That's how I got the inspiration for this week's post. Karen Ellen wrote in asking about herbs for bone health. She just got an osteoporosis diagnosis, and is looking for ways to boost her calcium intake and strengthen her musculo-skeletal system. (If you're unfamiliar, osteoporosis is the name for bones becoming porous, which makes them brittle and easier to break. It's unfortunately common as we age and our bodies lose muscular tone, and we are less adept at holding onto the calcium and minerals we get from our diets.)
Karen Ellen is new to plant medicine, so to find some recipes for her, I turned to Rosemary Gladstar's Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health, a book of 175 recipes for natural remedies in all forms. Rosemary is in her 60s, so writes with special attention to women before, during and after menopause. She's also one of world's foremost herbal elders, and we're lucky to have her Stateside! I'll share some of her recipes here, and go a bit into some key plants featured.
First, let's start with a general list of plants that are high in calcium. We won't delve into all of these, but this is a good list to bring to a health food market or herbalist, and see if you can buy in bulk to make your own infusions.
Dandelion greens (pick your own! They're everywhere now that spring is springing)
And, as a special aside, seaweed is a calcium superfood. Look for kelp, wakame, or hizike at Asian markets or health food stores, and add to your broths, soups, or salads for an enormous boost of calcium.
So let's get to the recipes, and see which of those plants show up most often:
Rosemary's High-Calcium Tea
1 part horsetail
1 part oats and oatstraw
1 part nettle
Infuse herbs by covering with boiling water and steeping 30-60 minutes. Drink 3-4 cups per day. Maximum benefits may take 3-4 months to manifest. This tea is recommended for times of high stress, those struggling with insomnia, and anyone with nervous system disruption, on top of the touted benefits for the bones and teeth.
The Gladstar Teething Elixir for Children
3 parts rosehips
2 parts lemon balm
2 parts lemongrass
2 parts oats
1 part nettle
1 part raspberry leaf
1/2 part cinnamon
A pinch stevia to sweeten (optional)
Make a large batch of the herb mix, storing in an airtight container, and use 1-2tsp for babies, 1-2Tbsp for kids up to 11, prepared as an infusion. This is great for teething babies, pre-teens having growth spurts, and young athletes with bone or tissue injury.
RG's Tea for Menstruation
2 parts nettle
2 parts oatstraw
2 parts pennyroyal leaf
1 part horsetail
1 part peppermint
1 part raspberry leaf
Prepare as infusion, using 1tsp of herb per cup of water. Steep 15-20min, drink throughout the day. If you have a regular cycle, start drinking this tea 7-10 days before your period starts.
Caution: When shopping for these ingredients, do NOT substitute pennyroyal oil for pennyroal leaf. The oil is toxic when used internally.
With those recipes in mind, let's focus on two of the herbs that showed up again and again (since we already waxed poetical about nettles in the last post, which is the calcium-containing powerhouse in these recipes). Our focus here will be on oatstraw and horsetail, both of which have complementary herbal actions to nettles' calcium boost.
Horsetail, Equisetum arvense, is best known as a diuretic and astringent. As you may remember from the nettles post, diuretics help empty the bladder more completely, including dispelling toxic buildup in the kidneys and bladder. Astringents help stopper leaks in the body, from leaky gut to an internal hemorrhage. This may explain why they help the body hang on to minerals better. Its vulnerary, or wound-healing action, might also be the key- it stitches up broken skin and injured joints when used externally, so it may follow that the same properties result in stitching up porous bones, making them stronger.
Oatstraw (avena sativa) deserves its own blog post. Like nettles, oatstraw is something of a wonder-cure; it will just make you feel better overall when you drink it. It's high in protein, vitamin E, and healthy starch, which means it's excellent brain food. Oats are legendary as nervines or nerve tonics, acting like a reassuring hand-squeeze to the entire nervous system. They are used for antidepressant action, demulcent, and vulnerary capabilities as well. We know about antidepressants, and we learned about vulnerary from horsetail. Demulcents are soothing to irritation and inflammation wherever they arise.
* A note on the antidepressant action: For those who are cold and/or damp energetically, oats may have the opposite effect. Try a mixture of nettles and oatstraw to balance the energetics. When I was on an overnight oatstraw infusion, I noticed a downturn in my mood. I was super healthy, but sad. I need a warm, drying herb to keep classic cold energetic effects from overwhelming my systems. If you run warm and/or dry, oats might become your best friend.
And I'd be remiss if I didn't say that in addition to good herbs, and a diet heavy on leafy greens, exercise is the absolute best way to maintain a healthy skeleton at any age. Drink your calcium tea, dance it out for a sweaty hour, and replenish with a nettles/oats infusion when you're done!
Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health, Rosemary Gladstar
Medical Herbalism, David Hoffman
*Legalese: In our society, only MDs get to say they are "treating" disease. As such, this blog post has not been analyzed by the FDA, and the advice within has not been scientifically proven to diagnose, treat, or cure disease. Please see a health practitioner for medical treatment.