, of course). It is much cheaper than cheesecloth AND it doesn’t fall apart in the washer. Herbalism HACK!

The only fancy item you will need are your dropper bottles. I get them cheap on Amazon in a set of twelve. They come in brown or cobalt blue. I like the cobalt blue because “cobalt blue” sounds extra fancy. Lastly, you will want some adhesive labels to put on your bottles.

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Tincture bottling supplies
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1. Strain
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2. Pour
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3. Label
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4. Store in a dark, cool place

I ended up with five 2 oz bottles of Shepherd’s Purse tincture, five 2 oz bottles of Horsetail, and two 2 oz bottles of fennel (I used a smaller jar for the fennel). That’s TWELVE bottles of tincture. For the record, 2 oz bottles of tincture can cost around $20. Twelve bottles would cost you about $240. Just as a comparison (and to really gloat), here’s my bill:

Shepherd’s purse: free (I picked it)

Horsetail: free (I picked it)

Fennel: 99 cents from El Guapo Herbs

Apothecary bottles: $10.99

Vodka: $14.99 (and I still have half a bottle left)

Total: $26.97

That’s a savings of over $200.00. Even if I had needed to buy the herbs, they are so very inexpensive. You can get four ounces for a few bucks at Mountain Rose Herbs, which is MORE than enough for one jar of tincture.

More important than cost, though, is how much fun I have making these tinctures and my continued amazement at how truly effective they are. I seriously feel like Hermione in Potions class. So please, give it a try. Make tinctures. Use tinctures. They are safe*, they are cheap, and they work!

*Tinctures ARE safe for the majority of people. But for those with serious health conditions or anyone taking medications for chronic conditions like high blood pressure or cholesterol, it is always best to consult your doctor before starting an herbal regimen to avoid any interactions. 

Review of the Three C’s

***DISCLAIMER***

This post is about PERIODS. Menstruation. Aunt Flo. That time-of-the-month. Those with sensitive constitutions and no desire to discuss such things (teenage boys or those with the maturity of teenage boys) are advised to skip this one. 

 

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The Purse (center) along with some other goodies, like dandelion leaf 

 

Just to recap, a couple of days ago, I posted about testing the Three C’s of a Happier Period: Crampbark, Chamomile, and Capsella (Shepherd’s Purse). Crampbark is for pain, Chamomile for bloating, and Capsella for heaviness of flow.

My regimen has consisted of 15 drops of Crampbark tincture in water twice daily, 15 drops of Shepherd’s Purse tincture in water twice daily, and a cup of chamomile tea three times a day. Here is my honest review:

While I found the Crampbark effective and rather fast-acting (I felt relief of cramping/aching about thirty minutes after a dose), I did not find it to be particularly long-lasting. I obtained about 2 hours of relief from each dose. That being said, it was effective and you can take it more frequently.  (Dr. Marisa Marciano suggests 5-10 mL three times per day.)

As for the chamomile, I did not see any noticeable results where bloating is concerned. My stomach still feels and looks like a drum skin stretched over a boulder. But it is soothing and hydrating and helps me fall asleep. So that’s nice.

And lastly, the STAR of the show: the Shepherd’s Purse (Capsella). This stuff is a bloody miracle (pardon the ironic turn-of-phrase). This herbal tincture was meant to address heaviness. I have a personal problem with my periods being rather heavy, so much so that I lose a bunch of iron and get all anemic and uber-tired. It has been my lot in life since age 12. Enter Shepherd’s Purse. I could seriously write this herb a sonnet.

I awoke this morning expecting the usual carnage. Without going into too much detail, the second morning of my period always involves some frantic washing, rinsing, wringing, and crying. There is no amount of preparation that lets me off the hook. And yet, that did not happen to me this morning. No sir. For the first time in years, I did not have to deal with any of it. What’s more, I had run out of my size ginormous tampons and went to bed with a regular-sized one in, absolutely certain that would not be enough and I would be sorry in the morning. But I was fine.

I can’t tell you what this means to me. Where has this been all my life? And for the record, I made it myself. I found it, identified it, dried it, and tinctured it. ALCHEMY. This is very empowering.

(By the way, if Shepherd’s Purse does not grow where you live, I’m sorry. But not really, because you can buy some at this fabulous site and be sure it has been organically grown and responsibly harvested.)

I have spent the afternoon researching what is in this plant that might have such a profound effect. I seem to have narrowed it down to acetylcholine. Without getting too technical, acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter that may stimulate the brain to produce vasopressin (Iitake et al, 1989). Vasopressin is hormone with myriad functions but, for our purposes, it should be known that it and synthetic versions of it are used by the body to control bleeding (Schweitzer et al, 1982). Well, well, well!

I may have it all wrong. I am, after all, NOT a scientist. My interpretation of scientific research, therefore, should be taken with a HUGE grain of salt. This blog is really meant to offer anecdotal support of herbs and their effects, and leave the science to the experts. Therefore, I shall close by reiterating my anecdotal support for the glorious Shepherd’s Purse: it worked, I love it, go get some. Or better yet, go make some.